On coronation V

8 05 2019

The BBC has a long, unsigned “Viewpoint” on the occasion of the king’s taxpayer-funded self-coronation. PPT offers a few snippets and some commentary here.

Like so many others, the account begins with an unflattering comparison between Vajiralongkorn and his father. What such comparisons do is compare the new king with a manufactured and sanitized image of Bhumibol. Ignoring the foibles, wealth and political interventionism of the previous king is a failure of journalists and some academics.

The BBC says that “[n]o-one knew what to expect when King Vajiralongkorn took the throne in one of the world’s most powerful monarchies at the end of 2016.”

This is incorrect and badly misleading. Vajiralongkorn’s personal history and his many failures are well-known. His erratic behavior and his many personal crises have been  public. Discussion of his unsuitability for the throne has been around since the early 1980s.

That he has “a more remote and forbidding public image” than his father is due to his “controversial lifestyle and mercurial personality” and his reputation for violence and vindictiveness.

All of these traits have been on public display in this decade.

This weak and ill-informed introduction is a “hook” for a better discussion of recent years: “What have these 30 months told us about the new king?”

[H]e has started reshaping the monarchy, restructuring the palace bureaucracy and security apparatus to put them more firmly under his control, and dismissing staff who displease him with unusually blunt public statements, sometimes condemning them as lazy, or accusing them of “extremely evil acts…”.

“Some of these officials have been publicly humiliated and faced criminal charges…. There are persistent reports, impossible to confirm, of harsh punishment routines imposed on those who do not meet the king’s exacting standards…”.

“He has a personal royal guard of at least 5,000 well-equipped and well-trained soldiers, and has presided over changes to troop deployments in Bangkok which appear to put more army units under his command, and shift[ed] others out of the capital…”.

“Under King Vajiralongkorn the much-criticised lese majeste law is no longer being used against perceived insults to the monarchy. But other repressive laws, like the sedition law and the computer crimes act, are being used against those judged too critical of either the military or the monarchy, and can carry long prison sentences…”.

“… the mysterious removal of two monuments in Bangkok marking the end of the absolute monarchy after 1932, and the disappearance of five republican activists living in exile in neighbouring Laos, two of whose bodies were found, cut open, in the Mekong River…”.

“The king has taken direct personal control of the crown’s vast assets, valued at well over $30bn (£23bn)…. The king is also reported to have taken more direct control of significant shareholdings in the two most important royal companies…”.

“He has installed his closest adviser, retired Air Chief Marshall Satitpong Sukvimol, who has served King Vajiralongkorn for 14 years, to run the Crown Property Bureau, and put army chief General Apirat Kongsompong onto the board as well.”

“King Vajiralongkorn has also reclaimed royal properties in the old historic quarter of Bangkok which had been the site of important public institutions…. [I]it is unclear what his plans are for these strategic parcels of land.” [PPT: it is not clear to us that the king is “reclaiming” in any legal sense. It seems to us that he is simply grabbing land.]

“… King Vajiralongkorn showed a willingness to intervene in areas that mattered to him…. He insisted on changes to the new constitution brought in by the military government in areas defining royal powers.”

“… The generals are intensely loyal to the monarchy…. The Thai armed forces and the royal institution have built a symbiotic partnership over the past 70 years of coups and Cold War conflict. Each needs the other…”.

“… King Vajiralongkorn has discomfited the current military rulers by some of his actions, and is actively promoting officers who may be seen as their future rivals. His palace has become a distinct source of power in Thailand, an opaque and unquantifiable one…”.

… At one time Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn was thought to be uninterested in many of the affairs of state, that he might be a hands-off monarch. His actions as king, however, have shown him to be keenly concerned with redefining royal power, and with the success of his reign…”.

“One quality of the new king has shone out these past 30 months – his unpredictability.”





On coronation II

4 05 2019

One of the most noticeable things among the bland and sometimes downright posterior polishing masquerading as reporting today was the censoring of journalists.

Khaosod reports that the BBC was taken off the air in Thailand yesterday and today.

Self-crowned

As the report notes, this came just a day “after Thailand marked its ‘press freedom day’.” As usual, no reason was provided, but everyone knows that it had something to do with reporting of the king.

The Thai provider, TrueVision, owned by Sino-Thai monarchists, “has blacked out broadcasts by the BBC and other foreign media agencies that touched on sensitive subjects in the past.”

That means monarchy.

