Payback time

3 02 2022

Thailand’s military-backed regime has teamed up with authoritarians in neighboring countries for “security” operations. These have seen black ops that resulted in the disappearance, torture and/or murder of several anti-monarchy activists in Cambodia and Laos.

Such operations have a quid pro quo. Thailand has already returned several Cambodian activists for imprisonment by the Hun Sen regime. And now Laos is enjoying Thailand’s payback.

Khaosod recently reported that the  International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) had “expressed concerns about the safety of a Laotian asylum seeker who was arrested in Bangkok…”. It stated that “Keomanivong Khoukham, a member of pro-democracy Free Lao group, was apprehended despite the fact that he holds a UNHCR card…”.

FIDH reminded the world that “[t]his is not the first time they do it…. When fellow activist Od Sayavong disappeared in August 2019, the Thai police spokesman said he didn’t know about it, even though a missing person report had been filed at a local police station in Bangkok days earlier.”

That sounds like the story of Wanchalerm Satsaksit’s enforced disappearance in Cambodia. His case remains unresolved and the silence from both governments is deafening.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

At least Thailand’s police “acknowledged the arrest, which was made on Saturday [29 January]…”. They claim he was arrested for overstaying his visa. They also say he was not carrying a UNHCR card, although media outlets produced numerous images of it.

Khaosod explains:

Since Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers are considered as illegal immigrants by the Thai authorities. They are subjected to arrests and deportation back to the countries they tried to escape.

Convenient.

Thai Newsroom followed up and cites Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch, who said the Lao activist “faces punishment should he return to Laos.”

Sunai also mentioned that the Thai government has deported refugees many times. The latest was the deportation of a Cambodian refugee late November with this leading to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issuing a statement expressing disappointment for again doing so.

UNHCR has several times requested/urged the Thia authorities “to refrain from deporting recognized refugees and to abide by its international obligations, particularly the principle of non-refoulement.”





Authoritarianism and virus repression

18 01 2022

Several countries, and with regimes of several political orientations, have used the virus as a means to extend measures that amount to a global growing of authoritarianism. Thailand’s repressive royalist regime has used an emergency decree, meant to be about public health, to oppress political activists seeking a democratic politics and monarchy reform.

The Nation recently reported that the police have again warned those who regularly rally in support of imprisoned political prisoners that they will be arrested “under Covid restrictions.”

Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy commissioner and spokesman Jirasan Kaewsangek stated “it is still illegal to hold a protest or gathering…. He cited the emergency decree, anti-Covid guidelines and the Communicable Diseases Control Act…”. He directed this at those who he said were gathering peacefully.

To date, Bangkok police say they have “investigated 814 cases relating to protests since July 2020. Of these, 409 cases have been brought to court while the rest remain under police investigation…”.





Regime stooge

31 12 2021

Kavi Chongkittavorn was for decades at The Nation, writing mostly on foreign policy. He was with that newspaper as it became seriously rightist in opposing Thaksin Shinawatra, with several writers, including Kavi, tapping out propaganda that supported the rise of right-wing royalism and two military coups.

Kavi once positioned himself as an interpreter of Thailand for foreigners, seemingly supporting democracy and human rights, and gladly accepted all kinds of US and European trips and fellowships including fellowships at the East-West Center, Oxford University, and Harvard University. He even served the committee for the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and is a member of the governing board of the Human Rights Resource Centre, a non-profit academic center headquartered at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. That Centre is supported by UI, the Canadian International Development Agency, Stanford University, the Swiss Embassy, and USAID.

But all of that seem to be artifacts and/or are lies about his real views.

Kavi or a Stooge?

In his latest op-ed at Thai PBS, where he’s reunited with another regime stooge formerly with The Nation Tulsathit Taptim, he throws his full support behind the military-backed regime and its authoritarianism. He also shows that he’s a fan of conspiracy theorists.

He does this by supporting the regime’s temporarily withdrawn “draft bill on so-called Not-for-Profit Organisations” that gives control of local and international NGOs operating in Thailand to the Ministry of Interior.

