Official human rights nonsense

17 08 2021

Thanks to a reader for pointing out a recent op-ed by academic Mark S. Cogan at the Southeast Asia Globe.

“Thailand’s human rights narrative runs contrary to reality, even at the UN” has the following sub-header:

Despite cases of lèse-majesté piling up and pro-democracy protesters facing serious charges like sedition, Thailand’s third time through the Universal Periodic Review later this year will most likely be as inconsequential as previous UN human rights inspections.

Thailand is due to have its human rights record examined in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in n November. This is Thailand’s third UPR. Cogan states that:

Back in February, in preparation for this upcoming human rights review, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai gave remarks during the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council, noting that Thailand would “recommit to our common core values in the promotion and protection of human rights”.

He adds that Don’s perspective has little to do with human rights as practiced in the country. In fact:

[p]ublic statements on Thailand’s human rights contributions often boast about the kingdom’s accomplishments…. But these … often mask Thailand’s true record on the ground – a record stained by draconian measures to cripple individual freedom of expression, curb press freedom, and silence regime critics.

Don’s “remarks” were meant “to ensure that the narrative on human rights was crystal clear to the UN – there were no human rights challenges in Thailand…”.

He and other Thai diplomats have almost Pavlovian retorts to any challenges, pointing to the “perceived failure to understand what it means to be Thai, [a] … lack of familiarity with the situation on the ground, or the more nationalistic refrain that highlights Thailand’s unique status as a country in Southeast Asia that has not been colonised.”

Cogan recounts a meeting between Don and three UN officials after the 2014 coup where he went to great lengths “trying to ensure that the trio also understood Thai culture and tradition, the Foreign Minister paused and remarked: “Actually, in summary, Thailand has one of the best human rights records in all of Southeast Asia.” He then “corrected himself and said: ‘No, no, no, Thailand has the best human rights record in Asia’.”

Not even Don believes such nonsense.

Lese majeste is of especial concern. Cogan notes that:

… for its second cycle UPR in 2016, the Thai government compared its lèse majesté law (Article 112) as comparable to libel law for commoners, adding that it is “not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression or academic freedom” and it was implemented in “accordance with due legal process and those convicted are entitled to receive royal pardon”.

It is troubling to PPT that several human rights protectors and the media in Thailand now regularly refer to lese majeste as “royal defamation,” which seems to accept the authoritarians’ narrative. We say, call it by its name.

Lese majeste has seen hundreds locked up, including for Article 112 convictions that don’t even fit the law. As Cogan reminds us, “… Prawet Praphanukul, a human rights lawyer, [was]… locked up in prison after being held at the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok…”. He spent 16 months in prison on lese majeste and sedition charges and when he was finally sentenced, the lese majeste charge was simply not mentioned, probably because, at that time, the erratic king was trying to minimize political damage.

Famously, Prawet bravely rejected the royalist courts. When he appeared in court in 2017 he stunned the court by stating: “Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case.” Prawet added that he would not participate in the case nor grant authority to any lawyer to represent him.

Clipped from Prachatai

More recently, Cogan reports, various UN experts were deeply alarmed over the harsh sentence of Anchan Preelerd, a 60-year old former Thai civil servant. She was given a 43-year sentence. In fact, she was sentenced to a mammoth 87 years in prison, with the sentence reduced because she finally agreed to plead guilty because she had already spent three years in prison pending her trial.

Yet the puppet-like Ministry of Foreign Affairs is straight-faced when it declares the lese majeste law is not “aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression nor the exercise of academic freedom or debate about the monarchy as an institution.” It “went on to suggest once again that the law exists to “protect the dignity of royal families in a similar way a libel law does for any Thai citizen.” That’s buffalo manure, and every single Thai knows this.

Cogan concludes: “Thailand’s third time through the Universal Periodic Review, because of its predetermined narrative about its own human rights record, will most likely be as inconsequential as its previous UPR.” Sadly, he’s right. In the years since the 2014 coup, Thailand’s human rights situation has deteriorated into a dark age.





