Authoritarian darkness

16 04 2021

Thailand’s royalist authoritarianism and the desire to “cleanse” the nation of anti-monarchists appears to have taken a significant turn as the regime targets an American academic it considers has fomented political activism in the northeast.

From New Mandala

Thai Enquirer, Bangkok Post, and Prachatai report that David Streckfuss, who worked for Khon Kaen University, CIEE: Council On International Educational Exchange, and with regional news outlet The Isaan Record, has had his work-permit with KKU revoked on 19 March, which means his tenure in Thailand is tenuous as his visa is also revoked.

It is reported that Streckfuss had “been with the university for the past 27 years before his work permit was terminated.”

Prachatai states that the “decision reportedly came after police visited the University President and Faculty Dean, after Streckfuss participated in a workshop which partly involved decentralization.”

Hathairat Phaholtap, the editor of the The Isaan Record, confirmed the work permit cancellation and stated that it came “after Streckfuss attended a workshop about the preservation and development of the local Isaan identity which was held at a Khon Kaen hotel on 12-14 February.”

The police reportedly told the university that this meant Streckfuss was “involve[d] with local politics…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, where Streckfuss has been an author, he has “published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is also the author of Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté, published by Routledge Press, in 2011… [and] has a PhD in Southeast Asian history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” His recent academic work has been on censorship and self-censorship.

One of his roles since 1994 has been has been as director for CIEE Programs in Thailand, facilitating college students study abroad experiences in Thailand. In this he “works with the program’s administration and programs managers to oversee student health, safety, and welfare as well as all issues related to academics, services, projects, administration, and finance.”

Over the years, Streckfuss has spoken at various seminars, including with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. This action against a high-profile academic, and someone who might be described as a “friend” of Thailand, suggests either a bureaucratic miscalculation or, more likely, a further deepening of the regime’s repressive authoritarianism.





Updated: 112 in Chiang Rai

15 04 2021

Mongkol Thrakhote was arrested on Wednesday during a “solo protest in front of the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court to demand the release of Ratsadon leaders…”.

A resident of Chiang Rai province and aged 27, he was arrested while “facing a lèse majesté charge in his home province…”.

He was taken to “Pahonyothin police station for questioning, before he is to be sent back to police in Chiang Rai province.” Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said “Mongkol had insisted on giving his statement to police in Pan district of Chiang Rai … adding that a lawyer from the centre there will provide the suspect with legal counsel.”

Update: The arrest of Mongkol is looking suspiciously like a fit-up by the police and their masters. Prachatai reports that Mongkol arrived from “Chiang Rai on 12 April to join the hunger strike while sitting in front of the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road, Bangkok, to demand the release of activists currently detained pending trial and denied bail.”

Court officials immediately placed “metal barriers in front of the Criminal Court sign and told him that his action might be considered contempt of court, so he went to sit just next to the sign.” Other officers demanded his personal information and questioned and asked to search him. He was “told him that a ‘higher-up’ in the Court is unhappy and would like him to go away…”.

Soon, “uniformed and plainclothes police officers from Phaholyothin Police Station, along with some officers dressed like a commando unit, arrived to question him for another hour.” This questioning continued over several hours, on-and-off, and they pressured him to leave the area.

The next day, “a large number of officers” arrived as other protesters joined Mongkol. The, at “13.20 on 14 April, Mongkhon was arrested by police officers from Phaholyothin Police Station. The officers presented an arrest warrant from Phan Police Station in Chiang Rai, which stated that he was being charged under Section 112, or the lèse majesté law, and the Computer Crimes Act.”

It seems that “that police officers from the Muang Chiang Rai Police Station went to search Mongkhon’s house” on the morning of 14 April, with a search warrant.

This sounds suspicious to us. It gives the impression that the police were in search of a charge as a way to remove Mongkol.





Virus of double standards V

15 04 2021

The Bangkok Post has a useful editorial that points to the double standards being applied by the regime in dealing with the virus outbreak.

It refers to “growing concerns over possible foul play in the investigation process concerning the [Thonglor] clubs where the bug spread.” It mentions “blatant breaches of the law by the management of two exclusive clubs, namely Krystal and Emerald, as well as its staff and patrons.”

