Recalling the 2006 military coup

20 09 2019

The army’s task: coups and repression

19 September was the anniversary of the 2006 military coup. This was the coup that set the path for Thailand’s decline into military-dominated authoritarianism based in ultra-royalist ideology.

Over the past couple of days we didn’t notice a lot of memorializing of the event that illegally removed then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party, with tanks on the streets and soldiers decked out in royal yellow.

The military soon hoisted Privy Councilor Gen Surayud Chulanont into the prime ministership.

Anointing the 2006 coup

As we know, the coup did not succeed in its self-assigned task of rooting out the “Thaksin regime,” with Thaksin’s parties having been the most successful over the years that have followed and when the military permitted elections. This is why the 2014 coup was aimed at “putting things right,” through a more thorough political repression and a rigging of the political system for the ruling class. It also unleashed a rabid use of lese majeste to destroy that class’s political opponents.

One effort to recall the 2006 coup was by Ji Ungpakorn. He observes the:

forces behind the 19th September coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy….

2006 coup

And adds:

Most NGOs and large sections of the middle classes also supported the coup. What all these groups had in common was contempt or hatred for the poor. For them, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. For them, Thailand is still divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understand democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor”. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the poor who understand and are committed to democracy while the so-called middle classes are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.

For a flavor of the times, see reports of the coup by the BBC and The Guardian. For early efforts to understand the 2006 coup, consider Ji’s A Coup for the Rich, Thailand Since the Coup, and Thailand and the “good coup.”

It’s been downhill since 2006: repression, military political domination and ultra-royalism, leading to a form of neo-feudalism in contemporary Thailand.





Escaping the junta and rabid royalism

8 06 2018

Korean journalist Lee Jae-ho has written a poignant account of the plight of those hunted by the junta on lese majeste charges. It is a long story that deserves to be read in full.

After the coup, dissidents sought by the military junta and accused of various charges but including especially lese majeste, flooded across borders to Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Laos and Cambodia may have seemed safe for a time, but seem less so now as the junta does deals with regimes there. The relationship between the military in Myanmar and in Thailand makes it less safe.

Some well-connected political refugees went to France, New Zealand, the U.S., Sweden, U.K. and elsewhere, but those in Asia have been living an often precarious life.

Lee’s story is of Chanoknan Ruamsap who arrived in South Korea in January this year.

She arrived in Seoul as a “tourist.” But she had a contact who took her to Gwangju.

She had been accused of lese majeste for sharing the now famous and widely known and widely shared BBC Thai article on new King Vajiralongkorn. It included truthful comments on his past and alleged “philandering, gambling, his extravagant lifestyle and his involvement in illegal businesses.”

It was that story that has Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa in jail. Chanoknan’s summons came two years after she shared the article, but she was targeted as a political activist with the New Democracy Movement that the junta wanted to silence.

She’s from a well-to-do family, so she may be better off than other refugees. She’s in South Korea, because UNHCR has a presence there and with a 90 day visa it gave her time to deal with international officialdom, hoping to end up in Europe.

In Gwangju, an extensive set of human rights groups helped her. The May 18 Memorial Foundation covered “her living expenses until she gained approval as a refugee.” That Foundation has a history of involvement on lese majeste cases.

Now she waits….





Somyos as activist

9 05 2018

On his release

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, we recommend Prachatai’s story on its interview with recently released Somyos Prueksakasemsuk.

Somyos is a dedicated activist and campaigner, and this comes through loud and clear in this story as he continues to be critical of archaic laws and resulting repression, as well as the operations of the prison system.

PPT won’t cite anything from the story other than a classic line that says so much about lese majeste repression:

… some government officials offered to help him, and other lèse majesté inmates, get out of jail. All he had to do is to simply “give up” and plead guilty, but again he refused.

Those who use lese majeste as a means of political repression view guilty pleas as admissions of submission. One reason lese majeste sentences have become bizarrely long is that these regime enforcers can dangle this act of submission ever more enticingly for prisoners facing decades in trial and prison.

As he did throughout the years of phony trial and imprisonment, Somyos stood tall.





Get rid of the horrid monarchy law

2 05 2018

A Nation Editorial deserves attention as a call for reform of the despot’s political law of choice, the lese majeste law. It has been used brazenly to repress.

PPT has posted hundreds of times on the misuse of this law. It has been used in ways that are unconstitutional and unlawful. Persons have been convicted for what they did not say, for what they did not write. Some have been convicted for “crimes” against persons not covered by the law. Mothers and children have been convicted. Disabled and sick persons have received long sentences. Persons have been convicted on forced guilty pleas when they were not guilty. Sentences have been huge and the treatment of prisoners on lese majeste charges has been tortuous and unlawful. It has been used against political opponents and against some who have fallen out of favor in the palace itself.

