The rich get away with murder

28 07 2020

It is reported that “police have opened an internal investigation after charges were dropped against the billionaire Red Bull heir … amid outrage over a perceived culture of impunity for the rich…”. We see this as nothing more than a part of a continuing effort to kid the public that the police are interested in justice. It is also about the regime’s “management” of discontent.

While in a source PPT doesn’t usually read, we felt that Benjamin Freeman’s op-ed was useful in reflecting on the question: “Why do the rich and powerful get away with murder?

Commenting on the Red Bull-Vorayuth Yoovidhya saga, Freeman states: “And so it goes in a country where the rich and powerful can get away with murder — literally so, as this case indicates.”

The author agrees with Pol Col Kissana Phathana-charoen who explained that dropping charges against the rich, Ferrari-driving, coked-up Vorayuth did not mean that the police were “applying double standards…”. Freeman observes:

We have to take him at his word. In order for there to be double standards, there need to be some real standards in the first place. But what exactly are the standards of Thailand’s law enforcement and judicial system?

Strikingly, he links (in)justice to broader political events:

This is a country, after all, where a citizen can be sentenced to long years in prison merely for exercising freedom of speech by making critical comments about the government or the monarchy on social media on grounds that doing so undermines national security.

Meanwhile, the generals that spearheaded a military coup to overthrow an elected government in 2014 not only do not need to fear any prosecution for what was an act of treason by international standards but they remain in charge of the country, acting as they please.

Freeman explains:

The system of justice in Thailand has long stayed mired in a regressive state where the laws apply only to those who don’t have enough money or influence to be able to flout them at will.

The result is a vastly unequal society where the “little people” remain under the thumb of the rich and powerful who can do as they please with no one to hold them to account.

He might have added that this inequality of wealth, power and justice is exactly what the tycoons want and is why they support dictators, military and monarchy.





Academics in court III

25 12 2018

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights report that the court in Chiang Mai has dismissed the ludicrous case against five academics, students and others who attended the International Conference on Thai Studies.

That’s good news.

The court’s dismissal stated that The Dictator’s recent Order No. 22/2561 meant that the charges brought against the five no longer constitutes an offense.

At the same time, the Court declared that the prosecution of similar cases executed under junta Announcements and Orders were not affected by this decision.

We at PPT are not lawyers or legal experts, but this court’s decision strikes us as bizarre. Its “reasoning” is entirely opaque. How this particular case can be declared to no longer exist because of Order No. 22/2561, why does this legal logic not apply to other, similar cases? If anyone knows, be in touch with us.

At present, we can only think that the decision by the court is a way to avoid an embarrassing case around the time of an “election.”





2016 State Department human rights report

5 03 2017

PPT thinks that human rights are probably not going to be anywhere near the top or even the middle of what passes for President Trump’s foreign policy agenda. So the US State Department’s 2016 report on human rights might be the last that tries to be a comprehensive review as seen from the United States.

The country report for Thailand is pretty much as expected, although the State Department does regularly under-report on human rights violations in Thailand and does so in a rather glib manner. Here’s some clips from some 60+ pages:

Reports continued, although less than in previous years, that security forces at times used excessive and lethal force against criminal suspects and committed or were involved in extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings….

Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and legal entities reported police and military officers sometimes tortured and beat suspects to obtain confessions, and newspapers reported numerous cases of citizens accusing police and other security officers of brutality….

In fact, torture is standard practice.

The military government held some civilian suspects at military detention facilities….

NCPO Order 2/2558 grants the military authority to detain persons without charge or trial for up to seven days. Military officials frequently invoked this authority. According to OHCHR the military government summoned, arrested, and detained approximately 1,500 persons since the 2014 coup. Prior to releasing detainees, military authorities often required them to sign documents affirming they were treated well, would refrain from political activity, and would seek authorization prior to travel outside the local area. According to human rights groups, authorities often denied access to detainees by family members and attorneys. Military authorities threatened those who failed to respond to summonses with prison and seizure of assets….

Emergency decree provisions make it very difficult to challenge a detention before a court. Under the decree detainees have access to legal counsel, but there was no assurance of prompt access to counsel or family members, nor were there transparent safeguards against the mistreatment of detainees. Moreover, the decree effectively provides broadly based immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liability for officials acting under its provisions….

