Updated: Yet another cover-up

5 03 2021

Readers will know that Facebook recently removed 185 accounts and groups it considered part of an information-influencing operation run by the military, mainly directed to the southern conflict. The network engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour.” It “included 77 accounts, 72 pages and 18 groups on Facebook and 18 accounts on Instagram…”.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of Cybersecurity Policy, stated: “We found clear links between this operation and the Internal Security Operations Command. We can see that all of these accounts and groups are tied together as part of this operation.” The Facebook report said that the “network” attempted to conceal identities and coordination, and posted primarily in Thai about news and current events, including content in support of the Thai military and the monarchy.”

The dodos at the top of the military used the usual strategy: lies and denial. According to ISOC spokesman Maj Gen. Thanathip Sawangsang:

ISOC is not aware of the takedown of the Facebook accounts as reported in the news. Those were personal accounts not related to ISOC…. ISOC also doesn’t engage in operations as reported in the news. We act as a centre for coordination to provide relief and refuge to the people.

No one believes him, but that’s not the point. Political dolts everywhere have learned that lies are all that is needed to deflect criticism, begin a cover-up, and maintain the deceit.

And, like clockwork, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has sprung into cover-up action. The unelected prime minister, the assassin, the coup master, The Dictator and election rigger ordered an “investigation.” And who better for that task than those accused? That seems like the perfect way to cover this up. Gen Prayuth “has assigned the Royal Thai Army to investigate…”. He declared: “Facebook took action like this. It can be interpreted in many ways. We must make it clear…”. What he means is that we must cover up.

This is the second removal of military accounts associated with information operations and covert online warfare. Back then they lied and covered-up as well and nothing happened. Business as usual. We expect the same from these revelations.

Update: A reader points out that we missed an obvious point: getting the Army to investigate itself is a non-investigation. Indeed it is, but it is a tried and trusted maneuver by Thailand’s military bosses. The result is inevitably a cover-up.





King, regime and royalists

23 10 2020

King Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and other members of the royal family have thrown their support behind royalists. Of course, it is natural for the royals to support those who support them. But in the current political climate, this is a statement of the palace’s position. That position is, naturally enough, to oppose those who challenge the king and his palace to reform and become a proper constitutional monarch.

We think this public statement of support for ultra-royalists ranks with previous royal political interventions such as Vajiralongkorn’s support of ultra-royalists in 1976 and the then queen’s attendance at a yellow shirt’s funeral in 2008.

Social media has several video renderings of the royals greeting an arranged crown of yellow-shirted royalists. The picture here is clipped from Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Facebook page.

This royal outing is a part of the regime’s plan to break the protesters. In our previous post, PPT stated: “PPT looks at the “break” from protests and sees the regime gaining time for organizing rightists and royalists.”

Erich Parpart at Thai Enquirer seems to agree: “What if the removal of the emergency decree wasn’t the government backing down but mobilizing royalist forces.” He says:

The severe state of emergency decree was lifted not because Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s wanted to back down.

It was actually the first step to revitalize the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and mobilize extreme royalist groups against the student-led pro-democracy movement….

The prime minister, Chuan Leekpai, the house speaker, and Wissanu Krea-ngam, the deputy prime minister, are all stalling for time….

There are already PDRC members out on the streets harassing pro-democracy protestors including groups led by Tossapol Manunrat from Acheewa Chuay Chart, Police Major General Rienthong Nanna, and Suwit Thongprasert who is also known as Buddha Issara. It’s like a PDRC reunion.

They are not out and about to protect the monarchy, they are out and about to intimidate pro-democracy protestors and to protect Prayut.

In addition, there are reports that Army boss Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae has shown his support for Gen Prayuth’s regime. Of course, many of the yellow shirt groups owe their existence to the Army and ISOC.

The messages from the king, the Army and the regime to the protesters is that they must back down. If they don’t, expect the regime to mobilize yellow shirts for violent confrontation.





False promises I

3 10 2020

Like so many of his predecessors, newly-appointed army chief Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae has insisted his Army will not be politically engaged. He is reported as stating: “The military will not get involved in politics. I will only answer questions about the army’s affairs.”

This is a lie.

