Human rights continue to decline

1 05 2011

With major statements by Human Rights Watch and the Asian Human Rights Commission, both pointing to the further deterioration of human rights in Thailand, it is worth looking at what they say in some detail.

HRW’s statement notes the state’s aggressive censorship of opposition community radio stations associated with the red shirts, observing that the “crackdown followed the government’s announcement that it would dissolve parliament on May 6, 2011, in preparation for national elections.” The question then raised is one PPT has been commenting on for several months: how can an election be fair with the opposition stifled and censored?

HRW demands that the “government should immediately allow the stations to resume operations,” noting that the elections “can hardly be credible if the government closes down opposition radio stations and websites…”.

But even if these radio stations were able to operate – and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government fears these stations for they provide alternatives to mainstream and state-controlled media – even that would not make for a “credible election. As PPT has reported, however, arrests of red shirt leaders continue, aimed at shutting up the opposition.

HRW notes that the Abhisit government mouthed platitudes (PPT’s words) about being “committed to protecting rights, but it has become the most prolific censor in recent Thai history.”

That’s a big statement but absolutely true. PPT has pointed this out several times, noting that even Thaksin Shinawatra, accused of numerous human rights abuses, was not able to gain the same level of control and deliver the level of repression and censorship that this palace-military-capitalist regime has.

HRW’s complaint was prompted by the raids by “hundreds of armed police officers joined officials from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) … [on] 13 community radio stations in Bangkok and surrounding provinces associated with the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)…. The stations were forced off the air for broadcasting material deemed offensive to Thailand’s monarchy. Broadcasting equipment, computers, and documents were seized. At least two station operators were temporarily held in police custody and questioned, then released on bail.”

HRW notes that the raids “were ordered by the army commander-in-chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha…” who has been running a broad-ranging campaign against persons he deems a threat to the monarchy.

HRW claims the “court warrant … provided vague authorization for the raids on the ground that the community radio stations have been operating illegally. But among hundreds of unlicensed community radio stations across Thailand, only those closely linked with the Red Shirts have been targeted…”.

HRW added: “Freedom for all Thais has suffered badly because the government and military have cast aside the rule of law to clamp down on critical speech…”.

The military has responded, as seen in a remarkable story in The Nation. It is remarkable as arguably the most inane response ever by a military that seems to assume that the public is as brainless as the military speakers making the comments masquerading as “explanations.”

The story begins with a claim that the “13 community radio stations run by the red shirts were shut down because they violated the law and not because of any political reasons…”. This claim is attributed to Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) spokesman Major-General Ditthaporn Sasasamit who claimed that ISOC “had told the police it had received complaints from local residents about the illegal radio stations’ frequencies interfering with regular radio broadcasts.”

So we are left to conclude that the “complaints” were received for just 13 of the more than 800 stations and that each of these just happened to be red shirt stations. No one in their right mind could ever believe such nonsense. But the military just sprays it out there, treating sensible Thais with complete disdain.

Then, of course, it is added, and this time truthfully: “community radios also broadcast speeches made at the April 10 rally that contained messages deemed to be threatening to national security, offensive to the monarchy as well as inciting unrest…”.

Despite this statement of political acts, the army babbles on about “reject[ing] accusations that the recent raids on red-shirt radio stations were politically motivated.”

Army chief Prayuth chimed in, supporting the lame comments by army and ISOC spokesmen saying that “action had been taken because those radio stations had really broken the law by operating illegally, interfering with legal radio frequencies and provoking social unrest…. The stations tried to provoke violence, and even urged soldiers not to follow orders. They did something wrong…”. In truth, they were wrong because the oppose the government, the army’s political entanglements, coups, election rigging and the descent into brutish political authoritarianism.

The actions currently being taken against red shirts are clearly politically motivated and are designed to silence red shirt media.

Meanwhile, the Asian Human Rights Commission says that “blatant threats” made towards Somsak Jeamteerasakul were ignited by Army boss Prayuth, who “derided Somsak in an interview on April 7, describing him as ‘a mentally ill academic’ who ‘is intent on overthrowing the institution’ of the monarchy.”

AHRC describes this threat in the context of “ultra-conservative forces are using the symbolic power of the king and royal institutions to advance a new authoritarian project…”. PPT has delineated this “project” several times.

While all of this is going on, the Wall Street Journal has an interview with Prime Minister Abhisit that fails to mention the use of repression and intimidation against political opponents under the guise of lese majeste claims. For the WSJ, it is business as usual in Thailand. In fact, ther is nothing usual about current politics.

Hence it is surreal when Abhisit is cited on his “plans to dissolve the House of Representatives by Friday and call what he described as a landmark election…”.

PPT imagines that, if it does come off, it will only be a landmark in the sense that the military and elite backers have expended money and opposition blood in an effort to gain an electoral mandate for a government that could not win a free and fair election. If it does win, wait for all the nonsense about how free and fair this election was and how a mandate will permit further repression.

