Constructing the junta’s digital Panopticon

17 05 2018

Anyone who has watched the junta’s boot grinding down political activism, one of the most noticeable and distasteful of its repressive efforts has been to establish vigilantism supporting military hired spies who police the internet for content the military dictators feel is threatening. This usually means online lese majeste although the junta has also bee watchful of its own egos and has also policed the Thai world for political dissidents.

It seems that its “successes” in political repression and censorship have prompted the military and the junta to seek to construct a digital Panopticon. Initially devised by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century, the idea was to construct a prison where the inmates could be observed without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The idea was to impose order and passivity because the inmates cannot know when they are being watched meaning they become motivated to act as though they are being watched at every single moment.

The junta wants all Thais and others in Thailand to believe they are under surveillance all the time. In other words, the whole society becomes, in everyone’s mind, a political prison.

An editorial at the Bangkok Post states that the junta “plans to recruit civilian so-called ‘cyber warriors’ … it needs to ensure they target the right groups of people.” The military dictatorship is hiring and training another 200 cyber spies, with a goal of having 5,000 by 2023. Such a massive spying mission is in the hands of the Minister of Justice – of which there is little – ACM Prajin Juntong.

The plan announced by the junta “leaves room for worries on whether they will be mainly used as a political tool to suppress freedom of expression and hunt down political dissidents.” Fascists will be fascists.

And, as the editorial notes, “a cyber security bill has been drafted pending approval by lawmakers. If enacted into law, it will allow the authorities to take broader control of online activity, including snooping on individuals’ personal computers.”

Another Bangkok Post story refers to the military – not a regular, civilian ministry – is developing ways of tracking tourists, investors and migrant workers, among others. Such tracking is used in other countries but it is only in the darkest of authoritarian regimes that it is the military doing it.

Be very concerned at how broadly the military has defined its role in Thailand. It has seeped and oozed into every arena and level of civilian administration. Even if a junta party doesn’t “win” the junta-granted “election,” the military thugs will be everywhere. The Panopticon is in place.





An anonymous Bangkok Post

16 05 2018

In the fallout following the Bangkok Post’s sacking/transfer of then editor Umesh Pandey, the Bangkok Post’s management first tried character assassination via other outlets.

That seemed to produce little positive for the tycoons’ press. So they have now tried statements of “integrity” and “autonomy.”

The statement is signed “The Editors of the Bangkok Post.” The problem is that this statement is effectively signed by an anonymous group. There are no names and when one goes to the company’s website (at 07:00GMT) there’s no indication of who might have the position of editor or editors.

Anonymous statements of integrity and autonomy are meaningless when there’s zero transparency. It does, however, say much about the Post as a company.





Bangkok Post capitulates on free expression

14 05 2018

This morning the Bangkok Post had an editorial on press freedom: “Censorship must go.”

Presumably this editorial was approved if not written by editor Umesh Pandey.

Prompted by the suspension of Voice TV, the editorial said things like:

Censorship by this regime began the day of the coup — May 22, 2014. At that time, martial law was in the hands of the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC). The junta closed hundreds of community radio stations and effectively shut down all Thai broadcasting, as well as many foreign stations repeated locally. Eventually, all national broadcasters were allowed to resume, including Peace TV. Since then, the pro-Thaksin station, fronted by the top names of the red shirt movement, has been shut for various periods by the intrusive NBTC. By 2015, Prime Minister and junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha made the unconstitutional decision to give the NBTC the power to censor and ban any radio or TV broadcaster.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not in the constitution to protect parroting of the government line, repeating what official spokesman say or reprinting government or big-business press releases. Such publication and broadcast needs no protection. Extraordinary laws protecting the media and citizens’ speech are necessary to protect the opposition, dissidents and unpopular voices and views. One needn’t agree with a single word or opinion by Peace TV to disagree with government-approved decision to force it off the air.

By the time of the editorial was being read locally, Umesh was gone as editor. We are not saying that this particular editorial is the reason he’s been removed from his post. However, Umesh managed to improved the Post as editor, making it more like a real newspaper and being more critical of the junta than under his predecessor and re-establishing the Post as a newspaper that was worth reading.

Social media commentary suggests the Post’s owners and directors have been pressured by the military dictators to get rid of Umesh and this more critical reporting. Then again, perhaps the fabulously wealthy tycoon owners and directors prefer a newspaper that is junta-friendly. It isn’t the first time the Post has buckled on freedom of expression.





Calling out the NBTC

12 05 2018

It has taken a long time but two journalists’ associations have finally called out the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.

The Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcasting Journalists’ Association have opposed the NBTC’s decision to shut down Peace TV for one month.So far so good, but then it all unravels for the associations and their apparent support of media freedom.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the station, associated with the official red shirts, has been closed by the junta’s NBTC, and the associations have been very reluctant to speak out.

This time, the NBTC revoked Peace TV’s license for “content of some programmes on air between March 26 and April 9 deemed inciting conflicts by the telecom regulator.” In making the decision, the junta’s lapdog regulator mentioned its boss’s Orders.

Nothing new in any of that as far as we can tell.

But finally recognizing the obvious, the two press associations “said the reference to the junta’s two orders to take action against Peace TV had jeopardised the NBTC’s credibility and showed that it had allowed outside influence to compromise its independence.”

“Jeopardized”? Really? The NBTC’s credibility was shot, trampled on and buried years ago.

