The Latest: Vaccinegate in Peru, Dubai's Princess Prisoner, Kim Jong-un's Wife

Sicily’s Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, spewed ashes and smoke in a new eruption
Sicily’s Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, spewed ashes and smoke in a new eruption

Welcome to Wednesday, where a "vaccinegate" scandal shakes Peru, videos emerge of Dubai princess in "villa prison" and North Korea's first lady reappears after one year. Le Monde goes back in time to understand the proposal of an "immunity passport" for the vaccinated to be free to travel.

• COVID-19 latest: New research from Oxford Brookes University shows taking selfies with endangered gorillas in zoos are putting the animals at risk for contracting COVID. Dozens of Peruvian politicians, including former president Martin Vizcarra, are under fire for secretly getting vaccinated before anyone else. Gaza has received its first vaccine shipment after Israel approved the transfer across its border.

• Myanmar coup protests: In the biggest protest yet, citizens block roads despite an internet shutdown, while UN officials warn that the rising number of soldiers in the streets could be a sign that a violent government crackdown is imminent.

• Trump blasts McConnell: Donald Trump ripped Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling him a "dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack," just days after the Senator voted to acquit the former president during the impeachment trial, but told the press that, "Trump bears moral responsibility."

• Detained princess in Dubai: The UN has announced it will question the United Arab Emirates about the detention of Princess Latifa, the daughter of the country's vice-president and ruler of Dubai. In videos released by the BBC, she has accused her father of holding her hostage in Dubai since she tried to escape the UAE in 2018.

• Japan wants meetings to look equal: The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has proposed a new plan to make meetings more gender-inclusive. However, the five female observers cannot speak and will only be able to submit their ideas on paper afterward. This comes after the head of the Tokyo Olympics was forced to resign for saying women talk too much.

• Cyberattacks in French hospitals: Three hospital buildings near Lyon have been hit by cyberattacks, with computer systems blocked and attackers demanding payment for their release. The attack forced the suspension of surgeries and intensive care patients were relocated to other hospitals.

• Wife of Kim Jong Un reappears: After more than a year out of public view, North Korean first lady Ri Sol Ju has appeared in a photo of the couple attending a concert. South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) speculated that she has been staying at home to avoid the coronavirus.

"Lies and indignation," titles Peruvian daily El Comercio after revelations that more than 470 people, including former President Martin Vizcarra and other political figures, took advantage of their position to be secretly vaccinated before the country's campaign was launched.

The "immunity passport" debate, past and present

Talk about the use of documents proving immunity evokes a measure invented more than a century ago by French authorities, writes medical historian Joëlle M. Abi-Rache in French daily Le Monde.

As governments strive to acquire vaccines against COVID-19 and launch vaccination campaigns in the midst of global uncertainty, a new idea seems to be gaining ground: an immunity passport. These "COVID passports," we are told, could facilitate travel and trade. They would certify that a person has received a vaccine or has been infected by proving, for example, the presence of antibodies against the new virus.

This idea is not new. It stems from the passeport sanitaire, a 19th-century French invention (not without controversy) whose purpose was quite different. The holder of the health passport was considered "immune" in the medieval sense of the word (from the Latin immunis), i.e. "free" of symptoms until proven otherwise.

It was during the 1893 International Sanitary Conference in Dresden that Adrien Proust — professor of health at the Paris Faculty of Medicine, chief physician at the Hôtel-Dieu and father of the novelist Marcel Proust — suggested that the health passport be used internationally. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had convened the conference in Dresden against a backdrop of cholera epidemics that were spreading more rapidly in Europe with the arrival of the steamboat. It was imperative to standardize international quarantine regulations against the spread of these new health threats.

There is, however, a major difference between the past and present situations: today's "passport" would be used by healthy people going to not-necessarily healthy places….

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$711 billion

China has overtaken the United States as the European Union's biggest trading partner for the first time, with the trade volume between the two reaching $711 billion in 2020. China's economic recovery later in the year fueled demand for EU goods, especially in the automobile and luxury industries, while its exports to the bloc benefited from strong demand for medical equipment and electronics.

I'm a hostage. I am not free.

— In videos released by BBC of detained Princess Latifa, the 35-year-old daughter of the ruler of Dubai, who had tried to escape abroad, says that her father and his regime are holding her against her will. "I'm doing this video from a bathroom, because this is the only room with a door I can lock," she says. "I'm enslaved in this jail. My life is not in my hands."

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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

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"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.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

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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