TIME

Read Steven Sotloff’s Reporting for TIME

File photo of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff
U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. Reuters

In 2012, the foreign correspondent contributed reporting to TIME from Libya and Turkey

A video released on Tuesday by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appears to show the execution of Steven Sotloff, marking the second time in two weeks the extremist group has beheaded an American journalist.

Sotloff, a freelance journalist who had written for TIME among other outlets, had been held by ISIS since he was taken captive in Syria more than a year ago.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by reports of Steven Sotloff’s death,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs said in a statement. “Steven was a valued contributor to TIME and other news organizations, and he gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of the most dangerous places in the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

Here’s a selection of Sotloff’s reporting.

“What Lies Ahead for Libya: An Interview with the Prime Minister,” Aug. 9, 2012.

Sotloff interviewed Libya’s then-outgoing Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib.

“The former University of Alabama professor of electrical engineering hardly looks like the Prime Minister of a country just emerging from an eight-month revolution. But behind the 62-year-old’s affable smile lies a decades-long Gaddafi dissident. During the revolution, Keib worked from Tunisia to finance the opposition. And though he has led the country’s government, he revealed he ‘would be happy to collect garbage for Libya if needed.'”

“The Bomb Attacks in Libya: Are Gaddafi Loyalists Behind Them?,” Aug. 24, 2012.

Weeks later, Sotloff wrote from Tripoli about the escalation in car-bomb attacks.

“When a bomb planted under a car exploded in a hotel parking in Benghazi last June, residents dismissed fears their city would be transformed into an urban battlefield. ‘Libya won’t become Iraq,’ said Abdallah Faraj as a fire crew extinguished the flames. A year later a string of bombings has kindled worries that this historically quiet desert country is facing a surge in violence. And it is unlikely to end soon as an interim government which did little to address security concerns having handed power to an elected government yet to find its footing.”

“Libya’s Fighters Export Their Revolution to Syria,” Aug. 24, 2012.

Later that month, Sotloff wrote about Libyan militamen flocking to Syria to help rebels topple the regimre of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“A businessman, Bwisir was also a musician and eventually wrote one of the unofficial anthems of the revolution. A video filmed by the pan-Arab news channel al-Arabiya showed him playing his signature guitar at the front, with an RPG slung across his shoulder. Meanwhile, he fought regime forces across the country, learning to make and defuse bombs.

“Today, the father of a 1-year-old infant is packing his bags for another fight: Syria. As rebels in the country struggle to bring down another strongman, hundreds of Libyans have flocked there to help. They have brought their fighting experience to the battle and may even be arranging weapon shipments to the underequipped Syrians.”

“The Revolt of Benghazi’s Moderates: Will the Rest of Libya Follow?” Sept. 22, 2012.
Sotloff wrote about the scene of demonstrations against the Benghazi’s local militias:

“Ever since the end of the Libyan revolution last October, the militias—both secular and Islamist–that overthrew former leader Muammar Gaddafi have acted with impunity. They stole cars and confiscated buildings. They clashed with rival brigades using heavy weaponry they pilfered from military bases. But an interim government too weak and disorganized to confront the brigades was unable to persuade them to merge them into a national army and police force. And so frustrated residents in Benghazi decided to act on their own.”

“The Benghazi Consulate: Has the Crime Scene Been Contaminated?” Oct. 5, 2012.

In October, Sotloff wrote again from Benghazi.

“A visitor rings the doorbell to a large gated villa in Benghazi, and a gardener slowly opens the heavy metal door. He welcomes guests with a big smile, offering them tea before giving them a guided tour of the sprawling grounds with its swimming pool and hefty trees, which obscure the view from prying eyes. But the villa is not just another secluded house owned by a wealthy Libyan seeking privacy. It is the most sensitive crime scene in the world.

“For each day of the past two weeks, TIME has visited the American consulate in Benghazi where the ambassador and three others were killed on Sept. 11th. And with the passing of every day, people cart off more and more evidence and sensitive information that could endanger the lives of Americans still in Libya, and impair the FBI investigation into the attack just now getting underway.”

The rest of Sotloff’s contributions to TIME can be viewed here.

