“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.





Updated: Doubling down on Thaksin II

13 02 2019

Gen Prayudh Chan-ocha reckons his “roles as prime minister and the [Palang Pracharath] PPRP’s prime ministerial candidate are two different things…”. The trouble is he is unable to distinguish between the two and neither can anyone else.

A good example is his continuing use of the media, The Dictator has “insisted he won’t end his role as the host of Sat Phra Racha Su Kan Phatthana Yang Yangyuen, which means “The King’s Philosophy for Sustainable Development”, a television programme that is aired every Friday night.”

Most observers would consider this a clear use of media for promoting the General-Candidate-Dictator. The double standards are obvious to all.

The double standards are further exemplified by his administration’s suspension “of digital TV broadcaster Voice TV for 15 days for allegedly airing provocative content.” Of course, Voice TV is identified by the junta as pro-Thaksin.

The Nation reports that this ban by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission was ordered by NBTC commissioner Lt-General Perapong Manakit who declined “to specify details of the ‘provocative’ content…”. The content “was aired on the Tonight Thailand programme on December 16, as well as on Wakeup News on January 21, 28, 29 and on February 4.” It was mildly critical of the junta.

Criticizing the junta is not allowed, even in an election campaign where the junta has its own party and Gen Prayuth is its candidate for PM.

Prachatai notes that Sirote Klampaiboon, a political analyst for Voice TV, observed:

The closer to the election date, the freer the press should be. But today Voice TV may be suspended for 15 days. The screen will be black, meaning that when you turn on a TV, all of our programs will not be there. I don’t know if there are people in power ordering the involved organization to suspend us, but this is the disgusting use of state power to coerce the people. It is especially so when you want to resume your government, send ministers to set up parties to support their own partisans, and when the PM candidate of Phalang Pracharat has made phone calls to force every TV channel to broadcast one-sided of yours for 5 years.

The Bangkok Post reports that “Voice TV executive Mekin Petplai said the station would petition the Administrative Court, seeking compensation for damages which would total more than 100 million baht.”

The Nation notes that Voice TV “the NBTC over its decision to twice temporarily close down the TV station – in 2014 and in 2017 – and to suspend many of its programmes on 17 other occasions.”

Prachatai reproduces Makin’s press release.

With all the attention to the princess thing, it seems that the junta and its puppets are going for broke in making it less likely that pro-Thaksin parties will do well at the polls.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the “Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Online News Providers Association said Wednesday the NBTC must exercise its power wisely so as not to impede on freedom of the media.” They called on the NBTC “to review its order suspending Voice TV’s broadcasts for 15 days.”

Sadly, as has often been the case, these associations crawled before power, complaining that “controversial programmes should be dealt with case-by-case…” and “called on the media to act cautiously in reporting political news to ward off criticism they are acting in favour of any particular political parties. Additionally, they need to avoid any reporting or rhetoric that could spur divisions…”.

For years, these associations have unable to demand media freedom without spineless caveats.





Lese majeste in 2018

16 01 2019

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have a useful analysis of the use of lese majeste in 2018.

They begin with the background:

Since late 2016, in the aftermath of the passing of King Rama IX and the accession of King Rama X, prosecutions of lèse majesté cases or the violation of the Penal Codes Section 112 spiked sharply. The witch huntor vigilante actions taken against people who hold different views led to prosecution of dozens of lèse majesté cases.

In fact, since the 2006 military coup, there have been several “spikes.” After that coup, during the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and then since the 2014 coup.

For 2018, there’s not just been a precipitous decline in cases, there’s been none:

The year 2018 saw a number of changes to the enforcement of Section 112. No new cases invoking Section 112 have been prosecuted in 2018 (as far as we know). Meanwhile, several ongoing lèse majesté cases have been dismissed, particularly cases under the review of civilian courts, though this does not necessarily indicate more freedom to exercise the right to free expression in Thailand. Even though the authorities are now reluctant to press lèse majesté charges, charges invoking other laws including the Computer Crime Act or “sedition” per Section 116 continue to be an important tool to restrict freedom of expression and purge dissenters.

