Mad monarchists under pressure

24 05 2017

The frenzy of efforts to “manage” the internet and cleanse it of allegedly anti-monarchy information has become so manic that Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nongharnpitak, the chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, has threatened every user of social media in the country.

Some estimates place the number of Thais now under lese majeste threat and repression at over 50 million. That probably includes people with multiple accounts, but you get the picture and users, the mad monarchists hope, get the message.

A Bangkok Post editorial states that the madness of the authorities “have gone unacceptably overboard in their censorship.” It adds that “[t]he always questionable campaign to clean the internet of nasty material now is out of control.”

We think that point was passed many years ago, but the madness is clearly now having an impact on middle class opinion. Even the Post still considers the lese majeste crackdown a “righteous” effort. That is indeed sad because it fails to adequately acknowledge this core element of military authoritarianism. It also fails to acknowledge the dangerous nature of the new reign for Thailand.

As the editorial notes, the CIB is just one of a plethora of agencies hunting lese majeste in the king’s laundry:

lese majeste “detectives” who already include the army, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the National Intelligence Agency, the CIB’s parent Royal Thai Police Bureau, the CIB’s “brother” technology police, the Thai Internet Service Provider Association (Tispa) and others.

The resources used (and wasted) in this lese majeste laundry are immense. But the question of why the military monarchists have gotten so mad is not addressed.

Another Bangkok Post report is of another mad performance by Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. He has declared that:

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an industry association made up of eight internet giants, has agreed in principle to work with local authorities to tackle webpages and content that violate the law.

Takorn, who seems to relish media performance rather than substance, declared again that “it was crucial that all illicit webpages be removed according to court orders issued in Thailand.” He said that the junta has “asked the AIC if we could work together and achieve long-term cooperation on this matter…”. He claimed “the AIC agreed to be another source in helping alert the NBTC to illicit content and send it details of websites that break the law.”

What does this mean?

The AIC is “an industry association made up of Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo. The AIC seeks to promote the understanding and resolution of Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region.” It is a policy network made up of “government relations” employees of the firms involved.

Censorship does not seem to be one of the policy aims of the AIC. Indeed, and interestingly, its most recent “activity,” from December 2016, was to criticize the junta’s efforts.

In other words, Takorn is posing. Is it that the CIB is also grandstanding? Why would this be? We can only guess that the mounting madness has a lot to do with pressure being put on the junta to behave more maniacally than might be considered usual for authoritarian royalists. That pressure could only be from the palace.

If we are wrong, then we can only assume that the regime has completely lost its collective mind.





Burning down the house II

22 05 2017

The Reuters report mentioned briefly in a recent post has now been updated with more detail at Prachatai and at Khaosod. There are significant differences between the latter two reports on the alleged burning of a roadside portrait of the dead king.

The Reuters report referred to five detainees. Prachatai’s report states that three men – Chirayut, Rattathammanoon, Akkarapong (witholding surnames due to privacy concerns) – and a 14 year-old boy, all from Khon Kaen, were arrested on 19 May. It adds that two other suspects, Setha and Preecha, were “still at large.” Khaosod states:

Seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, are in military custody on suspicion of setting fire to a roadside portrait….

… an internal memo circulated by the Ministry of Interior Affairs identified four of them as Chirayu Sinpho, 19; Ratrthathammanoon Srihabutr, 20; Akkharapong Aryukong, 19; and a 14-year minor.

Prachatai states that those arrested, including the boy, are being investigated on lese majeste. Khaosd states that no charges have been laid so far.

Justifiably, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have issued a statement on the arrests:

The TLHR pointed out that the arrest of the four through the use of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Head’s Order No. 3/2015 is arbitrary and is against Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand is a state party of.

Under the order, peace keeping officers have authorities to detain incommunicado suspects of crimes against national security without specific charge and warrant for seven days.

The detention of the 14 years old suspect and ensuing detention at the military base is also against Article 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to police, the arrests are for allegedly burning an arch erected in Chonnabot District of Khon Kaen on 15 May. The detainees are held at the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok. The impression from the reports is that the “investigation” is by the military.

According to one report, four of those arrested have allegedly “confessed.” They allegedly state that “Preecha paid them 200 Baht each to burn the arch.”





Burning down the house I

21 05 2017

Reuters has a report on the latest arrests that seem likely to result in another clutch of lese majeste charges, with four men and a boy arrested on 19 May 2017 “for allegedly setting fire to portraits of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died last year.”

There’s not much to the report, not least because it repeats several standard and unthinking lines about monarch and Thais.

The suspects were arrested in Khon Kaen and the “case is being processed and under investigation at this time…”. How that is done is a mystery because the names of the men are unknown and they are not in Khon Kaen, as all five “have been transferred to the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok,” presumably to be threatened and tortured.





