Contextualizing official murder

29 05 2017

Many readers will recall the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae and the failure of any serious investigation. There has been no serious investigation because there’s a cover-up.

In this context of an official cover-up and the efforts to ensure impunity for the soldiers and their officers who were involved, a recent report in the Bangkok Post deserves attention. It is sad and revealing. Most of all, it is a story of how the people are repressed and exploited.

Bits and pieces from the report can be quoted here, but do read it and weep for these people and for Thailand:

‘They pointed a gun at me,” Lana whispers into my ear.

She means military, police and officials and she’s talking both of an events in the past and a pattern of intimidation and exploitation.

In 2005, the gun was pointed at her by “them” to prevent her and other Lahu accessing their farmland in Ban Kong Phak Ping village in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district, just a few kilometres from the Thai-Myanmar border. The altercation followed their discovery of young plants placed on the land as part of the authorities’ forestation project, which the Lahu were unaware of.

Violence is imprinted in her memory. Some local Lahu were reportedly beaten up by officials as suspected drug dealers.

Amid the intense drug suppression [Thaksin’s time], Lana was charged with resisting an operation to arrest two Lahu drug suspects in her village. Their house was raided but no drugs were discovered. The officials refused to back down despite the lack of evidence. They demanded Lana, who was widely respected in the local community, assist in the arrest.

After she refused to collaborate, she was arrested then imprisoned for nine months.

“We’ve fought for our rights for so long until we’re bored to fight and let it be.”

This conversation took place at a “gathering” on the spot where Lahu rights advocate Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, was killed on the morning of March 17….

Many locals do not believe the Lahu youth [Chaiyapoom] was linked to drugs. But people in his village are watching the case from distance. It’s also not an issue that they speak about openly in their community despite the loss.

Chaiyaphum’s death heightens the fear the Lahu community have lived with after long years of discrimination….

Checkpoints [for drugs] became a common encounter during my daily drive with another journalist tracing the shadow of Chaiyaphum in Chiang Mai’s border towns. We passed the checkpoints easily.

But when it’s Saroj’s [a local’s] turn, he usually has to undergo a urine test despite this being a routine commute for him.

His 17-year-old nephew says he has been slapped in the face by a soldier. On another occasion, he was beaten and stamped on by military personnel although no drugs were found on him.

Four other Lahu I interviewed told me similar stories. They have all experienced violence themselves or have friends or family who have faced official violence.

“Life is already difficult for ethnic people who don’t have status here. They have no choice but to submit to fate. Would they [the military] do the same to suspects if they are not ethnic?” Saroj asks.

Remarkably, the authorities have poured mony into the area since Chaiyapoom was murdered. It might be hush money, it might be compensation, it might be an admission of guilt.

Aid has flooded into Chaiyaphum’s village. The state and military have dispatched resources to remedy the community’s loss. A new toilet was installed in mother’s house.

Trucks were seen delivering construction materials to the village to build facilities. Soon they will get water tanks and electricity lines. New social development projects will be slated for the village soon.

Local authorities visit the community to survey their problems and requirements. The chief of Chiang Dao district recently visited the village — some locals say he is the first chief to visit their community in a decade.

“This village has been neglected for so long. When the incident [Chaiyaphum’s killing] took place, we allocated a budget to assist the villagers because we don’t want them to be left behind,” says Chiang Dao district chief Sarawut Worapong.

…[T]he overwhelming military presence in the community has made some Lahu feel insecure, especially those close to Chaiyaphum or those who have experienced violence.

They claimed to have been photographed by military officials. Officials also took pictures of houses, claiming it was part of a survey to allocate aid.

A diagram of the drug network was shown to some community members which contained the names of their friends, in order to sow discord among the community.

Villagers are still seeking the truth behind Chaiyaphum’s death.

Atthachak Sattayanurak, an academic at Chiang Mai University, says the violence is a part of the authoritarianism that puts marginalised people vulnerable to abuse of power.

Especially when Thailand’s political environment is not conducive to democracy, vulnerable people like ethnic minorities are at the mercy of the state.

As she [Lana] keeps a faint smile when telling me her life story, I ask why she maintains such an expression.

“It’s just the way I am dealing with the problem. Actually, I’m scared.”





The Dictator’s questions

28 05 2017

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, seems to have thrown the existing political parties into something of a tizzy. On television, he asked four questions.

