A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad. We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 3 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.





The Economist on the king

4 01 2019

The Economist’s story on Thailand this week will be banned in Thailand. It deserves to be widely read, so we reproduce it in full:

A royal pain

As the army and politicians bicker, Thailand’s king amasses more power
He appoints generals, patriarchs and executives, and disposes of crown property as he pleases

3 Jan 2019

IT HAPPENED IN the dead of night, without warning. In late December security forces showed up with a crane at a crossroads in Bangkok and whisked away the monument that stood there. No one admitted to knowing who had ordered the removal, or why. Police stopped an activist from filming it. The memorial itself, which marked the defeat in 1933 of putschists hoping to turn Thailand back into a royal dictatorship, has vanished. It is the second monument to constitutional monarchy to disappear under the military junta that has run Thailand since 2014: in 2017 a plaque celebrating the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932 was mysteriously replaced with one extolling loyalty to the king.

Making hard men humble

The current king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, has been on the throne for two years. He has unnerved his 69m subjects from the start. When his father, King Bhumibol, died in 2016, he refused to take the throne for nine weeks—despite having waited for it for decades. The delay was intended as a mark of respect, but it was also a way of signalling to the military junta that runs the country that he was determined to make his own decisions. It was only this week that a date was set for his coronation: May 4th. King Vajiralongkorn spends most of his time abroad, in a sumptuous residence near Munich. He even insisted on tweaking the new constitution, after it had already been approved in a referendum, to make it easier to reign from a distance.

King Bhumibol was on the throne for 70 years. Partly because of his clear devotion to the job, and partly because military regimes inculcated respect for the monarchy as a way of bolstering their own legitimacy, he was widely revered. Official adulation for the monarchy endures, but in private King Vajiralongkorn is widely reviled. His personal life is messy: he has churned through a series of consorts, disowning children and even imprisoning relatives of one jilted partner. He has firm ideas about the decorum he should be shown—the picture above shows the prime minister prostrating himself before him—but little sense of the respect he might owe anyone else: his cosseted poodle, elevated to the rank of Air Chief Marshal, used to jump up onto tables to drink from the glasses of visiting dignitaries. The tedious tasks expected of Thai monarchs, such as cutting ribbons and doling out university degrees, he palms off on his more popular sister.

Writing about such things in Thailand is dangerous. The country’s fierce lèse-majesté law promises between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. In practice, it has been used to suppress anything that could be construed as damaging to the monarchy, whether true or not, including novels that feature venal princes and academic research that casts doubt on the glorious deeds of the kings of yore.

As his critics are cowed, the king has focused on accumulating personal power. In 2017 the government gave him full control of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), an agency that has managed royal land and investments for decades and whose holdings are thought to be worth more than $40bn. In 2018 the CPB announced that all its assets would henceforth be considered the king’s personal property (he did, however, agree to pay taxes on them). That makes the king the biggest shareholder in Thailand’s third-biggest bank and one of its biggest industrial conglomerates, among other firms.

With the help of the CPB the king is reshaping an area of central Bangkok adjacent to the main royal palace. The bureau declined to renew the lease of the city’s oldest horse-racing track, the Royal Turf Club, leading to its closure in September after 102 years. An 80-year-old zoo next door closed the same month. The fate of two nearby universities that are also royal tenants remains uncertain. The CPB has not revealed the purpose of the upheaval; Thais assume the king just wants an even bigger palace.

King Vajiralongkorn has also put his stamp on the privy council, a body which has a role in naming the heir to the throne, among other things. It once contained individuals who opposed his becoming king at all. Now it is stuffed with loyal military men. The royal court is ruled with “iron discipline”, according to one local businessman. Leaks about the king’s disturbing conduct have dried up. Some former favourites have found themselves in prison. Hangers-on who traded on their royal connections have been shown the door.

The king’s authority over religious orders has also grown. In 2016 the government granted him the power to appoint members of the Sangha Supreme Council—in effect, Thai Buddhism’s governing body—and to choose the next chief monk, known as the Supreme Patriarch. He did so in 2017, elevating a respected monk from the smaller and more conservative of Thailand’s two main Buddhist orders.

The army, too, is receiving a royal makeover. The commander-in-chief appointed in September, Apirat Kongsompong, is the king’s man. Over the next two years he will supervise the relocation of a regiment and a battalion out of Bangkok, ostensibly to relieve crowding. Security in the city will fall instead to the elite Royal Guard Command, which is directly under the king’s control.

Many contend that it is the king who has pushed the army to hold the oft-delayed election that has at last been called for February 24th. This is not to suggest that the king is a democrat (his actions suggest anything but). Rather, the contest is likely to lead to a weak, chaotic government, which probably suits him well. The constitution the army designed makes it hard for elected politicians to achieve a parliamentary majority. But even if the army retains power behind the scenes, it will have surrendered absolute authority. Either pro-army types or democrats would probably seek royal support to govern, strengthening the king’s position however the vote turns out.





