Updated: A sorry story of military repression

24 04 2018

We all know that Thailand is under the military boot. The US State Department’s 2017 human rights report is now out and chronicles some aspects of the natur of military repression. We summarize and quote some parts of the report below. A general statement worth considering is this:

In addition to limitations on civil liberties imposed by the NCPO, the other most significant human rights issues included: excessive use of force by government security forces, including harassing or abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detention by government authorities; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces…; corruption; sexual exploitation of children; and trafficking in persons.

As the report notes:

Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect during the year. NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, grants the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.”

The military junta continues to detain civilians in military prisons. Some prisoners are still shackled in heavy chains.

Impunity and torture are mentioned several times as a major issue. This is important when it is noted that the number of “suspects” killed by authorities doubled in 2017.

Approximately 2,000 persons have been summoned, arrested and detained by the regime, including academics, journalists, politicians and activists. There are also “numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the military government.” Frighteningly,

NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March 2016, grants military officers with the rank of lieutenant and higher power to summon, arrest, and detain suspects; conduct searches; seize assets; suspend financial transactions; and ban suspects from traveling abroad in cases related to 27 criminal offenses, including extortion, human trafficking, robbery, forgery, fraud, defamation, gambling, prostitution, and firearms violation. The order also grants criminal, administrative, civil, and disciplinary immunity to military officials executing police authority in “good faith.”

Too often detainees are prevented from having legal representation and are refused bail.

The use of military courts continues:

In a 2014 order, the NCPO redirected prosecutions for offenses against the monarchy, insurrection, sedition, weapons offenses, and violation of its orders from civilian criminal courts to military courts. In September 2016 the NCPO ordered an end to the practice, directing that offenses committed by civilians after that date would no longer be subject to military court jurisdiction. According to the Judge Advocate General’s Office, military courts initiated 1,886 cases involving at least 2,408 civilian defendants since the May 2014 coup, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives. As of October approximately 369 civilian cases involving up to 450 individual defendants remained pending before military courts.

On lese majeste, the reports cites the Department of Corrections that says “there were 135 persons detained or imprisoned…”.

Censorship by the junta is extensive, with the regime having “restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it [national security and the monarchy], and media widely practiced self-censorship.” It is added that the junta “continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet and routinely censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.” In dealing with opponents and silencing them, the junta has used sedition charges.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression are extensive against those it deems political activists. This repression extends to the arts and academy:

The NCPO intervened to disrupt academic discussions on college campuses, intimidated scholars, and arrested student leaders critical of the coup. Universities also practiced self-censorship…. In June [2017] soldiers removed artwork from two Bangkok galleries exhibiting work depicting the 2010 military crackdown on protesters, which authorities deemed a threat to public order and national reconciliation.

It is a sorry story.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a timely editorial on torture in Thailand. Usually it is the police and military accused and guilty. This time it is the Corrections Department, which runs almost all of Thailand’s prisons. All these officials are cut from the same cloth.





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?





Updated: An old lese majeste case

15 04 2018

As we read stuff about Thailand’s political past we sometimes come across little stories that throw some light on more recent events. In reading about the period around the time of the two coups engineered by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, we came upon this translation of a story from Khao Phap, on a lese majeste case. We do not know the outcome:Update: Somsak Jeamteerasakul writes about this case:

The accused was found guilty and sent to jail.

The interesting thing about this case is: the incident happened before the 1957 coup. At the time, the Pibul-Phao government ignored it, because Phibun-Phao had a plan to revive the King’s Death Case (also they wanted to attack the palace circles). It’s only after Sarit took power in the October 1957 coup, with the support of the King, that the case was brought to trial.

This is quite a well-known case. Suphot Dantrakul published the verdict of the case (or at least the summary of the verdict) in his famous 1974 book on King Ananda’s Death Case. I don’t have the book in its various editions at hand. But if my memory serves, only the first edition contained the verdict (or its summary) in the appendix. Subsequent editions don’t.

We appreciate the update. We are not at all that sure that the case is “well-known.” We also agree that the sequence of events is important. Another reader adds that the case has resonances with recent lese majeste cases where people have been convicted for implications drawn from speeches rather than what was actually said.

