Updated: Busy day in Bangkok II: reform, rice, old kings, censorship and impunity

10 08 2013

As we noted in the first part of this post, it has been a busy few days in Bangkok, with more stories than PPT can possibly comment on, so we are now posting a second  combination of stories.

In another story that cites PPT, Asia Sentinel had a story a couple of days ago regarding the politics of amnesty. PPT is cited as an “NGO,” which is probably rather too much of a grand title for our small effort to shine a light on aspects of politics and political prisoners in Thailand. The story also seems to erroneously suggest that Thaksin Shinawatra put the 1997 constitution in place. Even so, it is true that: “Any time amnesty or constitutional reform looms, the protesters take to the streets. Pheu Thai leaders have been waiting for almost three years to attempt to push through a series of constitutional reforms…”. It would be even more accurate to notice that when the military junta’s 2007 constitution was put in place, all of the old conservatives said it could be changed by elected governments, and even made this an article of the constitution. Since then, this pledge has been shown to be a lie. In fact, then, elected governments have been waiting six years to make changes.

Also worth reading is Robert Amsterdam’s post on the Wat Pathum inquest findings. This note caught our attention:

Without truth there is no justice. And without justice there can be no real workable amnesty. Some might argue a de facto legal amnesty already exists for the extremist anti-democratic People’s Alliance for Democracy and the groups aligned with them, including Abhisit’s Democrat Party. Abhisit and his former deputy PM, Suthep Thaugsuban, have both been charged with the murder of civilian protesters in 2010, yet arrogantly strut around, even dismissing the court’s bail conditions, assured of their own impunity.

Prachatai has a post regarding censorship of books – an unofficial removal from sale – at Asia books. Of course, the books relate to the monarchy. But not the current king. These two books relate to past kings and the royalist response to the 1932 revolution. Prachatai says: “The books concern the history of the 1932 revolution and the controversial relationship between King Rama VI and his palace servants.” So why the “ban”? Asia Books withdrew the two academic titles reportedly for reasons of “political sensitivity” but declined to comment further. The book by Dr. Nattaphol Chaiching studies the “counter-revolution led by the royalists” following the 1932 revolution. Readers without Thai skills can get an idea about the book through the author’s chapter in Saying the Unsayable. The book was published by Fa Diaw Kan as part of its “Monarchy Studies Series.” The second book by Chanun Yodhong is about “Gentlemen-in-waiting”, and deals with the relationship between the gay King Vajiravudh and his palace flunkies. Prachatai states that the book “poses questions about King Rama VI and his projects such as the Boy Scouts and Vajiravudh College, a private boys-only boarding school he founded in 1910.” It is published by Matichon.

While on censorship, we feel compelled to add to the outcry about the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology’s continuing stupidity regarding Facebook posts and its use of the draconian Computer Crimes Act. Minister Anudith Nakornthap has lost his marbles if he thinks social media users should be charged and locked up for “sharing and clicking ‘Like’ on social media posts, since they could be deemed as damaging to the country’s security.” His view that “postings that are political in nature or meant to stir up public confusion might be in breach of the Internal Security Act and Computer Crime Act” is utter nonsense but clearly neanderthals can use the law to censor and stifle. Interestingly, the cyber-cops have declared the warning as a successful scare tactic. Update: Asked if clicking “like” is now against the law, Police Maj Gen Pisit Pao-in, commander of the Technology Crime Suppression Division, says: “It will be if you ‘like’ a message deemed damaging to national security. If you press ‘like’, it means you are accepting that message, which is tantamount to supporting it. By doing so, you help increase the credibility of the message and hence you should also be held responsible.” Officials like this are appallingly dull and through their dullard actions, dangerous to Thais and their rights to free speech.

PPT also wants to draw attention to a couple of posts at Bangkok Pundit. The first is not that different from what PPT said on the story/retracted Bangkok Post story on Anand Panyarachun. The second explains what happened, and comes from a source that we also had, but since Pundit has it posted, there’s no need for us to do the same.

