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Getting in Touch With the Inner Dictator

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer

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Editor’s note: Instead of filing his regular column, Khun Pravit left the following document in an unmarked manila envelope.

 

EVALUATION FILE

 

FILE NO. 220514

Subject: Full-time military dictator since late May 2014. At present, subject has held absolute power without the consent of the people for nearly two years.

Subject Title: The General, Dear Junta Leader, Mr. Prime Minister, The Dictator, Uncle.

Age: 60-something.

Future Occupation: Very uncertain.

 

SYMPTOMOLOGY

Mood Lability: Subject suffers from severe mood lability (mood swings) characterized by recurring outbursts of anger. The behavior manifests when subject feels unappreciated and resentful toward people who do not appreciate or praise him.

Behavioral Observation: “I am worthless,” subject declared Feb. 3 during his latest fit of mood lability.

At times the subject resorts to shouting in public, using language unfit even for an unelected prime minister, and since usurping power, has developed a compulsive addiction to throwing objects at reporters such as partially eaten fruit. In one of his latest mood swings, the subject expressed self-destructive impulses by angrily pounding his fist onto his own podium – an object he once desired enough to stage a coup d’etat for – until his reading glasses were knocked to the floor.

Insomnia: The subject publicly admitted last week he struggles to sleep.

Behavioral Observation: “These days I can’t sleep. Last night I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking until 3am. I think a lot, think every day, think about everything. … I didn’t realize there would be so much problems” subject was overheard saying by the Daily News newspaper.

It was unclear whether the subject referred to problems facing Thailand or himself, or whether he can differentiate between the two.

State of Denial: Despite the subject’s welldocumented mood lability, the subject appeared to be in a state of denial about his own condition.

Behavioral Observation: On Feb. 4, a television station broadcast a clip of subject on camera telling others: “You people should not look at me as being moody.”

This was preceded by the subject’s admission on camera that he doesn’t know quite how to behave any longer.

“I don’t know what to do. When I speak at length [on compulsory-broadcast TV monologues every Friday evening] people don’t listen and want to watch soaps. If I speak too briefly, they won’t understand. Should the leader just dance in a stage drama then?” subject commented, nothing he never felt “this tired” when he previously led an army with “200,000 to 300,000 officers” under his command.

 

DIAGNOSIS

The subject appears to suffer from an overdose of power and overconcentration of responsibility in his hands. It’s unlikely he will delegate these to subordinates, as by nature, a dictator is compelled to dictate.

Subject is driven by a deep need for acceptance and legitimacy. Countless case studies of dictators who came to power by taking it struggle to be loved by those who would have preferred to choose who led them.

Given his own statements, subject exhibits self-awareness of the conditions he suffers from but unequipped for alleviating those conditions. He appears to suffer stress, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and more. Despite the absolute power he has accrued and uses to suppress others, subject appears unable to suppress his own emotions.

 

SUGGESTED COURSE OF TREATMENT

Being a military dictator in a despotism-nurturing society, where many dictators have enjoyed healthy and productive reigns, does not come with a capacity for listening. It’s unlikely the subject would take any therapeutic suggestions kindly.

While taking ownership of his personal-cum-national baggage by admitting guilt, expressing remorse and asking for forgiveness would likely see marked improvement in the subject’s own sense of self-worth and desire to be loved, such is not naturally expressed behavior by those who cling to autocratic tendencies.

Any psychiatric course of mood-stabilizing or -elevating drugs may prove ineffective and is contraindicated due to subject’s pre-existing intoxication with own absolute power.

Subject’s absolute power under Article 44 of the military provisional constitution is also useless. Although the subject exhibits a full-blown dictatorial tendency, he has clearly proved over the last year and a half that he is unable to use his absolute power to control his own mood.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Any public prescription or recommendation must be done at prescriber’s own risk. Such attempts may exacerbate symptoms and provoke further bouts of mood lability.

 

Pravit Rojanaphruk can be reached at pravit@khaosodenglish.com and @PravitR.

Follow Khaosod English on Facebook and Twitter for news, politics and more from Thailand. To reach Khaosod English about this article or another matter, please contact us by e-mail at ks.english@khaosod.co.th.

 

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Military Blocks Satirical Student Float, Re-Arrests 'Ja New'

Thammasat university students remove a rifle from a float satirizing the junta-sponsored draft constitution Saturday at Bangkok’s National Stadium. Photo: Matichon

BANGKOK — Satire and at least student activist were removed by force Saturday from an annual student parade known for skewering politics.

