The United States and Joe Gordon

11 12 2011

There’s an AP feature story at the Winnipeg Free Press that is worth reading in full. It comments on US policy and the fate of lese majeste victim Joe Gordon.

It begins: “The U.S. government prides itself on standing up for freedom of speech around the world, but when it comes to longtime ally Thailand and its revered monarch, Washington treads carefully — even when an American citizen is thrown in jail.”

It is sometimes neglected, but the critical element of Joe’s sentencing is that it was for a “crime” committed as an American citizen while he was living in Colorado. Yes, he is claimed to have translated bits of a perfectly legal and widely available book, by a reputable publisher, while in the United States.

So what does the US government do? It “has offered a measured response to the ‘severe’ sentence — saying it was ‘troubled’ by the outcome and asserting the right to free expression of people around the world. It has avoided direct criticism of Thailand over its use of laws punishing lese majeste, the crime of insulting a monarch.”

Indeed, the report should have added that, like royalist posterior polishers in Thailand, the US went out of its way to declare “loyalty” to the monarchy.

The report points out the glaringly obvious: “Washington’s comments pale next to the strident criticism it gives when dissidents, even those without U.S. ties, are jailed by more authoritarian governments in the neighbourhood, like China and Vietnam. The State Department typically calls for dissidents’ immediate release and urges the government in question to uphold international law.”

The report looks for the reasons for this blatant and jarring contradiction in US policy, saying the “muted U.S. response may be partly explained by an unwillingness to spoil efforts to secure a royal pardon for Gordon, as has happened for foreigners previously convicted of lese majeste.” This is always the excuse of consular and embassy officials and ambassadors who privately express outrage, but only as far as the next cocktail party with the Thai royalist and hi-so elite.

The report also adds that the muted response “also reflects the depth of U.S. relations with Thailand, which date back to 1833. The country was viewed as a bulwark against the spread of communism and served as a key base for U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. As the Obama administration seeks to step up its engagement in Asia, it wants to consolidate its old alliances.” That’s undoubtedly true. It could be added that US anti-communism in Thailand helped create the wealthy and politically powerful monarchy. It poured millions into supporting anti-communist propaganda that promoted the king, royal family and the monarchy.

The report might have also pointed out that US corporations have extensive business interests in Thailand, and protecting the rights of one US citizen (in the US) is said by weak-kneed officials to threaten those interests. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the China case, where business interests dwarf those in Thailand.

There is another claim: That “Washington may also view behind-the-scenes efforts to get Thai authorities to ease up on lese majeste prosecutions more effective in a society where public criticism can backfire.” Like an Asia Times story on “behind-the-scenes” dealing, this claim has no source. Until there is a shred of evidence, PPT believes it is the usual royalist guff sprouted when the regime is under pressure and that little will change.

The story has the other and usual royalist nonsense about “Bhumibol is revered in Thailand and widely seen as a stabilizing force” without considering why the lese majeste law is being used so harshly and whether there is much historical truth to the claim.

Another claim is: “Even among Washington think tanks and U.S. universities, experts on Thailand often prefer not to discuss the monarchy and lese majeste for fear they could be blacklisted.” There are relatively few experts on Thailand in the US, and those close to the State Department are almost universally royalist flunkies.

That US officials, including several ambassadors, have failed the citizens they are meant to represent is clear from even the State Department’s Human Rights reports that regularly parrot that there are no political prisoners in Thailand. Thailand’s Truth for Reconciliation Commission makes the State Department look stupid on this, listing more than 100 still in prison following the events of 2010.

Even the Democrat Party has acknowledged that: “Violations of the state of emergency … along with lese-majeste offences or computer crimes can be counted as political charges…”. If the people who put most of the political prisoners behind bars can acknowledge it, why not the US government and its officials?

When the State Department wrote its last report, there were hundreds more, and that is not including all of the victims of lese majeste and of the southern conflict, where hundreds more could be added to the list of political prisoners.

U.S. expresses lese majeste concern

7 12 2011

A few days ago the European Union expressed deep concern regarding the sentences being handed out to lese majeste victims in Thailand. Now AP reports that the United States has expressed official concern.

Swallowing hard after years of conspiratorial silence, Darragh Paradiso, the State Department spokeswoman for East Asia, “said the United States has utmost respect for the Thai monarchy.” But she added that the U.S. is “troubled by recent prosecutions and court decisions that are not consistent with international standards of freedom of expression.”