While Kavi drops the word “allegedly” a couple of times, his views are clear, considering that “both local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) … perpetuate fake news against and negative views of the government.” Then he reveals the real impetus for the need to control and limit:

Worse still, some of them, with funding from abroad, have reportedly tried to topple the current political system under the constitutional monarchy.

Only conspiracy theorists believe this. It’s nonsense. The support is to people jailed under draconian laws who have their rights limited.

Kavi laments that his military-backed, undemocratic government “has come under constant attack by these organisations, which have sometimes perpetuated allegedly untruthful information and made inflammatory remarks.”

He reckons the problem is with groups that engage in advocacy like those who funded his junkets to the West and the Human Rights Resource Centre.He bites the hand that has fed him:

To show support for the CSOs, representatives of the US and other Western embassies based in Bangkok met with selected groups of local and foreign CSOs on Tuesday. Among them was a representative from Amnesty International, which is currently embroiled in controversy due to its campaigning in support of the youth movement, which is calling for reform of the monarchy.

Kavi attacks foreign NGOs:

Thailand … will not tolerate those who advocate for the ongoing campaign for reform of the royal institutional, which it considers an internal matter. For decades, the presence of these civil society organizations has been viewed positively. That is no longer the case for some. In the near future, pending the draft bill, the government will toughen its engagement [sic.] with the CSOs. Both recipients and funders will have to come clean and be accountable, or face consequences.

He’s been a fraud and now he’s a regime stooge.





Another year of repression

27 12 2021

Even with the virus, most people have been celebrating the holidays. But, as Prachatai reports, nothing of the sort is possible for those jailed without bail on lese majeste charges.

Parit Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok and Jatuphat Boonpattararaksa have again denied bail in an act of lese majeste torture. The four have already spent some 3-4 months in jail pending trial.

Of course, in line with lese majeste torture protocols, the courts are in no hurry to get these political prisoners into a trial.

Clipped from VOA News – a Reuters photo

A bail request was submitted to the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court on 17 December.  As expected from the royalist courts, on 24 December the court “ruled to leave its former order unchanged out of concern that the four, if released, would commit the same offences again.”

The court rejected an undertaking by the “four detainees [who] affirmed that, if released, they would abide by previous Court conditions to not engage in any activities damaging to the monarchy, take part in protests causing public disorder, flee the country, or violate Court-mandated travel restrictions.”

The regime and, we assume, the absent monarch, prefer to keep these young people locked up. They fear the anti-monarchism that has grown and that is (temporarily) repressed.

From Prachatai’s Facebook page

Protesters had gathered at the Court to support the political prisoners. After bail was refused, the protesters “burned a judge uniform and the Criminal Code textbook and sprayed paint all over the Court entrance area.” Meanwhile, “Thatchapong Kaedam, another prominent figure in the protest movement, said that next year, the people will continue to call for change and the intensity of the demonstrations will escalate.”

This is now the normal court contribution to political repression: at least another 16 people “are being detained pending trial or police investigation of their participation in political protests and confrontations with the police over the past year.”

Over the longer period from July 2020 to October 2021, according to the Thai Enquirer, 1,636 people in 896 cases have faced lawsuits for their political participation and expression, including 258 minors.

Of that, 1,337 are being prosecuted for alleged violations of the emergency decree which came into effect in March 2020, 107 are being prosecuted for the alleged violations of the Public Assembly Act, 97 for alleged violations of the Computer Crime Act, 112 for sedition and 154 for lese-majeste.

In addition to the politicized judiciary, the royalist regime has also used violence to repress anti-monarchism. According to a report by the Thai Enquirer, in 2021, more than “500 people were injured from protest-related violence in 2021…”. Dozens of them were children, with one 15 year-old was killed.

Of the total, 347 civilians, including 88 minors were injured. Reflecting the regime’s attempts to also suppress the media, 29 journalists were injured, including several who were targeted with rubber bullets. In addition, three medical volunteers and two bystanders were injured. Many more injuries went unreported.146 police officers  and one soldier were injured.