Plainclothes military forces ordered students cut something that looked like a gun from a float about the new constitution at the National Stadium in Bangkok, where Thammasat and Chulalongkorn university students gathered for an annual football scrum, and later arrested a well-known activist leader.

After security forces were duped last year  when students disguised their political messages, hundreds of non-uniformed officers gathered to monitor and censor the satirical parade famously used as an outlet for student political expression.

One float featuring the controversial draft constitution, criticism of which has been squelched by the junta, was ordered changed.

“Students are ordered to saw off the gun figure, otherwise the officers won’t let it enter the field,” wrote the independent satirical political group of Thammasat university on Facebook. “They said it’s inappropriate because the gun looks violent.”

It was reported that a banner about politics was also confiscated as it said “NCPO” in reference to the junta’s formal name, the National Council for Peace and Order.

Student activist, Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat, a fourth-year political science student at Thammasat University and leader of the New Democracy Movement, was reportedly arrested by undercover officers disguised in Thammasat football jerseys Saturday afternoon after joining the parade.

Sirawith was being held at the Thonburi Railway Police Station. It is believed he was taken under the power of an arrest warrant issued after he tried to lead a group of activists to the scandal-tainted Rajabhakti Park in December.

“There is no reason for me to fear the arrest warrant,” Sirawith said to reporters following his arrest Saturday. “Because for me, the orders of the NCPO are not the law.”

In 2015 students frustrated military minders by disguising political messages under more innocent messages that were ripped off as they entered the playing field. Aghast officers rushed to close the gate but the images ended up widely disseminated in the media.

 

 

As much as its pre-game parade, the football game is also famous for students flashing provocative flash cards messages from the stands during the game.

A military officer said Friday the event would be shut down if any conduct or message was deemed to be defamatory, cause social disharmony or damage the nation’s image.

“The committee of the event will inspect the satirical floats and cooperate with officers,” said Maj. Gen. Chalermphol Srisawat on Friday. “If there is a problem, the show will be abruptly ordered to stop.”

Though when the parade entered, an officer disguised in a Chulalongkorn football jersey suddenly interrupted and ripped away a banner carried by students.

Update: Story updated with information about arrest of student activist Sirawith Seritiwat.

 

The Love Game: Bangkok Singles Stuck Between Worlds Old and New (Photos)

Hundreds gather to pray for love at 9:30pm on Thursday at the Trimurti Shrine beside CentralWorld in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — With nine red roses and nine incense sticks in her hands, a woman stood still in front of the shrine while keeping her eyes closely on the watch.

“She’s waiting for the magic hour,” said her friend standing beside, referring to the time the god comes all the way down from heaven to listen to human wishes.

At 9.30pm every Thursday night, the Trimurti Shrine offers a unique scene with hundreds of people, some of the most desperately single, gather to pray not at a temple but in the shadow of one of the capital city’s biggest shopping malls, CentralWorld. And more than the ritual and prayer, it’s clear from size of the crowd gathered a few days before Valentine’s Day that another thing getting lost in the modern world is Bangkok’s dating culture itself.

“It’s not difficult at all if you’re just looking for a fling or an infatuation,” said Mai, a young woman in her early 20s. “But if you want a serious relationship, it is extremely hard.”

While some number of young women and men may be embracing a proud and single status, large swaths of Bangkok are looking (and not finding) love. Mai was at the shrine with a group of six single friends of different ages and genders who fall into the latter.

They all agreed that after the golden time of university life passed, there’s been little hope since they took up their careers in the urban workplace.

“We stay inside the office all day, and our male colleagues are either gay or already married,” said another woman, Ying. “The only chance to meet new people is to hang out after work. By that way you get to meet friends of friends, but you know, I’m usually too tired after the long day at the office and just want to go home.”

The only gay guy in the group said another factor is when you are forced to leave your hometown and join the workforce in the capital.

“I didn’t study in Bangkok, so when I moved to work here, my social circle was gone,” Em said.

The story is the same for a lot of people. Leave home to study in university, then move for good to work in Bangkok where they are cut off from the traditional social mechanisms that bring people together.

While a lot of women can be heard blaming what seems an ever-growing population of gay men for their single status, Em insisted it’s even more difficult for gay men to find sustainable relationships. From his experience in his early 20s, gay men in Bangkok just want short-term fun.

And in the very future-forward sounding year of 2016, these women – educated, self-sufficient and financially independent – are puzzled by Thai men they say are stuck in a past when submissive types were preferred.