Anchan’s absurd 112 sentence

11 07 2021

FIDH and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) have “petitioned the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to seek the release of Anchan Preelerd…”. Ancha, who is 65 years old, is serving 87 years in the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in Bangkok for lese majeste.

This is “the longest prison sentence ever imposed under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code…”. She was convicted on

Anchan

Clipped from Prachatai

19 January 2021, on 29 counts of lese-majeste “for uploading and disseminating audio clips to social media platforms between 12 November 2014 and January 2015.”

FIDH and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) have “petitioned the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to seek the release of Anchan Preelerd…”. Ancha, who is 65 years old, is serving 87 years in the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in Bangkok for lese majeste.

This is “the longest prison sentence ever imposed under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code…”. She was convicted on 19 January 2021, on 29 counts of lese-majeste “for uploading and disseminating audio clips to social media platforms between 12 November 2014 and January 2015.”

FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan declared: “Anchan’s outrageous prison sentence is effectively a death sentence for an act that constitutes a peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” Khan demanded the “Thai government … immediately release her and end such extreme abuse of the lèse-majesté law…”.

In their statement, FIDH and TLHR said the consider:

… the prosecution of Anchan and her deprivation of liberty have been in violation of her right to a fair trial and her right to freedom of opinion and expression. These rights are guaranteed by Articles 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.

TLHR Head Yaowalak Anuphan stated:

Anchan has been subjected to unfair judicial proceedings in a military court, lengthy detention before and during trial, and an unprecedented prison sentence. The Thai government must right the wrongs suffered by Anchan and immediately release her….

FIDH and TLHR called for Anchan’s “immediate and unconditional release” and called for “the amendment of Article 112 to bring it into line with Thailand’s obligations under the ICCPR.” They also urged “the government to refrain from carrying out arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of individuals for merely exercising their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.”





HRW on continuing detentions

21 04 2021

Human Rights WatchHuman Rights Watch has released a statement on the continuing detention of political activists. We reproduce it in full, including with links HRW had embedded:

(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately release pro-democracy activists detained on charges of insulting the monarchy, Human Rights Watch said today. Prominent Thammasat University students Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul have been on hunger strike to protest their pre-trial detention, for 35 days and 21 days respectively.

The charges against Parit, Panusaya, and others should be dropped for violating their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Until then, bail should be provided for all those detained under the lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) law. Hunger strikers should be transferred to a hospital for medical supervision.

“Thai authorities should immediately drop the cases against Parit, Panusaya, and others unjustly charged for their peaceful pro-democracy protests, but at a minimum they should be released on bail,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Holding activists in detention prior to trial and conviction, which could be years away, seems aimed to unfairly punish them rather than fulfill a legitimate state interest.”

On March 8, 2021, the Bangkok Criminal Court ordered Panusaya, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, and Panupong Jadnok into pre-trial detention on lese majeste charges connected to the speeches they made demanding reforms of the monarchy during a rally on September 19, 2020. The cases follow the court’s February 9 decision to order four other prominent democracy activists – Parit, Arnon Nampha, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, and Patiwat Saraiyaem – into pre-trial detention on similar charges.

Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code makes lese majeste punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The activists were also charged with sedition under Criminal Code article 116, which carries a maximum 7-year sentence. These cases are just the latest in which Thai activists charged with lese majeste have been detained for lengthy periods that could go on for years until their trial is concluded, Human Rights Watch said.

Except for Patiwat, who gave a statement in court on March 29 that he would no longer participate in rallies and other political activities or make public comments about the monarchy, the court has repeatedly denied the activists’ bail requests, saying they are likely to commit the alleged offenses again if released.

Holding those charged with lese majeste in pretrial detention violates their rights under international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, encourages bail for criminal suspects. Article 9 states that, “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.” Those whose charges have not been dropped should be tried without undue delay, Human Rights Watch said.

