No shots at the king’s butt in neo-feudal Thailand

4 11 2018

Readers may recall that back in 2017 the king got shot in the bum or was shot at and missed while cycling in Germany. This was by so local kids using BB guns or something similar. In the end, the king didn’t press any charges, although it is not clear that the kids were old enough to be charged. In Thailand, of course, it would have been very different. The lese majeste law has been used against a juvenile.

It is known that, later in life, the fit king took up cycling. Anything a king does becomes a big deal in Thailand as promoting palace propaganda makes every royal fabulous and everything a royal does “important” for a time.

So bike riding is promoted and military ministers have to get their minions to go out and buy them expensive cycles, helmets and Lycra so they can waddle around looking like cyclists and even get on a two-wheeled means of transport that they may not have even used when they were kids. All of this for palace propaganda and displays of loyalty to whatever fad, whim or hobby the royal has.

Another example is pétanque, which was promoted hugely because it was said the then princess mother liked the European game played by oldsters.

Obsequious officials and royalists watch aged princess mother pitch a boule

In royalist Thailand, her “interest” meant that all the royal slitherers joined in, with “creation of petanque teams for the police, army, and civil service.” She dies and pétanque is not news any more. The police, army, and civil service are now all on bikes. But we digress.

It is reported that the king “will preside over the official opening of a 23.5-kilometre cycling lane at Suvarnabhumi airport on Nov 23…”. That will be almost two years after the lane was first opened. We guess the king has been busy, cycling in Germany , re-ordering the palace and so on, so the royalizing of the thing has had to wait.

The brief report states: “To make preparations for the royal visit, the Happy and Healthy Bike Lane … will be closed from Nov 12 to Nov 24 and reopened to the public on Nov 25 after the opening.” We can’t imagine what the preparations might entail, but certainly every little bump and crack will have to be smoothed out by officials for fear that the unpredictable king might stick a royal boot up an official posterior.

When opened, the track was known as Sky Lane, but the royal propagandists have had the king rename it the Happy and Healthy Bike Lane. Nothing of any significance in feudal Thailand is permitted to be unroyalled. Not even a recreational cycling track.

We also learn that the “cycling park is jointly operated by Airports of Thailand Plc and Siam Commercial Bank Plc, with the aim of making it one of the world’s best cycling tracks.” Now it’s royalled, it must be the best. Expect UN awards for the king and the cycle track. We note that the AOT is a state body and the king is the largest shareholder in the SCB.

It really is a sad spectacle when a nation is steamrollered by such propaganda. That said, we expect no pot shots at the royal butt. If there are even rumors of it, watch out!





Updated: Lese majeste on the way out?

22 09 2018

Readers will have seen the several stories about and appeals court dropping lese majeste charges against six persons who allegedly burned public portraits of the previous king and the current one. They might also recall that PPT pointed to a change in the lese majeste wind:

There has been some social media discussion of the meaning of this dismissal [of Tom Dundee] – despite the guilty plea extracted – and the recent unexplained dropping of a lese majeste case against lawyer Prawet Praphanukul. Does this indicate that the regime and/or palace changed the absolute draconian approach to lese majeste?

The South China Morning Post reports:

The six, aged between 18 and 20, were arrested last year for setting fire to portraits of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, at several spots around the northeastern province of Khon Kaen. A court found them guilty of lèse-majesté, arson, damaging public property and organised crime.

One of the six was jailed for 11-and-a-half years, three received terms of seven years and eight months, while two got three years and four months.

The appeals court has dropped the lese majeste charges against them “but they will still have to serve lengthy jail terms for damaging public property.”

In the report a human rights lawyer has said this “appears to be a new policy direction.”

But they still have hefty jail terms: “nine years instead of 11 and a half; six years instead of seven years and eight months; and three years instead of three years and four months.”

According to Pawinee Chumsri, a lawyer of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “[o]nly 10 lèse-majesté cases remained before the courts.” Pawinee adds: “Since the beginning of this year, the court has dropped Article 112 prosecutions and pursued other charges instead…”.

