“This is considered unusual in legal practice”

28 06 2018

On 27 June 2018, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 16 months in prison. This is a somewhat surprising outcome in a case where the lawyer challenged the courts.

With five others, Prawet was arrested  by the military on 29 April 2017. The six were detained on lese majeste charges for allegedly sharing a  Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. That post was allegedly authored by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. It was claimed that the post called for Thailand to become a republic.

Initially detained incommunicado, Prawet has been held in jail since then. In addition to lese majeste, he and the others faced sedition and computer crimes charges.

Prawet himself was accused of three separate charges under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste. In total, Prawet faces up to 171 years in jail, although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years.

PPT’s view was that the twinning of sedition and lese majeste made it clear that the military dictatorship was seeking to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Little has been heard of any of the detainees other than Prawet.

Prawet appeared in court on 18 September 2017 and stunned the judges by stating that he did not accept the Thai judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet challenged the court’s impartiality: “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 said he would not participate in the case nor have a lawyer represent him.

When he finally reappeared in court on 8 May 2018, Prawet engaged in a heated 30-minute argument with judges, stating he did not believe the court will rule his lese majeste case with fairness and impartiality. He asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

Prawet again stated that he would not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but said he would not obstruct testimony. He again refused lawyers and refused to sign any documents. He repeated that the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

Again, the judges seemed flummoxed by this challenge to the way the judiciary (mis)handled lese majeste cases.

The judges then closed the court for a secret trial. The verdict was supposed to have been delivered on 23 May but was delayed for more than a month, suggesting that behind the scenes there was considerable activity.

The surprises in this verdict for Prawet were that the sedition sentences were remarkably short and  that the court dropped “any mention of the royal defamation charge against him…”. Nor did the court explain why the lese majeste cases were “dropped without explanation.”

In the three sedition cases where the “military [regime] alleged he [Prawet] was behind a group calling on Redshirts and Yellowshirts to unite and turn Thailand into a federal republic,” he received only five months on each count, suggesting that the “evidence” was weak but that the court needed to save some face. With time served, he could released within weeks.

Prawet was given another month in jail “for refusing to fingerprint court documents…”.

On lese majeste charges disappearing, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said: “Usually, when the court acquits someone, they have to clearly explain it…. This is considered unusual in legal practice.”

In the context of Prawet’s challenge, we read this short report as a statement that the court and the regime probably wanted to prevent further criticism of the courts. Yet by mysteriously dropping the lese majeste charges the court again demonstrates that the law is a feudal remnant that is not only incongruous with modern law but is itself outside the law. Lese majeste cases are not subject to the law as it is written and nor are those charged given legal and constitutional protections to which they are entitled.

While the sedition “convictions” save face, the lese majeste is a festering sore for the judiciary. A gangrenous judiciary does Thailand no good. “Amputating” the law is the only solution if the courts are ever to be taken seriously and to fulfill their duties to the people.





Banning Puea Thai?

17 05 2018

Is the military junta seeking to ban the Puea Thai Party before it allows its “election”? It seems possible.

The junta knows that its one real challenge in an “election” is from the Puea Thai Party. Over the past four years, as well as changing electoral rules and party rules, has gone out of its way to prosecute and jail Puea Thai people. It has also sought to undermine the party’s grassroots organizing. We could go on, but its clear that the junta has been trying to defeat the Puea Thai Party before an “election” even takes place.

Despite all of this undermining, the military’s polling tells the junta that Puea Thai, while weakened, remains strong enough to threaten the junta’s “election” plans.

The latest possibility is the banning of the party. When Puea Thai held a press conference on the junta’s failures, the dictatorship sprang into legal action.

Col Burin Thongpraphai, NCPO legal affairs chief, has ordered the police’s Crime Suppression Division to press four charges against Puea Thai for:

  • violating NCPO order 57/2557 banning existing political parties from conducting a meeting or a political activity;
  • violating NCPO order 3/2558 banning a political gathering of at least five people;
  • violating the computer crime law; and
  • violating Section 116 of the Criminal Code for sedition.

The cumulative prison sentence if found guilty is, we think, something like 20 years in prison. We guess that the junta may go after the party rather than just its members, suggesting the idea of dissolving yet another pro-Thaksin party.





1932 plaque back in the news

11 10 2017

Prachatai reports that the Puea Thai Party’s Watana Muangsook has been “accused of sedition for posting on Facebook about the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque…”.

That plaque “mysteriously” disappeared around the time that the military dictatorship’s “constitution” was promulgated by the king.

That was no coincidence. No one ever investigated the disappearance, suggesting that the authorities were the vandals and thieves or that they knew who was responsible for an act meant to further erase 1932 from Thailand’s collective memory.

Watana has said he will fight the sedition charge. On Monday he appeared for a deposition hearing that also includes a charge under the Computer Crimes Act.

The report states that the “Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) accused him of posting false information on the internet in claiming that the 1932 Revolution plaque is a ‘national asset’ in order to call for people to demand its return, adding that the post might also incite chaos.”

This is a very large pile of buffalo manure, but the regime’s exaggerated response suggests that it is protecting a very powerful thief.





