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‘Gagged’ Thai media fights for a voice as elections loom

Bangkok, Thailand – Journalist Sirote Klampaiboon is one of the most popular presenters on Thailand’s Voice TV, a digital broadcaster that has been penalised at least 20 times for its reporting since the military seized control of the country five years ago and clamped down on freedom of expression. Last month, the military government said…

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‘Gagged’ Thai media fights for a voice as elections loom

Bangkok, Thailand – Journalist Sirote Klampaiboon is one of the most popular presenters on Thailand’s Voice TV, a digital broadcaster that has been penalised at least 20 times for its reporting since the military seized control of the country five years ago and clamped down on freedom of expression.

Last month, the military government said it would suspend Voice TV for 15 days claiming two of its programmes – Wake Up News and Tonight Thailand – included material that was “confusing and seditious”.

But after the channel fought back, a court ruled the action illegal.

The TV station’s talk shows have long made people in high places feel “uncomfortable”, Sirote said, adding that that was the reason he disappeared from screens for a month in September.

But the election campaign has opened some room for debate.

“It’s a more chaotic situation so you can find the space to report things more openly and be more aggressive,” Sirote told Al Jazeera.

“The sources now are everywhere, so they (the government) don’t know how to deal with it.”

A slew of restrictive laws has hobbled the Thai media since the armed forces under General Prayuth Chan-ocha took control of the government in 2014 and cracked down on freedom of expression.

But while the removal of restrictions on political activity in December has allowed parties to campaign, there has been no move to relax draconian regulations surrounding the media.

“There’s an expectation from the public for journalists to do more,” said Tess Bacalla, executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

“But from the media side, they have resorted to self-censorship. They are very cautious. How much can you do when you are basically gagged.”

Authority to censor

A series of special orders passed between 2014 and 2016 by the National Council for Peace and Order – the official name for the military government – ban the media from covering issues seen as undermining national security, insulting the monarchy and criticism of the administration.

The decrees also cover disinformation and defamation, allowing authorities to censor media content.

Prayuth’s administration has far broader powers over the media than any previous military government, according to Chakrit Permpool, an adviser to the Thai Journalists’ Association.

The group urged the military last December to cancel the decrees to establish a “genuine, democratic environment” and help voters make an informed decision.

Thailand has at least 20 broadcasters, some state-owned and others are private.

Since the election was called, broadcasters have been holding regular debates among the election candidates, although Prayuth has declined to participate.

At the end of February, a state-owned broadcaster booked 10 novice politicians for its weekly election show to discuss the key issues.

They matched the young politicians with a young audience, inviting 100 first-time voters into the studio and giving each of them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down card to hold up to indicate their thoughts on the issues being debated.

Orawan Choodee, a veteran political journalist, fielded questions on a range of topical issues – from what the young people thought about Prayuth’s decision not to participate in the debates to their views on the military government’s 20-year national plan.

A few days later, Orawan posted on Facebook that she had been suspended from the channel.

The broadcaster later said it was a “misunderstanding” about scheduling.

“Thailand’s elections won’t be considered credible if the media is gagged and critical commentary about military rule is prohibited,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement this week.

“The junta should understand that an election that is little more than a preordained victory for military rule will only be treated as a mockery of democracy.”

It is not only the traditional and mainstream media that are struggling under restrictive laws.

Digital and social media also operate under strict rules that cover not only reporters, but the parties and candidates who want to use those platforms to expand the reach of their campaign.

Under new electoral rules they must register their social media handles with the authorities, and risk disqualification, jail and political bans if they do anything more than discuss policies.

Some 50 million Thais are on Facebook, so politicians cannot ignore the platform, but at the same time, it also carries significant risk.

“Facebook is being used as an arena to disarm political rivals,” said Aim Sinpeng, who researches Southeast Asia’s digital politics at the University of Sydney.

“This is in stark contrast to the 2011 election where cyberspace was much more open. Today, it’s no longer possible for political parties not to be on social media, but by being on it, it opens up a wide array of potential liabilities not all political parties can afford.”

An election “war room” has been set up to trawl through hundreds and thousands of posts to make sure they do not breach any of the rules.

Sawang Boonmee, the deputy secretary-general of the Elections Commission of Thailand, told the Reuters news agency his team was looking for posts that “spread lies, slander candidates or use rude language”.
Nevertheless, not all media outlets have retreated into self-censorship.

Despite the repressive environment, media such as Matichon Group, a publicly listed publisher of three national newspapers including Khaosod whose online edition has attracted a huge following, and Prachathai, an independent non-profit online paper, have continued to question and investigate.

