Accountability gone missing

13 11 2016

The Bangkok Post’s Achara Ashayagachat had a useful article a few days ago that we didn’t see until it appeared in the Myanmar Times. It was undoubtedly as resonant there as it was in Bangkok.

She begins by noting the “strength” of Thailand’s military dictatorship, despite “the serious problems that have rocked the country…”. For three years, the regime has been “without real political challenge…”.

Achara observes that the “regime’s strength is partly down to the fact that our society lacks genuine checks and balances.”

The “parliament” is the “coup-installed National Legislative Assembly” which is a puppet rubber stamp for the regime.

She says that “similar institutions, are not in a position to go after the leaders or any other military members.” We assume she means all of the so-called “independent agencies” which have been made regime tools.

In civil society, “[c]ivic groups and individuals that have campaigned for key issues in the name of democracy have faced threats and intimidation under Section 44.”

What happened to the much-hyped “middle class,” claimed by some to be a ballast for democracy? Achara refers to “the indifference on the part of the middle class, especially those who joined the shutdown campaign spearheaded by the then-People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) during the marathon protest against the Pheu Thai government in 2013-2014…”.

Baffled, Achara states: “It worries me that people, undoubtedly ultra-conservationists, have sold their democratic principles and become submissive, allowing the regime to get away with whatever it wants.”

Examples include corruption and nepotism in the regime. The anti-democrats campaigned against an elected government, complaining of corruption. When the military is corrupt, they seem to just shrug their shoulders and accept the corruption of “good people.”

“No one is held accountable…”.

The regime stumbles, fumbles, grabs lucrative positions and pockets cash, but “[n]o one seems to care…”.

No one seems bothered by double standards in law, in policy or in the regime’s copying of the very policy that the middle class claimed to “hate” and the military regime is prosecuting – the rice subsidy scheme.

Achara is also “sadden[ed]” by “seeing portions of the middle class trying to monopolise loyalty to the monarchy, and go on a rampage to indict people on lese majeste offences.” She refers to “fears that a vicious witch hunt is under way.”

Finally, she notes the dictatorship’s attacks on the media, where “the regime is only fond of the docile type.” Under pressure and sometimes as members of the regime-loving middle class, the media has generally toed the regime’s line. She writes of “obedient compliance.”

The result is a regime built on repression and double standards that is not subject to even a modicum of accountability.

Lese majeste and repression

7 06 2016

In this post we wish to draw attention to two recent articles discussing lese majeste and its impacts both personal and society-wide.

It has become “natural” for royalist Thais to “defend” the monarchy in recent years. Of course, royalists have always done this – the restoration of the monarchy after 1932 and more especially after WW2 was about defending the monarchy and recalibrating to again rule. The latter kind of failed, except in the ideological space, but it was royalist generals Phin Choonhavan and most especially Sarit Thanarat who forged an alliance with the palace (and Seni and Kukrit Pramoj) to make the palace-military alliance that has been so powerful and handsomely rewarded generals and the royal family.

Much of the history of this remaking and partial restoration is unknown to average Thais who have been indoctrinated in schools and universities and by the use of mass media. This is attested in an article at the Bangkok Post, by Achara Ashayagachat, where her account of lese majeste and various kingly anniversaries seems to be one of a gradual political eye-opening.

On the spike in lese majeste cases, she says: “Observers attribute the increase of cases to intense political polarisation, following the 2006 military coup and concerns over the King’s health.” This is only a partial story, for as she states, lese majeste is “more often than not, it is used — or abused — as a political tool in cleansing or taking revenge on individuals or political opponents.”

It is a tool used by the royalist elite and its military allies, and not always for political opponents in the usual sense, but in a kind of “traditional” sense as well. This is seen in the post-2014 coup list of “68 lese majeste cases relating to opinions, poems, cartoons, and comments online during the last two years, excluding the 37 fraud cases that are linked to names of the royal family.”

These “fraud” cases have been made lese majeste cases, and we assume that it excludes the two men who mysteriously died in custody.