Later this week, the Thai-born American citizen Joe Gordon is due to be sentenced lese majeste charges that relate to the translation of the Yale University Press book The King Never Smiles. Gordon faces up to 15 years in jail and perhaps more if convicted on more than one charge. Let’s await the U.S. reaction on this case. They have  where they have generally been publicly mum.

The AP report finishes with this curiously ahistorical claim that deserves brief comment: “The current crackdown also reflects growing concern over the health of the 84-year-old king, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, and the future of an institution that has long united the country.”

Has the institution “long united” the country? If we look at the past 80 years, this seems an odd reading of history. A cursory glance at the history books shows that at least the period from 1931 to 1957 saw the monarchy at the center of political instability. It was there again in 1973-78 and again from 2006 to the present. By our calculation, that makes the monarchy an element of instability and division.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Gordon

13 11 2011

Prachatai has another article by Lisa Gardner on the continuing lese majeste torture of U.S. citizen Joe Gordon, accused of translating works and posting links to Paul Handley’s widely available The King Never Smiles that almost anyone in Thailand who wants to has seen. Joe is was arrested in Thailand and accused of such “crimes” allegedly committed while he was living in the United States.

The report states that Joe is: “A political prisoner, no question; and a U.S. citizen, no less. A used car salesman from Boulder, Colorado. By international standards, the charges are conspicuously political as they are innocuous.”

Gardner refers to someone who goes by the apparently lightly worn moniker of “human rights advocate.” This person claims that his organization “can’t take up his case without knowing if he’s as pure as the driven snow…”.

That line and similar ones have been mouthed by several allegedly human rights advocates in Thailand, not least by the ever quiet Benjamin Zawacki at Amnesty International. As a major human rights organization, AI embarrasses itself and it supporters by its public silence on lese majeste. It has done nothing for the hundreds of victims of lese majeste repression and torture in Thailand.

Given that Joe has been forced through incarceration and multiple refusals bail – this is the torture in lese majeste repression – to plead guilty, he must now rely “solely on a royal pardon to ensure his release.

A correspondent to Prachatai states that he wrote to the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Kristie Kenney on Joe’s case and received the following reply:

“Thank you for your letter to Ambassador Kenney of 3 October regarding Mr. Joe W. Gordon. While overseas, all private foreign nationals are subject to the laws of the country where they are located. Many of these laws are vastly different from U.S. laws. As you know, the Thai Department of Special Investigations accused Mr. Gordon, a private U.S. citizen, of lèse-majesté, specifically violating Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code and Section 14(3)(5) of the Thai Computer Crimes Act.

Since Mr Gordon’s arrest in May, Ambassador Kenney and other Embassy officials have raised Mr. Gordon’s situation with the Thai government officials many times, urging fair treatment and respect for his rights to freedom of expression. Embassy officials visit Mr. Gordon in jail regularly and attended his court hearings, most recently on October 10. We remain committed to providing Mr. Gordon all possible assistance allowed a private citizen under international convention.


Chief of American Citizen Services Unit”

The essential element of this is that the embassy and ambassador are doing nothing for Joe. They are meant to visit all U.S. citizens in prison, showing up in their air-conditioned cars and neatly pressed clothes to provide faux sympathy for a citizen in leg irons and prison garb accused of a crime in the United States. Big deal that they claim to take the case up with Thai government officials several times, “urging fair treatment and respect for his rights to freedom of expression.”

That is, frankly, diplomatic speak for doing nothing. Where is the expression of a U.S. citizen’s right to free speech in the United States? All this lot are doing is following previous ambassadorial advice: keeping a quiet public front, urging a guilty plea from the defendant (whether they are guilty or not), and then hoping for a pardon. Despite the fact that its own Human Rights report complains of a generalized pressure to sign confessions, U.S. diplomats play the palace’s game with them and do nothing to confront a dangerous abuse of basic civil rights.

Now here’s a thought or perhaps a wild dream. U.S. President Barack Obama is about to visit the Southeast Asia region. In that visit he will, according to the State Department, amongst other things, “stand up for democratic values.” The State Department has commented, just in the past few days, on human rights abuses in Vietnam, Burma, Uganda, Syria and Afghanistan, just to name a few. Secretary of State Clinton, who is about to visit Thailand, has recently made several statements on human rights and democracy, praising the U.S. ambassador in Syria as one of our diplomats of courage, who “was mobbed, assaulted, and threatened, just for meeting with peaceful protestors, he put his personal safety on the line to let the Syrian people know that America stands with them.”

