Trampling remaining freedoms IV

10 08 2021

PPT is late getting to this story and we thank a reader for bringing it to our attention.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International issued a statement about the regime’s police issuing fines to “an Amnesty International staff member, along with three speakers and a panel moderator, for taking part in a panel discussion on 4 July focusing on the enforced disappearances of Thai activists, including Wanchalearm Satsaksit…”.

The police managed to conjure charges “under the Road Traffic Act and the Act on the Maintenance of Cleanliness and Order,” and under the Control Act B.E. 2493 for the use of an amplified speaker to advertise the event. The police issued “an administrative fine in response to their involvement at an in-person panel discussion on 4 July…”.

The other four who were fined were “a panel moderator and three other panelist speakers: a protestor, an 18-year-old student, and a lawyer who was friends with an individual who was forcibly disappeared.”

As Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra put it:

Our member of staff was simply doing her job to raise awareness in Thailand of international human rights law. The Thai authorities should not be fining her, the organizers or other panelists for simply speaking about the Thai authorities’ human rights obligations and the long history of enforced disappearances in this region….

Human rights defenders play a crucial role in protecting freedoms within society. To intimidate and fine them represents a threat not only to these activists but to anyone seeking to bravely defend the rights of others.

Amnesty International argues that the fines are a part of “ongoing efforts by the Thai authorities to silence criticism and repress freedom of expression.” It added: “The Thai authorities must stop issuing fines to people for peacefully exercising their human rights, and stop using the pandemic as an excuse to ramp up their repression.”





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.





HRW on Thailand’s human rights decline

16 01 2021

When you are near the bottom, going deeper requires particular skills in dark arts.

Human Rights Watch has recently released its World Report 2021. The summary on Thailand makes for depressing reading, even after more than six years of military junta and now a barely distinguishable post-junta regime.

The full report on Thailand begins:

Thailand faced a serious human rights crisis in 2020. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s government imposed restrictions on civil and political rights, particularly freedom of expression, arbitrarily arrested democracy activists, engineered the dissolution of a major opposition political party on politically motivated grounds, and enforced a nationwide state of emergency, using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext.

And the rest of the report is pretty much a litany of repression. There’s discussion of the State of Emergency, restrictions on freedom of expression, torture, enforced disappearance, impunity on state-sponsored rights violations, the persecution of human rights defenders, a continuation of human rights violations in the south, mistreatment of migrants and refugees, and more. Surprisingly, there’s only a paragraph on lese majeste, which is now the regime’s main weapon in silencing dissent.

Readers of PPT will know all of the sordid details of the regime’s efforts to stifle criticism, but read the report to be reminded of how dark things have remained despite the rigged election and the existence of a parliament. The latter has, in 2020, been pretty much supine as the regime has used its ill-gotten majority and its unelected Senate to stifle the parliaments scrutiny of the regime.





Floating on air

3 01 2021

Tanee Sangrat is a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, in a now familiar defense of the indefensible, recently wrote to the South China Morning Post. He decided/was ordered to do this in response to critical reporting of demonstrations.

The letter has a measured tone, hitting the right notes, but full of distortions and fabrications. We won’t go through them all. but we will comment on the position taken on the monarch.

After babbling about the regime “respecting” freedom of expression, the monarchy comes in when Tanee says this is limited “to ensure that the exercise of such rights does not infringe upon the rights, safety or dignity of others.” Of course, those final words are code for censorship of discussion of the monarchy, which has now led to some 40 lese majeste charges.

How high?

Referring to the “demands of the protesters” as “political by nature,” the usual buffalo manure is dumped: “It would be wrong to involve the monarchy, which is above politics.”

And it gets piled higher:

The monarchy does possess moral authority built on mutual trust and respect between the institution and the people. This moral authority is so deeply recognised and revered that some political factions have tried to take advantage of it for their own gains. This must be avoided.

In other words, the monarchy cannot be discussed because it is somehow cultural, floating in some rarefied air, rather than a significant power in Thailand’s political economy.