The editorial states that “Somyot Pruksakasemsuk’s release after years in prison affords a chance to reflect on deeply unfair abuses of the law.” We could not agree more.

It says his “release from prison on Monday … should prompt the authorities to review the draconian lese majeste law, which was designed specifically to protect the monarchy but continues to be misused for political ends.”

Of course, it was “designed specifically” protect the military and politico-business elite. It protects a system and a configuration of power, not the monarchy on its own. The monarchy is the keystone for a repressive power structure that sucks wealth to those associated with the military-monarchy-tycoon elite or, as some say, the amart.

On the particular case, the editorial states that Somyos was jailed as a political opponent. It states that “[i]t was not and is not illegal to be aligned with the red shirt movement supporting former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his regimes’ policies. And it was unfair for Somyot to have been identified as anti-monarchy without evidence.”

It reminds us that Somyos was arrested and jailed by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime “as he was circulating a petition calling for Article 112 of the Penal Code – the lese majeste law – to be amended.” Indeed, Somyos was targeted because he opposed the very law that was used against him. The amart have a sense of purpose when opposing those who endanger the power structure.

The editorial states:

Article 112 is quite straightforward. It says anyone who defames insults or threatens the King, Queen, heir-apparent or regent shall be imprisoned for three to 15 years. The authorities’ case against Somyot was that he had published in his magazine two articles by Jit Pollachan, a pseudonym used by an exiled politician. The law was applied beyond its intended scope and meaning. The two articles merely mentioned the roles of the monarchy. There was no inherent insult to the monarchy.

Indeed, a majority of lese majeste cases fall into similar “misuses” of the law. But that’s the point. Lese majeste is designed to be used in these ways to protect the power structure.

It continues:

Thus, cases are often handled as though Thailand was still an absolute monarchy rather than a nation under the modern rule of law. People charged with lese majeste are routinely denied bail and held in pre-trial detention for months. Somyot was denied bail 16 times.

As the editor of a periodical, Somyot should have been protected by the Printing Act and the Constitution’s safeguards covering freedom of expression. But the Constitutional Court ruled in October 2012 that lese majeste breaches represented threats to national security and thus overrode any such protection.

When the editorial concludes by observing that “Somyot’s case should give all citizens pause for thought. Political reform is badly needed, and this unfair practice in particular has to be rolled back,” it makes a point that is very significant. It will scare the regime and those who benefit from this law.





Silencing witnesses

28 04 2018

Lese majeste, computer crimes, terrorism and sedition laws have been wielded by the military junta as a means to strangle and snuff out political opposition. Thousands have been arrested, detained, charged and many hundreds have spent time in jail.

This repression is about silencing dissent on the established social order and its institutions, as well as the military dictatorship itself.

Prachatai reports on one of the most odious of uses of these laws. The United Lawyers For Rights & Liberty “has initiated crowdfunding for the bail of a lèse majesté suspect who witnessed the 2010 military crackdown on the red-shirt protest and has been in detention for over three years.”

The lawyers are planning to submit another bail request for Nattathida Meewangpla or Waen who is also held on a terrorism charge. Earlier posts at PPT are here, here, here, here and here.

A volunteer nurse, Waen is an important witness in the murder of six individual at Wat Pathum Wanaram Temple by soldiers during the crackdown on red shirts on 19 May 2010.

For more than three years, she has been imprisoned by the regime having been arrested for terrorism and lese majeste, the courts have consistently denied her bail.

The impression is that the regime, led by generals responsible for the massacre, wants he silenced. Certainly, they have not been in any rush to proceed with her trial. Her first hearing is scheduled for May this year. The terrorism case has made little progress.

Waen was accused of being involved in the 2015 Bangkok Criminal Court bombing with the evidence being a transaction record of 5,000 baht to her by another suspect.

While the other three “terrorism” suspects were released on bail in July 2017, the Bangkok Military Court, Waen was kept in jail, accused of lese majeste sharing a message in a private Line chatroom.

The lawyer essentially argues that her devices were confiscated on her arrest on 11 March 2015, “but the alleged message was uploaded about a week later.” It is not unusual for the police and military to plant “evidence.”

The ULRL is now seeking “900,000 baht to bail her out of the two charges — 400,000 baht for the terrorism charge and 500,000 baht for the other [lese majeste].” Prachatai has details on donations for Waen and ULRL.