The police have become especially aggressive, having replaced the military as the frontline troops in repressing protest. Emphasizing this, as Prachatai reports, another “20 protesters and activists have been charged with violation of the Emergency Decree for participating in the 28 November 2021 rally at the Ratchaprasong intersection to call for marriage equality.” They are also charged with obstructing traffic.

LGBTQ protesters are now seen as threatening and in need of repression. Of course, pro-monarchy and pro-regime groups face no such police action,

The activists of the Rainbow Coalition for Marriage Equality say “that the rally was an exercise of their legal rights and freedoms, and that the charges against them amount to a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP.”

They add that they are “willing to fight the charges to show that they are free to think and are protected by the civil rights enshrined in the Constitution. They are also considering filing complaints against the officers who file charges against them.”

For a perspective on Thailand’s authoritarianism, see this article.





Parliamentarians under threat

3 12 2021

A couple of days ago we posted on a then upcoming launch of an ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights report.

The report is now available and it makes grim reading. Today, authoritarian repression hangs over the region like the annual haze, choking the vestiges of democracy and restricting political freedoms.

Get the report Parliamentarians at Risk: Reprisals against opposition MPs in Southeast Asia in 2021 and read it. There’s a chapter on Thailand.

The launch press release emphasizes that: “The number of Members of Parliament (MPs) detained in Southeast Asia has dramatically risen this year, from just one in 2020, to 91 in 2021…”. In addition, there have been “threats to lawmakers for doing their jobs, as well as orchestrated campaigns of judicial harassment and disinformation, aimed at both discrediting and silencing them…”.

On Thailand, the release states:

… the government and its allies continued to level trumped-up criminal cases against Move Forward Party (MFP) lawmakers, while opposition MPs were also the target of widespread abuse online, often through highly coordinated “information operations” orchestrated by state-affiliated actors.

In the report, the “systematic judicial harassment against the Move Forward Party” is detailed, along with the regime-inspired “threats and coordinated online disinformation campaigns.”

The chapter on Thailand concludes:

The continued harassment against the MFP lawmakers and former lawmakers of the FWP [Future Forward Party], whether through the judiciary or through online targeting, appears to be part of a concerted and systematic effort by the government to discredit and silence the party. Despite the personal costs involved and the ever-present threat of arrest and even imprisonment, its MPs have continued to challenge the role of the military in Thai politics and promote a human rights agenda in parliament. The most recent example of this is the proposed Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act, which is currently being debated in parliament.





Squeezing media freedom

1 12 2021

Hathai Techakitteranun is Thai PBS World’s deputy editor and has an op-ed on alarming media censorship that’s worth reading.

In a region where media freedom is reducing, RSF said this in its 2021 report:

At least 10 other countries – all marked red or black on the World Press Freedom map, meaning their press freedom situation is classified as bad or very bad – used the pandemic to reinforce obstacles to the free flow of information. Thailand (up 3 at 137th), Philippines (down 2 at 138th), Indonesia (up 6 at 113th) and Cambodia (144th) adopted extremely draconian laws or decrees in the spring of 2020 criminalising any criticism of the government’s actions and, in some cases, making the publication or broadcasting of “false” information punishable by several years in prison.

We find it remarkable that Thailand is “up,” but this may reflect the rapid decline in media freedom elsewhere. Thailand’s “score” places it with a pack of authoritarian states and a couple of monarchies.

As the global sink into authoritarianism rumbles on, Thailand too is getting worse.

Hathai Techakitteranun is Thai PBS World’s deputy editor and has an op-ed on alarming media censorship that’s worth reading. Here’s some clips from the article:

For viewers of foreign media, available through Thai cable TV packages, it has become the norm to see unscheduled messages filling the screen and blocking content for several minutes, a tool used to censor content which may be deemed to be touching upon the highly sensitive [to the regime, monarchy and palace] topic of the monarchy or to be unfavourable to the Thai government.

For most local media, such crude methods are not needed, as they have already opted to self-censor….

