Junta repression deepens II

16 08 2017

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on the charging of five academics and attendees at the International Conference on Thai Studies.

We can only wonder if the foreign academics who attended will mobilize to protest this new low by the junta.

The keynote speakers should be the first and loudest voices: Katherine Bowie, Duncan McCargo, Thonchai Winichakul and Michael Herzfeld. After all, they made very particular and careful decisions to attend amid some calls for a boycott because the junta has been repressive of academics in Thailand (not their yellow-shirted friends and allies, of course).

Here’s the HRW statement:

Thai authorities should immediately drop charges against a prominent academic and four conference participants for violating the military junta’s ban on public assembly at a conference at Chiang Mai University in July 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The International Conference on Thai Studies included discussions and other activities that the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta deemed critical of military rule.

Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, who faces up to one year in prison if convicted, is scheduled to report to police in Chiang Mai province on August 23. Four conference attendees – Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai, and Thiramon Bua-ngam – have been charged for the same offense for holding posters saying “An academic forum is not a military barrack” to protest the military’s surveillance of participants during the July 15-18 conference. None are currently in custody.

“Government censorship and military surveillance have no place at an academic conference,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “By prosecuting a conference organizer and participants, the Thai junta is showing the world its utter contempt for academic freedom and other liberties.”

Since taking power after the May 2014 coup, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has asserted that the airing of differences in political opinions could undermine social stability. Thai authorities have frequently forced the cancellation of community meetings, academic panels, issue seminars, and public forums on political matters, and especially issues related to dissent towards NCPO policies or the state of human rights in Thailand.Frequently, these repressive interventions are based on the NCPO’s ban on public gatherings of more than five people, and orders outlawing public criticisms of any aspect of military rule. The junta views people who repeatedly express dissenting views and opinions, or show support for the deposed civilian government, as posing a threat to national security, and frequently arrests and prosecutes them under various laws.

Over the past three years, thousands of activists, politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders have been arrested and taken to military camps across Thailand for hostile interrogation aimed at stamping out dissident views and compelling a change in their political attitudes. Many of these cases took place in Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand, the hometown of former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra.

Most of those released from these interrogations, which the NCPO calls “attitude adjustment” programs, are forced to sign a written agreement that state they will cease making political comments, stop their involvement in political activities, or not undertake any actions to oppose military rule. Failure to comply with these written agreements can result in being detained again, or charged with the crime of disobeying the NCPO’s orders, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, protects the rights of individuals to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and assembly. The UN committee that oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Thailand has also ratified, has advised governments that academic freedom, as an element of the right to education, includes: “the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction.”

“Academics worldwide should call for the trumped-up charges against Professor Chayan and the four conference attendees to be dropped immediately,” Adams said. “Thailand faces a dim future if speech is censored, academic criticism is punished, and political discussions are banned even inside a university.”





Updated: Junta repression mounts I

16 08 2017

A report at The Nation suggests that the yellow-shirted paranoia over Yingluck Shinawatra’s court appearance is reaching fever pitch among the members of the military junta. That Yingluck fever leads to deepening political repression.

The nine judges hearing the case at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders are under guard, as are their residences. Rumor has it that some decamped to hotels but now worry that Yingluck supporters may stay in the same hotels. Horror!

Army boss General Chalermchai Sitthisart “called a meeting of security forces to assess expectations about the situation on the day of the verdict.” His task is to ensure that as few Yingluck supporters as possible are able to get to the court. His men reckon “1,000 to 2,000 people will show up to support Yingluck at the court.”

The military dictatorship has been “closely monitoring movements by Yingluck’s supporters ahead of the verdict” and this surveillance is being ramped up.

The surveillance is concentrated on the northeast and Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan and Ayutthaya, “where there are strong bases of Pheu Thai Party and red-shirt supporters…”. It is stated that “security officers had been instructed to closely monitor local leaders in other areas in the North and Northeast who might mobilise supporters.”

They are searching for a “plot.” Usually the junta is able to manufacture “evidence” of one. This time they are saying that “the total cost of all the passengers in a single van visiting the capital would amount to Bt100,000,” implying that there’s a plot.

In fact the figure is ludicrous. We think the military is using its own experience of arranging travel and supporters to come to this figure.

The surveillance is being expanded to cover trains and regular tour buses.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha continues to fluster and bluster, threatening to “punish” anyone who broke the law. But, as we know, the junta makes up law on the run, using it for repression, so this is likely meant to threaten.

Interestingly, as we predicted, Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda “said there had not been any irregularities found in the spending of local administration organisations in connection with possible trips to support Yingluck.” We did say that the Attorney General’s office was just reflecting yellow shirt social media fluff.

