Media and bias

27 11 2013

Remarkably, the current anti-government protesters have not had to consider dealing with the foreign media, being content with the mainstream Thai media being largely in their camp and making their positions clear and even justifying their illegal actions as “legal protest.” Following the attack on German journalist Nick Nostitz, condemned by, amongst other, Human Rights Watch, however, the angry lot has decided that they need to make statements to the media.

On 26 November, they sent out two statements. The two are so sadly contradictory that they are revealing of a lack of media savvy, a patronizing view of the foreign media, and the politics of hatred. The first announcement, looking a bit like Announcement 1 by the CNS on the day of the September 2006 coup, is below, with PPT emphasis added:

CMD Statement Number: 1Anti-gov

Issued: 26 NOV 2013

Statement for Immediate Release

Civil Movement for Democracy (CMD)

Rejecting the divisive, color-coded politics of recent years, the Civil Movement for Democracy (CMD) is a broad-based people’s movement committed to rooting out Thaksin’s regime and to building an inclusive Thai society based upon sustainable democratic principles.

This broad-based peoples’ movement was triggered by the government, with Thaksin’s younger sister as the puppet Prime Minister, passage through the Parliament of an Amnesty Bill which sought to give a blanket amnesty covering the last 10 years, including not only political and violent activities but also some 20,000 on-going and indicted corruption cases, involving Thaksin and many of his cronies. It was this outrageous attempt to pardon widespread corruption, rammed through parliament at 4am in the morning that has so incensed a broad spectrum of Thai people. The amnesty bill ignited a smoldering discontent that has been building over many years characterized by the worst levels of corruption in modern memory with no regard of check and balance.

By denouncing the constitution court’s verdict, the ruling Pheu Thai Party has in effect violated the Thai constitution, which in principle binds all democratic institutions. For this reason, on the 24th November the largest mass political gathering in modern Thai history took place. It was noted that this mass demonstration attracted people from all segments of society. Subsequently, the peaceful sit-in staged at the Ministry of Finance on the 25th November was organized as part of the CMD’s non-violent movement.

Today, the CMD calls on the government to take responsibility for their actions. We urge for comprehensive reforms to restore the values of true democracy in Thailand. We call on the government to respect and abide the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. Most importantly, we will strictly adhere to the principles of non-violence in all of our actions.

We are staggered by some of these claims, more so by the apparent contradiction of several of them in the second announcement, reproduced below with emphasis by PPT:

CMD Statement Number: 2

Issued: 26 Nov 2013 (Time)

CMD leadership regrets incident involving German reporter

Bangkok, 26 November, 2013 – The leadership of the Civil Movement for Democracy (CMD), the broad-based peoples’ movement now pushing for the dismantling of the Thaksin Shinawatra controlled-government, today issued a statement regretting an incident involving a German reporter which took place yesterday at approximately 1:15pm (Monday, 25 November) outside the Bangkok Metropolitan Police Bureau.

Speaking on behalf of the CMD’s collective leadership, spokesman Mr. Akanat Promphan said the CMD leadership regretted the incident involving German freelance photo-journalist, Mr. Nick Nostitz, who said he was punched by angry anti-government protesters. “In spite of the fact that the protesters recognized Mr. Nostitz as a well-known government supporter who has long since abandoned the principle of objectivity required by journalists, this was no excuse for the use of any level of violence and we apologise to Mr. Nostitz unreservedly,” said Mr. Akanat.

“We wish to emphasise we are attempting to maintain the principle of non-violence at all times and will do our best to make sure members of the media and outside observers from non-governmental organizations are able to perform their duties safely and without restriction at all times,” added Mr. Akanat.

Mentioning inaccurate descriptions of events issued by the Government’s public relations machine, Mr. Akanat said the protesters’ entry into the Finance Ministry’s compound yesterday morning did not involve the use of force or the damage of any government property, contrary to the Government’s claim.

Reading the two Announcements is an odd experience. We have rejected color-coded politics, they say, in No. 1. Then, in No. 2, they attack Nostitz as a “government supporter,” which matched the identification of Nostitz as a red shirt journalist. Announcement No. 2 is said to be an apology to Nostitz but is actually an attack on him, questioning his professional ethics.

Announcement No. 1 states that the protesters want “an inclusive Thai society based upon sustainable democratic principles.” Unfortunately, they provide no account of what this might be or why they reject the current constitution (which favors them) and the idea of electoral representation as it currently exists. There attention is to corruption, which is not a function of any particular form of government, and the “many years” seems odd when this government has barely completed two years. In fact, the mention of corruption is part of the mantra that only elected politicians are corrupt, which is a complete nonsense for Thailand. Jumping on another track, the announcement then claims that the reason for the demonstration is that the Puea Thai Party has (verbally) rejected the Constitutional Court’s recent judgement.

