Cracking the media

20 09 2021

Thailand’s regime is seeking to limit reporting on the actions of its police against demonstrators. Recent actions against the media are reported here, here, here, here, and here.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand has issued a statement, reproduced in full:

FCCT STATEMENT ON THAI POLICE THREAT TO ARREST JOURNALISTS COVERING PROTESTS

The professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand wishes to express its deep concern over a threat by the Royal Thai Police to arrest journalists caught covering protests after the 9pm curfew.

The police have issued a list of preconditions for journalists to obtain permission to report on the protests, which some will be unable to meet. The police want journalists to provide them with a letter requesting coverage after the curfew, stamped by the Metropolitan Police, a copy of a PRD press card, and a letter of assignment from their news agency asking for post-curfew reporting.

This is an onerous set of requirements for what should be routine media work. Some legitimate journalists do not have PRD-issued press cards, and some freelancers cannot get all these documents. It is unacceptable that journalists should face the threat of arrest and prosecution while doing their jobs, simply because they cannot meet all these bureaucratic conditions.

The FCCT urges the police to review their rules for post-curfew reporting, and to recognise that there are genuine journalists reporting on the streets who may not be able to get all the documents they are asking for, and who should not be arrested face any criminal charges.

17 September 2021





Updated: Horsing around

20 09 2021

We recently posted on the declining royal Princess Sirivannavari. Known for being remarkably tone deaf on social issues, even if she’s unpopular, it doesn’t stop her from living a globetrotting life of luxury.

According to a Facebook post by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, while Thais are still facing restrictions due to the virus, Sirivannavari is off traveling the world, staying in 5-star hotels, and spending taxpayer money.

We stress that there is no independent confirmation of Sirivannavari’s touring, but have to admit that Pavin’s short details fit her modus operandi. Pavin states: “Amid the covid epidemic Sirivannavari still squanders tax on people who travel as if playing. Now in Denmark, she’s there to buy a horse.”

Clipped from Thailand Tatler

He says she’s stayed at the D’Angleterre Hotel. We looked at the hotel’s website and we guess her room’s costing about 17,000 baht a night. We don’t know how many hangers-on she’s got, which would inflate the cost of hotel substantially. It is also said she’s renting four limousines. Then there’s meals and other local expenses as well as the cost of flights.

The horses she’s interested in is apparently from a stable that handles horses for the Danish royals. We can’t even guess how much that will cost the ever-suffering taxpayer.

Sirivannavari’s travel, while most Thais are stuck, would seem poor PR, but not for the thick-headed princess. It is one of her traits that she flaunts her (dad’s) great wealth. We guess that she’s gotten bored with Thailand, and has decamped to her mansion in Paris and is again living like a princess of yore.As she’s previously gushed, “Greece and the South of France are at the top of my favourite destinations list…. And I love Paris, so I visit all three quite often.” And she screws the plebs.

Update: A reader asks if the king is in Europe as well. We have no idea, but can confirm he hasn’t appeared in the royal news for a very long time. His last engagement promoted by the Royal Office was on 26 July.





2006 military coup

19 09 2021

The army’s real task: coups and repression

It’s the anniversary of the 2006 coup, the event that cast Thailand into a political crisis that continues until today.

The Bangkok Post felt it appropriate to interview Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the leader of the coup that gave Thailand the junta that named itself the Council for Democratic Reform under Democracy with the King as Head of State.

Sonthi was always dull with limited intellectual capacity. Some call him the coup “mastermind, but he could not have planned and conducted a military coup, but he was a useful tool for the military he commanded and for the palace.

He adds to this reputation as a dullard when he says: “if you ask me if it is a success or a failure … people were in a joyful mood and gave flowers to soldiers…”.

Sonthi and his shadows. Clipped from the Bangkok Post

To recall yet another disastrous military intervention, we went back to an academic article that summarized the outcome of the coup in 2008, and which is free to download. Here’s its assessment:

It is clear that a large proportion of the Bangkok-based middle class, the royalist elite, a swathe of political activists, some business people and large numbers in the south believed that the military conducted a ‘‘good coup’’ to rid the country of the Thaksin government and to rescue them from authoritarianism. Representative of such thinking was the renowned liberal and former liberal Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan (2006): ‘‘The Sep 19, 2006 coup in Thailand was necessary – a corrective measure – in that it saved the country from the clutches of authoritarianism.’’

