Neo-traditionalism and fascists

18 03 2021

Prachatai has a couple of stories that are about a theme – political repression. In our view, they also appoint to the entrenchment of neo-traditionalist, royalist, fascism.

The first report is about complaints made by the so-called People’s Network to Protect the Monarchy to Anek Laothamatas, who seems to spend some time as Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation. They demanded that the former communist now mad royalist and failed politician investigate the lecturers who have used their positions to stand bail for arrested protesters. The fascist Network “claims that their bail requests for Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Parit Chiwarak and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, students at Thammasat and Mahidol universities, constitute behaviour that infringes upon the monarchy.”

Clipped from Prachatai
The Network submitting a petition to the MHESI representatives, Duangrit Benjathikul Chairungruang and Jak Punchoopet (Source: Facebook/ Center for People Protecting the Monarchy).

Immediately, the ministry sprang into action: “Jak Punchoopet, Advisor to the Minister … said … the Ministry is preparing to summon deans and chancellors of the universities of 8 lecturers who offered bail to 3 student activists detained while awaiting trial for royal defamation and other charges.” Jak previously participated in People’s Democratic Reform Committee efforts to foment a coup against an elected government.

The Network claimed it is “unethical for teachers as they are protecting students who have clearly and publicly defamed and infringed upon the King, Queen and the Chakri dynasty, which the Network has denounced.”

Jak quoted Minister Anek as stating that “academic freedom must not infringe on the … monarchy.”

There’s not much academic freedom in Thailand anyway, with the 2020 Academic Freedom Index grading Thailand as an E, “the lowest grade, with a score of 0.13 out of a maximum of 1.  Other countries with and E grade include China, North Korea, Cuba, Lao, Iran, Rwanda, and South Sudan.”

Preventing academics standing bail would be a major change to previous and longstanding practice.

Of course, neither the fascists of the Network nor the dolts at the Ministry ever pause to think that none of these political prisoners have yet been found guilty. In any case, none were allowed bail.

An equally concerning report is about constant harassment of independent media:

The Isaan Record, an online media organization based in Khon Kaen Province, is under surveillance by police officers. This is not the first time, and it occurs after they report on monarchy reform and anti-dictatorship activities which other media find distasteful.

The effort to silence The Isaan Record is clear and follows a pattern:

On 10 March, Hathairat Phaholtap, the Isaan Record editor, told Prachatai English that police officers came to their office 4 times in one day. She was informed by vendors close to the office that police had asked them about the agency. The police did not approach staff directly.

This took place after the agency reported on an activity organized on 8 March by Femliberate, a feminist activist group, who shrouded the statue of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat with women’s sarongs with a banner reading “Justice died 8 March 2021,” a symbolic action against the oppression of women and the court decision to keep in detention Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul and Panupong Jadnok, 3 leading pro-democracy activists.

Police intimidation sometimes leads to arrests but can also lead to attacks by royalist thugs – more often than not these are police and military men in plainclothes. Such attacks are never investigated.

Unsurprisingly, these royalist, fascist interventions are coordinated. Prachatai reports:

… Manager Online for the northeast region reported news with the headline “Don’t stand for it! Khon Kaen people love the institution [of the monarchy]. Attack KKU [Khon Kaen University], ask its position on whether they want the monarchy or not after allowing gangs who want to abolish the monarchy to hang out there,”.

The news item reports that a pro-monarchy group blames the Progressive Movement, from the now-dissolved Future Forward Party, for being the mastermind behind the student movement in Khon Kaen in the past year. They also questioned Khon Kaen University for letting public figures who spoke about democracy and monarchy reform give lectures to the students.

You see the link between Manager Online and the People’s Network to Protect the Monarchy. When fascism takes hold, the country usually falls into a deep and dark abyss.





Dead-weight lese majeste

21 05 2019

Lese majeste or Article 112 has often been considered as a draconian law. It is. It has been wielded by the current military dictatorship to imprison hundreds. Critics of the regime have been threatened with the law to silence them.

However, less often emphasized is the way the lese majeste law hangs like a millstone around the collective neck of journalists and commentators.

This is why we recommend an an AFP blog post by journalist Sophie Deviller. She has a long account of the ways in which lese majeste directs every aspect of reporting associated with the recent coronation. She also comments on how the secrecy has been significant for the monarchy in maintaining its power.

