Secret Siam

19 01 2021

Secret Siam is a new paid subscription blog by Andrew MacGregor Marshall. PPT readers may be interested. Here’s his blurb on the new venture:

Why should I subscribe?
Thailand has been convulsed by an unprecedented uprising against the monarchy and military by a new generation demanding democracy, equal rights and freedom of speech. It’s a 21st century struggle being fought on social media as well as the streets of Bangkok, and it reverberates far beyond the country’s borders. The kingdom has become a key battleground on the front lines of global resistance against authoritarianism.

The escalating rebellion is a new chapter of an old conflict. In 1932, a bloodless revolution ended centuries of absolute monarchy in Siam. It was heralded as the dawn of democracy in the kingdom, but royalists never accepted defeat and have been fighting ever since to restore the primacy of the palace. It’s a struggle that has defined the destiny of modern Thailand, plunging the kingdom into a cycle of coups and confrontations it has never managed to escape. It’s still being fought today.

Most analysis of Thailand barely mentions this at all, because telling the truth about Thai politics and history is illegal. The country has the most draconian lèse majesté law in the world. Expressing anything less than unquestioning adulation for the monarchy can get you jailed for years. Most journalists and academics understandably prefer to steer clear of the subject as much as possible.

This means much of what is written about Thailand is misleading or inadequate, because to explain what’s going on you need to address the role of the monarchy in the kingdom’s turbulent history and politics. So that is what I will do in this newsletter. I hope to make Secret Siam the best resource for anyone who wants to get the full uncensored story of what is happening in Thailand. I will not be ignoring the elephant in the room. This newsletter is about the elephant in the room — the monarchy and its role in the long conflict that has destabilised the country for decades.

I’ll be covering all sides of the conflict — not just the antics of the palace, the military and politicians, but also the plans and strategies of the protesters. And although I will focus mostly on current events I will also be regularly writing about past chapters in Thai history, to show how old events are still influencing the political drama today.

The newsletter will be useful for analysts, journalists, investors, academics and diplomats, but above all it is aimed at everybody who cares about Thailand and wants to stay updated with the most comprehensive and accurate information available.

What’s included in the subscription?
Although I will be sharing content free from time to time, to receive most issues of the newsletter you will have to pay for a subscription. It’s $5 a month, or $50 per year. The reason I am charging is because a lot of work goes into my journalism on Thailand, and this is the only way I can make it financially sustainable.

Subscribers will receive at least two newsletters in your e-mail inbox each week. Every Monday, I will share a comprehensive roundup and analysis of the events of the previous week, with links to recommended articles published elsewhere as well as my own commentary. Every Friday I will publish a detailed original article focusing on interesting aspects of Thai politics, history or culture.

When there are major breaking developments, I’ll aim to publish updates and analysis in real time as events unfold.

Subscribers can also access the entire archive of past articles at the Secret Siam website, and you can post comments in the discussion area.

So if you think Secret Siam sounds interesting, please consider subscribing!





Rung Sila convicted on lese majeste

19 01 2021

Rung Sila is the penname of a poet and cyber activist whose  name is Sirapop Kornaroot. He was arrested on 24 June 2014 while on his way to a neighboring country to wait for his application as a “Person of Concern” status to be processed by the UNHCR.

On 18 January 2021, he was convicted of lese majeste and computer crimes and sentenced to 4.5 years in jail. He had already spent almost five years in custody before being granted bail in June 2019. His time served counted, meaning he did not return to prison.

While detained, his case went to a secret military court which engaged in all manner of illegal activities to make Rung Sila’s case proceed slowly and without due process. It was only in 2019 that his case went to a civilian court.

In late September 2016, the military court objected to Rung Sila’s draft final statement for the court. In it, he stated:

If judicial authorities do not serve the principles of the law under a democratic society and the people, but accept the authorities of the coup-makers, who came to power by illegal means, then the judicial system and the rule of law will be destroyed.

