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.

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.

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.

Update on lese majeste case against New Zealand citizen

19 08 2012

At Prachatai, there is an update on the case of Thitinant Kaewchantranont (the report is also available as: ตร.ยันหญิงก่อเหตุหมิ่นฯ ยังถูกอายัดตัว แพทย์เผยเป็นโรคจิตจริง เสนอความเห็น พนง.สืบสวนพรุ่งนี้).

The 63 year-old woman, who is a New Zealand citizen, is accused of lese majeste by rabid, neo-fascist yellow shirts, “has been diagnosed as mentally ill by psychiatrists.” Remarkably, though, this is not the end of the legal persecution:

If the accused are found to be permanently mentally ill, having committed the alleged crimes without being able to control themselves, they will probably be acquitted. But, if found to be temporarily mentally ill, they will probably be sentenced to punishment less severe than that prescribed in the law….

In other words, Thitinant could still be convicted and jailed for an act that would hardly raise an eyebrow in most constitutional monarchies around the world.

We would hope that her Embassy would not be cowed by the lese majeste nonsense and will be working tirelessly to return Thitinant to New Zealand. It won’t take much for them to be more pro-active than the U.S. Embassy was in the case of Joe Gordon and the Australians when Harry Nicolaides was jailed.

Joe’s whereabouts

15 07 2012

The Nation has a story on Joe Gordon following his release following his pardon on lese majeste time in jail. It states that

the whereabouts of former lese majeste convict Joe Gordon are not known and the media has not heard from him or his lawyer since he was granted a royal pardon on Tuesday afternoon and the US Embassy reportedly whisked him away.

Joe’s lawyer, Arnon Nampa said he “understands’ Joe is being “cared for” by the United States Embassy since his release. He is expected to leave for the U.S. soon.

Arnon said,

“I think they want him to leave quietly. It’s a diplomatic move,” adding that Gordon had told him several times while in prison that he did not feel like a Thai and wanted to return to the US once out of jail.

Why would the U.S. want to “keep it quiet”? Probably image is the issue in Thailand for the Embassy fears the ultra-royalist mobs. PPT thinks the Embassy is also making up for lost ground, for they did almost nothing publicly for Joe when he was in jail and on trial.

The report states that “there has been some speculation as to whether Gordon is being barred from speaking to the media while in Thailand in order to prevent bilateral relations from being strained.” We have heard that, and we agree with the speculation.

When “US Embassy spokesperson Walter Braunohler said … the embassy ‘unfortunately’ would neither confirm nor deny anything about his whereabouts or say anything about the speculation that he is being prevented from speaking to media out of concerns for Gordon’s privacy.” Of course they won’t. Why is this “unfortunate” we wonder?

This is also interesting:

Asked if Gordon had been forced to confess, Arnon only said that his client had admitted to translating and uploading excerpts of the book after his request for bail had been denied eight times.

We take that to be a “yes.”

On Joe Gordon’s release

12 07 2012

The short report at CNN is worth reading, not so much for the content, but for the short video that reminds us of the Joe Gordon’s incarceration and his sentencing.

From the report itself, the media is tending to report rather than comment, and yet there are issues that deserve discussion. Not least, the repeated statement that Joe received “a royal pardon from the king” while factually correct demands dissection.

Why is it that Joe and all other lese majeste victims have to appeal for a royal pardon? In fact, one reason is that this law is enforced by judges who hold all prisoners guilty from the beginning. This charge has a conviction rate of over 94%. Another reason is that those accused are pressured to plead guilty. The threat of years and years in a stinking jail, usually with no bail, means that a “royal pardon” is held up as an opportunity to end torment.

A third reason is that “granting” pardons makes the king look good. By granting an appeal he appears benevolent. In fact, the victims of this political crime that “protects” this fabulously wealthy and politically interventionist king who now divides Thailand, are only in jail because the monarchy is a significant element of the system that protects the privileges of a grasping royalist elite.

The CNN report also notes that:

Gordon’s case is one of several that provoked criticism from human rights advocates over Thailand’s controversial laws that punish defaming, insulting or threatening the royal family. U.S. authorities had also expressed concern about his imprisonment.

This is only partly true. So-called human rights advocates like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been altogether too timid and even politically compromised in their attention to lese majeste.They should have been far more vocal. As for the U.S. authorities, they made one intervention in public on Joe’s case. On lese majeste generally, they have been essentially silent and compromised.

Like almost all other reports in the media, the CNN report has Joe guilty of “posting a link on his blog to an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej…”. This isn’t correct. Joe pleaded guilty under duress. We have no idea whether he did what he’s accused of. Even if he did, it wasn’t an illegal act in the United States.

Joe’s lawyer is reported as saying: “The case is over, he has no more pending court case or obligatory things to do…”. We hope that this is not the end of Joe’s case. We would like to see him write extensively of his experience, tell us who helped him and who didn’t, and in support of other victims.

Joe Gordon released

11 07 2012

Earlier PPT posted that Twitter, Facebook and emails are flying about suggesting that lese majeste convict Joe Gordon has been released. More details were promised.