TIME Middle East

ISIS Video Purports to Show Killing of Second American Journalist

File photo of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff
U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. Reuters

Second time in as many weeks

A video released Tuesday by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) purports to show the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff. If the video is authentic, it would be the second time ISIS has killed an American journalist in as many weeks.

The video was first obtained and released by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the online activities of terrorist groups. The video, which TIME is not publishing and whose authenticity U.S. officials couldn’t immediately confirm, is similar to the video released last month of an ISIS militant killing American journalist James Foley. It depicts Sotloff, clearly under duress, criticizing American foreign policy before a warning from his masked killer and a threat to kill another foreign journalist.

“You, Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen,” the masked killer says into the camera, addressing President Barack Obama. “So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” the militant says.

Sotloff, a freelance journalist who had written for TIME among other outlets, had been held by ISIS since he was taken captive in Syria more than a year ago.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by reports of Steven Sotloff’s death,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs said in a statement. “Steven was a valued contributor to TIME and other news organizations, and he gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of the most dangerous places in the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

The Obama Administration said Tuesday that intelligence officials are working to determine the video’s authenticity.

“If the video is genuine we are sickened by this brutal act taking the life of another innocent American citizen,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said the U.S. intelligence community “is working as quickly as possible to determine [the video's] authenticity.”

“Our thoughts and prayers, first and foremost, are with Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Sotloff’s family and those who worked with him,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

ISIS has for months been mounting attacks and capturing territory across Iraq and along the Iraq-Syria border, even in the face of American airstrikes. The U.S. launched a raid in Syria in an attempt to free Foley and Sotloff earlier this summer, Pentagon officials said after Foley’s death, but American forces did not find the captives at the target location. Following Foley’s execution, the U.S. officials began considering expanding the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and into Syria.

TIME Infectious Disease

Window to Stop Ebola Outbreak Is ‘Closing Quickly,’ Official Warns

A burial team in protective clothing retrieves the body an Ebola victim from an isolation ward in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, Liberia.
A burial team in protective clothing retrieves the body of an Ebola victim from an isolation ward in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia on Aug. 28, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York TImes/Redux

The CDC says more needs to be done to fight Ebola before it's too late

The window of opportunity to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “closing quickly,” a top health official said Tuesday.

“The number of cases is so large, the epidemic is so overwhelming and it requires an overwhelming response,” Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters Tuesday after returning to the U.S. Monday from a trip to the affected counties.

Despite the efforts of health workers from the affected countries and elsewhere, cases of Ebola will continue to increase, Frieden said. Moments after his remarks, an aid group announced that another American doctor fighting the outbreak in Liberia has been infected.

Groups like Doctors Without Borders that are treating patients are overwhelmed by the high number of cases, and have had to turn away infected people due to lack of space. Frieden said he saw patients lying on the ground in some West Africa clinics. He stressed that Ebola is a global problem, and that closing off affected countries like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—many airlines have stopped flying there—will only worsen the outbreak by cutting off access to needed supplies.

“Getting supplies and people in is a big challenge,” Frieden said. “The more the world isolates and stops contact with these countries, the harder it will be to stop the outbreak.”

TIME Cancer

British Parents Who Pulled Son from Cancer Ward Won’t Be Charged

Ashya King's Parents Extradition Hearing In Madrid
A policeman stands guard as a police van allegedly holding Brett and Naghemeh King, parents of five years old Ashya King arrives at the National Court on Sept. 1, 2014 in Madrid. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

Police arrested Brett and Naghmeh King in Spain, where they had sought an alternative treatment for their 5-year-old son's brain tumor

British prosecutors will not press charges against a couple for taking their 5-year-old son from the cancer ward of a hospital without warning and flying to Spain to seek alternative treatment for his brain tumor.

The couple was arrested in Malaga, Spain over the weekend, where they were arranging to sell a home to fund an alternative treatment that they said could only be found outside the U.K., CNN reports. The withdrawal of their son from hospital sparked an international manhunt.

Brett and Naghmeh King said they felt they had no choice but to remove their son from treatment at University Hospital in the southern city of Southampton, after doctors there refused to agree to proton beam treatment that the parents argued was less invasive than chemotherapy. Their son, Ashya, suffers from a malignant brain tumor called medulloblastoma.

