The dictatorship’s history

24 05 2017

A reader drew our attention to an iLaw post that sets out the history of three years of military dictatorship in Thailand. It deserves to be read in full, even if it could be further extended.

We quote a couple of bits:

During the three years under the iron-fisted rule of the NCPO military regime, all mechanisms have been harnessed to create political culture that centralize executive power and grant sweeping and unaccountable power to the leaders without space for public participation. A legal culture, which the rule of law is disregarded by military-executive power, has been fostered through legislation process and law enforcement by judicial system. The media have been kept under tight controlled while independent organizations have been intervened and disrupted by the military. As a result, public officials are able to perform their duties with the culture of unchecked and unaccountable power….

It could be said that NCPO has transformed Thailand tremendously. The changes have been made unamendable when compared to the period before the coup….

The modus operandi of the NCPO in ruling the country is opposite to the principle of public participation. Power vested in Section 44 of the Interim Constitution has often been invoked to issue at least 152 orders and it has been escalated arbitrarily by the Head of the NCPO….

A major phenomenon in the justice process during the three years under the NCPO is how military power has permeated every aspect of the justice process….





Junta, dictatorship, coup

23 05 2017

Since the 2014 military coup, we at PPT have regularly used the appropriate terms for designating Thailand’s current government: military junta and military dictatorship.

It seems that the junta and its dictators are uncomfortable with such terminology.

Khaosod reports that the words “dictatorship, coups and military juntas … are banned…”.

The “organizers of a two-day discussion marking the three-year anniversary of the May 22, 2014, military coup” have been told they may not speak these words.

Pro-democracy activist Chonticha Jangrew “said she was given the choice Sunday by a senior-ranking military officer speaking on behalf of the junta: Don’t speak those words or risk having the event canceled.”

This is apparently a real story not some late April Fools’ Day joke. The joke and the fools are the junta.

The organizers felt they had to agree with the order and implied threat. Showing the ridiculousness of the order, “on Sunday, the first day of the symposium, speakers resorted to raising placards printed with the words instead.”

The day after, “Chaiyan Ratchakoon, a sociologist at Phayao University in the north, circumvented the ban Monday afternoon at Thammasat University by using alternative words.”

Instead of “coup” became “illegal regime change.” Chaiyan asked: “Do we really want coercion by the use of guns? How will this differ from those who rob banks?”

Chulalongkorn University historian Suthachai Yimprasert ignored the ban. He said:

…Thailand is the only country on earth today ruled by a military dictatorship. He said the junta leaders grew up during the Cold War and still cling to that mentality. He said no one believes the promises of junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who keeps postponing promised elections.

He added that “trying to ban the use of some words” was “mafia-like.”

Another speaker, Piyarat Chongthep argued that “the rule of law has been replaced by whatever the junta dictates…. We’re in a realm that we don’t quite know what’s permissible and what’s not,” adding, “[t]his is a situation where the ceiling is getting lower.”

Kornkot Saengyenpan, who also spoke, observed:

Dictators try to make us accustomed to whatever they impose, but only with limited success. We must do whatever it takes to not get used to Prayuth’s lies…. They have to go, not next year but now! We have waited for three years, and they can’t make us get accustomed to [military rule].

About 45 people attended on Monday, with another 15 being “plainclothes soldiers and police recording and observing.”

Destroying the rule of law, illegally seizing power, corruption, using torture, murdering and imprisoning the young and mopping up for a vile king are the hallmarks of Thailand’s military dictatorship.





ASEAN lawmakers on Thailand’s authoritarian path

22 05 2017

We reproduce this in full from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights:

ASEAN lawmakers: Thailand moving in the wrong direction three years on from coup

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia warned today that Thailand is moving in the wrong direction three years after the country’s military overthrew the last democratically elected government.

On the third anniversary of the 2014 coup, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) reiterated concerns over arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics, and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. The collective of regional lawmakers said that moves by the ruling junta have dealt lasting damage to Thailand’s long-term democratic prospects, and urged military leaders to return the country to elected, civilian rule as soon as possible.

“In the past year, this military regime has further strengthened its hold on institutions to the detriment of both democracy and the economic well-being of the country. Its actions since taking power appear aimed at systematically and permanently crippling any hope of democratic progress,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“To put it bluntly, Thailand is headed in the wrong direction. With the military firmly in the driver’s seat and a new constitution that guarantees it a central role in politics for years to come, Thailand appears further from a return to genuine democracy than at any point in recent memory. Meanwhile, investors are increasingly nervous about the control exerted by elites in managing the country. The damage incurred will have severe, long-lasting consequences that will not be easily undone.”

