Know the military

31 03 2021

While the New York Times has written about the murderous military in Myanmar in its “Inside Myanmar’s Army: ‘They See Protesters as Criminals’,” the parallels with Thailand are unmissable. Some points from the article:

[The military] occupy a privileged state within a state, in which soldiers live, work and socialize apart from the rest of society, imbibing an ideology that puts them far above the civilian population. The officers described being constantly monitored by their superiors, in barracks and on Facebook. A steady diet of propaganda feeds them notions of enemies at every corner, even on city streets.

snipers

Following orders in Thailand

The cumulative effect is a bunkered worldview, in which orders to kill unarmed civilians are to be followed without question….

The capacity for murdering civilians is stark and, in both countries, has been definitional of the armed forces for decades:

Today, the Tatmadaw’s foes are again domestic, not foreign: the millions of people who have poured onto the streets for anti-coup rallies or taken part in strikes….

“They see protesters as criminals because if someone disobeys or protests the military, they are criminal,” Captain Tun Myat Aung said. “Most soldiers have never tasted democracy for their whole lives. They are still living in the dark.”

The military’s penetration of society is deep:

Although the Tatmadaw shared some power with an elected government over the five years preceding the coup, it kept its grip on the country. It has its own conglomerates, banks, hospitals, schools, insurance agencies, stock options, mobile network and vegetable farms.

The military runs television stations, publishing houses and a film industry….

The cloistering of the military, on bases, separates them from broader society and there’s a history of nepotism and the creation of cross-generational military families:

Officers’ children often marry other officers’ children, or the progeny of tycoons who have profited from their military connections….

The class-like military sees threats from civil society and creates conspiracies, often fueled by the very same international conspiracy theorists targeting rightists and royalists in Thailand:

The cloistered nature of the Tatmadaw may help to explain why its leadership underestimated the intensity of opposition to the putsch. Officers trained in psychological warfare regularly plant conspiracy theories about democracy in Facebook groups favored by soldiers….

They see foreign “interference”:

… the “black hand” of foreign influence. George Soros, the American philanthropist and democracy advocate, stands accused in Tatmadaw circles of trying to subvert the country with piles of cash for activists and politicians. A military spokesman implied during a news conference that people protesting the coup, too, were foreign-funded.

When the military is behind a government, it remains powerful, even when elections are permitted:

Even during the five years of political opening, a quarter of the seats in Parliament were reserved for men in green. They didn’t mix with other lawmakers or vote as anything but a bloc.

Sadly, all of this is very familiar.





Warong wrong

21 03 2021

Royalist politician and ardent coup promoter Warong Dechgitvigrom gets much wrong. In one of his recent tirades, he’s again looking for external links to domestic political opposition to his beloved military-monarchy regime.

He claims to have found a conspiracy to “discredit the Thai monarchy, military and judiciary…”. He believes that Parit Chiwarak’s tirade against the injustice of lese majeste is a conspiracy mounted via “author Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who is wanted in Thailand for lese majeste offences, [and who] tweeted photos of Parit reading [his] statement” in the courtroom.

Warong’s complaint about discrediting the monarchy, military, and judiciary is way off mark. Each of these bodies is already largely discredited. The monarchy is widely seen as erratic, neo-traditionalist, corrupt, and out of step with the modern world. Across the globe, the king has been lampooned for his very odd behavior. The military is a fascist organization that specializes in repression and murder of political opponents. The judiciary is a legal joke and a partisan institution, doing the bidding of the monarchy and military.

Parit’s rehearsing of a statement showed that his is a political trial. Nothing more, nothing less.

Warong’s search for a conspiracy is misguided and quite mad. No doubt his audience of mad monarchists will cheer but that makes him no less bonkers.





Money for nothing

8 03 2021

Being a general in Thailand confers power and wealth. A general can amass huge wealth with seldom any investigation of that “unusual” wealth , can use slave conscripts around the house, might get free housing, electricity and water for years and decades, and can even murder with impunity. After all, for decades now the military has run the lucrative game show that is Thailand’s government.

In what has become an annual ritual, the Royal Thai Armed Forces have announced that they plan to slim down the number of generals and especially those who do nothing more than whack golf balls on military courses and collect the benefits.

The linked report states:

According to the Defence Ministry, out of the total, 400 generals work in the Royal Thai Army (RTA), 250 in the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), 190 in the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), 250 in the RTARF and 300 in the Office of the Permanent Secretary of Defence.

As these numbers seem rounded, we suspect there are more of these suckers of the taxpayer teat.

The report says the “armed forces are embarking on an ambitious programme to trim the number of generals in its ranks by 25% by 2029, amid doubts that the plan will ever come to fruition.” There’s reasons to be cynical as the same claim is made every year and then drifts off into the mists of corruption and grasping.

