Dead-weight lese majeste

21 05 2019

Lese majeste or Article 112 has often been considered as a draconian law. It is. It has been wielded by the current military dictatorship to imprison hundreds. Critics of the regime have been threatened with the law to silence them.

However, less often emphasized is the way the lese majeste law hangs like a millstone around the collective neck of journalists and commentators.

This is why we recommend an an AFP blog post by journalist Sophie Deviller. She has a long account of the ways in which lese majeste directs every aspect of reporting associated with the recent coronation. She also comments on how the secrecy has been significant for the monarchy in maintaining its power.

Thais recognize that the new king is being remade:

… when I tried to bring up the new king’s personality and his escapades, which have been reported by foreign media, she [a Thai journalist] shut down. “This is of no importance,” she told me. “This image is disappearing, in favor of an image of a sacred and powerful king.”

We were, however, stumped by the blog’s final paragraph:

What purpose does it serve for you to constantly criticize your leaders?” she asked me. I had little choice but to answer with the same smile that the Thais use to get out of a delicate or embarrassing situation.

Two points: first, Thai journalists do constantly criticize leaders, although this depends on the political climate. It is only the monarch and royal family that are spared, and that’s the role of lese majeste; second, a journalist should be able to explain that one purpose of the media is to hold leaders to account.





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.





Updated: Censorship for the junta by big business

14 03 2019

PPT doesn’t usually spend much time considering the letters pages of newspapers. However, a few days ago, a letter to The Nation caught our attention.

A reader observed political censorship by True Visions, a CP company. Unfortunately, no one at PPT subscribes to True Visions, so we are unable to confirm the details. Readers might let us know.

The reader reckoned that “[f]ollowing the 2014 coup, subscribers of True Visions became accustomed to brief interruptions to international news stations, signalled by the on screen announcement, ‘Programming will be resumed shortly’.” Most of these interruptions were “triggered by reports relating to the Thai Royal Family … [and the] strict lese majeste law and the potential responsibility of broadcasters for airing content deemed inappropriate.”

But something has changed, says the reader. As elections approach, “the interruptions caused by the True Visions censors have become longer and more frequent.” These are not about the monarchy.

The letter writer points out that “international news stations post their reports online, the more curious viewer is, in many cases, still able to access the missing content…”. What this demonstrates is that “most recent interruptions are of a strictly political nature.” He points to several stories censored to protect the junta.

He wonders how much this censorship extends from English-language reports to Thai cable television.

One can speculate why it is that the country’s richest richest non-royals are backing the military junta.

Update: We just posted this and went off to look at Prachatai where we found they had a story on this topic. It refers to “Al Jazeera’s news broadcast on True Visions cable TV momentarily stopped on the morning of 8 March.” It continues:

The BBC’s broadcast, also through True Visions, was also briefly cut both on 7 March and the morning of 8 March, and the same message was shown on the screen. Jonathan Head, BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent, tweeted “It’s sadly routine now. Thailand is preparing for an election, but the climate of military intolerance persists.”





Voice keeps its voice

27 02 2019

Prachatai reports that the Administrative Court has ruled that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission was wrong to suspend Voice TV.

It decided that “the moderators of Wake Up News and Tonight Thailand did not cause confusion and division in the general public, even though they offer analysis and criticism against the government agencies and public figures.”

The court found that the NBTC “did not show evidence of damages done by Voice TV.” The court also found that the NBTC attempted to use “reasons” for the ban that were not conveyed to Voice TV and ruled this invalid.

This is something of a breakthrough as, under the military junta, the NBTC has acted as a puppet agency, doing the junta’s bidding and censoring at will. The Administrative Court has now ruled that the NBTC must have evidence for making its political decisions.





Academics unsafe

18 02 2019

PPT has posted several times on academic freedom in Thailand, or rather the lack of it, and academic conferences being held in Thailand.

The next major conference we know of is the AAS-in-ASIA conference, to be held 1-4 July, 2019 in Bangkok. Despite earlier restrictions and censorship associated with an earlier AAS-in-ASIA in India, the AAS decided to hold an event in Thailand, and promoting the conference with an array of Orientalist memes about tourism, culture and food..

The claimed reasons for going to Bangkok were stated by the AAS:

Although Thais remain hopeful that their country will have elections (current news reports are suggesting the possibility of early 2019), Thailand currently is ruled by a military junta. Nonetheless, our host partners affirm that holding the AAS-in-Asia conference in Thailand provides support for free academic inquiry in their country. In this spirit, the AAS Board of Directors voted in October 2017 to hold the 2019 AAS-in-Asia conference in partnership with this coalition of Thai universities.

The partners are Chiang Mai, Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, and Mahidol universities, none of which have recently been at the forefront of the promotion of academic freedom. Several academics, including from Thammasat and Chulalongkorn have had to flee Thailand for fear of arrest for their academic writings that led to repression and lese majeste charges. Others have been threatened by university administrations, assaulted on campus and attacked by the military junta.