The law gives military forces authority over civilian institutions, including police, regarding the maintenance of public order. NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March, 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.”…

Procedures for investigating suspicious deaths, including deaths occurring in police custody, require a prosecutor, forensic pathologist, and local administrator to participate in the investigation and that, in most cases, family members have legal representation at the inquests. Authorities often failed to follow these procedures. Families rarely took advantage of a provision of law that allows them to sue police for criminal action during arrests….

Human rights groups remained concerned about the NCPO’s influence on independent judicial processes, particularly the practice of prosecuting some civilians in military courts….

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. On September 12, 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. At the time of the order, the NCPO explained that approximately 500 pending civilian cases would continue in military courts, as would any other cases in which the alleged crimes were committed before September 12. According to government and NGO sources, from May 2014 to May, military courts initiated at least 1,546 cases against civilians involving at least 1,811 persons, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste, defaming or insulting the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives.

Military courts do not provide the same legal protections for civilian defendants as do civilian criminal courts. Military courts do not afford civilian defendants rights outlined by the interim constitution or the 2016 constitution to a fair and public hearing by a competent, impartial, and independent tribunal.

The NCPO routinely detained those who expressed political views (see section 1.d.). As of March the Department of Corrections reported there were 103 persons detained or imprisoned in the country under lese majeste laws that outlaw criticism of the monarchy (see section 2.a.). Human rights groups claimed the prosecutions and convictions of several lese majeste offenders were politically motivated….

Yes, that’s as far as the State Department is willing to go. Sadly deficient and spineless.

The NCPO enforced limits on free speech and expression using a variety of regulations and criminal provisions….

The NCPO also invoked criminal sedition statutes to restrict political speech….

Senior government officials routinely made statements critical of media. Media operators also complained of harassment and monitoring….

The government continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and censored online content….

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….

The military government continued the process of revising secondary and primary school textbooks and increased instruction on patriotic themes….

Invoking authority under Article 44 of the interim constitution, coup leaders prohibited political gatherings of five or more persons and penalized persons supporting any political gatherings….

The interim constitution set the framework for the adoption of a new constitution but did not provide citizens the ability to choose their government peacefully….

There have been no elections since the 2014 coup….

The interim constitution did not contain provisions providing for the right of freedom of association or the right to bargain collectively….

There’s a lot more. Despite the State Department’s reticence and dull tone, it is a sad read.





Junta propaganda

5 05 2016

Khaosod reports that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “has issued six pages of talking points for diplomats around the world to discuss Thailand’s charter referendum and military regime. The talking points are titled, “Thailand – Towards Reform and Sustainable Democracy: The Need for Public Order and Social Harmony.” The cheat sheet outlines “arguments to defend and justify recent authoritarian measures taken by the military regime…”. It was issued on 20 March to deal with Watana Muangsook’s “provocation.”

Readers can look at the Khaosod article for the details. PPT thought we’d translate them from junta speak. In the notes below, we reproduce the military junta’s propaganda demands and then translate this in italics:

Thailand – Towards Reform and Sustainable Democracy

Thailand – The Return to Military Authoritarianism

“The Need for Public Order and Social Harmony”

“Re-establishing Military Authoritarianism is only possible through Repression”

1. Thailand is in a crucial period of transition, in which the Government’s efforts are focused on seeing through the Roadmap for Reconciliation, Reform and Elections in partnership with all sectors of society.

Thaksin threatened the control of the military and royalist elite. The military and the royalist elite got rid of him through military and judicial coups. The military fears that Thaksin’s influence will return if his influence is not erased. To erase Thaksin, the military junta feels it best to erase electoral democracy for voters cannot be trusted. Reconciliation is a process of political erasure, and the military junta is now focused on eliminating everything it thinks has anything to do with Thaksin and red shirts (or any other person, practice or institution that the junta fears or dislikes). 

2. A draft Constitution will be submitted to the public in a referendum set for 7 August 2016. General elections are scheduled to take place in 2017. At the same time, preparations for comprehensive reforms of Thai politics, society and the economy are being laid.

The junta has drafted a Constitution that will return Thailand to a time where the lower classes knew their place and the military was free to pillage the country’s wealth in cooperation with royalists and the business class. The junta’s constitution mean that an election – the schedule is up to the military and has already been changed several times – will mean nothing as the military and its allies will control a myriad of unelected positions and institutions that will neuter any government produced from an election.

3. Public order and social harmony are key for the Government to be able to see through the Roadmap. The Government has, therefore, promulgated a number of laws to ensure that public order and social harmony prevail.