A new military-drafted constitution, officially promulgated on 6 April, contains anti-democratic clauses, including provisions for an unelected prime minister and a wholly appointed upper chamber of parliament. A version of the charter was approved by voters in a controversial August 2016 referendum, which APHR criticized at the time as “undemocratic.”

“With its new charter, the Thai junta has designed something akin to Myanmar’s ‘disciplined democracy,’ a flawed system where the generals still hold key levers of power and are able to pull the strings from behind the scenes,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.

“This is a real concern for all those hoping that the Thai people will be able to enjoy democracy and prosperity in the future. In order for Thailand to truly return to democracy, the military needs to step aside, allow for genuine elections, and commit to remaining in the barracks, rather than meddling in politics.”

Since seizing power on 22 May 2014, the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has placed severe restrictions on political activities and arbitrarily arrested hundreds for speaking out against it. Journalists, human rights defenders, and former politicians have been among those subjected to arbitrary detention and mandatory “attitude adjustment” at military and police facilities.

“The situation for human rights in the country has deteriorated. In the past three years, we have witnessed steadily increasing repression and a clampdown on basic freedoms. These developments are especially concerning in the context of a broader erosion of democracy and rights protections across the ASEAN region,” said APHR Board Member Walden Bello, a former Congressman from the Philippines.

“After repeated delays to promised elections, it’s not clear that the generals who currently hold power have any intention of giving it up for real. There are also real concerns among the international community about the continued use of Article 44 and its implications for accountability and human rights,” he added.

Article 44 of Thailand’s interim constitution enables the NCPO chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, to unilaterally make policy and override all other branches of government, and Prayuth has used this sweeping authority to restrict fundamental freedoms.

Political gatherings remain banned, a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, political parties are prohibited from holding meetings or undertaking any political activity.

The country has also witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of individuals arrested and charged under Article 112, Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté statute, which outlaws criticism of the monarchy. Over 100 people have been arrested on such charges since the NCPO took power.

Press freedom has also come under attack. A new media bill, approved by the National Reform Steering Assembly, was repeatedly criticized by journalists and press freedom advocates. Though the final version of the bill forwarded to the cabinet earlier this month eliminated controversial proposed licensing requirements for media workers, it still includes provisions for government officials to sit on a regulatory body tasked with monitoring and accrediting media. This provision would undermine media freedom and constitute undue government interference into the affairs of the press, parliamentarians argued.

“The military government must recognize that a free, independent press is critical to a functioning democracy. It must also do a better job listening to civil society, including by ensuring adequate consultation with relevant stakeholders on all legislation,” Eva Sundari said.

“As Thailand moves into its fourth year under military rule, it is now more urgent than ever that concrete steps be taken to right the ship. Junta leaders need to understand that their actions, which fly in the face of international human rights norms and democratic standards, are no way to achieve a peaceful, prosperous future for Thailand,” Charles Santiago said.





The junta, the temple, tycoons and Thaksin

19 05 2017

The Bangkok Post has had a series of stories on Anant Asavabhokhin, one of Thailand’s richest, and his daughter Alisa, and allegations and charges related to alleged money laundering involving Wat Dhammakaya.

Read this  first. Then these: Amlo freezes Alisa’s land assets, Anant faces money laundering charge and LH founder surprised by summons.

Then  read this: Embezzlement-temple scandal ensnares property titan.

Then recall that Anant is widely considered to be one of the few big businessmen who stuck with Thaksin Shinawatra. Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power, edited by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker shows on pages 150-1 that Anant remained a supporter.

Also recall that Anant is a Wat Dhammakaya supporter.

Back when the military ran its 2014 coup, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime summoned or temporarily detained “more than 500 individuals since the coup, the current junta has not just picked off members of erstwhile ruling Puea Thai party and its ‘red shirt’ supporters.”

At the time, it “also identified luminaries in the Thai business world linked to Thaksin, like Mr Anant Asavabhokhin, chairman of Land and Houses, one of the country’s biggest developers. It showed a keen awareness of the possible support for the Thaksin network.”





With 3 updates: Lese majeste arrests in stolen democracy plaque case

3 05 2017

We recently posted on the abductions conducted by the military dictatorship’s official thugs.  That post mentioned that the military had detained, incommunicado, two political dissidents.

