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Reverend Billy Talen Faces a Year in Prison for Protesting in a Chase Bank
At 1 PM on September 12, performance artist Reverend Billy Talen and his Stop Shopping Choir walked into a JP Morgan Chase asset management bank on 52nd Street. and Park Avenue in Manhattan. Forty-five minutes later Bill and his musical director, Nehemiah Luckett, were getting handcuffed on an F-train subway platform by the NYPD with charges of rioting, menacing, and disorderly conduct. Now, Billy and Nehemiah are facing a year in prison.
In the complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the bank’s manager, Robert Bongiorno, said he saw “the defendants, along with approximately eight other people, [were] running about the bank while wearing frog masks.” The frog people jumped on furniture and “repeatedly ran up to the faces of the bank’s employees and customers while screaming, in sum and substance, ‘WE ARE COMING FOR YOU!’”
Robert—who was reached by phone but refused to comment for this article—thought the bank was being robbed and, according to the DA, feared for his safety. He also told authorities that he “observed at least one customer or employee inside of the bank break into tears.”
Thailand’s Anti-Government Protests Turned Deadly This Weekend
After months of relatively peaceful demonstrations and a week of massive anti-government rallies, protests in Bangkok have turned violent. Though nobody in Thailand seems particularly surprised, it’s not clear yet just how explosive things will get. The atmosphere in the city and the fact there were similar scenes just five years ago doesn’t bode well for a country in which power is concentrated in the hands of a few but desired by many. Many middle-class Thais are desperate to sever ties with exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who retains support among the country’s poorer rural population and—his opponents would argue—still exerts influence over the current government, ostensibly led by his sister, Yingluck.
The clashes began yesterday outside Ramkhamhaeng University, where anti-government students were holding a protest a stone’s throw away from a huge rally of pro-government “red shirts.” Strangely, considering the obvious potential for confrontations, there were only a handful of police positioned along the road between the two groups. When the fighting started, the police did very little to stop it. The students first attacked an individual red shirt who was walking past, then later a city bus full of passengers—smashing the windows and terrifying the people inside, who could be seen pleading to their attackers to stop.
Egypt’s Mohamed Mahmoud Anniversary Protests Were Pretty Surreal
The second anniversary of the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes was a confusing day of demonstration. Hundreds gathered in Cairo Tuesday to pay tribute to protesters killed by riot police during a crackdown on the Egyptian revolution two years ago, but wanting to commemorate those who lost their lives was about as close to an overall common ground as it got. Demonstrators included people who support the army, people who support the Muslim Brotherhood, and people who support neither and don’t want to be ruled by either a military junta or Islamists.
Thankfully, the scenes of November 19, 2011 weren’t repeated, but small scuffles did break out near the Egyptian Museum just off Tahrir Square as pro-army groups exchanged verbal—and then physical—threats against their opponents. For the most part, it was a peaceful day of demonstrations dominated by the “third square” movement that opposes both the army and the Brotherhood.
In the build up to the day’s events, various groups released statements outlining their plans for the day. The pro-Brotherhood “Anti-Coup Alliance” made it clear that they had no intention of going anywhere near Mohamed Mahmoud Street or Tahrir Square, “so as not to give a chance to the conspirators to fabricate violent incidents and blame them on the [Anti-Coup Alliance].” They kept their word and their protests were mostly confined to areas away from central downtown Cairo.
Why Was Vietnam Elected to the UN Human Rights Council?
Last week, the UN elected serial human rights repressor Vietnam to its 47-seat Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Despite operating a single party communist regime—under which freedom of speech, right to protest, and many other liberties are routinely denied—Vietnam received the most votes from UN members out of the 14 newly elected countries (184 out of 192). Which is kind of ironic when you consider that voting is a practice not many of the country’s 90 million citizens are too familiar with.
The result is just as hypocritical as it is confusing; in the past, Vietnam’s Hanoi regime has stubbornly refused permission for the UNHRC to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. Over 50 dissidents have been imprisoned already this year for exercising their right to free speech, while others are routinely beaten, harassed, and intimidated. Uprisings from minorities and religious groups aren’t tolerated either, and are often crushed with completely unnecessary force. For example, a small group of Catholic protesters in Nghe An Province were recently met bya reported 3,000 police and soldiers wielding guns, batons, and grenades.
