Needing to love the military dictatorship

13 07 2018

Some pundits have wondered if the cave rescue has made the military dictatorship more popular internationally and more “electable” domestically. We don’t know the answer to those questions, but we do know that authoritarian regimes have long felt comfortable dealing with Thailand’s military junta and that the West, moving rapidly to the right, has sought to re-engage with the regime.

An op-ed – The Rest of the World Has Warmed to Thailand’s Military Rulers – by Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, addresses the “warming” to the regime that has been seen in recent times.

Despite the junta embedding itself for the long term, delaying “elections” and engaging in widespread repression, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “has been welcomed in many leading Western democracies.” Worse, he observes that “[f]rom Europe to Australia to the United States, countries have largely dropped their efforts at pressuring the Thai government [to civilianize], even while Thailand’s political crisis stretches on indefinitely.”

After the 2014 military coup, “[m]any democratic states took a relatively harsh line toward Bangkok,” that’s changed. The countries in Europe, the U.S. and Australia are now moderately supportive of Thailand’s military regime.

The Dictator and the U.S.’s Trump

President Donald Trump hosted The Dictator at the White House in October 2017. No surprise there, but the “Obama administration had already begun normalizing those military-to-military ties.”

Kurlantzick observes that “European states and other major democracies have acted similarly.” The EU re-established “all political links with Thailand” in late 2017. In March, Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed Prayuth “reversing the Australian travel ban on top junta leaders.”

The Dictator and Australia’s Turnbull

The author doesn’t note it, but Turnbull has moved rapidly to the right, adopting policies that the military regime in Thailand would appreciate.

In June, “Prayuth took his first trip to Europe since the easing of EU sanctions on Thailand. He met British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, along with a wide range of business leaders.” May heads a government that is engaged in a Brexit debate that sees the right gaining ground, recent events notwithstanding. Linked to post-Brexit needs, “Prayuth and May agreed to relaunch talks on a free trade agreement.”

The Dictator and Britain’s May

Kurlantzick observes that “[f]or all the junta’s attempts to boost its image abroad, the political environment in Thailand is still as repressive as it has been since 2014.” It is the other countries that are rushing to the right and thus having no qualms about embracing repressive military regimes.

Another factor involved has been the panic over China: “the junta has pointed to its growing ties with China, which did not condemn the coup, as a reminder to other leading powers that Thailand has alternatives for investment, aid and diplomatic and military ties.”

The Dictator with China’s Xi

This causes some Western countries to ditch human rights concerns in the interests of checking China. It’s all a bit Cold War like.

China’s influence is not new and has been on the rise in Thailand, as it has elsewhere, but the junta still craves “balancing” as much as it does “bending,” and it is the junta that has made overtures to the West.

And, as ever, business is interested in profits rather than human rights, making Thailand attractive as it is at the heart of a broader ASEAN region.

For all these reasons the West feels the need to cosy up with the nastiest of regimes.





HRW on The Dictator’s European holiday

18 06 2018

Reproduced in full from Human Rights Watch:

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron should press Thailand’s junta leader to respect human rights and ensure a rapid transition to democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut[h] Chan-ocha is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister May on June 20, 2018, in London and President Macron on June 25 in Paris.

“Prime Minister May and President Macron should strongly express their deep concerns about the deteriorating state of human rights under military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “They should make clear to General Prayut that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government, and improves respect for human rights.”

The UK and France are among major allies of Thailand that have repeatedly stated that bilateral relations will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections.

Thailand has made no progress toward becoming the rights-respecting, democratic government that General Prayut promised as the country enters its fourth year after the May 2014 coup. As chairman of Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), General Prayut wields power unhindered by administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for human rights violations. NCPO Orders 3/2015 and 13/2016 provide military authorities with powers to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and to interrogate suspects without giving them access to legal counsel, or providing safeguards against mistreatment.

General Prayut’s much touted “road map” on human rights and the return to democratic civilian rule has become meaningless. The junta’s promised election date continues to slide, making the timing wholly uncertain, and it has provided few reasons to believe that an election, if held, will be free and fair. Unless the junta lifts its severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms, Thailand’s political parties, media, and voters will not be able to participate in a genuinely democratic process.

The junta has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand. Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. Public gatherings of more than five people and pro-democracy activities are prohibited.

