Lese majeste catch-ups

18 02 2018

Natthika Worathaiwit was one of The Facebook 8 who were arrested by the military dictatorship because of a satirical Facebook community page that poked fun at The Dictator. They were charged with sedition and computer crimes on 28 April 2016. Tow of them, Harit Mahaton and Natthika were charged with lese majeste.

Initially all were refused bail. When six of the eight were bailed, a military court refused bail for Natthika and Harit. The two firmly maintained their innocence. After more than two months in prison, on 8 July 2016, the two were released on bail. A month later, a military prosecutor indicted the two anti-junta critics on lese majeste and computer crimes.

Little more was heard about the case until in January 2018 Natthika revealed that she had decided to flee Thailand to seek asylum in the U.S. She remains critical of the military dictatorship. Prachatai has an interview with her in the U.S.

Prachatai also reports on a case with a curious twist. Back in March 2016, it was reported that that nine persons are to be charged with lese majeste over the Tob Jote/ตอบโจทย์ television show in 2013. ThaiPBS aired the program on the monarchy and lese majeste law on 11-14 March and 18 March 2013. The series featured historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who later went into exile, conservative royalist Sulak Sivaraksa, the execrable Surakiart Sathirathai and retired ultra-monarchist Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn. The show hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma. All are mentioned in the new set of charges, with four others.

Later, in July 2014, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) imposed a 50,000 baht fine on ThaiPBS for broadcasting political discussions about the monarchy. The NBTC declared that the broadcasts violated “Article 37 of the NBTC Act. The Commission accused the station of publishing content that instigated conflict, damaged peace and order, or damaged the good morality of the people.”

Royalists and the junta could not abide by notions that Thais could have a reasonable discussion of the monarchy or be allowed to think for themselves about the monarchy.

On 15 February 2018, the Administrative Court invalidated the fine. In doing so, it ruled that the NBTC showed bias (which is standard operating procedure for this bunch of junta minions). That bias got a name:  Lt Gen Peerapong Manakit, one of the NBTC members. According to the report, the “court ruled that bias on the part of … [Peerapong] who proposed the punishment, led to an unfair trial. The court ordered the Commission to refund the fine to Thai PBS…. However, the verdict does not rule whether the show’s content was legal or not.”

It is an interesting ruling. If Peerapong’s name rings a bell, it could be because he is another of those military hogs who can’t keep out of the trough, as reported in The Nation:

… there was a public outcry after an Office of the Auditor-General investigation revealed Peerapong Manakit had topped the list of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission members who had made the most overseas “study” trips last year…. He spent about one-third of his time (129 days) on 20 overseas trips at a cost of Bt12.03 million…. Peerapong has reportedly appointed his wife Janya Sawangjit as his adviser, effective October 1. Her salary is Bt120,000 a month…. It is not clear if NBTC commissioners can take their advisers on overseas trips.

Of course, nothing happened about this nepotism and he remains a commissioner, with a bunch of other military and royal-connected men.





Nine years of PPT

21 01 2018

Yet another year has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand.

After nine years, it is dispiriting that we must still post on gross authoritarianism, monarchy and political repression in Thailand.

PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners would have been released and political repression replaced with a more democratic regime.

We began PPT on 21 January 2009, thinking our endeavors would be temporary. More than 7,000 posts and millions of views later, we are still at it, and Thailand is currently more authoritarian than it was when we began.

Thailand has now had an illegal military regime for almost four years. That regime was founded in nonsensical royalism and bound to a monarchy that remains feudal in its politics and grasping in its economic location. One king has gone and the new one is treading both a familiar path while adding his own peculiar positions and toadies. He has shown himself driven by the desire for wealth, power and to rid his kingdom of the vestiges of the 1932 revolution.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream. The “reform” promised by the military junta and now embedded in a military-royal constitution promises that Thailand will remain dominated by an authoritarian elite for years to come.

The past year saw “enthusiasm” for an election, but without some kind of political slapdown of the junta, no election in Thailand can be free or fair under the junta’s rules.

When we sputtered into life PPT was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes in 2009 and 2010 with hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. That alliance looks weaker today as the junta and The Dictator seemingly prepare for post-election repression by a military-dominated regime.

Opponents of the military and the monarchy continue to be detained, coerced and threatened. Lese majeste has been used against them, silencing them and those who become fearful that they too might be whisked away into detention.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a  political dark age. The current military junta has used the lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition laws as grotesque weapons of choice for its political repression.

Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few. The military junta is seeking to institutionalize this control and power.

It seems forlorn to hope for the release of political prisoners under this regime.

