Further updated: Authoritarian darkness

16 04 2021

Thailand’s royalist authoritarianism and the desire to “cleanse” the nation of anti-monarchists appears to have taken a significant turn as the regime targets an American academic it considers has fomented political activism in the northeast.

From New Mandala

Thai Enquirer, Bangkok Post, and Prachatai report that David Streckfuss, who worked for Khon Kaen University, CIEE: Council On International Educational Exchange, and with regional news outlet The Isaan Record, has had his work-permit with KKU revoked on 19 March, which means his tenure in Thailand is tenuous as his visa is also revoked.

It is reported that Streckfuss had “been with the university for the past 27 years before his work permit was terminated.”

Prachatai states that the “decision reportedly came after police visited the University President and Faculty Dean, after Streckfuss participated in a workshop which partly involved decentralization.”

Hathairat Phaholtap, the editor of the The Isaan Record, confirmed the work permit cancellation and stated that it came “after Streckfuss attended a workshop about the preservation and development of the local Isaan identity which was held at a Khon Kaen hotel on 12-14 February.”

The police reportedly told the university that this meant Streckfuss was “involve[d] with local politics…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, where Streckfuss has been an author, he has “published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is also the author of Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté, published by Routledge Press, in 2011… [and] has a PhD in Southeast Asian history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” His recent academic work has been on censorship and self-censorship.

One of his roles since 1994 has been has been as director for CIEE Programs in Thailand, facilitating college students study abroad experiences in Thailand. In this he “works with the program’s administration and programs managers to oversee student health, safety, and welfare as well as all issues related to academics, services, projects, administration, and finance.”

Over the years, Streckfuss has spoken at various seminars, including with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. This action against a high-profile academic, and someone who might be described as a “friend” of Thailand, suggests either a bureaucratic miscalculation or, more likely, a further deepening of the regime’s repressive authoritarianism.

Update 1: A couple of reports in the media suggest that there’s some dissembling going on about this case. The Bangkok Post reports that Pol Maj Gen Kritsada Kanchana-alongkon, a commissioner at the Immigration Division 4 in Khon Kaen has gone all Sgt Schultz, saying: “The local immigration authorities didn’t know why the university terminated Mr Streckfuss’ contract…”.

Thai PBS reports multiple denials (one of which contradicts Pol Maj Gen Kritsada):

Immigration Police and Khon Kaen University have denied that the termination of the employment contract, work permit and visa of David Streckfuss are related to his political activism in Thailand.

Khon Kaen University’s International Affairs Division also denied allegations of police pressure, telling ThaiPBS World that the termination was due to his failure to fulfill his duty regarding student exchange programs.

Making matters worse for itself, KKU now states: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he allegedly failed to arrange student exchange programs, leading to the contract termination.” So, they say that students couldn’t come, so Streckfuss must go….

Update 2: Khaosod states that the Khon Kaen Immigration Office has “deferred the decision to extend the work permit and visa…”. An official stated: “This has nothing to do with politics and David is not a prohibited person under the immigration act. Therefore, there should be no problem with his visa application process.”

KKU continues to maintain that there was no official pressure applied – Streckfuss says there was – and says it sacked him for circumstances created by the virus:

The longtime expat worked as the director of the exchange student program at Khon Kaen University for the past 27 years before he was given a one-month notice of termination in February for “not being able to do assigned work.” He believed the decision was politically charged, an allegation denied by his former employer.

“No police or any other state officials have met with the rector or the dean,” Khon Kaen University rector Charnchai Pangthongviriyakul said Saturday. “The faculty saw that there has been no progress in his work, so it decided to notify him of contract termination.”

Even if this was the case, it marks KKU as an uncaring employer, not averse to taking decisions that destroy lives.





Neo-traditionalism and fascists

18 03 2021

Prachatai has a couple of stories that are about a theme – political repression. In our view, they also appoint to the entrenchment of neo-traditionalist, royalist, fascism.

The first report is about complaints made by the so-called People’s Network to Protect the Monarchy to Anek Laothamatas, who seems to spend some time as Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation. They demanded that the former communist now mad royalist and failed politician investigate the lecturers who have used their positions to stand bail for arrested protesters. The fascist Network “claims that their bail requests for Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Parit Chiwarak and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, students at Thammasat and Mahidol universities, constitute behaviour that infringes upon the monarchy.”

