Arbitrary detention and digital dictatorship

16 01 2023

We note two recent reports worthy of attention.

The first is from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has issued an appeal regarding Thailand.

It begins:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention and ongoing judicial harassment of Mr Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, aka Get, leader of the student pro-democracy group Mok Luang Rim Nam, and Ms Natthanit Duangmusit, aka Baipor, member of the pro-democracy and monarchy reform activist group Thalu Wang. Founded in August 2020, Mok Luang Rim Nam has expanded from advocating for the rights of students at Navamindradhiraj University in Bangkok to various human rights issues in Thailand, including enforced disappearance, labour rights, and equality. Formed in early 2022, Thalu Wang has been advocating for the abolition of Article 112 of Thailand Criminal Code (“lèse-majesté”) and conducting public opinion polls at various locations in Bangkok on how the Thai monarchy affects people’s lives and whether the institution should be reformed.

On January 9, 2023, the Bangkok Criminal Court revoked Sopon and Natthanit’s bail and ordered their detention, on the ground that the two violated the bail conditions of their temporary release, granted on May 31, 2022, and August 4, 2022, respectively, by participating in an anti-government protest on November 17, 2022, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bangkok….

It adds:

The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Sopon and Natthanit, who seem to be only targeted for the legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly….

The second is from Global Voices. It begins:

A ministerial decree issued by the government of Thailand detailing procedures for the “Suppression of Dissemination and Removal of Computer Data from the Computer System B.E. 2565” took effect on December 25, 2022. The decree passed despite calls from various civil society organizations to withdraw the new regulation because it contains provisions that could further suppress online free speech.

Noting that content could be removed without a court order, NGOs considered the decree “another tool of control for the authorities to silence critical dissent, and a reflection of the digital dictatorship in Thailand.”

Trampling remaining freedoms I

30 07 2021

Earlier this month, six of the country’s media associations called upon the regime to reconsider the new media measures, worried that they would be use “to censor media coverage and infringe on the public’s freedom of expression.”

Those demands were not just ignored, but Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, as premier, has instructed “relevant authorities to strictly enforce the new measures against the media, influencers and social media figures, among others.” As a result, the associations concluded:

1. The Prime Minister’s insistence on enforcing the new measures, along with the recent attempts by his government to intimidate and take legal action against members of the public who simply exercise their constitutional rights to criticize the administration during the Covid-19 pandemic, clearly reveal an intent to crack down on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the media and the public.

2. The government’s assertion that the new measures are necessary to tackle what it terms “fake news” shows its refusal to acknowledge the administration’s failure in its communications with the public….

3. We call upon all professionals in the media and news agencies to stand in unison and oppose the government’s new measures. We also urge the media establishment to take utmost care to ensure that their news coverage is accurate and compliant with the highest journalistic standards — in order to deny the government any excuse to interfere with media operations, which will in turn affect the public’s right to information.

The regime’s response is to “double … down in its campaign against so-called ‘fake news’, shrugging off complaints by Thai media organisations…”. Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakmanusorn said “the anti-fake news committee has set up a special working group to combat misinformation on social media via administrative, tax and social measures.”

Essentially, the regime has “barred media from disseminating [so-called] fake or distorted news and news that could stir fear regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, effective from today (Friday), with a threat of censorship if violations are made.”

Gen Prayuth has “signed the restriction order, which was published in the Royal Gazette yesterday. According to the order, the media are banned from publishing and broadcasting information that incites fear or with intent to twist the information and cause confusion, which may affect national security and stability.” In other words, the regime has given itself the power to ban all reporting and social media commentary it does not like.

Like the dark days under military dictatorships of previous decades, the regime is deliberately vague in its definitions so as to instill fear:

Fears for journalists and news organizations are real and the consequences of the new decree can be existential. News organizations must now navigate—not only a vaguely worded definition of what is considered fake news—but a hostile regulatory environment where an array of agencies could be actively targeting them in a bid to silence legitimate critique of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thai journalists, who often work long hours for low pay, could be swayed by the possibility of a lengthy prison term and a substantial fine. Self-censorship among journalists … is likely to increase.

Most worrisome for news editors is the second guessing that might accompany editorial decision-making on pandemic-related news or information that is critical of the government. A severe consequence is that the government clearly wants to silence and penalize any news organization or journalist that publishes information that runs contrary to the government’s sensibilities—even if the information has been verified and deemed wholly accurate.

