Begging the junta to do the right thing

9 12 2018

Begging the junta to do the right thing might seem about as useful as talking to a brick wall, especially when it has almost no track record on human rights or basic humanity. Think of the lying that still goes on about the 2010 massacre perpetrated by the Army.

Even so, a couple of human rights protectors have stepped up.

The first is the very honorable National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit. She’s about the only person on the NHRC who ever does anything much about human rights. The rest of the NHRC makes up a part of the junta’s brick wall.

She has requested that junta “respect international standards and refrain from extraditing a former national team footballer to stand trial in Bahrain.” This refers to Hakeem Al-Araibi’s detention in Bangkok. He’s been detained for 13 days now, despite being recognized and registered as a refugee by the UN and Australia.

Angkhana said she wanted to see Hakeem “treated fairly because he has refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Due to his status, he should be protected under international law.” She added that the junta’s government “does not have to extradite him.”

As we know, however, such international norms are ignored by the junta. In any case, the “Attorney-General’s office on Friday submitted an extradition request to the Criminal Court on Bahrain’s behalf as the Gulf state has an outstanding arrest warrant for him.” He goes before one of the junta’s courts on Tuesday, and FIFA, the UN and human rights groups all have their fingers crossed that the junta may do the right thing (for a change).

Usually meek before the junta, the Australian government’s Foreign Minister has finally demanded that “Thailand release … Hakeem al-Araibi from detention and return him to Australia, setting the stage for a diplomatic clash.” In some media in Thailand this was crippled by the use of “urge” rather than “demand.”

The second instance of begging the junta to do the right thing is like spitting into the wind.

Amnesty International, noting that the military thugs have only said they will lift some restrictions, it has “issued a call for the “junta to end all restrictions on human rights before the next election tentatively scheduled for February 24.” It emphasized that the junta “must fully lift the arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association…”.

Looking to the elections, AI stated that the junta:

… allow people to receive and distribute information online and from the media, engage in public debate and campaigns, gather peacefully and demonstrate, criticise politicians and express diverse or dissenting viewpoints without fear of imprisonment or persecution.

And AI went further:

The authorities should also send a clear signal of their commitment to uphold these rights by dropping charges – and repealing convictions – of all individuals targeted solely for peacefully exercising their rights….

The junta is as unlikely to accept such “radical” proposals as it would admit its murderous role in 2010 when it shot dozens of demonstrators.





Academic harassment

23 07 2018

Earlier in the month PPT posted the Amnesty International statement on the profoundly ludicrous charges against academics and students from Chiang Mai University. Those charges were against Prof Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam. They attended and organized the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University in July 2017. They all denied charges of breaching the junta’s ban on political assembly. Human Rights Watch described the charges as bogus.

They were formally indicted in Chiang Mai on 4 July. Their next court hearing is set for 18 August.

For more information on the case, see the latest update by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

To take action and call for the prosecution to be halted, you can sign this letter organized by Scholars at Risk and please also forward the link to other colleagues.

Scholars at Risk has also sent a formal letter General Prayuth Chan-ocha and other relevant parties calling for the prosecution to cease.

The International Commission for Jurists has issued a formal letter calling for the prosecution to be stopped.

This case is one of many cases of restriction of freedom of thought and political freedom generally under the military dictatorship. For more information on the range of prosecutions for lese majeste, sedition, public assembly, and other peaceful actions, see the four-year report of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.





AI on academic harassment

9 07 2018

Readers might have imagined that the profoundly ludicrous charges against academics and students from Chiang Mai University may have slipped away into nothingness. However, the military junta seems intent on harassing these persons with a view to silencing other academics and deadening academic discussion within Thailand. So the ridiculousness continues.

The last we remember of this case was that in August 2017, when the Army brought charges against Prof Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam. They met Chang Phuak police and were fingerprinted.

These persons attended and organized the International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University in July 2017. They all denied charges brought against them, which seemed to be something to do with breaching the junta’s ban on political assembly. Human Rights Watch referred to the charges as bogus.

