HRW on The Dictator’s European holiday

18 06 2018

Reproduced in full from Human Rights Watch:

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron should press Thailand’s junta leader to respect human rights and ensure a rapid transition to democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut[h] Chan-ocha is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister May on June 20, 2018, in London and President Macron on June 25 in Paris.

“Prime Minister May and President Macron should strongly express their deep concerns about the deteriorating state of human rights under military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “They should make clear to General Prayut that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government, and improves respect for human rights.”

The UK and France are among major allies of Thailand that have repeatedly stated that bilateral relations will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections.

Thailand has made no progress toward becoming the rights-respecting, democratic government that General Prayut promised as the country enters its fourth year after the May 2014 coup. As chairman of Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), General Prayut wields power unhindered by administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for human rights violations. NCPO Orders 3/2015 and 13/2016 provide military authorities with powers to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and to interrogate suspects without giving them access to legal counsel, or providing safeguards against mistreatment.

General Prayut’s much touted “road map” on human rights and the return to democratic civilian rule has become meaningless. The junta’s promised election date continues to slide, making the timing wholly uncertain, and it has provided few reasons to believe that an election, if held, will be free and fair. Unless the junta lifts its severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms, Thailand’s political parties, media, and voters will not be able to participate in a genuinely democratic process.

The junta has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand. Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. Public gatherings of more than five people and pro-democracy activities are prohibited.

More than 100 pro-democracy activists have recently faced illegal assembly charges, some of whom have also been accused of sedition, for peacefully demanding that the junta should hold its promised election without further delay and that it should immediately lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Over the past four years, the military has summoned thousands of people to have their political attitudes “adjusted” and pressured to stop criticizing the junta.

Trying civilians in military courts, which lack independence and do not comply with fair trial standards, remains a major problem. In response to criticism, General Prayut in September 2016 revoked NCPO orders that empowered military courts to try civilians. But the order is not retroactive so it does not affect the more than 1,800 military court cases already brought against civilians, many of them pro-democracy activists, politicians, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

The junta has disregarded Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. Government agencies have frequently retaliated against individuals who report allegations of abuses by filing criminal charges, including for criminal defamation.

Prime Minister May and President Macron should recognize that the UK and France stand to benefit far more from a partnership with a country that respects human rights and rule of law. They should urge the Thai government to urgently:

– End the use of abusive and unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;

– End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;

– Lift the ban on political activities;

– Release all dissidents and critics detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;

– Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;

– Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards; and

– Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping criminal lawsuits against them.

“Business deals should not come at the expense of serious discussions on human rights and the junta’s tightening grip on power,” Adams said. “The UK and French governments need to press the junta to end repression so that Thailand can move toward democratic civilian rule.”





Lese majeste as culture wars

9 06 2018

The news that the military junta has defended the lese majeste and computer crimes laws is no news at all.

However, a series of letters that Khaosod came upon between Ambassador Sek Wannamethee, Thailand’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and United Nations officials reinforces the junta’s claims – and by some earlier regimes – that such laws are somehow consistent with “Thai traditional and cultural values.”

In a very real sense, this claim matches the origins of the term “culture war.” The junta has used these laws in its efforts to enforce traditionalist and conservative values against those who favor more democratic, progressive or even bland liberal values.

We might note that Sek’s position reflects him being rewarded for his support of the regime and the draconian use of lese majeste over the past few years. One might say he’s just doing his job. But Sek is far more enthusiastic than that. He’s a cultural warrior for the military dictatorship.

As usual, Sek was disingenuous: “The lese majeste law, hence, to certain extent, reflects and accords with Thai traditional and cultural values with respect to the Monarchy. It is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression…”.

Of course, the law takes direct aim at freedom of expression, in public and in private, in the media, in literature, in art and among academics and students, and much more. It is a chilling means of political repression.

We might also ask whether “Thai culture” and its law protects dead kings, dead king’s dead dogs, past “royals” who may or may not have actually existed, minor royals and so on. Sek and the regime seem to think it does.

UN experts David Kaye and Michel Forst who “monitor freedom of expression and human rights defenders,” stated, in their letters:

We express grave concerns at the continued use of article 112 and of the Computer Crime Act against the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Thailand….

