Authoritarianism and virus repression

18 01 2022

Several countries, and with regimes of several political orientations, have used the virus as a means to extend measures that amount to a global growing of authoritarianism. Thailand’s repressive royalist regime has used an emergency decree, meant to be about public health, to oppress political activists seeking a democratic politics and monarchy reform.

The Nation recently reported that the police have again warned those who regularly rally in support of imprisoned political prisoners that they will be arrested “under Covid restrictions.”

Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy commissioner and spokesman Jirasan Kaewsangek stated “it is still illegal to hold a protest or gathering…. He cited the emergency decree, anti-Covid guidelines and the Communicable Diseases Control Act…”. He directed this at those who he said were gathering peacefully.

To date, Bangkok police say they have “investigated 814 cases relating to protests since July 2020. Of these, 409 cases have been brought to court while the rest remain under police investigation…”.





Screwing down activism

10 01 2022

The screwing down associated with repressive regimes is an ongoing task for Thailand’s royalist regime, with Prachatai providing recent examples of how this political repression seeps across the political landscape.

In one report, Prachatai looks at cultural matters, focusing on the 29th annual Bangkok Critics Assembly film award ceremony. The video recording removes “references to imprisoned pro-democracy activists … from the speeches of awardees from ‘School Town King’, a film that took home seven awards.”

According to one report, “references to the detainees in the speeches of every awardee but one were cut from a nearly five-hour long video of the award ceremony, held on 24 December 2021 at Lido Connect in Bangkok.  The only speech not  ‘edited’ was given by Sinjai Plengpanich, who accepted an award on behalf of M.L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul.”

In all, “seven speeches were cut, including one by his film’s editor Harin Paesongthai, who received an award for his work.” In making his speech, Harin said “the film sought to address inequality and oppression in society,” adding: “not only in the education system … [but the social] system where we are dominated from the smallest unit to the largest, by the people on top.” In supporting political prisoners he stated that he wanted to: “… use this opportunity to support and stand with the fighters who are being unfairly detained. Free our friends. There are still people suffering, detained because of the injustice of the system … I believe that there will be a better day for us. Justice must take place.”

In another Prachatai story, union activist Thanaphon Wichan was recently prosecuted for attempting “to give a Labour Minister a petition calling for assistance for labour[er]s amidst the pandemic.”

Back on 29 October 2021, Thanaphon, a representative of migrant workers, together with several labor groups, went “to the Ministry of Labour to submit a letter to the Minister of Labour to follow up on their previous petition to demand a solution to construction workers and migrant workers amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and to demand a solution to other concerned issues including expenses incurred from entering the registration process which still lacked the clarity.”

This visit had been coordinated “with representatives of the Ministry of Labour beforehand.”

That action was disrupted when “the Cambodian migrant workers who accompanied her were arrested right in the premises of the Ministry of Labour.” The Ministry the authorized a complaint to police, claiming Thanaphon committed offences against the Immigration Act. No evidence was found, so another charge was concocted: “being complicit in the organization of a gathering and an illegal assembly in a manner that risks spreading the disease in the area designated by an announcement or an order as a maximum and strict control zone and an area under strict surveillance except for permission has been obtained from competent officials, an act of which is a breach of the Regulation issued under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005).”

We have lost count of how many times this emergency decree on health has been used to silence activists.

Thanaphon and her lawyers say the case “is tantamount to a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or SLAPP.”

Because of the prior coordination with the Ministry, her lawyers argue that “the Ministry of Labour was obliged to act to ensure the enforcement of the disease prevention protocol to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

She was allowed bail, but the message is broadcast to all activists: the screws are being tightened, the regime is out to silence you. If you refuse, face state lawfare.





Updated: NHRC and double standards

7 12 2021

Over the years, PPT has been critical of the National Human Rights Commission for its political partisanship. While these days it seldom seems to do or say much of consequence, recent events highlight its problematic existence.

Recently, police arrested 37 protesters [some reports are that 36 were arrested], including 31 women, from the Chana Rakthin Network. The protesters gathered at the entrance of Government House to “demand that the government adhere to initial promises to delay an industrial project set to take place in the 16,700-rai Chana district in southeastern Songkhla.”

