Updated: Open-mouthed disbelief I

11 07 2019

Several stories caught PPT’s collective eye over the past couple of days.

The first is about Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman,” who has been clearing his office at the Ministry of Defence to make way for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.  But little else seems to have changed for for Gen Prawit.

A story at Khaosod of another bit of “casual corruption” associated would be funny if it wasn’t so reflective of a regime that has descended into old ways of military-bosses-cum-politicians.

Serial complainer Srisuwan Janya, who operates off social media posts in making his hundreds of petitions, has “filed a complaint to probe the police’s purchase of a 1.14 billion baht jet for ferrying deputy junta chairman [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwan and his entourage…”.

Srisuwan’s complaint plagiarizes social media “outrage at photos of the junta’s second-in-command exiting a private [police] jet with a flight attendant in tow…”.

The little bit of tycoon lifestyle for Gen. Prawit tripping about in a Dassault Falcon 2000S is said to have been purchased “by the police … [for] about 350 million baht more than the global market price.”

The price for a new one is about $30 million. That is a lot of taxpayer loot for a force that usually buys vehicles like the Toyota Camry and, for its pampered bosses, a BMW 5 or a Mercedes 600. Its aviation division has a Fokker 50 turboprop airliner in addition to the Falcon and more than 70 helicopters.

Srisuwan asks – we presume rhetorically – “Why does Thailand like to buy things at a higher price than other people? Or was there some special [deal] that they haven’t revealed to the people?”

Clipped from Khaosod

The jet is said to have cost 1.14 billion baht, which seems about 159 million baht over the list price. Expect the police to say that the extra cash went to fit-out, training and/or spare parts rather than into any boss’s pocket.

So far, the efforts of the police spokesman are laughable, claiming the “plane was a sound investment,” and saying it carried not just Gen Prawit and “the police commissioner and other high-ranking officials.” What a life! They don’t have to deal with the hoi polloi in regular planes or put up with noisy turboprops. The spokesman adds that the new plane can fly when helicopters can’t (but so can the Fokker).

Not only that, but the Falcon can be used for other “important assignments … like government inspections, drug raids, and to follow up crucial investigations.” A $30 million business jet for “investigations”? Right, but probably not investigations of police corruption.

While on the police, we notice that they have, as claimed several times, been hard at work on the cases involving the assault of political activists. Indeed, they have brought charges! Khaosod reports that police have

arrested … eight Facebookers accused of spreading [allegedly] false reports on social media that the police were behind the attack on June 28 that left pro-democracy campaigner Sirawith [Seritiwat] in critical condition. All of the suspects were charged with cybercrimes….

The report adds that police claim that the eight “confessed to claiming on Facebook that deputy police commissioner Chaiwat Ketworachai sent four men under his command to attack Sirawith.”

No one expects the police to arrest the thugs responsible for the cowardly attacks but the Facebookers, slapped with computer crimes charges that can mean up to seven years in prison.

As PPT predicted, “investigations” into the attack on Sirawith is being “hampered” because “some cameras were out of service and failed to capture the assailants’ flight from the scene…”. That’s the usual excuse when a cover-up is underway.

A third story that causes open-mouthed disbelief is also at Khaosod. Just confirmed as Deputy Minister for Agriculture is “dark influence” Thammanat Prompao, a member of the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party.

Deputy Prime Minister under the junta and now under the “new” junta-engineered government, Wissanu Krea-Ngam has said that Thammanat’s “eligibility for a seat in the cabinet is not in question because he is not being prosecuted by the Thai judiciary.” The story continues, with Wissanu claiming:

In the past, there was an MP who had been prosecuted in Hong Kong for drug trafficking, but his status was not affected in Thailand…. Although his reputation among many things might have been impacted, his deeds and ethical standards have to be considered separately.

On Thammanat, it is known that he’s allegedly been involved in all kinds of activities that many consider “shady.” As the report states:

Thammanat was once stripped of his military rank for alleged involvement in a murder case in 1998, but was reinstated after the court acquitted him.

The latest allegations against Thammanat came after an opposition politician claimed he was previously convicted of a crime in a foreign country. No public records of such conviction could be found as of publication time.

Now that a government has been formed – it still has to present its policy to parliament – look to all kinds of internal jostling for a place at the trough.

Update: In another report staggering under a mound of buffalo manure, police claim that they have not – yes, they haven’t – demanded an exchange of police protection for Sirawith being politically silent. Not only that, but the police claim they would never, ever, never ask a political activist not to engage in political activity. Well, it wasn’t the police saying it, but Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol. But we guess that the Army speaks for the police these days. But, really, this is just the usual lies from senior figures. This kind of buffalo manure will only cease to flow when such idiocies and the dolts who make such claims are called out, again and again. The truth is out there, but these fools work with manure rather than truth.