The king’s laundry II

21 05 2017

Immediately after writing our last post and wandering off for a bowl of noodles, we saw the Bangkok Post’s front page story of the day. We delayed this new post a couple of hours, and assume that many readers will have already seen this story. That said, it is such a display of political madness that we simply have to post on it.

The story claims that the police believe they are going to be “clamping down on lese majeste offences by shifting their focus to viewers of illegal content even if they do not post or share it.”

According to Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nongharnpitak, “lese majeste cases involve three groups of people: the producers of illegal content; the viewers who leave comments, share content or click Like; and those who read or view without interacting.”

It was only a few days ago that the cops agreed that merely clicking “like” did not necessarily constitute lese majeste. But following the Facebook debacle, it seems that the dragnet is being thrown much wider. So wide that whatever skerrick of legality remained with lese majeste cases will be completely erased.

The Central Investigation Bureau chief warned that “users of social media will be treading a narrow path as police plan to target viewers in the crackdown even if they do not interact with those illicit webpages.”

If they can’t get at those overseas producing anti-monarchy content, the police plan to threaten every Thai using Facebook.

The police threaten: “The third group simply follows and watches. They leave no comments. Police are acquiring tools to identify this group of viewers and investigate why they like watching [the content]…”.

Yes, the police are now claiming that they are going to be “investigating” psychological motives, online accidents and curiousness because “[w]atching lese majeste content may be deemed wrongdoing.”

Of course, this sounds legally ridiculous, but that is the nature of lese majeste under the military dictatorship seeking to launder the internet of material on the king that is considered officially unacceptable.

Law and logic are no part of lese majeste. It is a tool for extreme political repression and for getting rid of those the king no longer finds acceptable

Given that even the dopes at the CIB are not going to throw hundreds of thousands into jail – at least not yet – they say they will “warn them first.”

This seems unlikely. It is claimed for example that hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions have viewed recent material on the king that the military dictatorship wants to scrub and erase from the collective Thai mind. If they are to be “warning” them all, the police would have to forget murder, rape, drug trafficking, traffic problems and several other areas where they make money.

However, the police corrected their statement just a few words later, saying “not all viewers will be warned.” Who won’t be warned? Political opponents will be at the top of the list. But the police, presumably with training in clairvoyance, will “screen those who have the potential to commit offences.” They claim that this “procedure will be conducted on a case-by-case basis and information from an investigation will be taken into account.”

Burglars and bank robbers will be free to commit their crimes because, if this police horse manure was true, no cop will be available for any other work. They will all be the king’s internet slaves.

Again, what the military dictatorship is doing is creating a climate of fear. They do this by declaring that every Facebook user in Thailand a potential criminal.





The king’s laundry I

21 05 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship is expanding its already frantic efforts to create a political landscape cleansed of anything that shows the real king as other than the “official king.” Like slaves and handmaidens of centuries past, the junta is busy laundering the king’s image and cleaning up his own messes.

The laundered image is the often grim, sometimes seemingly bemused man in business suit and more often a military uniform, trailed by a daughter or officials appropriately bowed or slithering.

The only concession to a more real view is that the junta’s version does allow for the now most senior consort to be regularly seen.

His earlier and third wife, Srirasmi, had been thrown into house arrest and her family jailed in late 2015 as the then prince prepared for his reign.

The new, apparently official, number one consort is also often in the military uniform of a general. She was promoted by the king to this position. Her only “qualification” is that she is the king’s consort.

The image the junta launderers don’t want seen is that of the king trailing around his beloved Munich, dressed like fashion moron, sporting mail-order tattoo transfers and accompanied by another of his girlfriends, a legion of servants and a fluffy dog.

PPT doesn’t think fashion is a necessary qualification for being king. After all, that has to do with blood. Yet his “style” says something about the man. His desire to keep this side of his life from his Thai audience is also telling. (We do not believe that the military junta would be so frantic about these images if it wasn’t being pushed by a king known to be erratic, wilful and menacing.)

The seemingly demented efforts a week ago to threaten Facebook may not have been entirely successful, but they are again revealing. The Economist reflects on these bizarre and dangerous efforts to repress for the king:

Thailand has always treated its royals with exaggerated respect, periodically clapping people deemed to have insulted the king behind bars. But some thought the death of the long-reigning King Bhumibol in October and the accession of the less revered Vajiralongkorn might curb the monarchists’ excesses. Instead, it seems to have spurred them on. The military junta that runs the country is enforcing the draconian and anachronistic lèse-majesté law with greater relish than its predecessors.