One of the most interesting aspects of reporting is that, despite claims about joyous crowds, most of the photos of the coronation that we have seen so far do not suggest crowds extending much beyond those the regime ordered to show up. Of course, the diehard royalists also showed up to cheer.

Clipped from The Nation

Another noticeable set of social media reports showed photos of the royal family, including Ubolratana being hugged by her brother.

Also present, in addition to the new queen, was one of the king’s concubines.





Ultra-royalists on the warpath

4 11 2017

In a post on lese majeste just a few days ago, we observed that the dead king’s funeral provided another opportunity for ultra-royalism to reach yet another high point. Unfortunately, it only took a few days for this to be reinforced.

Watch this video of the BBC’s Jonathan Head as he speaks to Narisa Chakrabongse, the great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn, who was King Bhumibol’s grandfather. This was on 25 October.

According to some ultra-royalists, this interview constitutes lese majeste.

A youth group we haven’t heard of before, calling itself Young Thai Blood has demanded the dismissal of Head for what they consider was a questioning royalist propaganda (rather than reinforcing it).

We couldn’t help wondering about the rightist congruence on identification, from the Hitler Youth – “Blood and Honour” – to the Unite the Right rally in the US and their use of “Blood and Soil,” adopted from Nazi Party ideology.

Such references suggest the group probably has links with security agencies in Thailand and is likely a creation of those agencies. Interestingly, though, social media comment suggests that the original complaint came from a disgruntled expatriate.

As usual, when the boys of Young Thai Blood claim “Thai blood” for themselves, it is not clear that they really mean “blood.” Rather, it seems they mean a state of mind encased in a body located in the country now called Thailand.

These ultra-royalist dunces rallied on 2 November 2017, and “filed a petition at the British Embassy in Bangkok, urging the UK government to dismiss Jonathan Head, South East Asia Correspondent for BBC News.”

Obviously, these lads don’t are confused and understand that the “BBC is a statutory corporation, independent from direct government intervention…” and that they should have addressed the BBC rather than the Embassy. They blustered and made demands:

Young Thai Blood stated that Head’s question created a misunderstanding about the late King. The question [about the genuineness of love] allegedly reflected the BBC journalist’s lack of knowledge about Thai culture, despite Head having been stationed in Thailand for many years. In addition to calling for Head’s dismissal from the BBC, the group asked for an official apology to all Thai people for having disrespected their beliefs and culture.

“As young people who have Thai blood, we therefore call on the UK government to consider the action of the reporter of the BBC Thailand office and terminate his duty in Thailand, and for the office to publish a statement of apology to Thai people throughout the country,” said Petchmongkol Wassuwan, the group’s representative.

Like all ultra-royalists, they claim to speak for all Thais rather than themselves or their group.

Ominously, these ultra-royalist babblings were supported by M.L. Panadda Disakul, a prince and the Deputy Minister of Education, who says that “Head does not understand Thai history, culture or social etiquette, which should be basic knowledge for any correspondent working in Thailand.” He means that all foreign correspondents should shut up about the monarchy except when producing the same trip that emanates from palace and state propaganda agencies. The princeling called for Head’s expulsion: “He should go back and rest in his home country first…”.

Such rightist rants fit well with the monarchy-military alliance that is seeking to dominate Thailand well into the future.





The king’s laundry I

21 05 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship is expanding its already frantic efforts to create a political landscape cleansed of anything that shows the real king as other than the “official king.” Like slaves and handmaidens of centuries past, the junta is busy laundering the king’s image and cleaning up his own messes.

The laundered image is the often grim, sometimes seemingly bemused man in business suit and more often a military uniform, trailed by a daughter or officials appropriately bowed or slithering.

The only concession to a more real view is that the junta’s version does allow for the now most senior consort to be regularly seen.

His earlier and third wife, Srirasmi, had been thrown into house arrest and her family jailed in late 2015 as the then prince prepared for his reign.

The new, apparently official, number one consort is also often in the military uniform of a general. She was promoted by the king to this position. Her only “qualification” is that she is the king’s consort.

The image the junta launderers don’t want seen is that of the king trailing around his beloved Munich, dressed like fashion moron, sporting mail-order tattoo transfers and accompanied by another of his girlfriends, a legion of servants and a fluffy dog.

PPT doesn’t think fashion is a necessary qualification for being king. After all, that has to do with blood. Yet his “style” says something about the man. His desire to keep this side of his life from his Thai audience is also telling. (We do not believe that the military junta would be so frantic about these images if it wasn’t being pushed by a king known to be erratic, wilful and menacing.)