Repression is the key to these regressive plans (known as a “Roadmap”). To facilitate this repression, the military junta has announced a series of decrees and “laws” that allow it to arrest and incarcerate anyone it pleases. The junta can abduct, terrorize and threaten at will and call this “legal.” The junta can be corrupt and engage in nepotism and call this “normal.” No warrants are required to abduct opponents. No bail is required. Military courts are used to maintain “public order.”

4. These laws do not impinge on general freedom of expression — which we believe to be a fundamental element of a democratic society — as long as such expression does not undermine public order and social harmony. In fact, the Government has been receptive to all views regarding the current process of reconciliation and reform.

There is no freedom of expression or speech in Thailand. The media is repeatedly threatened and harassed. Academic freedom has been obliterated. Political expression is outlawed. Thailand is a military dictatorship with all relics of its brief democratic pasts ground under the military boot. The military junta rejects all views that do not accord with its own narrow, fascistic, thuggish and hierarchical view of Thailand’s social order. All “reform” is regressive.

5. However, in recent days, a certain individual has acted in violation of those laws — and repeatedly so despite warnings from the authorities. His actions are politically motivated and are designed to incite discord and division, domestically and internationally. This is a grave obstruction to the process of reconciliation and reform in Thailand which, up till now, has been proceeding apace.

The junta hates Watana Muangsook because he says things it doesn’t agree with. The military would prefer to “disappear” him but interfering foreigners watch his activities. The military believes Watana is acting for Thaksin. The junta also believes Thaksin is the devil. In fact, any critic is considered part of a Thaksin conspiracy to overthrow the narrow, fascistic, thuggish and hierarchical social order.

6. The Government has, therefore, been obliged to take action in accordance with the law. As in all other countries in which the rule of law is upheld, the law in Thailand is held to be sacrosanct.

The junta has repressed Watana by taking him into custody and threatening him. In fact, the military has done this for hundreds of opponents. There is no law under the junta, just its opinions and needs. All Thais are subject to the junta’s demands. If there is more criticism, the military will hit even harder.





Updated: U.S. criticism of coup and junta

27 01 2015

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel speaking in Bangkok:

When an elected leader is deposed from office, then impeached by the authority that implemented the coup — and is being targeted with criminal charges while basic democratic processes and institutions are interrupted, the international community is left with the impression that these steps could, in fact, be politically driven….

… [W]e are concerned about significant restraints on freedoms since the coup, including restrictions on speech and assembly….

Our relationship with Thailand has been challenged by the military-coup that removed a democratically-elected government eight months ago….

Update: Most of the military dictatorship and its supporters probably don’t care. For example, the (anti)Democrat Party blamed the Yingluck government for, well, everything.

 





Restricting new media for the monarchy

5 10 2012

A report at The Independent prompts PPT to look at Google and Twitter for their transparency reports and information on government requests for information or blocking.

We also looked at Facebook, and while its data use policy is long, it does say:

We may access, preserve and share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so. This may include responding to legal requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States where we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law in that jurisdiction, affects users in that jurisdiction, and is consistent with internationally recognized standards.

The problems seems to be that it provides no data like Google and YouTube.

The report at the newspaper argues that the “struggle over free speech is playing out most vividly today in countries that are America’s friends rather than its enemies, in nations where the right of expression is embraced in concept but often rankles in practice…”. We’re not quite sure why “America’s friends” is the criteria, but the point that in so-called democracies, including the U.S., governments are struggling to come to terms with an explosion of information.

Noting that “[a]uthoritarian regimes have more straightforward ways to block speech” by building firewalls and so on, the report adds that “[d]emocracies, however, wrestle continuously over where to draw lines when faced with expression they find unacceptable.” Government moves to block are growing:

Such moves underscore a central conundrum of technology and free expression: It’s much easier to spread images and ideas than ever before; it also can be easier for governments to block them, especially when they are centralized on the servers of a handful of private companies.

On Thailand, the report states: “Thailand, meanwhile, had just six requests [to Google], but they concerned 374 YouTube videos; Google removed them all.”

This prompted PPT to look at the Thailand data at the Google transparency report. Organized in 6-monthly blocks, its current data ends in December 2011, and is in two reports. The first, for January to June 2011 states:

We receive requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand to remove content for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law. We received two requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand to remove 225 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law. We restricted Thai users from accessing more than 90% of the videos.