Release Rung Sila

7 06 2019

The United Nations, FIDH and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have all urged that the military government “immediately release lèse-majesté detainee Siraphop Kornaroot [Rung Sila], in accordance with a ruling made recently by a United Nations (UN) body [Human Rights Council, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention}…”.

He’s “been detained for almost five years on charges under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code – one of the world’s toughest lèse-majesté laws – and Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.”

His “trial” before a military court, in secret, in September 2014 and after 20 previous court hearings the next hearing is on 10 June.

He has been repeatedly refused bail. In other words, this is another example of lese majeste torture, seen in several cases, where the regime and courts and probably the palace demand a guilty plea.

The Human Rights Council has already declared his detention arbitrary and views his trial as unfair.

Rung SIla is the eighth lese-majeste detainee whose detention has been declared arbitrary by the UN since August 2012.





Anurak and Ubolratana

27 04 2019

PPT have already posted on the harassment of and assault on activist Anurak Jeantawanich (Ford Redpath). Here’s some more background.

Soon after this, Anurak was charged with computer crimes.

He went in to hear the charge at the appointed day, and went alone, and he says there were men in SWAT gear standing by while he heard the charges. He felt he would be arrested at any moment. He was allowed to keep only the last page of the charge sheet as a photocopy including the supposed law-breaking post. Anurak has posted a copy of the Facebook post in question to show people what happened and had it translated to English.

Here it is, as shared with reporters.





Updated: Get rid of the junta

19 03 2019

Perhaps the best that can come from the junta’s “election” is a massive vote for anti-military parties a massive vote for anti-military parties, even if those parties are flawed in some ways.

To remind us why this military junta and its government should be sent packing  it is worth recalling disappearances:

  • It is now two years since the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae on 17 March 2017. What happened when the military involved were “investigated”? Nothing at all, mainly due to cover-ups.
  • The disappearance of all “investigations” of allegations of the junta’s corruption.
  • The missing 1932 memorials while unthinking conservative royalism is promoted.

That’s just a sampler.

Then there’s the repression. One example of many relates to the use of computer crimes laws, recently made worse. And, it is important to recall that this repression is not just directed at the junta’s political opponents.

This is emphasized in a recent and long article at Coda.It begins with the story of the hopelessly flawed Thai police going after a 19-year-old British tourist who claimed she had been raped while visiting Koh Tao. As the report observes, the “allegation was serious and the response was rapid, but not in keeping with the norms of a rape investigation. The local police first denied that the rape had occurred; they also described her accusation as ‘fake’.”

They then went after some overseas dissident media: “In an another remarkable move, police also obtained warrants to arrest the editor of an online Thai newspaper in Britain and the administrator of a dissident Facebook page in California, both of whom had shared or reported on the case.” Followers in Thailand were arrested.

The message was clear to the Thai media: self-censor. Not surprisingly, “there has been little domestic news coverage of the case, even as it has been widely reported in Britain and the United States.”

One of those targeted was “Pramuk Anantasin, the California-based administrator of the CSI LA Facebook page, which has hundreds of thousand of followers and regularly shares stories that are censored in Thailand…”.

But the article points to a different reason for the crackdown: protecting the Chinese tourism market:

To understand Thailand’s censorious response to the alleged rape case, it is important to go back to another tourism-related event which took place around the same time, but one that received even less attention. On July 5, 2018, shortly after the rape, a tour boat sank off the Thai resort island of Phuket, killing 47 of its 93 passengers, nearly all of whom were Chinese. The incident was widely covered in China and, in the coming months, resulted in a large drop off in inbound tourists.

But CSI LA is not off the hook. The head of the junta’s “Judge Advocate General’s office, Col Burin Thongprapai, lodged a complaint Monday, after the Facebook page said the photos ‘proved’ soldiers had been ordered to vote for a certain political party, believed to refer to the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party…”. The military denies and then sues for “defamation.”

Whether the particular story is true or not, it remains clear that the military leadership has made it absolutely clear who they think the people – including soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen – should vote for.

This is a regime that needs to be ousted. Is it possible? We hope so.

Update: The Nation has an AFP story on why the junta should be sent packing. It is headlined “Deaths, jail and cyber spies: The dangers of dissent in Thailand.”





