Lese majeste catch-ups

18 02 2018

Natthika Worathaiwit was one of The Facebook 8 who were arrested by the military dictatorship because of a satirical Facebook community page that poked fun at The Dictator. They were charged with sedition and computer crimes on 28 April 2016. Tow of them, Harit Mahaton and Natthika were charged with lese majeste.

Initially all were refused bail. When six of the eight were bailed, a military court refused bail for Natthika and Harit. The two firmly maintained their innocence. After more than two months in prison, on 8 July 2016, the two were released on bail. A month later, a military prosecutor indicted the two anti-junta critics on lese majeste and computer crimes.

Little more was heard about the case until in January 2018 Natthika revealed that she had decided to flee Thailand to seek asylum in the U.S. She remains critical of the military dictatorship. Prachatai has an interview with her in the U.S.

Prachatai also reports on a case with a curious twist. Back in March 2016, it was reported that that nine persons are to be charged with lese majeste over the Tob Jote/ตอบโจทย์ television show in 2013. ThaiPBS aired the program on the monarchy and lese majeste law on 11-14 March and 18 March 2013. The series featured historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who later went into exile, conservative royalist Sulak Sivaraksa, the execrable Surakiart Sathirathai and retired ultra-monarchist Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn. The show hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma. All are mentioned in the new set of charges, with four others.

Later, in July 2014, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) imposed a 50,000 baht fine on ThaiPBS for broadcasting political discussions about the monarchy. The NBTC declared that the broadcasts violated “Article 37 of the NBTC Act. The Commission accused the station of publishing content that instigated conflict, damaged peace and order, or damaged the good morality of the people.”

Royalists and the junta could not abide by notions that Thais could have a reasonable discussion of the monarchy or be allowed to think for themselves about the monarchy.

On 15 February 2018, the Administrative Court invalidated the fine. In doing so, it ruled that the NBTC showed bias (which is standard operating procedure for this bunch of junta minions). That bias got a name:  Lt Gen Peerapong Manakit, one of the NBTC members. According to the report, the “court ruled that bias on the part of … [Peerapong] who proposed the punishment, led to an unfair trial. The court ordered the Commission to refund the fine to Thai PBS…. However, the verdict does not rule whether the show’s content was legal or not.”

It is an interesting ruling. If Peerapong’s name rings a bell, it could be because he is another of those military hogs who can’t keep out of the trough, as reported in The Nation:

… there was a public outcry after an Office of the Auditor-General investigation revealed Peerapong Manakit had topped the list of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission members who had made the most overseas “study” trips last year…. He spent about one-third of his time (129 days) on 20 overseas trips at a cost of Bt12.03 million…. Peerapong has reportedly appointed his wife Janya Sawangjit as his adviser, effective October 1. Her salary is Bt120,000 a month…. It is not clear if NBTC commissioners can take their advisers on overseas trips.

Of course, nothing happened about this nepotism and he remains a commissioner, with a bunch of other military and royal-connected men.





Heroes and villains II

24 12 2017

A recent Bangkok Post editorial chastised The Dictator for being unable to accept criticism.

Everyone knows that General Prayuth Chan-ocha gets testy when he feels criticized. As an army boss he’s long been immune to criticism as no one in that hierarchy would dare criticize a boss.

It falls to the Post to advise The Dictator “that the job of premier demands someone with a thick skin.” Quite remarkably, however, the Post thinks Prayuth may have gotten used to criticism and that, therefore, the junta’s “zeal for attacking a former Pheu Thai Party spokeswoman for her criticisms of the premier is all the more mysterious.”

Of course, it isn’t mysterious at all. The junta and The Dictator repeatedly go after critics they consider opponents of army, monarchy and regime. Political repression is an hourly and daily affair for the junta.

The Post actually know this for it says that The Dictator’s:

subordinates in the NCPO’s legal department are resorting to the extreme measure of charging Lt Sunisa Lertpakawat with sedition for Facebook posts taking Gen Prayut to task for fairly mundane transgressions … suggests the NCPO harbours a grievance against certain groups rather than assessing criticism on its merits.

Add in computer crimes and Sunisa is getting the standard repression doled out to political opponents, many of them associated with Puea Thai, Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts.

The Post chastises the junta for attacking Sunisa with big charges when “Sunisa was exercising mere freedom of expression, a basic right guaranteed by the constitution.”

It might have praised her more for having the gumption to stand up to the villains when almost no one else dares.