“Look at Mai, she is beautiful and smart. She is a great cook, and she does a good job at work. It is unbelievable she’s still single,” said Bow, in her 40s. “Because in the end, that’s not what guys want.”

All five women said in the mainstream appetite of Thai men, nothing else – not intellect, wit, talents or fidelity – matters except for “being cute.”

“They don’t want someone who is smarter or are onto their tricks,” Mai said. “When we form the family, they just want to be the leader.”

Want to be a powerhouse in the workplace and find romance there? Forget it. Showing brains and ambition might not be a smartest thing to do.

“For a woman who is excellent at work, men will perceive you as a competitor instead,” Bow said. “They will no longer look at you in a romantic way.”

Yet these women, despite adapting their lives to contemporary realities, are still expected to conform to dated social expectations.

“And Thai society also tends to dislike if women make the first move,” said Aor, a fresh university graduate.

Ple and some of the other women reinforced the same thought. Ple said working women have less time to find partners, and their chances diminish when women reach a magic number.

“That’s the moment when I raised my head from the computer and realized I was already 30,” she said with a laugh.

While they faulted Thai men for carrying outdated concepts of women, the women also seem distrustful of modernity in the form of dating tech.

None of the 10 female love-supplicants at the temple interviewed said they have online dating profiles. Some had no idea what Tinder is.

“The face you see can’t tell the heart,” Bow said. “There are also some bad news about online dating that makes it look scary.”

In contrast, Em said 99 percent of “people like him” have dating apps on their phone. But their profiles often mention nothing more than a fling.

“The purpose of online dating in Thailand is different from in other countries,” he said. “The chance to find a real relationship is one in a million. I only found something serious once.”

Though it was the last magic time before Valentine’s, all of the lovelorn interviewed said they can afford to be single, no matter how long it is, rather than being with someone just for the sake of relationship.

As Bangkok’s singles still seek a middle ground between the old dating practices and the modern concepts of gender role expectations, the only one thing can be sure: God will continue to have his hands full.

 

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US Congress Bans Import of Forced Labor Products

Burmese fishermen arrive at the compound of Pusaka Benjina Resources to report themselves for departure to leave the fishing company in Benjina, Aru Islands, Indonesia as hundreds of foreign fishermen rush at the chance to be rescued from the isolated island where an Associated Press report revealed slavery runs rampant in the industry in an April 3, 2015 file photo. Photo: Dita Alangkara / Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A bill headed for President Barack Obama this week includes a provision that would ban U.S. imports of fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia, gold mined by children in Africa and garments sewn by abused women in Bangladesh, closing a loophole in an 85-year-old tariff law that has failed to keep products of forced and child labor out of America.

An expose by The Associated Press last year found Thai companies ship seafood to the U.S. that was caught and processed by trapped and enslaved workers. AP tracked fish and shrimp from people locked in cages and factories to supply chains of top retailers and restaurants, from supermarket chains like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods to restaurants including Red Lobster. The companies all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and are taking steps to prevent it.

As a result of the reports, more than 2,000 trapped fishermen have been freed, more than a dozen alleged traffickers arrested and millions of dollars worth of seafood and vessels seized. Thai Union, one of the world's biggest seafood exporters, says it has hired 1,200 workers from outsourced shrimp processing sheds into safer, more closely regulated in-house jobs with decent pay.

On Capitol Hill, the AP investigation, along with other press reports and political advocacy, helped pressure lawmakers "to finally strike this obscene provision of U.S. law," said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon democrat.

"It's an outrage this loophole persisted for so long. No product made by people held against their will, or by children, should ever be imported to the United States," he said.

The change is part of a wide-ranging bill which revamps trade laws and bars Internet taxes passed on a vote of 75-20 by the Senate Thursday. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.

The U.S. Tariff Act of 1930 gave Customs and Border Protection the authority to seize shipments where forced labor is suspected and block further imports. However, it has been used only 39 times in 85 years in large part because of an exemption that said goods made by children, prisoners or slaves can be allowed into the U.S. if consumer demand cannot be met without them. Drafted during the Depression, lawmakers at the time placed economic need over foreign labor rights, according to legal historians.

If signed by President Obama, imports of a Labor Department list of more than 350 goods produced by child or forced labor — cotton from Kazakhstan, wheat from Pakistan, lobsters from Honduras — may now face federal law enforcement.

