The United States and Joe Gordon

11 12 2011

There’s an AP feature story at the Winnipeg Free Press that is worth reading in full. It comments on US policy and the fate of lese majeste victim Joe Gordon.

It begins: “The U.S. government prides itself on standing up for freedom of speech around the world, but when it comes to longtime ally Thailand and its revered monarch, Washington treads carefully — even when an American citizen is thrown in jail.”

It is sometimes neglected, but the critical element of Joe’s sentencing is that it was for a “crime” committed as an American citizen while he was living in Colorado. Yes, he is claimed to have translated bits of a perfectly legal and widely available book, by a reputable publisher, while in the United States.

So what does the US government do? It “has offered a measured response to the ‘severe’ sentence — saying it was ‘troubled’ by the outcome and asserting the right to free expression of people around the world. It has avoided direct criticism of Thailand over its use of laws punishing lese majeste, the crime of insulting a monarch.”

Indeed, the report should have added that, like royalist posterior polishers in Thailand, the US went out of its way to declare “loyalty” to the monarchy.

The report points out the glaringly obvious: “Washington’s comments pale next to the strident criticism it gives when dissidents, even those without U.S. ties, are jailed by more authoritarian governments in the neighbourhood, like China and Vietnam. The State Department typically calls for dissidents’ immediate release and urges the government in question to uphold international law.”

The report looks for the reasons for this blatant and jarring contradiction in US policy, saying the “muted U.S. response may be partly explained by an unwillingness to spoil efforts to secure a royal pardon for Gordon, as has happened for foreigners previously convicted of lese majeste.” This is always the excuse of consular and embassy officials and ambassadors who privately express outrage, but only as far as the next cocktail party with the Thai royalist and hi-so elite.

The report also adds that the muted response “also reflects the depth of U.S. relations with Thailand, which date back to 1833. The country was viewed as a bulwark against the spread of communism and served as a key base for U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. As the Obama administration seeks to step up its engagement in Asia, it wants to consolidate its old alliances.” That’s undoubtedly true. It could be added that US anti-communism in Thailand helped create the wealthy and politically powerful monarchy. It poured millions into supporting anti-communist propaganda that promoted the king, royal family and the monarchy.

The report might have also pointed out that US corporations have extensive business interests in Thailand, and protecting the rights of one US citizen (in the US) is said by weak-kneed officials to threaten those interests. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the China case, where business interests dwarf those in Thailand.

There is another claim: That “Washington may also view behind-the-scenes efforts to get Thai authorities to ease up on lese majeste prosecutions more effective in a society where public criticism can backfire.” Like an Asia Times story on “behind-the-scenes” dealing, this claim has no source. Until there is a shred of evidence, PPT believes it is the usual royalist guff sprouted when the regime is under pressure and that little will change.

The story has the other and usual royalist nonsense about “Bhumibol is revered in Thailand and widely seen as a stabilizing force” without considering why the lese majeste law is being used so harshly and whether there is much historical truth to the claim.

Another claim is: “Even among Washington think tanks and U.S. universities, experts on Thailand often prefer not to discuss the monarchy and lese majeste for fear they could be blacklisted.” There are relatively few experts on Thailand in the US, and those close to the State Department are almost universally royalist flunkies.

That US officials, including several ambassadors, have failed the citizens they are meant to represent is clear from even the State Department’s Human Rights reports that regularly parrot that there are no political prisoners in Thailand. Thailand’s Truth for Reconciliation Commission makes the State Department look stupid on this, listing more than 100 still in prison following the events of 2010.

Even the Democrat Party has acknowledged that: “Violations of the state of emergency … along with lese-majeste offences or computer crimes can be counted as political charges…”. If the people who put most of the political prisoners behind bars can acknowledge it, why not the US government and its officials?

When the State Department wrote its last report, there were hundreds more, and that is not including all of the victims of lese majeste and of the southern conflict, where hundreds more could be added to the list of political prisoners.

Open letter on human rights

10 09 2011

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is getting plenty of advice on human rights of late. Following the letter by 112 international scholars on lese majeste and computer crimes, she has now received one from the International Federation for Human Rights and Union for Civil Liberty on a range of human rights issues.

