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.





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.





A decade of lese majeste

17 11 2017

We highly recommend the report published at Prachatai on lese majeste investigations from 2007-2017. It is one of the best we’ve seen in recent years.

The graphic summarizes the sorry tale. (We do wonder if the palace-related and vindictive cases are included.)

The military dictatorship’s 300 cases is by far the largest number for any regime in Thailand’s history.





No internet freedom

16 11 2017

Thailand remained a black hole for internet freedom in 2016. Freedom House reports that the key developments have been:

  • In August, voters approved a referendum on a draft constitution that would weaken political parties, strengthen unelected bodies, and entrench the military’s presence in politics.
  • Authorities placed severe restrictions on free expression ahead of the vote, including through the 2016 Referendum Act, which criminalized the expression of opinions “inconsistent with the truth.” Over 100 people were arrested for offenses related to the referendum.
  • In September, the government issued an order that halted the practice of trying civilians accused of national security, lèse-majesté, and certain other crimes in military courts. However, the order is not retroactive and does not cover cases that had already entered the military court system.
  • Following the death of [the king]… in October, the military government intensified restrictions on speech deemed offensive to the monarchy as it worked to manage the period of transition.

Read the whole sorry tale of the military dictatorship’s repression.





Burning arches lese majeste sentences

16 11 2017

Prachatai reports that on 15 November 2017 the Provincial Court of Phon District in Khon Kaen “sentenced Noopin, 64, and Chatchai, 25, (surname withheld due to privacy concerns) to five years imprisonment,” on lese majeste charges.

The two were also charged with “criminal association, and destruction of public property for attempted to burn an arch erected in honour of the late King Bhumibol in Khon Kaen.”

As usual, because the two were held until they agreed to plead guilty, the court halved the jail terms and “also confiscated a pickup truck from the two.”

The reporting is, however, somewhat strange. This is what Prachatai states:

According to Noopin, he was hired by a man named Pricha to burn an unidentified edifice at a specific location in the province and was told to invite another person for the task. Therefore he invited Chatchai.

When he arrived at the location, he discovered that it was the royal arch with the image of King Bhumibol. Therefore, he changed his mind and drove back to his house.

So it isn’t entirely clear if they did plead guilty as this sounds like a not guilty statement. Nor is this clear in these paragraphs what they agree they did.

It is clear that these “two are among the eight suspects and a 14-year-old who are accused of being involved in the burning.”

These persons have been held in custody since 17 May.





Time to stand up

14 11 2017

It has been said that it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees. We wonder if this wouldn’t be better for Thailand’s media, which is traditionally on its knees before military regimes (and palace propaganda).

We notice that the Bangkok Post has demanded that the lese majeste accusations against Sulak Sivaraksa be dropped.

The Post’s editorial states that:

… the police formally charged the internationally famed 85-year-old Mr Sulak with lese majeste. An alleged violation of the Computer Crime Act was tacked on, as it so often and lamentably it is. A military court prosecutor will decide on Dec 7 whether to proceed with the charges.

Of course, the charge is a nonsense. But so are all lese majeste charges. The Post reckons that “the four previous charges had a tiny shred of substance.” Really? If so, why were all of them ditched?

This statement implies that the Post thinks some lese majeste charges are valid and it supports this feudal law. Which charges does it feel are “valid”? The one against a 14 year-old child jailed in Khon Kaen and awaiting sentencing? The man who “insulted” a dead dog that had something to do with a now dead king? The young law student jailed as one of thousands who shared a BBC Thai story? The mother jailed for decades? The family of the king’s former wife jailed in spite? The woman jailed for selling chilli paste to the palace at inflated prices?

Sulak is easy enough to support. He’s a royalist, he’s a middle class iconoclast and he’s a conservative.But all of this lese majeste stuff is a nonsense and makes Thailand a sad country seemingly stuck in some period in the 17th century.

It is long past time for the mainstream media to find its feet. Abolish this ludicrous law and free all political prisoners.

 





Assessing the king after the funeral

11 11 2017

In an article we should have commented on earlier, authors at Foreign Policy look at the monarchy’s future.

Like many of the accounts following the dead king’s funeral, there’s a ridiculous glorification of the deceased king in order to show the new king in a poor light. This devise is unnecessary and devoid of any serious analysis of the past reign.