David Olave, a Washington D.C.-based trade consultant, said he's concerned about unfair and overreaching seizures by Customs and Border Protection investigators who would be hard pressed to prove a product in a particular shipping container was picked or processed by a forced laborer. And he said U.S. firms have already been proactive in trying to keep labor abuse out of their supply chains, well ahead of government regulations.

"From my perspective, this is more of an image issue," he said, "It looks bad, to have a law that says we want to stop child labor, unless we really need it. It might have sounded ok in 1930 but it doesn't sound good today."

While Customs would be responsible for stopping items at ports of entry, Homeland Security Investigations agents in 46 countries would be responsible for the investigation of illicit trade.

David Abramowitz, who advocated for the change as vice president of Humanity United, said the federal government will need to dedicate the resources to make sure the law is now properly enforced.

"We in civil society will have to be vigilant so that these reforms really lead to ensuring that US markets are not open to goods made with modern slavery," he said.

Story: Martha Mendoza / Associated Press

Yingluck ‘Confused’ by Signals on Rice Subsidy

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra speaks to reporters Friday in her home organic garden in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she’s been left befuddled by the military government’s announcement that her controversial subsidy for rice farmers benefited the nation but was still potentially fraudulent.

Announcement of the findings Thursday by the Prime Minister’s Office was the latest development in the ongoing legal case against Yingluck, who led the former civilian government and was indicted in February 2015 on corruption charges related to the rice policy.

“I’m still confused,” Yingluck said at a news conference Friday reporters at her residence in Bangkok. “They say the policy wasn’t wrong. The rice wasn’t missing. How can administrators of the policy be wrong? I want to know, too.” 

Yingluck is on trial in the court on a charge of dereliction of duty filed against her by the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The commission accused Yingluck of failing to put a stop to the alleged corruption in the subsidy during her administration, inaction the prosecutor said cost the country greatly. 


Yingluck Rice Subsidy Trial to Stretch Through End of Next Year


The military government, which replaced Yingluck’s government in a coup in May 2014, also launched its own investigation into the rice policy in April. The investigators announced their finding on Thursday, saying that there were grounds to the allegations of dereliction of duty against Yingluck.

In October, the junta initiated its own subsidy program for rice farmers.

However, the investigators now say Yingluck’s program “benefited the nation,” and are unable to specify what was the exact amount of damage caused by alleged corruption in the program. 

“Her actions were wrong, but the amount of damage is another issue,” said head investigator Jirachai Moontongroy 

On Friday, Yingluck said she would continue to contest the allegations in the court. 

“We know what we have done,” she said. “We want to prove to the court, and we want to prove to the people, and let the court decide.” 

She is due to appear in court again on Wednesday. 

Related Stories:

Yingluck Banned From Leaving Thailand During Graft Trial

Shinawatras Defy Junta With Publicity Drive

 

 

Teeranai Charuvastra can be reached at teeranai@khaosodenglish.com and @Teeranai_C.

 

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Police Say Slain Spaniard's DNA Found in Suspect's Home

Officers on Tuesday inspect the canal behind PG Rama 9 Condominium where it is believed the murder suspect, Artur Segarra, disposed of the knives used in the murder and dismemberment of David Bernat.

BANGKOK — Police said Friday they have found bloodstains and DNA from a Spanish victim in the apartment of the Spanish man who was arrested on suspicion of killing and dismembering him.

Police Gen. Panya Mamen said Friday the investigation of the death of David Bernat is 80 percent complete and police are confident they can prosecute Artur Segarra Princep on charges of premeditated murder and concealing a body. Segarra has acknowledged knowing Bernat but denied killing him, police said earlier.

"Now we are just completing the pieces," Panya said.

Police believe Segarra held Bernat against his will and tortured him to force him to transfer as much as 37 million baht ($1.05 million) to his bank account, then killed him and chopped up his body to try to conceal the crime.

On Wednesday, Panya said police found a freezer in Segarra's Bangkok home that they believed was used to store the body, along with what he described as "a book with instructions on how to dismember body parts."

Panya said Friday that police haven't found the weapon used in the crime and some of the victim's belongings. They also don't yet know where the body parts of the victim were originally dumped. They were retrieved over several days from Bangkok's Chao Phraya River.

He also said police are still investigating whether the suspect had accomplices. Police can apply to the courts for permission to hold a suspect for up to 84 days without sending the case for prosecution.

Panya said interrogations had been productive, and that the suspect's Thai girlfriend had been pointing out locations that were useful for the investigation. She is not suspected of taking part in the crime.