This kind of disingenuous response to critical commentary is deadly, boringly familiar. It does suggest that not much has changed for the regime or for the palace.





Debating lese majeste

13 12 2020

Clipped from France24

While the anti-regime demonstrators are taking a break until the new year, it is appropriate that their last 2020 rallies targeted Article 112 on lese majeste. After all more than two dozen of their members now face lese majeste charges.

The Bangkok Post reports that speakers at the rally “vowed to drum up public support for their call for the revocation of … the lese majeste law.” It is reported that:

In a joint statement read at the 14 October 1973 Memorial [where there had earlier been an explosion], one of the anti-government movement’s three rally sites in Bangkok on Thursday, eight protest leaders facing lese majeste charges insisted they would not settle for anything less than the law being repealed.

The speakers said that this law is “a hindrance to freedom of expression, carries a hefty penalty and is often exploited as a political tool to suppress political opponents.”

As PPT has been posting since 2009, all of this is true.

Parit Chiwarak called for all of the existing 112 cases to “be dropped and amnesty be granted to all suspects and those already punished compensated, for the sake of democracy and for Thailand to be able to move forward and reduce political conflicts in society…”.

Prachatai reports that another action, this led by the 24 June Democracy Group, representatives had been “to the United Nations (UN) office in Bangkok …[on] 10 December … to petition the UN Human Rights Council to pressure the Thai government to repeal Section 112, Thailand’s lèse majesté law.”

Their petition observes that “pro-democracy protests have been met with state persecution and crackdowns, despite peaceful protest being a right under the Thai constitution and international human rights principles.” Hundreds of protesters are facing charges, including lese majeste.

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk said “Section 112 is an outdated law which restricts people’s rights and freedom of expression, which is one of the fundamental freedoms, and has been used against the political opposition.” He added that:

since the head of state receives income from taxpayers and is in this position according to the constitution, criticism of the head of state should be permitted in order to resolve the public’s questions about the monarchy. If Section 112 is repealed, the head of state will be able to come to an understanding with the people, which would be beneficial to the monarchy itself and to Thai politics….

He said that using Section 112 against protesters will lead to confrontation between the monarchy and the people. He asked whether the judicial process, where the courts represent the monarch as judgements are made in his name, will be just, because if people are denied bail or if an arrest warrant is immediately issued, it will be a reflection of injustice, which would not be beneficial to the government and the monarchy.

The chicken farmer

Those who want Article 112 to be maintained and used more also rallied, led by chicken farmer and Palang Pracharath Party reactionary Pareena Kraikupt and former senior bureaucrat and now appointed Senator Chadej Insawang, “in his capacity as deputy chairman of a committee on the protection of the royal institution [monarchy].”

They claimed “[t]here are laws similar to Section 112 in all countries including the UK…”, a claim also made by former Democrat Party MP Warong Dechgitvigrom, who leads the ultra-royalist Thai Pakdee mob of grey hairs. We should point out that these dopes never do any research about such laws and prefer to make stuff up, and even when corrected carry on with their fake claims.

Making false claims has become a yellow shirt trademark. Those who went with Pareena carried signs that read “Stop threatening the life of the King.”





Updated: Arrests mount, protests continue

4 09 2020

On Thursday, the Criminal Court heard and partially granted “a police request to revoke the bail of two top leaders of the burgeoning anti-government protest movement who refuse to stop their public political activities.” Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and Free People movement activist Panupong Jadnok had been “granted bail last month for charges including sedition arising from a protest rally in Bangkok in July.” The two have continued to be politically active and police say this is against their bail conditions and asked the “court to order them back into custody.”

Arnon said he hoped their “imprisonment could serve as an inspiration for those who will continue fighting.”

Clipped from The Nation

The court proceedings were somewhat complicated, with Arnon’s bail withdrawn but the court demanding that Panupong’s bail surety be doubled to 200,000 baht. Rayong Mike refused “and agreed to be held in detention with Anon.” The two were sent to the Bangkok Special Prison.