One was human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul who has been critical of the military dictatorship and the lese majeste law. The other was Danai (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), a political dissident from Chiang Mai, initially reported to be accused of Facebook messages critical of the military junta.

Those abductions have now morphed into lese majeste cases against these two and four others.

According to a report at Prachatai, the Criminal Court has permitted the detention of “six people accused of royal defamation for sharing a Facebook post from an academic who the junta has blacklisted.” That was said to be Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

When the “ban” on contact with Somsak, Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, many scoffed that enforcing the ban was likely illegal and difficult to enforce.

But legalities and formalities have never been a barrier to the lawless military dictatorship.

So it is that, on 3 May 2017, Bangkok’s Criminal Court “granted police custody over six people accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.” Those six were abducted “by police and military officers across different parts of the nation in late April.”

Apart from Prawet and Danai, the ” identities of the four other detainees remain unknown.”

Prachatai states that lawyer Arnon Nampa says “the six are accused of lèse majesté for sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque posted by Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an academic currently living in self-imposed exile in France.”

Arnon says that “Prawet is also accused of Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law.”

The twinning of sedition and lese majeste tell us that the military dictatorship is determined to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

The court allowed an initial “custody period of 12 days with the possibility of renewal by the court.”

The notion of “possibility” is banal; we all know that the royalist courts want quick convictions but are prepared to do whatever the junta wants and will keep people in jail as long as necessary to get “confessions.” When there is no “confession,” cases drag on as a form of torture.

No investigations, let alone arrests, have occurred for the theft and vandalism of the 1932 plaque. Rather, the junta has covered up and silenced questions. They are the best “confessions” we have seen in this case.

What’s next for feudal Thailand? Public executions and anti-royalist’s heads on stakes in front of the palace?

Update 1: PPT rewrote bits of the account above for initial poor expression and the omission of Somsak’s name in one place. No changes were made to the known facts and allegations in the case.

Update 2: An AFP story has more on this case. It says that Prawet faces “a maximum 150 years in prison after he was charged with a record ten counts of royal defamation…”.

On Wednesday afternoon Prawet “appeared in court charged with ten counts of royal defamation and a separate charge of sedition.”

Each account of lese majeste carries a maximum of 15 years in jail. That’s 150 years. The sedition charge can add another seven years in jail.

The report states that “[t]en royal defamation charges is the most anyone has ever faced in Thailand since the law become increasingly used.” (This means since the 2006 military coup, and especially since the 2014 military seizure of state power.)

The report also adds that “[i]t is not known what Prawet said or wrote. However media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the monarchy, including repeating any content deemed defamatory.”

Update 3: The Bangkok Post has reported these cases and adds further details. It states that Prawet faces 10 separate counts of lese majeste and three separate counts of sedition. That means he potentially gets 171 years in a royal jail.

The reports states that the normally outspoken “spokesman for the military government said he was unable to comment on the case.” That’s because it involves the king and not just in the usual way. Here the king seems to have been connected to the original crime (the un-investigated theft).

Prawet, who is “accused of posting 10 messages insulting the monarch and three messages with content believed to instigate social disorder,” continues to be detained “incommunicado at the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok, a facility the military uses as a temporary prison.”

Prawet has denied the allegations. So has Danai “but the details of [his] alleged wrongdoings were not outlined in the police submission…”. The secrecy is a part of the Thai (in)justice system and raises questions about the legality of his detention (not that the junta is ever worried about law and legality).

The report also reveals that three other suspects “admitted they shared messages of Thammasat University historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul on Facebook pages, which concern the controversial disappearance of the 1932 Siamese Revolution plaque from the Royal Plaza…. The other suspect denied the accusations.”





Updated: Academic boycott III

21 04 2017

Back in May 2016, we posted on a call by Professor Thongchai Winichakul, made at New Mandala, for academics and conference organizers to think carefully about the consequences of holding academic conferences in Thailand under the military dictatorship.

ICTS13

There was a pathetic response from the International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS), seemingly misunderstanding the situation in Thailand.

New Mandala also published a response from Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti on behalf of the Organising Committee of the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS13). The critical point in Chayan’s post at that time was his confirmation that any academically-qualified paper will be accepted, no matter what the topic, but that his Committee could “not guarantee the safety of presenters whom the government at the time of the conference deems to have breached Thai laws.”

Those laws are interpreted very harshly by the junta.

This debate has been re-opened with another call for a boycott from Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

Our view is that those who attend are in danger, just as Thai academics who dare challenge the junta have been since the 2014 coup.