Even so, we must remember that lese majeste is used in unconstitutional ways and the authorities demand “confessions” from those charged so that the courts do nothing but sentence. We should recall that brave individuals like Somyos Pruksakasemsuk and Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, now imprisoned for almost seven years and one year respectively, remain in jail. There are scores of others, workers, red shirts and activists, including the most recent inmate, a blind woman. Their continued imprisonment is a travesty of justice and their treatment has been inhumane and, in many cases, illegal.

In recent years, these lese majeste cases have grown exponentially. Military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than this,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the draconian lese majeste law has been extended to include implied lese majeste and the “protection” of royals not cover by the law and even royal dogs and kings long dead.

PPT has now had more than 5.4 million page views at our two sites. We aren’t in the big league in the blogging world, despite an “award” ranking Political Prisoners of Thailand as one of Thailand’s top 100 blogs (in English). Even so, the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste internationally has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to the issue than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of the issue is far more critical than it was when we began.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through the deepening attempts by the Thai censors to block us. Since mid-December, many of our readers in Thailand can only access PPT using a VPN.

We trust that we remain useful and we appreciate the emails we receive.

As in the past, we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be deposed.





Updated: Sulak’s lese majeste charges dropped

17 01 2018

Sulak Sivaraksa is one of the few in Thailand who has been able to defeat lese majeste charges. He’s done this repeatedly. And he’s just done it again.

Over the years, since at least 1984, Sulak has faced repeated rounds of lese majeste charges and has spent time in jail.

It is reported that one of the most bizarre of these cases – lese majeste and computer crimes – has been dropped by a military court. The charges related to his questioning, several years ago, whether an ancient story of 17th century King Naresuan’s elephant battle with a Burmese royal was real or a legend.

Sulak stated that “the military tribunal dropped the charge without explanation.” However, Khaosod reports “Maj. Gen. Choedchai Angsusingha, chief military prosecutor, said the case lacked sufficient witnesses to prosecute Sulak…”.

The critic’s capacity to get off such charges is uncanny, especially when hundreds of others fail and many are essentially forced to plead guilty. He’s also adept at getting bail while facing the charges, something precious few others get.

Certainly, one of Sulak’s strengths is the huge international support he receives, through long-established networks of religious and social activists. He’s also got considerable cross-color support in Thailand from academics, NGOs and activists who have associated themselves with Sulak’s work over several decades. Even the junta is reluctant to challenge such a spectrum of opinion-makers. Finally, Sulak is also a self-declared conservative and monarchist. Perhaps that’s why he chose to have this reported: “Sulak said he credited the mercy of King Rama X for the case being dropped.”

Update: Prachatai has a critical op-ed on this case, related to some of the issues we raise in our last paragraph. Well worth reading. The picture of Sulak Sivaraksa receiving an honorary doctorate from King Vajiralongkorn on 1 December 2017 at Thammasat University is clipped from the story.





ISOC’s electoral power

8 01 2018

It has taken a while for the Internal Security Operations Command or ISOC to respond to concerns about its growing power under the military dictatorship. It was back in November when General Prayuth Chan-ocha used his sweeping powers under Article 44 to amend internal security legislation and set up a security “super board” to allegedly assist ISOC in dealing with “domestic security threats.”

The Dictator made ISOC the central agency dealing with all matters it considers “security,” and at all levels. As we well know, “security” usually means the use of lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition laws against political opponents. Using his extra-judicial powers, The Dictator has ISOC heading up all other agencies, and at the regional level, this includes the Interior Ministry, police and prosecutors. Among other things, this is a handing iron fist for when the military dictatorship decides it needs an “election.”

In the Bangkok Post, we get ISOC’s response. We doubt many will believe ISOC’s claim that the agency is warm and cuddly and apolitical. It never has been and with its domination by the military, it never will be. It is an agancy used by the military to undermine opponents, spy on opponents and purvey propaganda for the regime. But back to the new, “soft” line, reflected in its “peace” and “reconciliation” website and its Facebook page.

Isoc spokesman Maj-Gen. Peerawat Sangthong “explained” the use of The Dictator’s unchecked power was just a bit of administrative and technocratic streamlining. No need to worry.

Chaired by Deputy Prime Minister for Bling General Prawit Wongsuwan chairs ISOC’s “administrative committee.” His deputies are the “defence and interior ministers … with members including commanders of the armed forces and the Isoc secretary-general…”.

Now there are mirror regional and provincial committees, giving ISOC nationwide control of “security.”

Maj Gen Peerawat revealed that ISOC “has about 5,000-6,000 staff nationwide, excluding those working in the … South, and there currently are 500,000-600,000 internal security volunteers, as well as tens of thousands of people in its information network.”

All of those people working for an ISOC with enhanced powers might as the general says, will “reduce the gap among agencies where they are needed to work together to solve a problem, eradicate redundancy and to make sure all the agencies involved are supporting one another.”

