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Thailand’s lese majeste law: A weapon to silence dissent?



Earlier this week, hundreds of Thai protesters shouted at the royal motorcade of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in a show of unprecedented open dissent towards the monarchy as anti-government sentiment is on the rise across the country.

The continuing protests have prompted the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to declare a state emergency on Thursday, and order the arrest of activists and their supporters.

For months, the demonstrators have been demanding the resignation of Prayuth, a former military general and coup leader, and reforms to the country’s centuries-old monarchy, including an amendment, if not the abolition of the controversial lese majeste law.

So, what is Thailand’s lese majeste law, and is it being used by the government to silence dissent?

Section 112

The Thai monarchy is protected by Section 112 of the country’s Penal Code, which says whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.

The law against royal insults has been present in Thai criminal codes since the early 1900s when Thailand was known as Siam.

In June this year, Prayuth suddenly announced the law has been suspended upon the instructions of the new king. But that has not stopped the protests, nor the arrests.

According to a Bangkok Post report, since Prayuth led a coup in 2014, more than 90 people have been prosecuted under the lese majeste law, and at least 43 of them have been sentenced.

Constitutional monarchy

The king is described in Thailand’s constitution as “enthroned in a position of revered worship”. Thai royalist traditionalists see the monarchy as a sacred institution.

The monarchy has deep roots in Thailand, where kings held absolute power for hundreds of years before a 1932 revolution.

Since then, Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy with the king as the head of state, although King Maha retains a powerful and influential role.

The current king’s father, the highly-revered Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016, had also remarked in 2005 that the government should stop invoking the lese majeste law, saying it damages the monarchy as an institution.

The monarchy has deep roots in Thailand, where kings held absolute power for hundreds of years before a 1932 revolution [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

On Tuesday, King Maha made a public appearance to mark the fourth death anniversary of his father – the event that sparked the latest anti-government protests.

Prosecution under the law

There were only occasional prosecutions before 2014, when Prayuth took power in a coup, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group.

Many of those convicted at the time were pardoned by the then-King Bhumibol.

But between the 2014 coup and early 2018, at least 98 lese majeste charges were filed, according to a legal database by Thai watchdog iLaw.

Human rights groups said many of those cases were used to persecute opponents to the military government, an allegation the military government denied. Among prosecutions was one for defaming the late king’s pet dog.

A pro-democracy protester, right, scuffles with a pro-monarchy one, centre, during an anti-government protest at the democracy monument in Bangkok on Wednesday [Rungroj Yongrit/EPA]

In a high-profile lese majeste case in 2011, a 61-year-old Thai man, Ampon Tangnoppakul, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly sending four text messages deemed to have been offensive to the royal family.

The following year, Ampon died of liver cancer in prison, still claiming he was innocent of all charges.

Royal insult

The most recent royal insult case was prosecuted in March 2018 against two men for trying to burn pictures of the king, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

A local court dropped the royal insult charge but found both guilty of being part of a criminal organisation and arson.

According to the lese majeste law, anyone can file a complaint against others without being the damaged party, a provision that critics say is being abused by royalists and the current government.

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Rights groups also said opponents of the government have recently been charged under other laws such as those against sedition and computer crimes.

Last year, three exiled Thai activists facing charges of insulting the monarchy disappeared in Vietnam after reportedly being arrested over there.

According to Human Rights Watch, the three were reportedly turned over by Vietnam to Thai authorities. The Thai government has denied the report.

Also in January of 2019, the concrete-stuffed bodies of two exiled critics of the military and the royal family were discovered along the Mekong River border with Laos.

The government has said it does not target opponents and that it is the responsibility of the police to uphold the law.

But with protests growing even larger, the government is scrambling to find ways to contain dissent, raising fears of more crackdowns.


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The world is worried about the coronavirus. It’s equally concerned about climate change.



Even amid a pandemic that has killed more than 1 million people, infected over 40 million, and tanked economies, people around the world are still extremely worried about the threat posed by climate change.

A recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that a median of 70 percent of respondents in 14 countries identified climate change as a major threat to their countries, while 69 percent expressed the same level of worry about the spread of infectious disease.