The regime’s “new decree doesn’t differentiate between the truth and fake news…”.

Cod Satrusayang states that this is “the move of a desperate government that has lost much of its legitimacy and all of its trust with the people that it has failed.” He continues:

This is Prayut now, defeated but still defiant (or perhaps oblivious) to the truth. We should not expect any better because this was a government that seized power through a military coup. It is run by military men – incapable of any governance that relies on consent and not conscription. This latest move shows the Thai military is not one of strength but subjugation.

We, the media and the people, can and must resist this latest proclamation.

The decree, he says, is Orwellian. Sadly, it is far worse than that. A desperate regime appears willing to do everything it can to stay in power, trampling freedoms and again standing on the bodies of the innocent dead.

Madam Secretary criticism affirms Thailand’s feudalism

19 11 2018

A couple of days ago we posted on the episode of Madam Secretary that includes commentary on Thailand’s monarchy and the feudal lese majeste law. Most controversial is the part of the episode that includes a call for the monarchy to be brought down. The episode is available here.

The episode opens with comments on Thailand from the main character, the US Secretary of State, who emphasizes the feudalism of the monarchy and a statement that “Thailand is a country where free speech does not exist.”

A religious studies professor who was born in Thailand has a monologue – a speech in Bangkok – that goes like this:

Thailand is a land of contradictions. A Buddhist nation that worships its own king as semi-divine…. This … country imposed on its people the worship of a man nowhere recognized in its Buddhist faith….

Where does it [Buddhist faith] say that one man and his family should be worth over $30 billion while many of his people starve and beg in the streets?

… I call for an end to this family’s rule over Thailand. Let the monarchy die when our king passes from this world and let the people of Thailand choose their own leaders, not false gods.”

She’s arrested for lese majeste and threatened with decades in jail while her friend seeks a pardon from a king portrayed as an angry and unsmiling old man.

While all this is fiction and the episode is not always accurate – it is a fictional TV show – the attention to the monarchy and lese majeste is pretty much as it was used, particularly after the 2014 military coup. And, parts of the episode were made in Thailand.

As expected, the regime has had to respond.

The Bangkok Post reports but cannot repeat any of the main material of the episode because Thailand is indeed a country where free speech does not exist. It also gets some things wrong, stating, for example that the episode “makes no mention of Thai reaction” when it explicitly does so and has a scene where Madam Secretary says the US has to prepare a response to the Thai reaction.

In real life, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reported to have “asked the Thai embassy in Washington to ‘convey our concern and disappointment to CBS’ over the Nov 4 episode.”

As expected, Ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks complained that the “episode … presented the Kingdom of Thailand and the Thai monarchy in a misleading manner, leading to grave concern and dismay from many Thais who have seen it…”. We have no idea if the latter claim is true or not, but the portrayal of a lack of freedom of expression, the feudal and hugely wealthy monarchy and the draconian lese majeste law are not misleading.

And here’s where the Ministry and royalists dig themselves into a monarchist hole. In responding, the Ministry confirms the episode’s portrayal of the monarchy.

(Still) not free

13 04 2018

Freedom House produces a yearly report on media and political freedom in the world. The ranking and definitions have some issues, but for Thailand it has been a reasonable assessment of where the country sits on these scores and which countries rank about the same as Thailand.

In the latest ranking, Thailand is considered “Not Free.” No surprise there as the country has had a similar standing since the 2014 military coup. Thailand’s dismal performance since 2001 is listed in the following table:


Political Rights

Civil Liberties
2018               6             5
2015               6             5
2012               4             4
2007               7             4
2005               2             3
2001               2             3

The report for 2018 is summarized in the following clip from the Freedom House website:

As bad as this score and decline are, the ruling elite prefers it when Thais are not free.

Smacking down academics

19 07 2017

It took a while, but 176 academics attending the International Conference on Thai Studies eventually issued a statement regarding academic and other freedoms.

Some might have thought that Thailand’s military dictatorship might have ignored the rather mild statement. After all, the junta likes to say that it doesn’t repress speech even if that is a lie. Ignoring the academics might have been something of a PR “victory” for the junta.

But this underestimates the nature of the regime and its repressive apparatus.

Prachatai reports that junta minion and Deputy Governor of Chiang Mai Putthiphong Sirimat “has threatened three academics who allegedly put up banners against the junta that they will be summoned by the military.”

