Intimidate, repress, and control I

26 01 2022

The 1932 People Space Library is at Wat Tong Noppakun in Khlong San, Bangkok. It was officially opened on Saturday. On Sunday, it was raided by the regime’s police.

According to Pravit Rojanaphruk, the police later denied they raided the library. In Orwellian terms, it was stated: “We went to talk with the staff.” They went with “5 plainclothes officers from Somdej Chao Phraya Police Station…”.

Why would cops threaten librarians? The library “was previously curated by writer Sulak Sivaraksa, who invited students from various universities in to help develop the space into a social sciences library and a space for discussion about political and social issues.”

And there it is. Troublemaker Sulak, with students, darting to talk about issues and politics. Not permitted in the royalist regime’s state, where independent political space is being squeezed.

Police also denied that “they confiscated a cartoon book praising the monarchy-reform movement and other items at a newly-opened library…”. They “seized a copy of ’10 Ratsadorn,’ one of the picture books in the ‘Nithan Wad Wang’ (‘Dream of Hope Tales’) series about the pro-democracy movement, freedom of expression, diversity, and what young people dream they want the world to be.”

The librarian made comments suggesting that, as usual in such cases, the cops were lying. Feebly, “an officer [said he] took the book to give to his son.”

The librarian “insisted items removed include a volume of cartoon praising the monarchy-reform movement, some 20 to 30 anti-lese majeste law stickers and a red socialist flag with a fist in the middle.”

Another staff member “said one officer used a foul language” as they demanded to know why the police had not been informed of the new library.

Sulak later said that “police acted unlawful without a search warrant.” He added: “This shows they demonstrated how barbaric they were…”.

A few hours later, “police arrived to return … the items, adding that they had to pay a visit because the boss asked them to check the library out.”

An activist explained:

If we are reading quietly, that is allowed, but if we talk about it in public, the state tries to make this into something scary, to make it seem something we cannot do. Does it have an effect? There may be hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people like me. Some people may not be brave enough to express themselves….

The regime hopes that measures like this intimidate, repress, and control.





Silencing the media II

17 01 2022

If any confirmation of the regime’s efforts to silence any media that it doesn’t like or trust was needed, it is now provided.

Thai Enquirer reports that the regimes bullyboys have “raided the homes of multiple reporters, accusing them of being involved in the ongoing anti-government protests…”. Three “journalists who were targeted have been covering the political unrest since July, 2020, when anti-government demonstrations broke out.”

Observers believe the “raids were conducted under a new decree signed on July 29, drafted to allegedly stop the spread of ‘fake news,’ and information that incites fear or causes instability to the state.”

Sirote. Clipped from Thai Enquirer

This is another state effort “to muzzle free press and infringe their rights, effectively blocking their ability to publish.”

Voice TV’s Sirote Klampaiboon regularly reported from the rallies and demonstrations. His home was raided. He released a leaked document which had his name on a regime watch list.

Sirote revealed that he has been previously charged with participating in a rally when he was doing his job as a reporter. And, he stated this “is not the first time police raided his home,” and pointed out that this “police intimidation has created an atmosphere of fear for his family.”

The state deliberately targets aged parents of those it wishes to silence.

As pointed out by Pravit Rojanaphruk, the media is is serious danger in Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime.





Silencing the media I

16 01 2022

The regime has congratulated itself on its ability to repress anti-government/anti-monarchy protests. The king must feel confident returning to Europe later in the month.

But at what cost? In its annual report, Human Rights Watch says:

Thai authorities have prosecuted dissenters, violently dispersed peaceful protests, and censored news and social media…. Respect for human rights in Thailand has gone from bad to worse while the government’s promises of reform remain unfulfilled.

Read HRW’s World Report 2022. We assume that HRW is in the regime’s sights for repression next year.

The regime’s moves to shut down political expression has been going on for several years, and much of this has been posted by PPT. Of late, we have had several asides regarding the apparent constricting of the media. Some of this has to do with business decisions – look at the Bangkok Post where the “news” is obliterated by advertorials and “stories” that are promotional. Some of it has to do with the political proclivities of owners.

But much of it has to do with repression, censorship and self-censorship. That screw has been being wound down for some time, but the Constitutional Court’s support of the regime in its ludicrous judgement on political reform now seems like a turning point, sending the country further down the repressive royalist rathole. That decision silenced much of the media reporting on monarchy reform.

With that stimulus, as Khaosod recently reported, the regime has conjured “a draft law that would allow suspension of media license on grounds of publishing contents deemed against ‘good morals of the public’.”

The bill,  formally called “Draft Media Ethics and Professional Standards Promotion Act,” was proposed by the government’s Public Relations Department and approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday. The department is chaired by Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who served as the spokesman for the junta….