In the coming year, the “target” ain’t that “ambitious” at 5-10%, but that will not be achieved.

One of the scams is explained:

Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich insisted the downsizing of the armed forces actually started when the cabinet approved the employment of civilians in the Defence Ministry in June last year.

Under the scheme, those recruited by the military to serve in certain fields such as medicine, law, accounting or administrative affairs are not given military ranks, he said.

So there’s no downsizing. Gobbling up loot, “protecting” a ridiculous neo-feudalism, and repressing political opponents of the whole corrupt system is too important and too lucrative.





Updated: Yet another cover-up

5 03 2021

Readers will know that Facebook recently removed 185 accounts and groups it considered part of an information-influencing operation run by the military, mainly directed to the southern conflict. The network engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour.” It “included 77 accounts, 72 pages and 18 groups on Facebook and 18 accounts on Instagram…”.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of Cybersecurity Policy, stated: “We found clear links between this operation and the Internal Security Operations Command. We can see that all of these accounts and groups are tied together as part of this operation.” The Facebook report said that the “network” attempted to conceal identities and coordination, and posted primarily in Thai about news and current events, including content in support of the Thai military and the monarchy.”

The dodos at the top of the military used the usual strategy: lies and denial. According to ISOC spokesman Maj Gen. Thanathip Sawangsang:

ISOC is not aware of the takedown of the Facebook accounts as reported in the news. Those were personal accounts not related to ISOC…. ISOC also doesn’t engage in operations as reported in the news. We act as a centre for coordination to provide relief and refuge to the people.

No one believes him, but that’s not the point. Political dolts everywhere have learned that lies are all that is needed to deflect criticism, begin a cover-up, and maintain the deceit.

And, like clockwork, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has sprung into cover-up action. The unelected prime minister, the assassin, the coup master, The Dictator and election rigger ordered an “investigation.” And who better for that task than those accused? That seems like the perfect way to cover this up. Gen Prayuth “has assigned the Royal Thai Army to investigate…”. He declared: “Facebook took action like this. It can be interpreted in many ways. We must make it clear…”. What he means is that we must cover up.

This is the second removal of military accounts associated with information operations and covert online warfare. Back then they lied and covered-up as well and nothing happened. Business as usual. We expect the same from these revelations.

Update: A reader points out that we missed an obvious point: getting the Army to investigate itself is a non-investigation. Indeed it is, but it is a tried and trusted maneuver by Thailand’s military bosses. The result is inevitably a cover-up.





Media, agents and reporting

20 02 2021

A couple of days ago, PPT posted regarding protest and violence. We were concerned that the single-minded, dare-we-say, middle-class, insistence on non-violence left protesters open to being picked off by the regime. And it has been doing that, seeking to repress. At the same time, we wondered why the state’s violence and its long history of murderous repression is so easily forgotten or dismissed in demanding that protesters behave as angels.

After reading a couple of reports in Khaosod, we are wondering if this kind of reporting-cum-normative demands hasn’t itself been manipulated by the state.

In that earlier post we linked to a video of military/police-looking men in plainclothes who infiltrated the protesters. Khaosod has a story on this which deserves very careful attention. Despite photographic and video evidence, the “police and the defense ministry maintain that they have no knowledge of the men in civilian clothes who were seen assisting security forces during a recent crackdown on demonstrators.” It seems that “assisting” can range from spying, informing, arresting and acting as agents provocateur.

Clipped from Khaosod

Khaosod saw “about 40 men wearing military-styled buzz cuts were deployed alongside the riot police, senior officials have yet to acknowledge who those men were, and what they were doing at the protest.” If the videos are added in, it looks like a larger group than that. The report states that the authorities initially denied their existence. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich flatly denied the military had anything to do with them.

Of course, this has been going on for some time – the regime has been doing it for several months – and it is a tactic used in other countries. But the mainstream media takes little notice.

Then there’s the report that states:

Several journalists who were covering the Feb. 13 rally near the Grand Palace told Khaosod English that officers ordered them to stay behind the police line while they dispersed the protesters. They also said police intervention was the reason why only a few reporters were able to capture the outburst of violence on that night.

“I didn’t see what was happening in the frontline,” said Sirote Klampaiboon, who was covering the protest for Voice TV. “All I could see was there were clouds of smoke behind the police and I heard several bangs. I was only let go when the police managed to take control of the situation.”

A photo widely shared on social media also shows members of the press being confined between rows of riot police facing each other in front of the Supreme Court building – a police tactic known in Western countries as “kettling.”

Despite this, it is the protesters who are harangued by multiple reporters in several op-eds. Interesting “reporting.”





