By Amy Sawitta Lefevre BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's military seized power last year with a promise to eventually restore democracy. But a crackdown against critics of the monarchy and junta suggest the country is locked on a darker trajectory, say U.N. officials and human rights activists. On Sunday, a student was taken from hospital by plainclothes agents and charged with defaming Thailand's widely revered royalty. On Monday, it emerged that a factory worker was charged with sedition and mocking King Bhumibol Adulyadej's dog. If found guilty, he faces decades in prison. And on Tuesday, a military court sentenced a single mother to seven years in jail for posting material on the Internet insulting to the monarchy. Human Rights Watch said the cases underscore how freedom of speech has reached a new low in the Southeast Asian country. Since taking power in 2014, the military has made full use of Article 44 of the interim constitution which gives junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha absolute power to give any order deemed necessary to prevent acts seen as undermining national security. It also allows soldiers to detain people for up to seven days without a court warrant. Rights groups and critics of the junta say a draconian law designed to protect Thailand's royal family has been broadened considerably and is being applied with greater fervor. "The travesty of law enforcement under the junta's rule reached a new low when Thanakorn was charged with lese-majeste for ... comments that Thai authorities considered as mocking the king's dog," Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch told Reuters, referring to factory worker Thanakorn Siripaiboon, 27. WORRIES Junta spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree defended the royal insult law. "We haven't used this law in a harsher manner but in this period there may have been more people who violated this law so authorities have to deal with them accordingly," Winthai told Reuters. "We need this law in Thailand in order to protect the monarchy which is the love of all Thais," he said. All this comes amid worries over the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 88 this month, and concerns over an eventual succession - a subject that cannot be openly discussed because of the lese-majeste law that makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen or heir apparent, but one that continues to dominate political developments in Thailand. The king's son and heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, does not command the same level of devotion as his father. Kan Yuenyong at the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank said the military had become "quite sensitive" over any criticism and was anxious about what an eventual succession would bring. "The transition is very fragile because there is serious fighting between different camps and stakeholders," he said. "Because of the power struggle, the military is quite sensitive over any criticism and they want to show that they are the ones who can wield power." Diplomats and foreign journalists have also been caught up in the military crackdown on anyone perceived as critical of the junta or royal establishment. On Tuesday, the Thai printer blocked publication of a report in the International New York Times on the king's dog defamation charges, the third time in a month that it has left a Thailand article blank, and the U.S. Ambassador to the country is being investigated over accusations he violated the strict lese-majeste law. "The U.N. High Commissioner has stated he is appalled by the shockingly disproportionate prison terms handed down this year in lese-majeste cases in Thailand," the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told Reuters in an e-mail. The office said prison terms handed down for lese-majeste this year were the heaviest recorded since 2006, when it began documenting cases of individuals prosecuted for lese-majeste offences. (Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Andrew R.C. Marshall and Robert Birsel)
- Yahoo News
These are the issues the Biden administration will be dealing with on the foreign policy front.
- The Telegraph
A Republican congresswoman is facing calls to resign over reports that she helped to spread falsehoods about the Parkland school shooting. Marjorie Taylor Greene reportedly agreed with a conspiracy theory about the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed. Facebook screenshots showed a discussion about why a police officer had not rushed into the building, and someone claimed that the mass shooting was a "false flag planned shooting." Greene replied: “Exactly!" The social media giant later removed the posts after they were reported to them. Cameron Kasky, a former Parkland pupil who co-founded the group Never Again MSD, said: "She should resign. She can apologise. I don’t think anybody will accept it.” The congresswoman was elected in Georgia in November, backed Donald Trump's claims of election fraud, and has previously expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory. Fred Guttenberg, who's 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the Parkland shooting, said: "Your feelings on gun laws are irrelevant to your claim that Parkland never happened. You are a fraud who must resign. Be prepared to meet me directly in person to explain your conspiracy theory, and soon." The comments by the politician were first reported by Media Matters for America. In a statement Ms Greene accused Media Matters for America of being "communists' and "fake news". Meanwhile, US Capitol Police were investigating an incident in which a Republican congressman was found carrying a concealed gun while trying to enter the floor of the House of Representatives. Andy Harris, a staunch gun-rights advocate, set off a metal detector going through security on his way to the House floor . Metal detectors were installed outside the chamber to beef up security in the aftermath of the Capitol riots on Jan 6.