TLHR see the cause of this decline as being in the palace:

These changes can be directly attributed to the royal succession. It has not stemmed from the authorities or personnel in the justice process realizing the many protracted problems caused by the enforcement of Section 112. It has also not stemmed from more respect for human rights in Thailand.

Remember all those royalists who used to make excuses for that nice old man, good King Bhumibol, lamenting that he really disliked 112, but those nasty politicians and military types just wouldn’t listen? King Vajiralongkorn has shown how much buffalo manure that propaganda line was.

Sulak Sivaraksa wrote that Vajiralongkorn “instructed the Chief Justice and the Attorney General to bring to an end to prosecutions invoking Section 112 and to not allow it to be used as a political tool.” It seems that on this point, Vajiralongkorn has more sense than his father. That’snot to say that there weren’t dozens of lese majeste cases directly related to Vajiralongkorn such as the spate around his separation from his consort in late 2014 and early 2015.

One result of Vajiralongkorn’s intervention is outlined:

The Attorney General’s directive dated 21 February 2018, addressed to high-ranking officials of all levels in the Attorney General’s Office, instructs all units of the public prosecutor’s department to receive and review immediately investigation reports filed by inquiry officials regarding Section 112 cases. The public prosecutors are then instructed also to furnish the Office of the Attorney General a copy of the police investigation report in each case and not to make any decisions about these cases. They are informed that it is the Attorney General who will decide as to whether the cases will be filed in Court or not. Now the rank-and-file public prosecutors no longer have the power to order prosecution of 112 cases.

The other impact that this change from the top has brought has been that several cases have been dropped, even when those accused have entered a guilty plea. Sometimes the defendants have been convicted of other offenses or were already serving long jail terms.

TLHR conclude:

Amidst changes in the status, role and content of the laws concerning the monarchy in 2018, any expression of thought in public, including any criticisms based on factual information, could be construed as a sensitive comment and could be deemed “crossing the line” in Thailand.

Change seems to have taken place in ‘form’, though the ‘substance’ of the law remains the same.





Academics in court II

18 12 2018

As it turns out, the five academics and students we said had just spent five days being tried by the military junta, ended up in a truncated appearance.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports that hearings scheduled for 6-7 and 12-14 December were suspended on the 12th.

These were witness hearings in the case of those charged with violating The Dictator’s No. 3/2558 regarding the prohibition of political assembly of five or more persons. This is the case where academics at the International Conference on Thai Studies where they meekly stated that “An Academic Conference is Not a Military Barracks” in July 2017.

In a long post, TLHR reports that the prosecutors asked for the court to rule on whether the case could continue after the military junta lifted its ban on political meetings – not that those charged had done this. “The court then issued an order to suspend the witness hearings scheduled for 12-14 December and set a meeting for all parties in the case to hear the ruling at 9 am on 25 December.”

Before the case was adjourned, each of the accused were allowed to enter their statements into the court record, declaring their innocence and pointing to the junta’s denial of academic freedom.

The TLHR post includes all statements. They should be read.





Academics in court I

17 12 2018

Five academics and students have just spent five days being tried by the military junta.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports that on 6-7 and 12-14 December, witness hearings were held in the case of those charged with violating The Dictator’s No. 3/2558 regarding the prohibition of political assembly of five or more persons. This is the case where academics at the International Conference on Thai Studies where they meekly stated that “An Academic Conference is Not a Military Barracks” in July 2017.

As we understand it, the five did not appear at the conference together.

The case is being heard in the Chiang Mai district court.

The brief and quiet holding of small printed pages was a response to the junta sending spies to record aspects of the conference. These junta thugs did not register for the conference and nor did they seek permission for their intrusive and anti-constitutional actions. But, then, the junta is lawless in the sense that laws apply to others but not to their slugs.

They are reported to have “interrupted the conference through speaking during presentations and making other loud sounds.”

The case has attracted interest for demonstrating that the there is no freedom of expression or academic freedom in the junta’s Thailand.

TLHR shared the details of the defendants, which we reproduce here:

Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, age 75, has served for over ten years as the director of the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development and the head of the Center for Ethnic Studies and Development, both in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Chiang Mai University (CMU).

