Court follows the law

29 03 2018

Courts in Thailand are highly politicized. Usually they make decisions genuflecting to the powers-that-be (of which they are a part). Often what the law actually says is simply ignored, as has been seen in many lese majeste cases.

It is something of a surprise when, in political cases, a court actually follows the law. In one such case, the Bangkok Post reports that the “Phu Khieo Provincial Court of Chaiyaphum province has acquitted student activists Jatupat ‘Pai Dao Din’ Boonpattararaksa and Vasin Prommanee on charges of violating the 2016 constitution referendum law.”

That the “two student activists were charged with breaking Section 61 (2) the law when they wore ‘Vote No’ T-shirts and handed out leaflets on ‘7 reasons why we shouldn’t accept charte'”, an infographic prepared by the New Democracy Movement (NDM), at Phu Khieo fresh market on Aug 6, 2016, a day before the vote” was a travesty. There was no evidence that the two had broken the law. They were arrested because they opposed the draft constitution.

The Phu Khieo court rightly decided that “the two defendants did hand out the leaflets but the distribution was in line with the exercise of rights and freedom under Section 7 of the public referendum law.”





Amnesty International on systematic and arbitrary restrictions on human rights

24 02 2018

Amnesty International has released its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights. It’s a 400 page PDF that makes for grim reading.

The report had a launch in Thailand and there are reports at Khaosod and The Nation.

Amnesty International Thailand Director Piyanut Kotsan is quoted in The Nation saying:

“The situation of human rights violation in Thailand under the administration of the Prime Minister and head of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] is still considered very poor, as the junta still exercises the absolute power of Article 44 of the interim Charter to stop any political activists exercising freedom of expression…”.

“Many citizens are still being held in unofficial custody, civilians are still being prosecuted in the military court, and freedom of expression and gatherings in public are limited by the use of NCPO order 3/2558, which bans the gathering of more than five persons for political protest.”

Khaosod quotes Antima Saengchai, deputy director of Amnesty Thailand:

Despite having declared human rights a national priority, the military government still prosecutes activists, practices extrajudicial killings, allows torture of people in custody, deports asylum-seekers and suppresses online freedoms….

“Despite promises, there has been no process on passing laws to prohibit human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearances…”.

On lese majeste in 2017, the report states:

Authorities continued to vigorously prosecute cases under Article 112 of the Penal Code – lèse-majesté provision – which penalized criticism of the monarchy. Individuals were charged or prosecuted under Article 112 during the year, including some alleged to have offended past monarchs. Trials for lèse-majesté were held behind closed doors. In June, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced a man to a record 35 years’ imprisonment − halved from 70 years after he pleaded guilty − for a series of Facebook posts allegedly concerning the monarchy. In August, student activist and human rights defender Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment after being convicted in a case concerning his sharing a BBC profile of Thailand’s King on Facebook. Authorities brought lèse-majesté charges against a prominent academic for comments he made about a battle fought by a 16th century Thai king.

The latter case was dropped a few weeks ago. We are surprised AI didn’t mention the lese majeste cases brought against juveniles.

On the still unresolved case of the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyaphum Pasae the report states:

In March, Chaiyaphum Pasae, a 17-year-old Indigenous Lahu youth activist, was shot dead at a checkpoint staffed by soldiers and anti-narcotics officers, who claimed to have acted in self-defence. By the end of the year, an official investigation into his death had made little progress; the authorities failed to produce CCTV footage from cameras known to have been present at the time of the incident.

This seems a case of impunity for soldiers. Another, mentioned in  the report under the heading “Impunity” states:

In August, the Supreme Court dismissed murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. The charges related to the deaths of at least 90 people in 2010 during clashes between [red shirt] protesters and security forces.

It might have also noted that Gen Anupong Paojinda, who was then army commander and is now Interior minister also got off. And, current prime minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha commanded troops who conducted some of these murders.

The report on Thailand is only a couple of pages long and should be read.





Lines are being drawn II

17 02 2018

Khaosod reports that the military junta is going after pro-democracy activists, targeting both veterans and others who are virtually unknown.

The junta wants 43 people “prosecuted for attending a recent rally demanding elections be held this year.”

It is worth noting that it is reported that it is the junta itself that has picked out those to be charged. Among them are:

Activist Piyarat Chongthep, leftist Chotisak Onsoong, former lese majeste convict Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, 2010 crackdown justice advocate Pansak Srithep, student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, civil rights lawyer [and father of Pai] Wiboon Boonpattararaksa and academic Anusorn Unno and 36 others were named in complaints Thursday. They are accused of violating the junta’s ban on protests.

Daranee denies being part of the protest.

Most of the rest charged have “no obvious history of activism.”

As far as we can tell, the junta has now brought charges against almost 90 pro-election activists in the past week or so. All face at least a year in jail if convicted and some face up to seven years.





Vajiralongkorn, lese majeste and the repression of political activists

28 01 2018

Readers will know that out of the thousands who shared BBC Thai’s accurate profile of the new King Vajiralongkorn only Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, also known as Pai, was the only one arrested, charged with lese majeste and eventually sentenced to 5 years jail on 15 August 2017.

