Lese majeste and the collapse of human rights

23 02 2017

Amnesty International joins Human Rights Watch in declaring human rights at a new low in the military dictatorship’s Thailand.

AI’s overview of the past year in royalist Thailand states:

The military authorities further restricted human rights. Peaceful political dissent, whether through speech or protests, and acts perceived as critical of the monarchy were punished or banned. Politicians, activists and human rights defenders faced criminal investigations and prosecutions for, among other things, campaigning against a proposed Constitution and reporting on state abuses. Many civilians were tried in military courts. Torture and other ill-treatment was widespread. Community land rights activists faced arrest, prosecution and violence for opposing development projects and advocating for the rights of communities.

Read the sorry story here.

As if to confirm the human rights decrepitude of the junta’s human rights record, the Bangkok Post reports that Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa (or Pai), accused of lese majeste for circulating a BBC story somehow deemed critical of Thailand’s king, was again refused bail.

The report states that Pai’s “family and lawyers … vowed to keep on appealing to secure bail for the 25-year-old after their seventh request was rejected by a court.”

The junta’s court reportedly “took less than 20 minutes in considering [the bail] … petition and again ruled it would not allow temporary release for Mr Jatupat…”.

That denial of bail “came even though the lawyers increased the surety from 400,000 cash to 700,000 baht and had prominent social critic Sulak Sivaraksa as a second bail guarantor, apart from Mr Jatupat’s father, Wiboon Boonpattararaksa.” The application included “letters [guarantees] from academics and people with credibility which confirmed Mr Jatupat would not flee the trial or do anything of concern.” This included senior academics like Gothom Arya and former National Human Rights commissioner Niran Pithakwatchara.

The court denied and dismissed “the defence lawyer’s argument that there is no point in detaining Jatuphat further because the case’s investigation process is already completed, the court reasoned that the suspect could try to interfere with evidence or jump bail if he is released.”

Pai is being framed by the military junta because he is identified as a troublesome anti-junta activist and his fate and jailing is considered by royalist and military thugs as a way to threaten and silence others.

His case is not unique, but Pai’s travails do show (again) how the royalist junta denies rights and destroys the rule of law. Its also indicates (again) that the courts have no independence and that the courts are partners in human rights abuse in Thailand.

In essence and in fact, lese majeste is a law that underpins dictatorship and domination in Thailand.





With 3 updates: Arresting protesters

18 02 2017

Several reports say that the military junta has moved against anti-coal-fired power station protest leaders.

Khaosod reports that the junta’s thugs arrested “three activists who led an overnight protest in front of the Government House against the regime’s plan to build a coal power plant in the south.”

At least “100 protesters from Krabi province demanded the government scrap the project, citing fears of environmental and health damages, only to be told by junta chairman [General] Prayuth Chan-ocha on Friday the construction will go ahead as planned.”

They rallied at Government House overnight and in the morning, police “moved in and arrested three protest leaders and took them into custody.”

The police arrested Prasitthichai Nunual, Akaradej Chakjinda and Mom Luang Rungkhun Kitiyakara. Yes, that’s a princely Kritayakara.

Later, another two were arrested.

The Dictator had warned them not to rally. They rallied. He had them arrested. Like anti-junta protesters, they were all taken to the 11th Military Circle military base. They are charged with “violating the military government’s order against gatherings of five people or more after they refused to end the rally…”. They will be dragged before a “civilian court on Monday.”

As might be expected when southerners and members of the elite are arrested, immediately, a “network of southern academics and communities urged the government to release the detainees and reconsider the plan to build the 780-megawatt power plant.” These academics and “communities” declared that the “arrest of the key leaders to put pressure on the rally to end is against basic rights and humanitarian acts…”.

We don’t like coal-fired power stations. Even so, we have to ask: Where were this network when the student anti-coup activists have been arrested, abducted and charged?

Then the “Thai Labour Solidarity Committee pledged to stay behind the protesters to block the project. It called for an end to government attempts to end the rally as it could lead to more confrontations and conflict.”

Where were they when the student anti-coup activists have been arrested, abducted and charged?

Oh, yes, those arrested are among those who might have supported the coup.

And there’s the rub. The junta is going after its own supporters because they are behaving “badly.” We expect that even the dullards who inhabit the junta will quickly work out that this might not be a great political move. If they don’t, maybe some of the current protesters will get a lesson in junta politics.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post reports that a further 12 protesters were taken away but later released. Some “100 Krabi residents were staying near to Government House” and the Post suggests that “the number is expected to swell considerably after news that representatives from Save the Andaman from Coal’s 51 allies are going to join are going to join the group in Bangkok.”

The detained protesters got a visit from national human rights commissioner Angkana Neelapaijit. Remarkably, given that it is generally silent, she suggested that the National Human Rights Commission “is considering making a statement about reminding the government it needs to understand people’s rights and the freedom to hold a peaceful protest.”