We all know how the regime defines “good” and “good people.” It has nothing to do with goodness, but with supporting the regime and monarchy. And, we also know that morals have no meaning for a regime full of shysters and murders, not to mention a convicted heroin trafficker. Of course, they are all “good.”

The new law establishes a new licensing and watchdog agency called “Press Profession Council.”

The law will limit press freedom: “It stipulates that while freedom of the press is guaranteed, ‘the exercise must not go against the duties of Thai people or good morals of the people’.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the “draft bill on the promotion of media ethics and professional standards has cleared the cabinet…”.

Supporters of media repression

Regrettably, the Post is already under control, choosing to suggest, in Orwellian style, that an obvious effort to silence the media is, about “the rights, freedoms and independence of media organisations and practitioners.” This is buffalo manure, and the Post’s owners know it, but they have chosen to support repression.

Chavarong Limpattamapanee, chairman of the National Press Council of Thailand, is equally supine, describing “the bill as the best media-related piece of legislation to date.”

With the backbones of jellyfish, such support bodes ill for Thailand’s political future.





Cinema, politics, censorship

12 01 2022

We thought readers might be interested in The New Yorker’s piece on director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It is a beautiful story about beautiful cinema, and which is only tangentially about politics. Here’s some clips on politics:

Apichatpong, from Wikipedia

“Uncle Boonmee,” like all of Weerasethakul’s films before “Memoria,” was shot in rural Isaan, in northeastern Thailand, the director’s childhood home. Although he was born in Bangkok, in 1970, he grew up in the provincial northern city of Khon Kaen, where his parents, Aroon and Suwat, both ethnically Chinese, worked as doctors. The area, as the scholar Lawrence Chua observes, is “a historically obstreperous place . . . the site of several anti-state rebellions,” which is still rebellious “due largely to its historical isolation, poverty, and lack of infrastructure.”

“I am from this region that is very looked down on from the center,” Weerasethakul told me. “So there is this feeling of—how do you call it?—that you’re like a second-class citizen or something.”

… Weerasethakul had been hitting a wall in Thailand for some time by then. In 2007, in a brilliant essay titled “The Folly and Future of Thai Cinema Under Military Dictatorship,” the director described how he had taken part in a seminar with members of the Ministry of Culture and other groups to discuss the content of Thailand’s new Film and Video Act, which would replace one that had been passed in 1930. Weerasethakul, who had just been told by the censorship board that he needed to cut four scenes from “Syndromes and a Century,” was, he wrote, “enthusiastic to read the draft of the new law, which was supposed to represent our new hope for freedom of artistic expression.” But that hope was soon dashed. Reading the new Film Act, Weerasethakul said, he came across “a number of issues” that disturbed him, including the stipulation that “filmmakers must not make films that undermine social order or moral decency, or that might have an impact on the security and pride of the nation.”

Following the 2014 military coup,

Disturbed by his government’s shaky situation, Weerasethakul felt that he needed to get away. When we met in Chicago, he told me that he was eager for a new challenge. “Partly because I’m getting older, coupled with the fact that Thailand has become a dictatorship,” he explained. “There’s many things I want to do in Thailand, but, at the same time, they won’t let me. Maybe it’s time to go somewhere.”…

“I can’t help but think that the gentleness and the smile is an evolution to survive under the oppressive regimes,” he told me. “Thailand always promotes itself as a sole country in the region that has never been colonized. But to me the people [have] been operating with fear, in full awareness of the power from above, central government, and even from the invisible forces like ghosts and karma. Living here is a complex compromise. Sometimes you don’t even notice that you do [a] particular action out of fear. You sometimes feel free[d] by the spell, the propaganda, and you are actually happy. But when you ask what you cannot do in this country, the list can be long. Sometimes I feel like I am an obedient dog.”

He’s back in Thailand.





Screwing down activism

10 01 2022

The screwing down associated with repressive regimes is an ongoing task for Thailand’s royalist regime, with Prachatai providing recent examples of how this political repression seeps across the political landscape.

In one report, Prachatai looks at cultural matters, focusing on the 29th annual Bangkok Critics Assembly film award ceremony. The video recording removes “references to imprisoned pro-democracy activists … from the speeches of awardees from ‘School Town King’, a film that took home seven awards.”

According to one report, “references to the detainees in the speeches of every awardee but one were cut from a nearly five-hour long video of the award ceremony, held on 24 December 2021 at Lido Connect in Bangkok.  The only speech not  ‘edited’ was given by Sinjai Plengpanich, who accepted an award on behalf of M.L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul.”