Majorities in all countries surveyed said both issues were major causes for concern. When comparing the two problems, respondents in eight countries were more worried about climate change as a significant threat.

Spain, France, and Italy showed the highest level of concern, at 83 percent, while 60 percent or greater in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium felt similarly. Respondents in Australia expressed the least concern for climate change, at 59 percent.

Canada was equally worried about climate change and the spread of infectious disease, with both issues accounting for 67 percent.

In South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia, a greater share of people viewed the spread of infectious disease as a more significant threat than climate change, ranging from 68 percent in Australia to 89 percent in South Korea.

One in 10 or fewer of all respondents did not think global climate change was a threat.

Many of the countries witnessed a substantial increase in the percentage of people who view climate change as a major threat since Pew first asked the question. In 2013, a median of 55 percent of respondents in 10 countries said climate change was a major threat, compared to 76 percent in 2020. Concern in France grew 29 points, from 54 percent to 83 percent. No noticeable increase occurred from the last time the question was asked in 2018.

The results of the Pew Research Center poll, which was conducted from June 10 to August 3, 2020, might seem surprising given how much space the Covid-19 pandemic has taken up in our global consciousness in recent months. But there are several possible explanations.

As stay-at-home orders were issued in countries worldwide, a number of reports cited the drop in carbon dioxide emissions due to a global collapse in airline travel and a sharp decline in the number of people commuting to work. Many were forced to consider the impact of their personal choices on the environment.

The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has also prompted governments around the world to consider “green” stimulus plans that would jump-start economies while also tackling climate change. For example, South Korea, France, and Italy have used their Covid-19 responses as a chance to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions — which are accelerating global warming — in the energy, infrastructure, government, and industry sectors.

Democrats in the US have put forth a Green New Deal, and the European Commission has released its own version. Both plans suggest a complete overhaul of every sector of the economy toward clean energy sources, while protecting workers and fostering technological innovation. By some estimates, the US has the capacity to do so by 2035.

Given the level of concern about global climate change across 14 diverse countries, it might finally be time for governments to take decisive action.

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If You Love Your Family, Cancel This Year’s Holiday Gathering



Vintage style photo of three generational family by Thanksgiving dinner table, covered with coronavirus-shaped particles

Collage by Cathryn Virginia | Images from Getty and Shutterstock


“Happy” “Holidays” 2020 is a series about feeling connected and vaguely festive during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 holiday season grows nearer each day, and, with it, pressure from family members to please come home, despite the still-ongoing, no-sign-of-stopping COVID-19 pandemic. For most people who live any significant distance from their family of origin, or even those who live near aging or otherwise immunocompromised relatives, 2020 has been a year without any family visits. The desire to finally cave—to book the cheap flight you’ve been watching for months in order to make your relatives happy and maybe even hug them for the first time in this awful year—is strong. In March, 100 years ago, a lot of people assumed things would be back to “normal” by now.

Of course that isn’t the case; thanks to an inept government, it remains unsafe and unwise to travel to stay with family this holiday season, and to gather with them indoors and/or unmasked at all. Just as has been the case since March, if you love your family, the best thing you can do for them is stay the hell away from them.

While most people realize that being around strangers or big groups indoors is a bad idea, others are still behaving like their friends and family couldn’t possibly be sick or at risk of getting each other sick. “What we’re seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings,” CDC director Robert Redfield told reporters in mid-October. “Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it’s really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting.”

Cautionary tales abound. In June, a birthday party in Texas caused at least 18 members of one family to become infected with COVID-19. In July, two physicians let their “guard down” by hosting a family gathering—mostly outside, but without masks—that spurred at least eight COVID-19 cases. And over the summer, a 13-year-old girl who had tested negative on an antigen test (the type of test used incorrectly by the White House) two days before developing some nasal congestion, gave COVID-19 to 11 relatives across four states. The CDC wrote a report on the event, not because it’s atypical, but because it’s increasingly common.

“Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s my family. I’m going to go see my brother. I’m going to see my cousin,’ and they think that’s a safe word,” Ron Barbosa, the Texas man who didn’t get sick because he didn’t attend the birthday party with the rest of his family, told BuzzFeed News.

