Updated: Manipulating laws

1 08 2018

PPT has had numerous posts since the (illegal) 2014 coup on how the military junta abuses the law. These posts have included the political use of courts, using military courts, abuse of lese majeste, impunity,  corruption ignored, and more.

One of the defining characteristics of military dictatorship is the political use of law: what the dictatorship does is legal (or ignored) and what opponents do is illegal.

Two recent reports highlight these double standards.

In the first, with just 5 of the 7 new members of the Election Commission selected and approved, the mini-EC is to meet “to select a new chairman Tuesday, although some experts have warned such a move could be illegal.”

In the junta’s 2017 constitution, the EC is mentioned dozens of times as having particular roles to play in all things electoral. It is a necessary for the EC to be in place and operating for elections to take place.

With just five members approved by the puppet National Legislative Assembly but, “whose appointments have yet to be submitted for royal endorsement,” this non-EC  “will meet to discuss how to choose the EC chairman and then proceed with choosing someone — probably from among their own ranks.”

We say “non-EC” because Article 222. “The Election Commission consists of seven commissioners appointed by the King upon the advice of the Senate…”. (In the first instance, with no Senate, it is the NLA.)

That is, not just 5 as-yet-unapproved members.

Confirming the position is only held after appointment by the king, Article 223 states: “The Election Commissioners shall hold office for a term of seven years as from the date of appointment by the King…”.

In other words, any actions taken by cannot be considered legal (unless the junta deems it legal).

The “secretary-general of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), insisted the action would not contravene Section 12 of a law governing the poll agency, as some have suggested.” Perhaps he’s also thinking of Article 223 which also states:

During the period in which an Election Commissioner vacates office prior to the expiration of the term and an Election Commissioner has not yet been appointed to fill the vacancy, the remaining Election Commission may continue to perform duties. However, if there are fewer than four Election Commissioners remaining, the Election Commission may carry out only an act which is necessary and unavoidable….

Yet is is not clear that selecting a chairman is “necessary and unavoidable.” It is even less likely that this can be done by EC commissioners who have not been appointed by the king.

Law professor and constitution drafter Jade Donavanik has “warned that picking a chairman from among the EC members could be a breach of the law.” He claims the “law states that the first chairman to be named since it was enacted can only be chosen after all seven election commissioners have been installed.”

By choosing a chair before being officially appointed and without two commissioners is clearly dubious. The idea that two foundation commissioners are deprived of the right to participate in selecting a chairman or from being chairman is also dubious.

There are various ways of considering how this dubious process impacts the junta. If the EC awaits the two other commissioners being appointed and also awaits the royal endorsement, then presumably the “election” is delayed further. That might suit the junta. But, then, it might be that the EC and its selected chairman, if done by the 5 commissioners (whether royally appointed or not), can be challenged in the courts and the whole “election” process thrown out. That might suit the junta. But if the junta does think it is ready for its “election,” then it may want it to go ahead.

In the end, the junta will probably decide what it wants and make that legal.

The second story involves the junta itself filing a computer crimes charge against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward “Party” (still to be approved as a party by the EC).

The “accusation came after Mr Thanathorn and two others broadcast live on ‘The Future We Want’ and ‘Thanathorn Juangroongraungkit’ Facebook pages.”

What has caused the junta to get prickly? It seems the Facebook broadcast involved “commentators allegedly implicat[ing] the NCPO [junta] when they talked about the luring of former MPs by using the lawsuits against them as a bargaining chip.”

That point has been made by several others, including Abhisit Vejjajiva.

It is also suggested that the “commentators also asked their Facebook followers to sign up to ‘revamp the judicial system’.” That must be the junta’s judicial system.

On the first concoction-cum-complaint, as Thanathorn makes clear, ” it’s common knowledge. I have no intention to accuse or tarnish the NCPO but its action shows it had really done it and views us as an enemy.” He added that he also had “first-hand information on such offers from a number of ex-MPs who were approached.”

The junta, operating illegally through intermediaries who are recruiting for the junta’s Palang Pracharath, maintains the fiction that it is not doing this. Everyone can see it, it is widely reported, but the junta demures.

The junta’s minion Col Burin Thongprapai, who filed the complaint two weeks ago, states: “Mr Thanathorn mentioned the NCPO, which is a distortion of facts and an accusation against the NCPO. It’s also an attack on the judicial system.”

