ASEAN lawmakers on Thailand’s authoritarian path

22 05 2017

We reproduce this in full from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights:

ASEAN lawmakers: Thailand moving in the wrong direction three years on from coup

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia warned today that Thailand is moving in the wrong direction three years after the country’s military overthrew the last democratically elected government.

On the third anniversary of the 2014 coup, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) reiterated concerns over arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics, and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. The collective of regional lawmakers said that moves by the ruling junta have dealt lasting damage to Thailand’s long-term democratic prospects, and urged military leaders to return the country to elected, civilian rule as soon as possible.

“In the past year, this military regime has further strengthened its hold on institutions to the detriment of both democracy and the economic well-being of the country. Its actions since taking power appear aimed at systematically and permanently crippling any hope of democratic progress,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“To put it bluntly, Thailand is headed in the wrong direction. With the military firmly in the driver’s seat and a new constitution that guarantees it a central role in politics for years to come, Thailand appears further from a return to genuine democracy than at any point in recent memory. Meanwhile, investors are increasingly nervous about the control exerted by elites in managing the country. The damage incurred will have severe, long-lasting consequences that will not be easily undone.”

A new military-drafted constitution, officially promulgated on 6 April, contains anti-democratic clauses, including provisions for an unelected prime minister and a wholly appointed upper chamber of parliament. A version of the charter was approved by voters in a controversial August 2016 referendum, which APHR criticized at the time as “undemocratic.”

“With its new charter, the Thai junta has designed something akin to Myanmar’s ‘disciplined democracy,’ a flawed system where the generals still hold key levers of power and are able to pull the strings from behind the scenes,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.

“This is a real concern for all those hoping that the Thai people will be able to enjoy democracy and prosperity in the future. In order for Thailand to truly return to democracy, the military needs to step aside, allow for genuine elections, and commit to remaining in the barracks, rather than meddling in politics.”

Since seizing power on 22 May 2014, the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has placed severe restrictions on political activities and arbitrarily arrested hundreds for speaking out against it. Journalists, human rights defenders, and former politicians have been among those subjected to arbitrary detention and mandatory “attitude adjustment” at military and police facilities.

“The situation for human rights in the country has deteriorated. In the past three years, we have witnessed steadily increasing repression and a clampdown on basic freedoms. These developments are especially concerning in the context of a broader erosion of democracy and rights protections across the ASEAN region,” said APHR Board Member Walden Bello, a former Congressman from the Philippines.

“After repeated delays to promised elections, it’s not clear that the generals who currently hold power have any intention of giving it up for real. There are also real concerns among the international community about the continued use of Article 44 and its implications for accountability and human rights,” he added.

Article 44 of Thailand’s interim constitution enables the NCPO chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, to unilaterally make policy and override all other branches of government, and Prayuth has used this sweeping authority to restrict fundamental freedoms.

Political gatherings remain banned, a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, political parties are prohibited from holding meetings or undertaking any political activity.

The country has also witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of individuals arrested and charged under Article 112, Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté statute, which outlaws criticism of the monarchy. Over 100 people have been arrested on such charges since the NCPO took power.

Press freedom has also come under attack. A new media bill, approved by the National Reform Steering Assembly, was repeatedly criticized by journalists and press freedom advocates. Though the final version of the bill forwarded to the cabinet earlier this month eliminated controversial proposed licensing requirements for media workers, it still includes provisions for government officials to sit on a regulatory body tasked with monitoring and accrediting media. This provision would undermine media freedom and constitute undue government interference into the affairs of the press, parliamentarians argued.

“The military government must recognize that a free, independent press is critical to a functioning democracy. It must also do a better job listening to civil society, including by ensuring adequate consultation with relevant stakeholders on all legislation,” Eva Sundari said.

“As Thailand moves into its fourth year under military rule, it is now more urgent than ever that concrete steps be taken to right the ship. Junta leaders need to understand that their actions, which fly in the face of international human rights norms and democratic standards, are no way to achieve a peaceful, prosperous future for Thailand,” Charles Santiago said.





Burning down the house I

21 05 2017

Reuters has a report on the latest arrests that seem likely to result in another clutch of lese majeste charges, with four men and a boy arrested on 19 May 2017 “for allegedly setting fire to portraits of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died last year.”

There’s not much to the report, not least because it repeats several standard and unthinking lines about monarch and Thais.

The suspects were arrested in Khon Kaen and the “case is being processed and under investigation at this time…”. How that is done is a mystery because the names of the men are unknown and they are not in Khon Kaen, as all five “have been transferred to the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok,” presumably to be threatened and tortured.





The king’s laundry II

21 05 2017

Immediately after writing our last post and wandering off for a bowl of noodles, we saw the Bangkok Post’s front page story of the day. We delayed this new post a couple of hours, and assume that many readers will have already seen this story. That said, it is such a display of political madness that we simply have to post on it.

The story claims that the police believe they are going to be “clamping down on lese majeste offences by shifting their focus to viewers of illegal content even if they do not post or share it.”