We are left to conclude that the reason for the demonstration has to do with the politics of hatred rather than any particular principle or philosophy.

Finally, No. 1 “calls on the government to take responsibility for their actions. We urge for comprehensive reforms to restore the values of true democracy in Thailand.” What does this mean? The leadership of the protesters has already stated that it will only be satisfied with the overthrow of the government and the rooting out of the so-called Thaksin regime. Given that pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2000, the protesters need to say what their demands really are.

HRW and orders

30 05 2013

PPT draws attention to a statement by Thailand representative for Human Rights Watch, Sunai Pasuk in a Bangkok Post article on the murder of Fabio Polenghi.

Sunai is right when he says that “the finding highlighted the need to hold the military to account for the 2010 deaths…”. He’s also right to complain about the Yingluck Shinawatra Government apparent decision to not hold soldiers responsible for their actions in April and May 2010 is legal  travesty.

However, Sunai also makes a remarkable claim: “According to Human Rights Watch’s research, there was no order given to shoot unarmed civilians…”.

PPT has not heard such a claim previously and has not seen the “research” Sunai says his organization conducted.

As Andrew Spooner points out, this claim seems different from a recent HRW statement on this matter.

Sunai needs to make the “research” he cites available or explain his claim.

Updated: Spooner, Asia Sentinel and HRW

29 04 2013

A couple of weeks ago we had a couple of posts (here and here) regarding Andrew Spooner’s short career at Asia Sentinel. One of the reasons he thinks he was shunted by Asia Sentinel was a story he did regarding Brad Adams at Human Rights Watch.Asia Provocateur moves

When Asia Sentinel showed Spooner the electronic door, they deleted this story. He has now re-posted it at his Asia Provocateur blog.

The post refers to a 2011 appearance by Adams at a meeting held in the UK Parliament. The post includes a video of Adams speaking at the parliament on arson in Bangkok in May 2010. Spooner questions Adams and HRW on their claims in 2011.

Update: A reader points out that former lese majeste political prisoner Joe Gordon has also posted a link to another Spooner post on HRW that caries a specific warning about HRW. Read Joe’s comment here and the Asia Provocateur article he refers to here.

Spooner’s ups and downs

11 04 2013

Less than a week ago PPT posted that:

Andrew Spooner is back with a new post at Asia Sentinel. His blogs and posts have always been interesting and have often aroused some fiery debates and controversy.

In that very short period he posted three stories with Asia Sentinel. Remarkably, they pulled them all.

Andrew tells his story of censorship back at his old blog Asia Provocateur. It certainly seems that his post questioning Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams was a catalyst, but maybe his earlier writing also caused Asia Sentinel’s drastic action. And here we are referring to posts that were completely unconnected with Asia Sentinel!

Updated: Spooner’s back

5 04 2013

SpoonerAndrew Spooner is back with a new post at Asia Sentinel. His blogs and posts have always been interesting and have often aroused some fiery debates and controversy.

In his new post, on the latest constitutional amendment posturings and shenanigans is a topic PPT will shortly post on too. However, we have to agree with his observation that:

The Abhisit [Vejjajiva]-led Democrats [he means the Democrat Party], still bereft of policy yet ripe with a flagrant disregard for democracy, preferring, as ever, the arm of the politicised judiciary rather than the will of the Thai people, appear desperate to bring down the democratically-elected Pheu Thai government.

And like Andrew, we often wonder why the media doesn’t ask more searching questions of the anti-democratic Democrat Party and Abhisit when they continually seek to bring down elected governments.

Update: In keeping with his controversial blogging of the past, in a new post at Asia Sentinel, Spooner targets Human Rights Watch and Brad Adams: Did Brad Adams and Human Rights Watch lie about the Red Shirts?

HRW annual accounting

1 02 2013

Human Rights Watch issues an annual reckoning of human rights around the world. Its press release on Thailand makes the following points about lese majeste:

While the number of prosecutions for lese majeste has declined since Yingluck took office, Thai authorities continue to use draconian statutes in the Penal Code and the Computer Crimes Act to restrict freedom of expression, including on the internet. Thousands of websites have been blocked as “offensive to the monarchy.” People charged with lese majeste offenses were often denied bail and remained jailed for many months awaiting trial. Sentences have often been harsh. Amphon Tangnoppakul, who was sentenced in November 2011 to 20 years in prison for sending four lese majeste SMS messages in 2010, died of cancer in prison on May 8, 2012.Human Rights Watch

“The lese majeste and Computer Crime Act bring a climate of fear over all political speech in Thailand, whether in print or on social media,” said Adams. “The government needs to take action to prevent Thailand’s space for free speech from diminishing further.”

Of course, PPT agrees. We have been harping on the fact that the media and human rights organizations need to acknowledge the remarkable turnaround on charges laid and taken to prosecution. Compared with the Surayud Chulanond government put in place by the military junta and especially the avalanche of cases under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, the use of this draconian law is now at more “normal” levels. That said, the feudal law should be abolished and the wimpy human rights groups like HRW should be saying this loud and clear.

On other issues, the plight of the Rohinga is mentioned as is the south where the military still holds sway. The full HRW report states:

The Yingluck government initiated a government-funded compensation scheme for Malay Muslim victims of abuses committed by the security forces. However, Thai security forces faced few or no consequences for extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other abuses.

That should be seen as a positive change.

In its reporting of the response to the events of 2010, HRW decides that:

Neither the Abhisit nor the current Yingluck governments have sought to address the violence in an impartial manner. The Abhisit government charged hundreds of UDD leaders and supporters with serious criminal offenses, but failed to file charges against any military personnel implicated in the violence. The Yingluck government, which has the UDD’s backing, has taken a similarly one-sided approach, focusing criminal investigations to prosecute Abhisit and a former deputy prime minister for authorizing soldiers to use live ammunition and lethal force while downplaying deadly violence by UDD-linked “Black Shirts.”

The “men in black” claim harks back to HRW’s somewhat shoddy “investigation” of the violence with very little evidence produced for its claims. In the main report, while not making the point directly, HRW implies that so-called men in black were released by the Yingluck administration, but provides no evidence for this implied accusation.There is no mention of recent claims by the slippery lot at the Department of Special Investigation about investigating “men in black.”

While it accuses the Yingluck government of doing nothing to get rid of state impunity for murder – “After almost two years in office, Prime Minister Yingluck has failed to adopt any significant measures to end abuses, stop censorship, protect workers, and curtail impunity…” – it seems unable to see charges against Abhisit and Suthep Thaugsuban as addressing this issue, which seems to us like another HRW blind spot. Yes, military leaders need to be held responsible too, but at least one previously unthinkable step has been taken.

Red shirt political prisoners remain in prison, lese majeste remains a chilling reminder of royalist power and privilege, the military remains politicized, and the courts continue to act with crude double standards. However, some significant and quite positive changes have been made.

Some commentary on lese majeste after the Somyos verdict

24 01 2013

David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based independent scholar and lèse-majesté expert: The lèse-majesté law works against the long-term interests of the Thai monarchy…. To a society that is becoming ever more politically conscious, the holding and trying of defendants seems arbitrary, petty and a clear violation of human rights.

Saksith Saiyasombut, at Siam Voices: The general chatter of the crowd was interrupted by an all too familiar sound from the back of the room: metal being dragged on the ground, the sound of the shackles the defendant was wearing as he walked barefoot into the courtroom.

At the time of writing, there were no reactions from national organizations like the National Human Rights Commission or the Thai Journalists’ Association, as they haven’t made a statements during the entire length of Somyot’s incarceration.

This is indeed a worrying verdict for free speech and the press in Thailand, which is progressively going backwards. Not only is it possible to be charged based on an ambiguously worded law; not only can anybody file a lèse majesté complaint against anybody else; not only are prosecutors determined to prove the intention of the accused (despite the lack of evidence in some cases); but now it is also possible to be held liable for other people’s content. This is especially true with online content thanks to an equally terrible Computer Crimes Act, where a culture of denunciation is state-sponsored and self-censorship is the norm.

Sunai Phasuk at Human Rights Watch: “So, now there is a new standard in Thailand that for Lese Majeste offenses nothing can be used in the defense as constitutional guaranteed freedoms to shield and to assure protection of basic rights.  So, this is a very worrying moment…. The conviction of Somyot is a very worrying step that freedom of expression in Thailand is under very serious attack. [PPT: Sunai is quoted as speaking of the present. In fact, since the demise of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, charges have been substantially reduced. That said, every lese majeste/computer crimes charge is a serious attack on freedom of expression.]

Duncan McCargo from Leeds University: Unfortunately, the failure of this government to review the lese majeste law is entirely predictable…. Yingluck Shinawatra is performing a delicate balancing act to preserve the political deal which keeps her in office – and doing so involves keeping the country’s conservative institutions, including the palace, the judiciary and the military onside. [PPT: not sure which particular "deal" McCargo means. But, yes, predictable, for deal or no deal, Yingluck and Thaksin want to maintain the government, at almost any cost.]

HRW on Somyos lese majeste conviction

23 01 2013

Human Rights Watch has a news release on the conviction and harsh sentencing of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk for lese majeste. Amongst other things, it states: “The conviction of a prominent Thai magazine editor and his harsh 11-year sentence for ‘insulting the monarchy’ will further chill freedom of expression in Thailand.” It adds:Jit

The courts seem to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of free expression rights…. The court’s ruling appears to be more about Somyot’s strong support for amending the lese majeste law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy.