What about letting an American citizen know that America stands with him? Why not have Obama raise Joe’s case and the human rights abuse that is lese majeste? What about having Clinton do the same. What about having Ambassador Kenney be a diplomat of courage and visit Joe and other lese majeste victims? Maybe Clinton can specifically mention lese majste in a public way. Maybe the State Department can even list the victims of lese majeste repression as political prisoners in its annual human rights report, where its most recent 2011 report continues to state the ludicrously erroneous (and palpably stupid) single line: “There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.”

While we doubt such acts of diplomatic “courage” will be seen, it would be a welcome change to see the United States act in a way that at least appeared to be something other than a supporter of the royalist status quo in Thailand.

Wikileaks, palace and political meddling

14 08 2011

On 28 March 2006, just a month before the king made a most decisive political intervention, the U.S.  Ambassador Ralph Boyce is, in this Wikileaks cable, telling Washington and embassies around the world that the palace is neutral and wanting to stay out of politics.

Asa Sarasin

The cable begins with the interesting note that the “Ambassador called on Asa Sarasin, the King’s Principal Private Secretary, on March 28 to deliver an advance copy of the controversial biography of the King that is slated to be published in the United States in May.” In fact, according to this academic account, Boyce had gone to considerable lengths to placate the Thaksin Shinawatra government and the palace over Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. Providing the palace with an advance copy (apparently, Yale University Press provided two copies to the State Department) was one more step in this process.

In the meeting with Boyce, Asa maintained that the palace was concerned about:

the repeated calls from anti-Thaksin demonstrators for the King to intervene to resolve the current political impasse. Asa said that the King did not intend to intervene, since that would be a set back for Thailand’s democratic development. The Palace believes that the situation can be resolved without the King’s intervention.

That’s not exactly a statement of political integrity by a constitutional monarchy. It is merely a statement of the belief that the political crisis could be resolved without the king having to intervene. Of course, the palace was already deeply involved with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and in aligning the royalist elite against the elected government.

In fact, Asa concludes that either the courts will get rid of Thaksin or that “the demonstrations will continue unabated. Eventually, in his [Asa's] assessment, the PM will be forced to concede to the unending opposition, and step down.” Asa is reported to have continued:

In either case, Asa said, the situation will be resolved without the need for royal intervention. It may take time, since the PM is “ignoring all the signals.” [PPT: presumably including those from the palace.]  But the Palace prefers this to the option of a premature and unnecessary interference in politics.

Boyce seems gleeful in recording his general agreement, stating that despite the Constitutional Court’s “shady reputation,” if it doesn’t rule against the legality of the election of some candidates for the Thai Rak Thai Party in the still to be held election, then the PAD will be bolstered.

PPT can’t help wondering if Boyce was being mischievous in this cable. He was well aware that the palace was highly politicized. In an earlier cable he noted that the palace did not rule out intervention. Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda had already declared that Thaksin should go. Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont had told Boyce that the political situation was “a mess” – term later used by the king – and noted Thaksin’s “corruption.”

If the news reports of the period from late 2005-April 2006 are examined, the palace’s political involvement is seen in, for example, the campaign to keep the oddball but anti-Thaksin Attorney-General Jaruvan Maintaka in her position, despite the lack of a legal foundation for her staying on. Her claim, not apparently disputed by the palace, was that she was appointed by royal decree and only the king could dismiss her. Prem was making heralded visits to the south, claiming government policies there had failed – they might have, but this was political campaigning by the palace’s senior official. He and Surayud were engaged in politicking on the annual military reshuffle in December 2005-January 2006.

There’s no need to continue. Boyce knew all of this and more and yet portrayed the palace as neutral and constitutionally correct; he wasn’t simply reporting palace positions, he was agreeing with them.

Boyce is now Vice President, Boeing International and President, Boeing Southeast Asia, where he continues to maintain his royalist and military links in Thailand.

