Updated: On not doing the human thing

20 02 2019

This is likely our last PPT post on the Hakeem al-Araibi case. Our last post was about failures on the Thai side.

Until now, we had not seen an admission of fault by the Australian side for its role in passing on information to the Thai authorities based on an Interpol Red Notice that should never have been issued and that should have been trumped by the Australian government’s acceptance of Hakeem as a refugee.

Fronting parliament – that would be an innovation in Thailand – Australian Border Force officials have had to admit “human error” in the Hakeem case, “saying processes that might have prevented him from being detained in Thailand ‘broke down’.”

But as seems all too common in security agencies with bloated power, Commissioner Michael Outram seemed to refuse to accept full responsibility.

Hakeem spent “spent two months in a Bangkok prison after having an Interpol red notice issued against him, despite being recognised as a refugee,” but the commissioner backed away from taking responsibility: “Asked if he would like to apologise to Mr al-Araibi, Mr Outram said he could not say whether the mistake directly led to his detention.” He went on:

But to offer an apology for him that would say that I’m accepting that the outcome, what happened in Thailand, was entirely due to that error. I can’t say that without speculating.

Such disingenuous is a feature of belligerent security agencies, as is well known in Thailand.

Outram told the Senate hearing that “ABF staff regularly received red notice information from the AFP [Australian Federal Police] which they then needed to cross-check against other government information, a process which could take 14 days.”

It remains unclear why more care was not taken in reporting Hakeem to the Thai authorities. “Human error,” perhaps, but undue haste as well. Why?

Have heads rolled? No. Impunity  is not just a Thai phenomenon. In the West it is made worse by ridiculous managerial-speak.

The best Commissioner Outram could do was apologize that “an error occurred within Border Force and that is something that we’re taking very seriously…”. But they are not taking Hakeem’s personal distress very seriously. Can he take legal action?

Managerial-speak went berserk when “secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, told the hearing his department was looking at ways of using ‘sophisticated algorithms and data matching’ to automate the process.” He buried it all with this nonsensical prose:

But to accelerate that program would mean that other programs potentially are not funded equally, to an equal level of priority and it’s a question of then managing those priorities…,

Just saying sorry to Hakeem would have been a human thing to do.

Update: It is good to see that that Amnesty International Australia “has called for the Australian government to conduct an independent investigation into what it called ‘a monumental mistake’ that led to the much-publicised arrest and detention” of Hakeem in Thailand. Amnesty’s Tim O’Connor declared:

It is absolutely unacceptable that Hakeem, a completely innocent man supposedly under the Australian government’s care, was detained for 76 days in Thailand in fear for his life simply because someone at Border Force forgot to send an email….

Abuse of power over many decades

15 12 2018

A couple of days ago, The Nation reported that the  National Human Rights Commission Chair What Tingsamitr, recalling that Thailand had been one of the first nations to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, continues to have a serious human rights  problem.

While What mentioned several groups “responsible” for for human rights abuses, this was a remarkable effort to deflect attention from the main perpetrators. In fact, What had to admit that “state officials commit 90 per cent of human rights violations…”.

What appeared to want to whitewash this basic fact, babbling about “misunderstandings” and “different definitions” of human rights.

However, “Cross Cultural Foundation director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet argued that the root of the problem did not lie in misunderstandings, but came from the abuse of power and an absence of the rule of law.”

Pornpen got to the point that What preferred to avoid:

It is clear that most of the rights violations in Thailand occur in the same pattern – officials violating the rights of people. We have witnessed that again and again. When someone opposes the government and their policies, state officials turn on these people….

She cited several examples of oppression under the current military junta, noting that “rights violations against those who oppose the authorities are far more severe in cases related to the stability of the state and the monarchy.”

Pornpen observed that “key problems include a lack of proper investigation, court litigation and punishment against officers who commit these crimes.” That is, impunity, adding that violations and impunity are abetted by “a partisan culture within the justice system, which allows so many offending officers to walk free and even keep their job in official agencies.”

This situation has existed for decades. However, under the junta, Pornpen concluded, “the problem of human rights violation by the state … is worse than ever…”.

Military responsible for torture and murder in its own ranks

10 11 2018

Under the military dictatorship, the National Human Rights Commission is a neutered agency. Its fall into non-independence can be traced to a series of events over the period of political conflict, but most notably its alliance with the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime in 2009-11 when stewarded by Amara Pongsapich,. Her tenure at the helm of the NHRC was a disaster for human rights in Thailand.