This seems inaccurate, for the data in the table states that while there were no court orders, compliance (the percentage of removal requests fully or partially complied with) on two government requests was 100% on 225 items. In July-December 2010, there was one request and 100% of 43 items were blocked.

For July to December 2011, under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, it is stated:

We received four requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand to remove 149 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law. We restricted 70% of these videos from view in Thailand in accordance with local law.

Again, we are not sure how that squares with the data that shows 100% compliance with government requests to block 149 items. Only 5 other countries had more items targeted than Thailand, the same ranking as for the earlier 6 month period.

Twitter has recently produced its first transparency report, being for January to June 2012, and this indicates no requests from the Thai government for any blocking.

These reports appear to indicate a continuing effort to “protect” the monarchy by the Yingluck government from YouTube videos considered to somehow “threaten” it. While the number of items has reduced, it is unclear whether this indicates less government attention to blocking for the monarchy or less material being posted.





Protecting power

4 10 2012

Readers may find an op-ed by Edward Lucas  of The Economist at European Voice of some interest. While the article is about the Russian regime and the Russian Orthodox Church, the attempts to restrict free speech based on “cultural norms.”

In fact, Thailand comes up with thes lese majeste law mentioned as restricting freedom of speech as being intended to “preserve the powerful (the Thai royal family)…”. This is in a context of arguments that “Western values” – democracy perhaps – are a threat to “cultural values.”

The real point of restrictions in Russia is that “the regime in Russia has run out of steam. It needs to invent threats to justify its rule. Competition is threatening for those who feel weak, not strong.” That sounds familiar.





The elite is revolting

28 06 2012

We at PPT are no great fans of the United States government and its double standards on human rights globally or of its hopelessness on lese majeste in Thailand.

Drawing on the rather silly (non-)debate over Lady Gaga’s visit to Thailand, at msnbc.com, there’s a consideration of how:

the conservative Thai establishment has grown increasingly hostile to the “Western” values symbolized by America, partly in response to growing pressure from ordinary people for greater democracy and freedom of speech.

By conservative elite, the report apparently means the Democrat Party, the patrician royalists associated with the palace,  much of the Sino-Thai business class, and titled royals.

But when were this lot ever interested in democracy. They are only interested in their own wealth and control of the political system, and have been happy enough for the murderous military to run coup after coup since 1957.

It is worth noting that this is an article about Thai views of the U.S., and it needs to be remembered that it is exactly this anti-democratic elite is the one that was promoted, funded and coddled by the U.S. as its allies in Thailand.

The report is correct in noting that:

One flashpoint in this debate was the treatment of a U.S. citizen arrested last year for [PPT: allegedly] circulating a partial translation of a book by an American author that took a critical look at the Thai royal family. Joe Gordon, who was born in Thailand but emigrated and became a car salesman [PPT: perhaps it is more relevant to say he is a U.S. citizen] in Colorado, was sentenced to two and a half years in jail last December for breaking the “lèse majesté” law that forbids criticism of the monarchy.

Yes, American citizen Joe Gordon has been in a stinking, festering jail on this ludicrous charge for 13 months. When this report says that the “United States found itself dragged into the debate” on Joe’s jailing, we can only think that there has been media brain failure. The U.S. has a citizen jailed on charges that have never been proven in court and for “crimes” committed, not in Thailand, but in the United States!

The U.S. government hasn’t been “dragged” into anything; it has been complicit in Joe’s predicament. The government, the well-dressed but vacant ambassador and the embassy have been worse than pathetic.

But, yes, the ultra-royalists did show up at the U.S. embassy after one American diplomat apparently mistakenly “criticized the jailing of Gordon and called for greater freedom of speech.” On this the article cites the laughable ultra-royalist ventriloquist’s doll Tul Sitthisomwong. The dull one states:

We feel annoyed…. We know that America focuses on human rights and freedom of people, but “lèse majesté” in Thailand … is not about human rights, it’s about breaking the law.

We doubt that anyone in the “conservative elite” sees Tul as anything other than a trained attack dog, working for treats. So his view that “the U.S. is meddling in other countries to try to maintain its waning influence” and that this is seen in the events over NASA and Utapao is probably reflective of what he hears from his “betters” and bosses.

We can understand that U.S. policymakers and businesspeople must be confused by all of this.They do seem to have been doing what they have done for years and the Thai elite seems to have slipped away or is biting the hand that once fed it very well. Blame Thaksin for that? The ultra-royalists do. They blame him for bad weather.

