Putting the shoe on the other foot

11 02 2018

Back in November, PPT posted on potential trouble brewing for Thai dissidents in Cambodia. At the time, Hun Sen seemed to be asking for the Thai junta to deport members of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party who have fled to Thailand.

On 8 February, Thailand handed over a Cambodian labor activist. Sam Sokha was “sentenced” in absentia by a Hun Sen regime court on 25 January for the vague “crimes” of “insult of a public official” and “incitement to discriminate.” In other words, she threw a shoe at a billboard depicting Cambodia’s authoritarian premier.

Of course, after she was presumably forcibly repatriated from Thailand, she was arrested.

According to several reports, Thailand’s military dictatorship deported her despite the fact that “the UN refugee agency reportedly had formally recognised her as a refugee.”

This is not the first time Thailand has done this. In 2016, the dictatorship worked with the Chinese to send dissidents back to China, including two who had UN status and were awaiting third-country resettlement.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said:

Thailand was fully aware of Sam Sokha’s status as a refugee, yet still returned her to Cambodia, where she is likely to face a prison term for expressing her political views…. It’s sad but not surprising that a military junta would do a favour for a neighbouring dictator, but they should not cement their friendship at the expense of a refugee.

We may guess that the junta expects Cambodia to return the favor and will be hoping to capture some Thai dissidents.





The Dictator’s “human rights”

27 01 2018

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs thinks it can “refute” Human Rights Watch report on the dire situation of human rights under the military junta.

Junta toadies at the Ministry declare that the HRW report “generally contains sweeping and ungrounded allegations as well as politically biased accusations. Like last year’s report, the narrative missed the prevailing facts on the ground and intentionally ignored progresses, positive developments and efforts undertaken by the Thai Government.” They mean the military dictatorship.

The Ministry seems particularly miffed that HRW has not accepted junta propaganda:

In fact, since last year, the Foreign Ministry has set up a regular channel to interact with a number of civil society organizations, including HRW in Thailand. At the meetings, representatives from National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) as well as agencies concerned participated and sincerely exchanged views and information. Regrettably, information provided at those meetings which can readily clarify many points raised in the report have not found its way to HRW writers who may sit elsewhere across the world drafting the report, ignoring once again positive developments on the ground. Worse, in reality, it is more often than not disregarded.

The idea the Ministry toadies are purveying is that HRW doesn’t understand Thailand because it is not “on the ground” and its writers “sit elsewhere.” This is nonsense, but the minions are promoting Thai-ism.

And it is a Thai-ism that is promoted as a form of human rights. Presumably only Thais of the appropriate political color will recognize Thai-style human rights in a developing Thai-style democracy.

Then the Ministry propagandists provide instances of the military dictatorship’s promotion of human rights:

The new Constitution of 2017, which passed national referendum at 61% approval rate in August 2016, reaffirms Thailand’s human rights commitment by underlining the principles of equal rights and protection under the law, non-discrimination, prohibition of torture, and freedom of religious beliefs, among others. It also upholds the rule of law, stipulates the administration of justice and the provision of legal assistance to ensure better access to justice for all.

Need we say that the referendum was neither free nor fair? Should we point out that the regime banned any campaigning against the referendum? Should we add that some people are still in court and charged with offenses meted out to them for even reporting and observing opposition to the junta’s constitution? Is it necessary to point out that “on the ground”there is discrimination, torture by police and military and that the rule of law is a hastily cobbled together sham and joke underpinned by double standards? Is it necessary to observe that freedom of expression and assembly are highly and bluntly repressed?

The Ministry is right that cases previously before the “Military Court have all been transferred under the Judicial Court of Justice, if committed on or after 12 September 2016.” But that last phrase is important as military courts continue to hear cases from before that date. Military courts are often held in secret and are a travesty of justice.

The Ministry claims that:

… under the instruction of the Prime Minister, the Committee to Receive Complaints and Investigate Allegations of Torture and Enforced Disappearance was established in June 2017 with the mandates to receive complaints, perform fact finding, provide assistance and remedies, and protect the rights of people affected by acts of torture or enforced disappearance.

