“This is considered unusual in legal practice”

28 06 2018

On 27 June 2018, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 16 months in prison. This is a somewhat surprising outcome in a case where the lawyer challenged the courts.

With five others, Prawet was arrested  by the military on 29 April 2017. The six were detained on lese majeste charges for allegedly sharing a  Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. That post was allegedly authored by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. It was claimed that the post called for Thailand to become a republic.

Initially detained incommunicado, Prawet has been held in jail since then. In addition to lese majeste, he and the others faced sedition and computer crimes charges.

Prawet himself was accused of three separate charges under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste. In total, Prawet faces up to 171 years in jail, although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years.

PPT’s view was that the twinning of sedition and lese majeste made it clear that the military dictatorship was seeking to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Little has been heard of any of the detainees other than Prawet.

Prawet appeared in court on 18 September 2017 and stunned the judges by stating that he did not accept the Thai judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet challenged the court’s impartiality: “Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case…”. Prawet said he would not participate in the case nor have a lawyer represent him.

When he finally reappeared in court on 8 May 2018, Prawet engaged in a heated 30-minute argument with judges, stating he did not believe the court will rule his lese majeste case with fairness and impartiality. He asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

Prawet again stated that he would not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but said he would not obstruct testimony. He again refused lawyers and refused to sign any documents. He repeated that the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

Again, the judges seemed flummoxed by this challenge to the way the judiciary (mis)handled lese majeste cases.

The judges then closed the court for a secret trial. The verdict was supposed to have been delivered on 23 May but was delayed for more than a month, suggesting that behind the scenes there was considerable activity.

The surprises in this verdict for Prawet were that the sedition sentences were remarkably short and  that the court dropped “any mention of the royal defamation charge against him…”. Nor did the court explain why the lese majeste cases were “dropped without explanation.”

In the three sedition cases where the “military [regime] alleged he [Prawet] was behind a group calling on Redshirts and Yellowshirts to unite and turn Thailand into a federal republic,” he received only five months on each count, suggesting that the “evidence” was weak but that the court needed to save some face. With time served, he could released within weeks.

Prawet was given another month in jail “for refusing to fingerprint court documents…”.

On lese majeste charges disappearing, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said: “Usually, when the court acquits someone, they have to clearly explain it…. This is considered unusual in legal practice.”

In the context of Prawet’s challenge, we read this short report as a statement that the court and the regime probably wanted to prevent further criticism of the courts. Yet by mysteriously dropping the lese majeste charges the court again demonstrates that the law is a feudal remnant that is not only incongruous with modern law but is itself outside the law. Lese majeste cases are not subject to the law as it is written and nor are those charged given legal and constitutional protections to which they are entitled.

While the sedition “convictions” save face, the lese majeste is a festering sore for the judiciary. A gangrenous judiciary does Thailand no good. “Amputating” the law is the only solution if the courts are ever to be taken seriously and to fulfill their duties to the people.





Lese majeste as culture wars

9 06 2018

The news that the military junta has defended the lese majeste and computer crimes laws is no news at all.

However, a series of letters that Khaosod came upon between Ambassador Sek Wannamethee, Thailand’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and United Nations officials reinforces the junta’s claims – and by some earlier regimes – that such laws are somehow consistent with “Thai traditional and cultural values.”

In a very real sense, this claim matches the origins of the term “culture war.” The junta has used these laws in its efforts to enforce traditionalist and conservative values against those who favor more democratic, progressive or even bland liberal values.

We might note that Sek’s position reflects him being rewarded for his support of the regime and the draconian use of lese majeste over the past few years. One might say he’s just doing his job. But Sek is far more enthusiastic than that. He’s a cultural warrior for the military dictatorship.

As usual, Sek was disingenuous: “The lese majeste law, hence, to certain extent, reflects and accords with Thai traditional and cultural values with respect to the Monarchy. It is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression…”.

Of course, the law takes direct aim at freedom of expression, in public and in private, in the media, in literature, in art and among academics and students, and much more. It is a chilling means of political repression.

We might also ask whether “Thai culture” and its law protects dead kings, dead king’s dead dogs, past “royals” who may or may not have actually existed, minor royals and so on. Sek and the regime seem to think it does.

UN experts David Kaye and Michel Forst who “monitor freedom of expression and human rights defenders,” stated, in their letters:

We express grave concerns at the continued use of article 112 and of the Computer Crime Act against the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Thailand….

The letter singled out prosecution, detention and long prison sentences for those convicted under the law for “acts that appear to constitute a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”

It added that the United Nations is also concerned about such cases being tried in military courts in closed session, sometimes with no family members or public in attendance.