Journalist charged after angering The Dictator

9 08 2017

The military dictatorship has has again demonstrated its capacity for sullen and vengeful (mis)use of what passes for law and the justice system in Thailand.

Khaosod journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk has been charged under Article 116 of the criminal code (sedition) and computer crimes for criticizing the junta. Yesterday he met police to actually learn what it was in his social media account that annoyed the junta. Before then, the police had refused to explain.

Both charges carry penalties of up to seven years in jail. Facing up to fourteen years in jail, Pravit revealed that one charge relates to a post from February 2016, “when he criticised the junta-drafted constitution.”

The second charge is revealing of the reason for these charges and why the junta’s police had to trawl back to 2016. Last month, Pravit posted a critical comment on The Dictator’s “handling of floods and the trial of ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra.”

From Wikipedia’s article on lese majeste

Clearly, The Dictator went into yet another rage and demanded action against the impertinent journalist.

This is confirmed in Khaosod’s report that “a representative from the military filed complaint against Pravit … on July 28. The source … said the charges under the Computer Crime Act would rely on its provisions covering online defamation.”

Quite obviously, criticizing General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s dictatorial leader since May 2014, is now an act of treason. The sedition and computer crimes law are now The Dictator’s equivalent of lese majeste. He is so thin-skinned that he can brook no critical comment. His arrogance is monarchical and maniacal.

Pravit has “vowed to continue to speak out against the junta…”. He added, “I’m not surprised by the charge…. Anyone who criticizes them [the junta] must pay the price.” He might have added that criticizing The Dictator means angry and concocted uses of the law as punishment.





Repressing opponents

6 08 2017

Two reports in Khaosod show how insecure the military dictatorship becomes when it identifies critics of its dominance.

The first Khaosod report is, naturally enough, related to the trembles it has when Yingluck Shinawatra looks popular and seems to have supporters boosting her. The junta has blustered about conspiracies and plots. Who have they targeted?

A day after several hundred supporters “gathered to support former premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s closing statement in her malfeasance trial, the … police … launched a crackdown against the people who drove them there.”

It is reported that “Gen. Srivara Rangsipramkul, who usually handles matters of national security, charged 21 minivans drivers Wednesday with violating the Land Transport Act by straying from their designated routes to bring Yingluck supporters to Bangkok.”

In addition, the regime has sent its uniformed thugs to threaten red shirt supporters seeking to prevent them from showing up at the court. The report states:

Redshirt supporters say these efforts are emblematic of the Prayuth regime’s strategy of uprooting the legacy of its political rivals, the Shinawatra clan, and falling short of that, render it invisible.

A second Khaosod story reports that two former Puea Thai Party politicians and a well-known journalist (for Khaosod) have been slapped with sedition allegations.

Former energy minister Pichai Naripatapan met police last Friday to “acknowledge a charge of sedition filed against him…”.

PPT has mentioned journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk in a previous post. The third is the outspoken Watana Muangsook.

For the junta, “sedition” seems to amount to criticism of the junta.

Pichai’s “crime” is that he “violated the law in things they wrote on social media.” He quoted an academic on economic problems. It seems that this amounts to sedition.

Watana “acknowledged the charge on Wednesday and insisted on his innocence.”

The Article 116 charge against Pravit cites “unspecified Facebook posts…”. He is due back before the police in a few days, when the police say they will finally disclose which of his posts are determined to be “seditious.”

It seems that appearing pathetic is not an issue for the military dictatorship.





Punishment

29 07 2017

The military junta and its minions have been hard at work in recent days, punishing people it sees as political opponents or threats to the royalist-tycoon military regime and its plans for control into the future. All of this political “work” has been around the period of the first birthday “celebration” for King Vajiralongkorn, which seems appropriate, in the reign of fear and threat.

The junta just hates it when the lower classes complain, especially when they are in areas considered politically suspect, like the northeast. So its obedient servants have charged and now prosecuted seven women who have been campaigning against a mining concession extension for Tungkum Co Ltd, a gold mine operator in Loei province. The seven are Phonthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Wiron Ruchichaiwat, Suphat Khunna, Bunraeng Sithong, Mon Khunna, and Lamphloen Rueangrit.

Somyos and his money

The Tungkum Company has had significant regime support and the junta see the villagers as having support from anti-regime activists. The case goes back a long way, with the company supported by the usually wealthy (never explained or investigated) former police chief General Somyos Pumpanmuang. We have previously noted this cop’s connections with shady business groups that use men-in-black to harass the villagers opposing mining and environmental degradation.

The women involved are now charged with “breaking the public assembly law and intimidating public officials.” The so-called act of “intimidation” involved “leading more than 100 people to gather in front of Wang Saphung District Administration Office on 16 November 2016 while officials were holding a meeting…” that was to rubber stamp the company’s application.

Business elites and the junta don’t want these little people getting out of hand, especially women (we say more on this below).

