Challenging the courts on lese majeste

18 09 2017

One of the Stolen history 6, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul (57) has challenged the courts on lese majeste.

Prawet is one of six persons detained on 29 April 2017 for alleged lese majeste for apparently sharing a Facebook post by Somsak Jeamteerasakul on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. The junta has “blacklisted” the exiled Somsak and considered the post to favor republicanism. Other charges thrown at Prawet included computer crimes and sedition.

He has been in custody since the military grabbed him.

While little is known of the fate of the other five, Prawet, who has been critical of the military dictatorship and the lese majeste law and has defended lese majeste victims, faces a total of somewhere 171 years in jail, depending on the charges finally brought (although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years).

According to the Bangkok Post, Prawet “has told the court [on 18 September] he did not accept the Thai judicial system and forfeited his right to examine witnesses and evidence against him.” Prawet said that as he did not accept the judicial system on lese majeste, then he “did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.”

Prachatai states that Prawet’s challenge is to the court’s “impartiality … in his case, as it is related to the monarchy.” It reports that he prepared a statement on this lack of impartiality:

“Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case,” Prawais wrote, adding that he will not participate in the case nor grant authority to any lawyer to represent him.

Facing 50 years in prison, he believes that it will not make any difference whether he pleads guilty or innocent because he will not be able tell the truth anyhow.

The court, seemingly flummoxed, fell back on its usual approach on recalcitrant lese majeste victims and decided to drag things out and punish-torture Prawet. His next scheduled hearing will be on 8 May 2018.  Presumably, the court hopes that having him jailed will change his mind and he will plead guilty. If not, the court seeks to silence his criticism.

Prawet’s stand is brave and he’s undoubtedly correct. As far as we can recall, he is the first to challenge the courts in this way.





Monarchy and lese majeste

16 09 2017

Some recent stories on lese majeste and the monarchy deserve to be highlighted even if they have been widely read.

First, the brave Akechai Hongkangwarn has come up with a proposal for abolishing Article 112 of the criminal code. The idea of abolishing the lese majeste is a proposal we heartily support, although the mechanism he proposes strikes us as a tad flawed.

Prachatai reports that Akechai cites a statement by The Dictator in positioning his proposal General Prayuth Chan-ocha use the dictatorial Article 44 to dump the lese majeste law:

He said that after Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, also known as Pai Dao Din, pleaded guilty of lèse majesté last month, the junta head indicated that the King actually does not want any individual to be prosecuted for lèse majesté.

Some might suggest that getting rid of the law by any means is okay, but we tend to think the idea of using a draconian power to nix the draconian law is contradictory. More significantly, we think it important to look at what The Dictator actually said.

At the time, The Nation reported that General Prayuth stated: “The monarch never wants to see people being punished because of this matter…”. He added: “The monarchy institution always has mercy, always grants pardons and even amnesty…”.

In fact, The Dictator was not expressing the new monarch’s personal position on lese majeste, but protecting the monarchy’s public image.

Prayuth stated that the “protection of the institution of the monarchy is one of the key security strategies of the government.” He “explained”:

“It is not the institution of the monarchy that issues and enforces such laws, it is the government’s duty to enforce the law to protect the institution…. Please understand that HM the King cannot enforce the law. The monarchy gives the power [to the government] to run the country, so we have to protect the institution.”

It is clear that Prayuth is distancing the monarchy from the political use of the law and that he speaking of the monarchy as an institution and not an individual monarch.

He claimed to be bemused that “people know very well that defamation of the monarchy is a crime in Thailand, [but] some just want to violate the law…. I don’t really understand why they just want to disobey the law.”

Prayuth’s position is congruent with the royalist propaganda on the law and is repeating tales we have heard several times over the decades and most especially since the 2006 military coup.

We should add that it is also false. There are several cases listed in our files that show the palace’s direct involvement with cases. One example is Bundith Arniya’s case.

Second, we wonder about a story at Khaosod. The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, completed in 1915, is a Renaissance revival-style meeting hall, sometimes erroneously described as a “palace.” It is being closed to the public “indefinitely,” from 30 September, the same day that “people to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol.”

A magnificent structure and lavish interiors have attracted tourists. Described as housing “some of Thailand’s national treasures,” this seems to mean royal stuff collected by fabulously kings, queens and other royals.

