UN “very concerned” on lese majeste

14 06 2017

They have been saying it for several years now, but UN expressions of concern about lese majeste madness in Thailand deserve repeating. The call is to amend the law. That’s unlikely to happen any time soon, so a watered-down squeak for amending might as well be a real demand for abolition. That won’t happen either, but it needs to be shouted again and again.

The following is the whole post from the UN Human Rights -Asia Facebook page:

The military junta We are very concerned by the rise in the number of lèse majesté prosecutions in Thailand since 2014 and the severity of the sentencing, including a 35-year jail term handed down last Friday against one individual. A Thai military court found Wichai Thepwong guilty of posting 10 photos, videos and comments on Facebook deemed defamatory of the royal family. He was sentenced to 70 years in jail, but the sentence was reduced to 35 years after he confessed to the charges.

This is the heaviest sentence ever handed down under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which is also known as the lèse majesté law. The previous heaviest sentences were handed down in 2015, when three people were jailed for between 25 and 30 years by military courts on the same charges. The offence carries a penalty of three to 15 years in jail for each charge of insulting the monarchy.

Between 2011 and 2013, 119 people were investigated for insulting the monarchy. Over the last three years, between 2014 and 2016, that figure has more than doubled to at least 285.

Statistics provided by Thai authorities show there has been a sharp fall in the number of people who have been able to successfully defend themselves against lèse majesté charges. From 2011-13, around 24 percent of people charged with the offence walked free, but over the next three years, that number fell to about 10 percent. Last year, that figure was only 4 percent.

While our Office appreciates the complexity and sensitivity of the issue surrounding lèse majesté in Thailand, we are deeply troubled by the high rate of prosecutions and the courts’ persistence in handing down disproportionate sentences for the offence. All people have the right to freedom of expression, including when it comes to criticising public figures. Imprisonment of individuals solely for exercising the right to freedom of expression constitutes a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand acceded to in 1996. In March 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee, which reviews implementation of the ICCPR, concluded that Thailand should review Article 112 of the Criminal Code to bring it into line with Article 19 of the Covenant.

We also have concerns about the conduct of the trials since the military coup of 2014. Most of the lèse majesté cases have been tried before a military court, and the hearings have been closed to the public. Most of the accused have been denied bail and some held for long periods in pre-trial detention. While we welcome the Government’s decision in September 2016 to cease hearing future lèse majesté cases in military courts, we reiterate our call to authorities to apply this is to all pending cases, retroactively.

Our Office calls on the Thai Government to immediately amend the lèse majesté law to bring it in line with international human rights standards and to review all cases brought under Article 112 of the Criminal code.

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva





Updated: Lese majeste barbarity deepens

9 06 2017

A strange mood emerged sometime during the 2010s that saw red shirts considering then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn as a political ally. We are not sure why this view developed. Some of it drew on the position that the prince was close to Thaksin Shinawatra. That position drew on a partial reading of Wikileaks and the successionist argument that the royalist elite was seeking to prevent Thaksin being involved in that event, supporting the prince.

Whatever the reasons, this also led to an odd claim that the prince as king could be more “democratic” and could wind back the “damaging” (mis)use of the lese majeste law.

Nothing in the prince’s life story justified such political optimism.

When it comes to lese majeste, recent years suggest that the then prince used lese majeste as a means to rid himself of those he considered personal enemies, had crossed him or found themselves on the wrong side of his “divorce” from wife no. 3, Srirasmi.

The record of the first six months of Vajiralongkorn’s reign suggests that the reign of lese majeste terror is to deepen. This is confirmed in the most recent sentencing by a military court.

On 9 June 2017, a military court sentenced Wichai Thepphong to 70 years jail on lese majeste. The previous “record” for lese majeste repression was a sentence of 60 years.

Wichai’s sentence was reduced to 35 years when he agreed to plead guilty.

He was convicted of 10 lese majeste offences in “creating a copycat Facebook profile and posting lèse majesté messages on it to take revenge on his [former] friend.”

Wichai was “arrested in December 2015 and has remained in custody since.” That lengthy stay in jail apparently convinced him to change his not guilty plea.

Three basic points can be made. First, because the lese majeste law is draconian and allows anyone to make a complaint, it is subject to abuse by anyone, including the authorities. It isn’t even clear why this case amounted to lese majeste.

