Updated: Human and legal rights trashed

4 02 2016

It has been a busy news period of late, with The Dictator’s erratic behavior and tantrums, several abduction-detentions, efforts at heightened internet censorship and the stillbirth of the draft constitution. This means we have neglected several other important stories and this post is a kind of catch-up.

Khaosod updates the case of Narong Roonthanawong, a former city council member, arrested and facing up to five years in prison for resharing a music video that allegedly mocked Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. It says that a human rights lawyer has claimed the video “doesn’t appear to contain any obviously defamatory content.” The video merely links news footage of Prayuth but this has led to a charge under the Computer Crimes Act. It seems to PPT that Prayuth mocks himself. His skin has grown thinner than ever and he is behaving like someone who has usurped the kingship.

While on the Computer Crimes Act, it is noticeable that the new monarch’s court – the Army – is increasingly using the Act and defamation charges to silence critics and cover-up alleged crimes. Prachatai reports a case of an officer making a complaint against “a Lahu ethnic minority activist for posting a facebook video clip, saying that the clip defamed him and injured the honor of Thai military.” Of course, we are stunned that military officers consider that the military has any honor to protect but understand that much of the “training” of officers is about creating the fiction that the Army is a “protector” of the nation rather than a gang of murderous thugs. The video int his case apparently is a “record of a heated exchange between military officers and Lahu villagers of Kong Pak Ping Village … who on 1 January 2015 went to a local military post to ask the officers to identify soldiers who reportedly abused them physically.” In other words, the material is factual.

The harassment of political opponents continues unabated and extends to their lawyers. Prachatai reports the case of a Thai Lawyers for Human Rights lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri. Sirikan is a lawyer for Neo-Democracy Movement anti-junta activists. She is accused “under Articles 172 and 368 of the Criminal Code of propagating false accusations against investigating officers and disobeying police orders.” Police filed the charges against Sirikan after she filed a “complaint against the police under Article 157 of the Thai Criminal Code, malfeasance in office, pointing out that officers unlawfully confiscated her car for the search “on the night of 27 June 2015 in front of the Military Court of Bangkok after the 14 activists were arrested and taken to the court.” You get the picture, and it is a sad but consistent one of repression by law.

Torture remains a standard operating procedure for state authorities. In a Prachatai report it is stated that torture and ill-treatment allegations in the South have doubled since the military junta came to power. Sadly, that is no surprise. In these allegations, detainees report being “beaten or hit with hard objects, … put in a room kept at a low temperature, … suffocated, and … electrocuted.” Others say they were “pierced with needles, tortured with pliers, forced to drink their own urine, stripped naked, injected with unspecified chemicals, tortured in the genitals, and threatened with execution.” The military and other state thugs operate with impunity and torture is regularly used across the country.

Update: The Internal Security Operations Command claims the report on torture in the south is a work “of imagination not based on reality…” and accused its authors “released the report of wanting to undermine the credibility of the Thai state in the eyes of the world.”





Tanking

10 01 2016

What happened to those “cheap” tanks the Thai generals ordered from the Ukraine? We know where the “commissions” went, but why are the current crop of generals now looking for tanks from other places? A reader contributed this post, to which added some earlier detail and edited.

Sputnik reports that the there are “delays in the delivery of Ukrainian-made Oplot tanks are making Thailand look to Russia and China for alternatives to Ukrainian military equipment.”

Huh? Delays? Does this remind readers of something else with Ukraine in the contract details? Long ago, following a shopping trip by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, we wrote:

At the Bangkok Post there is a report that Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha says the Ukraine will deliver its first batch of T-84 Oplot battle tanks in May. The first post PPT had on this was back in May 2011, when the Abhisit government rushed to spend money and to buy more support from the military in a 18-hour marathon cabinet meeting that, amongst other spending, included  “a budget of 7 billion baht for the army to buy 54 T-84 OPLOT 54A tanks from the Ukraine…”.

On this purchase we wrote that when we first posted on a lack of transparency on military spending, the Army under General Anupong Paojinda sought approval in 2011 to buy an additional 121 armoured personnel carriers from the Ukraine even though it had yet to receive any of the vehicles it ordered in 2007. Apparently there were engine problems.