Officials state that there “is no date when the throne hall will reopen…”.

We may be all too conspiratorial, but the Hall is across the road from the purloined 1932 plaque. The Hall also has an important position in the 1932 revolution. As Wkipedia explains it:

During the four days of the 1932 Revolution (24–27 June), the Khana Ratsadon (or the People’s Party) used the throne hall as its headquarters. The party also imprisoned several princes and royal ministers as hostages inside the hall as it carried out its coup [they mean “revolution”].

Following that, the Hall was used as Thailand’s first parliament, and remained the parliament until 1974. It was then given back to the monarchy as part of  the Dusit Palace.

This return to the monarchy was a part of a long process of the royal family clawing back all that had been lost after 1932. That process restored and enhanced the monarchy’s (how) huge wealth and its political influence.

It seems no coincidence that this move is a part of a larger process undertaken under King Vajiralongkorn to further expunge the memory of 1932 and the period of anti-royalism.

Third, the Khmer Times reports on political refugee Neti Wichiansaen and a screening of his documentary “Democracy After Death” in Cambodia.

The report explains that Neti “is part of a small Thai community in Phnom Penh living in exile because of the Thai junta’s harsh enforcement of the loosely worded lese majeste laws, which punishes anyone who criticises the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison.”

Neti says: “If I went back now I would go straight to jail, even though I have no weapons. I am just a filmmaker…”.

PPT has posted on “Democracy After Death” previously, and the link to the film still seems active.

Neti was also one of the brave few who signed up for the Article 112 Awareness Campaign in 2011.

On the monarchy in Thailand’s politics, Neti says: “Many people after [the coup], realised that the monarchy is the mother mind of the coup. After that, Thai people think it’s unfair that the monarchy takes sides…”. Of course, the monarchy has always taken sides.

It is revealing that Neti does not claim to be a republican, preferring a European-style constitutional monarchy – that is, the 1932 model. He explained that: “Most Thai people don’t want to destroy the monarchy, they want it to go together with the new democracy…”.

Reforming the monarchy seems a pipe dream. Like the lese majeste law, abolition seems a better approach.





Junta repression deepens VI

22 08 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship seems to be in a panic. As we recently posted, some of this seems to be caused by Yingluck Shinawatra’s upcoming verdict. But there’s more going on.

The Criminal Court has “sentenced Watana Muangsook, a key Pheu Thai Party figure and former commerce minister, to one month in prison, suspended for one year, and fined him 500 baht for contempt of court after broadcasting via Facebook Live at the court.” He was also ordered to “delete the clip from his Facebook page.”

The report at the Bangkok Post states that the “sentence was handed down while he was waiting for the court’s decision on whether to detain him on charges of inciting public chaos, breaching Section 116 of the Criminal Code.” It adds that that “charge is in connection with a case involving the removal of a memorial plaque commemorating the 1932 Siamese Revolution.”

A charge related to the plaque is quite bizarre given that the state has not acknowledged that the plaque was stolen or officially removed. Yet complaining about this historical vandalism is considered sedition. That the removal coincided with the royalist ceremonies associated with the junta’s faux constitution is evidence of official efforts to blot out anything not royalist or military in political life and memory.

Watana points out that:

…[T]he Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) on Monday submitted a request to detain the politician from Aug 21-Sept 1. Mr Watana was awaiting the ruling on that matter when he started filming in the court.

Earlier at the police station, Mr Watana acknowledged the charge of importing false information into a computer system in violation of the Computer Crime Act after he posted content relating to the plaque’s replacement on his Facebook page.

He was temporarily released on 200,000-baht bail for both charges.

He said it was not common for TCSD investigators to summon someone again after the person has already acknowledged the charges again him.

Mr Watana also said the detention request is intended to hinder him from giving moral support to former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the Supreme Court this Friday.

Then there are those academics and others who attended and organized the International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University. They have reported to police and been fingerprinted while denying charges brought against them.

Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, met Chang Phuak police with Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam after the summons had been issued for them on Aug 11, almost a month after the four-day 13th International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University ended on July 18.

They face charges of assembling of more than four for political activities, which is prohibited by the National Council for Peace and Order.

