Finishing off Puea Thai II

8 09 2016

The Nation has two reports on the military junta’s continuing efforts to finish off the Puea Thai Party before any “election.”

The first refers to the “likely exercise absolute power under [dictatorial] Article 44 of the interim charter to seize ex-politicians’ multi-billion-baht assets in connection with [allegedly] fake government-to-government (G-to-G) rice deals signed by former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom…”.

Because the “Commerce Ministry, which is responsible for filing civil liability lawsuits against the suspects, might not have the resources to confiscate the assets,” the junta will use its dictatorial powers.

Military lackey Wissanu Krea-ngam lied that the “move was not targeting any particular former politician…”. Seriously, Wissanu is either nuts or believes that Thais are nuts. This is no more than a measure to screw Puea Thai and to destroy it.

Of course, former premier Yingluck Shinawatra “is also facing criminal and civil liability lawsuits in relation to the rice-pledging scheme” and we may expect that she will also be neutered by these cases and perhaps jailed or bankrupted. (Jailing Sondhi Limthongkul may be a junta prelude to sending Yingluck to prison.)

The second story is about the lackey NationalAnti-Corruption Commission (NACC) “unanimously agreed to indict three former Pheu Thai MPs accused of malfeasance regarding a 2013 constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Senate to be fully elected.”

The NACC is attacking “former Sakon Nakhon MP Narisorn Thongthiras, former Nonthaburi MP Udomdej Ratanasatien and former Parliament president Somsak Kiatsuranont, who is also a politician from the then-ruling Pheu Thai Party.”

Updated: Miracles in the military’s Thailand

7 09 2016

PPT doesn’t believe in miracles. In Thailand, however, a series of “miracles” have occurred. More precisely, they seem to to have been manufactured under the auspices of the military dictatorship.

The first is a recurring “miracle.” The king’s health has improved for the umpteenth time. In a short report attributed to the Royal Household Bureau. It says the king’s “blood and phlegm were checked by a team of doctors at Siriraj Hospital. An X-ray found fluid in the King’s lung had reduced and there was no inflammation.” It adds that a “pulse examination by echocardiography found the functioning of [the king’s] … cardiac muscle was satisfactory.”

UdomdejThe second “miracle” was entirely predictable (which denies miracle status, but the story is still miraculous). The military’s laundry or the National Anti-Corruption Commission has “unanimously agreed that there was no graft in the Rajabhakti [Corruption] Park project in Hua Hin…”. Of course there wasn’t! The junta has said that from the beginning, despite evidence to the contrary including from General Udomdej Sitabutr.

The NACC “agreed unanimously that all procedures carried out under the project had met regulatory requirements…”. We don’t believe it could have found otherwise as the case involved junta members.

The third miracle is the jailing of Sondhi Limthongkul. His crime did not relate to anything about the illegal activities of his People’s Alliance for Democracy, for which he deserves years in prison. Rather it relates to just one of his allegedly fraudulent business deals from the 1990s. That said, his 20 year sentence seems way out of line with the sentences given to a handful of 1990s business crooks.sondhi-limthongkul

Many felt Sondhi was “protected” because of his work for the royalists, making them a political movement, and the role he played in getting rid of Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. We have posted previously that we felt the military was uncomfortable with all populists – Thaksin, Sondhi and Suthep Thaugsuban. Two of these have been pushed aside and out on political ice. We await news of the Suthep “miracle.”

Update: A reader rightly points out that, despite the “miracle recovery” for the king, that reports have stated that the king’s health remains precarious. One states:

… the king is receiving continuous renal replacement therapy, a treatment for critically ill patients with acute kidney failure. It said Bhumibol is still producing insufficient urine.

He has little time left, despite the “medical miracles.”

“Elect” The Dictator

6 09 2016

The moves meant to ensure that the military junta gets its way (again) following an “election” include the manipulation and making of “rules” that allow The Dictator stay at the top.

The Bangkok Post reports that a misnamed “reform panel” is seeking to essentially dismantle all existing political parties, forcing them to re-register and re-form for any upcoming “election.”

The National Reform Steering Assembly’s (NRSA) panel on political reform is recommending the drafting of four organic laws associated with the new charter that will make an unelected premier the most likely outcome of the “election.”

One of the “recommendations” floated to see the public response involves “overhauling membership of political parties by requiring their current members to re-register, known as the ‘set-zero’ approach.”

After re-registering, each member will need to pay “an annual membership fee of 200 baht.”

This is meant to ensure that the huge membership of the Puea Thai Party is intimidated and, in the end, made far smaller than its highs at about 11 million.