The Nation has these as:

1. Do you think the next election will get us a government with good governance?

2. If that is not the case, what will you do?

3. Elections are an integral part of democracy but are elections alone with no regard for the country’s future and others right or wrong?

4. Do you think bad politicians should be given a chance to come back, and if conflict re-emerges, who will solve it and by what means?

Interestingly, the parties have decided that Prayuth is suggesting that he and his junta will stay on. Frankly, what’s surprising is that they are reported as only “suspecting” this. We are sure that they have recognized the junta’s plans for longevity long ago.

Yet it also seems that Prayuth may be outwitting the political parties.

The parties desperately want an election. Any election. It is their bread-and-butter and they can only survive if they have positions, policies and supporters. Prayuth and his junta, even those in other factions, only want the election where the outcome is known and in their favor. They prefer no election until they can “manage” the right(ist) outcome.

Hence, when members of the political parties doubt an election is coming, they throw their support behind the constitution and an election. In other words, the junta’s constitution, its rules and its “election.”

They have been driven into a junta cul-de-sac from which they will find it difficult to break out one they have accepted the junta’s rules, procedures and illegitimate constitution.

That will also suit the king and the junta should the junta ever decide that the time for their election victory is upon them.

 





Further updated: Bombs, “elections” and anti-democrats

27 05 2017

No diehard anti-democrat wants the military junta to hold an “election,” even one that is fixed in a way that allows the military to continue to control politics for years to come.

At the Bangkok Post, Surasak Glahan admits to being

mystified by [anti-democrat] Suthep Thaugsuban’s plea last week for Prime Minister and NCPO [junta] head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to keep the top job for five more years without the need for elections. He must have drunk himself in oblivion, I thought, as critics and even some supporters of the regime started to voice their rebukes over its failure to deliver in key areas, from the economy to so-called national reform, security to happiness-making, as the NCPO marked its third anniversary on Monday.

But then, when trying to wear the hat of either the military or one of its No.1 cheerleaders like Mr Suthep, who led street protests in 2013-2014 that gave the pretext for the coup, I began to realise that the NCPO has delivered numerous achievements.

He goes on to list these “achievements”:

… there has been drastic political reform. A new constitution was drafted by accidental hero jurists, appointed by the military, and smoothly passed in the [rigged] referendum last year.

The new charter will entrench the military power for at least five more years, allowing it to select 250 senators who will be much more powerful than their predecessors.

Decentralisation has been compromised. Elections of local administrators have been frozen.

The charter and several NCPO orders have lurched Thailand backward into a political system applied four decades ago…. If you are nostalgic about the past, now it is your chance to live it.

… military-appointed lawmakers … know best what needs to be drafted to govern the ways we live without having to consult us or seek the nod from our representatives. Notably, they have invented and revised laws to save us from cyber crimes and other security threats. We just have to sacrifice our privacy and risk being branded as criminals.

The most outstanding … victory was its ability to successfully remove all the hurdles put up against the 36-billion-baht submarine procurement plans by previous elected governments.

The list is long and I have to stop here before feeling suffocated.

You get the picture. More and more military rule and political repression.

The prospect of the military staying in power for years also means that military factionalism is assured. Military factionalism is probably linked to recent bombings.

Yet the military is blaming others. So are the anti-democrats who see the bombing as an opportunity to extend military rule. For the military and the anti-democrats, as allied groups, the “natural” enemy is anyone considered Thaksin Shinawatra-related.

So Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul is named. Naturally enough, he denies it and he “condemned those who were involved in the hospital explosion.” He adds that he “would have bombed Government House, not a hospital…”. His view is that the culprits are in the military.

That said, Ko Tee sought another opportunity to anger the bears in green, poking them with a claim that “he is mobilising resistance against the government.” He says these are “civilian warriors” training in the jungle. But, he says, his group is small and not yet ready to attack the “bandits [junta] out of the country…”.

**The other supposedly anti-regime “suspects” are a couple of former generals in their 70s and 80s, associated with Thaksin.

**Neither General Prayuth nor General Prawit Wongsuwan seem to have been particularly to be involved in cabinet discussions and considerations of the bombing. Indeed, that both have been away from Bangkok speaks louder than words.

Bombs might be about army factionalism yet the general interest of the anti-democrats and military is retained: no elections.

Update 1: We managed to garble a sentence or two and have rewritten and marked this with **.