Channel NewsAsia also quotes Pawineewho says: “It’s somewhat good progress to see 112 cases are not easily prosecuted…”. Yingcheep Atchanont, of iLaw, says “there have been four acquittals this year and no new cases.”

The junta says it is being “careful” with 112 charges as it shines its international credentials and looks to a post-“election” future as a “legitimate” regime. At the same time, the huge increase in cases in 2014-16 has had its political impact, shutting up critics of monarchy and regime as red shirts and republicans who have not fled Thailand have been silenced.

That said, we suspect the King recognizes that 112 does him no good either, although he’s used the law himself to sort out his own issues.

Sedition and computer crimes charges are now likely to be favored, reducing the criticism the regime and monarchy face in future.

Update: The Bangkok Post editorial on lese majeste is worth reading.





Get rid of the horrid monarchy law

2 05 2018

A Nation Editorial deserves attention as a call for reform of the despot’s political law of choice, the lese majeste law. It has been used brazenly to repress.

PPT has posted hundreds of times on the misuse of this law. It has been used in ways that are unconstitutional and unlawful. Persons have been convicted for what they did not say, for what they did not write. Some have been convicted for “crimes” against persons not covered by the law. Mothers and children have been convicted. Disabled and sick persons have received long sentences. Persons have been convicted on forced guilty pleas when they were not guilty. Sentences have been huge and the treatment of prisoners on lese majeste charges has been tortuous and unlawful. It has been used against political opponents and against some who have fallen out of favor in the palace itself.

The editorial states that “Somyot Pruksakasemsuk’s release after years in prison affords a chance to reflect on deeply unfair abuses of the law.” We could not agree more.

It says his “release from prison on Monday … should prompt the authorities to review the draconian lese majeste law, which was designed specifically to protect the monarchy but continues to be misused for political ends.”

Of course, it was “designed specifically” protect the military and politico-business elite. It protects a system and a configuration of power, not the monarchy on its own. The monarchy is the keystone for a repressive power structure that sucks wealth to those associated with the military-monarchy-tycoon elite or, as some say, the amart.

On the particular case, the editorial states that Somyos was jailed as a political opponent. It states that “[i]t was not and is not illegal to be aligned with the red shirt movement supporting former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his regimes’ policies. And it was unfair for Somyot to have been identified as anti-monarchy without evidence.”

It reminds us that Somyos was arrested and jailed by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime “as he was circulating a petition calling for Article 112 of the Penal Code – the lese majeste law – to be amended.” Indeed, Somyos was targeted because he opposed the very law that was used against him. The amart have a sense of purpose when opposing those who endanger the power structure.

The editorial states:

Article 112 is quite straightforward. It says anyone who defames insults or threatens the King, Queen, heir-apparent or regent shall be imprisoned for three to 15 years. The authorities’ case against Somyot was that he had published in his magazine two articles by Jit Pollachan, a pseudonym used by an exiled politician. The law was applied beyond its intended scope and meaning. The two articles merely mentioned the roles of the monarchy. There was no inherent insult to the monarchy.

Indeed, a majority of lese majeste cases fall into similar “misuses” of the law. But that’s the point. Lese majeste is designed to be used in these ways to protect the power structure.

It continues:

Thus, cases are often handled as though Thailand was still an absolute monarchy rather than a nation under the modern rule of law. People charged with lese majeste are routinely denied bail and held in pre-trial detention for months. Somyot was denied bail 16 times.

As the editor of a periodical, Somyot should have been protected by the Printing Act and the Constitution’s safeguards covering freedom of expression. But the Constitutional Court ruled in October 2012 that lese majeste breaches represented threats to national security and thus overrode any such protection.

When the editorial concludes by observing that “Somyot’s case should give all citizens pause for thought. Political reform is badly needed, and this unfair practice in particular has to be rolled back,” it makes a point that is very significant. It will scare the regime and those who benefit from this 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.





Lese majeste repression

16 02 2018

The Bangkok Post has an editorial on lese majeste, calling for the “misuse and abuse” of the law be ended. Essentially, the editorial calls for the law to be rewritten, citing both Sulak Sivaraksa (one of the few to get off) and Nitirat.

