Le Monde on lese majeste

19 01 2013

A reader sends a translation of an article of the French newspaper “Le Monde” on lese-majeste:

Le Monde

In Thailand, His Majesty doesn’t accept harm

Accusations of lèse-majesté in Thailand rain down at an alarming rate: since 2005, the number of convictions has increased tenfold [PPT: in fact the rate is much higher than this!]. Article 112 of the Penal Code provides that “any person defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, or the crown heir, shall be punished with imprisonment between three to fifteen years”. This law is seen by the proponents of its reform as excessive because Thailand, since 1932, should be a constitutional monarchy. Paradox: during the years of absolute monarchy, the lèse-majesté law was less used than it is today. Two recent cases do not encourage optimism amongst the proponents of an amendment of Article 112 – intellectuals, professors, journalists – who argue, rightly, that this law is exploited, abused and used as a political weapon.

On 25 December 2012, a stockbroker of Bangkok, Katha Pajariyapong, 37 years old, was sentenced to four years of prison after being accused to have spreading rumors in the Internet about the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The King was 85 years old in the same month and his health is indeed fragile. But any information about this ruler, who holds the world record years of longest reign, is highly sensitive for the future of the monarchy in this country witch is uncertain because politically unstable and divided. Mr. Pajariyapong was also convicted under the law to punish computer crimes and allows to punish the propagators of “false information” spreading rumors on the Internet which are considered to be “undermining national security.”

Another case involves a journalist, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, the former editor of the magazine Voice of the Oppressed, who published in his website, the History of Thailand during the last two centuries. This former trade unionist, who fought in the 1980’s and 1990’s for the rights of Thai workers, got the support of many international organizations. On 19 December 2012, the accused [Somyot] appeared for his verdict to the court. A verdict was postponed by Bangkok judges to January 23.

The political past of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk may explain why the fury of justice is brought against him. Judges refused bail twelve times his since his imprisonment in April 2011. After the military coup of 2006, when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by the army, the journalist was involved in the movement of the “Red shirts” that paralyzed the heart of Bangkok’s business quarter, two and a half years ago. The protesters demanded the return of Thaksin, their idol, a populist leader who had also focused his policy on raising the standard living for the poorest peasants. During the spring of 2010, the army violently suppressed those demonstrations. The irony of the story is, since that, the government has changed and it is the sister of Thaksin, Yingluck Shinawatra, who became the Prime Minister after her party’s victory in the 2011 elections. The lady and her government have adopted the utmost caution regarding issues relating to the monarchy. Because the “red shirts” are her most obvious support – some activists became ministers – she is scared of being accused of “monarchical apostasy”. The result is that the attempts to reform the lèse-majesté law have been hidden under a bushel.

Bruno Philip

Lese majeste updates

1 12 2012

Prachatai has published some useful updates on a series of lese majeste cases. PPT will summarize here and will 112.jpgupdate our specific pages on each case as well:

