HRW on The Dictator’s European holiday

18 06 2018

Reproduced in full from Human Rights Watch:

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron should press Thailand’s junta leader to respect human rights and ensure a rapid transition to democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut[h] Chan-ocha is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister May on June 20, 2018, in London and President Macron on June 25 in Paris.

“Prime Minister May and President Macron should strongly express their deep concerns about the deteriorating state of human rights under military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “They should make clear to General Prayut that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government, and improves respect for human rights.”

The UK and France are among major allies of Thailand that have repeatedly stated that bilateral relations will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections.

Thailand has made no progress toward becoming the rights-respecting, democratic government that General Prayut promised as the country enters its fourth year after the May 2014 coup. As chairman of Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), General Prayut wields power unhindered by administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for human rights violations. NCPO Orders 3/2015 and 13/2016 provide military authorities with powers to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and to interrogate suspects without giving them access to legal counsel, or providing safeguards against mistreatment.

General Prayut’s much touted “road map” on human rights and the return to democratic civilian rule has become meaningless. The junta’s promised election date continues to slide, making the timing wholly uncertain, and it has provided few reasons to believe that an election, if held, will be free and fair. Unless the junta lifts its severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms, Thailand’s political parties, media, and voters will not be able to participate in a genuinely democratic process.

The junta has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand. Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. Public gatherings of more than five people and pro-democracy activities are prohibited.

More than 100 pro-democracy activists have recently faced illegal assembly charges, some of whom have also been accused of sedition, for peacefully demanding that the junta should hold its promised election without further delay and that it should immediately lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Over the past four years, the military has summoned thousands of people to have their political attitudes “adjusted” and pressured to stop criticizing the junta.

Trying civilians in military courts, which lack independence and do not comply with fair trial standards, remains a major problem. In response to criticism, General Prayut in September 2016 revoked NCPO orders that empowered military courts to try civilians. But the order is not retroactive so it does not affect the more than 1,800 military court cases already brought against civilians, many of them pro-democracy activists, politicians, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

The junta has disregarded Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. Government agencies have frequently retaliated against individuals who report allegations of abuses by filing criminal charges, including for criminal defamation.

Prime Minister May and President Macron should recognize that the UK and France stand to benefit far more from a partnership with a country that respects human rights and rule of law. They should urge the Thai government to urgently:

– End the use of abusive and unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;

– End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;

– Lift the ban on political activities;

– Release all dissidents and critics detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;

– Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;

– Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards; and

– Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping criminal lawsuits against them.

“Business deals should not come at the expense of serious discussions on human rights and the junta’s tightening grip on power,” Adams said. “The UK and French governments need to press the junta to end repression so that Thailand can move toward democratic civilian rule.”





Money and power

21 03 2018

The military dictatorship’s “election” campaigning is intensifying. It is a campaign to strengthen the regime, whether it goes to an “election” or just remains in power through “election delays.” The intensity of the campaign and related action suggests a regime feeling stressed and worried about its capacity to retain power.

As we have noted several times, the military regime has been pouring money into the electorate. Its latest effort involves a plan to “inject 30 billion baht into more than 82,000 villages nationwide…”. This effort reeks of the so-called populism that the regime once criticized but has readily embraced as a means to retain power.

In fact, the regime has a “supplementary budget of 150 billion baht approved in January by the cabinet to spur the grassroots economy.” In other words, the 30 billion is just a part of the regime’s new “election” fund. Its going to rain money, especially in rural electorates.

The National Legislative Assembly will shortly endorse the supplementary budget with the regime urging NLA deliberation now, declaring “it is essential to disburse funds that can spur investment and the economy in general under the government’s Pracharath people-state partnership scheme.” That’s just one of the junta’s electoral campaigning fund.

Meanwhile, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha continues his personal campaign for nomination at prime minister following the junta’s “election,” should it decide to allow one. He’s visiting the northeast.

While campaigning, The Dictator still had time to use Article 44 to sack anti-election election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn. Somchai is a bright yellow election commissioner who has come to clash with the junta because he wants to keep his job but the regime is dismissing all commissioners. Presumably the junta finds the current commissioners, already under-strength, a little too unpredictable when it comes to its delayed “election.”