Story: Associated Press

 

Rape Victims Struggle to Find Justice in Myanmar

Hla Hla Yee, director of Legal Clinic Myanmar, taken on Jan. 27, 2016. Photo: Thin Lei Win / Myanmar Now

YANGON — Last year, a cleaner hired by Phu Pwint’s family raped the 11-year-old girl when she was alone in her home in Hlaing Tharyar Township in northern Yangon.

The man was arrested for the crime and the victims parents received help from womens rights activists and lawyers in Yangon to try to ensure that the perpetrator would receive the maximum legal punishment.

After months of slow-moving court proceedings, however, the family was dismayed when the judge sentenced the defendant to six yearsimprisonment, instead of the 10 years to life in prison set out in the Penal Code.

Win Win Khaing, an activist who supported the family throughout the case, said she and the lawyers believed the sentence was too light and indicative of the weak law enforcement and inefficient criminal proceedings when it comes to punishing rape in Myanmar.

We need the highest degree of punishment for this kind of crime,Win Win Khaing told Myanmar Now, adding that too little was being done to deter rape and protect women and girls in the country.

 

Culture of Silence

About 700 rape cases are reported annually in Myanmar, according to national police records, which are likely to underrepresent the scale of the problem.

Activists say many more cases go unreported due to a culture of silence and victim blaming. In Myanmars deeply conservative and patriarchal culture, families see going to court to seek justice for rape cases as turning one shame into two.

Most of the women rape victims approached refused to speak, even after being offered anonymity, as they were worried about humiliating their families.

Some abused women are hesitant to file complaints about rape at the court or police station – this has created challenges for us,said Hla Hla Yee, director of Legal Clinic Myanmar. The NGO provides free legal aid and counsel to vulnerable persons, especially women and children, who have fallen to victim to crimes such as abuse.

She said that in Myanmars long-isolated society there is little public education on the legal rights of women and children abused in a domestic setting, while organisations like hers have only recently been created.

Domestic abuse is a chronic problem. But it was not seen like that by the public, or there were no advocacy or legal aid groups for that issue in the past,Hla Hla Yee said.

Legal Clinic Myanmar, which has offices in Yangon and five towns in central Myanmar and in ethnic states, supported victims in 60 court cases last year, including 16 rape cases, said Hla Hla Yee, who added that most of the latter had been child rape cases. We found a shocking number of child rape caseslast year,she said.

Faltering Punishment

The police – usually the first port of call for rape victims wanting to make a report – can also be insensitive, poorly trained, and sometimes corrupt, according to activists, adding yet another layer to the challenges faced by women who have been sexually assaulted.

Police chief Khin Maung Latt of Yangons Pazundaung Township said his station tried to handle rape cases in a sensitive manner, though there were no official procedures other than asking one of the few female officers to record complaints by victims.

We try and get the female sub-inspectors to do the interview. If they are not around when the plaintiff arrives, we have to ask the wife of the police station officer. Only then will the plaintiff be able to speak freely,he said. According to Myanmar customs, women dare not speak of such stuff to men.

Myanmars laws, activists and lawyers said, do provide adequate punishment for rape and sexual abuse, but drawn out court cases and corruption in the judiciary are undermining the enforcement of laws and discouraging victims from seeking punishment of perpetrators.

Since the victims are aware of the prolonged proceedings, they often dont want to report to the police,said Hla Hla Yee.

According to Article 376 of the Penal Code, punishment for rape ranges from 10 yearsimprisonment to a life sentence, plus a monetary fine. According to lawyers and activists assisting rape victims, sentences are almost always shorter than 10 years.

Hla Hla Yee said that in her eight years as a lawyer she has never seen a perpetrator get sentenced to life imprisonment. A court once sentenced a father to 10 years for raping his daughter, but some offenders in other rape cases were sentenced to between 6 to 8 years in prison,she added.

Win Win Khaing, the activist, said, What we need is for the judges is to hand down effective sentences. We dont see anything wrong with the laws.

In 2013, Yangons Kamaryut Township Court sentenced a 70-year-old man to four years in prison for raping a 7-year-old girl. Her mother told Myanmar Now she appealed at the district court and the sentence was finally increased to six years.

I went to court numerous times for this case, spending whatever money I have,said the woman, who requested her name be withheld. I don’t think it’s just that the person who violated my daughter only got six years. But I’m not going to go after him again anymore. Im just going to concentrate on healing my daughter’s mental trauma.