This letter covers restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, the death penalty, special security laws (including Martial Law, the Emergency Decree, and the Internal Security Act), impunity of government officials and members of state security forces and unequal access to the justice system, refugees and asylum, and co-operation with and commitment to U.N. human rights mechanisms.

As the letter notes, none of these are particularly new issues for Thailand, but the authors urge Yingluck “to make effective protection and promotion of human rights a top priority in your administration.”

AHRC – Criminalization of free speech ahead of election

3 06 2011

PPT received this from the AHRC. We reproduce it in full:

June 3, 2011

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

THAILAND: Criminalization of free speech ahead of election

In May 2011, the government of Thailand announced that the country would go to a national election on July 3. It might have been expected that this announcement would result in a lessening of the threats against, and arrests of, persons trying to exercise free speech. In fact, the opposite is the case. Since the announcement over three weeks ago, the government seems to have gone into overdrive in its efforts to criminalize free speech, shutting down radio stations and ordering the arrest of dissident voices on the pretext that they are anti-royalist.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has paid especially close attention to the continued laying of lese majesty charges for trivial or non-existent offences against the monarchy. The number of cases brought under section 112 of the Criminal Code of Thailand and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act has continuously risen since the 19 September 2006 coup. Within the last three months there has been a further escalation of the criminalization of speech allegedly critical of the monarchy, on which the AHRC has already issued a statement (AHRC-STM-056-2011), as has its sister organization, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC-CWS-17-01-2011), in the UN.

In recent weeks, free expression has become an even more dangerous endeavour in Thailand than it was earlier, as highlighted here by three cases which signal the gravity of the threat not only to the freedom of expression in the short term, but also to human rights more broadly. The first is the case of Mr. Aekkechai Hongkangwan, who has been released on bail; and, the others are the cases of Mr. Joe Gordon and Mr. Somyos Preuksakasemsuk, who remain under detention.

Aekkachai Hongkangwan, age 35, was indicted on 23 May 2011 at the Criminal Court in Bangkok for allegedly disseminating CDs containing a documentary by ABC television and WikiLeaks materials which are offensive to the King, the Queen and the Heir Apparent. He has also been accused of selling CDs without a license. The police arrested Aekkachai on 10 March 2011 at Sanam Luang, after enticing him into selling a CD for 20 baht. The police seized over 100 CDs, a CD burner and 10 copies of WikiLeaks materials. He was released at that time on bail. The Criminal Court has set 11 July 2011 as the date on which evidence examination will begin.

Joe Gordon, age 54, is a Thai-American man who has been arrested on charges of violating section 112. He was arrested in Nakhon Ratchasima on 26 May 2011 for allegedly doing no more than posting a link on his blog to Paul Handley’s unauthorized biography of King Bhumipol, “The King Never Smiles”. The book is banned in Thailand. Prachatai online news reported that his arrest was carried out by a group of 20 officials from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Ministry of Justice, who came to search his house and seized his money, cellular phone, computer, and hard drive. When the officials arrived, Gordon had just bathed and was only wearing a towel; they would not allow him to get dressed while they searched his house. DSI then transported him from Nakhon Ratchasima, which is in the central northeast of the country, to Bangkok Remand Prison. Reports indicate that the DSI has been investigating his case for nearly two years. Gordon just returned to Thailand last year after living in the United States for the past 30 years.

Somyos Preuksakasemsuk, age 51, is a long-time labour activist who in 2007 began to edit the “Voice of Taksin” magazine, a political publication opposed to the current government. Officials detained him without charge in May 2010, at the time of the protests in Bangkok that ended in bloodshed. After the authorities released Somyos he started a new publication, “Red Power”. The DSI arrested him on a charge under section 112, on 30 April 2011, when he passed through immigration while leading a tour group to Cambodia. The arrest warrant was issued over two months earlier, but the authorities waited to execute it until he tried to cross a national border. The alleged crime stems from an article in an issue of Voice of Taksin, which Somyos edited. In this case, much like in the case against webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, on which the AHRC has established a campaign webpage, Somyos is being prosecuted not for anything he said or did himself, but on the basis of someone else’s writing in a publication he edited. The Criminal Court has denied Somyos’s repeated requests for bail on the basis that he is accused of committing a grave crime against the monarchy and national security and may be a flight risk.