The court demanded that the statement be rewritten, deeming it “disrespectful.” He refused and his lawyer resubmitted the statement.

Meanwhile, in another case against him, a military court delivered two years suspended sentence on a charge of opposing the military dictatorship. It reduced this by a third for useful testimony. Thus he was given an 8-month suspended sentence and a 18,000 baht fine.

Rung Sila says that he will appeal the verdict, saying that he would prove that the lese majeste law had been exploited as a political tool against those who are oppose military coups.





Royal wealth extraction

19 01 2021

Readers may recall the demonstration at the Siam Commercial Bank, where the king is the largest shareholder, when activists “demanded public oversight of … Vajiralongkorn’s vast wealth…”. In our view, the king’s control of huge wealth is as significant as his political meddling. And, perhaps more important than his personal wealth, and how he and his forebears got it, is the huge piles of taxpayer’s money that “supports” the monarchy.

Helpfully, and in the current circumstances, bravely, Prachatai has posted on these topics.

On the money sucked from the taxpayer, the Prachatai report states:

In summary, in 2021, various agencies allocated budget related to the monarchy, all of which total approximately 37.228 billion baht or 1.12% of all the national budget (3.3 trillion baht), divided into 20.653 billion baht in direct expenses and 16.575 billion baht in indirect expenses.

That’s a lot of money – more than $1 billion! Helpfully, there’s considerable detail, all extracted from the Budget Bureau’s reports. The report states that “many of the projects among the indirect expenses are for the public benefit.” We are not convinced. After all, money sucked out of the public purse to glorify the monarch is money lost to other possibly good purposes.

The Royal Offices alone get more than 8.98 billion baht in 2021, up almost 17% over 2020. Meanwhile, the Thai economy languishes and millions are struggling to make ends meet. By 2024, this budget is forecast to increase to almost 10.7 billion baht by 2024, up almost 40% over 2020.

We at PPT also wonder if the figures mined by Prachatai are complete. For example, does it include the budget for the hugely expensive royal projects? Our feeling is that the monarchy east far more taxpayer wealth than we are seeing here.

Further information on how the monarchy accumulated its wealth is covered in a second Prachatai report. This is mainly focused on historical wealth. We guess it is too difficult and potentially dangerous to add up Vajiralongkorn’s many property grabs.





Harder repression

18 01 2021

While the big protests are on hold, guerrilla-style actions have continued. Over the past few days, it has become clear that the regime is taking advantage of virus restrictions to take a hard line against protesters.

The reporting on this include stories on an action at the Victory Monument “organised for protesters to write their opinions on a long fabric banner about Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s failures in handling crisis situations, as well as urging the abolition of lese majeste law, also known as Article 112, as symbolised by the 112-metre long banner.” The police surrounded protesters and quite violently arrested two leaders “of the pro-democracy group Guard Plod Aek … on Saturday afternoon…”.

Those arrested were “taken to Phya Thai Police Station and charged with violating the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations and the Communicable Disease Act, before being sent to Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Pathum Thani province.” Other participants were aggressively dispersed by the police.

Demonstrators also gathered near the Samyan Mitrtown complex on Saturday evening. There were reportedly “about 10 anti-establishment protesters were rallying on the ground floor of Sam Yan Mitrtown, opposite Chamchuri Square, to demand the release of their colleagues, being held at the Region 1 Border Patrol Police Bureau … for various offences related to [the earlier] protests…”. They were targeted by unknown assailants who lobbed an ping-pong bomb that injured two – a citizen and a reporter – or four people – “anti-riot police officers and a reporter were slightly injured” – depending on the report read. A later report seemed more definitive stating that those injured were “two policemen, a reporter for The Standard online news site, and another civilian…”.

Prachatai reports a third “flash mob” at the Ministry of Education, and states that at least eight people were arrested at the two sites, for demonstrating, not bombing. It also reports on the aggressive policing, stating that the small demonstration at Samyan was met by “several hundred crowd control police arrived at the scene and took control of Sam Yan intersection. The police also brought in many detention trucks.”

