End lawfare

28 01 2023

A statement from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights targets lawfare: “the use of judicial harassment and politically-motivated charges against critics and political opponents…”.

The Parliamentarians are mainly focused on the use of defamation laws.

The use of defamation to silence activists has been common in Thailand. However, PPT sees a broader approach in THailand, where there has been a huge increase in judicial harassment since the 2014 coup and most especially since the 2020 rise of the monarchy reform movement. Many hundreds of charges – and most notably Article 112 or lese majeste – have been laid over the past few years and courts, police, and prosecutors have cooperated with the regime to use prosecution and bail to harass and silence political opponents. This is one reason why the moves by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong, self-revoking bail, is so significant.

The Parliamentarians state:

The Philippines, as well as other ASEAN member states, must immediately halt the use of judicial harassment and politically-motivated charges against critics and political opponents, a phenomenon known as ‘lawfare’, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today at a press conference held in Manila.

“We call on Southeast Asian authorities to stop abusing the legal system to stifle dissent and urge ASEAN to reprimand member states that continue to use lawfare to attack political opposition. The Philippine government can take the first step by dropping all charges against Walden Bello and immediately releasing Senator Leila De Lima and any others that have been unjustly detained due to politically-motivated charges,” said Mercy Barends, Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and member of the Indonesian House of Representatives.

The press conference, titled “Stop Lawfare! No to the Weaponization of the Law and State-sponsored Violence,” was organized by APHR and the Walden Bello Legal Defense Committee, in solidarity with Walden Bello, an APHR Board Member and former Member of Parliament in the Philippines. Bello is facing politically-motivated charges of cyber-libel brought by a former Davao City information officer who now works as chief of the Media and Public Relations Division of the Office of the Vice President, Sara Duterte.

There have been many other victims of lawfare in the Philippines, including Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested in February 2017 on trumped-up drug charges, shortly after she had launched a Senate investigation into the extrajudicial killings committed under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. She has remained in detention ever since, still waiting for her trial, despite the fact that several key witnesses have recanted their testimonies.

“Lawfare is very common in the Philippines, but is happening everywhere in Southeast Asia and beyond. Governments in the region are using ambiguous laws to prosecute political opponents, government critics, and activists. This weaponizing of the legal system is alarming and incredibly damaging to freedom of expression. It creates an atmosphere of fear that not only silences  those who are targeted by such “lawfare” but also makes anyone who may want to criticize those in power think twice,” said  Charles Santiago, APHR Co-chairperson and former Malaysian Member of Parliament.

In Myanmar and Cambodia, for example, laws on treason and terrorism have been weaponized to crush opposition. The most tragic example took place in July last year, with the execution of four prominent Myanmar activists on bogus terrorism charges by the Myanmar junta. Those were the first judicial executions in decades, and provide an extreme example of how the law can be perverted by authoritarian regimes to cement their power, APHR has denounced. In Cambodia, members of the opposition are sentenced to lengthy jail terms on fabricated charges simply for exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, defamation laws are among the most often used for lawfare in Thailand, where, contrary to many other countries, it might be regarded as a criminal offense, rather than just a civil offense. Sections 326–328 of the Thai Criminal Code establish several defamation offenses with sentences of up to two years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 200,000 Thai Baht (approximately USD 6,400).

“I think we, as parliamentarians, should do our utmost in our respective countries to repeal, or at least amend, these kinds of laws. Our democracies depend on it. But I also think that we cannot do it alone. We need to work together across borders, share experiences with parliamentarians from other countries and stand in solidarity with those who fall victim to them, because, ultimately, we are all on the same boat,” said Rangsiman Rome, Member of the Thai Parliament, and APHR member.

Taxpayer funding for the monarchy II

24 09 2022

The enveloping mourning and funeral of the dead British queen was unable to completely obliterate anti-monarchism. Opponents of monarchy were able to be heard, even if the mainstream media became absurdly royalist for a couple of weeks.

