Lese majeste and elite (in)justice

18 09 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has a worthy op-ed on a court appearance by a lese majeste prisoner. The article makes a point PPT has mentioned several times: the double standards involved when the political crime of lese majeste is involved. It can be read with a report of the trial, also in the Bangkok Post (PPT will post separately on the trial). The case involves 41 year-old computer programmer Surapak Puchaisaeng.

Surapak was arrested on 2 Sept 2011. Surapak’s case carries the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, although investigations began under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

Achara notes that the “police have accused him of posting defamatory remarks about the royal family on Facebook several months ago. He was denied access to a lawyer on the day of his arrest.” And, of course, in the usual practice – unconstitutional to be sure – he has been “denied bail four times, even though, for his last request, the last bail guarantor was the Justice Ministry.” As PPT has pointed out before, the reason for this, as in many lese majeste cases, is that  Surapak refuses to plead guilty, so the royalist court uses the refusal of bail as a form of torture in trying to get a guilty plea.

Achara points out that Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, the late Ampol Tangnopakul,  and Wanchai Saetan have suffered similar refusals of bail. She could have added Joe Gordon, Surachai Danwattananusorn and several others to the list.

In addition, Achara points out that others “who are routinely denied bail” are the “political prisoners” at the “Temporary Prison at Laksi _ most of whom are grass-roots supporters of the red-shirt movement facing hefty penalties and long prison terms _ face the same situation.”

She notes that “their legal battles for bail have rarely been brought up by the mainstream media.” And she makes the all too obvious point that rich kids get off, get bail, get slapped on the wrist, even when they are responsible for multiple deaths in, say, road crashes.  She makes the points for several cases over several years, showing political and class bias that is the stock-in-trade for the judiciary:

With so many cases pointing to a double standard, it is understandable and inevitable for the public to feel that the legal system is unfair to the poor, and unjust to prisoners of conscience. Justice delayed is justice denied. Sadly, this is not the exception in our our legal system, but the norm that routinely applies to the weak and poor.

Ampol’s funeral book

16 09 2012

Asia Provocateur has begun posting a translation of the funeral book for Ampol Tangnopakul. We won’t repeat the information there, but simply draw attention to the availability of the English-language translation. Producing a memorial book for those attending a funeral is quite common in Thailand. Ampol died while in custody, convicted of the political crime of lese majeste.

A lese majeste update

10 09 2012

The Human Rights Brief is a student-run publication at American University Washington College of Law that has operated since 1994 out of the school’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. The Brief has about 4,000 subscribers in over 130 countries. Last week, it commented on Thailand and the lese majeste law, featuring on its front page this week.

PPT won’t post it all as this academic site is unlikely to be blocked in Thailand, yet some aspects deserve highlighting.

The article begins by noting that Joe Gordon, Ampol Tangnopakul and Darunee Charnchoensilpakul were each sentenced in late 2011. For those who forget these things, those sentences all came after the Yingluck Shinawatra government had been elected to office, although all cases began under earlier administrations. The report notes that these “three cases in particular have triggered international expressions of concern and much domestic debate and activism in a struggle for the future of freedom of expression in Thailand in 2012.”

The report argues that: “Before 2006, Article 112 had been used most frequently by political elites to attack each other’s devotion to the monarchy, which became a proxy for targeting enemies with dissenting political views.” Following the 2006 military coup, the monarchy and the law have been highly politicized.

It is noted that Thailand is:

a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1996, Article 19 of which obligates the country to protect the rights of individuals who seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds. Nevertheless, supporters of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy deny the law’s harsh effect on freedom of expression. Instead, they cite the need to protect the monarchy as an institution to justify continued enforcement of Article 112.

Further to this, the report reminds us that:

Thailand underwent its Universal Periodic Review in early October 2011, where 14 member states recommended amending or repealing Article 112. A few days later, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Frank la Rue issued a statement calling for amendments to both Article 112 and the CCA. According to the Special Rapporteur, the laws are overly broad and impose harsh criminal sanctions unnecessary to preserve Thailand’s monarchy or national security.

Finally, the report points out that the Yingluck administration has caved in on lese majeste in an effort to appease political opponents in the royalist and palace camps. Hence, it is argues that international pressure and domestic debate about Article 112 must continue.

“A lack of moral courage to do what is right”

28 08 2012

Academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul:

In the case of Ah Kong, all sides in Thai society have shown a lack of moral courage to do what is right.  They have been concerned with their own status, positions and politics, and have done nothing. Ultimately, an ordinary old man has fallen victim, having to die away from his family….