He said the junta had ordered-asked the police to take action.

The law can be whatever the junta wants t to be and it uses it freely and abusively to eliminate and hobble its political opponents. But that’s what you get when you have an arrogant and corrupt military dictatorship.

Update: The (non-)EC went ahead an “elected” a chairman. Now we await the ramifications. Maybe it will be like “investigating” the Deputy Dictator and will melt to nothingness? According to another report, junta minions explain the “need” for a chairman as urgent because of the “need” for an “election” sometime “soon.”

Meanwhile Thanathorn is defiant of the junta. He has rejected the charges against him, saying “he would continue making comments on political issues in his regular online broadcasts through his Facebook fan page.” He added, “It’s the right of everyone…”. Using the term “right” places him in conflict with the junta which prefers duties and obedience to rights. And, stating the obvious, Thanathorn said: “The NCPO used its power to suppress the public who have political views that differ from its own…”.





Updated: Prayuth’s recruiting tour I

24 07 2018

Using state funds, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is campaigning for appointment as prime minister long into the future. His current campaign trip is to Ubol Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen.

As in previous campaign trips, this one was about promoting preferred political parties and to display former opponent politicians who have slid over to the military and junta’s Palang Pracharath Party. The skid mark to that party has been lubricated with promises of projects and money.

While expressing (again) his disdain for the media and a touchiness that makes him nasty and vindictive towards critics, The Dictator told them to stop reading newspapers and learn to love him. He then declared: “If anyone criticizes me, I just punch him in the mouth…”. He added that “he has never hurt anybody and … [he] has the right to protect himself against bullying.”

This is a jaw-dropping lie. Prayuth has use laws on sedition, lese majeste and various junta decrees to harass, arrest and jail thousands – that’s his “punch … in the mouth” and these “punches” hurt not just the individuals involved but undermine the body politic, shaping Thailand as an authoritarian society.

Then the self-appointed prime minister decided to repeat lies about the junta’s recruitment campaigns. He “dismissed allegation[s] that his mobile cabinet meeting in Ubon Ratchathani was intended to ‘poach’ former MPs from political parties to join or ally with parties that is supportive of him, saying that it is the people who will decide whom to elect into the parliament.”

That lie was never believed by anyone and when The Dictator fronted an arranged crowd of about 1,500 at a local zoo, the welcoming group included “Supol Fongngam, a former Pheu Thai MP, and 14 other former MPs from the same party.” They had been invited by provincial officials, working under the Ministry of Interior and for the junta. It is widely known that most of these politicians will “defect to a pro-Prayut party.”

Prayuth’s campaign slogans seem to revolve around the classic anti-democrat/People’s Alliance for Democracy/People’s Democratic Reform Committee mantras about “uneducated,” “ignorant” and “duped” villagers electing the wrong people. The Dictator “blamed society’s ills on the public choosing ‘the wrong leaders’ and suggested in future they select a more ‘responsible’ prime minister.” He means himself.

Perhaps the premier should also be reminded that his electoral rules and constitution are designed to prevent people from selecting the premier, leaving that to a parliament that is meant to be dominated by junta parties and junta appointees.

Update: Interestingly, Prayuth also lied about the cabinet meeting. He stated: “he would not be ‘giving away’ millions of baht from state coffers to woo voters.” Yet the cabinet meeting is considering “Bt10 billion for development projects” in the region.





Lese majeste used by the junta to silence a witness

22 07 2018

When she was arrested, Nattatida Meewangpla was a 36 year-old volunteer nurse, accused by the military dictatorship of terrorism and lese majeste. She was abducted by the military on 17 March 2015 and held incommunicado for six days, then charged with “terrorism,” and was later with lese majeste.

Not so uncommon you might think. Especially since the 2014 coup, as the military wanted to crush all anti-monarchy speech and thought, lese majeste victims were usually dragged off by the junta’s uniformed thugs.

But the arrest and continued jailing of Nattathida was unusual. The lese majeste complaint was made by Internal Security Operation Command Col Wicharn Joddaeng, who claims Nattatida copied a text that insulted the monarchy from one Line chat room and posted it in two other chat groups.