It might have been forgotten that, at the time, one other activist was accused of the same “crime.” Chanoknan Ruamsap, an New Democracy Movement activist, also shared the profile on her Facebook page on 3 December 2016.

Also known as Cartoon or Toon, she was also one of six key members of the NDM who were arrested in late 2015 for organizing a field trip to Rajabhakti Park (or the military’s Corruption Park). She was also arrested on 24 June 2016 for commemorating the first efforts at democracy in Thailand when the absolute monarchy was removed.

More than a year after he Facebook share, she “received the summon on 16 Jan to meet the police at Khan Na Yao Police Station, Bangkok, on 18 Jan. A military officer named Sombat Dangtha filed a lese majeste complain against her…”. She believes the long delay was due to the “inefficiencies” of the police, but come for her they did.

As Chanoknan explains, realizing that she faced years in jail, “she decided within 30 minutes after learning about the charge to flee Thailand to an Asian country.”

She is the second person of the almost 3000 who shared the profile to be charged with lese majeste. And it is no accident that both are anti-junta activists.





Sulak, lese majeste and double standards

26 01 2018

Two prominent intellectuals, both aged, have been in the news of late. The different paths of their cases say something more about the double standards operating in the justice system.

The first is Sulak Sivaraksa, and we have posted on his case, here and here. Sulak has recently been reported as “explaining” his actions on his most recent lese majeste case and how the charge came to be dropped.

He has written that he “had no other choice but to petition the King to encourage the junta to end a prosecution against him for lèse majesté.” He refers to something he calls “royal grace” being involved. What he seems to mean is that the king told the junta “to end the lawsuit…”. This is not the first time that the palace has been involved in dropping charges against Sulak. The publicity his cases have generated are damaging for the throne although, as a reader who was involved tells us, the palace liked to let it be known that it was lenient because Sulak was a little mad.

The junta initially ignored or rejected pleas, many of them international, leaving Sulak “no choice but to ask Rama X for help.”

Sulak, who has previously taken a partisan approach to the law, claiming that the law should be used against those who do not have the interests of the monarchy at heart, this time “urged the junta to release those convicted under Article 112 during the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign.” But not the new king’s reign? Odd, as we thought he had supported Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa.

On the day he was acquitted, Sulak told media that, “I believe the barami (glory) of the King protected me. The King did so many things behind the scenes. In my case, if not for [the King’s] barami, I would not be freed, because the Prime Minister is a jerk and is someone who never thinks of doing anything courageous. He is scared. If not for royal barami, my case would never end.”

Bottom line: he got off. We would like to see other lese majeste victims treated in this manner.

The second is Charnvit Kasetsiri, a former rector of Thammasat University and a long-term junta critic. Police have issued a summons for “sharing a fake news report about a purse of Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s wife.”

On 23 January, police from the Technology Crime Suppression Division summoned Charnvit Kasetsiri to report to police today. As the report explains, “Charnvit was accused of disseminating forged computer data likely to cause damage to a third party, a violation the Computer Crimes Act. If found guilty, he will face up to five years in jail, a fine of up to 100,00 baht, or both.”

The accusation involves a social media discussion that saw Naraporn Chan-ocha accused of carrying a two-million-bath Hermes handbag, “while it is, in fact, a product of Thailand’s Royal Folk Arts And Crafts Centre and costs no more than 10,000 baht.”

Bottom line: The junta can lie its pants off (think election dates) but sharing a post (later corrected) about The Dictator’s wife is a crime.

We think the charges against Charnvit should be dropped too. Will they be dropped or is this just another effort to silence critics (of the “wrong” kind)?

The justice system now operates with double standards at the core of its feudal-like operations.





Nine years of PPT

21 01 2018

Yet another year has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand.

After nine years, it is dispiriting that we must still post on gross authoritarianism, monarchy and political repression in Thailand.

PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners would have been released and political repression replaced with a more democratic regime.

We began PPT on 21 January 2009, thinking our endeavors would be temporary. More than 7,000 posts and millions of views later, we are still at it, and Thailand is currently more authoritarian than it was when we began.

Thailand has now had an illegal military regime for almost four years. That regime was founded in nonsensical royalism and bound to a monarchy that remains feudal in its politics and grasping in its economic location. One king has gone and the new one is treading both a familiar path while adding his own peculiar positions and toadies. He has shown himself driven by the desire for wealth, power and to rid his kingdom of the vestiges of the 1932 revolution.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream. The “reform” promised by the military junta and now embedded in a military-royal constitution promises that Thailand will remain dominated by an authoritarian elite for years to come.

The past year saw “enthusiasm” for an election, but without some kind of political slapdown of the junta, no election in Thailand can be free or fair under the junta’s rules.

When we sputtered into life PPT was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes in 2009 and 2010 with hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. That alliance looks weaker today as the junta and The Dictator seemingly prepare for post-election repression by a military-dominated regime.