Sputnik says the tank order was worth $240 million and was with the Ukrainian company Ukrspetsexport. It says that sources say that “by the end of 2015, only ten tanks were delivered to the Royal Thai Army. Such delays have caused concern among senior officials…”. The “officials” are probably General Prayuth, as he initially demanded a “speedy delivery.”

It goes on to say that “representatives of Ukrspetsexport say that another five tanks will be delivered in the beginning of 2016…”. Yet the delays mean the deal is coming undone as the delays lengthen.

The report says that this has led to the “the creation of a new special Thai committee to evaluate alternatives to the T-84…”. It says the Army is now looking at two contenders: the Russian-made T-90 (or T-90MS) and the Chinese-made VT-4 (or MBT-3000). It isn’t clear that the latter tank is yet in use. For those interested in currently available battle tanks, see here.Nuamthong, taxi and tank

Tanks in Thailand are synonymous with the military coup. Having better kit may make the Army feel stronger, but it is doubtful that any of the current military leadership has any particular experience of battle tanks, with the last use of them in conflict probably having been in the 1980s.

We are sure that the main driving forces in the proposed purchases are “commissions” and the junta’s political perceptions of international friends and enemies.





Updated: Political persecution of Sirawith Seritiwat and his family

7 12 2015

We post this in full. [Update: For background, see here]:

Public Statement of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
Regarding the persecution against Mr. Sirawith Seritiwat and his family

As Mr. Sirawith Seritiwat, a student leader, has announced the plan to make an excursion to the Rajabhakti Park plagued with scandalous corruptions and to organize some activities there on 7 December 2015, since 5 December, the Thai military officers have tried to approach him asking him to cancel the event and invite him for a meeting. The student leader has declined the invitation to meet and simply turned his communication devices off. Being unable to reach out to him, the military officers have gone to meet his mother at her home instead asking her to convince her son to call off the event. They even threatened her that by not following their order, the family could not blame them for any ‘consequences’. Of late on 6 December, his mother was contacted by the military officers again and was asked to meet with them in a military barrack this afternoon.

The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) has found the behavior of the military officers a gross infringement on rights and liberties of people and unlawful. The Order of the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) no. 3/2558 simply authorizes the Peace and Order Maintenance officers to summon a person to report themselves or to give information on matters particularly concerning any culpabilities related to the offence against the monarchy, national security, and the law concerning firearms, ammunition, explosives, fireworks, and the equivalent of firearms, or any offence related to the violation of either the order or announcement of the NCPO or the order of the Head of the NCPO, only.

Therefore, the deprivation of liberty against the mother of Mr. Sirawith Seritiwat in order to stop him from embarking on his trip to the Rajabhakti Park has nothing to do with any of the four offences. Such an act is simply unlawful given that there is no legal basis for it to be carried out. In addition, the act can be construed as an offence as per Section 157 of the Penal Code concerning the abuse of office, Sections 309 and 310 regarding a breach of liberty and an act of arbitrary detention which is a breach to Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Any person subject to such detention can seek a judicial review asking the Court to have them released from any unlawful detention by invoking Section 90 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) urges the military authorities to immediately stop such persecution against civilians by invoking the Order of the Head of the NCPO no. 3/2558 which has been issued by the virtue of the draconian Section 44 of the 2014 Interim Constitution.

With respect to rights and liberties
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)

———————————————–
ศูนย์ทนายความเพื่อสิทธิมนุษยชน
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights
โทร/Tel (+66) (0) 96-789-3172, 096-789-3173





Who got the loot?

24 11 2015

Despite the Army’s claims to the contrary, it seems pretty clear that some at the very top of the Army have made personal fortunes from corrupt activities. In this sense, the relatively small amounts skimmed from the one-billion-baht Rajabhakti Park project are just a part of a long-standing corruption in the military.

As we keep saying, if you look at their assets declarations, almost every single member of the current junta has assets that far exceed what might be expected from their official salaries. No one ever seems to investigate these revelations of “unusual wealth.”

The Rajabhakti Park project offers yet another opportunity to scrutinize the top brass’s capacity for corruption.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[p]ressure is mounting on the army after graft watchdogs signalled they would start an external investigation…”.