Who knows if she did anything of the kind, but this charge was devised to have her jailed as quickly as possible as a threat to the military dictatorship. The threat she posed was as a witness to the murder of six individuals at Wat Pathum Wanaram Temple by soldiers during the crackdown on red shirts on 19 May 2010.

More than three years later, still in jail and never allowed bail, Nattathida’s trial has begun. On 20 July 2018, a “first witness hearing was held behind closed door[s]…”.

Secret trials are not unusual for lese majeste, where laws and constitutions are regularly ignored, but in this case, the military wants nothing said in court to be public for fear that it may incriminate them.

The Bangkok Post’s editorial on her cases is a useful effort to get some media attention to this case of cruel incarceration and the military junta’s efforts to suppress evidence of its murderous work in 2010 under the direction of then military-backed premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, Army boss Gen Anupong Paojinda and the commander of troops Gen Prayudh Chan-ocha.

The Post describes Nattathida as “a key witness in the deaths of six people killed during the military’s dispersal of red-shirt protests in 2010…”.

The Post seems to get the date of her 2015 lese majeste charging wrong, but these charges and their details are murky, and meant to be. It reports:

Ms Nathathida was in March 2015 charged as a suspect linked to the blast and had been held in prison until July 24 last year when she was finally granted bail. But the police filed a lese majeste charge, an offence under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, against her on the same day resulting in immediate custody without bail.

The editorial notes that her “trial for another case involving a 2015 bombing at the Criminal Court is also moving at a snail’s pace,” describing the slow pace as “questionable.” It thinks the deliberate foot-dragging suggests the charges are based on shaky grounds. It adds:

The cases yet again raise doubts about the legitimacy of the prosecution of many politically-driven cases in the post-2014 coup era, especially lese majeste cases.

Her lawyer Winyat Chartmontri has told the media that “many witnesses, who are government officials, in the blast case had postponed court hearings several times resulting in the case being delayed.”

As the editorial noted, these “two cases not only kept her in jail but may also have reduced the credibility of her as a witness in court over the six deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram near Ratchaprasong intersection.” More though, they prevent her testimony being heard.

Why is the military so concerned? As the Post observes:

In 2012, she testified at the South Bangkok Criminal Court as a paramedic volunteer stationed at the temple, giving a vivid account of how she saw from close range gunshots being fired from the Skytrain tracks where soldiers were on guard. She did not hear gunshots fired back by protesters, she said.

The editorial makes the mistake of believing that “criminal prosecution requires solid proof of both motive and the scale of damage their act could have caused,” but that is never the case when it comes to lese majeste. And, under the military dictatorship, the courts have generally acted as a tool of the regime, often ignoring law.

The Post knows this, limply proclaiming that “[l]aw enforcement officers should not overlook … universal legal rules when handling cases that could send someone to prison.” Yet in “politically motivated” cases under the military junta, law and procedure goes out the window.

In concluding, the editorial also mentions “that tragic day at Wat Pathum Wanaram,” noting that the courts are “supposed to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The problem with puppet law courts is that they work for the perpetrators.





That plaque

19 07 2018

We won’t repeat the story of how the plaque commemorating the 1932 Revolution, people’s sovereignty and the end of the absolute monarchy disappeared.

No one has officially claimed responsibility for that act of political vandalism and the plaque being replaced by one extolling the wonders of royalism.

Interestingly, in a story at Prachatai, there’s an official clue as to the status of the thieves and vandals. (We must add that we are pleased that the English version of Prachatai has suddenly made a comeback after a hiatus over the past months or so.)

A second part of a report on a seminar that assessed the 1932 Revolution reports the presentation by former lese majeste prisoner and longtime activist Somyos Prueksakasemsuk:

Somyot stated that today he came [to the seminar] with a police car leading him. He considered it was a great honour for the police officers show respect to him by asking him for details and asking about certain matters that are inappropriate to be speaking about.

We would have guessed that the police wanted to silence him on lese majeste, the monarchy or his case. But no: “The issue they asked him to not talk about was the disappearance of the Khana Ratsadon plaque.

That suggests to us that the junta must have authorized the plaque’s removal or is officially covering-up for the real culprit. (Many assume that King Vajiralongkorn ordered its removal.)

Somyos went on to explain that:

… the disappearance of the plaque is nothing new because there have always been attempts to destroy the symbols of the 1932 revolution all the time, including the misrepresentation of the history of 1932 as premature where the revolution went ahead even though King Rama VII was getting ready to bestow democracy. The … date of the national day has been changed and Khana Ratsadon architecture such as the Supreme Court building, has been destroyed.

