A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad. We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 3 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.





Royal decree critic threatened

12 01 2019

Readers may recall fascist ultra-royalist Rientong Nan-nah. A nasty piece of work, the Major General and his so-called Rubbish Collection Organization of ultra-royalist vigilantes have a reputation for being backed and funded by the military to do some of its dirty work.

Rienthong’s group emerged prior to the 2014 military coup and was meant to inject royalist venom into the anti-democrat movement. Its gang of thugs was another means to threaten and repress those with different political positions. At the time, Maj-Gen Rienthong, a director at the Mongkutwattana General Hospital, said his thugs “will work to find and hurt those who insult the monarchy.” He declared his group was established “exterminate … people who insult the monarchy.”.

Well, he’s doing it again.

It sames at least one brave person has asked appropriate questions about the “election” delay. Asst Prof Vinai Poncharoen, from the College of Politics and Governance at Mahasarakham University, posted a question at his Facebook account: “Who plays a part in delaying the election? Remember that the will of the people is more important than any ceremony.”

Ultra-dolts like Rienthong’s thugs have apparently been prowling social media looking for comments that could be construed as anti-royal. Rienthong responded by asking “Vinai to clarify what he meant by ‘ceremony’ and implying that there will be repercussions for Vinai’s action, even though he would not be employing Article 112.” He then called “for the authorities to take action against Vinai for ‘undermining the monarchy.’ He also called for Maharasakham University to remove Vinai from his position as lecturer.”

Such threats are constructed in order to silence all criticism of the monarch and monarchy. The ultra-royalists may have been instructed to tone down their calls for lese majeste charges, but the threats remain powerful and will silence critics.





Updated: 6 October 1976

6 10 2018

PPT waited a few hours before posting our tribute and remembrance to the victims of royalist-rightist violence  in 1976. We waited because we wanted to link to any stories we saw in the English media. So far, we have seen one at the Bangkok Post, about an event at Thammasat University. We were also reminded of the website launched a couple of years ago from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, and established and maintained as an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

We draw on our post from last year as a way of recalling those terrible events and the loss of so many lives.

On this day in 1976, royalists and rightists were mobilized with and by the police and military in a massacre of students and others they had decided were threats to the monarchy. With claims of lese majeste and communists at work, these “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family engaged in an orgy of violence, killing, injuring and arresting thousands. Central to this royalist rage was the then crown prince, now king, Vajiralongkorn.

For a radio program on the events, listen to the BBC’s Witness story on the October 1976 events in Thailand, with  archival audio footage of reporting from the time and Puey Ungpakorn, and a present-day interview with Thongchai Winichakul. Read Puey on the terrible events by following the links here.

The king and the royal family fully supported the massacre at Thammasat University.

In remembering this massacre in the name of the monarchy, we are reminded that the current military dictatorship bears many of the characteristics of the dictatorship that resulted from the murderous events of 6 October in 1976.

Thanin Kraivixien was a dedicated fascist judge who served the king. His government was established to turn back the political clock and established a 12 year plan to do this. Today, four years of military dictatorship is meant to be followed by 20 years of rewinding under military, royalist and rightist tutelage.

Mercifully, Thanin’s extreme authoritarianism only lasted a year but military-backed rule continued until 1988, first with General Kriangsak Chomanan as premier. He was replaced by the more reliable royalist posterior polisher, General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even after 1988, when Gen Prem was seen off, he retained considerable political influence as he moved into the Privy Council and he has repeatedly supported military coups. His support for the current dictatorship has been given several times.

The current military regime remains exceptionally prickly about this event of 1976. And justifiably so in that military fingerprints are all over one of Thailand’s worst massacres of civilians. So it is that last year Khaosod reported that a film about the event was prevented from being screened on the anniversary. By the Time It Gets Dark or ดาวคะนอง is a 2016 film directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong.

The only good military regime is the one that has been defeated. Until Thailand’s military dictators and military dictators are defeated, the country remains in a recurring pattern of political crisis and darkness.

Update: We should have mentioned the excellent account of the 6 October massacre and associated events in a story at the Los Angeles Review of Books by Suchada Chakpisuth and translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.





2014 military coup: assessing and forgetting

21 05 2018

There’s currently a plethora of stories and op-eds that assess the results of the 2014 military coup.

Despite limited resources, Khaosod is usually a news outlet that is better than others at reporting the events of the day and in trying to be critical of military rule. However, one of its assessment stories is rather too forgetful.

Teeranai Charuvastra is the author and begins with the sad statistic that The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been directing the state since he seized it 1,641 days on Tuesday. In fact, he effectively seized power a couple of days earlier and the official coup announcement then followed.

That long four years is, Teeranai observes, “longer than any other coup leader since the Cold War.”

We are not exactly sure when the Cold War ended. Perhaps its late 1991 when the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its all those republics. Perhaps it is the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier. It matters only because if it is December 1991, then there’s only been two military coups in Thailand in that period, both involving roughly the same military crew as is in power now. If it is 1989, then add one more coup.

