No internet freedom

16 11 2017

Thailand remained a black hole for internet freedom in 2016. Freedom House reports that the key developments have been:

  • In August, voters approved a referendum on a draft constitution that would weaken political parties, strengthen unelected bodies, and entrench the military’s presence in politics.
  • Authorities placed severe restrictions on free expression ahead of the vote, including through the 2016 Referendum Act, which criminalized the expression of opinions “inconsistent with the truth.” Over 100 people were arrested for offenses related to the referendum.
  • In September, the government issued an order that halted the practice of trying civilians accused of national security, lèse-majesté, and certain other crimes in military courts. However, the order is not retroactive and does not cover cases that had already entered the military court system.
  • Following the death of [the king]… in October, the military government intensified restrictions on speech deemed offensive to the monarchy as it worked to manage the period of transition.

Read the whole sorry tale of the military dictatorship’s repression.





Devil deals

26 05 2016

Readers will recall our post on The Dictator in Russia. We mean General Prayuth Chan-ocha, not Vlad the Putin. In that post we noted dictatorial Thailand’s desire to move authoritarian Russia closer to center stage. We added that with the dictatorship looking like it will stay on for years, the relationships with other authoritarian regimes will be important.

This linking with authoritarian regimes was apparently also a part of the summit in Moscow.

The official mouthpiece, the National News Bureau of Thailand reports that:

Minister of Commerce Apiradi Tantraporn has revealed that Thailand and Russia have agreed during the Thai Prime Minister’s official visit to Russia on the trade and investment cooperation that different trade models among both sides can support one another.

Thailand plans to raise its trade value with Eurasian countries in 5 years starting from the Free Trade Area negotiations with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Russia, with the aim to export more automobile parts, jewelry, canned foods, rice, rubber, and rubber products. Russia is more interested in purchasing fruit exports from Thailand.

Birds of a feather?
  • Belarus – ranked 127 on the 2015 Democracy Index (authoritarian) and at the 2016 Freedom Index, is ranked not free and gets the lowest score of 7 for political rights and 6 for civil liberties.
  • Kazakhstan – 140 (authoritarian); 6, 5, not free.
  • Kyrgyzstan –  93 (hybrid regime); 5, 5, partly free.
  • Armenia – 116 (hybrid); 5, 4, partly free.
  • Russia – 132 (authoritarian); 6, 6, not free.
  • Thailand – in a bizarre assessment, 98 (hybrid regime). In fact, Thailand is wholly authoritarian; 6, 5 (not free) and a more realistic assessment.

They do seem like an appropriate flock of authoritarian states and are unlikely to ever have to talk about human rights and political freedoms while trading and enriching oligarchs.





Not free

1 02 2015

At Khaosod it is reported that Freedom House’s designation of Thailand as “Not Free” has caused the military dictatorship some angst.

The dictatorship has reportedly “disputed an international watchdog’s decision to downgrade Thailand in an annual report on freedom around the globe…” released a couple of days ago.FHouse

Freedom House stated:

Thailand’s political rights rating declined from 4 to 6, its civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5, and its status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the May military coup, whose leaders abolished the 2007 constitution and imposed severe restrictions on speech and assembly.

Pilaipan Sombatsiri, chairwoman of the junta-appointed Assembly Committee on Foreign Affairs, has reportedly disputed Freedom House’s reading of the situation in Thailand.

In a press conference, Pilaipan argued that it is impossible for Freedom House to rate “Thailand as unfree or undemocratic…”. Why is that? Considering the world populated by people with royalist and fascist brains the size of peas, she answers that Thailand is something other than unfree “because the people are happy. They can live their lives normally.”

Freedom House scoresTell that to the political prisoners. Ask the students and academics who have been banned from expressing political views. Ask the politicians and rank-and-file members who are harassed for any expression of political views. Tell the lese majeste prisoners. Ask anyone who is not a royalist and pro-junta acolyte if they are able to freely express their views, even in private emails and messages.

They’ll all laugh at Pilaipan’s ludicrous statement. They’ll also mourn the loss of freedom under the military dictatorship. That she sounds like a Nazi defending Hitler is revealing of her politics. In fact, she is simply ridiculous.

Pilaipan then adopted the redoubt of fascists in rightist nationalism: “Don’t let the outside world interfere with your thoughts too much.” Better to let the military dictatorship do that with its ridiculous ultra-royalism and The Dictator’s personality cult and fascist aphorisms.

