Students vs. hirelings and anti-democrats

31 05 2016

The Nation recently had an “analysis” article on the student movements against the military junta. It refers to “student groups such as Dao Din, the New Democracy Movement (NDM) and the Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD)…”.

It says that “[a]t first, people barely noticed them.” But then, “[s]lowly people learned more about them, and realised that their rebellion was not merely against the coup, but embraced a wider range of policies and social issues that were of concern to everyone.” The report notes how these groups have been politically innovative. They have had to be as their main opponent is the military dictatorship which has massive coercive power.

The report quotes activist Rangsiman Rome who is a key member of the NDM and who observes that the “movement has been ignited by the coup…”. He says that “the students could not tolerate abuses of power – such as tearing apart the 2007 Constitution and allowing members of the junta to go unpunished.” At the same time, they “fight for what ‘should be’ rather than accept what ‘will be’…”.

The article acknowledges that these students have been “at great risk,” but have not hesitated to rally and challenge the junta.

It is sometimes forgotten that these students were active before the 2014 coup. As Rangsiman states, “In 2013 we protested against the amnesty bill proposed by the previous [Yingluck Shinawatra] government…”. Khon Kaen University’s Dao Din student activist Panupong Sritananuwat says his “group has worked with villagers for more than 12 years. Their activities involve environmental issues and educating people on their rights to protect the community.”

The student activists argue that “across the country [students] are increasingly aware of their roles as citizens…”, with Natthisa Patthamaphonphong of the Chulalongkorn Community for People (CCP), saying that “the students wanted to demonstrate they cared about the country.”

The students also “challenged emerging allegations that their activit[ies] are insincere after people questioned whether they were sponsored by particular political factions.”

The article then gets bizarre by going to the source of such claims, reporting academic prostitute (again, apologies to sex workers) and a yellow-shirted “former activist” who has been made an “academic” in a yellow-shirted “university,” even when he lacks the usual credentials associated with academics.

The first is the decidedly slimy Panitan Wattanayagorn, described as “a long-time security lecturer at Chulalongkorn University,” which is probably a reasonable description although he spends most of his time doing tricks as “national security adviser to Deputy Prime Minister [General] Prawit Wongsuwan…” and before that being the ventriloquist’s dummy for the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

Panitan has probably never been an activist on anything. The best the article can do is say that he “has been close to a number of student activists…”. Perhaps he was the bagman for the military in this? We suppose that advocating the shooting down of civilian protesters counts as activism. As someone who has long been on the payroll of political masters, it is probably logical for him to declare that “it was inevitable for such questions to arise” about being “sponsored” by a political faction. Indeed, that is Panitan’s own position; he’s always sponsored by the military and right-wing royalists.

Panitan declares that “the public needed to keep an eye on youth-led movements to determine in the long run whether they are independent or not…”. He isn’t, and the public should watch him, for he’s dangerous through his connections with military thugs.

The other quotable “academic” is former People’s Alliance for Democracy co-leader Suriyasai Katasila, now transformed into a “deputy dean of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation…”. He isn’t a historian, erroneously comparing the students of 1973 and today’s students, saying “Today’s political condition is so complicated that students cannot straightforwardly do whatever they want, like students did in the past, in 1973…”. Clearly, he has no understanding of the conditions in 1973 that led to a corrupt military regime murdering students in the street.

We could go on, but what’s the point. These “commentators” have political axes to grind while being paternalist and denigrating the current student movements. Panitan blathered: “They should consider if their movements are appropriate and favourable for the society or not, otherwise the public will wonder about [the purpose of] the movements…”. We imagine there are no mirrors in the cheap Chula apartment he occupies.

The students in these groups have more mettle, more integrity and more principles than a herd of Panitans and Suriyasais.





Lese majeste torture continues

30 05 2016

In discussing Somyos Prueksakasemsuk’s lese majeste case we referred to his extended incarceration without bail, delays and extensions during his trial, where he was repeatedly shackled and caged, and dragged around the country for court appearances in several provinces represented forms of torture.

Tom DundeeIn many cases, police, military and prosecutors seek to delay trials and usually refuse bail, all the time demanding a guilty plea. The “carrot” is that a guilty plea almost automatically reduces by half the usually long sentences handed out by royalist courts. This is coercion and it is also a form of torture.

Those who refuse to plead guilty will often face long periods of incarceration before a trial and, when sentenced, normally get huge sentences, are harassed in prison and are seldom considered for early release or pardon.

Prachatai reports on a case where many of these forms of torture have been used. Singer Tom Dundee (Thanat Thanawatcharanon), 58, has been on trial for almost two years and earlier spent 11 months in prison.

It is now reported that Tom has agreed to give up the fight to clear his name and has pleaded guilty on a lese majeste charge before the Criminal Court.

His lawyer states that Tom “might also plead guilty to another lèse majesté charge in the military court at the upcoming hearing on 21 June 2016.”

