No dissent allowed

29 10 2017

Just before the funeral for the dead king, PPT posted on a story about iconoclastic former lese majeste convict Akechai Hongkangwarn and his statement that he refused to wear black as was required by the regime.

Akechai “said it was not about disrespecting the [dead] king but exercising his rights.” He was viciously attacked by royalists and confronted by a squad of uniformed military thugs.

The military eventually took him away from Bangkok, to Kanchanaburi province, by the military. As he was not formally arrested, this was essentially an abduction.

Khaosod reports that Akechai now says he was injured while being taken into custody for four nights in military detention and that he will take legal action.

He will “file a complaint against three soldiers he said caused him to fall and suffer scratches on his arm while dragging him away Tuesday.”

The regime was so desperate for the funeral to proceed smoothly and as a propaganda exercise that a single dissident voice was not permitted.

Next is the coronation, which will be equally important for the junta, so expect more repression.





Updated: Challenging arbitrary lese majeste

25 10 2017

Prachatai reports that the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has concluded that lese majeste victims Sasiwimon S. and Tiensutham or Yai Daengduad are detained arbitrarily.

The UN has concluded that the detention and sentencing of the two was done arbitrarily. Each received sentences that amount to decades in jail.

In other words, “the detention of the two was against the international conventions in which Thailand is a state party of such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Some time ago the same U.N. body also “concluded that the detention of four lèse majesté convicts were arbitrary. The four are: Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, Pornthip Munkong, Patiwat Saraiyaem, Phongsak S.”

The military dictatorship will more or less ignore this U.N. declaration as the use of the lese majeste law is critical for its suppression of opponents of the junta and the monarchy.

When it does reply to the U.N. it lies. Last time, in June 2017, the junta lied that “the state protects and values freedom of expressions as it is the foundation of democratic society…”. This is buffalo manure and no one anywhere believes it.

The regime added that freedom and democracy were only possible when they do not impact “social order and harmony.” Like fascist and authoritarian governments everywhere, they mean that freedom and democracy are not permitted in Thailand.

The regime also claims that lese majeste “is necessary to protect the … [m]onarchy as the monarchy is one of the main pillars of Thai society…”.

That’s why the regime sent Sasiwimol, a 31-year-old single mother of two to 56 years in jail for allegedly posting seven Facebook messages considered lese majeste. How she threatened to undermine the monarchy is unclear.

Yai Daengduad, who is 60 years old was sentenced to 50 years in a junta prison for lese majeste.

Neither could appeal as they were dragged before one of the dictatorship’s military courts.

Meanwhile, Khaosod reports that the iconoclastic former lese majeste convict, Akechai Hongkangwarn has been confronted by a squad of uniformed military thugs for saying that he’d wear red for the dead king’s funeral. The thugs demanded he “choose between spending a few days at what they described as a resort in Kanchanaburi province or a military base at an unspecified location…”.

Of course, in royalist and neo-feudal Thailand, saying one would refuse to wear black is considered unacceptable. Akechai has been subject to a barrage of threats and hate mail and posts declaring him “unThai.”

Akechai “said it was not about disrespecting the [dead] king but exercising his rights.”

Royalists cannot accept that anyone has rights when it comes to the monarchy; there are only (enforced) duties.

They have encouraged attacks on Akechai and his house.

This is royalist Thailand.

Update: An AP report states that Akechai has been arrested: “A lawyer for Ekachai Hongkangwan said soldiers arrested Ekachai at his Bangkok home on Tuesday morning and indicated they would detain him outside the city, in Kanchanaburi province.”





Monarchy and lese majeste

16 09 2017

Some recent stories on lese majeste and the monarchy deserve to be highlighted even if they have been widely read.

First, the brave Akechai Hongkangwarn has come up with a proposal for abolishing Article 112 of the criminal code. The idea of abolishing the lese majeste is a proposal we heartily support, although the mechanism he proposes strikes us as a tad flawed.

Prachatai reports that Akechai cites a statement by The Dictator in positioning his proposal General Prayuth Chan-ocha use the dictatorial Article 44 to dump the lese majeste law:

He said that after Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, also known as Pai Dao Din, pleaded guilty of lèse majesté last month, the junta head indicated that the King actually does not want any individual to be prosecuted for lèse majesté.