According to Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nongharnpitak, “lese majeste cases involve three groups of people: the producers of illegal content; the viewers who leave comments, share content or click Like; and those who read or view without interacting.”

It was only a few days ago that the cops agreed that merely clicking “like” did not necessarily constitute lese majeste. But following the Facebook debacle, it seems that the dragnet is being thrown much wider. So wide that whatever skerrick of legality remained with lese majeste cases will be completely erased.

The Central Investigation Bureau chief warned that “users of social media will be treading a narrow path as police plan to target viewers in the crackdown even if they do not interact with those illicit webpages.”

If they can’t get at those overseas producing anti-monarchy content, the police plan to threaten every Thai using Facebook.

The police threaten: “The third group simply follows and watches. They leave no comments. Police are acquiring tools to identify this group of viewers and investigate why they like watching [the content]…”.

Yes, the police are now claiming that they are going to be “investigating” psychological motives, online accidents and curiousness because “[w]atching lese majeste content may be deemed wrongdoing.”

Of course, this sounds legally ridiculous, but that is the nature of lese majeste under the military dictatorship seeking to launder the internet of material on the king that is considered officially unacceptable.

Law and logic are no part of lese majeste. It is a tool for extreme political repression and for getting rid of those the king no longer finds acceptable

Given that even the dopes at the CIB are not going to throw hundreds of thousands into jail – at least not yet – they say they will “warn them first.”

This seems unlikely. It is claimed for example that hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions have viewed recent material on the king that the military dictatorship wants to scrub and erase from the collective Thai mind. If they are to be “warning” them all, the police would have to forget murder, rape, drug trafficking, traffic problems and several other areas where they make money.

However, the police corrected their statement just a few words later, saying “not all viewers will be warned.” Who won’t be warned? Political opponents will be at the top of the list. But the police, presumably with training in clairvoyance, will “screen those who have the potential to commit offences.” They claim that this “procedure will be conducted on a case-by-case basis and information from an investigation will be taken into account.”

Burglars and bank robbers will be free to commit their crimes because, if this police horse manure was true, no cop will be available for any other work. They will all be the king’s internet slaves.

Again, what the military dictatorship is doing is creating a climate of fear. They do this by declaring that every Facebook user in Thailand a potential criminal.





The king’s laundry I

21 05 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship is expanding its already frantic efforts to create a political landscape cleansed of anything that shows the real king as other than the “official king.” Like slaves and handmaidens of centuries past, the junta is busy laundering the king’s image and cleaning up his own messes.

The laundered image is the often grim, sometimes seemingly bemused man in business suit and more often a military uniform, trailed by a daughter or officials appropriately bowed or slithering.

The only concession to a more real view is that the junta’s version does allow for the now most senior consort to be regularly seen.

His earlier and third wife, Srirasmi, had been thrown into house arrest and her family jailed in late 2015 as the then prince prepared for his reign.

The new, apparently official, number one consort is also often in the military uniform of a general. She was promoted by the king to this position. Her only “qualification” is that she is the king’s consort.

The image the junta launderers don’t want seen is that of the king trailing around his beloved Munich, dressed like fashion moron, sporting mail-order tattoo transfers and accompanied by another of his girlfriends, a legion of servants and a fluffy dog.

PPT doesn’t think fashion is a necessary qualification for being king. After all, that has to do with blood. Yet his “style” says something about the man. His desire to keep this side of his life from his Thai audience is also telling. (We do not believe that the military junta would be so frantic about these images if it wasn’t being pushed by a king known to be erratic, wilful and menacing.)

The seemingly demented efforts a week ago to threaten Facebook may not have been entirely successful, but they are again revealing. The Economist reflects on these bizarre and dangerous efforts to repress for the king:

Thailand has always treated its royals with exaggerated respect, periodically clapping people deemed to have insulted the king behind bars. But some thought the death of the long-reigning King Bhumibol in October and the accession of the less revered Vajiralongkorn might curb the monarchists’ excesses. Instead, it seems to have spurred them on. The military junta that runs the country is enforcing the draconian and anachronistic lèse-majesté law with greater relish than its predecessors.

We are not sure who could have thought that a new king, often secretive and with a reputation for vindictiveness, might have eased up.

Indeed, this king has a long history of lese majeste cases in his name. One of the first cases we wrote about at PPT was of Harry Nicolaides, an Australian who wrote a forgettable novel that included these lines:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives “major and minor “with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

Harry was probably writing of second wife, Yuvadhida, but the words could also be applied to the treatment  of Srirasmi.

Those words must have enraged somebody. They earned Harry a sentence of six years  in jail on 19 January 2009 (reduced to three years on pleading guilty). This for defaming the then crown prince now king.

If not in Thailand, where it is illegal, read Nicolaides’ novel here. Note that this scanned version of the book bears the stamp of the National Library of Thailand but should not be downloaded in Thailand.