It makes this point in noting that Somyos “was arrested five days after launching a campaign to collect 10,000 signatures calling for the amendment of article 112.”

Remarkably, HRW notes that Somyos was convicted despite the fact that “Thailand’s Printing Act protects editors from being held accountable for the content of others.”

HRW also makes a point PPT has expressed many times:

Human Rights Watch said that Thai authorities used Somyot’s pretrial detention as a means to punish him for his views. Somyot was denied bail eight times during the course of his 20-month pretrial detention [other sources say 12 times]. He was compelled to appear in shackles in hearings in four different provinces for the same alleged offense, even though all the witnesses resided in Bangkok.

HRW also adds some well-known context:

From 1990 to 2005, the Thai court system received only about four or five lese majesty cases per year. In the period from January 2006 to May 2011, however, there was a surge when more than 400 cases were brought to trial. While the prosecutions for lese majeste have declined since Yingluck Shinawatra took office in 2011, Thai authorities continue to use draconian statutes in the Penal Code and the Computer Crime Act to restrict freedom of expression, including on the internet. Thousands of websites have been blocked as “offensive to the monarchy.”

However, the claim that: “Neither the king nor any member of the royal family has ever personally filed any lese majeste charges” is neither here nor there as they are unable to do this. That said, while usually hushed up, it is known that the Royal Household and Privy Council participate in some legal actions on lese majeste.

Misreading lese majeste

29 11 2012

At the Asia-Pacific Memo that comes out of the Institute of Asian Research at Canada’s University of British Columbia there is a post by Kieran Bergmann who is said to be “the Google Policy Fellow at the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. She previously worked at the Canadian Embassy to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos.”

Bergmann’s post is on lese majeste. Unfortunately, the post misrepresents the current situation in Thailand. This misrepresentation is little different from similar misrepresentations by the likes of Human Rights Watch.

Bergmann has much in the post that is accurate, “a surge in prosecution of these ‘lèse-majesté’ cases – some estimated as high as 1,500 per cent.” The data is pretty much correct:

In 2006, only 30 such charges were filed. In 2007, the year the Computer Crimes Act was adopted, 126 charges were filed. In 2010, a whopping 478 charges were filed. I found that the lack of clarity surrounding these laws and the very real threat of prosecution prompts many Thai commentators and editors to exercise self censorship.

The misrepresentation relates to the period after the July 2011 election. Bergmann states: “When the current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected in July 2011, there was hope that the number of such charges would drop…. But the government has ramped up its efforts.”

The fact is that charges, prosecutions, and jailings have declined. It is true that the government talked up its commitment to the monarchy and its “protection,” a point PPT has made. However, it is incorrect to equate this government’s actions in any way with the remarkably frenzied use of lese majeste and related laws against political opponents by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and the military following the 2006 military coup.

Put simply, the evidence for “ramping up” on lese majeste under the Yingluck Shinawatra government is non-existent. While PPT would like the government to do more to free those held on political charges and to get rid of this feudal law, this isn’t the anything like a claim that the present government is “ramping up.”

Updated: Difference II

15 11 2012

Human Rights Watch has issued unsolicited advice to U.S. President Barack Obama for his Thailand visit. They want him to raise “concerns about Thailand’s human rights record during meetings with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok…”, demanding that he “doesn’t … tread lightly” and be “frank and forthright in raising concerns.”

The concerns expressed by HRW begin with “abuses by the military and police in Thailand’s southern border provinces…. Thai security personnel have been implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.”

It also notes that: “While abuses have declined since Yingluck took office in August 2011, no security forces personnel have been prosecuted for past or recent human rights abuses.”

HRW then argues that the:

right to freedom of expression, including on the internet, has become an increasing concern in recent years…. Thai authorities continue to bring prosecutions against individuals deemed to be critical of the Thai monarchy under the country’s lese majeste laws, as well as against activists, journalists, and academics critical of the government….

HRW should also note that prosecutions have declined since Yingluck took office in August 2011.

That “Thailand’s lese majeste laws are being used to create a climate of fear and self-censorship,” is not in dispute, but as we pointed out yesterday, some aspects of this regime of censorship are getting somewhat better. That lese majeste continues to be untouchable owes something to the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and to opposition to the government from the Democrat Party, the military, royalists and ultra-royalists.

PPT agrees with HRW that: “Those found responsible for bloodshed should be held accountable for their actions,” although we are not clear on the claim that some are about to be “allowed to cut deals in the interest of escaping accountability.” As far as we are aware, to date, only red shirts have been arrested and jailed for alleged acts in this period.

Update: A reader chastises us for going too easy on HRW. The reader is right. Where is HRW calling on Obama to demand the release of real, actual prisoners, locked up for years already on ridiculous lese majeste charges? HRW should be demanding the release of Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, Somyos Pruksakasemsuk and others.


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