Fears for Surachai I

1 01 2019

Activists and human rights advocates remain deeply concerned about the fate of red shirt and anti-monarchist Surachai Danwattananusorn or Surachai Sae Dan who disappeared about two weeks ago from his home-in-exile, together with two comrades.

His disappearance remains largely unmentioned in the mainstream media.

Khaosod reports the discovery of a mutilated body found on the banks of the Mekong River near Nakhon Phanom, which caused great concern among his supporters.

However, police say “it’s too early to tell if a dead body found in the Mekong River belongs to a prominent anti-monarchy activist who went missing two weeks ago,” saying it might be a “victim of narcotics traffickers…”.

The body of the “unidentified” man was found in a sack, with his “throat … cut, intestines removed and hands locked in handcuffs…”. The report states that “[a]nother dead body was found in a similar manner just two days earlier.”

Surachai’s wife believes that the two bodies were men in the 30-40s so it is unlikely to be Surachai.

Like the sudden removal of the 1932 plaque, the Lak Si constitutional memorial and the disappearance Surachai has received little mainstream media attention, suggesting that many “understand” that commentary on these events is best left alone as they are likely attributable to very powerful and  very dangerous forces.





The nonsensical notion of a free and fair election

22 12 2018

We hope that the junta and its devil parties get smashed in the upcoming “election.”

At the moment, we don’t think this outcome is very likely because of the huge manipulation and cheating that has gone on under the military dictatorship, which has expended truckloads of money, unbounded repression and a filing cabinet of laws and charters that mean no election under the current rules can be free or fair.

That said, we understand that many in Thailand really want a free and fair election, even when they know they will not get it. But why academics and NGOs would come up with “a 10-point agreement … to ensure a free and fair general election” is beyond our comprehension.

The agreement, said to have been initiated by the Open Forum for Democracy Foundation (P-Net) and the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, can have little impact.

We say this because, at best, such an agreement will remind some people of some of the underpinnings of what a real election might look like. At worst, it can give succor to the cheats in the junta and its devil parties.

PPT is not being harsh in this judgement. Think about it. Some 27 parties have signed up, including Chart Pattana, Palang Pracharath, the Democrat Party, Puea Thai, Thai Raksa Chart and Bhumjaithai. That’s all the main parties and it includes parties that have already benefited from the junta’s support and its manipulation of the election.

In other words, the cheats have signed up to an agreement that means nothing to them.

While the yellowish lot would identify other parties as cheats in the past, in the upcoming “election,” Palang Pracharath has already engaged in devilish cheating.

Most recently, in among a couple of years of posts about the junta’s rigging of the election, we have pointed to the huge banquet that looks like an event that piled illegality on cheating.

That event is in the purview of the puppet Election Commission. Remarkably – we are becoming bored with this word, we have to use it so much – EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma has grudgingly called for a “report” on the banquet while dismissing without investigation claims that state agencies and state officials were involved.

Apparently, Palang Pracharath “must submit a report on the fundraising banquet it held on Wednesday, including those who donated more than 100,000 baht, within 30 days…”. That would mean a report could be made in late January and an “investigation” would likely drag on until well after election day.

The cheats are cheating, the junta thinks its “winning,” and Palang Pracharath has signed up to an agreement that ostensibly has something to do with free and fair elections. It is nonsensical.





Abuse of power over many decades

15 12 2018

A couple of days ago, The Nation reported that the  National Human Rights Commission Chair What Tingsamitr, recalling that Thailand had been one of the first nations to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, continues to have a serious human rights  problem.

While What mentioned several groups “responsible” for for human rights abuses, this was a remarkable effort to deflect attention from the main perpetrators. In fact, What had to admit that “state officials commit 90 per cent of human rights violations…”.

What appeared to want to whitewash this basic fact, babbling about “misunderstandings” and “different definitions” of human rights.

However, “Cross Cultural Foundation director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet argued that the root of the problem did not lie in misunderstandings, but came from the abuse of power and an absence of the rule of law.”

Pornpen got to the point that What preferred to avoid:

It is clear that most of the rights violations in Thailand occur in the same pattern – officials violating the rights of people. We have witnessed that again and again. When someone opposes the government and their policies, state officials turn on these people….

She cited several examples of oppression under the current military junta, noting that “rights violations against those who oppose the authorities are far more severe in cases related to the stability of the state and the monarchy.”

Pornpen observed that “key problems include a lack of proper investigation, court litigation and punishment against officers who commit these crimes.” That is, impunity, adding that violations and impunity are abetted by “a partisan culture within the justice system, which allows so many offending officers to walk free and even keep their job in official agencies.”

This situation has existed for decades. However, under the junta, Pornpen concluded, “the problem of human rights violation by the state … is worse than ever…”.





Burying Constitution Day

11 12 2018

With all of the palace propaganda going on, it was almost impossible to notice that 10 December is Constitution Day in Thailand. Of course, the anti-democrats, royalists and military junta have little time for the basic law, especially when it was delivered by the People’s Party in 1932.