  1. In its first story, Prachatai refers to the truly bizarre case of two of the Royal Health Rumor 4. Back in October 2009 there were rumors that the king was seriously ill or had died. This caused a huge sell-off on the stock exchange, and the ridiculous Abhisit Vejjajiva-led coalition government began a witch hunt for those responsible for the rumors. Many observers considered the whole case so silly that it had been quietly brushed under the carpet. Not so. The Criminal Court is said to be “likely to deliver its ruling by the end of this year on a case” involving Katha Pajajiriyapong, then an employee in the trading a securities trading firm KT Zmico Securities (the firm sacked him). Katha is said to have posted comments on Same Sky or Fah Diew Kan web board. Apparently there is another charge against him from April 2009. He is charged under the 2007 Computer-Related Crimes Act. He has been on bail since his arrest in 1 November 2009. He is expected to get a verdict on 19 December 2012.
  2. Also one of the Royal Health Rumor 4, Thiranan Vipuchanun, a former director of a finance and securities trading firm, is “accused of posting on the Prachatai webboard her translation of a Bloomberg news article which reported the slump of the Thai stock market on 14 Aug 2009 due to the widespread rumours about the King’s health. Her case is now pending a decision by the prosecution.”
  3. Somyos Prueksakasemsuk is also scheduled to re-appear in court on 19 December 2012, and it seems that he may get a verdict then, having been held in prison since 30 April 2011 on lese majeste charges.
  4. Akechai Hongkangwarn who was arrested on 11 March 2011 and charged under Article 112 – lese majeste – for being in possession of illegal VCDs of an Australian television documentary that presented an accurate picture of the state of the Thai monarchy and 10 Wikileaks documents. He is expected to appear in court on 22 February 2013.
  5. One of the Bangkok 19 who were accused by the Army and its boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Yoswaris Chuklom or Jeng Dokchik, “a comedian turned red-shirt activist and politician, will appear in court for witness hearings on 11-12 Dec [2012]. He is being prosecuted for alleged lèse majesté comments in his public speech during a red-shirt rally at Phan Fa on 29 March 2010.”
  6. In the first week of November 2010, Sqn Ldr Chanin Khlaikhlung became the first casualty of then Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s warning that the military needed to weed out anti-monarchists in its ranks. This was also a part of the Abhisit regime’s royalist witch hunt. He will likely appear in a military court (closed to the public) in February 2013, facing lese majeste and computer crimes charges related to 24 comments on his Facebook page.
  7. Finally, Prachatai mentions a case PPT has not previously heard of when it lists Aswin (family name withheld) as likely to appear in Chiang Mai Court in February 2013 “to face accusations by an acquaintance of making lèse majesté remarks.”
  8. In its second story, Prachatai mentions another case previously unknown to PPT. The case goes back to the days of high alert on lese majeste by the royalist regime under Abhisit and refers to an unnamed Malay Muslim man whose case is outlined at the iLaw database. The Pattani resident is accused of “hanging banners with the picture of HM the Queen on a pedestrian bridge in the town” also allegedly “containing messages about violent incidents in the south and other parts of Thailand, together with a picture of HM the Queen, on 12 Aug 2009, the Queen’s birthday…”. It seems that this may be another case pursued by the military who are also accused of beating and torturing the man to get a confession on a crime he was not even aware of (standard military practice). He has been on bail. It seems this case has been kept secret.
  9. A third story refers to well-known Thammasat historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who is said to be “pessimistic” and “both surprised and appalled by the decision of police to forward his lese majeste police complaint case to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).” He is due to appear before the prosecutor sometime this month.

The last story also refers to there being “currently at least seven people detained under the law with hundreds more in the process of possibly being charged or having received police complaints made against them.” PPT knows of eight currently detained, although we assume there are more we don’t know about. We are not aware that there are “hundreds more in the process of possibly being charged or having received police complaints made against them.” That said, there are two cases above we had never heard of before, suggesting that the case load and backlog that is inestimable. The opacity associated with this most political of charges lends itself to both under-reporting and exaggeration.

In late 2010, based on data related to charges laid, prosecuted and known conviction rates, we had guesstimated that there may have been some 350 jailed following lese majeste convictions or related computer crimes charges. We have no idea how many accusations there are or how many cases are winding there way through the system. In any serious judicial system, this law would be declared unconstitutional and scrapped. Until that happens, Thailand can never be a truly democratic country.

MICT’s dismal year

7 01 2010

The Bangkok Post’s excellent Database section (6 January 2010) includes a review of technology in Thailand in 2009, revolving around the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. We report almost all of it here (There whole story, with bits on 3G etc. is here):

Censorship was her chief goal when she was sworn in, and Information and Communications Technology Minister Ranongrak Suwanchwee proved ever so good at it; after she was shunted into the job because she was unqualified to be commerce minister, Mrs Ranongruk, who is totally independent politically and is not influenced in any manner by her politically banned husband Mr Pairoj, said she wanted more websites found and blocked for lese majeste; her predecessor Mun Patanotai banned a mere 1,200-plus websites in a secretive operation, although the list is now widely available and the sites are widely popular; Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) announced that by February, less than two months into Mrs Ranongruk’s crusade, the number of banned and blocked websites had grown to more than 50,000 – 17,775 by the fabulous Minister of Information and Communication Technology and the rest by police, mostly from the days of military rule; FACT offered links to “free, legal circumvention” software to set up virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass the ever-building great firewall of Thailand at facthai.wordpress.com.