Update 2: PPT was struck by a single line in an op-ed by Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey:

One has to consider who is the real beneficiary of these kinds of unrest. Is it the people who are looking forward to elections or is it the people who want to hold on to power?





Facebook and lese majeste

26 05 2017

As we predicted, it seems that the military dictatorship has been able to convince Facebook to block the remaining 131 sites/URLs/posts that the junta deemed as containing lese majeste content.

We say “seems” because the reporting in The Nation is poorly written.

The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society claims it “has managed to have Facebook block 131 remaining posts deemed illegal under a sweeping court order since Tuesday.”

When there was much lambasting of the Ministry and junta for its failed “deadline” threat to Facebook, we posted (linked above):

Of course, the junta can order up anything it likes from its courts, all of them the junta’s tools. That is Facebook’s problem, and not just for Thailand. Many governments, just like Thailand’s junta, have little legal legitimacy and can get a court order as easily as a takeaway pizza.

This makes Facebook a pawn in the hands of governments, both legitimate and illegitimate.

We assume that the garbled report at The Nation is saying that the royalists courts dutifully provided the court orders and Facebook, acting as if an algorithm, complied.





King, fear and feudalism

26 05 2017

A couple of recent articles that seek to comprehend the admittedly odd politics of contemporary Thailand deserve wide attention. We summarize and quote below.

The first is by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at the Washington Post. Pavin looks at the oddness that has emerged in the early months of this reign, with the military junta frantic to control the king’s image. He says “Thailand finds itself in the grip of a strange political fever.” It is a potentially deadly disease.

He notes that “there’s nothing particularly new about Thai officials displaying zealousness in their efforts to protect the image of the king.” But, there’s something different: “there is a palpable sense that the current government is reacting with much greater sensitivity in the case of the current king — far more so than at any other time in recent memory.”

Pavin continues to the widespread view that the “mysterious incident six weeks ago, when a modest memorial plaque suddenly disappeared from the sidewalk of the Royal Plaza in Bangkok” was on the king’s orders.

He continues, noting that “the removal of the plaque and the intense official reaction to any online questioning of King Vajiralongkorn’s image show that he [Vajiralongkorn] is beginning to exert his influence over the state.”

That’s scary enough, but its scarier still when Pavin says that the king “is clearly very serious about reintroducing royal absolutism, and not at all interested in defending democracy or free speech.”

That raises a question. Will the king’s “increasingly hard-line policies … reinforce support for the monarchy or ultimately contribute to its weakening.” We are betting the latter. But it could be very messy.

The second article is at Asia Sentinel. It pulls no punches, beginning with this:

Thailand, once known as the Land of Smiles, is a country today seemingly trapped in a perpetual nightmare, headed by a half-mad king determined to return the country to the era before … the last absolute monarch of the country after the military ended [royal] absolute power in 1932.  Nobody appears willing to stop him.

It continues on the king’s time in waiting:

The prince, now 64, is said to be regarded with loathing by many within royal circles for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his apparent refusal to adhere to royal rules, according to official US cables leaked in 2011 by the Wikileaks organization, verbatim copies of which were carried in Asia Sentinel.  He has repeatedly scandalized the nation despite the military’s desperate attempts to use the world’s most restrictive lèse-majesté laws to keep a public lid on his behavior.

Since becoming king, he has largely lived up to his ominous promise….

And there is talk of the king’s bizarre and macabre behavior and how the junta must support it and even condone it:

“For decades, the Thai Army has used the excuse of upholding the monarchy to justify their actions and deeds that have included feathering their own nests, suppressing people’s rights, and conducting multiple coups to hold on to power and retard progress towards democracy,” a western source said. “So now Prime Minister Prayuth [Chan-ocha] is hardly in a position to meaningfully oppose Rama 10’s power grab that takes the situation back to the pre-1932 coup era, when palace officials had no protection and were subject to the king’s every whim, or in the case of this latest monarch, every cruelty.”

So far, the source said, “most of the new king’s abuses have been inflicted upon his own entourage, but the fear is what happens after Rama IX’s funeral in October, when the memory of his father is laid to rest and the last restraints on his power are released?  Will he start inflicting abuses against perceived opponents or dissenters in the wider populace? Will he launch a campaign against those who he views as having slighted him in the past, since it is well known that he has a list of such people?…”.

Who will be willing to stop him?