“We pleaded with them for proton beam treatment,” said Brett King in a video plea posted to YouTube:

The Kings have refused to return to Britain and have made a public plea to police to call off their search. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his support for the couple on his Twitter account Tuesday:

TIME Liberia

Liberian Government’s Blunders Pile Up in the Grip of Ebola

People celebrate in a street outside of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Crowds cheer and celebrate in the streets after Liberian authorities reopened a slum where tens of thousands of people were barricaded amid the countryís Ebola outbreak.
People celebrate in a street outside of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Crowds cheer and celebrate in the streets after Liberian authorities reopened a slum where tens of thousands of people were barricaded amid the countryís Ebola outbreak. Abbas Dulleh—AP

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government was forced to lift a quarantine of one of Monrovia's worst slums last week as errors mount

In a cramped bar down a dark alleyway of Monrovia’s sprawling seaside slum West Point, residents are dancing wildly. They shuffle and stomp across a concrete floor sprinkled with cigarette butts and splashed with beer and homemade liquor.

“We celebrating! We are out of jail!” says Mary Goll, a resident and local bar owner, who leans back to the bar crisscrossed with metal for security for another bottle of beer. Goll’s own bar is in ruins on the shoreline, half eaten by the Atlantic Ocean. Just as the ocean has eroded away the land and driven the community inwards, so too did a government-ordered quarantine imposed last week.

On Aug. 20, the Liberian government enforced a 21-day quarantine aimed at preventing the spread of the virus that has claimed close to 700 lives throughout the country, with cases and casualties mounting in the city. Médecins Sans Frontières has described the outbreak in Monrovia as “catastrophic” and the 120 beds in its treatment center in the capital are already full. The World Health Organization has said the epidemic could last for six to nine months and infect up to 20,000 people in the region before the outbreak is over. Liberia is now the only Ebola-affected nation in the region with rising cases in the capital.

On Friday Aug. 30, just 10 days into the quarantine, the government announced on radio it would be lifting the quarantine the next morning. At 6am the next morning, police and soldiers took away their barbed wire and makeshift wooden checkpoints. West Pointers have been celebrating ever since — but the government seems just as unsure how to combat the virus as it has been since the outbreak began.

The plan to cordon off this community of some 80,000 people was made after a holding center for victims was ransacked on Aug. 15, one week after Liberia declared a state of emergency. Suspected Ebola patients escaped, and looters stole infected materials and mattresses from the center. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Katie Couric the attack had motivated the quarantine because the attack “put the entire community at risk, therefore we had to protect them from themselves.”

But sources monitoring the security sector say the decision was less about the community’s safety and more a political attempt to show the government was in control of the situation. It had already blundered early in the outbreak by failing to prevent Patrick Sawyer, a consultant to the Ministry of Finance, from traveling to Lagos, despite the fact he was under observation having been in contact with a sister who died of Ebola. Sawyer, a naturalized U.S. citizen, died in Nigeria July 25 but not before infecting several people in Africa’s most populous country.

The government compounded that error with its lack of transparency. A day before the quarantine was imposed the Minister of Information Lewis Brown said the 17 patients who escaped were found and taken to an Ebola clinic at John F. Kennedy Medical Center, a claim that was denied by a doctor at the clinic. The Ministry of Health has since failed to provide concrete data on the number of suspected or confirmed cases in West Point despite requests.

Then, the first day of the quarantine came. As armed police wearing helmets and riot shields attempted to prevent West Point residents entering the rest of the city, the town commissioner Miatta Flowers attempted to escape with her family, to the fury of onlookers. Some began throwing rocks at police and others tried to escape across a makeshift checkpoint made of concertina looped between wooden benches.

Security forces opened fire and killed a 15-year-old boy named Shakie Kamara; another two young men were also wounded by gunfire. The teenager’s body was taken by Ministry of Defense officials, according to a news report, and buried without an autopsy. Only later that day did the police commissioner explain to residents food would be distributed and they would be inspected by teams from the Ministry of Health.

It was yet another major mis-step on behalf of the government. The quarantine had not been sanctioned by the international donor community, and Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, the World Health Organization representative to Liberia, had warned quarantining would only work with the community’s consent, which was neither gained nor sought.

“The force was disproportionate, they were already using batons, sticks, they had access to teargas and equipment to things to control an unarmed crowd,” said Counsellor Tiawan Gongloe, Liberia’s most prominent human rights lawyer. “I find it difficult to believe that there was any justification for shooting a 15-year-old boy who was unarmed. This is not a militarized conflict, it is a disease situation and a biological problem.”