Wikileaks, Kasit’s MFA and lese majeste

1 08 2011

In our continuing series on Wikileaks cables, today we direct attention to a Wikileaks cable, dated 3 March 2009, where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand responds to the rather bland 2008 Human Rights Report by the U.S. State Department. The MFA, operating under the then yellow-shirted, outspoken and sometimes irrational Kasit Piromya, goes so far as to produce a written plea/statement. PPT reproduces it below:

Thailand’s Comments on the U.S. State Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report

- We are greatly disappointed by the U.S. State Department’s human rights report concerning lese-majeste provision, which is part of Thailand’s Criminal Code.

- The U.S. State Department,s human rights report clearly illustrates a great misunderstanding of lese-majeste law, mainly its application, since it also contains general provisions on defamation and libel of private individuals.

- The rational of the law is simple. The law is there to protect Thailand’s national security because under the Thai Constitution, the monarchy is one of Thailand’s principal institutions. This is also necessary as the King and other members of the Royal Family are above politics. The Constitution does not allow them to comment or act in their own defense. Therefore, this is the same rationale as the law on contempt of court. These institutions should remain above conflicts and not be drawn into one.

- Thailand upholds people’s rights to freedom of speech and expression; such rights are guaranteed by the Thai Constitution. The lese-majeste law is not aimed at curbing neither these rights nor the the legitimate exercise of academic freedom including the debates about the monarchy as an institution. All cases mentioned in the report, including the case of Giles Ungpakorn are under the due process of law and are subject to further proof of evidences and facts.

- Given the Thai peoples, appreciation of the King’s devotion to their well-being during his reign, most Thais are deeply revernt and highly protective towards their King, hence their low tolerance for those suspected for lese-majeste. Such is part of the cultural or social values that have shaped the Thai public’s views regarding the lese-majeste law and the protection of the monarchy as a principal national institution.

- Due to our countries, longstanding relationship of more than 175 years, Thailand and the U.S. have formed a close bond of friendship especially at the people-to-people level, therefore the insensitivities of this report have had a tremendous impact on the sentiments of the Thai people, particularly when the U.S. is regarded as our closest friend.

- We urge the U.S. Department of State to properly address and rectify the misunderstandings in this report in order to prevent the further misinterpretation of Thailand’s lese-majeste law, in which the Thai people abide by in their daily lives.

In a later and related cable, John says this: “The RTG remains very sensitive to characterization by foreigners of implementation of lese majeste provisions as an issue of limiting freedom of speech, as the complaint by a top MFA official about coverage in our annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices indicates (ref A). The RTG is unlikely to alter its stance merely due to criticism or even well-meaning advice from abroad. We do not recommend the USG make any public comment on the application of the law or on individual cases, but will continue to raise our concerns in private and include relevant material in the annual Human Rights report.”

This weak-kneed response probably accounts for the fact that the State Department’s reports continue to be blind to lese majeste repression as a political abuse and why it can’t seem to find a single political prisoner in the whole of Thailand. This position represents a hopeless caving in to the forces of the old system and a dereliction of duty by the U.S. government on human rights.

That said, those releasing the cables have also panicked on this one, censoring a large amount of it. Very disappointing from a site that says “It’s Your Right to know the Truth!” It is lost in this cable.

The U.S. and the Thai military

18 06 2011

The United States government has been remarkably quiet on the political events in Thailand and said almost nothing of any significance about the bloody crackdowns on demonstrators in April and May 2010. In fact, since the military coup in 2006, the U.S. has taken the position that their trusted allies in Thailand are the military, the palace and the Democrat Party. After all, the U.S. played an important Cold War role in promoting the first two and has had close relations with the Democrat Party for decades.

PPT has long observed that the advisers in Washington who have the ear of U.S. policymakers are conservative and connected to palace and military in Thailand. Most of them are from an era when these forces were the only ones that really mattered, and they almost feel comfortable now that the Democrat Party is the mia noi of the military. Those dinosaur advisers keep telling policymakers that dealing with the Democrat Party is easier than any other party because the Democrat Party is full of “people like us.”

Thus, it is only momentarily shocking to read at Asia Provocateur that U.S. Marines are training Thai army snipers! In the linked report, Gunnery Sgt. Victor Lopez, scout sniper chief instructor with Weapons Platoon, Landing Force Company, says: “The sniper has only two things on his mind; the fact that he is about to take someone’s life, and how he is going to do that.” PPT thinks that the Thai Army’s snipers already know this. After all, it was only just over a year since these snipers brutally cut down civilians with head and chest shots. Another trainer stated: “We want to impart some of our sniper culture…. They did really well and we want to inspire them to build their own sniper culture.” This is the culture of the brotherhood of cold-blooded murder of civilians, and it is, in fact, a culture deeply rooted in the Thai Army.