When Abhisit says: “This is a real opportunity for Thailand to get out of this cycle of violence…. For too long I think we’ve been held back” it should not be forgotten that he supported the whole string of events that saw multiple election results overturned by a tainted judiciary, palace political intervention and a military coup. The body count in the violence makes it clear that the state’s weapons and snipers were used to maintain this government in power.

PPT is quite taken aback by the WSJ’s comment that “[g]oing to the polls now might provide Mr. Abhisit with a fresh mandate to pursue fresh policies to help buttress the country’s economic progress, analysts say, and he is choosing to call the election several months before the end of his term in December in order to provide Thailand with a firmer sense of direction and to remove the shadow of uncertainty that still hangs over the country.”

We are taken aback because Abhisit has no mandate except that cobbled together with money from businesses backing the Democrat Party and its now coalition partners and the military and palace brokering a deal that bought parliamentarians to support the party of the aristocracy. That he is saying he will call elections just short of this parliament’s full term is not great innovation; most elections in Thailand come before a full term is served.

What is clear is that Abhisit is only now seeking an “electoral mandate” because he thinks that his military-backed regime, after all of its fixing and what used to be called “policy corruption” but for the “analysts” in the WSJ are “fresh policies,” finally has a chance of getting the votes it needs.

But really, where are the WSJ’s analysts on the corruption of the electoral process that has taken place very openly in a series of fixes, acts of political violence and censorship and repression? Where is the acknowledgement that the Abhisit government has become the most prolific censor in recent Thai history?

AHRC on Somsak, Community Radio, and Fa Diew Kan

30 04 2011

On 29 April 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission issued a statement, “THAILAND: Threats to academic reflect continuous decline in enjoyment of fundamental rights, emboldened military,” commenting on the string of events which took place in Thailand this last week. To recap: Somsak Jeamteerasakul was threatened, 13 red shirt community radio stations were raided, and the DSI began consolidating evidence about possibly criminal actions of people who posted to the Fa Diew Kan webboard.

PPT urges readers to read the entire AHRC statement, but wishes to excerpt this astute paragraph:

The Asian Human Rights Commission has for some time been warning the international human rights community that Thailand has been steadily regressing towards a new type of anti-human rights and anti-rule of law system in which the values associated with these concepts are advertised widely at home and abroad but in which state institutions are not only emptied of those values, but in fact are inverted to serve precisely the opposite ends from what they purport to serve. It is by now clear that the project towards this anti-human rights and anti-rule of law system in Thailand is well underway.

With yesterday’s arrest of Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, this project appears to be moving even more rapidly.

Close to 470 political prisoners in Thailand

25 08 2010

According to a recent article by Marwaan Macan-Markar, a Thai human rights activist estimates that there are close to 470 political prisoners detained in jails and other sites of detention. These are all detentions which have been made under the Emergency Decree since the violence of April and May 2010. It does not include an unknown number held under lese majeste laws.

Citing information from the recently-formed People’s Information Center/ศูนย์ข้อมูลประชาชนผู้ได้รับผลกระ ทบจากการสลายชุมนุมกรณีเมษายน-พฤษภาคม 2553 , which is keeping track of arbitrary detention, disappearance and other human rights violations, 136 people are being held in the Northeast.  What is concerning, as Marwaan Macan-Markar points out, in conversation with Kwanravee Wangudom, one of the organizers of the People’s Information Center (PIC), is that

The decree, which gives authorities wide arresting powers, still remains in force in Bangkok and six provinces. What worries those like the PIC is that “the arresting has not stopped” for charges ranging from arson, carrying firearms and violating of traffic laws to violating the emergency law. “The government has still not declared the true numbers of those arrested for political activity in all the jails,” Kwanravee told IPS.  “Arrests are still continuing.”

There are a number of other disturbing issues surrounding detention – the PIC’s estimated number of those arrested and detained is much higher than that of the government. If the government is hiding the true number of those arrested, what else may be concealed?

While the Emergency Decree gives authorities wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention, PPT would like to echo a point made by the Asian Human Rights Commission last month: the Emergency Decree is only appropriate while there is an emergency. There is no longer an emergency situation in Thailand, at least not one other than the one being perpetrated by the Thai state’s arbitrary uses of power and repression.

AHRC on CAPO, censorship, and public morality

9 04 2010

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has just issued a new statement on CAPO, censorship and public morality.  The AHRC translates the prelude to the list of websites to be shut down issued by Suthep Thaungsuban under the banner of the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order yesterday, which reads:

“It is prohibited to report or distribute information that may cause alarm among the public, such as in newspapers or other media or anything with intent to cause misunderstanding about the state of emergency which will damage state security or peace and order or public morality across the kingdom.”