Yet this report does gently point at some of the “missing” details in the official discourse of the “good” and “great” king:

The king’s good deeds abounded: talking to the poor, directing countryside renewals, instructing students. Not pictured were his political interventions, occasionally on behalf of the military, sometimes keeping a fragile democracy afloat. By the time of the 2014 seizure of power by the current ruling junta, he had been far too frail to act.

While this position on the king’s interventions is common, it is not necessarily true. The two events usually said to reflect “keeping a fragile democracy afloat” are October 1973 and May 1992. Neither fits the bill.

In 1973, there was no democracy to keep afloat and with the military splitting and with murderous attacks on students, the king moved to restore “stability.” His support for the new democracy drained away quickly when he couldn’t get his way. The October 1976 massacre followed, perpetrated by enraged royalists and the military, a part of a coup.

In 1992, there was no democracy to protect or sustain. That’s why there was an uprising. People rose against the military junta’s efforts to maintain their power following the 1991 coup and appointing the junta leader premier. Is The Dictator listening? The king’s intervention was late, after it was clear the military could not restore “stability” and had murdered scores of protesters.

It is interesting to read this:

Along the urn’s procession route, a row of truncheon-wielding police blocked the way to the 1932 Democracy Monument. Their presence was noticeably heavier than at any point along the route, perhaps cautious of the possibility for protest gestures at a site that had been a locus for political uprisings since the 1970s.

That area was central to both the events of 1973 and 1992 and the military knows that history of anti-military dictatorship and seeks to suppress those memories.

Interesting too is the response of devout royalists to questions:

But when we asked about what, exactly, the king had done for them, there was a moment of puzzlement, and then the same answers every time: “Well, there were the visits to the countryside and the ‘sufficiency economy.’”

The authors are right to note that:

The king’s countryside trips were part of a 1960s and 1970s anti-communist campaign, dating from well before these kids were born, the concept of the “sufficiency economy” another 1970s buzzword dragged back up in 1997 to remind Thais to be happy with their lot, even amid the financial crisis.

The sufficiency stuff was recycled from E.F. Schumacher and stripped of any progressive content.

Yet, as the authors note, these events and notions have been made royal lore and have been so nauseatingly repeated that they become “truisms.”

The report is also commended for noting that there were many Thais who tried to ignore the funeral, its militarization and all of its repetitions of propaganda.

Turning to Vajiralongkorn, the story notes that on the evening of the cremation:

… the mood soured. Following the symbolic cremation at 6 p.m., the real event was supposed to take place at 10 p.m. — broadcast live as everything else had been. Just beforehand, though, the feed was suddenly cut, and journalists were ushered out of the press center. The crowd was disappointed and unhappy; rumors spread that the decision had been made by the current king, the 65-year-old Maha Vajiralongkorn, who had attended the cremation accompanied by both his ex-wife and his mistress. The cremation remained unbroadcast, with the palace putting out the story that it had been decided it was a “private event.”

Privately, however, some saw it as an act of spite by the new king against his father….

The story then runs through the usual bad and odd deed associated with Vajiralongkorn, well known to all readers of PPT, and his protection under the lese majeste law.

In concluding, the article muses on the future:

The role of the new king is still uncertain. His coronation has been delayed until an unspecified future date, although he has already taken on monarchical duties.

The king is indeed still defining his role, scheming, sacking, disgracing and having the junta do his bidding. In fact, though, delaying coronation is not at all unusual, in Thailand or elsewhere. The article continues:

Although he backed the authoritarian new constitution imposed by the generals, his relationship with the military reportedly is not that close. With most of his time in recent decades spent out of the country, he hasn’t built up the close rapport with particular units that older royals did, despite his own air force training. Practical power will remain in the junta — and the symbolic power of the monarchy may have drained away with the old king.

While we agree with the view that “practical power” will remain with the military, we are not convinced by the idea that the king and military are not close, whatever that might mean. The claim that he has not built a “rapport” might be true, but he has built a relationship and he has allies. After all, as prince, he was associated with, first, the Army, and then with the Air Force. That relationship has been consistent over five decades.

The story then wonders about image:

Looking at the image of Vajiralongkorn, with his mouth seemingly always open in a mildly idiotic gawp, it seems hard to imagine a new [public] faith taking hold.

We are not so sure that the image will matter all that much. Coming to the throne when there’s a military dictatorship means the new king has the kind of “stability” his father always promoted. He seems content not to fill his father’s shoes and seems to favor repression and fear as much as he craves power and wealth.