The military and especially the Army is always involved in politics. At the most basic level, Gen Narongphan automatically has a seat in the unelected Senate. That Senate maintains a regime that was put in place by the 2014 military coup and was established by the military junta’s 2017 constitution. ISOC, the Internal Security Operations Command, links the military and civilian administration making it, as Puangthong Pawakapan says, “a counter-democracy agency.”  Its well-funded operations parallel civilian agencies and has a countrywide network of agents and officials.

It is also a lie in Gen Narongphan’s own words.

He has said:

“Protecting the monarchy with absolute loyalty and supporting the government to resolve national problems and working to advance the country are honourable tasks for [the generals],” Gen Narongphan said at a ceremony to bid farewell to retiring army generals at its headquarters on Sept 23.

“We faithfully pledge to carry [Thai] ideologies and perform our duties to the best of abilities to ensure peace in society and foster national unity and support the country’s government,” he added.

Every word in this is political.

And, by supporting the monarchy, he supports the status quo and places the military as the protector of monarchy and ruling class.

Gen Narongphan is an ardent royalist who has served as commander of the Royal Guards 904, reporting to the king. He’s completed the king’s special training and is a “red-rim soldier fraternity, specially trained to serve as Royal Guards. Those who pass the elite training programme are given a T-shirt with a red rim to signify their completion of the programme.”





Hardening lines II

16 08 2020

With another student-led gathering planned for today, rightist ultra-royalists are networking in opposition.

Thai Post reproduces a letter being circulated to oppose the students and their ten demands. This group appears to be the handiwork of Tul Sitthisomwong, the Chulalongkorn University medical faculty lecturer who has quite a history.

Clipped from The Nation several years ago

We think PPT’s first mention of Tul was in early April 2010 when he was a part of a pink shirt – channeling the king – rally, opposing red shirts. Abhisit Vejjajiva, then premier, gave them lots of support. At the time, Tul claimed that the group saw “themselves as a civic group opposing the offensive attempts against the monarchy, an unjustified snap election and runaway protests disrupting normalcy and peace.” Despite his claims that the pink shirts were not linked to the People’s Alliance for Democracy, Tul acted as a representative and member of PAD. The pink shirts later morphed into the “multicoloured- shirt group” and the “Citizen Protecting Homeland Group” or sometimes rendered “Citizen Network for Protection of Motherland.” In 2012, royalists including Tul cheered two thugs who had beaten up Nitirat’s Worachet Pakeerut because he called for reform of the lese majeste law. In 2013-14, Tul Sitthisomwong joined People’s Democratic Reform Committee rallies.

In other words, Tul’s has been around at the beginning of every royalist movements since the mid-2000s. His beffuddled understanding of monarchy is reproduced here.

The mobilizing of ultra-royalists has been a task often assigned to the Internal Security Operations Command, and has often been a precursor to increased political conflict.

While ultra-royalists are organizing, the media is being censored. In a remarkable op-ed at Khaosod, on the divide between youngsters and the old man royalist-military elite, Pravit Rojanaphruk demonstrates censorship.

The demands are listed here.

Meanwhile, universities have been ordered to prevent students from expressing their views on the monarchy.

Former communist, former academic, former failed politician, opportunist, bow-tied buffoon, and newly appointed Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Anek Laothamatas demanded universities fall into line on royalist boundary riding and indoctrination:

Universities must be strict with their students in this respect and they must take responsibility if they fail to act, Mr Anek said.

“Teachers must explain to their students how important the monarchy is. Thailand has a constitutional monarchy. We must work together to prevent students and outsiders from insulting the monarchy. You can’t afford to turn a blind eye,” Mr Anek said.

Those present at the meeting included the presidents of Chulalongkorn University, Kasetsart University, Thammasat University, Chiang Mai University, Khon Kaen University, and Silpakorn University.

We imagine that this hardening of response, including arrests, represents the regime’s response to “royal advice” received during the king’s few hours in Bangkok earlier in the week.





Seeking to strangle protest I

4 08 2020

A couple of reports in Prachatai, both drawing on Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, show how the regime is seeking to snuff out youth-led protest. We will have two posts on these reports.

According to TLHR, “there have been at least 75 announcements about plans to organize a protest and public activity in 44 provinces across the country to support the Free Youth group’s demands.”

It states that:

the rise of protests and political expressions in public has prompted interventions from state officials who tracked down, harassed, and suppressed protest leaders and participants in many places. Out of at least 76 planned activities, five could not be organized….

