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.





Dumber than a bag of hammers II

7 06 2018

We at PPT have been critical of the justice system because it has been politicized, practiced double standards and enforced injustice. The system that runs from police to prosecutors to courts includes many nodes where the rich can pay bribes to avoid courts, charges and jail. The regime uses it to maintain impunity and to repress and jail political opponents. They make use of the lese majeste, sedition and other political laws and decrees.

The junta has worked hard to “cleanse” the so-called justice system of the “politically unreliable.” While the judiciary has long been a nest of royalists, the junta has re-made it as a bunch of clueless political automatons. That may be something of an exaggeration as some professionals remain at various courts, but it is essentially a judiciary that does as it is expected.

The result of the junta’s interventions is that the judiciary is looking as dumb as a bag of hammers. We say this based on two reports of the dumbest court ruling we have seen for some time. One report is in The Nation and another at Prachatai. They report on a Chiang Mai court’s “verdict” on the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae on 17 March 2017.

The court “concluded that the young Lahu activist … was killed by army bullets…”. And that’s it.

How dumb can a court get? Or how politicized and corrupt can it be? Seriously? Everyone involved knew that the boy was killed by the military. The military has said it shot him. The media reported it. Witnesses said it.

So the court, after 14 months of the judicial system’s “investigations,” concludes the obvious and known. It concludes what was never in dispute.

An astute reader might say that this is just a part of a longer process. Yet, as we know from such “investigations” into the 2010 military murder of red shirts that such decisions can be an endpoint.

So this court didn’t just rule that a military bullet killed Chaiyapoom, it refused to confirm anything else. The court did not rule the killing illegal.

In essence, it has granted impunity for the military’s shooter and his commanders.

The court “refused to consider the argument made by Chaiyaphum’s relatives which claims that the activist neither possessed drugs or hand grenades nor attempted to stab the authorities as the army had accused him of doing.”

In response, the judge stated that “the court was only asked to find the cause of his death.” That is, of course, a reflection of what the police “investigated,” what the military brass and junta demanded and what the prosecutors did. It is a failure of the judicial system and shows that this judge is a little more than a dopey processing terminal for the military.

Lahu Chiang Mai Group president and Chaiyapoom’s mentor, Maitree Chamroensuksakul, said “he could not have imagined that the Chiang Mai Provincial Court would simply announce results that the public already knew.” He added: “I am disappointed, frankly speaking. In fact, one year should have been long enough to nail down the culprit…”.

Now that the court has confirmed what everyone knew, after 14 months of hidden evidence and intimidation of witnesses and others, its report will go “to a public prosecutor who will decide whether the soldier who killed Chaiyaphum will be indicted or not.”

More delays, intimidation, suppression of evidence and political interference will follow.

And, if the prosecutors decide to press charges, the case will probably be heard in a military court, where justice is almost never served and proceedings will likely be secret.

The family can file a civil suit, but that is the system’s way of ensuring that there will be likely be delays of years in hearing the case.

Again, “Chaiyaphum’s lawyer and family have also petitioned the Royal Thai Army to publicly reveal the CCTV footage at the military checkpoint where the activist was slain.” The court did not see the footage which the military claimed vindicated its men. Early on, when the military was justifying its actions, “there were widespread reports that video footage of the incident existed and that several military figures, including Army chief Chalermchai Sittisart, had already watched it.”

Cover-ups go right to the top in the impunity that the murderous military enjoys.

That’s why it is now “said the footage did not include what had happened at the time Chaiyapoom was shot.” How convenient that footage once claimed to vindicate the military is now said to not show anything at all about the case. Clearly the military leadership is full of scoundrels and liars. They can get away with murder, again and again.

The Prachatai report includes a timeline of the military’s role and intimidation, the judicial system’s failures and the stonewalling. But there’s much, much more to be learned in this case and the similar case of a Lahu killed a little while before Chaiyapoom, where the military used exactly the same “excuse” for the killing.

Judges overseeing dumb decisions for a murderous military are not dumb themselves. They are just doing their “duty” in protecting the state’s older brothers and enforcing the required impunity.





Prawet’s lese majeste defiance

12 05 2018

After the completion of one lese majeste hero’s sentence, another hero faces his accuses with heroic defiance.

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk completed his seven-year sentence at the end of last month, still challenging the authorities and the law used against him. Prawet Praphanukul remains incarcerated on lese majeste charges, facing three separate sedition charges, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste, could be sentenced to 171 years in jail. The legal maximum is 50 years, but when you are in your late 50s, 171 years or 50 years make little difference.

His case is one of several involving the alleged sharing a Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on or about 5 April 2017. He’s been held since then and has repeatedly been refused bail.

The twinning of sedition and lese majeste tell us that the military dictatorship is determined to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Prawet is a human rights lawyer and has been defiant from the beginning. When he appeared in court on 18 September 2017, he stunned the court by stating that he did not accept the judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet’s challenge is to the court’s impartiality. He wrote: “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.”