Somchai paints himself as a martyr, declaring: “It’s been an honour to reveal the face of the NCPO.” In fact, Somchai had a large role in preparing the political ground for the 2014 military coup, and feels the regime should be rewarding him, not appointing a new EC. He should be apologizing for his role in bringing the military dictatorship to power.

Then there’s the military arm of the junta. Army boss and junta member Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart has gone a bit crazy after Nitirat member Worachet Pakeerut raised the specter of a 1992-like uprising if The Dictator becomes an outsider premier following an “election.” Gen Chalermchai demands that no one speak of The Dictator’s political desire.





Amnesty International on systematic and arbitrary restrictions on human rights

24 02 2018

Amnesty International has released its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights. It’s a 400 page PDF that makes for grim reading.

The report had a launch in Thailand and there are reports at Khaosod and The Nation.

Amnesty International Thailand Director Piyanut Kotsan is quoted in The Nation saying:

“The situation of human rights violation in Thailand under the administration of the Prime Minister and head of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] is still considered very poor, as the junta still exercises the absolute power of Article 44 of the interim Charter to stop any political activists exercising freedom of expression…”.

“Many citizens are still being held in unofficial custody, civilians are still being prosecuted in the military court, and freedom of expression and gatherings in public are limited by the use of NCPO order 3/2558, which bans the gathering of more than five persons for political protest.”

Khaosod quotes Antima Saengchai, deputy director of Amnesty Thailand:

Despite having declared human rights a national priority, the military government still prosecutes activists, practices extrajudicial killings, allows torture of people in custody, deports asylum-seekers and suppresses online freedoms….

“Despite promises, there has been no process on passing laws to prohibit human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearances…”.

On lese majeste in 2017, the report states:

Authorities continued to vigorously prosecute cases under Article 112 of the Penal Code – lèse-majesté provision – which penalized criticism of the monarchy. Individuals were charged or prosecuted under Article 112 during the year, including some alleged to have offended past monarchs. Trials for lèse-majesté were held behind closed doors. In June, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced a man to a record 35 years’ imprisonment − halved from 70 years after he pleaded guilty − for a series of Facebook posts allegedly concerning the monarchy. In August, student activist and human rights defender Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment after being convicted in a case concerning his sharing a BBC profile of Thailand’s King on Facebook. Authorities brought lèse-majesté charges against a prominent academic for comments he made about a battle fought by a 16th century Thai king.

The latter case was dropped a few weeks ago. We are surprised AI didn’t mention the lese majeste cases brought against juveniles.

On the still unresolved case of the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyaphum Pasae the report states:

In March, Chaiyaphum Pasae, a 17-year-old Indigenous Lahu youth activist, was shot dead at a checkpoint staffed by soldiers and anti-narcotics officers, who claimed to have acted in self-defence. By the end of the year, an official investigation into his death had made little progress; the authorities failed to produce CCTV footage from cameras known to have been present at the time of the incident.

This seems a case of impunity for soldiers. Another, mentioned in  the report under the heading “Impunity” states:

In August, the Supreme Court dismissed murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. The charges related to the deaths of at least 90 people in 2010 during clashes between [red shirt] protesters and security forces.

It might have also noted that Gen Anupong Paojinda, who was then army commander and is now Interior minister also got off. And, current prime minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha commanded troops who conducted some of these murders.

The report on Thailand is only a couple of pages long and should be read.





When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.





By and for the junta: arranging elections and law

12 01 2018

As well as the military dictatorship’s election stitch-up gathers pace, the junta is also stitching up the legal system.

On elections, the Bangkok Post reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly is sitting, waiting and breathing heavily awaiting the junta’s decision on how it will fix local elections. It is the junta that comes up with the laws. The NLA fiddles with them and then passes them almost unanimously.

Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda revealed that the “amendments will be made to raise the standard of candidates vying for seats…” in local elections. There’s a pattern here: this is the “good” people thesis.

On “fixing” the law, the Bangkok Post also reports that the same puppets will likely pass “about 50 Section 44 orders into law to ensure they remain in effect after the dissolution of the [junta]…”.

In other words, the junta’s use of the unaccountable and dictatorial Article 44 is to be chiseled into the law forever (they hope). Recall that Article 44 gives The Dictator the power to override any laws and regulations he wants.