It’s not hard to see why the government felt it needed to act. The cramped quarters, lack of access to running water and poor sanitary conditions of slum communities like West Point put them at a high risk of becoming hot spots for new Ebola infections. But Gongloe says the government has not been clear about what powers it has under a state of emergency, and has not been consistent in how it has used them. “[The government] must have an even handed approach to strengthen public trust in the government in order to fight Ebola,” Gongloe told TIME.

That public trust has been further eroded by the large number of public officials who fled the country after Sawyer’s death. Johnson Sirleaf said on Aug. 11 that government officials who refused to return home from overseas would be declared AWOL, and the Executive Mansion announced last week it had fired all but a handful of those who had still not returned. But she neglected to name those who had been fired, and many are skeptical she will follow through.

The government exodus contributes to a sense among citizens that Liberia’s wealthy and powerful have left the country’s poor to fend for themselves. Many expatriates who work for non-governmental organizations and international companies have been evacuated and their lavish apartments with 24-hour electricity and running water are now empty.

Most Liberians didn’t have that choice. Francis, a 15-year-old homeless youth who sometimes sleeps in one of the roughest communities in West Point, had to grease a palm to escape before the quarantine was lifted. He says he made his way out of West Point by paying an army man 150 Liberian Dollars (about $1.77 in U.S. dollars). The back of Francis’ head aches with an infected wound he says was made by a policeman who hit him with a baton as he tried to break free on the first day of the quarantine. It will be a while before Francis returns to West Point.

TIME

Report Accuses Islamic State Group of War Crimes

New report by Amnesty International

(BAGHDAD) — An international rights group accused the extremist Islamic State group on Tuesday of systematic “ethnic cleansing” in northern Iraq targeting indigenous religious minorities, as well as conducting mass killings of men and abducting women.

In a new report, Amnesty International said militants abducted “hundreds, if not thousands” of women and girls of the Yazidi faith. The extremists also killed “hundreds” of Yazidi men and boys, Amnesty said. In at least one incident, the report said militants rounded up on trucks, took them to the edge of their village and shot them.

The 26-page report adds to a growing body of evidence outlining the scope and extent of the Islamic State group’s atrocities since it began its sweep from Syria across neighboring Iraq in June. The militants since have seized much of northern and western Iraq, and have stretched to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

On Monday, the United Nations’ top human rights body approved a request by Iraq to open an investigation into suspected crimes committed by the Islamic State group against civilians. Its aim would be to provide the Human Rights Council with evidence on atrocities committed in Iraq, which could be used as part of any international war crimes prosecution.

In its report, Amnesty detailed how the advance of Islamic State group fighters expelled an estimated 830,000 people — mostly Shiites and those belonging to tiny religious minorities that barely exist outside of Iraq. They include Aramaic-speaking Christians, Yazidis, a faith that traces to ancient Mesopotamia, the Shabak, an offshoot of Islam, and Mandeans, a gnostic faith.

Most fled as extremists neared their communities, fearing they’d be killed or forcibly converted to the group’s hard-line version of Islam.

Thousands of Christians now live in schools and churches in northern Iraq. Yazidis crowd into a displaced persons camp and half-finished buildings. Shiites have mostly drifted to southern Iraq.

The sudden displacement of the minority groups appears to be the final blow to the continuity of those tiny communities in Iraq. Their numbers had been shrinking since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which triggered extremist violence against them.

“Minorities in Iraq have been targeted at different points in the past, but the Islamic State (group) has managed, in the space of a few weeks, to completely wipe off of the map of Iraq, the religious and ethnic minorities from the area under their control,” said Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International.

The Yazidis, in particular, were harshly targeted as Islamic State militants overran their ancestral lands in August.

In one incident, the report said “possibly hundreds” were killed in the village of Kocho on Aug. 15 after militants told residents to gather in a school.

“They separated men and boys from women and younger children. The men were then bundled into pickup vehicles — some 15-20 in each vehicle — and driven away to different nearby locations, where they were shot,” the report said.

Islamic State fighters also systematically seized Yazidi women and children, some as they rounded up villagers, others as they tried to flee the militant onslaught, the report said. Their fate is unclear.