In fact, this protest has been no less peaceful than those held by student activists and and anti-coup activists.

Junta mouthpieces were active, seemingly seeking to downplay notions that there is any political conflict.

Colonel Winthai Suvaree “said the leaders were taken for talks to find a solution to the issue. Police have not yet pressed any charges against them…”. Meanwhile Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the “arrests were made because the protesters failed to disperse or move to a designated protest area set aside by authorities, who were trying to negotiate with the group.”

Update 2: The Nation reports that 16 protesters were arrested. It also reports that “[l]egal experts condemned the move, saying it was a severe violation of the protesters’ rights and demanded that they be released immediately.” The lawyers stated that the arrests “violated basic human rights and it was a misuse of power.”

Where were they when student activists and anti-coup activists were repeatedly arrested? Exercising their double standards?

This doesn’t apply to Chainarong Sretthachau, a lecturer at Mahasarakham University, who has supported students in the northeast in environmental protest. He made the good point that the “use of absolute power to crack down on peaceful protesters was a violation of human rights, because the Thai government had ratified international agreements.”

Update 3: The junta has sorted things out, solving its apparent political contradiction. The Bangkok Post reports that the detained “[f]ive leaders of the protest … have been released and demonstrators dispersed after the government agreed to renew the project’s environmental impact assessment and the environmental health impact assessment.” Sansern said this resulted from “talks between representatives of the government and core leaders and coordinators of the Save the Andaman from Coal group who had submitted a proposal to the government.”

We guess the realization that they were feuding with allies was a consideration. As the mouthpiece explained, “It should be made clear that the government is concerned about the people.” Its people.

This seems important as the Save the Andaman from Coal group declared “talks with the government representatives went smoothly. The protest leaders had been well looked after and the government had agreed to their proposals.” The group ended the protest and said that “protesters were set to return to their home province on Sunday. He said police would provide them with transport as well as food and water.” How nice.

The political nature of the agreement was emphasized when the five protest leaders who had been arrested “were brought to the protest site by Government House … and released…. They were accompanied by Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong, commander of the 1st Army, and Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, the police chief.” How politically nice.





Money for nothing I

16 02 2017

Many readers will have already seen Prachatai’s report on the iLaw study of the apparently unconstitutionality of some members of the military junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly. We say “apparently” because the details of “leaves” taken are considered “secret.”

The point made by iLaw – Prachatai’s report doesn’t seem to get it quite right – is that the stipulated requirements of the Assembly are that in order to receive the substantial salaries they receive, the puppets are mandated to attend one-third of voting sessions in the Assembly. The requirement to attend a stipulated number of voting sessions is mandated by the military’s interim constitution at Article 9(5).

Clipped from iLaw

Clipped from iLaw

The big noise in all of this is that, yet again, The Dictator’s brother, General Preecha Chan-ocha, features. Preecha appears to play by his own “rules,” engaging in all kinds of nepotism, while pocketing the loot of his relationships and his military position, with impunity. Preecha is included in the graphic above, with 4 + 1 attendances.

We can also extrapolate a little on these findings. By not attending for the stipulated proportion of voting meetings, prima facie, membership of the Assembly is ended. Thus, by continuing to receive a salary for doing nothing or very little, such members are potentially engaging in an act of corruption. It can also be suggested that any Assembly actions they take are also unconstitutional. In essence, decisions the Assembly has taken, that these members have been involved in – when they managed to attend – may also be deemed unconstitutional.

We can surmise that, because “leaves” are secret, because The Dictator’s brother is involved, and because the junta’s work is at stake, that an announcement will be made that the non-attendees were “on leave.”





Rule of law and the princess

16 02 2017

It wasn’t that long ago that PPT posted on the “appointment” of Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol as something called a goodwill ambassador for the rule of law in Southeast Asia at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

As we noted then, it seemed very odd to appoint a Thai princess to deal with anything related to the rule of law. After all, Thai royals are protected by a feudal law and hold artificially elevated positions in a country ruled by a military dictatorship that illegally seized power and thumbs its nose at rule of law, in favor of rule by law.

Remarkably, it seems to us that the palace and UNODC have responded.

The Nation reports that the royal daughter’s “invaluable experience” and her “long-held interest in the judicial system” are cited as reasons for her appointment. UNODC “told the press yesterday that the [p]rincess had been chosen … due to her enduring passion for the judicial system and also because she has been a professional practitioner in the field for a long time.”

They didn’t say that her “long time” goes back to September 2006 when she was appointed Attorney in the Office of the Attorney General. Yes, “long time” is a mammoth 10 years during which time she’s also had a hectic social and palace life and went off to be Thailand’s ambassador in Vienna for a couple of years.

UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov reckoned this 7 or 8 years of experience “is invaluable” and “enables her to speak with authority on the need for effective, accountable and inclusive institutions.” He’s shoveling buffalo manure. Inclusive institutions? Like monarchy, puppet assemblies and military dictatorships? Other UNODC officials also shoveled the manure making ludicrous claims about the princess’s “experience” and “skills.”

