Thailand’s future politics II

2 11 2017

In our previous post we looked at two articles considering possible futures for Thailand’s politics. Here we look at two more.

Christina Larson is a Beijing-based reporter who has written for the New Yorker, Foreign Policy and Bloomberg. Her guess that the “respect felt by most Thais for their monarchy” is “genuine” is married to an appopriate observation that this is “besmirched by the growing enforcement of the world’s strictest lèse-majesté law…”. She adds that ” use of the law has allowed the government to persecute critics and to create a widespread fear while maintaining a veneer of legality.”

She observes that the “fate of the law has been inextricably tied up with the image of Bhumibol himself.” That’s a point that others have often missed. At the same time, the increased use of the law and its justification has been “protecting the monarchy.” Larson notes that the image of the monarchy that is protected is of the ninth king and adds: “But the burnished image of the ‘People’s King’ — as a crusader for little people, a camera-toting investigator and promoter of public works – was shaped and reinforced by a supremely successful 70-year-propaganda campaign.”

It is that propaganda image that has been reinforced again and again over recent years – not least because the incumbent was mostly hidden in a hospital – and because that image was challenged. The funeral pushed the image again to supreme heights. But it is constructed:

According to Thailand’s constitution and school textbooks, the monarch is above politics, separate from the spheres of government and business. But nearly every public and private establishment in Bangkok was marking the official mourning period. Black-and-white memorial photos of Bhumibol in full royal regalia were on display at major airports, on highway billboards, at restaurants and hotels, even on the screens of ATMs. Liquor sales were prohibited during the cremation ceremonies, and the city’s ubiquitous 7-Elevens closed early on Thursday. That speaks to the power of the monarchy – and the fear of causing offense – that’s opened up a wide venue for persecution.

Larson quotes Benjamin Zawacki on the monarchy and lese majeste. (As a former representative of Amnesty International, he spent a lot of energy arguing that the reign of the dead king promoted human rights! He and AI neglected lese majeste in Thailand.)

Zawacki makes a rather odd comment: “If the cremation shows us nothing else, it is that the depth of respect and adoration for the monarchy in Thailand renders the lèse-majesté law redundant…”. Clearly it wasn’t, and the palace and military used it whenever there were political crises or whenever it saw threats to the grand concocted image of the monarchy.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak seems to contradict Zawacki, saying:

With the new reign, the enforcement of the [lèse-majesté] law will likely only increase, not decrease, for two reasons. The new monarch does not command as much love and respect as his father on an individual basis, and the monarchy will be under pressure to structurally adjust to new democratic norms.

Thitinan sees a continuation of the monarchy’s anti-democratic politics and a deepening of fear and intimidation. That seems entirely consistent with what we know of Vajiralongkorn and The Dictator. The symbiotic relationship mentioned in our previous post is important. At the same time, the  junta benefits enormously from the lese majeste law.

Kasit

The final article is an op-ed by the Democrat Party’s Kasit Piromya titled Thai political transformation needs ‘third force’. He believes an “alternative exists to military rule and entrenched political elite.”

Given that Kasit seems to have supported two military interventions throwing out elected governments, was a long-serving and senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, filled with members of the elite who are deeply royalist, we can only marvel at his idea of a “third force” and his call for “full-fledged democracy.”

He asks: “How much longer must Thai society accept the military’s involvement in politics?” Perhaps the answer is when persons like Kasit stop supporting those who are responsible for the coups.

He’s not keen on electoral politics, with PAD-like anti-democrat finger-pointing at the “dominance of vested interests in the political landscape led to countless numbers of abuses of power and corruption” along with “a power-hungry civilian political elite that engaged in rent-seeking with its majority rule.” He means the Thaksin regime.

And the “third force”? It is a PAD “solution” based on its usual false premises.

Kasit declares a pox on all houses (not his own): “One cannot rely on the military to voluntarily return to and remain in the barracks, nor on the political class to change its exploitative ways.”

The citizens must take the lead. But, of course, only after this “uneducate,” duped, misled and paid among them “educate themselves by gaining full access to information about government services and tasks, including how the national budget is spent, how decisions are made and how they can have input.” Does Kasit do this? We doubt it.

