More monarchical madness

14 09 2014

Vocativ describes itself to be “a new type of media company, bringing audiences hidden perspectives, unheard voices and original ideas from around the world via the Deep Web…. Combining cutting-edge technology with bold journalism, Vocativ’s team examines a world of raw, vital information hidden deep within the digital space, unearthing fresh insights, concealed subcultures and rising trends early in their evolution.”

Its latest piece on Thailand is not really new or presenting anything hidden, at least not for readers of PPT. That said, its hipster style might reach a new audience, and it does have a picture evocative of the protection of a family that does look a bit like it is preparing for a part in The Walking Dead, and that picture is rather dated.

Walking dead

The story begins by advising that: “Insulting the Thai king is illegal, and the authorities there are stepping up their game to arrest people for royal Internet snark.” Actually, insulting the king, the queen, the heir apparent, regent and dead kings usually all result in jail terms, and PPT guesses that The Dictator wants to expand this already broader than the existing law definition of royals covered by the draconian law.

Sending out tweets “calling out the head of state as a total dick” are banned in Thailand, “where they’re getting more serious than ever about dissing the king.” The hipster reporting continues:

The country has something called lèse-majesté, a law that means if you are audacious enough to insult the king, it becomes a really big deal. Like a punishable-with-jail-time-of-50-years big deal. Like a censor-the-entire-Internet-until-you-find-all-the-king-burns big deal.

Thai authorities now plan to use a fancy, but unspecified, “surveillance device” to help them in their quest to dig out web users who badmouth royalty. Beginning Sept. 15, the government will use the device to target keywords related to lèse majesté and potentially use secured protocols to monitor communications, unconfirmed reports told Prachatai, an independent Thai news site.

The report goes on to acknowledge that “[s]elf-censorship among journalists is already rife. An editor of a national Thai newspaper told his staff not to browse any sites at work that may have anything to do with lèse majesté…”.

It refers to the case in July “when John Oliver called the crown prince of Thailand a ‘buffoon’ and made fun of a home video of the royal and his wife at a birthday party [opens a video banned in Thailand] for their pet poodle named Foo Foo.” It says that: “Thailand fought back, putting him on an official government list of international threats.”

The military dictatorship is bonkers for monarchy and this results in even more lese majeste madness:

Thai authorities have blocked tens of thousands of websites because of slander. The government banned YouTube in 2007 for two days just because one guy posted a video with an image of the king juxtaposed to an image of feet, an offensive symbol in Thai culture. And during the past few months, the censorship has gotten worse. The military junta that took power in May after months of protests passed a law on May 29 called “On the Control and Surveillance of the Use of Social Media,” making it legal to surveil all Thai Internet users. Now a device specifically running keyword searches to seek out lèse majesté breaches could be the government’s top weapon against Thai citizens who just want to get in on the king-slamming game.

And then the results of monarchy madness:

Recently, more lèse majesté cases than ever before have been brought to court. From January 2006 to May 2011, there was a 1,500 percent increase in cases involving royal insults. Whereas there were only four such cases in all the years between 1990 and 2005, that number in 2010 blew up to at least 400. In 2012, according to FreedomHouse, Thai courts blocked almost 21,000 URLs, thousands of which were taken down because of anti-royal content. Just 5,000 URLs had been blocked the previous year.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha promises even more mad monarchism and the result is more looney lese majeste. All of this means more cases, more jailings, more censorship and the result is an ever weakened monarchy.





A servant of dictators

13 09 2014

Our header is based on one used in a sycophantic About Politics story in the Bangkok Post regarding the recently selected deputy prime minister and legal prostitute servicing the military, Wissanu Krea-ngam. As we point out, we use “prostitute” as a description of Wissanu’s work behavior rather than as a criticism of far more honest sex workers.

Wissanu (L): Serving the military junta

The lickspittle article refers to Wissanu as “[a] servant of the law.” As we suggest, he is a servant of dictators. His interpretations and twisting of the law for authoritarian regimes is in a long tradition of lawyers who have willingly sold themselves to fascists. Wissanu has served several governments, including Thaksin Shinawatra, and has been known as a neti borikon or “lawyer-in-service to power.”

In fact, the Post does get one thing right, saying that Wissanu’s “services are proving to be very welcome among the coup generals.” He’s important to them because he can manipulate law for them in ways that make the illegal legal and allow for impunity and repression. He’s a thug armed with law books.