To see the confusion expressed in a remarkably pedestrian report on the topic, see this PDF, written by an American close to the old conservative elite who produces a report full of old and tired ideas.





The royalist use of lese majeste

22 04 2012

How much effort has gone into finding, persecuting and prosecuting lese majeste? How much effort did the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration put into using lese majeste as a means of political repression?

The trial of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, reported by Prachatai, has provided a rare insight.

Prosecution witness Colonel Wijan Jodtaeng is said to be the Director of the Law and Human Rights Department of the Internal Security Operations Command. As odd as it might be that an arm of the state’s repressive apparatus has a section that is working on law and human rights, we at PPT think of it as an Orwellian department for repressing human rights and using the law for state repression.

Col. Wijan testified that:

during the time that the Emergency Decree was in force in 2010, the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) was the main body which dealt with lèse majesté offences.  Security agencies collected evidence and sent this case to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).  The DSI accepted it as a special case, and sent it back to the CRES which then assigned him to file a police complaint.

In other words, CRES, the special body established by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime to suppress the red shirt demonstrations, also became the body that made complaints of lese majeste in this period. If it wasn’t already clear, this statement shows that lese majeste was used as a political weapon for political purposes by the Abhisit government.

And, it is worth noting that the colonel later told reporters that, until he was ordered to make the complaint against Somyos, he had never read the articles involved.

When asked whether the lese majeste prosecution of Somyos “involved CRES spokesperson Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd and followed the CRES ‘diagram of the plot against the Monarchy’,” Col. Wijan said CRES was involved and stated:

that the team working on this case consisted of over 30 officers from several agencies, including, for example, the DSI and the Council of State, and Col Sansern was part of the team, if he remembered correctly.

Yes, that is 30 officials working on the case against Somyos!

More broadly about lese majeste, the colonel was asked if any case was dropped under CRES. His answer: no, not a single case was ever dropped.

Prachatai also reports on the extraordinary effort that the Abhisit government put into hunting down red shirts and using lese majeste charges to repress them and freedom of speech. It cites evidence by a prosecution witness:

Col Nuchit Sribunsong from the Army’s Directorate of Operations told the court that since 2006 the security situation had apparently grown intense, and security agencies had monitored lèse majesté content in the media, on the internet, and in political public speeches.  Three magazines which were particularly monitored included Thai Red News, Voice of Taksin and Truth Today.

Colonel Nuchit adds further to the long list of government agencies involved in the great lese majeste hunt:

Information would be collected and analyzed jointly by the National Security Council, ISOC, the Police Special Branch, the National Intelligence Agency, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, etc.

And all of this “information and opinions would be submitted to the CRES for consideration.” And this colonel also stated that the concocted and now discredited CRES “anti-monarchy plot” diagram was “used as a tool in their planning and analysis.” That is, a fictional plot was used to concoct evidence and charges against political opponents.

Who was directing all of this political repression and the use of the draconian and politicized lese majeste law? Charges were stated to be:

up to the CRES, which was chaired by Suthep Thaugsuban, then Deputy Prime Minister of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, to decide whether the articles were offensive to the monarchy.  He and the rest of the team just presented the CRES with information and a preliminary opinion.

It is absolutely clear that both Abhisit and Suthep were heading the CRES campaign of repression. They used lese majeste against political opponents. They funded it extravagantly to enable that it repressed opponents, with one reliable estimate being that between 7 April and 25 May alone, CRES spent 1.9 billion baht, with with ISOC spending a further 2.08 billion.

More than this, CRES included significant others, including the military brass, who regularly told Abhisit what to do. Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha simply over-ruled Abhisit through CRES. For some time, the CRES director was General Prawit Wongsuwon, who was defense minister. The military called the shots, in cooperation with Suthep and Abhisit, all concocting plots against the monarchy as a way of maintaining the royalist regime.





A victory for free speech

13 02 2012

It is reported in the Bangkok Post that Thammasat University administrators have lifted the ban on the Nitirat group of lecturers campaigning to reform the lese majeste law, allowing them “to organise activities on the campus but warned they must be held as academic exercises.”

Under pressure from the Thammasat Student Union and Thammasat University Student Council, the 30 January ban was reviewed and withdrawn.

Importantly, the administrators stated that they would “adhere to the university’s principle that there is freedom in every inch of Thammasat and insists that the institute remains fully open to academic freedom and freedom of speech.”