Interestingly, questions have been raised regarding the cost of the monarchy in Britain. As we noted yesterday, analysis of the Thai monarchy’s cost to the taxpayer has (re)emerged. There was very limited discussion of the taxpayer contribution to the rich royals under the dead king.

Shutting down discussion of the monarchy’s cost was one of Bhumibol and his coterie’s remarkable political achievements, built on military dictatorship, repression, and the deaths of many opponents of the military-monarchy regime. Recently, thanks to a few dedicated researchers and youthful protesters, such questioning is at least politically possible, even if the royalists push back and the regime still arrests, charges, and arrests activists.

Updated: Republicanism

9 09 2022

The death of Queen Elizabeth in Britain has been met in Thailand and Thais in exile with some odd outpourings, even from those regularly associated with republicanism.

One of the strangest things to read is how Elizabeth was “better” than our lot kinds of arguments, forgetting what republicanism means. This goes along with a recent tide of writings from so-called anti-monarchists in Thailand and in exile, who are making up a narrative of how much better at king things Bhumibol was when compared to Vajiralongkorn. This is silly stuff. If any comparison can be made between the reigns of Elizabeth and Bhumibol, it is that she modernized the British monarchy to save it and make it strong, while Bhumibol traditionalized it and made it stronger. The latter process was marked by numerous coups and rising political repression, punctuated by occasional massacres to keep the subjects under control.

For British republicanism, see here. And for the proud history of republicanism in Britain, see here.

And, while Johnny Rotten may have rotted into Fascism, the song still rings true:

Update: Social media from Thais is becoming more interesting on the dead queen. For social media in Britain, Forbes reports “there have been vocal calls across social media to abolish the monarchy. The hashtags #AbolishTheMonarchy and #NotMyKing have been trending, while a variety of images and memes have been shared to make the point.”

Be careful what you wear and don’t sing

30 07 2022

A campaign targeting the monarch on his birthday is a big deal. And that’s just what a group of political activists started when they asked supporters to wear black on Thursday, Vajiralongkorn’s birthday.

According to The Nation, their “messages contain the hashtag #28กคแต่งดําทั้งแผ่นดิน, which means “wearing black throughout the land on July 28”. It was among the top hashtags trending in Thailand, with over 200,000 tweets.

It also reports that “[s]mall groups of black-clad demonstrators gathered at certain locations in Bangkok and Chiang Mai on Thursday.” One of the photos we saw on social media suggested that the crowd in Bangkok was actually quite large.

Royalists, including regime leaders, were stunned. Minor prince and mad monarchist MC Julajerm Yukol, “said that the campaign to wear black on the King’s birthday was like ‘stomping on the hearts of Thais throughout the Kingdom’.”

The police sprang into action, with a “meeting chaired by the Police Chief on 26 July called on police around the country to monitor a movement to wear black on 28 July…”. The top cops decided that wearing black was “improper.” Police “were ordered to be cautious and monitor public activities. In cases of legal violations, police were also told to take a suspect’s outfit colour into consideration.”

The linked article goes into some of the recent history of colored clothing.

Perhaps more threatening to the status quo than colored clothing is singing. The Economist has a paywalled story worth reprinting in full about singer “Pyra … driven out by Thailand’s conservatism:. Here’s the story:

A Thai pop star uses her music to critique her homeland

Known for her “dystopian pop”, Pyra has been driven out by Thailand’s conservatism

Jul 28th 2022 | BANGKOK

The video is captioned “UGLY TRUTH ABOUT THAILAND”. Peeralada Sukawat—better known by her stage name, Pyra—looks into the camera and rolls her eyes. “Bangkok babies in Mercedes,” she raps over looping drums and a synth beat. “Rich gets richer, poor gets poorer,/Inequality’s a bitch, this place is gettin’ shittier.” Unable to perform during lockdown, the musician took to TikTok to release short clips in which she criticised her country’s inequities and what she called the “dictatorship regime”:

Where tax is spent on submarines,
People dying in the street,
Health care is not a priority.

Pyra didn’t think anyone “would care about my sarcastic videos”. She was wrong: they were watched and shared by hundreds of thousands. In their comments on the clips, many viewers expressed similar feelings of disillusionment with Thailand or with other countries’ governments.

