Updated: More lese majeste censorship

26 04 2017

The military junta is again exercised by lese majeste, suggesting they may be getting a boot in the backside from the new and the easily annoyed king.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, a regulator, and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society which is actually a censorship ministry, have, according to the Bangkok Post, “reiterated their demand that all internet service providers (ISPs) and international internet gateway providers block webpages and content that contain or promote illegal acts or breach Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law.”

“Illegal acts” usually mean things like sedition, gambling and pornography, but previous bouts of blocking and censoring have mostly been about lese majeste.

The junta has demanded that these agencies do more to protect the tawdry reputation of the king. It wants ISP cooperation “to remove illicit video streaming on Facebook and YouTube from their local network server, called a content delivery network (CDN).”

Takorn Tantasith, the NBTC secretary-general, opined that there’s been “good cooperation between the regulator and the ministry” but that “the government [he means military junta] hopes for more, and expects better result by next month…”.

Takorn is dutifully and enthusiastically calling for “serious cooperation” from ISPs and international internet gateway (IIGs) providers to “block webpages … after receiving a court order or when their own monitoring staff finds such [offending] material.” He demands that they “immediately inform the NBTC or DE if they cannot block a webpage due to it being encrypted overseas.” When that happens, these agencies again say they will “ask cooperation from embassies and the Foreign Ministry…”.

A more difficult area is when content they don’t like derives from “online video or video streaming stored with ISP servers in country on their CDN or cache server.”

It also seems that the Ministry and the NBTC are “reiterating their warning to people not to ‘follow’ or correspond with three well-known opponents of the regime, who are now living overseas.” This means exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, exiled political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

This military dictatorship has tied itself to the monarchy, meaning that, at least for the time being, it will reflect the views from the king, and he has shown that he is intolerant and violent.

Update: Prachatai has background on the NBTC’s new role on censoring streaming and online video. It also has information on a probably related piece of legislation that gives police the right to intercept communications. Welcome to the new reign (of terror).





Critic in fear for his life

23 04 2017

Asia Sentinel carries a report headlined “Thai Critic Faces Death Threat.” We guess that the story is blocked for many readers in Thailand, so while not reproducing the report in full, PPT posts the main points from it.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun has become one of the most implacable critics of the country’s ruling king, … Vajiralongkorn, and the junta that took over the country in a coup in 2014. Now that may have put his life in danger from the country’s erratic and violence-prone king.

The report reports the story that Pavin and two others have been “banned” by the junta, with anyone contacting them being threatened with jail.

… The junta has unsuccessfully attempted to persuade several governments to return Pavin to Thailand. He has lived in exile since the coup, mostly as an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan although he has traveled and lectured widely in the United States and Europe, often with royalist Thais attempting to shout him down. The government has also sought to persuade foreign governments to bar him from speaking.

… In recent days, Pavin has escalated his attacks with a series of articles published in Asia Sentinel, New Mandala, and Washington Post, charging that the new king is reigning “as a monarch whose authority is based on fear and cares little about those around him. In vivid and depressing language, Vajiralongkorn’s command structure, Pavin said, resembles those of Thai mafias, or chaophos.

After the article ran, Pavin learned from a number of credible sources that the new king would seek to “manage” him, which in Thai vernacular usually means he would seek to kill his critic.

“So the warning is credible given the credibility of the source,” Pavin told Asia Sentinel. “Someone may come after me in Japan, although my friend believes it will be difficult because of where I live. But they could attack me when I travel overseas, that would be more likely.

Asia Sentinel reminds readers that “several people who worked for or with the new king have met their deaths under mysterious circumstances.” It mentions deaths and disappearances, naming: Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha and Major General Pisitsak Saniwong na Ayutthaya, Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri and Police General Akrawut Limrat.

… Deep concerns about the new king’s behavior have circulated for years, and although the country’s severe lese majeste laws have kept them out of the local press, they have circulated widely….

Since he replaced his … father, the lese-majeste laws and the military’s campaign to build Vajiralongkorn’s royal presence into near-mystical status have become a kind of trap for the junta. His erratic and violent behavior are now unchecked….

It is believed that the king engineered the disappearance of [a] memorial plaque of 1932 revolution, since he hated the revolutionaries who abolished absolute monarchy 85 years ago. And now he wishes to revive royal absolutism….

Thailand has arrived at a critical juncture in which the head of state is ruling its subjects with fear. His yearning for absolute power seems to have been met with the military’s own wish, a country where politics is a game of the political elites. To consolidate their rule, events have shown both the monarchy and the military have resorted to brutal tactics to eliminate its critics….

