Investigating until the buffalo come home

18 07 2021

One of the ways to obscure real investigation is to establish a large number of “investigation” teams and committees so that nothing much happens, even if it seems that it is.

In that context, we wonder about a Bangkok Post report that yet another senior cop has been appointed to the case involving the “hit-and-run case involving Vorayuth Yoovidhya, scion of the Red Bull empire.”

It states that “Pol Gen Visanu Prasattongosoth, a police inspector-general, has been appointed to head a fact-finding probe into the alleged mishandling of the … case…”. His appointment was required because “one of the police officers to be questioned is a police general serving as a deputy police chief.”

That refers to deputy national police chief Pol Gen Manu Mekmok and concerns “his role as commissioner of the police’s Office of Forensic Science.” That’s where there’s been much alleged tampering with evidence and science.

Others set to be investigated are “Pol Lt Gen Tawatchai Mekprasertsuk, in his former capacity as commander of the Central Police Forensic Science Division; Pol Col Wiwat Sitthisoradej, in his former capacity as a narcotics lab officer; and Pol Col Viradol Thapthimdee, in his former capacity as a Thong Lor station investigator.”

Corruption goes to the top when it comes to purchasing “justice.”

The panel Pol Gen Visanu now chairs was “set up in September last year” but nothing much has been heard from it since then. Will there ever be findings from this or the other committees that will deliver real justice. We would hope so. But, after all these years and the influence of the rich and powerful, we are not optimistic.





Masters of repression III

18 07 2021

A couple of days ago, Thai PBS reported on the ongoing efforts to suppress anti-monarchism and political opposition. It reported that public prosecutors “have decided to indict 14 core members of the anti-establishment Ratsadon group, in connection with the mass protest at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok in July last year.” It seems to us that “decided” is the wrong word here, for this is a concerted lawfare campaign to silence critics.

The list of the 14 is:

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok, alias Mike Rayong, Anon Nampa, Juthathip Sirikan, Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, Nattawut Somboonsap, Korakot Saengyenphan, Suwanna Tarnlek, Thanayut Na Ayutthaya, Baramee Chairat, Tossaporn Sinsomboon, Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, Tanee Sasom and Panumas Singprom….

This group is targeted with charges of sedition (Article 116) and Article 215 of the Criminal Code as well as breaching the Emergency Decree “for their leading role in the mass protest, organized under the ‘Free Youth’ umbrella.” Article 215 states:

Whenever ten persons upwards being assembled together do or threaten to do an act of violence, or do any thing to cause a breach of the peace, every such person shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or fined not exceeding one thousand Baht, or both.

Noraseth Nanongtoom, a lawyer of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, provided “35,000 baht in cash for each of them, to be used as bail surety. There are also five Move Forward party MPs and lecturers at Thammasat University who are willing to lend their status to bail them…”. There were 11 who attended, and as we understand it, all were bailed.

Several of the activists face scores of legal cases. The regime’s aim is to tie them and their supporters up in a myriad of legal proceedings while making their freedom conditional on the actions of royalist courts.





Updated: Failing virus fight

17 07 2021

Sadly, it seems reasonably certain that Thailand’s authorities are losing the fight against the virus. It should not be forgotten that for over a year, the country did well, after several errors, gaffes and arrogant missteps, with the regime largely staying out of the way. Since early in 2021, this changed, with more errors and a botched vaccine procurement and rollout.

The big bet the regime made on vaccines was to lay out for the king’s Siam Bioscience, aiming to provide the palace with bucketloads of propaganda. But, the company was inexperienced, small, and lacking personnel and equipment. For the background on the king’s company, see this recent report.

Finally, AstraZeneca, which has been opaque everywhere, has admitted that it is unable to produce the contracted doses. The company has said it “currently has local capacity to produce only 15-16 million doses per month, 5-6 million of which are reserved for Thailand…”. The target most often cited was 10 million doses a month.

This has led AstraZeneca to ask the “Public Health Ministry to extend the timeline for delivery of 61 million doses to Thailand from the end of this year to May 2022.”

It is unclear if Siam Bioscience is producing 15-16 million doses. If it is, it must be sending them to other countries, but we have seen no evidence of that, but maybe we missed it.

