Updated: Double standards and lawlessness in the justice system

1 10 2017

PPT has regularly been posting on the gross failures of the justice system. Thailand’s justice system has long been pretty awful, but since the 2006 military coup that awfulness has been compounded by the fact that particular courts have become little more than political tools for the royalist elite and, in recent years, the military dictatorship’s instrument.

For this reason Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey’s op-ed “Hypocrisy of double standards” is an important statement on a defining failure of the justice system.

Writing after the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions decision to imprison former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, where “[t]he court’s verdict did not state whether the rice pledging policy implemented by Yingluck and her government was wrong but only stated that she neglected her duty in curtailing corruption in the scheme.”

If this is the courts definition of malfeasance, then PPT can’t think of a premier for several decades who wouldn’t be held guilty, including the current military one. But this use of the law is reserved for Yingluck as the military dictatorship wanted to be rid of her.

As Umesh observes,

The verdict left some room for appeal but less than 24 hours after it was handed down, the military government that overthrew the Pheu Thai-led government of which the Shinawatras were the key backers came out with new rules that force any appeal to be lodged by the convicted person and not through lawyers. To make matters worse, the statutory limit on the case, which is usually about a decade or so, is a lifetime.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

He adds that in most jurisdictions, “new rules are effective only after they are put in place, but this is Thailand and in Yingluck’s case the rules were effective retroactively.”

Of course, applying rules and laws retroactively has been a hallmark of military juntas. For example, juntas regularly absolve themselves of criminality when they overthrow governments and constitutions. A more egregious example was the use of Announcement No. 27 (2006) of the then junta  to dissolve Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 2007 using the junta’s Announcement retroactively. It was the junta’s Constitutional Tribunal – its Constitutional Court – that concocted this decision (while at the same time acquitting the parties that supported the coup).

On the current retrospective use of rules and laws, naturally enough it is royalist-military stooge Meechai Ruchupan, head of the junta’s Constitution Drafting Committee, who said the new law, which was only published in the Royal Gazette on 28 September and took effect the next day, applied in Yingluck’s case. As Umesh states, this “basically closes the door on any appeal by Yingluck against the verdict and leaves no room for her to return to Thailand in the foreseeable future unless she’s willing to be behind bars.”

Umesh continues:

The case has raised more questions than it has answered. Many on the street believe that all these rules being put in place by those in power have a single aim of trying to curtail the power and marginalise the once powerful Pheu Thai Party. And to further cement this possible misconception [PPT: we can’t possibly imagine that this is a misconception] is the fact that other political parties are being left to do what they like and their party members and leaders are not being prosecuted even when they are in breach of the law.

To illustrate the double standards at work, Umesh points to the case of anti-democrat leader, coup plotter and “former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who has been accused of violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code by committing misconduct or dereliction of duty for his handling of the 6.67 billion baht project to build 396 police stations under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government…”.

As he notes, that case began before Yingluck’s case, and had dragged on and on:

Little has been heard about it since May 2015 when Mr Suthep was still a monk and once after that when the anti-Pheu Thai “independent” National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) decided to change one of its outside members because Mr Suthep claimed he was biased against him.

This outside member was none other than Vicha Mahakhun, the NACC subcommittee chairman in charge of investigating Mr Suthep’s misconduct. Mr Vicha was hired as an outside member after he retired from the chair of the subcommittee in which he had implicated Mr Suthep.

But here’s double standards twist: Why is there no related case against Abhisit? After all, he was the premier when the alleged malfeasance took place.

While this dereliction of duty case continues to drag on, Democrat Party leader Mr Abhisit, who was Mr Suthep’s immediate boss, is basically left off the hook. There is no such case because Thailand’s judicial system is rigged, politicized and subject to the whims and desires of the military junta.

Umesh concludes:

All this gives the impression that those in power are trying to come up with a million explanations for their snail’s pace of investigation into those aligned to the people in power, but to the general public this kind of move is nothing more than what has been repeated a million times over the past decade — the implementation of double standards.

The blatant breach and different interpretation of rules for different sides makes one wonder how this country can achieve its goal of reconciliation and move on.

The junta’s answer is probably something like: “Just give us a few more years to embed double standards so deeply that they will be the only standards.”