The report said they had obtained the names of “scores of the women and children” seized by the group. It said “hundreds, possibly thousands,” were likely being held.

Some captive women are secretly communicating with their families on cell phones, Amnesty said. They told their families that some girls and young women were separated and taken away, Amnesty said.

It appears that some teenage girls were taken in groups to the homes of Islamic State fighters, the report said.

The brother of one girl who escaped the militants told The Associated Press that his 17-year-old sister was held with another Yazidi teenage girl in a house in the Iraqi town of Falluja. Khairy Sabri said militants threatened to kill his sister Samira if she did not convert to Islam. Sabri said his sister was seized on August 3 and was moved three times.

After fighting intensified between Kurdish forces and the militants, the three Islamic State group fighters guarding the house fled, allowing the women to escape, Sabri said. Sabri said his sister was otherwise unharmed.

Amnesty noted allegations that some abducted women were raped or forced to marry fighters.

The group said detained women who were in contact with their families had not been harmed, but “they believe that others have, notably those who were moved to undisclosed locations and have not been heard from since.”

Yazidi lawmaker, Mahma Khalil, called on the Iraqi government and international community to urgently help the Yazidis who are still facing “continuing atrocities” by the militants.

“They have been trying hard to force us to abandon our religion. We reject that because we are the oldest faith in Iraq, that has roots in Mesopotamia,” Khalil said.

___

Hadid reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Marco Drobnjakovic in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.

TIME europe

Baltic States Fear Putin Amid Escalation in Ukraine

Demonstrators gather outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, to protest against Russian intervention in Ukraine, in March 2014.
Demonstrators gather outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, to protest against Russian intervention in Ukraine, in March 2014. Mindaugas Kulbis—AP

"They feel extraordinarily vulnerable to Putin and they're seeking reassurance from the West"

In the latest chapter of the West’s confrontation with Russia, President Barack Obama will travel to Estonia on Wednesday to stress U.S. solidarity with the Baltic states, the former Soviet republics rattled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in nearby Ukraine.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — the trio of tiny nations nestled against the western flank of the Russian Federation — only regained their independence from Moscow in 1991 amid the collapse of the USSR. But as Putin appears to tighten his grip on swaths of Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, the Baltics fear they may be prey for their former ruler, experts say…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME conflict

Here’s How World War II Began

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the conflict's beginning

TIME

On a desktop, hover over the map to zoom; on mobile, click to zoom.

Seventy-five years this week, World War II began. “The telephone in Franklin Roosevelt’s bedroom at the White House rang at 2:50 a. m. on the first day of September,” the Sept. 11, 1939, issue of TIME explained. “In more ways than one it was a ghastly hour, but the operators knew they must ring. Ambassador Bill Bullitt was calling from Paris. He had just been called by Ambassador Tony Biddle in Warsaw. Mr. Bullitt told Mr. Roosevelt that World War II had begun. Adolf Hitler’s bombing planes were dropping death all over Poland.” On Sept. 3, the United Kingdom and France declared war.

Roosevelt wasn’t the only one expecting the dramatic news. In that same TIME issue, the first to hit stands after Germany began its march into Poland, the magazine provided readers with a timeline explaining the war’s start, despite a worldwide mood described as “thoroughly sick of and appalled by the idea of war.” The retelling starts in March of 1939, after Hitler moved on Czechoslovakia, and continues throughout the spring as England and Germany deliberate over the future of Poland — but as late as August 23, even after Germany surprised the world by announcing a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, war was not a foregone conclusion.

The description of the events of that late August might read like a farce if it weren’t so deadly serious: as Hitler uses impossible ultimatums to negotiate with Poland, a nation Britain has already sworn to aid if necessary, the timeline fills up with sudden deadlines, haggling over the difference between an ambassador and an emissary, offers that can’t be sent because phone lines have been cut and orders to attack given simultaneously with offers of peace.

And then the time for negotiating was over.

Grey Friday, Sept. 11 1939
From , Sept. 11, 1939 TIME

The original TIME story about those events can be read in full, for free, here — Grey Friday — and the map of Poland that accompanied the story appears above.