The second story is a long account of the anti-coup poet and cyber activist Sirapop who writes as Rung Sila, apprehended on 24 June 2014 and still imprisoned without bail, charged with various “crimes,” including lese majeste. The report is of Rung Sila’s case – until now, little known. He denies all charges and affirms that he will continue to fight the charges. He is being tried in secret before a military court. It took almost two years for his case to go before that kangaroo court.

His arrest was for failing to report to the junta. Even today, still jailed, he refuses to bow before that lot: “I did not believe that the coup makers, or, if you will, the traitors, would remain in power for long and I chose to defend rights, freedoms and the constitution peacefully and nonviolently, avoiding aggression, by simply not cooperating with the traitors.”

One aspect of the story that is revealing of events we at PPT had never previously heard was of the junta’s own involvement in the interrogation of Rung Sila:

There was a major session on the final evening in military custody with 50 officials led by an admiral with the NCPO. The admiral told him that he had been constantly monitored and that there were many items that had come to the attention of military war rooms during multiple periods of unrest…”.

He was interrogated by dozens of thugs, but the involvement of “an admiral with the NCPO” – the junta – is another eye-opener. (The only admiral in the junta at the time of the coup was Admiral Narong Pipatanasai.)

Both articles deserve attention.

Jailed red shirts

4 01 2014

A reader kindly pointed out that PPT missed a significant story at the Bangkok Post a couple of days ago. In amongst the static of Veera Prateepchaikul’s propaganda for anti-democracy it is sometimes easy to miss reports by real journalists. This one is by Achara Ashayagachat, who is usually worth reading, and who is anything but a desk-bound propagandist.

The 23 red shirt prisoners are now beginning a third new year at Lak Si prison for political prisoners. While they have missed out on the reasonable version of the amnesty bill they supported, they remain firmly behind the Yingluck Shinawatra government, and regard the anti-democracy movement “as indecent and illegitimate.”

One prisoner is reported to have lamented: “Our prime minister … has given in to several unwarranted demands, but still the elite and nobility network [the protesters] are unhappy.” The protester added: They really do not understand the basics about equal rights in a democracy…”. And more:

“Their insults against rural folks are unacceptable and I wonder if they would be able to grow rice and fruit, do the household chores, look after transport and clean offices by themselves if we revolted.”

All excellent points, unless you are opposed to democracy and elections.

Another inmate pointed to the double standards that saw red shirts jailed while anti-democracy protesters broke the law with impunity: “It seems punishment is unevenly applied against red-shirt demonstrators while the conservative nobility people are spared…”. She added: “What kind of justice is this?”

Sadly, it is the justice of the royalist judiciary that has protected its allies since 2005. Nothing has changed there.

Wat Pathum Wanaram inquest

19 12 2012

Many PPT readers will have already seen the recently-posted Prachatai account of the South Bangkok Criminal Court “inquest into the deaths of six people who were killed at Pathum Wanaram Temple near Ratchaprasong intersection after the dispersal of the red-shirt protests on 19 May 2010.” Somehow PPT has missed accounts of this first hearing, now almost a week ago, in the mainstream media, so we highlight it here. soldiers on bts 2

The Prachatai report of witness testimony is vivid and disturbing, with graphic accounts of soldiers shooting into the temple and at medics, red shirts and journalists. The report suggests that, along with other testimony in other inquests, that as Achara Ashayagachat of the Bangkok Post observed, it is “undeniable that we have not seen much concrete progress in the investigation by the police, fact-finders and prosecutors into the previous government’s decision to violently disperse the red shirts, which was tantamount to a licence to kill.” Hopefully, this progress can be maintained and that the culture of impunity is challenged.

Death by state

11 12 2012

PPT wishes to draw attention to the op-ed by Achara Ashayagachat in the Bangkok Post on the investigations on deaths during the crackdowns by the military, under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government in April and May 2010. Upfront, she states: “It is the culture of impunity that has made state violence against the people possible.”