Of course, the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies was not a political meeting but an academic meeting. It was the military junta that politicized it by provocatively sending uniformed and plainclothes police and military officers to snoop and spy on the event, apparently looking for any topic or even a few words that might offend military and monarchy.

It was this snooping, spying and efforts to censor that saw those charged and others protest the heavy-handed surveillance of the 13th International Thai Studies Conference.

According to Amnesty International, two academics, two students and a writer were charged last week. The charge is “holding an unlawful political gathering…”.

AI states:

These absurd charges would be laughable were it not for the potentially grave consequences for those involved, and what they say about the parlous state of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Thailand…. All these students and academics did was make a peaceful, satirical comment about the heavy military presence at a university conference. For this, they could face up to six months in jail under a repressive decree introduced by the military government. Pushing this case through the judicial system highlights the crippling measures authorities are instituting to silence academics and gag any form of dissent.

Further, AI calls on the military junta to “drop these ridiculous charges and repeal the military decree that outlaws peaceful public assemblies of five or more persons. They must also put an end to the prosecutions, harassment and surveillance of academics, activists and intellectuals that has blighted the country since the coup.”

As far as we can tell, in strict terms of the junta’s decree banning public assembly, these five cannot even be considered to have come together as five and to have engaged in a political assembly. But legal facts have never prevented the junta from using “law” for harassment and repression.

At the  at Chiang Mai University in July 2017, members of the group held up a banner stating in Thai that “An academic seminar is not a military base,” alluding to the  by security forces in uniform and plainclothes.





Amnesty International on systematic and arbitrary restrictions on human rights

24 02 2018

Amnesty International has released its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights. It’s a 400 page PDF that makes for grim reading.

The report had a launch in Thailand and there are reports at Khaosod and The Nation.

Amnesty International Thailand Director Piyanut Kotsan is quoted in The Nation saying:

“The situation of human rights violation in Thailand under the administration of the Prime Minister and head of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] is still considered very poor, as the junta still exercises the absolute power of Article 44 of the interim Charter to stop any political activists exercising freedom of expression…”.

“Many citizens are still being held in unofficial custody, civilians are still being prosecuted in the military court, and freedom of expression and gatherings in public are limited by the use of NCPO order 3/2558, which bans the gathering of more than five persons for political protest.”

Khaosod quotes Antima Saengchai, deputy director of Amnesty Thailand:

Despite having declared human rights a national priority, the military government still prosecutes activists, practices extrajudicial killings, allows torture of people in custody, deports asylum-seekers and suppresses online freedoms….

“Despite promises, there has been no process on passing laws to prohibit human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearances…”.

On lese majeste in 2017, the report states:

Authorities continued to vigorously prosecute cases under Article 112 of the Penal Code – lèse-majesté provision – which penalized criticism of the monarchy. Individuals were charged or prosecuted under Article 112 during the year, including some alleged to have offended past monarchs. Trials for lèse-majesté were held behind closed doors. In June, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced a man to a record 35 years’ imprisonment − halved from 70 years after he pleaded guilty − for a series of Facebook posts allegedly concerning the monarchy. In August, student activist and human rights defender Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment after being convicted in a case concerning his sharing a BBC profile of Thailand’s King on Facebook. Authorities brought lèse-majesté charges against a prominent academic for comments he made about a battle fought by a 16th century Thai king.

The latter case was dropped a few weeks ago. We are surprised AI didn’t mention the lese majeste cases brought against juveniles.

On the still unresolved case of the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyaphum Pasae the report states:

In March, Chaiyaphum Pasae, a 17-year-old Indigenous Lahu youth activist, was shot dead at a checkpoint staffed by soldiers and anti-narcotics officers, who claimed to have acted in self-defence. By the end of the year, an official investigation into his death had made little progress; the authorities failed to produce CCTV footage from cameras known to have been present at the time of the incident.

This seems a case of impunity for soldiers. Another, mentioned in  the report under the heading “Impunity” states:

In August, the Supreme Court dismissed murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. The charges related to the deaths of at least 90 people in 2010 during clashes between [red shirt] protesters and security forces.

It might have also noted that Gen Anupong Paojinda, who was then army commander and is now Interior minister also got off. And, current prime minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha commanded troops who conducted some of these murders.