It notes the measures used by the authorities to harass and repress:

  • Before protests, officials including the police, Special Branch officers track down students and others “seeking information.” An aim of this is to gather intelligence and it is also meant o show that the authorities “know” who is involved, “warning, suppressing, and intimidating protest organizers, participants, and other related parties…”. In several cases, “plainclothes officers reportedly threatened to take some protest organizers to a police station without an official warrant.” This is meant to intimidate and demonstrate the state’s power while collecting intelligence.
  • At the protests, “state officials put up posters, handed out pamphlets, or made announcements using an amplifier to threaten the protestors that their activities might constitute a violation of the law.” In addition, police “take photos of the demonstrations.” They “target specific individuals during these recent flash mob rallies and tended to take pictures of those holding protest signs…”. In several cases, “military officers and officials from the Internal Security Operations Command in some provinces attended the protests to observe and record the activities.”
  • The authorities seek “to obstruct protestors in some provinces from using their intended venues by blocking them from those areas and causing them to move their activities elsewhere.”
  • Despite earlier claims/lies by Gen Somsak Roongsita, secretary-general of the National Security Council that the emergency decree was not to “ban gatherings [he said] to prove our sincere intention for disease control,” the authorities have regularly used the decree against protesters. TLHR reports that: “Four university students who gave speeches during the #ChiangMaiWillNotTakeThisAnyMoreToo activity … were summonsed to Chiang Mai Provincial Police Station to acknowledge their charges under the Emergency Decree and the Communicable Diseases Act.”
  • At protests, “authorities [have] … confiscated … protest signs during the demonstration. In some cases, they arrested the protestors, put their information in an ‘interrogative record,’ and seized the signs…”.
  • After protests and rallies, police and military have trailed “some protestors backed to their home, especially those who held up protest signs.” They tell the protestors to stop using the signs when they are considered to be “sensitive” – meaning being about the monarchy. Usually these officials “recorded the protestors’ personal information and took their photos.”
  • At schools and universities, administrators “took the lead to undertake measures for suppressing and threatening their students.” Several institutions “prevented the student protestors from using their campus ground as a protest venue and ordered their students to refrain from organizing or participating in a public assembly.” Schools and universities have also “prohibited their students from participating in any rally.” Administrators also collaborate with the authorities, [illegally] providing them with the personal information of their students.

TLHR concludes:

The attempts to suppress, pressure, and intimidate protestors constitute an attack on peaceful expressions of opinions and unarmed demonstrations, which are the rights enshrined in the 2017 Constitution. Several of these attempts had no legal basis; they merely exploited people’s gaps in knowledge to undermine the power of free expressions.





Madness and monarchy

18 07 2020

A few days ago, PPT posted on the disturbing account of Tiwagorn Withiton’s forcible incarceration in a Khon Kaen psychiatric hospital on 9 July, Tiwagorn is the Facebook user who went post a picture of himself wearing a shirt printed with “I lost faith in the monarchy.”

Reuters reports that his case is not being ignored. It says a “small group of Thai activists protested at a psychiatric hospital on Friday…”. More than a dozen protesters called for his release at the hospital, described as “a rare sign of public support for someone who has openly criticised the monarchy.”

In response, Khon Kaen’s police chief Maj Gen Puttipong Musiku, told Reuters: “He is getting treatment, his relatives had him admitted…”. The police chief was supported Nattakorn Champathong, director of hospital who “told Reuters that Tiwagorn had not been forced to enter the hospital.”.

However, human rights lawyer “Yingcheep Atchanont, who visited Tiwagorn on Monday, told Reuters he believed the engineer had been held against his will at the hospital since July 9.”

Former political prisoner Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, himself a victim of the lese majeste law, also called for Tiwagorn’s release.

According to Prachatai, “[b]oth Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and the Student Union of Thailand (SUT) have issued statements calling for the release…”.

In a report at the Bangkok Post it is reported that, so far, “[n]o charges have been pressed against [Tiwagorn]…”. He remained under medical “assessment” at the hospital.

In response to official claims, Tiwagorn’s mother “said officials turned up at his home on July 9 to arrest him…. She said although she was some distance away her son appeared to resist being arrested before being bundled into a hospital vehicle.”