Undoubtedly, for millions more, largely from the north and north-east, this was a ‘‘bad coup,’’ for it removed from office the one government that had largely delivered on its electoral promises and provided them with a political voice….

The coup also led to a reprise of highly conservative and nationalist discourses regarding the nature of Thai democracy, of national forms of capitalism, and to new state-led education campaigns teaching people the ‘‘proper’’ exercise of citizenship. It also raised the volume of royalist propaganda to a level not seen since the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932.

Of course, things have become a lot worse, Following the military’s murder of scores of red shirts in 2010, the 2014 coup sought to roll back the political clock, rid the country of Thaksinism, cripple parliamentary representation, and make the monarchy paramount, using draconian lawfare. Thousands have been detained, threatened, jailed, beaten and disappeared. That’s the nature of Thailand’s military and its politics.





Cracking down III

19 09 2021

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has recently reported statistics on people arrested or detained, accused of involvement in protest activities during the first three weeks of August:

It is found that from 1 to 25 August 2021, at least 260 persons have been arrested. This number includes at least 13 children younger than 15 years old, 57 youths within the age range from 15 to 18 years old, and 190 adults. However, it excludes the key protest leaders and activists who reported to the authorities per their arrest warrants.

Arresting and detaining 57 kids under 18 may seem excessive, but the point of these operations is to frighten and repress.

So it is that the cops harass:

Clipped from The Nation

All the arrested persons had been detained and interrogated in different places, depending on the authorities’ order each day. The documented detention venues included the Region 1 Border Patrol Police Headquarters (BPP 1) in Pathum Thani Province, the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) inside the Royal Thai Police Club, and other police stations across Bangkok. The majority of detention was unlawful because the police officers often did not bring the arrested persons to a police station in the locality of where they were arrested or the station in charge of processing the arrested persons’ charges in line with the Criminal Procedure Code.

Unlawful arrest and other unlawful activity seems to define police operations.

Read more on these arrests here.

Meanwhile, the regime’s thuggish police are running dragnets across the protest movement. Prachatai reports that on 17 September, “police officers raided the house of members of the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), confiscating mobile phones and computers and arresting one person.” According to TLHR, the arrest warrant did not say why it was issued.

That’s probably unlawful as well, but these thugs have become the law; whatever they do seems okay.

According to Thai PBS, Deputy Police Spokesman Pol Col Krisana Pattanacharoen stated that the cops “have 20 targets of investigation, including the UFTD leaders, who are suspected of committing illegal acts related to national security.” That’s usually code for lese majeste and/or sedition.

Pol Col Krisana claimed “[s]imilar raids and searches have been conducted outside Bangkok and at least five suspects have already been arrested…”.

Clipped from Prachatai

The person arrested was university student Niraphorn Onkhao, a third-year liberal arts student at Thammasat University, on charges of sedition and computer crimes. TLHR say the arrest warrant did not say why it was issued and contained the wrong citizen ID number. Niraphorn also protested during the arrest that she had never received a summons.

Niraphorn denied all charges and refused to sign the arrest record and was later released on bail of 25,000 baht.

TLHR reported that the complaint leading to Niraphorn’s arrest was filed “by Nopadol Prompasit, a member of the Thailand Help Center for Cyberbullying Victims, an online royalist group whose members have filed numerous lèse majesté charges against many netizens and activists…”. Ultra-royalist Nopadol claimed the student was “involved with running the UFTD’s Facebook page, which contain messages calling for people to join protests, which said were not peaceful protests and at risk of spreading Covid-19.”

Showing how close the links are between regime cops and ultra-royalists, police claimed they “found that the Facebook page contain[ed] what they consider to be seditious messages calling for people to rebel against the authorities, as well as accusations that officers used excessive force on protesters.”

