Unending lese majeste detention

6 11 2018

Adilur Rahman Khan is the Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights or FIDH. He has recently stated:

The detention and prosecution of Siraphop Kornaroot violate his fundamental rights to liberty, freedom of expression, and a fair trial – all rights guaranteed by international treaties to which Thailand is a state party. It is very disturbing that after more than four years there is no end in sight for Siraphop’s trial and the military court, which should not try civilians in the first place, continues to deny him bail.

This statement is in the context of the FIDH and its partner organization, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights having petitioned the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, seeking the release of lese-majeste defendant Siraphop.

The statement by FIDH observes:

Siraphop, 55, has been detained for more than four years and four months – the longest time for a person currently charged or serving a prison sentence under Article 112. Siraphop was arrested on 1 July 2014 in Bangkok and is currently incarcerated at the Bangkok Remand Prison. Since July 2014, the Bangkok Military Court has rejected Siraphop’s bail applications seven times, the most recent today, 5 November 2018. His trial before the Bangkok Military Court has been ongoing since 24 September 2014.

Also known as Rung Sila, Sirapop has been held for almost 1,600 days without his trial in a military court having been completed.

In petitioning the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, FIDH and TLHR called for:

the immediate and unconditional release of Siraphop and for all the charges against him to be dropped. FIDH and TLHR also urge the government to end the abuse of lèse-majesté and immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned under Article 112 for the mere exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Sirapop has refused to plead guilty. This often leads to not just arbitrariness on the part of the military junta and judiciary, but a vindictiveness that amounts to lese majeste torture.





Reporting lese majeste

3 10 2018

Two recent articles in The Nation reflect on lese majeste and both deserve some attention.

The first story is a poignant account of Nattathida Meewangpla’s case and the personal impact it has had. Nattathida’s misery over a lese majeste charge cannot be separated from the fact that she is a “key witness in the 2010 killings at Bangkok’s Wat Pathum Wanaram…”. She is currently on bail on the lese majeste case.

Being held in prison and without bail since March 2015 until her recent successful bail application was a form of lese majeste torture that has been repeatedly used by this regime and others before them.

She refers to fellow inmates who “knew how long they had to serve in prison before they could return home. But I didn’t have any hope. I had no idea what the punishment would be.”

Now also accused of lese majeste, she walked free on bail last month but has no idea when she’ll be back in jail.

Described as “a successful businesswoman, the mother of two boys and a part-time volunteer nurse” the charges she faced related to “terrorism” and lese majeste meant “her world collapsed almost overnight.”

In jail, she was harassed “for being a red-shirt supporter.” But it was when she was initially bailed on “terrorism” charges and then abducted by unknown officials even before she had left the gates of the prison and banged up again, on a concocted lese majeste charge, that she really struggled with the deliberate effort to break her. The military didn’t want a witness to the Wat Pathum Wanaram massacre talking.

She says she “became mentally unhinged,” adding: “I was shattered. It was beyond anger what I felt. It was intensely frustrating…”.

What would you do if you were me? Everybody at some point got to go home but I had to stay. What in the world? Why was did the trial go so slowly? What was I supposed to think when other inmates were suggesting I was being buried in the forgotten cell? There was no hope.”

Nattathida “knows she could be returned to prison at any moment. She refrained from talking about any mistreatment or discrimination because of uncertainty over her future.”

The second story is not particularly new but makes a point about the regime’s current lese majeste strategy. As we have noted, the military dictatorship, probably prodded by the palace, has decided to ease up on its use of lese majeste, replacing it with other charges like sedition and computer crimes.

The story cites iLaw’s documentation center head, Anon Chawalawan on the declining use of lese majeste. We do not necessarily agree with iLaw’s count of lese majeste cases, but there was a peak in cases in 2014 following the coup and into 2015, and then a decline following that.

Anon is correct in noting that immediately after the 2014 coup the military was clearing up cases, but not exactly as expressed in the article. The junta was using the law to attack mainly red shirts and others it considered “republicans.”