Our first post

21 01 2021

To mark the 12th anniversary of PPT, we thought readers might be interested in our first post from 12 years ago. Nothing much has changed. Back then it was the military-conjured/judiciary aided Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Now the military controls the regime, with former generals scattered around the executive and the legislative branches of government. It’s a new king, but the military-monarchy alliance is as tight as ever and as as repressive as ever.

Since launching the Political Prisoners in Thailand blog a few days ago, we have added many links regarding the details of pending and convicted and jailed lèse majesté cases,  key documents,  and commentary on lèse majesté and other issues of political repression in Thailand.   We urge you to explore and monitor the various areas of this blog as links will be updated as often as possible.

The Rohinga, the monarchy and the International Criminal Court, The Nation, 26 January 2009: “Rohingya refugee issue needs a holistic approach”

Thai News, 24 January 2009: “Foreigners warned of lese majeste charge leading to serious penalty”

The Senate has resolved to set up an extraordinary committee to strictly enforce laws to better protect the monarchy following an increasing number of websites found to be offensive to the royal institution – Bangkok Post, 24 January 2009: “Better media protection for the monarchy”

The Straits Times, 22 January 2009: “Lese majeste laws ‘a problem’ for Thais”

The current issue of The Economist has been prevented from circulation in Thailand. See The Economist, 22 January 2009,  “The Trouble with Harry”

Check out our historical section in our commentaries (Lèse Majesté and the Monarchy).





Cops, virus and corruption

2 01 2021

In the first round of virus infection, much of it had to do with a super-spreader boxing match sponsored by the Army. As is normal for the military, no one senior was ever held responsible.

During this second round of locally-transmitted virus, it is again corrupt officials who have arranged super-spreading.

Just over a week ago, the Bangkok Post reported:

Rotten to the core

Authorities are closing in on local state officials implicated in the smuggling of illegal migrant workers into Thailand.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Thursday police were verifying the identities of several officials accused of being involved in the smuggling of migrants. The information has been supplied in tip-offs to the government by netizens.

We’ve heard nothing since then.

The recent news has been about casinos. Sadly, Khaosod reported that “the first death associated with the coronavirus since the new wave of outbreak struck a little over a week ago … was a 45-year-old employee of an illegal gambling den in Rayong province…”. Illegal casinos operate because police allow them to operate and profit from the operations, with corrupt funds flowing all the way up the police hierarchy.

Of course, the cops in Rayong “investigated”:

“We inspected this venue following rumors on social media and found no gambling activities,” Rayong City police chief Phatsarut Watcharathonyothin said Sunday. “We believe it is only a warehouse. Rayong City police have always been strict on gambling.”

And it is not just Rayong. It is reported that Chanthaburi’s virus outbreak has links to another illegal casinos. “Investigations” are again underway.

Corruption is not just about the virus. In rolling back the political clock, the regime has rolled back administration, putting officials in positions where they can gobble up corruption money with few impediments. This occurs because of the shift of power from the people to the officials.





Further updated: Yuletide lese majeste

22 12 2020

There’s been quite a lot of commentary on the protests, some motivated by the avalanche of lese majeste cases and some by the fact that the end of the year begs for reviews.

One that caught our attention is by Matthew Wheeler, Senior Analyst for Southeast Asia at the International Crisis Group. It is quite a reasonable and careful rundown of events prompting the demonstrations and the call for reform of the monarchy.

The lese majeste cases pile higher and higher. In a Bangkok Post report on people turning up to hear lese majeste charges, eight are listed: Arnon Nampa, Intira Charoenpura, Parit Chiwarak, Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, Nattathida Meewangpla, Shinawat Chankrachang, Phimsiri Phetnamrop, and Phromson Wirathamchari.

We can’t locate the latter two on the most recent Prachatai graphic that listed 34 activists charged under 112, but that graphic does include five with names withheld. For us, this brings the total charged to 34-36, but it may well be more.

There was some good news on lese majeste. It is reported that, after more than 4.5 years, a ludicrous 112 charge against Patnaree Chankij have been dismissed. The mother of activist Sirawith Seritiwat, the Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed the charge. Her one word “jah” in a chat conversation was said to be the cause of the charge but, in reality, going after her was the regime’s blunt effort to silence her son.

A second piece of reasonable news is that the Criminal Court also dismissed charges of sedition brought by the military junta against former deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisaeng on 27 May 2014 six years ago under Section 116 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crimes Act. This was another junta effort to silence critics.

As seen in recent days, equally ludicrous charges have been brought against a new generation of critics.

Update 1: Thai PBS reports that the Criminal Court acquitted nine members of the Pro-Election Group who had been charged in late January 2018 with poking the military junta: “Section 116 of the Criminal Code, illegal public assembly within a 150-metre radius of a Royal palace and defying the then junta’s order regarding public assembly of more than five people.”