But abuse flooded in, too, not just on TikTok but on all Pyra’s accounts. She feared she had been designated a threat to national security by Thai officials, and that the online barbs were the work of government-paid trolls. In any case, the conservatism of Thai society had become too much for her. Wary of further retribution, she announced in March that she had moved to London. “U can’t be the best version of yourself living in an environment that you’re tryin’ to outgrow,” she wrote.

The singer has earned plaudits for her unique brand of “dystopian pop” and idiosyncratic fashion sense, as well as for her determination to expose Thailand’s ills. In January NME, a British music website, chose Pyra as its Best Solo Act from Asia. Forbes recently selected her as one of its emerging Asian entertainers under 30.

Ironically, her first hit was a nationalist song—a hymn to Thai mothers on which she was chosen to sing at the age of nine. That precocious success instilled a passion for music, and she taught herself music production as a teenager. While studying at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Pyra became interested in politics and the media and, she says, developed a sense of righteous anger. “When I realised that everything is tied to politics, it became about me living in an oppressed society. I started to develop a sense of how to stand up for myself and other people.”

Her music became an outlet for this discontent. Her first adult single, “Stay”, a brooding hip-hop song, was independently released in 2016. Two years later came “White Lotus”, a single blending lyrics about mental health and Taoist and Buddhist philosophy with hip-hop, pop, dance beats and traditional Thai instruments. After a tour of Asia and a gig at Burning Man festival in Nevada, Pyra had a recording stint with Warner Music Thailand.

In collaboration with Sean Hamilton, a Grammy-nominated producer, she released “Bangkok” in 2020. Though she has called the song a tribute to the “political activists who have fought bravely and sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom and democracy”, the lyrics are deliberately oblique. At that point, she was still “careful not to produce material that would eliminate me straight away”.

She had good reason to be cautious, as Thailand’s government has often sought to silence critics. For instance, Rap Against Dictatorship, a hip-hop collective, attracted the ire of the authorities with tracks such as “Prathet Ku Mee” (“What My Country Has Got”), which lambasted corruption and the stifling of free speech. In 2020 Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, one of the group’s members, was arrested and charged with sedition after appearing at a pro-democracy protest.

He was released; but a report compiled by a clutch of NGOs suggests his phone may have been infected by spyware. (This month Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, the minister of digital economy and society, seemed to admit that the government has used spyware to monitor some individuals, though he later backtracked.) A Thai court recently banned Rap Against Dictatorship’s latest song because it criticises the monarchy. More drastically still, Faiyen, a folk band, fled abroad in 2014 after speaking out against Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, an act that can itself incur a prison term. The musicians have since been granted asylum in France.

“We don’t have the laws to support creative freedom. Anybody can accuse us of criminal defamation,” says Pailin Wedel, a Thai-American journalist and film-maker. “When we can’t make stories about reality, it really limits us.” Natapanu Nopakun, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insists that the government is “very supportive of Thai arts and culture in any form and any kind of content”. At the same time, “there is a line, everything has a line.”

Pyra understood the risks, from both official and freelance sources, when releasing her denunciations on TikTok. “They come for you when you’re specific about things,” she notes. Yet coded language or allusiveness wouldn’t have resonated with youngsters on the social-media platform, she suggests. “To make a TikTok clip go viral, the approach is the opposite of making music [and] art. You need to be direct.”

Now safely ensconced in Britain, she says she can focus on bringing her creative ideas to fruition. “I can finally breathe. I have stopped feeling heavy political oppression.” Her adopted country is by no means a paradise: her latest videos on TikTok condemn its immigration policy and poke fun at its crisis of leadership. But a weight has lifted: “Here in the UK, everyone dresses as they like, everyone is free to express themselves, and no one questions me. I feel I belong here.”

Reading the Ratsadon

27 07 2022

PPT draws attention to a translation effort that is inspired by democracy and monarchy reform activism. We refer to Sanam Ratsadon, described as “An Archive of Common(er) Feelings.”

