Geopolitics

Ukraine's Far Right, Ebola In Guinea, Comic Darth Vader

Far right protesters attack Ukraine’s Parliament.
Far right protesters attack Ukraine’s Parliament.

UKRAINE’S RIGHT SECTOR FACING BAN
Ukraine’s ultranationalist Right Sector group could be banned after 2,000 of its members encircled and threatened to storm the Parliament in Kiev, a source from former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s party told news agency Ria Novosti. The group has increased pressure on Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov following the death of one of their leaders in a shootout with the police. According to Interfax, 1,000 militants were gathered outside the Parliament this morning to demand Avakov’s resignation.

In an address to the Ukrainian people, ousted President Viktor Yanukovych called for the population to demand “a referendum on the determination of the status of each region within Ukraine,” Itar-Tass reports.

This comes after yesterday’s vote on a UN resolution condemning Russia’s action in Crimea, with 100 countries voting in favor, 11 against and 58 abstaining. The New York Times describes the vote as one that “isolates” Moscow, but the Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin said that there was “no isolation,” adding that many countries had complained of “colossal pressure on the part of Western powers,” RT reports.

VERBATIM
“Leaders can’t afford to be weary,” former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice told attendees at a Republican Party fundraiser Wednesday, referring to the face-off with Russia. Read what else she said here.

SEARCH ZONE FOR MH370 MOVED
A new analysis of radar data concluded that Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 was traveling faster than originally estimated, meaning it would have burned fuel more quickly and wouldn’t have traveled as far south as previously thought, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. In light of this new evidence, described as “the most credible lead” by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the search area for the missing plane has been shifted 684 miles northeast of the previous zone, and is now four times larger. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Chinese insurance companies have started compensating the victims’ families, with China Life paying over $670,000 to the families of seven passengers.

BAGHDAD HIT BY TRIPLE BOMBING
At least four people were killed and another 16 were wounded this morning after a triple explosion in a busy market area of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, AP reports. The bombings come after a series of attacks in commercial areas yesterday, in which 26 people died.

ISRAEL DELAYS RELEASE OF PALESTINIAN PRISONERS
Israel’s government has canceled tomorrow’s planned release of the last group of Palestinian prisoners, a Palestinian official told AFP. Under the framework of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian authorities, Tel Aviv was to release 104 prisoners in four groups. But The Jerusalem Post reported that the ministerial committee that selects the names of the released prisoners failed to meet. According to Ma’an news agency, Palestinian minister of prisoners' affairs Issa Qaraqe warned that he would hold Israel responsible for the consequences of Palestinian “anger.”

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



EBOLA VIRUS REACHES GUINEA CAPITAL
Four people in Guinea’s capital city Conakry have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus and put in quarantine along with their families, Al Jazeera quotes the country’s Health Minister as saying. These are the first cases in the city of two million inhabitants and show that the virus has spread from rural areas, where it has already killed 63 people.

26
The Philadelphia 76ers tied the NBA losing streak record Thursday after their loss to the Houston Rockets (120-98). Read more on ESPN.

SMOKING BANS GOOD FOR CHILD HEALTH
A new international study shows that laws banning smoking in public places have had an enormous impact, particularly on child health, reducing premature births and severe childhood asthma by 10% within a year of smoke-free laws being implemented. Read more from the BBC.

FAREWELL
For CIA director and former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, a Republican economist who worked in multiple presidential administrations, has died at age 85.

COMIC PARENTING FROM DARTH VADER
Even evil deep breathers have a soft side.

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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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