Thais recognize that the new king is being remade:

… when I tried to bring up the new king’s personality and his escapades, which have been reported by foreign media, she [a Thai journalist] shut down. “This is of no importance,” she told me. “This image is disappearing, in favor of an image of a sacred and powerful king.”

We were, however, stumped by the blog’s final paragraph:

What purpose does it serve for you to constantly criticize your leaders?” she asked me. I had little choice but to answer with the same smile that the Thais use to get out of a delicate or embarrassing situation.

Two points: first, Thai journalists do constantly criticize leaders, although this depends on the political climate. It is only the monarch and royal family that are spared, and that’s the role of lese majeste; second, a journalist should be able to explain that one purpose of the media is to hold leaders to account.





On coronation II

4 05 2019

One of the most noticeable things among the bland and sometimes downright posterior polishing masquerading as reporting today was the censoring of journalists.

Khaosod reports that the BBC was taken off the air in Thailand yesterday and today.

Self-crowned

As the report notes, this came just a day “after Thailand marked its ‘press freedom day’.” As usual, no reason was provided, but everyone knows that it had something to do with reporting of the king.

The Thai provider, TrueVision, owned by Sino-Thai monarchists, “has blacked out broadcasts by the BBC and other foreign media agencies that touched on sensitive subjects in the past.”

That means monarchy.

One of the most interesting aspects of reporting is that, despite claims about joyous crowds, most of the photos of the coronation that we have seen so far do not suggest crowds extending much beyond those the regime ordered to show up. Of course, the diehard royalists also showed up to cheer.

Clipped from The Nation

Another noticeable set of social media reports showed photos of the royal family, including Ubolratana being hugged by her brother.

Also present, in addition to the new queen, was one of the king’s concubines.





Erase the junta’s “law”

29 04 2019

Prachatai recently reported on an important intervention by the International Commission of Jurists, seeking to “the repeal or amendment of Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and NCPO orders and announcements in line with Thailand’s international human rights law obligations.”

While this approach to the Council of State is likely to be ignored, it is responding to Ministry of Foreign Affairs advice that the Council of the State “had been tasked to review the necessity and relevance of announcements, orders, and acts of the NCPO and of the Head of the NCPO (HNCPO) in February 2019.” That review is responding to “Thailand’s declaration to the UN Human Rights Committee in its Follow-Up to the Concluding Observations of the Committee, submitted on 18 July and published on 10 August 2018.”

To read the ICJ’s recommendations, download its 15-page document. Importantly, it urges:

… that Thailand immediately end the use of special powers, including those enshrined under Article 44 of the 2014 interim Constitution, and retained through Article 265 of the 2017 Constitution.

And, it goes on to list the junta’s contraventions of the country’s international obligations: military involvement in civilian law enforcement, arbitrary detention and arrest, lack of judicial oversight for detainees, the inability to legally challenge detention, the use of military courts, the restriction of peaceful assembly, restrictions on the media, and the infringement of community and environmental rights.





Updated: Media self-censorship

24 04 2019

It is well-known that self-censorship is an absolute must for mainstream media in Thailand when reporting anything related to the monarchy and royals.

So it is that both The Nation and the Bangkok Post avoid the royal aspects of a weird event at the Rajaprasong intersection yesterday.

Clipped from social media

Clad in a yellow shirt, a man jumped out of an elaborately decorated Mercedes sedan with a large knife and a bag of snakes. Watched by thousands, he was said to have killed some of the snakes and to have cut himself (video here).

If that wasn’t strange enough, the car was heavily decorated with portraits and designs all related to King Vajiralongkorn.

Neither newspaper saw fit to report this royal link and neither reproduced photos showing that royal decorations on the vehicle, although the Post did include links to other sources that included such images.

While the man might have been crazed, the connections between coronation, blood sacrifice and the particular location chosen – the site of the red shirt massacre in 2010 – are not considered. The royal portraits and decorations are deliberately expunged  from the reporting to make the reports essentially faked news but not fake news.

Nor have these media suggested links to PAD demonstrations of the past

The media is crippled by royalist repression and self-censorship.

Update: The Bangkok Post produced another story that again failed to come up with any mention of the royal connections in the story. It even managed to find links that had photos with none of the royal stuff that was in the portraits he displayed or the writing on the car. Bravely, in this context, Khaosod reported that real estate businessman Ganeshpisnuthep Jakphopmahadecha, 42, “placed portraits of King Vajiralongkorn on his vehicle.”