The report on Thailand is only a couple of pages long and should be read.





Media awards

27 01 2018

Amnesty International Thailand recently held an event, reported by Prachatai, that was “organised out of respect for the role of the media in observing human rights principles and creating human rights awareness in our society.” AI made awards “to outstanding reports relating to human rights and humanity in general.”

In an interesting and important set of reports, two caught PPT’s attention.

For the print media, First Prize was awarded to Paritta Wangkiat who was writing for the Bangkok Post for its article “Too Little, Too Late for Lahu Traumatized by Youth’s Killing.” This report highlighted the still unresolved extrajudicial slaying of Chaiyapoom Pasae by soldiers. As far as we are aware, the military continues to conceal evidence and cover-up on this tragic case. Paritta’s report is online and can be read here.

In the category of online media, joint First Prizes were awarded to the101.world for “Anwar, Pattani and the River full of Crocodiles” and Prachatai for “Sex and Love in Thailand’s Male Prisons.” The latter story was reported by Taweesak Kerdpoka.

On 29 January, Taweesak is due to appear before the Ratchaburi Provincial Court when it will announce its verdict in the case of Taweesak and four activists “accused of allegedly violating the Referendum Act by giving moral support to villagers in Ban Pong District, Ratchaburi Province in the case of the activists, and by reporting on the incident by the Prachatai journalist.” By taking this “legal” action, the junta effectively made reporting opposition to its draft constitution illegal.

The media in Thailand has a rather checkered history on human rights, but these two young journalists have done outstanding work. The junta prefers obedience.





Thailand’s future politics II

2 11 2017

In our previous post we looked at two articles considering possible futures for Thailand’s politics. Here we look at two more.

Christina Larson is a Beijing-based reporter who has written for the New Yorker, Foreign Policy and Bloomberg. Her guess that the “respect felt by most Thais for their monarchy” is “genuine” is married to an appopriate observation that this is “besmirched by the growing enforcement of the world’s strictest lèse-majesté law…”. She adds that ” use of the law has allowed the government to persecute critics and to create a widespread fear while maintaining a veneer of legality.”

She observes that the “fate of the law has been inextricably tied up with the image of Bhumibol himself.” That’s a point that others have often missed. At the same time, the increased use of the law and its justification has been “protecting the monarchy.” Larson notes that the image of the monarchy that is protected is of the ninth king and adds: “But the burnished image of the ‘People’s King’ — as a crusader for little people, a camera-toting investigator and promoter of public works – was shaped and reinforced by a supremely successful 70-year-propaganda campaign.”

It is that propaganda image that has been reinforced again and again over recent years – not least because the incumbent was mostly hidden in a hospital – and because that image was challenged. The funeral pushed the image again to supreme heights. But it is constructed:

According to Thailand’s constitution and school textbooks, the monarch is above politics, separate from the spheres of government and business. But nearly every public and private establishment in Bangkok was marking the official mourning period. Black-and-white memorial photos of Bhumibol in full royal regalia were on display at major airports, on highway billboards, at restaurants and hotels, even on the screens of ATMs. Liquor sales were prohibited during the cremation ceremonies, and the city’s ubiquitous 7-Elevens closed early on Thursday. That speaks to the power of the monarchy – and the fear of causing offense – that’s opened up a wide venue for persecution.

Larson quotes Benjamin Zawacki on the monarchy and lese majeste. (As a former representative of Amnesty International, he spent a lot of energy arguing that the reign of the dead king promoted human rights! He and AI neglected lese majeste in Thailand.)

Zawacki makes a rather odd comment: “If the cremation shows us nothing else, it is that the depth of respect and adoration for the monarchy in Thailand renders the lèse-majesté law redundant…”. Clearly it wasn’t, and the palace and military used it whenever there were political crises or whenever it saw threats to the grand concocted image of the monarchy.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak seems to contradict Zawacki, saying:

With the new reign, the enforcement of the [lèse-majesté] law will likely only increase, not decrease, for two reasons. The new monarch does not command as much love and respect as his father on an individual basis, and the monarchy will be under pressure to structurally adjust to new democratic norms.