But resorting to legal constitutionalism illustrates one of the core problems of current political commentary. The junta is a law unto itself but the commentariat seem to accept its laws, constitution, decrees, and “election” as legitimate when they are clearly not. The difference between heroes and villains is as clear as day.

As the military has demonstrated many times, constitutions count for nothing. Citing the junta’s constitution as “law” while the regime does anything it wants is silly and politically dumb.





Criticism = sedition

11 12 2017

Criticism = sedition if the critic is considered an “opponent,” meaning a red shirt, a Thaksinista or a member of the Puea Thai Party.

A few days ago we posted on Peau Thai Party one-time deputy spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat making some basic criticisms of the military regime which were not all that different from criticisms in the mainstream media.

This led the prickly junta to file charges against her. It has singled out “opponents” in the past for special “legal” attention, including the crude use of lese majeste against Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa as one among several thousand who shared an accurate news story on King Vajiralongkorn.

The junta has now filed a sedition case against her and several more.

The Nation reports that she will report to the police to acknowledge “six charges … for allegedly committing sedition and violating the Computer Crime bill by uploading false information to her Facebook page.

The Dictator and his junta are a gaggle of spineless cowards, unwilling to accept criticism from political opponents. Indeed, in a sign of deepening repression, they are turning on allies in a campaign that cannot go well for Thailand.





No criticism

5 12 2017

Khaosod reports that the military junta released social media “personality” Natchapol Supattana (or Mark Pitbull) from custody on Saturday evening.

This release followed his “detention” for stating that the junta’s “popularity” is in decline, posted on YouTube, with his 500,000 followers. His evidence for declining “popularity” reflected on the arrest of anti-coal protesters in the south.

He pointed out the obvious (and a point PPT made): “I believe the government is in a downturn, because they keep making enemies. Friends who used to love them are now parting ways…”.

For this rather mild opinion often seen in the mainstream media, he “was sent to a special military prison for ‘attitude adjustment’…”. A junta spokesman justified this act of harsh repression by claiming: “Some of his information was not based on facts … and appeared to be inciting unrest…”.

This is nonsense, but the junta’s man added a warning that any criticism of the junta on Facebook and YouTube would not be tolerated. The intolerant are becoming even more intolerant.





Updated: The Dictator and Facebook

19 10 2017

Back on 16 October, the Bangkok Post reported that “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will meet Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in Thailand on Oct 30 to discuss international crime.” Some other reports mentioned digital commerce.

The Post stated that it was The Dictator who declared that”the visit was normal and the talk would focus on transnational crime cooperation.” General Prayuth added: “Let’s not speculate. It’s a chance to exchange views. And to meet [in person] is better than not…”.

All set! Facebook threatening Prayuth and Zuckerberg were going to meet and talk.

We at PPT didn’t comment on this and would have questioned why Zuckerberg would do this, even if his company has an office in Bangkok.

Then the story was expanded. The Nation reported that “security issues and digital business opportunities will likely figure prominently during talks between Prime Minister Prayut … and … Zuckerberg, … when they meet later this month in Bangkok.”

According to Deputy Government Spokesperson Lt Gen Werachon Sukondhapatipak, The Dictator was expected to raise “key issues concerning the widespread use of social media at the October 30 meeting.” In other words, he was going to grill Zuckerberg on censorship, seeking to block anti-monarchy commentary.

In amongst all the fluff about internet commerce and so on, it was clear that the junta wanted Zuckerberg’s visit to be another effort to get Facebook engaged in “protecting the monarchy.”

The the whole story crashed and burned. There was no meeting planned. A Facebook spokesman stated: “There are no plans currently for any of our senior leaders to visit Thailand…”.

We think we heard The Dictator hit the roof.It was Prayuth who stated that: “Mark Zuckerberg will come to Thailand on a business trip.” He is quoted as stating: “Mr Zuckerberg asked to meet me to discuss cooperation in preventing and solving the problems of transnational crimes, and what kind of measures and plans should be in place…”.

To date, we haven’t heard a response from the junta.

Was The Dictator infected by “fake news”? Was the junta scammed? We can’t wait for more on this story.

Update: So far we haven’t seen any comment by The Dictator or his junta. What there has been is the not unusual fuming. The Bangkok Post reports that:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha abruptly cancelled a press interview session at Government House Thursday, leaving the media confounded as to why the regime said it would host CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Bangkok on Oct 30.

Facebook claimed Wednesday it has no plans for any of its “senior leaders” to visit the country.

The session was called off despite a podium having been put in place and questions being gathered from journalists. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was said to be on sick leave.

