The military regime as Chinese checkers

24 01 2016

Chinese checkers is said to have been developed in Germany, but whatever its origin, it has some striking characteristics that will suggest why the analogy with Thailand’s military dictatorship and the practices and policies it might want to designate as a “foreign policy.”

We say this noting that Wikipedia states that “[l]ike other skill-based games, Chinese checkers involves strategy.” Strategy, perhaps, but as the “rules are simple, so even young children can play.” That seems to sum up the military junta’s approach to foreign policy.

There’s been quite a bit of commentary since the 2014 military coup noting that the junta prefers authoritarian China to the scolding it occasionally gets from long-time ally, the United States, for failing to go the way of previous military juntas and hand over to some kind of civilianized but still authoritarian regime.

The junta’s China pirouette is based on such simplistic views of “friends” and “enemies” and notions that the Chinese well understand, of “face.” Indeed, these motivations are seen in its domestic politics as well.

But as Khaosod reports, the China pirouette is costly. Not just in terms of the necessity of doling out infrastructure projects to a “friend,” but in terms of human lives and any residual notions of freedoms or rights in Thailand.

This Khaosod report is about Chinese journalist Li Xin, who fled China last year, and has been seeking asylum. It is unclear whether he took “secrets” from China or is a state informer who has had second thoughts. Whatever is the case, his wife believes he was abducted by agents of the Chinese state and will be returned to China, if he isn’t there already.

As Khaosod points out, this “journalist’s vanishing is the latest in a string of disappearances of China-related activists in Southeast Asia that have raised suspicions of Chinese government involvement.”

The first case in Thailand, in a string of disappearances and state deportations, is the disappearance from Pattaya of Hong Kong publisher and Swedish national Gui Minhai. The Guardian describes him as a “successful Hong Kong publisher,” and says that “Gui is one of four members of Sage Communications — famed for sensational tomes on the private lives of China’s elite — to go missing.” He finally turned up in China, appearing on Chinese state TV, improbably declaring that the eggs in the fridge, half-done DIY project, boxes of medication, divided into daily doses, still in his apartment, and CCTV footage of the men suspected of kidnapping Gui, he says “he returned to China to turn himself in for an old crime.” A bit like lese majeste suspects in Thailand, Gui has since appeared on state television admitting guilt.

Yet this is just the latest case. Readers will recall the bombing in Bangkok last August (here and here). One of the very first guesses of responsibility involved Uighurs, with police being asked if “the attack could have been in retaliation for Thailand’s recent decision to send some Uighur illegal migrants [sic.] back to China…”. Of course, for a considerable time the police and the military junta denied this. In the end, though, at least based on the occasional court appearances of those charged, this is very likely what the bombing was about.

In July 2015, 109 Uighers were forcibly repatriated to China in what the junta described as a joint Bangkok and Beijing operation “to solve the Uighur Muslim problem” while declaring that China would “look after their safety.” The deportation, which saw the deportees guarded and with bags on their heads, resulted in demonstrations in Turkey.

In November 2015, Thailand deported Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping, two well-known dissidents, who “were arrested by Thai authorities on 28 October for not having valid visas.” What made this case more egregious was that the UNHCR said it was “deeply concerned over the refoulement of two recognised refugees from Thailand,” and said the two “had been approved to be resettled outside Thailand and China and were due to depart days after the unannounced deportation…”.

While such actions fly in the face of international law and reflect poorly on both China and Thailand, the links between the two authoritarian governments, operating in concert and using similar methods of extra-legal detention and more. The Thai junta seems more than willing to engage with China in these matters and, indeed, to learn the simple strategies of “foreign policy” constructed to reward friends.

Updated: Responding to the undemocratic constitution

23 01 2016

In recent days PPT has posted on some of the more undemocratic aspects of the draft constitution.

The Puea Thai Party expressed some of its reservations. Now Nattawut Saikua, secretary-general of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, has spoken out. He states that “red shirts would not endorse an undemocratic constitution in a referendum, even if it delayed an election.”

Nuttawut correctly assesses “that the current draft was far worse than the previous unsuccessful one…“. He declared that the “UDD doesn’t have an official resolution on this, [but] it is clear that we would not accept it [the draft].” He added: “Democracy is what matters, not just the election…”.

Nuttawut “urged all opponents of the charter draft to show their stance. If they waited any longer, they would not be able to explain it to the public…”.

Update: A reader wonders why it is that the Puea Thai Party and the UDD have no alternative constitution. One answer might be that military thuggery prevents political parties and movements even meeting. Yet the notion of an alternative or even a people’s constitution as an alternative to abject authoritarianism institutionalized would at least be a challenge to the ruling class’s drivel.

Updated: Investigate abduction, drop charges

23 01 2016

As Thailand’s military dictatorship thumbs its nose at international norms and laws and embeds repression, Human Rights Watch has demanded that the military junta “urgently investigate the abduction and alleged beating and mistreatment of prominent student activist Sirawith Seritiwat by army soldiers” and should “drop charges against peaceful critics and end the military trial of civilians.