In a similar case, the junta’s bureaucratic thugs and something still referred to as the “Supreme Court” – better called the military’s civilian sentencing machine – has sentenced a husband and wife to six months in jail “for trespassing on protected land six years ago.” The court seems quite deranged in its “thinking” sentencing the elderly Den Khamlae and his wife Suphab Khamlae. Deranged in that Den has been missing since April 2016, believed to have been forcibly disappeared by the same authorities that charged him and his wife.

Den’s case goes back to 1985, when “his Chaiyaphum farmland was taken by the government. They were promised land to use elsewhere, but Den and his neighbors later found the area designated for them was already occupied.” His crime is that he wouldn’t bow down to the “authorities,” and with the junta in power, these thugs decided to get rid of him. Suphab’s “crime” seems to have been her campaign to learn what has happened to her husband. As the linked article explains, “Suphab, who has campaigned about forced disappearances since Den’s disappearance, will immediately go to prison.” Campaigning against the royalist-tycoon-bureaucratic state is not just a “crime,” but the dictators are angered by the uppity lower classes and especially those who don’t accept their “place” in the hierarchy.

The court babbled something about Den being “convicted” because he is not proven dead. We can only hope that there are sufficient horrid and vicious ghosts from the disappeared who will haunt these morons in robes for in this life and the next.

The popular Yingluck

Then there are the political punishments meted out to those the junta considers as challenging its right to rule and dictate.

The most obvious example of this is Yingluck Shinawatra. Early in the week, she made the mistake of complaining about the junta’s minions acting against her in ways that she considered foul. Worse (for her), she had a social media exchange with The Dictator. The result has been the sudden revelation that National Anti-Corruption Commission, which essentially works at the behest of the military dictatorship, has 11 other cases against Yingluck that it is “investigating.”

The junta has been keen to punish Yingluck for several reasons and not least because she remains popular. In this instance, though, it seems to us that the junta is punishing Yingluck for speaking up for herself. The Dictator has a habit of punishing those who pick a fight with him but in this case it is also clear that the strong misogynist ideology of the royalist political elite is playing out. The Dictator thinks “that woman” should “know her place.” He’s “teaching” her to know her submissive place. Of course, other royalist lads have derided Yingluck for being a woman in their man’s world.

Finally, at least for today, there’s the is the arrest warrant for Watana Muangsook. It seems that Watana, “a Pheu Thai Party key figure and former commerce minister, and two other suspects on suspicion of provoking rebellion…”. Did we read that right? “Rebellion”? That seems to be how the men who control most of Thailand’s legal weapons view the prospect of hundreds turning out to “support” Yingluck when she’s next in the (kangaroo) court. The junta is giving the impression that its is so frightened that it is suffering collective and premature incontinence.

In this “case,” the so-called “suspects were found to have been inciting people to come to a gathering planned for Aug 25 when the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions is due to hand down a ruling in the rice-pledging case in which former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is charged with dereliction of duty…”. The junta reckons this alleged “incitement” can be “deemed a violation of Section 116 of the Criminal Code,” meaning sedition!

In Watana’s case, his “sedition” appears to be challenging The Dictator: “In a series of messages posted on his Facebook page from July 19 to July 26, Mr Watana criticised the government and urged members of the public to come out to support Ms Yingluck, also on Aug 1 when she is due to verbally present her final statement in the rice-pledging case to the court…”.

In response, “Watana said on Thursday he has never posted any message urging Ms Yingluck’s supporters to turn up at the court.” So his “crime” would seem to be his violation of the dictum that allows no arguing with The Dictator.





Republicanism means 50 years in prison

27 07 2017

Talking or posting about a republic or republicanism is considered and act of lese majeste. Governments for sometime, including the ultra-royalist military dictatorship, once “defended” lese majeste by saying that it was just like defamation but for royals. The case of human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul, one of the Stolen history 6, clearly show that such bleating was a concoction and expressed as blatant lies.

On 25 July 2017, Bangkok’s Criminal Court “accepted charges filed against [the]… human rights lawyer facing five decades of imprisonment for royal defamation and sedition.” Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have said that Prawet is accused of posting Facebook comments that are deemed to have asserted that Thailand should become a republic.

Even Prachatai uses the term “defamation” when reporting this case. Clearly lese majeste is not defamation. Rather, it is a law that represses political opponents and jails them for daring to think about and discuss alternative forms of government.

Prawet stands accused of importing digital content “deemed defamatory to the [m]onarchy and seditious.” He is alleged to have done this from 25 January- 23 April 2017 and this probably relates to Facebook posts made by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

As well as being charged under Articles 112 (10 counts) and 116 (3 counts), Prawet is “also charged with Article 14(3) of the Computer Crime Act for importing illegal information online and violation of the Council for Democratic Reform (the 2006 coup-maker) Order for obstructing … the police [in]… obtain[ing] his fingerprints.”

It is easy to see that the military junta is determined to lock him away for decades, with 50 years being the legally maximum cumulative sentence. The lese majeste and sedition charges alone, if proven, amount to 171 years of jail. Few who go to court on these charges are ever exonerated by the royalist courts.

Prawet and the other five (for whom there is precious little information that PPT can locate) have been held in jail since 29 April 2017.