Anon stated that “during the military-led rule from 2014 to 2015, at least 61 people were prosecuted under Article 112…”. That’s a significant under-estimate. Our case lists suggests it was closer to 200 cases filed.

That makes the fact that there have been no reports of Article 112 cases this year all the more notable. That charges have been dropped, sometimes without any stated reason or explanation, is suggestive of high-level direction being given to the judiciary.

In this report, Anon is not quoted as saying anything about the use of other, “replacement” charges.

What we see, reading between line, that the junta feels that the anti-monarchists have been defeated or at least silenced (at least in country). It also seems that the argument that mammoth sentences and a huge number of cases does damage to the regime’s international reputation and to the monarchy may have been accepted for the moment. The change of practice also suggests that the military-royalist regime feels confident it can control politics going forward.





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.





Updated: Lese majeste punishment

20 11 2017

In a recent post, PPT commented on the delays to lese majeste trials where defendants refuse to plead guilty. We said this as a form of torture. In addition to strenuous efforts to force defendants to plead guilty, those who don’t see their trials dragged out for years, while they remain in jail.

A report at Prachatai reminds us that even after sentencing, whether having enter a guilty plea or not, punishment involves more than just being held in a jail.

Student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, one of several thousand singled out for a lese majeste charge for sharing a BBC Thai story on the king, convicted and jailed, “has revealed that a prison staff ordered him to take off clothes and rubbed his genitals five times in a search for drugs [sic.].”

He “told media at the court that he has experienced a series of harassment[s] after being transferred to Phu Khiao Prison. When he arrived the prison, one staff [member] search[ed] his body for drugs…”. He was ordered to strip and the officer spread his anus “and rubbed his genital [s] five times.”

This could represent a sexual harassment by an officer, but it is also a repeated act of degradation perpetrated by prison staff. This is unceasing degradation. We have seen other acts of degradation and humiliation perpetrated against lese majeste victims in jail.

We know this because he made the comments on 16 November 2017, when Jatupat “was summoned to Phu Khiao Provincial Court to attend a trial on violation of 2016 Referendum Act.” That means he failed to abide by the military dictatorship’s demand that no one campaign against it constitution. The regime accuses him and “another student activist Wasin Prommanee …[of] inciting chaos during the junta-sponsored constitutional referendum in August 2016.” Inciting chaos means “distributing leaflets” urging the rejection of the junta’s hand-crafted and illegitimate constitution.

Update: The Nation adds to this story of using courts and prison to double-up punishment.





Lese majeste and enforcing silence

18 11 2017

PPT has posted over several years on the delaying of lese majeste trials where defendants refuse to plead guilty. We have referred to this as a form of torture. In addition to strenuous efforts to force defendants to plead guilty, those who don’t see their trials dragged out for years, while they remain in jail.

When trials begin, they are deliberately delayed and, in the case of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, he was dragged all over the country in chains and shackles, often kept in cages, as he was tortured for fighting his case.

Those who refuse to plead guilty are then sentenced to many years in jail – almost no one if found innocent.

The most recent case of this essentially lawless efforts by the courts on lese majeste is reported at Prachatai. It concerns Rung Sila, a poet and cyber activist whose first name is Sirapop.

(We need to add that our page on Rung Sila, having him already convicted on lese majeste, is mistaken, and we’ll fix that shortly.)

He has now been “imprisoned for three years and four months,” and has faced yet another postponed witness hearing as a military court drags out his lese majeste case. His lawyer makes the obvious point:

According to Anon Nampa, human rights lawyer representing the defendant, since he was arrested in June 2014, the court completed only one witness hearing in the case out of 6-7 plaintiff witnesses.

He added that one of the defendant witnesses, Surachai Yimprasert, has already passed away.

The lawyer said that it is as if Sirapop is being pressured to plead guilty….

Sirapop maintains his innocence.

Thailand’s courts, both military and civil, are disgraceful and pervert justice.