Army and monarchy entwined

18 10 2018

Khaosod has a story that should be read.

While there’s much talk about lese majeste being (perhaps) rolled back and dependent on royal whim, the long mutual relationship between the monarchy and the top military brass is stronger than ever.

Gen Apirat Kongsompong reportedly:

“lashed out at those behind a recent bid to petition King Vajiralongkorn to remove the military junta, calling them “mentally insane”… A majority of those who slander the monarchy are mentally insane, and those who are not insane have strange ideas….

He continued, saying “the army should remember its loyalty lies with … the King.” Gen Apirat worrried that:

… [s]ome soldiers might have forgotten this, so let me remind them their supreme commander is the monarch…. The army is a servant whose duty and heart are for protecting the monarchy … the army will use every one of its capabilities and capacity to defend the monarchy.

Like several army thugs before him, Gen Apirat observed:

Governments change, but the monarch must always exist side by side with the Thai nation. This is the duty of the army, and I will protect the monarchy with everything I have….

The Nation worried that these statements might mean that republicans could find themselves in a mental hospital. Pointing out that this was Gen Apirat’s first press conference since taking his post.

In its report, The Nation adds that Apirat, like his boss The Dictator, wondered if anti-monarchists were real Thais:

These people can’t be in Thailand…. We have always been protected by the monarchy, since the time of our ancestors. Why can’t they [the anti-monarchists] be grateful for that? Everybody is patriotic here.

Despite the royalist mouthpiece’s claims, the “change” on lese majeste remains unclear and is yet to be fully tested.





On the lese majeste regime

17 10 2018

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times has a longish piece on lese majeste. He’s making a point about a seeming change to the lese majeste regime that has been noted by several analysts for several weeks, but still has some points worth considering.

He focuses on the controversial dropping of Sulak Sirivaksa’s Article 112 case when he “appealed to monarch [King] … Vajiralongkorn for a royal reprieve.”

Sulak “claims the case was stopped after King Vajiralongkorn advised Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on the situation.”

Readers should note that this claim runs contrary to the palace’s long-held propaganda claim that the monarchy does not interfere in lese majeste cases. (There were several instances where the previous king and his palace did intervene, but the propaganda has been otherwise.)

Sulak is quoted as stating: “If the case went to the military tribunal, they were bound to put me in jail without any law, because the law doesn’t mean anything to them…”. Sulak is partly correct in this guess, but, then, no lese majeste case has ever stuck for him.

He says The Dictator was uninterested until the king intervened: “… when the King told him to drop the case, obviously it was royal advice that worked.”

Crispin suggests that the huge lese majeste “clampdown has come against the backdrop of what was once seen as an uncertain royal succession…”, ignoring the fact that the rise in the use of lese majeste predates the 2014 coup. PPT sees the use of Article 112 as a part of political efforts to rid Thailand of republicanism and to defeat the red shirts.

How Crispin concludes that the “military top brass [is]… now seemingly poised to relinquish power at democracy-restoring polls early next year…” is beyond our comprehension. However, he is right to see “signs that the fearsome law will be used less frequently, if at all, under the new reign,” although he does not note that the crown prince-cum-king was fearsome himself in the use of lese majeste against persons he saw as personal enemies. This included deaths in custody.

Sulak is then cited on his discussions with the king. He “says King Vajiralongkorn recognized the law’s past abuse for political purposes in a recent personal audience he had with the King where he offered his royally sought advice on myriad issues.”

Presumably Sulak has been given royal permission to say these things; that is, he is the king’s messenger. He does this by adhering to palace propaganda about the dead king: “I told the King his father said that clearly – it’s on record – that anybody that makes the case of lese majeste harms him personally and undermines the monarchy…”.

He then says that in his own case, “you can say publicly the king wrote personally to the Supreme Court and Attorney General, and since then there have been no new cases under [Article] 112.”

Sulak, adding to the new royalist discourse on the new monarchy, says that the recent dropping of 112 charges “are indicative of the new King’s ‘mercy’.” As with all royalist discourse, this involves untruths: “[King Bhumibol] regarded himself as a constitutional monarch, so he would not interfere,” but of course he did.  Sulak says of the previous king: “He used an indirect way, the Siamese way, he talked to the judges, he talked to the public prosecutor, but then many ignored his advice.” Of course, this is nonsense.

Interestingly, Sulak claims: “it is clear now that future cases will only be accepted for investigation and prosecution with the royal household’s consent. That, he says, marks a change from father to son.”

That is good news, perhaps. There remain about 60 cases of lese majeste still under the purview of prosecutors and the judiciary. But is is not such good news to have it confirmed that Vajiralongkorn is a determined interventionist, likely to ignore law, parliament and judiciary. Sulak states: “… the present King, unlike his father, he not only advises, he instructs…”.