The next National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) meeting is going to come under huge pressure to drop this idea. The pressure will come from Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan.

The NACC secretary-general Sansern Poljeak states that the agency “has been gathering facts on the park for the last two weeks.” The NACC may whitewash as well, but that remains unclear at this point.

The NACC is supported by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) which “will write to the army Tuesday, urging it to let external bodies examine details of the construction of Rajabhakti Park.”

ACT secretary-general Mana Nimitmongkol said “[t]oo little information has been released to the public…”.

Army commander Theerachai Nakvanich has tried to cover up the investigations and has stated that “there was no need for other agencies, including the NACC, to investigate the case…”.

Prawit has mumbled something about the NACC probing the Rajabhakti Park project “if there are grounds for an investigation.” But he was clear that no one should investigate junta member General Udomdej Sitabutr. He stated: “No press briefing is needed. Let the army handle the issue [regarding the press]…”.

In another Bangkok Post report, Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda “has advised the army to spend its budget well, because it is not rich.” Maybe he means not rich enough?

His speech, however, did deem a warning to the junta: “mature adults must possess moral integrity as a safeguard against corrupt practices and any temptation to take advantage of others.”

There seem few such adults in Thailand’s military, police or business sector. Even the palace seems unable to enter adulthood as defined by Prem.





Barbarians on campus

22 11 2015

The headline is from an excellent Bangkok Post Spectrum article by Nanchanok Wongsamuth that comments at length on the intimidation of students and faculty at Thai universities. In it, dean of Ubon Ratchathani University’s political science faculty Chaiyan Rajchaigool, describes the military’s campus patrols as “barbaric”.

He observed that the patrols, where the military drives around campus, appears armed on campus, visits classrooms, talks to faculty and administrators, “intimidated students and faculty members, likening it to treating them as if they were guilty of thought crime.”

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “denounced university lecturers as having instigated rebellious thoughts and actions among students.”

PPT won’t repeat all of the article, which deserves a full reading. We simply reproduce bits and pieces that struck us chilling, revealing and important.

Titipol Phakdeewanich claims not to discuss politics on Facebook. His colleagues at Ubon Ratchathani University “describe him as not politically vocal, and his criticisms as not provocative or hostile, but within the boundaries determined by normal Thai politeness.” Titipol says: “My work does not involve opposition against the NCPO or the government…”.

Yet because the military is so fearful and so conspiratorial that he teaches on democracy and human rights is a threat to national security and the monarchist regime. Since “his first unofficial meeting with military officers in December last year, the army’s continued presence in classrooms, seminars and events involving international organisations has left the political science lecturer feeling fear and concern.” He has reason for his worries: “Titipol has been monitored [by the military] at eight different events that he knows of, each involving an international organisation.”

[T]he army has banned political gatherings of more than five people, it has often included seminars and academic discussions under that rule. Many event organisers are required to submit requests to authorities prior to staging a discussion. Most of the requests related to democracy, politics and lese majeste, however, have been rejected, often without any explanation.

The Army has watched and been suspicious of “topics ranging from corruption and scholarships to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.”

Titipol has links with the UNDP, U.S. Embassy and EU Mission. Military officers ask him: “what exactly are they trying to lead you into believing today?” He observes “they now see democracy as propaganda and a threat to national security.”

Read some of the comments under the story and you see that there is a stream of paranoia, from Left to Right, that views the U.S. as a Thaksin Shinawatra-supporting regime that wants to overthrow the monarchy and regime in Thailand. Madness, no real evidence other than conspiratorial blogs, but actually believed by some, including elements of the ruling regime.

Meanwhile, the climate of fear has extended into classrooms, where critical thinking is toned down and lecturers tell Spectrum they are reluctant to discuss “sensitive” issues, for fear of army surveillance. As well as overt means, there is also a fear that someone in a class may be spying or even reporting the content via family connections.

Faculty and administrators are required by the military to “closely monitor the activities of their students…”.

Vinai Poncharoen is an associate professor at Mahasarakham University’s College of Politics and Governance. he military fears him: “Last month, an army colonel and his subordinates held a meeting at the university with Mr Vinai, the faculty dean and vice-dean.” Vinai stated: “I told them I would not stop posting about politics on Facebook…. The colonel threatened me that this would be his last request, but refused to tell me what would happen if I violated his rule.”