The letter noted that all public figures, including heads of state, “are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

The UN experts cited 21 lese majeste cases, some already through the courts, others continuing is deliberately slow “legal” processes meant to elicit guilty pleas.

They also mentioned the illegal activities of the authorities when “investigating” these “crimes” and “trials” held in secret.

The military dictatorship has used lese majeste as a political and cultural weapon. It will continue to do so.





Updated: The satellite system squirm

7 06 2018

Read the junta’s efforts to hose down the satellite deal controversy.

The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is “trying to placate opponents of the multi-billion baht defence satellite project, saying many other elements must be considered before deciding whether it should get off the ground, including the budget and people’s consent.”

People’s consent? Huh? The Dictator is interested? Oh, yes, we forgot, he’s campaigning for “election” selection.

The Dictator ever so solemnly declared that “no proposal regarding the satellite project has been forwarded to the cabinet for consideration.” Does he mean that the military operates on its own? It has free reign? Or is he fibbing, suggesting that no final decision has reached cabinet. Or maybe both.

But The Dictator clearly knows a lot about the project.

Meanwhile, Deputy Dic and Defense Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan argued that “the project is still being studied.” So he knows all about it as well.

He went on to say that “the study was being carried out between the United States and several other nations.” Now, by saying “United States,” he’s implying something government-to-government. Yet the limited information available suggests that the Theia Group is private and just one of several competing private satellite projects on offer and all still in development or even earlier stages than that.

We think Prawit is fibbing when he states: “The US wants Thailand to co-study and be a member, but Thailand has not yet replied…. If we do not join them, the US would look at other countries.” If he’s not fibbing, then he’s revealing information not available anywhere else and presumably that means information shared with allies.

That there is “a letter of intent signed by the Defence Technology Institute in regard to the project,” is, the Deputy Dic says “not a binding contract, but only for acknowledgement.”

Prawit then said: “Right now we still do not know when the project would get off the ground,” and we think that’s right. While “Ministry [of Defense] sources said it could be operational in 2021, when the ministry’s lease contract for the Thaicom satellite expires,” all other information suggests that’s almost impossible. Other dates suggested have been 2023, but there’s doubt about that too.

It sounds like typical junta obfuscation.

Update: As it usually does when it has things to hide, the junta is threatening and considering legal harassment. Khaosod reports that:

A top junta figure is mulling legal action against a transparency activist who accused the government of illegally planning to acquire an expensive satellite network to spy on its citizens.

Through a spokesman, Gen. Prajin Juntong, who serves as deputy prime minister, slammed the allegations as baseless and said he had ordered lawyers to prepare a case against Srisuwan Janya, though he did not specify what charges would be brought.

“It damaged the deputy prime minister and confused the public,” spokesman Monthol Satchukorn said.

Sounds like a sedition and computer crimes farce set of charges, again common under the dictatorship.





The Dictator’s face

1 06 2018

Spoofing The Dictator is a crime in Thailand. It is treated so seriously that an international manhunt has resulted in arrests.

We have no idea whether Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, self-appointed president premier of Thailand, actually spat that those complaining about fuel prices should put water in their tanks. He might not have said it, but over his more than four years of unfettered power he’s said many silly, nasty and/or threatening things. He often barks emotionally at reporters.

But when he gets lampooned in social media, police are poked into action to save the murderous general’s “face.”

It is reported that a “Cambodian man has … been arrested in Phnom Penh after allegedly posting fake news about the Thai prime minister on the internet while six Thais have been detained in Bangkok for sharing it…”.

It may or may not be “fake new” – thanks Donald – or it may be something else again. But The Dictator is apparently furious, unable to sleep and as agitated as hell. He can’t believe that anyone could treat him so badly.

A pity about all of those red shirts murdered by troops he commanded, but from The Dictator’s perspective, these were beings less than people. He, however, is great and good and can’t possibly stand these social media spoofs, lampoons, “fake news,” clickbait or anything that shaves a layer off his “face.”

Police are working with another increasingly dictatorial regime to arrest and extradite “Heng Ratanak, 21, of Cambodian nationality.” He’s “accused of importing into computer systems false information that may undermine national security or cause panic among the public under the computer crime law…”.

National security? What a farce. All of this to save the boss’s face!

But it doesn’t stop there.

Police have also summoned “six Thais who allegedly shared the article.” All have been arrested. They face a “charge of knowingly propagating or forwarding false digital information that may damage national or economic security, or cause panic among the people.”

