Geopolitics

Ukraine's National Guard, Death At SXSW, White Evolution

The scene of a fatal hit and run near SXSW in Austin.
The scene of a fatal hit and run near SXSW in Austin.

UKRAINE CREATES NATIONAL GUARD
The Ukrainian Parliament voted overwhelmingly to create a 60,000-strong National Guard, Interfax reports. According to AFP, the new force will mostly include volunteers from Maidan’s self-defense groups and will be in charge of interior and border security.

  • Earlier today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech to the Bundestag that Russia risked “massive” political and economic damage if it refused to change course on Ukraine, adding that Moscow was exploiting the country’s weakness. Continuing to apply pressure ahead of Sunday’s planned referendum in Crimea, she said that Ukraine’s territorial integrity “cannot be called into question.”

  • After meeting with interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenuyk, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to “stand with Ukraine,” The New York Times reports.

  • Meanwhile, in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is reaching new highs, Itar-Tass writes. According to the most recent poll, 71.6% of people surveyed approved of his actions, an increase of 9.7% from one month ago. This comes as the Russian Finance Ministry said it wouldn’t exclude sanctions against the EU and the U.S. An advisor to Putin has already suggested that Russia could sell all of its U.S. treasury bonds, a move that could seriously damage the dollar.

MISSING PLANE COULD HAVE FLOWN FOR HOURS
“We will not give up on any suspected clue,” China’s Premier Li Keqiang said of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane whose 239 passengers included 153 Chinese. Missing since Saturday, the plane could have flown for four or five hours after it was last located, U.S. investigators told The Wall Street Journal. During today’s press conference, Malaysia’s defense and acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein dismissed the report as “inaccurate,” Straits Times reports. Meanwhile, Vietnamese authorities found no trace of the missing aircraft in an area where images from a Chinese satellite suggested debris of the plane might be located.

HARLEM DEATH TOLL CLIMBS TO SIX
Authorities have confirmed the death of a sixth victim after yesterday’s explosion in Harlem that leveled two buildings, leaving more than 70 people wounded, NBC New York reports. The blast was caused by a major gas leak, whose origin is still unknown. Read more from The New York Times.

AIR RAIDS ON GAZA, ROCKETS FIRED ON ISRAEL
Israel’s air force launched at least 29 strikes on the Gaza strip overnight in a tit-for-tat response after the Quds Brigade claimed it fired some 90 rockets on Southern Israel, five of which hit populated areas. According to AFP, no casualties were reported on either side. Ma’an news agency reports, however, that two more rockets were fired this morning, one of which was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

THREE DEAD IN VENEZUELA
Three people were shot dead yesterday in Venezuela, in the central city of Valencia. Among the victims were two citizens who were shot by pro-government gunmen passing on motorbikes, El Universal reports. The third, an army captain, was killed while fighting “terrorist groups,” the state’s governor Francisco Ameliach said. This happened as people were demonstrating in the capital of Caracas, one month after violent protests began. Read more from the BBC.

NSA COULD INFECT MILLIONS OF COMPUTERS
The U.S. National Security Agency is using automated systems that can potentially send malware to millions of computers around the world, making it possible for the agency to hack into the machines, top secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal. The documents show, for example, that the NSA even used “a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer.” Read more from The Intercept.

DEADLY SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST ACCIDENT
Two people died after a drunk driver plowed into a crowd near the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, ABC reports.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
“Jihad marriages” is how German security forces characterize increasingly common unions between young German Muslim women and Islamist terrorists. “We’re even seeing marriages being arranged on Facebook,” says one analyst at the inland intelligence service. It’s a phenomenon that worries the intelligence community because there is the possibility that it is a targeted strategy on the part of Islamic terror groups — jihadists with no previous access to Germany acquiring wives with German passports. “Pregnant, the woman may return to Germany. And then at some point there’s a family reunion. That’s when the husband, a jihadist with fighting experience, turns up in Germany.”

Read the full Worldcrunch/Die Welt article: Germany's "Jihad Cheerleaders," Running Off To Marry Islamist Terrorists

BY THE NUMBERS
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has pledged 10 billion euros in tax cuts for low-wage workers — some 10 million Italians — and has given parliament a six-month deadline to rewrite labor regulations to stimulate hiring. Read more from Bloomberg.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

WHITE EVOLUTION
Scientists have found that Europeans have become “whiter” in the past 5,000 due to natural selection. Perhaps that explains this. Read the full story on The Independent.

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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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