Some might suggest that getting rid of the law by any means is okay, but we tend to think the idea of using a draconian power to nix the draconian law is contradictory. More significantly, we think it important to look at what The Dictator actually said.

At the time, The Nation reported that General Prayuth stated: “The monarch never wants to see people being punished because of this matter…”. He added: “The monarchy institution always has mercy, always grants pardons and even amnesty…”.

In fact, The Dictator was not expressing the new monarch’s personal position on lese majeste, but protecting the monarchy’s public image.

Prayuth stated that the “protection of the institution of the monarchy is one of the key security strategies of the government.” He “explained”:

“It is not the institution of the monarchy that issues and enforces such laws, it is the government’s duty to enforce the law to protect the institution…. Please understand that HM the King cannot enforce the law. The monarchy gives the power [to the government] to run the country, so we have to protect the institution.”

It is clear that Prayuth is distancing the monarchy from the political use of the law and that he speaking of the monarchy as an institution and not an individual monarch.

He claimed to be bemused that “people know very well that defamation of the monarchy is a crime in Thailand, [but] some just want to violate the law…. I don’t really understand why they just want to disobey the law.”

Prayuth’s position is congruent with the royalist propaganda on the law and is repeating tales we have heard several times over the decades and most especially since the 2006 military coup.

We should add that it is also false. There are several cases listed in our files that show the palace’s direct involvement with cases. One example is Bundith Arniya’s case.

Second, we wonder about a story at Khaosod. The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, completed in 1915, is a Renaissance revival-style meeting hall, sometimes erroneously described as a “palace.” It is being closed to the public “indefinitely,” from 30 September, the same day that “people to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol.”

A magnificent structure and lavish interiors have attracted tourists. Described as housing “some of Thailand’s national treasures,” this seems to mean royal stuff collected by fabulously kings, queens and other royals.

Officials state that there “is no date when the throne hall will reopen…”.

We may be all too conspiratorial, but the Hall is across the road from the purloined 1932 plaque. The Hall also has an important position in the 1932 revolution. As Wkipedia explains it:

During the four days of the 1932 Revolution (24–27 June), the Khana Ratsadon (or the People’s Party) used the throne hall as its headquarters. The party also imprisoned several princes and royal ministers as hostages inside the hall as it carried out its coup [they mean “revolution”].

Following that, the Hall was used as Thailand’s first parliament, and remained the parliament until 1974. It was then given back to the monarchy as part of  the Dusit Palace.

This return to the monarchy was a part of a long process of the royal family clawing back all that had been lost after 1932. That process restored and enhanced the monarchy’s (how) huge wealth and its political influence.

It seems no coincidence that this move is a part of a larger process undertaken under King Vajiralongkorn to further expunge the memory of 1932 and the period of anti-royalism.

Third, the Khmer Times reports on political refugee Neti Wichiansaen and a screening of his documentary “Democracy After Death” in Cambodia.

The report explains that Neti “is part of a small Thai community in Phnom Penh living in exile because of the Thai junta’s harsh enforcement of the loosely worded lese majeste laws, which punishes anyone who criticises the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison.”

Neti says: “If I went back now I would go straight to jail, even though I have no weapons. I am just a filmmaker…”.

PPT has posted on “Democracy After Death” previously, and the link to the film still seems active.

Neti was also one of the brave few who signed up for the Article 112 Awareness Campaign in 2011.

On the monarchy in Thailand’s politics, Neti says: “Many people after [the coup], realised that the monarchy is the mother mind of the coup. After that, Thai people think it’s unfair that the monarchy takes sides…”. Of course, the monarchy has always taken sides.

It is revealing that Neti does not claim to be a republican, preferring a European-style constitutional monarchy – that is, the 1932 model. He explained that: “Most Thai people don’t want to destroy the monarchy, they want it to go together with the new democracy…”.

Reforming the monarchy seems a pipe dream. Like the lese majeste law, abolition seems a better approach.