She argues that what is especially needed are “apologies to the relatives of the dead as well as the removal of the social stigma for those unfairly accused of treason and lese majeste offences.”

Achara notes that under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, it is:

undeniable that we have not seen much concrete progress in the investigation by the police, fact-finders and prosecutors into the previous government’s decision to violently disperse the red shirts, which was tantamount to a licence to kill.

And she observes that it is “disturbing is that only two politicians, and no army leaders, were charged…”.

She acknowledges that:

Perhaps it would be less questionable if the DSI chief who announced the charges against Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep [Thaugsuban] was not the same Mr Tarit [Pengsit] who was part of the tainted team.

Even so, Tharit has explained that: “The decision to use force was made by the committee in charge of operations, and the decision makers were Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep…”.

Like many others, she wonders if the investigations have become “a chip for the Pheu Thai Party to trade for Democrat support for the charter amendment and reconciliation bills.” This leads to questions about the government and the Puea Thai Party, demanding that the party has the “political guts to bring the military to justice as well, and not just token politicians.”

Achara interviews Joe Gordon

10 11 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has joined those interviewing lese majeste victim Joe Gordon as he returns home to the United States. This level of critical comment by one who has been convicted and released is unusual, and PPT hopes Joe eventually writes up his experience.

Joe again talks about The King Never Smiles. (It seems that the Post is unable to mention the book’s title.) He says he “did buy the book from a bookstore. It was published by Yale University Press and was written in an academic style.” He adds that reading it and posting links to it and unauthorized translations was his right and that he was a “victim of polarised Thai politics. I was in Thailand for health reasons but was dragged into dirty politics.”

A Bangkok Post photo

On prison, he states: “Prison conditions were far beyond being acceptable.”

On repeated refusals of bail for lese majeste inmates: “Without bail, the accused are never able to defend themselves well.”

On the lese majeste law: “It’s a shame that this government doesn’t dare to touch on the controversial aspects. I truly support the Nitirat group in its push for for the amendment [of the law], although I think what we really need is its abolition…. The law is used by conservatives to destroy the progressives.”

On the U.S., lese majeste and his case: “I was dismayed that the US issued a mild statement when I was convicted in December…”. PPT agrees that the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Kristie Kenney should be ashamed; they were spineless.

Finally, Joe notes that the “lese majeste law has shown its effect in sabotaging the institution of the monarchy rather than fostering and protecting it.” PPT understands this point but also views lese majeste as a part of the foundation of the repressive royalist state.

Comparing crackdowns

10 10 2012

Achara Ashayagachat has an op-ed at the Bangkok Post that is worthy of consideration for the attention to the increased attention to thee grisly events of 1976 and the murderous crackdowns in April and May 2010.

The memorial event for 6 October at Thammasat University “is usually a low-key event, observed by former student activists and relatives of the dead.” The difference this year was that the red shirts have joined in the remembrance.

The slogan for “the red shirts adopting the cause of the Oct 6 rally as their own.” They linked the events of 1976 and 2010 in several ways. One was in their construction: 6 x 36 = 112.

Achara explains: “Six is the day of the month of October when the crackdown took place; 36 represents this year being the 36th anniversary of the massacre. And 112 stands for Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law.”

Some of the crowd reportedly chanted : “same masterminds _ then and now”, linking impunity, state forces, military and monarchy.

They say this is a mighty network, cutting across powerful institutions such as the military, the bureaucracy and the propagandist media, which fanned public anger against anyone portrayed as “aiming to topple the monarchy”. People were massacred in acts claimed to be maintaining loyalty.

Achara adds that “[a]n air of great mystery also hovers over these two events. Two years after the 2010 violence and 36 years after the Oct 6 massacre, there remain missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzles.”

The “unfinished business of democratisation” she says, “falls on the shoulders of relatives and friends of the victims of political violence.”

The impunity for state officials remains the rule, yet there seems greater pressure for holding those who ordered the deaths of citizens this time around.

