A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad. We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

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 were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

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

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 – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 3 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

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.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.





Lese majeste in 2018

16 01 2019

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have a useful analysis of the use of lese majeste in 2018.

They begin with the background:

Since late 2016, in the aftermath of the passing of King Rama IX and the accession of King Rama X, prosecutions of lèse majesté cases or the violation of the Penal Codes Section 112 spiked sharply. The witch huntor vigilante actions taken against people who hold different views led to prosecution of dozens of lèse majesté cases.

In fact, since the 2006 military coup, there have been several “spikes.” After that coup, during the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and then since the 2014 coup.

For 2018, there’s not just been a precipitous decline in cases, there’s been none:

The year 2018 saw a number of changes to the enforcement of Section 112. No new cases invoking Section 112 have been prosecuted in 2018 (as far as we know). Meanwhile, several ongoing lèse majesté cases have been dismissed, particularly cases under the review of civilian courts, though this does not necessarily indicate more freedom to exercise the right to free expression in Thailand. Even though the authorities are now reluctant to press lèse majesté charges, charges invoking other laws including the Computer Crime Act or “sedition” per Section 116 continue to be an important tool to restrict freedom of expression and purge dissenters.

TLHR see the cause of this decline as being in the palace:

These changes can be directly attributed to the royal succession. It has not stemmed from the authorities or personnel in the justice process realizing the many protracted problems caused by the enforcement of Section 112. It has also not stemmed from more respect for human rights in Thailand.

Remember all those royalists who used to make excuses for that nice old man, good King Bhumibol, lamenting that he really disliked 112, but those nasty politicians and military types just wouldn’t listen? King Vajiralongkorn has shown how much buffalo manure that propaganda line was.

Sulak Sivaraksa wrote that Vajiralongkorn “instructed the Chief Justice and the Attorney General to bring to an end to prosecutions invoking Section 112 and to not allow it to be used as a political tool.” It seems that on this point, Vajiralongkorn has more sense than his father. That’snot to say that there weren’t dozens of lese majeste cases directly related to Vajiralongkorn such as the spate around his separation from his consort in late 2014 and early 2015.

One result of Vajiralongkorn’s intervention is outlined:

The Attorney General’s directive dated 21 February 2018, addressed to high-ranking officials of all levels in the Attorney General’s Office, instructs all units of the public prosecutor’s department to receive and review immediately investigation reports filed by inquiry officials regarding Section 112 cases. The public prosecutors are then instructed also to furnish the Office of the Attorney General a copy of the police investigation report in each case and not to make any decisions about these cases. They are informed that it is the Attorney General who will decide as to whether the cases will be filed in Court or not. Now the rank-and-file public prosecutors no longer have the power to order prosecution of 112 cases.

The other impact that this change from the top has brought has been that several cases have been dropped, even when those accused have entered a guilty plea. Sometimes the defendants have been convicted of other offenses or were already serving long jail terms.

TLHR conclude:

Amidst changes in the status, role and content of the laws concerning the monarchy in 2018, any expression of thought in public, including any criticisms based on factual information, could be construed as a sensitive comment and could be deemed “crossing the line” in Thailand.

Change seems to have taken place in ‘form’, though the ‘substance’ of the law remains the same.





All used up

8 11 2018

When the royalist establishment deemed it crucial that it oppose elected governments, it supported the creation of “movements” with allegedly “charismatic” leaders, using “civil society” to bring down those governments. Backing them were royalists from business, including the giant conglomerates, and the military.

First there was Sondhi Limthongkul and the People’s Alliance for Democracy. It drew on considerable middle class discontent with Thaksin Shinawatra and his regime but was driven by royalist ideology.

After a series of false starts, the second great “movement” was the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, led by the royalist anti-democrats of the Democrat Party and fronted by Suthep Thaugsuban.

Of course, neither movement was able to bring down the elected governments. That required military coups in 2006 and 2014.

When they had done their work, the fact of their invention by the royalist strategists of the military, business and palace was seen in the manner in which the “movements” vaporized once their usefulness was over.

And, look at the leaders. Both had a capacity to mobilize supporters and this worried many in the military. At the same time, the military knew that it “deserved” to be on top and that the upstarts they created had to know their place.

Sondhi was targeted for what was either an assassination bid or a brutal warning to know his place. No one was ever charged, but it is interesting that the media at the time suggested that both Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda were considered “suspects” in the Sondhi shooting.

Suthep thought he was a “star” and “popular,” but the military put him in his place following the 2014 coup, having to enter the monkhood. While Suthep is back and campaigning for his Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT) Party, it seems his “movement” has evaporated and his capacity for garnering the political limelight has been lost under the military junta. Interestingly, this return is a backflip and, according to one op-ed, not popular with his former PDRC supporters (and presumably its backers).