The seemingly demented efforts a week ago to threaten Facebook may not have been entirely successful, but they are again revealing. The Economist reflects on these bizarre and dangerous efforts to repress for the king:

Thailand has always treated its royals with exaggerated respect, periodically clapping people deemed to have insulted the king behind bars. But some thought the death of the long-reigning King Bhumibol in October and the accession of the less revered Vajiralongkorn might curb the monarchists’ excesses. Instead, it seems to have spurred them on. The military junta that runs the country is enforcing the draconian and anachronistic lèse-majesté law with greater relish than its predecessors.

We are not sure who could have thought that a new king, often secretive and with a reputation for vindictiveness, might have eased up.

Indeed, this king has a long history of lese majeste cases in his name. One of the first cases we wrote about at PPT was of Harry Nicolaides, an Australian who wrote a forgettable novel that included these lines:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives “major and minor “with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

Harry was probably writing of second wife, Yuvadhida, but the words could also be applied to the treatment  of Srirasmi.

Those words must have enraged somebody. They earned Harry a sentence of six years  in jail on 19 January 2009 (reduced to three years on pleading guilty). This for defaming the then crown prince now king.

If not in Thailand, where it is illegal, read Nicolaides’ novel here. Note that this scanned version of the book bears the stamp of the National Library of Thailand but should not be downloaded in Thailand.

The Economist continues:

At least 105 people have been detained or are serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté, compared with just five under the elected government the junta overthrew in 2014. Many of them posted critical comments about the royal family on social media; some simply shared or “liked” such comments. Other arrests have been on even pettier grounds. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a student activist, is on trial for sharing a profile of King Vajiralongkorn published by the BBC’s Thai service. Police have warned that those agitating for his release could themselves face charges. A well-known academic, Sulak Sivaraksa, remains under investigation for several instances of lèse-majesté, including questioning whether a 16th-century battle involving a Thai king really took place.

As we have said, this number of lese majeste cases is too low. Quoting the low number allows the prince-now-king too much latitude. The lese majeste arrests and charges have been swelled by various palace purges by Prince, now King, Vajiralongkorn. Lese majeste has been widely used against those he dislikes. Give him the “credit” he deserves and for this nastiness and vindictiveness.

The Economist mentions the (almost) latest set of six cases (we will post separately on another set of cases):

This month security forces arrested Prawet Prapanukul, a human-rights lawyer best known for defending lèse-majesté suspects. He risks a record 150 years in jail if convicted of all ten counts of lèse-majesté he faces. Several recent sentences for insulting royals have exceeded 50 years; the standard for murder is 15-20 years.

All of this is followed by a banal claim by the newspaper: “Thai kings have a long history of fostering democratic reform…”. There is simply no adequate historical evidence for such a claim. It is a royalist fabrication based on notions of Thai-style democracy that is “democracy with the king as head of state,” exactly what the current junta is promoting: no democracy at all.

That Vajiralongkorn is going to be ruthless and anti-democratic should not be a surprise to anyone. He comes from a long line of anti-democratic kings who have protected privilege by working with the military. The only threat to the continuing of this monarch-military dictators alliance is if the junta gets so ticked off with the king that it decides to do away with him. That possibility seems somewhat remote.

The more likely outcome for the short to medium term is more censorship and ever more maniacal efforts to police the king’s image and wash his dirty laundry.





Release Pai XIII

9 05 2017

The Nation reports that the activist Jatuphat Boonpattararaksa, singled out from thousands of others for a lese majeste charge related to a BBC story on the king, has been refused bail.

We think this is perhaps the eighth time he’s been refused.

The courts and the regime have decided that this young man is not just to be unfairly fitted up for a “crime,” but must be psychologically tortured and denied constitutional rights. The barbarians are not at the gates, they are running the place.

We are not suggesting that his case is unique. Far from it. Almost all lese majeste detainees are treated as guilty from the day they are arrested and very few ever get bail.

The state’s minions opposing bail argued, again, “that Jatupat had been accused of being disrespectful to state authorities and could manipulate the evidence if released.” Such claims are unnecessary as the courts have no intention of releasing him.

Meanwhile, as Jatuphat has been  awarded the 2017 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights from the South Korea-based May 18 Memorial Foundation, it may be his mother who represents him and receives the award.

The regime is so mean and twisted, that it can’t even let this event go by without sniping and showing how warped the justice system is.