Two or three coups in Thailand’s long history of military seizures of the state doesn’t necessarily amount to establishing a pattern, although Teeranai’s thinks it does. The claim is that:

Every ‘successful’ military takeover of the last four decades has followed the same script: The generals who led the putsch quickly install a civilian prime minister, ostensibly to give the appearance of democratic rule, before retreating into the shadows. Typically, general elections have been organized within a year.

For one thing, that time period takes us back to about 1978, when Gen Kriangsak Chomanan was in the premier’s seat, having seized power in late 1977 from the ultra-royalist/ultra-rightist regime of civilian and palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien.

But back to Gen Prayuth, who is claimed to have gone off-script. Military junkie/journalist Wassana Nanuam is quoted in support of this claim: “He tore to pieces the rules of the coup.”

Back to the dates. Is there a script. In our view there is, but it isn’t the version proclaimed by Wasana. Rather, the script for the military is in seizing and holding power. When Gen Sarit Thanarat seized power in 1957, he put a civilian in place but in 1958 took power himself. He and his successors held power until 1973. When the military again seized power in 1976, it reluctantly accepted the king’s demand for Thanin to head a government. He failed and Kriangsak seized power in late 1977. Kriangsak held the premiership until 1980, when the military leadership convinced him to handover to palace favorite Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who stayed until 1988.

Now there’s a pattern. We think its the pattern that Prayuth’s dictatorial junta has had in mind since they decided that the 2006 coup had failed to adequately expunge Thaksin Shinawatra’s appeal and corral the rise of electoral politics.

So Wassana’s triumphalism about The Dictator “breaking a mold” is simply wrong. The military regime is, like its predecessors in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, about embedding the military and throttling electoral politics.

Wassana’s other claim is that Prayuth’s coup and plan to hold power was risky. We think that’s wrong too.

In fact, after 2006 was declared a failure, Prayuth and his former bosses, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda, had worked with various rightist and royalist agents to undermine the likely opponents of another military political victory: red shirts and politicians of the elected variety.

ISOC was an important part of that as it systematically destroyed red shirt operations and networks.

In addition, the courts and “independent” agencies had all been co-opted by the military and its royalist and anti-democrat allies.

There was never any chance that Prayuth would hand over to an appointee.

Teeranai’s piece also asks; “So how did Prayuth’s National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, manage to stay this long?”

The response is: “The reasons are many, … [that] range from the junta’s use of brute force to Prayuth’s personal influence.” But a “common thread has to do with what the junta is not. The regime’s success, according to most people interviewed, lies in convincing people it is a better alternative to the color-coded feuds and churning upheaval that have plagued the nation.”

We think this is only true for some people and certainly not all. And the people who were convinced are the anti-democrats. Those interviewed are mostly yellow shirts who define “the people” as people like them.

When Suriyasai Katasila says that “The people felt there was only instability… So people accept the NCPO’s [junta] intervention, even though it cost them certain rights,” he speaks for some of Bangkok’s middle class and the anti-democrats.

Other anti-democrats are cited: “people don’t see the point of calling for elections, because they think things will just be the same after the election. People are sick and tired.” Again, these are words for the anti-democrats and by the anti-democrats.

If elections were rejected, one would expect low turnouts for them. If we look just at 2011 and 2007, we see voter turnout in excess of 80%. The anti-democrats propagandize against elections and speak of “the people” but represent a minority.

We’ve said enough. The aims of the current military junta are clear. And the anti-democrats are self-serving and frightened that the people may be empowered by the ballot box. That’s why the junta is rigging any future vote.





Further updated: Ultra-royalists united

28 03 2018

As PPT has said before, new political parties are not an innovation in Thailand. Rather they are the norm, most especially when the election rules encourage small parties and fragmented parliamentary power. With the Anakhot Mai/New Future Party, along with initial enthusiasm from a range of reasonably progressive people, the old guard – the old men who consider Thailand theirs – has appeared spooked.

Reuters reports that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is under pressure from ultra-royalists. The latter are keen to destroy the young phenoms by labeling them republicans. Fascist royalist Maj-Gen Rientong Nan-nah has said Future Forward “is the future for those who want to impede the rights of the king…”.

Khaosod reports that another “pro-monarchy activist” has been stung into reaction. Mad monarchist Sonthiya Sawasdee, who leads the Federation of Thais Monitoring the State, demands “the Election Commission to investigate a new progressive party he fears may amend the royal defamation [lese majeste] law.” Sonthiya has previously flung lese majeste allegations at others.

Sonthiya is sure that “any attempt to reform the law, known as lese majeste, will bring about unrest in the country.” This is actually a threat from the extreme right that has previously massacred citizens in the name of protecting the monarchy and with the support of the military, so such threats are taken seriously.

Sonthiya wrote online: “… I do not want anyone, no matter who they are, to put their hands on Section 112.” He added: “They should not intrude on the monarchy.” And he “singled out New Future Party co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul as the reason for his concern. Piyabutr, a university law professor, launched a 2012 campaign calling for lesser punishment and a more measured use of lese majeste.”

Piyabutr is trying to distance the party from ultra-royalist allegations, saying: “I’d like to insist that I will not get the party involved with the issue about amending Section 112 of the Criminal Code, and I will not push for it within the party…”. The Nation has more on Piyabutr’s distancing of the party from Nitirat.