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The locals were made these promises by then minister Thammanat Prompao, but the regime now appears to be reneging. So they traveled to Bangkok to “remind” the government. Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha demies there was ever an agreement.

A representative of the protesters stated:

They have been charged with the violation of the emergency decree and the police are looking to file more charges against them since the protesters are not willing to accept the proposal for them to stop protesting against the project if they were to be released….

When the police grabbed the protesters, they blocked the media.

Just another day in broken promises, lies, and policing for the regime. And, a background to the role of the NHRC.

According to the Bangkok Post:

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Tuesday issued a statement calling for the government to unconditionally release the 36 protesters of the Chana Rakthin Network detained on Monday night….

On Tuesday morning, NHRC commissioners Preeda Kongpaen and Sayamon Kaiyurawong paid a visit to the arrested protesters, who were detained at the Police Club on Vibhavadi Rangsit road.

The NHRC statement declared “the protesters had the right to expression of their views and to gather peacefully under the 2017 constitution…”, and “called for the unconditional release of the protesters.” And, it added, “[m]embers of the media and observers should be allowed to report on all developments surrounding the project without being obstructed…”.

Maybe we have just missed the NHRC being busily at work, but we do not recall such statements when monarchy reform protesters have been attacked, arrested, and held without bail. We do not recall much reporting of the NHRC demanding that police stop attacking and impeding journalists covering those demonstrations.

Just another day in the land of double standards.

Update: A reader asks if we are dismissing the seriousness of the Chana Rakthin Network. Certainly not. The regime’s treatment of the group, using police to threaten and arrest while reneging on an agreement, is reprehensible. Our question was why the NHRC chooses to take action on this state action but not on other egregious human rights abuses.





Never ending “emergency”

30 10 2021

On Friday, “[s]tudent activists Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Seksit Yaemsanguansak filed a lawsuit with the Civil Court … against the Prime Minister and the military commander-in-chief to repeal emergency decree order 15 on the grounds that the ban on public gatherings unlawfully limits people’s rights and freedoms.”

The petitioners rightly state that “the ban, which was ostensibly imposed to prohibit unnecessary gatherings that risk the spread of disease during the pandemic, has been used instead to limit freedom of expression and assembly.”

Hundreds have been charged.

Panusaya observed that:

while the Emergency Decree has been repeatedly used to end pro-democracy protests, pro-establishment groups have been allowed to hold their gatherings without interference from the authorities. She noted that although pro-democracy protesters have always been peaceful, their protests have been blocked by means such as razor wire and shipping containers, which are not listed as part of the legal protocol.

“The country is reopening in three days. Why are you still prohibiting us from gathering? If you reopen the country, there will be gatherings all over the country. People will come out to live their lives normally, so we think that there is no reason to continue banning gatherings,” Panusaya said.

The activists petitioned the court to “impose a temporary injunction suspending the ban ahead of the protest this Sunday, 31 October, at the Ratchaprasong Intersection.” The court, however, quickly dismissed the request “on the ground that the 31 October protest still risk spreading disease and the order is still needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19…”. Nothing else could really be expected of the regime’s courts.

At about the same time, in the Royal Gazette, the regime “issued a fresh order banning rallies and activities deemed at risk of spreading Covid-19 across the country ahead of the kingdom’s upcoming reopening to international travellers.” The order takes effect on Monday and “was issued under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree and signed by Gen Chalermpol Srisawat, chief of defence forces, in his capacity as the person responsible for solving security emergencies.”

Tourism trumps freedom of expression.

We at PPT have lost track of how long the regime has been operating with emergency powers, but it seems that it has been pretty much since it seized power in 2014. Since then, the country has been defined as in a state of emergency so that the regime can bolster its position and repress political activists.





Police vs. the people

17 10 2021

The regime’s political “strategy” for controlling anti-government and monarchy reform movements involves repression and arrests, with the latter involving jail time.

Police Maj Gen Jirasan Kaewsangek, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, recently stated that “since July 2020, 683 anti-government protests have been held in Bangkok, and 366 of the cases are still under investigation.” Independent sources have the figure topping 800. Not a few of them are children.

