Sulak’s lese majeste charges dropped

17 01 2018

Sulak Sivaraksa is one of the few in Thailand who has been able to defeat lese majeste charges. He’s done this repeatedly. And he’s just done it again.

Over the years, since at least 1984, Sulak has faced repeated rounds of lese majeste charges and has spent time in jail.

It is reported that one of the most bizarre of these cases – lese majeste and computer crimes – has been dropped by a military court. The charges related to his questioning, several years ago, whether an ancient story of 17th century King Naresuan’s elephant battle with a Burmese royal was real or a legend.

Sulak stated that “the military tribunal dropped the charge without explanation.” However, Khaosod reports “Maj. Gen. Choedchai Angsusingha, chief military prosecutor, said the case lacked sufficient witnesses to prosecute Sulak…”.

The critic’s capacity to get off such charges is uncanny, especially when hundreds of others fail and many are essentially forced to plead guilty. He’s also adept at getting bail while facing the charges, something precious few others get.

Certainly, one of Sulak’s strengths is the huge international support he receives, through long-established networks of religious and social activists. He’s also got considerable cross-color support in Thailand from academics, NGOs and activists who have associated themselves with Sulak’s work over several decades. Even the junta is reluctant to challenge such a spectrum of opinion-makers. Finally, Sulak is also a self-declared conservative and monarchist. Perhaps that’s why he chose to have this reported: “Sulak said he credited the mercy of King Rama X for the case being dropped.”

Further updated: Does Prawit have 365 watches? II

16 01 2018

About 5 days ago we had a post on the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watches. In it we noted that the count of the watches was 18 and added: “but that might have increased over the last 24 hours.”

The count has increased, by 5. Or one each 24 hours. Khaosod reports that the most recent count is 23.

Not Prawit’s watches?

Equally odd, the report appears to refer to backtracking by the National Anti-Corruption Commission:

Gen. Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, chief of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, or NACC, said Monday that Prawit has filed no explanation with his agency, weeks after another high-ranking commission official said they’d already received it.

Yet another report, in the Bangkok Post, the very same NACC boss is reported quite differently:

 Pol Gen Watcharapol said he was aware Gen Prawit had sent two explanation letters to his office, adding the agency will tread carefully on all aspects related to the case, which is drawing a great deal of public attention.

He either has reported or he hasn’t. We suspect the issue is with the reporting by the newspapers, but even so, Watcharapol also says “the case has not yet been sent to the commissioners for consideration.”

Whichever way you look at it, this is a political flashpoint.

The Post also has a sentence that refers to a rumor that “people in the military and business circles had jointly invested in an expensive wristwatch scheme…”, seeming to suggest that General Prawit Wongsuwan is “renting” or “sharing” his watches. Believe it or not.

Update 1: Another day, another luxury watch hanging on the Deputy Dictator’s arm. No. 24 has been identified.

With a range of senior people on the hard yellow side of politics criticizing Prawit, and even Democrat Party “leader” Abhisit Vejjajiva joining in, political support for Prawit is draining faster than a battery in a cheap quartz watch.

Abhisit has appeared to be seeking to drive a wedge between Prawit and The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. He says the watch scandal is undermining Prayuth’s credibility and political prospects.

Gen Prawit has blinked, saying he “is ready to step down from the cabinet if the anti-graft agency found the case against him has grounds.” Or, more precisely, if the NACC “concludes in the investigation that he had committed wrongdoing over the wristwatch saga.” That does leave things rather open-ended, but a blink is a blink.

Gen Prawit told reporters the “watches belonged to his friends and all have been returned…”.

Update 2: A new story at the Bangkok Post adds some important nuance to its earlier story, linked above at Update 1.

This newer story indicates that Prawit is angered – “irate” – about being chased over his 24 (and still counting) luxury timepieces. He asserted “all” of the “24 luxury watches belong to his friends,” that he had returned all of them, and that he “threatened to resign…”, but from the cabinet and “only if the national graft-busting agency decides there are sufficient grounds to pursue a case against him.” The Post says this “outburst by Gen Prawit marks the first time he has clarified [that’s a stupid word used by the Post, for there’s no clarity at all] where the watches came from…”. Prawit stated: “that he had borrowed the watches and only wore them occasionally, insisting he is not a collector.”