These charges arise from speeches he made at red shirt rallies and videos of them that were made available n the internet. He was the subject of complaints by the rabidly royalist group Network of Volunteer Citizens to Protect the Monarchy on Facebook. That complaint resulted in one lese majeste charge and is before the Criminal Court.

Another charge has been made since his initial incarceration and this case also involves allegations of computer crimes. Those charges are being heard before a military court.

Thanat explained “that he chose to plead guilty because he has been imprisoned for almost two years and he just wants to case to end as soon as possible in order to request for a royal pardon.” Torture, threats and carrots and sticks have worked.

With apparent glee, following his plea change, “the Criminal Court judges have scheduled a verdict hearing on the case at 10 am on 1 June.” That’s tomorrow.

He faces up to 30 years in jail on the lese majeste charges and up to 7 years on the computer crimes charge.





Jail for Sirindhorn “lese majeste” pair

30 05 2016

 On 20 August 2015 it was reported that the Kamphaeng Phet provincial court had issued arrest warrants for Kittiphop Sitthirat, 23, Atsadaphon Sitthirat, 45, and Wiset Phutthasa, 30, on lese majeste accusations. Later, a fourth name was added, Noppharit (surname not known), 28. Surprise, surprise, some of them were arrested on 21 August 2015. Yes, just a day later.

They were accused of having made false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Bureau of the Royal Household. They were said to have been using Princess Sirindhorn’s name in an alleged scam.

The story and allegations is here.

They all initially denied lese majeste charges when brought to court on 21 December 2015. Lawyers for one of the accused made an obvious submission, asking the court to consider whether the case falls under Article 112 since that law does not apply to Princess Sirindhorn:

Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, Heir-apparent or Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.

She is none of those.

As has often been the case in the use of the lese majeste, the court chose to ignore the actual law and dismissed the request, saying “under the current procedure, it is not yet necessary to consider the request from the fourth suspect.”

Prachatai now reports that the provincial court has sentenced Kittiphop and Wiset. They were given jail terms of four years for lese majeste and three years and four months “for forging public documents and wearing uniforms of public officials without authorisation.”

As usual, because “the two pleaded guilty, the court, however, halved the total sentence for the two to three years and eight months imprisonment.”

The other two accused “have not pleaded guilty to the charges” and so are being kept in jail to “encourage” them to change their pleas and accept their “guilt.”

The lese majeste law has effectively been rewritten. These sentences suggest that the law should now read something like this:

Whoever defames, insults, threatens of says anything that someone in power thinks does this for the King, Queen, Heir-apparent, Regent, any other minor royal, a dead king, and ancient royal, or anyone else shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years, which can be multiplied several times when the prosecutors decide to treat each reference to one of these persons or dead persons as a case.

In other words, the actual law – the words used – no longer matter. Any royalist maniac can have the “authorities,” from The Dictator to a local cop, jump into action against anyone considered anti-royal or politically dangerous and get them jailed.





Updated: The junta’s deformed politics

30 05 2016

Oops, we commented on an old op-ed by academic Duncan McCargo. Apologies to him and to readers for confusing them with our mistake. Sorry.





Controlling everyone’s net

29 05 2016

Alan Dawson at the Bangkok Post has an important article on the military junta’s continuing determination to control the internet. He begins:

First, a brief summary before last week. The official slogan of the military regime is Thailand 4.0, which no one can explain but looks better than Digital Thailand. The unofficial slogan is Control the Internet. The official policy is Arrest Internet Troublemakers. The internet police roundel now sports the motto, We Know What You Did Last Night on Facebook. The regime Plan That Must Never Be Named is “One Gateway to Rule Them All”. Finally, there is no change to the military order of the day which is — No Change.

He refers to files found by activists that indicate the reasons behind changes to the already draconian computer laws.

The reason for the Computer Crime Act (CSA) amendments that Internet Censorship of Thailand (ICT) Minister Uttama Savanayana is trying to rush through is a stipulation that state security can legally intercept any internet traffic, at any time. All officers need do is walk into an internet providers office and order them to allow “wiretaps” on net traffic of all kinds, no limits – specifically not big-business or financial sessions.

The revised law will “allow decrypting https traffic to get at anti-royalty Facebook criminals.” He adds: “they’re already doing this, otherwise the Facebook 8 would not have been arrested.”

The amendment is already with the puppet National Legislative Assembly. The single gateway is an imminent reality.

Dawson then moves to an important development: “the rather sudden appearance of Huawei Technologies…”. Huawei poses as a “normal” company, but is state-owned enterprise-like company. Dawson speculates:

 

Huawei has a dual reputation as a fabulously talented tech firm, selling equipment that could, shall we say, help government efforts to crack the net. It also has the ability to inform and help and sell equipment and software to consumers to protect themselves from over-zealous surveillance efforts and password interception.