As Crispin notes:

King Vajiralongkorn has moved with an alacrity and purpose in consolidating his reign that few diplomatic and other observers anticipated or foresaw upon his acceptance of the throne in late 2016. That’s entailed a recentralization of royal power….

Sulak seems to revel in his new role as royal spokesman. But beware the royalist who speaks for royal power.





All the king’s servants II

7 10 2018

A few days ago PPT commented on the formation of a special police unit for the “protection of the monarchy” and especially the king. An AFP report adds a little more on this force of “[m]ore than 1,600 police … assigned to protect Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his family, … quadrupling the force as the new monarch continues to reorganise palace affairs.”

The report has all the blarney about the monarchy being “sacred and untouchable” and the dead king being “revered as a demi-god among Thais.” Presumably all this buffalo manure is meant to allow the reporters to say that this monarchy also needs “by some of the harshest royal insult legislation in the world.” But insufficient posterior polishing to allow them to observe that anti-monarchism was widespread before the military junta targeted and snuffed it out (at least for the time being).

Head of the upgraded royal security police unit, the Special Service Division, Col Torsak Sukvimol, said that it currently had a paltry “400 personnel from the Crime Suppression Division … which has long been tasked with protecting the royal family,” and needed to be increased to a total of 1,617. While recruiting and training the officers could take up to five years, that is still a minimum additional taxpayer impost of 300 million baht a year just in salary costs.

Col Torsak “explained” that this huge increase in security, including intelligence units and additional “patrolling” is required when the “king visits different parts of the country.”

As he went on, Col Torsak added that following the king’s “coronation, there is going to be more royal activities…. Four hundred people is not enough.” That will probably worrying a lot of people, as the interventionist king seems to be planning to be even more involved.

Helpfully, Col Torsak said that the “unit has not been tasked with scouring the public for violations of the kingdom’s draconian royal defamation law…”. We guess there are hundreds of others doing that. But he did add: “We will not be aimed at monitoring people for 112 prosecutions. The 112 charge will not be wielded repetitiously…”.

That will indeed be a relief. However, computer crimes and sedition are more likely to be used in cases the junta would normally use for its opponents and the monarchy’s critics. At the same time, the junta’s draconian use of 112 has already cut down and silenced the bravest of critics.





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.





Updated: Lese majeste on the way out?

22 09 2018

Readers will have seen the several stories about and appeals court dropping lese majeste charges against six persons who allegedly burned public portraits of the previous king and the current one. They might also recall that PPT pointed to a change in the lese majeste wind:

There has been some social media discussion of the meaning of this dismissal [of Tom Dundee] – 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?

The South China Morning Post reports:

The six, aged between 18 and 20, were arrested last year for setting fire to portraits of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, at several spots around the northeastern province of Khon Kaen. A court found them guilty of lèse-majesté, arson, damaging public property and organised crime.

One of the six was jailed for 11-and-a-half years, three received terms of seven years and eight months, while two got three years and four months.

The appeals court has dropped the lese majeste charges against them “but they will still have to serve lengthy jail terms for damaging public property.”

In the report a human rights lawyer has said this “appears to be a new policy direction.”

But they still have hefty jail terms: “nine years instead of 11 and a half; six years instead of seven years and eight months; and three years instead of three years and four months.”

According to Pawinee Chumsri, a lawyer of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “[o]nly 10 lèse-majesté cases remained before the courts.” Pawinee adds: “Since the beginning of this year, the court has dropped Article 112 prosecutions and pursued other charges instead…”.

Channel NewsAsia also quotes Pawineewho says: “It’s somewhat good progress to see 112 cases are not easily prosecuted…”. Yingcheep Atchanont, of iLaw, says “there have been four acquittals this year and no new cases.”

The junta says it is being “careful” with 112 charges as it shines its international credentials and looks to a post-“election” future as a “legitimate” regime. At the same time, the huge increase in cases in 2014-16 has had its political impact, shutting up critics of monarchy and regime as red shirts and republicans who have not fled Thailand have been silenced.

That said, we suspect the King recognizes that 112 does him no good either, although he’s used the law himself to sort out his own issues.

Sedition and computer crimes charges are now likely to be favored, reducing the criticism the regime and monarchy face in future.

Update: The Bangkok Post editorial on lese majeste is worth reading.





Dictatorship of bullies

18 09 2018

Today’s Bangkok Post has three stories that demonstrate that the military dictatorship is a coterie of thugs.

The first that caught our attention is an editorial where the Deputy Dictator’s adviser Pol Maj Gen Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparnhas decided that he has license to bully persons overseas. Of course, the military dictatorship has bullied those it accuses of lese majeste for years, but this relates to a young British woman who claims to have been raped at the “already infamous Koh Tao.”

Big Joke – his real nickname – “has announced an imminent trip to London. There, he claimed late last week, he intends to interrogate the 19-year-old woman who claims to be the victim.”

