End lawfare

28 01 2023

A statement from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights targets lawfare: “the use of judicial harassment and politically-motivated charges against critics and political opponents…”.

The Parliamentarians are mainly focused on the use of defamation laws.

The use of defamation to silence activists has been common in Thailand. However, PPT sees a broader approach in THailand, where there has been a huge increase in judicial harassment since the 2014 coup and most especially since the 2020 rise of the monarchy reform movement. Many hundreds of charges – and most notably Article 112 or lese majeste – have been laid over the past few years and courts, police, and prosecutors have cooperated with the regime to use prosecution and bail to harass and silence political opponents. This is one reason why the moves by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong, self-revoking bail, is so significant.

The Parliamentarians state:

The Philippines, as well as other ASEAN member states, must immediately halt the use of judicial harassment and politically-motivated charges against critics and political opponents, a phenomenon known as ‘lawfare’, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today at a press conference held in Manila.

“We call on Southeast Asian authorities to stop abusing the legal system to stifle dissent and urge ASEAN to reprimand member states that continue to use lawfare to attack political opposition. The Philippine government can take the first step by dropping all charges against Walden Bello and immediately releasing Senator Leila De Lima and any others that have been unjustly detained due to politically-motivated charges,” said Mercy Barends, Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and member of the Indonesian House of Representatives.

The press conference, titled “Stop Lawfare! No to the Weaponization of the Law and State-sponsored Violence,” was organized by APHR and the Walden Bello Legal Defense Committee, in solidarity with Walden Bello, an APHR Board Member and former Member of Parliament in the Philippines. Bello is facing politically-motivated charges of cyber-libel brought by a former Davao City information officer who now works as chief of the Media and Public Relations Division of the Office of the Vice President, Sara Duterte.

There have been many other victims of lawfare in the Philippines, including Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested in February 2017 on trumped-up drug charges, shortly after she had launched a Senate investigation into the extrajudicial killings committed under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. She has remained in detention ever since, still waiting for her trial, despite the fact that several key witnesses have recanted their testimonies.

“Lawfare is very common in the Philippines, but is happening everywhere in Southeast Asia and beyond. Governments in the region are using ambiguous laws to prosecute political opponents, government critics, and activists. This weaponizing of the legal system is alarming and incredibly damaging to freedom of expression. It creates an atmosphere of fear that not only silences  those who are targeted by such “lawfare” but also makes anyone who may want to criticize those in power think twice,” said  Charles Santiago, APHR Co-chairperson and former Malaysian Member of Parliament.

In Myanmar and Cambodia, for example, laws on treason and terrorism have been weaponized to crush opposition. The most tragic example took place in July last year, with the execution of four prominent Myanmar activists on bogus terrorism charges by the Myanmar junta. Those were the first judicial executions in decades, and provide an extreme example of how the law can be perverted by authoritarian regimes to cement their power, APHR has denounced. In Cambodia, members of the opposition are sentenced to lengthy jail terms on fabricated charges simply for exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, defamation laws are among the most often used for lawfare in Thailand, where, contrary to many other countries, it might be regarded as a criminal offense, rather than just a civil offense. Sections 326–328 of the Thai Criminal Code establish several defamation offenses with sentences of up to two years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 200,000 Thai Baht (approximately USD 6,400).

“I think we, as parliamentarians, should do our utmost in our respective countries to repeal, or at least amend, these kinds of laws. Our democracies depend on it. But I also think that we cannot do it alone. We need to work together across borders, share experiences with parliamentarians from other countries and stand in solidarity with those who fall victim to them, because, ultimately, we are all on the same boat,” said Rangsiman Rome, Member of the Thai Parliament, and APHR member.





Back to the future

6 01 2023

Quite a while ago PPT posted here and there about the 2014 military junta’s plans for Thailand’s politics.

In summarizing some of these thoughts, back in 2014 we had a post that commented on an article at The Nation by Supalak Ganjanakhundee. His view and ours was that the “quasi-democratic regime under General Prem Tinsulanonda between 1980 and 1988” was the military’s and royalist elite’s preferred “model that would be suitable for Thailand forever.”

Of Premocracy, Supalak stated:

The Prem regime is the role model for many elite political architects. He is a former Army commander who was “invited” by political parties and elected politicians to take the premiership after elections during the 1980s. To that extent, political parties and politicians were only minor parts of the arrangement. They were furniture, rather than the structure of the country’s administration.