Flustered and desperate I

12 03 2019

The military junta is officially flustered and desperate, seemingly recognizing that the anti-military parties are – despite years of its efforts and poll rigging – not likely to do quite as well as the junta had planned in the upcoming election.

The desperation is palpable and seen in efforts by the junta to tangle opponents in legal cases. But with the Democrat Party “withdrawing” support for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister, the junta and its Palang Pracharath Party is looking isolated and electorally rancid (we have more of the Democrat Party in an upcoming post).

The surprise package has been Future Forward, which is polling well and drawing very large campaign crowds. This makes them a target for the junta.

Prachatai reports that the latest of several cases the junta has brought against Future Forward is a complaint to the police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division against the party’s website administrator and others for contempt of court. The complaint was lodged by the junta’s legal officer, Col Burin Thongprapai.

The complaint refers to a press conference following the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party on 7 March where party Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul read the Party’s statement on the Constitutional Court’s ruling. Earlier it remained unclear exactly what the junta’s complaint was.

The details are at Prachatai, but it remains crystal clear that the junta is panicked.





Another junta cyberlaw

2 03 2019

In 2007, just as the junta-installed government was coming to its end, Gen Surayud Chulanont’s regime passed the draconian Computer Crimes Act. Now, with another junta-installed government is ending its term as the servant of the military regime, it has unanimously passed another computer crimes law. The Cybersecurity Act (opens a Thai-language PDF) will give even more thorough and “sweeping powers to state cyber agencies.”

According to one report:

The Cybersecurity Act will allow state officials to seize, search, infiltrate, and make copies of computers, computer systems, and information in computers without a court warrant if an appointed committee sees it as a high-level security threat….

Of course, as before, the attention to national security means that the “protection” of the monarchy is central to the rightist thinking that has generated even greater snooping powers.

Further, the reporting states that the new law:

… will also allow a separate committee, called the National Cybersecurity Committee, to summon individuals for questioning, enter private property without court orders, or request real-time access to information related to those causing the cyber threats…. For all of these instances, the relevant courts only need to be informed of such actions after they have already occurred.

Another report concludes: “Added together, there’s a fear that the law could be weaponized by the government to silence critics.”

A statement by the Asia Internet Coalition declared it “is deeply disappointed that Thailand’s National Assembly has voted in favor of a Cybersecurity Law that overemphasizes a loosely-defined national security agenda, instead of its intended objective of guarding against cyber risks…”. That statement continued:

Protecting online security is a top priority; however, the Law’s ambiguously defined scope, vague language and lack of safeguards raises serious privacy concerns for both individuals and businesses, especially provisions that allow overreaching authority to search and seize data and electronic equipment without proper legal oversight. This would give the regime sweeping powers to monitor online traffic in the name of an emergency or as a preventive measure, potentially compromising private and corporate data….

According to a Khaosod report, even a senior judge has expressed concerns:

Appeals Court judge Sriamporn Salikup told the media last week that the cybersecurity bill appears to “prioritize government security over the freedoms and liberties of the people.” He also warned that the legislation lacks clear checks and balances.

“It’s at the risk of causing severe damage to the liberty and freedom of the people, as I have already expressed concerns many times,” Sriamporn said.

Improbably, the junta’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society says “there is no room for the enforcement of the new legislation that can hurt people’s rights or privacy.” No one should believe them.





Updated: Election and legal activism

27 02 2019

A week or so ago academics Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang and Björn Dressel wrote at New Mandala about the rise of the courts as the junta’s election approaches.

Their comments were mainly about the Constitutional Court and royal family member and (happy to use the title) Princess Ubolratana’s ill-fated 12-hour effort to become prime minister.

On that case, due in Constitutional Court today, if the court rules to disband the Thai Raksa Chart Party, the proceedings will end. However, if the court goes to an extended trial, then the Election Commission will have prosecutors from the Attorney General prosecuting its case.

In the latter case, the decision will take weeks to months to be decided, presenting an opportunity for the court to change the election outcome.

For the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and two other party officials appeared at the prosecutor’s office over a case brought by the junta under the Computer Crimes Act. Prosecutors decided that they will not again meet until 26 March to consider whether to indict the Future Forward folks. Just two days after the election date, this also allows the judicial process to change election outcomes.

Watch these judicial interventions as politics by another means.

Update: It seems the Constitutional Court has decided to avoid weeks to months and will drop its decision on Thai Raksa Chart in just a week. That is presumably not good news for the party. Indeed, the court stated “that it will base its decision on documents submitted by the EC and the party without having to call in witnesses.”