Many scores of these protesters are being kept in detention.

The regime couples these mass arrests with targeted harassment of those they think are leaders. Thai Enquirer reports that the most recent student leader to face “a flurry of legal charges for his political activism” is Hudsawat ‘Bike’ Rattanakachen, 22, a critic studying political science at Ubon Ratchathani University. He is “facing multiple charges from the police including the violation of the Emergency Situations Act and violation of the Communicable Disease Act.”

He says: “I think the government charged me because they want to slow down the pace of our movement and make things more difficult…”.

The impact for him and others facing charges is that become entangled in time-consuming legal actions and responses.

He went on to explain that the regime “is raising the bar when it comes to suppressing regional movements like his in Ubon Ratchathani. He fears the authorities are increasing their level of surveillance.”

Academic Titipol Phakdeewanich “agrees that the state is exercising a dangerous campaign of legal harassment, one that clearly violates the rights of students.” He added that “there are a significant number of cases like this where ordinary people, villagers, rural people, people defined by the government as opposition, have told me stories that they’ve been monitored or followed as well…”.

Titipol observes that the regime “hang these cases over them indefinitely as a way to control students…”.

Hudsawat explains the sad fact that “we live in a society where the process of law or justice in Thailand is not normal,” adding, “anyone can be accused of having a different opinion from the government’s and then it’s decided that they pose a security threat to the state.”

Another facing charges is Sitanun Satsaksit, the sister of missing activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit. She’s now “charged with violation of the Emergency Decree for giving a speech at a protest on 5 September 2021 at the Asoke Intersection.”

She’s one of a dozen now “charged with violation of the Emergency Decree for participating in the same protest…”. Her case is tragic:

Sitanun said that she feels hopeless that not only are the Thai authorities not helping her find her brother and bring the perpetrators to justice, they are also trying to silence her by filing charges against her, even though she is fighting for the rights of her brother and other victims of enforced disappearance.

She adds:

Is it such a threat to national security that I join the campaign for the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance bill that you have to file charges to silence a victim? I am just calling for justice for someone in my family, but the government sees me as an enemy….

The regime protects the monarchy and its own position for fear that even individual protesters can bring the whole corrupt system down. Both police and military are now little more than the regime’s political police. THe enemies are the people, democracy, and proposer representation.





A pandemic of political repression

29 07 2021

Forget the thousands of ill people. What’s important, for the regime and its cops, is charging every political opponent.

The  Bangkok Post reports that Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) is on the hunt for “nine groups … facing prosecution for staging protests and ‘car mob’ rallies in defiance of the emergency law this month.” By “emergency law” it means the emergency decree, which in various forms and guises, has been operating almost continuously since the 2014 military coup.

The nine groups are:

the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration which held a rally on July 2; the Thai Mai Thon protests on July 3, 10, 11; the Prachachon Khon Thai rallies on July 3 and 10; the car mob rallies organised by red-shirt activist Sombat Boonngamanong on July 3 and 10…. The others are the Mok Luang Rim Nam group rally on July 3; the Bangkok Sandbox protest on July 6; the rally led by vocational students on July 9; the Free Youth gathering on July 18; and the protests engineered by the Mu Ban Thalufa on July 22 and 24…. [and] the …”Harley motorbike mob” on July 23 and 25.”

Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai, the MPB deputy commissioner, said a total of “172 protesters are facing charges under the decree in connection with protests in Bangkok.” But it isn’t just the emergency decree, with the protesters facing dozens of charges.

It seems the police have nothing better to do than to do legal battle with protestors.

The police are engaging in a myriad of legal contortions. For example, they have suddenly decided that honking horns is illegal. Really? In Bangkok? Yep, they reckon that “vehicles honked their horns, disturbing people nearby and other motorists. The rally participants are also accused of causing heavy traffic congestion.” Yes, again, that’s in Bangkok.

They are brazen in their twisting of law and spreading the virus of injustice in a pandemic of political repression.

 





Masters of repression I

14 07 2021

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have published their June update. It makes for sorry reading, from using the virus emergency decree for political repression to the use of lese majeste against political activists.