Thailand was then mostly run by military officers and bureaucrats. The prime minister had no accountability to the people. His power was supported by the military. Prem faced challenges from young officers and two coup attempts, rather than lawmakers in the House of Representatives. He never gave a damn about the politicians in Parliament. They would create no trouble for his government as long as they were allowed to join the Cabinet.

The 2014 coup, then, was to be yet another effort to embed the preferred political model.

But the junta’s plan owed much to the palace’s man in 1976, Thanin Kraivixien. He was catapulted into the prime ministership in 1976 following a massacre of students and a military coup. The king wanted the right-wing Thanin as premier. He presided over a period of fascist-like repression that was so extreme that even made some in the military leadership wonder if Thanin was damaging the military-monarchy brand.

After the 2014 coup, Thanin provided “advice” to the Prayuth Chan-ocha dictatorship. Indeed, the junta’s 20-year “roadmap” to “democracy” is modeled on Thanin’s 16-year plan for “democracy.” There are other similarities and comparisons that can be made. Among them, the junta’s draft constitution drew inspiration from the Thanin era, with Meechai Ruchupan having served Thanin as well. And, like Prayuth’s regime, Thanin’s dictatorship made excessive use of the lese majeste law to repress political opponents.

Rotten to the core

More significantly, as in the Prem period, we see a regime in decay. Some might say that this also reflects the 1990s, and that’s not wrong as Prem’s regime set the pattern. Parties forming and self-destructing as they bid for ministerial seats and the huge flow of illicit funds that underpinned a decrepit system of vote-buying and provincial gangsterism. Politicians selling themselves to the highest bidder. Politicians, military, and gangsters in cahoots, feeding at the trough of state funds. The state budget became a fund for military aggrandizement and private wealth accumulation by well-connected capitalists. Those capitalists and the military groveling before an ever more powerful monarchy.

All of this is the manner of the current corrupt regime. Did we mention Chinese gangsters? That, at least seems like an “innovation.”

Allowing Gen Prayuth/Prawit to continue in their alliances with gangsters – some of them MPs and many of them police and military brass – guarantees (perhaps) a shaky palace and keeps funds flowing, but it screws the other 65 million Thais.

 





Still missing

5 11 2022

Last Monday the family and friends of Siam Theerawut “gathered to celebrate what would have been the 37th birthday” of the activist if he had not gone “missing” in May 2019.

Charged with lese majeste and “accused of being a leading member of the Thai Federation,” Siam fled Thailand after the 2014 military coup.

He was “reportedly arrested in Vietnam and extradited to Bangkok along with 2 other Thai activists in exile, Chucheep ‘Uncle Sanam Luang’ Chiwasut and Kritsana Tubthai. They have not been heard from since.

The report states:

Siam’s family continue to search for him, but investigation has been slow. In June 2021, Siam’s mother Kanya Theerawut and his sister Saranya Theerawut went to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), along with Sitanun Satsaksit, whose brother Wanchalearm Satsaksit went missing while in exile in Cambodia, and their legal assistance team from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and the Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF). However, they were told that there was no progress in the investigation into his disappearance.

In March 2022, Kanya said she was visited by two men, possibly plainclothes police, while she was home along with her 7-year-old granddaughter. The two men asked Kanya if Siam had come home and asked to enter the house without presenting IDs or a warrant, but Kanya refused, telling them that they need to bring a search warrant and that she would need to search them before they come inside the house to make sure they did not bring anything illegal with them.

The two men did not go inside the house, but asked to take a photo of Kanya, claiming they have been ordered to do so by their superiors. Kanya let them take a photo of her, and she also took photos of them and their vehicle.

On 4 April 2022, Kanya, Sitanun, and Sitanun’s lawyer Montana Duangprapa met with a representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) to ask the UNOHCHR to follow up with the Thai authorities on the investigations into the disappearances of Wanchalearm and Siam. They also called attention to charges filed against citizens for political expression and the harassment of members of Siam’s family and asked for updates on the process of adding Wanchalearm and Siam to list of victims of enforced disappearance of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID).

Many, including PPT, assume that Siam was taken by royalists/officials/military/regime/palace and/or a combination of these.