The organizers at ICAS should be ashamed of themselves.

Marshall’s message to TLC: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia Studies Association:

Subject: Call to boycott the International Conference on Thai Studies 13 in Chiang Mai
Date: 20 April 2017 at 11:47:50 BST

To: tlc Tlc <Rels-tlc@groups.sas.upenn.edu>

In view of the worsening human rights situation in Thailand,and the efforts by the junta to prevent Thais having any contact with Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, two of the most respected and courageous Thai academics, I would like to call on the organisers of the International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai in July to change the venue of the event to a location outside Thailand where people can speak more freely.

Holding this event in Thailand in the current circumstances would be absurd and would send totally the wrong message. Nobody who genuinely values academic freedom can credibly claim that this event could have any value if it goes ahead in Thailand. The only people who would benefit are the junta, who could exploit the conference to pretend that for academics in Thailand it is business as usual.

If the organisers refuse to change the venue of the event, I urge all scholars to boycott the conference. This is a moment in Thai history when academics need to stand up and do the right thing. There is no excuse for holding a fake conference in Chiang Mai when the academics who could contribute the most are being persecuted and threatened and cannot participate.

Update: We left out an important word above, now included and highlighted.





Human rights matter

8 04 2017

Based in the Netherlands, Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) “helps lawyers in danger around the world.” It sets its objectives:

In conformity with international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of the United Nations, L4L has committed itself to enable lawyers to practice law in freedom and independence, always and everywhere, even when that does not suit the local government, bar association or establishment.

L4L makes an important Award, every two years. This is:

awarded to a lawyer or group of lawyers who work to promote the rule of law and human rights in an exceptional way and are threatened because of their work.

This year, for her “unwavering courage and commitment,” L4L has chosen Thailand’s Sirikan Charoensiri.

In congratulating her and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, we cite the L4L Press Release:

Sirikan Charoensiri (June), a human rights lawyer from Thailand, will receive the Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2017. On 19 May 2017 Sirikan Charoensiri will accept the Award at L4L’s seminar ‘The Voice of Rights’ about lawyers and freedom of expression, hosted by Allen & Overy in Amsterdam.

Jury remarks

“Sirikan Charoensiri is a young Thai lawyer who stands up for human rights activists, journalists and people tried after the coup by military courts, even though she is facing considerable risks herself. By awarding Sirikan Charoensiri, the jury wants to applaud her unwavering courage and commitment, and draw attention to the human rights situation in Thailand that is relatively unknown in the West.”

High-profile human rights cases on a pro bono basis

Ms. Charoensiri will be the first woman to receive the Lawyers for Lawyers award. Sirikan Charoensiri is the co-founder of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a lawyers’ collective founded shortly after the military coup on 22 May 2014 to provide legal aid and monitor the human rights situation in Thailand. As a human rights lawyer with TLHR, Ms. Charoensiri provides legal services in high-profile human rights cases on a pro bono basis. She acts for the increasing number of individuals facing lèse-majesté charges. These provisions make it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the king in Thailand. Ms. Charoensiri also represents human rights activists facing arbitrary arrest for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and expression and journalists facing arbitrary arrest in the exercise of media freedom and freedom of information by documenting the work of human rights activists. The political sensitivity of these cases is believed to be the reason why lawyers connected to TLHR are regularly subject to harassment, intimidation, and recently to criminal charges by the Thai authorities.

Four criminal charges in one year

In 2015, Sirikan Charoensiri started representing students from the New Democracy Movement (NDM) involved in peaceful protests on 25 June 2015, calling for democracy and an end to the military rule. Since then, Ms. Charoensiri has continually been subject to intimidation by the Thai authorities. Within one year, Sirikan Charoensiri has been charged with four criminal offences in connection to her professional activities. If found guilty she could face up to at least 10 years of imprisonment. Furthermore, another case was initiated by the police against her, under charges of reporting false information for having filed a complaint of malfeasance in office against the police. If proceeded, she could face up to a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.

Lawyers for Lawyers Award

The Lawyers for Lawyers award was created in 2011 by the Dutch Civil Society Organization Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L). L4L is an independent and non-political Dutch foundation seeking to promote the proper functioning of the rule of law by pursuing freedom and independence of the legal profession. We do this by supporting lawyers worldwide who are threatened or suppressed in the execution of their profession, in conformity with international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. L4L hands out this Award every two years recognizing that ensuing attention and publicity will offer the recipient additional protection in the discharge of his/her professional duties….