The result is self-censorship: “when teaching Thai politics, he is careful when discussing the monarchy and instead uses obscure references.” He knows that there are spies on campus: “A staff member from the student affairs division had attended one of his lectures and the university’s legal adviser also attempted to add him as a Facebook friend.” Spying works better when threatening: “They [the army] said they have a spy in the university watching over me…”.

Assistant professor of law at Thammasat University Sawatree Suksri has “monthly visits to her house by three to five army officers who arrive in pickup trucks…”.

The meetings are described “as intimidating.”  She states: “Regardless of their manner, I don’t think the presence of military officers at home is considered normal…. It is a form of intimidation. It is sending the signal that we are no longer free.”

Since then, three to five officers meet him at the faculty every one to two months in what he describes as a “very polite” manner.

Worachet Pakeerut, already facing charges, has “three to five officers meet him at the faculty every one to two months.” He says:

Having people check on us all the time is like having ‘Big Brother’ watching over you. And for what? They are wasting their time, but on the other hand it is probably a psychological act.

A network of university professors recently declared “universities are not military camps.” They stated:

We jointly declare that in order to bring Thailand out of the conflict … there is a need for the creation of a society that has tolerance towards differences of opinion, transparency in solving conflicts and a fair and accountable judicial system…. Such a society is one that is governed under a liberal democracy … and educational institutions have a direct role in creating a democratic society.

Those involved have been summoned by the dictatorship’s enforcers and are expected to explain themselves.

Sadly, university administrations work in the interests of the military barbarians.





Army air freshener

20 11 2015

The Army thinks that a bit of air freshener can eliminate the odor of rotting fish. They are wrong.

SpraySeveral sprays of freshener have been applied to the pile of pungent gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals. First, the military has been blaming others.

Second, they have been repressing those who dare to speak out on the topic. In recent days we have seen Anusorn Iamsa-ard, Acting Deputy Spokesperson of the Puea Thai Party called in for “a discussion at the 1st Army Region Division in Bangkok” after he criticised a “statement of Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Defence Minister, about the construction of Rajabhakti Park, a royal theme park featuring gigantic monuments of seven prominent past monarchs in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of central Thailand, which was rife with corruption.”

Then we saw the junta raiding a television station and filing charges against former national police chief Seripisut Temiyavet and for “hosting a TV programme called Siang Seree (Seree’s voice) in which he criticised the NCPO…. Pol Gen Sereepisuth earlier said the military needed to reform itself before trying to reform the police force, and alleged there was widespread corruption in the armed forces, including in the Rajabhakti Park project in Hua Hin.”

Third, the Army “investigation” team has discovered that the Army is, in fact, virginal, squeaky clean, untainted and good. As Khaosod reports it: “An internal review into the billion-baht Rajabhakti Park found no evidence of corruption, army chief Teerachai Nakwanich announced today.”

Nothing. Not a thing. Even the self-admitted scams by former Army boss Udomdej Sitabutr weren’t found: “Following media reports and statements from the former army chief confirming financial irregularities involving overpayments and dodgy commissions paid to middlemen, Gen. Teerachai said inspection of budget and accounts of the project found no such irregularities in the project.” Nothing. Not a thing. Teerachai said: “There is no corruption. Every procedure is transparent…”.

No one will believe them, but this gang has guns and holds power. They can even get away with murder. So a bit of corruption is nothing.

Because the Army decided the Army is good, there “is no need to ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the project…”.

No one will believe them.

Not even our predicted scapegoat, Col. Khachachart Boondee, is accused of anything.

Then things got really strange.

Khaosod reports that “Army officials also did not allow media present to broadcast the news conference live, without stating a reason.” When he was asked “if the army would open the books to for the public to see how money was spent, Teerachai provided extremely odd responses: he “said that would be dangerous.” He then opined: “You want people to die for this? You want me to execute someone and their entire family for this? I mean, we have to look at their intention.” He also declared that the budget for the project was confidential.

The notion that this project is in “dangerous” areas raises interesting questions. Is someone higher up involved? Is that the reason it is dangerous? Is the military covering up for someone else? Or is he just doing a bit more of a freshening spray so that the trail of corruption is more difficult to follow?