All three of these individuals have had their speech–or rather, others’ speech for which they have been held liable–criminalized because the contents of the speech were allegedly damaging to the monarchy. Two aspects stand out. The first is the use of the monarchy as an avenue through which to charge, prosecute and detain persons who have done no more than exercise a basic right to speak about matters of public and national importance, which should not be off limits to anyone. This problematic use of the law in Thailand, and especially the lese majesty law, has been steadily on the rise since the 2006 coup. The second is the increasing tendency to criminalize speech in Thailand by targeting persons responsible only for the assisting in some small way in the distribution or redistribution of other persons’ opinions: even something as trivial as a website link or a few burned CDs is seemingly enough to land an accused in a tight spot, both in a criminal case and in prison.

Together, what the cases show is that in the lead up to the election next month, not only is speech being increasingly criminalized in Thailand, but so too is the simple circulation of different types of thought; indeed, any types of thought not explicitly or tacitly officially endorsed. Although the precise relationship between the upsurge in targeting of free speech and the upcoming elections is unclear, what is clear is that the continued criminalization of free speech in Thailand makes the prospect of a fair election unlikely, and bodes ill for the longer term progress of the country back towards a meaningful commitment to human rights.

In light of the above, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the government of Thailand for the immediate release of Joe Gordon and Somyos Preuksakasemsuk on bail and for a review of all pending cases under section 112 and under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. The AHRC also calls for a firm commitment from the government of Thailand that it will order a cessation of such arrests and will enable, rather than inhibit, the emergence of free speech into the lead up of the election, as well as in its aftermath.

Why the lese majeste law in Thailand is an abomination

3 03 2011

Giles Ji Ungpakorn has a new piece at Red Thai Socialist calling for the abolition of the lese majeste law:

The lese majeste law in Thailand represents a gross attack on the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and academic freedom. It is a fundamental attack on Democracy carried out by the Military, the Palace and the elites. The practical impact is that Thailand has struggled for years to achieve a fully developed democracy, a free press and internationally accepted academic standards in our universities.

Today, Da Torpedo, Red Eagle, Surachai Darnwattanan-nusorn (Sa-Darn) and many others are in prison in Thailand for merely expressing their beliefs in a peaceful way. In recent days arrest warrants have been issued for 5 more people and the police have a list of 30 more people who face arrest. Lese majeste prisoners are denied bail. The royalist judges claim that the offense is “too serious” and “a threat to national security”. Thai dictatorships have used the excuse that their opponents were seeking to “overthrow the Monarchy” in order to kill unarmed demonstrators in 1976 and 2010. Jail terms for lese majeste are draconian. Da is in prison for 18 years and prison conditions are appalling. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the web manager of the independent Prachatai newspaper faces 50 years in prison for not removing other peoples’ web-posts. A student faces lese majeste charges for not standing up for the King’s anthem in the cinema and the Military-backed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva tells lies about how he is committed to reforming the law. Abhisit and the army generals also tell lies about the deliberate state-ordered killings of unarmed protesters in May 2010.

In my particular case, my own university gave my anti-coup book to the police special branch, which resulted in a lese majeste prosecution against me. Imagine the impact on my fellow academics. This climate of fear creates poor quality academic work which avoids all important controversial issues and debates. This appalling tradition of educational mediocrity starts at primary school and works its way right to the top of the educational system. Students are encouraged to learn subjects parrot-fashion and write descriptive, one-sided essays. Academics refuse to engage in any debate, do not read work by those who do not agree with them and regard any academic arguments as personal attacks.

Professor Amara Ponsapich and the Thai National Human Rights Commission have disgraced themselves by remaining silent on lese majeste. At the same time they have defended the “right” of fascist PAD members to cause a war with Cambodia. Recently Amara warned the pro-democracy Red Shirts not to cause “trouble” with their protests. No such warning was ever given to the royalist mobs. NGO senator Rosana Tositakul told Red Shirt MPs to stop whining about the 90 deaths last year and to concentrate on the problems of inflation. Amnesty International has followed in the same path by defending the use of lese majeste. Academic hold seminars about why the lese majeste law “needs to be reformed”. But it cannot be reformed. It has to be abolished.