The associations “also said the temporary closure was in violation of press freedom protected under the constitution.”

Well, yes, but it is the junta’s constitution and the junta can do anything it wants.

Then the associations supported violations of press freedom by suggesting that “[i]nstead of closing the station, the NBTC should selectively ban the programmes in question…”.

It seems the associations favor selective media freedom.





Further updated: Serving authoritarians and other scoundrels

26 04 2018

Only a few days ago we posted on how the military dictatorship has proven itself to have the right attitudes and ideology for dealing with other authoritarian regimes. Most especially, Thailand’s military regime has felt most comfortable in dealing with military leaders in those countries. That’s also been true of its dealing with the military in Myanmar, where bonds have been formed with another nasty military leadership.

And what nasty military types want, they get, whether Thai thugs or the military in Myanmar. A recent report, worth reading in full at The Irrawaddy, refers to “a launch event for a new report warning of a humanitarian crisis in Karen State and detailing ongoing human right abuses against local people there by the Tatmadaw [the army],” being shut down by the commander of “Thailand’s 3rd Army based in Phitsanulok, who received a letter from the Myanmar military attaché, Brigadier-General Khin Zaw…”.

The report states that:

The Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) had planned to launch its report, “The Nightmare Returns: Karen Hopes for Peace and Stability Dashed by Burma Army Actions,” at an event in Chiang Mai. The event was to include a documentary film screening, photo exhibition and two panel discussions in order to raise support for more than 2,400 Karen who have been displaced by the resumption last month of operations by the Myanmar military in northern Mutraw (Papun) district of Karen State.

It was to be at Chiang Mai University’s Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development. However, “CMU … canceled its booking at the venue. The event was moved, but had to be canceled on Wednesday morning when police showed up at the second venue.”

The Center’s director Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaputti said “the center agreed to the request [for the censorship], which was passed on by the head [rector] of the CMU.” He added that: “This is the first time an RCSD-hosted event has been blocked by officials,” and he described this as an “intervention against academic freedom.”

Of course, academic freedom has been strangled under the military junta. Embracing a military infamous for its human rights abuses seems all too normal for Thailand’s military dictatorship.

Update 1: Yet another example of how low the junta is prepared to go in supporting other authoritarians and seeking to capture republicans is revealed in the Cambodian media.

Update 2: Prachatai reports on the release of the Cambodian detainee mentioned in the report at Update 1.





Trusted forms of repression

7 02 2018

It was only a day or so ago that various junta allies reckoned that the activism that has bubbled up over the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watches and the “delays” to the “election” timetable would fade away.

It hasn’t and the junta is trying to erase activism. It is engaging in its trusted forms of repression: even deeper censorship of media and websites it finds critical and arresting and charging people.

Voice TV has again been taken off the air. This is the fourth time the channel has been suspended by the junta’s minions. This time, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission cited a program in October 2017 as the reason for the 15-day ban. Any excuse will do.

In Phayao, police arrested 14 activists of the People Go Network and involved in the “We Walk” anti-government campaign. As has been the case in previous movements that have displaced military regimes, several of those arrested were farmers and students. The junta fears such alliances.

The farmers’ group reportedly told police they joined the march because they had been oppressed by local, powerful landlords who charged them with trespassing on private property, despite their claims that the land actually belongs to them.

All denied the charges against them.

In Bangkok, the Democracy Restoration Group called off a news conference “following a police warning not to hold the event or risk violating a junta ban on public gatherings.” The activists “had planned to hold a news conference at the Maneeya Center in Bangkok – home to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) – to call on the junta to keep its promise of an election this year…”. It seems that the FCCT was targeted by the police.

Also in Bangkok, police have charged all of the “39 demonstrators who protested on a skywalk near Pathumwan intersection on Jan 27 against a recently announced delay to the upcoming general election.” The charge is “illegal assembly.” The demonstrators also belong to the Democracy Restoration Group.

The junta thugs are seeking to silence dissent with constant harassment and a flurry of law cases that get very expensive when bail and fines are considered. Junta thugs also bring constant pressure on the families of activists.





HRW on Thailand under the military boot

19 01 2018

Human Rights Watch has released its World Report 2018. The Thailand report‘s first heading is: “Sweeping, Unchecked, and Unaccountable Military Powers.” That country chapter is only about 7 pages and worth reading.

The media release on the Thailand chapter begins (with our bolding):

Thailand’s government took no significant steps to restore democratic rule and basic freedoms in 2017…. The military junta’s adoption of a national human rights agenda and repeated assurances that it would hold elections for a civilian government did nothing to reverse the country’s human rights crisis.

It cites HRW Asia director Brad Adams:

Thailand’s military junta has used its unchecked powers to drop the country into an ever-deeper abyss of human rights abuses. Instead of restoring basic rights as promised, the junta prosecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, and censored the media.

On media censorship it states:

During the year the authorities temporarily forced off the air Voice TV, Spring News Radio, Peace TV, and TV24 for criticizing military rule. The stations were permitted to resume broadcasting after they agreed to practice self-censorship.

Writing of The Dictator’s power:

As head of the junta, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha wields limitless authority, including the military’s power to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse. There are still at least 1,800 civilians facing prosecution in military courts, which do not meet international fair trial standards.

On lese majeste:

Since the 2014 coup, Thai authorities have arrested at least 105 people on lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) charges. The crackdown on lese majeste offenses has intensified since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016.

It is a sorry tale.