… Thailand’s telecom and broadcast regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), already provided a solution last week, by simply “asking” broadcasters to refrain from reporting on the monarchy reform movement and their demands and to refrain from interviewing people on the subject, citing how the act of reporting in and of itself can be interpreted as an attempt to overthrow the country’s constitutional monarchy.

… [M]any foreign journalists based in Thailand have been wording things differently, so that they can remain in the country, but without the freedoms which international media without personnel here still enjoy.

To not report on one of the most significant issues this country has ever faced is simply turning a blind eye to a huge social development, which is currently sharply dividing the country….

A free press, which is essential in any democratic society, means a free society. A press living in fear means a society living in fear. Media freedom is not just about the media. It affects the freedom of speech and the rights to information of all of us.

It is obvious, however, that Thailand is not a democratic society. And, it is clear that the regime is not interested in a free press.





Updated: Problematic courts

22 10 2021

The courts have long demonstrated double standards and this has been especially the case for the Constitutional Court. That court’s latest decision is another example of its politicization.

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court ruled “that Paiboon Nititawan, a former MP of the dissolved People Reform Party … retains his parliamentary status, on the grounds that he has not violated any provisions of the Constitution, as claimed by opposition MPs.”

Rightist Paiboon dissolved his party immediately after the rigged 2019 election and teamed up with his political buddies in the junta-formed Palang Pracharat Party. As Thai PBS has it:

The court took note that the People Reform Party resolved to dissolve on August 5th, 2019 and notified the registrar of political parties. This was followed by an announcement from the Election Commission on September 6th of the dissolution, published in the Royal Gazette.

Paiboon, according to the court, joined Palang Pracharat on September 9th, 2019 and the House of Representatives was notified by its leader on October 7th of the same year.

The court also ruled that Paiboon, in his capacity as the leader of People Reform Party, was legally bound to undertake the liquidation process to legally dissolve his party.

On the issue of “Paiboon’s obligation to the People’s Reform Party, post-dissolution, [which] was referred to the Constitutional Court by Parliament Speaker Chuan Leekpai,” the court “ruled that Mr Paiboon’s MP status was not affected by the issue and so remained intact on account of the legal dissolution of the People’s Reform Party.”

The long and the short of this is that opposition parties get dissolved on precious little evidence and on skimpy grounds, while a regime fellow traveler can stand for election in one mini-party, ditch the party and its “members,” and can get a free pass to transfer even when he was a party-list member for the dissolved party.

Of course, this provides an avenue for small parties to now merge with the regime party, something likely required for the next election. The court has paved the way.

Compare the brazen political favoritism of the Constitutional Court and the nastiness and political bias of other courts:

  • Yet more anti-democrats are let off. Sure, one copped jail, but that means nothing as those who violently blocked voters get a free pass.
  • Sitanan Satsaksit, sister of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was abducted and disappeared in Cambodia, and who, for obvious reasons, has had no information, support, or anything else from the regime that knows what happened, has been “charged for allegedly hosting an activity in breach of Covid curbs.” More buffalo manure charges to silence and threaten critics.
  • Young protesters continue to rot in jail, refused bail.
  • Penguin “Parit” Chiwarak now faces 21 lese majeste charges (and more to come). He’s held without bail.
  • The Bangkok South Criminal Court on Thursday ruled that Benja Apan, a Thammasat third-year student charged with lese majeste, cannot have bail.

See a pattern? It is contemporary authoritarianism.

Update: For more on the third rejection of Benja’s bail, see Prachatai.





Authoritarians flock together

8 09 2021

What’s the collective noun for draconian authoritarians? Perhaps a Falange of authoritarians. Whatever the noun, it’s happening now in Southeast Asia. More to the point, the authoritarian, military-backed regime in Thailand is providing strong support for the murderous military junta in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s opposition, as a government in exile, known as the National Unity Government, formed mostly by elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy and their ethnic allies, has recently called for the uprising against the military junta to continue.

The response of the authoritarian twin in Thailand is telling and damning.

The Irrawaddy reports that “Thai police have been alerted to arrest anyone related to Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) found to be staying in Thailand.” The terrible twin in Myanmar must be very grateful that Thai authoritarians are doing their repression.