Pointing to the reason for Tiwagorn being dragged to a psychiatric hospital, TLHR state:

… that the police do not have the authority to press charges against Tiwagorn, as the sentence “I lost faith in the monarchy” does not count as defamation, an insult, or a threat under Section 112 of the Criminal Code. It also does not count as sedition under Section 116, or as any kind of computer data listed under Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act.

TLHR adds that the official claims about Tiwagorn are concocted nonsense:

as Tiwagorn had to be carried out of his house by 6 officers, it is evident that he did not consent to being admitted. The fact that the police took around 10 vehicles to Tiwagorn’s house without a request from his family could also mean that his family is not able to tell the authorities what they really want.

It also accused the police of unlawful actions in arbitrarily detaining Tiwagorn:

… there is no reason why the police had to confiscate Tiwagorn’s computer and mobile phone, because they have nothing to do with medical treatment. TLHR believes that searching and confiscating objects without a warrant and without pressing charges is not lawful.

It might have been added that the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) was also involved in Tiwagorn’s detention, emphasizing the political nature of the regime’s actions. Police and military, along with complicit medical officials effectively forced him to hospital and forced his mother to “consent” to this abduction.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, writing an op-ed at Prachatai rather than Khaosod, makes it clear that this is lese majeste by another name: “Instead of using the controversial and anachronistic law, a man who insisted on wearing a controversial T-shirt was forcibly taken to a psychiatric hospital.”

Pravit takes the issue to a broader context:

Although Section 6 of the Constitution requires Thais to hold the monarchy in reverence, it’s clear that some Thais can no longer keep on pretending. Some fled abroad, and a few of these end up mysteriously disappearing while in exile. And if you are still inside Thailand, they may put you inside a mad house as occurred to Tiwagorn.

Tiwagorn was right, we cannot force people to hold on to faith when it’s no longer there.

He adds:

Losing faith in the institution of the monarchy is not a mental illness. A society which puts someone who loses faith inside a psychiatric hospital is mad.

Only a mad society would accuse someone who refuses to toe the line of being insane and keep him inside a madhouse.





Monarchy, losing faith and “insanity”

14 07 2020

Prachatai has a most disturbing story regarding Tiwagorn Withiton, a Facebook user in Khon Kaen “who went viral for posting a picture of himself wearing a shirt printed with ‘I lost faith in the monarchy’,” who has been “forcibly taken by police officers and admitted” to psychiatric hospital on 9 July.

The worrying details are at Prachatai. PPT will simply note that police and other officials convinced his mother to consent to his removal despite Tiwagorn’s opposition. He was carried out of his house by a group of officers. His hands were bound and he was administered injections. Police searched his house and took away his computer and mobile phone.

Tiwagorn is under police guard. Prachatai reports that his:

last Facebook post before he was taken to the hospital said that he was visited by 6 medical personnel and an officer from Internal Security Operations Command, who asked him questions to assess his mental health. He said that the conversation lasted around 30 minutes, and that he told the psychiatric official that “I well understand that it is political to have to make people think I’m insane. I won’t hold it against the officials if there is a diagnosis that I’m insane, because I take it that they have to follow orders.”

On the king’s order, lese majeste is not being used. Yet the royalist state still silences those who deviate from the “we love the king” official narrative. And, even if Tiwagorn does suffer depression or something similar, being medically ill has seldom prevented the royalist state from taking legal action against those dissenting on the monarchy.





Further updated: It is still a military regime VIII

28 06 2020

Perhaps the most concerning story we have seen for a while was in the Bangkok Post today.

Wassana Nanuam produced yet another of her regular propaganda pieces for the military. In among all the buffalo manure about what a great job the military has been doing (sans creating Thailand’s largest virus cluster, a mass shooting in Korat, trying to jail whistleblowers, destroying historical monuments, overthrowing elected governments, murdering civilians, etc.), there’s a note that Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol has declared the ongoing need “for the military to assist the government in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus…”. That there’s essentially no local virus transmission seems not to be an issue in deciding that the the military should be in control. The general was meeting with the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and the armed forces.

Clipped from Straits Times

Really worrying, though, is the decision to have military personnel “provide support to schools when they reopen on Wednesday, in ensuring social distancing and disease control measures laid down by the Public Health Ministry are observed.” The idea of soldiers being embedded in schools is just another step in establishing the dominance of the military over all of society.