It doesn’t discuss how it is that these clubs can be so blatant but everyone knows that the police collect “rents” from all entertainment venues to “allow” rules to be bent and to enrich senior police.

The editorial then moves on to the main issue the minister involved. No names, but it is probable they mean Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob. It is stated:

Instead of ordering a probe into a Covid-infected minister who was said to have visited one of the clubs — with all of their reckless violations of disease prevention measures — and who may potentially be a super-spreader, Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha chose to protect his minister. He made a tongue-in-cheek comment, saying cabinet ministers shouldn’t be naughty.

The police sprang into action to cover their posteriors and those of higher ups by charging the clubs’ managers – employees, not owners. But:

Instead of taking a harsh line, the police seemed to adopt a low-key approach, which is unusual given the high-profile nature of the case.

The managers were sentenced in record time, with this action causing “suspicion to arise that the quick action was intended to avert public attention from the real culprits.” And guess what?

The owners are said to have strong connections with the powers-that-be, particularly a high-ranking police officer, Pol Maj Gen Pantana Nuchanart, who is known to be a shareholder in one of the clubs. The officer, attached to the Central Investigation Bureau, told Isra News Agency he was only a partner in a restaurant of one of the clubs.

The editorial focuses on the police and says little more about the “naughty” minister or ministers. Why is Saksayam permitted to apparently skirt laws that other Thais must follow. Why are so many police now infected and/or quarantining? Is the super-spreader responsible? Why is it only small fry and demonstrators who seem to be under the law?





Virus of double standards IV

14 04 2021

With virus numbers spiking all across the country, increasingly the culprits for this outbreak are seen to reside in the regime. It has been infected by not just the virus but by double standards, arrogance and dopey decision-making.

Saksayam

Surprisingly, after a shaky start in 2020 and even with a flaky Health Minister, the regime did quite well, allowing medical technocrats to run the health response to the virus.

Now, all that is being undone. Part of it is due to a privileged minister who refuses to follow the rules and is being protected by regime and some health officials in his family’s fiefdom in Buriram.

Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob is a disgrace. Half the cabinet, many in his ministry, police and many more are now infected or in quarantine. And Saksayam still does as he pleases, according to his “standards.”





Royalists and censorship

13 04 2021

One of the traits of royalism in Thailand is the way in which all manner of royalists, from officials to the mad  monarchists, seek to destroy those they see as opponents.

About a month ago we mentioned the “case” being mounted by academic royalists to censor the work of historian Nattaphol Chai­ching, a campaign that had been waged by yellow shirts since 2018. That royalist assault has been recently paired with a ridiculous (except in royalist Thailand) defamation case by minor royal, MR Priyanandana Rangsit, against Nattaphol and publisher Fah Diew Kan (Same Sky), seeking to protect the honor of a long dead relative.

We would have hoped that such a malicious set of actions by mad monarchists would have faded away. It hasn’t, with a report at University World News suggesting that the royalist stronghold at Chulalongkorn University is seriously pursuing the claims against Nattaphol.Nattapoll

The royalists clearly see Nattaphol’s book’s and their “popularity and influence as a threat…”. As a result, they”have targeted the author, calling for his PhD to be revoked.” The royalist witch hunt is led by yellow-shirted political “philosopher” Chaiyan Chaiyaporn at Chulalongkorn University.

The university, “who owns the copyright to the PhD thesis, set up an investigation committee in February ostensibly to review its academic integrity,” after earlier “effectively bann[ing] the thesis by barring public access to it, claiming at the time that it contained errors based on some pieces of evidence used.” As far as we can tell, the “errors” are one mis-attribution to a newspaper article.

With the “investigation” now proceeding, mostly in secret, the university could revoke Nattaphol’s degree or take “other disciplinary action under research misconduct rules.”

The report cites Ek Patarathanakul, assistant to the president for corporate communications at Chulalongkorn University, and an interview with BBC Thai on 26 March where Ek claimed “Chulalongkorn University would uphold the ‘academic perspective’ in examining the issue.” He added: “we have to use universal principles [of academic integrity] in reviewing this case…”.