 

TIME Thailand

A British Labor Activist’s Trial in Thailand Puts Free Speech in the Spotlight

THAILAND-BRITAIN-TRIAL-LABOUR-RIGHTS
British migrant rights' activist Andy Hall answers reporters' questions as he arrives for a hearing at a court in Bangkok on Sept. 2, 2014. Christophe Archambault—AFP/Getty Images

For making allegations of brutal conditions in the Thai pineapple industry, Andy Hall faces prison and a fine of up to $10 million

A British labor activist began his fight against defamation charges in a Bangkok court Tuesday, after a report he co-authored made serious allegations regarding abuses in Thailand’s food production industry.

Andy Hall, 33, faces both civil and criminal lawsuits after he alleged that practices including forced labor, the exploitation of children, the paying of unfair wages and up to 10 hours forced overtime daily were rife at factories belonging to Thai fruit firm Natural Fruit.

Defamation is a criminal offense in Thailand and Hall could receive up to a year in prison if convicted, as well as be liable for up to $10 million damages through civil action. Separate charges under Thailand’s much-criticized Computer Crimes Act could carry an additional seven years in jail.

“My work has always been in the public interest and I’ve fought for a long time for migrant workers,” he told TIME before his court appearance, adding that he is “incredibly confident” of acquittal. “I think it would be very difficult for this company to prove that I have any bad intentions towards them.”

Thailand is the world’s largest producer of pineapples and Natural Fruit the country’s largest producer of canned pineapples. The industry heavily relies upon migrant labor from impoverished neighbors such as Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

Natural Fruit is a big supplier to the European beverages market, and leading food companies have leaped to Hall’s defense, urging the company to drop its legal action, even threatening a boycott if their demands are not met. A petition with 300,000 signatures has also been filed.

“Migrant workers are silent and cannot speak out — often if they do they are killed,” adds Hall. “If I can’t speak out then who will combat trafficking and fight exploitation? Nobody would dare.”

Hall’s investigations were documented in the 2013 report, Cheap Has a High Price. It was only published in Finnish, by the advocacy group Finnwatch, but the defamation charges arose from a subsequent interview Hall gave to Al-Jazeera in Rangoon.

Speaking to the Democratic Voice of Burma in May, Natural Fruit’s lawyer Somsak Torugsa said “under Thai law, any charge of defamation that is made against Thai citizens or Thai companies can be tried in a Thai court of law.”

Natural Fruit’s owner, Virat Piyapornpaiboon, has vehemently denied the allegations several times and said he was saddened by them. “The report caused damage to me and my company. Any accusations were not true,” he told AFP.

Should Hall be convicted, Benjamin Zawacki, a human rights visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, fears a “chilling effect” for similarly outspoken activists who take on big business.

Criminal defamation, he says, “is a ready-made tool for use against critical, unpopular, oppositional speech — the very thing human rights defenders are known for and states are known not to welcome.”

Ominously, several other criminal defamation cases are currently targeting those who expose corruption and criminality in Thailand. On May 20, the Thai Army lodged a similar case against a respected Thai human rights activist for “damaging the reputation” of soldiers in the nation’s restive south, after she requested an investigation into an allegation of physical assault.

On Monday, two people were arrested for distributing leaflets demanding murder charges are reinstated against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They too have since been charged with criminal defamation. In addition, two editors of the Phuketwan newspaper are possibly facing seven years’ imprisonment for printing an extract from a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters report that alleged complicity by the Thai Navy in the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims. Reuters faces no such charges.

“They choose their targets,” says Hall, who has also received messages of support and concern from U.N. representatives, the E.U. and various human rights groups. “It’s a bad law and it’s a bad system and it’s really being used to silence those doing benefit to society.”

Zawacki notes that Thailand’s military government has “dropped, expedited or otherwise acted on many other controversial cases,” but the cases against both Hall and Phuketwan are moving forward. This, he says, “only emphasizes this point: political dissent will not be tolerated.”

TIME Hong Kong

No Matter What Beijing Says, Hong Kong Is Ready for Full Democracy

Occupy Central Protesters Rally Against China Vote On Hong Kong Universal Suffrage
Pro-democracy activists gather during a rally organized by activist group Occupy Central With Love and Peace (OCLP) outside the offices of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in Hong Kong, China, on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

A sophisticated, vibrant metropolis of over 7 million people deserves the right to nominate candidates for its top job

In the crowd that gathered on July 1, 2014, to celebrate the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty, Nicholas stood out. The group at government headquarters that day was heavy on umbrella-wielding old-timers; they moved in packs and wore matching T-shirts, like visitors from out of town. Nicholas, meanwhile, was 24 years old. He was standing with friends and wearing a yellow football jersey.