We Interviewed the Russian Activist Who Nailed His Balls to Moscow’s Red Square
Every year, Russia honours its police force with a day-long commemoration called Police Day. This year, celebrations for the imaginatively named event fell on Sunday, November 10, and the public paid tribute to law enforcement by watching Vladimir Putin cry in public and Petr Pavlenskynail his testicles to the ground in Red Square.
Petr is a political artist who’s known for painful performance art—previously, he wrapped himself in barbed wire to protest his country’s “repressive legal system” and sewed his mouth shut as a show of support for Pussy Riot. This time, his self-mutilation was in service of decrying “Russia’s descent into a police state.” I called him up to chat about that.
VICE: You nailed your balls to the ground in Red Square the other day. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Petr Pavlensky: It’s not the power that keeps people by the balls, it’s the people who keep themselves restricted. Pretty soon everyone’s going to be in jail, but it won’t matter to anybody anymore because by then, the country will have transformed into a state prison regime.
You’re an artist, right? How much does that cross over into your activism?
I am an artist who does political art. Activism is important to me as a life principle—it’s the effect of primary and secondary reasoning and theorizing; no argument is without action. However, political art and activism are not the same thing. Activism is the struggle and shakeup of society; political art is aimed at the destruction and exposure of the apparatus of power. Under certain circumstances, it is a catalyst to the political process.
Which of those do you focus on?
I’m focused on political art.
Greenpeace activists climbed Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Família cathedral today. We talked to their spokesperson.
Turkey’s Fight for Freedom Has Caused an Authoritarian Crackdown
Özde looks like Audrey Hepburn. She has wide-set hazel eyes that are fringed with flicked-up long lashes and a button nose sprinkled with freckles that a dozen teenage boys must have gone crazy over already. She pulls her woolly cable-knit cardigan down snugly over her thumbs and breaks up a toothpick into smaller and smaller pieces: halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, until it’s impossible to break it any smaller. She displays all the unintended habits of the awkward teenager that she is, yet she speaks with the conviction of an old timer. I find myself wondering what the Turkish policemen made of her when she started throwing rocks at them in Taksim Square.
Ali is 22, but he looks older. That’s not unusual—Turkish men almost always age fast. Maybe it’s something to do with this country’s strange fashion for facial hair. Maybe this year Ali has just aged a little bit faster.
Imge is 18. She draws circles instead of dots above the “I” in her name. “We are the 90s generation,” she says. There’s a subtext to what she’s saying—hers is the generation that isn’t meant to care about politics. Their parents passed down apathy as a defense mechanism. They saw how the Turkish army overthrew the government in a coup every decade from the 60s to the 80s, and they knew about the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, all of them locked up without trial. They learned that the safest thing to do was not to speak about any of it, and then they taught their children not to speak about it either. But something didn’t go to plan. Somewhere along the way, the 90s generation rebelled and started to speak.
The Chaotic Start of Mohamed Morsi’s Trial
Yesterday, for the first time in four months, Egypt’s deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi appeared in public. Since his ousting on July 3 the interim government and armed forces have gone to great lengths to keep his whereabouts a secret. The inevitable speculation made for some interesting gossip: was he rotting in jail in Alexandria? Was he effectively being held captive in the Republican Guard HQ? Was he, for whatever reason, in Qatar? Could he even be dead?
If he is found guilty of the charges laid against him, death will become a very real possibility for Morsi. He, along with 14 other high-ranking members of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, are accused of a multitude of crimes, including incitement to murder.
On December 5 last year, a march staged by supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood intentionally made its way to an anti-Morsi sit-in outside the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace. Predictably, violence ensued, with 11 people dead—three of them non-Brotherhood. Reports subsequently emerged that Brotherhood members had set up makeshift torture rooms and graphic stories leaked out over the proceeding weeks. The question now is how much Morsi, or Brotherhood leaders, had to do with any of it.