The other recommendation is for the junta to “manage” the “election.” We’ve already posted on this manipulation.

Apparently, “Democrat [Party] deputy leader Sathit Pitudecha lambasted the proposed party membership overhaul, saying it would undermine the democratic system.”

He’s lost in space. There is no democratic system and the junta doesn’t propose one.

The Puea Thai Party was clearer: “Pheu Thai acting deputy spokesman Anusorn Iamsa-ard described the move as ‘expected’, saying the so-called ‘five-river organisations’ [the junta’s backers in its own ‘institutions’] were doing their part to keep the military in power.”

He’s right. This is part of the election “fix.

Further updated: Keeping the king alive

5 09 2016

This was originally posted on 3 Sept. Because the updates are important, we have re-dated it.

How long will the royal doctors keep the king alive? When does keeping him alive become a unnatural act. Based on the many reports of his health crises, we think that time must have long passed.

The idea that the king can continue to “operate” politically – approving junta laws and the like – is simply ridiculous for a man who seems so ill that he has been bedridden and non compos mentis for months.

Never mind, his royal body continues to have life, of sorts, and the doctors remain hard at work.

AFP outlines the latest death watch report from the Royal Household Bureau.

It says the “hospital-bound” king “has received treatment for a ‘severe’ blood infection…”.

In the past couple of months, in addition to this illness, he’s been reported to have “a series of ailments, including bacterial infections, breathing difficulties, heart problems and hydrocephalus — a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid often referred to as ‘water on the brain’.”

The statement from the palace this time said “blood tests revealed the king was suffering from a ‘severe infection’.” It stated that “his heartbeat was fast and he had very thick mucus. A test result of the mucus and blood indicated a severe infection…”. He had fluid on the lungs, fever and low blood pressure. He’s probably received huge antibiotic doses, something he’s had repeatedly in recent months.

The fear of letting the king die naturally reveals much about Thailand’s royal house and the military’s politics.

Update 1: As usual, the royal household reports that the king is “improved.” At his age and after so much serious and unending illness, the king is “alive” but little more.

Update 2: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has an important Facebook post on the king’s ill health. He covers some of the material we dealt with, but in more depth. His post is well worth seeking out.

The fears over the king’s health may well have caused the recent turmoil on the Thai stock exchange. As AMM also points out, Bloomberg is one of the few news outlets to name names. It states: “Thailand’s SET Index fell 1.9 percent, the biggest drop since April. The decline followed the latest update on the health of Thailand’s 88-year-old king…”. Initial declines were much higher, suggesting rumors and fear.

Planes for what?

5 09 2016

The Bangkok Post recently reported that the “Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) took delivery Wednesday of the first two of three Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100LR aircraft it has ordered.”

Some of the statements in the report interested us, not least as they appear to indicate that neither The Dictator nor Air force boss ACM Tritos Sonchaeng seem to have much idea about the planes they have just welcomed.

The Air Chief Marshal stated that there are “more than 300 aircraft of this model are being used by several countries…”.

This is simply wrong. Wikipedia is actually accurate on this, and is clear that while there are 319 orders, only 83 of these jets are in service, including the two RTAF craft. Most orders are by Russian official operators and government-linked corporations and by long-time Russian allies.

The air force boss said his plan is to “use the 1.1-billion-baht aircraft for transportation purposes.” The plane is marketed as a commercial passenger airplane, competing with Bombadier and other small passenger jets.

These planes double the VIP transport fleet, currently a Boeing 737 and an Airbus 319.

ACM Tritos reckons that “this is the first time the air force has turned to a Russian-made aircraft” is not a “problem” because “[n]inety per cent of pilots flying Airbus 320 and 319 aircraft can switch to flying the Sukhoi Superjet 100 because these particular models of Airbus aircraft are almost identical to the Sukhoi Superjet 100…”.

What’s wrong with the other 10%? And what is 90% of pilots flying what seems to be only one Airbus in the RTAF?

The Russian craft is fly-by-wire like Airbus, but as the ACM added, “Airbus pilots would still be required to undergo a proper training course using flight simulators … adding it is standard air force practice for getting its pilots familiar with new aircraft.”

The report stated that the “air force also wants to replace six Avro aircraft that have been in use for almost 50 years with Sukhoi Superjets…”. By “Avro” we assume the five decades old Hawker Siddeley 748.

ACM Tritos also reportedly stated that “the Prime Minister’s Office has set aside 1.7 billion baht to fund its plan to purchase an Airbus 340 from Thai Airways International to be used as a VIP aircraft for long-haul flights.” The RTAF would “maintain and operate the Airbus for the PM’s Office.” This plane would be “converted to first-class standards for VIP travel…”.