As with the fit-ups of Pravit Rojanaphruk and Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, Chayan is being fitted up. He had nothing much to do with those protesting the military’s surveillance of conference attendees. The other four are also being fitted up as there were others who held the signs and appeared in photos, and these persons have not been summoned by the police.





Catching up on the monarchy

8 08 2017

PPT has been posting regularly and yet we have not been able to post on all the stories in the media we’ve found interesting on or related to Thailand’s most feudal of institutions. Thus, this post is a catch-up. We will list several of these stories, from the past week or so, with little comment and just a quote of interest from each one:

Thai dissident’s lonely fight to keep history alive

Carrying a bucket of cement and a heavy bronze plaque, Ekachai Hongkangwan set out across Bangkok’s heavily-policed Royal Plaza in late June to perform a solo act of D-I-Y dissent.

But the 42-year-old was quickly bundled into a police van before he could lay down the metal disc – an exact replica of a monument that was mysteriously removed in April, sparking fears officials were trying to whitewash history.

The attempted restoration was a dangerous and rare act of subversion in a country smothered by an arch-royalist military and where criticism of the monarchy is being purged at an unprecedented rate.

Silencing dissent: digital capitalism, the military junta and Thailand’s permanent state of exception (we are not exactly sure how an exception becomes permanent)

In the last three years of military rule in Thailand, arrests and prosecutions for defamation, sedition and offences under the Computer Crimes Act have soared. Human rights advocates, democracy campaigners and ordinary citizens have been threatened, harassed and detained in military camps. The junta have sought to silence public discourse on every conceivable aspect of their rule. Global social media platforms are ground zero in this repression, and each month citizens are arrested and detained for what they post, share and like on Facebook.

Thai King’s Birthday Celebrations Mark Consolidation of Power

Thailand to celebrate birthday of assertive new King

The new monarch has shaken up the palace. A law quietly passed in April by Thailand’s interim assembly allowed him to consolidate control over five agencies which handle palace affairs and security. These agencies, which previously reported to the prime minister and defence ministry, remain funded by the state, but need not return revenue to the treasury.

A Straits Times examination of over 100 notices published on the Royal Gazette website since January shows the palace has promoted over 200 employees, removed or demoted over a dozen, as well as appointed over 100 more – many of them senior government servants.

All these moves have taken place amid tighter enforcement of Thailand’s lese majeste law, under which individuals have been jailed not just for insulting or defaming royalty, but also for trying to profit from their connections to the palace. Open discussion about the king, already constrained under the previous reign, has withered.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn expands his territory – but at what cost?

Change is afoot in Thailand. Amidst continued instability and uncertainty, King … Vajiralongkorn asserts more control. This move puts the ruling military junta in check.

The king now has full control of the agency that manages the holdings of the monarchy. Details about the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) are shrouded in secrecy. But it is worth at least US$30 billion thanks to significant holdings and investments, estimates suggested.

The Frontlines of Cyber Repression: Thailand and the Crop Top King

This post is the first of many in which we will begin the process of documenting the digital frontlines of cyber repression. By building better awareness about cyber repression, we hope this blog series will help illustrate current examples from across a wide spectrum of states and highlight actions being taken to push back on repression.

Trial of Yingluck sparks deeper crisis for Thailand

Why must she be eliminated at this point in time? The political elites are increasingly concerned about their position of power now that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away last October, is no longer on the political scene. Under Bhumibol, their political interests were firmly secured through the monarchy network, which had dominated political life for decades. Without Bhumibol, Thailand has moved into an uncertain phase under the new controversial king, Vajiralongkorn. Those political elites fear that the Shinawatras might exploit political uncertainties to regain power.





A feudal king

26 07 2017

One of the themes of the new reign has been the accumulation of power to the king. Since his December 2016 accession, King Vajiralongkorn has managed a rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution.

That process has seen constitutional change demanded and received, control of formerly state offices associated with the palace handed over to the king and the king gain unfettered control of the Crown Property Bureau and its great wealth.

It has also seen a large reorganization of palace staff as Vajiralongkorn purged masses of people including many formerly considered close to him. These purges seemed to begin with his third wife, Srirasmi.