Ever a political optimist, Somyos explained:

As for the missing plaque, … its disappearance today is alright. When one day we have democracy, and a government, we can install a new one. At least it can be an ideological symbol of democracy and Khana Ratsadon.

We can only hope he’s right and support those who favor electoral democracy of military dictatorship.





Tom Dundee escapes one lese majeste conviction

29 06 2018

Tom Dundee, a red shirt singer charged with lese majeste, has escaped a third lese majeste conviction (a fourth charge had been dismissed in March this year).

The decision by the Ratchaburi Provincial Court was remarkable. Even though Tom (whose name is Thanat Thanawatcharanon) had agreed to plead guilty, the court ruled that “the evidence did not support the charge.”

This may be of little comfort to Tom as he is already serving 10 years for two other lese majeste convictions. But it means he is now able to apply for a royal pardon.

There has been some social media discussion of the meaning of this dismissal – despite the guilty plea extracted – and the recent unexplained dropping of a lese majeste case against lawyer Prawet Praphanukul. Does this indicate that the regime and/or palace changed the absolute draconian approach to lese majeste.

It might be added that what might have brought lese majeste charges a short time ago, against monks and mediums using the royal name, have resulted in other charges.

We wonder if the upcoming “election” and coronation account for the recent cases being handled differently. Let’s see what happens.





All about The Dictator

29 06 2018

Last week the Deputy Dictator met with some political parties about the junta’s “election.”We understand that it is the first official meeting between the military junta and political parties since the day that it illegally seized power, ironically at the very same place it met the political parties back in 2014.

At the end of that meeting, a smiling Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who seems to enjoy legal impunity for all of his deeds, declared that the next meeting would be chaired by The Dictator himself. Apparently Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will find time for a sham meeting on the path to a rigged election.

Now, however, the Bangkok Post reports that the “next meeting between party politicians and the regime to discuss poll preparations will probably take place in September…”. “Preparations” seems to mean getting arrangements in place for the junta to have its party or parties to “win” the rigged election.

Gen Prayuth has said that not having another meeting for 2-3 months because the junta needs “time to study issues raised by the parties at the first meeting.” In fact, the junta needs more time and more work to ensure its preferred election outcome.

It seems Gen Prayuth also felt the need to again lie to the Thai people when he “gave his assurance the next election will be free, fair and proceed smoothly…”. A free and fair election is impossible under the rules concocted by the military dictatorship.

At the same time, Gen Prayuth warned of future delays to the highly elastic election “roadmap.” He said the junta is “monitoring the security situation and making the political climate conducive for organising the election,” adding: “We’re moving the country forward together. The situation must be stable…”.

He wasn’t explicit but he is saying that any “instability” would mean further delay. As we know, the military is the most likely source in creating political instability, usually using ISOC.

The military dictatorship appears ever more confident that it can get its preferred electoral outcome. So confident, in fact. that the Deputy Dictator has detailed that result.

Gen Prawit declared: “I have confidence Gen Prayut will be able to carry on [after the election]. I always support him…”. Even if Prayuth himself won’t confirm this, it has been the junta’s main objective in having The Dictator hit the campaign trail and in pumping funds into various constituencies.

Prawit let this cat out of the leaky bag as he “welcomed” defectors from the Puea Thai Party, from the so-called Three Allies. It remains unclear what promises were made to the defectors, but we can guess that it has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of baht.

The defector’s group has “pledge[d] to join the Phalang Pracharat Party…”. That’s the junta’s party. Gen Prawit “said it was a good sign that the group was joining Phalang Pracharat and backing Gen Prayut.”

That’s a second euphoric statement of Prayuth’s future as outside PM following the rigged election.

Those named as defectors are “former transport minister, Suriya Jungrungreangkij, former industry minister, Somsak Thepsuthin, as well as former deputy education minister, Chalong Krudkhunthod, ex-MP for Chai Nat, Anucha Nakasai, and former Nakhon Ratchasima MP, Pirom Polwiset.” Others include “Suporn Atthawong, a former key figure of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, and former Pheu Thai member Somchai Phetprasert.”