The Thai Monarchy is said to be “universally loved by all Thais”. This may have been the case in some periods of history, but it is no longer true. Many millions have turned against the Monarchy for appearing to condone the 2006 military coup and for saying nothing about the 90 deaths last year. This openly expressed hatred of the Monarchy is despite the climate of fear created by the lese majeste law, along side a manic promotion of the Monarchy. The King is said to be a genius in all fields. All statements by the Monarch are repeated as though they are the ultimate wisdom and he is referred to as “our father”. Photographs are circulated to “prove” that the King actually tied his own shoe-laces!! Many have made comparisons with North Korea. Now they are comparing Thailand to the Middle-Eastern dictatorships. Recently the head of the army claimed that Thailand was “nothing like Egypt”. If he really believed that, then why did he bother to make the public statement in the first place?

Another example of “Monarchy Mania” is the idea of “Sufficiency Economics”. Once the Monarch gave his blessing to the “Sufficiency Economy”, we were all supposed to accept it and praise it without question. The Sufficiency Economy is really a reactionary political ideology that teaches people to be happy with their present circumstances and to ignore the need for income redistribution. Luckily, this aspect of brain-washing has not worked very well in Thai society, for a society which cannot openly discuss economic and political policies will remain backward and under-developed. But the mere criticism of the Sufficiency Economy is enough to attract charges of lese majeste.

What is the aim of all this attempt at enforced idiocy among the population? It is a continuous attempt to keep the vast majority of Thai people in their place. We are encouraged to believe that the King is all powerful, when in fact he is a spineless willing tool of the Military. The Thai population are encouraged to believe that we live under an “ancient system of Monarchy”, a cross between a Sakdina, Absolute and Constitutional Monarchy system. People have to crawl on the ground in front of the King. But the true beneficiaries of this are the Military, the civilian conservative bureaucrats and the Democrat Party who are now in government.

The Military often claim that they are the “defenders of the Constitutional Monarchy”, yet the Thai Military has a long history of making un-constitutional coups. These are often “legitimised” by claiming to protect the Monarchy. The 19th September 2006 coup is a good example. The Military sought to legitimise themselves by referring to the Monarch. The lese majeste Law is thus used as a tool by the military to defend coups. The promotion of an image that the Monarchy is all powerful (an un-constitutional image), is part of this self-legitimisation by the military and other forces who are now in government. Lese majeste cases have multiplied since the Democrats were manoeuvred into government by the army in December 2008. It is now a central weapon to be used against all those who criticised the 2006 coup or those who oppose this military-installed government.

It is now an undeniable fact that this brain-washing campaign is falling apart. And it is falling apart at the very moment when the King is getting old and may soon die because he is so frail. If the King were ever loved and respected, the same cannot be said about his son. We know from Wikileaks that even the elites think the prince is a liability. The Military, the right-wing PAD protestors who closed the airports and the Democrat Party, have dragged the Monarchy into politics by claiming that the 2006 coup and violent actions by the PAD were supported or even directed by the Monarchy. It is now common to hear ordinary Thais complain that “the iguana and his wife” ordered the May 2010 killings. Royal legitimacy is all that the conservative authoritarians have and they are panicking because it is all unravelling. They have brought this on themselves.

We must not forget the plight of those jailed and killed on the pretext of defending the Monarchy. We must wage an international and national political campaign to defend democratic rights in Thailand and for the abolition of the lese majeste law. Without abolishing this law, we cannot have democracy in Thailand and without overthrowing the dictatorship we cannot abolish lese majeste.

Policing the Web: A Panel Discussion

14 02 2011

Policing the Web: A Panel Discussion on the Computer Crimes Act and the Ramifications for Free Speech in Thailand

8pm, Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand

Penthouse, Maneeya Center Building, 518/5 Ploenchit Road (connected to the BTS Skytrain Chitlom station), Patumwan, Bangkok 10330

Tel.: 02-652-0580-1 / Fax: 02-652-0582 / E-mail:

Web Site:

BBC on media freedom in SE Asia

13 02 2011

Readers will be interested in a forthcoming BBC series on free speech and democracy in Southeast Asia:

What Can I Say? Speaking out safely

‘What Can I Say?’ is a radio documentary series exploring freedom of speech and democracy in South East Asia.

Over four programmes, presenter Gary Bryson travels to Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore. Along the way he meets journalists, poets, filmmakers, political activists and others trying to find a voice for their village, their culture or their nation. Together they weave a picture of how past traumas and present politics limit freedom of expression. The series seeks to uncover what can be said publicly in these countries without fear of being sued, imprisoned or worse.