We are not sure who could have thought that a new king, often secretive and with a reputation for vindictiveness, might have eased up.

Indeed, this king has a long history of lese majeste cases in his name. One of the first cases we wrote about at PPT was of Harry Nicolaides, an Australian who wrote a forgettable novel that included these lines:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives “major and minor “with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

Harry was probably writing of second wife, Yuvadhida, but the words could also be applied to the treatment  of Srirasmi.

Those words must have enraged somebody. They earned Harry a sentence of six years  in jail on 19 January 2009 (reduced to three years on pleading guilty). This for defaming the then crown prince now king.

If not in Thailand, where it is illegal, read Nicolaides’ novel here. Note that this scanned version of the book bears the stamp of the National Library of Thailand but should not be downloaded in Thailand.

The Economist continues:

At least 105 people have been detained or are serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté, compared with just five under the elected government the junta overthrew in 2014. Many of them posted critical comments about the royal family on social media; some simply shared or “liked” such comments. Other arrests have been on even pettier grounds. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a student activist, is on trial for sharing a profile of King Vajiralongkorn published by the BBC’s Thai service. Police have warned that those agitating for his release could themselves face charges. A well-known academic, Sulak Sivaraksa, remains under investigation for several instances of lèse-majesté, including questioning whether a 16th-century battle involving a Thai king really took place.

As we have said, this number of lese majeste cases is too low. Quoting the low number allows the prince-now-king too much latitude. The lese majeste arrests and charges have been swelled by various palace purges by Prince, now King, Vajiralongkorn. Lese majeste has been widely used against those he dislikes. Give him the “credit” he deserves and for this nastiness and vindictiveness.

The Economist mentions the (almost) latest set of six cases (we will post separately on another set of cases):

This month security forces arrested Prawet Prapanukul, a human-rights lawyer best known for defending lèse-majesté suspects. He risks a record 150 years in jail if convicted of all ten counts of lèse-majesté he faces. Several recent sentences for insulting royals have exceeded 50 years; the standard for murder is 15-20 years.

All of this is followed by a banal claim by the newspaper: “Thai kings have a long history of fostering democratic reform…”. There is simply no adequate historical evidence for such a claim. It is a royalist fabrication based on notions of Thai-style democracy that is “democracy with the king as head of state,” exactly what the current junta is promoting: no democracy at all.

That Vajiralongkorn is going to be ruthless and anti-democratic should not be a surprise to anyone. He comes from a long line of anti-democratic kings who have protected privilege by working with the military. The only threat to the continuing of this monarch-military dictators alliance is if the junta gets so ticked off with the king that it decides to do away with him. That possibility seems somewhat remote.

The more likely outcome for the short to medium term is more censorship and ever more maniacal efforts to police the king’s image and wash his dirty laundry.





Military rule continuing

21 05 2017

A story reproduced in a Malaysian newspaper begins this way:

Thailand enters its fourth year under military rule Monday with the junta firmly entrenched in power and prospects for the return of democracy bleak despite promised elections at the end of next year, rights activists say.

Briefly, the article notes that the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly “swiftly passed an array of laws aimed at gagging dissent, in a country that already had strict Lese-Majeste laws forbidding insults to the royal family.” The junta also ruled by decree.

The story is of repression: “Since the coup three years ago, the junta has detained 597 people, including politicians, activists and journalists, according to iLaw…”. It adds:

Among them, 82 were held for violating Lese-Majeste laws, under which offenders can get as many as 15 years in jail for sharing a story on Facebook, while 64 were hauled up for sedition, iLaw figures show.

As we have stated before, we think these figures are underestimates.

The story quotes national human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit: “The issue of concern is the snuffing out of freedom — [freedom] of speech, to hold demonstrations, peaceful public gatherings…. Human rights defenders are intimidated or prosecuted…”.

The Financial Times points to a critical transition:

A more unpredictable dimension for the junta is the arrival of the new king and the next phase in the military-monarchy alliance that has long underpinned the power of both. The generals clashed with Facebook this week as they stepped up efforts to scrub the Thai internet of commentary and images that were potentially embarrassing to the monarch. But the king has also been flexing his muscles independently, bringing various royally-linked institutions under his direct control and securing late changes to the constitution that increase his authority.

The junta is probably hoping for another royal death so that they can seek to further manage this relationship and maintain authoritarianism.

 





Tabloids agog

17 05 2017

Britain’s Tabloid The Sun is now writing about Thailand’s “wacky” king.

Tabloid attention is not just to his bizarreness, but to his history and a pattern of strange actions.

Sadly for Thais, wackiness and bizarre and strange actions extend to violence and a political preference for feudalism.

The junta has unleashed the monster and it can no longer control the narrative.