It was Somkid who made the initial announcement of the Facebook “meeting.” Khaosod traces the story so far.

So did The Dictator and his junta just make this up or were they scammed? We may never know as the loss of face is so great as to demand silence. The Dictator is not usually quiet, so let’s see if he fumes in public.





Neutering media

21 08 2017

The military dictatorship has generally been able to neuter the media. It got rid of most of the red shirt media soon after the 2014 military coup. It has then managed and manipulated the media. Initially, this did not require much effort as the mainstream media cheered the coup.

As the regime has gone on and on, some elements of the media have become just a little more critical of the junta’s nepotism, corruption, political repression and so on. The Dictator has shouted orders at journalists on those many occasions where he has felt the media should be doing more for his regime.

Most recently, as widely reported, the regime has been doing a little more to direct the media:

The government has ordered all television channels to promote the work of its ministers in an effort the head of its public relations division said was meant to take the focus off the prime minister.

Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the government spokesman who heads its Public Relations Department, said Thursday that he ordered each channel assigned to different ministers because he did not want the coverage to focus only on the prime minister.

“I didn’t force them. I let them choose freely but each channel must do differently,” he said after word got out and the effort was slammed as state-mandated propaganda. “Some channels even asked me to choose for them, but I didn’t because I know each channel has a different interest.”

It should be no surprise that most media enthusiastically signed up.

Dissent in the media is difficult under a military regime. One example of rare but consistent dissent by a journalist has seen Pravit Rojanaphruk who is now being punished by the military junta. He says:

It never occurred to me that what I write could be seditious.

Under military rule, criticizing the junta on social media can be construed as an act of sedition, however.

I learned this the hard way when police rang me up at the end of last month, informing me that I had been charged with sedition for a number of my Facebook postings.

That this is yet another fit-up. Each of Pravit’s posts was critical of the military junta. Yes, criticizing the junta constitutes sedition in totalitarian Thailand.

Pravit comments on the junta’s charges:

… no one really knows what constitutes sedition under military rule makes this a chilling effect and ensures greater self-censorship of anything critical of the junta in social media, however. The hazier the boundaries of what constitutes sedition, the more effective they become in instilling fear.

It may also be baffling that people who criticize the military junta, which usurped and continues to usurp power from the people, are the ones being charged with sedition. Control is more effective when fear is induced by logic-defying situations because one suspends disbelief of the illogical and absurd in Juntaland Thailand any longer. When right is wrong, wrong is right and might is right, rationality no longer gives guidance. We live not under the rule of law but under rule by arbitrary law of the junta. And logic is not necessary. Just obey. In fact, to obey without logically asking why or questioning the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the military regime, makes control effective. Just obey. Don’t ask what’s wrong with the order imposed upon us.

On the future and on dissent, he declares:

It’s a privilege and an honor to defend freedom of expression on social media during the past three years. It is also an honor to be singled out among the select few Thais who have stood up and effectively disturbed the make-believe world of Juntaland Thailand.

We cannot defend freedom of expression if we are not willing to pay the price. The price is worth paying when one takes the long-term benefits of society to heart.





Still detained, law ignored

28 06 2017

Prachatai reports that what PPT calls the torture of lese majeste “suspects” continues unabated and is being applied to human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul.

For the sixth time, the Criminal Court has “refused to release a human rights lawyer facing up to 50 years in prison for royal defamation and sedition.” [Actually, as the report later states, he faces 171 years on lese majeste and sedition, but there’s a 50 year sentencing limit.]

On 26 June 2017, the Criminal Court in Bangkok renewed the pre-trial detention period for Prawet. He has now been held for two months, while the police “investigate.”

Of course, the aim is to wear down Prawet, forcing him to plead guilty.

The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) argued that “the case’s interrogation process is already complete.” It was also argued that “prolonging of the detention is against Article 29 of the 2017 Constitution, which in brief states that suspects of crimes have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

The error here is in thinking that any lese majeste case will be considered on the basis of law. As many cases have demonstrated, law is strikingly absent from these acts of political intimidation and repression.

As expected, the court ignored law and statements by the prosecution that the case was investigated and kept Prawet locked up.

Prawet was one of six people arrested by police and military officers on 29 April 2017. We have no further information on the other five.

All are accused of a variety of lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition offenses for “sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 revolution plaque by Somsak Jeamteerasakul…”.

The claim now heard is that “Prawet allegedly posted Facebook comments asserting that Thailand should become a republic.”

Thailand should be a republic.