Police later stated that the explosive “device was similar to the type used on November 25th in front of The Avenue Ratchayothin, following a rally by the Ratsadon protesters…”. They reportedly found “nails, wire and black electrical tape at the scene of the explosion.” Prachatai claims that the police have “detained 4 suspects, 2 men and 2 women…”.  iLaw reported “that their phones were seized and they were not informed where they would be taken.” It is unclear who these people are.

Prachatai refers to a change in police tactics:

The overwhelming police reaction involving the deployment of large numbers of officers, aggressive engagement, and the speedy arrest and despatch of suspects to Pathum Thani for interrogation is a shift in their modus operandi against pro-democracy activities.

This response was seen at the shrimp-selling activity staged by the WeVo group on 31 December, 2020, where around 500 police aggressively dispersed and arrested people who were trying to help struggling shrimp farmers sell shrimps.

No law currently allows the police to transfer arrestees for interrogation to the facility of their choosing. The severe state of emergency, which did enable them to do so, was withdrawn in October 2020. The Criminal Procedure Code authorizes police to detain and interrogate people only at the police station responsible for the area where the alleged offence occurred.

The regime is lawless and operates with total impunity.





Dead dog lese majeste

17 01 2021

A few days ago, The Nation reported that, after more than five years, including seven days of interrogation and physical assault at an Army camp and three months held in prison, a court had finally dismissed the most ludicrous of lese-majeste charges that royalist Thailand has ever mounted. Along with equally mad sedition and computer crime charges associated with the Army’s corrupt Rajabhakti Park royal project, the Article 112 charges against Thanakorn Siripaiboon were all dismissed.

The lese majeste and computer crimes charges resulted from Thanakorn clicking “like” on a Facebook page featuring a satirical picture of King Bhumibol and for a Facebook post about that king’s mutt, Thong Daeng. It is reported that the “court dismissed that charge … ruling that the evidence was not proof that he intended to defame the monarchy.”

The court dismissed the other charges, “upholding Thanakorn’s legal right to air his suspicions of corruption. It also ruled he had not violated the Computer Crime Act because it could not be proved the information he shared was false.” According to a more detailed Prachatai report, the court ruled that “the Court said that a call for transparency in the project was not an act of sedition.

While good news, the court’s “reasoning” on the lese majeste case indicates that the judiciary remains royalist mad:

With regard to liking the problematic Facebook page, an act which put him under lèse-majesté and computer crime charges, the Court said that there was no “following button” on Facebook at the time, so a user had to click “like” to follow a Facebook page.

Clicking “like” to follow the news on a Facebook page in September 2015 was not the same as clicking “like” on an allegedly lèse majesté picture which was posted in December, so the Court acquitted him of the lèse majesté charge.

And since the defendant only followed the page, and did not share it, he did not spread any false information from the page. Facebook may have promoted any public post or pages randomly on anyone’s newsfeed, but it was not Thanakorn’s doing. So the Court also acquitted him of the computer crime charge.

Thanakorn has since ordained as a monk.





NUS Press doing the regime’s work

17 01 2021

Asia Sentinel has a story about NUS Press being ordered – that’s the implication – to bin a book after taking through a production process to printing. Of course, the book is about the Thai monarchy, the dead king, and King Vajiralongkorn, and it is edited by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. This censorship would be remarkable for a proper university press, but that is not what NUS Press is. It is a press run by a state-dominated university in an authoritarian state. Academic freedom is not something that the university or the press uphold.

Because Asia Sentinel is often blocked in Thailand, here’s the full story, with just a couple of edits, by John Berthelsen:

Singapore’s NUS Press Accused of Ditching Thai Anthology Under Pressure
Compendium of scholars discussing end of previous Thai king’s reign sent to Yale instead

More than 100 international academic figures have signed an open letter accusing Singapore’s National University Press of bending to political pressure and dropping the publication of a compendium of scholars analyzing the prospects for the end of the era of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016 after 70 years on the throne.