Thai PBS reports that “the government will still negotiate for as much monthly supply as possible.” There was also discussion of imposing “limits on exports of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine because the country doesn’t have enough for its own needs.” That statement seems more like a shot in the dark than a shot in the arm.

Meanwhile, Thai Enquirer asks questions about unanswered questions. Following from others, it asks “why Buriram is getting more Covid vaccines than many other provinces that should have gotten it first.”

The report states that “according to the government’s allocation plan in May, Buriram is one of the top ten provinces to receive the locally made AstraZeneca vaccines, ranking at number nine and above Pathum Thani which is the site of several outbreaks.” Pathum Thani has had 10 times as may cases as Buriram.

Thai Enquirer summarizes: “In short, Buriram is getting more vaccines per capita than many of the hardest hit provinces.” And it observes: “everyone in the country knows that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, is largely dependent on the godfather of Buriram and the real leader of Bhumjaithai Party, Newin Chidchob.”

And, of course, the rich and the well-connected are jumping vaccine and hospital lines all over the country.

Update: It goes from bad to worse for the military-backed regime. Leaked letters between AstraZeneca in the UK and the government reveal that the “Ministry of Public Health only requested 3 million doses per month in an agreement with the vaccine manufacturer last September.” In that letter, “AstraZeneca … also urged the Thai government to join the COVAX program to get more vaccines to its citizens, something that the government has not done.”

The letter also reveals that the “letter of intent” was signed with the MOPH, the king’s Siam Bioscience and SCG – Siam Cement Group, where the king is also in control.

While the letter states that one-third of local production will go to Thailand, the letter appears to state that no vaccine had yet been exported from Siam Bioscience (although the letter is somewhat vague), saying the other governments have shown “great patience” in waiting for vaccine.





112 bail denied

16 07 2021

112Quoting Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Prachatai reports an the lese majeste case against Prasong Khotsongkhram.

The 26 year-old has “been denied bail for the third time after being charged with [lese majeste] for three Facebook posts made in May and June 2021.” This despite “using 250,000 baht as security and ask[ing] the court to allow him release while wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet and for a supervisor to be appointed.”

As has been the case in about half of recent Article 112 charges, the complaint came from a royalist vigilante:

Thitiwat Tanagaroon

Royalist Thitiwat. Clipped from Reuters

The complaint against Prasong was filed by Thitiwat Tanagaroon, a royalist protester who was praised by King Vajiralongkorn for raising a portrait of the late King Bhumibol at a pro-democracy protest. TLHR reported that Thitiwat filed the complaint against Prasong after seeing three public posts on Prasong’s Facebook profile, one of which was made on 21 May 2021 and the other two on 7 June 2021, which Thitiwat said were insulting to the King.

This royalist complaint led to Prasong being arrested on 8 July by Bangplat Police Station. The following day, the court approved his continued detention, denying a bail request. A second bail request, lodged on 11 July, was also rejected.

As is all too often the case in royalist courts, the “Taling Chan Criminal Court ruled to deny him bail on the grounds that the charges are serious, that he might try to flee, and that there is no reason to change previous court orders” to deny bail.

Prasong “is currently detained at the Thung Noi Temporary Prison, which is on the same premises as the Military Circle 11 Prison.” Using the virus crisis, the Department of Corrections has ruled that Prasong “will have to be in quarantine for 21 days, during which time his family and lawyer will not be allowed to visit him. After he has completed his quarantine period, he will be transferred to the Thonburi Remand Prison.”

The royalist repression continues.





Updated: Masters of repression II

16 07 2021

Lawfare is a tool authoritarian regimes use for political repression. Thailand’s military-backed/monarchist regime has become particularly adept at this means of silencing criticism. There’s been a blizzard of cases of late, even excluding the obvious and odious lese majeste cases.

Just in the past days or so, there have been several cases that warrant attention.

One case involves the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, reported by Reuters to have “initiated a defamation suit against the prominent chairman of a private hospital operator over his criticism of its procurement of Moderna (MRNA.O) COVID-19 vaccines.” He’s been a critic so he’s targeted. Interestingly, after this criticism, the GPO seemed to suddenly get moving on procurement. All vaccine procurement – and not just in Thailand – remains incredibly opaque.