Second, it is a remarkable testament to the state of authoritarianism, that this case has been the responsibility of a military court.

Third, there’s no reason for false optimism about he new reign.

Update: We fixed an incorrect link.





Lawless concoctions and political repression

24 05 2017

The military dictatorship is able to arrest anyone it like. It has been active. It has rounded up hundreds and sometimes released them without charge and other times has had them jailed. Some of the “threats to national security” are jailed and lost from the media almost without trace.

Like lese majeste cases, sometimes the secrecy involved is such that commentators have no idea what the junta’s crazed notions are in arresting people. Sometimes the junta claims a “plot” has been uncovered and, more often than not, these are figments of warped military minds or are actually junta plots to gain political ground.

Back in August 2016, we discerned some cracks in the junta’s make-up and posted about a regime “lost in its own machinations, repression and lack of intellectual capacity for arranging its political future other than by further repression.”

Back then there had been some bombings, and of “new” targets. There were arrests. More than a dozen suspects were arrested and accused of plotting. Soon the Deputy Dictator revealed that these were not bombers but a dangerous group seeking to overthrow of the military-royal regime.

General Prawit Wongsuwan and police entered a time warp, declaring the detainees “communists.” At the time, there were 13 men and four women, mostly elderly. They were said to be members of “Revolutionary Front for Democracy Party,” a group no one had ever heard of.

They  were claimed to be “hardcore reds” active in Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani and coordinated by masterminds who were influential politicians in southern border provinces. These bizarre claims continued with the dictatorship saying that the Revolutionary Front for Democracy Party was a nationwide network, except in the lower South, but that they were not red shirts.

Our comment was that no sensible person can believe such inventive, throwback nonsense. We said that the inventiveness of the regime is so ridiculous that we wonder if they are taking mind altering drugs.

As it turns out, it was only on 24 May 2017 that the military court decided to “release” them. (The report is unclear as to whether the 17 were jailed or on bail.)

Why were they discharged by the court? Simple: insufficient evidence.

This is just one story of a regime that treats the law as a tool of repression. Its own illegal acts come with impunity and it has repeatedly concocted plots, fiddled with evidence, tortured and, in lese majeste cases, reinvented the law in bizarre ways.





Military court for lese majeste case

19 04 2017

Sarawut (surname withheld), 32, is an optometrist in Chiang Rai was charged with lese majeste before a military court, accused of defaming Prince Vajiralongkorn, now king.

He was detained 0n 11 October 2016 for lese majeste and computer crimes.

Initially denied bail, he later received it some three months later when his lawyer told the court that his client has to take care of his young sons.

The investigation of Sarawut’s case began when soldiers from the 37th Military Circle of Chiang Rai filed a complaint under Article 112 against Sarawut on 21 July 2016.

When Sarawut again appeared before a military court on 7 February 2017, he vowed to prove his innocence.

As the trial slowly moves forward, Prachatai reports that on 11 April 2017, the Chiang Rai Military Court scheduled the first examination of witnesses in this case. The trial will hear 10 prosecution witnesses and four witnesses will testify for the defendant. The first hearing will begin on 12 June 2017.





And now lese majeste

27 03 2017

One of the things we should have predicted about the “weapons seizure” said to involve junta critic and renegade red shirt Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee was further lese majeste charges. We should have predicted this, but as Ko Tee already faces a charge, we became negligent of the junta’s modus operandi when dealing with such cases. After all, the dictators have claimed a “republican plot.”

Prachatai reports that the junta has “accused one of the nine people arrested over the alleged plot to assassinate the junta leader of lèse majesté over Line messages.” The report states:

On 24 March 2017, Maj Gen Wicharn Jodtaeng and Col Burin Thongprapai, legal officer of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took nine people accused of involvement in the alleged plot to assassinate Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) in Bangkok….

Most of them, who are anti-establishment red shirts, are accused of terrorism and possessing unauthorised or illegal weapons, and involving in a criminal association. The nine were detained for seven days at the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok after their arrest before being handed to the police.

One of those arrested, Suriyasak Chatphithakkun, 49, is now “accused of Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law and Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crime Act, a law against the importation of illegal content.”