ISOC’s electoral power

8 01 2018

It has taken a while for the Internal Security Operations Command or ISOC to respond to concerns about its growing power under the military dictatorship. It was back in November when General Prayuth Chan-ocha used his sweeping powers under Article 44 to amend internal security legislation and set up a security “super board” to allegedly assist ISOC in dealing with “domestic security threats.”

The Dictator made ISOC the central agency dealing with all matters it considers “security,” and at all levels. As we well know, “security” usually means the use of lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition laws against political opponents. Using his extra-judicial powers, The Dictator has ISOC heading up all other agencies, and at the regional level, this includes the Interior Ministry, police and prosecutors. Among other things, this is a handing iron fist for when the military dictatorship decides it needs an “election.”

In the Bangkok Post, we get ISOC’s response. We doubt many will believe ISOC’s claim that the agency is warm and cuddly and apolitical. It never has been and with its domination by the military, it never will be. It is an agancy used by the military to undermine opponents, spy on opponents and purvey propaganda for the regime. But back to the new, “soft” line, reflected in its “peace” and “reconciliation” website and its Facebook page.

Isoc spokesman Maj-Gen. Peerawat Sangthong “explained” the use of The Dictator’s unchecked power was just a bit of administrative and technocratic streamlining. No need to worry.

Chaired by Deputy Prime Minister for Bling General Prawit Wongsuwan chairs ISOC’s “administrative committee.” His deputies are the “defence and interior ministers … with members including commanders of the armed forces and the Isoc secretary-general…”.

Now there are mirror regional and provincial committees, giving ISOC nationwide control of “security.”

Maj Gen Peerawat revealed that ISOC “has about 5,000-6,000 staff nationwide, excluding those working in the … South, and there currently are 500,000-600,000 internal security volunteers, as well as tens of thousands of people in its information network.”

All of those people working for an ISOC with enhanced powers might as the general says, will “reduce the gap among agencies where they are needed to work together to solve a problem, eradicate redundancy and to make sure all the agencies involved are supporting one another.”

That’s useful for repressing the junta’s opponents and we guess the most significant “problem” now is how to ensure the junta’s preferred “electoral” outcome.





The junta’s “election” stitch up I

27 12 2017

The junta and The Dictator are working hard on what they assume will their “election” victory, whenever they decide to allow one. The campaign has been underway for a considerable time.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s provincial campaigning has continued. After a bit of a cock-up in the south, the junta managed to orchestrate things better in the northeast.

His most recent provincial trip was to Phitsanulok where his campaigning again involved animals. As reported, Prayuth conversed with an award-winning fighting cock. His message? “Don’t be scared of the NCPO…. The NCPO won’t be hard on you.”

Clipped from The Nation

Meanwhile, the junta is handing out goodies that are incentives for voters. The utilities bills that were a part of earlier elected regime’s and their election campaigns, and trashed as “populist,” are there for the poor.

For the middle class and the rich there are new tax deductions of up to 15,000 baht per taxpayer for taking a holiday. The Bangkok Post reports that:

Tax breaks for tourism spending in secondary provinces from Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2018 will go before the cabinet today. The move is intended to distribute income to these provinces and make the recovery more broad-based.

How “populist” is that! A really cheap holiday thanks to the junta. (Remember to vote for their party!)

While the Democrat Party is disturbed by The Dictator’s use of Article 44, fearing that it will be decimated, that is indeed the junta’s aim. The party that has not been especially critical of Article 44 in the past:

will file a petition with the Constitution Court to determine if the latest National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) order to extend deadlines required for political parties to follow under the Political Party Act is unconstitutional under the charter approved in last year’s referendum.

At the same time, the junta is busy stitching up the “independent” agencies that oversee politics and elections and enforce the rules. This bunch of junta puppets will now include “allowing unqualified anti-graft commissioners to continue working as members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission…”. The courts and independent agencies are likely to dance to the junta’s tune, now and into the future.

While all of this is going on, the political repression of red shirts continues unabated, seeking to silence and disintegrate this pro-Puea Thai Party coalition.

And when the junta decides to have its “election,” its puppet Constitution Drafting Committee has decided to make it illegal to criticize another candidate when campaigning for election. Goodness, the junta doesn’t want any of its candidates being criticized!

It’s a giant stitch up.