According to a Prachatai update – read it in full here – on 8 May 2018, the case resumed. Before testimony began,

Prawet had a heated 30-minute argument with two judges. He said he did not believe the court will rule his lèse majesté case with fairness and impartiality, given that the court repeatedly rejected his bail requests. So he asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

The judges responded “that they would rule the case with justice and sympathy to the defendant, adding that nobody can influence the court.”

Nobody could possibly believe such lies. The courts have repeatedly and consistently handed out huge sentences, applied the law to persons not covered by it, refused bail and breached the law and constitution on lese majeste.

Prawet’s reply was short and to the point: “he will not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but would not obstruct testimony.”

As if to confirm their previous statement was buffalo manure – actually of far lesser value than fertilizer – the judges then closed the court for a secret trial.

UN staff protested but were ditched out of the court.

A verdict will read the verdict on 23 May 2018.

Prawet’s aim is to reveal the shortcomings and injustice of this pathetic judicial system.

Prawet also dismissed his lawyers and refused to sign any documents saying the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

We salute Prawet. His stance is courageous and principled, words that have little meaning in Thailand’s deeply flawed (in)justice system.





The personal and the political

5 05 2018

A report at the Bangkok Post on Vorakorn Chatikavanij’s son and Korn Chatikavanij’s stepson states that he was charged with possession of cocaine.

Korn is a former Democrat Party minister and Vorakorn has been a yellow-shirted warrior. Korn is spectacularly wealthy. When great wealth meets the judiciary the result is usually in favor of the affluent.

Vorakorn and Korn

Cocaine is a Category 2 drug under Thai law. Changes to laws in 2016 means that Category 2 substances can mean the the offender faces six months to 10 years imprisonment and fines of 10,000 to 5 million baht. The changes also provided judges with more discretion.

The Bangkok South Criminal Court on Friday seemed to use truckloads of “discretion” when it released Panthit Mahapaurya “on bail of 10,000 baht in his cocaine possession case, and ordered him to report to a drug rehabilitation facility on June 21.”

The court “did not set any special conditions.” It ordered Panthit “to report at the end of the fourth detention period at 8.30am on June 21 to a psychosocial service centre of the courts to begin a drug rehabilitation programme.”

Sure, rehab might be sensible and this is bail and not sentencing, but we expect that this case will simply go away as the courts yet again make decisions on the “great and the good” using “principles” other than those in the law.

Cocaine is a rich person’s drug in Thailand and the rich enjoy it with relative impunity – think of the Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya who was rumored to have been doing a bit of sniffing prior to his murderous drive home.

As in everything legal in Thailand, the rich get special treatment and the poor get arrested, jailed, beaten and shot. Double standards are the only standards for the judiciary.





When the military is on top XXI

3 05 2018

A theme of our now long series of posts on When the Military is on Top has been the embedding of double standards. One set of rules for the junta and its partners and another for those not connected with the regime or its partners seem never-ending.

The latest example is related to land. Since it seized power the junta has emphasized “illegal” uses of “state” land. We use the inverted commas to mark the fact that some of this land was, several decades ago, allocated to state agencies, institutions and people as part of the military’s counterinsurgency operations.

So when the military becomes involved in expelling owners and smashing down resorts in areas like Khao Khor in Petchabun, one might ask how it is that the Royal Forest Department and the the Internal Security Operations Command co-operate now to “take legal action against all 135 mountainous resorts suspected of encroaching on a land plot in Khao Kho district within three months.”

No doubt some of these resorts are the plaything of the rich, but so much of the land in the area was allocated to farmers who were encouraged into the area after the battles with the communists there in the 1970s. That those farmers sold their land decades later is a reflection of ISOC’s 1970s policies never having recognized the property rights of the villagers it encouraged and even transported to the area.

The mistreatment of land protesters is reflective of similar processes that began decades ago as, also as part of a broad counter-communism policy, the state commodified land, allocated land and titles of various levels of tenure and then saw business people take advantage of this land market.

The Bangkok Post refers to the “temporary detention of land rights activists in Chiang Mai and Lamphun by security authorities [as] disgraceful.” While this is rightly seen as ” intimidation” by “soldiers and policemen were dispatched to deal with the growing disgruntlement of ordinary people who were merely trying to make their voices heard. But using force to shut people up is a barbaric tactic that will only intensify public displeasure against the military rulers,” the roots of the problems of land in the policies of previous military regimes should not be neglected.

The double standards are obvious when the judiciary’s luxury housing construction project in Chiang Mai is considered. Sanitsuda Ekachai makes the all too obvious points in her op-ed. As she says, representatives of the regime and the judiciary have loudly claimed that: “People and the forest can live together in harmony…”. But there are people and there are others.

The people who can live in harmony with forest are “good” people and the rest are the untrustworthy and the unworthy.