PADistas like Kasit believe that the citizenry is fodder for Thaksin-like politicians because they are “uneducate.”

Somehow the “Thai democratic citizenry” will be achieved “with the advent of modern telecommunications that enable convenient and fast connections with the public through mobile phones, social media and other internet-based vehicles.” Internet-based vehicles?? He’s making this up as he writes.

But what of the “third force”? Kasit reckons it “could consist of like-minded people” who come “together to agree on a course of action and draw up a list of priority issues so that a national consensus can be reached on taking Thailand forward.”

We think he’s serious, but who knows. When he calls the “get together” we’ll be sure to attend. Oh, but hang on… we are not “like-minded” with Kasit (thankfully!).

That said, he is right that when old ruling classes in some places have “reached a consensus with society at large to agree on a transitional approach toward democracy.”

In Thailand, however, the ruling class has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not compromise. Kasit can ramble on about a “third force” but the problem is the ruling class. They need to be overcome.





Updated: AI on Thailand under the junta

25 02 2016

Amnesty International has released its annual human rights report. The chapter on Thailand makes for glum reading. While the junta dismisses the report, with a “spokesgeneral” saying “it was no different to previous reports which criticised the government,” the couple of pages on Thailand deserve attention.

The whole report can be downloaded as a PDF.Amnesty

Some clips from the report, detailing the authoritarianism of the military dictatorship follow:

Military authorities extended their powers to excessively restrict rights and silence dissent in the name of security. Political transition plans were delayed and repression deepened. The numbers of people harassed, prosecuted, imprisoned and arbitrarily detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights escalated sharply. Arrests and prosecutions under the lese-majesty law continued to increase. Internal armed conflict continued.

Reports of torture and other ill-treatment by police and armed forces continued throughout the year. Individuals held by the army in incommunicado detention without safeguards in unofficial places of detention were at greater risk of torture…. In several cases of deaths in custody as a result of torture, limited steps were taken towards accountability. However, impunity for perpetrators of these and other instances of torture prevailed.

Peaceful critics of the authorities were at risk of arbitrary detention and imprisonment. Many faced arrest, charges and prosecution throughout the year for a range of activities including staging plays, posting Facebook comments and displaying graffiti.

Hundreds of people who had been arbitrarily detained since the coup continued to be subject to restrictions on their rights imposed as conditions for release. Some were subjected to surveillance, intimidation and repeated short-term arrests.

In violation of the right to fair trial, civilians were brought before military courts and charged with offences against “internal security”, “the security of the monarchy” and infringements of NCPO orders. Detainees were denied the right to judicial appeal against judgments for acts committed during martial law.

Dozens of individuals were charged and prosecuted under Article 116 of the Penal Code relating to sedition for peaceful acts of dissent, including pro-democracy protests expressing peaceful opposition to military rule.

The authorities prioritized enforcement of Article 112 of the Penal Code – the lese-majesty law – and continued to treat criticism of the monarchy as a security offence. The judicial process for such offences was marked by secrecy, closed trials and denial of the right to bail. Military courts handed down more and longer sentences than in previous years, including up to 60 years’ imprisonment. Military courts also increased sentences handed down for lese-majesty offences by ordering prison terms for separate offences to be served consecutively.

Update: A report at Khaosod has the military junta, that heads a military dictatorship, lecturing AI on rights and freedom. We agree that AI doesn’t always get things right – after all past AI representative in Bangkok, Benjamin Zawacki, effectively defended the lese majeste law. However, its report on Thailand in the past year is factual. The dictatorship’s response is to complain that AI “fails to see the need to balance freedom and stability.”

The pathetic Ministry of Foreign Affairs states: “We regret that the report only presents issues of concern while leaving out several points on positive developments in Thailand…. The Report also ignores the daunting challenge facing Thailand which is the need to strike the right balance between freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and the need to prevent political conflicts from re-emerging.”

As it makes these claims, the regime’s thugs continue to threaten opponents and their families, including elderly women.