But it just doesn’t happen.The military repeatedly rounds up individuals and spirits them away. Even if this is only for a few days, it is a practice that reeks of despotism.

Worse than enforced disappearance is extrajudicial murder. The sad case of Chaiyapoom Pasae is just one where the military, involved in the murder, conceals evidence. We probably don’t need to mention the many cases of military recruits and serving junior soldiers being beaten, tortured and killed. For the military and the junta, such things are “normal.”

The toadies then talk about the “enactment of the National Human Rights Commission Act.” The NHRC is dismissed by most observers as a now meaningless institution.

We could go on and on, but let’s just observe that the junta and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs actually condone human rights abuses and that their record is deplorable. For an accurate account of the junta’s human rights abuses in 2017, supported with numerous examples, read the HRW report.





HRW on Thailand under the military boot

19 01 2018

Human Rights Watch has released its World Report 2018. The Thailand report‘s first heading is: “Sweeping, Unchecked, and Unaccountable Military Powers.” That country chapter is only about 7 pages and worth reading.

The media release on the Thailand chapter begins (with our bolding):

Thailand’s government took no significant steps to restore democratic rule and basic freedoms in 2017…. The military junta’s adoption of a national human rights agenda and repeated assurances that it would hold elections for a civilian government did nothing to reverse the country’s human rights crisis.

It cites HRW Asia director Brad Adams:

Thailand’s military junta has used its unchecked powers to drop the country into an ever-deeper abyss of human rights abuses. Instead of restoring basic rights as promised, the junta prosecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, and censored the media.

On media censorship it states:

During the year the authorities temporarily forced off the air Voice TV, Spring News Radio, Peace TV, and TV24 for criticizing military rule. The stations were permitted to resume broadcasting after they agreed to practice self-censorship.

Writing of The Dictator’s power:

As head of the junta, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha wields limitless authority, including the military’s power to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse. There are still at least 1,800 civilians facing prosecution in military courts, which do not meet international fair trial standards.

On lese majeste:

Since the 2014 coup, Thai authorities have arrested at least 105 people on lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) charges. The crackdown on lese majeste offenses has intensified since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016.

It is a sorry tale.





2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2017

2006 seems a long time ago. So much has happened since the palace, led by General Prem Tinsulanonda, the military and a coterie of royalist anti-democrats (congealed as the People’s Alliance for Democracy) brought down Thaksin Shinawatra’s government on 19 September 2006.

Yet it is remembered as an important milestone in bringing down electoral democracy in Thailand and establishing the royalist-military authoritarianism that has deepened since the 2014 military coup that brought down Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.

Khaosod reports:

Pro-democracy activists are marking the 11th anniversary of the 2006 coup on Tuesday evening on the skywalk in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Representatives from the police and BTS Skytrain were ordering them to clear the area because it belongs to the rail operator.

The location, frequented by commuters and tourists in a highly visible location, has become a de facto location for protests since the 2014 coup.

“It’s unbelievable how far back we’ve gone for the past 11 years,” said Siriwit Seritiwat, the prominent activist known as Ja New. “The country doesn’t suck by itself, but it sucks because of the wicked cycle.”

The 2006 coup was no surprise given that Thaksin had faced determined opposition from PAD and from General Prem, who reflected palace and royal household dissatisfaction with Thaksin. The coup came after Thaksin had been re-elected in a landslide in February 2005 with about 60% of the vote.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes often as a result of arrogance. The February 2005 election reflected Thaksin’s popularity and this posed a threat to the monstrous egos in the palace. Of course, they also worried about Thaksin’s combination of political and economic power and his efforts to control the military.

Thaksin’s reliance on votes and the fact that he accumulated them as never before was an existential threat to the powers that be. The elite feared for its control of political, economic and social power.

Behind the machinations to tame Thaksin lurked the real power holders in the military brass, the palace and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who together comprised the royalist state. Some referred to this as the network monarchy and others identified a Deep State. They worried about their power and Thaksin’s efforts to transform Thailand. Others have said there were concerns about managing succession motivating coup masters.