As we know, in Thailand, “principles” and standards are easily manipulated, and the university’s political track record is royalist and shaky (for an example, see our series of articles Pathetic royalist “university” in 2017 that begins here).





Virus of double standards III

12 04 2021

As the virus surges across the country, even more double standards are revealed. One is highlighted in a Bangkok Post editorial that questions Thailand’s lagging vaccination program, where the king’s company, subsidized with taxpayer funds, is still several months away from producing any vaccine.

The program was, in principle, meant to target “frontline health workers [as]… the top priority, followed by vulnerable groups such as patients with acute and chronic diseases, people with possible exposure to Covid-19, those who live in particularly at-risk areas, and also people living and working in tourism destinations set to open for foreign visitors.”

But, as usual, the powerful are cutting in and grabbing the shots ahead of everyone else. The expected “celebrity” shots have included The Dictator and some royals – we guess that the rest of the latter have been vaccinated. When the execrable Princess Sirivannavari got her first AstraZeneca shot, the accompanying story “explained” that the shot was “suitable for those who have a high risk of infection from interacting with patients or those who travel frequently and interact with many different people,” suggesting an odd reason for the Princess jumped the queue.

But it is the generals and other junta-appointed supporters of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in the Senate who get the Post’s attention.

Japanese cats

Senators voting

The Post reports that “wrong priorities sparked an outcry from several MPs who raised the matter with House Speaker Chuan Leekpai, asking why MPs have not been vaccinated, like those in the Upper House.” This complaint revealed “that those 250 military-appointed senators have received their jab, while many more deserving groups have missed out.”

While almost everyone in the country thinks politicians should join others in getting the vaccine when it is due to them, the Post points out that elected MPs “who have to meet their constituents think they deserve early vaccination. That’s quite different from appointed senators who are not responsible to voters in any constituency.”

In fact, the unelected senators are responsible to The Dictator they dutifully selected as prime minister and to their bosses in the military.

Of course, there’s now considerable speculation that, “[a]s all Covid-19 vaccine distribution is controlled by the government,” there must be “someone powerful” who allocated “500 doses of the vaccines (two doses a person) to a group not on the priority list.”

The editorial concludes:

The privilege afforded this special political class is appalling…. It’s a shame that the 250 senators acted selfishly, taking supplies that would have been been saved for those on the frontline. And anyone who had a hand in this happening must also be condemned.

Indeed, but this is just another example of the double standards that infect the royalist-military cabal.





Concern for Penguin

12 04 2021

A couple of weeks ago PPT posted on increasing concern for political prisoner, Parit Chiwarak or Penguin, who has been on a fast in protest against the repeated refusal of bail on lese majeste charges. He has now been on this partial hunger strike since mid-March.

Over the past few days, several alarming posts have been seen on social media, with the regime denying the worst of these. The prison says “ParitParit was able to stand up, walk, sit up and perform daily activities.”

Even so, Penguin’s condition is such that he requires close monitoring by nursing staff, 24 hours a day.

On April 10, those nursing staff were said to have declared Penguin, to be “in good condition.” The details tend to suggest otherwise; he has “slight exhaustion and slightly dry lips,” and “itchy rash on the chest and back” and “still receives intravenous infusion…”.

With virus cases exploding across the country, all detainees are now in grave danger.





Virus of double standards II

11 04 2021

The Bangkok Post reports that at least 22 “detained on charges related to the protests,” mostly using Article 112.

While the Criminal Court has granted bail to Patiwat Saraiyaem, on the basis that he “pledged not to breach Section 112 … and also stay away from political rallies…”, it refused bail for to other political prisoners, Somyos Pruksakasemsuk and Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa.

The report adds that Somyos and Jatuphat “joined other protest figures in signing a letter expressing their intention to withdraw their lawyer from their Section 112 trial,” but did not detail the complaints made by the detainees.

Thai PBS states that the “court said that it doubts the credibility of the two Ratsadon leaders’ pledge not to mention the revered institution in future protests, after they refused to recognize the trial process.”