That Suporn is included among junta supporters is a clear indication of how the military dictatorship is prepared to go in bribing and gobbling up political partners. Back in 2011, then Army chief Gen Prayuth accused Suporn of lese majeste and laid a complaint with police.  Suporn had filed counter-charges against Prayuth. Now they are political allies. Opportunism and rigging the election? You bet. Opportunism and double standards are the rule.

It is revealing that the traitor’s group can hold a “group gathering at the Pinehurst Golf & Country Club on Wednesday,” reportedly “attended by about 50 former MPs.” It is also reported that the group included former members of the Thai Rak Thai and People’s Power parties, some from the Puea Thai Party and the doubly traitorous Bhum Jai Thai parties.

At hat political meeting, “Suriya told group members that he was throwing his support behind Gen Prayut to return as prime minister.” He also revealed that he had “contacted key government figures including Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong and Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana to say he was willing to help Gen Prayut, although he disliked the military coup.” The latter is errant nonsense. No one with an ounce of self-worth would proclaim himself a coup opponent and then join the coup makers.

Under the rules the Election Commission is applying to Puea Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra, Suriya named all of these ministers as “outsiders” influencing the Palang Pracharath. That Palang Pracharath is also the tool of Prayuth, Prawit and Somkid is also widely known. We don’t expect the puppet EC to enforce any law other than selectively and in the interests of Prayuth, Prawit and Somkid.

It is a rigged election with the election “umpire” being the junta’s puppet.





“This is considered unusual in legal practice”

28 06 2018

On 27 June 2018, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 16 months in prison. This is a somewhat surprising outcome in a case where the lawyer challenged the courts.

With five others, Prawet was arrested  by the military on 29 April 2017. The six were detained on lese majeste charges for allegedly sharing a  Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. That post was allegedly authored by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. It was claimed that the post called for Thailand to become a republic.

Initially detained incommunicado, Prawet has been held in jail since then. In addition to lese majeste, he and the others faced sedition and computer crimes charges.

Prawet himself was accused of three separate charges under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste. In total, Prawet faces up to 171 years in jail, although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years.

PPT’s view was that the twinning of sedition and lese majeste made it clear that the military dictatorship was seeking to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Little has been heard of any of the detainees other than Prawet.

Prawet appeared in court on 18 September 2017 and stunned the judges by stating that he did not accept the Thai judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet challenged the court’s impartiality: “Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case…”. Prawet said he would not participate in the case nor have a lawyer represent him.

When he finally reappeared in court on 8 May 2018, Prawet engaged in a heated 30-minute argument with judges, stating he did not believe the court will rule his lese majeste case with fairness and impartiality. He asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

Prawet again stated that he would not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but said he would not obstruct testimony. He again refused lawyers and refused to sign any documents. He repeated that the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

Again, the judges seemed flummoxed by this challenge to the way the judiciary (mis)handled lese majeste cases.

The judges then closed the court for a secret trial. The verdict was supposed to have been delivered on 23 May but was delayed for more than a month, suggesting that behind the scenes there was considerable activity.

The surprises in this verdict for Prawet were that the sedition sentences were remarkably short and  that the court dropped “any mention of the royal defamation charge against him…”. Nor did the court explain why the lese majeste cases were “dropped without explanation.”

In the three sedition cases where the “military [regime] alleged he [Prawet] was behind a group calling on Redshirts and Yellowshirts to unite and turn Thailand into a federal republic,” he received only five months on each count, suggesting that the “evidence” was weak but that the court needed to save some face. With time served, he could released within weeks.

Prawet was given another month in jail “for refusing to fingerprint court documents…”.

On lese majeste charges disappearing, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said: “Usually, when the court acquits someone, they have to clearly explain it…. This is considered unusual in legal practice.”

In the context of Prawet’s challenge, we read this short report as a statement that the court and the regime probably wanted to prevent further criticism of the courts. Yet by mysteriously dropping the lese majeste charges the court again demonstrates that the law is a feudal remnant that is not only incongruous with modern law but is itself outside the law. Lese majeste cases are not subject to the law as it is written and nor are those charged given legal and constitutional protections to which they are entitled.

While the sedition “convictions” save face, the lese majeste is a festering sore for the judiciary. A gangrenous judiciary does Thailand no good. “Amputating” the law is the only solution if the courts are ever to be taken seriously and to fulfill their duties to the people.