But this is not an investigation but a bullying. Big Joke has already been loud in his denunciations of the woman’s claims and has now declared that “his London visit could end up proving the rape claim was false.”

The Post states: “There are so many things wrong with this development.” It is right, but this is simply the way things are done under the junta’s regime. And there’s much that is wrong about that.

The second is the news that Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and two other executive members have “met police to hear the charge of violating the Computer Crime Act on Monday.”

They have been charged for telling the truth about the junta’s campaigning and its efforts at hoovering up MPs for the political parties supporting the dictators. The junta has spent more than four years bullying – sometimes jailing, abducting and worse – persons it identifies as opponents. It is the way of the dictatorship.

The complaint against the three came directly from the junta or National Council for Peace and Order. As the Post reports, the “person who filed the charges and allegations, Col Burin Thongprapai, Judge Advocate General (legal) officer for the NCPO…”.

The police “said they would forward the case to the attorney general within four months.” If found “guilty,” the three “who could face a fine up to 100,000 baht and/or a jail term up to five years…”.

And the third story is yet another report of the double standards adopted by the junta. It uses decrees and threats to prevent political parties from doing much at all that is usually associated with political parties, but the junta goes on its merry way, seeking popularity for the upcoming elections.

In the past, the junta and its anti-democrat supporters have referred to these activities as vote buying and policy corruption, but when the junta does it, it is met with wry smiles. Anything is okay in the effort to keep “bad” politicians out of office. “Bad” is now defined only by reference to whether an politician supports the junta.

With The Dictator, Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta henchmen in Loei to hand out large piles of taxpayer loot and seek to steal former MPs away from their parties, it has targeted the Puea Thai Party.

In the past, the junta and its anti-democrat supporters have referred to these MPs as “bad” politicians, corrupt and a threat to the state. Their laundering to “good” politicians is achieved by their agreement to support the military’s thugs.





Republicanism and those shirts III

13 09 2018

More details are becoming available about the alleged republican movement that the junta says is not a threat to the monarchical state but claims it has been watching it for years.

The Bangkok Post reported that police charged Wannapa, a woman taxi motorcyclist, “with illegal assembly and sedition for possession of T-shirts the government has linked to an anti-monarchist movement.”

This reporting is a bit hard to follow. We are not at all sure what “illegal assembly” means in this case, unless this is the ancient ang yee charge. The sedition fits with the regime’s efforts – as we see it – to reduce the international damage that comes each time it uses lese majeste charges. In fact, though, the sedition law is more draconian even than lese majeste.

Wannapa has denied all charges and it was her mother who was hawking the shirts.

The police sought to detain her further, but she made bail (see below).

It was the junta, the “National Council for Peace and Order [that] handed her over to the CSD on Tuesday evening.” It was the junta, “NCPO officers [who] arrested her in Samut Prakan province in possession of black T-shirts with a small chest emblem said to represent the so-called Thai Federation movement, which Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon referred to as an anti-monarchist movement.” Here, junta/NCPO means the military.

Wannapa’s lawyer Pawinee Chumsri of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “said her client denied the charges. She had never been a member of any political movement and did not know the meaning of the small rectangular logo on the shirts…”. She was “distribut[ing] the shirts on instructions from her mother, the lawyer said. Her mother paid her to transport the shirts. The military seized 400 of the T-shirts from her…”.

Her client used the internet only to watch cartoons and movies and listen to music, and did not visit any political websites, the lawyer said.

Another Bangkok Post report states that while initially reporting that Wannapa had been denied bail, the Criminal Court has granted bail on Wednesday. Her bail was set at 200,000 baht.

This report says she was “charged … for violating the constitution and sedition as well as an act of running an illegal organisation.”

Perhaps the constitution bit is Section 1, “Thailand is one and indivisible Kingdom.” But if there weren’t double standards in Thailand, this could hardly be a serious charge. After all, the current regime trashed a whole constitution in its coup in 2014.

Police now say that “Wannapa received the T-shirts from her mother Somphit Sombathom, who is a member of the movement and is still at large in Laos.” They say Wannapa had distributed about 60 shirts and had another 400 shirts that were confiscated.

Police also confirmed that “three other suspects, including a man named Kritsana Asasu, were earlier arrested by authorities for their alleged involvement in the movement.” It is not clear where they are or what charges they face.

Police alleged that the Organization for a Thai Federation “acts against the National Council for Peace and Order and has the objective of overthrowing the current political regime of the country to a federated republic.”

The junta is making some efforts to get political gain from these arrests, linking the “movement” to both the official red shirts and “people behind the movement … in Laos, some European countries and the United States.” It’s a big net, not unlike other plots the junta has “discovered,” it is the same characters they want to tar and feather.

It seems to us that the junta’s penchant for “revealing” plots is mainly to cause “fear” mainly on the part of its supporters and to “prove” that repression remains “necessary.” At the same time, the junta is promoting a more widespread awareness of republicanism.