More than 100 pro-democracy activists have recently faced illegal assembly charges, some of whom have also been accused of sedition, for peacefully demanding that the junta should hold its promised election without further delay and that it should immediately lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Over the past four years, the military has summoned thousands of people to have their political attitudes “adjusted” and pressured to stop criticizing the junta.

Trying civilians in military courts, which lack independence and do not comply with fair trial standards, remains a major problem. In response to criticism, General Prayut in September 2016 revoked NCPO orders that empowered military courts to try civilians. But the order is not retroactive so it does not affect the more than 1,800 military court cases already brought against civilians, many of them pro-democracy activists, politicians, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

The junta has disregarded Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. Government agencies have frequently retaliated against individuals who report allegations of abuses by filing criminal charges, including for criminal defamation.

Prime Minister May and President Macron should recognize that the UK and France stand to benefit far more from a partnership with a country that respects human rights and rule of law. They should urge the Thai government to urgently:

– End the use of abusive and unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;

– End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;

– Lift the ban on political activities;

– Release all dissidents and critics detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;

– Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;

– Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards; and

– Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping criminal lawsuits against them.

“Business deals should not come at the expense of serious discussions on human rights and the junta’s tightening grip on power,” Adams said. “The UK and French governments need to press the junta to end repression so that Thailand can move toward democratic civilian rule.”





APHR on the junta 4 years after the coup

21 05 2018

A statement by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, reproduced in full and also available in Thai (คลิกที่นี่เพื่ออ่านแถลงการณ์เป็นภาษาไทย):

Thailand’s military regime should immediately lift restrictions on fundamental rights and pave the way for democratic elections as soon as possible, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.

The collective of regional lawmakers renewed their call for a prompt return to democracy a day before the fourth anniversary of the coup, which overthrew the country’s last elected civilian government.

“It is long past time that this military regime fulfills its promise to the Thai people and restores democracy. That means an immediate end to arbitrary limits on fundamental freedoms and a clear timeline for the holding of free and fair elections,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

Upon seizing power in 2014, the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was quick to suppress dissent and limit the exercise of basic political rights.

Promises by the junta to hold elections have repeatedly been broken, and restrictions remain in place on public gatherings and political activities. NCPO Order No. 3/2015 bans political gatherings of more than four people, while NCPO Order No. 57/2014 bars political parties from conducting meetings or other activities.

“These restrictions are baseless, and the junta’s justifications for instituting them have long since lost any relevance. Their perpetuation is making a mockery of the rule of law in Thailand, and they must be lifted,” Santiago said.

MPs expressed concerns over the use of these orders, as well as other statutes, such as the Computer Crimes Act and Article 116 of the Criminal Code, to crack down on dissent. Scores of peaceful protesters have been charged in recent months for staging demonstrations urging the military to make good on its promise to hold elections. In addition, last week, the NCPO brought several charges against members of the Pheu Thai political party for holding a press conference that criticized the junta’s record.

“The prosecution of activists, party members, and others merely for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights blatantly disregards Thailand’s international commitments and runs afoul of constitutional guarantees and accepted democratic norms,” Santiago said.

APHR said that the ban on political activity also prevented the development of an environment conducive to the holding of genuine elections and made it more difficult for a successful return to democracy. The rest of ASEAN is watching developments in Thailand closely, APHR warned, urging the junta to finally live up to its repeated promises to restore democratic norms and give the Thai people the right to freely choose their government.

“Political parties must have the freedom to operate. The ban on their activities should be lifted immediately and they should be allowed to fulfill their intended functions, including connecting with constituents and developing platforms and policies for the benefit of the Thai people,” said APHR Board Member Teddy Baguilat, a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines.

“If the NCPO is serious about its proposed timeline for elections, then now is the time to allow parties to resume their operations and prepare to contest the vote,” he added.

Parliamentarians reiterated additional concerns over the unlimited power to unilaterally make policy granted to NCPO leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha under Article 44 of the previous interim constitution.

“General Prayuth’s limitless authority, coupled with the junta’s repeated failure to live up to its own word, sends the concerning signal that Thailand may still be far from democracy’s return,” Baguilat said.

“If the junta is serious about fulfilling its promises, then the military must end its clampdown on fundamental freedoms and take significant steps to pave the way for Thailand’s return to a democratically elected government,” he concluded.





Further updated: Serving authoritarians and other scoundrels

26 04 2018

Only a few days ago we posted on how the military dictatorship has proven itself to have the right attitudes and ideology for dealing with other authoritarian regimes. Most especially, Thailand’s military regime has felt most comfortable in dealing with military leaders in those countries. That’s also been true of its dealing with the military in Myanmar, where bonds have been formed with another nasty military leadership.

And what nasty military types want, they get, whether Thai thugs or the military in Myanmar. A recent report, worth reading in full at The Irrawaddy, refers to “a launch event for a new report warning of a humanitarian crisis in Karen State and detailing ongoing human right abuses against local people there by the Tatmadaw [the army],” being shut down by the commander of “Thailand’s 3rd Army based in Phitsanulok, who received a letter from the Myanmar military attaché, Brigadier-General Khin Zaw…”.

The report states that:

The Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) had planned to launch its report, “The Nightmare Returns: Karen Hopes for Peace and Stability Dashed by Burma Army Actions,” at an event in Chiang Mai. The event was to include a documentary film screening, photo exhibition and two panel discussions in order to raise support for more than 2,400 Karen who have been displaced by the resumption last month of operations by the Myanmar military in northern Mutraw (Papun) district of Karen State.

It was to be at Chiang Mai University’s Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development. However, “CMU … canceled its booking at the venue. The event was moved, but had to be canceled on Wednesday morning when police showed up at the second venue.”

The Center’s director Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaputti said “the center agreed to the request [for the censorship], which was passed on by the head [rector] of the CMU.” He added that: “This is the first time an RCSD-hosted event has been blocked by officials,” and he described this as an “intervention against academic freedom.”

Of course, academic freedom has been strangled under the military junta. Embracing a military infamous for its human rights abuses seems all too normal for Thailand’s military dictatorship.

Update 1: Yet another example of how low the junta is prepared to go in supporting other authoritarians and seeking to capture republicans is revealed in the Cambodian media.

Update 2: Prachatai reports on the release of the Cambodian detainee mentioned in the report at Update 1.





Updated: A sorry story of military repression

24 04 2018

We all know that Thailand is under the military boot. The US State Department’s 2017 human rights report is now out and chronicles some aspects of the natur of military repression. We summarize and quote some parts of the report below. A general statement worth considering is this:

In addition to limitations on civil liberties imposed by the NCPO, the other most significant human rights issues included: excessive use of force by government security forces, including harassing or abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detention by government authorities; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces…; corruption; sexual exploitation of children; and trafficking in persons.

As the report notes:

Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect during the year. NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, grants the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.”

The military junta continues to detain civilians in military prisons. Some prisoners are still shackled in heavy chains.

Impunity and torture are mentioned several times as a major issue. This is important when it is noted that the number of “suspects” killed by authorities doubled in 2017.

Approximately 2,000 persons have been summoned, arrested and detained by the regime, including academics, journalists, politicians and activists. There are also “numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the military government.” Frighteningly,

NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March 2016, 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.”

Too often detainees are prevented from having legal representation and are refused bail.

The use of military courts continues:

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. In September 2016 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. According to the Judge Advocate General’s Office, military courts initiated 1,886 cases involving at least 2,408 civilian defendants since the May 2014 coup, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives. As of October approximately 369 civilian cases involving up to 450 individual defendants remained pending before military courts.

On lese majeste, the reports cites the Department of Corrections that says “there were 135 persons detained or imprisoned…”.

Censorship by the junta is extensive, with the regime having “restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it [national security and the monarchy], and media widely practiced self-censorship.” It is added that the junta “continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet and routinely censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.” In dealing with opponents and silencing them, the junta has used sedition charges.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression are extensive against those it deems political activists. This repression extends to the arts and academy:

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…. In June [2017] soldiers removed artwork from two Bangkok galleries exhibiting work depicting the 2010 military crackdown on protesters, which authorities deemed a threat to public order and national reconciliation.

It is a sorry story.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a timely editorial on torture in Thailand. Usually it is the police and military accused and guilty. This time it is the Corrections Department, which runs almost all of Thailand’s prisons. All these officials are cut from the same cloth.





Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”





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.