Here’s a list of stories that have appeared. In reading them, it needs to be remembered that Joe was essentially forced to plead guilty to lese majeste but never admitted the offense as charged. Even if he had, translating a legal book in the U.S. was not illegal. In essence, the Thai government made a legal act in another country illegal in Thailand. One journalist reports that the pardon was related to a fear that the case would be raised at an ASEAN meeting:

Thai pardon for US citizen jailed for royal insult

AFP – Joe Wichai Commart Gordon, a car salesman from Colorado, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in December under the kingdom’s strict lese majeste laws, which rights campaigners say are used to stifle freedom of expression.

US Man Jailed for Lese Majeste Freed

The Irrawaddy News Magazine ‎- Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, is revered in Thailand and is widely seen as a stabilizing force. But Thailand’s lese majeste laws are the harshest in the world.

US citizen freed after jail time for insulting Thai monarchy

Reuters India ‎- The case highlighted Thailand’s extensive use of the world’s most draconian lese-majeste laws to stamp out even the faintest criticism of 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch.

Thai king pardons American convicted of insulting monarchy

The Guardian – The Thai government would be keen to avoid attention being drawn to Gordon, who was first detained in May 2011, and others who have fallen foul of lèse majesté laws.

Royal pardon for US man who posted about Thai king

The Australian – ‎There was no immediate word on Gordon’s whereabouts or whether he would return to the US. Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, is revered in Thailand and is widely seen as a stabilizing force [repeating the usual nonsense].

Thai-American jailed on lese majeste charges gets pardon

Asian Correspondent – Bangkok Pundit blogged on the Thai-born naturalized American citizen Joe Gordon who was arrested in May 2011 on lese majeste charges, then later blogged when the US expressed disappointment when he was actually charged in …

Thai king pardons US man jailed for royal insult

BBC News – Strict Thai laws against defaming the monarchy allow for sentences of up to 15 years in prison. No reason was given for the pardon….

U.S. Man Jailed Over Book Critical of Thai King Granted Pardon

Bloomberg – ‎ A Thai group submitted a bill to Parliament in May to amend the law with 30000 signatures from members of the public, reflecting growing opposition to the statute even as political parties decline to endorse changes.

Thai-American jailed for insulting monarchy receives royal pardon

CNN International – The charge of writing and posting articles insulting the monarchy under the Southeast Asian country’s lese majeste laws can yield a sentence as high as 20 years in prison in the Buddhist country….

US Citizen Jailed for Insulting Thai King Freed by Royal Pardon

Voice of America – “We urge Thai authorities on a regular basis, both privately and publicly, here in Bangkok and also in Washington to ensure that freedom of expression is protected in accordance with international obligations.”

Thailand frees US man jailed over banned book

Aljazeera.com – He was detained in May last year during a visit to Thailand, where he had returned for medical treatement. After being repeatedly denied bail, Gordon pleaded guilty in October in hopes of obtaining a lenient sentence.

Thai king pardons jailed US citizen over royal ‘insults’

Deutsche Welle – In the book, author Paul M. Handley alleges that the king has hindered progress towards democracy in Thailand by the consolidation of royal power. Under the country’s “lese majeste” laws, anybody found guilty of insulting key figures in the royal family….

The elite is revolting

28 06 2012

We at PPT are no great fans of the United States government and its double standards on human rights globally or of its hopelessness on lese majeste in Thailand.

Drawing on the rather silly (non-)debate over Lady Gaga’s visit to Thailand, at msnbc.com, there’s a consideration of how:

the conservative Thai establishment has grown increasingly hostile to the “Western” values symbolized by America, partly in response to growing pressure from ordinary people for greater democracy and freedom of speech.

By conservative elite, the report apparently means the Democrat Party, the patrician royalists associated with the palace,  much of the Sino-Thai business class, and titled royals.

But when were this lot ever interested in democracy. They are only interested in their own wealth and control of the political system, and have been happy enough for the murderous military to run coup after coup since 1957.

It is worth noting that this is an article about Thai views of the U.S., and it needs to be remembered that it is exactly this anti-democratic elite is the one that was promoted, funded and coddled by the U.S. as its allies in Thailand.

The report is correct in noting that:

One flashpoint in this debate was the treatment of a U.S. citizen arrested last year for [PPT: allegedly] circulating a partial translation of a book by an American author that took a critical look at the Thai royal family. Joe Gordon, who was born in Thailand but emigrated and became a car salesman [PPT: perhaps it is more relevant to say he is a U.S. citizen] in Colorado, was sentenced to two and a half years in jail last December for breaking the “lèse majesté” law that forbids criticism of the monarchy.

Yes, American citizen Joe Gordon has been in a stinking, festering jail on this ludicrous charge for 13 months. When this report says that the “United States found itself dragged into the debate” on Joe’s jailing, we can only think that there has been media brain failure. The U.S. has a citizen jailed on charges that have never been proven in court and for “crimes” committed, not in Thailand, but in the United States!