The State Department’s human rights policies and statements are in tatters. Human rights abuse is central to U.S. foreign policy. Human rights have always taken last place when it comes to dealing with authoritarian “allies,” but this account should surely be shocking to right thinking people in Thailand and the U.S. As it did during the Cold War, the U.S. is quite simply training murderers who use their skills to suppress and kill their own people. There’s more on the U.S. relationship with the Thai military in the story cited in the following paragraph.

PPT won’t add more to that story as Andrew Spooner has it covered. However, we want to add a little more, based on a useful report at the Asia Times Online. There it is reported that in addition to the abovementioned lethal training, on 10 June, the “United States Marines have finished training Thailand’s military and police to use electroshock Tasers to inflict ‘intense pain’, shoot a blinding neurotoxin spray and explode non-lethal grenades…”. As the report adds, this training is just “one year after the Thai army unleashed snipers and armored personnel carriers against an anti-coup insurrection in Bangkok in which 91 people died.”

US Marine Corps spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Curtis L. Hill is reported to have stated that: “The purpose of the NOLES [Non-Lethal Weapons Executive Seminar 2011] training is to promote the use of non-lethal equipment in peacekeeping and develop the relationship between the civilian police and military, with an emphasis on preventing and stopping human-rights violations…”. So let’s try to get this right…. “non-lethal” is about human rights and sniper training is about….

What is the U.S. on about? One can imagine the U.S. Embassy saying that NOLES is about protecting human rights and minimizing casualties so that demonstrators aren’t brutally gunned down. Meanwhile, training snipers is developing a culture of efficient murder.

NOLES ’11 is said to have been specifically designed “to improve capabilities to maintain order during civil unrest.” In other words, the U.S. has involved itself in Thailand’s political struggles, choosing to support institutions that have a long record of human rights abuses and using U.S.-supplied weapons to wantonly murder opponents and civilians. This recent training even involved using mock incapacitating sprays against “a simulated uncontrolled crowd…”. As the report states: “Other lessons by the Marines included how to fire an M-203 grenade launcher, and load non-lethal ammunition into a Mossberg shotgun.”

PPT could excitedly proclaim that the U.S. should be ashamed that it continues to support regimes that murder and imprison, but what would be the point? After all, this is standard operating procedure.



Somsak’s LM case continues to get international attention

6 06 2011

Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s case continues to gain international attention and generate concern. The latest story is a long one in the prestigious and well-read weekly, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Having the story covered in this paper means that tens of thousands are being apprised of the pernicious use of lese majeste in Thailand.

Much of the story will already be known to regular PPT readers.

Somsak is introduced as a history professor at Thammasat University, who “believes that Thailand’s monarchy should be reformed. He says the revered institution should be made more open, showing, for example, its financial books to the public. He also recently questioned what he called the political leanings of a princess. He does not call for the monarchy to be abolished but would like to see it modernized.”

It is noted that “elsewhere [Somsak would] be entitled to publish his scholarly writings and be shielded by notions of academic freedom, it is a different story altogether in his native Thailand.” Lese majeste prevails to prevent freedom of speech.

Somsak is cited as saying that the “law is used to intimidate those who oppose the establishment, and that he has been personally threatened.” One overseas scholar is cited as saying that “he has faced pressure from the Thai government to avoid such sensitive issues.”

The article mentions c=the related cases of Harry Nicolaides, Giles Ji Ungpakorn, and most recently, “Thai-born U.S. citizen who calls himself Joe Gordon was arrested here, charged with posting translations from an unauthorized biography of the Thai king that is banned. The book, written by the journalist Paul Handley, was published by Yale University Press in 2006; the Thai government subsequently blocked the university’s Web site.”

David Streckfuss is cited on the law having “a chilling effect on speech, but [that] the Somsak case may also be causing a backlash of sorts.” He observes: “There’s both more indiscriminate use of the law and at the same time a greater boldness…. People are pushing the line.” He adds: “There’s a new generation of activists who are not willing to back down…. There’s a newfound boldness that has the promise of opening up formerly academic issues to greater Thai society.”

Andrew Walker at the Australian National University says there is “persistent caution in the international academic community” because scholars do not want to endanger their access to Thailand. He might have added that the Thai elite rewards those who bolster the royalist position. PPT can think of those who regularly have the U.S. Department of State’s ear.