This is an important point made by Somsak and reported in a post at Prachatai that has photos and videos of Ampol Tangnopakul’s funeral on Sunday. Ampol succumbed to cancer in prison while those without a shred of moral courage had him locked up on lese majeste charges.

Somsak adds:

The court must have been aware that the repeated denial of bail and the guilty verdict were not right.  Academics and members of the elite, like Anan Panyarachun, Bowornsak Uwanno and Khanit Na Nakhon, who have come out to say that the lèse majesté law is problematic, have been silent in this case.  Why have they not come out to say that the verdict was wrong? Where is their moral courage, he asked?

Our answer is that these people and those all the way up to the very top of the royalist elite are not just morally bankrupt but frightened. Frightened that they might do or say something that their liberal and conservative friends might object or call them out, but are even more frightened that the structures and institutions that make them privileged and keep them privileged may come tumbling down.

Mourning Ampol

27 08 2012

The Bangkok Post reports on the funeral of , who died in a prison hospital while serving time after pleading guilty in a sham trial for the political crime of lese majeste.

The report states that despite rain: “Thousands of mourners, including key red-shirt figures, converged yesterday at the cremation of Ampon ”Ah Kong” Tangnoppakul, whose death has focused attention on the plight of lese majeste prisoners in Thailand.”

Mourners received a commemorative book “titled Rak Oey (Love), a biography of Ampon based on interviews with his wife, Rosmalin. The couple were married for 44 years.” Ampol’s two sons ordained for their father.

No merit though for the Yingluck Shinawatra government: “No cabinet members showed up at the cremation.” Are they all as miserable as Abhisit?

Prominent red shirt leaders attended in force.

Academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul made the obvious point that “the court’s repeated rejection of Ampon’s bail requests … were ridiculous…”. He added that the “Yingluck government … should also be held responsible for the death of Ampon because it was their duty to transfer lese majeste offenders to the temporary prison for political prisoners at Laksi…”.

Updated: Surmised, incorrect, guesses, conjecture, arbitary. Just wrong!

25 08 2012

Many readers will have already read the comments by Professor Satit Phairoh at the 65th session of the Thai Bar Association on 8 June 2012,printed at Prachatai. His comments refer to Ampol Tangnopakul’s lese majeste and the continual failure to grant him bail. At the same time, it applies to almost all cases of this “crime.” PPT is not going to repeat it all; rather we highlight points we have made repeatedly. all of the following are the judge’s words, translated:

Article 39 of the Constitution says that everyone is presumed innocent. It is a general principle that when a person is innocent, bail must be granted….

In the case of Ah Kong, on the issue of bail, the court ruled … before there had been any investigation, at all. This indicates that the Court already believed that the accusation was true….

They guessed further….

The Court began by surmising that if the proof advanced was solid….

And if they surmised incorrectly…. This decision [not to grant bail] was based on a guess…. This conjecture had a disastrous effect for their defendant….  violated the Constitution….

The Court made another incorrect conjecture….  [T]he Court committed a double fault by convicting the defendant. If the evidence is not indisputable, how can you convict a defendant?…

At the end of the judgment, they [judges] wrote even more incorrectly…. Where in the law does it say that … you can convict on speculation? … This judgment will eternally stand and cannot be subjected to correction since Ah Kong is dead. This judgment will be eternally criticized because the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court have no chance to amend it….  Professor Nidhi Eoseewong has written that the Court acts arbitrarily. He is correct.

Indeed, he is correct. What’s worse is that this illegal treatment of those accused of lese majeste continues. The repeated demands for prisoners to plead guilty, drop appeals and seek royal pardons is all a part of the regime that supports the judiciary in acting illegally and inhumanely.

Update: On Ampol’s case, whose funeral is to be held on Sunday, Prachatai and several other sites have published copies of an unsigned letter that is said to have been released by one of Ampol’s lawyers, relating to expert advice from Germany on the identification of mobile phones. The gist of the advice sought is this:

The dtac SMS transaction records are not reliable in identifying a phone as the emitter of an SMS message. At least two possibilities exits where the data diverts from reality:

  • SMS injected into the phone network from the Internet or SS7 network may be falsely linked to a “Location Update” message of somebody else’s phone
  • Phone identities can be changed to the phone of somebody else in the same part of a city after observing a transaction of the other phone with the GSM network which requires only readily available hardware and software

