Military traffic

23 07 2017

There are several stories going around that congratulate the military regime for finally managing to get some of the bigger human traffickers into court and having them convicted with long sentences.

The regime has attempted to get its “ranking” up in the annual U.S. report on human trafficking.

The Asia Times has some of the detail on the case that finally saw some of the bigger fish in what it calls a “brutal trade” brought to court. In all, of the 103 people charged, 62 people were convicted of human trafficking and other crimes.

The details of this gang of traffickers, led by officials, are grim. Correctly, the report notes that the “[c]amps set up by traffickers in the jungle on the Thai-Malaysian border to hold Rohingya and other ‘boat people’ existed for many years prior to government crackdown in mid-2015 that curtailed the brutal trade…”.

One estimate is “that more than 500 people died in the camps where the people in this particular trafficking chain were held, and that the camps were probably there for at least five years or more.”

The most senior official caught in this ring is “Lieutenant General Manas Kongpaen … who was sentenced to 27 years jail…”. As the report notes, it was Manas, then a Colonel, who “was involved in the notorious ‘pushbacks’ affair in December 2008 and January 2009, when vessels carrying hundreds of Rohingya were towed back into the Andaman Sea and set adrift.”

Remarkably, “Manas admitted using funds from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to help pay for the ‘pushbacks’, which sparked a global furore, as hundreds were believed to have died at sea.”

At the time, during the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, the government vehemently denied a push-back policy and ignored the rise of human trafficking gangs. Manas was promoted two ranks after this time. Manas was widely reported and defended his actions. The BBC noted that Manas was “the regional commander of the Internal Security Operations Command.” That report added that he was also “one of three officers blamed by a Thai court for a massacre of Muslims five years ago.”

The IOM is now “investigating whether Lt-Gen Manas … could have diverted any money from IOM humanitarian projects and used it to fund a criminal operation to tow boats out to sea.” It is also possible he used funds from IOM and, more likely, from the state for funding his own camps.

The report also reminds readers that journalists and Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison who documented human trafficking were challenged by the Royal Thai Navy who brought a defamation case against them.

The pressure to cover-up was huge, with one senior policeman decamping to Australia and never returning.

At the time, the Army and The Dictator declared “none of its officers are directly linked to the illegal activities.” The police admitted they were afraid to go after Manas.

As Morison explained, “Everyone knew about it. And few people thought it was wrong. We were shown big houses in Ranong and Kuraburi, where locals claimed they were constructed from the proceeds of trafficking.”

One big shot in jail does not change the system of exploitation and corruption. Recall the Saudi gems heist saw senior police jailed yet the police have remained a corrupt organization.





Repression and the nature of dictatorship

23 07 2017

About a week ago we posted on the statement by 176 of the 500 or so academics who attended the International Conference on Thai Studies. Later, we posted on how the military junta’s thugs could not ignore the “challenge” posed by the academics and their mild call for the return of freedom of expression.

According to a Bangkok Post editorial, the testy dictatorial regime can’t help itself in “responding”with negatives. It is its nature as a dictatorship.

That Army chief Chalermchai Sittisart has dismissed the academic call “comes as no surprise.” As the Post states: “His response perfectly reflects the military regime’s unreasonable fear and outrageous blockade of ‘different’ opinions.”

We have occasionally agreed that the junta is fearful of losing its power but we think the political repression is the nature of the dictatorship.

The “[m]any people [who] have been harassed, threatened, arrested and detained…” is the way a dictatorship deals with anyone considered “oppositional.”

The academics “asked” the junta to “give people back the freedom to express their opinions without fear of punishment or reprisal.”

It also asked they be granted full and free access to information and facts, and that prisoners of conscience — those jailed for their religious, political or other views — be released from jail or detention, among other issues.

None of this is going to happen under a military dictatorship.

Indeed, “at the Chiang Mai conference,” the junta had “[p]lainclothes officers record… who was in attendance and what they discussed.”

From Ugly Thailand

There can be no academic freedom and no freedom of speech. Indeed, the Post says, “Thai society has fallen under strict military control.”

We’d say it didn’t “fall” under military control. In fact, it was a planned military coup, planned by the current junta and coordinated with its tycoon, royalist and anti-democrat allies. Those groups don’t want a “democratic” politics that they are not sure that they can control.