The young sports fan and the older attendees shared at least one thing in common: a distrust for Hong Kong’s democracy movement. While hundreds of thousands gathered across town to denounce the diktats of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), these folks assembled to show their support for the central government in Beijing. Nicholas compared the link between Beijing and Hong Kong to the bond between mother and child. Hong Kong was “throwing a tantrum,” he said, but it would not get its way.

In the weeks that followed, his words stuck with me. It is unusual to meet a young person at staid, pro-establishment events, and rarer still to hear one speak with reverence for Beijing. Hong Kong’s under-25 set is much more visible in the opposition. The main reason I kept thinking back to Nicholas, though, was that his reasoning, and his choice of language, was quickly gaining currency; it echoed all summer through the state-backed press.

Take a read, and you will see what I mean. Recent editorials in the mainland’s major dailies cast the central government as rational and mature, and pro-democracy campaigners as emotional, reckless and adolescent. In one Global Times piece, Hong Kong’s well-planned, peaceful, pro-democracy protests were dismissed as an ineffective and dangerous “clamor.” The central government’s decisions are “legal, fair and reasonable,” according to state news-wire Xinhua; those who oppose their rules are “troublemakers” bent on “sabotage.”

Academics are also in on it. Speaking in Hong Kong on the eve of Beijing’s most recent announcement on political reform, Wang Zhenmin, dean of the law school at Tsinghua University in Beijing, urged Hong Kong to accept a “less perfect” democracy over none at all, according to an account by the New York Times. Calling for patience and trust, he likened Beijing to mother and Hong Kong to child. “The mother always acts in the best interests of her children,” he said. “Her intentions are pure.”

For Beijing, the parent-child metaphor is a rhetorical home run. In one quick, emotionally charged turn, it manages to both intimidate and undercut opponents. We, the parent, have the power, it warns. And that’s a good thing, little one, since you cannot be trusted on your own. The argument is circular, sure. But by the party’s logic, it justifies the decision to keep full democracy from Hong Kong.

Some now wonder if that was the plan all along. When the Union Jack was lowered 17 years ago, the erstwhile British colony was told it would be governed according to a political conceit called “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would retain its way of life and certain freedoms, but would be beholden, on matters of security, to Beijing. It was never an ideal arrangement, but the city’s democrats believed the “two systems” provision left room for political development.

That space is shrinking year by year, critics say, as the CCP moves to influence politicians, the press and the judiciary. In June more than 800,000 Hong Kong people voted in an unofficial, civil society-backed plebiscite seen as a referendum on reform. Beijing dismissed it. On Sunday, Aug. 31, after months of rallies and debate, China’s legislature ruled out open nominations for the city’s top job. In 2017 the Chief Executive will be elected by Hong Kong voters, but they will be choosing from a list of candidates vetted by Beijing.

To sell the scheme, the central government sent Li Fei, an official from China’s National People’s Congress, to Hong Kong. Li insisted the government’s decision was reasonable, drawing jeers from pro-democracy campaigners in the crowd. He also took a swipe at those who chide Beijing for installing a system at odds with international standards: “The central government is implementing democracy in Hong Kong 17 years after the handover, much faster than what Britain did in its 150 years of rule here,” he said.

The comparison did little to ease the anger of those outside chanting “Shame on the central government.” The former head of Hong Kong’s civil service, Anson Chan, says the decision shows a lack of trust. “For the Hong Kong public there is a deep sense of betrayal and a sense of no more hope,” she told Bloomberg in a television interview. “And from Beijing’s point of view, I think it should be worried because the clear message they’re sending to the Hong Kong people is that ‘We don’t trust you, therefore we must prescreen all the candidates standing for election.'”

The fact is, the people of Hong Kong are absolutely able to chart their own political course. They are witty and well educated, voracious consumers of media and extremely vocal on issues that concern them, from education to conservation to national-security legislation. Hong Kong is not a child, in other words. It is stuck with a priggish parent with no idea how to cope.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,492 other followers