Even so, there are odd rays of light from the NHRC. Most recently, The Nation reports that the military’s “beating of military draftees is a violation of their rights” according to the NHRC. It has “called on the Army to set guidelines for appropriate ways to punish infractions.” It also called for “regulations establishing the level of aid and remedial measures given the families of soldiers injured or killed while being punished.”

That last bit is an admission that the military continues to kill recruits in using enhanced disciplinary measures that have been most recently defended by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. Essentially, they have claimed that recruits who die are simply not tough enough.

The NHRC findings result from “an NHRC probe into two recent cases – the caning and kicking of a soldier at the Royal Thai Army Cavalry Centre in November 2016 and the fatal beating of conscripted Private Yuthinan Boonniam at a military detention facility in Surat Thani in April 2017.”

These cases amount to torture and murder.

The military brass involved is protected by the impunity attached to the men with weapons.

Tortured confessions

27 09 2018

As we have posted previously, torture is a standard practice among Thailand’s police and military when dealing with “suspects.” A year or so ago we had this:

… the Bangkok Post reported on the military dictatorship’s puppet National Legislative Assembly having “dropped legislation to criminalise torture and disappearances after years of working on the bill…”.

The United Nations Human Rights Office and NGOs reported on this.

Because Thailand has long been dominated by the military, torture is not only “not a criminal offence … and perpetrators cannot be prosecuted,” but it is essentially standard practice among the military and police.

Torture as used by the current regime ranges from the blatant use of torture such as beating, choking and electric shocks when persons are taken into custody to deliberately delayed, long, drawn-out and secret trials of lese majeste suspects who are often shackled.

In an editorial, the Bangkok Post commented on another case of tortured confessions being accepted by the courts. It says the ruling on Tuesday, means “the legitimacy and transparency of the military’s unusual role in the justice process has again been questioned.”

The court “convicted nine young Muslim men of plotting to set off a car bomb in the capital, based mainly on confessions made during their detention in military camps.” As we know, in most “political” cases, it is now normalized for “suspects” to be held in communicado at a military base, for them to interrogated and sometimes tortured. Some “suspects” have died in custody.

In the case of these men, they have “testified earlier they were tortured into making false confessions.” The other evidence seems to have been more-or-less non-existent.

These men say that “[d]uring their detention in military camps … they were punched, head-locked, doused or sprayed with water, or locked in cold rooms to force them into making confessions.”

The editorial observes that such “military interrogation is made possible by two orders issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) — No. 3/2015 and No. 13/2016 — which allow soldiers to arrest and detain suspects in national security cases for up to seven days without granting them access to lawyers or any other legal rights guaranteed by the normal justice process.”

It adds that over the junta’s period of dictatorship. “there have been at least 18 known cases involving allegations of torture during detention at military camps.” That’s an under-estimate. Of course, “these claims have never been seriously probed by an independent body.”

The culture of impunity allows such horrid practices normal.

Judiciary, military, impunity

20 09 2018

Under the military dictatorship the judiciary has been less interventionist that it was when it opposed elected governments. The royalist elite charged the judiciary with drawing lines in the political sand and protecting it against uppity elected governments.

But the loyal servants of monarchy and military on the bench can still be quite royally repugnant when they are told to enforce the military’s will or charge themselves as enforcers.

Sawai Thongom was shot in a 2009 protest against the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. That left him disabled. Later, a “court ruled the armed forces must pay him 1.2 million baht…”.

Not long after that an appeals court “overturned the judgment on appeal, ruling that the bullet wounds sustained by Sawai and another injured plaintiff were caused by a type of gun not issued to soldiers.” [As far as PPT can recall, this is not the case, and the Army does have the weapon in question.]

The case went to the Supreme Court, which decided that not only was Sawai up for “over 300,000 baht in fees and damages for harming the military’s reputation.”

Yes, we know, the military’s reputation is as murderous thugs, but one of the judiciary’s tasks is to save the face of big bosses in state positions maintain the impunity of the military.

The latest twist is that not only has impunity and face been maintained, but the junta has decided to further punish the disabled Sawai; they have seized his land and his money.

In June, “all the money in his bank account, just over 5,000 baht” was grabbed by the military’s thugs. More recently, Sawai received a letter “telling him he must surrender the deed to his 8 rai (1.3 hectare) of land in … Surin province.”

The letter said his land was valued “at 460,980 baht, the letter said it would be auctioned off to compensate the military.”