In addition, Arnon refused to exercise his right for another bail hearing and “released a note through his representatives which have been posted online.” In it, he stated:

“I am happy to have fought alongside everyone. We have come a long way so keep on moving forward with bravery,” the note said. “My duty outside the jail cell has ended and will now believe in the necessary changes.”

“Please come out on September 19 to confirm that we have come on the right path. I believe in everyone.”

Panupong posted a similar message:

“When everyone knows that society is ruled by the elite, our duty is to fight against the injustice and inequality undermining democracy. … Do not wait for others to stand up for you. Keep fighting to bring victory to our movement. Even though I am no longer free, others will stand up and find victory at last,” he said.

Khaosod states that “authorities have taken legal actions against more than 30 key figures in the movement in an apparent attempt to decapitate it and stall its momentum.”

This approach is in line with the forms of political repression used by the regime in the past, from the time the junta seized power in 2014. It seeks to take out those it identifies as “leaders” and to threaten their families (as they have recently done in targeting Arnon’s aged grandmother). Yet the regime seems not to have grasped the decentralized nature of the ongoing protests, its new methods and its radicalism.

Update: Amnesty International has established a campaign calling for the regime “to stop harassing protesters, and critics of the administration, and to repeal laws deemed to be suppressing free expression and peaceful public gatherings.” AI is “urging its 8 million members, supporters and pro-democracy activists around the world to write to Thailand’s Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha, asking him to drop the charges arising from their roles in the July 18th protest…”. The campaign runs until 21 October and includes a downloadable letter that can be a basis for writing to the general.

Meanwhile, Wasant Techawongtham, a former news editor at the Bangkok Post, has an op-ed that includes this observation:

Supporters of the dictatorship have fewer and fewer arguments for the status quo.

The regime is now engaging in a “legal war” against dissenters, trying to eliminate leading voices by slapping them with dubious charges.

This tactic may have caused some uncertainty among protesters in the beginning. But the unjust use of the law has now caused the opposition to be more determined.

And just like the military-inspired constitution that has created a political dead-end, this suppression campaign will also come to a dead end when no one is afraid anymore.





Updated: Enforced disappearances and political repression

7 06 2020

The government continues to deny any knowledge of Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s apparent enforced disappearance. It also avers that it can’t do anything to investigate. It is the “We know nothing” response.

But this ruse is weakened when former security officials blabber on. In this case we have regime supporter and former deputy director of the National Intelligence Agency, Nantiwat Samart sowing seeds of doubt by urging “the public not to jump to conclusions.” He claims Wanchalearm may not have been abducted or killed.

He lies that Thailand’s military doesn’t have capacity for such operations – despite the fact that they have been conducting cross-border operations for decades and having several special forces units including some recently trained units capable of such operations. In addition, it is known that, less than a month ago, police visited Wanchalearm’s mother demanding information on his location.

Contradicting himself he then claims that Thia units would not have abducted the activist as he is just not important enough for such an operation.

Meanwhile, human rights defender Angkhana Neelapaijit – who knows a lot about enforced disappearances – advises the regime to act:

“The government would be cast in a bad light — as an accessory [to the disappearance] — if it is not active in solving this case,” Ms Angkhana said. “Despite Mr Wanchalearm being critical against the government, he is a Thai citizen.”

Thai authorities must work with the Cambodian government to solve this case, the former human rights commissioner added.

Ms Angkhana believes the Cambodian government would take an active role in solving Mr Wanchalearm’s disappearance as the country ratified the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2013.

The Mirror Foundation has announced that Wanchalearm is considered a missing person and that the Foundation will “raise awareness about his abduction.” It said that its “members are making a missing person report assuming that it was a case of forced disappearance.”

The Nation reports that others have expressed their concern. Police used the now common virus emergency decree excuse to restrict a protest on Friday that drew attention to the abduction. The report states that a “group of protesters gathered on the Bangkok Skywalk in Pathumwan district…”.

The Bangkok Post has an editorial that considers the abduction and the others over the past couple of years “speak volumes of how the country’s democracy is phoney.”

We never thought the junta’s “democracy” was anything of the sort, but thought that the Post could have observed that these abductions have been used since the king decided that lese majeste should be toned down.

