Lese majeste used by the junta to silence a witness

22 07 2018

When she was arrested, Nattatida Meewangpla was a 36 year-old volunteer nurse, accused by the military dictatorship of terrorism and lese majeste. She was abducted by the military on 17 March 2015 and held incommunicado for six days, then charged with “terrorism,” and was later with lese majeste.

Not so uncommon you might think. Especially since the 2014 coup, as the military wanted to crush all anti-monarchy speech and thought, lese majeste victims were usually dragged off by the junta’s uniformed thugs.

But the arrest and continued jailing of Nattathida was unusual. The lese majeste complaint was made by Internal Security Operation Command Col Wicharn Joddaeng, who claims Nattatida copied a text that insulted the monarchy from one Line chat room and posted it in two other chat groups.

Who knows if she did anything of the kind, but this charge was devised to have her jailed as quickly as possible as a threat to the military dictatorship. The threat she posed was as a witness to the murder of six individuals at Wat Pathum Wanaram Temple by soldiers during the crackdown on red shirts on 19 May 2010.

More than three years later, still in jail and never allowed bail, Nattathida’s trial has begun. On 20 July 2018, a “first witness hearing was held behind closed door[s]…”.

Secret trials are not unusual for lese majeste, where laws and constitutions are regularly ignored, but in this case, the military wants nothing said in court to be public for fear that it may incriminate them.

The Bangkok Post’s editorial on her cases is a useful effort to get some media attention to this case of cruel incarceration and the military junta’s efforts to suppress evidence of its murderous work in 2010 under the direction of then military-backed premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, Army boss Gen Anupong Paojinda and the commander of troops Gen Prayudh Chan-ocha.

The Post describes Nattathida as “a key witness in the deaths of six people killed during the military’s dispersal of red-shirt protests in 2010…”.

The Post seems to get the date of her 2015 lese majeste charging wrong, but these charges and their details are murky, and meant to be. It reports:

Ms Nathathida was in March 2015 charged as a suspect linked to the blast and had been held in prison until July 24 last year when she was finally granted bail. But the police filed a lese majeste charge, an offence under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, against her on the same day resulting in immediate custody without bail.

The editorial notes that her “trial for another case involving a 2015 bombing at the Criminal Court is also moving at a snail’s pace,” describing the slow pace as “questionable.” It thinks the deliberate foot-dragging suggests the charges are based on shaky grounds. It adds:

The cases yet again raise doubts about the legitimacy of the prosecution of many politically-driven cases in the post-2014 coup era, especially lese majeste cases.

Her lawyer Winyat Chartmontri has told the media that “many witnesses, who are government officials, in the blast case had postponed court hearings several times resulting in the case being delayed.”

As the editorial noted, these “two cases not only kept her in jail but may also have reduced the credibility of her as a witness in court over the six deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram near Ratchaprasong intersection.” More though, they prevent her testimony being heard.

Why is the military so concerned? As the Post observes:

In 2012, she testified at the South Bangkok Criminal Court as a paramedic volunteer stationed at the temple, giving a vivid account of how she saw from close range gunshots being fired from the Skytrain tracks where soldiers were on guard. She did not hear gunshots fired back by protesters, she said.

The editorial makes the mistake of believing that “criminal prosecution requires solid proof of both motive and the scale of damage their act could have caused,” but that is never the case when it comes to lese majeste. And, under the military dictatorship, the courts have generally acted as a tool of the regime, often ignoring law.

The Post knows this, limply proclaiming that “[l]aw enforcement officers should not overlook … universal legal rules when handling cases that could send someone to prison.” Yet in “politically motivated” cases under the military junta, law and procedure goes out the window.

In concluding, the editorial also mentions “that tragic day at Wat Pathum Wanaram,” noting that the courts are “supposed to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The problem with puppet law courts is that they work for the perpetrators.





Junta punked

17 05 2018

We are late getting to this story, but the recent brief detention and semi-charging of punks at a concert, where the band The Blood Soaked Street Of Social Decay performed, deserves attention.

Khaosod reports that four members of the band and six other punks “were taken into custody … after singing songs berating Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan” at the concert. Headlined as the Almost Four Years, You Motherfucker concert was to commemorate “four years of military rule.”