 





Caving in

1 04 2018

The repression associated with lese majeste is critical for the maintenance of the status quo in Thailand. So critical in fact that even the thought of an amendment to the law is greeted with threats of violence. As it has been for seven decades, the rightist alliance between monarchy and military is a keystone for the establishment order in Thailand, with lese majeste, ultra-royalist ideology and murderous enforcement are the means for maintaining that conservative order.

When the Anakhot Mai/New Future/Future Forward Party was recently formed, ultra-royalists foamed and fumed about a young academic lawyer, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who had once called for minor amendments to Article 112 of the criminal code. Ultra-royalist Sonthiya Sawatdee “petitioned the Election Commission … to disqualify the FFP. He alleged that Piyabutr’s previous involvement with the anti-lèse majesté group Nitirat had caused conflicts among the country’s population, in violation of the Organic Act on Political Parties.”

Knowing that in royalist Thailand Sonthiya’s banal claim may well carry weight, Piyabutr immediately went into reverse political gear, declaring “he would not press the issue of amending the lèse majesté law in the new party…”. He is quoted: “I insist that I will not involve the party in the issue of amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code and will not press the issue in the party…”.

Piyabutr’s backpedaling has opened debate.

Exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, himself a victim of ultra-royalist and military attacks, “commented that without the issue of amending Article 112, the new party would be just a smaller version of the Phue Thai Party.” He saw a familiar path being taken whereby the young become prematurely old as they flinch on the most significant political issue of recent years, the monarchy.

Somsak believes that the new party didn’t have to say anything:

“When the party’s general meeting (to pass policies, select executives, etc.) happens, and Piyabutr or other important party members see that it is inappropriate to put the issue of Article 112 into the policies because it will lead to the party’s disqualification, then just remove it and register without this issue. So what’s the necessity of yesterday’s announcement [by Piyabutr]? I can’t’ see one…”.

He might have added that the new party has little chance of attracting large numbers of voters, so the strategic withdrawal on monarchy means little more than another ultra-royalist and military victory in its crusade to “protect” the monarchy and, thus, the establishment.

Puangthong Pawakapan of the now-defunct Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 was less critical, saying Piyabutr ‘s vow was unsurprising as “the political establishment never hesitates to suppress those who challenge the royal defamation law, making an amendment to Article 112 through legislative measures nearly impossible.”

Puangthong added:

“The difficulties in this issue are not about the number of votes in the parliament, but it is a sensitive issue that political parties are afraid to touch because they will be easily attacked by anti-monarchy allegations…. This is why all political parties are afraid to fix this issue. This is why people’s signatories and the draft amendment [to Article 112] by the CCAA 112 was immediately rejected by the Parliament Chairperson, who was at that time a Phue Thai MP.”

It is clear that Puangthong “believes that Piyabutr’s statement was a strategic move to ensure that the FFP will wins seats in the parliament, which will allow the party to make progress on other significant political missions, like eliminating the military influence from Thai politics.”

We recall, back in 2004-2005, so-called progressives signing up to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its royalist agenda, using a similar line of argument. They may have been anti-monarchy or even republican, but saw the need to get rid rid of Thaksin Shinawatra as being so crucial that they could accommodate the royalist stuff, and fix the monarchy later. How did that turn out for them? Most are now ardent royalists.





Tom Dundee beats one lese majeste charge

29 03 2018

Prachatai reports that Tom Dundee (Thanat Thanawatcharanon) has beaten his latest lese majeste charge.

The Bangkok Criminal Court dismissed the case against the red shirt activist, citing weak evidence. Actually, there seems to have been no evidence.

The ridiculous charge against Tom was over the comparison he made between Thailand and Denmark and traffic control related to monarchs. As we have said before, this discussion of the stopping of traffic for royals in Thailand has been official and widespread.

In other words, this fourth charge against Tom was ultra-royalists being vindictive and taking advantage of the royalist courts to punish political opponents.

On 29 March 2018, the court ruled that the “complaint described by the public prosecutor cannot prove that the defendant’s speech is a violation of Article 112 of the Criminal Code…”. This is a bit of a breakthrough, acknowledging that actual evidence is required for prosecution.

Making this case even more bizarre, Tom had earlier agreed to plead guilty (as “required” by the royalist police, prosecutors and military regime). It seems the court accepted the plea but agreed it cannot punish him.