Interestingly, after struggling through the royal propaganda at the top of its website, there was a story on Constitution Day at the state’s National News Bureau.

As might be expected, the story is vague.

While it observes “the importance of the administrative document,” the story declares the day one for “celebrating its 20 incarnations throughout the democratic history of Thailand.”

What can we say? This is quite simply an outlandish manipulation of several things. First, a constitution for Thailand in 1932 was revolutionary and it was, before the resurrection of monarchy under fascistic military regimes, on a par with nation, religion and monarchy. Second, only anti-democrats “celebrate” 20 constitutions. In fact, the fact of 20 charters is a dismal reflection on the ways that military dictators have smashed democracy in Thailand every time it has emerged from the monarchy-military sludge that mires the country.

The story then gets royalist, declaring that: “Constitution Day in Thailand marks the date King Rama VII graciously signed the first charter into effect on December 10, 1932.”

In fact, there was nothing gracious about it. Thailand’s first constitution was essentially anti-monarchy and the king and his royalist supporters vigorously opposed it. Initially, King Prajadhipok refused to sign it, objecting to his loss of powers. As Wikipedia has it, “the charter provoked fierce resistance from the palace.”

When it came to the 10 December charter, which replaced the “draft” document of June 1932 following the palace’s political maneuvering, it gave “the monarchy a significant increase in authority compared to the temporary charter.” Even so, royalists remained aghast about the diminution of the king’s majesty. We suspect that, if they actually read that charter, today’s royalists would be similarly shocked.

We note that this political struggle over the constitution is covered by the propaganda bureau’s claim that: “The charter placed the Kingdom’s monarch in a position of great respect.” While that’s kind of right, it deliberately censors the political debates and conflicts.

Where the story links to the current military dictatorship, it engages in a fairy tale:

The 20th constitution, drafted when the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) assumed power in 2014, came into effect on April 6, 2017, and is considered a restart of democracy in Thailand….

We wonder if it is only the junta that “considers” the monarchy-promoting and anti-democratic junta constitution as having anything to do with democracy.





Updated: The Dictator in full campaign mode

5 12 2018

The Dictator has been campaigning for some time. He’s been campaigning for his own transition from military dictator-cum-prime-minister at the head of a military junta to military-backed dictator-cum-prime-minister at the head of a regime produced by the junta’s rigged election.

That campaigning has increasingly come to mean stumping for the devil Palang Pracharath Party and any other mini-party prepared to support his and the junta’s transition. It is no accident that the Palang Pracharath Party is organized and headed by members of the junta and its cabinet who see nothing wrong with such cheating.

In recent days, however, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s campaigning has gone to a higher gear. Not long ago Palang Pracharath “unofficially” declared their support for The Dictator as its preferred dictator into the future. At the time PPT commented that this declaration meant that Gen Prayuth is the de facto leader of Palang Pracharath and that each time The Dictator has his regime throw more money after votes, he does it for his party.

Meanwhile, Gen Prayuth has continued with his buffalo manure dissembling, saying he’s not sure which party he might allow to campaign for him to be premier after the rigged election. Everyone in the country knows he had his men set up Palang Pracharath as his vehicle for the “election.”

However, he did say: “If I am approached, I’ll consider any party which works in sync with what we’re doing now…”. Ipso facto, Palang Pracharath. That party is unlikely to “win” a majority, so Gen Prayuth also needs other like-minded anti-democrat parties. As The Dictator put it: “What I have in mind is that I will support parties which steer the country with a strategy. If other parties have better strategies than the PPRP, just present them…”.

In the last few hours, The Dictator has moved from the phony campaign to the real campaign, with a “giant billboard next to the main highway in Ratchaburi province” that promotes Gen Prayuth as prime minister.

Naturally enough, others have complained that Gen Prayuth is cheating and flouting his own law. Even the media notes that the billboard “appears to be an obvious violation of the order by Gen Prayut’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) that forbids all electioneering.”

Our immediate thoughts were not only that The Dictator is openly cheating – he’s been doing that for years – but that he or one of his minions seem to feel that Britain’s embattled premier, Theresa May, is the best advertising for a military dictator. For all of her faults, she at least faces a real parliament and comes from an election. She has also been shown to be subject to the rule of parliament. None of that fits Thailand’s military leader.

The criticism of The Dictator has caused Palang Pracharath’s Somsak Thepsuthin to complain that “certain political parties of dividing public opinion by attacking Gen Prayut for trying to prolong his stay in power.” He was unhappy that The Dictator was in any way criticized.

That’s a possible pointer to the future, where a Palang Pracharath-led government would “protect” Gen Prayuth. Expect more corruption, more repression and efforts to insulate The Dictator.

Update: It is now reported that the The Dictator’s  campaign poster has been removed. This comes as the Election Commission states that it is “investigating” the poster for contravening some law or a junta decree. Nothing serious should be expected of the puppet EC.