That’s useful for repressing the junta’s opponents and we guess the most significant “problem” now is how to ensure the junta’s preferred “electoral” outcome.





Heroes and villains II

24 12 2017

A recent Bangkok Post editorial chastised The Dictator for being unable to accept criticism.

Everyone knows that General Prayuth Chan-ocha gets testy when he feels criticized. As an army boss he’s long been immune to criticism as no one in that hierarchy would dare criticize a boss.

It falls to the Post to advise The Dictator “that the job of premier demands someone with a thick skin.” Quite remarkably, however, the Post thinks Prayuth may have gotten used to criticism and that, therefore, the junta’s “zeal for attacking a former Pheu Thai Party spokeswoman for her criticisms of the premier is all the more mysterious.”

Of course, it isn’t mysterious at all. The junta and The Dictator repeatedly go after critics they consider opponents of army, monarchy and regime. Political repression is an hourly and daily affair for the junta.

The Post actually know this for it says that The Dictator’s:

subordinates in the NCPO’s legal department are resorting to the extreme measure of charging Lt Sunisa Lertpakawat with sedition for Facebook posts taking Gen Prayut to task for fairly mundane transgressions … suggests the NCPO harbours a grievance against certain groups rather than assessing criticism on its merits.

Add in computer crimes and Sunisa is getting the standard repression doled out to political opponents, many of them associated with Puea Thai, Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts.

The Post chastises the junta for attacking Sunisa with big charges when “Sunisa was exercising mere freedom of expression, a basic right guaranteed by the constitution.”

It might have praised her more for having the gumption to stand up to the villains when almost no one else dares.

But resorting to legal constitutionalism illustrates one of the core problems of current political commentary. The junta is a law unto itself but the commentariat seem to accept its laws, constitution, decrees, and “election” as legitimate when they are clearly not. The difference between heroes and villains is as clear as day.

As the military has demonstrated many times, constitutions count for nothing. Citing the junta’s constitution as “law” while the regime does anything it wants is silly and politically dumb.





More judicial harassment

15 12 2017

The military dictatorship has repeatedly used the judiciary to harass its political opponents. It has also repeatedly used this harassment against individuals. It is at it again.

One such case is Arnon Nampa, a human rights lawyer who is also anti-junta and a member of Resistant Citizen. He is associated with Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and has defended numerous individuals accused of lese majeste and the Computer Crimes Act since 2010. His high profile cases have included Ampol Tangnopakul, the aged lese majeste victim who died in prison in 2012 and the case of a man accused of lese majeste for mocking the then king’s dog.

Arnon has faced several situations identified as judicial harassment. In 2015, the military accused him of “importing into a computer false information which may damage national security” under the Computer Crimes Act for five Facebook posts that criticized the military regime’s administration of “justice” under martial law. Then he faced up to 25 years in jail and a fine. In 2016, he was charged with “standing still.” This was a public protest against the junta’s detention of anti-coup activists. The public prosecutor filed charges under Public Assembly Act.

The junta is again using the judiciary to harass Arnon. Is the EU following this case?

According to Prachatai, police have summoned Arnon “over his 2 Nov 2017 Facebook post, accusing him of contempt of the court and importing false information into a computer system under Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act.”

His “crime” was to question the Khon Kaen court’s 2 November verdict “which found seven anti-junta activists guilty of contempt of the court for their activities in front of Khon Kaen Court on 10 Jan 2017.” This case had accused a “peaceful symbolic activity was organised to give moral courage to Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, alias Pai Dao Din, a pro-democracy activist who has been sentenced to 2 years and six months in jail for lèse majesté.”

Arnon copied a news story and wrote a comment, questioning if it is fair or even possible for a court to prohibit those convicted “from associating with each other.”

For this he gets slapped with a charge that could result in many years in jail.

The harassment of political opponents continues. The junta brooks no opposition.





Criticism = sedition

11 12 2017

Criticism = sedition if the critic is considered an “opponent,” meaning a red shirt, a Thaksinista or a member of the Puea Thai Party.

A few days ago we posted on Peau Thai Party one-time deputy spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat making some basic criticisms of the military regime which were not all that different from criticisms in the mainstream media.

This led the prickly junta to file charges against her. It has singled out “opponents” in the past for special “legal” attention, including the crude use of lese majeste against Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa as one among several thousand who shared an accurate news story on King Vajiralongkorn.

The junta has now filed a sedition case against her and several more.

The Nation reports that she will report to the police to acknowledge “six charges … for allegedly committing sedition and violating the Computer Crime bill by uploading false information to her Facebook page.

The Dictator and his junta are a gaggle of spineless cowards, unwilling to accept criticism from political opponents. Indeed, in a sign of deepening repression, they are turning on allies in a campaign that cannot go well for Thailand.