Worst inequality in East Asia

23 10 2022

In a report on poverty and farming in Thailand, the World Bank has some interesting things to say:

  • Poverty has fallen over three decades, except that “[f]rom 2015 and onwards [the year after the last military coup], Thailand’s progress in poverty reduction slowed, with poverty increasing in the years 2016, 2018 and 2020.”
  • “The majority of the poor (79 percent) live in rural areas, mainly in agricultural households.”
  • With an income Gini coefficient of 43.3 percent in 2019, Thailand had the highest income inequality level in East Asia.
  • “The average income level of rural households in the Central region (excluding transfers) is over 60 percent higher than that of rural households in the North and Northeast…. In the South, it is about 50 percent higher than in the North and Northeast.”

The north and the northeast are, of course, seen as areas where pro-Thaksin parties get most support.

These data should not be a surprise. For all of its trumpeting of assistance to the poor, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s economic policies have been designed to move wealth to the rich.





Another coup rat hole?

27 09 2022

Thai Enquirer has been following a story that developed after Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn warned of/about another military coup.

Chaiwut was moved to declare that “if a lot of people come out to protest on September 30th to seek the removal of the suspended Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, there might be no election at all.” He said this not once but twice. Clearly he meant that there could be yet another military coup.

As Erich Parpart put it:

The fact that these statements are coming out is a clear indication of how the 2014 coup leaders manipulated the system to remain in power and are now threatening to silence opposition in order to continue to remain in power.

In this society that is being run by a pro-military government, Chaiwaut’s comments were a reassurance to their supporters that the hideous cycle of coups will continue if the people in power do not like the way how things are going against them.

Since then, “Thailand’s rumor mills were running overtime…”.

One academic-like commentator Thanaporn Sriyakul, president of the Political Science Association at Kasetsart University, said:

If there is an election, Pheu Thai will win and one of the ways to stop that from happening is to stop the election from happening….

They [the regime and its supporters] know that if they fight on this battlefield they will lose and they also do not know what is going to happen to them after the battle so what they can do now is to delay the election to buy more time for negotiations….

Thanaporn reckoned Chaiwut was not just blowing hot air: “I do not believe that Chaiwut was just joking around…”. Maybe not a coup, he said, but maybe other “legal” measures to delay an election. Whatever means, “there will be no election at the moment…”.

At the same time, Chaiwut’s comments showed he believes and perhaps knows that “Prayut will survive the Constitutional Court’s verdict on his 8-year premiership term limit that would be handed down on September 30.”

In a complicated situation, Chaiwat has probably expressed the “thinking” among the regime and its supporters.





Authoritarianism for royalists, monarchy, tycoons, and military

7 09 2022

PPT has been reading some of the commentaries regarding Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s suspension as premier. We thought we better post something on these as Prayuth’s case could be (almost) decided by the politicized Constitutional Court as early as tomorrow.

Prawit and Prayuth: Generals both

At East Asia Forum, academic Paul Chambers summarizes and lists the pedigree and connections that have led to his former boss, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, to become (interim) premier.

A few days before that, Shawn Crispin at Asia Times wrote another piece based on his usual anonymous sources, that assesses the balance of forces. He thinks the Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend Gen Prayuth was a pyrrhic victory and writes of:

… a behind-the-scenes, pre-election move away from Prayut by the conservative establishment, comprised of the royal palace, traditional elites and top “five family” big businesses, he has cosseted both as a coup-maker and elected leader.

One source familiar with the situation says a group of traditional and influential Thai “yellow” elites including an ex-premier and foreign minister, after rounds of dinner talks, recently delivered a message to Prayut asking him to put the nation before himself and refrain from contesting the next general election to make way for a more electable, civilian candidate to champion the conservative cause.

It is clear that the conservative elite are worried about upcoming elections. Pushing Prayuth aside is thought to give the Palang Pracharath Party an electoral boost. Crispin reckons that the Privy Council beckons if Gen Prayuth does as asked. That’s a kind of consolation prize for Gen Prayuth having done his repressive duty for palace and ruling class.

But, as Crispin makes clear, the ruling class and the political elite is riven with conflicts. Indeed, one commentary considers the contest between Gen Prawit and Gen Prayuth.

It may be that Prayuth comes back. Recent leaks suggest that one faction still wants him in place, “protecting” the monarchy as the keystone to the whole corrupt system.  If Gen Prayuth returns to the premiership, where does that leave the ruling party and its mentors in the ruling class?