Update 1: Not on schools, but on the military-backed regime’s repression, we were interested to read that the regime’s thugs continue to stalk political opponents. Such measures are threats. When the threats are considered to have failed, the regime’s next step has tended to be to have the thugs bash the opponent.

Update 2: Continuing the military thugs’ stalking of political opponents, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports on Nattathida Meewangpla. The story they tell is remarkably similar to that in Update 1. It seems that the military thugs have not left her alone – that is, unthreatened – since she was finally bailed out of prison in 2018.





Preparing for (more) repression

15 06 2020

Increased repression is in the works.

One indication is that police “have summonsed at least three people to answer charges of violating the Emergency Decree in connection with a recent gathering to demand a probe into the [enforced] disappearance in Cambodia of pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit.” (One of those to be charged is Chotisak Onsoong.)

Keeping the emergency decree in place is a part of the ongoing repression.

Another indication is that the Bangkok Post reports the “Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) will carry out a major drill next month aimed at testing its new internal security plan…”. ISOC’s targets are always opponents of the regime and the monarchy.

Prawit and Prayuth

A third indication has to do with the military bosses in the regime strengthening its control over its Palang Pracharath Party by having Gen Prawit Wongsuwan run the show. With Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda, the trio that planned the 2014 military coup are ensuring that parliament and oppositions are kept quiescent.

Anupong

As a Bangkok Post report states: “Once firmly in control of the party, his role will further strengthen the positions of Gen Prawit himself, Prime Minister Prayut … and Interior Minister Anupong…”. The move also strengthens the military itself.

While the trio already have control, they and the Army brass are worried about rising discontent, some of it targeting the absent king. And, they plan to stay around for years to come, controlling the country.





Further updated: It’s still a military regime I

12 05 2020

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha appears far more comfortable when ruling under an emergency decree. Parliament is not his thing and with it not meeting, its (limited) significance is reduced to invisibility. And, the virus crisis has (further) reduced the (limited) scrutiny he gets from the (tame) media; less than during the full-on military dictatorship.

The Dictator’s comfort zone – within the hard shell of the military – is showcased in a Khaosod report. In an odd move, Prime Minister Gen Prayuth “ordered a public survey to gather opinions on whether the emergency decree should be lifted, officials said Monday.”

It does seem strange that a “strongman” feels the need “survey” public opinion on a topic that has generally been considered a matter of science and public health. But we do know that the military junta used “surveys” to “assess” public mood. These surveys were usually conducted by the military and related bodies.

And so it is now:

National security official Gen. Somsak Rungsita said the survey will be conducted by the National Intelligence Agency and the Internal Security Operation Command. It will cover questions regarding the next phase of business reopenings and public opinion on emergency decree, he said.

Yes, the emergency decree. If those junta/military-backed agencies show that “people” are “happy” for the generals and their minions to bungle on under strict controls, then we might expect the emergency decree to be extended beyond the end of May.

Reassuringly, and suggesting that the “survey” is something of a smokescreen, Gen Somsak declared: “The decree has to be eventually revoked. It can’t stay forever…”. In the usual idiotic manner of generals, he added: “Please don’t link it to politics since the enactment of emergency decree is purely for the health of citizens.” Of course, it isn’t all about health.

Even the Democrat Party’s Ong-art Klampaiboon dared suggest that “the government” of which he is a part but in which his party has no influence, “should assign academics to conduct the questionnaire instead of intelligence agencies.” We’d ask why a competent government even needs a survey unless it is to justify more unaccountable (military) rule.

Update 1: The regime has now denied the above report despite it being clear that the earlier reports were accurate. National Security Council secretary-general Gen Somsak Roongsita has stated “Gen Prayut[h] … does not have a policy and has not issued an order” to carry out a survey on the issue…”. Ho hum.

Update 2: Ho hum indeed! Khaosod reports that Gen Prayuth has squashed talk about the emergency decree being lifted at the end of May. The report states:

National Security Council sec-gen Gen. Somsak Roongsita also told the media on Monday that it is “highly likely” that Thailand’s State of Emergency will end on May 31, citing surveys by two intelligence agencies.

“Both agencies were quite satisfied with the overall public health and safety situations,” Somsak said. “[They] believed that the general Thais have good understandings of the need for social distance at the time of the pandemic outbreak.”

Gen Prayuth seems to want the decree in place for longer, claiming health concerns. As usual, it is confusion erring on the side of repression.