According to the TLHR “at least 695 people in 374 cases have already been affected as a result of their political involvement and opinions since the ‘Free Youth’ rally on 18 July 2020 until the end of June 2021.” This includes “43 youths of under 18 years old…”.

In total, lese majeste charges have now been laid against more than 100 people.

Contempt of court and insulting the court cases case have grown. For the former, there have been at least 18 people in 14 cases “for participating in assemblies criticizing the judiciary since the Free Youth Rally until the end of May 2021.” Strikingly, “the Court can conduct a contempt trial and pass a judgment directly bypassing the investigation or prosecution process.”

TLHR also reports that the courts have routinely “imposed overly strict measures in courtrooms, including limiting the number of audience or requiring a preapproved permission. In all trials, the Court forbade notetaking claiming it was to keep order.” Such measures “were likely to undermine the principle of a free and fair trial.”

In addition to court and judicial processes, TLHR states that “[s]tate authorities continuously monitor and harass people who posted monarchy-related content and political activists…”. In June alone, the “authorities approached least 18 citizens who expressed monarchy-related or political opinions at their homes. These incidents occurred in all of the regions of the country…”.

TLHR also found that “at least 511 people in 162 cases had been accused of breaching the Emergency Decree provisions…”.

The regime may not be very good at virus mitigation, but it is highly skilled in acts of political repression.





Updated: Arrogance rewarded

2 07 2021

Anyone following social media will have noticed the flood of complaints and invective associated with the photo below, clipped from The Nation. It shows Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and “his entourage dining at a beachside restaurant in Phuket on Thursday.”

Corrupt and arrogant

While the regime brings charges against protesters, almost all masked up, for flouting the emergency decree that is lodged in virus control, he and his “entourage” can flout the decree with impunity.

The photo shows these arrogant men “eating and sitting close together, while some members of the party are without a mask.”

Meanwhile, today authorities reported 61 virus-induced deaths – a record – and 6,087 new infections – the second highest recorded for the country.

Of course, Phuket is not currently a red zone, but these are people who are meant to set an example. In any case, many are from Bangkok, which is a red zone.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stumbled along, defending the miscreants boss, blabbering about “everybody in the photo was actually sitting a fair distance from one another and that they have all been vaccinated against Covid-19.” So we guess that the message is that anyone who is vaccinated can skip off to Phuket, avoid quarantine, and do as they wish.

The general/prime minister is arrogant. He obviously knows he is untouchable. After all, the Constitutional Court has again let Gen Prayuth off a case on a technicality. The Constitutional Court seems to belong to Prayuth. His control of parliament and “independent” institutions fertilizes his arrogance.

Update: For the seriousness of the situation in Bangkok, see a couple of stories in the Bangkok Post. One begins:

While the government is upbeat about its Phuket reopening scheme, health personnel in Greater Bangkok are struggling to deal with a surge of new Covid-19 infections and deaths.

Another story slams the regime and Siam Bioscience:

The Rural Doctors Society yesterday called on the government to enforce the law to require Siam Bioscience, a local authorised pharmaceutical manufacturer, to deliver vaccine supplies as planned.

On its Facebook page, the network claimed Siam Bioscience was likely to deliver only 4 million doses of vaccine this month, instead of 10 million doses as planned by the government.

That’s the king’s company, and we guess the situation is dire if normally royalist doctors make such calls. Just in passing, we note that the monarch is scarcely seen.

That rises to 10 million doses per month from July until November, with the last 5 million jabs arriving in December.

The society said “the government was deemed reluctant to negotiate with the company or enforce any legal tools to secure the delivery of 10 million doses per month.”

That’s because it is the king’s company.

So, in the end, we have a failed vaccination strategy, a king’s company seemingly unable to communicate or deliver, a regime unable to pressure it, and a prime minister off with the fairies in Phuket.





Protesting on 24 June

22 06 2021

cropped-1932-plaqueThe regime’s police are warning protesters that they should not rally on 24 June. They are relying on the Emergency Decree but will also be looking to arrest rally leaders for lese majeste and sedition.