Update: Reliable social media reports from various provinces in the north and northeast show photos of armed soldiers being deployed in urban areas and entering villages to further intimidate any person considering traveling to Bangkok for 25 August.





Pai’s 5 years on lese majeste fit-up

16 08 2017

The British refer to the police framing of suspects as a “fit-up.” It means that a person is incriminated on a false charge or is framed. That is what’s happened to student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, or Pai.

After almost 8 months – 237 days – of detention and continual pressure to plead guilty to lese majeste and computer crimes, he decided yesterday to take that route. He was immediately sentenced to 5 years in jail. As usual, for the guilty plea, his sentence was reduced by half.

As Prachatai explains, the “sentence was read swifty in an in camera trial, on the same day Jatuphat abruptly recanted his innocence.”

His lawyer stated that “Jatupat chose to confess due to the prolonged trial.”

Prachatai states:

Jatuphat is accused of lèse majesté for sharing on his Facebook account a controversial biography of King Vajiralongkorn published by BBC Thai.

He was the first person to be arrested for lèse majesté under the reign of the new King. Despite the fact that more than 2,000 people shared the same article on Facebook and millions read it, he was the only one arrested for lèse majesté.

The Bangkok Post says it was some 2,800 people who shared the same post. That Pai is the only person charged is evidence that he was fitted up, framed.

He was fitted up because he was “a member of Dao Din, a human rights student activist group based in the Northeast, which had joined activities with villagers affected by development projects.”

Worse, his crime was that his group “staged protests against the junta.” When he was arrested on this “crime,” he “was facing four other lawsuits, all for opposing the military junta.”

He was fitted up by the military:

He was arrested in Chaiyaphum on Dec 3 last year on a warrant based on a complaint filed by Lt Col Phitakphon Chusri, deputy chief of the Operations Directorate at the 33rd Military Circle in Khon Kaen province.

We don’t doubt that the military dictatorship saw Pai’s case as killing two birds with one stone. They got him, silenced him and threatened all other activists and also made it clear that the junta would vigorously attack anyone who dared to be critical of the new king and his tainted past.





Pai “confesses”

15 08 2017

A Bangkok Post report states that Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa “has confessed [to lese majeste and computer crimes] and the Khon Kaen Court will hand down the sentence on Tuesday afternoon…”.

The student activist “was brought to court at 9am on Tuesday for the second round of prosecutor witness hearings which like the first round was to be conducted in-camera.” The report continues:

Shortly after Mr Jatupat entered the courtroom, his lawyer came out to tell his parents that the ruling would be read in the afternoon because Mr Jatupat had confessed before the examination of the witnesses.

His parents declined to comment.

He had earlier denied all charges. Under the royalist (in)justice system, enormous pressure – amounting to torture – is placed on defendents to plead guilty. This allows the courts to not have to deal with lese majeste cases in any substantive way.





I’m not a dictator, just ahead of the curve

15 08 2017

With apologies to The Joker, it seems The Dictator has adopted his line in getting cranky with those who call him out as The Dictator.

A report at Global Voices suggests that Peace TV has been shut for a month for a show that referred to General Prayuth Chan-ocha as a dictator.

We are prepared to believe that The Dictator has again gotten personally ticked off and used his power to have the whole station shut down for a month. However, we think that the real reason for the closure has to do with silencing an outlet that is seen by the junta as oppositional.

But back to the notion that Prayuth doesn’t like being labeled a dictator.

Wikipedia says that a “dictator is a political leader who wields absolute power. A state ruled by a dictator is called a dictatorship.” It adds that a dictatorship is “often characterised by some of the following traits: suspension of elections and civil liberties; proclamation of a state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents without abiding by the rule of law procedures; these include one-party state, and cult of personality.”

On all of that, if Prayuth isn’t The Dictator, then he’s ahead of the curve.





Updated: Royalism undermines popular sovereignty

14 08 2017

Everyone knows that the prince, now king, began his purges of the palace from late 2014, when he “divorced” Srirasmi. Dozens of her family and associates were jailed. Then there were the clearances that saw “unreliables” ditched, deaths in custody, lese majeste jailings and the use of a personal jail. Some fearful palace associates, now out of favor, fled the country.

This was followed by an aggregation of control to the palace. The constitution was secretly changed to accord with the king’s desires and then secret meetings of the puppet assembly gave him control over formerly state bureaucratic departments and the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to the king.

Has he finished? Probably not. Fear and favor mean that an erratic king will lose interest in some people and some things and will need to be rid of them. Then he’ll desire control over other people and things.

But one of the other things that is noticeable is the “normalization” of the reign, as if nothing has changed or that the changes made are in line with the normal activities of the king and palace. Yet even this “normalization” has been a process of promoting a heightened royalism.