 





More secret king’s business II

22 04 2017

In a post yesterday we mentioned the secret changes made to  royal agencies. The reports that we had seen suggested a “re-organization,” and we wondered what was so nefarious that the changes were made surreptitiously.

A report at Reuters now explains the secret business a little more.

It seems the reason for the secrecy is that this is yet another episode of refeudalization as the new king requires more power be returned to the monarch. In this case, the king is consolidating his control over agencies that work for the monarchy, making them agencies of the monarchy.

The Reuters report states:

“It involves the transfer of agencies that work for the monarch so that they are grouped together and report to the king,” said one parliament member, who declined to be identified.

The agencies had previously been under the prime minister and defense ministry, he said. Other members of the National Legislative Assembly confirmed the decision….

We concur with Paul Chambers, identified as a lecturer at Naresuan University, who observes:

The transferring of these agencies to be under the monarch’s direct supervision is another sign of an increasingly absolutist monarch, following the pattern of the new constitution, which similarly was amended to legally enshrine more royal assertiveness….

In addition, placing security agencies under the sovereign’s direct control allows him to place those he trusts the most in charge of protecting him.

The reign of Rama X is looking dangerous, not simply because the king is aggregating power to his position but because the military junta appears content that this is “reform” rather than a “counter-revolution” that turns back decades of constitutionalism.

Meanwhile, the king seems to taking it easy on the shores of Lake Starnberg, surrounded by courtiers and concubines.





More secret king’s business I

21 04 2017

In case you missed it, the junta had the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) meet in secret on 20 April to enact a “new bill … to reorganise the six agencies serving the Crown…”.

The puppet lawmakers naturally “approved in-camera the royal administration bill which the Cabinet had added to the meeting agenda.”

We can only guess that the king has directed that these changes be made as he establishes his authority and his people in the palace.

The report states that “Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told members of the … NLA… the cabinet asked that the bill be deliberated in-camera. The sessions were no broadcast and non-members were asked to leave.”

The Nation adds that the “act was not available for public perusal.” NLA puppet-in-chief “Pornpetch Vichitcholchai … declined to speak on the matter, saying the meeting was confidential.”

The Post report states that “the new structure will have three agencies serving the palace.” A reconstituted Bureau of the Royal Household will merge the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and the Bureau of the Royal Household. The Royal Guard Command will merge the Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department and the Royal Guard Command. A new Office of the Privy Council is said to be created.

If this is the sum of the changes, then the secrecy beggars belief because the 2017 junta constitution allocates powers to the king in these areas:

Section 15: The appointment and removal of officials of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure.

The organization and personnel administration of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure as provided by Royal Decree.

This suggests the need for Wissanu to explain why the NLA needed to be involved. Otherwise, wild speculation is invited.

It is left to the imagination as to why a reorganization of the palace administration should be something that needs to be considered in secret. Was something nefarious going on? Is the reorganization likely to lead to conflict? Does the secrecy imply that something unconstitutional is being done? Is there a “deal” being done?

The secrecy means that any interpretation is possible.





A feudal future beckons

21 04 2017

Yellow shirt commentators do not worry much about military dictatorship. They see military dictatorship as “normal” for Thailand.

While most yellow shirts still believe that the military is the only thing standing between them, an election and the hated Thaksin Shinawatra, it is also clear that not all yellow shirts expected an enforced royal dictatorship that fosters Thailand’s refeudalization.

Nonetheless, yellow shirt anti-electionism and royalism naturally promotes refeudalization.

The symbolic removal of the 1932 plaque is not just a royalist act of political and historical vandalism. It is also one more step by the military junta that marks the path of Thailand’s refeudalization.

The attraction of a feudal political arrangement for the military dictatorship is that it has no truck for notions that the people are sovereign.

In this sense, while symbols can have multiple meanings, expunging those that can be used by those who demand popular sovereignty is a part of the military’s palace alliance and its 20-year plan for a “reformed” Thailand.

This is part of the reason why The Dictator is both mum on the removal of 1932 commemoration plaque and protective of the royalist plaque that replaced it. It is pretty clear that this vandalism initially caused fear among some in the junta. Now, however, they have fallen into line, knowing that by their own design, they are politically bound to the reign.

That the opposition and agitation over the removal of the plaque has largely come from those the junta considers the “usual suspects” has also meant that protection of feudalism and its symbols is an easy and “natural” decision.

The most recent act of protection has been to accuse opposition figure Watana Muangsook of “a computer crime for posting on Facebook that the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque is a national asset.”

As Prachatai explains it:

On 19 April 2017, Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, the Deputy Chief of the Royal Thai Police (RTP), revealed that the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) filed a complaint against Watana Muangsook, a politician from the Pheu Thai Party, for breaching the Computer Crime Act.