Thailand’s political space narrows by the day.





Anti-monarchy graffiti and arson

18 09 2021

Readers who are following social media will be aware that anti-monarchism has been more prominent over the past couple of weeks. This has worried the regime and ultra-royalists have been further spooked. The police and military have been chasing down those considered anti-monarchists.

Prachatai recently reported that “a protester who allegedly painted graffiti about monarchy reform at Din Daeng Intersection on 13 September [was]… arrested by the police on Wednesday night (15 September).” Wiraphap Wongsaman was arrested and detained at Phaholyothin Police Station, accused “of painting graffiti reading ‘The monarchy should be reformed to be under the constitution’.”

Clipped from Prachatai

Wiraphap was said to have “been the target of Information Operations and a pro-monarchy group which tried to label him as a radical protester…”.

Meanwhile, responding to the the burning of King Vajiralongkorn’s portrait on 13 September 2021 at Srinagarind Hospital in Khon Kaen, two “Khon Kaen University students were separately arrested on Monday morning by provincial police this morning (Friday) for allegedly torching the portrait of His Majesty the King in front of the Srinagarind Hospital in the early morning of Monday (September 13th ).”

From Isaan Record

With search warrants issued by the Khon Kaen provincial court two large “police teams searched the two houses in Muang district where the students have been staying.” Police “said that both [those arrested] are third-year students at the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Khon Kaen University.”

Prachatai says that “Panupong (last name withheld) and Ruangsak (last name withheld) were … taken to Muang Khon Kaen Police Station. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that the police took them into separate rooms for questioning and provided Ruangsak with a lawyer  who has a police rank and did not inform the suspect of his rights.”

They were charged with arson of public property. Both denied the charge and were “later granted bail without security, on the condition that they will receive a fine of 35,000 baht each if they violate their bail. The court also appointed the Deputy Dean of their faculty … as their guarantor.”

Such arson sometimes results in lese majeste charges.





The rotten system II

17 09 2021

The smell from the rotten system is overpowering.

Remember the case of Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and his two dozen luxury watches? He said he had borrowed the watches from a former classmate, Patthawat Suksriwong, who was dead, but that he had returned them. Remember how the National Anti-Corruption Commission exonerated him on unexplained – some might say, bogus – grounds?

That smelly story is back. Thai PBS reports that the “The Central Administrative Court has ordered Thailand’s anti-graft watchdog, the … NACC…, to reveal its findings from an investigation into the expensive wristwatches seen being worn in public by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit…”.

The court seems to recognize that the NACC is so politically-biased that it is widely viewed as a regime tool when it “ruled that, the disclosure of the findings…, including witness testimonies and Gen Prawit’s own testimonies, will demonstrate the transparency and accountability of the NACC and will enhance public trust and confidence in the agency.”

The NACC says it is considering what to do. We might guess that it is seeking advice from the likes of regime legal fixer Wissanu Krea-ngam and Gen Prawit himself.

Remember Pol Col Thitisan Uttanapol or “Joe Ferrari,” recently caught on camera suffocating a man to death with plastic bags while “interrogating” a suspect and trying to extort money? You might think that Joe learned his plastic bag trick from watching gangster movies. But it seems he may have been trained by the police. Prachatai reports on “the case of Somsak Chuenchit and his 12-year effort to bring the police officers who tortured his son by beating and suffocating him with plastic bags during an interrogation.” The report states:

On 28 January 2009, Ritthirong ‘Shop’ Chuenchit ,18, was returning from a cinema in Prachinburi Province with a friend when he was stopped by the police. His clothing and motorcycle helmet reportedly fit the description given to police by a woman who had earlier been the victim of a gold necklace-snatching.

At the police station, the woman identified Ritthirong as the person who had taken her necklace. Ignoring his assertion of innocence, the interrogating officers beat the handcuffed youth and then suffocated him in a bid to determine where the necklace was hidden. Whenever Ritthirong chewed holes in the plastic bags to breathe, more were placed over his head.

Chuenchit survived but was framed and traumatized.