According to the military snoops, Suriyasak is a “local red shirt leader from Surin Province…”. They claim that on “13 July 2016 allegedly wrote a message deemed defamatory to the Thai Monarchy in a Line chat group called ‘People Outside Coconut Shell’.”

He will go to a military court.





Updated: Going after grannies

9 03 2017

The junta doesn’t discriminate when attacking and repressing its opponents. Age, gender and location are no barriers to repression.

Over the past couple of days, it seems the military dictatorship has turned its attention to repressing grannies.

A story at Prachatai reports that 20 villagers in Udornthani have ended a court case by pleading “guilty for violating the junta’s public gathering ban for supporting a referendum monitoring campaign.”

They could not afford to fight the case, so decided to plead guilty. Eight of the villagers are aged over 60 and several suffer chronic illnesses.

The “Udon Thani Military Court ruled that 20 villagers from Sakon Nakhon province were guilty of violating NCPO Head Order 3/2015, the junta’s ban on public assemblies of five people or more.”

The military court “sentenced the villagers to 1 month in jail each and fined each 5,000 baht” but reduced this “to a 2,500 baht fine and a 15 day suspended jail term” after the guilty pleas.

The case came “after the villagers took a photo with a banner from the Anti-Electoral Fraud in the Referendum Centre, the constitutional referendum monitoring centre run by the red-shirt movement.”

The junta and its military thugs considered them scary red shirt grannies. How low can the junta go? Very, very low.

Prachatai points out that:

During last year’s referendum, at least 143 people across eight provinces were prosecuted for violating NCPO Head Order 3/2015 after joining Anti-Electoral Fraud in the Referendum Centre’s campaigns. 74 of them decided to sign an agreement promising not to participate in any political activity in exchange for an end to their prosecution. Some pled guilty in courts to have their sentence reduced.

The arrests were a means of deterring anyone who considered the “referendum” somehow real and wished to participate in any way other than agreeing with the junta’s “constitution.”

That “approved” charter has since undergone changes and is still not approved by the king (he’s busy undoing royal titles for monks). It was meant to herald and “election,” and that is being delayed again and again so that the junta can further consolidate its position.

Update: Another Prachatai story notes that the military junta has “celebrated” International Women’s Day by pressing charges against seven women who are villagers opposing a local gold mine in Loei Province. The report states:

On 16 November last year, Ponthip Hongchai led 150 villagers in a protest at Khao Luang Subdistrict Administration Office where local officials were revising a request from Thungkham Limited, a gold-mining company, to extend its mining license. The protesters urged the office to immediately end the revision process.

On 18 December, a police officer accused Ponthip and six other female villagers of violating the junta’s ban on public assembly. 16 officials at the administration office also accused the six of coercing them into cancelling the revision process.

The seven will be summoned again on 30 March to hear whether a general-attorney [attorney-general] will indict them.

The Tungkum Company has had significant regime support and the junta see the villagers as having support from anti-regime activists.





Supporting feudal monarchism

8 02 2017

We know that the military dictatorship has little sense of irony. It seems part of the UN has caught the lack of irony disease. That lack of perception means that, as it has done previously, UN offices manage to collude in creating and reinforcing feudal monarchism in Thailand.

pattyWe say this based on a report in the Bangkok Post that “… the King’s daughter … Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol is to become a goodwill ambassador for the rule of law in Southeast Asia, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime announced on Wednesday.”

The irony of appointing a royal, protected by a feudal law and from a country ruled by a military dictatorship that illegally seized power and now uses military courts and thumbs its nose at rule of law, in favor of rule by law, seems lost on this UN office.

In fact, UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas is quoted as stating: “She doesn’t see herself as above the law and is interested in helping out to advance justice reform…”.

In fact, she is above the law. While in its written form the lese majeste law does not apply to her, every Thai knows that, in practice, she is “protected,” just like dead kings and deceased king’s dogs.

How a feudal “princess would help to promote justice reform” in “Thailand as well as the rest of Southeast Asia” is not clear. After all, her experience is of Thailand’s compromised and politicized “justice” system.

Yes, we know she allegedly has “a special interest in prison issues, particularly women in prison,” but even the UNODC website has little about this since this “interest” was happened upon back in 2008-9.

In an earlier post, we speculated that palace’s need to reorient its propaganda to promote the new king and his (official) family. As in the past, UN offices are targeted in this effort to promote feudal institutions.