The letter singled out prosecution, detention and long prison sentences for those convicted under the law for “acts that appear to constitute a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”

It added that the United Nations is also concerned about such cases being tried in military courts in closed session, sometimes with no family members or public in attendance.

The letter noted that all public figures, including heads of state, “are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

The UN experts cited 21 lese majeste cases, some already through the courts, others continuing is deliberately slow “legal” processes meant to elicit guilty pleas.

They also mentioned the illegal activities of the authorities when “investigating” these “crimes” and “trials” held in secret.

The military dictatorship has used lese majeste as a political and cultural weapon. It will continue to do so.





Bangkok Post capitulates on free expression

14 05 2018

This morning the Bangkok Post had an editorial on press freedom: “Censorship must go.”

Presumably this editorial was approved if not written by editor Umesh Pandey.

Prompted by the suspension of Voice TV, the editorial said things like:

Censorship by this regime began the day of the coup — May 22, 2014. At that time, martial law was in the hands of the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC). The junta closed hundreds of community radio stations and effectively shut down all Thai broadcasting, as well as many foreign stations repeated locally. Eventually, all national broadcasters were allowed to resume, including Peace TV. Since then, the pro-Thaksin station, fronted by the top names of the red shirt movement, has been shut for various periods by the intrusive NBTC. By 2015, Prime Minister and junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha made the unconstitutional decision to give the NBTC the power to censor and ban any radio or TV broadcaster.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not in the constitution to protect parroting of the government line, repeating what official spokesman say or reprinting government or big-business press releases. Such publication and broadcast needs no protection. Extraordinary laws protecting the media and citizens’ speech are necessary to protect the opposition, dissidents and unpopular voices and views. One needn’t agree with a single word or opinion by Peace TV to disagree with government-approved decision to force it off the air.

By the time of the editorial was being read locally, Umesh was gone as editor. We are not saying that this particular editorial is the reason he’s been removed from his post. However, Umesh managed to improved the Post as editor, making it more like a real newspaper and being more critical of the junta than under his predecessor and re-establishing the Post as a newspaper that was worth reading.

Social media commentary suggests the Post’s owners and directors have been pressured by the military dictators to get rid of Umesh and this more critical reporting. Then again, perhaps the fabulously wealthy tycoon owners and directors prefer a newspaper that is junta-friendly. It isn’t the first time the Post has buckled on freedom of expression.





Updated: A sorry story of military repression

24 04 2018

We all know that Thailand is under the military boot. The US State Department’s 2017 human rights report is now out and chronicles some aspects of the natur of military repression. We summarize and quote some parts of the report below. A general statement worth considering is this:

In addition to limitations on civil liberties imposed by the NCPO, the other most significant human rights issues included: excessive use of force by government security forces, including harassing or abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detention by government authorities; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces…; corruption; sexual exploitation of children; and trafficking in persons.

As the report notes:

Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect during the year. NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, grants the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.”

The military junta continues to detain civilians in military prisons. Some prisoners are still shackled in heavy chains.

Impunity and torture are mentioned several times as a major issue. This is important when it is noted that the number of “suspects” killed by authorities doubled in 2017.

Approximately 2,000 persons have been summoned, arrested and detained by the regime, including academics, journalists, politicians and activists. There are also “numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the military government.” Frighteningly,

NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March 2016, grants military officers with the rank of lieutenant and higher power to summon, arrest, and detain suspects; conduct searches; seize assets; suspend financial transactions; and ban suspects from traveling abroad in cases related to 27 criminal offenses, including extortion, human trafficking, robbery, forgery, fraud, defamation, gambling, prostitution, and firearms violation. The order also grants criminal, administrative, civil, and disciplinary immunity to military officials executing police authority in “good faith.”

Too often detainees are prevented from having legal representation and are refused bail.

The use of military courts continues:

In a 2014 order, the NCPO redirected prosecutions for offenses against the monarchy, insurrection, sedition, weapons offenses, and violation of its orders from civilian criminal courts to military courts. In September 2016 the NCPO ordered an end to the practice, directing that offenses committed by civilians after that date would no longer be subject to military court jurisdiction. According to the Judge Advocate General’s Office, military courts initiated 1,886 cases involving at least 2,408 civilian defendants since the May 2014 coup, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives. As of October approximately 369 civilian cases involving up to 450 individual defendants remained pending before military courts.