Trivialities and Thailand

21 08 2012

A headline at the Arizona Daily Star caught PPT’s attention: “Places where ‘trivial’ acts carry harsh penalties.” It flows from the lese Putin jailing of Pussy Riot. The report lists a number of seemingly trivial acts that land people in jail, beginning with this: “But Russia isn’t the only country where people are punished for offenses that many in the West might consider trivial. People can spend years in prison for insulting the king in Thailand…”. On Thailand it states:

The nation has some of the harshest lèse-majesté laws in the world, mandating a jail term of three to five years [PPT: actually, it is 15] for defaming, insulting or threatening the king. Among those who have run afoul of the law is Joe Gordon, a Thai-born American sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for [PPT: allegedly] translating a banned biography about the Thai king and posting it online. He was freed in July by a royal pardon. Amphon Tangnoppakul was not so fortunate. He died in prison in May at age 62, less than a year into a 20-year sentence for [PPT: allegedly] sending four defamatory text messages.

Harsh sentences indeed for trivial acts, and in Joe’s case, acts allegedly committed in the United States where translating parts of a legal book might have raised issues of copyright, but would hardly be considered an act worth years in chains and jail.

100 days after Ampol’s death

7 08 2012

It is now 100 days since died in a prison hospital. Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has an excellent story of remembrance that PPT won’t summarize as it deserves to be read in full. The flavor of the story is conveyed in this paragraph:

It was a quiet but warm ceremony for members of the family, with his wife a pool of dignity for the Chinese-Thai family, devastated by the old man’s arrest, conviction and imprisonment – and ultimately death – on a charge of lese majeste.

Ampol and grandchildren

Ampol original sentencing to 20 years in jail for allegedly sending four short messages by phone demonstrated the parlous state of the Thai judiciary and the political use of the lese majeste law. His death demonstrated not just how utterly horrid the law is but also that those enforcing it to “protect the monarchy” and all it stands for are devoid of compassion.

His wife Rosmalin states: “… our family stands firm that Ah Kong was innocent.”

Ampol’s cremation is due to take place on 26 August although the police have yet to complete the required forensic report that would allow the inquest into his death to be concluded.

More MFA claptrap

30 06 2012

In a recent post PPT commented on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs defense of monarchism and the lese majeste law.

In other posts earlier in the month, we reproduced the Asian Legal Resource Center’s statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council on continuing attacks on freedom of expression in Thailand and the death in custody of lese majeste convict Ampol Tangnopakul.

We now have the response of the government via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. PPT won’t detail it all. Find the text here and the video here (in Thailand, we found it very slow). It’s a deathly boring piece of propaganda, so we won’t go into detail and provide just a few comments.

The statement has it that:

Like in other democratic societies, the people in Thailand enjoy the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Differing views are aired widely and there are vibrant debates on all aspects of life.

This is a misrepresentation. No one engages in uncensored debate on the monarchy. While there has been more discussion of the monarchy under huge popular pressure, debate remains anything but vibrant. No one can criticize the judiciary in any “vibrant” way.

The statement continues:

… what has become the challenge for us as well as many others is how to strike the right balance between the right to freedom of expression and the rights of the rule of law.

We would have thought this a slip of the tongue as we can’t think of how a concept like “rule of law” has “rights.” However, we think the interpretation is that the Thai delegation is saying that the “democratic society” that the MFA calls Thailand, where “the people in Thailand enjoy the rights to freedom of opinion and expression,” is a fiction because the laws don’t allow freedom of expression.

The MFA continues:

As regards to Thailand’s lese majeste law, the Thai delegations would like to stress that the law itself is not aimed at curbing the rights and the legitimate exercise of academic freedom, including debates about the monarchy and the institution. Issues that have arisen with regard to the lese majesté law lie not in any fundamental problem with the law itself, but in the abuse of the law for political gain in the context of political conflicts which have been ongoing in Thailand for the past few years.

Of course, this statement, by moving the goalpost, immediately contradicts the earlier statements. “Vibrant” discussion is not limited to “academic debate.” The statement that the law is good but is used by political actors to curb rights and limit expression. The most significant actors are ultra-royalists, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and the military. Other plaintiffs have included the Privy Council. The law is the problem; get rid of it and it can’t be abused.

The last statement in this paragraph is:

Indeed, an ongoing lively public debate has been taking place on the lese majesté law to which the Thai people will find an appropriate solution for themselves.

Of course, the government, the military, the palace, the opposition, and many more have stated that there will be no change to the law, ever. So much for “lively debate.” The royalist elite want no debate on Article 112 at all!