Update: We hit the publish button a little too quickly as we wanted to write more about lawlessness. The best example of the courts acting against the law is lese majeste. There have been several cases where persons have been charged with lese majeste against royals, dead and alive, who are simply not covered by the law. The most recent case of this legal ridiculousness was just last month where courts and the Office of the Attorney General have agreed to proceed with a case involving Princess Sirindhorn who is not covered under Article 112.





Updated: Don’t criticize a politicized court

27 09 2017

The Constitutional Court has been around since 1997, is remarkably well-funded and is highly politicized. Since its decision on Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001, its decisions have gone with the status quo.

Those politicized decisions have been criticized. No longer, if the junta’s minions get their conservative way.

Prachatai reports that the junta’s puppet Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) “has revealed that the Constitutional Court will be protected with a law restricting criticisms against it under the new organic law.”

Under the bill, the Constitutional Court will be “protected” from acts of contempt of court. Other courts are already “protected” with fines and up to seven years in jail.

Exactly what constitutes contempt is not at all clear but the CDC says that people who “criticize” the Constitutional Court “in ill-intended manners, which includes those who post such criticisms online” will be subject to large fines and imprisonment.

With the monarchy “protected,” the courts “protected,” and the junta slapping down all opponents, the political space in Thailand is as narrow as it has been for decades.

Update: Prachatai reports that, as expected, the puppet CDC “submitted the draft Organic Act on the procedures of Organic Act on Constitutional Court to the the [puppet] National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for an approval…. The NLA accepted the draft in principle with 198 votes in favour and three abstiens.”





Inside sucking noises

7 07 2017

PPT hasn’t previously commented on the junta’s decision to spill the Election Commission and create a new Commission with new members. The main reason we have ignored this is because it is like watching a movie with no good characters. It’s bad guys vs. bad guys; no white hats, just black hats.

The military junta is an abomination and the EC is a bunch of self-important jerks who did all that they could to prevent and election in 2014. The EC is anti-election. So what is there to support in any of this? Its going through the swill at the bottom of the barrel.

However, a report at Prachatai is of some interest. The EC, which has seen its members jumping about and saying how terrible it is that they are losing their positions, has decided on a counter-attack.

The report states that on 4 July 2017, the EC “initiated an investigation into 90 members of the NLA [that’s the puppet National Legislative Assembly] over alleged conflict of interest in their stock holdings.”

Up until this point, as far as PPT can recall, the puppet EC has had no interest in the puppet NLA. Thus, its action can only be interpreted as some inside politicking to keep lucrative posts.

It might be said that this action has only become possible after the passage of the junta’s constitution, but that also means that the action can only apply to activities by the NLA since the constitution was promulgated. So probably not much action possible at all. It is mostly bluster by the unhappy EC members.

One of the most reprehensible anti-election commissioners is Somchai Srisuttiyakorn, who must be especially miffed as he did more than others in binning the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, facilitating the anti-democrats and getting the military in place.

He says his lot is forming a committee “to investigate the issue with a two-month time frame. If the commission find reasonable suspicions, the ECT will submit the case to the Constitutional Court for a final judgement.”

At the very same time, the EC continued to make up rules that make any “elected” government that is not military-backed weaker than ever before.

The EC is a waste of political space and of taxpayer funds. Its a remora that seems to have lost its host.





Nothing changed IV

8 04 2017

Forget the constitution, it is Article 44 that still matters.

The Bangkok Post reports that the day after the somewhat bizarre constitution-granting show, The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the use of his dictatorial powers to allow him to make the “selection of new Constitutional Court judges and members of a committee linked to the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG)…”.

Ostensibly because “the law pertaining to them under the new constitution has [not] been completed,” the use of Article 44 means that the shape of the most important and most highly politicized court is going to be maintained as the junta’s plaything.

The order means that “Constitutional Court judges must be selected within 45 days.”

While there are rules about senior judges “approving” appointees, it is pretty certain that the appointees will be rapid royalists with a penchant for military government and not much time for electoral politics and politicians (the latter being a dirty word in yellow shirt and junta argot).

Both the judges and the Auditor-General Committee will “serve a single term of seven years.”

That committee “will nominate a new auditor-general for consideration by the NLA “for a single term of six years, the order states.”