A further step in the king’s massing of wealth and power in his palace has been a refeudalization of the king’s relations with those in the palace. The most recent example of this has been revealed by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. He shows that at least 11 women have been royally granted the family สิริวชิรภักดิ์ /Sirivajirabhakdi.

This royal attention to young women seems to indicate that a return to 19th century  concubinage and a royal harem will be another retrogression introduced in this reign.





Rolling back 1932

19 07 2017

The period since the accession of King Vajiralongkorn has seen a very rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution. In fact, these were relations were to establish a separation of state and crown, not least in terms of the state’s funds and the those of the crown and the monarch.

The military junta’s agreement that King Vajiralongkorn could have total and personal control of the Crown Property Bureau is just the most recent of the changes that have granted extensive control of power and wealth to the monarch not seen since 1932.

A few days ago, Peter Morris had a story at Ozy on the events and impact of 1932. Readers might find this article of use in understanding what it is that King Vajiralongkorn is winding back.

Over the years, it has been widely assumed that Vajiralongkorn was little more than a dumb hedonist. The efforts he has made to challenge decades-old arrangements that have long annoyed the royal family suggest that he has imbibed the anti-1932 bile that has circulated in the family. He’s showing that he follows a line of royal relatives who plotted and schemed against the People’s Party and its legacy.





Updated: King’s power

18 07 2017

For some time there have been rumors that King Vajiralongkorn was seeking to take full control of the Crown Property Bureau. A Royal Gazette announcement on the weekend and reports in the Thai and international media make that takeover official.

Interestingly, the takeover of the CPB by the king was discussed by Andrew MacGregor Marshall in his book A Kingdom in Crisis. He said:

The prospect of Thaksin [Shinawatra] and the crown prince using the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to transform Thailand and elevate a new ruling class at the expense of the old terrifies the oligarchy that runs the country.

If the oligarchs were terrified, half of that prediction have now come about. The Thaksin part of the equation seems to have been nullified by the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship’s efforts to destroy Thaksin and other identified enemies of regime, crown and tycoons.

At least that’s what they must be hoping.

Khaosod reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly has passed a new law on the control of the Crown Property Bureau. (We assume that the NLA again met in secret session to do this deal for the king. We assume this because the previous new laws made following demands from the king have been made secretly.)

This new legislation, passed on Sunday, gives the king “sole authority over royal assets.” This is claimed to be the first change made to the law since 1948.

Whereas previously the Ministry of Finance and its minister had nominal roles in managing the CPB and its board of directors, this is now gone. Now, “the power to appoint a board of directors to manage the crown property rests solely with King Vajiralongkorn, and not a government official as delineated in previous laws.”

As Khaosod notes, this is the “latest move by the military government to cement King Vajiralongkorn’s control over palace affairs.”

Yet it is far more than this. Allowing for the growth of property prices, the CPB probably controls assets of $40-60 billion. Arguably, it is the most powerful and wealthiest conglomerate in the country.

The king now controls this mammoth business empire. More importantly, the new law also “prohibits any effort to take away any part of the royal assets without the king’s approval.” This provision has potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the monarchy and further reduces the state’s authority over the monarchy.

The king now controls all aspects of the monarchy’s wealth and power, and in legal terms, he is now the most powerful monarch since 1932 and, on paper, is more or less independent of the state’s control that was established in 1932 and the years after.

As an AFP report notes, this is the “latest move by an increasingly assertive monarch to consolidate his power.”

While the previous king relied on networks of influential alliances, the power of the military and a personal capacity to politically intervene when he deemed this necessary, the new king is acknowledging his unpopularity and has joined with the military junta to consolidate and expand the monarchy’s economic and political power.

Update: Reuters adds some further detail to this change. It notes that the changes to the law “places the management of crown property under the direct supervision of the king. It states that the bureau’s properties, in addition to the king’s private properties, will be managed ‘at His Majesty’s discretion’.” It allows the king to “assign the Crown Property Bureau, any individual or agency to manage the properties and assets.”

Clearly the old claim that the CPB was not exactly the monarch’s property is out the window. The king’s personal property is indistinguishable from that of the CPB.

Interestingly, “Crown property, but not the king’s private property, had previously been exempted from tax,” and the “amended law says both could now be subject to tax, though it did not elaborate,” suggesting that there’s plenty of wriggle room.