Protest groups are lining up to rally on the day that marks the 1932 revolution.

The New Generation of Democratic People of Nonthaburi is planning to demonstrate at the Democracy Monument at about 11am, demanding that the government resign. Another group – Samakkhi Prachachon – is led by red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, which plans to rally at Government House. A third group is planning to demonstrate at the October 14 Memorial at about 1pm. A fourth group – Prachachon Khon Thai – led by yellow shirt Nittithon Lamlua, also plans to rally in front of Government House at about noon. The latter group is calling for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to stand down.

In warning protesters, Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai said:

Those taking part in the protests should avoid gathering in large numbers. They might benefit from the political protests but the country as a whole will suffer from their action.

They should consider staging the rallies after the pandemic has subsided….

We doubt they would let anyone protest then, either.

Interestingly, Pol Col Kissana Phathanacharoen, a deputy police spokesman, has revealed “that since July 2020 a total of 150 people have been arrested on charges in connection with political rallies. They included people who instigated illegal gatherings over social media.”





With 3 updates: Violence and double standards I

15 02 2021

There has been some banter about students, protesters and violence, mainly on social media. For example, Cod Satrusayang has an op-ed at Thai Enquirer stating:

On Saturday, student protesters confronted police officers in front of the Bangkok City Shrine. Led by vocational students and the We Volunteer protest guards, the protesters hurled rocks and homemade firecrackers at the police.

The police responded with batons, mass charges, and mass arrests. The security officials were indiscriminate in their response – infamously beating high school students, volunteer medics, and journalists in their bid to get to the agitators.

There was no excuse for the action of the police that night. Numerous “international norms” were violated by the security operations.

But there was no excuse for the student guards to needlessly confront and provoke the officers either….

There has been an increasing and alarming tendency in recent weeks by protesters to resort to violence or threaten violence in their confrontations with the police.

Is this reasonable? Should protesters simply remain punching bags and targets for arrest and jails? And is it reasonable to compare “student guards” tactics with those of heavily armed and aggressive police and military, including the use of plainclothes officers on the student side, provoking and arresting?

The protesters “reiterated its peaceful stance but said protesters had a right to retaliate against violence by authorities.”

Even the conservative royalist commentator Veera Prateepchaikul refers to Saturday as involving “a minor scuffle during in which stones, smoke bombs and firecrackers were hurled at the police by the protesters.” Did such a “minor scuffle” need a violent response? Should a volunteer medic have been attacked, kicked, beaten and arrested? These are, of course, rhetorical questions.

Others have been more willing to question the imbalance of power. For example, the Rural Doctor Society demanded “an explanation and legal action against the officers involved [in the beating of the volunteer], saying it was a violation of human rights.” Why is it that mainstream media aren’t showing some of the truly violent police responses?

Pravit Rojanaphruk has posted a considerable amount of it on Facebook, but none of it has yet appeared at his newspaper. Why does Cod post a link to video of a few rocks being thrown, most of them not even reaching the main police line, but nothing of consequence about police violence?Newspapers report 20-25 police officers injured but say little about protesters, some of who have been dragged off to a secret prison.

Double standards? We think so.

Prachatai has a report worth reading. It is balanced, covers the whole event and is a useful account of the ways that the authorities provoke and how protesters respond.

Update 1: Khaosod finally has some updates posted. One report is of the top Bangkok cop saying “a police officer was behaving properly when he shot live rounds over the weekend in a bid to fend off a crowd of pro-democracy protesters.” Of course he does. But, the same cops have charged the volunteer health worker they beat to unconsciousness and arrested at the same rally. The charge is that he breached the virus emergency decree. The cops really are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Double standards? You bet!

Update 2: Further to our point above about the inequalities in comparing protesters and state authorities, Prachatai has a useful report on the events of the rally and confrontations, with numerous examples of “crowd control police carrying firearms,” contradicting claims by “Pol Lt Gen Phukphong Phongpetra, the Metropolitan Police Chief, that the police did not use tear gas or rubber bullets against protesters on 13 February.”

Update 3: For a video showing the large numbers of military/police infiltrators and “third hands,” look at this video at Facebook.








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