Titled “Coup, King, Crisis,” the book was edited by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai dissident now in exile at Kyoto University in Japan and features writers including Paul Handley, the author or the acclaimed book “The King Never Smiles,” as well as Australian academic Kevin Hewison…. Other authors included Federico Ferrara, Claudio Sopranzetti, Charnvit Kasetsiri, Edoardo Siani, Paul Chambers, Sarah Bishop, Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang, Krislert Samphantharak, Tyrell Haberkorn, David Streckfuss and Somchai Phatharathananunth.

The manuscript was later accepted and published by Yale University under Yale’s Southeast Asia Studies Monograph series. Singapore public universities and political research institutions, according to Freedom House, a Washington, DC-based rights NGO, “have direct government links that enable political influence and interference in hiring and firing. Recent faculty turnover at two major universities has increased concerns about political pressure. Self-censorship on Singapore-related topics is common among academics, who can face legal and career consequences for critical speech.’

Pavin, who composed the open letter, said Peter Schoppert, director of the NUS Press, and Tan Eng Chye, the NUS President of the decision to cancel the publishing contract in March 2020, but failed to give any explanation regarding the withdrawal, saying the decision “was taken after consultation with stakeholders within and outside the university community.”

“It seems reasonable to assume that the NUS Press’s decision was due to political pressure,” Pavin wrote. “The unexplained and last-minute decision violates the fundamental principles of academic freedom. The reference to outside stakeholders indicates that individuals and/or interest groups outside of academia have the final say in the publication process. This makes a mockery of the independent peer-review process, calling into question the academic integrity of the press itself.”

Some of the authors, including Pavin himself, have had a stormy relationship with the Thai government. He recently complained that he was being followed by unknown figures in Japan. In fact, Thailand has reached well outside the country’s own borders to harass exiled dissidents, according to Human Rights Watch, which in its 2020 World Report said that “In recent years, dissidents who fled persecution in Thailand have faced enforced disappearance in neighboring countries. At least two Thai exiles in Laos, Wuthipong Kachathamakul and Itthipol Sukpaen, were forcibly disappeared in 2016 and 2017 respectively. In 2018, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chatchan Boonphawal, and Kraidet Lueler were abducted and murdered in Laos. In May, authorities in Vietnam repatriated Chucheep Chivasut, Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Thapthai to Thailand and the three men have since disappeared.

The manuscript was proposed to the NUS Press in October 2018 and went through what the protesting scholars called a “proper and vigorous peer review process, and all contributors revised their essay accordingly, and in a timely manner.”

On August 29, 2019, Pavin wrote, he signed a contract with the NUS Press on behalf of the contributors, completing the necessary steps to ensure meeting the publication deadline of Spring 2020. As the manuscript was about to go to press, Schoppert wrote to him saying: “It is with great regret that I have to inform you that NUS Press will not be proceeding with our publication of and distribution plans for ‘Coup, King, Crisis’ and would release a statement saying it was “not the sort of decision a university press takes lightly, but it was taken after consultation with stakeholders within and outside the university community. We have informed the book editor, Assoc Prof Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and the contributors to the book, and released them from their obligations under our contract. We apologize for the late notice, and the inconvenience caused.”

Spurned by NUS, Pavin spent the intervening months trying to find a new home for the book. Although Schoppert wrote that although NUS wouldn’t print the book and that it was open to discussing “measures that can be taken to mitigate the impact” of the cancellation, Pavin didn’t bother to negotiate.

The decision on the part of the NUS Press to drop the project revealed the university’s “knowing sacrifice of legitimacy for expediency,” according to the open letter. “Its action exposes others not so well positioned to increased pressure from those who would undermine the foundations of an open society.”

