All that corruption

7 11 2018

We were interested in a couple of recent stories about corruption and the implications of conflicts of interest.

One was the story about an odd admission of corruption and drug dealing in the military’s Internal Security Operations Command. In it, “Army chief Apirat Kongsompong vows to dismiss Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) officers found guilty of drug offences.” Grumbling that anti-drugs campaigns were failing, the new Army boss stated:

There is a need to also look at the command, which is a key agency in the state’s anti-drug campaign, and find flaws in the implementation of drug busting measures, for which some Isoc officers are to blame.

That’s quite an admission not least because ISOC has a role in fighting corruption. Based on Gen Apirat’s sudden revelation, that role is a bit like putting Billy Bunter in control of a bakery.

But what really caused us confusion is the fact that ISOC is critical for the stealing for the junta’s “election.” Does this mean that Gen Apirat is working against the junta?

A second story relates to the indigestion of state officials regarding the so-called controversy about a new regulation announced by hopeless puppet National Anti-Corruption Commission “that requires senior civil servants to declare their assets and liabilities…”.

It is well-known that senior civil servants are generally on the take, so we can understand their fright. But, then again, the NACC doesn’t go after unusually rich so long as they are loyal to the junta. Just think of all those self-declared unusually rich in the National Legislative Assembly or the Deputy Dictator and all his luxury watches.

The thing that caught PPT’s eye was the note that the “immediate concern is that university council members affected by the new rule are set to quit their jobs…”. It seems that universities “fear it will lead to university council members leaving their positions in droves.”

Why’s that? It is revealed that “[m]any people from the private sector sit on university councils and are reluctant to declare their assets.”

Okay, that makes sense. Of course, unlike the self-declaring unusually wealthy, business people don’t want anyone to know how wealthy they are, how much tax they avoid and how many bribes they pay for police, military and civil servants.





When the military is on top XXVIII

5 10 2018

The junta and the Army have inserted themselves into a land dispute. that goes back years and decades.

In the middle of a public meeting and seminar, discussing “unjust land expropriations within three Eastern Economic Corridor provinces,” [that’s the junta’s big plan] being held at Tambon Yothaka, local affected people, land rights activists and the Thai Society of Environmental Journalists found their meeting invaded by “military personnel from Infantry Division 11, high-ranking officers of Chachoengsao Provincial Internal Security Operation Command (Isoc) and the NCPO.” That’s the junta.

The Army “had notified local people beforehand,” but as the troops descended, the “seminar was suddenly paused and then taken over by the commander of Infantry Division 11 and the NCPO representative in Chachoengsao, Maj-General Worayuth Kaewwiboonphan, along with the deputy director of Chachoengsao Isoc, Maj-General Panit Siriphala.”

The land dispute is between between the residents of Tambon Yothaka in Chachoengsao’s Bang Nam Priew district and the state and military.

Explaining the intervention, Maj-Gen Worayuth said the troops were deployed “to broker a peaceful resolution to the conflict over 4,000 rai of land in four villages in Tambon Yothaka between the members of old communities and the rightful land owner, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN).”

Maj-Gen Worayuth went on to “explain” that there was no “land-grabbing … by wealthy investors for industrial expansion within the EEC provinces” but an effort by the Navy to use the land. He said the Navy agreed to rent lad to the farmers once they gave it back.

He pointed out that despite the Navy having secured the rights to revoke rental agreements on the disputed land, the NCPO and the Army had negotiated with the Navy that the affected tenants be allowed to continue leasing 300 rai of land. He therefore “asked” locals “to refrain from arranging public gatherings and organising protests over the … issue.” Most especially, they should not rally in Bangkok.

Apparently, the Navy purchased 4000 rai of land back about 1948 and people have used it ever since. It isn’t clear in the report who paid for the land back then.

Locals rejected Maj-Gen Worayuth’s call and demanded that the Navy negotiate with them. They have been ordered to vacate the land.

This is how Thailand “works” under a military dictatorship.





Getting things wrong

1 10 2018

A Reuters report at Euronews is so misleadingly wrong that it must be corrected.