That all allows plenty military influence for a long time to come.





Updated: Moving from military dictatorship to military domination

5 04 2017

The Bangkok Post quotes the junta and its minions in saying that a “general election will be held in November next year [2018] at the latest now that the date has been set for the promulgation of Thailand’s 20th constitution, according to the roadmap set by the National Council for Peace and Order[they mean military junta].”

That calculation is based on a “schedule announced in the Royal Gazette on Monday,” which has the king finally and with great pomposity, signing the junta’s much amended and still secret constitution tomorrow.

By that calculation, an “election,” under the junta’s rules and direction, must be held “19 months from that date or no later than Nov 6, 2018.”

Frankly, given that the junta promised “elections” 12 months after it illegally seized power in May 2014, we will believe it when it happens.

But as we have said before, the “elections” will change very little. A few countries like the USA will accept a military-backed but formalistic “elected government,” and that will be seen by some as a plus.

In fact, as planned at the moment, the military and junta will remain the power in Thailand, much as it was through the 1980s. But back then it was General Prem Tinsulanonda ruling with strong palace-backing and a military-dominated senate. This time it will be whoever the junta wants in the premier’s seat backed by the junta’s constitution and its multiple unelected bodies, including the unelected junta.

The Dictator seems reasonably sure that the constitution will be signed tomorrow: “As far as I know, [the king] will sign the constitution on April 6 and I will countersign it as prime minister…”.

Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Meechai Ruchupan appeared somewhat disoriented in his comments. Acknowledging that Article 44 powers will continue, he babbled that the “power cannot be used in violation of the core principles of the constitution. Nor can it change the new charter itself.” Of course, that would depend on interpretations by the Constitutional Court and other bodies developed by and beholden to the junta.

Then on the ban on political party activity, Meechai seemed befuddled, saying he “believes it will be eased after the political party bill is enacted” and then adding: “In any case, they can run their normal operation.” We are not sure what “normal” is and we are sure that the parties don’t know either.

Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman of The Dictator, noted that:

Members of the cabinet, NCPO [junta], NLA [puppet assembly] and NRSA [puppet National Reform Steering Assembly] who want to run for MPs must resign within 90 days after the new charter comes into effect. The rule applies only to MPs, not senators or cabinet ministers.

He added: “Once the constitution comes into effect, enacting a law will be more complicated and public hearings and opinions of related government agencies must be taken into consideration…”.

It will be “more complicated” for the junta even if the “complications” were designed by the junta. But Article 44 doesn’t get complicated at all. It just stays and its use is legal before and after “elections.”

In the end, the junta’s road map is a representation of how to move from military dictatorship to continued military domination of politics. That’s the plan, the road map. We retain some hope that the people will reject the dons of the military mafia.

Update: Meechai was certainly addled on political parties, so the junta has made things clear. Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan said “restrictions on political parties’ activities will not be eased even after the enactment of the new constitution.” He added: “Please wait until things become orderly. There is still about one year left [before the poll is held]…”. About a year? Or about two years? The Nation reckons the election date remains unclear.





Ditching parties

10 12 2016

The anti-democrats working for the military dictatorship to come up with its constitution are chosen because they hate electoral politics and can’t abide elected politicians. This is because such institutions and individuals provide the citizenry with an alternative notion of sovereignty that challenge the hierarchical regime of the “good” and the “great” who claim Thailand for themselves.

A series of articles have appeared in the Bangkok Post discussing the implications of the changes proposed by the anti-democrats working for the military junta.

The first is in the Saturday feature, About Politics. Usually critical, the column this week is pretty much uncritical. We wonder if it is by different journalist or if the regular journalist is self-censoring or under threat or warning.

The report says that the Constitution Drafting Committee’s (CDC) draft organic law on political parties “is wrapped up and almost ready for submission to the palace, with many fearing the contents will build an iron-clad cage around parties big and small.”

Reflecting the ideological beliefs of anti-democrats, one section seeks to rid parties of “puppet masters” claimed to be “lurking behind the scenes and pulling the strings.” This is how you say Thaksin Shinawatra without actually using his name. The idea that a “law” is designed to prevent one person from being politically influential is remarkable. Other individuals in the military and among the great and the “good” are permitted, of course.