Finally, we want to give a few lines to a report in The Economist, which identifies the rice policy as an economic millstone for the government. We agree, but then the politics of reducing the guaranteed price saw farmers protesting just a few weeks ago. An economic millstone is becoming a political millstone, and the government’s policy wonks need to find a way out.





Court documents on Somyos

10 08 2013

somyosWe thought that those who can read Thai might be interested in the court documents related to the 15th appeal for bail by Somyos Prueksakasemsuk. Convicted of lese majeste in a royalist kangaroo court, his rights have been repeatedly violated by the judicial system.

PPT has posted two documents as PDFs at the page we maintain on his case.





Prince and politics

9 08 2013

The Nation reports:

HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has expressed his concern about the looming clash between police and anti-government protesters and suggested that the conflict be resolved through talks, Bangkok police chief Pol Lt-General Camronwit Toopgrajank said yesterday.Vajiralongkorn

The Crown Prince on Tuesday summoned National Police chief Pol General Adul Saengsingkaew, Camronwit and his deputy Pol Maj-General Chanthawit Rammasut for an audience with him and asked that he be kept informed about the current political situation, Camronwit said. He said the Prince has recommended guidelines for police who are carrying out their duty to prevent intrusion into the Parliament compound.

“I insist that no police officer do anything to upset HRH the Crown Prince. If there is violence, it definitely will not be caused by the police. Everything will be ended through negotiations,” Camronwit said.

A story on this also appeared at Daily News (in Thai):

วันที่ 6 ส.ค. เวลา 21.15 น. ที่กองบัญชาการตำรวจนครบาล (บช.น.) พล.ต.ท.คำรณวิทย์ ธูปกระจ่าง ผบช.น. เปิดเผยว่า ช่วงหัวค่ำที่ผ่านมา สมเด็จพระบรมโอรสาธิราชฯ สยามมกุฎราชกุมาร ทรงมีพระเมตตารับสั่งให้ พล.ต.อ.อดุลย์ แสงสิงแก้ว ผบ.ตร. พร้อมตน และ พล.ต.ต.ฉันทวิทย์ รามสูต รอง ผบช.น. ที่รับผิดชอบด้านการวางกำลัง เข้าเฝ้าฯ และถวายรายงานสถานการณ์ต่าง ๆ ที่เกิดขึ้นทั้งหมด ซึ่งพระองค์ท่านทรงเป็นห่วง และหากมีอะไรเกิดขึ้นต้องไปกราบบังคับทูลให้พระองค์ทรงทราบ ซึ่งพระองค์ทรงมีพระเมตตาแนะนำแนวทางการปฏิบัติ และทรงเป็นห่วงตำรวจที่ได้ทำปฏิบัติหน้าที่อยู่บริเวณดังกล่าว

“ในส่วนการปฏิบัติงานของเจ้าหน้าที่นั้น ขอยืนยันว่าเจ้าหน้าที่ทั้งหมดจะไม่ทำให้ทุกอย่างระคายเคืองเบื้องพระ ยุคลบาท หากเกิดเหตุรุนแรง ยืนยันว่าไม่ได้เกิดจากตำรวจอย่างแน่นอน ทุกอย่างจะต้องจบด้วยการเจรจา” ผบช.น. ระบุ

เมื่อถามว่า พระองค์ท่านทรงกังวลเรื่องเกี่ยวกับสถานการณ์การชุมนุมหรือไม่ พล.ต.ท.คำรณวิทย์ กล่าวว่า พระองค์ท่านทรงห่วงใย หากเกิดการกระทบกระทั่งเกิดขึ้น พระองค์จะไม่สบายพระหฤทัย และขอทุกอย่างจบด้วยการพูดคุยกัน

This would seem a significant political intervention.





Busy day in Bangkok I

8 08 2013

It has been a busy few days in Bangkok, with more stories than PPT can possibly comment on, so we are going to combine several of them in a couple of posts. We begin with monarchy stories.