Academic Craig Reynolds has a very bland review of one of Wissanu’s self-justifying memoirs, politely criticized by David Streckfuss who points to Wissanu’s “service”:

From the review, it appears that the book’s foremost quality is that its author is honest and straight forward, and the author is one to know, given his position. That alone makes it Oscar worthy…. Wisanu was at the heart of things as a very different constitution comes into being, the rise of the Assembly of the Poor (and NGOs), the rise of Thaksin, the War on Drugs, Tak Bai, not to mention the passing of controversial laws such as the Emergency law. And of course, the initial rise in lese majeste cases. Perhaps I’m asking too much of a reviewer to go into more detail of the book …, but I would have liked to hear more about why he doesn’t like military governments or his explanation of just how he (or Dr. Borwornsak?) were not involved with providing the legal paperwork to legalize the coup. Or maybe the book lacked this sort of breadth that places the work within the period? Briefly said, am I going to find any of these goodies in this book?

Streckfuss is right; Wissanu has a pretty solid reputation for manipulating the law in some pretty nasty situations. Our guess is that he has also been critical in organizing university councils for the royalists.

Today, Wissanu is one of the deputy prime ministers serving The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Wissanu is considered a bureaucratic and legal helmsman by Prayuth, tasked with “helping the military administration to navigate through the labyrinth of affairs of state and with tackling legal complexities which could hinder that administration.”

Wissanu links with other royalist legal ideologues like Meechai Ruchupan and Bowornsak Uwanno. The latter also sells himself and has headed the royalist King Prajadhipok Institute, which is a royalist propaganda organization for Thai-style democracy. These three were responsible for the military-directed 2007 constitution and will likely be the key drafters of the next military-directed basic law. They will be charges with correcting the errors they made last time that allowed pro-Thaksin parties to win elections; that cannot be permitted in the future.





With a major update: Suspicion

13 09 2014

There have been a remarkable number of reports in various media in recent days of the miraculous police action that has netted one woman and four men alleged to have been “men in black” and claimed to have “confessed” to attacking military and other targets in April 2010.

This is not the first miracle worked by the police since the May 2014 military coup. The miracle worker was, in several such cases, the gold miner businessman and now police boss General Somyos Pumpanmuang. Several of the cases seemed to fade as fast as the miracle was produced.

MIB

A Bangkok Post photo

If that isn’t reason enough for some skepticism, the sight of the police dressing the detainees in black clothing, attaching red armbands and ribbons to them, forcing them to wear balaclavas, and having them “re-enact” alleged “crimes,” including taking them to the streets and having them pose with grenade launchers and assault weapons is completely bizarre and legally fraught.

The first report PPT saw was in the Bangkok Post, where the police already had the detainees were already in fancy dress.

Despite the fact that, at the time the so-called men in black were “identified” as “responsible” for actions against the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime the police and military were under the control of pro-Abhisit commanders, no suspects were captured and convicted and there were precious few video or photo images of the MiBs.

They lived on in military and royalist lore as “responsible” for all the killings in 2010. As The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha and other military brass have said many times, the military did not kill anyone. The courts have disagreed with this in several cases. Even when anti-democrats were violent in 2013 and 2014, they blamed mysterious MiBs. Such claims were demonstrated to be false, concocted for political purposes and to take the heat off the violence of the royalist anti-democrats.

This is not the first time that authorities have claimed to have identified the “perpetrators.” A sub-committee of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission headed by the compromised Somchai Homlaor stated that it had “identified” MiBs. We posted:

In its report on the 2010 Battle for Bangkok, Somchai Homlaor, who headed the investigating sub-committee, said the commission had “found connections between the ‘men in black’ and security guards of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship in at least two clashes with authorities at Kok Wua intersection near the Democracy Monument and the Pratunam area on April 10, 2010.” He adds that “many” of the men in black “were found to be close to Maj Gen Khattiya…”. He added that the commission did “not have evidence to conclude whether they had a connection with UDD key figures…”.

If they did, there was little follow-up and no naming of names.