The band “also set an image of Prayuth aflame.”

While the 10 detained punks were released from a police station after having their names recorded, concert organizer Yuttajak Dumsuwan criticized the authorities:

Soldiers and police said it crossed the line. They thought it was defamation…. But we have no law against defamation of leaders of state or against burning pictures. It’s not [Article] 112. It’s berating the prime minister and government that uses our taxes. Of course citizens can do that.

The story informs us that the punk scene is highly political.





Get rid of the horrid monarchy law

2 05 2018

A Nation Editorial deserves attention as a call for reform of the despot’s political law of choice, the lese majeste law. It has been used brazenly to repress.

PPT has posted hundreds of times on the misuse of this law. It has been used in ways that are unconstitutional and unlawful. Persons have been convicted for what they did not say, for what they did not write. Some have been convicted for “crimes” against persons not covered by the law. Mothers and children have been convicted. Disabled and sick persons have received long sentences. Persons have been convicted on forced guilty pleas when they were not guilty. Sentences have been huge and the treatment of prisoners on lese majeste charges has been tortuous and unlawful. It has been used against political opponents and against some who have fallen out of favor in the palace itself.

The editorial states that “Somyot Pruksakasemsuk’s release after years in prison affords a chance to reflect on deeply unfair abuses of the law.” We could not agree more.

It says his “release from prison on Monday … should prompt the authorities to review the draconian lese majeste law, which was designed specifically to protect the monarchy but continues to be misused for political ends.”

Of course, it was “designed specifically” protect the military and politico-business elite. It protects a system and a configuration of power, not the monarchy on its own. The monarchy is the keystone for a repressive power structure that sucks wealth to those associated with the military-monarchy-tycoon elite or, as some say, the amart.

On the particular case, the editorial states that Somyos was jailed as a political opponent. It states that “[i]t was not and is not illegal to be aligned with the red shirt movement supporting former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his regimes’ policies. And it was unfair for Somyot to have been identified as anti-monarchy without evidence.”

It reminds us that Somyos was arrested and jailed by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime “as he was circulating a petition calling for Article 112 of the Penal Code – the lese majeste law – to be amended.” Indeed, Somyos was targeted because he opposed the very law that was used against him. The amart have a sense of purpose when opposing those who endanger the power structure.

The editorial states:

Article 112 is quite straightforward. It says anyone who defames insults or threatens the King, Queen, heir-apparent or regent shall be imprisoned for three to 15 years. The authorities’ case against Somyot was that he had published in his magazine two articles by Jit Pollachan, a pseudonym used by an exiled politician. The law was applied beyond its intended scope and meaning. The two articles merely mentioned the roles of the monarchy. There was no inherent insult to the monarchy.

Indeed, a majority of lese majeste cases fall into similar “misuses” of the law. But that’s the point. Lese majeste is designed to be used in these ways to protect the power structure.

It continues:

Thus, cases are often handled as though Thailand was still an absolute monarchy rather than a nation under the modern rule of law. People charged with lese majeste are routinely denied bail and held in pre-trial detention for months. Somyot was denied bail 16 times.

As the editor of a periodical, Somyot should have been protected by the Printing Act and the Constitution’s safeguards covering freedom of expression. But the Constitutional Court ruled in October 2012 that lese majeste breaches represented threats to national security and thus overrode any such protection.

When the editorial concludes by observing that “Somyot’s case should give all citizens pause for thought. Political reform is badly needed, and this unfair practice in particular has to be rolled back,” it makes a point that is very significant. It will scare the regime and those who benefit from this law.





Dictatorship and royalty

23 04 2018

The military dictatorship has proven itself to have the right attitudes and ideology for dealing with other authoritarian regimes, especially the party dictatorships of China and Laos and the Hun Sen regime in Cambodia. Most especially, Thailand’s military regime has felt most comfortable in dealing with military leaders in those countries.

It has had some issues with Laos, where red shirt and republican dissidents reside having fled the royalist military dictatorship following the 2014 coup. The military dictatorship has kept the pressure on, and we can assume some collusion in the enforced disappearance of Ko Tee from his residence in Laos. He’s presumed dead.