What Can I Say? – on air and online from 16 February

The Trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Day 1

4 02 2011

Prachatai has just posted a Thai-language report of the first day of the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, which is being held at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok (If you are in Bangkok and able to observe, here are details on how to do so.

The report notes that today, the court heard from the first prosecution witness:  Mr. Ari Chuwarak,  the Director of the Office of Corporate Information and Technology, Office of the Deputy ICT Minister.  PPT was glad to hear that there were over 40 supporters and observers of the case – so large that the judge had to move the trial to a bigger room.

In addition, for PPT readers who understand German, the Heinrich Boll Foundation has started a blog on her case.

Meanwhile, over at FACT, C.J. Hinke has a long report on the day. We post in full, with highlighting by PPT:

Thai webmaster facing 50 years for lèse majesté postings

The trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, nicknamed Jiew, opened on Friday at Bangkok’s Criminal Court, the venue changed to Courtroom 701. A larger courtroom was needed due to an unprecedented number of observers from numerous Thai and foreign NGOs, local and international media, and foreign embassies.

Chiranuch is a founding signer to Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) and an activist with Thai Netizen Network.

The public prosecutor opened Thai government’s case against Chiranuch, webmaster of Thailand’s only independent news portal,

Chiranuch has been charged with ten violations of the country’s draconian and unconstitutional Computer Crimes Act which was the first law to be passed by Thailand’s military coup legislature in 2007. Each charge carries a sentence of five years in prison. However, Thailand’s Constitution carries specific protections for free expression which cannot be amended by any lesser law.

However, Chiranuch has not been charged for making such comments herself. Rather, she faces prison stemming from pseudonymous postings and comments to Prachatai’s public webboard in mid-2008, although she was not arrested until March 2009.

Chiranuch has been charged because it is alleged she failed to delete the lèse majesté comments quickly enough from Prachatai, allowing them to remain eleven days in total.

The morning session opened with the first prosecution witness, Aree Jivorarak, chief of Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology’s IT Regulation Bureau. The chief judge, the prosecutor and the witness all spoke in subdued tones without amplification as the content of the postings were read aloud by the witness, nearly inaudible in the public gallery.

Repetition of lèse majesté by anyone is, of course, also lèse majesté and often courts are cleared of the public in such trials. In this case, we were not able to hear them anyway.

The witness seemed frequently confused by the questions posed by the prosecution who seemed on many occasions to lead or direct the MICT censor in his replies.

Thailand’s chief censor smiled and waved to Chiranuch in the dock whom he acknowledged he had consulted frequently and noted that she had always been cooperative and receptive in removing such comments from the Prachatai webboard. Aree also acknowledged that, during the period which is the subject of this trial, MICT had not informed the webmaster about the offending comments.

These charges also resulted in the closure of Prachatai’s public web forum in July 2010. Prachatai was the only forum where netizens could express an opinion on issues of the day. Now we have none.

The judges were all quite young and Chiranuch’s supporters had hope that they might have some Internet experience. However, questions from the bench were required of Aree as to the working definitions of URL, IP address, DNS and ISP. The youth of the judges and a single public prosecutor belied the serious weight Thai government gives to this case.

The afternoon session was given over to the defence bar, a team of three experienced human rights advocates. Even the judges laughed aloud when trial observers broke into spontaneous applause when the sound system was turned on so we could finally hear the proceedings.

Defence cross-examination elicited some surprising testimony from the government’s witness. The ICT ministry, for example, seemed unaware that Prachatai is governed by the directors of a foundation consisting of numerous prominent academics.

When questions were posed about who in government exactly decides content is illegal and what criteria are used to judge such content as lèse majesté, the witness became increasingly vague. Aree stated such decisions were made in committee from various ministries and the Royal Thai Police. However, he was unable not only to name the committee members or their specific agencies but was unsure of the agencies represented themselves.

Thailand’s chief censor also exhibited confusion over what content was considered ‘inappropriate’ and which content was clearly illegal by precise legal definition. Aree stated that there was little oversight over MICT’s censors who would know lèse majesté when they saw it!

There were numerous direct questions posed to the bureaucrat regarding the exact context of lèse majesté. Aree failed to reply to several of these defence questions and sat mute, with no direction the court to answer.