Prayuth once reportedly stated: “I do not know whether there were men in black or not, but soldiers and police were injured and killed in those clashes…”. The Democrat Party and Abhisit have been sure, and have repeatedly campaigned about MiBs, but their government never found any. Abhisit has repeatedly claimed that MiBs were responsible for all deaths.

That first report in the Bangkok Post stated that the recent arrests saw Somchai Sawaengkarn resurrected the claim that it was only MiBs who were responsible for “killing of soldiers and civilians during political unrest in 2010…”. He added that the arrests might “lead to the identification of those responsible for masterminding the violence…”. He essentially means Thaksin Shinawatra, who he blames for all Thailand’s ills including heavy rainfall. Somchai is of dubious character: a member of the puppet National Legislative Assembly, he was also an unelected senator. He is a huge supporter of anti-democrats.

The police claimed that all “five suspects have admitted involvement in the violence that led to the killing of soldiers near Democracy Monument in April 2010.”

The report states that these suspects “were taken into custody on Tuesday but the arrests were only made public yesterday. They have all been charged with illegally carrying and using guns, bullets and bombs.” In fact, one of those arrested was a “red shirt activist who went missing after he was arrested by soldiers last week…”. He was “arrested by soldiers on 5 September and held incommunicad0 for almost a week while the military denied having him in their custody, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Wednesday.”

The police also implicated now-exiled red shirt activist Kritsuda Khunasen saying that the raids on her house “found clear evidence relating to the transfer of large sums of money to the five suspects, although he declined to reveal how much.”

Within hours, the police and the military dictatorship has sought to condemn those arrested. Police General Somyos also defended his arrest of the suspects. He said he has “solid evidence,” but didn’t say anything much about it.

Somyos declared that he “would not argue with red shirts who insisted there were no ‘men in black’ among their ranks.”

Meanwhile, The Dictator stated that he would not comment on the case. As usual, though, he was unable to control himself. He “warned people behind the fatal attacks during the political unrest to … turn themselves in because he has all of their names in his hands.”

He claimed to have “the names of the supporters and financiers of the violent attacks in 2010 as well as those in 2013 and this year, and he urged them to report to authorities. Some are inside the country and some had fled abroad,” as if to blame red shirts yet again. He promised to prosecute and name “those who provided support for the acquisition of such weapons, including their financing…”.

Update: Somewhat belatedly, the mainstream media has decided to raise questions about facts and process involved in this case. As is usual in the Bangkok Post, it has a story that cites a single anonymous source as if that source is unimpeachably reliable. That source claims: “The DSI source said the agency has files on all of the alleged ‘men in black’, but the probe ground to a halt when the Yingluck Shinawatra government was elected in July 2011…. A ‘powerful politician’ in the since-deposed government laid out a guideline for the DSI that the so-called men in black did not exist and there was no armed element, the source alleged.” This is initially plausible, but only until one asks why the DSI did not act against these suspects when the Abhisit regime was in control and backed by the military?

The claim comes as “rights groups label … a press conference in which the suspects were forced to dress in black paramilitary attire as a publicity stunt likely to rob them of the chance of a fair trial.”

The People’s Information Centre pointed out that “there was no compelling evidence linking them to the nine deaths on Din So Road…”. It adds that “[t]hree of the four military casualties … on Din So Road were as a result of grenade blasts, according to … an inquest, not from gun fire as claimed by police on Thursday.”

As noted above, the police have accused exiled red shirt Kritsuda of financing the suspects. She has responded that, at the time of the events, she was 23 year-old. She asks General Somyos: “How can you accuse me without feeling ashamed of yourself?”At the conclusion of this Post story there is a brief mention of how the police decided to track those they now say are guilty: “Soldiers ‘remembered him’ [one of the suspects] from when he and the others allegedly rode in a van past an army Humvee on April 11, 2010.” On that day, the soldiers were in disarray and retreated when they tear-gassed themselves and when faced with red shirt resistance. They fled leaving behind weapons and other equipment. It seems dubious at best that memories of that day could be clear.

The Bangkok Post also has an editorial that comments on the case. It states: “The presentation of the suspected ‘men in black’ last week raises more questions about justice in Thailand under the military regime than it answers.” It continues to raise questions about dressing the men up and having them “re-enact” events that they may not have been involved in. It says: “The questions raised by this series of events are myriad and troubling…. The use of re-enactments is troubling and would be considered highly prejudicial in a legal system that relied on juries.”