- Yahoo News
Counterintelligence official Michael Orlando joins a growing chorus of voices on both sides of the political aisle who point to China as a major national security threat, particularly in terms of technology and cybersecurity.
Germany on Friday rejected a claim by Argentina that a request by airline Lufthansa to fly over Argentina en route to the Falkland Islands implied a recognition of them as Argentine territory. Argentina and Britain have long disputed ownership of the Falklands, with Argentina claiming sovereignty over the British-run islands it calls the Malvinas.
America may not have won World War II and landed on the moon later if not for the contributions of a brilliant Chinese scientist named Qian Xuesen. Fearing communist presence after the war, the U.S., however, deported Qian to China, clueless that he would eventually spearhead programs that would target American troops and eventually propel China into space. Born to well-educated parents in 1911, it was evident from an early age that Qian had superior intellect.
- NBC News
A woman has been arrested and charged with murder after the dismembered remains of her missing roommate, Talina Galloway, were found in a freezer in the woods of Polk County, Arkansas last week. Talina, 53, was reported missing by her roommate, Kore Bommeli on April 17, 2020. Talina’s remains were found in the freezer on January 14, 2021. Bommeli, who has been a person of interest throughout the investigation, was located in Wisconsin and faces charges of murder and desecration of a corpse. Th
- National Review
Biden Admonishes Reporter for Questioning Whether Vaccine Goal Is Ambitious Enough: ‘Give Me a Break’
President Biden pushed back on a reporter at a press briefing on Thursday, who questioned whether the new administration’s coronavirus vaccine goal is ambitious enough. Biden has set a goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans during his first 100 days in office. During the press conference, Biden called the Trump administration’s distribution of coronavirus vaccines a “dismal failure so far,” warning that “things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.” However, the seven-day rolling average for coronavirus vaccine doses administered to Americans currently sits at 912,000, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. (On Wednesday alone, 1.6 million doses were administered.) This indicates that the Biden administration is not far from its goal of vaccinating one million Americans per day. On Thursday, Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller asked Biden if the vaccination goal was “high enough,” since “that’s basically where the U.S. is right now.” “When I announced it you all said it wasn’t possible. Come on, give me a break, man,” Biden responded. “It’s a good start, a hundred million.” Internal projections from the Trump administration showed that the U.S. could administer at least 170 million doses by the end of April, two Trump administration officials told Bloomberg. During the press conference, Biden also announced that he would invoke the Defense Production Act to “accelerate the making of everything that’s needed to protect, test, and vaccinate and the care of our people.” Biden warned that the death toll from coronavirus infections would hit 500,000 in February. Over 408,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 as of Thursday.
- The Independent
‘There was a protocol breach when the front doors were not held open’
- Associated Press
Iran's capital and major cities plunged into darkness in recent weeks as rolling outages left millions without electricity for hours. With toxic smog blanketing Tehran skies and the country buckling under the pandemic and other mounting crises, social media has been rife with speculation. Within days, as frustration spread among residents, the government launched a wide-ranging crackdown on Bitcoin processing centers, which require immense amounts of electricity to power their specialized computers and to keep them cool — a burden on Iran's power grid.
- The Telegraph
Thousands of national guardsmen were turfed out of the Capitol building on Thursday and sent to sleep in car parks, before being allowed back in late at night after complaints from lawmakers. Despite the quick reversal, two Republican governors commanded their troops home in protest. US Capitol police had ordered the reservists to vacate the building and set up camp outdoors or in nearby hotels, with thousands ending up stationed outside or in car parks. “Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed,” one of the guardsmen told Politico. The National Guard were brought into the US capital to provide security after Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6.
- Yahoo News Video
A woman facing charges that she helped steal a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the U.S. Capitol will be released from jail, a federal judge decided Thursday.