Clipped from Prachatai
The Network submitting a petition to the MHESI representatives, Duangrit Benjathikul Chairungruang and Jak Punchoopet (Source: Facebook/ Center for People Protecting the Monarchy).

Immediately, the ministry sprang into action: “Jak Punchoopet, Advisor to the Minister … said … the Ministry is preparing to summon deans and chancellors of the universities of 8 lecturers who offered bail to 3 student activists detained while awaiting trial for royal defamation and other charges.” Jak previously participated in People’s Democratic Reform Committee efforts to foment a coup against an elected government.

The Network claimed it is “unethical for teachers as they are protecting students who have clearly and publicly defamed and infringed upon the King, Queen and the Chakri dynasty, which the Network has denounced.”

Jak quoted Minister Anek as stating that “academic freedom must not infringe on the … monarchy.”

There’s not much academic freedom in Thailand anyway, with the 2020 Academic Freedom Index grading Thailand as an E, “the lowest grade, with a score of 0.13 out of a maximum of 1.  Other countries with and E grade include China, North Korea, Cuba, Lao, Iran, Rwanda, and South Sudan.”

Preventing academics standing bail would be a major change to previous and longstanding practice.

Of course, neither the fascists of the Network nor the dolts at the Ministry ever pause to think that none of these political prisoners have yet been found guilty. In any case, none were allowed bail.

An equally concerning report is about constant harassment of independent media:

The Isaan Record, an online media organization based in Khon Kaen Province, is under surveillance by police officers. This is not the first time, and it occurs after they report on monarchy reform and anti-dictatorship activities which other media find distasteful.

The effort to silence The Isaan Record is clear and follows a pattern:

On 10 March, Hathairat Phaholtap, the Isaan Record editor, told Prachatai English that police officers came to their office 4 times in one day. She was informed by vendors close to the office that police had asked them about the agency. The police did not approach staff directly.

This took place after the agency reported on an activity organized on 8 March by Femliberate, a feminist activist group, who shrouded the statue of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat with women’s sarongs with a banner reading “Justice died 8 March 2021,” a symbolic action against the oppression of women and the court decision to keep in detention Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul and Panupong Jadnok, 3 leading pro-democracy activists.

Police intimidation sometimes leads to arrests but can also lead to attacks by royalist thugs – more often than not these are police and military men in plainclothes. Such attacks are never investigated.

Unsurprisingly, these royalist, fascist interventions are coordinated. Prachatai reports:

… Manager Online for the northeast region reported news with the headline “Don’t stand for it! Khon Kaen people love the institution [of the monarchy]. Attack KKU [Khon Kaen University], ask its position on whether they want the monarchy or not after allowing gangs who want to abolish the monarchy to hang out there,”.

The news item reports that a pro-monarchy group blames the Progressive Movement, from the now-dissolved Future Forward Party, for being the mastermind behind the student movement in Khon Kaen in the past year. They also questioned Khon Kaen University for letting public figures who spoke about democracy and monarchy reform give lectures to the students.

You see the link between Manager Online and the People’s Network to Protect the Monarchy. When fascism takes hold, the country usually falls into a deep and dark abyss.





Keeping the repression lock on

8 07 2017

After more than three years, the military dictatorship is not about to allow critics much space. This doubling down on repression is likely to continue until the junta decides it can hold its “election” and be assured of an outcome that suits it.

In a recent piece at Prachatai, readers get a clear idea of the repressive tasks it has allocated itself, in addition to making sure that the Shinawatra clan is hobbled and nobbled.

The story of the mopping up those who identified themselves as junta enemies by daring to discuss the junta’s constitution as it was mixed, rolled and roasted by various well-paid junta flunkies, sometimes considered lawyers and law “scholars.” Eventually they came up with the 2017 constitution, which the king and junta still changed after it was “approved” in a wobbly junta referendum.

A year after the constitution “referendum” Khon Kaen police – who have become especially politically active – have decided “to press charges against 11 people accused of breaking the junta’s political gathering ban for participating in a discussion about the 2017 Constitution.”

Heavens, not a discussion! How threatening! Lock ’em up!

