Ukraine Copter Shot Down, Al-Sisi Wins, 2.1 Billion Obese

Frustrated defending champion Serena Williams crashed out of the French Open Wednesday.
Frustrated defending champion Serena Williams crashed out of the French Open Wednesday.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pro-Russian militants near the eastern Ukrainian town of Sloviansk shot down a military helicopter, killing 14 soldiers, acting President Olexandr Turchynov said. This came after local media reported intense shooting around Sloviansk and Kramatorsk and the shelling of the two cities. Media described the situation as a “full-scale military operation.” Earlier, Sloviansk’s self-declared “people’s mayor” said that four hostages from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were “fine” and that they could be released tomorrow, Interfax reported.

Elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he would sign an economic deal with the European Union “within a very short period of time” after being sworn into office. Meanwhile, Russia, Kazakhstan And Belarus signed an agreement to set up a Eurasian Economic Union starting in January 2015. "Today we are creating a powerful center of gravity for economic development, a large regional market that unites more than 170 million people," Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the ceremony.

There are more than 2.1 billion obese or overweight people in the world, according to the latest figures published in the Lancet, and not a single country is successfully dealing with the issue. Read more here.

Former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won the country’s presidential race as expected, with an overwhelming 93% of the vote, leaving opponent Hamdeen Sabahi with only 3%. But although the two-day vote was extended until last night, turnout was a disappointing 46%, raising questions about al-Sisi’s credibility. Read more from the BBC.

Defending tennis champion Serena Williams lost her match — and her temper — in the second round of the French Open, her earliest exit from a Grand Slam tournament in 16 years.

Four girls that were among the estimated 223 abducted by Islamist group Boko Haram six weeks ago managed to escape their captors and have been reunited with their parents, Nigerian Tribune reports. It’s unclear when the girls returned to their families. The state education commissioner was informed only last week and is apparently furious that the families didn’t alert authorities sooner. This good news of the girls’ escape came as suspected Boko Haram gunmen killed at least 51 people in separate attacks in the northeastern state of Borno.

A group of Iranian hackers allegedly used fake social media accounts and bogus news websites to spy on military and political leaders in the United States, Israel, Britain and other countries, Reuters reports, citing a Dallas-based cyber intelligence company. According to ISight Partners, the company that uncovered the three-year operation, “It was the most elaborate cyber espionage campaign using ‘social engineering’ that has been uncovered to date from any nation.”


At least 74 people were killed yesterday in attacks across Iraq that included car bombings in the capital of Baghdad, making it the bloodiest day in the country in more than seven months, according to AFP.

In his Die Welt op-ed, Alain Posener says that the European establishment has a decade-long listening problem, and that it won't be solved by shaming the anti-EU populist parties that scored big in this week's election. “In view of the strength of the anti-EU populists, say parties on both sides of the spectrum, we will have to work even more strongly together,” he writes. “What that means is: The establishment is closing ranks and turning a deaf ear. The European Parliament wants to prevail over national governments, and national governments see the delegitimization of the EU with more than a little schadenfreude.”
Read the full article, Something Is Rotten In Europe.

“In the music business everyone is desperately insecure, but the guys in Silicon Valley seem to be overconfident,” Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine said at a Wednesday conference about Apple’s acquisition of his headphone and music streaming company.

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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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