Judiciary and corruption

26 10 2018

PPT has posted many times on the politicization of the judiciary. Most of these posts related to a period before the military dictatorship, when the judiciary was used by the royalist ruling class to harass elected governments and prevent them from governing.

This period of deep politicization lasted from April 2006 when the then king ordered judges to intervene until the 2014 military coup, and included a judicial coup in 2008. Since that coup, the judiciary has had a back seat doing the dominant junta’s bidding.

There’s been less attention to the corruption of the judiciary. A report in the Bangkok Post highlights this and the double standards that are so essential to the royalist ruling class.

The report highlights an instance where “[j]Judges have voted in favour of impeaching a member of the Judicial Commission, Bankruptcy Court chief judge Chamnan Rawiwanpong…”. It implies that this is the first time this has happened.

The report states that “Chamnan was accused of  abusing his authority as a judicial commissioner in the matter of an inheritance case handled by lower court judges at Chachoengsao Provincial Court. The case involved his wife’s family.”

A corrupt judge being sacked? No.

In fact, at this stage, the corrupt judge is removed from his “duties as a member of the Judicial Commission…”. But, “[t]he impeachment was separate from Mr Chamna’s duties at the Bankruptcy Court. He was still chief judge of the court…”.

In other words, a corrupt judge continues as a chief judge.





Reporting lese majeste

3 10 2018

Two recent articles in The Nation reflect on lese majeste and both deserve some attention.

The first story is a poignant account of Nattathida Meewangpla’s case and the personal impact it has had. Nattathida’s misery over a lese majeste charge cannot be separated from the fact that she is a “key witness in the 2010 killings at Bangkok’s Wat Pathum Wanaram…”. She is currently on bail on the lese majeste case.

Being held in prison and without bail since March 2015 until her recent successful bail application was a form of lese majeste torture that has been repeatedly used by this regime and others before them.

She refers to fellow inmates who “knew how long they had to serve in prison before they could return home. But I didn’t have any hope. I had no idea what the punishment would be.”

Now also accused of lese majeste, she walked free on bail last month but has no idea when she’ll be back in jail.

Described as “a successful businesswoman, the mother of two boys and a part-time volunteer nurse” the charges she faced related to “terrorism” and lese majeste meant “her world collapsed almost overnight.”

In jail, she was harassed “for being a red-shirt supporter.” But it was when she was initially bailed on “terrorism” charges and then abducted by unknown officials even before she had left the gates of the prison and banged up again, on a concocted lese majeste charge, that she really struggled with the deliberate effort to break her. The military didn’t want a witness to the Wat Pathum Wanaram massacre talking.

She says she “became mentally unhinged,” adding: “I was shattered. It was beyond anger what I felt. It was intensely frustrating…”.

What would you do if you were me? Everybody at some point got to go home but I had to stay. What in the world? Why was did the trial go so slowly? What was I supposed to think when other inmates were suggesting I was being buried in the forgotten cell? There was no hope.”

Nattathida “knows she could be returned to prison at any moment. She refrained from talking about any mistreatment or discrimination because of uncertainty over her future.”

The second story is not particularly new but makes a point about the regime’s current lese majeste strategy. As we have noted, the military dictatorship, probably prodded by the palace, has decided to ease up on its use of lese majeste, replacing it with other charges like sedition and computer crimes.

The story cites iLaw’s documentation center head, Anon Chawalawan on the declining use of lese majeste. We do not necessarily agree with iLaw’s count of lese majeste cases, but there was a peak in cases in 2014 following the coup and into 2015, and then a decline following that.

Anon is correct in noting that immediately after the 2014 coup the military was clearing up cases, but not exactly as expressed in the article. The junta was using the law to attack mainly red shirts and others it considered “republicans.”

Anon stated that “during the military-led rule from 2014 to 2015, at least 61 people were prosecuted under Article 112…”. That’s a significant under-estimate. Our case lists suggests it was closer to 200 cases filed.

That makes the fact that there have been no reports of Article 112 cases this year all the more notable. That charges have been dropped, sometimes without any stated reason or explanation, is suggestive of high-level direction being given to the judiciary.

In this report, Anon is not quoted as saying anything about the use of other, “replacement” charges.

What we see, reading between line, that the junta feels that the anti-monarchists have been defeated or at least silenced (at least in country). It also seems that the argument that mammoth sentences and a huge number of cases does damage to the regime’s international reputation and to the monarchy may have been accepted for the moment. The change of practice also suggests that the military-royalist regime feels confident it can control politics going forward.





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.





Double standards on display

27 08 2018

Thailand’s political elite practice a form of politics that is underpinned by double standards.

Double standards are about the only standards observed by the politicized judiciary.

As the junta thinks about its people winning its rigged election, all parties are banned from political activities. That is, unless the party or proto-party happens to be pro-junta. The double standard also applies to the junta’s own campaigning.

Political parties are only one element of the political system, and the double standards extend far and wide and into what remains of a shattered civil society.

In seizing power in 2014, one of the main self-appointed tasks of the military junta was to destroy the red shirt movement. That involved the deep militarization of areas identified as red shirt supporting and the arrest and jailing of scores of red shirt leaders.

It has to be said that the military’s tactics have been quite successful in suppressing red shirts.

Today, the treatment of civil society is riddled with double standards. Groups and even protesters who are not considered a threat to the junta’s politics are tolerated whereas those considered red shirts are forbidden from any kind of activism.

These double standards have been on display in Chiang Mai over the last couple of days.

There the authorities “had promised not to block the protest based around Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai’s old city”targeting the judiciary’s housing cutting into a forest on Doi Suthep. The junta and military sees this protest, dominated by middle-class activists, as non-threatening.

