Siege Of Sarajevo Redux: An Appeal To Free General Divjak

Jovan Divjak, who led Bosnia's defense in the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo, has been arrested in Austria on a Serbian warrant. Top French intellectuals demand his release, calling European policy on the Balkans a continuing “affront to reason.”

Sarajevo central cemetery
Sarajevo central cemetery
Jean Hatzfeld and Bernard-Henri Lévy

Jovan Divjak, one of the heroes of the siege of Sarajevo, was thrown in an Austrian jail on March 4, released on bail four days later, and is now being held under house arrest. Every hour that passes is a reminder of the shame and pathetic equivocation that has characterized European diplomacy toward the war in the former Yugoslavia.

General Divjak was arrested on March 3 at Vienna airport after the Serbian government put out an international warrant against him for alleged war crimes. Although Austrian Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Spindelgger quickly dismissed the possibility of extraditing Divjak to Serbia, the general's detention – while Bosnian Serb Radko Mladic is running free on the streets of Belgrade – is an affront to reason and ethics, and the notion of European justice.

Let's be clear. Since the battle of Azincourt (1415), all armed conflicts have had a negative impact on the protagonists' reputation; and after each conflict, almost all officers could potentially face charges for war crimes. Almost all, yes, but Jovan Divjak is an exception.

On April 6, 1992, right before the start of the three-year-long massacre, Divjak and Mladic, both pro-Tito Serbian generals, were in charge of the military sector of Sarajevo for the JNA, the Yugoslavian army. But, as Mladic went to Pale to take charge of Radovan Karadzic's nationalist Serbian troops, Divjak stayed in the besieged city and became the architect of its defense.

Divjak's role was to prevent Serbian forces from entering the city, and to help shape a Bosnian army out of the thousands of ill-prepared volunteers. His enemies were the tanks up on the hills of Lukavica and Jagomir, the Grbavica snipers and the paramilitary militias bent on ethnic cleansing.

Divjak didn't take part in the horrible war in Central Bosnia. He wasn't part of the liberating offensive of Krajina. He stayed in Sarajevo.

During the awful assault against civilians that was the Bosnian war, there was only one side to be on: that of the innocents that were hunted-down throughout the city by soldiers filled with hate and violence.

Tired of politics and war, Divjak left the army soon after the Dayton agreements in 1995 and worked for an orphanage and several others humanitarian organizations. He also joined a group of antinationalist intellectuals, taking advantage of his popularity in Sarajevo cafes.

The prototype of those men of duty who, as Andre Malraux once wrote, "made war without loving it," he stayed away from veteran groups, refused all military honors and has tried to bring back the civil, multi-confessional and tolerant Bosnia of the past. His house arrest is absurd, a blow to history and a crime against conscience. Austria and Europe must regain their senses and let Divjak return to Sarajevo.

Jean Hatzfeld is a French foreign correspondent who covered the Balkan wars. Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, and member of the editorial board of Le Monde Group.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Alexander Nitzsche

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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