Tom remains in jail, having been “convicted” on three other lese majeste cases.





Further updated: Ultra-royalists united

28 03 2018

As PPT has said before, new political parties are not an innovation in Thailand. Rather they are the norm, most especially when the election rules encourage small parties and fragmented parliamentary power. With the Anakhot Mai/New Future Party, along with initial enthusiasm from a range of reasonably progressive people, the old guard – the old men who consider Thailand theirs – has appeared spooked.

Reuters reports that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is under pressure from ultra-royalists. The latter are keen to destroy the young phenoms by labeling them republicans. Fascist royalist Maj-Gen Rientong Nan-nah has said Future Forward “is the future for those who want to impede the rights of the king…”.

Khaosod reports that another “pro-monarchy activist” has been stung into reaction. Mad monarchist Sonthiya Sawasdee, who leads the Federation of Thais Monitoring the State, demands “the Election Commission to investigate a new progressive party he fears may amend the royal defamation [lese majeste] law.” Sonthiya has previously flung lese majeste allegations at others.

Sonthiya is sure that “any attempt to reform the law, known as lese majeste, will bring about unrest in the country.” This is actually a threat from the extreme right that has previously massacred citizens in the name of protecting the monarchy and with the support of the military, so such threats are taken seriously.

Sonthiya wrote online: “… I do not want anyone, no matter who they are, to put their hands on Section 112.” He added: “They should not intrude on the monarchy.” And he “singled out New Future Party co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul as the reason for his concern. Piyabutr, a university law professor, launched a 2012 campaign calling for lesser punishment and a more measured use of lese majeste.”

Piyabutr is trying to distance the party from ultra-royalist allegations, saying: “I’d like to insist that I will not get the party involved with the issue about amending Section 112 of the Criminal Code, and I will not push for it within the party…”. The Nation has more on Piyabutr’s distancing of the party from Nitirat.

A couple of observations seem in order. One is that the monarchy is off the political agenda for all, but not for royalists. Because they support the monarchy, they may use it at their pleasure to slander and undermine opponents. Meanwhile, those on the other side are hamstrung and timid.

A second observation is that those who might have thought or hoped that ultra-royalism might decline with a new and “unpopular” king on the throne have been shown to be wrong. Mad royalists defend a system based on feudal ideologies, not an individual. That said, the rapid shift to support for Vajiralongkorn has been breathtaking.

Update 1: In the above post we noted that threats from ultra-royalists have to be taken seriously. Confirming this, a Bloomberg report states that Thanathorn and Piyabutr have received death threats. He described his political quest as “a dangerous game,” adding: “We are playing with people who have no respect for human life.” Thanathorn revealed that the threat was “by an ultra-conservative,” where he was referring to a “Facebook post allegedly written by a former deputy police commander.” That ultra-royalist “accused the pair of speaking ill of the royal institution” and added that “he had ‘lost count’ of the number of ‘evil’ people he had killed,” darkly threatening: “you guys would be easy for me.”

Update 2: Prachatai identifies the policeman mentioned as threatening death as Bhakbhum Soonthornsorn.





The junta’s prize

24 03 2018

Some time ago PPT raised concerns regarding the direction of the Cambodian government as it seemed more than will to deal on exchanges of political opponents seeking refuge in Thailand and vice versa.

The step-by-step process of arranging exchanges of those seeking refuge in the other country has now reached an important milestone.

Prachatai reports that “Phnom Penh has agreed to help Thailand in hunting for Thai fugitives. This confirms the concerns among Thai refugee communities in Cambodia and human rights organisations that both countries are making a deal on exchanging political refugees.”

On 21 March, one of Cambodia’s political thugs, Tea Banh visited Thailand’s Dictator “to discuss cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia.” Among other things, the two agreed “that both countries would help each other in searching for fugitives to further strengthen the relationship.”

This agreement makes “the situation of Thai political exiles in Cambodia even more precarious, given that about a hundred Thais are living in exile in Phnom Penh after the 2014 coup to escape legal harassment.”

As the article points out, the enactment of a lese majeste law in Cambodia seems designed to allow the extradition of Thai lese majeste fugitives from Cambodia. Extradition usually requires a similar law in both countries, and that now applies for Cambodia. Then again, neither Thailand nor Cambodia worry too much about law.