In all, “seven speeches were cut, including one by his film’s editor Harin Paesongthai, who received an award for his work.” In making his speech, Harin said “the film sought to address inequality and oppression in society,” adding: “not only in the education system … [but the social] system where we are dominated from the smallest unit to the largest, by the people on top.” In supporting political prisoners he stated that he wanted to: “… use this opportunity to support and stand with the fighters who are being unfairly detained. Free our friends. There are still people suffering, detained because of the injustice of the system … I believe that there will be a better day for us. Justice must take place.”

In another Prachatai story, union activist Thanaphon Wichan was recently prosecuted for attempting “to give a Labour Minister a petition calling for assistance for labour[er]s amidst the pandemic.”

Back on 29 October 2021, Thanaphon, a representative of migrant workers, together with several labor groups, went “to the Ministry of Labour to submit a letter to the Minister of Labour to follow up on their previous petition to demand a solution to construction workers and migrant workers amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and to demand a solution to other concerned issues including expenses incurred from entering the registration process which still lacked the clarity.”

This visit had been coordinated “with representatives of the Ministry of Labour beforehand.”

That action was disrupted when “the Cambodian migrant workers who accompanied her were arrested right in the premises of the Ministry of Labour.” The Ministry the authorized a complaint to police, claiming Thanaphon committed offences against the Immigration Act. No evidence was found, so another charge was concocted: “being complicit in the organization of a gathering and an illegal assembly in a manner that risks spreading the disease in the area designated by an announcement or an order as a maximum and strict control zone and an area under strict surveillance except for permission has been obtained from competent officials, an act of which is a breach of the Regulation issued under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005).”

We have lost count of how many times this emergency decree on health has been used to silence activists.

Thanaphon and her lawyers say the case “is tantamount to a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or SLAPP.”

Because of the prior coordination with the Ministry, her lawyers argue that “the Ministry of Labour was obliged to act to ensure the enforcement of the disease prevention protocol to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

She was allowed bail, but the message is broadcast to all activists: the screws are being tightened, the regime is out to silence you. If you refuse, face state lawfare.





Controlling and repressing NGOs

9 01 2022

A week ago we mentioned a terrible piece by a regime stooge on the conspiricist-authoritarian effort to further control NGOs. His view was that “both local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) … perpetuate fake news against and negative views of the government.” He added the ludicrous claim: that “some of them, with funding from abroad, have reportedly tried to topple the current political system under the constitutional monarchy.” And, he seemed to imply that the measures for Chinese-style “national security” were not a big deal for NGOs.

However, in a joint statement, more than 1,800 NGOs and unions condemned the regime’s draft bill to control NGOs. They explained that the bill  is “a draconian infringement on basic rights and freedoms.” They accused the government of seeking “to control and intimidate people who form NGOs to help others.” They also pointed out that the bill was “superfluous since laws were already in place to deal with foundations, associations and organisations…”.

Signatories to the joint statement included: “Impulse Bangkok, Non-Binary Thailand, P-Move, WeMove, the Campaign for Democracy, Bangkok Rainbow, Transportation for All, the Sisters Foundation (Pattaya), HealthNet, and the HIV Foundation Asia.”

They rejected claims by the regime and its conspiricist supporters that NGO activities “had ulterior motives, lack good governance or may be involved in money laundering,” and the view that “NGOs need to be regulated for the sake of national security and order.”

The statement said “the government had ignored NGOs’ reasoned arguments against the draft legislation.” It added that the “bill would hinder people’s freedom to form groups, to join public demonstrations, and to express and access public information…”.

Worringly, the NGOs observed that the bill allowed authorities “to bypass courts and halt NGO activities on the pretext of endangering national security…”. Not that the courts aren’t mostly in bed with the regime.

They correctly detect that the regime’s motive is “totalitarian … to control the public sector and deter democratic progress and universal human rights…”.

The signatories explained that they were “not opposed to being monitored for transparency but were opposed to legislation that seeks to control civil society with ulterior motives.”





Parliamentarians under threat

3 12 2021

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

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

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

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

On Thailand, the release states:

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

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

The chapter on Thailand concludes:

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





Squeezing media freedom

1 12 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Censorship unites mad monarchists and ultra-nationalists

28 11 2021

PPT has mentioned several times that we were sure that self-censorship and regime censorship was increasing simply because so many lese majeste cases were not making it into the mainstream media.

That perception has been confirmed in reports that the supplicant National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission “has warned the media against reporting on calls for monarchy reform…”.

NBTC commissioner Lt Gen Perapong Manakit reportedly “said during a meeting with representatives of various media outlets that they should not broadcast the 10-point demand for monarchy reform put forward by the activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration at a protest on 10 August 2020, after the Constitutional Court ruled on 10 November…”. Since then, the NBTC rules have circulated.