We can’t necessarily blame Reuters for the headline, “New army chief takes over as Thailand prepares for return of civilian rule,” but the notion that the military dictatorship’s rigged election is meant to be a return to civilian rule is nonsensical. Even if there’s a small chance that a non-junta supporting party might win the junta’s “election,” The Dictator and his men intend the “election” to continue the military’s dominance of politics.

It is true that General Apirat Kongsompong, the new Army boss is “a staunchly royalist general” but it is utterly misleading to suggest that he “will oversee a return to barracks to make way for a civilian government after nearly five years of military rule.”

Nothing could be further from reality. The military dictatorship has established and embedded a parallel military administration that operates at every level of government, with ISOC taking the lead. No civilian administrator from Bangkok all the way down to the village is able to make a decision without military consent. The militarization of the Thai government is complete. The idea of the military “returning to the barracks” is ludicrous.

It is true that King Vajiralongkorn “appears to have a smooth relationship with the generals running the country.” And, Paul Chambers is probably right to say that, under Apirat, the “army will likely become even closer to the monarchy.” While the junta may have been surprised by the king’s assertiveness, it has pandered to his desires. In the unlikely event that there is a non-junta supporting government, the king’s strong relationship with the military will make independent government impossible.





Waen gets bail

4 09 2018

When she was arrested by the military – in fact, abducted – on 11 March 2015, Nattatida Meewangpla, also known as Waen, was a 36 year-old volunteer nurse, accused by the military dictatorship of both terrorism and lese majeste.

On lese majeste, the Internal Security Operation Command alleged Nattatida copied a text that insulted the monarchy from one chat room and posted it in two other chat groups.

While the other three “terrorism” suspects were released on bail in July 2017, the Bangkok Military Court kept Waen in jail on the lese majeste charge. Her lawyer implied that this charge was fabricated, alleging that the postings were made a week after she

Her lawyer argues that her devices were confiscated on her arrest on 11 March 2015, “but the alleged message was uploaded about a week later.” It is not unusual for the police and military to plant “evidence.”

Earlier posts at PPT are here, here, here, here and here.

The moderately good news is that the military court – meeting in secret – allowed bail, on a bond of 900,000 baht.





Lese majeste used by the junta to silence a witness

22 07 2018

When she was arrested, Nattatida Meewangpla was a 36 year-old volunteer nurse, accused by the military dictatorship of terrorism and lese majeste. She was abducted by the military on 17 March 2015 and held incommunicado for six days, then charged with “terrorism,” and was later with lese majeste.

Not so uncommon you might think. Especially since the 2014 coup, as the military wanted to crush all anti-monarchy speech and thought, lese majeste victims were usually dragged off by the junta’s uniformed thugs.

But the arrest and continued jailing of Nattathida was unusual. The lese majeste complaint was made by Internal Security Operation Command Col Wicharn Joddaeng, who claims Nattatida copied a text that insulted the monarchy from one Line chat room and posted it in two other chat groups.

Who knows if she did anything of the kind, but this charge was devised to have her jailed as quickly as possible as a threat to the military dictatorship. The threat she posed was as a witness to the murder of six individuals at Wat Pathum Wanaram Temple by soldiers during the crackdown on red shirts on 19 May 2010.

More than three years later, still in jail and never allowed bail, Nattathida’s trial has begun. On 20 July 2018, a “first witness hearing was held behind closed door[s]…”.

Secret trials are not unusual for lese majeste, where laws and constitutions are regularly ignored, but in this case, the military wants nothing said in court to be public for fear that it may incriminate them.

The Bangkok Post’s editorial on her cases is a useful effort to get some media attention to this case of cruel incarceration and the military junta’s efforts to suppress evidence of its murderous work in 2010 under the direction of then military-backed premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, Army boss Gen Anupong Paojinda and the commander of troops Gen Prayudh Chan-ocha.

The Post describes Nattathida as “a key witness in the deaths of six people killed during the military’s dispersal of red-shirt protests in 2010…”.