Lese majeste and elite (in)justice

18 09 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has a worthy op-ed on a court appearance by a lese majeste prisoner. The article makes a point PPT has mentioned several times: the double standards involved when the political crime of lese majeste is involved. It can be read with a report of the trial, also in the Bangkok Post (PPT will post separately on the trial). The case involves 41 year-old computer programmer Surapak Puchaisaeng.

Surapak was arrested on 2 Sept 2011. Surapak’s case carries the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, although investigations began under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

Achara notes that the “police have accused him of posting defamatory remarks about the royal family on Facebook several months ago. He was denied access to a lawyer on the day of his arrest.” And, of course, in the usual practice – unconstitutional to be sure – he has been “denied bail four times, even though, for his last request, the last bail guarantor was the Justice Ministry.” As PPT has pointed out before, the reason for this, as in many lese majeste cases, is that  Surapak refuses to plead guilty, so the royalist court uses the refusal of bail as a form of torture in trying to get a guilty plea.

Achara points out that Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, the late Ampol Tangnopakul,  and Wanchai Saetan have suffered similar refusals of bail. She could have added Joe Gordon, Surachai Danwattananusorn and several others to the list.

In addition, Achara points out that others “who are routinely denied bail” are the “political prisoners” at the “Temporary Prison at Laksi _ most of whom are grass-roots supporters of the red-shirt movement facing hefty penalties and long prison terms _ face the same situation.”

She notes that “their legal battles for bail have rarely been brought up by the mainstream media.” And she makes the all too obvious point that rich kids get off, get bail, get slapped on the wrist, even when they are responsible for multiple deaths in, say, road crashes.  She makes the points for several cases over several years, showing political and class bias that is the stock-in-trade for the judiciary:

With so many cases pointing to a double standard, it is understandable and inevitable for the public to feel that the legal system is unfair to the poor, and unjust to prisoners of conscience. Justice delayed is justice denied. Sadly, this is not the exception in our our legal system, but the norm that routinely applies to the weak and poor.

100 days after Ampol’s death

7 08 2012

It is now 100 days since died in a prison hospital. Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has an excellent story of remembrance that PPT won’t summarize as it deserves to be read in full. The flavor of the story is conveyed in this paragraph:

It was a quiet but warm ceremony for members of the family, with his wife a pool of dignity for the Chinese-Thai family, devastated by the old man’s arrest, conviction and imprisonment – and ultimately death – on a charge of lese majeste.

Ampol and grandchildren

Ampol original sentencing to 20 years in jail for allegedly sending four short messages by phone demonstrated the parlous state of the Thai judiciary and the political use of the lese majeste law. His death demonstrated not just how utterly horrid the law is but also that those enforcing it to “protect the monarchy” and all it stands for are devoid of compassion.

His wife Rosmalin states: “… our family stands firm that Ah Kong was innocent.”

Ampol’s cremation is due to take place on 26 August although the police have yet to complete the required forensic report that would allow the inquest into his death to be concluded.

Updated: Red shirts remember the coup I

18 09 2011

Red shirts have not forgotten the 19 September 2006 palace-military coup that set in train a series of events that has seen a continuing struggle over the nature of Thailand’s politics. The Bangkok Post reports that a “large number of red-shirt supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have occupied the Ratchadamnern Avenue in a rally at the Democracy Monument to mark the fifth anniversary of the … coup.”

A series of speakers has included UDD leaders such as Jatuporn Promphan, Natthawut Saikua, Korkaew Pikulthong, Weng Tojirakarn, and UDD chair Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn.

Update: Achara Ashayagachat writes about the coup anniversary at Prachatai. She observes, “Thailand remains divided over the issue of Thaksin five years after the 19 September 2006 putsch.”

Thanet Aphornsuvan, a retired Thammasat University history professor, noted “that there has been no historical anti-coup sentiment as strong as that of today.” He adds: “The last coup has somehow created a complicated consequence of debates and contemplations among people of all walks of life over key issues including the divisions of powers and the importance of constitution—in short, in a manner to strive against the invisible hands or the unconstitutional powers…”.

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