Another year of PPT

20 01 2020

Eleven years have passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our disappointment that we remain active.

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 feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is no better following last year’s March “election,” which was rigged to return a junta-based regime.

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-turned-military-backed regime, initially brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that protects an anti-democratic ruling class and efforts by the king to enhance his political and economic power, cheered on by the regime. This royalist state lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta and its “elected” spawn have used a politicized judiciary, a rigged constitution and blunt military and police repression to maintain power.

Last year we argued that the junta’s rigging of an “election” that would embed a military-royalist constitution and lead to a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come. Sadly, we were right.

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.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy. The junta supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying 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 – as military junta and then “elected” regime – hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military.

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, since 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. There remain several persons held or charged with lese majeste and cries of lese majeste still emanate from royalists and ministers.

These days, other charges, including sedition, are used to repress political opponents.

As for PPT, we have now had more than 6.5 million page views at our two sites (one now closed). PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics 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.

Tired after all these years, we did take a break in late 2019, but we are now back.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with 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, sedition and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against all political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

Royalism and neo-feudalism must be opposed.





Updated: Reprehensible regime

17 01 2020

In what seems like a somewhat naive statement, Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2020 states:

The Thai government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha elected in March failed to improve respect for human rights or restore genuine democratic rule after five years of military dictatorship….

To say that the military dictator’s government was “elected” in 2019 gives the military-backed, royalist regime too much legitimacy. It should never be forgotten that the military junta rigged the electoral rules and only cobbled together its coalition by having its Election Commission change the rules as the vote count was completed.

And, no one ever expected that the “new” government – which was really not very different from the junta’s government. The parties that joined the government were all composed of royalist supporters of the 2014 coup.

Coup plotters and election cheats

With those caveats, it is still worth reading the HRW report summary on Thailand. The report itself is a list of abuses by the regime that is little different from the 2019 report.

Convicted heroin smuggler

The regime seems little troubled by law or to have any moral compass. While not mentioned in the report, this is a government that has senior men who have been coup plotters, breaking the law and destroyed a constitution. It has other ministers who are flip-flopping opportunists. It also has a convicted heroin smuggler as a deputy minister.

Land grabber

And now the government’s Palang Pracharath Party has made land grabber and (if the law was actually used) criminal Parina Kraikup an appointed member of a House Committee on anti-corruption.

Nothing is bizarre enough for this essentially lawless regime. There might be a point to having a corrupt MP on the committee – she’d knows about corruption up close – being the daughter of a multiple hit-and-run former MP and local godfather figure.

It is a regime of reprehensible criminals.

Update: It is interesting to read the Bangkok Post’s editorial excoriating the EC. This is in the context of the efforts by the regime and ruling class to be rid of the Future Forward Party on trumped up charges and in a process that was probably corrupt and maybe illegal. But that’s just one of the EC’s biased actions meant to favor its bosses and the Palang Pracharath Party and the ruling regime. As the Post observes:

Given that its decisions have far-ranging impacts across the political landscape, the agency’s [the EC] seemingly dubious handling of many key political cases has steered the country’s democracy towards an increasingly dark and gloomy future.





Royals bringing themselves undone

10 01 2020

As the “crisis” of the British monarchy hits the headlines and the actions of a couple of self-righteous twats are criticized, The Straits Times begins a story on social media criticism of members of the royal family saying, “No longer content to just whisper in private settings their views on the monarchy, Thais are now openly discussing, and at times criticising, the royal family despite harsh laws.”

The story is built around the recent activity criticizing shutdowns of shopping centers, whole islands and many streets in order to facilitate the Hello magazine-style lifestyle of the royals.

As the “authorities closely monitoring Facebook, more people in Thailand … are venting via tweets, while hiding behind fake names and photos…”.

