Updated: Article 44 and the junta’s fear

16 07 2016

It was something of a surprise a few days ago when The Dictator used Article 44to halt all selections for independent bodies. Sure, Article 44 has been used for all manner of things, from land seizures to universities and political repression, but this use seemed somewhat odd.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s order “suspended the selection of ombudsmen, election commissioners, Constitutional Court judges, members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, and national human rights commissioners, pending the promulgation of a new charter.”

Now the reason is clear and in the media. As Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam “explained,” Prayuth’s “order on Wednesday halting the selection of a new ombudsman was issued to prevent a ‘serious untoward incident’…”.

The media asked for more information. Wissanu declared that it was “aimed at preventing serious repercussions.”

The media asked for more information: “Asked why the ombudsman’s selection process could have such a serious impact, Mr Wissanu said, ‘If you were at the parliament, you would know. It was a serious issue that should not have happened’.”

The order prevented the National Legislative Assembly from considering the partially complete selection of Rewat Visarutvej as a new ombudsman from continuing.

Why did the junta want the process halted? It seems that Dr Rewat, a former chief of the Medical Services Department and former adviser to the Office of the Ombudsman, has been blackballed because some of the junta members and some of the deeply yellow think he is tainted.

For them, it is a sin that Dr Rewat served as an adviser to red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikua when he was a deputy minister in Thailand’s last elected government. That made him “problematic,” threatening a “serious untoward incident” that would have had “serious repercussions.”

The NLA itself was split on Rewat, so the junta stepped in to prevent an appointment they considered impossible – no red shirts allowed.

NLA member, junta friend and former member of the 2006 junta, General Somjet Boonthanom “said if this selection proceeded, it could be seen as the NLA failing its duty and people would lose faith in it as well as the NCPO.” (Had some members forgotten who is paying for their rice, cars, advisers and more?)

Readers will recall that Yingluck Shinawatra was unanimously found at fault by the Constitutional Court and dismissed from office for the transfer of a top security officer, Thawil Pliensri, as National Security Council secretary-general in 2011. Yet the junta, with its own rules, impunity and double standards supported by “independent agencies” can do whatever it wants, when the fear of Thaksin Shinawatra is driving them.

Update: Some reports state that Rewat has the support of the brass. In that case, the junta seems as concerned about yellow opposition as it does of Thaksin. For the referendum, they want no opposition at all.





Repression to deepen

30 06 2016

There are reports that detained students are being punished in prison by being forced to “do various laborious tasks such as cleaning latrines, sweeping the grounds and brushing jail bars…” and that the junta’s thugs have not only “banned” any No vote campaign but also campaigning for the right to campaign, George Orwell must be rolling in his grave.

More worryingly, the Constitutional Court’s expected support for the junta and its draconian referendum law, moves the whole charter referendum into an Orwellian vortex of repression and oppression. NGOs and activists might babble about the junta “allowing” debate, but they are pissing into the wind and continue to misunderstand the basic nature of the regime.

The Constitutional Court continued its support for anti-democratic positions, with “[a]ll nine court judges agreed that Section 61 of the Referendum Act does not violate the 2014 interim charter.” The question asked was whether the referendum law breached the 2014 military charter, which had some (disposable) commitment to “freedom of expression.”

Now that the loyal judges have done their job, there is nothing to prevent even deeper repression as the military’s new charter goes to the referendum, providing the junta and its thugs with a license to do whatever they feel necessary to get their preferred result.

Confusingly, the result the junta favors may be the rejection of the charter, allowing it to stay on even longer, while being able to use the referendum law to repress opponents.





The junta-gang and its thuggishness

13 06 2016

It is a week since Prachatai published this (and, yes, yet another) disturbing report and almost a week since another story at the same place that point to the military junta’s thuggish attempts to oppress. We have used the words “thuggishness” and “thugs” quite often, and consider it appropriate as the junta acts in the manner of a criminal gang, threatening some, offering protection to others and reaping the material and other rewards of its brute power.

The first story is about an ongoing intimidation of “Benjarat Meetian, the lawyer for Thanakrit Thongngernperm, a suspect in the alleged Bike for Dad terrorist plot who is also charged under the lèse majesté law…”.