But what happens when it learns that a solitary red shirt leader based locally had joined the rally?

The media reports that Third Army Region commander Lt Gen Wijak Siribansop became annoyed at “the presence of a local red shirt leader in a rally …[believing it] may spoil the protest movement…”.

That local red shirt leader was Phichit Tamul, with the Army saying his participation “could undermine the objective of the protests…”.

If one is identified as red shirt or anti-junta, then you are effectively banned from any political activism, even as a solitary figure, even when others are permitted to engage in activism.





Greasing the junta’s wheels II

15 07 2018

The Nation has another interesting yet tantalizingly short report about the puppet National Legislative Assembly doing some more of the junta’s work.

As usual, almost unanimous votes granted “salary increases for judges, public prosecutors and members of independent organisations. The NLA’s first reading voted to pass amendments to five laws regulating personnel of the relevant agencies, as proposed by the Cabinet.” Anything the junta wants, the junta gets.

The “five laws involve personnel and remunerations regarding the Courts of Justice, the Administrative Court, the Constitutional Court, independent organisations and public prosecutors…”. The rises go to all the people who have been loyal to the junta, doing as they were told or acting as the junta’s automatons: “Heads of the courts, the Office of the Attorney-General, and independent organisations…. Among the independent organisations involved are the [anti-election] Election Commission, Ombudsman’s Office, [hopeless] National Anti-Corruption Commission, Office of the Auditor General and National Human Rights Commission.”

What is tantalizing is that we are not told who gets what rise, just that the cost to the taxpayer will be about 450 million baht.The rises will be backdated to just after the 2014 military coup, with the vacuous, toothless and hopeless NHRC getting raises backdated to 2005.

All of the junta-loving puppets in these organizations will appreciate the generals even more.





“This is considered unusual in legal practice”

28 06 2018

On 27 June 2018, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 16 months in prison. This is a somewhat surprising outcome in a case where the lawyer challenged the courts.

With five others, Prawet was arrested  by the military on 29 April 2017. The six were detained on lese majeste charges for allegedly sharing a  Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. That post was allegedly authored by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. It was claimed that the post called for Thailand to become a republic.

Initially detained incommunicado, Prawet has been held in jail since then. In addition to lese majeste, he and the others faced sedition and computer crimes charges.

Prawet himself was accused of three separate charges under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste. In total, Prawet faces up to 171 years in jail, although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years.

PPT’s view was that the twinning of sedition and lese majeste made it clear that the military dictatorship was seeking to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Little has been heard of any of the detainees other than Prawet.

Prawet appeared in court on 18 September 2017 and stunned the judges by stating that he did not accept the Thai judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet challenged the court’s impartiality: “Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case…”. Prawet said he would not participate in the case nor have a lawyer represent him.

When he finally reappeared in court on 8 May 2018, Prawet engaged in a heated 30-minute argument with judges, stating he did not believe the court will rule his lese majeste case with fairness and impartiality. He asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

Prawet again stated that he would not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but said he would not obstruct testimony. He again refused lawyers and refused to sign any documents. He repeated that the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

Again, the judges seemed flummoxed by this challenge to the way the judiciary (mis)handled lese majeste cases.

The judges then closed the court for a secret trial. The verdict was supposed to have been delivered on 23 May but was delayed for more than a month, suggesting that behind the scenes there was considerable activity.

The surprises in this verdict for Prawet were that the sedition sentences were remarkably short and  that the court dropped “any mention of the royal defamation charge against him…”. Nor did the court explain why the lese majeste cases were “dropped without explanation.”

In the three sedition cases where the “military [regime] alleged he [Prawet] was behind a group calling on Redshirts and Yellowshirts to unite and turn Thailand into a federal republic,” he received only five months on each count, suggesting that the “evidence” was weak but that the court needed to save some face. With time served, he could released within weeks.

Prawet was given another month in jail “for refusing to fingerprint court documents…”.

On lese majeste charges disappearing, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said: “Usually, when the court acquits someone, they have to clearly explain it…. This is considered unusual in legal practice.”

In the context of Prawet’s challenge, we read this short report as a statement that the court and the regime probably wanted to prevent further criticism of the courts. Yet by mysteriously dropping the lese majeste charges the court again demonstrates that the law is a feudal remnant that is not only incongruous with modern law but is itself outside the law. Lese majeste cases are not subject to the law as it is written and nor are those charged given legal and constitutional protections to which they are entitled.

While the sedition “convictions” save face, the lese majeste is a festering sore for the judiciary. A gangrenous judiciary does Thailand no good. “Amputating” the law is the only solution if the courts are ever to be taken seriously and to fulfill their duties to the people.





Judiciary licks the military boot

22 06 2018

It was only a few days ago that PPT pointed to the 2014 military coup as an illegal act that caused serious damage to Thailand’s reputation (and still does). Yet the courts have always accepted that coups are retrospectively legal because the (military) criminals make them so.

Confirming this, the Bangkok Post reports that the “Supreme Court has refused to accept a case in which activists accused the junta of insurrection.” The courts have again licked the military boot.

The Supreme Court upheld “lower courts’ decisions, … decid[ing] … Section 48 of the 2014 interim constitution exempts the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] from any criminal and civil liabilities. Although the 2018 [2017] constitution replaced the interim charter, the new constitution endorses it in Section 279, the last provision.”

In other words, the judiciary accepts that any military thug can forcibly overthrow the legal government and excuse itself of the laws in place at the time by simply granting themselves impunity.

That decision is the status quo for Thailand. The judiciary in Thailand has virtually no independence. More than that, the current judiciary is almost entirely composed of coup-supporting anti-democrats.