Her rant came at the time that military officials canceled an event on media freedom organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung due to allegedly “sensitive content.” The military dolts were worried about discussions of coups, freedom and politics. That shows exactly how unfree Thailand is.

We recommend reading the Freedom House report (see link above) for an account of Thailand’s declining political rights and civil liberties.





Freedom House on internet censorship

28 09 2012

Freedom House has released its Internet Freedom report for 2012. Thailand ranks as unfree, along with China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Burma, and a few others. The report is long and detailed.

The report notes that although “the Thai government has been blocking some internet content since 2003, restrictions have expanded in recent years in both scale and scope.” Most of this is related to the monarchy. Before 2007 it says that most censorship was “pornography, online gambling, or circumvention tools, although some politically oriented websites were also found to be inaccessible.”

Since 2007, censorship “has grown exponentially, particularly those with content perceived as critical of the monarchy.” Figures are provided.

After 7 April 2010, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, backed by the military blocked a “large number of websites focused on the opposition red-shirt movement…. These included individual YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and Google groups.”

The report notes that “less clearly partisan online news outlets or human rights groups, such as Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), the online newspaper Prachatai, the Political Prisoners in Thailand blog, and Asia Sentinel” were blocked.

The advent of the “democratically elected government” of Yingluck Shinawatra dashed “hopes that the new government would loosen internet censorship…”. Again, sites about the monarchy have been the target.

It states that some sites “blocked in 2010 were accessible, including FACT and the Political Prisoners in Thailand” have become available. For PPT this is only partly true as blocking is off and on. Media “reports citing government officials, thousands of webpages have been added to the blacklist under the new administration.” However, it is unclear if censorship has actually increased.

The centrality of the monarchy to censorship regime is explained:

Despite [a]… constraining environment, outside of comments perceived as critical of the monarchy, most other areas of discussion on political, social, and human rights issues are freely and passionately debated in Thailand.

The report notes that:

While many blogs and discussion sites are blocked, users can access them with readily available circumvention software, and content producers often republish information on alternate sites. These techniques have undermined the MICT’s censorship efforts.

That’s true, and this is why PPT has a “mirror” at PP of T. We are further mentioned in another section of the report:

As internet freedom has come under growing pressure, online activists have organized to push back. The Political Prisoners in Thailand blog provides information on lèse-majesté prosecutions. The Thai Netizen Network (TNN) was founded in early 2009 to uphold users’ right to access, free expression, and privacy via public statements and other advocacy initiatives.

This is a most useful report, and highly recommended to readers.





Further updated: Thammasat student gets summons on new lese majeste charge

3 01 2012

At New Mandala, Somsak Jeamteerasakul comments on what he says is a new lese majeste charge. PPT reproduces it in full:

New LM case: a first year student at Thammasat charged

I regret to inform all NM readers of the second of three new LM cases I mention above (an earlier post in the same thread).

The first case, that of ajarn Suraphot Thawisak, had already been reported.

The accused in this case is Miss Natthakarn Sakuldarachat (her name at the time of the incident she is being charged with, she has since changed her name and surname to avoid harassment). At this moment she is a first year student in the Faculty of Social Welfare, Thammasat University.

During March-April 2010, at the height of the rallies and crackdown in Bangkok, Natthakarn or “Kan Thoob” the nickname she used online then, under which she is more widely known, had just finished her high school course, and had already passed the written exam to the Silpakorn University.

She posted some comments on her Facebook. Some online royalists saw them, quickly accusing her of LM, and widely attacking her on the internet and in “Yellow” media outlets.

These fierce attacks were such that the Dean of the Silapakorn Faculty (a known royalist) where Natthakarn “Kan Thoob” already passed the written exam, decided to reject her as new student, claiming she was not qualified because of her lack of loyalty to the monarchy.

A few weeks afterward, Natthakarn earned the right to take a oral exam at Kasetsart University. But the royalists hounded her, threatened to stage a protest at the university the day she was scheduled to appear for an oral exam. So Natthakarn decided to not show up and forfeited her right to study there.

Because of this, between mid-2010 and mid-2011, Natthakarn stayed at home, losing a whole year of study.