We are not sure if the MFA enjoys looking stupid and deceitful to international audiences.

Taking on monarchist claptrap

29 06 2012

Over several years and several political administrations the monarchy’s taxpayer-funded ideologues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have “responded” to articles in the foreign media. They worry that these articles cast doubt on the standard lines about the monarchy and the draconian law that “protects” it, Article 112.

Usually the sans-evidence responses are a repetition of the standard line: first, the  tautology that the monarchy is constitutionally above politics so can’t be politically active; second, the lese majeste law is just a libel law; and third, another tautology, all lese majeste legal cases are handled strictly lawfully.

Seldom do those receiving such missives respond. That’s what makes the tête-à-tête at Foreign Policy worth a read. Author Joshua Kurlantzick wrote a piece in May that prompts a response from the Thai Embassy in Washington DC, and then Kurlantzick responds to that.

Readers can view the results at the link above. However, we think Kurlantzick missed some significant points in his response, and we feel compelled to make them.

First, if Kurlantzick knew PPT, he’d note that it is not just Paul Handley and Duncan McCargo who have shown the monarchy’s political role. At one of our pages, we have commentaries on this back to the 1970s, and our list is not comprehensive. Perhaps the first serious academic work, from 1997, is here. In other words, the critical commentary on the monarchy did not begin with The King Never Smiles.

The claim by the MFA correspondent that the king and monarchy “exerts no control over the direction of the country’s politics” is, quite simply, laughable. The statement that “to argue that the Thai royal family has been interfering with politics is clearly misleading and highly inappropriate” neglects truth.

Second, the MFA claim on lese majeste is a fabrication. It is stated that:

Legal proceedings in such cases, including those of Mr. Lerpong Wichaikhammart (Joe Gordon) and the late Mr. Amphon Tangnoppagul(Akong), were carried out in accordance with the rule of law. All of them have been accorded due process as provided by the Thai Criminal Procedures Code including the right to fair trial, due opportunity to contest the charges and assistance from their lawyer as well as the right to appeal.

Joe Gordon

This is a monarchist fairy tale. There is no recent evidence that Thailand’s courts even follow the country’s laws. The courts are corrupted political tools of the royalist elite. If that sounds harsh, then a glance at the military-back 2007 constitution should assist, for that basic law states:

Article 39. … The suspect or the accused in a criminal case shall be presumed innocent. Before the passing of a final judgement convicting a person of having committed an offence, such person shall not be treated as a convict.

This Article is routinely ignored for lese majeste cases where all those denied bail are treated as convicts. Almost all lese majeste suspects are denied bail, whereas murder suspects are bailed all the time.

Article 40. A person shall have the rights in judicial process as follows:

(1) right to access to judicial process easily, comfortably, quickly and indiscriminately;

(2) fundamental rights in judicial process composing of, at least, right to public trial; right to be informed of and to examine into facts and related documents adequately; right to present facts, defences and evidences in the case; right to object the partial judges; right to be considered by the full bench of judges; and right to be informed of justifications given in the judgement or order;…

(7) an alleged offender and the accused in criminal case shall have the right to correct, prompt and fair investigation or trial with an adequate opportunity in defending his case, the right to examine or to be informed of evidence, right to defend himself through counsel and the right to bail….

Each of the highlighted points are simply ignored for lese majeste trials. It is a simple as that, and it is this unlawful and unconstitutional judicial system that MFA defends with lies and deceit. Ampol, who died in jail through lack of adequate medical attention, had judges who decided he was guilty even when the prosecution could not prove the facts of the case.

Ampol Tangnopakul

Ampol was denied bail eight times. Joe has been denied bail 10 times! Ampol,  poor, sick and old was repeatedly said to be a “flight risk.” Both men saw their incarceration drag on, and as is expected of lese majeste victims, they both chose to plead guilty in order to end their cases. Ampol sought a royal pardon, citing his old age and health problems, but died waiting for mercy.

Joe remains imprisoned for a “crime” allegedly committed in the United States and which was perfectly legal action there, although there has been no evidence presented that Joe committed any action leading to his monarchist madness arrest in Thailand. As Joe himself pointed out, “In Thailand, they put people in prison even if they don’t have proof.”

PPT considers the use of extended incarceration to force a guilty plea to be a form of torture, as defined by the U.N.

So much for the MFA’s rule of law. The law is about the fear and repression necessary for “protecting” not just a highly politicized, remarkably powerful and obscenely wealthy monarchy but the whole system of economic and political power that it represents.


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