That all makes sense to us at PPT, but it will mean little to the military junta and The Dictator. HRW knows this, stating:

“The abduction and apparent mistreatment of a prominent student activist is further glaring evidence that wanton violations of human rights are the norm under the NCPO’s military dictatorship in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “What’s even worse is Gen. Prayut brushed off international concerns and condemnation, and appeared to tolerate the abusive treatment Sirawith received by emphasizing the military could ‘use any measure’ to carry out an arrest.”

The extent to which Thailand under the junta has moved to embed authoritarianism, HRW notes that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has not only refused to investigate this abduction but claimed that his military thugs can use “any measures to arrest Sirawith.” HRW quotes The Dictator:

Officials acted on an arrest warrant. He [Sirawith] violated the Public Assembly Bill and the NCPO’s order [Order Number 3/2558, which bans public assembly and political activity] … Officials could use any measures to arrest him. The arrest doesn’t have to happen in front of camera, which could then trigger a protest … Why don’t people respect the laws instead of asking for democracy and human rights all the time? … No one is allowed to oppose [the NCPO]. I dare you to try to oppose [the NCPO] … I don’t care what the international community would think about this. I will send officials to explain to foreign embassies. I am not afraid of them. I will tell them to understand that this is Thailand and we are enforcing Thai laws.

HRW makes quite a few reasonable observations about the decline of rights and freedoms under the junta and its flagrant abuse of international law.

HRW has support in a similar call from the United Nations Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) that has urged the “military to drop all charges against 11 student activists arrested for violating a ban on political gatherings.” Laurent Meillan, the acting OHCHR regional representative, states: “The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and opinion are fundamental rights and should never be regarded as a serious criminal offence…. We urge the authorities to drop all charges against the students.”

It should not be forgotten that these students are charged because the military junta will not countenance public scrutiny of its projects; in this case, Corruption Park. So far, it has successfully covered up on claims of corruption and managed to have the media lose sight of the case. These students keep it alive, so thuggish repression is deemed necessary.

This junta remains uninterested in human rights, seeing them as a Western plot against the monarchy and junta, and is determined to return Thailand to its dark ages of military repression, aligning its practices with some of the world’s most abusive regimes.

Update: A reader points out that there is a kind of answer to The Dictator available. When he asks: “Why don’t people respect the laws instead of asking for democracy and human rights all the time?”, the well-known historian Nidhi Eowsriwong has a useful essay that can be seen as a riposte. It is his “When Orders Become Law.”

Military court and lese majeste

22 01 2016

One of the reasons that lese majeste sentences have been so harsh under the military dictatorship has been due to the use of military courts. While civilian courts have not been models of judicial integrity on lese majeste cases, the military courts have tended to hear cases in camera, allow no appeal, have further broadened the “interpretation” of the law and deliver exceptionally harsh sentences.

Some time ago, PPT posted on a challenge to the military court’s jurisdiction in one case that involves Rung Sila or Sirapop (family withheld). Rung Sila is the pen-name of a poet and cyber activist. He and his lawyer submitted a request to the criminal court under Article 10 of the 1999 Court Jurisdiction Act for a ruling on whether he should be tried by a civilian rather than a military court. On 22 September 2015, the Criminal Court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the case. The military court had earlier ruled that it had jurisdiction of the case. The appeal argued that the alleged offense occurred prior to the 2014 military coup. A Court Jurisdiction Committee (CJC) had to make a decision.

Prachatai reports that that Committee has now made its decision and has ruled that the military court has jurisdiction over the case.

On 20 January 2016, the Military Court of Bangkok read the CJC’s decision. The decision was based on a view that the “online contents allegedly defaming the … monarchy which Sirapop posted still existed online after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the coup-maker, issued announcements No. 37/2014 and 38/2014 on 25 May 2014 to transfer the jurisdiction over lèse majesté and other national security related cases to the military courts.”

The report states that this content remained online until 30 June 2014 and thus Rung Sila’s trial “will continue to go on … in the military court which allows no appeal and usually give harsher sentences on lèse majesté cases in comparison to civilian courts.” In essence, the CJC agreed with the military court’s reasoning on its jurisdiction over the case.

Prachatai observes that the “defendant, who is the father of three with his youngest child still in high school, could face up to 45 years imprisonment if he is found guilty.”

Under a military regime, the military will always trump things civilian.

The military’s medicine

22 01 2016

Thailand’s own Andy Capp, Meechai Ruchupan is now well into his eighth decade, but he still seems to believe that he is on target – like one of Andy’s darts – to deliver a political bull’s eye for the military, monarchy, their tycoons and the frightened middle class.

AndyIn an interview with Reuters, he has talked about the junta’s draft constitution. For his audience of anti-democrats, he says the draft will be “strong medicine.”