That’s the power of dictatorship and The Dictator. He wants to teach them a lesson, just as he taught the red shirt protesters a lesson.

The Dictator losing face is dangerous.





Banning Puea Thai?

17 05 2018

Is the military junta seeking to ban the Puea Thai Party before it allows its “election”? It seems possible.

The junta knows that its one real challenge in an “election” is from the Puea Thai Party. Over the past four years, as well as changing electoral rules and party rules, has gone out of its way to prosecute and jail Puea Thai people. It has also sought to undermine the party’s grassroots organizing. We could go on, but its clear that the junta has been trying to defeat the Puea Thai Party before an “election” even takes place.

Despite all of this undermining, the military’s polling tells the junta that Puea Thai, while weakened, remains strong enough to threaten the junta’s “election” plans.

The latest possibility is the banning of the party. When Puea Thai held a press conference on the junta’s failures, the dictatorship sprang into legal action.

Col Burin Thongpraphai, NCPO legal affairs chief, has ordered the police’s Crime Suppression Division to press four charges against Puea Thai for:

  • violating NCPO order 57/2557 banning existing political parties from conducting a meeting or a political activity;
  • violating NCPO order 3/2558 banning a political gathering of at least five people;
  • violating the computer crime law; and
  • violating Section 116 of the Criminal Code for sedition.

The cumulative prison sentence if found guilty is, we think, something like 20 years in prison. We guess that the junta may go after the party rather than just its members, suggesting the idea of dissolving yet another pro-Thaksin party.





Lese majeste vindictiveness

16 05 2018

Nurhayati  Masoh, a blind woman who was convinced by the authorities to plead guilty to lese majeste, was convicted on 4 January 2018 and sentenced to three years in jail. A couple of weeks later she was mysteriously released on bail. The lawyer and her family confirmed that they did not know the identity of the bail guarantor or how much bail was posted. The charges and conviction were later overturned on appeal.

Prachatai reports that less than two months after that bail out, she was again arrested, charged with computer crimes, convinced to plead guilty and sentenced again. The report states:

… on 5 March, the public prosecutor indicted Nuruhayati on the cybercrime charge for posting on Facebook a link to a radio programme hosted by red-shirt activists on 10 October 2016. The prosecutor claimed that her action caused public panic and threats to national security. The court sentenced her to two years in prison but halved the sentence because she pleaded guilty.

It was only a month after her lese majeste acquittal that she was jailed for computer crimes. The vindictiveness of lese majeste policing and prosecution is terrifying.





Prawet’s lese majeste defiance

12 05 2018

After the completion of one lese majeste hero’s sentence, another hero faces his accuses with heroic defiance.

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk completed his seven-year sentence at the end of last month, still challenging the authorities and the law used against him. Prawet Praphanukul remains incarcerated on lese majeste charges, facing three separate sedition charges, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste, could be sentenced to 171 years in jail. The legal maximum is 50 years, but when you are in your late 50s, 171 years or 50 years make little difference.

His case is one of several involving the alleged sharing a Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on or about 5 April 2017. He’s been held since then and has repeatedly been refused bail.

The twinning of sedition and lese majeste tell us that the military dictatorship is determined to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Prawet is a human rights lawyer and has been defiant from the beginning. When he appeared in court on 18 September 2017, he stunned the court by stating that he did not accept the judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet’s challenge is to the court’s impartiality. He wrote: “Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case.”

According to a Prachatai update – read it in full here – on 8 May 2018, the case resumed. Before testimony began,

Prawet had a heated 30-minute argument with two judges. He said he did not believe the court will rule his lèse majesté case with fairness and impartiality, given that the court repeatedly rejected his bail requests. So he asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

The judges responded “that they would rule the case with justice and sympathy to the defendant, adding that nobody can influence the court.”

Nobody could possibly believe such lies. The courts have repeatedly and consistently handed out huge sentences, applied the law to persons not covered by it, refused bail and breached the law and constitution on lese majeste.

Prawet’s reply was short and to the point: “he will not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but would not obstruct testimony.”

As if to confirm their previous statement was buffalo manure – actually of far lesser value than fertilizer – the judges then closed the court for a secret trial.

UN staff protested but were ditched out of the court.

A verdict will read the verdict on 23 May 2018.

Prawet’s aim is to reveal the shortcomings and injustice of this pathetic judicial system.

Prawet also dismissed his lawyers and refused to sign any documents saying the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

We salute Prawet. His stance is courageous and principled, words that have little meaning in Thailand’s deeply flawed (in)justice system.