Thitinan sees a continuation of the monarchy’s anti-democratic politics and a deepening of fear and intimidation. That seems entirely consistent with what we know of Vajiralongkorn and The Dictator. The symbiotic relationship mentioned in our previous post is important. At the same time, the  junta benefits enormously from the lese majeste law.

Kasit

The final article is an op-ed by the Democrat Party’s Kasit Piromya titled Thai political transformation needs ‘third force’. He believes an “alternative exists to military rule and entrenched political elite.”

Given that Kasit seems to have supported two military interventions throwing out elected governments, was a long-serving and senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, filled with members of the elite who are deeply royalist, we can only marvel at his idea of a “third force” and his call for “full-fledged democracy.”

He asks: “How much longer must Thai society accept the military’s involvement in politics?” Perhaps the answer is when persons like Kasit stop supporting those who are responsible for the coups.

He’s not keen on electoral politics, with PAD-like anti-democrat finger-pointing at the “dominance of vested interests in the political landscape led to countless numbers of abuses of power and corruption” along with “a power-hungry civilian political elite that engaged in rent-seeking with its majority rule.” He means the Thaksin regime.

And the “third force”? It is a PAD “solution” based on its usual false premises.

Kasit declares a pox on all houses (not his own): “One cannot rely on the military to voluntarily return to and remain in the barracks, nor on the political class to change its exploitative ways.”

The citizens must take the lead. But, of course, only after this “uneducate,” duped, misled and paid among them “educate themselves by gaining full access to information about government services and tasks, including how the national budget is spent, how decisions are made and how they can have input.” Does Kasit do this? We doubt it.

PADistas like Kasit believe that the citizenry is fodder for Thaksin-like politicians because they are “uneducate.”

Somehow the “Thai democratic citizenry” will be achieved “with the advent of modern telecommunications that enable convenient and fast connections with the public through mobile phones, social media and other internet-based vehicles.” Internet-based vehicles?? He’s making this up as he writes.

But what of the “third force”? Kasit reckons it “could consist of like-minded people” who come “together to agree on a course of action and draw up a list of priority issues so that a national consensus can be reached on taking Thailand forward.”

We think he’s serious, but who knows. When he calls the “get together” we’ll be sure to attend. Oh, but hang on… we are not “like-minded” with Kasit (thankfully!).

That said, he is right that when old ruling classes in some places have “reached a consensus with society at large to agree on a transitional approach toward democracy.”

In Thailand, however, the ruling class has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not compromise. Kasit can ramble on about a “third force” but the problem is the ruling class. They need to be overcome.





Sanctioning and campaigning II

18 10 2017

In an earlier post, we mentioned the case of a military court having accepted a case against several people who participated in seminar last year discussing the junta-backed charter.

The point we didn’t make, and should have was that three of those charged are human rights lawyers who, it is reported, “merely observe the event”

In Khon Kaen, the Military Court accepted the case against five student activists,  Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, Phanuphong Sithananuwat, Akhom Sibutta, Chadthai Noiunsaen and Narongrit Uppachan. Two other charged are staff of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Duangthip Karnrit, Neeranuch Niemsub. The final person charged was local human rights activist, Natthaphon Athan.

The report states:

This is the first case that authorities have ever pressed charges against those merely observing an anti-junta seminar. Duangthip and Neeranuch were at the seminar to observe and record human rights violations. However, they were accused of the same offence as the event’s organizers.

Amnesty International is cited in another report stating:

The two TLHR staff did not directly participate in the event, but rather attended as observers. They wore badges displaying their affiliation with TLHR and informed senior police and military officials present at the event that they were attending in an observational capacity….

The charge and case “will prevent Duangthip and Niranut from fully doing their jobs, according to Thai Lawyers chairwoman Yaowalak Anuphan.” She states:

Instead of working 100 percent to help other people, they must take care of their own cases…. And the military court is very slow. They arrange a hearing every three or four months. And the officers like to cancel. So people must travel there again and again.

The junta doesn’t want human rights activists bothering its people as they prepare for an “election.”