The AHRC further queries CAPO as an organization (as PPT did a few days ago), making the following astute observation:

Strangely, the contents of the CAPO’s website provide no immediately obvious details on its structure, staffing, administration, duties, control and coordination or command. It appears to be based at an army regiment and comprise mainly of army officers, while an announcement from last year indicates in only the most general terms that it includes both military and combined civilian-military-police units, about which nothing is explained. Given that this agency is at the forefront of counter-protest actions and is issuing orders for the closure of websites, it is particularly ironic that there is little clear information available about its existence and workings. The Asian Human Rights Commission therefore calls, in addition to its unreserved demand for the cessation of censorship in Thailand and for the ending of the state of emergency at the earliest possible time, for intense public pressure from inside the country and abroad to clarify the functions, personnel and funding of the CAPO, and its precise role in the current state of emergency.”

The AHRC concludes their statement with this multi-part question:

“What is CAPO, why is it shutting down websites, and how is it qualified to police public morality?”

To this question, PPT would add the following: What does ‘public morality’ mean? And who makes this decision?

Read the entire AHRC statement here: 9 April 2010, “Thailand: Censorship and policing public morality in a state of emergency”

Open letter from AHRC details persecution of Darunee in prison

23 09 2009

The Asian Human Rights Commission has just issued a very important open letter on the case of Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul.  Addressed to Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, in her capacity as the Director of the Kamlangjai Project at the Ministry of Justice, the AHRC reports key information about the continued mistreatment Darunee is experiencing at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution.

In particular, the AHRC highlights the following:

“First, she is suffering health problems but has not received treatment. Her jaw is locking and she is unable to open her mouth properly to eat or brush her teeth. As far back as January, while awaiting trial, a doctor examined her and recommended that she receive treatment outside the facility, but to date she has received none. Her attempt to get bail so that she could seek medical treatment at her own expense also failed. As you will be aware, there are many other prisoners in need of outside medical help that are not getting any, and in this respect her case is typical rather than exceptional.

Second, since her detention she has been kept isolated from other detainees throughout the daytime. She is kept outside a guardpost and made to sit under the roof there alone. At nighttime she is brought back to sleep with other detainees; however, other detainees have reportedly been warned not to speak to her and to inform the guards if she tries to communicate.

Third, since her conviction she has been issued a prison uniform that is brown with red on the sleeves. According to the advice that the AHRC has received, this uniform should only be assigned to convicts in very serious criminal cases, such as drug dealers where the amount of amphetamines recovered exceeds 100,000 tablets.

Fourth, since her conviction the wording on the card that she must carry with her in prison to identify her offence was changed to a much more serious expression from that on the original card. Whereas the previous card identified her offence as having defamed the monarchy, the new card uses the Thai word “arkhatmadrai”, which is often translated as “threaten”. But as you are aware, the connotation of this word is grave; it does not indicate a passing threat but suggests deep malice that a person may carry throughout her life.”

As the AHRC comments, the treatment of Darunee in prison is structured in such a way as to deepen her punishment. Eighteen years is apparently not a high enough price for her dissent.

PPT joins the AHRC in calling on the Princess to take action. The Princess is a UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador. Perhaps the appropriate phrase here would be: “Liberté, égalité, sororité”

AHRC on the new NHRC

20 08 2009

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has recently posted a commentary on a set of questions answered by Amara Pongsapich, the new chief of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). As always, the AHRC is insightful.

Their criticism of the NHRC as well as the ASEAN human rights body is particularly sharp:

“Q. How will the Asean human rights mechanism and the National Human Rights Commission work?

A. There are some worries that the regional human rights body might not be strong enough. But I think we should have it first and shape it later. I don’t think there will be overlapping areas of work between the national human rights body and the Asean body, which should take up regional issues such as the Rohingya displaced people better than the NHRC.

AHRC comment: Naturally, a hard issue like the Rohingya refugees (as human rights commissioner it would not be right to call them refugees; better to say “displaced people”) will not be addressed through the NHRC because its approach is bureaucratic, soft and accommodating. Therefore, it will be left to the as-yet non-existent regional mechanism of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which also will do nothing. Here one of the real purposes of the ASEAN human rights body is clearly revealed for the first time: it is intended as a place for useless national human rights institutions to shift responsibilities and avoid blame coming to national authorities when people’s rights are not protected. This can be expected to happen a lot in the coming years, especially in cases coming from the meaningless and irrelevant National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.”

Read the entire AHRC document here: “New NHRC chief promises to ensure that human rights body is meaningless and irrelevant”

There is one question not answered that PPT would like an answer to: Will the NHRC take up lèse majesté cases as human rights cases, or not? If the answer is no, then what, precisely, is meant by ‘human rights’?