Opponents of the military and the monarchy continue to be detained, coerced and threatened. Lese majeste has been used against them, silencing them and those who become fearful that they too might be whisked away into detention.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a  political dark age. The current military junta has used the lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition laws as grotesque weapons of choice for its political repression.

Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few. The military junta is seeking to institutionalize this control and power.

It seems forlorn to hope for the release of political prisoners under this regime.

Even so, we must remember that lese majeste is used in unconstitutional ways and the authorities demand “confessions” from those charged so that the courts do nothing but sentence. We should recall that brave individuals like Somyos Pruksakasemsuk and Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, now imprisoned for almost seven years and one year respectively, remain in jail. There are scores of others, workers, red shirts and activists, including the most recent inmate, a blind woman. Their continued imprisonment is a travesty of justice and their treatment has been inhumane and, in many cases, illegal.

In recent years, these lese majeste cases have grown exponentially. Military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than this,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the draconian lese majeste law has been extended to include implied lese majeste and the “protection” of royals not cover by the law and even royal dogs and kings long dead.

PPT has now had more than 5.4 million page views at our two sites. We aren’t in the big league in the blogging world, despite an “award” ranking Political Prisoners of Thailand as one of Thailand’s top 100 blogs (in English). Even so, the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste internationally has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to the issue than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of the issue is far more critical than it was when we began.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through the deepening attempts by the Thai censors to block us. Since mid-December, many of our readers in Thailand can only access PPT using a VPN.

We trust that we remain useful and we appreciate the emails we receive.

As in the past, we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be deposed.





Pushing and shoving

21 01 2018

Reuters report that “[h]undreds of police in Thailand on Saturday blocked protestors planning to march from Bangkok to Khon Kaen in the northeast of the country in a rare display of public discontent in the junta-ruled country.” While displays of “discontent” have been anything but “rare,” this event comes when some see as a junta under pressure.

According to Prachatai, this march has been planned for a while and there was considerable publicity and discussion on social media. The network organizing it has a series of related activities:

… called “We Walk, A Walk for Friendship” [it] is organised by a group of civil rights activists called the People Go Network. The campaign focuses on four main themes: the right to universal health care, the rights of farmers, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution.

Lertsak Kumkongsak, a community rights activist and one of the event organisers, stated that “[h]e expected about 200 people to join the march.” At the time of the Prachatai report it was said that:

The campaign commences with an event on Friday, 19 January 2018, at Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus. The event comprises a play and a public forum with speakers including Jon Ungpakorn, Director of iLaw, Kannika Kittiwetchakun of the People’s Health Systems Movement, and Lertsak from the Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources. The march sets off from the Rangsit campus on Saturday, 20 January 2018, at 9 am after a reading of testimonies. The first stop is scheduled at Wang Noi District, Ayutthaya. There will be more activities to come along their route to Khon Kaen… Lertsak said the group will inform the police today (Wednesday) of the planned rally so as to comply with the Public Assembly Act….

Complying with the junta’s draconian law seemed to mean walking in groups of four. It was also reported that some lawyers, academics and intellectuals were also involved.

Sangsiri Teemanka, a leader of People’s Network for Welfare, proclaimed: “This walk is a friendship walk. Over the past four years under the coup government we have no rights in terms of speech, action. We want the junta to hear us…”. Anusorn Unno, dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, said that the “group said it wants to cultivate a network of those with opposing views to the government’s policies in relation to food security, natural resources, community rights and civil liberty.”

It was said that when the demonstrators got to Khon Kaen, they planned to visit Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, a student activist who was jailed on trumped up lese majeste charges last year.

As the gathering got underway, the Reuters report said one leader declared: “We want to tell the junta that you have taken Thailand back a long way. The people in the agriculture ministry are all generals. There are just generals!”

The report states: “The demonstration, which was broadcast live on Facebook, was shared more than 900 times and viewed by more than 32,000 times.” View some of the footage at the People GO network Facebook page. The Bangkok Post also has pictures.

As more than 200 assembled, the call was: “Let’s hold hands! We are friends!”

Some 200 police blocked roads at the university to prevent protestors from leaving.

Police, however, blocked the group from leaving the university on the grounds that were in breech of the public assembly law and also posed a risk to public safety. The Bangkok Post reports that the “demonstrators nevertheless tried to break through the police cordon, prompting a brief tussle.”

The group “met with Pol Maj Gen Surapong Thanomjit, chief of Pathum Thani police, to ask for permission for 10 people from the group to complete the protest march to Khon Kaen, but the proposal was rejected.” Even so, “four people from the network slipped through the defence line [sic.] and walked together on Phahon Yothin Road. Soon after, another two groups — of four people each — also followed them.” They were tailed by “[p]lainclothes police officers on pickup trucks and motorcycles …[photographing] them from time to time.”

The remaining activists planned “to meet those who had managed to begin the march in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima next weekend.”

Generally, yellow-shirted intellectuals and academics have been critical of this rally, warning against public protest.