That’s about as brave as it gets in Thailand these days. Calling for amendment rather than the abolition of the feudal law.

Noting that since the 2014 military coup, iLaw, “at least 94 people were charged under the lese majeste law,” it is said many of those accused, charged and jailed have been “political activists, politically active citizens or merely internet users who happened to share articles deemed to offend the … [monarchy].” We think the figure is far higher (well more than 130), not least because the figure seems to omit dozens charged within Prince-cum-King Vajiralongkorn’s palace.

As well as the palace’s vindictive use of the law, the editorial might also have mentioned that the law has been used against juveniles.

The editorial concludes with the misguided claim the “late King Bhumibol Adulyadej once said he must also be criticised” as a claim that the lese majeste law be amended.

The Post is right on the need for change. Based on what we’ve seen of the prince-cum-king and lese majeste, we are not confident that the law will be amended for the better.

While on lese majeste and Vajiralongkorn, about a week ago we mentioned Tyrell Haberkorn’s East Asia Forum article on the junta’s use of political repression and lese majeste. A reader has drawn our attention to another article by the US-based academic, also on lese majeste, and in the magazine Dissent.

Her article refers to the lese majeste case against human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul. He’s multiple charges with “insulting” Vajiralongkorn and sedition. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to 171 years in prison.

We this is a reflection of Vajiralongkorn’s perception of lese majeste.





Juvenile and teens sentenced for royal arson

1 02 2018

Prachatai reports that “court in Khon Kaen has convicted six teenagers of lèse-majesté for burning royal arches with portraits of King Rama IX and King Rama X.”

This case has been very difficult to follow, not least because most defendants, including the six mentioned here, have been forced to plead guilty.

On 31 January 2018, the six teenagers were found guilty of lese majeste, criminal association and arson. They were found guilty because they were made to plead guilty.

The court sentenced them to six to 10 years in prison each, but because they finally entered guilty pleas, the court halved the jail term. The jail terms of five out of the six who are under 20 years of age was reduced to three years and four months.

Forcing guilty pleas is now a normalized and standardized practice in lese majeste cases and a perversion of legal process.

The teenagers reportedly confessed “that they were hired by a man named Pricha and other persons. They claimed that Pricha paid them 200 baht each to burn the arches.”

In all, there are 11 persons involved in the arson of the kings’ portraits. The youngest is just “14 years old and is being prosecuted in secret at the Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection. No development of the case is reported to the public.”

Juvenile lese majeste seems to be a recent legal “innovation” under the new king and his junta.

In August 2017, the court sentenced the two other male suspects, age 64 and 25, to five years imprisonment and police claim to “have arrested Pricha Ngamdi, who were accused as the leader, at an unknown temple.”





Further updated: Another cruel lese majeste “conviction”

4 01 2018

Under the military dictatorship lese majeste cases have become increasing bizarre and cruel. Students, journalists, academics, workers, red shirts and many more have been charged and sentenced. In recent months this purge has included juveniles and the aged.

Khaosod reports that Yala’s provincial court “sentenced a blind woman to one and a half years in prison for posting content which it found violated royal defamation laws.” On 4 January 2018, Nurhayati Masoh (rendered as Murhyatee in some reports), 23, an unemployed Thai-Malay Muslim from Yala, was convicted after “agreeing” to plead guilty after being held in prison since November 2016.* She received three years, halved for the guilty plea.

In October 2016 using “a voice-assisted application which reads text out loud to post material from Ji Ungpakorn’s blog.

According to the report, “The court said they are sympathetic to her [because she’s blind] but said the law is the law…”.

Update 1: A Reuters report states that she’s been jailed since November 2017, when the case was filed against her. This information is confused in various reports. The event giving rise to the post on her Facebook page appears to have been the death of the king in October 2016.

A Prachatai report states that the court refused to suspend her sentence because of her impairment, pointing to the “severity of the charge.”

Update 2: Soon after conviction, the Muslim Attorney Center in Yala said it was planning to appeal the verdict on behalf of the convicted woman’s family. The foundation hoped to have the jail time suspended and also planned to seek a royal pardon.