With the military’s partisan Constitution Drafting Committee almost finished in this second attempt at delivering the right “medicine,” like the anti-democratic street demonstrators belief, based on royalist ideology, that the root of all political evil is the “abuse of power by lawmakers…”.

Meechai has been involved with so many of these charters that serve the ruling class that he knows the political threat from the lower classes has to be seen off. He claims that the new draft is sure to be opposed by political parties because it is “strong medicine.” The stumbling block, however, is that the draft has to go to a referendum, and the “great unwashed” might just rebel against the powers that be. Despite all the threats and repression and the related populist spending by the junta, voters might just tell the toffs that they do not want Meechai’s anti-democratic poison.

The problem is that rejecting the draft will mean more of The Dictator and his military regime. As in 2007, there might be those who will accept the draft constitution and hope that they can then elect a government of their choice. This time, however, no elected government is going to be able to rule in its own right. So many unelected representatives of the elite are imposed on the country through this draft, that an elected government will be like a trained monkey.

With 3 updates: More on Neo-Democracy student arrests

21 01 2016

Prachatai reports that Sirawith Seritiwat’s abduction by unnamed military thugs has seen him delivered, after several hours, to a police station. At last report he remained in police custody. An interview with him, in Thai, is available.

After being abducted by eight military officers at the Rangsit Campus of Thammasat University around 10:30 pm yesterday, Sirawit was taken to Nimit Mai Police Station at 1:10 am this morning before being transferred to Thonburi Police Station.Neo-democracy movement

Sirawith said “the military officers who abducted him covered his head and took him into the bushes in an unidentified area.” He says he was blindfolded and had his head covered as he was driven about until “the vehicle stopped in the bushes in an unidentified area.” He states: ” I was dragged into the bushes and forced to kneel down. When I resisted they kicked me…”.

The Army thugs demanded to know why “he did not call for an investigation into the Rice Subsidy Programme introduced by the former elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and swore at him.” In a threat that has been commonly used by military gangs for several decades, “Sirawit also recounted that while he was blindfolded, the officers put an object which felt like a gun against his head and made noises as if they were pulling the trigger, and that he was also repeatedly hit on the head and back.”

You get the picture of a bunch of Mafia ruffians upset that their godfather has been accused of a crime and intent on threatening and frightening the accusers. Obviously, they are seeing “bias” in that the Neo-Democracy Movement is focused on the military regime’s corruption and abuse of power.

The Movement’s Facebook page includes video of others arrested and inside the police station. Khaosod reports that three others have been arrested when they went to the Thonburi police station to show support for Sirawith. Video of the arrests is available.

The police plan to have them before a military court.

Update 1: Khaosod reports that a fifth activist has been arrested while four others have been released.

The five activists are Sirawith Seritiwat, Chonticha Jaeng-rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap, Korakoch Saengyenpan, and Abhisit Sapnaphapan. They have declared the junta’s actions against them “illegitimate.”

The first four suspects were taken to a military court with a police request that they be held in custody. Surprisingly, this was refused. Abhisit was arrested during the court sitting.

Update 2: Khaosod reports that Sirawith is preparing to take legal action against those military officers who abducted him. Confirming that those officers were acting on the orders of and for the military junta, its spokesman, Col. Winthai Suvaree denied all of Sirawith’s accusations. The Colonel stated: “The soldiers treated him with respect. There was no violence as alleged by someone who tried to distort the facts…”. One fact is clear: Sirawith was abducted by soldiers acting as thugs.

Update 3: Prachatai reports that a military court rejected the police custody request to detain Abhisit Sapnaphapan.

Seven years of PPT

21 01 2016

Another year has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. As in previous years, we admit our disappointment that we are still active.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners would have been released and political repression gone.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor. Instead, seven years later, we are still at it. The dominance of an illegal regime, founded in nonsensical royalism, a cult of personality, the death of the king/succession conundrum, the politicization of the judiciary and the resort to the military boot challenge all Thais. A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream. The “reform” promised by the military junta and currently being embedded in a military-royalist constitution is a nightmare.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy are whisked away into detention, face threats and surveillance and some have died in mysterious circumstances. The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few. The military junta is seeking to institutionalize this control and power.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want and end to political repression and the release of every political prisoner.

We especially remember the unconstitutional and illegal treatment of brave individuals like Darunee Charnchoensilpakul and Somyos Pruksakasemsuk. Their continued imprisonment – over seven years for Darunee and more than four years for Somyos – is a travesty of justice and their treatment has been inhumane.

Under the current regime, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s. Just last night, another opponent was whisked away into secret detention.

In recent years, lese majeste cases have grown exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than this,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the draconian lese majeste law has been extended to include implied lese majeste and the “protection” of royals not cover by the law and even kings dead for several centuries.

PPT has now had more than 2.6 million page views at our two sites. We aren’t in the big league in the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste internationally has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to the issue than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of the issue is far more critical than it was.

In Thailand, however, political repression and the use of lese majeste has deepened. Unfortunately, we see very little light in this long, dark tunnel.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.


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