Thanakrit is the man alleged to have been involved in the so-called Khon Kaen model or plot to carry out attacks after the 2014 coup. As far as we can recall, this was a junta beat-up that led to men and women being accused and arrested but little more has been reported since then. Later, a warrant was issued for Thanakrit, accused of a plot to attack a royal event and/or The Dictator at the Bike for Dad propaganda event. At the time, while claimed by the junta to be “on the run,” Thanakrit was actually incarcerated in a Khon Kaen jail and had been there since mid-2014.

Benjarat filed a complaint on 29 November 2015 under Articles 172, 173, 174, 181, and 328 of the Criminal Code against Maj Gen Wicharn Jodtaeng, head of the junta’s legal office and Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, the Deputy Police Chief, “for allegedly filing false charges and defaming her client.” The response from the military and police officers was to file a criminal defamation complaint against Benjarat.

On 3 June 2016, the Criminal Court held a conciliation hearing but Maj Gen Wicharn and Pol Col Mingmontree did not attend. Instead, Mingmontree “filed an additional criminal defamation charge against an embattled defence lawyer.” She has “been summoned to report to police investigators … on 8 June 2016.”

In the second story, as expected, a “District Court has confirmed that the Military Court has jurisdiction over trials of anti-junta activists charged with violating the junta’s political gathering ban…”. The case involves “Natchacha Kongudom, an anti-junta youth activist indicted for violating the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Head’s Order No. 3/2015.  The order prohibits any political gathering of five or more persons.”

The Military Court “read the ruling of Pathumwan District Court of Bangkok, which confirms the jurisdiction of the Military Court in the case, citing NCPO Announcement No. 37/2014 which states that cases related to national security, the Thai monarchy and violations of NCPO orders shall be tried in Military Courts.”

According to the report, the “ruling also states that although the announcements and orders of the NCPO were not endorsed by the King or parliament, the coup-makers have successfully gained control over the country since the 2014 coup. Therefore, their orders and announcements are lawful.”

Thuggish behavior is accepted in Thailand, as law.

Natchacha’s defence lawyer has asked the “Constitutional Court to consider jurisdiction over the case.”





Court actions

9 06 2016

Two short reports on judicial action deserve attention.

The first is about the Ombudsman’s Office petitioning the Constitutional Court over Section 61 of the referendum law that ill-defined illegal actions related to the constitutional referendum. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday accepted the petition. The report states that the court has “ordered the National Legislative Assembly and Election Commission to send evidence to counter the case.” Presumably the Constitutional Court now moves quickly to decide if Section 61 of the referendum law infringes on “constitutional rights” in the military’s interim charter.

AnarchyThe second story refers to the case of Natthapol Khemngern, a musician, who was arrested on 25 May 2015 for anarchist graffiti at the Criminal Court. Originally the Criminal Court sentenced him to two years imprisonment reduced to one year without suspension because he pleaded guilty. Natthapol appealed, and the Appeals Court upheld the sentence but suspended it for two years, fined him and ordered that he complete 12 hours of community service.

 





Updated: Referendum (no) doubt

4 06 2016

[Update: fixed a typo.]

In yet another move that makes Thailand look increasingly like Bizarro World, the Bizarro backwards world, Thailand’s Bizarro Election Commissioner – the one who opposes elections and tries to stop them and who prevents debate on the referendum – Somchai Srisuttiyakorn has stated that “even if the Constitutional Court rules against a particular clause of the referendum law,” the “Aug 7 referendum will go ahead as planned…”.

Readers will recall the referendum being in doubt only yesterday.

Somchai, who held quite different politically-motivated views when he campaigned against an elected government, now says that “if” – and it is a big “if” – the Constitutional Court “accepts for consideration an Ombudsman petition against the clause which is seen to restrict freedom of expression, and rules it violates the interim charter, this will not affect the August referendum schedule.” He said that “the only way to postpone the referendum is to amend the 2014 interim charter’s clauses relating to the referendum” as these clauses, he says, “stipulate … a specific time frame for the referendum, and require … the Election Commission (EC) to announce the date for the referendum anywhere from 90 to 120 days from when the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) hands the summary of the final draft charter to the Election Commission (EC).”

Going further into Bizarro-EC-speak, Somchai said that even if the “offences and penalties stipulated by the referendum law are ruled unconstitutional by the court,” this didn’t matter because “there are still other laws to punish those who disrupt the referendum.” Yes, we know, why have the law in the first place? And, wasn’t the Constitutional Court a bit like God to the EC, Somchai and other anti-democrats just a couple of short years ago? But, then, this is Bizarro Land.