Dr. Chayan completed his BA in the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University and his MA and PhD in Anthropology at Stanford University.  He is also the recipient of an honorary doctorate in Social Anthropology from Gothenburg University (Sweden) in 2004.

Dr. Chayan has been a university professor for over 33 years, from 1985 until the present. His students, from BA to PhD level, include Thai and international students. He has produced scholarly work about ethnicity in northern Thailand, local wisdom, border studies, and refugees and displaced persons.

In addition, Dr. Chayan has worked with marginalized people and communities to access land and forest rights, community resource rights, and indigenous rights, as well as the struggle for democracy in Burma. He has worked to disseminate information about these issues by joining public debates, leading training workshops, and working with local communities to find solutions.

With the rise of the ASEAN Economic Community, Dr. Chayan has supported academic work in ASEAN Studies and surveying development in the Mekhong River subregion as part of his role as the director of the ASEAN Studies Center at CMU.

CMU was the host of ICTS in 2017, which was the 13th time this conference has been held. Dr. Chayan was the vice chair of the organizing committee and the chair of the academic subcommittee. He did not participate in holding up the “An Academic Conference is Not a Military Barracks” sign.  His only action was to examine the sign and decide that it was not a problem and therefore did not have to be removed. For this, he was targeted for prosecution by the military.

Pakavadi Veerapaspong, age 53, has been an independent translator and writer for many decades. Her academic background is in philosophy; she holds a BA in philosophy from Thammasat University and an MA in philosophy from Chulalongkorn University. Her interest in reading and translation dates from her time as a student.

Pakavadi has translated a number of significant works of literature. This includes The Name of the Rose, the historical mystery novel by the Italian writer Umberto Eco; The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Czech writer Milan Kundera; the quartet of novels by Indonesian dissident and writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer; and the Philip Marlowe mystery novels by American writer Raymond Chandler.

In addition, Pakavadi also translates academic work, and her published translations include writing by American linguist Noam Chomsky; Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken, a collection of essays about social and economic change;  and The Great Transformation, by Karl Polyanyi, about the industrial revolution in Europe. She was also part of the collective translation of Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson, the scholar of Southeast Asian Studies and nationalism.

Pakavadi is compelled by social and revolutionary movements and has translated books and written articles about social movements in Latin America and the West.

Pakavadi is also a magazine columnist and has regularly joined public debates on social and political matters in recent years.  She sometimes joins protests as a participant or an observer.

At ICTS, Pakavadi was a speaker on a panel about Benedict Anderson’s life and work.

Nontawat Machai, age 22, is a fourth-year drama student in the Faculty of Mass Communication at CMU.

His hometown is Phatthalung province and he graduated from Satriphatthalung School. His interest is in writing and performing in plays; he is a member of Lanyim Creative Group, a group of youth activists who perform plays, show films and organize seminars about social problems.

Nonthawat directed a play called “Swallow” in the annual theatre festival of the Faculty of Mass Communication at CMU in 2015. He has performed in many plays in the Faculty as well, including “I merely wish to go outside” (2015) and “Fly first” (2016). He also acted in the short film “Onli(n)e Society” (2016) and in the dialogue theatre of Lanyim Creative Group in collaboration with Makham Pom Theatre (2017).

Nonthawat was a member of the Chiang Mai University Student Assembly in 2015. He was awarded the National Youth Excellence Award in the field of communication for protection and resolution of social problems in 2014 and was the first runner-up for an award for creative communication and environmental innovation from the United States Agency for International Development.

At ICTS, Nonthawat was a student volunteer in the conference directorate. He was responsible for taking photographs and video at the conference and aiding with the opening and closing ceremonies.

Chaipong Samnieng, age 36, is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the Faculty of Social Sciences at CMU.

Chaipong is from Phrae province. He completed a BA in Social Studies in the Faculty of Education and an MA in the Department of History in the Faculty of Humanities at CMU.

Chaipong was previously a lecturer at Naresuan University in Phayao province. He then moved to CMU, first to work in the Public Policy Institute, and then to begin his doctoral studies, which continue at present. He is also a special lecturer for the course “Northern Society and Politics” in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at CMU.