First, the Bangkok Post reports that the queen is “recovering from shoulder pain and soreness in her left wrist.” That used to be called “poker wrist.”

Second, and more serious, Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn, the leader of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) has filed “lawsuits against group of anti-government activists who accused her of planning to overthrow the monarchy and install a Communist regime.”

Thida has “filed a formal complaint against the group calling itself ′People′s Army Overthrowing Thaksin Regime′…”. As Khaosod explains, this Dad’s Army, is “the latest resurrection of the anti-Thaksin faction,” and it has claimed Thida is anti-monarchy, which is considered a crime in Thailand and results in longer sentences than many meted out to murderers. Apparently, Thida’s complaint is against the aged leadership of the royalist ninnies:

The lawsuit names core leaders of the People′s Army as defendants. They are Mr. Thaikorn Polsuwan, the webmaster of the People’s Army website, Adm. Chai Suwannaphap, Gen. Chukiat Tansuwatna, Gen. Preecha Iaemsuphan, Am.Watchara Rittakhanee, Adm. Banwitya Kengrean, and Mr. Phichet Pattanachote.

Third, the Bangkok Post had egg all over its front page yesterday. Or does it? We’ll get to this, but the build-up to the egging is worth mentioning.

A couple of days ago, on its front page, the Bangkok Post reported at some length that former prime minister Anand Panyarachun has turned his back on Yingluck Shinawatra’s proposed political reform assembly, “saying he will not allow himself to be used as a political pawn.” It adds that “Mr Anand’s remarks yesterday came as Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanchana and PM’s Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn began visiting senior political figures, asking them to embrace the prime minister’s initiative.” Anand is then cited:

Mr Anand said yesterday he had not been approached by the government to join the proposed council, but stressed he would not take part in it to avoid being used as a pawn by any party.

He also questioned the motives of those who floated the names of people they wanted to take part in the assembly.

“[This tactic] would make it seem to the public that the government is trying to foster national reconciliation but the others just won’t cooperate,” he said.

These are direct quotes and reporting of statements. PPT had no reason to doubt the report. After all, the royalist Anand has long opposed Thaksin and pro-Thaksin governments, as our many Wikileaks posts attest. In addition, we would have posted on the story and asked why Anand is prepared to be a pawn of palace and military (as when he served twice as unelected prime minister) but not now? Once a pawn always a pawn? But maybe just on the royalist side?

But in yesterday’s Bangkok Post there is this:

Yesterday’s edition of the Bangkok Post carried a front-page article with the headline “Anand spurns advisory council”.

The Bangkok Post would like to clarify that both the headline and statements attributed to former prime minister Anand Panyarachun in the article are erroneous and totally groundless.

Mr Anand confirmed that he has never spoken to any Bangkok Post reporter about the matter.

The Bangkok Post regrets the error and apologises for any inconvenience or negative repercussions caused by the article upon Mr Anand and the government.

So the story is that the Bangkok Post either made up the whole story (unlikely) or that the comments were made “off the record” by the patrician Anand (more likely) or that Anand thought again about his outburst and asked the Post to protect him (also likely). We think the Post took egg for Anand.

Finally, at The Nation it is reported that Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “defended the monarchy against what he called unfair criticism, and lambasted rumour-mongers calling for a coup to end the ongoing political instability.” This refers to some reporting that linked the flight of the king and queen to Hua Hin to preparations for either a coup of political violence. Prayuth said:

He said Their Majesties’ current stay outside Bangkok did not signify anything about a looming political confrontation, and that comment and speculation on reasons for their trip, on social media, was not fair towards the monarchy.

The general also criticised people who spread rumours of a military coup and tell others to hoard food supplies ahead of political “turmoil” that could turn violent.

Prayuth said he was personally happy with the King’s improving health and many senior foreign military officers congratulated him upon what he described as a national delight.

