King’s death rumor cases, hunting more scapegoats and political repression

2 11 2009

Also available as อัพเดทเพิ่มเติม: คดีเกี่ยวกับข่าวลือการสิ้นพระชนม์ ไล่ล่าหาแพะและการบีบคั้นทางการเมือง

A Google search now produces more than 125 stories on these cases internationally. Most are derivative of the earlier stories mentioned in PPT’s first post. For PPT readers, the following are the more detailed and, in our view, more interesting of these reports:

Wall Street Journal (1 November 2009: “Thai Police Arrest Two Accused of Violating Internet Laws”) – makes the point that the accused “face  up to five years in prison and a $3,000 fine each if convicted.” The story also quotes the still acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn as previously saying that “the computer crimes law is designed to protect people from fraud and defamation as online commerce in the country develops”, but points out that the law is “also used at times to address what he describes as ‘national security’ concerns.”The WSJ also mentions Suwicha Thakor as a victim of this law, and might have mentioned the more recent case of Nat Sattayapornpisut.

In this case, PPT asks what the national security concern is or was. Is it talking of the king’s death? Is it causing the stock exchange to decline? No serious case could be made that either counts as a national security issue. The Abhisit Vejjajiva government should be condemned for its use of “national security” to prevent freedom of expression and to shore up its own rule.

The Times Online (2 November 2009: “Two charged over Thai king health rumours”) reports that Thiranan Vipuchanun has been released on 100,000 baht bail and makes the link between the sites the two accused posted to – Fa Diaw Kan and Prachatai – and recent politics as well as the succession issue.

The Times continues to state that the king “rarely makes direct interventions into politics.” PPT assumes that the author means highly public interventions, for the evidence is that the palace routinely intervenes in political issues from the judiciary, to appointments, legislation, to lese majeste and coups.

For unexplained reasons, there are no details PPT has been able to find regarding Khatha Pachachirayapong (but see below).

The BBC (2 November 2009: “Bid to ease Thai share volatility”) has a short story reporting that Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij is talking more to the “stock exchange to look at ways of managing volatility in the markets.” Is the pre-empting the fall that can now be predicted for when the king does pass away?

Update 1: The Bangkok Post (2 November 2009: “Police to arrest more suspects over fall in SET prices”) reports that both suspects have been bailed. It also reports that more scapegoats are being hunted. The Post report states that the reason for the arrests of the first two suspects was that it is “alleged the two accused spread false information about the health, possibly with the intention of manipulating the share market for profit.” If they did that, they seem to have been a bit slow.

More significantly, the police said that the “Information and Communication Technology Ministry will decide whether to close down the websites which carried the rumours.” So web sites and web boards are threatened, demonstrating the political intent of the government. PM Abhisit is reportedly on board for these and further witch hunts.

Meanwhile, The Nation (2 November 2009: “KT Zmico Securities distance itself from suspect”) reports that Khatha’s employer is trying to distance the company from the allegations.

Update 2: Confirming PPT’s suspicions noted above, and providing an excellent example of how this case is nothing more than a political witch hunt, view the Bangkok Post’s article (2 November 2009: “Two arrested over fall in SET prices”) where there is this statement (with no attempt to do anything other than make an accusation) that would be better suited to rags like The Nation or Manager/ASTV: “Both websites are known to present articles seen to be offensive to the monarchy.” The websites are Fa Diaw Kan and Prachatai.

This report also has a little more information on Khatha Pachachirayapong. Katha is said to have been “detained for questioning at the Hi-Tech Crime Division. He also has been charged with violating the computer act.  Police searched Mr Katha’s house and found evidence suggesting he had posted [the alleged] information at the website.”

PPT believes that the Abhisit government may well use this case to try to limit and even stop the work of these last bastions of more or less free expression in the mainstream. If successful, the odd thing about this clampdown is that it will leave a highly controlled media that is supportive of this government facing the still non-mainstream red shirt media.

Update 3: The Bangkok Post has a useful assessment of the charges in its editorial (3 November 2009: “Criminals or scapegoats?”). The statement: “The arrests are troubling on a number of grounds” says it all. The post states: “A vital and urgent question is whether Ms Thiranant and Mr Katha are scapegoats. On the evidence released by police, the two neither started nor profited from the rumour.” But then the Post editorial backtracks to more conservative attitudes: “If authorities expect to rebuild the confidence shattered by the October rumour-mongering, they will have to come up with the party or parties who started the ill-intentioned and criminal reports – not just simple messengers who passed them along.” The editor still wants a witch hunt. Why?

The Post also reports (3 November 2009: “Police plan to arrest one more suspect over rumours”) that the police are planning further arrests.



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3 11 2009

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