On the arrests it asks: “what was that evidence? Who handled the interviews? How can we be certain the confessions were genuine?” It adds that the “suspects are still just that — suspects. They are all entitled to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial and they are entitled to be treated equally under the law.”

Of course, under the military dictatorship, the law is but a tool for those who rule.

Oddly, when the Post editorial concludes, it does so in a curious manner: “The families of those killed by the men in black in April 2010 deserve to know the right people have been brought to justice, and that can only happen in an open, transparent and accountable system.” In making this statement, it is neglecting the red shirts who were murdered by the military commanders who now rule the country.





AI on martial law

13 09 2014

A few days ago Amnesty International released an important report on the impact of martial law in Thailand following the May 2014 military coup and the resulting military dictatorship.

AI - CopyThis release follows an earlier report by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights that reported on torture and ill-treated during military detention during the first 100 days of the military dictatorship. The numbers reported there and in the AI report are roughly comparable.

The report is available in English and Thai as PDFs and is also available as an HTML online file. The web-based introduction to the report states:

On 22 May 2014, two days after declaring Martial Law, Thailand’s military took power for the second time in eight years. Under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) the military abrogated all but one section of the 2007 Constitution, sacked the government, dissolved parliament and assumed full control of the country. As this report will show, the NCPO has undertaken a series of measures that have altered Thailand’s institutional and legal framework. The human rights violations detailed in this report also reflect long-standing human rights problems in Thailand.

AI ThaiAs would be expected of a military dictatorship, the details provided by AI in this report are denied by the regime.

Khaosod reports that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has “flatly denied allegations put forth in an Amnesty International report detailing widespread human rights violations under Thailand’s military regime.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry said the report “does not accurately reflect the situation in Thailand.”

The report detailed arbitrary detention, torture and other abuses by the military junta and condemned the military dictatorship for its repression and sweeping censorship, also noting the regime’s political bias.

In response, the MFA babbled about how “Thai authorities have relaxed many of their powers in recent weeks,” but produced no evidence other than a claim about “media freedom,” which is simply a lie.

On torture, the rebuttal is confirmation of the observation that the junta is a bunch of dangerous dictators, for it says the claims are baseless as the junta has investigated and found no evidence of mistreatment. The junta investigates itself and comes up smelling of roses! It smells roses and we smell fish.

The junta’s MFA mouthpiece rambled about the junta having widespread support. If that sounds rather North Korean, read this report too, detailing the nature of the regime and The Dictator.

The following is AI’s summary of detentions:

AI text

 

 





More lese majeste repression

12 09 2014

Akradet E. is a 24 year-old student accused of lese majeste and computer crimes, held without bail since 18 June 2014. This coincided with the military dictatorship’s massive expansion of the use of lese majeste as a means of political repression following the coup in May.

Prachatai reports that on 11 September the public prosecutor indicted him on charges of having violated both laws.

Akradet is “accused of using a Facebook username ‘Uncle Dom also loves the King’ [and] posting lese majeste comments on a Facebook status of a friend. The charge under Article 14 of the Computer Crimes Act is for importing illegal content into the computer system.

His bail requests have been denied by the courts “citing flight risk.” This is common in lese majeste cases, although there is scant evidence presented for this risk in Akradet’s case.

The charges stem from a complaint made following an online dispute with a Facebook “friend” over political ideology. That “friend” lodged a “police complaint in March 2014.”





On length

12 09 2014
Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for for the Bangkok Post. She usually knows what The Dictator is planning and sometimes acts as a conduit for the military in getting its view known. That is always very useful for her readers because they are getting an inside perspective.

In this context, her recent comments on the longevity of the junta are important:

With a hint delivered during his weekly address last Friday, National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha let us know that his tenure will not end in one year as initially announced.

She’s right that this should be “no surprise.” She says this is because Prayuth has an “ambitious” plan. We’d suggest the agenda is as ambitious as is required to establish a Prem-like “semi-dictatorship.” Wassana says this “may take two to three years or longer…”. We think it will take as long as The Dictator thinks is necessary. “Necessity” may demand staying in power long enough for the king to die and ensure a successful succession.