From Wikipedia

The most recent incident was criticism of the king’s pampered and vain daughter Princess Sirivannavari’s new year jaunt with rich friends to the south for a bit of partying and sightseeing. Trouble was that no one else was permitted in the same areas – on land or sea – as “the authorities closed off parts of the popular southern islands…”. Even fisherman were ordered to go elsewhere or stay in harbor. The result was the “#IslandsShutdown hashtag was used about 382,000 times as of Jan 1 but has since been repeated more than a million times.”

An earlier hashtag “#RoyalMotorcade became the top trending hashtag on Twitter in October with over 250,000 retweets” as netizens piled on criticism over road and shopping center closures to satisfy the fabulously wealthy royals who seem oblivious to the extent of their privilege and the trouble this causes for hundreds of thousands of people.

The criticism is considered “unprecedented,” which is not quite accurate, but Soraj Hongladarom, a philosophy professor at Chulalongkorn University is quoted as saying this represents a “macro-level structural change of Thai society which has already been set in motion” as attitudes to the monarchy change under the grasping reign of King Vajiralongkorn.

In fact, though, the most recent bouts of outspoken criticism of the monarchy have their origins in King Bhumibol’s support of military dictatorship and especially of the 2006 coup and then the brutal crushing of the red shirt rebellion by royalist military leaders, most of whom have run the government since the 2014 military coup.

It looks very much like the current king’s own behavior is abominable as he jets about, using taxpayer money to spend most of his time away from Thailand. He has that in common with Prince Harry who also seems uncomfortable in his own country.





Updated: Dangerous military

4 12 2019

The Bangkok Post reports on Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan”defending” all the off-budget money the Ministry of Defense following criticism from Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

Gen Prawit said the “off-budget money was used to provide welfare benefits for its troops, low-income state employees and the general public and its disbursement was transparent and under scrutiny at all levels.”

So why is it off-budget? No answer.

The corrupt general, best known for his luxury watch collection that was “borrowed” claimed there was no need to explain the billion in off-budget funds.

As usual for this regime, Gen Prawit turned on the questioner, “question[ing] the motive behind the criticism of the off-budget spending, saying the move was simply to cause misunderstanding among members of the public.”

There is no misunderstanding as the public knows the military is corrupt.

Future Forward is also pressing for an end to conscription, and Gen Prawit seemed to threaten Thanathorn when he declared “the FFP leader should abide by the law” when campaigning against the military.

The Defense Ministry said scrapping of conscription … was unlikely to happen soon because there are not enough volunteers signing up for military service.”In addition, the Ministry spokesman warned that it was necessary to “consider the impact on national security among other aspects.”

Of course, it is already known that the Ministry sees no external threat and wants conscripts as servants for senior military figures who use them both for personal service and for making money.

The Bangkok Post also reports on a speech Thanathorn made to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand that will have caused the regime heart trouble.

He’s convinced that the military and the “establishment” see him and his party as dangerous and seems convinced the Constitutional Court will soon dissolve the party. Thanathorn accused the regime of “undermining parliamentary democracy…”. This regime has been doing that since the coup in 2014.

He observed that the establishment “consistently use fake news and misinformation to discredit opposition.” He added: “They are branding us as traitors, branding us as anti-monarchy, installing hatred that divides the people of this country…”.

The Post report has “Colonel Artcha Boongrapu, a member of the Committee to Return Happiness to the People at the Royal Armed Forces HQ” who “accused Mr Thanathorn of hypocrisy and troublemaking.”

The military-constructed and backed Palang Pracharath Party attacked Thanathorn.

By attacking the “establishment” and doing so by pointing to military corruption and capitalist monopolies, Thanathorn is defined as “dangerous.” In fact, it is the military and its allies who are dangerous.

As many before Thanathorn have said for years, it is the military that is dangerous. It has the guns and a track record of anti-democratic interventions, arming thugs and forming gangs to maim and murder.

The military will stop at nothing to ensure the status quo.

Update: The Bangkok Post’s editorial on this topic is worth considering. It observes that Gen Prawit and the Defense Ministry provided “explanations” were “arguments [that] lack any real substance.” It adds that “off-budget spending” is not “subject to external audit and public disclosure…”. The corruption is clear.