Military

In uniform for the monarchy and “People’s Army”

We are not sure what a “national delight” is, but probably is a treacly royalism.

Then Prayuth said: “But I don’t know what’s with some Thai people who do not like the monarch,” and he is said not to have elaborated. He was also ticked off that the “rally held by an anti-Thaksin Shinawatra movement that referred to the monarchy. He maintained that the monarchy played no part in Thai politics and stayed neutral, and beyond political conflicts, all along.” He added:

“I don’t understand what’s wrong with some people, who not only fight against compatriots but also hurt the monarchy and attack the military, or these people want the country to no longer exist, through internal conflicts, or they are not Thai people,” he said, in an emotional way.

Prayuth seems frustrated that the monarchy is now (visibly) central to political struggles. Given the military’s huge budget for promoting and protecting the monarchy, he is probably reflecting on his organization’s inability to get beyond Cold War-style “protection” and “promotion” of the declining monarchy.





Updated: Dad’s army

7 08 2013

The so-called People’s Army was discussed a few days ago at The Nation. In the report, as the “peaceful demonstration” began at Lumpini Park, with just a few thousand participants.

The significant element of the report is that the “anti-government People’s Army yesterday revealed the names of 30 high-ranking officials, including military men, who back the group in its campaign to bring down the Thaksin [Shinawatra] regime.” This is who is said to be supporting and leading it:

The group, led by Admiral Chai Suwannaphap, Thaikorn Polsuwan and General Preecha Iamsupan, held a press conference announcing the names of supporters. These include former Army chief General Wimol Wongwanit, former supreme commander General Saiyud Kerdphol, former Air Force chief ACM Kan Pimanthip, and Admiral Bannawit Kengrian. Prasong Soonsiri, former chief of the National Security Council, would act as adviser.

Other supporters were said to include “high-ranking officials, from the police and military whose names could not be revealed because they were still in office.”

Sounds like Dad’s Army to PPT. Most of these persons have palace connections and have long been agitating against all pro-Thaksin governments.Dad's army

At Bangkok Post the usual claims – they were made about red shirts as well – that protesters are being paid are trotted out. We seldom put much stock in such claims although it is known that keeping a rally going is not cheap. In this case, it is easy enough to mobilize a couple of thousand aged and die-hard royalists and anti-Thaksinites. The government’s claim is that: “The money’s from businessmen who work in construction in Bangkok and nearby provinces. They have billions of baht to spend in an effort to topple the government…”.

The Democrat Party is opposed to anything from the government, so their tacit support of Dad’s Army is expected.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva states: “If there’s a clash between different groups of people, I want all sides to stay within the law. The one who can end the conflict is the government…”.

Meanwhile, his former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, “said his party will halt its parliamentary activities and join forces with anti-government protesters if a single person is killed in Sunday’s rally.” He added: “Do not threaten us. If a civilian is hurt or killed, I’ll be the one to topple the government and the prime minister [Yingluck Shinawatra] will have to pack her bags and live abroad.” No one was and there was not an incident. However, PPT wonders what Suthep and Dad’s Army has in mind, especially as Suthep seems so excited.

A clearer statement of Democrat Party involvement in the planning of the Dad’s Army rally is provided by loudmouth People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter and Democrat Party member and former foreign minister Kasit Piromya. Unaccountably, this unguided missile was interviewed by a usually respectable Australian news program, and he kept referring to protesters as “we.”

Also at The Nation, Thaksin is quoted as ridiculing the Dad’s Army rally, “saying many core leaders were people without noteworthy achievements. The Democrats were reprimanded for siding with the protesters. The opposition bloc should relax and wait for its turn to form the government, he said.” He added that: “Many leaders of anti-government campaigns were retired senior military or police brass with ‘broken hearts’ from missing out on key positions during reshuffles when they were still in the service.”Democrat lead protests

Update: Above we alluded to the Democrat Party’s support for the People’s Aged Army. It is now clear why Suthep was excited and why Kasit was talking about the PAA as if partners. The Nation reports that:

Democrat Party’s heavyweights on Wednesday are walking from Uruphong Intersection towards Parliament, accompanied by thousands of anti-government protesters. Former prime minister Chuan Leekpai were seen beside Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajia.