Voice TV is owned by Pathongthae Shinawatra, son of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but Sirote said Pathongthae takes no part in editorial decisions.

“I never consider him to interfere in our work,” Sirote said, noting that they are critical of Shinawatra successor party Pheu Thai, too.

“It never happened, not even for a single minute. The content comes from my judgement all the time.”

SEAPA’s Bacalla urged Voice TV to take legal action over last month’s attempt to close the station down. In court, she gave evidence, pointing out that as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Thailand had an obligation to safeguard freedom of expression and opinion.

“It was a victory not just for Voice TV, but for the rest of the media, too,” she said.

“In trying to push back they managed to make a statement.”

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Eid gatherings, parties could lead to spike in Covid cases

Globally, virus cases have surged after nationwide celebrations. The UAE is starting to bend the Covid-19 curve, but with Eid Al Fitr coming up, irresponsible get-togethers could easily turn the recovery graph upside down, medical experts have warned. The country’s daily Covid cases dropped to 1,507 on Monday, the second-lowest daily count recorded so far…

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Eid gatherings, parties could lead to spike in Covid cases

Globally, virus cases have surged after nationwide celebrations.

The UAE is starting to bend the Covid-19 curve, but with Eid Al Fitr coming up, irresponsible get-togethers could easily turn the recovery graph upside down, medical experts have warned.
The country’s daily Covid cases dropped to 1,507 on Monday, the second-lowest daily count recorded so far this year after 1,501 cases were reported on January 4. It was a big improvement from the highs of more than 3,000 cases in January, hitting 3,977 on February 3.
Eid gatherings of more than 5 banned; Dh50,000 fine for hosts
However, with anticipated pent-up demand for travel, get-togethers, and camping, medics have urged the public to be responsible. Keep celebrations low-key, scrap gatherings, and avoid hugs and handshakes.
Dr Humaid Al Shamsi, president of the Emirates Oncology Society, underlined that the UAE has managed to reduce the number of new cases but there is a long road ahead.
“This is the second Eid Al Fitr during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, there was a lot of anxiety and fear. Fortunately, now, we have the benefit of knowing how to deal with this dangerous virus. We also have the confidence to keep ourselves safe by taking the vaccine and following safety measures. At the same time, we should continue this fight with utmost care and precautions.
Dr Al Shamsi, who is also consultant for oncology and internal medicine at Burjeel Speciality Hospital, Sharjah, reminded community members to refrain from being part of any large gatherings, shaking hands and giving hugs.
Eid Al Fitr in UAE: Covid safety rules announced
“We used to celebrate Eid with grand ceremonies in the years before the pandemic. But this time, we should anticipate the dangers of large gatherings and get-togethers. Early this year, we saw an increase in daily reported infections due to laxity as part of celebrations. Through consistent efforts, the number of cases has been reduced. So, it’s our responsibility to follow all safety protocols.
“We should limit meetings within immediate family members who have been vaccinated. Keep physical distance and wear a mask. Avoid large gatherings and unnecessary outings. When guests arrive, minimise gestures that promote close contact. Don’t shake hands or give hugs, try elbow bumps, wave and verbally greet them.”
Dr Vinu George Abraham, internal medicine specialist at Aster Clinic–Dar Al Shifa, Abu Dhabi, pointed out that globally, caseloads have surged after nationwide celebrations.
“There has been numerous data forwarded by the WHO, which showed a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases just because of large and small social gatherings. There has been a reported ten-fold increase in Covid-19 cases worldwide because of events like New Year celebrations, school breaks, Thanksgiving, etc. In such celebrations, it is arduous for the government healthcare facility to track down the source of infection and provide effective treatment and isolation.”
Dr Abraham urged community members to mark the festival with utmost responsibility by adhering to health and safety measures.
“Although the number of infections is declining in the UAE, there are still people with low immunity, like the elderly with chronic disease and pregnant women. They need continuous care. The virus constantly changes through mutation and new variants are expected to occur over time. Health is wealth, stay home, stay safe and stay blessed.”
Dr Srinivasa Rao Polumuru, internal medicine specialist at NMC Specialty Hospital, Al Nahda, Dubai, pointed out that even going to restaurants had been linked to a higher likelihood of infection.
“A large seroprevalence survey from Spain highlighted the greater risk of infection within the household compared with non-household exposures. Although transmission rates are highest in household and congregate settings, frequently reported clusters of cases after social or work gatherings also highlight the risk of transmission through close and non-household social contact. Going to restaurants and other drinking or eating establishments has been associated with a higher likelihood of infection, likely because of the difficulty with wearing masks and maintaining social distancing in such settings.”
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Ashwani Kumar
I am a newspaperman from the emirate of Abu Dhabi. A journalist at heart. I get my stories from the streets. A south Indian born in the Hindi heartland, I easily connect with people from different nationalities and cultures. I am calm like a monk, sensitive and very patient reporter. On the ground, I cover a range of topics related to community, health, embassy, tourism, transport, business and sports. I will go out on a leg to do what’s right and stand by what I believe in.

