Updated: An authoritarian royal embrace

18 02 2018

Nothing surprises when it comes to the military dictatorship. It has jailed hundreds, ignored the law, sent refugees back to jails several times, covered up murder and corruption, ignored human rights and embraced the nastiest of autocrats.

BenarNews reports that the junta has “defended its decision to award the chief of Myanmar’s armed forces a royal decoration…”.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was awarded the Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant” and was “nominated for the honor by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Aug. 21, 2017, four days before violence erupted in Rakhine state.”

That dating sounds suspicious but even if it is accepted, he has a nasty reputation. In fact, he seems the kind of military leader who would be a brother in arms with the Thai generals. Whatever the timing, the award represents Thai military and palace support for human rights abuses in Myanmar.

He received the award from his Thai counterpart, Gen. Tarnchaiyan Srisuwan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The award, the Thai military said, was “to show the long and close relations” between Thailand and Myanmar.

That truth is confirmed when Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich told Reuters that the presentation of the honor to Myanmar’s military chief was “a separate issue from human rights…”.

The royalness of the award frightened human rights advocates. Those “interviewed by BenarNews also criticized the decision to honor the head of the Myanmar military, but asked that they not be identified for fear of being accused of violating Lese-Majeste…”.

Update: Helpfully, the Bangkok Post has an interview with Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing, pointing out that this is his second royal decoration. He states:

The military leaders of both countries have been quite close for some years now.

I have had a close relationship with Thai generals starting with [chief of Defence Forces] Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn’s predecessor, Gen Songkitti [Jaggabatara].

The one I was closest to is Gen Tanasak [who served in the post between 2011-2014] but I am also close to the others. His successors are Gen Worapong [Sanganetra] and Gen Sommai [Kaotira] then Gen Surapong [Suwana-adth] and the current chief, Gen Thanchaiyan Srisuwan].

He is also close to privy council head General Prem Tinsulanonda and thus has that palace connection that links military and monarchy. When asked of his status as Prem’s “adopted son,” he replied:

During the time when Gen Tanasak was the defence chief, he gave me a chance to pay respects to Gen Prem who is the same generation as my father. When we met, we had an exchange of experiences, of being leaders. He [Gen Prem] gave me advice. Being like father and son is very good and makes things better in many ways.

Frighteningly he says of the relationship between the two sets of murderous militaries:

We are like brothers.

Every time we meet, we exchange experiences.

Thailand is experienced in democracy and has passed so many things.

When we are close like brothers, we open up and share the experience.

The good things in this era contributed to the changes in Myanmar’s democracy.

We are scratching our heads on “good things,” but guess that “good things” for these military thugs are probably bad things for the rest of us. For example, when asked about “problems in Rakhine state, ” he answered:

I would rather not talk about it. But I will only say that I will do my best to take care of the problem. Furthermore, in Myanmar, there is no ethnic group called Rohingya. They are Bengalis who came from somewhere else. We will follow the laws.

That last bit is also among the lies peddled by Thailand’s military dictatorship.

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.

Piling on lese majeste cases

14 02 2018

Usually the military dictatorship just piles up lese majeste cases at a rate of one to two a week since 2014. However, in the case of singer and red-shirt Tom Dundee (Thanat Thanawatcharanon), the regime is piling case up against him.

The 60 year old activist is already in jail for more than 10 years on two lese majeste “convictions,” but the regime seems determined to bury him under cases and to keep sending the message to those inclined to republicanism to keep very quiet or risk charges, more-or-less mandatory conviction and jail.

Following his conviction, in early 2018, another charges was laid. Now, on 13 February 2018, the Bangkok Criminal Court summoned Tom from prison to be indicted on a fourth lese majeste charge. This charge relates to “a speech at a red-shirt rally in 2011 in Lamphun Province.”

Yes, that’s 2011. It is not a typo.

This latest charge against Tom suggests how desperate the regime and palace are in stamping out republicanism.

The activist has agreed to plead guilty to a charge that he compared “Thailand with Denmark, where the King has to stop at traffic lights.”

Yes, that’s commenting on kings and traffic lights. The prosecutor claimed this comparison was illegal because Tom’s words “can be understood to be referring to King Rama IX, and makes ordinary people have negative thoughts against the monarchy…”.

There’s a couple of things to note here. First, it seems Tom did not mention any royal by name. Second, it seems the prosecutor knows that Thais understand that the comment is about their then king because stopping traffic for all levels of royal in Thailand is common and commonly hated. In such circumstances, it seems the prosecutor is also “defaming” the monarchy by drawing this conclusion. And, third, discussion of delays associated with tiresome, polluting and expensive royal cavalcades has been public for many years. Back in 2012, efforts were made to “improve” the situation. (We doubt the current obsessive-compulsive king would want other than to make the cavalcades more intrusive and wasteful. That’s his style.)

All of this makes the fourth case against Tom simply mindless vengefulness on the part of the royalist military regime.

Tom apparently “agreed” to plead guilty after previously denying all accusations and fighting his cases because he knows that defending the cases means longer jail terms. He now “wants the prosecution to end as soon as possible,” and hopes to seek a pardon.

A ditch question

13 02 2018

A few days ago PPT posted a note on the long-proposed Kra Canal. We said the story at the little-known web-based The Independent in Singapore was weird. We said this because the source for its story, “‘Very erratic’ new Thai King may pave the way for Kra canal leading to Singapore’s doom” is the right-wing extremists of the LaRouche organization, including its Schiller Institute.  The Independent’s story, while somewhat garbled, says that the king is “favorable to building the Kra Canal … [and] that several leading figures on the Thai Privy Council are fully behind the project…”. The main LaRouche claims on the Canal are here and here.