Wassana reckons there is a threat to the military dictatorship: “the underground movements of anti-coup groups which are ready to surge once martial law is lifted.” This is little more than junta propaganda and there’s no evidence for the claim. Her hclaim that the military dictatorship will be around for a considerable time because “pro-coup people want the military to … make sure that the ‘Thaksin regime’ will not return” is much closer to the mark.Prayuth and Suthep

Wassana notes that Prayuth “has strengthened his power base for a long tenure” through “military transfers.” He “handpicked deputy army chief Gen Udomdej Sitabutr as his successor for the top army position and also deputy defence minister.” Udomdej is Queen’s Guard and the two have “been close since they were junior officers.”

The two of them have concocted a story that they “fought side by side in 1983, when the Vietnamese army” and that the “two eventually pushed the Vietnamese out of the Thai border.” As far as we can recall, the Thai Army, trained only for killing its own citizens, was repeatedly in trouble against the Vietnamese, who were attacking Khmer Rouge sites protected by the Thai military.

Udomdej has also “served both Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Gen Anupong Paojinda.” Udomdej is likely to only last a year as he retires in 2015, and is likely to be replaced by “Lt Gen Preecha Chan-ocha, younger brother of Gen Prayuth who was promoted to the rank of full general to become assistant army chief.” Wassana states:

It is said that Gen Prayuth, as prime minister, will have a major say in naming the next army chief, and it would not be unusual to push his own brother to the top post. It would be an honour for the Chan-ocha family if two members become army chief, and Gen Prayuth has no doubts over his brother’s loyalty.

Wassana concludes that:

Prayuth has nothing to worry about while he runs the country. A counter-coup is not possible. If the situation is not good for general elections, Gen Prayuth can prolong his interim government with no challenges from the armed forces.

Prayuth can stay in power for a log time. The only question that is unanswered is whether The Dictator can keep control of the population. That is usually where dictatorships stumble.

The tale of junta longevity is confirmed in another Bangkok Post story where the military sycophant-cum-Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam makes the bizarre claim that the junta “will become only an organisation, not a government as it previously was.” This claim is that the junta is being replaced by a “government.” That this government is entirely the offspring of the junta is somethign Wissanu is hired to deny and propagandize about.

This claim by Wissanu is so loopy that when he says that the junta “can no longer issue any announcements or orders, nor can it summon anyone to report as the government has taken on all decision-making powers on national administration” is simply a ridiculous lie.

Wissanu is simply making the case for a long-term military-dominated government.





Updated: Noise suppression

12 09 2014

The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that the “Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) is launching a full investigation into the case involving the procurement of high-priced microphones for Government House, an OAG source says…. The source told the Bangkok Post Wednesday that OAG officials had already examined evidence at agencies involved in the project to procure and install electronic equipment for meeting rooms at Government House.”

Pricey mikeThat story continues: “The move came despite the fact that the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning claimed Wednesday that a supplier had agreed to reduce the cost of the controversial microphones for a conference room at Government House from 145,000 baht each to 94,250 baht after an outcry last week…. However, according to the website http://www.boschconference.starin.biz, the microphone model DCNM-MMD, the same one as that proposed for Government House, was quoted at US$1,735, around 55,000 baht.”

The story adds that the details of the purchase: “can be found at the procurement section of the website of the Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning.”

Today, the Post confirmed that the investigation is continuing as the supplier defended the price.

Meanwhile, Khaosod reports thatThailand’s national anti-corruption agency says it is not investigating the 27 million baht sound system recently installed in the Government House…”. It quotes Panthep Klanarongklang, chairman of National Anti-Corruption Commission: “The NACC is not investigating the matter…”. His agency is not investigating because no one has lodged a complaint.

The OAG can send on a complaint to the NACC, but now that the military dictatorship is in control, they can do as they wish. They will almost certainly defend their boys.

Update: Never fear! The Dictator has come to the rescue! And it is clear who he is planning to rescue: his boys, with the potential for a few to be thrown to the wolves, but it will be all show amongst smoke and mirrors. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the boss of the military junta and self-appointed premier has said: “We probe all (suspected corruption) issues. Just be patient. Don’t pressure us and don’t jump to conclusion either…”. The problem is that his probes are conducted by his underlings and sycophants. He has said that a “sub-panel of the 18-member committee” set up by the junta” to probe budget spending of state agencies is investigating the issue…”. The committee is chaired by an Army general. An open and shut case….

 

 








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