Pavin publicly called for an international moratorium by scholars on all further manuscript reviewing for and submission to the NUS Press, which “has damaged and made a sham of the academic review and publication process “and asked colleagues to not send any new manuscripts to NUS Press.

The affront to critical, independent scholarship represented by NUS Press’s action on this manuscript “suggests that NUS is underserving of its current level of global ranking,” according to the letter, and “has caused reputational damage not just to the press itself but also to NUS.”

The letter and its signatories is available here, and is a PDF.

We may as well assume that the book, now published by Yale’s Southeast Asia Program, and available at Amazon, will be banned in Thailand.





HRW on Thailand’s human rights decline

16 01 2021

When you are near the bottom, going deeper requires particular skills in dark arts.

Human Rights Watch has recently released its World Report 2021. The summary on Thailand makes for depressing reading, even after more than six years of military junta and now a barely distinguishable post-junta regime.

The full report on Thailand begins:

Thailand faced a serious human rights crisis in 2020. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s government imposed restrictions on civil and political rights, particularly freedom of expression, arbitrarily arrested democracy activists, engineered the dissolution of a major opposition political party on politically motivated grounds, and enforced a nationwide state of emergency, using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext.

And the rest of the report is pretty much a litany of repression. There’s discussion of the State of Emergency, restrictions on freedom of expression, torture, enforced disappearance, impunity on state-sponsored rights violations, the persecution of human rights defenders, a continuation of human rights violations in the south, mistreatment of migrants and refugees, and more. Surprisingly, there’s only a paragraph on lese majeste, which is now the regime’s main weapon in silencing dissent.

Readers of PPT will know all of the sordid details of the regime’s efforts to stifle criticism, but read the report to be reminded of how dark things have remained despite the rigged election and the existence of a parliament. The latter has, in 2020, been pretty much supine as the regime has used its ill-gotten majority and its unelected Senate to stifle the parliaments scrutiny of the regime.





112 threatens Thailand

16 01 2021

The Nation has a report on a recent statement by Piyabutr Saengkanokkul as secretary-general of the Progressive Movement.

Referring to the youth who have been demonstrating for reform and lamenting the rise of lese majeste repression, he states: “We cannot leave the ‘future of our nation’ to be charged with violating Article 112…. They are sacrificing their freedom and lives to fight for democracy.”

He argues that Article 112 of the Criminal Code is “problematic in all aspects, including the severity of punishment, and its interpretation and enforcement by authorities.”

He went on to urge “members of Parliament, as representatives of the people, to use this opportunity to cancel the criminal offence of defamation, whether it covered royalty, foreign leaders, ambassadors, shrines, or ordinary people.” He believes that “[d]efamation should be made a civil offence rather than a criminal offence…”, which would be inline with international practice, adding “that no one should be jailed for exercising their freedom of expression…”.

Piyabutr added that the “Move Forward Party he co-founded in 2019 had decided to leave the lese majeste law off its agenda, but this had left a scar on his conscience…. However, the situation had now changed and it was time to support the popular push to revoke Article 112…”.

He’s right.





Updated: The 112 tally

15 01 2021

It is now almost three months since Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “declared that “all laws and all articles” will be enforced against protesters who break the law.” And we can amuse that recent lese majeste charges and arrests reflect his recent demand that various “agencies to speed up their investigations into lese majeste cases regarding unlawful online content and to take legal action against the suspects.”

We might also assume that this changed of direction on lese majeste – from not using it to an avalanche of cases – must reflect an order from the king. After all, Gen Prayuth stated that the king told him not to use it, and it would be unimaginable that Prayuth would change this policy without a direction from the palace.

Using Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) data, Thai PBS tallies some of the results of the regime’s extensive Article 112 campaign:

At least 234 people were charged in 145 criminal cases stemming from the rallies between July and December 2020, TLHR said.

Among them are six juveniles who were charged with sedition and lese majeste….