Prachatai provides an account of the withdrawal of defense lawyers, based on Thai Lawyers for Human Rights:

22 people facing charges relating to the protests on 19 – 20 September 2020, including 7 protest leaders facing lèse majesté charges, have withdrawn their legal representation in protest at court measures and treatment by prison officials which deny them the right to a fair and open trial.

The 22 are listed as:

The 23 defendants in the case are Chinnawat Chankrachang, Nawat Liangwattana, Nattapat Akhad, Thanachai Aurlucha, Thanop Amphawat, Thanee Sasom, Phattaraphong Noiphang, Sitthithat Chindarat, Suwanna Tallek, Anurak Jeantawanich, Nutchanon Pairoj, Atthapol Buaphat, Adisak Sombatkham, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Parit Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, Panupong Jadnok, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Chukiat Saengwong, and Chaiamorn Kaewwwiboonpan.

The defendants “requested to withdraw their legal representation and their lawyers requested to be released from their duties.” They consider the “courtroom has been made into a prison.”

The defendants and lawyers say they are not receiving a fair and open trial and their rights are not being respected. According to TLHR the defendants:

  • have not been allowed to speak to their lawyers individually and confidentially, as they were always under the control of prison officials
  • who are detained pending trial and those granted bail have not been allowed to discuss the case with each other
  • family members and other individuals have been prevented from observing the proceedings, with some family members initially forbidden from even entering the court building and told by court police that they do not have permission to enter the courtroom
  • family members have been prevented from personal contact with the political prisoners, and at times they have been prevented from handing over personal items and food

Political prisoner and lawyer Arnon Nampa wrote a declaration to the court saying:

… he would like to withdraw all legal representation on the ground that he has been denied bail and treated in ways which are degrading, that he cannot participate in a judicial process which is “carried out with fear and without taking human dignity into account.” He also wrote that the law has been used to silence the demands of the younger generation, that violence has been used to suppress protests, and that their detention will lead to fear in society and no one will dare to speak the truth.

“In this trial, our right to fully fight the case has been violated,” he wrote. “The courtroom has been made into a prison.” He then went onto say that the process is unconstitutional, and that the defendants and lawyers agreed that if they continue to participate in the procedure, they would be promoting a process of injustice.

“This case has involved the destruction of human dignity, the use of the law to silence people, and many other forms of injustice. As a person who has studied the law and who practices as a lawyer, and as one of the citizens who aim to reform the monarchy, the defendant cannot continue to participate in this process. The defendant whose name is at the end of this petition therefore requests to withdraw legal representation and refuses this process,” Anon wrote.





Updated: Virus of double standards I

10 04 2021

The double standards that characterize Thailand’s legal system run through the bureaucracy. No better example of this is seen in the treatment of the virus infected. No that Thailand’s good work – most of it due to health professionals – is being undone, with outbreaks across the country, in the police force, among senior corporate types and with half the cabinet in isolation.

This outbreak seemingly stems from entertainment venues visited mainly by the rich and powerful, including members of parliament and officials, and perhaps even a minister or two.

But there’s a cover-up and the reasons for it remain opaque and might be interpreted as pure blockheadedness but which display the usual characteristics of impunity and double standards.

Recent reports illustrate how the blockheads are also thin-skinned.

It was reported on Wednesday that Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, secretary-general of the Bhumjaithai Party, is infected with Covid-19 and has been admitted to Buriram Hospital for treatment. The minister quickly denied “he had not been out in the Bangkok nightlife scene where the virus has been rushing back, with hundreds of new cases found in recent days.” He claimed that “he got it from one of his staffers who had earlier tested positive for the disease.”

Saksayam

From The Nation

Most of the Bhum Jai Thai Party parliamentarians – 61 of them – and staffers are said to be quarantining. That includes Health MInister Anutin Charnvirakul who was pictured maskless with Saksayam.