They have been ordered to report to the 23rd Military Circle in the province (not the police). The police decided “to press charges against them and submit the case file to the military prosecutor.”

The 11 are: Cherdchai Tantisirin, former Member of Parliament for the Pheu Thai Party, Panwadee Tantisirin, lecturer in the Nursing Faculty of Khon Kaen University, Rangsiman Rome, key member of the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG), Panupong Sritananuwat and Akhom Sributta, activists from Dao Din Group, [the jailed] Jatuphat ‘Pai Dao Din’ Boonpattararaksa, Narongrit Uppachan, Nattaporn Ajharn, an environmental activist, Duangthip Khanrit and Niranut Niamsap, staff of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), and another person who requested anonymity.

The junta’s thinking seems to be that these activists could annoy them when it decided to hold its “election.”





In black

12 12 2014

At Prachatai it is reported that the military in Khon Kaen has called in “Aree Redshirt” for wearing black as a lese majeste offence. Wearing black at about the time of the king’s birthday turns out to offensive for those who worship the king as a god (or at least feel that the social, political and economic system his image and ideology defines needs to be protected). These ultra-royalist loonies have complained about Aree’s sartorial choices.

The royalist military is filing lese majeste charges against her. Groups of looney royalists have made several complaints against her.

Aree and the four others have been detained at a military camp for several hours and several times. The military have chastised them for their incapacity to “use the royal vocabulary to refer to the revered monarchy and attend ceremonies to honour the monarchy in order to show that they love the King.”

PPT hasn’t previously noticed that the use of normal language to refer to the king has been considered a potential lese majeste offence, but in royalist Thailand under the military dictatorship, it seems that anything related to the decrepit but fabulously wealthy monarchy is a potential problem.





Undemocratic centralism

7 12 2014

PPT missed this story/interview at The Isaan Record a few days ago and thanks a regular reader for drawing it to our attention. It is a story about the Governor of Khon Kaen province and his work for the military dictatorship, based on an interview. We do not know if the interview was conducted in English or Thai, and the language used may explain some of Kamtorn Tawornsatit’s sometimes strange responses. Even so, the intent of his answers describes authoritarian Thailand today in revealing terms. PPT simply reproduces snips from the interview below:

On color-coded conflict: “I’d like to inform you that the word ‘colored-shirt villages’ was a measurement to address the critical atmosphere caused by the differences in information and beliefs of the people. The NCPO therefore came and took control of the country. First, we have to look at the people as Thai, that we are all Thai. This idea eliminates division and violence. When we are divided, we think of others not as Thai, but as opponents. Thus, this crisis could be peacefully resolved if we looked at others as Thai.” General Sarit Thanarat would be pleased. H e adds: “Today, I have managed to eliminate the colored shirts in each community.” Kamtorn explains how this was done: “[We had to] stop the flow of information that has caused division; this is the most important.” He says that junta-directed reform has eliminated the “disease” afflicting Thailand and that “reform” by the junta will solve all problems.

Authority and control: “Previously, governors had no authority in these areas [justice processes] but did have the power to call people in for questioning if necessary. But now, they have power to command [these areas]. The authority to command has now been unified in seven or eight areas, such as in forests, where the governor can take command for more efficient law enforcement.” He says that orders are centralized: “At the moment, command orders [go out] to all officials in the province, thus even local officials from the central government [have to obey] if the governor asks them for their cooperation to solve a problem.” This takes Thailand back to the 1980s.

Justice and following The Dictator: “What state officials can do is deliver on justice. Justice comes from good governance observed by state officials. After all officials observe good governance, work can be fast and accurate, [and with that] then comes fairness and justice. Justice is about how the legal process is enforced. The last part, fairness, is how well the political rights, the duties and power of the people, are taken care of. In the long term, it is about having a peoplecentric and problem-solving approach. To address problems of the people in this case, the government has announced the 12 Core Thai Values policy. This shows that people come before the structure and the system.” Presumably this means all people will be happy.

Decentralization: The real answer is, “No way!” He babbles a lot, but that is the answer. For example: ” There are three mechanisms in the administration: centralization, authorization, and decentralization.” He declares: “There has to be one government for the whole country. For a government to occupy the whole of Thailand, [local central government offices] have to be the government’s eyes and ears…. If one asks, “Who is a governor?” the governor is the ears and eyes for the government in each province. Who is the district head? The district head is the [central] government in a district. Imagine what would happen to the country if the government was not in Bangkok, in Isaan or in the South—there would no one from the central government [in those places].