Remember the activists kept in jail for months when arrested and refused bail? Prachatai reports that the Court of Appeal granted bail to activists Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, Parit Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok, Thatchapong Kaedam, and Nutchanon Pairoj on 15 September, after having been denied bail several times. Several other activists continue to be detained without bail, including Arnon Nampa and Jatuphat Boonpattararaksa. A rotten regime prefers that its opponents remain in jail, face never-ending repression and under threat.

The regime is rotten, the system is rotten.





Recent journal articles

16 09 2021

Every so often PPT searches through recent publications on Thailand in academic journals. Below we have a selection from journals published since the beginning of 2020. A few of these are free to download. If not, we suggest emailing authors as they will usually provide a copy.

We also urge readers to look at Library Genesis, where several recent books on Thailand’s politics are available.

Journal of Contemporary Asia

Thailand’s Public Secret: Military Wealth and the State by Ukrist Pathmanand & Michael K. Connors

Crazy Rich Thais: Thailand’s Capitalist Class, 1980–2019 by Kevin Hewison

Neo-Liberalism, the Rise of the Unelected and Policymaking in Thailand: The Case of the Medical Tourism Industry by Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit & Guanie Lim

The Unruly Past: History and Historiography of the 1932 Thai Revolution by Arjun Subrahmanyan

Is Irrigationalism a Dominant Ideology in Securing Hydrotopia in Mekong Nation States? by David J. H. Blake

Drivers of China’s Regional Infrastructure Diplomacy: The Case of the Sino-Thai Railway Project by Laurids S. Lauridsen

Lineages of the Authoritarian State in Thailand: Military Dictatorship, Lazy Capitalism and the Cold War Past as Post-Cold War Prologue by Jim Glassman

Black Site: The Cold War and the Shaping of Thailand’s Politics by Kevin Hewison

Royal Succession and the Politics of Religious Purification in Contemporary Thailand by Tomas Larsson

Sick Tiger: Social Conflict, State–Business Relations and Exclusive Growth in Thailand by Veerayooth Kanchoochat, Trin Aiyara & Bank Ngamarunchot

Critical Asian Studies

Disruptors’ dilemma? Thailand’s 2020 Gen Z protests by Duncan McCargo

Hashtag activism: social media and the #FreeYouth protests in Thailand by Aim Sinpeng

The white ribbon movement: high school students in the 2020 Thai youth protests by Kanokrat Lertchoosakul

Sticky rice in the blood: Isan people’s involvement in Thailand’s 2020 anti-government protests by Saowanee Alexander

The roots of conservative radicalism in southern Thailand’s Buddhist heartland by Patrick Jory & Jirawat Saengthong

TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia

Everyday Scandals: Regulating the Buddhist Monastic Body in Thai Media by Brooke Schedneck

The Hmong and the Communist Party of Thailand: A Transnational, Transcultural and Gender-Relations-Transforming Experience by Ian G. Baird

The Paradox of the Thai Middle Class in Democratisation by Kanokrat Lertchoosakul

Sojourn

Why Did They Rise Up? The Local Reality of the Farmers’ Movement in 1970s Thailand by Shinichi Shigetomi

Inequality, Sociocultures and Habitus in Thailand by Sirima Thongsawang, Boike Rehbein, Supang Chantavanich

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Birds of a feather: Anand Panyarachun, elite families and network monarchy in Thailand by Yoshinori Nishizaki

Nostalgia and nationalism: Facebook ‘archives’ and the constitution of Thai photographic histories by Clare Veal

Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Failure of Agricultural-based Economic Development in Thailand’s Far South and the Impact on the Insurgency by Ornanong Husna Benbourenane

Plural Partisans: Thailand’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee Protesters by Duncan McCargo & Naruemon Thabchumpon

Green in the Heart of Red: Understanding Phayao Province’s Switch to Palang Pracharat in Thailand’s 2019 General Election by Joel Sawat Selway

Asian Survey

Thailand in 2020: Politics, Protests, and a Pandemic by James Ockey

Thailand in 2019: An Election, A Coronation, and Two Summits by James Ockey





Constitutional Court and Thai-ness

15 09 2021

We wanted to draw reader attention to a short academic article at I·CONnect, the blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law. “Determining What is ‘Thai’: Thailand’s Constitutional Court and Identity Polarisation” is by law professors Rawin Leelapatana and Suprawee Asanasak.