Between November 24 and December 31 last year, the group handled 24 cases involving 38 individuals charged with lèse majesté. The accused included one minor and several university students….

Prominent anti-establishment figures facing charges include Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who has 26 cases, Arnon Nampa (20 cases), Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul (10 cases), and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok (16 cases)….

Less than two weeks into the new year, some 20 protesters have already met police to acknowledge charges of Royal defamation [Article 112].

Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon faces “nine charges, including lèse majesté, and is waiting to see whether public prosecutors decide to indict her.” Arnon said “he did not remember how many lawsuits have been triggered by his role in youth-led protests.”

Meanwhile, with protests on virus hold, “leaders have been keeping the campaign alive by posting regular social-media messages slamming the government.” In addition, there’s a “guerrilla campaign”across the country with banners and graffiti appearing regularly. Banners calling for “the repeal of draconian lèse majesté law have also been spotted around the city, including at Hua Lamphong Railway Station, Thammasat University, a shopping mall and pedestrian bridges.” Other efforts have targeted king and regime.

The regime is now seeking to use lese majeste against the “guerrillas.”

Update: The recent anti-monarchy campaigns online have seen royalists, regime and military using online resources. They are supporting lese majeste.





Sirichai’s two lese majeste charges

15 01 2021

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The Bangkok Post has a detailed account of Sirichai “New” Natueng’s arrest and the now two lese majeste charges against him.

PPT posted yesterday on the then breaking news and the first case against him. In that case, he faces both a lese majeste charge and another of vandalizing property under Article 358 of the Criminal Code. In this case he “allegedly spray-painted text about taxes and the abolition of Section 112, ironically one of the offences he was accused of committing, over an image of royals and the nameplate of the university’s Rangsit campus in six spots in the area in total. The incident took place on Jan 10.”

The report also provides more details on the police action against him. It states that he was first taken into custody by Khlong Luang police at 9pm on 13 January. Sirichai said “he had asked to exercise his right to a lawyer but police denied his request.” Thailand’s police seem unconstrained by law or constitution.

Two hours later he was able to talk to his lawyer but that call “was cut short by police who seized his phone.” He was then transported to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 base, “but after 10 minutes police took him back to his dormitory for a search.” Sirichai states that no warrant was presented until after the search.

The Post reports that Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) posted seven observations. We reproduce some of this:

First, the court approved his arrest warrant for the lese majeste charge even though the persons in question are not protected by the law….

Second, the court approved a nighttime search warrant, specifically from 9pm onward. The Criminal Procedures Code allows a search to be done only from sunrise to sunset with a few exceptions — when it is a continuation of a search that has begun during the daytime, when it is a severe emergency, or when arresting a serious crime suspect, which requires special permission first.

Third, police only allowed him to talk to lawyers only briefly and he could not be later contacted.

Fourth, the police refused to reveal where they detained him. Instead, they lied to his friends who showed up in his support and moved him to various places. They explained later the disclosure of the place might obstruct the search…. It is illegal detention and a short-term forced disappearance — a critical violation of rights….

Fifth, police [sh]ould not take him to Border Patrol Police headquarters. By law, a suspect must be detained at the office of interrogators.

Sixth, police began the search without showing a warrant. They showed them only after the search was done. They did not make records at the place of search. Instead, they made them hours after the evidence was brought back to the police station, making it impossible to verify whether the items were really from the suspect’s room.

Seventh, it marked the first lese majeste case that a court approved an arrest warrant for since Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha issued a statement on Nov 19 he would enforce all laws to deal with demonstrators. Up until now, the court denied police requests for arrest warrants. Other suspects were simply summonsed to acknowledge charges and then freed.

Later at 12pm on Thursday, Pratunam Chulalongkorn police of Pathum Thani Province “arrived at the Thanyaburi Court and informed Mr Sirichai of another lese majeste charge for the same incident, which also covered their jurisdiction…. They did not seek to detain him and it now depends on prosecutors whether to charge him in court.”