Since this happened, my daughter doesn’t speak to her male friends or mingle with them anymore. She only hangs out with girls now,she said. I feel so awful for my little daughter and I just want to move away from this neighbourhood. But we can’t afford to move so we are stuck here.

Justice Subverted

A parliamentary report released late last year reviewed the issues that plagued Myanmar’s legal system during the past five years of the Thein Sein government. It said corruption remains a common feature of court cases and little reform progress has been made.

During decades of junta rule, the judiciary lost much of its independence and fell under influence of the corrupted army-linked elite.

Some lawyers, such as High Court advocate Maung Maung Soe, believe this widespread graft is fostering a climate of impunity in Myanmar in which crimes such as rape tend to go unpunished.

One victim, an 18-year-old girl who filed a rape complaint with Yangons North Okkalapa Township Court, said she feared the defendant – a 32-year-old former boyfriend who kidnapped and repeatedly raped her – might get away with a light sentence.

I don’t have full confidence that the sentence would be just. If the other party offers money, the case could change,she told Myanmar Now.

Victims of rape and sexual abuse by government forces in conflict areas in Myanmars ethnic minority regions have even less hope for a fair court case. The army has long been accused of protecting its soldiers from legal prosecution for such crimes.

Last year, two Kachin Baptist Convention volunteer teachers in their early 20s were raped and killed at a village school in Muse Township, northern Shan State.

Kachin rights organisations and local villagers are convinced that members of an army battalion were responsible for the gruesome crime. An investigation by local police has made little progress.

Yan Lu Ra, the elder sister of one of the victims, said, We pray for the truth to come out.

 

Changing Attitudes Towards Women

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Nov. 17, 2015, file photo of Dala township, Yangon. Photo: Simon Duncan

In Yangon, most recorded rape cases occur in the citys outlying townships such as Dala, Hlaing Tharyar and Shwepyithar, according to the police, these slum areas suffer from poverty, harsh living conditions and lawlessness.  

Members of local communities in some of these areas have worked with activists to organise educational talks and campaigns against rape in the hope of reducing such cases.

Htar Htar, director of Akhaya, said rape should be prevented not only by improving laws and court proceedings, but also by increasing respect for women and girls in Myanmar society.

Parents need to teach their sons from a young age not to become bullies to girls, so that they don’t grow up to inflict violence on women,said Htar Htar, whose NGO works on womens empowerment and campaigns against women and child abuse.

The way women and girls are looked at in Myanmar needs to changethey are objects, whether they are young, old, beautiful or not,she said, adding, Parentsshould also teach their daughters not to accept unjust actions.

New Laws

NGOs have been working for two years with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement on a draft of the first National Prevention of Violence against Women bill, but it made little progress in the previous parliament.

Last year, parliament nonetheless approved the four controversial race and religion laws promoted by nationalist Ma Ba Tha monks, who claimed that some of the laws – widely seen as discriminating against Muslims – would protect Buddhist women.

Myanmar currently has no laws to effectively prevent violence against women at home or sexual harassment in the workplace, or to allow women to seek restraining orders on violent men. It remains unclear whether the draft law will address contentious issues such as marital rape.

May Sabe Phyu, a women rights activist of the Gender Equality Network who has been involved in drafting process, said details of the bill could only be released by the ministry.

Htar Htar, of Akhaya, said, When it comes to the new law, there should be a clearer definition of rape. It’s not only rape if men use their sexual organs (but also other forms of abuse). You then need to make sure the public, the legal profession and the police know these laws and how to use them.

Myanmar acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1997, which would oblige it to conform its laws to international human rights standards for protecting women.

May Sabe Phyu said she hoped the new National League for Democracy parliament would soon review and adopt the bill. As long as no effective actions are taken against the offenders whoever they may be, women and girls will remain unsafe,she said.

(*Some names in this story were changed to protect the identity of rape victims.)

Story: Ei Cherry Aung

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Scientists Hear Ripple in Spacetime, Validating Einstein

A model of gravitational waves created by two black holes on a collision course 1.3 billion years ago. Image: Caltech / Jet Propulsion Laboratory

WASHINGTON — It was just a tiny, almost imperceptible "chirp," but it simultaneously opened humanity's ears to the music of the cosmos and proved Einstein right again.

In what is being hailed as one of the biggest eureka moments in the history of physics, scientists announced Thursday that they have finally detected gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space and time that Einstein predicted a century ago.

