Geopolitics

Ukraine Offers Amnesty, Japan Hoards Plutonium, Hollande Gets Nostalgic?

A car bomb exploded just outside the Greek Central Bank in Athens Thursday morning
A car bomb exploded just outside the Greek Central Bank in Athens Thursday morning
Worldcrunch

While U Slept

UKRAINE OFFERS AMNESTY TO PRO-RUSSIAN SEPARATISTS
Ukraine’s Interim President Olexandr Turchynov offered amnesty to the pro-Russian militants occupying government buildings in eastern cities, provided they surrender their weapons and end their siege, AFP reports. This comes amid yesterday’s ultimatum issued by the country’s acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and as the standoff in Donetsk is intensifying, with military forces and tanks arriving to the city, RT.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday he hoped the four-way talks, due to be held next week, would have a “positive” outcome. “At the very least, I hope that the acting leaders will not do anything that cannot be fixed later,” he added. But Putin’s optimism was tempered by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland. “We don’t have high expectations for these talks, but we do believe it is very important to keep that diplomatic door open,” she said. Read more from The Guardian.

CAR BOMBING AT GREEK CENTRAL BANK
A car bomb exploded just outside the Greek Central Bank in Athens this morning, as Greece was due to return to the bond market after four years. According to AP, there were no casualties, but the blast caused some minor damage to the building. The attack, believed to have been carried out by “by leftist or anarchist guerrilla groups,” also comes one day before a planned visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Last week, Unicef issued a scathing report that showed the rise of poverty in the debt-ridden country, affecting 23% of children in 2012, the proportion rising to 53% for foreign children. Read more from Greek Reporter.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Die Welt’s Matthias Heine reports, Switzerland is the latest country to begin eliminating cursive handwriting from school curricula. “The reasons are the same ones cited in 2011 by the German state of Hamburg to take cursive off its school curriculum,” he writes. “The writing experience has become something entirely different than it was 50 years ago. Back then, people wrote letters by hand and bookkeepers made handwritten entries in their ledgers. But these days, when 6-year-olds are already adept with computers and mobile phones, block letters have started to be viewed as the measure of all things, and cursive is seen as cultural baggage. And top education officials apparently like nothing better than to unload unnecessary burden to save money, free up class and teacher time, and spare students needless effort.”
Read the full article: Switzerland Makes Case To Kill Cursive Writing For Good.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD

FIRST MALARIA CASES AFTER SOLOMON ISLANDS FLOODS
A Unicef hygiene expert has confirmed cases of malaria and other illnesses in evacuation centers in the Solomon Islands, just days after the archipelago was hit by massive flash floods that killed at least 23 people and left some 9,000 homeless, local newspaperThe Solomon Star reports. Specialist Donald Burgess said clean water and sanitation in the camps were crucial to avoid casualties, but according to Australia’s ABC, about half of the capital city Honiara have no access to water.

ISRAEL LAUNCHES NEW SPY SATELLITE
Israel launched a new spy satellite with “advanced surveillance capabilities” into orbit overnight, The Times Of Israel reports. The Ofek-10 spacecraft will be a significant boost to Israel’s ability to monitor Iran. The country’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that it would “enable the security establishment to better deal with threats near and far, at all hours of the day and in any weather.”

JAPAN TO BUILD UP PLUTONIUM STOCKPILE
The Japanese government is planning to push ahead with its plutonium program, which will see Tokyo increase its stockpile, despite agreeing last month to turn over its weapons-grade plutonium to the United States, The New York Times reports. Although the extra material is not the “most desirable for bombs,” it could eventually be turned into a weapon, increasing fears of a nuclear weapon proliferation in the future.

600,000 EUROS
Eight employees of a Hamburg crematorium have been accused of stealing, then selling 600,000 euros worth of gold teeth from corpses.

DOES HOLLANDE HAVE A SOFT SIDE?
Radio station Europe1 notes that French President Francois Hollande, who dispensed with girlfriend Valérie Trierweiler earlier this year after his affair with actress Julie Gayet was publicized, still has a picture of Trierweiler in his office.

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Geopolitics

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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