This is a big story, but PPT can’t help wondering if the royalist elite is politically deaf on this issue.

Thailand’s political police hard at work

30 05 2011

Joe Gordon, the Thai-born American citizen charged with lese majeste has “also been charged with committing an offence against national security…”.

That’s according to the Department of Special Investigation chief Tharit Pengdit, quoted in the Bangkok Post. Tharit has not indicated the reasons behind these charges, but it is assumed in the media that it has to do with links to Paul Handley’s well-received bestseller, The King Never Smiles.

If that is true, then political policeman Tharit is shutting the gate well after the horse has bolted. In fact, the horses are over the hills and out of sight! Handley’s book has been downloaded, read and translated and photocopied by anyone who wanted to read it in Thailand.

But it is this extra charge that has allowed the DSI to oppose bail for Joe Gordon.

Tharit adds that “lese majeste was also deemed an offence against state security.” But then adds that Joe Gordon has somehow been “instigating people to break the law under Section 116 of the Criminal Code.” Perhaps this relates to allowing others to download copies of the book.

It seems to PPT that this is the same tired argument being made by DSI which simply seeks to strangle political debate on the monarchy. Again, this is a futile task.

Cases like this will get a great deal of international attention and will bring an international spotlight to lese majeste and will raise questions about Thailand’s international standing. It also offers the opportunity for a renewed international examination of Thailand’s human rights abuses and repression of political opponents. PPT hopes that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Department of State and human rights activists everywhere will pay due attention to continuing and to the ever more bizarre nature of lese majeste repression.



FCCT and lese majeste

25 05 2011

PPT has received a report from a correspondent who attended the packed house event on lese majeste at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on 24 May 2011. There is background here and at Bangkok Pundit.

The speakers were: independent scholar and lese majeste expert David Streckfuss, Asia researcher for Thailand, Myanmar and for emergencies for Amnesty International Benjamin Zawacki, sub-committee on civil and political rights at the National Human Rights Commission Dr. Niran Pithakwatchara, and the well-known and always controversial royalist and Buddhist scholar Sulak Sivaraksa. After they spoke there was a long question time, with some pretty pointed questioning from a range of journalists and activists, Thai and foreign.

Because the event was over more than two hours, this post is a summary of some elements of the discussion and questions, not a summary of all things said. One thing that needs to be said is that there was a little boundary pushing, so it will be interesting to see if there is any political fallout.

Streckfuss was first, speaking of the lese majeste law (Article 112), changes to the law in 1956 and 1976, and providing an overview of cases and convictions in recent years. His estimate was that some 200+ are probably incarcerated on lese majeste convictions at the moment.

He was followed by Zawacki, who despite presenting an account of AI’s position on lese majeste that was meant to suggest continuity, concern and activism, essentially outlined a new position. He said that everyone on lese majeste charges and/or convicted is considered a political prisoner (tell that to the U.S. State Department!) and that if there is no evidence of inciting violence or “violent words” or “intent,” then each person convicted is then a prisoner of conscience. This is a new statement on lese majeste. The most recent AI country report on Thailand concentrated on the Computer Crimes Act and not lese majeste. AI, and Zawacki in particular, have been under enormous pressure form activists and bloggers (PPT included) to come up with a credible position on lese majeste. Maybe they have, but see below and this interview with Streckfuss, where this deserves quotation:

“The main question now is how will Amnesty International make up for lost time and reclaim a modicum of respect from many activists and academic groups in Thailand — and abroad — who have quite rightly criticized the organization for taking a more consistent and forceful stand on the issue of lese majeste which, after all, as a matter of the right to freedom of expression, has traditionally been a core issue for Amnesty.”

Dr. Niran followed and provided an overview of his concerns as a NHRC commissioner and specifically of his sub-committee’s work that began last week, focusing on Most of what he said was covered in PPT’s post on the sub-committee. He expressed his strong commitment to examining the recent cases of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. He made it clear that the lese majeste law infringes on human rights and added the usual bit about the king having said that the law hurts him too.

It might be added that this statement by the king was issued before the major political crisis and huge spike in cases and convictions.

