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.





Everlasting military rule I

30 09 2016

That’s the plan. Okay, we have known that The Dictator and is clique plan to control things for some time to come. It seems. however, that following “victory” in the “referendum,” the Dictatorial Clique – the junta – has decided that they are “popular” and are seeking to extend their rule well into the future.

We’ve heard of the “20 year plan” for the “reform” of politics, but the mantra was that the “next government” might or might not implement this. Now it seems the Dictatorial Clique is actively seeking to be around for a very long time, and appears to think it might implement the “plan” itself.

The Bangkok Post reports that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “vowed to completely wipe out corruption within 20 years via several means through the interim charter, government policies, the draft charter, and the national reform and strategic plan.”

It goes without saying that Prayuth thinks he can be the driving force for this national “reform,” even if corruption riddles his own family and Prayuth covers it up, and protects his brother General Preecha, as does his junta.

We can be pretty sure that “the establishment of a corruption division to be attached to the Criminal Court” will not impact the military leadership, the junta or associated families and other cronies.

Staying in power protects the interests – political and economic – of the Dictatorial Clique.

As well as staying power, The Dictator has his decrees remaining in place for far longer than anyone imagined. Most of us would have thought that declarations made under Article 44 of the military’s interim constitution would lapse when the “approved” constitution becomes permanent. Not so.

Prayuth has stated, in what the Post’s editor described as “our Dear Leader” on a “talking spree” for more than two hours. Among other things he babbled about making Thailand a “developed nation” in a familiar period – the next 20 years.

Self-aggrandizing Prayuth “proudly” stated “that in the 28-month period since he seized power from an elected government, he has issued a total of 104 special orders, or the so-called Section 44 orders permitted by the interim charter, to sort out the country’s ‘problems’.”

These orders and probably many more that the arrogant general issues before an “election” will “remain in force even after the military regime steps down.”

All  of this on top of the continuing maneuvering to ensure that Prayuth can be premier for a decade or more.

The Constitutional Court’s toady ruling on the “procedure to select a prime minister could pave the way for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to stay in power for another eight years after an election…”. Add the more than two years he’s been The Dictator and you see that he intends to be around for an excruciatingly long period.

That conclusion has been acknowledged by junta Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

It is clear that absolute power demands absolute arrogance.





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.