So far, it has three issues, two of which are achived: Mothers and Con-sti-ti-ti-ti-ti-tew-tion, and Madman, Madwoman, Madhuman available at the homepage.


Regime work: rigging elections, more security, spying on kids, and economic sabotage

8 07 2022

It has been quite a week. Below we link to some of the regime’s most recent machinations.

Perhaps the biggest story was the remarkable about face by government parties on party lists for the next election (if we get that far).

As Thai Newsroom reports, “lawmakers faithful to Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha today (July 6) dumped the mixed-member-majority system and instead endorsed the mixed-member-proportional system for use in the next general election, fueling the criticism that the executive branch has unduly interfered in the business of the legislative branch.” As the Bangkok Post explained it via a headline, “Parliament chooses MP calculation method favouring small parties.” This is little more than vote-rigging in the manner of the period before the 2019 election. More than that, even the deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission “said the calculation formula of dividing 500 would be problematic because it would result in the number of list MPs exceeding the official number of list MPs set by the constitution.” Constitutionalism seldom bothers the regime. Why is this being done, especially as the government parties had to backflip on their earlier position? The Bangkok Post is succinct: “The move came after the use of 500 received the green light from Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut…, in what is seen as a bid to prevent Pheu Thai from winning a landslide in the next poll, sources said.”

On “national security,” it is reported in The Nation that “Cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft royal decree to exempt enforcement of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) on agencies related to national security, public safety, tax collection, international cooperation and legal procedures.” That means that “national security” agencies can continue to abuse the population. Added to this, the Royal Thai Air Force is expanding its capacity for cyber snooping. While this is said to be a move that “aims to enhance the RTAF’s non-combat operations, which include disaster mitigation, as well as search and rescue efforts,” in Thailand it can be expected that the cyber unit will target regime opponents and those it considers anti-monarchist.

While on “national security,” Thai Enquirer reports on police (and, PPT would add, military) surveillance of students. It refers to a recent event:

1. No Coup 2. Liberty 3. Democracy

On Monday, a uniformed officer was spotted inside Ramkhamhaeng University telling university students to change the questions on their survey.

The question that disturbed the officer was, ‘should Prayut continue to run the country?’

The answers were overwhelmingly, NO.

The police saw it as their duty to prevent this.

It got worse when some royalist regime supporting university “administrator” wander out “to ask the university students to conduct another activity that is more ‘creative’ than this.” And, worse still, “on Tuesday when two uniformed officers were spotted inside Triam Udom Suksa School.” In this instance, the police were there to support the royalist regime supporting administration in its increased repression of teenagers: “The officers were there to monitor a protest against uniform and hairstyle regulations.

It seems that all students are now threats to “national security.”

Did anyone mention independent central banks? Not in Thailand. Thai Enquirer reports that Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith “on Wednesday told the Bank of Thailand (BoT) to prepare to address the weakening of the Thai baht, which has fallen against the US dollar to its lowest level since December 2015.” Dutifully, the Bank of Thailand immediately announced it “will hold a media briefing on the policy interest rate and the baht on Friday at 10.30am, as the local currency trades at its weakest level in more than six years against the United States dollar.” If the regime is controlling the Bank of Thailand, the country’s in trouble.

Holidaying elsewhere

An example of the regime’s economic “capacity” was provided with the quite bizarre Tourism and Sports Ministry thought bubble to introduce dual tariffs for hotels. In a situation where the regime is now desperate to get tourists back to Thailand, the ministry “plans to ask hotel operators to implement a dual-tariff structure under which foreign visitors may be charged rates similar to pre-pandemic days while locals may continue to enjoy discounted rates…”. A government spokesperson reckoned this would “maintain our standards of rates and services for foreign tourists, which affects the perception of country’s tourism brand…”.

We’d guess that if this addled idea goes ahead it would likely prove a disincentive for some tourists. We’d also guess that hotels are better at price-setting than the regime.