In other words, the VIP fleet may expand from two planes to four.

The dictatorship is ensuring that The Dictator gets what he wants and in royal style.

If one looks at the long list of aircraft from a huge list of suppliers, one also sees that one aspect of aircraft purchases is to ensure sufficient “commissions” to each generation of the military leadership.

20 years to “international democracy”

4 09 2016

The Dictator intends to “prepare Thailand to become a democracy under international standards.”

In a recent report at The Nation, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is quoted as declaring that his military dictatorship’s “20-year national strategic plan was necessary” for such a political outcome.

It is unclear to PPT that The Dictator has any adequate notion of democracy. Later, confirming his odd understanding, Prayuth is quoted as referring to Thailand becoming “an international democracy.”

The plan, which may have begun after the coup in 2014, “would serve as the foundation and pillars in rebuilding the country for the future.”

In fact, he means 20 years of military tutelage in “preparation” for his “international democracy.”

General Prayuth insisted “that the new government to be formed after the next election would follow the strategic plan laid out by his administration, although it was unlikely to be implemented in its entirety.”

Prayuth insisted Thailand is not ready for democracy.

He was speaking on “national and military strategies for the 20-year period from 2017 at the National Defence College.” His audience were “students” from the “National Defence College, Joint Staff College, Royal Thai Army War College, Naval War College, and Air War College.”

These are the people who consider that they run Thailand better than its people can and so have limited popular sovereignty for decades and when it is in place have undermined it.

Sounding king-like or just like a royal parrot, Prayuth declared: “We all know well what the problem is, and its cause, but we can’t work together due to a lack of unity…”.

Arbitrary detention of pro-democracy activists

3 09 2016

The following is a submission to the 33rd Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre:

August 29, 2016

THAILAND: End Arbitrary Arrest and Arbitrary Detention against pro-democracy activists

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to draw the attention of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to the fact that on 11 May 2016, in response to expressed concerns about freedom of expression and opinion, Thailand’s delegation to the Universal Periodic Review stated to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) that the Government “encourages exchanging of views including through public hearings, about national reform and drafting of the new Constitution by all sectors of the society, both at national and international level.”.

The ALRC would like to point out the manifest inaccuracy of this statement. The May 2014 Military coup, establishing the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the junta ruling body, has sent Thailand’s human rights situation into a free fall. Although the Government and the NCPO scheduled the date of 7 August 2016 for the constitutional referendum, the rights groups noticed that the referendum process was not “Free and Fair”. This is due to the fact that the government imposed the Head of the NCPO No. 3/2015, the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559 (2016), Article 116 of Criminal Code (Sedition), and the Computer-Related Crime Act B.E. 2550 (2007) to restrict people’s right to discuss and criticise decisions about their country in the draft of Constitution and referendum process.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), from 29 April 2016 to 5 August 2016, at least 195 individuals have been arrested and detained. Of these, 149 individuals were charged with the Head of the NCPO No. 3/2015, 28 individuals were charged with the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E.2559 (2016), 13 individuals were charged with Article 116 of Criminal Code (Sedition), and one person was charged with the Computer-Related Crime Act B.E. 2550 (2007). Many of the charges against individuals, which include student activists, labor activists, reporters, and ordinary persons, involve denials of rights to freedoms of expression, association, and assembly in the referendum process. Apparently, the Government fails to recognize rights guaranteed by Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand in 1948 and 1996, respectively.

It can be clearly seen that the deprivation of liberty, especially arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention result from the exercise of the rights to freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. Therefore, the government also fails to recognize rights guaranteed by Article 9 of the ICCPR. Moreover, the ALRC has found that the rights of individuals who were prosecuted by the authorities do not accord with Criminal Procedure Code and Article 14 of the ICCPR. The ALRC is gravely concerned with the violation of internationally protected fair trial rights, especially right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence, and rights to fair hearing by a competent, impartial, and independent tribunal in the Military Court.

For instance, the police accused 13 pro-democracy activists of violating the Head of the NCPO No. 3/2015, which bans political gatherings. The activists were seeking to distribute campaign flyers for the upcoming draft constitution referendum. On 23 June 2016, at around 5:30 p.m., combined forces of police and Military arrested the New Democracy Movement (NDM), student activists, and members of the Triumph Labour Union. All 13 of them were arrested while they were distributing leaflets, fliers, and documents to passers-by. The documents give a little information about the draft Constitution and explain the reasons why people should reject it. All of them were apprehended and taken to the Bang Sao Thaong Police Station. They were detained in police custody overnight and six of them who requested bail during the police stage were denied bail.