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Dubai: JLT tower residents sweat it out without AC

They say they have paid their dues, and hold the company managing the building responsible. Tenants of a high-rise building in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT) are fuming as they have been living without air-conditioners for half a year now. Cooling services were cut off at the Preatoni Tower over a dispute about unpaid bills.…

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Dubai: JLT tower residents sweat it out without AC

They say they have paid their dues, and hold the company managing the building responsible.

Tenants of a high-rise building in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT) are fuming as they have been living without air-conditioners for half a year now.
Cooling services were cut off at the Preatoni Tower over a dispute about unpaid bills. Tenants said most of them were paying their dues on time, but they claimed the firm that used to manage their building failed to remit their payments and could have misappropriated the funds. Now, a new company has taken over and government authorities are investigating the matter.
As they wait for the issue to be resolved, the tower’s 200 residents are left with no choice but to sweat it out in their flats.
NP, who owns a couple of apartments in the tower, said: “Why should the whole building pay the price for those who haven’t paid? It is unfair on the part of the service providers to cut the cooling services of people who have paid their charges. It is Ramadan, many are fasting, we have pregnant women, old people and children in the building who can have severe health issues with the soaring temperatures.”
He said they noticed the AC problem in October last year. “The air-conditioners weren’t as they should, and gradually, the AC power was completely cut off. I have supplied my tenant with portable ACs but it is not enough.”
Besides the cooling issue, several other services were eventually affected — from cleaners to elevators. The residents raised the issue and a new management firm was assigned to take care of the building services.
“Chilled water services were withdrawn and we have to make do with burning hot water from the overhead tanks. In the last six months, we have suffered so much, along with our tenants. A few days ago, even the elevator stopped working and it was crazy as residents who stay on upper floors of our 46-storey tower had to take the stairs!” NP said.
Worse, some agents duped residents into renting a unit without telling them the air-conditioner wasn’t working.
Elsa, a UK national and a working mum, was one of them. “I moved in to the Preatoni Tower with my four-year-old daughter this year as I liked its location. Neither the landlord nor the agent mentioned a word about the AC issue. Since the weather was good when I moved in, I didn’t require the air-conditioner but as days progressed and it got hotter, I tried switching on the AC but it didn’t work.
“This is when my landlord told me about the issue and told me it will get resolved soon. He gave me three portable ACs but nothing seems to work with the heat outside. I have to put a hose outside the window, which leaves a some part of the window open, letting all the heat in.”
Murachelli Pierluigi, an Italian national, never thought he would have to live in a home cooled only by a portable fan.
“The agents fooled me by saying the matter would get resolved next week but their promise had not seen the light of the day. My apartment temperature is 35 degrees and I cannot stop sweating although my portable fan is on 24/7. I hope this issue gets resolved before something serious happens,” he said.
Kami, another resident, moved into the tower just recently but as soon as she realised the AC wasn’t working, she wanted to leave. Unfortunately, they had already paid all the down payments. “The agents have taken cheques for the full year and they are not letting us break the lease, let alone return our deposit and agency fee. To top it all, the agents are extremely rude to us, they ignore our calls and when they pick up, they say that the cooling services will resume in a few days but that hasn’t happened in the last few months since we moved. We are miserable and seek desperate attention from the authorities to help us out before any of us falls sick.”
Elsa added that because of the situation, she and her daughter spend most of their day outdoors. “Things were going from bad to worse as the cleaners stopped coming to our building, leaving it in a very unhygienic condition. We cannot afford to invite more diseases especially when we are already dealing with the pandemic. I am worried for my daughter and it is very frustrating as we do not know who to go to,” she said.
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UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem JERUSALEM: Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Israeli police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday as Israel marked the anniversary of its capture of parts of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli…

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UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Israeli police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday as Israel marked the anniversary of its capture of parts of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said more than 180 Palestinians were injured in the violence, of whom more than 80, including one person in critical condition, were transferred to hospitals.Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest site, has been a focal point of violence in Jerusalem throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The clashes have raised international concern.Tensions were particularly high as Israel was marked “Jerusalem Day,” its annual celebration of the capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City that is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy places.In an effort to ease the situation, Israeli police said they had banned Jewish groups from paying Jerusalem Day visits to the holy plaza that houses Al-Aqsa, and which Jews revere as the site of biblical Jewish temples.

Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres believes Israel “must exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” a UN spokesman said, as tensions rise around Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest mosque.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deep concern over the continuing violence in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the possible evictions of Palestinian families from their homes,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

“He urges Israel to cease demolitions and evictions.”

Guterres urged that the status quo at the holy sites be upheld and respected, Dujarric said.

 

The late-night skirmishes raised the likelihood of further clashes Monday during the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations.

Israeli police gave the go-ahead to the parade Sunday, despite days of unrest and soaring Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a flashpoint holy site and in a nearby Arab neighborhood where Jewish settlers are trying to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes.

Addressing a special Cabinet meeting ahead of Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel “will not allow any extremists to destabilize the calm in Jerusalem. We will enforce law and order decisively and responsibly.”

“We will continue to maintain freedom of worship for all faiths, but we will not allow violent disturbances,” he said. At the same time, he said, “We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem.”

The United States again expressed its “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem, including clashes between Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem’s Old City, home to sites sacred by Muslims and Jews, and Israeli police, as well as the expected expulsion of Palestinian families.

Washington made its concerns during a phone call between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart. Sullivan urged Israel “to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations,” according to a statement by National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne.

Jerusalem Day is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, home to the Old City and its sensitive holy sites, in the 1967 Mideast war. But the annual event is widely perceived as provocative, as hard-line nationalist Israelis, guarded by police, march through the Damascus Gate of the Old City and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

This year the march coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sensitivities, and follows weeks of clashes. That, combined with Palestinian anger over the eviction plan in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, could set the stage for an especially volatile day.

Amos Gilad, a former senior defense official, told Army Radio that the parade should be canceled or at least kept away from Damascus Gate, saying “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time.” Israel’s public broadcaster Kan said the final route of the parade had not yet been decided.

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

In recent days, dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes near the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. It has been a tinderbox for serious violence in the past.

“The occupier plays with fire, and tampering with Jerusalem is very dangerous,” Saleh Arouri, a top Hamas official, told the militant group’s Al-Aqsa TV station.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.

The violence, along with the planned evictions in east Jerusalem, have drawn condemnations from Israel’s Arab allies and expressions of concern from the United States, Europe and the United Nations.In Sunday night’s clashes, Palestinian protesters shouted at police and pelted them with rocks and bottles, while police fired stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse the crowds. Palestinian medics said at least 14 protesters were injured.The clashes were less intense than the previous two nights. Police said over 20 police officers had been injured in recent days.But there were signs the violence was beginning to spread.Late Sunday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets toward Israel, setting off air raid sirens in southern city of Ashkelon and nearby areas, the Israeli military said. It said one rocket was intercepted, while two others exploded inside Gaza. Early Monday, Israeli tanks and artillery struck several Hamas posts near the border in retaliation for the rocket fire. There were no reports of injuries.Earlier in the day, Israel carried out an airstrike on a Hamas post in response to another rocket attack. Gazan protesters affiliated with Hamas militant group also launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel during the day, causing dozens of fires.In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israeli police also clashed with hundreds of Arab students at Israel’s Hebrew University, using stun grenades to disperse the crowd. Police said 15 people were arrested at another protest in the northern city of Haifa.Jordan and Egypt, the first two countries to strike peace deals with Israel, both summoned senior Israeli diplomats to condemn the Israeli actions.Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who acts as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, condemned what he called “Israeli violations and escalating practices” and urged Israel to halt its “provocations against Jerusalemites.”At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was following the events in Jerusalem with worry and called for an end to the clashes.“Violence only generates violence,” he told the public gathered at St. Peter’s Square.With tensions high, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a decision on the possible evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. The decision had been expected for Monday, but was pushed back by up to 30 days in light of “circumstances,” the court saidPalestinians and international rights groups portray the planned evictions as a part of a campaign by Israel to drive Palestinians from traditionally Arab neighborhoods, especially in the heart of Jerusalem. Israel has cast the evictions case as a real estate dispute.The flare-up in hostilities comes at a crucial point in Israel’s political crisis after longtime leader Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition. His opponents are now working to build an alternate government. If they succeed, Netanyahu would be pushed to the opposition for the first time in 12 years.

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