Dictatorship and royalty

23 04 2018

The military dictatorship has proven itself to have the right attitudes and ideology for dealing with other authoritarian regimes, especially the party dictatorships of China and Laos and the Hun Sen regime in Cambodia. Most especially, Thailand’s military regime has felt most comfortable in dealing with military leaders in those countries.

It has had some issues with Laos, where red shirt and republican dissidents reside having fled the royalist military dictatorship following the 2014 coup. The military dictatorship has kept the pressure on, and we can assume some collusion in the enforced disappearance of Ko Tee from his residence in Laos. He’s presumed dead.

Thailand has a long history of political interference in its smaller neighbor’s politics, and there have been many ups and downs. So it is to be expected that all Lao regimes develop the relationship with some caution.

The current Thai dictatorship has been especially agitated about republican dissidents in Laos and has been seeking a deal to get them jailed in Thailand or, if that fails, to have them silenced.

Speaking in Vientiane, Lt Gen Souvone Leuangbounmy, chief-of-staff of the Lao People’s Armed Forces has “played down Thai authorities’ concerns about political fugitives and those wanted under Section 112 of the Criminal Code…” in Laos.

He says that “Thai political fugitives in Laos will be kept under strict surveillance to prevent them from engaging in lese majeste activities…”. He added that “Laos would be vigilant in trying to stop any acts which could affect Thai people” and soothed the military junta: “Please rest assured. You can count on us…”.

He made these comments as Thai military leaders visited Laos. We assume that he was saying this because the Thai military visitors had raised the issue (again).

Perhaps Lt Gen Souvone’s position is a compromise by his regime, under pressure from the “big brothers.” Will they accept this?





Lese majeste catch-ups

18 02 2018

Natthika Worathaiwit was one of The Facebook 8 who were arrested by the military dictatorship because of a satirical Facebook community page that poked fun at The Dictator. They were charged with sedition and computer crimes on 28 April 2016. Tow of them, Harit Mahaton and Natthika were charged with lese majeste.

Initially all were refused bail. When six of the eight were bailed, a military court refused bail for Natthika and Harit. The two firmly maintained their innocence. After more than two months in prison, on 8 July 2016, the two were released on bail. A month later, a military prosecutor indicted the two anti-junta critics on lese majeste and computer crimes.

Little more was heard about the case until in January 2018 Natthika revealed that she had decided to flee Thailand to seek asylum in the U.S. She remains critical of the military dictatorship. Prachatai has an interview with her in the U.S.

Prachatai also reports on a case with a curious twist. Back in March 2016, it was reported that that nine persons are to be charged with lese majeste over the Tob Jote/ตอบโจทย์ television show in 2013. ThaiPBS aired the program on the monarchy and lese majeste law on 11-14 March and 18 March 2013. The series featured historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who later went into exile, conservative royalist Sulak Sivaraksa, the execrable Surakiart Sathirathai and retired ultra-monarchist Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn. The show hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma. All are mentioned in the new set of charges, with four others.

Later, in July 2014, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) imposed a 50,000 baht fine on ThaiPBS for broadcasting political discussions about the monarchy. The NBTC declared that the broadcasts violated “Article 37 of the NBTC Act. The Commission accused the station of publishing content that instigated conflict, damaged peace and order, or damaged the good morality of the people.”

Royalists and the junta could not abide by notions that Thais could have a reasonable discussion of the monarchy or be allowed to think for themselves about the monarchy.

On 15 February 2018, the Administrative Court invalidated the fine. In doing so, it ruled that the NBTC showed bias (which is standard operating procedure for this bunch of junta minions). That bias got a name:  Lt Gen Peerapong Manakit, one of the NBTC members. According to the report, the “court ruled that bias on the part of … [Peerapong] who proposed the punishment, led to an unfair trial. The court ordered the Commission to refund the fine to Thai PBS…. However, the verdict does not rule whether the show’s content was legal or not.”

It is an interesting ruling. If Peerapong’s name rings a bell, it could be because he is another of those military hogs who can’t keep out of the trough, as reported in The Nation:

… there was a public outcry after an Office of the Auditor-General investigation revealed Peerapong Manakit had topped the list of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission members who had made the most overseas “study” trips last year…. He spent about one-third of his time (129 days) on 20 overseas trips at a cost of Bt12.03 million…. Peerapong has reportedly appointed his wife Janya Sawangjit as his adviser, effective October 1. Her salary is Bt120,000 a month…. It is not clear if NBTC commissioners can take their advisers on overseas trips.

Of course, nothing happened about this nepotism and he remains a commissioner, with a bunch of other military and royal-connected men.