The army and the odor of fish I

18 11 2015

In another case of Fawlty Towerism – “I’m so sorry, but my wife has made a mistake!” – the junta is looking worse than silly.

The Nation reports that Deputy Defense Minister General Udomdej Sitabutr is squirming on the hook, but may slip off it as the cover-up on the corruption at Rajabhakti Park, the military’s 1 billion baht ode to loyalty to some monarchs. The project was “initiated when he [Udomdej] served as Army chief,” but the “Army’s fact-finding [read: cover-up] committee did not target Udomdej in its probe.”

Rather, the Army is blaming others and the junta is saying it – chock full of generals – had nothing to do with it.

A photo from The Straits Times

A photo from The Straits Times

All of the corruption and “commissions” was by somebody other than military personnel: “We have focused on the fact that the Army’s reputation has allegedly been abused by someone who sought personal benefit through the project…”. When they name the person, “the Army definitely would sue wrongdoers if there was solid evidence of wrongdoing.” So maybe there isn’t solid evidence? Maybe it was the Army itself and its senior commanders? After all, that is the pattern of military corruption.

If Udomdej gets named, it must be that his “name is abused,” and then he decides “whether he will sue the culprits…”. This is smelling like a haul of fish caught by Navy-supplied slaves.

That the “Army set up a fact-finding panel to investigate alleged irregularities in the Rajabhakti Park project” sounds good until, after reading the above, it is realized that the “goal” is “protecting its [the Army’s] reputation”!

The story from the military still seems to be that “some people did demand personal benefits through the project but after their actions were detected, they returned the money.” And, as Udomdej has stated, they then donated it back to the project. That fish odor will not go away.

Questions about the transparency of the Rajabhakti Park project emerged after Colonel Kachachart Boondee, a staff officer at the Third Army Area, was charged earlier this month with lese majeste along with the late famous fortune-teller Suriyan Sujaritpolwong’s secretary Jirawong Wattanathewasilp. It was alleged that they had falsely cited the Royal Family to demand money from big companies.

Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan is busy handing out air freshener for the junta, playing down the scandal: “It’s not a big deal…”. He makes this point by declaring that the “budget used for the project did not come from state coffers.” It must be okay to use money from private citizens corruptly.

When asked if the scandal meant the Army and the junta had a strong whiff of anchovies, Prawit said, “No.”

Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha was clearer: “his government would not take any responsibility over alleged corruption in the Rajabhakti Park project.” Readers might ask “Why not?”, but Prayuth has the answer: “Why should the government be held responsible?” Oh, sorry, that’s a question, not an answer.

rotting-fishThe junta is seeking to delay “answers.” We assume this means they need to get their story straight. The Bangkok Post reports that the “investigation” is “unlikely to be completed within a week as initially scheduled.”

Prawit says there’s “much more work remains to be done.” Ah, um, er, general, you have already said it ain’t a big deal…. Wait! It’s not a big deal “like the Khlong Dan waste water scandal…”.* And, he’s not sure how much it cost: “As for the about 1 billion baht spent on construction of the park, Gen Prawit said, he could not be certain that much really went into it.” Prayuth isn’t sure either! But certainly more than a ton of plah-rah, that’s for sure.

The committee is “still ploughing through reports on the probe with no indication of when it would finish.” Maybe the smelly fish can be wrapped in the reports.

Prayuth couldn’t keep his mouth shut and decided to “warn” the “critics should not attempt to make the Rajabhakti Park matter a political issue.” No politics in it at all. Just the junta, the Army and a mountain of rotting sardines.

Again asked if the government would take responsibility, Prayuth said: “How does the government take responsibility for this alleged misconduct and why?” That’s military “democracy” at work! Blame everyone else.

We can’t wait to hear who is going to take the fall.

*The Klong Dan Wastewater Project is worthy of study. It was approved by the Chuan Leekpai and Democrat Party-led government in 1995. In recent days the junta has a greed to pay out on a court ruling in 2012 that gives about 8-9 billion baht to the original contractors. For the slippery details on this, see here (opens a small PDF), here (opens a larger PDF, and then read the Chang Noi article) and here.








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