On the broader picture, an article by Michael Montesano at Fulcrum looks beyond personalities to the system that the 2014 military coup constructed:

The function of Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system is to channel and coordinate the overlapping interests of a range of conservative stakeholders: royalists and the monarchy, the military, much of the technocratic elite, a handful of immensely powerful domestic conglomerates, and the urban upper-middle class. This channelling or coordinating function is the system’s crucial defining feature. No individual or cabal of individuals gives orders or controls the system. Rather, collectively or individually, stakeholders or their representatives act to defend a shared illiberal and depoliticising vision with little need for explicit or direct instructions.

He adds:

Understanding these realities makes clear that Prayut’s premiership of eight long years — so far — has not been possible because of his leadership skills, the loyalty that he might command, or his indispensability. Rather, the remarkable longevity of his stultifying service as prime minister is due to the fact that someone needs to hold that office and he has proved adequate. His premiership satisfied the collective interests that Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system serves. For all of his manifest inadequacies, keeping him in place has, at least up to now, been deemed less costly than replacing him.

Has that cost risen so much that Gen Prayuth can be “sacrificed” for the royalist authoritarian system he constructed?





Another royalist

27 08 2022

Reuters reports on Acting Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman.

Its main point is that Gen Prawit “represents little substantial change from suspended Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha…”.

Certainly, the military’s dominance of Thailand’s politics continues. In addition, the chair shuffling means a period of relative stability for the regime’s Palang Pracharat Party, “until the Constitutional Court decides whether Prayuth’s time as a military leader from 2014 to 2019 counts towards a constitutionally stipulated eight-year term limit…”.

Gen Prawit, who seems much older than his 77 years, “is a longtime ally of Prayuth and was part of the military junta that ruled Thailand for nearly five years following Prayuth’s 2014 coup ouster of an elected government…”.

Both generals are known for their “fierce loyalty to the monarchy .” It has been Gen Prawit who “has long been seen as a power-broker both within the Palang Pracharat party, which he co-founded, and among the wealthy elite that align themselves with Thailand’s royal family and the military.”

Titipol Phakdeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University considers it likely that “Prawit will help stabilise the political situation and consolidate the ruling coalition and related business interests ahead of the election…”. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, at Chulalongkorn University, is not so sure: “Prawit will be embattled from day one…” and that he’s unpopular (not that that has been a political longevity problem for the Prayuth, who has long been unpopular).

The problem for the allied royalists is how to again manufacture another election victory.





Updated: Wissanu’s political onanism

23 08 2022

As we post this just before midnight GMT, its morning in Bangkok, on the 24th, the day that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should constitutionally leave the prime ministership he took by force of arms in May 2014. We have no idea what he will do or what the royalist-military Constitutional Court may rule.

But we do know that the regime has been scheming. The legal plaything of the junta and its progeny, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, has said that if Gen Prayuth does step down as prime minister or is pushed out by the Court, he “may legally perform as defence minister, the post which he has concurrently assumed…”. The premiership would then fall to the corrupt, aged, and ill co-coup plotter Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

Wissanu said:

Prayut may practically hold onto the defence portfolio and attend cabinet meetings at Government House while leaving the top post of government to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan to perform as a caretaker one if the Constitutional Court orders him to immediately stop performing as prime minister until a court ruling on his eight-year rule maximumly provided by law has been delivered, .

Given the fact that no law prohibits a prime minister from concurrently performing in other capacities, Prayut could continue to run the defence portfolio though he may be immediately stopped by court from running the country as premier….

However, Wissanu is not convinced the Constitutional Court will abandon its bosses and allies in the regime.

But this scheming does suggest some cracks in the regime and the ruling class about Prayuth’s position and that some judges and others may be thinking of the political consequences of yet another regime-friendly ruling. Regime schemers and ultra-royalists worry that Prayuth as a politically dead man walking may gift Puea Thai and the opposition an electoral landslide.

Update: Bangkok Post reports:

The Constitutional Court has voted 5-4 in ordering Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha suspended from duty.

The court’s order came after it ruled to accept the petition asking for a ruling on his eight-year tenure as prime minister.

We doubt the closeness of the vote is any cause for celebration given that the decision is only about suspending the general while the court takes its time considering a very straightforward case. Making the case anything other than straightforward is likely a measure of the Court seeking a way out constitutional requirements for Prayuth. Expect Wissanu’s above proposition to hold for the time that the Court is squirming.





Military, coup, capitalism

1 08 2022

PPT came across an academic article recently that deserves some attention.