The number of lese majeste cases in Thailand has significantly increased in the past year, Human Rights Watch said. After almost a three-year hiatus in which lese majeste prosecutions were not brought before the courts, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, in November, ordered the authorities to restore lese majeste prosecutions, ostensibly because of growing criticisms of the monarchy. Since then, officials have charged at least 82 people with lese majeste crimes in relation to various activities at pro-democracy rallies or comments on social media.

In a February 8 statement on the situation in Thailand, United Nations human rights experts said that lese majeste laws have “no place in a democratic country.” They also expressed serious concerns about the growing number of lese majeste prosecutions and harsh prison sentences the courts have meted out to some defendants. On January 19, a retired civil servant, Anchan Preelert, received an 87-year prison sentence, later halved after she pleaded guilty.

The ICCPR protects the right to freedom of expression. General Comment 34 of the Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, states that laws such as those for lese majeste “should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned” and that governments “should not prohibit criticism of institutions.”

“The Thai government should stop this witch hunt against peaceful dissenters and demonstrate respect for human rights by permitting all viewpoints,” Adams said. “The government should engage with United Nations experts and others about amending the lese majeste law to bring it into compliance with Thailand’s international human rights law obligations.”





Updated: 112 = 55+

22 01 2021

The tally of known lese majeste cases has now shot past 50 and is heading for 60. These known cases involved almost 100 counts of lese majeste.

The graphic is from Prachatai:

Update: Pravit Rojanaphruk’s comments in an op-ed are fitting: “Draconian, disproportionate, anachronistic, outrageous, barbaric, unjust…”.

So are the BBC’s Jonathan Head’s comments, in the same article, commenting on Anchan’s bail application being rejected :

“This sums up the madness of lese majeste, and the warped reasoning it produces. How many royalists were ‘traumatized’ by the podcasts this lady posted? How many even heard them? Does the judge know?”





Updated: Inhumane junta-style lese majeste

20 01 2021

Clipped from Prachatai

Following the 2014 military coup, the junta set about repressing opponents, wielding Article 112. This mostly involved red shirts, their associates and those considered anti-monarchist. The junta used military courts and secret trials and the tame and royalist judiciary began handing out mammoth lese majeste sentences, some of them in the range 30-50 years.

After the much-hyped 112 hiatus, attributed to King Vajiralongkorn, the anti-monarchism of the past year or so has scared the palace and the regime witless. The result is that old, languishing cases are back on, there are some 54 new cases, and the sentences being meted out are again in stratospheric realms of the unbelievable.

The most recent case, that of the 63 year-old Anchan P., breaks sad records. She’s been declared guilty and was “sentenced to 87 years in prison, with the sentence reduced because of her confession and 3 years spent in prison pending her trial. The net sentence is 43 years and 6 months, the longest sentence ever under Section 112.” It seems that “[c]harges were brought under the lèse majesté law and the Computer Crime Act, but as the offences violated more than one law, the court ruled on the most serious offence, which is lèse majesté.”

In fact, we have a record of a longer sentence: Kamonthat Thanathornkhositjira was convicted and sentenced to 150 years on 33 charges including lese majetse; reduced to 50 years. But she had a long list of charges when she was declared guilty of lese majeste, fraud, falsifying documents and “invoking the royal institution.”

Anchan was by the military when her house was raided on 25 January 2015, and she was taken to a military camp. Her whereabouts was unknown until the sixth day after her arrest.

She was one of the initial six arrests of those associated with the so-called Banpot network. The Banpot 6 became the Banpot 8, then the Banpot 10 and Banpot 12 as the military dictatorship expanded arrests. Later, a further two were arrested, making it the Banpot 14. Some reports are that 16 people were eventually charged.

Ten of the alleged Banpot group were sentenced on 14 July 2015, by a military court. Two were acquitted of lese majeste charges but found guilty of supporting the network. Two others decided to defend the case, which meant long delays and “lese majeste torture.” The authorities prefer a guilty plea and it seems it took this long to get one from Anchan.