The news exhilarated astronomers and physicists. Because the evidence of gravitational waves is captured in audio form, the finding means astronomers will now be able to hear the soundtrack of the universe and listen as violent collisions reshape the cosmos.

It will be like going from silent movies to talkies, they said.
 


Audio of two black holes colliding / Caltech

 

"Until this moment, we had our eyes on the sky and we couldn't hear the music," said Columbia University astrophysicist Szabolcs Marka, a member of the discovery team. "The skies will never be the same."

An all-star international team of astrophysicists used an exquisitely sensitive, $1.1 billion set of twin instruments known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, to detect a gravitational wave generated by the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion light-years from Earth.

"Einstein would be beaming," said National Science Foundation director France Cordova.

The proof consisted of what scientists called a single chirp — in truth, it sounded more like a thud — that was picked up on Sept. 14. Astronomers played the recording at an overflowing news conference Thursday.

"That's the chirp we've been looking for," said Louisiana State University physicist Gabriela Gonzalez, scientific spokeswoman for the LIGO team. Scientists said they hope to have a greatest hits compilation of the universe in a decade or so.

Some physicists said the finding is as big a deal as the 2012 discovery of the subatomic Higgs boson, known as the "God particle." Some said this is bigger.

"It's really comparable only to Galileo taking up the telescope and looking at the planets," said Penn State physics theorist Abhay Ashtekar, who wasn't part of the discovery team.

Physicist Stephen Hawking congratulated the LIGO team, telling the BBC: "Gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the universe. The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy."
 

 

Gravitational waves, postulated by Albert Einstein in 1916 as part of his theory of general relativity, are extraordinarily faint ripples in space-time, the continuum that combines both time and three-dimensional space. When massive objects like black holes or neutron stars collide, they generate gravitational waves that stretch space-time or cause it to bunch up like a fishing net.

Scientists found indirect proof of gravitational waves in the 1970s by studying the motion of two colliding stars, and the work was honored as part of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics. But now scientists can say they have direct proof.

"It's one thing to know sound waves exist, but it's another to actually hear Beethoven's Fifth Symphony," said Marc Kamionkowski, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University who wasn't part of the discovery team. "In this case, we're actually getting to hear black holes merging."

In this case, the crashing of the two black holes stretched and squished Earth so that it was "jiggling like Jell-O," but in a tiny, almost imperceptible way, said David Reitze, LIGO's executive director.

The dual LIGO detectors went off just before 5 a.m. in Louisiana and emails started flying. "I went, 'Holy moly,'" Reitze said.

But the finding had to be verified, using such means as conventional telescopes, before the scientists could say with confidence it was a gravitational wave. They concluded there was less than a 1-in-3.5-million chance they were wrong, he said.

LIGO technically wasn't even operating in full science mode; it was still in the testing phase when the signal came through, Reitze said.

"We were surprised, BOOM, right out of the box, we get one," Reitze said.

Reitze said that given how quickly they found their first wave, scientists expect to hear more of them, maybe even a few per month.

Detecting gravitational waves is so difficult that Einstein figured scientists would never be able to hear them. The greatest scientific mind of the 20th century underestimated the technological know-how of his successors.

Story: Associated Press
 

 

Mexican Prison Riot Leaves 49 Dead

Inmates stand on the rooftop of the Topo Chico prison as police stand guard on the perimeters, after a riot broke out around midnight, in Monterrey, Mexico, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Photo: Emilio Vazquez / Associated Press

MONTERREY, Mexico — A prison riot that left 49 inmates hacked, beaten or burned to death opened searing questions about gang rule, extortion and human rights violations in Mexico's overcrowded prisons, where people merely awaiting trial are mixed in with some of the world's most hardened killers.

Those questions were not abstract for Victoria Casas Gutierrez, a cleaning lady who had waited for hours Thursday for news of her 21-year-old son, Santiago Garza Casas, who was facing trial for allegedly acting as a lookout for a criminal gang.

Santiago was sent to the Topo Chico prison in September for missing a parole appointment. He was immediately mixed in with a prison population that included murderers.

With their gang ties and access to drugs and guns, many say the Zetas and Gulf cartels run the prison.

"They charge taxes, and if the relatives don't bring a certain amount … they beat them," Casas Gutierrez said. The amounts charged depend on their crimes, but can be thousands of pesos. "Sometimes we have to sell our homes."

"There is vice inside and everything that is in there is their fault, the authorities," she said.

Casas Gutierrez was lucky; her son was not on the list of about 40 dead released Thursday, but some bodies were so badly burned it may take days to identify them.