Targeting Move Forward

29 06 2022

The military-royalist regime rigged the 2019 election. As its political stocks plummet, the regime and its allies are continuing to work on yet another unlikely election victory.

While the Move Forward Party has been cleared of serious charges that might have led to its dissolution, there is still much effort going into a ban before the next election.

As Thai PBS reports, the Election Commission somewhat unexpectedly rejected former adviser to the Ombudsman Natthaporn Toprayoon’s fabricated complaint “accusing Move Forward of taking actions between August 2020 and January 2021 that were aimed at overthrowing Thailand’s rule of democracy with the King as head of state.”

According to the report, Natthaporn’s “petition outlined 10 actions by the party’s MPs and executives, including party leader Pita Limjaroenrat and secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon, that he claimed had breached Articles 45 and 92 of the Political Parties Act, which prohibits political parties from encouraging or supporting anyone to create unrest, undermine social order or oppose the laws of the country.”

Natthaporn essentially accused Move Forward of anti-monarchism. He blasted “party MPs [for] using their positions to bail out arrested protesters accused of lese majeste or sedition” and he complained that “the party’s support for NGO iLaw’s draft bill to amend chapters in the Constitution regarding the monarchy and integrity of the Kingdom, as well as the party’s resolution seeking amendments to Article 112 of the Penal Code or the lese majeste law” were moves against feudalism the monarchy.

He was following up on his earlier successful petition that the Constitutional Court accepted, making monarchy reform treasonous.

The quite mad Natthaporn’s response to the complaint being ditched was to threaten “to sue the election commissioners and seek a ruling on whether their decision to dismiss the complaint was lawful.”

But there’s more to come:

Along with pressure from Natthaporn, Move Forward is also facing other complaints seeking its disbandment, including one filed by Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a politician from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party. In August last year, he filed a petition with the EC to disband Move Forward on grounds that its proposal to reduce the budget allocated to the crown for 2022 was a hostile act against the Thai democratic regime with King as head of state.

The 1932 spirit

27 06 2022

For those interested in the non-governmental response to the 90th anniversary of the 1932 revolution, there are a few stories to notice, with brief comments below.

Of course, the royalist government response is to ignore the event as if it never happened.

Thai Enquirer has a photo essay on the rally to celebrate the day. Some of the photos are quite something, and together they show how 1932 is intimately linked with contemporary struggles for democracy and monarchy reform. All of our photos here are clipped from Thai Enquirer.

Thai PBS reports on a seminar at Thammasat University’s Pridi Banomyong International College on 24 June, held “to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution.” Those attending and speaking included Sulak Sivaraksa and newly-elected Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt.

Various groups organized activities and events on June 24 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the revolution which turned the country from absolute to constitutional monarchy. While academics and politicians discussed the future of Thai democracy at Thammasat’s Tha Prachan campus, youthful groups and activists gathered at Lan Khon Muang Townsquare, calling for the restoration of the revolutionary spirit, reform of the monarchy, abolish the lese majeste law, as well as make June 24 the National Day….

Thammasat University student activist Parit Chiwarak told Thai PBS World earlier that students and political activists had grouped together under the name of People’s Party 2020 a couple of years ago to carry on the revolutionary spirit. Their objective was to remove the gulf between Thai citizens and the established elite.

“One of the six principles laid out by the 1932 People’s Party is equality, which has never been achieved,” he said.

The report notes that in 1960,Thailand’s National Day was changed by the then military dictatorship, and in concert with the king, from 24 June to the then king’s birthday on 5 December. That change was just one part of the restoration of the monarchy that continues through the 20th century.

Monarchy reform and democracy activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul “said in a phone interview that she and her associates continued to demand reforms to the monarchy, despite being prosecuted for lese majeste under Article 112 of the Penal Code.”

In another event, former red shirt leader and Puea Thai politician Nattawut Saikua, in a talk show hosted by the Pridi Banomyong Institute, “said the people’s movement which fought for democracy before and after the 1932 Revolution shared the same spirit — to have equality and democracy.” He added: “I do believe that such a fighting spirit has been transferred from generation to generation,” acknowledging that “red shirts admired and expressed their gratitude to both People’s Parties, in 1932 and 2020.”