Bonkers he might be, but our guess is that the location, the iconography and the mans history suggest he thought he was doing some purifying before the coronation.





Stop criticizing The Dictator

12 06 2018

Readers will have noticed that PPT is having trouble keeping up with The Dictator’s antics and his junta’s political campaigning for an “election” that may be held at some time in the future and/or for puffing the junta’s collective chest.

The junta gets away with a lot given its political repression and its control of the media through bans, hectoring and the media’s own political timidness and/or support for the military dictatorship.

Even so, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s recent gripe that he deserves more respect because he’s (self-appointed) prime minister (after illegally seizing the state), has us wondering what might have been the media’s response if, say, Thaksin or Yingluck Shinawatra had made the same demand.

Khaosod reports that The Dictator last week made a “plea for the position of prime minister to be spared from insult…”. Prayuth moaned to his puppet National Legislative Assembly that “his ‘honorable’ position should be above reproach…”.

Befitting a dictatorial leader, Prayuth warned his critics: “I want to maintain the position as honorable. Those attacking me should be careful…”.

The Dictator loves power, covets it and cannot stand even the mildest of criticism.





Constructing the junta’s digital Panopticon

17 05 2018

Anyone who has watched the junta’s boot grinding down political activism, one of the most noticeable and distasteful of its repressive efforts has been to establish vigilantism supporting military hired spies who police the internet for content the military dictators feel is threatening. This usually means online lese majeste although the junta has also bee watchful of its own egos and has also policed the Thai world for political dissidents.

It seems that its “successes” in political repression and censorship have prompted the military and the junta to seek to construct a digital Panopticon. Initially devised by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century, the idea was to construct a prison where the inmates could be observed without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The idea was to impose order and passivity because the inmates cannot know when they are being watched meaning they become motivated to act as though they are being watched at every single moment.

The junta wants all Thais and others in Thailand to believe they are under surveillance all the time. In other words, the whole society becomes, in everyone’s mind, a political prison.

An editorial at the Bangkok Post states that the junta “plans to recruit civilian so-called ‘cyber warriors’ … it needs to ensure they target the right groups of people.” The military dictatorship is hiring and training another 200 cyber spies, with a goal of having 5,000 by 2023. Such a massive spying mission is in the hands of the Minister of Justice – of which there is little – ACM Prajin Juntong.

The plan announced by the junta “leaves room for worries on whether they will be mainly used as a political tool to suppress freedom of expression and hunt down political dissidents.” Fascists will be fascists.

And, as the editorial notes, “a cyber security bill has been drafted pending approval by lawmakers. If enacted into law, it will allow the authorities to take broader control of online activity, including snooping on individuals’ personal computers.”

Another Bangkok Post story refers to the military – not a regular, civilian ministry – is developing ways of tracking tourists, investors and migrant workers, among others. Such tracking is used in other countries but it is only in the darkest of authoritarian regimes that it is the military doing it.

Be very concerned at how broadly the military has defined its role in Thailand. It has seeped and oozed into every arena and level of civilian administration. Even if a junta party doesn’t “win” the junta-granted “election,” the military thugs will be everywhere. The Panopticon is in place.





Neutering media

21 08 2017

The military dictatorship has generally been able to neuter the media. It got rid of most of the red shirt media soon after the 2014 military coup. It has then managed and manipulated the media. Initially, this did not require much effort as the mainstream media cheered the coup.

As the regime has gone on and on, some elements of the media have become just a little more critical of the junta’s nepotism, corruption, political repression and so on. The Dictator has shouted orders at journalists on those many occasions where he has felt the media should be doing more for his regime.

Most recently, as widely reported, the regime has been doing a little more to direct the media:

The government has ordered all television channels to promote the work of its ministers in an effort the head of its public relations division said was meant to take the focus off the prime minister.

Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the government spokesman who heads its Public Relations Department, said Thursday that he ordered each channel assigned to different ministers because he did not want the coverage to focus only on the prime minister.

“I didn’t force them. I let them choose freely but each channel must do differently,” he said after word got out and the effort was slammed as state-mandated propaganda. “Some channels even asked me to choose for them, but I didn’t because I know each channel has a different interest.”