Thailand has a long history of political interference in its smaller neighbor’s politics, and there have been many ups and downs. So it is to be expected that all Lao regimes develop the relationship with some caution.

The current Thai dictatorship has been especially agitated about republican dissidents in Laos and has been seeking a deal to get them jailed in Thailand or, if that fails, to have them silenced.

Speaking in Vientiane, Lt Gen Souvone Leuangbounmy, chief-of-staff of the Lao People’s Armed Forces has “played down Thai authorities’ concerns about political fugitives and those wanted under Section 112 of the Criminal Code…” in Laos.

He says that “Thai political fugitives in Laos will be kept under strict surveillance to prevent them from engaging in lese majeste activities…”. He added that “Laos would be vigilant in trying to stop any acts which could affect Thai people” and soothed the military junta: “Please rest assured. You can count on us…”.

He made these comments as Thai military leaders visited Laos. We assume that he was saying this because the Thai military visitors had raised the issue (again).

Perhaps Lt Gen Souvone’s position is a compromise by his regime, under pressure from the “big brothers.” Will they accept this?





Caving in

1 04 2018

The repression associated with lese majeste is critical for the maintenance of the status quo in Thailand. So critical in fact that even the thought of an amendment to the law is greeted with threats of violence. As it has been for seven decades, the rightist alliance between monarchy and military is a keystone for the establishment order in Thailand, with lese majeste, ultra-royalist ideology and murderous enforcement are the means for maintaining that conservative order.

When the Anakhot Mai/New Future/Future Forward Party was recently formed, ultra-royalists foamed and fumed about a young academic lawyer, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who had once called for minor amendments to Article 112 of the criminal code. Ultra-royalist Sonthiya Sawatdee “petitioned the Election Commission … to disqualify the FFP. He alleged that Piyabutr’s previous involvement with the anti-lèse majesté group Nitirat had caused conflicts among the country’s population, in violation of the Organic Act on Political Parties.”

Knowing that in royalist Thailand Sonthiya’s banal claim may well carry weight, Piyabutr immediately went into reverse political gear, declaring “he would not press the issue of amending the lèse majesté law in the new party…”. He is quoted: “I insist that I will not involve the party in the issue of amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code and will not press the issue in the party…”.

Piyabutr’s backpedaling has opened debate.

Exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, himself a victim of ultra-royalist and military attacks, “commented that without the issue of amending Article 112, the new party would be just a smaller version of the Phue Thai Party.” He saw a familiar path being taken whereby the young become prematurely old as they flinch on the most significant political issue of recent years, the monarchy.

Somsak believes that the new party didn’t have to say anything:

“When the party’s general meeting (to pass policies, select executives, etc.) happens, and Piyabutr or other important party members see that it is inappropriate to put the issue of Article 112 into the policies because it will lead to the party’s disqualification, then just remove it and register without this issue. So what’s the necessity of yesterday’s announcement [by Piyabutr]? I can’t’ see one…”.

He might have added that the new party has little chance of attracting large numbers of voters, so the strategic withdrawal on monarchy means little more than another ultra-royalist and military victory in its crusade to “protect” the monarchy and, thus, the establishment.

Puangthong Pawakapan of the now-defunct Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 was less critical, saying Piyabutr ‘s vow was unsurprising as “the political establishment never hesitates to suppress those who challenge the royal defamation law, making an amendment to Article 112 through legislative measures nearly impossible.”

Puangthong added:

“The difficulties in this issue are not about the number of votes in the parliament, but it is a sensitive issue that political parties are afraid to touch because they will be easily attacked by anti-monarchy allegations…. This is why all political parties are afraid to fix this issue. This is why people’s signatories and the draft amendment [to Article 112] by the CCAA 112 was immediately rejected by the Parliament Chairperson, who was at that time a Phue Thai MP.”

It is clear that Puangthong “believes that Piyabutr’s statement was a strategic move to ensure that the FFP will wins seats in the parliament, which will allow the party to make progress on other significant political missions, like eliminating the military influence from Thai politics.”

We recall, back in 2004-2005, so-called progressives signing up to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its royalist agenda, using a similar line of argument. They may have been anti-monarchy or even republican, but saw the need to get rid rid of Thaksin Shinawatra as being so crucial that they could accommodate the royalist stuff, and fix the monarchy later. How did that turn out for them? Most are now ardent royalists.