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Relatives of inmates stand outside the Topo Chico prison, where a riot broke out around midnight, in Monterrey, Mexico, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Photo: Emilio Vazquez / Associated Press

 

It was a Dantesque scene at the gates of the prison, as terrified relatives waited for more names to go up on the list of the dead posted in two letter-sized sheets on a wall.

"Ayyy, my son is on the list!" 63-year-old Maria Guadalupe Ramirez screamed when she saw the name of her son, Jose Guadalupe Ramirez Quintero, 26. She collapsed into the arms of her daughter and human rights workers.

Ramirez's grief echoed the concerns of others whose loved ones were tossed into Topo Chico, despite being sentenced for minor offenses or even while still awaiting trial.

"He had already gotten out. They picked him up again just for drinking. … There is injustice in this prison," she said, shaking her fists and sobbing.

Authorities allowed hundreds of relatives to enter the prison Thursday afternoon. But even those who were able to confirm that their loved ones had survived feared for their safety.

One woman, who declined to give her name, visited her brother briefly and said she saw genuine fear on his face. He was only 10 days from his release date after serving nine months for drug possession. "They have threatened them so that they don't talk about what happened," she said. "Only they know, but they don't tell us anything."

"Who is going to assure me that they aren't going do anything else inside," she asked.

No escapes were reported in the clash at the Topo Chico prison in Monterrey, said Nuevo Leon state Gov. Jaime Rodriguez. The riot took place on the eve of Pope Francis' arrival in Mexico, a visit that is scheduled to include a trip next week to another prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez.

Rodriguez said in the morning that 52 people had died, but he lowered that by three in the late afternoon. The reason for the changed death toll was not clear.

At a news conference the governor read a list of 40 names of confirmed victims, saying five of the remaining bodies had been charred by fire and four were yet to be positively identified. One of the injured was in grave condition.

The fighting began around midnight with prisoners setting fire to a storage area, sending flames and smoke billowing into the sky. Rescue workers were seen carrying injured inmates — some with burns — from the facility.

Rodriguez said the clash was between two factions led by a member of the infamous Zetas drug cartel, Juan Pedro Zaldivar Farias, also known as "Z-27," and Jorge Ivan Hernandez Cantu, who has been identified by Mexican media as a Gulf cartel figure.

But National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia said later Thursday in a radio interview that authorities believe the fight was between two factions of the Zetas for control of the prison.

A turf war between the gangs bloodied Nuevo Leon state and neighboring Tamaulipas between 2010 and 2012. The Zetas once nearly controlled the area around Monterrey.

The situation at the prison was so out of control that even Rodriguez acknowledged to local media that the two cartel bosses "were fighting for control" of the prison.

Mario Martinez was still awaiting word on his father-in-law, who was being held at the prison pending trial. On Thursday afternoon he said the danger of violence inside was well-known long before the riot.

"This (place) was a time bomb," Martinez said. "The authorities should not ignore what the people inside are saying."

Story: Mark Stevenson and Porfirio Ibarrar / Associated Press

 

Worawi Influence Wanes as Former Police Chief Elected Football President

Somyot Poompunmuang, center, celebrates his football presidency victory on Feb. 11 in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — Worawi Makudi's attempts to cling onto power in Thai football depend on an appeal against this week's Football Association of Thailand elections which voted in a new president.

Former national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang won Thursday's election by 62 votes to just four votes for Charnwit Phalajivin, who was widely considered a proxy for former president and ex-FIFA executive committee member Worawi.

Worawi was prevented from running because he has been banned from all football activities by FIFA for an alleged ethics breach.

The result of the election must be ratified by the Sports Authority of Thailand, and the football association's legal department has asked for an annulment of the poll, claiming irregularities in the appointment of some electors.

It argued the re-election of 30 voters from the country's Regional Leagues — the third tier of Thai football — on Jan. 22 contravened the FAT constitution. Those 30 voters all cast their votes on Thursday.

Worawi, a powerful and influential figure at the international level, was dogged by numerous controversies and scandals  since first being elected FAT president in 2007.

Somyot said after his election that "I don't know much about football" but vowed that "our work will be clean, transparent, fair and open to scrutiny."

Somyot famously presided over two major investigations during his year stint as head of the Royal Thai Police: the September 2014 Koh Tao murder investigation and August 2015 Erawan shrine bombing.

Story: Associated Press

 

To reach us about this article or another matter, please contact us by e-mail at: ks.english@khaosod.co.th.

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