In mid 2011, i.e. at the start of this academic year, she passed the exam into the Faculty of Social Welfare, Thammasat University; although the administration knew of her case (Dr.Somkid, the university rector recently gave an interview about her case), she was more fortunate that here at Thammasat, they were more tolerant of differing opinion and accepted her without any incident. She already finished her first term as student … and is about to start the second term, postponed because of the flood until the middle of this month.

However, some royalists were not satisfied with just ruining her study for a year; unknown to Natthakarn, some of them apparently lodged LM complain about her case with the police.

At the end of last October, an LM charged and a summon had been issued to Natthakarn by the Bang Khen Police precinct. But because of the flood (the police precinct itself was flooded, and Natthakarn herself was back in her home province of Ratchaburi), the date she was summoned to appear was re-scheduled twice, finally being set at 10 am., Wednesday 11 January.

During the past two months (from the time Natthakarn received her summon), I together with some academic friends have tried to made informal contact with people in the authorities, urging them to reconsider Natthakarn’s case. After all, there is really little merit in the charge and still less any benefits to social and political order, but to no avail. So, Natthakarn is now officially the latest victim in this LM madness.

Update 1: At Prachatai, a commentator has pointed to  a report on this case in a Freedom House report:

In addition to legal repercussions, internet users who post controversial content can face societal harassment, termed “online witch hunts” by local observers. In a case reported in May 2010, an 18-year-old high school graduate became the subject of an online hate campaign over her alleged insult of the monarchy. The woman claimed that she was refused a place at Silpakorn University because of her Facebook postings, and expressed fears of a physical attack after her name and address were posted on public websites. She said that she faced hostility in her neighborhood as well as threatening leaflets and phone calls, and that police had refused to accept her complaint. [53] A network of users calling themselves the “Social Sanction” group has actively sought out individuals who have expressed views deemed to be disrespectful of the monarchy and launched online campaigns to vilify them. In some cases, these campaigns have sparked official investigations of the targeted individual.[54]

Notes:

[53]  Pravit Rojanaphruk, “18-Year-Old’s Facebook Posting Spurs ‘Hate Campaign,’” Nation, May 28, 2010, available on Prachatai at http://prachatai3.info/english/node/1864. One of the pages condemning the young woman can be found at http://www.khanpak.com/front-variety/variety-view.php?id=500

[54] Sawatree Suksri, Siriphon Kusonsinwut, and Orapin Yingyongpathana, Situational Report on Control and Censorship of Online Media, Through the Use of Laws and the Imposition of Thai State Policies (Bangkok: iLaw Project, 2010), http://www.boell-southeastasia.org/downloads/ilaw_report_EN.pdf, p. 14.

Update 2: Somsak Jeamteerasakul has added more details, again at New Mandala. We reproduce it below, with a bit of editing:

Natthakarn has decided to ask the police for postponement of her reporting for LM charge, from next Wednesday to sometime next month. The police agreed. The new date is tentatively set at 11 February.

The reason for the request is that she has upcoming final exams for last semester (held up from October because of flood) within a few days after next Wednesday. At first she thought she could manage the preparation for both the exam and the reporting to police within few days of one another, but apparently the latter interfered too much with her time and concentration for the exam preparation.

I’d like to emphasize that the LM charge against Natthakarn “Kan Thoob” stills stands, the summon still stands, only the date of her reporting to police has been rescheduled.

Somsak goes on to provide further details:

I’d like also to give some further info about Natthakarn, just checked with her. She was born in May 1992. This means that her posting on Facebook between March and April 2010, for which she is being charged, happened when she was not quite 18 years old. I am not quite sure about the law on this, but as I understand it, should the case come to court, she could be tried as a minor, presumably even in juvenile court (?).

In any case, this fact (and the fact that even now she has not yet reached 20 years), makes the charge all the more depressing. While nobody of any age (or political persuasions – not even Sondhi Lim), should be charged with LM, in the case like Natthakarn’s, the police should have exercised good sense and should not have laid a formal charge against her. At most they should have contacted her, perhaps with her parents and her university supervisors, to warn her of potentials danger of posting ambiguous messages online. They should have let her get on with her life and study.

In addition, at New Mandala, Andrew Spooner points out that he wrote about this case a few months ago. His post then began:

Back in 2010, as the Thai people were busy counting the corpses resulting from former-PM Abhisit’s Bangkok massacre, a young 17-year-old girl left a message on her public Facebook page. The message was a rebuke to Thailand’s royalty that was so mild it didn’t even attract a charge under Thailand’s draconian lese majeste. But what it did attract was something far more sinister.