A couple of observations seem in order. One is that the monarchy is off the political agenda for all, but not for royalists. Because they support the monarchy, they may use it at their pleasure to slander and undermine opponents. Meanwhile, those on the other side are hamstrung and timid.

A second observation is that those who might have thought or hoped that ultra-royalism might decline with a new and “unpopular” king on the throne have been shown to be wrong. Mad royalists defend a system based on feudal ideologies, not an individual. That said, the rapid shift to support for Vajiralongkorn has been breathtaking.

Update 1: In the above post we noted that threats from ultra-royalists have to be taken seriously. Confirming this, a Bloomberg report states that Thanathorn and Piyabutr have received death threats. He described his political quest as “a dangerous game,” adding: “We are playing with people who have no respect for human life.” Thanathorn revealed that the threat was “by an ultra-conservative,” where he was referring to a “Facebook post allegedly written by a former deputy police commander.” That ultra-royalist “accused the pair of speaking ill of the royal institution” and added that “he had ‘lost count’ of the number of ‘evil’ people he had killed,” darkly threatening: “you guys would be easy for me.”

Update 2: Prachatai identifies the policeman mentioned as threatening death as Bhakbhum Soonthornsorn.





Updated: Karma lese majeste

10 01 2018

Royalist and anti-democrat monk Buddha Issara has found it necessary to attend “the Crime Suppression Division to try to clear the air over accusations he violated the lese majeste law.”

Buddha Issara and friend

Of course, PPT doesn’t approve of any use of this feudal law. However, feudalists mike consider the role of karma in Buddha Issara’s travails.

The monk was concerned that “police investigators came to interrogate people at Wat Orm Noy” where he is abbot and that “police are preparing to raid the temple.” This caused him to report to the police, lawyer in tow.

It was in April 2017 that “Wichai Prasertsutsiri, coordinator of an organisation that promotes Buddhism” made a lese majeste complaint. His complaint is that the monk  produced amulets some “eight years ago bearing the emblem of … King Bhumibol…”.

The complainer reckoned that the monk didn’t have proper permissions. He also barked that “some of the monk’s blood was allegedly used during the blessing ceremony, which was considered inappropriate.”

Feudal rites beget a feudal response.

Update: Khaosod tells us that police are investigating but “have yet to name any suspect” in the case. The police denied a raid was planned. Col. Phumin Pumpanmuang, a commander of Crime Suppression Division, said: “He keeps talking like this. The media already knows how he is. You know he’s been like this for a long time…. Whatever he wants to speak, it’s his rights.”





Lese majeste vs. historical debate

6 10 2017

PPT’s page on the various  lese majeste cases brought against conservative social critic Sulak Sivaraksa is rather long. Unfortunately, we will be adding to it.

Sulak

The fifth of these cases (that we know of) has these details. On 16 October 2014, Lt Gen Padung Niwatwan and Lt Gen Pittaya Vimalin, retired and deeply royalist generals, filed a complaint at Chanasongkram Police Station accusing Sulak of lese majeste for a speech he made about King Naresuan. This long dead king, surrounded by myth, is considered important for royalist mythology about Thailand.  Sulak made a public speech on “Thai History: the Construction and Deconstruction” on 5 October 2014, at Thammasat University, where he allegedly claimed the legend of an elephant battle between Naresuan and a Burmese king was constructed. He is also reported to have criticized the king of some 412 years ago for being cruel. Both claims have been the subject debates among historians.

It might be considered that “defaming” a figure from ancient history, for who there is only  scant reliable historical information, must be a nonsense. Yet the madness of the royalist judicial system knows no bounds, either in law or in insanity.

On 24 December 2014, police issued this statement: “… Sulak Sivaraksa has referred to Somdej Phra Naresuen the Great and Somdej Phra Chomklao Chaoyookhua (Rama IV) in a way that insults, defames, or threatens His Majesty the King…”. The police appear confused about present and past tenses and about past and present in general. Yet they pushed the case forward.

Khaosod reports that the police have told the 84 year-old Sulak that he must “report Monday morning to police who will take him to a military court to meet with prosecutors preparing a case against him for allegedly criticizing” Naresuan.

Sulak commented: “If the country was normal and there existed rule of law in this country, then there won’t be problems. The lese majeste law protects the current monarch and if someone is charged for criticizing a king who reigned 500 years ago, then something is not normal…”.

As everyone knows, Article 112 of the criminal code “forbids defaming, insulting or threatening the current king, queen, heir apparent or regent” not some dead king of centuries past. Yet in the recent past the courts have convicted persons for lese majeste against other dead kings. The prosecutors and courts simply make the law up as they go along and now seem to bizarrely interpret any critical comment against any royal, real or imagined, as constituting lese majeste of the current monarch, who wasn’t even on the throne when Sulak made his comments.

So now we have a case of an elderly man accused of “defaming” a long dead monarch and thus causing a transference of “defamation” to a monarch who died a year ago. Thailand’s judicial system has become entirely maniacal as well as ultra-royalist.