Chaipong is interested in Lanna (northern Thai) history, local governance and public policy. His publication, both as a sole researcher and as a member of a research team, are numerous. These include, for example, Dynamics and Recognition of the History of Phrae, 1902-2006, Development of Capital Groups and Business Networks in Northern Thailand, 1903-Present, and as part of a research project to study public policy to advance decentralization of local governance, etc.

Chaipong also writes for print journals and online media about Lanna history, politics and culture.

At ICTS, Chaipong presented a research paper about conflict and confusion in Lanna history. He was also the coordinator of a series of panels about Lanna history, which was one of the highlights of the conference.

Teeramon Buangam, age 39, is an MA student in the Faculty of Mass Communication at CMU.

Teeramon is from Chiang Mai province. He completed a BA in the Faculty of Medical Technology at CMU, and then completed a BA with a newspaper major in the Department of Mass Communication in the Faculty of Humanities at CMU.

He has worked at Prachatham newspaper since 2005 and has served as editor since 2012. Prachatham is a northern media outlet that reports on civil society movements, community rights, and northern society.

At present, Teeramon is a special lecturer in alternative media and advanced reporting in the Faculty of Mass Communication at CMU and a special lecturer at Mae Jo University as well.

Previously, Teeramon was a researcher in a project to survey the landscape and direction of media convergence and a project to survey the resources and readiness for reporting of community radio. At present he is interested in data journalism and is writing his MA thesis about public communication by independent media in this field.

At ICTS, Teeramon presented a paper about data-driven journalism. He simply walked by and took a photograph with the “An Academic Conference is Not a Military Barracks.” This led to him being accused of violating the law and becoming a defendant.





Begging the junta to do the right thing

9 12 2018

Begging the junta to do the right thing might seem about as useful as talking to a brick wall, especially when it has almost no track record on human rights or basic humanity. Think of the lying that still goes on about the 2010 massacre perpetrated by the Army.

Even so, a couple of human rights protectors have stepped up.

The first is the very honorable National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit. She’s about the only person on the NHRC who ever does anything much about human rights. The rest of the NHRC makes up a part of the junta’s brick wall.

She has requested that junta “respect international standards and refrain from extraditing a former national team footballer to stand trial in Bahrain.” This refers to Hakeem Al-Araibi’s detention in Bangkok. He’s been detained for 13 days now, despite being recognized and registered as a refugee by the UN and Australia.

Angkhana said she wanted to see Hakeem “treated fairly because he has refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Due to his status, he should be protected under international law.” She added that the junta’s government “does not have to extradite him.”

As we know, however, such international norms are ignored by the junta. In any case, the “Attorney-General’s office on Friday submitted an extradition request to the Criminal Court on Bahrain’s behalf as the Gulf state has an outstanding arrest warrant for him.” He goes before one of the junta’s courts on Tuesday, and FIFA, the UN and human rights groups all have their fingers crossed that the junta may do the right thing (for a change).

Usually meek before the junta, the Australian government’s Foreign Minister has finally demanded that “Thailand release … Hakeem al-Araibi from detention and return him to Australia, setting the stage for a diplomatic clash.” In some media in Thailand this was crippled by the use of “urge” rather than “demand.”

The second instance of begging the junta to do the right thing is like spitting into the wind.

Amnesty International, noting that the military thugs have only said they will lift some restrictions, it has “issued a call for the “junta to end all restrictions on human rights before the next election tentatively scheduled for February 24.” It emphasized that the junta “must fully lift the arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association…”.

Looking to the elections, AI stated that the junta:

… allow people to receive and distribute information online and from the media, engage in public debate and campaigns, gather peacefully and demonstrate, criticise politicians and express diverse or dissenting viewpoints without fear of imprisonment or persecution.

And AI went further:

The authorities should also send a clear signal of their commitment to uphold these rights by dropping charges – and repealing convictions – of all individuals targeted solely for peacefully exercising their rights….

The junta is as unlikely to accept such “radical” proposals as it would admit its murderous role in 2010 when it shot dozens of demonstrators.