Tom Dundee beats one lese majeste charge

29 03 2018

Prachatai reports that Tom Dundee (Thanat Thanawatcharanon) has beaten his latest lese majeste charge.

The Bangkok Criminal Court dismissed the case against the red shirt activist, citing weak evidence. Actually, there seems to have been no evidence.

The ridiculous charge against Tom was over the comparison he made between Thailand and Denmark and traffic control related to monarchs. As we have said before, this discussion of the stopping of traffic for royals in Thailand has been official and widespread.

In other words, this fourth charge against Tom was ultra-royalists being vindictive and taking advantage of the royalist courts to punish political opponents.

On 29 March 2018, the court ruled that the “complaint described by the public prosecutor cannot prove that the defendant’s speech is a violation of Article 112 of the Criminal Code…”. This is a bit of a breakthrough, acknowledging that actual evidence is required for prosecution.

Making this case even more bizarre, Tom had earlier agreed to plead guilty (as “required” by the royalist police, prosecutors and military regime). It seems the court accepted the plea but agreed it cannot punish him.

Tom remains in jail, having been “convicted” on three other lese majeste cases.





Further updated: Ultra-royalists united

28 03 2018

As PPT has said before, new political parties are not an innovation in Thailand. Rather they are the norm, most especially when the election rules encourage small parties and fragmented parliamentary power. With the Anakhot Mai/New Future Party, along with initial enthusiasm from a range of reasonably progressive people, the old guard – the old men who consider Thailand theirs – has appeared spooked.

Reuters reports that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is under pressure from ultra-royalists. The latter are keen to destroy the young phenoms by labeling them republicans. Fascist royalist Maj-Gen Rientong Nan-nah has said Future Forward “is the future for those who want to impede the rights of the king…”.

Khaosod reports that another “pro-monarchy activist” has been stung into reaction. Mad monarchist Sonthiya Sawasdee, who leads the Federation of Thais Monitoring the State, demands “the Election Commission to investigate a new progressive party he fears may amend the royal defamation [lese majeste] law.” Sonthiya has previously flung lese majeste allegations at others.

Sonthiya is sure that “any attempt to reform the law, known as lese majeste, will bring about unrest in the country.” This is actually a threat from the extreme right that has previously massacred citizens in the name of protecting the monarchy and with the support of the military, so such threats are taken seriously.

Sonthiya wrote online: “… I do not want anyone, no matter who they are, to put their hands on Section 112.” He added: “They should not intrude on the monarchy.” And he “singled out New Future Party co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul as the reason for his concern. Piyabutr, a university law professor, launched a 2012 campaign calling for lesser punishment and a more measured use of lese majeste.”

Piyabutr is trying to distance the party from ultra-royalist allegations, saying: “I’d like to insist that I will not get the party involved with the issue about amending Section 112 of the Criminal Code, and I will not push for it within the party…”. The Nation has more on Piyabutr’s distancing of the party from Nitirat.

A couple of observations seem in order. One is that the monarchy is off the political agenda for all, but not for royalists. Because they support the monarchy, they may use it at their pleasure to slander and undermine opponents. Meanwhile, those on the other side are hamstrung and timid.

A second observation is that those who might have thought or hoped that ultra-royalism might decline with a new and “unpopular” king on the throne have been shown to be wrong. Mad royalists defend a system based on feudal ideologies, not an individual. That said, the rapid shift to support for Vajiralongkorn has been breathtaking.

Update 1: In the above post we noted that threats from ultra-royalists have to be taken seriously. Confirming this, a Bloomberg report states that Thanathorn and Piyabutr have received death threats. He described his political quest as “a dangerous game,” adding: “We are playing with people who have no respect for human life.” Thanathorn revealed that the threat was “by an ultra-conservative,” where he was referring to a “Facebook post allegedly written by a former deputy police commander.” That ultra-royalist “accused the pair of speaking ill of the royal institution” and added that “he had ‘lost count’ of the number of ‘evil’ people he had killed,” darkly threatening: “you guys would be easy for me.”

Update 2: Prachatai identifies the policeman mentioned as threatening death as Bhakbhum Soonthornsorn.