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.





Rolling back 1932

19 07 2017

The period since the accession of King Vajiralongkorn has seen a very rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution. In fact, these were relations were to establish a separation of state and crown, not least in terms of the state’s funds and the those of the crown and the monarch.

The military junta’s agreement that King Vajiralongkorn could have total and personal control of the Crown Property Bureau is just the most recent of the changes that have granted extensive control of power and wealth to the monarch not seen since 1932.

A few days ago, Peter Morris had a story at Ozy on the events and impact of 1932. Readers might find this article of use in understanding what it is that King Vajiralongkorn is winding back.

Over the years, it has been widely assumed that Vajiralongkorn was little more than a dumb hedonist. The efforts he has made to challenge decades-old arrangements that have long annoyed the royal family suggest that he has imbibed the anti-1932 bile that has circulated in the family. He’s showing that he follows a line of royal relatives who plotted and schemed against the People’s Party and its legacy.





Rejecting dictatorship

18 07 2017

Much that passes for popular culture has been politically bland since the 2014 military coup.

Global Voices reports on Tattoo Colour’s new song and video Dictator Girl (เผด็จเกิร์ล), which is critical of the military dictatorship:





Updated: King’s power

18 07 2017

For some time there have been rumors that King Vajiralongkorn was seeking to take full control of the Crown Property Bureau. A Royal Gazette announcement on the weekend and reports in the Thai and international media make that takeover official.

Interestingly, the takeover of the CPB by the king was discussed by Andrew MacGregor Marshall in his book A Kingdom in Crisis. He said:

The prospect of Thaksin [Shinawatra] and the crown prince using the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to transform Thailand and elevate a new ruling class at the expense of the old terrifies the oligarchy that runs the country.

If the oligarchs were terrified, half of that prediction have now come about. The Thaksin part of the equation seems to have been nullified by the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship’s efforts to destroy Thaksin and other identified enemies of regime, crown and tycoons.

At least that’s what they must be hoping.

Khaosod reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly has passed a new law on the control of the Crown Property Bureau. (We assume that the NLA again met in secret session to do this deal for the king. We assume this because the previous new laws made following demands from the king have been made secretly.)

This new legislation, passed on Sunday, gives the king “sole authority over royal assets.” This is claimed to be the first change made to the law since 1948.

Whereas previously the Ministry of Finance and its minister had nominal roles in managing the CPB and its board of directors, this is now gone. Now, “the power to appoint a board of directors to manage the crown property rests solely with King Vajiralongkorn, and not a government official as delineated in previous laws.”

As Khaosod notes, this is the “latest move by the military government to cement King Vajiralongkorn’s control over palace affairs.”

Yet it is far more than this. Allowing for the growth of property prices, the CPB probably controls assets of $40-60 billion. Arguably, it is the most powerful and wealthiest conglomerate in the country.

The king now controls this mammoth business empire. More importantly, the new law also “prohibits any effort to take away any part of the royal assets without the king’s approval.” This provision has potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the monarchy and further reduces the state’s authority over the monarchy.

The king now controls all aspects of the monarchy’s wealth and power, and in legal terms, he is now the most powerful monarch since 1932 and, on paper, is more or less independent of the state’s control that was established in 1932 and the years after.

As an AFP report notes, this is the “latest move by an increasingly assertive monarch to consolidate his power.”

While the previous king relied on networks of influential alliances, the power of the military and a personal capacity to politically intervene when he deemed this necessary, the new king is acknowledging his unpopularity and has joined with the military junta to consolidate and expand the monarchy’s economic and political power.

Update: Reuters adds some further detail to this change. It notes that the changes to the law “places the management of crown property under the direct supervision of the king. It states that the bureau’s properties, in addition to the king’s private properties, will be managed ‘at His Majesty’s discretion’.” It allows the king to “assign the Crown Property Bureau, any individual or agency to manage the properties and assets.”

Clearly the old claim that the CPB was not exactly the monarch’s property is out the window. The king’s personal property is indistinguishable from that of the CPB.