The Post calls for speech to be freed and for the computer crimes law and other “unjust laws” to be revised. We can’t see the military-backed regime doing anything, either on the enforced disappearances or reducing repression.

Update: AFP reports that Wanchalearm’s family have “pleaded Sunday for his release…”. They said: “Please release Wanchalearm. We will look forward to this with hope…. We hope this enforced disappearance will be the last time.”





Updated: Junta-style business (as usual) IV

24 04 2020

Two more reports show that despite the junta/post-junta regime is conducting (political) business as usual.

Amnesty International has issued a report – They Are Always Watching – denouncing the regime’s continuing persecution of “social media users who criticize the government and monarchy…”. It says this is “a systematic campaign to crush dissent which is being exacerbated by new COVID-19 restrictions…”.

The military-backed authorities have”increased the use of vague or overly broad laws to bring criminal charges against dozens of peaceful critics since being elected [sic.] last year.” It refers to a “climate of fear designed to silence…”, with “[m]any of those targeted for their online posts are currently awaiting trial and could face up to five years in prison and heavy fines.”

The restrictions that follow from the regime’s declaration of emergency powers have further limited freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Of course, all of this is a continuation and deepening of political repression that came with the 2014 military coup. Thailand is now coming up to sixth year of military repression.

The report provides numerous examples of the most recent efforts by the military, police and regime to silence dissent.

Noting the “pause” in the use of lese majeste – an effort by the king to bolster his damaged reputation –  critics of the monarchy now face the Computer Crimes Act and sedition charges.

Business as usual for the junta/post-junta regime.

Adding to the weight of evidence for decline, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index shows how Thailand’s ranking has declined further. Thailand now ranks 140th of 180 countries, ranked below Myanmar, and having fallen four places in the global ranking. Being in the press basement puts Thailand in some very dubious company.

RSF states:

… the long-promised elections held in March 2019 made no difference to the total control wielded by the elite surrounding Gen. Prayuth [Chan-ocha], who is now prime minister, defence minister and chief of the Royal Thai Police.

Any criticism of the government is liable to lead to harsh reprisals facilitated by draconian legislation and a justice system that follows orders.

Business as usual for the junta/post-junta regime.

Update: For the junta/post-junta’s view, read the letter to the New York Times by an official. It essentially takes The Dictator’s line that “life trumps liberty.” Thailand’s officials are becoming increasingly combative with the international media – except on the king, where there’s a stunning and incriminating silence. Perhaps they are being advised by the Chinese and  Singaporean regimes.





“New” regime tramples rights

3 08 2019

A few days ago this statement was posted by Human Rights Watch. We reproduce it in full:

Thailand: New Government Disregards Rights
Policy Statement Fails to Address Major Concerns

(New York) – The new Thai government’s policy statement fails to provide a pathway for restoring respect for human rights after five years of military rule, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha will present the policy statement for his second term in office on July 25-26, 2019.“Prime Minister Prayuth’s second term is starting with the same blanket disregard for human rights that characterized his first term,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “His policy statement contains no language whatsoever addressing the serious problems under repressive military rule since the 2014 coup. Whatever hopes that the new government would bring about human rights reforms and advance democratic, civilian rule suffered a serious setback with the failure to include any commitments in the policy statement.”

Prayuth’s 40-page policy statement, which was submitted to the parliament speaker on July 19, does not discuss human rights issues in the country. It does not even discuss Prayuth’s own “national human rights agenda,” which he released in February 2018 with much fanfare.

Key civil and political rights problems that need to be addressed by the new government include:

Impunity for Human Rights Violations

As chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, Prayuth wielded power from 2014-2019 unhindered by administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for human rights violations. While the NCPO disbanded after the new government took office, the constitution that took effect in 2017 protects junta members and anyone acting on the junta’s orders from being held accountable for human rights violations committed during military rule. And no redress is available for victims of those rights violations.