The police apparently think that the use of the term “national asset” is threatening and false.

Watana was due to report to the police. He is the second to face charges or detention over the plaque. Like Srisuwan Janya, Watana has called for the “return of the missing plaque and for prosecution of those responsible for its removal.”

No one associated with the removal of the plaque has been named, arrested or charged. The chances of this happening are pretty much zero.

As one correspondent stated, everyone knows who is behind this act, but no one can say for fear of lese majeste and jail.

Expunging the symbols of 1932 expunges notions of popular sovereignty. That serves the interests of the military-monarchy alliance where King Vajiralongkorn looks like a throwback absolutist.





Military court for lese majeste case

19 04 2017

Sarawut (surname withheld), 32, is an optometrist in Chiang Rai was charged with lese majeste before a military court, accused of defaming Prince Vajiralongkorn, now king.

He was detained 0n 11 October 2016 for lese majeste and computer crimes.

Initially denied bail, he later received it some three months later when his lawyer told the court that his client has to take care of his young sons.

The investigation of Sarawut’s case began when soldiers from the 37th Military Circle of Chiang Rai filed a complaint under Article 112 against Sarawut on 21 July 2016.

When Sarawut again appeared before a military court on 7 February 2017, he vowed to prove his innocence.

As the trial slowly moves forward, Prachatai reports that on 11 April 2017, the Chiang Rai Military Court scheduled the first examination of witnesses in this case. The trial will hear 10 prosecution witnesses and four witnesses will testify for the defendant. The first hearing will begin on 12 June 2017.





Fear and unintended consequences II

19 04 2017

Most of the breaking stories on the fate of the 1932 plaque are on social media, including the Facebook accounts of Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Another Facebook account worth following is that by Pravit Rojanaphruk, one of the bravest of local journalists.

The mainstream media is publishing material but because it is now widely assumed that the king had the plaque removed, that media is treading very carefully and fearfully.

Marshall claims that the plaque was removed on 5 April, the evening before the announcement of the military junta’s 2017 constitution. That, of course, would be symbolic vandalism.

When thinking about the king’s reason for moving against memories and symbols of 1932, it is important to recall that all he would know of that revolution would have been gained from his grandmother and father, both of whom were anti-People’s Party and anti-Pridi Phanomyong, or from disgruntled royals who mostly hated the events and people of what they consider a travesty of (their) history.

Reuters reported that The Dictator and the junta have been getting a plausible story together.

Self-appointed royalist premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “warned people not to protest against the mysterious disappearance of a plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy, a theft some activists see as a symbolic threat to democracy.” He’s also been working on “protecting” the replacement plaque “celebrating the monarchy.”

Prayuth babbled something about “police … investigating…”, but also diminished the significance of the theft, the plaque and the 1932 revolution. Essentially, Prayuth’s message was a mafia-like “forget about it.” He said that it was all in the past, history, and not worth the effort.

The idea that the junta doesn’t know what happened in an area that is usually crawling with police and military and is watched by dozens of cameras beggars belief. As Reuters says, the “square where the plaque went missing is close to parliament, to a royal throne hall and to an army barracks. The area is also surveyed by several police posts.”

Prayuth knows what happened. He is now worrying about the political fallout and the boot he may get up the backside if he says or does anything wrong.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, the police claim sudden attacks of brain death. Deputy police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul “admitted yesterday that he had no idea how to proceed with the case involving the mysterious removal of a plaque marking a 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy.” He knows he can’t move on this without some kind of “insurance” that he won’t end up shaven headed in the Bhudha Monthon Temporary Prison.

His babbling seemed like a man crazed or crazed by fear. In any case, while Prayuth declares the police are investigating, the police say they aren’t.

A group of activists filed a complaint, part of which explained to the police what they should be doing and why. We doubt the police, knowing the risks, will get of their ample posteriors.

What the police did do, according to several reports, was throw up a protective fence around the new royalist plaque, with a sign declaring it “royal ground.” You get the picture.

Reporters didn’t get the picture, however, as the police with some military support tried to prevent them from filming in the area.

They would not have done this without orders from The Dictator or from Tutzing.

Srisuwan Janya, arrested yesterday while trying to complain about the removal of the plaque, was released from military custody. He proclaimed that he would continue to complain, saying the new constitution gave him that right.

It remains to be seen what the full consequences of royal vandalism will be for the junta and the monarchy. It is certainly a damaging fiasco. Yet the junta knows it can manage fiascos – it has in the past. The question for the junta is whether they can manage the king.