AI on the junta’s destruction of human rights

21 06 2014

Amnesty International paints an appropriately grim picture of the military dictatorship’s repression of human rights:

Thailand: Grim outlook for human rights after a month of martial law

There appears to be no end in sight to violations of a range of human rights one month after martial law was declared in Thailand, Amnesty International warned today.

Since the military declared martial law on 20 May 2014, the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have been harshly restricted and extended powers of detention have resulted in some 511 individuals including political activists being arbitrarily detained, though most were held for a few days. [PPT thinks the figure is far higher given that the dictatos have not been reporting on those rounded up in rural areas.]

“Sacrificing human rights for political expediency is never a price worth paying – Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order [the mean the military junta] must ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are protected. They must stop arbitrary detentions and prosecutions of peaceful critics,” said Richard Bennett, Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

“It is high time Thailand’s military rolls back the repressive and vaguely worded orders it has put in place, many of which violate Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law.”

Waiving constitutional protections and detention safeguards has undermined respect for human rights and the rule of law, and may have contributed to the possible enforced disappearance of at least one activist.[PPT points out that there are no constitutional rights as the junta junked all of the constitution except for the bit covering the monarchy and sucession, probably thinking that the king could die at any moment.]

Kritsuda Khunasen, a prominent political activist, has not been seen or heard from since she was reportedly arrested in Chonburi Province, south-east of the capital Bangkok, on 28 May.

Arbitrary detention, denial of bail and prosecution are increasingly being used as measures to keep people from speaking out about the political situation. Hundreds of people – more than 90 per cent of whom are political allies or supporters of the former government, as well as academics and journalists – have been arbitrarily detained, after being ordered to report to authorities.

Failing to report to authorities is now a criminal offence, and those who have reported and been released are threatened with prosecution if they engage in activities perceived to be against the military takeover.

Authorities have charged critics for acts of peaceful dissent under security legislation and laws that severely restrict human rights, in violation of Thailand’s international legal obligations. Using social media to call for demonstrations, and even clicking “like” on certain Facebook posts may be treated as criminal offences.

Authorities are also speeding up prosecutions under Thailand’s lèse majesté law – which criminalizes criticism of the monarchy – and is denying bail to those charged under it. [At least AI now seems to take lese majeste more seriously than when their then representative Benjamin Zawacki tried to block any attention to this human rights abuse.]

Beyond directly silencing the media, the restrictions are creating an environment of self-censorship and uncertainty about freedom of expression that is not conducive to free participation in discussions about reconciliation and Thailand’s political future. [The implication that the military can promote reconciliation is ludicrous.]

“The raft of repressive measures in place in Thailand paints a grim picture of the state of human rights under martial law. The military authorities must immediately revoke these restrictions and stop detaining and prosecuting activists for peacefully exercising their human rights,” said Richard Bennett.

Amnesty International renews calls for authorities to make public the identity and whereabouts of all individuals held under martial law. The organization is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained solely for exercising peacefully their human rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Anyone suspected of a recognizably criminal offence should be charged and prosecuted in civilian courts, and in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness.





Thailand’s Democrat Party Is Hilariously Misnamed

28 11 2013

That’s TIME magazine’s headline not PPT’s. PPT might have changed “hilariously” to “dangerously.” For a long time now, PPT has refused to use the word “Democrats” as a way of describing the Democrat Party and we have even referred to the DemoPAD and PADocrat Party ins some posts. The point has been, as TIME now notes, that there is nothing democratic about the Democrat Party or its leadership.

The article notes that:

On Tuesday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat Party Deputy Prime Minister, repeated his call for a “people’s revolution” to replace the elected Yingluck administration with a nonelected royalist council. Attempting to downplay personal ambitions, Suthep declared “before the sanctity of Buddhism that I, Suthep Thaugsuban, will not be Prime Minister in the future.” A warrant has since been issued for his arrest for unlawfully entering government buildings.

Suthep also stated, at the Bangkok Post: “We like peaceful methods,” …. But he added, “If we don’t succeed, then I am prepared to die in the battlefield.”