This junta toady has “submitted a letter to the Ministry of Interior reporting three academics who allegedly put up banners reading, ‘an academic forum is not a military barrack’, at the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai.”

The detestable junta posterior polisher “identified the three as Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist from Thammasat University; Pakawadee Weerapaspong, an independent writer, activist, and translator; and Chaipong Samnieng, a lecturer of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Chiang Mai University.”

Acting as a junta snitch, Putthiphong declares that the three “used an academic forum to engage in anti-junta activities.”

It seems that the military bootlicker is angry that “the three have always been involved in movements against the junta through the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANCR).” So, like the junta itself, Putthiphong believes they should be punished” for not understanding their place in the junta’s hierarchy.

Updated: The monarchy, stability and endangering democracy

30 01 2013

Deutsche Welle has a commentary in a recent issue that begins:

The recent jailing of a reporter [Somyos Prueksakasemsuk] in Thailand has once again illustrated that the country’s monarchy is not only restricting press freedom and democracy, but actively endangering it.

That claim should generate some interest. It gets more controversial:

The anti-defamation [lese majeste] law is only the visible expression of a much more deep-rooted problem: the sweeping powers of the monarchy beyond the reach of any controls…. In Thailand, however, the limitations on royal powers are not very transparent….

Kings and the people

Well, our best interests at heart….

That statement is attributed to Jost Pachaly from the Heinrich-Boll-Foundation. “Transparent” may not be the right word here. The powers of the monarchy are defined in the constitution, but this basic law has had little impact in the past as the military has regularly ditched the constitution when they run a coup and then design their own document. Hence, constitutional powers have generally been ignored – although they have been expanded for the monarchy – and this king has pretty defined a political role for himself and the palace that are extra-constitutional.

Marco Bünte, of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), addresses some of this by noting that Thailand’s history is one of:

“vicious circle of military coups, constitutions, crises and renewed military coups.” The monarchy’s involvement was considerable, he added. The diffuse powers of the monarchy contribute to the ongoing power struggles inside the country.

Adding to this comment, the article draws on Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles to point out that this king and his close associates have rebuilt the monarchy as a political and economic power since 1946. Pachaly is quoted again:

The political and economic potency of the royal family is a problem because no one is allowed to report on it due to the anti-defamation law. “As a result, an important figure in Thailand’s political and economic landscape operates in the dark…”.

And in finishing up on this rather direct statement of what everyone knows but usually doesn’t say, the article observes this on succession:

Observers expect a power vacuum if and when the king dies. It cannot be excluded, they say, that the country’s political forces would then begin such a ferocious power struggle that Thailand would disintegrate into civil war.

The monarchy, they warn, is therefore not just a stumbling block to democracy so long as the king is alive, but it could also become a real threat to the stability of the country when the king dies.

Update: It is not just the German media becoming more critical of lese majeste. The Nation reports on comments by Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford University, who has written about the Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe, their secret police, 1989 and the transformation of these former communist states. He researches the challenges of combining freedom and diversity and free speech.

In Bangkok he reportedly referred to the “very shocking cases of lese majeste offences” that mean that “Thailand gets mentioned [negatively] quite a lot…”. He described the sentence on Somyos Prueksakasemsuk as “so wildly disproportionate that one has to express one’s sense of … outrage“.

Why the lese majeste law in Thailand is an abomination

3 03 2011

Giles Ji Ungpakorn has a new piece at Red Thai Socialist calling for the abolition of the lese majeste law:

The lese majeste law in Thailand represents a gross attack on the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and academic freedom. It is a fundamental attack on Democracy carried out by the Military, the Palace and the elites. The practical impact is that Thailand has struggled for years to achieve a fully developed democracy, a free press and internationally accepted academic standards in our universities.

Today, Da Torpedo, Red Eagle, Surachai Darnwattanan-nusorn (Sa-Darn) and many others are in prison in Thailand for merely expressing their beliefs in a peaceful way. In recent days arrest warrants have been issued for 5 more people and the police have a list of 30 more people who face arrest. Lese majeste prisoners are denied bail. The royalist judges claim that the offense is “too serious” and “a threat to national security”. Thai dictatorships have used the excuse that their opponents were seeking to “overthrow the Monarchy” in order to kill unarmed demonstrators in 1976 and 2010. Jail terms for lese majeste are draconian. Da is in prison for 18 years and prison conditions are appalling. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the web manager of the independent Prachatai newspaper faces 50 years in prison for not removing other peoples’ web-posts. A student faces lese majeste charges for not standing up for the King’s anthem in the cinema and the Military-backed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva tells lies about how he is committed to reforming the law. Abhisit and the army generals also tell lies about the deliberate state-ordered killings of unarmed protesters in May 2010.