The Post seems to get the date of her 2015 lese majeste charging wrong, but these charges and their details are murky, and meant to be. It reports:

Ms Nathathida was in March 2015 charged as a suspect linked to the blast and had been held in prison until July 24 last year when she was finally granted bail. But the police filed a lese majeste charge, an offence under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, against her on the same day resulting in immediate custody without bail.

The editorial notes that her “trial for another case involving a 2015 bombing at the Criminal Court is also moving at a snail’s pace,” describing the slow pace as “questionable.” It thinks the deliberate foot-dragging suggests the charges are based on shaky grounds. It adds:

The cases yet again raise doubts about the legitimacy of the prosecution of many politically-driven cases in the post-2014 coup era, especially lese majeste cases.

Her lawyer Winyat Chartmontri has told the media that “many witnesses, who are government officials, in the blast case had postponed court hearings several times resulting in the case being delayed.”

As the editorial noted, these “two cases not only kept her in jail but may also have reduced the credibility of her as a witness in court over the six deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram near Ratchaprasong intersection.” More though, they prevent her testimony being heard.

Why is the military so concerned? As the Post observes:

In 2012, she testified at the South Bangkok Criminal Court as a paramedic volunteer stationed at the temple, giving a vivid account of how she saw from close range gunshots being fired from the Skytrain tracks where soldiers were on guard. She did not hear gunshots fired back by protesters, she said.

The editorial makes the mistake of believing that “criminal prosecution requires solid proof of both motive and the scale of damage their act could have caused,” but that is never the case when it comes to lese majeste. And, under the military dictatorship, the courts have generally acted as a tool of the regime, often ignoring law.

The Post knows this, limply proclaiming that “[l]aw enforcement officers should not overlook … universal legal rules when handling cases that could send someone to prison.” Yet in “politically motivated” cases under the military junta, law and procedure goes out the window.

In concluding, the editorial also mentions “that tragic day at Wat Pathum Wanaram,” noting that the courts are “supposed to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The problem with puppet law courts is that they work for the perpetrators.





The junta’s lock

20 07 2018

The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.

Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.

That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.

It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.

Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.

This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.

Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.

If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.





Beware talk of a “third hand”

20 05 2018

Just over a week ago PPT posted about several dire warnings made by the likes of National Security Council chief Gen Wanlop Rugsanaoh who publicly worried that pro-election campaigners would resort to violence. That was about a rally on 22 May.

We at PPT wondered and worried about this warning. None of the many small protests by those involved in the anti-junta campaign had ever resulted in violence. Mostly they led to arrests and charges by the authorities acting to protect the military junta and The Dictator.

We wondered why the general made such a statement. Was he thinking of a “third hand”? As we said after an ISOC “warning,” along the same lines, ISOC has, in the past, often provided the “third hands.”

As another set of small rallies is held and looms, a Bangkok Post report states that police “have begun implementing stringent security measures to deter attempts to smuggle weapons into Bangkok ahead of the planned march by anti-regime groups on Tuesday…”.

In making such claims, even the usual blather about “intelligence reports” is missing. The police simply appear to be concocting plots. But to what end? Again, we worry about the “third hand” provided by the state. We have seen it too many times in the past.

This time it is Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul who talks of the need to “deter any attempts by a third party to stir up unrest during the demonstration…”.

The police general said “several hundred police officers are set to be deployed on Tuesday” when a 4-year anniversary of the 2014 coup rolls around.

For good measure, “Pol Gen Srivara has threatened legal action against the protesters if they march to Government House.”

In this context of threat, we are pleased to note that groups identifying themselves as civil society organizations have come together to launch today a “Public Assembly Observation and Documentation for Human Rights” monitoring coalition that will “monitor and document what happens at a public assembly using a human rights based approach.” Its operation are said to have begun on 19 May. Piyanut Kotsan, a spokesperson for the Public Assembly Observation and Documentation for Human Rights, explained:

the network has been banded together with an aim to streamline and justify the roles of observers making their roles distinct from those participating in a public assembly. They are there simply to document the realities utilizing human rights indicators and to practice their skills in observing a public assembly professionally.

The Network is likely to risk criticism by the junta and its thugs, used to impunity in their actions.