Getting the strategy rightAnd, as PPT noted earlier, the Democrat Party and its leader Abhisit Vejjajiva have announced in a report at The Nation that the “party is determined to overthrow the ‘Thaksin regime’, with Abhisit affirming his craving for power: “If it leads us to win the battle, we won’t hesitate [to resign from parliament] with unity…” to join the street battle. Abhisit and the Democrat Party used to talk of rule of law and claim all kinds of democratic principles. But as TIME notes:

It’s just that when it comes to Thai democracy, the ironically named Democrat Party is among the worst practitioners. Tens of thousands of Yellow Shirts are marching across the country, but demanding the establishment of royalist councils is hardly a people’s revolution. If anyone has been exercising people power, it’s the 15 million voters who elected Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party in July 2011. Thaksin-backed political parties have won the previous five elections with significant majorities, and Thaksin’s own populist policies helped bring millions of rural poor out of poverty. He remains the kingdom’s most popular Prime Minister since the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons to oppose the billionaire telecom mogul: the catalog of nest-feathering business deals from his time in office left few in any doubt of his lack of scruples, while his 2003 “war on drugs” involved some 2,800 extrajudicial killings. The image of him directing demonstrations from his lavish Dubai haven, while his Red Shirt supporters risk arrest, violence and occasionally their lives, is hardly a heroic one. But the opposition’s failure to exploit these weaknesses is astonishing.

TIME’s account then flounders on facts and its use of dubious commentators.

It says that the “Democrat Party last won a majority in 1992.” This is a serious error. There were two elections in 1992. In the first election in March, the party did not even win the most seats in the election. In the second, in September, the party did win the most seats. It won 79 of the 360 seats. It is only pro-Thaksin parties that have ever won majorities in the Thai parliament.

TIME also says the power base of the Democrat Party “is the Bangkok bourgeoisie,” and quotes Cornell University Professor Benedict Anderson in describing it as: “timid, selfish, uncultured, consumerist and without any decent vision of the future of the country…”. But this gives the Democrat Party too little credit. It’s party machine in the south is well-organized amongst a population that is relatively well-off in Thailand, but they are not the bourgeoisie. It also neglects the fact that many of the Bangkok protesters are relatively recent, often Sino-Thai entrants to the middle class who resent and fear pro-Thaksin government policies that are redistributive.Fear easily breeds hatred of Thaksin and of those who support him.

TIME thinks that the “Yellow Shirts’ seizure of government buildings has also backfired.” To back this up the article turns to a tainted source on Thai politics, Benjamin Zawacki, now said to be a senior legal adviser for Southeast Asia at the International Commission of Jurists. Readers can search for our earlier posts on the lamentable Zawacki, who claims that: “Yingluck has snatched something resembling victory from the jaws of defeat,” says  adding that Suthep “has likely overplayed his hand.” TIME continues with this “source”:

Regrettably, all signs now point toward an escalation instead — and soon. Dec. 5 is the 86th birthday of now ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej and an important holiday in Thailand. Some believe Suthep will not want to mar this occasion and so will, in Zawacki’s words, “seek escalation now in the hopes of a coup or at least a temporary declaration of martial law” before the holiday. These are thuggish politics. The Democrat Party might cling onto its name, but seeing many of its supporters swap yellow for black shirts seems strangely apt.

TIME might have made more of the story by examining the Democrat Party’s own anti-democratic statements, from its royalist beginnings to its alliance with monarchy and military in military coup and judicial coup. But it is a great headline.





AI on political prisoners and lese majeste

12 06 2013

Simon Roughneen at The Irrawaddy talks with Salil Shetty, Secretary-General of  Amnesty International and Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific deputy director. The two were in Burma for a World Economic Forum meeting and the interview began with Burma and turned to other members of ASEAN.

PPT has only mentioned Shetty in two previous posts, when we were highly critical of AI’s stance on lese majeste. In fact, it was the lack of any stand and its capitulation to the Abhisit Vejjajiva royalist regime’s vigorous use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws that was the issue. AI in Thailand was under the influence and control of royalists and its then Southeast Asia representative Benjamin Zawacki repeatedly made comments supportive of arguments about lese majeste being about “protection of the monarchy” and argued publicly that the king was a defender of human rights.