With a major update: Soldiers responsible at Wat Pathum

7 08 2013
The South Bangkok Criminal Court has issued its ruling. It has stated that six persons who were killed on Wat Pathum Wanaram on 19 May 2010 were shot by the soldiers. The court states that five were shot by the soldiers situated on the BTS sky train track above the temple, with the sixth shot by soldiers stationed on Rama I Road. In addition, it states that examinations by the Central Institute of Forensic Science found no gunpowder residue on the hands of any of the six victims,meaning they were not using any weapons. Interestingly, the court found no evidence that men in black were operating in this area, contradicting earlier claims trumpeted by the Democrat Party and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban.
Prachatai provides an unofficial translation of the Criminal Court’s decision, which we reproduce in full:

The Court’s Order

The post mortem inquest of six deaths inside Wat Pathum Wanaram Ratcha Worawiharn

Black Case No. C5/2555

At 09.00, the South Bangkok Criminal Court read an order after completing the post mortem inquest of six deaths that occurred inside Wat Pathum Wanaram Ratcha Worawiharn as a result of the demonstrations on the Rama I Road.

At the request of the public prosecutors of the Office of Attorney General for an inquest on the death of six persons inside Wat Pathum Wanaram Ratcha Worawiharn as it was possible that the deaths have been caused by the act of competent officials who claimed to have performed their official duties. The Court was asked to investigate and rule on who the deceased were, where they died, when they died, causes and circumstances around their deaths as per Section 150 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

After reviewing evidence submitted by the petitioners and relatives of the six deceased including eye-witnesses and other experts, the Court was convinced that the first and the third to the sixth deceased were shot dead by high velocity .223 or 5.56 mm bullets which had been fired by competent officials who were military officials under the charge of Ranger Battalion, Special Force Group 2, Erawan Military Camp while the officials were stationed on the BTS rail tracks. The second deceased was shot dead by high velocity .223 or 5.56 mm bullets which had been fired by competent officials who were military officials under the charge of the 2nd Infantry Battalion, 31st Infantry Division the King’s Guard while the officials were stationed on the BTS rail tracks.

The first deceased, Mr. Suwan Sriraksa, the second deceased, Atthachai Chumchan, the third deceased, Mr. Mongkhol Khemthong, the fourth deceased, Mr. Rop Sooksathit, the fifth deceased, Miss Kamonket Akkhahad and the sixth deceased, Mr. Akkharadet Khankaew, died inside Wat Pathum Wanaram Ratcha Worawiharn, Pathumwan Sub-district, Pathumwan District, Bangok on 19 May 2013 during daytime. The deaths were caused by being shot with .223 or 5.56 mm bullets and the direction of fire was from where the competent officials were stationed to perform their duties to maintain order on the BTS’s rail tracks in front of Wat Pathum Wanaram Ratcha Worawiharn and around Rama I Road. At the instructions of the Center for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES), the officials took control over the area of the Ratchaprasong Intersection. And as a result of that, the first deceased died of gunshot wounds on his lungs and heart causing hemorrhage, the second deceased died of gunshot wound that destroyed his lungs, the third deceased died of gunshot wounds that destroyed his lungs, heart and liver, the fourth deceased died of gunshot wounds that destroyed his lungs and liver, the fifth deceased died of gunshot wounds that destroyed her brain and the sixth deceased died of gunshot wounds that went through his oral cavity, whilst no particular perpetrators can be identified.

Update: PPT just read the Khaosod report of the courts findings, and considers that some of its points deserve repeating:

The inquest helps debunk claims made by critics of the Redshirts who have claimed that the the military had not played any role in the deaths of over 90 people, mostly civilians, that perished during the 2010 crackdown….