The U.S. government hasn’t been “dragged” into anything; it has been complicit in Joe’s predicament. The government, the well-dressed but vacant ambassador and the embassy have been worse than pathetic.

But, yes, the ultra-royalists did show up at the U.S. embassy after one American diplomat apparently mistakenly “criticized the jailing of Gordon and called for greater freedom of speech.” On this the article cites the laughable ultra-royalist ventriloquist’s doll Tul Sitthisomwong. The dull one states:

We feel annoyed…. We know that America focuses on human rights and freedom of people, but “lèse majesté” in Thailand … is not about human rights, it’s about breaking the law.

We doubt that anyone in the “conservative elite” sees Tul as anything other than a trained attack dog, working for treats. So his view that “the U.S. is meddling in other countries to try to maintain its waning influence” and that this is seen in the events over NASA and Utapao is probably reflective of what he hears from his “betters” and bosses.

We can understand that U.S. policymakers and businesspeople must be confused by all of this.They do seem to have been doing what they have done for years and the Thai elite seems to have slipped away or is biting the hand that once fed it very well. Blame Thaksin for that? The ultra-royalists do. They blame him for bad weather.

To see the confusion expressed in a remarkably pedestrian report on the topic, see this PDF, written by an American close to the old conservative elite who produces a report full of old and tired ideas.

Why is the truth unacceptable?

25 05 2012

In a recent post PPT focused on the most recent human rights report by the U.S. Department of State that made a case that there was not a single political prisoner in Thailand in 2011. This claim is made about a period when PPT would estimate that there were more than 300 political prisoners in the country. As we mentioned in that post, this claim by the United States is even contradicted by the Thai state.

Why is it that the United States cannot deal with (political) truth in Thailand? One reason is that Thailand is a major ally, and has been for a very long time. We know that the U.S. state is not as critical of major allies as it is of declared enemies. Hence, the Unites States can work hard to get an anti-abortion activist out of China, while Joe Gordon, a U.S. citizen convicted as a lese majeste political prisoner for alleged acts that were legal and carried out in Colorado, is left to rot in a Thai jail. In other words, the U.S. has not principled human rights position.

But the issue of truth and the inability to accept it is also evident in Thailand. The impunity enjoyed by state officials in murdering citizens is one cruel manifestation of this.

Another example of not being able to deal with the truth was seen at the time that the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime was cracking down on red shirt protesters in 2010, killing and injuring many. At the time, ultra-royalists organized a campaign against foreign correspondents for telling the world what was really happening. One example of a campaign is seen here. These complaints were rewarded with the support of Queen Sirikit.

Ironically, the silliest and least serious but probably the most publicized story – to 24 million on Twitter – on the failure to accept truth in Thailand comes from the Lady Gaga visit.  The singer said what everyone knows: fake Rolex watches (and every other brand one can think of) are sold on Bangkok’s streets.

Te predictable response from ultra-nationalists is that speaking the truth is a dastardly action. The Telegraph reports on the pathetic reaction:

Now she is stirring nationalist fervour in Thailand, where people tend to get upset when the country’s seedy underworld is highlighted by outsiders.

“We are more civilised than you think,” tweeted Thai DJ Surahit Siamwalla, who has a ticket to Friday’s show in Bangkok but said he plans to boycott.

“She came to our home, but instead of admiring us she insulted us,” said a commentator on popular Thai web board pantip.com.

So the truth is unspeakable, even on illegal knock-offs by a pop star. Imagine if Lady Gaga had said the king was a powerful political figure who has been actively engaged in ousting elected governments. She’d be in jail.

We at PPT imagine that she’ll need to tweet something pro-monarchist so those who feel their house has been slandered by the truth at least feel that the “father” is respected.

The truth really cannot be spoken. Many prefer to hear and purvey lies and fantasies.

Updated: No political prisoners in Thailand?

24 05 2012

Earlier today, the U.S. State Department released their annual reports on human rights, the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. There is a lot that PPT could say about the authority of the U.S. government to comment on human rights, given the U.S.’s own terrible track record on respecting and promoting human rights. However, for now we will restrain ourselves and simply make one point.

While the report for Thailand does detail torture cases, point to the continued use of disappearance, and comment briefly on freedom of expression issues, they deny the existence of political prisoners.

In fact, the precise wording is that “There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.”

PPT suggests that the U.S. State Department check their sources of information. Why not ask Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul, or Joe Gordon if there are political prisoners in Thailand? If they read this site or Prachatai, they would have a much different perspective. In the last year, mainline newspapers, including Matichon and the Bangkok Post have carried numerous reports on political prisoners. Even the Thai government no longer denies the existence of political prisoners in Thailand, although their definition is rather narrow.

Update: A reader has commented on PPT’s final sentence above, pointing out that not only does the Thai state now recognize political prisoners, but has created a special prison for political prisoners! That the U.S. Department of State ignores lese majeste as a political crime and ignores the incarceration of prisoners the state itself considers political prisoners is, frankly, both bizarre and stupid.


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