It should be no surprise that most media enthusiastically signed up.

Dissent in the media is difficult under a military regime. One example of rare but consistent dissent by a journalist has seen Pravit Rojanaphruk who is now being punished by the military junta. He says:

It never occurred to me that what I write could be seditious.

Under military rule, criticizing the junta on social media can be construed as an act of sedition, however.

I learned this the hard way when police rang me up at the end of last month, informing me that I had been charged with sedition for a number of my Facebook postings.

That this is yet another fit-up. Each of Pravit’s posts was critical of the military junta. Yes, criticizing the junta constitutes sedition in totalitarian Thailand.

Pravit comments on the junta’s charges:

… no one really knows what constitutes sedition under military rule makes this a chilling effect and ensures greater self-censorship of anything critical of the junta in social media, however. The hazier the boundaries of what constitutes sedition, the more effective they become in instilling fear.

It may also be baffling that people who criticize the military junta, which usurped and continues to usurp power from the people, are the ones being charged with sedition. Control is more effective when fear is induced by logic-defying situations because one suspends disbelief of the illogical and absurd in Juntaland Thailand any longer. When right is wrong, wrong is right and might is right, rationality no longer gives guidance. We live not under the rule of law but under rule by arbitrary law of the junta. And logic is not necessary. Just obey. In fact, to obey without logically asking why or questioning the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the military regime, makes control effective. Just obey. Don’t ask what’s wrong with the order imposed upon us.

On the future and on dissent, he declares:

It’s a privilege and an honor to defend freedom of expression on social media during the past three years. It is also an honor to be singled out among the select few Thais who have stood up and effectively disturbed the make-believe world of Juntaland Thailand.

We cannot defend freedom of expression if we are not willing to pay the price. The price is worth paying when one takes the long-term benefits of society to heart.





ASEAN lawmakers on Thailand’s authoritarian path

22 05 2017

We reproduce this in full from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights:

ASEAN lawmakers: Thailand moving in the wrong direction three years on from coup

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia warned today that Thailand is moving in the wrong direction three years after the country’s military overthrew the last democratically elected government.

On the third anniversary of the 2014 coup, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) reiterated concerns over arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics, and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. The collective of regional lawmakers said that moves by the ruling junta have dealt lasting damage to Thailand’s long-term democratic prospects, and urged military leaders to return the country to elected, civilian rule as soon as possible.

“In the past year, this military regime has further strengthened its hold on institutions to the detriment of both democracy and the economic well-being of the country. Its actions since taking power appear aimed at systematically and permanently crippling any hope of democratic progress,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“To put it bluntly, Thailand is headed in the wrong direction. With the military firmly in the driver’s seat and a new constitution that guarantees it a central role in politics for years to come, Thailand appears further from a return to genuine democracy than at any point in recent memory. Meanwhile, investors are increasingly nervous about the control exerted by elites in managing the country. The damage incurred will have severe, long-lasting consequences that will not be easily undone.”

A new military-drafted constitution, officially promulgated on 6 April, contains anti-democratic clauses, including provisions for an unelected prime minister and a wholly appointed upper chamber of parliament. A version of the charter was approved by voters in a controversial August 2016 referendum, which APHR criticized at the time as “undemocratic.”

“With its new charter, the Thai junta has designed something akin to Myanmar’s ‘disciplined democracy,’ a flawed system where the generals still hold key levers of power and are able to pull the strings from behind the scenes,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.

“This is a real concern for all those hoping that the Thai people will be able to enjoy democracy and prosperity in the future. In order for Thailand to truly return to democracy, the military needs to step aside, allow for genuine elections, and commit to remaining in the barracks, rather than meddling in politics.”

Since seizing power on 22 May 2014, the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has placed severe restrictions on political activities and arbitrarily arrested hundreds for speaking out against it. Journalists, human rights defenders, and former politicians have been among those subjected to arbitrary detention and mandatory “attitude adjustment” at military and police facilities.

“The situation for human rights in the country has deteriorated. In the past three years, we have witnessed steadily increasing repression and a clampdown on basic freedoms. These developments are especially concerning in the context of a broader erosion of democracy and rights protections across the ASEAN region,” said APHR Board Member Walden Bello, a former Congressman from the Philippines.

