Winny And Nizar, A Lampedusa Love Story

Armed only with her baby bump and an album of wedding photos, Winny Khamiri of Holland is currently on the Italian island of Lampedusa where African immigrants arrive by the boatload, trying to rescue her Tunisian husband, scheduled for deportation.

The newlyweds in happier times
The newlyweds in happier times
Laura Anello

LAMPEDUSA - Winny Khamiri has long blond hair, freckles on her face, and quiet but determined eyes that seem to embody pure female strength. Six months pregnant, the 23-year-old Dutch hairdresser is here on the Italian island of Lampedusa on a rescue mission. The goal: to save her Tunisian husband, Nizar, who arrived here as part of the wave of would-be immigrants who make the perilous journey from the shores of North Africa in a desperate attempt to enter Europe.

Winny and Nizar Khamiri lived together in Tunisia until the outbreak of revolution, when she flew to Eindhoven, Netherlands where Nizar was supposed to join her soon afterward. But then, Italy decided that only Tunisian migrants who had arrived there by April 5 would be granted six-month temporary permits. Since that day, all other migrants have been repatriated.

This faraway political decision created a wall between husband and wife. When he applied for a Dutch visa, Nizar was rejected because he was unable to prove that he'd have a job and thus a means to support himself upon arrival. It is the same financial boundary that has stopped hundreds of Tunisian at the borders between Italy and France.

Now, Nizar is locked in an identification center of Lampedusa, where he has been listed for repatriation. This marks the second time he sailed from Tunisia in a desperate attempt to reach his wife and future son. The first time, he was sent back to Tunisia.

His story is hardly unique. Just the other day, another 30 people reached Lampedusa on tiny, flimsy boats – the standard means of transportation for migrants leaving from Tunisia. People leaving Libya tend to travel on huge ships.

Winny set out for her Lampedusa quest armed only with her six-month-pregnant belly and an album of wedding photographs. She and Nizar married on the Greek island of Kos, where they first met. Both worked for a resort complex. "It was love at first sight," she says. "I'm in love. I just want to spend every moment with him."

The wedding took place in September. In the photos she looks beautiful in her white wedding dress and he looks smart in his grey suit. The photos show their parents, their friends and the wedding cake. Now, Winny wants their happiness back. She took three planes – from Brussels to Milan, from Milan to Palermo, and from Palermo to Lampedusa. The island seems to her like a mixture of pain, death and hunger for life.

"I took my album to the center to prove that that Nizar is really my husband. I have lots of documents to prove it: the wedding certificate, the birth certificate, insurance and credit card papers," she says.

Her hand on her belly and a cap on her head, she marched along a long and dusty road to the center, under a burning sun. "I was so tired, but I was happy to see Nizar again," she says.

Winny was able to persuade the guards to let her see her husband. In recent days, mothers from all over Europe have arrived here to rescue their sons. Many have been turned away without a chance to even see their loved ones.

"I'm staying here until I will take you back. I'll wait as long as it takes," Winny said to her husband.

"I will take two, 100, 1,000 more boats to come back to you," Nizar replied.

Even the guards were moved.

Read the original article in Italian

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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

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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