Where the Post goes seriously wrong is in thinking that “democracy looms after the promised elections next year.” What looms is years of elite, royalist and military control of politics camouflaged as an electoral “democracy.”

After all, that was the very point of the coup in 2014.





“Election” readiness II

22 07 2017

In an earlier post PPT, commented that preparations for the military junta’s election were moving along and that the signals for this were getting stronger. They included the anti-Election Commission that the junta could arrange its election sometime from August 2018. Another signal were the efforts to neuter the Shinawatra clan and Puea Thai Party, with the cases against Yingluck Shinawatra is drawing to a close next month.

The Bangkok Post reports that other cases at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions are scheduled for rulings with “three major cases involving politicians from the Pheu Thai Party” also scheduled for next month.

One is Yingluck’s case. A second case “involves a group of 28 people including former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and former deputy commerce minister Poom Sarapol. It deals with their involvement in government-to-government rice sales to China.” All are from the Yingluck government that was thrown out by the 2014 military coup.

The third case, set to be ruled on 2 August, involves a set of senior figures associated with the pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party government from 2007-08. Included are former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who was deputy prime minister in charge of security under then premier Somchai and two senior policemen of that period.

They are on trial for their roles in the crackdown on the People’s Alliance for Democracy which had had its protesters lay siege to Government House from 20 June 2008, seeking to force the pro-Thaksin elected government out of office. Despite a court order for the eviction of protesters, the siege continued. To bring further pressure on the government, PAD laid siege to parliament, to prevent Somchai from making a legally required policy speech in the assembly. On 7 July 2008, police announced that they would use tear gas and clear protesters. Clashes continued for several hours, with two deaths and 471 people injured. One of the deaths was a PAD supporter who accidentally blew himself up.

Students of Thailand’s double standards will recall that former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban and General Anupong Paojinda were charged with malfeasance and murder for their crackdowns on red shirt protesters in April and May 2010 resulting in a 100 deaths and thousands of injuries. Several courts denied that they had jurisdiction, the National Anti-Corruption Commission ruled they had acted lawfully and the case did not go to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.





Military roles in a repressive society

21 07 2017

One of the defining characteristics of a military dictatorship is its tendency for totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism “is a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.” This means the diminution of civil society and the expansion of military roles in areas formerly considered the domain of civilians.

Two stories in the media today have reminded PPT of the many ways in which the military junta has pushed aside civilians.

The first story is about mass murder in Krabi. It can’t only be PPT thinking how curious it is that the military have become the police. Sure, Thailand’s police are distinguished by their corruption and almost non-existent policing skills. Yet the military are hardly much better.

So why is it that the “[e]ight suspects for the mass killing in Krabi province were handed over to police on Friday after their detention by soldiers was due.” As we recall, it was the police who arrested the suspects. But they then handed them over to the military.

It was only after seven days that the “Royal Thai Army at the 15th Infantry Battalion in Khlong Thom district turned over …[the] alleged killers to national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda at the provincial police headquarters in Muang district.”

Given that it is the police who arrest, “interrogate” and charge, it does seem odd that the military holds the suspects for a week. Why is this? It could be that the military has something to cover up or that this is another example of the military infiltrating areas usually considered the preserve of civilians.

The second story is not so odd, but reflective of the same processes of the military recognizing no limits to its authority. In this tale of totalitarianism, “[s]oldiers have visited the school of a student activist” intimidating Sanhanutta Sartthaporn, the Secretary General of education reform group Education for Liberation of Siam (ELS), and ordering him to cease criticizing The Dictator.

Two plainclothes soldiers – thugs – showed up at Sanhanutta’s school this past Wednesday morning and “asked him about a recent ELS statement that condemned junta head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha for his excessive interference in Thai education.”

Finding that Sanhanutta had drafted the statement, a soldier ordered him to stop criticising “his boss” and quoted Lt Col Burin Thongprapai who has declared: “I will catch them all, those who condemn the honorable Prayut and the NCPO. I’m a soldier. Slaves like you can meet me at anytime if you have guts…”.

The visiting thug-soldier stated: If you don’t stop criticising my boss, I will pass on your name and I don’t know what will happen to you…”.

Harassing school kids is becoming standard military practice. Recall how they harassed and killed Chaiyapoom Pasae and how the evidence was covered up and the “investigation” gone silent.