Sulak was the final speaker. He was clear that the lese majeste law is dangerous for the monarchy, which he wants to preserve. He was also clear that Somsak’s case is a ridiculous beat-up and was expressive and daring in his criticism of people involved and the subject of Somsak’s open letters (here and here). He was firm in his view that Somsak is proposing meaningful reform. Sulak wants transparency and openness in the discussion of the monarchy and lese majeste. He asked if any political party was prepared to say what kind of democracy it wanted for Thailand.

The questions from the audience elicited some interesting responses and, as expected, Zawacki and AI got quite a bit of implied and explicit criticism. He made it clear that transparency and openness were not part of AI’s approach on lese majeste. He repeatedly stated that he would not divulge AI’s strategy. He explained that AI had not done much on lese majeste in earlier years because there were so few cases. That doesn’t explain the lack of action or a reasonable human rights position from 2006 until the evening of 24 May 2011. He tried to say that AI had done plenty, but this is fudging and fibbing.

He made a nasty attack on a person who asked him to explain his comment that the king had done much for human rights in Thailand. He claimed that the question said more about the person asking it than about Zawacki himself. For this correspondent, Zawacki was essentially using the tactics of those who make lese majeste charges. He invoked the spectre of disloyalty. It was a cheap shot and not something that should ever be expected of someone meant to be involved with human rights.

If AI is to ever resurrect its already shattered mantle in Thailand, the next step is to remove Zawacki and appoint someone who is able to address vital human rights issues with transparency and openness.

There were some interesting small points, not necessarily attributable to particular speakers. One was the use of the term “democracy with a constitutional monarchy/the king under the constitution” rather than the usual “democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” Another was a comment that Thailand had a proper constitutional monarchy from 1932 to 1947, and we need to return to that.

Rather than summarize more of the question and answer session, we may conclude with a comments by Streckfuss and Sulak. He refers to a rising abolitionist campaign (along with a reformist line of the panellists). Streckfuss sees this as something that could not have happened even a few years ago. He also referred to a rising consciousness, political activism and political courage associated with lese majeste. Sulak added that for reformists, the time to act is now, for it might be too late for the institution if reforms are made too slowly.

This post doesn’t do justice to the discussion, which was long, detailed and revealing. Fair-minded people would see reform as more or less mandatory at this time. The question is whether the die-hard royalists see it that way.

There are cluster bombs that our guys use and then there are bad cluster bombs

22 04 2011

In The Irrawaddy, this is stated:

The Obama administration said Thursday that Moammar Gadhafi’s government may be targeting Libyan civilians with cluster bombs, cautiously endorsing claims by rebels and human rights groups that the Libyan strongman’s troops are using the indiscriminate weapon on the western city of Misrata.

Attacks by Gadhafi’s forces have been deplorable, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. Despite outlining more examples of what she termed Gadhafi’s “inhumanity,” Clinton refused to signal any new course for the United States to help anti-government forces in their war to end four decades of dictatorship.

Indeed, deplorable if true.

But what happens when the ever-so-nice-English-speaking Abhisit Vejjajiva-led regime that includes the Thai Army and their royalist backers are the regime using cluster bombs? Nothing, zilch, silence from the U.S. Secretary of State (correct us if we have managed to miss the condemnation). Where is that cautious use of deplorable? PPT searched her official web page and found nothing that condemns Thailand’s soon-retracted admission of the use of cluster bombs (read our posts here, here, here, here, here and here).

PPT is not the only blog to notice these double standards – see this post at Asia Provocateur.

That's our boy!

PPT has a bit of a string of posts on these questions and issues. We earlier questioned Clinton’s position on Thailand and asked questions about her State Department’s recent human rights report.

It is worth setting out some of those earlier posts here:

… did she [Clinton] conveniently forget … [about] the Abhisit Vejjajiva government … presiding over events that saw the shooting of several journalists, with several witnesses, including journalists, claiming that the military deliberately targeted them. We don’t recall her condemnation of the monstrous levels of media censorship in Thailand….

Part of the propaganda benefit that the Thai government has in Washington is a long tradition of “advisers” telling the State Department that it is only the royal family that matters and that the monarchy is the source of stability. Even today, despite the clear evidence that the monarchy has destabilized Thailand’s politics over the past decade, there are academics with thin publication records who have moved from government to universities inside the Beltway and who regularly get inside the palace and in return provide the necessary propaganda as “advice.”

The official U.S. position on human rights is now so riven by contradictions that it can’t be a “position.” It is a hastily cobbled together sham and sick joke.


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