The general affirmed that reporting on calls monarchy reform “could be repeating the offense.” He stated that “reporters should not interview protest leaders, protesters, or those who agreed with the demands, but may report on the events that happen.” He warned that there should be no “long live broadcasts of protests to prevent the re-broadcast of speeches made during protests and calls for people to join the movement.”

The NBTC has also told the media that they should “avoid inviting guests for talk show interviews about the demands, especially inviting representatives of both sides in to give their opinion on air.”

These kinds of censorship and threats to reporters and media outlets egg on ultra-royalists and ultra-nationalists. Not that long ago, the Bangkok Post reported that Sonthiya Sawasdee, a former adviser to the House committee on law, justice and human rights has made a police complaint “against Miss Universe Thailand Anchilee Scott-Kemmis for standing on what looks like a Thai flag in a picture featured on the pageant organiser’s website.”

Sonthiya has “accused Anchilee of breaching the 1979 Flag Act and the PM’s Office announcement banning the use of national flags for commercial purposes.”

The picture “was released online in a promotional campaign before Anchilee competes in the 70th Miss Universe pageant in Israel on Dec 12.”

Photo from Thai Enquirer

Sonthiya wants to stop Anchilee from setting “a bad example for young people, as has a large following on social media.” She’s seen as too close to reformists and democracy activists.

Thai PBS added that Anchilee was “carrying a Thai flag pole on her shoulder and standing on a Thai flag motif carpet.” The outlet seems as dull as the rightists attacking her, confusing a constructed image as including a “carpet.” But, we are talking about stupid nationalism/royalism. Many of them “took her standing on the Thai flag carpet, particularly on the blue bar, which signifies the monarchy, … and pointed out that she was showing aggression toward the revered institution.”

From a Facebook post

Clearly, fake news, but the regime’s fake news is okay. For example, royal news is often faked. Most recently, the Bangkok Post announced that a “research team led by … Princess Chulabhorn … has demonstrated two methods for synthesising molnupiravir for emergency use on Covid-19 patients…”. Given her longstanding and debilitating illnesses, we doubt she leads anything. This is simply royal posterior polishing as established in the previous reign.

While on Chulabhorn, several years ago, when she supported anti-democrats then calling for a coup, she used the Thai flag on a dog’s foot.

And, we can only wonder about all of those shoes sold with the Thai flag emblazoned on them.

In other words, the usual double standards of “good” people versus “bad” people is at work. The “good”can do what they like and will be praised even when they do nothing. Critics, especially those wanting a democratic Thailand, are censored. The media is threatened – censor the other side or else!

 





Students vs. the feudal regime I

24 10 2021

As Pravit Rojanaphruk points out in a Khaosod op-ed:

A year has passed since the students-led monarchy reform movement descended to the streets of Bangkok and beyond in large numbers. One year on, over 140 have been charged with lese majeste crimes, or defaming the monarchy. It’s punishable by a maximum imprisonment term of 15 years. Around half a dozen of them are currently … incarcerated….

Scores of others face hundreds of other charges. Some are in jail, others have bail, others await more charges.

While the media face censorship and with “self-censorship are the norm, combined with self-denial or silence to due fears of repercussions or political expediency,” the students continue to push for change.

Thai PBS reports that the Chulalongkorn-Thammasat football match procession will be different this year. The executive committee of Chulalongkorn University’s Student Union is unanimous in canceling the Phra Kieo coronet, Chulalongkorn University’s emblem. Why? They see “it to be representative of a feudal culture and a symbol of inequality.”

As the most royalist of universities, with many connections with the monarchy and royal family, the message is clear.

In his  article in support of other students who suffer feudal repression – lese majeste – Pravit calls on the media to support them:

The press could continue to watch and simply report about more prosecutions as more youths take the risks, are taken to jail, repeatedly denied bail, and refrain from questioning the anachronistic law . Such stance means the Thai press continue to be part of the problem for their lack of courage and commitment to greater press freedom.

It means the mostly young political activists feel the need to express themselves publicly on the streets or on social media, despite the risks as they regard the current situation as not just abnormal but unacceptable, untolerable and undemocratic…..

The least that journalists and media associations can do is to call out publicly and say we need to talk about the lese majeste law and something needs to be done about it. Even if they do not support the abolition of the law, there are crucial details worth reforming: the severity of the law which is disproportionate and more.

In fact, from our observation, the media has not been comprehensive in reporting of these arrests and charges and the reporting is so sporadic that we feel the regime and its supporters have cowed the mainstream media.

The students deserve better. Thailand deserves better.








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