AI’s stance on lese majeste remains somewhat less than crystal clear, so whenever it makes a statement, we try to highlight it. This is from the interview:

Q: How many people are in jail or have been charged under lese-majeste in Thailand? Are they categorized as political prisoners or prisoners of conscience if they are detained under lese-majeste or associated aspects of Thailand’s computer crimes law?

IA: Amnesty International has expressed a number of concerns with lese-majeste laws—they don’t meet international human rights standards. Some of them are prisoners of conscience, such as Somyot Prueksakasemsuk [a magazine editor and labor activist who was sentenced to 11 years jail for lese-majeste in January], and we have been campaigning actively for their immediate and unconditional release. Another aspect we are concerned about is the denial of bail to those charged under lese-majeste. It is very important that all those facing charges are free pending investigation and trial. It is very hard to say the exact number detained under the lese-majeste laws, I believe it is tens of people. We are not able to say at the moment how many of those are prisoners of conscience. There are other laws such as the Computer Crime Act that we are concerned about and recently the use of criminal defamation suits as well.

SS: We will be meeting the Thai prime minister and will raise several of these issues and also issues of rights violations in the conflict in the south of Thailand. And just to go back to the region [ASEAN], it’s not overall a pretty picture, there are violations in most countries. For the region, freedom of expression, reform of the criminal justice systems and accountability for past violations are the three key issues for us. There are land issues, issues of women’s rights are other important issues as well that come up across the region in terms of human rights.

To be honest, we don’t think AI has been active enough on lese majeste, political prisoners and accountability in Thailand. But as we have said before, at least AI is no longer expressing support for laws that made political prisoners of regime opponents.





AI on LM

25 05 2013

The Bangkok Post reports that Amnesty International,which once had its representative Benjamin Zawacki in strong support of monarchy and lese majeste, is now taking a more consistent stand on lese majeste and freedom of expression.

Noting that freedom of expression in “Thailand continues to be curtailed, primarily through the lese majeste law and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act,” Amnesty International says that there are “five issues that are marked by human rights violations in the country.” These are:

They are the armed conflict in the deep South; lack of accountability for political violence; freedom of expression; refugees and migrants; and the death penalty.Amnesty

On the lese majeste and 2007 Computer Crimes laws it notes that “heavy jail sentences for perceived insults to the monarchy” remain in place and that challenges to the laws or calls for amendment have so far failed and that, ominously, the Constitutional Court upheld the lese majeste law.

The Post report  states that the number of lese majeste cases in Thailand jumped from 33 in 2005 to 126 in 2007, 164 in 2009 and then 478 in 2010. It seems, although no data are available, that these numbers have dropped precipitously since the 2011 election.

The short AI annual report for 2012 on Thailand also notes that:

After a court found security forces responsible for the May 2010 killing of UDD protester Phan Khamkong, murder charges were lodged against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban in December. They were the first officials to be charged in connection with the 2010 political violence.

 





AI on Somyos

13 01 2013

Since Benjamin Zawacki, its Thailand-based gatekeeper, left Amnesty International there does seem to have been a change, with AI now issuing “an Urgent Action alert for Somyot Prueksakasemsuk ahead of the verdict in his lèse majesté trial scheduled for 23 January.” Not only that, but it names Somyos a “Prisoner of Conscience.”Free Somyos

Here’s the appeal which asks for action by 23 January and for letters to be sent to various leaders (details are in the link to AI):

UA: 6/13 Index: ASA 39/001/2013 Thailand Date: 11 January 2013

URGENT ACTION

editor at risk of unjust sentence IN THAILAND

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a labour activist and editor of the Voice of Taksin, is a prisoner of conscience. He has been detained since April 2011, having been charged in relation to publishing articles deemed critical of Thailand’s monarchy. Authorities have repeatedly turned down his requests for bail.

In May 2012, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk’s trial ended; he is still awaiting the verdict. The court has rescheduled the date for announcing the verdict three times, most recently from 19 December to 23 January 2013.

He was arrested on 30 April 2011, shortly after launching a campaign to gather support for a parliamentary review of Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. He was charged and tried under Article 112 which prohibits any word or act which “defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent”. The charge carries a sentence of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for each offence.