The defendants were Veera Somkwamkid, Rangsiman Rome, currently a party-list for the Kao Klai party, Serawit Sereethiat, Nattha Mahatthana, Anon Nampa, a core member of the Ratsadon Group, Aekkachai Hongkangwan, Sukrit Piansuwan, Netiwit Chotepatpaisarn and Sombat Boon-ngam-anong.

The court ruled that:

… protesters complaining about the postponement of general elections cannot be regarded as incitement to public unrest. It also said that the protesters had no intention to defy the ban against public assembly within 150-metres of the Royal palace.

Of course, the charges were always bogus, but the junta’s point was to use “law” for political repression.

Update 2: The Nation reports that there were, in fact, 39 defendants who were acquitted.





Precious asses

19 12 2020

PPT had seen this story a few days ago in a Thai-language newspaper and we were skeptical. Could it be true that the Royal Thai Air Force was to spend over 54 million baht  to refurbish a lavatory on board a VIP aircraft?

Khaosod now reports that this seems true. It reports that the “54.43 million baht project is detailed in a document published on a military-run website earlier this week.”

The air force is reported as saying that the $1.8 million price tag is “reasonable.” The “excuse” is that “it involves sophisticated engineering…”.

Only a pissy $75,000. Clipped from DemotiX

The “golden toilet” is for an RTAF Airbus A340-500 (HS-TYV). It will leap into the ranks of the world’s most expensive loos.

This aircraft was acquired from Thai Airways in 2016 “for a price of reportedly 1.7 billion baht – paid from the state coffers.” It was “converted for use in ‘VVIP’ transport missions and entered into service under the 602 Royal Flight squadron.”

We can guess that this expense might have something to do with a royal bottom needing special care and complex engineering to separate royal excretions from common crap. Or maybe it is just a gift – paid by the taxpayer – for a “valued” consort? We are reminded of the need a few years ago for special potty arrangements that again bled the taxpayer. This was an expensive, temporary, and unnecessary loo for Princess Sirindhorn.

The Khaosod report goes on to list another royal suck on the taxpayer:

Another procurement document shows that the air force also awarded Thai Airways a 750 million baht contract to renovate the interiors of a Boeing 777-800 royal aircraft with the tail number HS-MVS.

Little is known publicly about the details of the project or the aircraft itself, though official records said the twin-engine jet entered into service in 2007 and is under direct command of King Vajiralongkorn’s Deachochai 3 Royal Flight Unit.

This is one of the aircraft that regularly shuttles the king, queen and their entourage around Europe and flits back and forth between Europe and Thailand, depending on where the king is. That’s a lavish fit-out for the taxpayer to fund.

It seems pretty clear that the calls for monarchy reform are not changing the way the military, regime, or royal family siphon funds from the public purse into luxury accoutrements for precious asses.





New VIP aircraft

3 12 2020

Numerous industry reports have the latest VIP aircraft for the Royal Thai Air Force recently arriving in Bangkok.

The Aeronews Facebook page on 27 November reported “THE LAST Airbus #A320ceo built in Toulouse, HS-TYW.” It includes the following photo:

Clipped from Facebook. Photo attributed to Dirk Grothe

Another site has it as an A320-214SL. The Airbus page on this aircraft type is here. The oddity in this is the use of old technology engines:

In December 2010, Airbus announced the re-engined A320neo (new engine option), which entered service with Lufthansa in January 2016. With more efficient turbofans and improvements including sharklets, it offers up to 15% better fuel economy. Earlier A320s are now called A320ceo (current engine option).

We note the photo includes sharklets, so assume that the RTAF ordered a new aircraft with old technology engines.

The aircraft underwent VIP conversion at Lufthansa Technik. We don’t know what the fit-out is for this VIP aircraft, but Airbus provides this video of its general approach to VIP aircraft for corporate customers:

To add to the splendor that must attract generals, admirals, air marshals, and royals, Lufthansa Technik provides another corporate video:

The aircraft’s registration details are here. It arrived in Bangkok-Don Mueang late evening on 27 November 2020.

It joins a fleet of VIP/transport aircraft: two Boeing 737, three Airbus 319/320/340, three ATR 72, 3 Sukhoi Superjet 100, one Super King Air, and four Saab 340.

The cost of the new aircraft is probably US$100 million, with the further expense of VIP fit-out. We recall that this aircraft was in the 2018 budget. This year the RTAF also wanted several other VIP aircraft: “the RTAF hopes to obtain a new VVIP aircraft to transport the country’s royal family, as well as a replacement for a VIP configured ACJ319, and a three new VVIP helicopters.” We also recall that the Army has its own desire for a VIP aircraft.

It’s a great life for some.