The report also indicates how “good” people are turning against Prawit. This can get more interesting still and the NACC is being forced into a corner where it must do something other than stall. A cover-up will be politically explosive. Prawit’s ouster will also be politically destabilizing for a junta bent on extending its authority and power.

Pressuring The Dictator

15 01 2018

2018 has begun in great style, with all kinds of people poking the dictators.

The Dictator is about to take another trip this week, this time to Mae Hong Son, saying it is “inspection trip.” Of course, it is more “election” campaigning, fully paid by the taxpayer. He leaves behind more attacks on the junta than we’ve seen for some time.

Without even saying much at all about the Deputy Dictator’s vast luxury watch collection, where even hardened yellow shirts are angry, the junta really wants to get this off the political agenda.

The Bangkok Post reports that red shirts have amped up, perhaps reminding The Dictator of his murderous past, with Nattawut Saikua turning up “at the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Friday to demand justice for victims of the deadly 2010 crackdown on protesters in 2010.” More than 90 died and thousands were injured.

Even the Democrat Party, which led the government that ordered the 2010 crackdowns, is poking the junta. Watchara Petthong said “he would seek action from the … [NACC] … against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha over what he alleged was malfeasance concerning ministers’ stock holdings.” He nominated foreign minister Don Pramudwinai as breaching rules.

Yellow and red shirts have almost come together in complaining about the junta’s failures, even if their reasons for this are located in different ideological and political locations.

And, political activists are rallying and campaigning against the junta’s efforts to embed its decrees.

This is just the warm up. The junta is going to cop plenty of political heat.

Prayuth pushes Thai-style democracy

15 01 2018

Children’s Day in Thailand seems to officially involve making children comfortable with weapons and with the gangsters who command the military. This year, in his speech for the event, The Dictator declared: “Our country cannot afford any more conflicts. We certainly must have democracy. But it is Thai-style democracy. We must not break the rules. I ask all Thais to consider this…”.

A conflict-free politics is a repressive politics. The trick of a democracy is in handling conflict, minimizing it and channeling it in ways that avoid violence. That’s not always successful, but its arguably far superior than having trigger-happy goons running the show.

The Bangkok Post reported that Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisang reckoned that The Dictator had “cultivated authoritarian values for children…”.

That’s true and it is also true that he’s been doing this since the coup in 2014. There can’t be any surprises in The Dictator’s musings.

When he declared that “children … do their duties to the best to be the pride of their family. The priorities are nation, religion and the monarchy — keep Thainess forever…” he’s repeating royalist and military ideology. In fact, they see all Thais as children.

Watching everyone and everywhere

14 01 2018

A short Bangkok Post story demands attention.

The junta has “plans to connect more than 367,000 surveillance cameras … nationwide…” to a network. This “network” is meant to be completed within two years and is claimed to be about “improve[d] security.”

Many of the exisating surveillance cameras are broken, some are fakes and others have been stolen. Reflecting this, Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan looked at his watch and said “government agencies must maintain their cameras, to ensure they work. Those that fail to do so would be disciplined.”

He also ordered relevant agencies to install 100 new cameras at risk-prone locations in each province. That’s at least another 7,600 cameras and a national total of some 375,000, not including cameras in the deep south or privately-installed cameras. But the junta plans to “connect its surveillance camera network with the cameras of the private sector.”

Having them in a network gives those doing the surveillance tremendous reach and remarkable power. ISOC will be happy!

We do know, however, that when the cameras catch the military behaving badly, the cameras suddenly malfunction or the records become unusable or inaccessible.

Trigger-happy soldiers and impunity

13 01 2018

When Chaiyapoom Pasae was shot dead by soldiers it was soon revealed that there was another shooting leading to death involving Abe Sae Moo. Both cases involve soldiers accused of using excessive force. Both were separately killed at the Ban Rin Luang military checkpoint in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district. The excuses provided by  the military and backed all the way to the top was that both men resisted, ran and tried to throw a grenade at the soldiers who then shot them dead.

As far as we know, neither case has gone anywhere, the military shooters remain free and more or less unidentified and evidence remains officially hidden.