Further updated: Junta in disarray

25 05 2017

If the information in a Bangkok Post story is to be believed, Thailand’s military dictatorship is in disarray. It may also be that its factions are coming apart. We certainly hope so, but acknowledge that the junta’s survival instincts have kept it together for three years.

The first signal of disarray is that the usually hopeless police are showing signs of even greater capacity for the inane than usual.

They claim to have “created a sketch of a person suspected of being involved in the Phramongkutklao Hospital blast…”. Yet they have not released it and cannot confirm when they might make it available even when they plan to use it to get an arrest warrant.

The police lamented that “the case is not easy to crack…”. These guys are dolts and worse.

A second signal is the claim that the military has detained a suspect. The police say they know nothing.

A third signal is that it seems that “security authorities [were] … tipped off about possible attacks. They did nothing even when three letters tipping them off were received. Maybe they are too busy seeking out lese majeste suspects to worry about bombs.

A fourth signal is that both The Dictator and the Deputy Dictator skipped town. General Prayuth Chan-ocha headed south and General Prawit Wongsuwan was in Europe for what authorities finally said was medical treatment. That’s after a cabinet meeting decided not to discuss the bombing.

Fifth, and most telling of splits, the detestable 1st Army commander Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong made big claims.

First, he declared he had “information that up to four ill-intentioned groups are behind the explosion at the army-owned hospital.” Second, he said “he also had information that the explosion was not carried out by foreigners, but was the work of Thai citizens.” Third, he boasted about his knowledge of the bombers: “We’ve got their names…”.

Who are “we”? Why is that Apirat’s “we” are not working through legal channels to arrest the “known” perpetrators?

We think he’s probably looking around to decide which political opponents to fit them up for the crime. But let’s go with Apirat’s own story: “I am waiting for the order from the deputy prime minister [Prawit Wongsuwan]. I am ready to take action against these groups immediately and mercilessly as soon as he gives me the orders…”.

Prawit…. There you have another clue to the disarray and factional competition.

Update 1: Meanwhile, The Dictator is dancing. We are left to wonder why he reckons the bombing is unimportant when Apirat wants to slit throats.

Update 2: Of further evidence of disarray, Prachatai reports that Army Gen Charlermchai Sitthisart claims exiled red shirt Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee is a “suspect” in the hospital bombing. He then added:

Ko Tee is just one suspect…. I can’t answer anything because we suspect everyone and I can’t say things randomly until we have enough evidence to identify … A random guess will not benefit society.





Lawless concoctions and political repression

24 05 2017

The military dictatorship is able to arrest anyone it like. It has been active. It has rounded up hundreds and sometimes released them without charge and other times has had them jailed. Some of the “threats to national security” are jailed and lost from the media almost without trace.

Like lese majeste cases, sometimes the secrecy involved is such that commentators have no idea what the junta’s crazed notions are in arresting people. Sometimes the junta claims a “plot” has been uncovered and, more often than not, these are figments of warped military minds or are actually junta plots to gain political ground.

Back in August 2016, we discerned some cracks in the junta’s make-up and posted about a regime “lost in its own machinations, repression and lack of intellectual capacity for arranging its political future other than by further repression.”

Back then there had been some bombings, and of “new” targets. There were arrests. More than a dozen suspects were arrested and accused of plotting. Soon the Deputy Dictator revealed that these were not bombers but a dangerous group seeking to overthrow of the military-royal regime.

General Prawit Wongsuwan and police entered a time warp, declaring the detainees “communists.” At the time, there were 13 men and four women, mostly elderly. They were said to be members of “Revolutionary Front for Democracy Party,” a group no one had ever heard of.

They  were claimed to be “hardcore reds” active in Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani and coordinated by masterminds who were influential politicians in southern border provinces. These bizarre claims continued with the dictatorship saying that the Revolutionary Front for Democracy Party was a nationwide network, except in the lower South, but that they were not red shirts.

Our comment was that no sensible person can believe such inventive, throwback nonsense. We said that the inventiveness of the regime is so ridiculous that we wonder if they are taking mind altering drugs.

As it turns out, it was only on 24 May 2017 that the military court decided to “release” them. (The report is unclear as to whether the 17 were jailed or on bail.)

Why were they discharged by the court? Simple: insufficient evidence.

This is just one story of a regime that treats the law as a tool of repression. Its own illegal acts come with impunity and it has repeatedly concocted plots, fiddled with evidence, tortured and, in lese majeste cases, reinvented the law in bizarre ways.