The letter reproduced here is said to have come from the Thai Ambassador in Seoul and sent to the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

Not only does it not specify why the letter is written – just being nasty – but while claiming that Jatuphat is getting a fair trial, which is simply a fabrication, it also states that he’s guilty. That is the ambassador, who heads a seemingly inactive embassy (there’s nothing done since February on the website when we looked at it, declares Jatuphat guilty of crimes.

Now we know that the unfair trial will find him guilty, but the dopey ambassador should probably not declare him guilty and then say a fair trial is underway.

Just for good measure, Ambassador Sarun Charoensuwan then includes a paragraph of lies. He states that Thailand supports and values freedoms of expression, assembly and association. That’s completely untrue. He then appears to suggest that Thailand’s military dictatorship is a democracy.  Finally, he emerges from this stupor of lies and adds the rider that, of course, these lies are only good if they are considered in the context of the junta’s laws and decrees. That, of course, means that none exist.

We are sure that the folks at the Foundation are fully aware that military dictatorships are built on repression and lies. We are also pretty sure that they understand that such regimes demand “representatives” who are either stupid or so ideologically attuned to Fascism that they just blurt out lies as a matter of duty.





Lese majeste detainee gets human rights award

15 04 2017

Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa has been awarded South Korea’s prestigious 2017 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

Jatuphat or Pai is held in jail without bail for sharing a BBC Thai story that accurately reported on Thailand’s tenth Chakri king, a report that was shared by thousands of others and has been viewed by millions. In other words, Jatuphat is singled out and framed by the junta because he is an activist.

The selection committee of the May 18 Memorial Foundation announced the award to the jailed law student and member of the New Democracy Movement for his “brave and noble actions against dictatorship and violations on human rights…”.

The letter to Pai further stated: “We also noticed that your struggles have aroused attention about political conditions and the importance of their improvement among your citizens, especially among the young and have contributed to bringing democracy to Thailand…”.

He was nominated by Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies.

The award ceremony will be held on 18 May in Gwangju, South Korea, and it is certain that Pai will sit it out in a junta dungeon in Khon Kaen, where he awaits what will be an unfair and secretive trial as the “first person to be arrested for lèse majesté under the reign of the new [k]ing.”





The BBC dancing with the junta

7 04 2017

PPT has posted on stories about the BBC and its dance with Thailand’s dictators. There were the lese majeste rattlings, then Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa’s fit-up lese majeste case for reposting a BBC Thai story that has now been was read by more than three million people. And who can forget the “failed” negotiations on the transmitter.

The Bangkok Post reports that the dictator’s dance has become a little more complicated, requiring what we hope is fancy footwork.

The Post reports that the Beeb “is ready to move forward as a digital news content provider in Thailand and it is also ready to adjust its work culture to suit Thai laws and audiences…”. That’s Francesca Unsworth, “director of the BBC World Service Group and the BBC’s deputy director of news and current affairs…”.

Sounds like self-censorship is the next dictator’s waltz. But then she adds: “But we still need to serve all audiences in a way that we feel they are best served. We have to find a balanced operating environment.”

A two-step? Unsworth had one dance with with deputy junta spokesman Lt. Gen. Werechon Sukhondhapatipak. He spun her around with talk of the “lessons arising from incidents that prove sensitive for Thais…”.

To be honest, we have no idea what he’s babbling about, but when he states: “I think we can form common ground where we can work together,” anyone interested in the BBC and a free media should be very, very worried.

The General stated: “We now have communication channels through which [the BBC] can verify or check comments from the government so the stories will be balanced and well-rounded.”

Really? That sound dangerously like manipulating the news to suit a military dictatorship. Would the BBC stoop to such low levels? Well, yes, it has bent to governments in the past, but usually prides itself on editorial independence. Fortunately, Unsworth “insisted the BBC team would stick to its strong editorial values to tell the truth accurately, impartially and reporting from all sides.”

At the same time, Unsworth twirled around the BBC as business conundrum: “It [Thai market] is important to us. It’s a big country, it’s a very vibrant country. It’s a young country and they say the 21st Century belongs to Asia. So it is important for us to be in Asian markets…”. We can hear the self-censors and corporate bosses sharpening their scissors to cut content when markets are “threatened.”

When Unsworth says that “Thailand already have very lively local media scenes in newspaper, broadcasting and increasingly in digital space,” you have to wonder which Thailand she is in and which band she’s listening to.

Hopefully the BBC two-step is a way of allowing the dictators to save face and that adequate to good journalism will be the BBC’s future when reporting on Thailand, including reporting on lese majeste, the monarch and the monarchy.