A second case is reported by The Nation and involves the Royal Thai Army. Army chief General Narongpan Jittkaewtae has bellowed that “eight Facebook users and one Twitter user will be arrested over defamation charges” and can expect jail time, fines or both. His anger is because they shared information suggesting that “Thai soldiers were being flown to the United States for Covid-19 booster shots.”

censorship-1

The army claims that the soldiers were not heading off for the “Strategic Airborne Operation at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.” The army didn’t help its case by initially declaring that the soldiers were involved in Cobra Gold, which has nothing to do with travel to the USA.

A third case is reported in two related stories at Thai Enquirer and Prachatai. The toady National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission has ordered Voice TV “to take its programs off the Video To Home 9 TV (V2H9TV) channel…”. The NBTC claims the channel infringed “regulations when it aired … programs on April 27 which covered the protests Standing Still to Stop Incarceration (ยืนหยุดขัง), the White Ribbons (ผูกโบว์ขาว) and the Let Our Friends Go (ปล่อยเพื่อนเรา)…”. Other live protest broadcasts are reportedly being “investigated.”

In other words, the regime is using the NBTC to prevent Voice TV from providing live coverage of protests.

The NBTC has fined the MVTV company 50,000 baht for airing Voice TV’s “Voice Go” programme, “claiming that the content of the programme affects national security.”

The broadcast on the PSI satellite network on 27 April “was a report on the protest in front of the Supreme Court, in which a group of student activists from Thammasat University occupied an area on the footpath to demand the release of student activists then under detention. The programme also featured interviews with protesters on the reasons for their activities.”

The NBTC “stated that the content of the programme affected national security, peace, and public morals.” In fact, the reason for these moves is to remove opposition criticism.

A fourth case involves more defamation and sedition charges as the regime seeks to shutdown critical commentary on its botched vaccine rollout.

In this case, the regime has gone after veteran politician Sudarat Keyuraphan, with red shirt traitor and now regime flunky Seksakol [Suporn] Atthawong and spineless regime doormat, Sonthiya Sawasdee, adviser to the House committee on law, justice and human rights filing charges.

Sudarat’s Sang Thai Party has been campaigning to sue the “murderous government” for “mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis.”

She’s accused sedition and defamation.

The regime’s mouthpiece Seksakol claims that Sudarat has been “wrongly accusing the government of poorly managing the Covid-19 crisis. This was defamatory, according to Mr Seksakol.” He’s an idiot working for a ridiculous regime, making ridiculous claims while botching the crisis. Only diehard regime supporters would think that the regime’s recent virus work has been anything other than a deadly farce.

The execrable Seksakol made it clear that the charges were to prevent “disharmony in society.” In other words, support the regime or else.

Update: On the attack on Sudarat, consider the commentary by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, which is highly recommended as a full read:

Thailand’s vaccine rollout is evidently a complete shambles due to questionable procurement, supply shortage, and misallocation amid a deadly surge of the Covid-19 “Delta” variant. The situation has been going from bad to worse with no end in sight as a poorly conceived strategy unfolds into a national calamity. As public anger mounts with fast-spreading calls for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s ouster, the Covid-19 pandemic is becoming Thailand’s political game-changer more than anyone could have anticipated.

Instead of the youth-led political movement or the parliamentary opposition’s demands for reform, fundamental political change in this country will likely cascade from the Prayut government’s gross mishandling that is claiming lives, inflicting daily hardships, and causing unhappiness nationwide. When the time comes to pick up the pieces with more abundant and efficacious vaccines with virus control under way, a national inquiry for public accountability will be imperative….

What sets Thailand apart are what appears to be inherent nepotism and vested interests where people suspect there is more than meets the eye behind the country’s vaccination procurement. For inhabitants of this country, it matters less that other countries are suffering the same conditions, but that the country they live in can and should be doing much better. What’s worse, the Prayut government keeps repeating the same mistakes and making matters worse by the day.

Is he up for a state defamation action too?