Intelligence sources in Thailand say an “alert was issued a few months ago” and that police and military have been “ordered to raid places suspected of sheltering NUG members—especially ministers and deputy ministers—who have been opposing Myanmar’s military regime.”

From Ugly Thailand

So far as we know, none of the leaders have been arrested. But, not long ago, “journalists and their associates from Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a Myanmar online news site outlawed by the regime, were arrested for illegal entry by Thai authorities after they were found to be staying in … the country’s north. They were later deported to a third country.”

As usual, the threat is there and the fear created.

The Irrawaddy states that “Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is close to Myanmar coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and his government’s policies favor the junta.”

Rotten regimes Falange together.





Fascist-like culture wars

6 09 2021

Thana Boonlert of the Bangkok Post has an op-ed on the junta-appointed Senate that is worth considering.

Hardly noticed, the unelected senators convened to consider “a motion for the virtuous council…”. Huh? Yep, the unelected swill of military backers, ultra-royalists and assorted conservatives “sought to reform the national culture to ensure its progress, discipline, and morality.”

Senator Sirina Pavarolarvidya “attributed the current social conflict to the generation gap and proposed that the virtuous council be established to provide role models for every sector of society.” By this she means the youth have lost “gratitude, discipline, honesty, sufficiency, and a volunteer spirit…”. That all of this is imbued by thick-headed royalism is revealed when she says these “virtues” “are born out of the love for nation, religion, and king.”

Berlin, Germany….. Two heads that bow as one, Herr Adolf Hitler, Dictator of Germany (left), bids bon voyage to King Prajadhipok of Siam, when the latter, accompanied by his queen, left Berlin following their extended visit to Germany’s capital. This modern ruling family does all its traveling by airplane, while in Europe, at least.

She sounded decidedly Fascist when she said that “…[w]hen people are virtuous and healthy, they acquire knowledge and skills.”

Thana sees historical links with “the government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram issued cultural mandates to strengthen Siam in the context of the global war.” That Phibun was attracted by Fascist models was not unusual, with many entranced by authoritarianism, militarism and strong leaders.

The morality demanded, Thana says, “is like a balm for those in power who are under threat from the pro-democracy movement.” Such a “campaign for virtue justifies and sustains the regime that rose to power from a military coup in 2014,” which Thana sees as an effort at “refashioning itself into a bastion of virtue…”. It’s the ridiculous “good people” justification for all political and social repression and corruption. Thana expounds on this.

Than observes that “the virtuous council is an expression of fantasy of those in power.” For PPT, it sounds a bit like a version of the “deep state” argument that the judiciary was needed to carry on the then (near dead) king’s interventionism. In this version, it seems like an effort to replace the (now) dead king’s alleged “moral” leadership.

None of the “blatant misconduct, nepotism, and corruption” is necessarily negated by culture wars directed by “good people” royalism and moralism.





Doubling down on failure

18 08 2021

Doubling down on dubious policy is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. And so it is in Thailand as the poor choices made about vaccines, suppliers and rollout are made again.

A Bangkok Post editorial asks the obvious question: “Why more Sinovac?” The editorial states that “another 12 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine were included in its August-September Covid-19 jabs procurement plan.” It asks why a such a decision is made when “the ministry knows the efficacy of Sinovac vaccines remains in doubt against the Delta strain. ”

Meanwhile, with the king’s Siam Bioscience still as opaque as ever,  and the regime mum on what’s going on there, Reuters reports that Thailand, supposedly “a regional manufacturer of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus shots, is [now] seeking to borrow 150,000 doses of the same vaccine from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan…”. Failure upon failure, but this is the word from “an official.”

The report states that the “request to tap vaccines from Bhutan, a country of less than 1 million people, reflects efforts to plug gaps in Thailand’s chaotic vaccine rollout, after AstraZeneca said it could supply the country with about five to six million monthly doses, about half of what the government had targeted.” It is not clear if this is coming fro Siam Bioscience or being imported, although AZ claims there’s production going on.

Mess, failure, repeat. That’s the authoritarians code.








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