Military Political Connection and Firm Value—Empirical Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Thailand” is by four scholars attached to Guangxi University, Jingjing Tang, Haijian Zeng, Fangying Pang, and Lanke Huanga. It is in the journal Emerging Markets Finance and Trade, Volume 58, Number 7, 2022.  The paper is behind a paywall at this quite highly-ranked journal. That said, the journal seems to have done little to improve the expression and the copy-editing seems to have been rudimentary. Even so, there are points made in the highly statistical article that deserve discussion.

In Thailand, they found 638 “military politically connected listed firms” or 24.7% of the total sample of 1,948 firms (p. 1903). “Military politically connected” means directors who had a military or police background. It was found that “the share prices of military and nonmilitary politically connected firms increase during the event window [post-2014 coup], but the performance of share prices of the former is better than that of the latter” (p. 1904).

“This empirical evidence suggests that the market has responded positively to the military coup and that the positive performance of the stock market is more concentrated in firms with military political connections than those without” (p. 1904). The paper adds that “When the civilian [government] are in power, the military political correlation effect is negative for the firms. The positive effect can be significantly reflected only when the military is in power” (p. 1906).

The authors state that “after the military coup in 2014, the intensity of military political connections and the size of the board of directors increases…. This situation shows that, when the military regains power, the firms will recruit personnel with military backgrounds in the board of directors” (p. 1908).

The military connection also “means military political connection firms add more funds to capital investment and R&D after military coup, so the firm’s value increase.”They conclude: “given that the military controls the political power, directors with military backgrounds can provide enterprises with ‘protective umbrellas’ in their operation and acquire the convenience of management and resource allocation, thereby increasing the firm value.”

Having military “protectors” on company boards during the long periods of military and military-backed governments in Thailand is not new; in fact this has been a defining characteristic of Thailand’s capitalism. The other “protection,” perfected by the Sino-Thai tycoons, is sucking up to the monarchy with donations, supplication, and free advertising.





Updated: Thanapol arrested

30 06 2022

Thai Newsroom reports that on 29 June 2022, Technology Crime Suppression Division police arrested Fa Diaw Kan Publishing House editor Thanapol Eawsakul. He is charged with “disclosing documents and other material related to national security and violating the Computer Crime Act…”.

Clipped from Prachatai

The police took Thanapol to Technology Crime Suppression Division headquarters “without waiting for a lawyer to show up but a lawyer is now following up the case.”

In January 2022, “more than 30 policemen had brought a warrant to search the publishing house and in doing so went through the books and confiscated mobile devices and computers belonging to Thanapol.”

Later, on Facebook, Thanapol explained the situation (with apologies for hurried translation).

He explains that it has more or less been normal for the police to “visit” the offices of Fa Diaw Kan since the journal was established some two decades ago. Following the 2014 military coup, the “visits” increased, then dropped off around the time of the 2019 election, but then expanded again as the monarchy reform-democratization movement expanded. In this latter period, the police became interested in various books published by Fa Diaw Kan, most of them associated with aspects of the monarchy, historical and contemporary.

This heightened police “interest” meant that Thanapol was being closely monitored.

On 21 November 2020, Thanapol posted a message about a National Security Council document ordering to tracking down of a former ambassador. The police filed a complaint on 31 December 2020 and then went quiet.

On 20 January 2022, some 30 police and officers from the Technology Crime Suppression Division searched the publisher’s office, seizing including Arnon Nampa’s The Monarchy and Thai society (which is not a Fa Diew Kan book), computer equipment and Thanapol’s mobile phone. The officers presented two search warrants and an order granting access to computer data, issued by the Nonthaburi Provincial Court.

On 18 April 2022, the Technology Crime Suppression Division said the earlier document seized was classified and disseminated illegally. An arrest warrant was sought even though Thanapol had agreed to report to police. He says: “On June 23, 2022, I made an appointment to go to the TCSD on July 4, 2022 at 1 p.m., but during that time, on June 28, the TCSD requested the court’s approval to issue an arrest warrant….  As a result of issuing an arrest warrant, The police came to arrest me today, 29 June 2022, when I was taken to the police station and to the TCSD…”.

Lawyers from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and efforts by Move Forward Party, MP Rangsiman Rome led to bail being granted.

So far, few details of the charges are available.

Update: Thai Enquirer has a story on the arrest and bail.








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