Freedom and electoral processes: Forget it. “[B]ecause [people] misunderstand the nature of a unitary state of Thailand, people might think the word ‘freedom’ must be used. With Thai democracy, it is impossible to talk about rights and freedoms by the book because rights and freedoms are related to the quality of the people. If we don’t have democracy yet, then the quality, perspectives, and knowledge of our people should be taken into consideration. I’m not complaining, but these are all obstacle to democracy.”

Local elections: Forget them. “It is within my authority to appoint [new] members [to formerly elected local bodies]. While we are [in a period] when we do not have confidence in the electoral process and the election system is being reformed, we use appointments as authorized by the NCPO. The procedures and rules are already defined. [Appointees] must be a bureaucrat who has served in the position in the area for a certain period as legislatively defined.”

The future: In a word, bleak. Rule by autocratic officialdom. “The bureaucracy is the mechanism of the government. Taking care of the people’s welfare is the duty [of the bureaucrat]. When bureaucrats do their job with good governance and with responsibility to the people, the faith and trust of the people [in us] will provide the energy for us to move together. Without trust, the country cannot develop. Come and work together [with us].”

The military coup was was meant to return authority to unelected bodies. The governor seems to be saying it has been successful in Khon Kaen. We are sure that he deludes himself and his bosses, yet the direction is clear.





Don’t get sick in Khon Kaen

28 05 2012

Hopefully readers in Khon Kaen avoided getting sick on 28 May. Why? Basically because a royal cavalcade to Khon Kaen University’s Srinakarin Hospital will close the entrance to the hospital and several access roads.

The memorandum reproduced here and sent by a reader, gives details of closures for the royal procession of Princess Srirasmi, the crown prince’s current official wife. The thing that seems to have upset people in Khon Kaen is point 5 in the memo which tells emergency vehicles with serious cases to either hang about and wait for the royal procession to leave or go to some other nearby hospital. That makes the memo’s authors at KKU’s ever so royalist Faculty of Medicine look uncaring by putting royal convenience and security above the lives of people in emergency situations.

Closing roads for royal process is pretty much a normal thing in royalist Thailand. Ambulances and all emergency vehicles are also stationary while the higher-ups catapult past.

This is also seen in other countries for royals and some non-royal leaders. However, in Thailand it is a rather too regular occurrence, and even casual visitors to the country usually come across such a disruptive event. It is heralded by the sudden appearance of police at all intersections, barking at people not to use footbridges, and the sudden deathly silence as all traffic is cleared until the whoosh of the royal cavalcade zooms past in a large herd of expensive, often light yellow, vehicles.

The annoying thing for some is not just that emergency vehicles are stopped, sometimes for a considerable time, but that these processions are for all royal outings, not just official ones. So if the younger princesses want to party at a nightclub, all the roads are closed to facilitate their fun.





A tale of two (112) cities

6 02 2012

There have been plenty of news articles on the Nitirat campaign that PPT has been able to comment on. Here we want to point to two stories that we don’t have time to comment on in any detail, but would like to recommend to readers:

At Isaan Record: Article 112 Reform in the Provinces, a story on the Campaign Committee to Amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code (CCAA 112) in Khon Kaen. This was an interesting quote:

Though Sunday’s Khon Kaen discussion proceeded without incident, K[hon] K[aen] U[niversity]’s academics were conspicuously absent, with much of the modest crowd composed of local Red Shirts, independent community members, and student activists.

Boonwat Chumpradit, a Khon Kaen Red Shirt villager in attendance, found the silence of KKU’s professors troubling. “Professors at the university should be the ones leading us,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to be the ones leading them.”

That fits our knowledge of the academics at KKU, which seem like an island of yellow in a sea of red.

At Prachatai: Forum on Article 112 banned at Mahasarakham University, that reports on the Dean of the College of Politics and Governance effectively banning a proposed discussion by students of the lese majeste law.

Dean  Sida Sonsri “explained” (a misleading word in this context) that the College had “not restricted academic freedom” while refusing them a room for discussion. She demanded that the students of her College

hold the forum at a more proper place where ‘diverse views can be expressed with no risk of violence, which is unforeseeable due to conflicts on such a sensitive issue.