In my particular case, my own university gave my anti-coup book to the police special branch, which resulted in a lese majeste prosecution against me. Imagine the impact on my fellow academics. This climate of fear creates poor quality academic work which avoids all important controversial issues and debates. This appalling tradition of educational mediocrity starts at primary school and works its way right to the top of the educational system. Students are encouraged to learn subjects parrot-fashion and write descriptive, one-sided essays. Academics refuse to engage in any debate, do not read work by those who do not agree with them and regard any academic arguments as personal attacks.

Professor Amara Ponsapich and the Thai National Human Rights Commission have disgraced themselves by remaining silent on lese majeste. At the same time they have defended the “right” of fascist PAD members to cause a war with Cambodia. Recently Amara warned the pro-democracy Red Shirts not to cause “trouble” with their protests. No such warning was ever given to the royalist mobs. NGO senator Rosana Tositakul told Red Shirt MPs to stop whining about the 90 deaths last year and to concentrate on the problems of inflation. Amnesty International has followed in the same path by defending the use of lese majeste. Academic hold seminars about why the lese majeste law “needs to be reformed”. But it cannot be reformed. It has to be abolished.

The Thai Monarchy is said to be “universally loved by all Thais”. This may have been the case in some periods of history, but it is no longer true. Many millions have turned against the Monarchy for appearing to condone the 2006 military coup and for saying nothing about the 90 deaths last year. This openly expressed hatred of the Monarchy is despite the climate of fear created by the lese majeste law, along side a manic promotion of the Monarchy. The King is said to be a genius in all fields. All statements by the Monarch are repeated as though they are the ultimate wisdom and he is referred to as “our father”. Photographs are circulated to “prove” that the King actually tied his own shoe-laces!! Many have made comparisons with North Korea. Now they are comparing Thailand to the Middle-Eastern dictatorships. Recently the head of the army claimed that Thailand was “nothing like Egypt”. If he really believed that, then why did he bother to make the public statement in the first place?

Another example of “Monarchy Mania” is the idea of “Sufficiency Economics”. Once the Monarch gave his blessing to the “Sufficiency Economy”, we were all supposed to accept it and praise it without question. The Sufficiency Economy is really a reactionary political ideology that teaches people to be happy with their present circumstances and to ignore the need for income redistribution. Luckily, this aspect of brain-washing has not worked very well in Thai society, for a society which cannot openly discuss economic and political policies will remain backward and under-developed. But the mere criticism of the Sufficiency Economy is enough to attract charges of lese majeste.

What is the aim of all this attempt at enforced idiocy among the population? It is a continuous attempt to keep the vast majority of Thai people in their place. We are encouraged to believe that the King is all powerful, when in fact he is a spineless willing tool of the Military. The Thai population are encouraged to believe that we live under an “ancient system of Monarchy”, a cross between a Sakdina, Absolute and Constitutional Monarchy system. People have to crawl on the ground in front of the King. But the true beneficiaries of this are the Military, the civilian conservative bureaucrats and the Democrat Party who are now in government.

The Military often claim that they are the “defenders of the Constitutional Monarchy”, yet the Thai Military has a long history of making un-constitutional coups. These are often “legitimised” by claiming to protect the Monarchy. The 19th September 2006 coup is a good example. The Military sought to legitimise themselves by referring to the Monarch. The lese majeste Law is thus used as a tool by the military to defend coups. The promotion of an image that the Monarchy is all powerful (an un-constitutional image), is part of this self-legitimisation by the military and other forces who are now in government. Lese majeste cases have multiplied since the Democrats were manoeuvred into government by the army in December 2008. It is now a central weapon to be used against all those who criticised the 2006 coup or those who oppose this military-installed government.

It is now an undeniable fact that this brain-washing campaign is falling apart. And it is falling apart at the very moment when the King is getting old and may soon die because he is so frail. If the King were ever loved and respected, the same cannot be said about his son. We know from Wikileaks that even the elites think the prince is a liability. The Military, the right-wing PAD protestors who closed the airports and the Democrat Party, have dragged the Monarchy into politics by claiming that the 2006 coup and violent actions by the PAD were supported or even directed by the Monarchy. It is now common to hear ordinary Thais complain that “the iguana and his wife” ordered the May 2010 killings. Royal legitimacy is all that the conservative authoritarians have and they are panicking because it is all unravelling. They have brought this on themselves.