The MICT censor chief also questioned the intentions of the public participants in Prachatai’s web forum. Aree said he also found many of Prachatai’s news articles to be ‘inappropriate’ and solely intended to criticise Thai government.

The witness also relied overwhelmingly on presumption as all ten comments alleged to be defaming the monarchy were cast in indirect terms. He stated that any reader would know that reference to “the blue whale” would know the code for Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, whose Royal colour is blue. That any Thai would know “the blind father” referred to His Majesty King Bhumibol who is sight impaired from youth.

However, when Aree was shown ten pages of comments from Prachatai’s webboard and asked by the defence to mark those he considered lèse majesté, he marked only three items which were not disclosed by the court.

MICT’s bureaucrat also acknowledged that the ministry had tracked the posters of the pseudonymous comments to Prachatai by IP address but only one of them had been charged. This may well be the netizen acquitted last week.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva met with members of the Thai Netizen Network in December 2009 and stated the Computer Crimes Act would never be used to suppress citizen media or free public expression.

He has commented publicly at least three times on the Prachatai case, stating the arrest of Chiranuch was the ‘most regrettable’ of his tenure, promising to look into the case and, finally expressing surprise the case against Chiranuch had not been dropped.

The government has had more than two years to drop these spurious charges. The prime minister lies. Under his administration, Thailand has chosen to make the Internet its enemy. We are the Internet generation and Thailand is making war on its people.

Thailand’s iLaw Foundation found in December 2010 that 185 people had been charged under the Computer Crimes Act in a four year period. Thai government is systematically using this law to arrest Thai netizens. Academic Dr. David Streckfuss estimates any lèse majesté charge carries a 98% conviction rate which has resulted in sentences up to 18 years. He estimates 172 such arrests in 2009 alone.

Furthermore, Thailand has blocked 425,296 web pages during the period of martial law April 7 to December 22, 2010 by emergency decree. Prachatai was among the first websites blocked. Not one of those websites has been unblocked since the expiration of emergency powers. iLaw estimates that this number is rising by approximately 690 new blocks per day.

The government plans to call 14 witnesses as does the defence. It is highly unlikely Chiranuch’s trial will be completed in the eight days allotted by the court.

Chiranuch’s case is a landmark for the climate of free expression in Thailand. What is decided by this court will determine whether we live in a democracy governed by human rights and civil liberties or whether we are governed by a military junta at their whim.

For further background see “Overview of Chiranuch’s free speech trial” at’s-free-speech-trial-thai-netizen/.

Unfortunately, Chiranuch’s trial was not the only lèse majesté case starting trial in Bangkok’s Criminal Court today. NorPhorChorUSA webmaster Tantawut Taweewarodomkul, nicknamed Kenny, was also facing lèse majesté charges under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act as well as similar Criminal Code charges.

Kenny has been held without bail since April 2010. NorPhorChor is an acronym for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, commonly known as the Red shirts. The atmosphere in Courtroom 906 was far more serious.

If reason does not prevail in Thailand, we have no hope for freedom in our future.

The trials resume Tuesday, February 8, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya), On Ratchadapisek Road opposite Soi 38, Lat Phrao MTR station. Chiranuch’s trial is in Courtroom 701 on February 8-10 and 11-17 and probably longer. Tantawut’s trial will continue in Courtroom 906.


HRW on Thailand in 2010

28 01 2011

PPT is somewhat late on getting to the latest Human Rights Watch report on Thailand. In looking at the report and the media release, we wonder what is going on at HRW, for they appear to come from two very different organizations.

The press statement begins with a statement that the “government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand failed to fulfill its pledges to hold human rights abusers accountable in 2010…”. It is added that: “Human rights in Thailand suffered a sharp and broad reverse in 2010.” This is incontestable.

The statement points out that:

the government used emergency powers to hold dissidents and critics without trial in unofficial places of detention and repeatedly failed to provide exact information about those held and their whereabouts…. Freedom of expression was a casualty of a far-reaching government censorship campaign that shut down thousands of websites and dozens of community radio stations, TV and satellite broadcasts, and publications….

During and after the anti-government protests, the Thai authorities responded with excessive force to violence committed by militant elements in the anti-government United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)….