The notion that these civilians were shot at as they were helplessly penned inside a Buddhist temple has made the incident at Wat Pathum particularly shocking in its level of brutality, even compared with other bloodsheds that have characterised the closing weeks of Redshirts protests….

In an unprecedented move, the court went further than stating that the 6 civilians were killed by the soldier; its inquest also disputed the soldiers′ explanation of their action as a necessary “self-defence” against the shadowy armed militants who, according to the soldiers, were blending in with the crowd around the temple and shooting at the military personnel….

… [T]he Democrat Party has always insisted that the heavy-handed tactics of the military operation authorised by then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, which included uses of live ammunition, was necessary to combat Blackshirts militants around the protest site.

Critics of the Redshirts therefore placed the blame of Wat Pathum deaths on the Blackshirts, saying that the military opened fire only after the Blackshirts shot at them from inside the temple….

Former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban once insisted that individuals on Skytrain track shooting at civilians inside Wat Pathum were actually “thugs” wearing army uniforms to create misunderstanding….

The court inquest read out today stated that there was no evidence that the so-called Blackshirts were present inside or around the temple. The entire area has been secured by the military, the court insists, and it is impossible that so many journalists – some of them foreigners – failed to spot the mysterious gunmen…. [T]he gunfire was most likely one-directional.

As for the weapons allegedly found inside the temple and shown to the press later, the court noted that there was no evidence the firearms were found inside the temple immediately after the compound has been secured by members of security forces. Consequently, the court said, the weapons had no connection with the incident on 19 May 2010.





TIME on king and politics

6 08 2013

Over the past week or so we have posted on the king’s and queen’s sudden move out of Bangkok and some of the speculation about this. Much of the reporting, however, has been dismissive of speculation and oozing treacle about the monarchy.

Hence we were somewhat surprised to see the staunchly royalist TIME magazine say something just a tiny bit different. In its first paragraph, it noted, as usual, “[t]he 85-year-old royal is the world’s longest-serving monarch and widely revered in the Southeast Asian nation as a moral, unifying figure.” We have explained several times why this is palace propaganda. It then adds the succession issue: “But with the King still frail, and the country’s politics poisonously polarized, many Thais wonder what lies beyond the reign of their beloved sovereign.”

TIME is usually more self-censored on the monarch than even the Thai media these days, appearing as a kind of a throwback journalism, but on succession points out:

Rumors regarding his deteriorating health spread after he did not attend the Royal Ploughing Ceremony for the very first time this year, and Queen Sirikit is also believed to be unwell. Succession is a fraught topic in Thailand as the heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is a controversial figure whose more lavish lifestyle contrasts with the ascetic bearing associated with his father.

Get it right! The king was in hospital for almost four years and rumors of ill-health were dealt with by the use of the draconian lese majeste law. The queen suffered a stroke.

Then an “admission” on the king’s political role: “Even though the King is traditionally viewed as above politics, in recent years the crown has been used by feuding factions for political purposes.” This is the view of some royalists and some anti-monarchists who view the king as a pawn for the military and other unnamed members of the elite. This is little more than an excuse that exonerates the political king by making him a figurehead and pawn. In fact, he has been neither, being deeply involved in political machinations from even before he came to the throne.

Remarkably, TIME cites PPT on lese majeste:

The monarchy has also become increasingly central to the debate regarding free speech. Thailand’s controversial lèse majesté legislation governing criticism of the monarchy is considered among the world’s toughest. Those guilty of defaming any member of the royal family can face three to 15 years behind bars. This is because the “elite fears that any attack on the monarchy will remove the keystone of their power, and that the whole system will come crashing down,” says a spokesman for the Political Prisoners in Thailand campaign group. Not only Thai citizens have been targeted; Thai-American Joe Gordon recently spent over a year in prison for translating excerpts of an unauthorized and banned biography of the King.

Politics and the monarchy are bound together as Siamese twins.








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