The princess seems to have responded too. She has “pledged to move forward with the principle of rule of law in the region in line with the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda.” She declared “the appointment offered her the opportunity to champion the UN’s position on the rule of law and fairness in the criminal justice system.”

Great! Fairness and the rule of law are more of less absent in Thailand, so we expect she will try to do something positive about lese majeste and illegal military regimes in her country. Is she going to speak out against them? Is she going to support lese majeste prisoners and ensure they are entitled to bail and other constitutional and legal rights?

There’s the test. Our assumption is that she’ll fail it because the position of the monarchy and its associated hangers-on depends on this feudal law and its cruel political use and implementation.





Secret constitution amendments

15 02 2017

Readers will recall that the military junta’s “constitution” was sent to a process it described as a “referendum.”

Despite that exercise in (false) legitimacy, the junta then had to withdraw the draft constitution to make changes demanded by King Vajiralongkorn, said to increase his powers.

During the amendment process, the exact changes were kept secret.

The Bangkok Post reports that Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has declared that the secret “[a]mendments to the constitution … have been completed…”.

The “handwritten copy of the constitution, in the form of an accordion-style scroll by the Bureau of Royal Scribes and Royal Decorations of the Secretariat of the Cabinet, was also scheduled to be completed today.” Then it is sent to the king for another look at it.

The Dictator has not requested an audience with the king, so we can guess that the changes have been made to the “constitution” in a way that will please the king.

We think it is remarkable that the secret amendments will be announced by the palace rather than the junta. Wissanu stated: “The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary would disclose the content of the amendments to the public…”.

That seem to us to be something quite novel, even for royalist Thailand.





The many failures of the NACC

12 02 2017

PPT has posted a lot on corruption of late. At the same time, so little gets done about it. For example, the big corruption story from a week ago on Rolls Royce “commissions” seems to have gone quiet as the police have grandstanded on a drugs bust that has the military eerily silent.

A reader pointed us to a story at Khaosod that we missed, and it seems worth quoting some bits from it.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission was born as an independent Commission in 1999, created under the 1997 constitution. Khaosod says:

Since its inception in 1999, the NACC has accepted 3,383 cases for investigation. Of those, it said investigators found evidence of corruption or malfeasance in about a third – 1,191 cases.

Fewer than one-in-10 of those secured a conviction in a court of law that was not overturned on appeal. And those convictions have not been for the marquee cases involving rich and powerful defendants: All but one involve infractions by mid- and low-level administrators such as mayors, school directors, policemen, clerks and registrars.

Further, Khaosod’s investigation found:

out of thousands of cases processed by the committee, only 105 led to convictions. As for why it has little to show for the investment – the commission’s 2016 budget was 1.8 billion baht – corruption crusaders and legal experts said the agency is bogged down by its bureaucracy and biased in its judgment.

Khaosod warns that even the database of cases appeared incomplete….

Some of those accused do not even find out about their cases until years afterwards. Khaosod has an example of a teacher, accused in 1998, who was formally told of the case last week.

But never fear, the junta is here! An NACC official stated that:

the agency has operated more smoothly under the junta.

“We found that we have more power to enforce the law. We can work with more efficiency and convenience and have more thorough investigations…. For example, we can use Article 44 to tell the accused to prove their innocence later. It’s handy and works well.”

Nothing like anti-corruption agency being able to bend the rules under the junta. Yet, cases continue to drag, unless the junta has political scheming to do.

Khaosod quotes Srisuwan Janya, a well-known anti-corruption campaigner who specializes in “politicans.” He says:

the nine current NACC commissioners have conflicts of interest with the ruling junta.

“Many of the commissioners in this set are questionable. For example, the president used to be a police officer and served administrators in the current government directly,” Srisuwan said. “Therefore, whenever there’s cries about corruption relating to powerful people in the government, there’s a direct conflict of interest.”

He said the NACC is reluctant to use its power to investigate members of the junta and its allies, decreasing its credibility as a watchdog.

It also quotes law lecturer Somchai Preechasilpakul on political bias:

the NACC shows selective enthusiasm by moving forward cases against the political opposition while ignoring those brought against the powers that be.

“Usually, the high-profile cases involving those against state power, especially involving elected officials from the Pheu Thai Party, go extremely fast, as we can factually see from the past 10 years,” Somchai said. “Yingluck and Abhisit both have NACC cases, but Yingluck’s proceeded much faster, while stalled cases are never given a substantial explanation for being stopped.”

A politically-motivated shambles is one description that comes to mind. Yet the NACC is worse than that.

Remember when Thaksin Shinawatra was rightly accused of attempting to reduce the independence of “independent agencies”? The yellow shirts in particular were loudly critical. Where are they now? What “independent agency” is now not a tool of the military dictatorship? Where are the complaints now? Just more double standards from anti-democrats.





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.