Interestingly, “Crown property, but not the king’s private property, had previously been exempted from tax,” and the “amended law says both could now be subject to tax, though it did not elaborate,” suggesting that there’s plenty of wriggle room.





Scholars speak up

17 07 2017

As readers will know, we have been goading the scholars attending the International Conference on Thai Studies to take a stand against the military dictatorship and its repression.

We are pleased that some 180 have taken a stand.

Prachatai reports that this number of academics have called on the junta to return freedom, academic and of speech, rights and liberties to the people.





Lese majeste that isn’t

17 07 2017

One of the ways in which the courts have undermined the rule of law has been by applying the lese majeste law to persons, dead, alive, fictional and historical, and some animals.

Anyone reading that sentence will be baffled, but it is a fact that the Thai courts have applied the law to threaten real and imagined opponents of the royalist regime and have tended to ignore what the law actually says.

On or about 20 August 2015, the Kamphaeng Phet provincial court 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. Some were arrested on 21 August 2015.

They are accused of having made false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Bureau of the Royal Household. Most significantly, they were accused of using Princess Sirindhorn’s name and so we call them the Sirindhorn 4.

All denied lese majeste charges when they appeared in court on 21 December 2015.

At the time, Noppharit, the fourth suspect, told the court that he does not know why he has been arrested and charged. He stated that he does not know the other three suspects and is not involved in the alleged crimes. He was arrested on 21 August 2015 and requested bail. As usual, the court denied it because the case involves the monarchy and there was a flight risk. All of this is the standard and cruel court practice in lese majeste cases.

Lawyers for Noppharit 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. It doesn’t.

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.”

In May 2016, the Provincial Court at Kamphaeng Phet sentenced Kittiphop, 23, and Wiset, 30, to four years’ imprisonment for lese majeste law, for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn for financial benefit.

Now, Prachatai reports that “[h]uman rights lawyers are arguing that suspects accused of defaming Princess Sirindhorn should not be indicted with the lèse majesté law.”

PPT is confused by the report, given earlier reports of convictions, but we will accept that Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is correct in stating that “during the period of 18 July–December the Provincial Court of Kamphaeng Phet will hold trials for four suspects indicted with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code…”.

The report adds that the “four suspects have been detained indefinitely, since the court has repeatedly denied bail.”

It states that “Noppharit also submitted two requests that the court reconsider whether false claims about Princess Sirindhorn falls under Article 112. The court, however, rejected the request.”

TLHR has “pointed out that indicting the four with Article 112 significantly affects interpretations of the lèse majesté law and the country’s judicial system in general…”. The report goes on to explain previous cases related to royals not covered by the lese majeste law. These are worth setting out in full:

In 1989, the Royal Thai Police submitted a request to the Council of State to conclude whether Princess Sirindhorn is an heir to the throne. The Council concluded that based on the 1924 Palace Law of Succession and a statement from the Bureau of the Royal Household, the only heir-apparent to the throne at the time was the then Prince Vajiralongkorn, now the current King.

The Council ruled further that defaming the princess falls under Article 326 of the Criminal Code, the criminal defamation law, under which a case can only begin if the injured party files a complaint against the offender, or gives authorisation to another person to file it. However, in Noppharit’s case, the plaintiff is Wat Sai Ngam Buddhist Monastery.

In 2012, Thanyaburi Provincial Court sentenced Anon (surname witheld due to privacy concerns) to two years in prison for defaming Princess Sirindhorn and Princess Soamsawali during a private conversation. He was initially indicted with Article 112, but the court ruled that the alleged crime fell under the normal criminal defamation law. The Appeal Court later dismissed the charge against him.

In another case in 2004, Nonthaburi Provincial Court handed 10 years of imprisonment to Prachuap (surname withheld due to privacy concerns). He was indicted with two counts under the lèse majesté law for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn, the then Prince Vajiralongkorn, the Queen, and Princess Bajrakitiyabha.

In 2005, the Appeal Court reduced the jail term for Prachuap to five years after concluding that Princess Sirindhorn was not an heir-apparent. Later the Supreme Court reduced his imprisonment to 4 years, reasoning that Prachuap is loyal to the monarchy and had never committed a crime before.