 





Updated: Inhumane policy

15 07 2021

Accounts of the inhumane treatment of workers locked into work camps and guarded by soldiers are growing. There are hundreds of camps and thousands of workers.

Some of the camps have received little food, health care or much else. Indeed, it is as if the regime has created hundreds of concentration camps. The camps have been sealed since 27 June for at least 30 days.

As usual, the assurances given when sealing the camps have been ditched. In some cases, volunteers are providing food for the hungry workers, many of whom are migrant workers.

Migrants exploited

Clipped from Thailand Construction News

The idea of sealing in workers was to protect the rest of the community from the virus. Of course, this is a nonsense as the virus has spread far and wide. The idea of locking healthy people in with those infected beggars belief.

Thai Enquirer reports that the regime has decided “to stop Covid testing and providing healthcare for migrant workers who have been confined to camps…”. This is the height of stupidity and is barbarous.

The report states that the “Ministry of Labour, which gave the order to halt the testing and offering healthcare assistance” claims that it is “unable to conduct Covid-19 tests in sealed up construction worker camps because the Bangkok Governor’s office will not give it the necessary permission.”

The governor should be immediately sacked for jhis inhumane policy. But, then, he’s a junta man.

Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch stated: “The ministry’s decision is discriminatory and blatantly shows disregard of Thailand’s obligations to uphold labor standards and human rights during the pandemic…”.

Appropriately, he added:

It will also become a ticking time bomb that threatens the already strained public health structure with many undetected and untreated new cases. The Prime Minster needs to immediately quash this senseless policy….

Labor Minister Suchart Chomklin has said “the government will now send more food and water to 520 camps in Bangkok and 797 camps in five surrounding provinces between July 12 and 27.” Thai Enquirer observes: “He did not explain why the government did not send enough food and water…”. Suchart reckoned “that companies should help their workers and that they cannot wait on support from the government.”

That seems a broader message: no person can depend on this government for any semblance of humanity, human rights, or ingenuity. Reasonable policy is off the agenda. The regime is now, as it has been since 2014, a disaster for Thailand. It is now a threat to public health as well.

Update: Minister Suchart has made his position more grotesque. He is reported to have “defended the ministry’s decision to shift from conducting a blanket Covid-19 test on migrant workers at construction worker camps to randomly testing them, as the problem of hospital bed shortages continues.” In other words, the Ministry has decided to find fewer cases among migrants because the government cannot or will not treat them. They have to wait for promised “field hospitals.”





Masters of repression I

14 07 2021

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have published their June update. It makes for sorry reading, from using the virus emergency decree for political repression to the use of lese majeste against political activists.

According to the TLHR “at least 695 people in 374 cases have already been affected as a result of their political involvement and opinions since the ‘Free Youth’ rally on 18 July 2020 until the end of June 2021.” This includes “43 youths of under 18 years old…”.

In total, lese majeste charges have now been laid against more than 100 people.

Contempt of court and insulting the court cases case have grown. For the former, there have been at least 18 people in 14 cases “for participating in assemblies criticizing the judiciary since the Free Youth Rally until the end of May 2021.” Strikingly, “the Court can conduct a contempt trial and pass a judgment directly bypassing the investigation or prosecution process.”

TLHR also reports that the courts have routinely “imposed overly strict measures in courtrooms, including limiting the number of audience or requiring a preapproved permission. In all trials, the Court forbade notetaking claiming it was to keep order.” Such measures “were likely to undermine the principle of a free and fair trial.”

In addition to court and judicial processes, TLHR states that “[s]tate authorities continuously monitor and harass people who posted monarchy-related content and political activists…”. In June alone, the “authorities approached least 18 citizens who expressed monarchy-related or political opinions at their homes. These incidents occurred in all of the regions of the country…”.

TLHR also found that “at least 511 people in 162 cases had been accused of breaching the Emergency Decree provisions…”.

The regime may not be very good at virus mitigation, but it is highly skilled in acts of political repression.





Silencing dissent

13 07 2021

Several outlets have commented on and criticized the regime’s new effort to silence criticism using the pandemic as an excuse for further repression.

Prachatai notices that, in addition to “curfews and lockdowns in many locations, the 27th regulation under the Emergency Decree also imposes a 2-year jail sentence and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht for anyone who spreads information or news that causes public fear or affects national security.”