“After repeated delays to promised elections, it’s not clear that the generals who currently hold power have any intention of giving it up for real. There are also real concerns among the international community about the continued use of Article 44 and its implications for accountability and human rights,” he added.

Article 44 of Thailand’s interim constitution enables the NCPO chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, to unilaterally make policy and override all other branches of government, and Prayuth has used this sweeping authority to restrict fundamental freedoms.

Political gatherings remain banned, a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, political parties are prohibited from holding meetings or undertaking any political activity.

The country has also witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of individuals arrested and charged under Article 112, Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté statute, which outlaws criticism of the monarchy. Over 100 people have been arrested on such charges since the NCPO took power.

Press freedom has also come under attack. A new media bill, approved by the National Reform Steering Assembly, was repeatedly criticized by journalists and press freedom advocates. Though the final version of the bill forwarded to the cabinet earlier this month eliminated controversial proposed licensing requirements for media workers, it still includes provisions for government officials to sit on a regulatory body tasked with monitoring and accrediting media. This provision would undermine media freedom and constitute undue government interference into the affairs of the press, parliamentarians argued.

“The military government must recognize that a free, independent press is critical to a functioning democracy. It must also do a better job listening to civil society, including by ensuring adequate consultation with relevant stakeholders on all legislation,” Eva Sundari said.

“As Thailand moves into its fourth year under military rule, it is now more urgent than ever that concrete steps be taken to right the ship. Junta leaders need to understand that their actions, which fly in the face of international human rights norms and democratic standards, are no way to achieve a peaceful, prosperous future for Thailand,” Charles Santiago said.





The Dictator and the media means repression

3 05 2017

There’s been a spate of reporting saying the military dictatorship was prepared to “compromise” on the controversial media control bill.

For example, the Bangkok Post stated that “National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) Monday endorsed a controversial media bill after making changes to two controversial issues in an apparent attempt to ease pressure from the press and critics.”

The Post reported that the revisions meant the “contentious plan to license individual journalists was dropped. However, journalists would be required to obtain certificates from their respective media companies.” Whatever that means.

It also reported that “the much-criticised 15-member national media profession council, which would include permanent secretaries from the PM’s Office and Culture Ministry, state representatives will serve on it during the five-year transitional period.” Again, this could end up meaning whatever the junta wants it to mean.

In an editorial, the Bangkok Post responded to this move, basically saying the whole bill should be flushed down the nearest drain.

Thailand’s Chaplinesque Hynkel, The Great Dictator, known more widely as General Prayuth Chan-ocha, even prattled about having ” a forum to hear the views of members of the media on the controversial media bill…”. But this is window dressing. The Dictator stated: “”Don’t worry. All issues of concern will be jointly discussed. The bill has both positives and negatives…”. Whatever one thinks of this verbal manure, Prayuth wants control and limits on the media.

At the same time that he was babbling to the media, he was also criticizing the Navy for giving too much information to the media, claiming that “no other country has ever had to disclose this much information about military hardware procurement as Thailand just did.” This is just a lie. But the point is, Prayuth wants secrets kept so that his people can do what they want.

Then there’s the abduction of critics. No one may speak ill of the junta.

Bigger than this, though, is the desire to control the history that Thais know, not to mention the protection of a new palace regime of toadies and other supplicants in the service of a king who simply can’t be trusted.

We have speculated that the king is responsible for the removal of the 1932 commemorative plaque. So when the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) decided to hold a panel discussion on the stolen plaque, the dictatorship had a political heart attack.

The result was that on 3 May , the “FCCT announced on its Facebook page that it had received orders from the police to cancel [the] panel discussion…. The police advised that the order came from so-called ‘relevant officials’ who perceived the seminar as a threat to national security.”

The national security threat is presumably an admission that the king had the plaque stolen.

The FCCT went on to say that it “regrets to announce that the panel discussion ‘Memories of 1932: The Mystery of Thailand’s Missing Plaque’, … has been cancelled. The decision was made after the FCCT received a letter from the Lumpini Police asking for the event to be called off, after the police were contacted, they say, by ‘relevant officials’…”.

It added: “The FCCT has been given to understand that this cancellation is on the orders of the NCPO, and we have no choice but to comply.”

That’s the junta’s position: the media cannot be free because it and the palace has many secrets that may not be revealed to anyone, least of all the media. If anyone reports on these secrets, they risk years in jail or even the king’s private lock up.