As there is again talk of the Constitutional Court being mobilized once again in a political battle, we felt that the perspective provided by this article worthy of consideration for the attention it gives to authoritarian pasts and the rightist/royalist notion of “Thai-ness”:

Having experienced authoritarian pasts, the attempt to consolidate liberal constitutionalism, however, inevitably comes into conflict with the traditional notion of authority, i.e, Thai-ness, which emphasises the unity of Thai nation embodied in a righteous Buddhist monarchy, rather than a commitment to legality and individual rights…. As an integral part of the Thai nation, the holdover elites, the military, and royalist supporters therefore commonly assert that threats to the monarchy constitute sources of a political crisis. For them, liberal constitutionalism is a foreign – alien – product which seeks to replace the notions of strong leadership, national homogeneity, and social hierarchy underlying Thai-ness with those of legality, human rights, and equality, thus potentially threatening royal hegemony.

They conclude that:

Overall, the Thai experience has revealed how the mechanism anticipated as the guardian of liberal constitutionalism, the CC [Constitutional Court], might be manipulated and abused by conservative and nationalist actors whose values and ideology are rooted in their self-proclaimed national pride and moral superiority. The CC has embedded authoritative Thai-ness into the heart of Thailand’s liberal constitution. Nevertheless, as the CC’s judgments imply, even Thai-ness itself has to be constructed under the logic and language of liberal constitutionalism.

It is worth reading the whole article.





Police “truth”

14 09 2021

If there was ever a prize for “fake news,” the police would win, streets ahead of their many official rivals.

The most recent example of the police blatantly making stuff up involves a police van running down a pedestrian late on Sunday.

According to Thai PBS:

Bangkok’s Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) denied today (Monday) an accusation by anti-government protesters that a police truck had hit a “Talugas” protester and then fled the scene at Din Daeng intersection during a protest on Sunday night.

MPB Commissioner Pol Lt-Gen Pakapong Phongpetra told a news conference this morning that the alleged hit-and-run incident occurred at almost midnight on Sunday as a police van, used to hold suspects and driven by a police lance corporal was heading back to a police station.

He said that the sound of explosions was being heard periodically at the time and a group of about 7 protesters suddenly dashed onto the road, forcing the officer to brake aggressively, but the van hit one of the protesters.

According to the police officer’s statement, the victim managed to stand up and flee the scene, so he sped away in the truck, for fear that he might be attacked if he had stopped.

Pol Lt-Gen Pakapong insisted that [the] driver did not deliberately drive into the small group of protesters as alleged and, hence, his action did not constitute a hit-and-run incident.

He also said that the officer subsequently filed a complaint with Din Daeng police, accusing the protesters of attacking the police truck and attempting to assault him adding, however, that the accident victim can also file a complaint with the Din Daeng police.

The Nation reports this way:

An investigation has been launched into an incident on Sunday when a police vehicle hit a protester while allegedly trying to flee a group of attackers. The vehicle was seriously damaged, and police are collecting evidence to take action against the perpetrators….

[Police] said initial investigation shows that the vehicle belonged to the Plubpla Chai 1 Police Station and was being driven by Sergeant Noraset (last name withheld).

Sgt Noraset arrived at the intersection when a group of six or seven people ran towards his vehicle and began hitting it with sticks and other objects. They also shattered the windscreen on the driver’s side.

Sgt Noraset said he kept hearing “explosions”, so decided to speed away. However, he ended up hitting a protester who suddenly showed up in front of the car. The crash made a tyre burst and brought the vehicle to a standstill.

Clipped from The Nation

None of this appears to be entirely truthful.

Thai Examiner reports:

A police detention vehicle ran into a protester during protests at Din Daeng intersection, police confirmed Monday.

