Wednesday, June 4, 2014
HUNDREDS DEAD AMONG REBELS IN EAST UKRAINE
As Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” continues in Eastern Ukraine, a spokesman for the operation said that government forces had killed more than 300 rebel fighters and injured some 500 in the past 24 hours in Sloviansk, Reuters reports. Russia’s Foreign Ministry Commissioner for Human Rights was quoted by Russian news agency Itar-Tass as saying that “the events in Luhansk and Sloviansk surpass all sad records,” referring to unconfirmed reports that “Right Sector finished off injured people at hospitals.”
After his meeting with elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Barack Obama said the two had discussed “ways the U.S. can help train Ukrainian law enforcement and military personnel,” Reuters wrote. Washington also announced an additional $23 million in aid.
Yesterday, Obama pledged an extra $1 billion in spending to boost American presence in Eastern Europe.
In an interview due to be broadcast tonight by French network TF1, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Washington of having “the most severe and aggressive policy,” arguing that unlike the U.S., Russia had “almost no troops abroad.” He however said that he was “always open for talks” with Obama.
25TH ANNIVERSARY OF TIANANMEN SQ. PROTESTS
Chinese authorities have deployed a massive security operation around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, on the 25th anniversary of the tragic crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which is believed to have killed hundreds of people. Amnesty International said in a statement that an estimated 66 people, including journalists and activists, had been arrested, questioned or had gone missing in recent weeks, in a bid to “prevent people from publicly remembering those who died in the crackdown.” According to the BBC, the Internet is also affected by the clampdown, as search terms related to the 1989 events have been blocked.
In its editorial, the authorities’ mouthpiece Global Times accuses the West and “Chinese exiles” of trying to “deal a heavy blow to the stability of Chinese society,” and claims that the censorship of the events was imposed “in a bid to wield a positive influence on the smooth development of reform and opening-up”
Learn more about yesterday's elections in Syria here.
BOKO HARAM KILLS DOZENS IN NEW ATTACKS
At least 30 people were killed in fresh attack on villages in northern Nigeria launched by Boko Haram fighters, the BBC reports, citing local sources. In one of the attacks, witnesses said that they were ordered into a church compound before the gunmen opened fire on the crowd. Yesterday, a court martial found 15 senior military officers guilty of supplying information and ammunition to the Islamist group, with one top security source telling Nigerian newspaper Leadership “this was why many soldiers have been ambushed and killed.” The Nigerian military claimed later that the report was false and “unfortunate.”
OBAMA LOOKING FORWARD TO WORKING WITH AL-SISI
In a statement released this morning, the White House said it “looks forward to working with Abdelfattah al-Sisi,” after Egypt’s Presidential Election Commission published the final results of last week’s vote, which the former army leader won with 96.6%. Washington also expressed its concerns about “limits on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression,” as the Egyptian Interior Ministry asked foreign tech firms to help it monitor social networks.
MASS GRAVE UNCOVERED IN IRELAND
Scandal and outrage are mounting in Ireland after a local historian discovered previously unreleased records suggesting that as many as 796 young children died at an orphanage for children of unwed mothers between 1925 and 1961, and were buried in a septic tank, The Irish Times reports. According to the records, the children, aged from 0 to 9, died of malnutrition and neglect, as well as illnesses like tuberculosis and pneumonia. Speaking to The Washington Post, historian Catherine Corless said of the mentalities at the time: “Families would be afraid of neighbors finding out, because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on Earth. It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape.”
A trip down the 19 kilometers of Valiasr Street, the avenue that splits Tehran in two, is like walking through a metaphor for Iranian society, says Claudio Gallo on assignment for La Stampa. "It is said that the rich and the poor are stuck together in the same boat, both victims of the crisis and sanctions that have strangled the country. But there are obvious differences — and that’s without even counting the wheeler-dealers who made serious money from the embargoes, and can now be seen cruising around the city in their Porsches."
Read the full article, Tehran Postcard: What Has Rouhani Changed In One Year?
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
Egypt's aviation ministry has announced tourists leaving Egypt from Cairo International Airport will now be required to pay a fee to actually be able to exit.
“Godfather of Ecstasy” Sasha Shulgin took his final trip, at age 88.
WHAT’S A SPERM-BOT?
German researchers are developing a mini robot that can be programmed to travel in liquids, with potential for future use like drilling tiny holes in tissues inside the body, or fixing cancer cells. Another exciting possibility is targeted drug delivery, reports Discover magazine.
Street style soccer champion Sean Garnier recently blew away a group of young players, disguised as a grandpa, treating them to a expand=1] series of dribbles that you probably won’t see at the FIFA World Cup.
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.
"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.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
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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