A recent case suggests that the military remains trigger-happy.

A few days ago, Khaosod reported that after initially “forgetting” to reveal that soldiers were involved, police had finally admitted that they were when Sorachai Sathitraksadumrong was shot in the head and died. Amazingly, a community leader, Wutthichai Injai, had already been arrested for the alleged crime.

Initially the police said “only civilians manned the roadblock…”, on the road between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but “Sorachai’s family and neighbors went to protest Monday at the district administrative office to demand answers and justice for his killing.” They said they knew soldiers were at the road block.

The initial police story was full of inconsistencies.

After it was admitted that soldiers were at the money-making venture road block, “all of the soldiers denied any involvement with the killing, and no witnesses [were said to have] … implicated them.” The soldiers also claimed to be unarmed.

After a while, another Khaosod report was saying that a “soldier [had] stepped forward to admit that he killed a motorist at a northern checkpoint last week…”.

The soldier was not named and remained with military, said to be “in custody.”

This admission came after “the community rallied to pressure police to come clean about what happened following the arrest of a civilian [Wutthichai] for killing the motorist.” Wutthichai was later bailed but still faces legal action.

As police “investigated,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said “the military will convene a disciplinary investigation into the shooting.”

The Bangkok Post then reported that an “army private has turned himself in to police…”:

Pvt Wanchai Champa was accompanied by his boss, Col Worathep Bunya, who commands the 17th Infantry Regiment in Phayao, to report to Provincial Police Region 5 in Chiang Mai before he was handed over to Mae Suai police for interrogation.

Wutthichai’s family have requested that “the national police to take over the case from local officers.”

Then Army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart blathered that “the fatal shooting could have stemmed from a misunderstanding by the soldier.” And he played the drug claim, also made in the earlier checkpoint killings:

He admitted he was surprised to learn that soldiers were helping local authorities man a village checkpoint. Their presence could be because of reports of drug trafficking in the area….

Whatever happened, it is clear that the military is out of control. When the military runs the country, they get even further out of control.

The Yingluck extradition charade

13 01 2018

Before we forget, a couple of questions for the military dictators: how’s that extradition of Thaksin Shinawatra coming along? And what about Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya coming along? Readers will recall that Vorayuth is on the lam following a brutal hit-and-run case in which a police officer was killed. Since then he’s been able to postpone court appearances, hide in plain sight and skip the country. All of that requires that officials and political bosses are complicit. His last “escape” was on 25 April 2017 and since then the authorities have been pretty much silent.

We ask about these two cases as mere examples to suggest that the sudden flap over Yingluck Shinawatra’s recent appearance in London after months of invisibility and all the high profile statements by the junta about extraditing her are simply a charade.

Officials who state that “Thailand cannot seek the extradition of fugitive former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra despite confirmation that at least one of two photos taken of her in London recently appear to be authentic…” are correct.

There are all kinds of reasons for this: there’s insufficient evidence of a criminal act by Yingluck that would also be a crime in Britain and plenty of evidence that her trial was a political act by the military regime; if she’s applied for asylum in the UK, then that case must be concluded before the Thai regime can seek extradition; there’s no Interpol arrest warrant; the Office of the Attorney-General has not requested she be extradited; and the regime doesn’t actually know exactly where she is. Then there’s the question of whether any real democracy would send Yingluck back to the military’s Thailand.

But this is a charade. Our instinct tells us the last thing The Dictator wants as he maneuvers for his ongoing premiership is a jailed Yingluck.

Even General Prayuth Chan-ocha has basically said forget about it: “He pointed to the case of Thaksin … ‘Has anyone sent him back? Please don’t make this an issue’…”.

But this approach seems politically unacceptable and the need for the charade was emphasized by none other than that model of probity – trips to Hawaii, Corruption Park, a score of luxury watches notwithstanding – General Prawit Wongsuwan. He has decried the lack of action on Yingluck’s extradition. We guess some yellow shirts still matter politically.

The Bangkok Post reports that the dumpy Deputy Dictator, weighed down by luxury watches, has declared that “[o]fficials risk facing malfeasance charges if they make no attempt to hunt down former prime minister Yingluck…”.

The political charade will continue.