The op-ed continues: “… Suthep seems to have overestimated his popularity, thinking it could be on par with the backing he received from PDRC supporters during the time he led the street protests.” He was disappointed: “his recent jaunts in several areas to recruit members for the party have apparently received a cold response.” This caused “core PDRC supporter Arthit Ourairat … calling for Mr Suthep and other PDRC leaders who have joined ACT to stop their political activities.” Arthit might have poured money into the PDRC but is an ardent anti-democrat and probably is 100% behind The Dictator’s bid for extended power. Tellingly, the man who funded and funneled money to Suthep and PDRC reckons that “people ‘no longer believed them’.”

Anti-democrats want a military-dominated regime and Suthep’s usefulness, like Sondhi’s before him, is over. Suthep’s response will be interesting as his face, position and wealth depend on state links.





Thailand being junta-ed into the future

21 10 2018

Back in 2007, the end of the regime put in place by the junta that conducted the 2006 military coup was marked by the Computer Crimes Act. That junta-ed Thailand in the years that followed, with most of those charged with lese majeste also being charged under the computer crimes law. Of course, many others were junta-ed by the political law.

The current military junta has sought to strengthen the state’s capacity for surveillance. As Sanitsuda Ekachai says in her most recent op-ed:

All our personal and business information will no longer be safe from state surveillance if the draft of a new cybersecurity bill becomes law.

If the bill is passed, the cybersecurity agency, with god-like power could monitor our internet activities and penetrate our systems — without a court order. It could force us to submit information, stop our internet transactions, seize our computers, and issue other measures it deems fit to ward off perceived security threats.

Say “no” and you face a maximum of three years in prison and/or a maximum fine of 300,000 baht.

Like all “cybersecurity” in Thailand, the proposed law is secretive, vague and associated with military and monarchy:

One critic has slammed this cybersecurity law which was hatched in secrecy as being a blatant attempt to make Thailand a Gestapo state. And rightly so.

Make? It is already pretty much there under a military dictatorship. It is just that the current junta wants Thailand to be an anti-democratic state. The proposed law has a “definition of national security is so broad and so vague that anything deemed upsetting to the government and the status quo can be treated as a threat.”

Think monarchy and criticism of a military-backed regime.

Sanitsuda adds:

Also, how critical the threat should be to deserve state intervention is also up to cybersecurity authorities’ judgement. The room for abuse of power in this scenario is huge, especially when the accused has no right to appeal.

More importantly, military security is also defined as national security. This is why the military — in its capacity as an arm of the cybersecurity agency — will be entrusted with the power to freely penetrate our internet systems and force us to follow its order at will.

No government that is not a military government or a military-(s)elected will be able to oppose this military interference or roll back the power this draft law provides for the military. Truly, Thailand will be junta-ed for years, even decades.





Doubling down on double standards IV

2 10 2018

We have posted a lot on the GT200 debacle. Even so, the Bangkok Post’s recent editorial on the military brass and their impunity deserves attention.

It points out that the retailer of the useless non-devices to the military and other government agencies has twice been found guilty for selling the lumps of plastic. With just two employees, his AVA Satcom Co Ltd. managed to sell large quantities of the junk to the government and military.

(Reminds us that this is not unusual. The non-flying waste of money Sky Dragon was sold to the same military brass by a penny company in the USA. It’s now more than a year since that “investigation” was begun and nothing’s been heard that we know of.)

The Post states that the “military men involved in this shameful saga more than 10 years ago have never been brought to justice.” Why not? The Post “answers”: “They include several of those in high positions in the military regime and National Council for Peace and Order.” (So does the Sky Dragon non-case.)

More than this, Sutthiwat lawyer “claims that Sutthiwat only imported the GT200 … because the army told him to do so.” And more: “Credibly he claims army officers approached his client with instructions, and specific specifications to buy, import and resell the items to the army.”

If it wasn’t a theft of taxpayer funds, this would be funny. It is corruption, managed and directed by senior military officers. And to repeat, as the Post said: “They include several of those in high positions in the military regime and National Council for Peace and Order.”

The Post makes it clear that the “lawyer’s claim is credible because this is the way the Royal Thai Armed Forces do their foreign buying.”

A total of 535 sets of the useless GT200 were purchased by the Army, costing the taxpayer 642 million baht, with”four army commanders in a row spoke glowingly and positively of their effectiveness.” That’s Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who led the 2006 coup and Gen Anupong Paojinda, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan who all led the 2014 coup and now lead the military junta.

Double standards define the military junta.





2006 as royalist coup

19 09 2018

2006 coup

It is 12 years since the military, wearing yellow tags, rolled its tanks into Bangkok to oust Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Rak Thai Party government and to wind back the Thaksin revolution.

Thaksin had a lot of faults and made many mistakes. His War on Drugs was a murderous unleashing of the thugs in the police and military that should not be forgiven.