PPT would have thought that a real “College of Politics and Governance” in a real university would have been exactly the right place for such a discussion. The Dean should be ashamed of herself, acting as a censor of students rather than their intellectual leader.





Updated: Mobilization in Ubon

14 05 2010

PPT is particularly interested in accounts of events taking place outside Bangkok.  We recently received word from Thai Report of this mobilization of red shirts in Ubon. See the images here.

Update: Here’s the video.

Earlier, David Streckfuss wrote an account of events in Khon Kaen for the Bangkok Post — also well worth a read: 24 April 2010, “A lesson from the events in Khon Kaen”





Ji Ungpakorn on events in Bangkok

25 04 2010

PPT posts the full text of Ji Ungpakorn’s latest update below. In particular, PPT notes with concern the report of the mistreatment of the latest lese majeste prisoner to be arrested, Tanyawut Taweerotemakul. If any PPT readers have further information that you are willing to share, please send it to us at thaipoliticalprisoners@gmail.com

Latest from Bangkok

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

After the military-backed Abhisit Government rejected a peace offering by pro-democracy Red Shirts, this unelected Government is preparing for a military crackdown against civilians. Rather than hold democratic elections, they are prepared to cling to power with violence and blanket censorship of all forms of media.

  • Mobile motorcycle troops carrying lethal weapons are driving around Bangkok intimidating people wearing red shirts on the streets.
  • 30,000 troops are massing to use lethal force against civilian pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok.
  • NGOs and “peace” groups continue to support the Government stand and blame both sides for any violence. NGOs therefore believe that the people don’t have a right to demand democracy and that the Government has a right to mobilise troops against them.
  • Khon Kaen Red Shirts have stopped van loads of police and taken their weapons. Police seem to have cooperated.
  • Red motorcycle “cavalry” are setting up road blocks on outer ring road around Bangkok to stop troops.
  • In Sakon Nakorn, North-east, Red Shirts have block a paramilitary border patrol police barracks.
  • Red motorcycle “cavalry” have surround troops with weapons at Rungsit mint, just north of Bangkok.
  • Thousands of Red Shirts in Udon, in the north-east, seize a police station and all the arms! Fighting for Democracy!
  • Previously, the army and the Government shot dead 20 civilians on 10th April in Bangkok. Abhisit and his Government continue to lie about the events and claim that the Red Shirts are “terrorists”.
  • Agent provocateurs have fired M79 grenades on two occasions, while the army and the Government are openly backing fascist mobs who try to provoke the Red Shirts. These fascist mobs are PAD supporters wearing different coloured shirts and claiming to be “people of Bangkok”. They have used bottles and sling shots against the Red Shirts. One soldier put a gun to a policeman’s head to stop the police from arresting fascists throwing bottles. The PAD want a mainly appointed parliament. They took over the international airports with the help of the army in 2008.
  • The King is silent and waiting, as ever, to see which side wins. The Queen and Crown Prince have shown support for the army.
  • Red eagle, Tanyawut Taweerotemakul, the latest lese majeste prisoner and manager of UDD USA’s site, has been beaten up in prison




Sulak reports to court

20 05 2009

At 9 a.m. on 18 May 2009, noted social critic Sulak Sivaraksa reported to the Khon Kaen court. Sulak was arrested on 6 November 2008 on charges of lesè majesté stemming from statements he allegedly made in December 2007 while lecturing at Khon Kaen University. Sulak was granted six months bail in November 2008 while an investigation was ongoing. The investigation is still incomplete, so Sulak has been asked to appear before the court in Khon Kaen every twelve days until it is complete.

Even as he alluded to the personal hassle he faced in dealing with the bureaucracy, Sulak called for reform, not abolition of the lesè majesté law.

For further information about the latest developments in English, please see Prachatai, 19 May 2009, “Sulak Sivaraksa reports to court on lèse majesté charge, blames Thaksin”; ภาษาไทย ดู ประชาไท, “ส.ศิวรักษ์รายงานตัวต่อศาลคดีหมิ่นสถาบัน อ้างทักษิณแกล้งผม”

Please also see PPT’s background on Sulak’s case here.