Apparently, this story is not a complete concoction. The Bangkok Post now includes an editorial on the Kra Canal project being back on the books for the military junta. It says: “has brought the Kra Canal proposal back to life. To be precise, it has ordered a study on a project it has officially renamed as Klong Thai. The new name is presumably a minor celebration of the new eternal Thai-ness campaign, Thai Niyom Yangyuen.”

There’s no particular mention of the LaRouche connections, no mention of the current king (but a couple of kings past) and no mention of the Chinese role in the push for the big ditch.

The junta says that there’s only an update study being done. At the same time, there seems limited enthusiasm:

Lt Gen Sansern [junta spokesman] put exactly the correct, two-part spin on this age-old proposal for a cross-Thailand canal. The first is that there never has been any public push for such a project. The manufactured claims of urgency for studies and start of construction are entirely by involved interests, chiefly businesses who see great profits from everything, including construction, maintenance and, of course, buying and selling land.

Finally, as the spokesman says, the real need for Thai infrastructure necessarily pushes the proposal for a Kra Canal by any name far down the list….

So the question really has to be asked. Is this study being done to please the king or to please former military commanders, rightists and an odd coterie of businessmen-cum-hunters and other profit seekers?

A catch-up

9 02 2018

PPT has been concentrating on short posts in recent days, trying to keep up with rapidly developing stories. That means we have neglected some stories and op-eds that deserve consideration. So this post is a bit of a catch-up.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun at The Diplomat writes about election delays. We’ve posted plenty on that. He also links to the king, noting that “Vajiralongkorn has been preoccupied with consolidating his position, most evidently through his request to have the constitution amended, particularly when it comes to the provisions related to royal affairs.” Those changes fir the mold of a king comfortable with the regime.

Brian Klaas may not be a well-established commentator on Thailand, but selling himself as “on democracy, authoritarianism, American politics, US foreign policy, political violence, and elections.” He has an op-ed at The Washington Post. There are problems with his op-ed. His description of the 2014 coup sounds more like the 2006 coup, some factual errors – no “elections approached in 2015” and there’s a bunch first person references including this gem: “Every time I’ve interviewed generals in the junta in Bangkok, they say the right things. They know how to speak in the Western lexicon of democracy — promising a swift return to elections and human rights protections. But they don’t follow through.” Still, his analysis of the junta’s delaying tactics on “elections” is accurate.

At the East Asia Forum, Tyrell Haberkorn is correct that the “dictatorship has methodically entrenched itself…”. She goes on to explain how a central element of that process is political repression. She’s also right to observe that the “most potent tool in upholding the status quo of the dictatorship is the most feared provision of the Criminal Code: Article 112, which stipulates a punishment of 3–15 years’ imprisonment per count of lese majeste.”

At the Journal of Contemporary Asia there are a couple of new papers on Thailand. One is behind a paywall but is probably of interest as it is on rice policies. Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies by Jacob Ricks looks at the history of rice policies and subsidies. The second, anonymous, article is currently available for free download. It is Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance.

The last link was sent by a reader and is in the category of the weird. The Independent, said to be Singapore-based, recently had this headline: “‘Very erratic’ new Thai King may pave the way for Kra canal leading to Singapore’s doom.” It says that the king is “favorable to building the Kra Canal … [and] that several leading figures on the Thai Privy Council are fully behind the project…”. The source is revealing: the extremists of the LaRouche organization, including its Schiller Institute, misidentified as a “think tank.” The LaRouche group has been promoting this project for decades as part of its support for a “new Silk Road” with LaRouche speaking in Bangkok several times. We have previously mentioned some of the LaRouche links to rightists and royalists in Thailand, including Sondhi Limthongkul, and the connections to the alt-right in the U.S., including quite mad conspiracy theorists.

He who must be obeyed

6 02 2018

No, not the suddenly rather quiet General Prayuth Chan-ocha, The Dictator, but the obsessive–compulsive king.

Back in December, the king decided to order changes for security forces. He ordered a new form of salute and forms of military posture for police and military, new uniforms for police so that all wore exactly the same color and ordered new haircut regulations for the armed forces and police.

Some might have thought that this was a passing phase that the king might have forgotten when he jetted off for Germany. But his loyal minions are on the job. As one former cop put it:

Lt. Gen. Songpol Wattanachai … said he took example from the royal guards protecting King Vajiralongkorn, who are known for distinctive khao sam daan haircuts required by the monarch.

“It’s a royal practice,” Songpol said. “Let’s say we are all serving His Majesty the King. So it’s the same direction now. It looks beautiful … it’s good to have this short haircut. It doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Okay, it’s a kid’s haircut, but it is what the king wants for his children-police.

So it is that “40 policemen found out earlier this week they were suspended from active duty, it wasn’t for insubordination or dereliction of duty. It was their haircuts.”

A police spokesman said all police must obey.

Police commissioner Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, also known to associate with the flesh trade, “last week reiterated that all police stations must comply with the new style.”

Som of those sent to inactive posts complained that they had had the required silly haircut but that it had grown back – indeed, hair does grow – but was not “white” enough on the sides.

It seems the cops are at a loose end, so the force has teams of inspectors out looking for poor haircuts. In fact, they are so fearful of the king’s wrath that they behave like schoolyard bullies to their subordinates while slithering before their big boss.


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.”