Asia Society shame

28 09 2019

The Asia Society surprised many by giving The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha a stage in New York. Why have a “leader” who has had a hand in the murder of protesters, a military coup, more than five years of military dictatorship and a rigged and stolen election on your stage? As far as we can tell, this isn’t unusual for the Asia Society.

Readers might want to watch Gen Prayuth bumbling through the dictator-friendly discussion, which seems to have followed his speech (we can’t find a video of that). Gen Prayuth’s demeanor during the interview is of an uncomfortable person. He fidgets, bellows, points, gets prompts, forgets the microphone and fails to listen to the translation, wants to end the interview early and more. Unprofessional, incompetent, sometimes incoherent and appearing as a bozo. But that’s what he does in Thailand, with its muzzled press day in and day out.

In the discussion, he is seen claiming that while criminals evade the law – meaning Thaksin Shinawatra – he claims he himself has never transgressed the law. Short memory? Just one example: What about that unlawful 2014 coup? Oh, yes, that was made legal by the (in)justice system and by the junta itself after the event. Oddly, reflecting his irritation, Gen Prayuth makes the claim (again) that he had to stage the coup to stop the “conflict” – this time he refers to a pending “civil war.” He gets rather agitated. Finally, he babbles about Googling stuff.

And, during his speech there were silent protesters:

That the Asia Society expelled silent protesters should cause shame. Is that what now happens in the “land of free speech”? One protester does make some noise as she is bundled out by burly security guards.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has pointed out how the junta hangs over Thailand like a lead weight. It begins:

The 19 September 2006 coup was a turning point for the expansion of powers of the armed forces over the democratically elected civilian government since the end of Cold War, in light of the reorganization of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). The coup makers’ legislative branch passed a statutory law to restructure ISOC, giving rise to the formal and systematic expansion of the military power over civilian affairs.

The trend of such expansion of powers and duties of the armed forces/security authorities continued, even under democratically elected governments. From the 22 May 2014 coup until today, the military’s power reach has continued to increase. ISOC is legally permitted to take charge of so-called “internal security” matters in lieu of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), following its dissolution. Now the powers and duties of ISOC have been expanded even further.

The report highlights five points:

  • Expansion of the definition of “internal security”
  • The composition of ISOC Regional and Provincial Committees now includes personnel from various public authorities including the police, public prosecutor and administrative organizations
  • The powers and duties of the Regional and Provincial ISOC increased from those of 2008
  • Secondary laws amended to require other public authorities to directly support the roles of ISOC
  • The internal reorganization of ISOC

The report concludes:

Military supremacy over civilians, as always

The overall expansion of ISOC’s roles and powers is inseparable from the attempt to proliferate the power of the armed forces, from the NCPO era until after the elections.  Investing such powers in ISOC stands contradictory to the principle of civilian supremacy, an essential benchmark of democracy; members of constitutional bodies should be elected. The public should have a role in managing resource distributions, public administration and the role of the military, not to mention military activities concerning internal security.

Under this principle, the armed forces and security agencies in a democratic society should be of equal status to other public authorities. A government chosen by free and fair elections should have the power to control these organizations, determine their budgets, and give them instructions, as well as to prevent them from getting involved with any civilian affairs, which should not be decided under a military mindset.

Under the incumbent ISOC, the military authorities will continue to have a dominant role over several civilian authorities and affairs. The democratization of the armed forces or security agencies is therefore urgently needed and can be done so only after an amendment of the Internal Security Act to reduce the powers and roles of ISOC.

We doubt the Asia Society is interested.





Recalling the 2006 military coup

20 09 2019

The army’s task: coups and repression

19 September was the anniversary of the 2006 military coup. This was the coup that set the path for Thailand’s decline into military-dominated authoritarianism based in ultra-royalist ideology.

Over the past couple of days we didn’t notice a lot of memorializing of the event that illegally removed then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party, with tanks on the streets and soldiers decked out in royal yellow.