Catching up on the monarchy

8 08 2017

PPT has been posting regularly and yet we have not been able to post on all the stories in the media we’ve found interesting on or related to Thailand’s most feudal of institutions. Thus, this post is a catch-up. We will list several of these stories, from the past week or so, with little comment and just a quote of interest from each one:

Thai dissident’s lonely fight to keep history alive

Carrying a bucket of cement and a heavy bronze plaque, Ekachai Hongkangwan set out across Bangkok’s heavily-policed Royal Plaza in late June to perform a solo act of D-I-Y dissent.

But the 42-year-old was quickly bundled into a police van before he could lay down the metal disc – an exact replica of a monument that was mysteriously removed in April, sparking fears officials were trying to whitewash history.

The attempted restoration was a dangerous and rare act of subversion in a country smothered by an arch-royalist military and where criticism of the monarchy is being purged at an unprecedented rate.

Silencing dissent: digital capitalism, the military junta and Thailand’s permanent state of exception (we are not exactly sure how an exception becomes permanent)

In the last three years of military rule in Thailand, arrests and prosecutions for defamation, sedition and offences under the Computer Crimes Act have soared. Human rights advocates, democracy campaigners and ordinary citizens have been threatened, harassed and detained in military camps. The junta have sought to silence public discourse on every conceivable aspect of their rule. Global social media platforms are ground zero in this repression, and each month citizens are arrested and detained for what they post, share and like on Facebook.

Thai King’s Birthday Celebrations Mark Consolidation of Power

Thailand to celebrate birthday of assertive new King

The new monarch has shaken up the palace. A law quietly passed in April by Thailand’s interim assembly allowed him to consolidate control over five agencies which handle palace affairs and security. These agencies, which previously reported to the prime minister and defence ministry, remain funded by the state, but need not return revenue to the treasury.

A Straits Times examination of over 100 notices published on the Royal Gazette website since January shows the palace has promoted over 200 employees, removed or demoted over a dozen, as well as appointed over 100 more – many of them senior government servants.

All these moves have taken place amid tighter enforcement of Thailand’s lese majeste law, under which individuals have been jailed not just for insulting or defaming royalty, but also for trying to profit from their connections to the palace. Open discussion about the king, already constrained under the previous reign, has withered.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn expands his territory – but at what cost?

Change is afoot in Thailand. Amidst continued instability and uncertainty, King … Vajiralongkorn asserts more control. This move puts the ruling military junta in check.

The king now has full control of the agency that manages the holdings of the monarchy. Details about the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) are shrouded in secrecy. But it is worth at least US$30 billion thanks to significant holdings and investments, estimates suggested.

The Frontlines of Cyber Repression: Thailand and the Crop Top King

This post is the first of many in which we will begin the process of documenting the digital frontlines of cyber repression. By building better awareness about cyber repression, we hope this blog series will help illustrate current examples from across a wide spectrum of states and highlight actions being taken to push back on repression.

Trial of Yingluck sparks deeper crisis for Thailand

Why must she be eliminated at this point in time? The political elites are increasingly concerned about their position of power now that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away last October, is no longer on the political scene. Under Bhumibol, their political interests were firmly secured through the monarchy network, which had dominated political life for decades. Without Bhumibol, Thailand has moved into an uncertain phase under the new controversial king, Vajiralongkorn. Those political elites fear that the Shinawatras might exploit political uncertainties to regain power.





Updated: Monarchy vs. 1932

4 07 2017

For the royalist junta, 1932 is very scary. Perhaps because they are royalist or because the king is poking them. Perhaps both.

Khaosod reports twice on Akechai Hongkangwarn. The last we heard of him was on 24 June, when he’d been apprehended by the royalist patrol dogs as he tried to install a mock-up of the missing historical plaque at the so-called Royal Plaza. Then, police apparently did not charge him.

Khaosod’s earliest report states that officials from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Bang Kapi District Office “visited a [Akechai’s]… Lat Phrao district office to discourage him from petitioning the prime minister to reinstate June 24 as Thai National Day.”

June 24 is the day of the 1932 revolution. The report states that “June 24 was National Day from 1940 to 1960 before then-dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat pushed a cabinet resolution changing it to Dec. 5, the birthday of King Rama IX.”

The BMA officials visited Akechai’s workplace “and asked that he submit a petition intended for Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to them instead.” He refused, saying he intended “to submit a petition with 200 online signatures Tuesday at Government House…. He said it would be registered, so he could follow up on it.”