The draft “law” allocates tremendous power to the politicized Constitutional Court, which will be able to dissolve parties more or less at any time the powers that be decide the court should do so. Again, Thaksin’s name is not mentioned but they mean him when parties are forbidden to allow “a non-member or a ‘prohibited person’ from directing its administration, however discreetly…”,

Of course, “good” people will be outside this “law.”

The “final version of the draft organic law demands greater accountability from political parties for their actions and their role in forging national reconciliation by tolerating and accepting different political opinions and helping to resolve political conflicts through peaceful means…”.

That means following the junta’s orders and those set out in the so-called 20-year road map. Failure means dissolution.

The law also prevents some persons – such as those convicted by the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions – from involvement with a party. Of course, this is another anti-Thaksin “law” and is aimed at the Puea Thai Party. Essentially, this “law” will be used to dissolve the party if it does well in any election the junta decides might be held. Thaksin has been made illegal.

Once the draft organic law comes into force, anything amounting to a “Thaksin factor” in a party’s affairs will be illegal, and the price for breaching the law will see the party cease to exist.

An earlier Bangkok Post report says that the “newly drafted bill on political parties may see the number slashed to 10 from the present 72 based on their records of financial support…”. That’s the word from anti-election election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn.

The plan is to ditch parties 3-4 years because each party must “recruit 20,000 members and collect annual supporting fees of at least 2 million baht.” Somchai giggled that only 10 parties can do that.

Silly Somchai stated that the “draft organic law on political parties … was intended to encourage strong parties with the potential to produce quality work and become institutions.” Perhaps he forgets that this was the plan under the 1997 constitution, and that it was rather good at creating “strong parties.” Of course, one of those strong parties has been dissolved following the 2006 coup – Thai Rak Thai.

The requirement for all party members to contribute funds to the party every year will mean that the less well off members of the population will be excluded.

Yet another Bangkok Post report indicates many of the complaints of political parties, including the anti-democrat Democrat Party. That party babbled about vote-buying. That’s another anti-Thaksin line for the anti-democrats all believe – wrongly – that TRT and Thaksin bought all their votes.

The party might be better looking at why it never gets elected and why it is so keen to get in bed with the military and rabid rightists.

The “law” is meant to recreate political parties that are weak and dependent, as they were under General Prem Tinsulanonda’s military-backed “semi-democracy.”





Military regime must go

9 12 2016

To mark Human Rights Day on 10 December, the Asian Human Rights Commission has called on Thailand’s military dictatorship to dissolve itself via an “election.” To be honest, while we agree with this call, it is all too tepid:

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to draw attention to the situation in Thailand on this momentous day, December 10, which is observed as Human Rights Day. Unfortunately, in Thailand, the day will be eclipsed by the Military regime that is in power since May 2014, when it overthrew the last elected government. It is the rudimentary nature of the Thai legal system, and a weak Constitutional Court that has led to 13 military coups in Thailand since 1932. Despite 16 new constitutions having been promulgated since the first coup and the first Constitution, Thailand could not prevent a Military dictatorship from declaring and “taking over administration of the country” yet again.

Soon after the 13th successful Military coup, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) replaced the country’s Judiciary with Military courts, for all practical purposes concerning fundamental human rights and freedoms. Three NCPO announcements: No. 37/2014, No. 38/2014, and No. 50/2014, expanded powers, and retained Military court jurisdiction over civilians, in cases of lèse majesté, national security crimes, weapons offences, and violations of NCPO orders. The result of these three measures has been to extend the control of the Military judicial system to civilians and civilian cases.

According to information received from the Judge Advocate General’s Department (JAG) on 12 July 2016, 1,811 civilians have been tried in the Military court in 1,546 cases from 22 May 2014 to 31 May 2016.

The AHRC has found that the Military courts do not accord the same rights as Thailand’s civilian courts and violate internationally protected fair trial rights, especially rights to fair and public hearing by a competent, impartial, and independent tribunal, and the rights to legal representation.

On 12 September 2016, the NCPO also issued the NCPO Order No. 55/2016, under Article 44 of the Interim Constitution; it states that all cases involving offences covered under NCPO Order No. 37/2014, No. 38/2014, and No. 50/2014, will no longer be tried in Military courts. However, this Order does not cover cases initiated before the Order was issued; it also fails to cover cases under Article 12 of the NCPO Order No. 3/2015, the junta’s public gathering ban, and the NCPO Order No. 13/2016, which gives Military officers extrajudicial power. Therefore, crimes involving these laws still have to be tried in Military court.