Academic boycott

29 05 2016

Thongchai Winichakul has a post at New Mandala asking questions about three academic conferences to be held in Thailand in 2017 and using the word “boycott.” Clipped from his post, these are:

  • The 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS), hosted by Chiang Mai University, 15-18 July 2017 (deadlines for proposals: 30 August 2016 for panels, and 30 November 2016 for individual papers);
  • The 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS) by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), hosted by Chiang Mai University, 20-23 July 2017 (deadline for proposals: 10 October 2016);
  • The 2nd Conference for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia, by the Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA), hosted by Chulalongkorn University.

Thongchai Winichakul

Similar questions were raised in 2007 regarding the 2008 ICTS at Thammasat University. (Reading the responses to that post are enlightening of the darkness that haunts academia, both local and international.)

There is no academic freedom in Thailand. Calls have been made for academic freedom, but the military dictatorship brooks no interference in its reactionary work. The few activist students and academics are continually threatened by the junta and in the “suspect” areas of the country, the military actively police campuses. Several Thai academics have been forced to flee the country and yet their families are still harassed. The control of all universities in the country is effectively in the hands of royalist academics and administrators.

Given all of this evidence, it is reprehensible that the 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS) and the 2nd Conference for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia should decide to hold their events in Thailand well after the 2014 military coup and when Thailand is the only military dictatorship in the world. After all, the debate that took place in the International Studies Association in 2014 and 2015 saw its ISA Global South Caucus Conference removed from Chulalongkorn University and Thailand (see here, here and here). Yes, sigh, they moved it to another state where academic freedom is restricted, but at least they were not meeting under a military dictatorship.

Academics are a broad and usually pretty divided and politically weak “group.” In many ways, the “group” is if representative of anything, reflecting a broader set of interests in society, often connecting with the powers-that-be.

Think of Thailand, where academics have tended to consider themselves a part of the bureaucratic section of the elite. Thai academics have a history of sucking up to and supporting military regimes and salivating over positions with governments that provide money and prestige. When General Prem Tinsulanonda was unelected prime minister, he surrounded himself with prominent professors keen to promote “semi-democracy,” military and monarchy. In more recent times, royalist academics have donned yellow shirts and supported all kinds of fascist ideas. Others serve the military dictatorship, including Panitan Wattanayagorn and Bowornsak Uwanno.

Academics are also lacking in political intestinal fortitude.

Think of Singapore, which has some of the world’s top-ranked universities, but where academics almost never challenge the status quo. If they do, they are quickly punished.

Nothing much came of the call to boycott ICTS in 2008. One of the commentators on the boycott opposed it, saying: “These days you have to be Swiss and drunk and in possession of a spray can to be charged with les [sic.] majeste. Most academics do not fit this profile, at least during working hours.” How wrong that was, then and since.

The opposition to the ICTS was “bought off” by special offers. As New Mandala’s Andrew Walker stated then:

At the time I was substantially in agreement with the call for a boycott. But subsequent events have persuaded me to attend. The key events have been the organisation of a series of panels in which the Thai monarchy will be subject to concerted academic scrutiny. As far as I know this public scrutiny is a first for Thailand (if not the world).

This is something like the call made by Thongchai in his New Mandala post. He suggests that “[a]nother approach to support our colleagues in Thailand is to make these events as vibrant, academically rigorous and critical as possible, to help push the boundaries of debate further.”

That was the “compromise” in 2008. Not much came of that brief and controlled moment of “freedom.” Academics are always suckers for such political maneuvers. Yes, there were some papers on the monarchy, but the academic environment has deteriorated remarkably since. The political environment in Thailand is far worse than in 2008.

Should there be a boycott? Absolutely. Will there be an organized boycott? No. Will some academics boycott. Yes. Some of this will be enforced as several academics, including some Thai academics living overseas, are effectively banned from Thailand and fear arrest if they attend a conference.





Get ’em young

28 05 2016

Royalists like to get their propaganda started young. Many readers will have seen the Prachatai story on the kindergarten in Khon Kaen that instills “discipline” and, presumably, notions of hierarchy by making the children wear military-style uniforms once a week.

In fact, while this school is getting ’em young, one of the reasons the education system in Thailand is so awful is because schools are designed to promote loyalty, hierarchy and royalism as values far more significant for the elite than educating children more broadly and critically. That’s all one of the reasons that “reforming” education is so bitterly resisted by the elite who prefer servile and cheap labor rather than educated persons coming out of schools and universities.

Like others probably did, we thought of Nazism and children and notions of loyalty and nationalism.

The most revealing part of the report was this:

Arun Phosi, the kindergarten’s head teacher, told the media that the uniforms are part of the school’s ‘Little Soldiers of Princess Mother’ project, which aims to teach students discipline and educate them about the contribution of the late Princess Srinagarindra, King Bhumibol’s mother.

“Educate” is clearly the wrong word. Arun must mean “indoctrinate.”








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