The Economist continues:

At least 105 people have been detained or are serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté, compared with just five under the elected government the junta overthrew in 2014. Many of them posted critical comments about the royal family on social media; some simply shared or “liked” such comments. Other arrests have been on even pettier grounds. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a student activist, is on trial for sharing a profile of King Vajiralongkorn published by the BBC’s Thai service. Police have warned that those agitating for his release could themselves face charges. A well-known academic, Sulak Sivaraksa, remains under investigation for several instances of lèse-majesté, including questioning whether a 16th-century battle involving a Thai king really took place.

As we have said, this number of lese majeste cases is too low. Quoting the low number allows the prince-now-king too much latitude. The lese majeste arrests and charges have been swelled by various palace purges by Prince, now King, Vajiralongkorn. Lese majeste has been widely used against those he dislikes. Give him the “credit” he deserves and for this nastiness and vindictiveness.

The Economist mentions the (almost) latest set of six cases (we will post separately on another set of cases):

This month security forces arrested Prawet Prapanukul, a human-rights lawyer best known for defending lèse-majesté suspects. He risks a record 150 years in jail if convicted of all ten counts of lèse-majesté he faces. Several recent sentences for insulting royals have exceeded 50 years; the standard for murder is 15-20 years.

All of this is followed by a banal claim by the newspaper: “Thai kings have a long history of fostering democratic reform…”. There is simply no adequate historical evidence for such a claim. It is a royalist fabrication based on notions of Thai-style democracy that is “democracy with the king as head of state,” exactly what the current junta is promoting: no democracy at all.

That Vajiralongkorn is going to be ruthless and anti-democratic should not be a surprise to anyone. He comes from a long line of anti-democratic kings who have protected privilege by working with the military. The only threat to the continuing of this monarch-military dictators alliance is if the junta gets so ticked off with the king that it decides to do away with him. That possibility seems somewhat remote.

The more likely outcome for the short to medium term is more censorship and ever more maniacal efforts to police the king’s image and wash his dirty laundry.





Military rule continuing

21 05 2017

A story reproduced in a Malaysian newspaper begins this way:

Thailand enters its fourth year under military rule Monday with the junta firmly entrenched in power and prospects for the return of democracy bleak despite promised elections at the end of next year, rights activists say.

Briefly, the article notes that the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly “swiftly passed an array of laws aimed at gagging dissent, in a country that already had strict Lese-Majeste laws forbidding insults to the royal family.” The junta also ruled by decree.

The story is of repression: “Since the coup three years ago, the junta has detained 597 people, including politicians, activists and journalists, according to iLaw…”. It adds:

Among them, 82 were held for violating Lese-Majeste laws, under which offenders can get as many as 15 years in jail for sharing a story on Facebook, while 64 were hauled up for sedition, iLaw figures show.

As we have stated before, we think these figures are underestimates.

The story quotes national human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit: “The issue of concern is the snuffing out of freedom — [freedom] of speech, to hold demonstrations, peaceful public gatherings…. Human rights defenders are intimidated or prosecuted…”.

The Financial Times points to a critical transition:

A more unpredictable dimension for the junta is the arrival of the new king and the next phase in the military-monarchy alliance that has long underpinned the power of both. The generals clashed with Facebook this week as they stepped up efforts to scrub the Thai internet of commentary and images that were potentially embarrassing to the monarch. But the king has also been flexing his muscles independently, bringing various royally-linked institutions under his direct control and securing late changes to the constitution that increase his authority.

The junta is probably hoping for another royal death so that they can seek to further manage this relationship and maintain authoritarianism.

 





Updated: Remembering and anti-remembering

20 05 2017

The military junta tried to prevent all commemorations of deaths and injuries resulting from its murderous 2010 crackdown. The photos below are of Rajaprasong, where the military and police closed off public areas, fearful of commemorations.

Despite this, there were small events, as shown here:

Another commemoration was disrupted by official thugs.

Update: Khaosod also has a story on the junta anti-remembering. But even they have faulty memories, forgetting who was army boss at the time.

The main point is that on 19 May 2010, then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban ordered then-army chief General Anupong Paojinda  to clear out remaining protesters. General Prayuth Chan-ocha led the operation. In it, 41 civilians died on that one day, and one soldier was killed by friendly fire. Another 60 had dies in events leading up to the clearance over April and May. Then, as the report succinctly reports it:

Four years later on May 22, 2014, Prayuth staged a coup to seize power from the elected government and installed himself as prime minister.





Remembering May 2010

19 05 2017

Remembering May 1992 is useful in the current political circumstances. Then, people rose up against a military regime seeking to “civilianize” its repression and control. The military response was to shoot them.

Yet it is April and May 2010 that should be remembered for the utter brutality of a military that views electoral democracy and people’s sovereignty as a threat to the order it prefers and defends.

Many pictures have been reproduced over the past week or so, and PPT has chosen just a few to re-post here.

These pictures are from both sides of the battle as the military gradually surrounded and then cleared the Rajaprasong area.