The moment at 11:55 pm Sunday was captured in footage published on Facebook Livestream by online news agency The Reporters.

It shows a police van accelerating through an intersection, before braking just as it hits a man running across the road, knocking him down. The van then stops some way down the road while passers-by help the man off the road, before the clip ends.

The footage remains at The Reporters Facebook page and does not appear to support the police version of events. Looks like more official fake news to us. Having said that, we also need to put this in the context of police (and other officials) habitually lying and making stuff up. It is a pattern born of impunity.





With 3 updates: Students vs. the rotten system

13 09 2021

In recent posts, here and here, PPT has mentioned the increasingly aggressive tactics adopted by the regime’s police in confronting mostly young protesters. The police now face determined protesters.

The South China Morning Post reports that police face thousands of protesters – “young, angry and desperate for radical change – [who] come out to oppose a state they have lost all faith in.” Some are as young as 12. These protests are now daily and have a degree of predictability:

Protesters, some armed with paint bombs – the more hardcore among them, sling-shots and glass bottles – retreated then returned, a daily dance on Bangkok’s streets which is now threatening to spill out of control.

Protests now almost inevitably end in tear gas, broken bottles and rubber bullets.

The protesters speak to power and call for change: “No one in power has heard us, no one listens to us, they only intimidate and suppress…. So we will keep coming back.”

Their targets are not just the regime, but the rotten system: “… deepening inequality in a country where a tight-knit establishment of tycoons, military and monarchy dominate the economy and politics.” The quoted protester – aged 16 – says: “Inequality comes from these structural issues, everything is tied up here by monopolies of business and power…”. Her observation is testament to the alienation felt by many in the young generation.

Academic Kanokrat Lertchoosakul observes that:

This generation are a totally different species of political, active citizens that we have never seen before in Thailand…. They are a generation with mass awareness of their political rights and have superior analytical skills to their elders.

Prachatai provides another example of youth activism, reporting on the Bad Student activist group that has “launched a strike campaign to protest against the continuous use of online classes during outbreaks of Covid-19, which has been detrimental to students’ mental health and deprived many of an education.”

They are “demanding that the government provide students, education professionals, and members of the public with high efficacy vaccines as soon as possible so that the education system and the economy can continue.” They also want the Ministry of Education to “reduce tuition fees or impose a tuition fee moratorium, and provide whatever welfare is needed by students and their parents to keep young people in school.”

The group encouraged students “to stop attending [online] classes between 6 – 10 September 2021…” and the brief boycott was quite successful.

Bad Students have also joined the ongoing demonstrations and were there almost from the very beginning, saying: “We don’t want this rotten education system. We don’t want this stinking Minister. But we want our future back, and even better, is an education system that truly improves us…”.

Meanwhile, Thai PBS reports on students and other protesters still held without bail, including “seven core leaders of the anti-government Ratsadon group, who have been held on remand for about a month.” These detainees include Parit Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok, and Jatuphat Boonpattararaksa.

As the SCMP says, “Thailand is on a precipice … its politics once more a tinderbox of anger.”

Update 1: Sorry, we should have noted that the SCMP article was from August whereas the photos are more recent.

Update 2: Three stories at the Bangkok Post add to the analysis of the present moment in protest. In one story, police have said they will bring numerous criminal charges protesters. A second story says that police data is that 509 protesters have been arrested and a further 250 are being sought since the rallies began in July. That story also carries an important quote from Thalugas, welcoming the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration and the Thalufah group as rally “witnesses at the rally by young demonstrators in Din Daeng that evening.” Thalugas “said they should not be left to fight alone.” A third story is about a member of the older generation of protesters, Sombat Boonngamanong. He says: “We are at a crucial moment in democracy development…. This is a time when the ruling authoritarian establishment is trying to suppress the young, democratic generation.” His view is that “the nature of social movements has changed — because more people, especially younger generations, respect democratic values…. They do not tolerate authori­tarianism.”

Update 3: Prachatai reports on arrests in recent clashes. It has also produced a video on Bad Students: