An injustice regime

21 03 2018

Justice is not a particular forte of military dictatorships. For Thailand’s variety, the emphasis is on law applied in a politicized manner and double standards, topped off with notions that the powerful should expect impunity.

A particularly egregious case, extended now over a year of mostly silence and some lies, is the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae by soldiers. PPT has regularly posted on the “investigations,” which amount to almost nothing more than cover up and lies. Such a non-response/cover-up by the authorities can be considered an admission of guilt without saying those words.

We were heartened to see both an op-ed and an editorial in the Bangkok Post recently, both drawing attention to this most obvious example of the regime’s misuse of deadly force and the military’s ingrained expectation of impunity.

As the op-ed by Paritta Wangkiat states:

We know that a bullet fired at his chest killed him. But the rest of the story has been mixed with conflicting accounts. The mystery behind his death stands as a stark reminder of how hard it is for minority and ethnic groups to obtain justice in the Land of Smiles.

Of course, it is far more than this. Any one outside the economic and political elite cannot be assured of anything approaching justice in Thailand.

In this case, there was some hope that CCTV footage would reveal the truth. Sadly and defining of impunity, we learn:

After the incident, the army delivered the camera footage in a hard disk drive to the police who proceeded with the case at Chiang Mai Provincial Court. A number of hearings have taken place since September last year. The next is scheduled for this coming Tuesday. It’s likely that the case will draw to a conclusion very soon.

However, human rights lawyer Sumitchai Hattasan, who represents Chaiyaphum’s family, said recently that it is unlikely that the prosecutor will refer to the CCTV camera footage as evidence. The Central Police Forensic Science Division has submitted a report on its examination of the army’s hard disk drive to the prosecutor, saying there was “no footage of the time of occurrence” even though the drive was running normally.

This screams cover up.

The editorial notes that “Chaiyaphum’s family … have complained of state intimidation during the investigation into the activist’s death.” It is the police, military and other authorities who intimidate.

The editorial is right to say: “The military is obliged to handle the case fairly and refrain — or abandon — any attempts at a cover-up, as this would taint the nation’s image. The slain activist and his family deserve justice, which is long overdue.”

Right, but all too weak. We can’t think of many cases involving the military and its use of murderous force that have ever been handled “fairly.”





Watching and waiting

23 02 2018

In the land of the military dictatorship, double standards are the guiding principle when it comes to law. While there were similar patterns seen in the past, it needs to be remembered that the junta seized the state in the 2014 coup and expelled an elected government publicly trumpeting the need for reform, its opposition to corruption and rule of law.

Of course, some seasoned observers knew from bitter experience that all of this was bluster and it wouldn’t be long before the nepotism, corruption, impunity and the double standards that are definitional of military regimes were seen.

While many of the junta’s anti-democrat put up with early examples of corruption (such as Rajabhakti Park) and were prepared to turn a blind eye to lese majeste repression, murder (what has happened to the evidence associated with the Chaiyapoom Pasae case?), censorship and political repression, a range of issues have seen even diehard yellow shirts turning away from the junta. These issues include: the election “delay,” double standards in the law and the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watches.

On the latter, many will be stunned to read that the National Anti-Corruption Commission continues to delay on its investigation. The NACC says that it will (again) “write to Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon in the next few days, demanding he provide specific details on how he acquired 25 luxury watches…”.

We count at least three previous letters asking for the same information.

NACC president Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, himself polluted by his relationship to the Deputy Dictator, said the “deputy premier will be asked to furnish precise details of the watches exposed in recent news reports, including the brand names, price tags and dates he wore them…”.

What did the previous letters ask for? Did they not ask for such details? If not, why not? Pol Gen Watcharapol must explain this.

The NACC has given Gen Prawit another 15 days to respond. All the other deadlines, like “election” promises, have simply been ignored.

The article suggest that Gen Prawit is not fully cooperating with the NACC. That may be so, but why is the NACC cooperating with Prawit?

On an “investigation” that the NACC recently said would be wrapped up by the end of February, Pol Gen Watcharapol now says the “issue will be clearer [next month]…”.

Unremarkably, Pol Gen Watcharapol said “the deputy premier has informed the NACC he was too busy with his duties” and that Prawit “may need some time to gather the information as some of the watches were worn a long time ago … adding he did not suspect Gen Prawit was deliberately stalling.”

It sounds like collusion and a cover up to us.

Another case that is defining of double standards is that of leopard killing and eating tycoon Premchai Karnasuta of Italian-Thai Development and dozens of other companies. Not that long ago we posted on his seeming disappearance despite ongoing investigations of his illegal hunting.

Police have now issued a second summons to Premchai and other members of his hunting party “inviting him to answer additional charges of cruelty to animals…”. All had failed to respond to the first summons. His lawyer didn’t even bother to provide a particular reason for his client’s failure to appear.

Not showing up to answer a summons is not uncommon, but this is a high-profile case and we well recall the way poor farmers were mistreated under the same laws. Not that long ago a couple of farmers were arrested by police and quickly sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced by half because they had confessed. Their “crime” was picking mushrooms from a protected forest. They did not shoot and eat  endangered animals. But the law works differently for the rich.

And so it goes on and on….





Updated: Another rich crook disappears

13 02 2018

In a post when the poaching case of Italian-Thai construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta came to light, PPT commented that we know, from bitter experience, that rich people get away with much in Thailand. We added that the notorious Red Bull case is just one of many that shows that wealth can buy much and that connections to the powerful and the paying off of officials begets impunity.

We reckoned that illegal hunter Premchai’s case was something of a test for the junta’s (in)justice system.

Looks like the system might have failed within just a few days. As charges pile up, it seems that the police have lost Premchai. A Bangkok Post report states:

Pol Maj Gen Krisana Sapdej, deputy commissioner of Provincial Police Region 7, said officials of the Western Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary filed the complaint of animal cruelty on Monday.

As the whereabouts of Mr Premchai, president of Italian-Thai Development Plc, were not known, police would send a summons this week for him to report and acknowledge the new charge, he said.

More great police work.

Readers might like to delve into the Italian-Thai corporate website and Premchai a little. The company’s website has material on corporate social responsibility, ethics, environmental concerns and more.

Premchai seems in breach of all of them. We also downloaded the 2016 annual report. There, Premchai is listed as a director of dozens of companies in Thailand and overseas. Presumably he’s in breach of ethical requirements for many of these as well.

Update: Further on ethics and environmental practices, deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul is reported as saying that Premchai and his companies “might have encroached on forest land.” The police say Premchai “owns 147 plots totalling 6,215 rai of land through C.P.K. International Co Ltd in the form of Nor Sor 3 Kor land rights documents” in the upper northeast. Like many Sino-Thai tycoons, Premchai’s ethics revolve around self-centered profit making, at any cost.





Update: A case to watch

7 02 2018

Back in May 2017, there was some media attention to this story:

How does justice work for the poor? Here’s an example:

KALASIN — A middle-aged couple appealing harsh punishment for picking mushrooms from a protected forest had their sentences reduced by 10 years by the Supreme Court on Tuesday

Udom Sirisorn and Daeng Sirisorn, 54 and 51 respectively, were handed down reduced sentences of five years by a court in Kalasin province, seven years after they were first convicted of illegal logging there.

In July, 2010, the couple had gone into Kalasin’s Dong Radaeng Forest to collect wild mushrooms for cooking. They were arrested by police and quickly sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced by half because they had confessed.

They first appealed in 2014 but a court upheld their original sentences, and the couple served 17 months in jail before being freed on bail. The controversial sentences for the couple spawned a campaign calling for their release online and complaints about the nation’s double-standard justice system.

Yes,in a case that went back to 2010, two very poor farmers were sentenced to 30 years! They served almost a year and a half before being freed on bail.

As we know from bitter experience, rich people get away with much in Thailand. And the poor get jailed. The Red Bull case is just one of many that shows that wealth can buy much and that connections to the powerful and the paying off of officials begets impunity.

This makes the poaching case of construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta so interesting and a test for the junta’s (in)justice system.

Boss of of Italian-Thai is a big deal in the business world, with impeccable connections (read his CV). For a while he was listed in the Forbes richest 50 for Thailand.

He’s used to getting his way and when he was caught red-handed poaching wildlife in the World Heritage Thungyai Naresuan sanctuary, it was a surprise. It was certainly a surprise for him as he’d have thought all his connections would have prevented any authorities getting too interested in his illegal hunting. Perhaps he’s annoyed someone.

The press says he “could face a maximum of 28 years in jail if he is found guilty…”. Let’s see. Like many of these big shots who get caught up, the initial risk is that the case will be delayed and then go quiet. That’s the cover-up even if he was caught with gun in hand and animal corpses all around him.

Remarkably, he and his three employees have denied the charges.

Premchai then lied to reporters saying he went to the wildlife sanctuary “for leisure.” His lawyer said “he was not worried about the case as Mr Premchai had nothing to do with the alleged hunting.”