Meanwhile, CDC puppet-in-chief Meechai Ruchupan worried in public that “if Section 61 of the referendum law is ruled invalid by the court, this would encourage those anti-charter groups to create unrest in the lead-up to the referendum.” He said the EC had to enforce “measures to deal with the issue.” He means stopping opponents of the referendum.

Bizarro Land has supermarket-style laws from which the anti-democratic elite can pick and choose and even make returns if they so wish and are unhappy with the product-law. It has independent agencies that are not independent when that is politically inconvenient. And it has a cast of anti-democrat characters who seem as intelligent as a lump of iron and unable to remember what they said the day before yesterday. But, then, for this Bizarro Land lot, yesterday is tomorrow.





Referendum doubt

3 06 2016

Readers will remember that in May, a group The Nation described as “high-profile human rights advocates and former senators” submitted a petition to the Office of the Ombudsman, “seeking the nullification of the newly enacted referendum act, claiming it violates the interim constitution.” They claimed the law “violate[d] Article 4 of the interim charter, which guarantees freedom of expression.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the Ombudsman seems to have detected a case in this, and the “Ombudsman will petition the Constitutional Court to seek a ruling on whether the Referendum Act’s Section 61 violates the interim charter’s clause on freedom of expression.” Apparently, “the three Ombudsmen of Thailand voted unanimously Wednesday to forward the matter to the court by the end of this week.”

According to the Post, Section 61, which makes illegal a range of campaign “styles,” is seen as infringing “on people’s rights and freedoms. It could also be widely interpreted by officers and judges, due to the lack of definition of what constitutes ‘violent’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘inciting’ words or behaviour…”. The Office of the Ombudsman agreed “on the lack of clarity regarding the terms used in Section 61…”.

It is now for the politicized Constitutional Court to decide if it will look at the Ombudsman’s petition and, if it does, will rule on it.

Surprisingly, this move has worried pro-junta agents, who called for The Dictator to use his emergency powers under Article 44 to get around this “threat.”

However, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has rejected this call, instead saying “it is up to the court to decide on the matter, and if the court rules that the law is not in line with the interim charter, the referendum will have to be deferred.” He added: “If the referendum is to be postponed, don’t blame me. Just ask the court…”.

Puppet Constitution Drafting Committee chair Meechai Ruchupan dismissed the challenge, saying the “referendum is unlikely to be derailed by the matter.” Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that all the Ombudsman wanted was for the Constitutional Court to clarify the terms in Section 61. He said that any changes to the law as a result would not derail the referendum.

Given Prayuth’s stated determination to stay on “until peace has been fully returned to the country,” any postponement or scrapping of the referendum would simply continue his hold on power.





Nitirat on the junta’s constitution I

9 04 2016

Nitirat has been quiet for some time. Its website shows its last post was 20 May 2014, two days before the coup. The junta’s constitution seems to have changed this.

For those who read Thai, the group’s take on the draft charter is here. The criticisms made of the charter are detailed and lengthy.Nitirat

For those using English, The Nation reports that Nitirat “objects to multiple aspects of NCPO-driven draft [charter].”

The statement noted several flaws:

  • the draft would allow the the junta “to continue to wield absolute power through Article 44;”
  • the allocation of senate seats to the military brass and the police chief meant the junta would continue to influence administration;
  • a senate that is junta selected would facilitate the junta’s role in administration; the impunity granted to the junta “from taking responsibility for any of its actions before or after the charter takes effect” is a travesty;
  • the “single-ballot election system, saying it would distort the intentions of voters;”
  • the” indirect election of senators” means the senate is disconnected from the people and is undemocratic;
  • an elected government “would not have the power and independence to make policy and run the country…”;
  • the “Constitutional Court and independent agencies were also allocated too much power because they would have the authority to check the Lower House, the Senate and the Cabinet…”;
  • in a remarkable innovation, the “court also would have the power to call a meeting of Parliament, the prime minister, the Supreme Court president, the Administrative Court and other relevant bodies to make decisions on issues not covered by the charter.”
  • amendments to the charter are difficult, “requiring the votes of more than half of the Lower House and more than one-third of the Senate, while the Constitution Court would have a supervisory role…”.

All that shows that the charter is the junta’s plan for the military and “good people” – i.e., anti-democrats – to maintain an authoritarian Thailand for years to come.