On lese majeste, the reports cites the Department of Corrections that says “there were 135 persons detained or imprisoned…”.

Censorship by the junta is extensive, with the regime having “restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it [national security and the monarchy], and media widely practiced self-censorship.” It is added that the junta “continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet and routinely censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.” In dealing with opponents and silencing them, the junta has used sedition charges.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression are extensive against those it deems political activists. This repression extends to the arts and academy:

The NCPO intervened to disrupt academic discussions on college campuses, intimidated scholars, and arrested student leaders critical of the coup. Universities also practiced self-censorship…. In June [2017] soldiers removed artwork from two Bangkok galleries exhibiting work depicting the 2010 military crackdown on protesters, which authorities deemed a threat to public order and national reconciliation.

It is a sorry story.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a timely editorial on torture in Thailand. Usually it is the police and military accused and guilty. This time it is the Corrections Department, which runs almost all of Thailand’s prisons. All these officials are cut from the same cloth.





(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:

Year

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.





Amnesty International on systematic and arbitrary restrictions on human rights

24 02 2018

Amnesty International has released its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights. It’s a 400 page PDF that makes for grim reading.

The report had a launch in Thailand and there are reports at Khaosod and The Nation.

Amnesty International Thailand Director Piyanut Kotsan is quoted in The Nation saying:

“The situation of human rights violation in Thailand under the administration of the Prime Minister and head of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] is still considered very poor, as the junta still exercises the absolute power of Article 44 of the interim Charter to stop any political activists exercising freedom of expression…”.

“Many citizens are still being held in unofficial custody, civilians are still being prosecuted in the military court, and freedom of expression and gatherings in public are limited by the use of NCPO order 3/2558, which bans the gathering of more than five persons for political protest.”

Khaosod quotes Antima Saengchai, deputy director of Amnesty Thailand:

Despite having declared human rights a national priority, the military government still prosecutes activists, practices extrajudicial killings, allows torture of people in custody, deports asylum-seekers and suppresses online freedoms….

“Despite promises, there has been no process on passing laws to prohibit human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearances…”.

On lese majeste in 2017, the report states:

Authorities continued to vigorously prosecute cases under Article 112 of the Penal Code – lèse-majesté provision – which penalized criticism of the monarchy. Individuals were charged or prosecuted under Article 112 during the year, including some alleged to have offended past monarchs. Trials for lèse-majesté were held behind closed doors. In June, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced a man to a record 35 years’ imprisonment − halved from 70 years after he pleaded guilty − for a series of Facebook posts allegedly concerning the monarchy. In August, student activist and human rights defender Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment after being convicted in a case concerning his sharing a BBC profile of Thailand’s King on Facebook. Authorities brought lèse-majesté charges against a prominent academic for comments he made about a battle fought by a 16th century Thai king.

The latter case was dropped a few weeks ago. We are surprised AI didn’t mention the lese majeste cases brought against juveniles.

On the still unresolved case of the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyaphum Pasae the report states:

In March, Chaiyaphum Pasae, a 17-year-old Indigenous Lahu youth activist, was shot dead at a checkpoint staffed by soldiers and anti-narcotics officers, who claimed to have acted in self-defence. By the end of the year, an official investigation into his death had made little progress; the authorities failed to produce CCTV footage from cameras known to have been present at the time of the incident.

This seems a case of impunity for soldiers. Another, mentioned in  the report under the heading “Impunity” states:

In August, the Supreme Court dismissed murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. The charges related to the deaths of at least 90 people in 2010 during clashes between [red shirt] protesters and security forces.

It might have also noted that Gen Anupong Paojinda, who was then army commander and is now Interior minister also got off. And, current prime minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha commanded troops who conducted some of these murders.

The report on Thailand is only a couple of pages long and should be read.





Junta gets a slap

27 01 2018

The activists on the “We Walk” march have been handed an important if  temporary victory by the Administrative Court.

It has ruled that they may “continue their peaceful campaign without interference from the police” as they walk to Khon Kaen.

The Court on “issued a court order to the Royal Thai Police to facilitate members of People GO Network to carry on their long march…”.

The court order states that “police should refrain from conducting any operation against the exercise of freedom of expression by the activists until the end of the march on February 17.”

To be frank, this is not unexpected given the coalition of activists and intellectuals involved. At the same time, the military junta is highly embarrassed.