Anchan’s lawyer has filed an appeal and requested bail but “Anchan is now detained in the Central Women Correctional Institution, awaiting the court’s decision.”

If the sentence holds and she gets no remissions, Anchan would be aged about 107 years on her release. Quite a punishment for sharing material on social media that the authorities felt maligned a king.

This kind of sentencing should make the current regime an international pariah. Forget questions of human rights, this is an inhumane regime. On lese majeste, there is no justice as it is a political charge for the purposes of political repression.

Update: Prachatai reports that on 20 January, the Court of Appeal refused Anchan’s bail request:

According to the ruling, the reasons for the objection are due to her high prison sentence, the defendant also had confessed, her actions had brought derogation to the institution of monarchy which “affected the mind of people who are loyal” and which that the lèse majesté case relates to the security of the kingdom.





Bail after almost 4 years in prison

11 11 2018

On 2 February 2015, police announced the initial 6 arrests of the so-called Banpot network for lese majeste. The arrests had taken place days previously, with those arrested held incommunicado by the military.

The Banpot 6 became the Banpot 8, then the Banpot 10 and Banpot 12 as the military dictatorship expanded arrests. Later, a further two were arrested, making it the Banpot 14. On on 25 January 2015, Anchan P., then 58, was one of those arrested and charged with lese majeste.

On 24 January 2016, the first of the plaintiff’s witnesses testified. The witness was Pol Lt Col Olarn Sukkasem from the Technological Crime Suppression Division, known for having given prosecution evidence in numerous lese majeste cases following the 2014 coup. The second witness hearing was scheduled before the military court on 16 May 2016. You get the picture of delays, awaiting the defendant’s guilty plea.

So far, only 7 of 11 prosecution witnesses have been heard.

On 2 November 2018, it was reported that Anchan, a former official at the Revenue Department was bailed using as collateral savings certificates  and government bonds totaling 500,000 baht. This occurred despite prosecution objections. She is said to face 29 separate lese majeste charges.

The Prachatai report adds that bail has been previously refused despite numerous applications.

As Prachatai points out,

… while Banpot was accused of producing more than a hundred clips, he faced only one charge under Article 112, Anchan, alleged by the police to be involved in “managing the finances of the Banpot network”, faced 29 charges for separate acts of sharing Banpot’s clips on Facebook and uploading them on YouTube.





Banpot lese majeste cases continue

11 03 2016

On 2 February 2015, police announced the initial 6 arrests of the so-called Banpot network for lese majeste. The Banpot 6 became the Banpot 8, then the Banpot 10 and Banpot 12 as the military dictatorship expanded arrests. Later, a further two were arrested, making it the Banpot 14.

Ten of the alleged Banpot group were sentenced to jail on 14 July 2015, by a military court. Two were acquitted of lese majeste charges but found guilty of supporting the network. Two others decided to defend the case, which we said, a year ago, would probably means the torture of many months awaiting trial as the authorities attempt to convince them that a guilty plea is required.

Prachatai reports that on 24 January 2016, the first plaintiff witness testified in the court case against Anchan P. The witness was Pol Lt Col Olarn Sukkasem from the Technological Crime Suppression Division, known for having given prosecution evidence in numerous lese majeste cases following the 2014 coup. The second plaintiff witness is scheduled to testify to the military court on 16 May 2016. We will post on this case under Anchan P.

Anchan has been held in jail, without bail for more than a year.

When Anchan was first arrested she was 58 years old and was about to retire after working for the Revenue Department for more than 30 years. Because she has become a lese majeste suspect, she will not get any pension and benefits for her three decades of service.

The military raided her house and arrested her on 25 January 2015, and she was taken to a military camp. Her whereabouts was unknown until the sixth day after her arrest.

The Department of Special Investigation pressed lese majeste charge with 29 offenses on Anchan. The military prosecutor accused Anchan of publicising the Banpot clips on YouTube and Facebook, by using various usernames, such as anchana siri, Malee root, un un and Petch Prakery. The clips were uploaded from 12 November 2014 to 24 January 2015.

 








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