There’s more in the article.

Meanwhile, at Khaosod, there’s an op-ed by Pravit Rojanaphruk, commenting on the long period of divisions between royalists and anti-royalists. He begins:

The 90th anniversary of June 24, 1932 revolt, which ended absolute monarchy, was only celebrated by those who believe Thailand has yet to achieve genuine democracy and aspire for more freedom and rights.

Conspicuously absent were the government, including Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, and royalist conservatives who did not observe the day and probably would rather forget that June 24, which falls on Friday this year, was not just arguably the most important day in modern Thai political history once a national day and a public holiday celebrated from 1938 to 1960….

For royalists who wish to see the monarchy … play a greater role in Thai society, to see the military continue to act as the state within a state, to limit the powers of politicians and the electorate whom they distrust, June 24, 1932 was a day of infamy….

Pravit notes that other countries “settled their differences through a bloody revolt.” He prefers a peaceful road to a democracy that provides for and accepts differences.

That’s all fine and good, but Pravit does not mention that the military has been all too willing to spill the blood of those who stand in their path and those who they consider challenge the monarchy and their Thai-style democracy. It has killed hundreds and jailed thousands.

Updated: 90 years after 1932

24 06 2022

On this day, like may others, PPT remembers 24 June 1932. On that day, the People’s Party (khana ratsadon) executed a well-planned Revolution to end the absolute power of the monarchy.

The inspiration of 1932 for the monarchy reform movement of recent years is crystal clear.

The palace, royalists and military have worked long and hard to erase it from the national historical memory. Indeed, much of the 9th reign was about erasing this memory and Vajiralongkorn and his regime cronies have obliterated statues, changed names, and more in an effort to bury memory of a time when monarchy wasn’t paramount.

Back in 2009 on 24 June, PPT marked the 1932 Revolution by reprinting the first announcement of the khana ratsadon or People’s Party. The announcement is attributed to Pridi Banomyong. We have done it on most anniversaries since then. We won’t today, but readers can click the link above to see it.

That proclamation recalls the thirst for democracy that is the essence of today’s anti-monarchism.

The 24 June used to be celebrated. Now, the event is barely noticed in any official way. After all, democracy is the antithesis of the monarchy in Thailand.

This point is made by social critic and intellectual Sulak Sivaraksa in an interview with BenarNews. He states: “Before 1932, the monarch was above the law, and he was the only one. After the 1932 [revolution], everybody became equal, everybody was under the law, and that was the first victory…”.

But, looking back, Sulak is despondent: “In these 90 years, we are currently [at] the lowest point…”. He adds: “Gen. Prayuth [Chan-ocha] claims this is a democracy, but it’s a sham democracy…”.

He points to the military takeover in 1947 as an inflection point, where Thailand turned back towards monarchism: “the coup leader praised the monarch, who was until then still under the constitution. They turned the monarch to God-like and above the constitution because they thought only the monarch could fight against the communists…”.

Any hope Sulak has is with the young: “I’m only an old man, looking forward to young generations. I’ve seen young generations who are so brave to fight against dictatorship…. I hope that Thailand, while celebrating 100 years of democracy, will go forward and not backward as is happening nowadays.”

One of those associated with the contemporary monarchy reform movement is Arnon Nampa. He affirms that the 1932 revolution “was the beginning of the call for democracy and the start of the fight for democracy. It was precarious because those involved in the 1932 revolution risked their lives…”. Today it is Arnon and other activists and thousands of sympathizers  who “are willing, too, to risk losing their freedom or lives…” in the struggle for democracy and the reform of the monarchy.

Update: A reader writes about expanding authoritarianism in the West, noting examples of censorship of social media and harassing Julian Assange for showing the US state as murderers – and worries for his daughter’s future.

No equality, no freedom

10 06 2022

If readers haven’t seen it, the video story on an interview with Thai rapper Elevenfinger of Rap Against the Dictatorship at Aljazeera is worth watching:

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