We are sure that there were many motivations, fears and hallucinatory self-serving that led to the coup. Wikileaks has told part of the story of the machinations.

Coup soldiers wearing the king’s yellow, also PAD’s color

A way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006 is to look again at Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables on the figures circling around the coup and the events immediately before and after the coup, giving a pretty good picture of how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the U.S. embassy to know.

The royalist elite came to believe that the 2006 coup failed as pro-Thaksin parties managed to continue to win elections. The result was the development of an anti-democracy ideology and movement that paved the way for the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship that is determined to uproot the “Thaksin regime” and to eventually make elections events that have no meaning for governing Thailand.





Updated: Yingluck and Boonsong

26 08 2017

While a lot of the media attention has been on Yingluck Shinawatra’s no-show at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions verdict day, the related sentencing of her former colleague Boonsong Teriyapirom to 42 years in jail and his former deputy Poom Sarapol to 36 years in the so-called government-to-government rice sales case deserves attention too.

Earlier, the former commerce minister said he would “respect the court’s decision which ever way it went.” It went the way that everyone had expected and he and his deputy were found guilty. So were a score of others. As Prachatai reports it:

The two were accused of violating the 1999 Anti-price Collusion Act for helping Chinese companies that did not represent the Chinese government to obtain the government-to-government rice export deals with Yingluck’s administration.

The court also sentenced Manas Soiploy, a former director-general of the Department of Foreign Trade, to 40 years of imprisonment and his deputy Tikhumporn Natvaratat to 32 years in jail for involvement in the deals.

Akharaphong Theepwatchara, former director of the department’s Rice Trade Administration Bureau, was sentenced to 24 years while Apichart Chansakulporn, the executive of Siam Indica Co Ltd., the rice exporter company, got 48 years imprisonment.

The court also demanded Siam Indica to pay 16.9 billion baht damage to the Ministry of Finance.

Eight of the total of 28 accused were acquitted while the rest got jail term and were ordered to pay damages in accordance to the proportion of their involvement in the rice deal.

Perhaps Yingluck got wind of these horrendously long sentences and decided that she was likely to get the maximum sentence in her case (10 years and a large fine), and to seek other climes (although officials claim there is no record of her leaving the country).

Khaosod explains some of the courts decision and the case:

The Supreme Court said the four government-to-government deals made in 2011 and 2012 were made with state companies in Chinese provinces which were not authorized to represent Beijing. The deals allowed them to buy rice from Thailand at below-market prices.

Evidence later showed that Siam Indica resold the rice back into the domestic market. They were accused of violating two anti-corruption statutes: the 1999 Price Rigging in Public Sector Contract Bidding and a 1999 anti-corruption law called the Organic Act on Counter Corruption.

In September 2016, the Anti-Money Laundering Office ordered over 7 billion baht in assets seized from Siam Indica, Apichart and his network after they were indicted by the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Apichart was known to have close ties to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. A previous firm he led won the right to sell rice from a rice-pledging program under Thaksin’s administration.

Yet, the deals done were not that easily explained. As the Bangkok Post tells it, the court decided:

… in the past G-to-G rice sales to China had been done through China National Cereals, Oil and Foodstuff Import Export Corporation (Cofco).

But the rice sales panel chaired by Poom during the Yingluck Shinawatra government changed the G-to-G definition to include sales to other state enterprises and use ex-factory prices instead….

Poom later approved two sales contracts for 5.2 million tonnes with two Chinese provincial state enterprises not authorised by Beijing. Boonsong later took over as chairman of the panel and signed another two contracts to sell another 2.4 million tonnes.

All in all, the four contracts causes damages of around 17 billion baht, the statement said.

The ruling said there were irregularities involving the four contracts.

“Payments were made in cashier cheques. Buyers could resell the grain to a third country. The contracts were amended to change the rice types and amounts without bargaining to ensure the changes were in the best interest of the country.

“After the sales, payments were made in hundreds of cashier cheques in the country and an authorised Thai company took delivery of the grain and sold it to local rice traders without shipping it to China or other countries,” the statement said.