No one is too young when political subjection to the military is required of all.





“Election” readiness I

20 07 2017

It seems to some of PPT’s pundits that preparations for the military junta’s election are moving along. The signals are getting stronger.

For one thing, the middle classes seem to be getting bored with the military dictatorship. They are increasingly disgruntled by poor economic data and are beginning to complain about corruption. Another sign is that the military has seemingly filled its shopping list for new kit, just in case a civilianized post-“election” regime is less able to hand over all that lovely equipment.

The hopeless anti-Election Commission recently let it be known that it believes that the earliest the junta could arrange its election is sometime about August 2018.

More telling of the preparations being made is the continuing efforts to neuter the red shirts, the Thaksin clan and the Puea Thai Party. One of the major “cases” against Yingluck Shinawatra is drawing to a close. The linked report states:

A not guilty verdict is unlikely…. A not guilty verdict would be a huge blow for the junta. It would exonerate Yingluck while galvanising her support and the populist movement. The trial has already cost the junta a significant amount of money. It would threaten the junta’s hold on power while calls for a return to civilian-led democracy would grow louder.

But a guilty verdict would pave the way for an “election” with the Shinawatra clan further “damaged.” That said, her supporters are fighting back and are not done yet.

In another case, despite two courts rejecting accusations against him, the junta’s more politically reliable and predictable Supreme Court has jailed red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan to a year in prison for defaming former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Plenty on Abhisit’s side of politics were able to defame red shirt leaders and their supporters and used state power to murder dozens of them, but it is Jatuporn who is jailed.

The military and the royalist elite rightly consider Jatuporn a threat because he is a powerful orator and organizer. They have jailed him several times in recent years, overturned election results to keep him out of parliament and more. Yet red shirts also remain defiant.

Meanwhile, the courts have continued to exonerate yellow shirts. Clearly, the junta knows who its opponents and supporters are as it prepares to civilianize its political authoritarianism via an “election.”





Fighting for political space

20 07 2017

According to a report at Prachatai, a court in Bangkok “has commenced a trial against initiated by democracy activists against the junta leader, the [Royal Thai] Army and the Royal Thai Police (RTP).”

These activists have accused these thugs “of violating their rights during a crackdown on a gathering to commemorate the 2014 coup d’état.” We consider “commemorate” a misnomer as it was actually an attempt to mourn the illegal acts of the military junta.

Most of the activists were members of the New Democracy Movement when junta thugs prevented the event.

They accuse the “authorities of malfeasance and abuse of human rights in arresting and abusing NDM activists and other demonstrators who on 22 May 2015 participated in a peaceful gathering…”.

It may be a case doomed to failure, but the demand for “16.5 million baht in compensation from the three public agencies” is a fabulous way of drawing attention to the thuggish acts of the military dictatorship.

Back in 2015, all the activists did was “stand… for 15 minutes in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.” Afterwards, they were “arrested and in many cases physically assaulted by security officers both in uniform and in plainclothes.”

We can’t wait for the court to call The Dictator and other senior thugs to testify.





Smacking down academics

19 07 2017

It took a while, but 176 academics attending the International Conference on Thai Studies eventually issued a statement regarding academic and other freedoms.

Some might have thought that Thailand’s military dictatorship might have ignored the rather mild statement. After all, the junta likes to say that it doesn’t repress speech even if that is a lie. Ignoring the academics might have been something of a PR “victory” for the junta.

But this underestimates the nature of the regime and its repressive apparatus.

Prachatai reports that junta minion and Deputy Governor of Chiang Mai Putthiphong Sirimat “has threatened three academics who allegedly put up banners against the junta that they will be summoned by the military.”

This junta toady has “submitted a letter to the Ministry of Interior reporting three academics who allegedly put up banners reading, ‘an academic forum is not a military barrack’, at the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai.”

The detestable junta posterior polisher “identified the three as Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist from Thammasat University; Pakawadee Weerapaspong, an independent writer, activist, and translator; and Chaipong Samnieng, a lecturer of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Chiang Mai University.”

Acting as a junta snitch, Putthiphong declares that the three “used an academic forum to engage in anti-junta activities.”

It seems that the military bootlicker is angry that “the three have always been involved in movements against the junta through the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANCR).” So, like the junta itself, Putthiphong believes they should be punished” for not understanding their place in the junta’s hierarchy.