With the dawn of the Biden administration comes Cholleti Vinay Reddy, the country’s first Indian American presidential speechwriter. Reddy’s roots originate from Pothireddypeta, a rural village in the Indian state of Telangana, whose residents have been celebrating his latest milestone: Biden’s inaugural address. Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Reddy is believed to have acquired his political acumen from his grandfather, Tirupathi, who served as the village sarpanch (head) for 30 years.
- Associated Press
A Colombian businessman was carrying a letter from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accrediting him to Iran's supreme leader when he was arrested on a U.S. warrant last year, according to a new court filing in a politically charged corruption case ratcheting up tensions with the South American nation. Attorneys for Alex Saab made the filing in Miami federal court Thursday just hours after prosecutors in the African nation of Cape Verde said they granted the 49-year-old Colombian house arrest as he fights extradition to the U.S. to face money laundering charges. U.S. officials believe Saab holds numerous secrets about how Maduro, his family and top aides allegedly siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts amid widespread hunger in the oil-rich nation.
The number of people fleeing violence in West Africa's Sahel region has quadrupled in the past two years, with 2 million now displaced in their own countries, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday. Militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have expanded their reach in the semi-arid region on the edge of the Sahara, stoking ethnic conflict in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and forcing whole communities to flee their homes. More than half of those displaced within their own country are in Burkina Faso, where many are forced to sleep outside and do not have enough water, UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov said at a briefing in Geneva.
- The Independent
Sean Hannity denounces Biden’s first week as ‘disastrous’ before the president completed a full day of work
‘The Biden administration is off to a very rocky start,’ Fox News host says
- The Week
Majority of House GOP reportedly supports removing Liz Cheney from leadership after impeachment vote
House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney is facing an internal resistance after splitting from her party on former President Donald Trump's impeachment.Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House, was one of only a handful of Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in inciting the Capitol riot. More than a majority of GOP House members have since indicated they'd support ousting Cheney from her leadership spot, while at least two other Republicans have lined up to replace her, Politico reports.At least 107 House members — more than half the caucus — privately support removing Cheney from power, multiple GOP sources involved in the effort told Politico. Meanwhile New York Reps. Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin, who defended Trump during both of his impeachments, are reportedly looking to replace her.House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have said they don't intend to remove Cheney. But McCarthy also echoed Republicans' reported anger that Cheney voiced her support of impeachment the day before the House vote, giving Democrats time to use her views in their own arguments. "Questions need to be answered," such as the "style in which things were delivered," McCarthy told reporters Thursday.Many other Republicans, including some who voted against impeachment, meanwhile don't want Cheney removed just for "vot[ing] her conscience," as Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) put it. Others argue removing Cheney would fly in the face of the party's unification message in the post-Trump era — something Cheney herself is trying to counter by making "making calls to all corners of the conference to hear lawmakers out," Politico reports.More stories from theweek.com McConnell is already moving to strangle the Biden presidency 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Biden's next executive order will let people stay on unemployment if they quit an unsafe job
- Associated Press
The latest jackpot-winning Powerball ticket, worth $731.1 million, was sold in a struggling coal mining town whose biggest previous claim to fame was being the hometown of baseball legend Lefty Grove. The store will get a $100,000 bonus for selling the ticket to the fifth-largest lottery prize in U.S. history. An even larger Mega Millions jackpot will be up for grabs Friday night.
- Architectural Digest
800 feet up in the sky, the Dreamy 6,000 square foot space offers panoramic views from the East River to the HudsonOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
The European Parliament called on EU governments to recognise Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president in a resolution on Thursday, after a downgrade of his status by the bloc earlier this month. The EU's 27 states said on Jan. 6 they can no longer legally recognise Guaido as the country's legitimate head of state after he lost his position as head of parliament following legislative elections in Venezuela in December, despite the EU not recognising that vote. The European Parliament "calls on ... the member states to unequivocally recognise the constitutional continuation of the legitimate National Assembly of Venezuela elected in 2015 and the legitimate interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaido", it said.
- The Independent
‘We’re a National Guard family’: Jill Biden visits Capitol troops with cookies after some were forced to stay in garage
"The National Guard always holds a special place in the hearts of all the Bidens. So thank you,” Dr Biden says