The military soon hoisted Privy Councilor Gen Surayud Chulanont into the prime ministership.

Anointing the 2006 coup

As we know, the coup did not succeed in its self-assigned task of rooting out the “Thaksin regime,” with Thaksin’s parties having been the most successful over the years that have followed and when the military permitted elections. This is why the 2014 coup was aimed at “putting things right,” through a more thorough political repression and a rigging of the political system for the ruling class. It also unleashed a rabid use of lese majeste to destroy that class’s political opponents.

One effort to recall the 2006 coup was by Ji Ungpakorn. He observes the:

forces behind the 19th September coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy….

2006 coup

And adds:

Most NGOs and large sections of the middle classes also supported the coup. What all these groups had in common was contempt or hatred for the poor. For them, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. For them, Thailand is still divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understand democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor”. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the poor who understand and are committed to democracy while the so-called middle classes are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.

For a flavor of the times, see reports of the coup by the BBC and The Guardian. For early efforts to understand the 2006 coup, consider Ji’s A Coup for the Rich, Thailand Since the Coup, and Thailand and the “good coup.”

It’s been downhill since 2006: repression, military political domination and ultra-royalism, leading to a form of neo-feudalism in contemporary Thailand.





Royal teflon

19 09 2019

The Chakkri dynasty’s tenth reign is currently the most obviously interventionist since 1932. This is not just seen in King Vajiralongkorn’s interventions on the constitution and election, but in the manner in which the military-backed, post-junta regime is, for the moment, being given a political polytetrafluoroethylene coat that is, in PPT’s view, unconstitutional.

One of the reasons that the regime is teflon coated is that the “independent agencies” have been anything but independent. Most egregiously, the Constitutional Court has made itself a power that ferociously defends the interests of the royalist ruling class. Remarkably, it now ignores the constitution when this suits those ruling interests. At least two recent decisions are sad examples of royal and royalist injustice that confounds law and constitution: the decision on Ubolratana’s foiled candidature in the March election and the recent decision to ignore the junta’s own constitutional requirements and effectively place the king above the constitution.

In the past couple of days there’s been more judicial decisions that undermine law and that raise the monarchy out of its constitutional status.

Buffalo manure

First, the Criminal Court ruled that the ultra-royalist prince Chulcherm Yugala, who declared the Future Forward Party dangerous republicans “seeking to overthrow the monarchy,” had not libeled that party.

In royalist Thailand, it now seems that royals can do and say anything they want. Remarkably, the Court ruled his outlandish fabrications were “positive criticism” and “intended to warn the plaintiff against royal defamation.” Buffalo manure, but that’s what the courts deal in.

Second, the Constitutional Court has ruled that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, a serving general when he led the 2014 coup, then self-appointed prime minister for more than 5 years, “was not a state official when he ruled as head of the junta…”.

How did the Constitutional Court conjure this stunning piece of nonsensical “logic”? It made up a story that “Gen Prayut was not a state official when he was the National Council of Peace and Order chairman as it was an interim position which was not under any state agencies.” Continuing a long “tradition” of upholding the “legality” of the military coup, it ruled that the “NCPO chairman was a product of the administrative power seizure…”.

Third, it seems the king helped out with the incomplete and unconstitutional oath debate in parliament by yesterday. After all of the scheduling and disputes about the debate, suddenly it was announced that the “debate” had to finish several hours earlier to let every single minister in the country could “attend a ceremony for the late King at Dusit Palace.”

Yet this royal sleight of political hand was little more than just another anointing of the regime by the king as Gen Prayuth refused to say much at all about the unconstitutional oath. For The Dictator, parliament is now little more than an annoying itch to be scratch every now and again.

Thailand now has a political system where the king gets anything he wants and is above the constitution, where the law is a mish-mash of double standards the support the royalist ruling class, parliament is an annoyance and where the constitution is ignored. Nothing will stick for the royalist ruling class.

Of course, if one is on the wrong side of the regime, the law, constitution and courts are used to repress.