Since 2006, authorities in Thailand have increasingly used Article 112 to silence peaceful dissent. Article 112 violates the right to freedom of expression under international human rights law, as it goes far beyond permissible restrictions of this right. Thailand is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is legally bound to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

Please write immediately in Thai, English or your own language:

Expressing concern that Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has been detained on account of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression;

Calling for charges against him to be dropped, and for him to be immediately and unconditionally released from detention;

Calling for him to be given redress for the months he has spent in detention and for the authorities to amend Article 112 so that it complies with Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law, and to suspend its use until it has been amended in such a way.





Zawacki v. Amsterdam

21 11 2012

PPT missed the first article in this exchange in The Nation, by former Amnesty International researcher and long time opponent of adequate action on lese majeste Benjamin Zawacki. Zawacki now seems to haunt Thai politics from the International Development Law Office. We did see the response by red shirt lawyer Robert Amsterdam, and so tracked back to Zawacki’s piece in The Nation.

We can only summarize the exchange. Zawacki, long biased towards royalist and yellow shirt politics, argues that “having the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate deadly events in Thailand’s recent history, has taken an unintended if undeniable positive turn.” Indeed, we agree that the red shirt pressure to have the ICC investigate the crackdowns by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government in April and May 2010 is undeniably positive.

However, his claim that “the ICC debate in Thailand has occupied a small corner of its seven-year and ongoing political crisis, with both sides issuing ill-informed threats of the Court’s involvement to exact political revenge for electoral, judicial and extra-legal defeats,” suggests that he has been asleep at the wheel and is unable to distinguish a serious proposal to the ICC by the red shirt lawyers and the fake response by the Democrat Party. He seems to think that the current red shirt action was spurred by the Democrat Party’s fakery. Maybe he’s been on holiday between jobs or sleeping.

His aim is to dismiss the case by the red shirts, which has received ICC attention and to laud the complaint by the Democrat Party on the war on drugs, despite the fact that the Democrat Party has done none of the required legal work to process a claim at the ICC in any meaningful way.

In other words, Zawacki continues his biased and politicized interventions.

Amsterdam’s response is clear and concise, showing that “Zawacki is ill-informed on the purpose, procedure, precedent and policy of accepting ICC jurisdiction.” Going through each of these points, Amsterdam concludes:

Finally, Zawacki misconstrues the policy of accepting ICC jurisdiction. The point is not to launch a political vendetta against [former prime minister] Abhisit Vejjajiva, [former prime minister] Thaksin [S]hinawatra or anyone else. Rather the goal is to pursue justice wherever it may lead. Strong evidence has been presented to the ICC that the killing and wounding of civilian demonstrators in 2010 was systematically planned by Thai authorities. If so, they were crimes against humanity. In contrast, no such evidence concerning the 2003 anti-drug campaign has been presented to the ICC.

If Zawacki wishes to dismiss genuine investigations of the well-documented allegations of crimes against humanity in Bangkok in 2010 as a mere political ploy, then he has not heard the pleas of the families of the victims. Their tears cry out for justice. Not only justice for their loved ones, but justice so that the Thai cycle of recurrent massacres, followed by impunity, will finally be brought to an end.

One can only ponder why Zawacki does the work of the Democrat Party when that Party is so lazy and vindictive. His long silences on censorship and the use of draconian laws during that party’s time in power suggest a long connection between Zawacki and the Democrat Party royalists.





Lese majeste prisoners

23 08 2012

A story at AFP confirms some of the worst stories that come out of Thailand’s overcrowded and inhuman prisons. The article confirms that lese majeste prisoners are mistreated in the prison system. However, the article is not without its mistakes and misunderstandings.

For example, the article begins by stating: “Locked up for breaking Thailand’s most enduring taboo, the kingdom’s ‘royal insult’ prisoners say they face mistreatment from jail guards and are shunned even by common criminals.”

That the prisoners are mistreated is understood, but the claim that lese majeste is an “enduring taboo” is simply wrong. As anyone who has done even an ounce of research on the topic knows, it is only in times of high political conflict that lese majeste becomes a “taboo.” The taboo is politically constructed. This is confirmed later in the article when it is noted that the current prisoners say “that their conditions have improved under the current [Yingluck Shinawatra] administration.”

Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, serving 13 years, is quoted: “Some of the wardens took me to a different part of the jail and ordered other prisoners to beat me…”. Like his fellow prisoners held on this political charge, as a political prisoner, he shouldn’t even be in a common prison. He shouldn’t even be in jail!

The article claims that the Office of the Human Rights Commission of Thailand says there are “nine lese majeste prisoners in the kingdom…”. This is nonsense. We do not have all of the cases listed because they are often kept secret, but our records show that there are more than this awaiting trial or already convicted. And these are only the most highly publicized cases.

For some unfathomable reason, the report cites Benjamin Zawacki of Amnesty International, who again seems to jump on the Thais state’s wagon, claiming that lese majeste is perceived as an “offence to society.” This is only true for the royalist judges who consider those charged guilty until proven innocent, with only about 5% of those charged ever being found innocent. Zawacki goes on to compare these political prisoners to pedophiles. He should be defending these political prisoners and demanding their release. When he seemingly grudging says: “If that is the only law under which they have been in prison they should be released,” he knows that this is the case for all of these political prisoners.

Even if the prisoners are doing better now, as the report says, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, “was still being beaten by some wardens” who “want to bully her.” It is the representatives of the state who continue the punishment of these political prisoners.





AI on political amnesty and lese majeste

6 04 2012

While not especially clear in its presentation and argument, and despite some glaring blind spots, we think Amnesty International has made some reasonable points in its latest release on Thailand. For example, while national reconciliation is a political debate, but that call  that an amnesty that  grants “impunity for grave human rights violations” should be held unacceptable.

One of the glaring gaps in AI’s pronouncement is this:

The report, prepared by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI), recommends that the amnesty not apply to offences pertaining to the monarchy.

That’s it. Is AI supporting this unacceptable exclusion? It remains unclear because this orphaned phrase is separated from a longer expression of “concerns over the application of the proposed amnesty to prisoners of conscience.”

At least AI is continuing to use the plural form – something which seems to have begun early in 2012 – after having bungled their very first and much belated claim of a single prisoner of conscience in Thailand in May 2011.

In this new announcement, AI states:

Since the beginning of the country’s political crisis in 2005, many of Thailand’s prisoners of conscience have been charged under the lèse majesté law (Article 112 of the Criminal Code) and/or the Computer-related Crimes Act, which has been used as a conduit to bring lèse majesté charges….

Both laws place Thailand in contravention of its international legal obligations regarding freedom of expression.

“People charged under these laws solely for their peaceful political expression should have their charges dropped,” said Benjamin Zawacki.  “Those imprisoned—like prisoners of conscience everywhere—should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

AI's Zawacki

That AI calls for the unconditional release might be considered something of a breakthrough. However, and this is a yawning gap in AI’s approach, Zawacki has always implied that some of these lese majeste prisoners may have been somehow violent or used “hate speech,” somehow defining the latter as not “peaceful political expression.” Which prisoners fall into Zawacki’s opaque definition of “violence”? In its 2011 country report on Thailand, AI mentioned only two cases, ironically, the only two who seemed to be out of jail on bail. PPT has heard Zawacki make a claim that Darunee Charnchoensilpakul was somehow violent or inciting violence in her speech that got her into trouble, but he provided no evidence or clear statement. See more of this here.

So serious questions remain: first, who are the prisoners of conscience; and second, what, exactly, is AI doing for and about them?

Another breakthrough appears to be a change of language related to the laws, with AI now stating:

Amnesty International continues to urge the Thai authorities to either amend the lèse majesté law and the Computer-related Crimes Act so that they meet international norms and standards on freedom of expression, or abolish them.

We highlight “abolish” because, in the past, AI has talked of amending the laws. In 2010, in praising then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and stating:

Amnesty International supports the prime minister’s new initiative, and encourages the Royal Thai government to amend the lese majeste law so that it complies with international law and standards….

So there seems to have been a change, but when Zawacki states: “prisoners of conscience should be set free,” we wonder who he means. Why doesn’t AI name all of them. If AI can’t name them, doesn’t this allow the government to simply ignore the statement?








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