This HRW press release goes on to criticize the government’s failure to conduct an adequate and independent investigation into the violence of April and May 2010 and the lack of cooperation in investigations that have taken place, the political use of the emergency decree by CRES and its arbitrary use of emergency powers to harass political opponents. It adds: “… CRES also used emergency powers to hold some suspects without charge for extended periods in unofficial detention facilities, where there are inadequate safeguards against possible abuse in custody.” More worrying still is the National Human Rights Commission report “that many UDD detainees had experienced torture and forcible interrogations, arbitrary arrest and detention, and overcrowded detention facilities.

The press release continues by mentioning the government’s “rolling crackdown on peaceful political expression,” noting the “enforced to shut down more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, publications, and more than 40 community radio stations, most of which are considered to be closely aligned with the UDD.”

Of course, it also notes that political use of the Computer Crimes Act and lese majeste to censor and “persecute dissidents.”

The press release also mentions the “chronic problems with police and security operations that use abusive tactics…. Officers responsible for horrendous misconduct have rarely faced punishment” and this is especially the case in the south.

As has been said many times, this government’s “human rights rhetoric in international forums is matched by action on the ground.”

But then this is the HRW country summary in the organization’s World Report 2011. This report does mention all of the human rights abuses noted in the press statement and singles out an “abusive anti-narcotics policy,” violence and human rights abuses in the south,
and justifiably makes the case on the Abhisit government’s abuse of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers. Also covered are the abusive use of the emergency decree and powers of detention and the repression of media freedom and freedom of expression.

What concerns PPT in the report is the wholly one-sided account of the political violence of April-May 2010. HRW’s account may as well have been penned by Thailand’s acting government spokesman. Whoever is responsible for this account has failed to acknowledge the state’s responsibility in orchestrating violence against protesters and in so doing HRW appears to exonerate the state’s violence. It also manages to slip in yellow-hued accounts of events and speculation about “hardliners” and “moderates” within the UDD and the role of so-called black shirts in the UDD. At least the report does concede that the “military deployed snipers to shoot anyone who breached ‘no-go’  zones [actually termed live-fire zones].

HRW should be ashamed and concerned that it has allowed its report to be tainted by speculation and politically-driven accounts of the violence that diminishes the state’s role in the deadly events. It should examine the disparity between its press release and its account of political violence. As PPT repeatedly said at the time when pro-government sources made similar claims, if observers look at the body count its is clear which groups were targeted, and it was not state forces.

Emergency Decree encourages human rights abuses, says HRW

26 11 2010

In a 24 November 2010 statement, Human Rights Watch continues their vigilant criticism of the Emergency Decree.

As HRW notes, in the months since the decree was first enacted on 7 April, it has been used to arbitrarily detain political prisoners, shut down speech and create a pervasive atmosphere of fear. Notably, the situation of national crisis and contention in the streets which led to its use is no longer relevant.

What is most concerning, however, are the broader abuses of rights — those not necessarily specified in the decree — which appear to be taking place. acting Director of the Asia Division for Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, commented that ‘The Emergency Decree encourages human rights abuses.’ Read the entire 24 November 2010 statement here.

PPT would add to HRW’s statement to note that when the law is used to legitimate human rights abuses, what is taking place beyond the pale of the law is sure to be even graver.

The Emergency Decree is set to be reviewed again on or before 5 January 2011. PPT calls on the Thai government to immediately revoke the decree and release all political prisoners still being held under its terms.


Abhisit put in his place

23 11 2010

The Bangkok Post reports that the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situations (CRES) has “defied Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s wishes by refusing to reverse its ban on anti-government souvenirs” and put him in his place as a subordinate in the military-civilian regime. Abhisit might fight back, but the military-dominated CRES has asserted itself. Army boss the royalist general Prayuth Chan-ocha is letting Abhisit know that he is not in charge.

The souvenirs are said by CRES to “cause disunity and offend the royal institution.” Of course, lese majeste laws would do this, but the military is asserting its power and dominance.

The report adds that “Defence Minister and CRES director [General] Prawit Wongsuwon and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha insisted the ban, issued last Friday, would remain in effect even though Mr Abhisit believed it violated people’s right to free speech.”

Abhisit is right, but that counts for nothing with Prayuth leading the dangerous rightist-royalist turn.

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