In this context, it seems more than appropriate to raise two issues that demand that the AAS Board of Directors reconsider their choice of venue.

First, the AAS has an Anti-Harassment Policy for its upcoming Colorado Annual Conference:

The Association for Asian Studies strives to provide a safe and welcoming conference environment free from bias and intimidation for all participants. The Association has a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination and all forms of harassment, including but not limited to sexual harassment. No form of discriminatory or harassing conduct by or towards any employee, member, vendor, or other person in our workplace or at AAS conferences or workshops will be tolerated. The Association is committed to enforcing its policy at all levels within the Association. Anyone who engages in prohibited discrimination or harassment will be subject to discipline, up to and including expulsion from the conference site and revocation of membership in the association.  Instances of harassment should be brought to the attention of the AAS Executive Director, who will then consult with the executive officers regarding a course of action.

PPT’s view is that if this policy is to be applied in Thailand, then the Board cannot guarantee “a safe and welcoming conference environment free from bias and intimidation for all participants” and nor can its participating organizations. We know this from the outcome of the International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai in 2017.

Which leads directly to our second point. Prachatai reports on the harassment of foreign academics that has been continuing since that ICTS conference, including of members of the AAS.

It reports that:

Andrew Johnson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, was temporarily detained by the Thai Immigration Police upon leaving Thailand on 10 February 2019.

As it turns out, Johnson is just the first to make this public. Prachatai has of several who have been detained in this way:

Since the military coup in 2014, the military government has implemented several measures to restrict freedom of expression in order to suppress criticism of their rule, which has also affected academic freedom. Other researchers also reported being similarly kept under surveillance and questioned.

It cites the case of Rosenun Chesof of the University of Malaya, ” detained by the Immigration Police 10 times. The first was on 30 August 2018…”. It also mentions Professor Philip Hirsch, “a visiting scholar at Chiang Mai University, has been questioned on what he was doing in Thailand, and Chiang Mai University had to issue him a letter of reference.”

PPT has contacted several scholars over several years about their experiences. We know of one scholar who was refused entry to Thailand and another senior scholar who was semi-officially warned in 2010, by the Thai Embassy in Washington to desist campaigning about lese majeste or face “problems” in Thailand.

We have also been informed that at least 8-9 scholars have experienced harassment when entering or leaving Thailand.

Prachatai states that:

Johnson subsequently tweeted that he was told by the police that they had a list of about thirty researchers “on society, culture, politics” and that they wanted information on where he had been and who he had talked to.

Of course, the harassment of Thailand-based scholars has been far more sustained.

All of this means that the AAS Board will very likely place itself in a situation where it will be in breach of its own Anti-Harassment Policy.





Voice TV back

16 02 2019

In an unexpected decision, Prachatai reports that “the Administrative Court ruled to delay the NBTC’s [National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission] suspension order. Voice TV can continue broadcasting during election campaigns until the trial is concluded.”

It made the interim decision based on a Voice TV injunction filed “on the ground that NBTC’s suspension order is unreasonable and unlawful, and that there will be negative repercussions if the Court does not grant them injunction, both for the public and for Voice TV itself.”

The Administrative Court appears to find the “NBTC suspension order is most likely unlawful…”.

That’s good news for media freedom, even if the case is not finished.





Rapping the military junta

5 11 2018

The mammoth number of views received by the ประเทศกูมี video – more than 28 million – has caused more international attention to the nature of the military dictatorship and its rigged election.

IHS Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report states that there is an “increased likelihood of NCPO [junta] intervention in Thailand’s political parties…”. Perhaps Jane’s has missed the fact that the junta has been doing this since 14 May 2014. Oddly, the report also believes that “civil activities raises protest risks.” We don’t see any greater “risk” – we might say “hope” – of this than at any time over the past couple of years. The report sees the rap video as evidence of considerable dissatisfaction with the military’s rule. That is true.

Prompted by the rap, Hawaii Public Radio has a short report on the junta and its repression.

CNN has a longer look at the rap’s impact, quoting Dechathorn Bumrungmuang, one the group’s co-founders: “Our main goal to set up this group is just like our name, Rap Against Dictatorship. We want to use rap songs to fight against dictators…”. CNN notes:

Under [Gen] Prayuth [Chan-ocha]’s watch, hundreds of activists have been arrested and prosecuted, political activity has been banned, and the sphere for robust public discourse has all but disappeared thanks to draconian laws that restrict online expression and increase surveillance and censorship.

Even the usually politically timid commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak sees that the “song taps into collective and pent-up anxiety and frustration. Its lyrics are a litany of political ills and social injustice Thailand is afflicted with.”

Al Jazeera has a video report that takes up many of the same issues and is well worth viewing. Interestingly, it also shows anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban campaigning in Bangkok. The junta continues with its double standards.