This effort by the regime to silence dissent and criticism goes along with the militarization of the lockdown.

In its broadest effort to prevent criticism, the regime’s decree states:

2009_0828_ss_tape_mouth_censor

© Shutterstock

The presentation of news or dissemination of books, printed matter or other media containing information that may cause fear among the people, or with the intention to distort information or news to cause misunderstanding under the state of emergency in such a way that affects national security or public order or the good morals of the people throughout the kingdom is an offence.

Earlier regulations “issued during the state of emergency in 2020 which outlawed only incorrect information.” iLaw points out that with “incorrect information” now “removed from the current regulation, it raises questions about the prosecution of information distribution regardless of its validity.”

In other words, this decree potentially makes the truth illegal.

Thai Enquirer argues that “this new emergency decree has been passed by the government because it has been under pressure for its poor Covid-19 response.” So bad has that response been in this recent period that “instead of trying to do a better job, the government thinks that the best course of action to ease the pressure that it is feeling is to pass a decree that will muzzle the public’s free speech.”

It concludes:

The government, unable to figure things out with the pandemic, is reverting to the one thing it does know, authoritarianism.

Because the passage of this decree is exactly what a military government would do. Unable to fight the rising tide of public dissatisfaction, the government is pursuing the heavy-handed, intellectually-stunted approach that all military men eventually fall back on.

Censorship





Wealthy winners

12 07 2021

moneybagsWith some of the rich in the news of late, it is timely that Forbes has released its annual list of Thailand’s wealthiest. Forbes includes 50 on its list, and PPT shows the top ten.

Recent news has the top tycoons, CP’s Chearavanont family, yet again denying “any involvement in the government’s procurement of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine from China.” This came after cabinet’s decision last Tuesday “to procure 10.9 million more doses of Sinovac at a cost of 6.1 billion baht.” The report has CP stating:

Charoen Pokphand Group once again insists the Sinovac vaccine procurement is conducted in a government-to-government (G2G) format only, which has nothing to do with CP either directly or indirectly….

The Bangkok Post report neglects to recall CP’s role in the company producing the vaccine, via CP’s Sino Biopharmaceutical. Given the tight links between the regime and the top tycoons, including the Chearavanont family, we can only wonder about the claims made and those denied.

And, of course, PPT has recently posted on the Yoovidh­ya family, who rank second, and their runaway scion and the efforts to (further) corrupt the justice system for the wealthy.

As usual, the Forbes list leaves out the fabulously wealthy monarch. We estimate his wealth as about double that of the Chearavanont family.

Richest

Comparing the most recent Forbes list to earlier data, it is seen that the wealth of the top 5 is not back to their 2018 high. However, the top 5 has increased by $13.6 billion over 2020. As for the top 10, they also remain below their 2018 high, but have added $15.5 billion over 2020.

This is in a context where per capita GDP declined between 2019 and 2020 by 6.3%. And, we’d guess it might also decline in 2021.





Militarizing the virus

11 07 2021

It it somehow “natural” that a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, should use the military for civil actions.

Despite a mammoth police force and a huge civilian bureaucracy, the Bangkok Post reports that “Gen Chalermpol Srisawat, Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTAF) commander-in-chief, ordered 88 checkpoints in Bangkok be set up to accommodate the partial lockdown, while another 22 checkpoints were erected in surrounding provinces and 35 more in the four southern border provinces.”

The military’s supreme commander “warned that decisive legal action will be taken against those who break the rules.”

Military boot

We understand that some other countries have mobilized the military in actions related to the virus, but in general terms, it is the civil authorities that retain control and direction of operations.

In Thailand, however, it feels rather different, with the military taking a leading role, as they have in other interventions into civilian space, most notably when coups overthrow civilian governments or when civilian protesters are shot and murdered.

Therefore, it is no surprise to anyone when the military-backed government “naturally” turned to its armed allies for support in a situation of its own creation. Of course, the military loves this kind of action for it is trained and armed for the repression of its own citizens and each time it is seen intervening in civilian affairs it further naturalizes something that should be abnormal.