“Mr Poom, Mr Boonsong, Mr Apichart and others brought the two provincial state enterprises to buy rice from the Foreign Trade Department, saying they were authorised by Beijing, at low prices without competition.

“When rice market price fell, the enterprises did not take delivery as specified in the contracts. Instead, they asked to change the contracts so they could buy the same type of grain at lower prices,” the ruling said.

For those interested, historical rice prices are here, suggesting that, in the court’s reckoning, the damage done was not the total amount of the deals done, but that the reduced prices were the issue for the court. Losing money may be poor business and poor state business, but the sentences are mammoth.

The media’s interest now naturally turns to Yingluck’s whereabouts.

At Khaosod, Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk said “he was still trying to piece together the reason for her no-show.” He was unsure why Yingluck would flee. As he says:

“We still try to understand the situation here since she had fought for more than two years and there was no sign that she would not show up in the last minute,” Sunai said. “I want to see an official statement from Pheu Thai Party or the UDD, so the people are told what’s going on.”

He added:

this will intensify the disharmony as Yingluck’s supporters see her as the victim of an unjust trial, while the opposite side sees Yingluck as the sister who follows her brother’s footstep. The two sides will never reconcile.

Another commentator, Jessada Denduangboripant, mused:

“In reality, there have been many negotiations between Yingluck and the government as well as those backing the government because if she’s found innocent the government would lose face while if she’s imprisoned, there’s a risk of an uprising. The way out is to let her leave the country, which is not easy without some assistance. Jessada said. “They think it’s win-win for both. Yingluck may have to flee but at least she is free abroad. The government may be criticized for being lax. Those who lose the most are the people who have been lured into supporting (her). This is also not good for democracy.”

Political activist Rangsiman Rome, also wondered about a win-win: “I cannot really tell who gains and who loses, but I want to give your readers a question: Did Yingluck secretly negotiate with the NCPO?..”.

One rumor is that the junta created a win-win situation telling her she would be jailed. It offered her an avenue to flee and promised an election if she left.

Yellow shirts are disappointed that Yingluck wasn’t locked up and complain that she is “just like her brother.” But they also complain that the regime has let her “escape.”

The Dictator and Deputy Dictator believed she had fled. But they did not rule out that she was in hiding in the country. They “ordered security authorities to check border crossings and search for former prime minister Yingluck…”. General Prayuth Chan-ocha questioned her “bravery.”

While rumors swirl of her taking a boat, crossing the Cambodian border and flying to Singapore, CNN reports an anonymous Puea Thai Party source as saying Yingluck has joined Thaksin in Dubai.

Update: While PPT prefers to wait for Yingluck to emerge and say what she has done and where she is, some reports deserve attention. For example, The Nation reports an unnamed “security source” who claims “Yingluck went to Koh Chang in the eastern seaboard province of Trat and flew in a helicopter to Phnom Penh, from where she reportedly took a chartered plane to Singapore. She was accompanied by a senior state official who helped facilitate her departure without having to pass proper immigration process…”.

Added to this, the report cites another unnamed source in the Puea Thai Party: “It’s impossible she left without the military’s green light.”

Meanwhile, “Yingluck’s mobile phone signals were detected as coming from her house in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum area, according to a police source.” If they can track her phone it seems unlikely they allowed her to wander off overseas unattended.





Junta repression deepens II

16 08 2017

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on the charging of five academics and attendees at the International Conference on Thai Studies.

We can only wonder if the foreign academics who attended will mobilize to protest this new low by the junta.

The keynote speakers should be the first and loudest voices: Katherine Bowie, Duncan McCargo, Thonchai Winichakul and Michael Herzfeld. After all, they made very particular and careful decisions to attend amid some calls for a boycott because the junta has been repressive of academics in Thailand (not their yellow-shirted friends and allies, of course).

Here’s the HRW statement:

Thai authorities should immediately drop charges against a prominent academic and four conference participants for violating the military junta’s ban on public assembly at a conference at Chiang Mai University in July 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The International Conference on Thai Studies included discussions and other activities that the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta deemed critical of military rule.

Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, who faces up to one year in prison if convicted, is scheduled to report to police in Chiang Mai province on August 23. Four conference attendees – Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai, and Thiramon Bua-ngam – have been charged for the same offense for holding posters saying “An academic forum is not a military barrack” to protest the military’s surveillance of participants during the July 15-18 conference. None are currently in custody.

“Government censorship and military surveillance have no place at an academic conference,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “By prosecuting a conference organizer and participants, the Thai junta is showing the world its utter contempt for academic freedom and other liberties.”

Since taking power after the May 2014 coup, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has asserted that the airing of differences in political opinions could undermine social stability. Thai authorities have frequently forced the cancellation of community meetings, academic panels, issue seminars, and public forums on political matters, and especially issues related to dissent towards NCPO policies or the state of human rights in Thailand.Frequently, these repressive interventions are based on the NCPO’s ban on public gatherings of more than five people, and orders outlawing public criticisms of any aspect of military rule. The junta views people who repeatedly express dissenting views and opinions, or show support for the deposed civilian government, as posing a threat to national security, and frequently arrests and prosecutes them under various laws.

Over the past three years, thousands of activists, politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders have been arrested and taken to military camps across Thailand for hostile interrogation aimed at stamping out dissident views and compelling a change in their political attitudes. Many of these cases took place in Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand, the hometown of former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra.

Most of those released from these interrogations, which the NCPO calls “attitude adjustment” programs, are forced to sign a written agreement that state they will cease making political comments, stop their involvement in political activities, or not undertake any actions to oppose military rule. Failure to comply with these written agreements can result in being detained again, or charged with the crime of disobeying the NCPO’s orders, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, protects the rights of individuals to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and assembly. The UN committee that oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Thailand has also ratified, has advised governments that academic freedom, as an element of the right to education, includes: “the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction.”

“Academics worldwide should call for the trumped-up charges against Professor Chayan and the four conference attendees to be dropped immediately,” Adams said. “Thailand faces a dim future if speech is censored, academic criticism is punished, and political discussions are banned even inside a university.”





HRW on Ko Tee’s “disappearance”

2 08 2017

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on Wuthipong Kachathamakul’s apparent forced abduction.

While the military dictatorship in Bangkok continuing its Sgt. Schultz “explanation,” HRW has called on the “Lao authorities … [to] urgently investigate the abduction of an exiled Thai activist … Ko Tee…. Eyewitnesses stated that a group of unknown armed assailants abducted him in Vientiane on July 29, 2017, raising grave concerns for his safety.”

Providing more details, HRW’s account is that:

On July 29, at approximately 9:45 p.m., a group of 10 armed men dressed in black and wearing black balaclavas assaulted Wuthipong, his wife, and a friend as they were about to enter Wuthipong’s house in Vientiane according to multiple witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch. The assailants hit them, shocked them with stun guns, tied their hands with plastic handcuffs, covered their eyes, and gagged their mouths. Wuthipong was then put in a car and driven away to an unknown location while his wife and his friend were left at the scene. According to Wuthipong’s wife and his friend, the assailants were speaking among themselves in Thai. The incident was reported to Lao authorities in Vientiane.

It calls on the Lao authorities:

The Lao government needs to move quickly to ascertain the facts and publicly report their findings, including an assessment of Wuthipong’s whereabouts and who might be responsible for this crime that was so boldly carried out in its own capital city.

Lao authorities should mount a serious effort to find Wuthipong if he is still in Laos, and take immediate steps to prosecute any persons in Laos who were involved in this abduction.

It remains unclear who abducted Ko Tee.

We can guess that the military dictatorship in Bangkok would be involved in some way. We also know that enforced disappearance is not unknown in Laos. We also know that the Thai military regime has allowed other security forces – in several cases from China – to abduct dissidents from Thailand. We might also consider this action as a typical action of Thailand’s dictatorship, seeking to silence critics by attacking one as a special example.