We must not forget the plight of those jailed and killed on the pretext of defending the Monarchy. We must wage an international and national political campaign to defend democratic rights in Thailand and for the abolition of the lese majeste law. Without abolishing this law, we cannot have democracy in Thailand and without overthrowing the dictatorship we cannot abolish lese majeste.

Why we struggle

3 04 2010

Bangkok Pundit has posted perhaps the most disturbing, and foreboding, image to emerge in the current crisis in Bangkok.  Taken during a pink shirt rally in Lumphini Park, the image recalls an image of a lynching of a student activist by right-wing para-state actors on the morning of 6 October 1976 at Thammasat University.

Look at the image here, and then do whatever you can do to struggle against the silencing of speech, the destruction of peaceful protest, and the rise of authoritarian fascism(s) in Thailand.

More on alleged funds flow

13 02 2010

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government continues to push the alleged foreign funding to the red shirts into the media (see PPT’s earlier post here). Obviously, its strategists think the claim is a winner. The problem for observers such as PPT is that there is no evidence being produced. Equally odd is the government’s acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn’s claim that the government has been observing this for almost three months. So why announce it now and then not show a shred of evidence.

PPT doesn’t know if there are transfers as claimed, but the government is playing this card in a way that suggests it is manufacturing a politically-motivated story.

Now – after the three months the government claims to have known of alleged transfers – the government has put the Department of Special Investigation and the Anti-Money Laundering Office on the job (The Nation, 13 February 2010). It has to be said that the DSI is looking increasingly like the government’s lackey organization for politicized investigations.

The report adds the curious line that these organizations have: “been instructed to probe the flow of suspicious funds by pursuing all leads, not only those politically linked.” Even more curious, Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga is cited as stating: “The probe is about enforcing the Anti-Money Laundering Act in general. This may or may not have political implications…”. But it is not really curious because the government is trying to give the impression that it “was not out to fault any particular groups.”

This is pure political spin. Listen to academic-for-hire and government spinmeister Panitan and what is heard is an attack on the red shirts, even if there is no evidence. He said “huge amounts of money had been transferred to some red shirt leaders from the Middle East” (Bangkok Post, 13 February 2010). Even Pirapan can’t keep up the charade, for he adds that there will be investigations of mushrooming of pyramid schemes, on suspicion these illegal funds have been channelled to finance street protests…”. And who are the street protestors? Certainly they aren’t investigating the Democrat Party allies in the yellow-shirted PAD.

In addition, one of PPT’s favorite spin doctors is the Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks. Buranaj has long shown himself to be an enemy of human rights, free speech and several other important freedoms. He said “authorities were investigating three schemes designed to channel funds to the red shirts.” Didn’t the justice minister say they’re not “not out to fault any particular groups? Mark that down as a lie from justice minister no less.

Buranaj claims “couriers were hired to smuggle cash from border areas into the country. The suspicious funds came from casinos located nearby.” He also claims that “a group of import-export companies are suspected to have doctored their records to help move funds into the Kingdom.” Finally, he refers to “funds being moved via international wire transfer to local accounts of individuals or companies, with the records fixed to elude detection. Five businessmen are involved.” No evidence, just inflammatory accusations. Why? Buranaj also has a track record of wanting crackdowns on red shirts.

Da Torpedo continues to suffer in prison

2 01 2010

According to a report posted on New Year’s Day by Prachatai, Da Torpedo’s dental problems have become more severe.  She is now suffering from a molar abscess. They reported that when she was visited on New Year’s Day by her brother, Kittichai, and members of the Palang Ruam Jai group, that Kittichai “was told by the prison’s Administrative Director that Daranee had been able to drink only milk, because she could not open her mouth wide or chew food normally.” He is now working for her to see a dentist outside the prison, as the prison authorities have been unable — or unwilling — to provide this needed service.

As anyone who has experienced an abscessed tooth before a root canal knows, the pain and discomfort are overwhelming.  Da Torpedo has experienced this pain for months — as the prison authorities have done nothing. Is an eighteen-year sentence for expressing her opinion not enough?

Read the entire Prachatai article here: New Year’s Day 2010, “Da Torpedo’s molar abscess needs treatment outside prison”

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