It might have been sinister then. It is far worse now. Lese majeste madness indeed.





Reuters on lese majeste

8 12 2011

Reuters has a long and useful report on what it calls a “war on royal slurs.” It begins with an Orwellian image: “From a windowless room in a Bangkok suburb, computer technicians scour thousands of websites, Facebook pages and tweets night and day. Their mission: to suppress what is regarded as one of Thailand’s most heinous crimes — insulting the monarchy.”

Indeed, being accused of insulting the monarchy is now a crime that gets people locked up for terms that exceed those for some of the major crimes like murder and drug dealing. Indeed, when the murderers are state officials from the police and military, they are seldom even investigated, while huge teams scour the internet for “even the faintest criticism of 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej…”, using “the world’s most draconian lese-majeste laws.”

The Washington-based pro-democracy and rather conservative Freedom House claims that lese majeste and the computer crimes laws provide officials “carte blanche to clamp down on any form of expression.”

The current government gets a free pass: “Some Thais had hoped Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose party members are among those accused of lese-majeste, would reform the law. But she is treading carefully, aware her opponents in the military and royalist establishment could seize on any hint of disloyalty to the monarchy to bring her down.” That’s true, but some of her government’s own people have been beating the lese majeste drum very loudly.

Under Information and Communications Technology Minister Anudit Nakorntab “Thais who received anti-monarchy messages by email or on their personal Facebook walls and failed to delete them were also in violation.” A MICT official stated: “We would take them to court and prosecute them…. It is against the law to do such a thing and as a result, they will be fined and jailed.”

It is going to get messier and more repressive by the week, especially as the Yingluck government has fallen into the royalist trap. It is a trap that is impossible to get out of, not least when spineless ministers sprout “loyalty” as mantra. Maybe Yingluck should sit down and read the Wikileaks cables to see what the royalist amart can do to elected prime ministers.

 

 

 





Academic freedom challenged

25 05 2011

Simon Montlake comments on declining academic freedom in the Christian Science Monitor. Of course, this relates to the lese majeste case brought by the Army chief against history professor Somsak Jeamteerasakul at Thammasat University.

The report begins: “An outspoken historian is facing the threat of a criminal trial for his writings on the Thai monarchy, spurring an international appeal by scholars for the protection of academic freedoms in Thailand.”

Some useful quotes from the story:

“Watchdog groups say Thailand’s widespread use of repressive laws such as lèse-majesté to silence critics has undermined its democratic rights. US-based Freedom House recently ranked Thailand with dictatorships like China and Cuba for its ‘substantial censorship’ of political debate. Thai authorities continue to shut down media outlets allied to the opposition red-shirt movement. Armed police raided several red-shirt radio stations on April 26 for airing anti-royal speeches.” PPT thinks there should be an “allegedly” associated with “anti-royal speeches.”

“Somsak is among a group of intellectuals who have called for root-and-branch reform of the monarchy to diminish its political influence.”

David Streckfuss: “If charges are brought against him, it would really put a dent in Thailand’s image as a place where general freedoms are observed…”.

“For academics, this creates a ‘black hole’ in the study of Thailand’s modern history, says Michael Montesano, a fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asia Studies in Singapore. While some studies have simply echoed official hagiographies of the current ruler, others have resorted to coded language or bitten their tongues…”.

Montesano: “In recent years, this caution has ebbed a bit. But Somsak has really pushed the envelope…”.

Prime Minister “Mr. Abhisit [Vejjajiva], who was educated at Oxford University, has said that non-partisan scholarship on the monarchy is permissible.”

Kevin Hewison: “said Somsak’s case was a test for Abhisit. ‘He has stated several times that academic comment on the monarchy is acceptable. If it now isn’t, [his] reputation will be in tatters for scholars who follow Thailand’…”.

PPT thinks it worth noting that there are now reformist and abolitionist perspectives on lese majeste. Somsak’s case is a clear over-step by an enraged Army boss. Arguably, this is also the case for Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, who continues to be held without bail.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has shown that he is unable to comprehend Thailand’s current political climate and the changes that have taken place in recent years. So while the action against Somsak is an act of repression, it has thrown open a door that the royalists can’t shut. The more “liberal” amongst them must press for reform of the lese majeste law. If they don’t do this, as Sulak Sivaraksa says, time and again, they risk the monarchy itself.