Interestingly, Sawai is fighting back and is now supported by “[v]eteran political activist and former lese majeste prisoner Somyot Prueksakasemsuk [who] is helping him raise funds and file petitions.”

Somyos said:

Will citizens dare to sue the state in the future if there’s such a crackdown?… You get shot and become physically handicapped. Then you go to the court and end up having to pay the army.

Sawai is unwilling to hand over his land title. He also realizes the government can sell it regardless. He knows that he’s merely buying time for what he fears is the inevitable outcome.

The Army has been prancing about in red shirt-dominated electorates intervening in “loan sharking” and returning land to farmers. But when it comes to the “dignity” of the murderous thugs of the Royal Thai Army, there is no sympathy. Rather there is just punishment.

Justice in Thailand excludes the poor as it protects the rich, the monarchy and the military.

Sawai has another mark against him. He holds political views that irk the royalist elite. On joining the rallies in 2009, he says of the Abhisit regime: “I did not join the protest due to hatred. I just oppose a party with minority seats forming a government on a military base…”. He continued: “I am just a normal person who, unarmed and wearing a Redshirt, exercised my rights to sue the armed forces…”.

It seems that no such right exists. Impunity remain intact.

Thugs protecting thugs

23 08 2018

As readers know, repeated questions have been raised since December 2018 regarding Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury watches. Readers will also know that the National Anti-Corruption Commission has tried to stall, obfuscate and cover-up for the boss. And readers probably realize that Gen Prawit is pretty pissed that anyone can question him. After all, he’s a big boss and the little people should steer clear of him and the idea that they criticize him is just unheard of.

In this context and the glacial move towards holding the junta’s rigged election, it seems like Gen Prawit is so pissed that it has caused some to use trusted and tried measures that use threats and actual violence to silence critics.

Former lese majeste prisoner and political activist Akechai Hongkangwarn has been maintaining pressure on the need to properly investigate the general’s watch collection. In many places, that would be a reasonable thing to call for. In authoritarian states it has negative consequences for those calling the the legal system to operate as it is meant to. In a military dictatorship, the dinosaurs at the top will resort to the most base of measures, not unlike Mafia tactics.

And so it is that Akechai, after having been “visited” by police, detained, arrested and charged is showing that he has not learned the Deputy Dictator’s lessons. What happens next is the resort to base and blunt threats and intimidation; these are tactics learned in military service in dealing with underlings and little people who cause trouble.

A couple of weeks ago, Akechai was attacked by “unidentified assailants [who] threw fermented fish at him while he was walking to conduct a one-man protest [on Prawit and his watches] outside the Government House.” Fermented fish has been used in other politically-motivated attacks in Thailand, and as well as being very smelly can cause damage to eyes.

Akechai filed a complaint with the police after “two attackers wearing motorcycle helmets threw a bucket of foul-smelling pla ra on him at a bus stop before speeding away on a motorbike.” Men on motorcycles is a well-rehearsed modus operandi. The activist guessed that the assailants acted “on behalf of deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan, who Ekachai believes wants to silence his near-daily protest.” He added: “I’m not saying Khun Prawit is behind this. It was probably his underlings…. They were probably angry at me for messing with their boss.”

So angry it seems that they have gone a step further, leaving Akechai bloodied after “a group of men … attacked him with a sharpened wooden plank.” He said “three men on motorcycles ambushed him in front of his home at about noon as he was returning from protesting deputy junta leader Prawit Wongsuwan. He said he was struck four times, and many witnesses saw the attack.”

Akechai gets the message and understands the danger, but should thugs acting in the interests of the Deputy Dictator have impunity to attack solitary protesters in this way? Under the military dictatorship they clearly do have impunity. Thugs protect thugs.

Updated: Manipulating laws

1 08 2018

PPT has had numerous posts since the (illegal) 2014 coup on how the military junta abuses the law. These posts have included the political use of courts, using military courts, abuse of lese majeste, impunity,  corruption ignored, and more.

One of the defining characteristics of military dictatorship is the political use of law: what the dictatorship does is legal (or ignored) and what opponents do is illegal.

Two recent reports highlight these double standards.

In the first, with just 5 of the 7 new members of the Election Commission selected and approved, the mini-EC is to meet “to select a new chairman Tuesday, although some experts have warned such a move could be illegal.”

In the junta’s 2017 constitution, the EC is mentioned dozens of times as having particular roles to play in all things electoral. It is a necessary for the EC to be in place and operating for elections to take place.

