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.





Burning arches lese majeste “guilty” pleas

22 11 2017

About a week ago we posted on the sentencing of two men, held in jail until they pleaded guilty, for allegedly torching dead king arches in Khon Kaen province. They were said to be two among eight suspects and a 14-year-old who are accused of being involved in the burning.

Prachatai reports that “[f]ive teenagers and one adult facing royal defamation [lese majeste] charges for burning royal arches in northeastern Thailand have pleaded guilty.” Previously, the six had only agreed to plead guilty to destroying public property. They denied charges of criminal association and lese majeste.

Why did they change their plea?

One of the six said that they chose to plead guilty because the trial would be lengthier if they continued to fight the case, adding that he hopes that the sentence can be halved and that they will receive a royal pardon.

Nothing new there. This is now standard operating procedure in the Thai (in)justice system.

On 20 November 2017, the Provincial Court of Phon District “held a preliminary hearing for six suspects indicted for violating Article 112 … criminal association, and destruction of public property…”. The court is scheduled to sentence them on 31 January 2018.

The unusual thing in this case is that five of the defendants are teenagers.

In other words, the Thai state is prepared to keep children and youth in jail, without bail and limited access to lawyers in order to get its guilty pleas that avoid having anyone challenge the “sanctity” of the horrid monarchy, even in a real court case.

There is no such thing as a fair trial on lese majeste in Thailand. Legal procedures are fake and a farce.

The 14 year-old who is also charged will face the Khon Kaen Juvenile and Family Court later. We are unable to confirm if he is detained.





Burning arches lese majeste sentences

16 11 2017

Prachatai reports that on 15 November 2017 the Provincial Court of Phon District in Khon Kaen “sentenced Noopin, 64, and Chatchai, 25, (surname withheld due to privacy concerns) to five years imprisonment,” on lese majeste charges.

The two were also charged with “criminal association, and destruction of public property for attempted to burn an arch erected in honour of the late King Bhumibol in Khon Kaen.”

As usual, because the two were held until they agreed to plead guilty, the court halved the jail terms and “also confiscated a pickup truck from the two.”

The reporting is, however, somewhat strange. This is what Prachatai states:

According to Noopin, he was hired by a man named Pricha to burn an unidentified edifice at a specific location in the province and was told to invite another person for the task. Therefore he invited Chatchai.

When he arrived at the location, he discovered that it was the royal arch with the image of King Bhumibol. Therefore, he changed his mind and drove back to his house.

So it isn’t entirely clear if they did plead guilty as this sounds like a not guilty statement. Nor is this clear in these paragraphs what they agree they did.

It is clear that these “two are among the eight suspects and a 14-year-old who are accused of being involved in the burning.”

These persons have been held in custody since 17 May.