Restrictions on Freedom of Expression

The NCPO prosecuted hundreds of activists, journalists, politicians, and dissidents for peacefully expressing their views, on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and insulting the monarchy. During Prayuth’s first term, the junta frequently used these overbroad laws to arbitrarily punish and silence critics. Under the new government, the military retains the power to summon anyone deemed to have criticized the government or the monarchy, question them without the presence of a lawyer, and compel them to promise to end their criticism to gain release.

Protection of Human Rights Defenders

A climate of fear persists among rights activists and critics of the government. Even those who fled Thailand to escape political persecution are not safe. At least three Thai political activists have been forcibly disappeared in Laos. Two others have been killed. Another three Thai political activists returned by Vietnam to Thailand have also been missing.

Successive governments have disregarded Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. Against the backdrop of a recent string of brutal attacks targeting prominent pro-democracy activists and dissidents, the government has yet to develop a credible policy to better protect them. Thai authorities have not seriously investigated these attacks, and instead repeatedly told activists and dissidents to give up political activity in exchange for state protection.

During his first term, Prayuth frequently stated that Thailand would act to end so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), which are used by government agencies and private companies to intimidate and silence those reporting human rights violations. However, these cases continue, frequently as criminal defamation cases. Prayuth’s policy statement makes no mention of Thailand’s much advertised commitment to promote business practices compatible with human rights standards.

The policy statement also does not address the urgent need to revamp the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. The United Nations Human Rights Council has downgraded the commission because of its substandard selection process for commissioners and its lack of political independence. Revisions to the law adopted during Prayuth’s first term further weakened the commission and transformed it into a de facto government mouthpiece.

Enforced Disappearance, Torture, Violence, and Abuses in Southern Border Provinces

Since January 2004, more than 90 percent of the 6,800 people killed in the ongoing armed conflict in Thailand’s southern border provinces have been civilians from both ethnic Malay Muslim and ethnic Thai Buddhist communities. Although the insurgents have committed egregious abuses, rights violations by Thai security forces have greatly exacerbated the situation.

Thai authorities regularly failed to conduct serious and credible inquiries into torture allegations and enforced disappearances. Military detention, which lacks effective safeguards against abuse, occurs regularly during government counterinsurgency operations in the southern border provinces. Successive Thai governments have failed to prosecute security personnel responsible for torture, unlawful killings, and other serious human rights violations against ethnic Malay Muslims. In many cases, Thai authorities provided financial compensation to the victims or their families in exchange for their agreement not to speak out or file criminal cases against officials. Despite these concerns, Prayuth’s policy statement does not address human rights problems in Thailand’s southern border provinces.

International Obligations

Prayuth’s policy statement only vaguely mentions the importance of Thailand meeting its international obligations. The junta did little to promote Thailand’s adherence to the core international human rights treaties. Although Thailand signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2012, it has yet to ratify the treaty and Thailand’s penal code does not recognize enforced disappearance. Thailand also does not have a law that criminalizes torture, as required by the Convention against Torture, which it ratified in 2007. The junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly suddenly suspended its consideration of the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance bill in February 2017, and the government has not set a new time frame for reconsidering the bill. Prayuth’s policy statement does not include this law among legislation to be urgently introduced by the government.

“Thailand’s foreign friends should not let the recent elections become an excuse for ignoring the deteriorating human rights situation in the country,” Adams said. “There should be no rush to return to business as usual without securing serious commitments and corresponding action from the new government to respect human rights.”





Voice keeps its voice

27 02 2019

Prachatai reports that the Administrative Court has ruled that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission was wrong to suspend Voice TV.

It decided that “the moderators of Wake Up News and Tonight Thailand did not cause confusion and division in the general public, even though they offer analysis and criticism against the government agencies and public figures.”

The court found that the NBTC “did not show evidence of damages done by Voice TV.” The court also found that the NBTC attempted to use “reasons” for the ban that were not conveyed to Voice TV and ruled this invalid.

This is something of a breakthrough as, under the military junta, the NBTC has acted as a puppet agency, doing the junta’s bidding and censoring at will. The Administrative Court has now ruled that the NBTC must have evidence for making its political decisions.








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