Mad monarchists under pressure

24 05 2017

The frenzy of efforts to “manage” the internet and cleanse it of allegedly anti-monarchy information has become so manic that Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nongharnpitak, the chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, has threatened every user of social media in the country.

Some estimates place the number of Thais now under lese majeste threat and repression at over 50 million. That probably includes people with multiple accounts, but you get the picture and users, the mad monarchists hope, get the message.

A Bangkok Post editorial states that the madness of the authorities “have gone unacceptably overboard in their censorship.” It adds that “[t]he always questionable campaign to clean the internet of nasty material now is out of control.”

We think that point was passed many years ago, but the madness is clearly now having an impact on middle class opinion. Even the Post still considers the lese majeste crackdown a “righteous” effort. That is indeed sad because it fails to adequately acknowledge this core element of military authoritarianism. It also fails to acknowledge the dangerous nature of the new reign for Thailand.

As the editorial notes, the CIB is just one of a plethora of agencies hunting lese majeste in the king’s laundry:

lese majeste “detectives” who already include the army, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the National Intelligence Agency, the CIB’s parent Royal Thai Police Bureau, the CIB’s “brother” technology police, the Thai Internet Service Provider Association (Tispa) and others.

The resources used (and wasted) in this lese majeste laundry are immense. But the question of why the military monarchists have gotten so mad is not addressed.

Another Bangkok Post report is of another mad performance by Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. He has declared that:

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an industry association made up of eight internet giants, has agreed in principle to work with local authorities to tackle webpages and content that violate the law.

Takorn, who seems to relish media performance rather than substance, declared again that “it was crucial that all illicit webpages be removed according to court orders issued in Thailand.” He said that the junta has “asked the AIC if we could work together and achieve long-term cooperation on this matter…”. He claimed “the AIC agreed to be another source in helping alert the NBTC to illicit content and send it details of websites that break the law.”

What does this mean?

The AIC is “an industry association made up of Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo. The AIC seeks to promote the understanding and resolution of Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region.” It is a policy network made up of “government relations” employees of the firms involved.

Censorship does not seem to be one of the policy aims of the AIC. Indeed, and interestingly, its most recent “activity,” from December 2016, was to criticize the junta’s efforts.

In other words, Takorn is posing. Is it that the CIB is also grandstanding? Why would this be? We can only guess that the mounting madness has a lot to do with pressure being put on the junta to behave more maniacally than might be considered usual for authoritarian royalists. That pressure could only be from the palace.

If we are wrong, then we can only assume that the regime has completely lost its collective mind.





Updated: Bangkok bomb

23 05 2017

Like everyone else, PPT has read news of the bombing in Bangkok, wondering about cause and motivations. We have nothing to add to the rather scanty reports. Yet, we note two things about the reporting.

First, the police and military have not sprung to an immediate conclusion. Usually, the authorities are prone to quickly declare the likely perpetrators.

This is not the case with this bombing.

Second, as reported at The Nation, the junta’s cabinet did not discuss the bombing at all when it met on Tuesday. Given that this bomb had some 25 casualties, it is a significant event. It is reported that “Army chief and NCPO [junta] secretary Gen Chalermchai Sittisart said Prime Minister and NCPO head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha merely ordered tighter security in public areas. There was no further discussion of the incident, Chalermchai said.”

Why would that be?

Update: The Bangkok hospital bomb is not serious enough to be discussed by the junta’s cabinet, but it seems that it will be used as yet another excuse to delay elections.





Junta, dictatorship, coup

23 05 2017

Since the 2014 military coup, we at PPT have regularly used the appropriate terms for designating Thailand’s current government: military junta and military dictatorship.

It seems that the junta and its dictators are uncomfortable with such terminology.

Khaosod reports that the words “dictatorship, coups and military juntas … are banned…”.

The “organizers of a two-day discussion marking the three-year anniversary of the May 22, 2014, military coup” have been told they may not speak these words.

Pro-democracy activist Chonticha Jangrew “said she was given the choice Sunday by a senior-ranking military officer speaking on behalf of the junta: Don’t speak those words or risk having the event canceled.”

This is apparently a real story not some late April Fools’ Day joke. The joke and the fools are the junta.

The organizers felt they had to agree with the order and implied threat. Showing the ridiculousness of the order, “on Sunday, the first day of the symposium, speakers resorted to raising placards printed with the words instead.”

The day after, “Chaiyan Ratchakoon, a sociologist at Phayao University in the north, circumvented the ban Monday afternoon at Thammasat University by using alternative words.”

Instead of “coup” became “illegal regime change.” Chaiyan asked: “Do we really want coercion by the use of guns? How will this differ from those who rob banks?”

Chulalongkorn University historian Suthachai Yimprasert ignored the ban. He said:

…Thailand is the only country on earth today ruled by a military dictatorship. He said the junta leaders grew up during the Cold War and still cling to that mentality. He said no one believes the promises of junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who keeps postponing promised elections.

He added that “trying to ban the use of some words” was “mafia-like.”

Another speaker, Piyarat Chongthep argued that “the rule of law has been replaced by whatever the junta dictates…. We’re in a realm that we don’t quite know what’s permissible and what’s not,” adding, “[t]his is a situation where the ceiling is getting lower.”

Kornkot Saengyenpan, who also spoke, observed:

Dictators try to make us accustomed to whatever they impose, but only with limited success. We must do whatever it takes to not get used to Prayuth’s lies…. They have to go, not next year but now! We have waited for three years, and they can’t make us get accustomed to [military rule].

About 45 people attended on Monday, with another 15 being “plainclothes soldiers and police recording and observing.”

Destroying the rule of law, illegally seizing power, corruption, using torture, murdering and imprisoning the young and mopping up for a vile king are the hallmarks of Thailand’s military dictatorship.





Burning down the house II

22 05 2017

The Reuters report mentioned briefly in a recent post has now been updated with more detail at Prachatai and at Khaosod. There are significant differences between the latter two reports on the alleged burning of a roadside portrait of the dead king.

The Reuters report referred to five detainees. Prachatai’s report states that three men – Chirayut, Rattathammanoon, Akkarapong (witholding surnames due to privacy concerns) – and a 14 year-old boy, all from Khon Kaen, were arrested on 19 May. It adds that two other suspects, Setha and Preecha, were “still at large.” Khaosod states:

Seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, are in military custody on suspicion of setting fire to a roadside portrait….

… an internal memo circulated by the Ministry of Interior Affairs identified four of them as Chirayu Sinpho, 19; Ratrthathammanoon Srihabutr, 20; Akkharapong Aryukong, 19; and a 14-year minor.

Prachatai states that those arrested, including the boy, are being investigated on lese majeste. Khaosd states that no charges have been laid so far.

Justifiably, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have issued a statement on the arrests:

The TLHR pointed out that the arrest of the four through the use of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Head’s Order No. 3/2015 is arbitrary and is against Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand is a state party of.

Under the order, peace keeping officers have authorities to detain incommunicado suspects of crimes against national security without specific charge and warrant for seven days.

The detention of the 14 years old suspect and ensuing detention at the military base is also against Article 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to police, the arrests are for allegedly burning an arch erected in Chonnabot District of Khon Kaen on 15 May. The detainees are held at the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok. The impression from the reports is that the “investigation” is by the military.

According to one report, four of those arrested have allegedly “confessed.” They allegedly state that “Preecha paid them 200 Baht each to burn the arch.”





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.