For example, Ms. Sirikan Charoensiri, human rights lawyer and legal and documentation officer at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), is now facing accusations of sedition under Section 116 of the Thai Criminal Code, as well as violation of Article 12 of the NCPO Order No. 3/2015. The inquiry officer informed Ms. Sirikan that she was charged with being an accomplice in the coup commemoration organized by the New Democracy Movement (NDM) at the Democracy Monument on 25 June 2015. These charges stemmed from Ms. Charoensiri not letting her car be searched and for her carrying the activists’ belongings. If indicted, she will be tried in Military Court.

The NCPO also issued a series of their orders and announcements and imposed Article 44 of the interim constitution, according to which General Prayuth Chan-ocha, as the junta leader and Prime Minister, has absolute power to give any order deemed necessary to “strengthen public unity and harmony” or to prevent any act that undermines public peace. As a result, the status of the Order issued under the power of Article 44 is equal to an act passed by the Legislature.

To illustrate, the NCPO Order No. 3/2015, issued under the authority of Article 44, permits boundless exercise of power and also inserts Military officials into the judicial process and provides them with the authority to carry out investigations along with the police. In addition, the Order gives authority to Military officials to detain individuals for up to seven days. During this seven-day period of detention, detainees do not have the right to meet with a lawyer or contact their relatives, and the Military officials further refuse to make the locations of places of detention public.

With two years having passed, 7 August 2016, was scheduled for the constitutional referendum by the Thai Military government and the NCPO. Providing the conditions for free and open political communication was the basic element of ensuring fair and democratic referendum processes. It is during times of political change that the right to freedom of expression is most essential, ensuring that a well-informed and empowered public was free to exercise its civil and political rights. However, under Thai law, the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559’s Section 61 paragraph two and its implementation, along with NCPO Order No.3/2015, have shown contradictory results. It intends to restrict the rights of people, who need to discuss and to critically evaluate decisions about their country. As of August 2016, 165 people had been prosecuted for publicly opposing the draft constitution— many of them from the capital, Bangkok.

In addition, when the constitutional referendum passed, rights groups still expected the Military government and the NCPO would allow people to exercise their rights. However, the AHRC has witnessed how the right to freedom of expression and opinion has been muzzled, with critics having to eventually face lèse majesté or Section 112 under the Thai Criminal Code.

The AHRC would like to point out the permanent case of a 71-year-old writer arrested for the third time under lèse majesté law. On 15 November 2016, police officers from Chanasongkram Police Station, Bangkok, arrested a writer known by his penname Bundit Aneeya from his house in Nong Khaem District. At the Police Station, the police informed Bundit Aneeya that he was accused of committing an offence under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code for allegedly making comments about the Thai monarchy at a political seminar about the junta-sponsored constitution drafting process, on 12 November 2016. After his lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights filed a second petition asking for bail from the Military court, he was released on 400,000 bath (around $12,270 USD). He is one of the few lèse majesté suspects granted bail by a Military court. This trial is still ongoing.

The AHRC is deeply concerned that the Thai Military government and the NCPO are not serious about abolishing the Military courts and are tending towards continuing to restrict the people’s rights, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, even more so than in the past.

On Human Rights Day, 2016, the AHRC again calls for the NCPO to revoke Article 44 of the Interim Constitution and the NCPO orders and announcements that place civilians in Military courts, and to end all violations and harassment of ordinary people. In addition, the NCPO and Military government must arrange for elections and peaceful transfer of power to a civilian government, i.e. back to the people of Thailand.

This is where military dictatorships get the upper hand. Because they control everything, the best that liberal activists can do is request an “election.” As we have pointed out time and again, this hardly seems likely to change anything much. What is being missed is the purge of opposition in all of Thailand’s institutions and civil society. What is being missed is the deep repression revolving around the lese majeste regime that changes the nature of politics for years to come, if there is no rupture. What is being missed is how an “election” will be unfair, not free and will be an exercise in embedding authoritarianism.

Thailand is in a dark place.