But his big mistake was being “too popular” among the “wrong people.” TRT’s huge election victory in February 2005 was an existential threat to the powers that be. Their final response, after destabilizing the elected government, was to arrange for the military to throw out the most popular post-war prime minister Thailand had known. And, the palace joined the coup party.

2006 coup

But getting rid of the so-called Thaksin regime and his popularity was too much for the somewhat dull guys at the top of the military and the palace’s man as prime minister was typically aloof and hopeless. He appointed a cabinet full of aged and lazy royalists who misjudged the extent of Thaksin’s popularity. The 2007 election proved how wrong the royalists were about the Thaksin regime being based on vote-buying and “policy corruption.”

So they ditched out another prime minister and then another elected government, this time relying on the judiciary. Then they killed red shirts.

But still Thaksin held electoral sway, this time via his sister Yingluck. And she had to go too, replaced by the knuckle-draggers of the current military dictatorship.

Meeting the junta

12 years on, PPT felt that our best way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab is to re-link to the Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables. As a collection, they provide a useful insight as to how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the embassy to know.





Meechai as military lackey

12 09 2018

Meechai Ruchupan has loyally served several military and military-backed regimes.

Meechai has faithfully served royalist and military regimes, being a in various legal and political positions to prime ministers Sanya Dharmasakti, Kukrit Pramoj, Seni Pramoj, Thanin Kraivichien, General Kriangsak Chamanan, General Prem Tinsulanonda and Anand Panyarachun. His main task in all of these positions has been to embed Thai-style (non) democracy. rather than an electoral democracy where the people are sovereign.

He also worked for Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan, but when Chatichai was ousted in a miltiary coup led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC) in 1991, Meechai was hoisted by his military allies into the acting premier’s position before Anand was given the top job by the military, probably on royal advice.

Later, the military had Meechai appointed the leader of a charter-drafting committee, leading to the 1991 Constitution, which eventually led to the May 1992 massacre. In drafting that constitution, Meechai simply plagiarized bits of a charter that had been used earlier by a military regime. The major “achievement of that constitution was in allowing an “outsider” prime minister. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s what he has recycled into the 2017 constitution.

Like many of the “good” people, he is arrogant, practices nepotism, lies for his bosses and political allies, slithers before the monarchy, he’s a “constitutional expert” who practices and supports double standards and the retrospective application of laws. You get the picture.

Thai PBS now reports that, against all evidence, Meechai has claimed to not be a military lackey. As the report begins:

Every coup-maker of the past two decades needed his service. Seizing power doesn’t end with just toppling the incumbent governments. Coup announcements and executive orders need to be issued. And more importantly, interim constitutions need to be drafted.

And his track records have proven that nobody could have done a better job with all these necessary paperworks than Meechai Ruchuphan.

It is well more than two decades, but let’s go on.

Maybe he’s been to a fortune teller who predicts that Meechai will burn in the fires of hell for an eternity or perhaps he’s writing a self-congratulatory book. But whatever the reason, Meechai improbably claims that “he was inadvertently dragged [sic.] into a few coups despite the fact that he hardly knew any of the generals involved.”

He reckons that the multiple coup leaders just needed his legal expertise. In other words, he claims he’s just a tool for the men who repeatedly act illegally in overthrowing legal governments and smashing constitutions.

A tool he might be, but a willing and blunt tool. Willingly plagiarizing and willingly taking positions and pay from dull dictators.

But none of that means, at least in Meechai’s fairy tale, “that he would follow every marching order from the military.”

That he’s piling up buffalo manure is illustrated in his ridiculous claims about the 2006 coup.

He says the first he was ever at the army headquarters was during the 2006, which he knew nothing of. Really? Seriously? More unbelievable is his statement that he “didn’t even know at the time who was leading the coup. There were three of them there and I knew only afterward … [who] they were…”.

He is imitating the Deputy Dictator making stupid and unbelievable stuff in the belief that the public are gullible morons. That Meechai thinks anyone would believe that he, a military servant for decades, didn’t know three of the most powerful generals is laughable.

Then he lies about the 2014 coup: “His service was enlisted once again by the people he didn’t know.” Yes, that’s right, didn’t know anyone. He lies:  “I didn’t know Gen Prayut and didn’t even know what he looked like…”.

We assume that when he was President of the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly after the 2006 coup he kept his eyes closed the whole time so that he didn’t see NLA member Gen Prayuth.

He goes on and on with this stream of fermenting lies to claim “that even under military dictatorship … he was by no means an unquestioning subordinate of those in power.”

Meechai is unscrupulous and a military lackey. He doesn’t feel like a lackey because his ideas on anti-democracy fit the generals ever so perfectly.

The arrogance of the man is as stunning at Gen Prawit’s.