But then the political instincts kicked in as netizens wondered about Saksayam’s denial and then about his vague timeline of activities (legally required for contact tracing). It was soon stated that “[t]hree people in close contact with him got the virus. One of the three is Kittichai Ruangsawat, BJT’s Chachoengsao MP, who was quoted by the media as admitting that he had accompanied Mr Saksayam to a club in Thong Lor in mid-March.” People asked if he’d been back in recent days.

Of course, when the “new” story was being concocted, Kittichai “backtracked, saying the media got it wrong.” Not him, but the media. Then it was noted that Saksayam’s denial came a day before he was virus tested as positive. One response from the minister was to lie, saying he was fully vaccinated – he wasn’t.

This fibbing was compounded when “the minister refused to unveil his timeline of activities during the period. Only after mounting social pressure did his team release one, but it was incomplete.”

With all the media and social media attention, the minister enlisted a Buriram-based doctor to defend him. Of course, Buriram is a Chidchob family fiefdom. The doctor appeared in the media:

Dr Pichet Phuedkhuntod said three close aides to the minister had visited the Krystal Club on March 30 and the Emerald Club on April 1 with four other people. They were tested for the coronavirus on Sunday and Monday and the results released a day later were positive, he added.

“His infection was from his staff members who worked close to him and who were in the (Thong Lor) cluster comprising seven people altogether.”…

Buriram provincial health “released the minister’s timeline on Thursday” showing that he did not visit entertainment places. But it was a timeline with gaps, so the banter continued.

To deal with that, Saksayam’s lawyer “warned of legal action against people who post messages online that cause damage to his client by implying that his infection was due to his visit to an entertainment venue.” Sounds a bit like a miniature version of the regime’s approach to political repression. By Friday, the minister’s complaints were being lodged with Buriram’s tame police.

Backing him is Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. He’s threatened “legal action against anyone who used the expression ‘Thai Khu Fa Club’ to mock the government amid reports a minister had contracted Covid-19 at a nightclub in Thong Lor.” The mocking appearing to consider the cabinet as constituting a “club” of entertainment venue visiting ministers.

Gen Prayuth said: “I have ordered the legal team to consider whether it is against the law or not. Using the term Thai Khu Fa … is not [right]…”. Infecting half the cabinet seems okay….

It is yet another example of the tendency to double standards – one for the rich and powerful and another for everyone else – and the almost natural response to criticism being political repression.

Update: It is reported that Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, has “called on state agencies to investigate politicians who became infected with Covid-19 after attending bars in the Thong Lor area which is the epicentre of the new surge of infections.” He targeted “corruption and law-breaking” as associated with the most recent virus outbreaks, mentioning  hi-so entertainment places in Bangkok and illegal gambling dens and illegal migrants…”. He might have mentioned the Army’s boxing stadium. In fact, it is difficult to find an outbreak that is not associated with corrupt actions and impunity.





Vendor held on 112 charge

9 04 2021

Prachatai reports data from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights who say that “at least 82 people are facing charges under Section 112 since November 2020.” Several face multiple lese majeste charges and a slew of other charges.

One of the most recent cases to become known involves a 22 year-old online vendor from Chiang Mai, identified only as Phonphimon or Pholpimol.  She faces both a 112 charge and a charge made under the Computer Crimes Act. The charges are reportedly related to a Facebook post from October 2020.112

Phonphimon was arrested on 31 March 2021 “by a team of 5 – 6 uniformed and plainclothes police officers who presented an arrest warrant issued by the Chiang Mai Provincial Court…”.

She was taken to Chang Puak Police Station and “held overnight before being taken to court for a temporary detention request.”

On 1 April, she was told that “the charges were filed by Thikhathat Phrommani, who claimed he saw a Facebook post which was an insult to the King.”

The same day, the “Chiang Mai Provincial Court ruled to detain Phonphimon for 12 days, on the grounds that the penalty for the charges is high and that the accused is likely to flee or tamper with evidence.” As the police already had here electronic devices and she had given them access, this is ridiculous claim by the court.

Phonphimon has denied all charges and denies the Facebook profile is hers.

The Court denied bail and she was taken to the Chiang Mai Woman Correctional Institution. She remains in detention.

She is “being held alone with a prison guard in a cell with no window, and that there was no light other than in front of the cell.”