Awzar Thi and HRW on the flailing NHRC

15 05 2009

Both Awzar Thi at Rule of Lords and Human Rights Watch have issued recent statements about the current state of the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand. Both are well worth reading and considering.  See Awzar Thi, 14 May 2009, “Thailand’s Anti-Human Rights Commission” and Human Rights Watch, 13 May 2009, “Thailand: Replace Flawed Rights Panel”

If the events of the last six monts have made anything clear, it is that Thailand is in desperate need of a transparent, impartial, and just human rights commission. Unless the current path changes course, this seems unlikely.

Kavi on Suwicha, AHRC calls for protest of lesè majesté and other repressive laws

6 04 2009

Kavi Chongkittavorn at the Nation recently wrote about Suwicha’s case and the broader implications. See 6 April 2009, “Better ways to save Thai online freedom” While arguing that the punishment Suwicha received is too harsh, Kavi leaves the basic premise of the lesè majesté law unquestioned, and instead  “In fact, an urgent and frequently asked question is quite simple: why were these offensive pictures, including old and fresh ones, posted in cyberspace in the first place? Who were these people? Investigations should have been seriously conducted to go after the culprits, who could be far or near to the sources.”  The piece closes with this comment: “Like all previous cases, the only way to rescue Suwicha’s family from the quagmire confronting them is by a royal pardon. His lawyer said that he would seek one. This is a matter of urgency as lives are at stake here. It is hoped that common sense will prevail in our country with its long tradition of freedom of expression and pragmatism.” Instead, PPT asks,  as long as the lesè majesté law exists, can there be freedom of expression in Thailand?

On 6 April 2009, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission issued an urgent appeal in response the conviction and sentencing of Suwicha Thakor. The AHRC urges individuals to send letters of protest calling for Suwicha’s immediate release and “the amendment of the criminal law in Thailand so as to cease violating the freedom of expression of the country’s citizens and residents.”  PPT urges readers to follow the AHRC’s suggestion to send letters of protest — please see the full AHRC appeal, including a sample letter and contact information for the relevant authorities: “Man given ten years imprisonment for lese-majesty online”

Every voice counts — and for readers outside Thailand in particular — to paraphrase Aung San Suu Kyi’s words from another context — use your liberty to promote that of people living inside Thailand.

AHRC on harassment of human rights NGOs in the south

30 03 2009

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has issued a statement concerning continued harassment of the NGO, the Working Group on Justice for Peace (WGJP) in southern Thailand (AHRC, “THAILAND: Continued harassment of WGJP Pattani office by military”).

This is not a direct reference to monarchy, lesé majesté and politics that PPT comments on, however we feel that this statement deserves attention on the issue of human rights and the role of NGOs under the current government. The statement states that the “head of Special Taskforce 23, Lt Col Praweet Suthi-prapha to gather information about the activities of NGOs in Pattani.”

This is reason for concern. Recall that it was just a few days ago that Human Rights Watch met with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who was seen as serious about human rights and well-intentioned. In his speech at Oxford University, the premier stated: “So this is what I have promised to the Thai people: transparency, good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, equal treatment and reconciliation with those with opposing views, especially by providing them with political space.”

If PM Abhisit’s intentions are genuine, he must ensure that his military do not harrass NGOs and respect their rights.

AHRC Criticizes Raid on Prachatai

10 03 2009

In a statement released today, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) directly criticized last week’s raid of Prachatai by the Crime Suppression division. Read the whole statement here, 10 March 2009, “Thailand: Raid on Prachatai — A “right” to complain against police is no right at all if it cannot be heard, investigated, and enforced”

The AHRC takes apart PM Abhisit’s recent call for Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn to take up their criticism of police actions with him directly and he would “take care of it.” As the AHRC explains, “The prime minister’s comment raises an interesting and pressing question: to whom should she complain? According to him, “If [Prachatai] feel there was an error in law enforcement they can make a complaint to me, I will take care of it.” What does his comment mean? How will he “take care of it”? What measures are in place for the prime minister to undertake routine inquiries into police operations? And, is he implying that all persons in Thailand who have a complaint against the law enforcement authorities should take them up with him? If so, the prime minister would soon find himself overwhelmed daily with thousands of complaints of illegal arrest, arbitrary detention, fabricated evidence, falsified charges, corruption, entrapment, extortion, custodial assault and torture, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance, just to name a few of the abuses that the police in Thailand routinely perpetrate.”

As the AHRC so clearly puts it, the protection of civil and political rights in Thailand has changed little since 2005.  In 2005, Thailand was in front of the UN Human Rights Council and the AHRC and the Asian Legal Resource Center released a report about impunity and rights violations in Thailand. Read the whole report here, Rule of Law versus Rule of Lords in Thailand. Then ask yourself how much has changed.

PPT is deeply concerned at the continuities of rights violations in Thailand — and the new, morphing forms that these are taking in the present moment.

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