Minister Ranongruk told credulous media that there had been 2,300 websites banned only, but also bragged that she “removes content” before bothering to get a court order; she also revealed a US law that no one has heard of that bans Al-Qaeda and other terrorist material on the Internet; she also explained that “the kids” use one of those, er, webcom thingmys to show their bottom half, and also have sex through a webcom; she’s a minister and she knows about this stuff.

Police raided Prachatai.com and seized servers and computers in an investigation of lese majeste allegations; officers explained that the website may have failed to delete possible lese majeste entries in less than the allotted one-millisecond; when they left they also took along Cheeranuch Premchaiphorn, the webmistress, on charges of disseminating lese majeste content from Oct 15 to Nov 3 of 2008 – and took along all files from her personal computer as well; Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that sympathy was in short supply this year, and explained that Ms Cheeranuch had the constitutional right to complain if she thought the Crime Suppression Division police did a nasty.

Mrs Ranongruk was quite proud of all this, one of the reasons the nation celebrated her tenure as by far the best minister of information and communications technology in all of 2009; she explained she had a 45 million baht ICT “war room” where her gnomes surf the web 24/7 looking for violators; she warned her counterparts at the justice, interior and defence ministries that they had better step up their efforts against all that lese majeste that is going on, lest someone accuse them of lacking loyalty; the minister’s policy statement lacked any mention of education, promoting knowledge or help to bring information technology to more people.

In addition to more censorship, said Anuparb Thiralarp, a telecoms expert, Mrs Ranongruk should commit to making your TOT and your CAT Telecom stronger, and stop them from shrinking in a competitive market; the minister realised that she had more important duties; by September, her propaganda officials announced she had blocked more than 17,000 of the worst websites, and was still furiously working on it.

Suwicha Thakhor became the first casualty of the controversial Computers Crimes Act when the Criminal Court sentenced him to 20 years for posting an altered and defamatory photo of His Majesty the King on his blog; a weeping Suwicha was hauled away after the court reduced the prison term to 10 years in exchange for his guilty plea; he would have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years if he had been charged with lese majeste, but police filed four separate charges for four separate photos, and each carried a maximum sentence of five years.

The webmaster of (exteen.com) blog was summoned by police, twice, for interrogation over a comment that might have been offensive; it was posted almost two years before Suppression Division police arrested broker-friendly Thiranant Wipuchanin and Katha Pajajiriyapong for using their computers to spread rumours about the health of His Majesty the King in the infamous Stock Exchange of Thailand manipulation of mid-October; it was the most egregious use known of the Computer Office Act of 2007, which has been used to block tens of thousands of websites for “offences” like criticising the government, and for jailing people who accessed nasty videos on YouTube.

The government admitted that more than two years and 972 million baht later, authorities never even turned on the thousands of surveillance cameras installed to monitor, catch and defeat the insurgents in the South. Security forces in the South were shocked that “high-technology” GT200 witching sticks bought for 700,000 baht apiece during the days of the military junta to detect bombs have done little to detect bombs, prevent bombings or catch bombers; the dowsing sticks peddled successfully by the Electronic K9 company of Singapore and exposed worldwide as nothing but ouija “technology” capable of picking up the operator’s prejudices, have resulted in several spectacular failures, aka bombings and deaths; on the other side, people have been arrested because of the supposed presence of bomb material on their bodies, equally false readings.

Two weeks after the army announced that terrorists in the South were switching from mobile phones to other types of remote controls to set off their bombs, the military announced it would purchase new, updated and more expensive equipment to jam mobile phones; this time, the jammers come from Japan at a cost of (cough)1.5 million baht(cough) apiece; you should be ashamed for what you’re thinking right now, the leaders of the armed forces have absolutely no motive but pure national security and the idea of a kickback on such equipment is hateful thought.

“The frustration grows,” headlined newspapers, as Minister Ranongruk was near tears, almost stamping her foot in frustration trying to detect “which satellite Thaksin is using” to speak to his red-shirt loyalists, because she really wants to cut the call; that raised the question of which is scarier: hearing the Thaksin speeches or having a technology minister who thinks the Internet runs on satellites.