With just five members approved by the puppet National Legislative Assembly but, “whose appointments have yet to be submitted for royal endorsement,” this non-EC  “will meet to discuss how to choose the EC chairman and then proceed with choosing someone — probably from among their own ranks.”

We say “non-EC” because Article 222. “The Election Commission consists of seven commissioners appointed by the King upon the advice of the Senate…”. (In the first instance, with no Senate, it is the NLA.)

That is, not just 5 as-yet-unapproved members.

Confirming the position is only held after appointment by the king, Article 223 states: “The Election Commissioners shall hold office for a term of seven years as from the date of appointment by the King…”.

In other words, any actions taken by cannot be considered legal (unless the junta deems it legal).

The “secretary-general of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), insisted the action would not contravene Section 12 of a law governing the poll agency, as some have suggested.” Perhaps he’s also thinking of Article 223 which also states:

During the period in which an Election Commissioner vacates office prior to the expiration of the term and an Election Commissioner has not yet been appointed to fill the vacancy, the remaining Election Commission may continue to perform duties. However, if there are fewer than four Election Commissioners remaining, the Election Commission may carry out only an act which is necessary and unavoidable….

Yet is is not clear that selecting a chairman is “necessary and unavoidable.” It is even less likely that this can be done by EC commissioners who have not been appointed by the king.

Law professor and constitution drafter Jade Donavanik has “warned that picking a chairman from among the EC members could be a breach of the law.” He claims the “law states that the first chairman to be named since it was enacted can only be chosen after all seven election commissioners have been installed.”

By choosing a chair before being officially appointed and without two commissioners is clearly dubious. The idea that two foundation commissioners are deprived of the right to participate in selecting a chairman or from being chairman is also dubious.

There are various ways of considering how this dubious process impacts the junta. If the EC awaits the two other commissioners being appointed and also awaits the royal endorsement, then presumably the “election” is delayed further. That might suit the junta. But, then, it might be that the EC and its selected chairman, if done by the 5 commissioners (whether royally appointed or not), can be challenged in the courts and the whole “election” process thrown out. That might suit the junta. But if the junta does think it is ready for its “election,” then it may want it to go ahead.

In the end, the junta will probably decide what it wants and make that legal.

The second story involves the junta itself filing a computer crimes charge against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward “Party” (still to be approved as a party by the EC).

The “accusation came after Mr Thanathorn and two others broadcast live on ‘The Future We Want’ and ‘Thanathorn Juangroongraungkit’ Facebook pages.”

What has caused the junta to get prickly? It seems the Facebook broadcast involved “commentators allegedly implicat[ing] the NCPO [junta] when they talked about the luring of former MPs by using the lawsuits against them as a bargaining chip.”

That point has been made by several others, including Abhisit Vejjajiva.

It is also suggested that the “commentators also asked their Facebook followers to sign up to ‘revamp the judicial system’.” That must be the junta’s judicial system.

On the first concoction-cum-complaint, as Thanathorn makes clear, ” it’s common knowledge. I have no intention to accuse or tarnish the NCPO but its action shows it had really done it and views us as an enemy.” He added that he also had “first-hand information on such offers from a number of ex-MPs who were approached.”

The junta, operating illegally through intermediaries who are recruiting for the junta’s Palang Pracharath, maintains the fiction that it is not doing this. Everyone can see it, it is widely reported, but the junta demures.

The junta’s minion Col Burin Thongprapai, who filed the complaint two weeks ago, states: “Mr Thanathorn mentioned the NCPO, which is a distortion of facts and an accusation against the NCPO. It’s also an attack on the judicial system.”

He said the junta had ordered-asked the police to take action.

The law can be whatever the junta wants t to be and it uses it freely and abusively to eliminate and hobble its political opponents. But that’s what you get when you have an arrogant and corrupt military dictatorship.

Update: The (non-)EC went ahead an “elected” a chairman. Now we await the ramifications. Maybe it will be like “investigating” the Deputy Dictator and will melt to nothingness? According to another report, junta minions explain the “need” for a chairman as urgent because of the “need” for an “election” sometime “soon.”

Meanwhile Thanathorn is defiant of the junta. He has rejected the charges against him, saying “he would continue making comments on political issues in his regular online broadcasts through his Facebook fan page.” He added, “It’s the right of everyone…”. Using the term “right” places him in conflict with the junta which prefers duties and obedience to rights. And, stating the obvious, Thanathorn said: “The NCPO used its power to suppress the public who have political views that differ from its own…”.