POSSIBLE UKRAINE CEASEFIRE
All eyes are on Minsk where Ukrainian, Russian and OSCE envoys have begun another round of talks that could lead to an imminent ceasefire in eastern Ukraine after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s said at the NATO summit yesterday that he would agree to a truce. Rebel leaders also said they would stop the fighting, as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seven point plan, if an agreement is reached with Kiev.
The European Union was still preparing for a next round of sanctions against Moscow. According to the Financial Times, these could directly target Russian state-controlled oil companies. Documents leaked earlier this week by the newspaper suggested the European Commission was looking at excluding Russia from sporting events.
Fights between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels were still ongoing this morning, with reports of heavy shelling near the port of Mariupol and gunfire and artillery fire in Donetsk. Read more from Reuters.
NIGERIANS FLEE BOKO HARAM
Hundreds of civilians are fleeing their homes in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri as Boko Haram fighters gain regional ground and have managed to capture several towns in their bid to emulate ISIS and carve out an Islamic caliphate, The New York Times reports. According to the BBC, fierce fights in the neighboring city of Bama have forced up to 26,000 people to flee. “So many bodies litter the streets, and people are not allowed to even go and bury the dead ones,” a local senator told the BBC.
American comedy legend and TV host Joan Rivers died yesterday afternoon at age 81 in a New York hospital, a week after suffering cardiac arrest during a medical procedure. The world also lost Argentinian singer-songwriter Gustavo Cerati, who died Thursday in Buenos Aires at age 55, four years after a stroke put him in a coma.
THAILAND GIVES CHINESE FREE VISAS
After seeing tourism figures fall dramatically since the beginning of what has been a troubled year, Thailand’s junta is offering Chinese tourists free visas, Reuters reports. According to The Bangkok Post, the number of tourists from China fell 21% since January, but tourism officials expect the measure to help return to positive growth this month. Tourism accounts for about 10% of the Thai economy.
As Die Welt’s Josephine Pabst reports, Dutch aerospace student Boyan Slat, 20, has an idea that could conceivably remove millions of tons of toxic trash from the world's waters. “The model itself looks like a bird's-eye view of a gigantic V,” the journalist writes of Slat’s brainchild. “Its two hose-like arms, each 50 kilometers (31 miles), would lie on the ocean's surface. Every 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), they would be weighted and attached to the ocean floor. Filters would be attached to the hoses that would catch garbage but pose no danger to marine creatures.”
Read the full article, Has A 20-Year-Old Found A Cheap Way To Clean The Planet's Oceans?
A LIBRARY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
Canadian author Margaret Atwood will become the first contributor to a new project called the Future Library, meaning that her next work will not be printed until 100 years from now. According to The Guardian, the manuscript will be locked away until 2114, when the Future Library will print the book using trees it planted this summer in Norway. Until then, one writer will be invited each year to participate in the project.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
BILINGUAL BABIES ARE BETTER LEARNERS
A recent study by researchers in Singapore finds that bilingual babies show signs of developing better cognitive abilities, The Independent reports. Using a method called “visual habituation,” scientists found that babies raised in bilingual households recognize familiar images faster and pay more attention to novel images, both possible signs of a higher IQ later in life.
The first-ever comprehensive report on suicide by the United Nation's World Health Organization finds that someone in the world takes their own life every 40 seconds.
Meet Dreadnoughtus, the newly discovered dinosaur that scientists believe was more than seven times heavier than a T. rex. And though its name may suggest otherwise, its skeleton was found in Argentina, not Jamaica.
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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