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.





Tens, thousands, millions and billions

5 04 2017

How many extrajudicial killings have there been? No one seems to know precisely, although Prachatai has a story about some of them. One issue with the story is that the author repeats inaccurate figures on Thaksin Shinawatra’s War on Drugs, almost doubling the number killed in that grisly campaign. We would think the more accurate figure of about 1,300 was brutal enough and demonstrated the capacity of the police and military for extreme violence.

How many conscripts are slaves? With the recent attention to conscripts being treated to “strict discipline” involving inhumane beatings, torture and murder, and with the unusually wealthy Army boss doling out chump change of 100,000 baht to the family of the latest murdered conscript, the feudal system of conscription has come under scrutiny.

One interesting observation is at Prachatai, reporting a former Democrat Party MP, who states that “more than half of Thailand’s military conscripts end up as servants for high ranking military officers.” Compared with the men who die from “strict discipline,” these 40,000-80,000 guys are lucky. That said, they face the degradation of having to grovel before military thugs and their families. Anyone who lives near an officer knows that he or she will have 3 to 6 servants provided to them.

How much can they spend on military kit? Thinking about the commissions, there’s the 36 billion baht about to be forked out on Chinese submarines and then there’s the two billion baht spent on 10 extra VT-4 tanks from China to replace the decades-old M41 tanks from the USA. The earlier purchase of 24 tanks at about 5 billion baht. Expect more as the top brass cash in before an “election.”

How many read the BBC on the king? Readers will know that student activist Jatuphat Boonpattararaksa has been singled out for a lese majeste charge and rots in a junta cell awaiting his further framing. He was charged after sharing a BBC Thai story on the king, (some) warts and all. The BBC now says that its story “broke records as the site’s most popular story, accumulating millions of views despite the article’s eventual censorship.” It says it has “received over 3 million views and counting…”. Tell us again why the military dictatorship singled out Jatuphat? It can’t have much to do with this story! Watch a documentary on Jatuphat here.





BBC on a triple transition

23 03 2017

Jonathan Head’s recent report on Wat Dhammakaya is worth reading. We won’t go through it all and will just post some clips from it. It skillfully weaves a story that ends with this:

Thailand is in the midst of a complex and potentially dangerous, triple transition; a delicate royal succession, a battle over the future of Buddhism and a still uncertain political transition to a military-guided democracy.

Given that, a sect as controversial as Wat Dhammakaya was perhaps bound to be caught up in the turbulence.

 It begins by noting the smoke and mirrors of Thailand’s (in)justice system:

Over the past month what is often cited as the world’s largest Buddhist temple, on the outskirts of Bangkok, has been the scene of an extraordinary stalemate.

Police officers, in rows three deep, blocked the gates to the Wat Dhammakaya temple compound. Around the back, helmeted soldiers guarded alleyways, with some crawling through surrounding rice-fields. It was, they explained, a restricted military zone….

The official reason for this siege was that the elderly abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, was wanted on multiple criminal charges related to a collapsed credit union and police believed he was being hidden inside the temple….

But then, after three weeks, the operation was suddenly called off…. Even now it remains unclear what exactly the police wanted to achieve.

As so often in Thailand, the official explanation is misleading. Allegations of financial malpractice have hung over the temple and its charismatic abbot for decades. They also hang over many other institutions and individuals in Thailand, many of whom are neither investigated nor prosecuted. To be pursued by the state with this much commitment suggests that much larger issues are at stake.

The military dictatorship is said to have several motives for its odd behavior on the temple. One observation is that:

… it should come as no surprise that a military government bent on restoring traditional values, and backed by ultra-conservatives who want to see the Buddhist clergy cleansed of corrupting, modern influences, dislikes Wat Dhammakaya.

Then there’s the weapons “seized” a few days ago.

… the government continues to push its argument that there is something sinister about Wat Dhammakaya.

Last weekend the police showed off a large cache of weapons seized, they said, from the home of a now-exiled dissident. Although many of the weapons were ancient, the police argued that there was a plan to arm the temple’s supporters and even to assassinate top government officials.

One of PPT’s readers, with decades of military service has also pointed out that the cache of weapons was made up of mostly old and some pretty useless guns and accessories. The BBC seems to find the link as wondrous as we do, but points to the junta’s political motives and makes a good point:

Indeed the temple is the largest institution in the country not under the military’s control, and its refusal to hand over its abbot is the most sustained defiance of military rule since the coup.

Then there’s the “triple transition,” with the monarchy going through change as the new king stamps his reign as fundamentally different from his father’s.

Just as the monarchy is seen by Thailand’s [military] rulers as the essential institution holding the country together and legitimising governments, so the monarch’s official role as protector of Buddhism gives each occupant of the throne a unique, sacred stature. Kings preside over the most important Buddhist rituals at the most prestigious temples. The two institutions reinforce each other.

… King Vajirakongkorn’s command to strip the royal monastic titles from Phra Dhammachayo and his de facto replacement as abbot also signals royal support for the government’s move against the temple.

It is an interesting read.