Months of living with this virus means we’ve had time to learn more about it, and also to get used to it. The former is a good thing—we now know that masks play a vital role in curbing spread, ventilation indoors is key, and social distancing and quarantining are highly effective for minimizing spread—but the latter is dangerous. There remains no wiggle room in the rules, no matter how incredibly tired we are of living by them.

As bioethicist Kelly Hills told VICE in July, we often assume our loved ones share our views toward pandemic safety—that “what I think is risky is what they think is risky, and what they think is common sense is what I think is common sense. It just doesn’t work like that,” she said. We also shouldn’t assume we’ve been careful enough for people to be safe around us. No one thinks they are going to be the one to sicken or kill their loved ones, but people are still getting infected by those they know, and are even related to.

Maybe you’re someone who understands this, who knows that going home for the holidays is a bad idea, and are already planning new, safer ways to celebrate the upcoming season without risking the health of your loved ones. But if your boomer parents, or your grandparents, or your sibling, or whoever is still on your case about coming home, and is sure that COVID wouldn’t possible dare show its face at a “safe, small” family gathering, perhaps send them this recent account from a former COVID-denier of his family weekend in Texas that resulted in tragedy. Just after Governor Greg Abbott released the state from its brief lockdown and said small gatherings were probably fine, Green invited the family to his house, a visit that spurred at least 14 cases that resulted in multiple hospital stays—including his own—and at least two deaths.

“How many people would have gotten sick if I’d never hosted that weekend? One? Maybe two?” Green told the Washington Post. “The grief comes in waves, but that guilt just sits.”

The desire to see family right now, to hug them and share big piles of food with them around a table where everyone’s laughing and pretending the rest of this year didn’t exist, is so strong, it hurts. But the guilt over sickening a family member—or worse—would be even more painful. There will come a holiday season where all of our favorite things are possible again. Strongly consider that this isn’t the one. While choosing the safety of a holiday season apart might be hard for everyone involved, it may be ultimately easier to swallow than the potential consequences of indulging the desire to be close.

Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.


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Trump campaign cries foul on final debate topics



The US president says he will participate in Thursday’s debate, despite decrying the lack of a foreign policy topic.

The campaign for United States President Donald Trump has objected to the chosen topics for Thursday’s election debate in Nashville, Tennessee, declaring the final face-off between the candidates was meant to be the “foreign policy debate” and accusing organisers of pro-Biden bias.

Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, in a Monday letter to the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates, said that debate “was always billed as the ‘Foreign Policy Debate’” as was “agreed to by both the Trump campaign and Biden campaign many months ago”.

On Friday, the debate moderator, NBC News’ Kristen Welker, announced the debate topics would be fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership. It was unclear if there had ever been a formal agreement on what the topics would be, although, in past elections, foreign policy has factored prominently in final presidential debates.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will face off in Nashville, Tennesee on Thursday [File: Morry Gash/EPA]

In the letter to the debate organisers, Stepien decried “the commission’s pro-Biden antics” and said the foreign policy omission stood to benefit the Democratic challenger.

“We understand that Joe Biden is desperate to avoid conversations about his own foreign policy record, especially since President Trump has secured historic peace agreements among Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain,” he wrote, alleging the commission had intentionally sought to benefit Biden in the first debate and in the cancelled second one.

The campaign has also slammed the commission’s decision, announced on Monday, to mute the candidates during portions of the debate when the other candidate is speaking – a response to the chaotic first debate in Cleveland, Ohio that often devolved into a shouting match.

A second debate scheduled for October 15 was cancelled after Trump refused to agree to a digital format following his COVID-19 diagnosis. The candidates instead were featured in dueling prime-time town hall events on separate US TV networks.

‘Nothing fair’

Trump, for his part, has continued to attack the framework of the debate, while accusing moderator Welker of being a “radical left Democrat” during a rally in Arizona on Monday.

“These people are not good people,” he said of the debate commission on Tuesday, in an interview on Fox News, adding there was “nothing fair” about the upcoming event.

Despite the harsh words, Trump and his campaign have said he will participate in the debate, hoping the final face-to-face meeting between the candidates will give the president a bump amid lagging polls going into Election Day on November 3.


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