The media has been used recently to promote royalism. The excuse has been the queen’s 85th birthday, with a series of “stories” about “people nationwide” celebrating her birthday. Many of the photos showed military men and bureaucrats doing the celebrating.

The Dictator was especially prominent, leading the junta in an alms-giving exercise for 851 monks at the Royal Plaza, claiming it was also a tribute to the dead monarch.

More specific propaganda pieces have dwelt on “merit” and filial piety. For example, the Bangkok Post has run pictures of the king, his mother and Princess Sirindhorn making merit together.

Other royal stories include a donation to of 100 million baht to Siriraj Hospital, with the king thanking the hospital for taking care of his father. The money is said to have “come from revenue from selling his diaries featuring his drawings…”.

While we might doubt that so much money can be made from the sale of a collection of childish drawings, the junta’s support for the king has been strong and maybe it bought many diaries and distributed them.

But back to deepening royalism. The Nation reports on a “revival” of Kukrit Pramoj’s restorationist story “Four Reigns.” Kukrit was an incessant promoter of royalism, ideologue for the dictatorial General Sarit Thanarat, booster for King Bhumibol and diplomat for royalism translated for foreigners.

The Four Reigns is now Six Reigns. According to The Nation, the “restaging of Thailand’s most commercially successful musical play is more pro-absolute monarchy than ever.”

The play opens with the scene in which the spirit of Mae Phloi starts to recount her life story and confirm her unwavering love for “kings”, and the background is the familiar image of people gathering outside the wall of the Grand Palace paying respect to the late King Bhumibol.

And with the last scene showing Thai people paying respect to King Vajiralongkorn, the play now covers six, not four, reigns.

Clearly, the play … tries, more clearly than the original novel, to prove … that Thailand was much better before 1932 than after. This outdated attitude doesn’t sit too well in 2017 Thailand, as we try to build our political system from “military junta under a constitutional monarchy” to “unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy”, a kind of democracy that is already difficult to explain to our friends from many countries.

This royalism can only deepen as the cremation of the dead king approaches and as Vajiralongkorn and the junta further embed his reign and undermine notions of popular sovereignty.

Update: The new king is the old king propaganda continues, with two stories at The Nation of the king’s donations to 300 flood victims and 39 students in the south. We should add that there is no evidence provided of where the funds come from. Like royal projects, it may be that “donations” are all taxpayer funded.





Updated: Suppressing support

13 08 2017

While one report has it that an ex-judge thinks Yingluck Shinawatra will be set free, the military dictatorship continues to worry about a “rally” at the court on 25 August.

Her supporters are being harassed by junta thugs. As a report at The Nation puts it: “The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has toughened security measures and called on people to not show up at the court, citing security reasons.”

It reports a “red-shirt leader from Ratchaburi province, Pongsak Phusitsakul, [who] confirmed that most activists, including those at provincial level, are being watched closely by security officers.” It is added that “activists are being constantly visited by the authorities.”

Because of harassment and because van drivers have been warned off, “supporters were expected to travel to the court by themselves and in the smallest groups possible to avoid security checks.”

The activists “maintained that they had not heard of any organised mobilisation, noting that those red-shirts at the forefront of the protest movement were under close scrutiny by the authorities.”

The yellow-shirted social media has been especially active, goading the junta with claims of mobilization, causing the junta to respond.

The latest response is by Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda. He has”ordered a probe into an allegation that local administration budgets were used for travel expenses for transporting people from several provinces” to Bangkok on 1 August to support Yingluck.

As the report describes it, this allegation “was floated by the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG)…”. It claims to have evidence that such financial support was provided, but has not produced any evidence for this claim or said how the OAG came to investigate this allegation so quickly.

The Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas had a letter sent to the “Interior and Defence ministries urging them to review the use of local administration organisations’ budgets” but apparently did not show evidence.

In fact, “Gen Anupong said yesterday he had ordered a probe into the issue…”, suggesting a fishing trip for “evidence.”

This is a whole of government effort is to limit the numbers showing up to support Yingluck.

Update: Interestingly, a report at The Nation appears to confirm that the Auditor-General is making politicized accusations sans investigation. It states:

There are reports that some local administrative body officials have planned trips under the pretext of other missions. Local government officials have told us that there are plans to bring participants to the court too,” Pisit said yesterday. “Such actions happened before on August 1.”

In other words, Pisit doesn’t have more than claims, although he says “his office was investigating the reports and would consider releasing the names of those involved.” The reports are mainly from yellow shirt social media and Pisit is acting for the military junta.

In response, Puea Thai Party people have urged Pisit to name names. Surasarn Pasuk said: “In my opinion, local administrative bodies have been very careful during the past few years under close scrutiny. I don’t think they will dare using the state budget for such purposes…”. He’s right. Each local authority is overseen by the locally-based military.