Akechai said “the man who spoke to him was polite, but the activist didn’t let the five – including a man with a short military-style haircut – inside his office, fearing they would arrest him.” He added: “I locked the door…”. The group then went off and found Akechai’s mother as a means to pressure him.

Akechai made a prediction: “Since they came to visit me today, I think they will apprehend me tomorrow…”.

The second report is on that prediction being proven correct. Thug-soldiers took him away earlier today, taking him “a local district office in a bid to prevent him from submitting a petition letter to the prime minister urging he reinstate June 24 as the country’s national day…”.

A district official stated that he was “just invited since this morning. I don’t know further details…”. The official was petrified:

“Please don’t name me or I will be damned. What they did was to borrow our equipments and all those were soldiers,” he said, adding however that a district official accompanied the soldiers. “The NCPO has the power and I must follow their orders.”

The official added that some 30 soldiers “use the district office as their workplace” but do “not report to the district chief.” This seems to be the situation at every district office as part of the junta’s militarization of the country by the fascist, authoritarian, royalist and erratic regime.

Update: Khaosod reports that Akechai was permitted to go home after “being taken away by four policemen and pressured by a soldier for nine hours.” He said he was “arrested by four police officers at about 5am on Tuesday and dragged away as he was leaving his residence in Lad Phrao for the Government House.” After that, Army Captain Cholapat Pheungphai, “a junta officer in charge of anti-junta activities in the district” who “pleaded to me [Akechai] to concede otherwise he would have had nothing to show his commander.”

In the end, the captain “succeeded in convincing him not to proceed to the Government House to submit a petition letter asking for the reinstatement of June 24 as national day.” Akechai “agreed” to submit the letter at the District Office.

Any guesses why The Dictator is so fearful of a letter about 1932? Akechai says he “tried to explain [to the soldier] that [the junta] should not be foolish…”. May as well talk to a large rock; it would be as bright and as responsive as The Dictator.





Sticking it to them

24 06 2017

Late on Friday, the junta’s police declared that there were no “unusual signs of political movements to stir public disturbances on the anniversary of the 1932 Siamese Revolution…”. What they mean is that there ban on gathering at the site of the stolen 1932 plaque was holding, so far.

No one in the royalist elite wants anyone to remember 1932 in ways that hail democracy and people’s sovereignty.

But then there was the brave Akechai Hongkangwarn. He was detained by the royalist patrol dogs on Saturday when he “attempted to install a mock-up of the missing historical plaque at the Royal Plaza…”.

Good for him!

Police say they “had not yet charged Ekachai but only detained him for ‘talks’ for an understanding of the situation.”

Akechai has a history of political activism and we salute him. We hope others follow his example and stand up for democracy.





The stolen plaque and repression

25 04 2017

Pro-democracy activist and former lese majeste detainee Akechai Hongkangwan has been “detained at the 11th Military Circle after attempting to submit a complaint regarding the missing Siamese Revolution plaque at Government House on Tuesday.”

The stolen plaque, presumably now buried, melted down or at the bottom of a lake in southern Germany is a subject added to the long list of items that may not be discussed in refeudalizing Thailand.

The Nation reports that a “police officer at Ladprao Police Station told the Thai Human Rights Lawyers (THRL) group that the activist had been detained according to an arrest warrant…”. Yet it is the military thugs who have him.

It is not clear what the charge could be. Perhaps the dastardly crime of asking about a missing plaque? Or perhaps the equally terrible crime of addressing The Dictator. More likely, there’s no real charge and that The Dictator is simply miffed that the activist asked about anything.

The report says a “security agency source” has said that the activist “had been invited” for something the military thugs call “a talk to create some mutual understanding…”. The “misunderstanding” is that the “the activist attempted to submit a complaint calling for an investigation regarding the missing [stolen] plaque.”

The military junta and The Dictator seem to believe that no-one can complain about this vandalism. That can only be so because the theft has the highest fingerprints on it. “The source said officers were afraid his actions could create confusion in the public.” Really? Everyone knows that this was a royal/royalist act of historical and political vandalism involving the deliberate destruction of public property.

Vandalism, military abductions and repression are likely to be the hallmarks of the new reign.