On 24 June 2016, all the 13 were brought to the pre-trial remand hearing at the Bangkok Military Court. Although, the alleged offenders’ attorneys filed a motion to object to the remand request, citing that “the Head of the NCPO No. 3/2015 is not an applicable law and its Article 12 (ban on any political gathering of five persons or more) is a restriction on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are recognized in the ICCPR, to which Thailand is a state party. Also, the right to freedom of expression should not be criminalized. In addition, the NCPO Announcement no. 37/2014 which specifies the jurisdiction of the Military Courts states that the Military Court can only adjudicate cases relating to offences against the Announcements or Orders of the NCPO, not the Order of the Head of the NCPO. Therefore, the Bangkok Military Court has no power to review the case and to conduct the remand hearing in this case.

Nevertheless, the Military Court persisted to issue a writ to have the 13 alleged offenders remanded, claiming that they were just arrested and more time was needed for police investigation including several more witnesses to be interviewed and deeming that the objection of the alleged offenders was a legal defence. Thus, the Court dismissed the objection to the remand motion, and approved a 12-day pre-trial remand, as submitted by the police.

In addition, on 10 July 2016, the Ban Pong police searched the vehicle of the three NDM activists, and found campaign material about the Constitutional Referendum and “Vote No” fliers. They were then held in custody for questioning, together with a reporter from Prachatai. No charges were initially pressed against them, but afterwards the Commander of the Provincial Police Region 7 instructed the officer to charge them with violating the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559 (2016) for preparing to distribute the fliers.

The officials have thus seized the evidence and informed the arrestees of the charge against them for “having transmitted a text, or an image, or sound through the print media, or radio, or television, or electronic media, or other channels, which are inconsistent with the truth or are violent, aggressive, rude, inciting or threatening and aimed at preventing a voter from casting a ballot or vote in any direction shall be considered as disrupting the referendum”, which is an offence of the Constitutional Referendum Act’s Section 61 Paragraph Two.

Of late, at 8:20 p.m., it was reported that four vehicles of police officials have laid siege to the residence of Mr. Panuwat Songsawatchai, student of Faculty of Political Science, Maejo University Phrae Campus, Maejo University. Mr. Songsawatchai was another suspect in the same case, who was summoned to turn himself in at the Ban Pong Police Station as a result of his activity at the referendum monitoring center in the morning. He was pressed with the same charge as the four individuals.

On 11 July 2016, at 9:00 a.m., all five were brought to the pre-trial remand hearing at the Provincial Court of Ratchaburi. The police investigator of Ban Pong Police Station asked the Court to have them remanded for 12 days and the Court approved what the police submitted. However, five alleged offenders have been released by the order of the Court, by placing bail bond at 140,000 Baht (around 3,975 $USD) each.

Lastly, only one day before the referendum, the Thai authorities arrested two pro-democracy activists in Chaiyaphum Province, northeastern Thailand, for distributing anti-Constitution flyers. One of the students, Mr. Jatupat Boompatararaksa, a core member of the Northeastern (E-Saan) New Democracy Movement (NDM) activist group, refused to apply for bail and had been on hunger strike in the District Prison of Phu Khiao. He preferred to affirm his innocence and to protest against the country’s broken justice system. The other student, Mr. Wasin Prommanee, has been bailed out.

According to the inquiry officials, the two alleged offenders were accused of committing an offence against the Constitutional Referendum Act’s Section 61 (1) and Section 61 paragraph Two, punishable by not more than ten years of imprisonment, a fine of 200,000 Baht, and against the Announcement of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) no. 2, the previous junta, punishable by not more than six months of imprisonment or a fine of not more than 1,000 baht or both.

In view of the above, the ALRC requests the Human Rights Council to urge the Thai government to immediately drop all charges against political activists, especially student activist and to release those jailed for voicing dissent on the draft charter in the run-up to the referendum. In addition, the Thai government should suspend the use of military courts and military orders in cases involving civilians. These measures are now urgently needed as Thailand moves towards an election in 2017 aimed at restoring democracy, as proposed in the government’s roadmap.

Finally, the ALRC believes that the election next year represents an opportunity for Thailand to meet the commitment it made at the UN Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review in May 2016 to fully respect the freedom of expression, and therefore guarantee a more inclusive and participatory process that involves all political parties, civil society, and the media in an open and non-threatening environment.

# # #

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.