That must mean the rare animals committed suicide. But this is all a part of getting off. A ridiculous story never seems to bother the rich or the authorities. Premchai probably reckons a “deal” can be done.

Plenty of officials seem to have been involved and he may have even had “permission,” and the denials that he was a VIP guest are so strident they sound fake. The impetus for a cover-up is thus even greater.

Thungyai Naresuan  has “been notorious for decades as an area where rich and powerful people enjoy poaching and game hunting.”

The case brings back memories of the hunting scandal in 1973 that led tothe then military regime losing its remaining credibility and fed into the uprising against it. Veera Prateepchaikul recalls this event.

We can only wonder if the rich will again laugh off and/or buy off the justice system.

Update: Is it a coincidence that a seemingly bogus website claiming to support Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is also about protecting forests? It says: “General Prawit Wongsuwan loves, protects and takes care of forests. That’s why we love General Prawit Wongsuwan…”.





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].”





Trigger-happy soldiers and impunity

13 01 2018

When Chaiyapoom Pasae was shot dead by soldiers it was soon revealed that there was another shooting leading to death involving Abe Sae Moo. Both cases involve soldiers accused of using excessive force. Both were separately killed at the Ban Rin Luang military checkpoint in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district. The excuses provided by  the military and backed all the way to the top was that both men resisted, ran and tried to throw a grenade at the soldiers who then shot them dead.

As far as we know, neither case has gone anywhere, the military shooters remain free and more or less unidentified and evidence remains officially hidden.

A recent case suggests that the military remains trigger-happy.

A few days ago, Khaosod reported that after initially “forgetting” to reveal that soldiers were involved, police had finally admitted that they were when Sorachai Sathitraksadumrong was shot in the head and died. Amazingly, a community leader, Wutthichai Injai, had already been arrested for the alleged crime.

Initially the police said “only civilians manned the roadblock…”, on the road between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but “Sorachai’s family and neighbors went to protest Monday at the district administrative office to demand answers and justice for his killing.” They said they knew soldiers were at the road block.

The initial police story was full of inconsistencies.

After it was admitted that soldiers were at the money-making venture road block, “all of the soldiers denied any involvement with the killing, and no witnesses [were said to have] … implicated them.” The soldiers also claimed to be unarmed.

After a while, another Khaosod report was saying that a “soldier [had] stepped forward to admit that he killed a motorist at a northern checkpoint last week…”.

The soldier was not named and remained with military, said to be “in custody.”

This admission came after “the community rallied to pressure police to come clean about what happened following the arrest of a civilian [Wutthichai] for killing the motorist.” Wutthichai was later bailed but still faces legal action.

As police “investigated,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said “the military will convene a disciplinary investigation into the shooting.”

The Bangkok Post then reported that an “army private has turned himself in to police…”:

Pvt Wanchai Champa was accompanied by his boss, Col Worathep Bunya, who commands the 17th Infantry Regiment in Phayao, to report to Provincial Police Region 5 in Chiang Mai before he was handed over to Mae Suai police for interrogation.

Wutthichai’s family have requested that “the national police to take over the case from local officers.”

Then Army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart blathered that “the fatal shooting could have stemmed from a misunderstanding by the soldier.” And he played the drug claim, also made in the earlier checkpoint killings:

He admitted he was surprised to learn that soldiers were helping local authorities man a village checkpoint. Their presence could be because of reports of drug trafficking in the area….

Whatever happened, it is clear that the military is out of control. When the military runs the country, they get even further out of control.





Justice warped

26 12 2017

It has been a considerable time since PPT has seen any reporting on the court case on the killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae. We think the last report we posted on was back in September.

Then the Bangkok Post was pointing to the case being in the courts but that the events of the killing had been muddied by the authorities, with junta cabinet ministers defending the soldier who gunned down Chaiyapoom. The “evidence” the junta’s officials and the military claimed to have was hidden, unavailable or concocted and the long-promised and much discussed CCTV footage of the shooting had not been released to the courts.

Junta “investigations” were stagnant cover ups and the case risked disappearing into thin air, the state’s usual way of maintaining impunity for its illegal acts.

In a brief update, seven months into the court case, Prachatai confirms the ongoing cover-up.

Sumitchai Hattasan, the lawyer for Chaiyapoom’s family, said that the “evidence submitted by the Army … is unusable…”. This claim relates to the continuing failure to provide the CCTV footage. The Army mumbled something about having provided it to the police but that the latter being unable to open the file.

The lawyer is now required to get the “court to order the Army to resend the footage early next year.”

What will be the next excuse? This case is one more that displays the warping the justice system.