Arbitrary detention and digital dictatorship

16 01 2023

We note two recent reports worthy of attention.

The first is from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has issued an appeal regarding Thailand.

It begins:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention and ongoing judicial harassment of Mr Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, aka Get, leader of the student pro-democracy group Mok Luang Rim Nam, and Ms Natthanit Duangmusit, aka Baipor, member of the pro-democracy and monarchy reform activist group Thalu Wang. Founded in August 2020, Mok Luang Rim Nam has expanded from advocating for the rights of students at Navamindradhiraj University in Bangkok to various human rights issues in Thailand, including enforced disappearance, labour rights, and equality. Formed in early 2022, Thalu Wang has been advocating for the abolition of Article 112 of Thailand Criminal Code (“lèse-majesté”) and conducting public opinion polls at various locations in Bangkok on how the Thai monarchy affects people’s lives and whether the institution should be reformed.

On January 9, 2023, the Bangkok Criminal Court revoked Sopon and Natthanit’s bail and ordered their detention, on the ground that the two violated the bail conditions of their temporary release, granted on May 31, 2022, and August 4, 2022, respectively, by participating in an anti-government protest on November 17, 2022, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bangkok….

It adds:

The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Sopon and Natthanit, who seem to be only targeted for the legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly….

The second is from Global Voices. It begins:

A ministerial decree issued by the government of Thailand detailing procedures for the “Suppression of Dissemination and Removal of Computer Data from the Computer System B.E. 2565” took effect on December 25, 2022. The decree passed despite calls from various civil society organizations to withdraw the new regulation because it contains provisions that could further suppress online free speech.

Noting that content could be removed without a court order, NGOs considered the decree “another tool of control for the authorities to silence critical dissent, and a reflection of the digital dictatorship in Thailand.”





Another FB lese majeste conviction

11 11 2022

Sutthithep. Photo by iLaw, clipped from Prachatai

Sutthithep (last name withheld), 23, was charged with lese majeste and computer crimes for a post he made in a public Facebook group called “Free People” on 14 October 2020.  He was arrested on 9 April 2021 and the Criminal Court found him guilty on 8 November 2022.

He was sentenced him to 3 years in prison, reduced to 1 year and 6 months following the required “confession.”

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights state that he posted: “If insulting royalty or criticizing royalty sends me to hell, then fine. I’ll go to hell,” and followed up with a “message criticising the monarchy.”

The public prosecutor alleged that the post defamed the monarchy and damaged national security. That’s the prosecutor’s mantra in these cases.

It is reported that the complaint to police was made by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, one of 11 such complaints.

Following the complaint, “Sutthithep was arrested on 9 April 2021 at a shopping mall in Bangkok’s Raminthra area on an arrest warrant issued by the Criminal Court.” He was then transferred “to the Technology Crime Suppression Division headquarters and was detained at Thung Song Hong Police Station overnight before being taken to court for a temporary detention request the next day. He was then released on bail using a 90,000-baht security with the condition that he must not use social media to defame anyone.”

The Criminal Court “did not suspend his sentence due to a report from the probation officer that Sutthithep posted criticism of the monarchy on social media after one of his friends was injured in a clash between officers and protesters gathering on the route of a royal motorcade.” This was seen by the court as an action “intending to cause a misunderstanding about the King, damage his reputation, and cause the people to lose faith in him.”

Sutthithep is to appeal and was granted bail “with an additional security of 10,000 baht, bringing his bail security to 100,000 baht. His security was covered by the Will of the People Fund, a bail fund for people prosecuted for participating in the pro-democracy movement.”

It was in September 2022 that Sutthithep “decided to confess to the charges. He said that he was ready to face his sentence because he lives alone and has no family…”.

He was a member of “the activist group Nonthaburi New Generation Network and has been helping the group gather signatures for a petition to repeal the royal defamation [Article 112] law.”





Depths of 112 repression

27 10 2022

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has an accounting of lese majeste charges from 24 November 2020  to 20 June 2022.

In summary, at least 215 people have been charged in a total of 234 lawsuits.

These cases have increasingly been filed after “complaints” by vigilante “citizens” – at least 108 cases. Another 11 complaints were from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, 9 from a committee of the Deputy Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, one complaint was from administrative officer, and the rest filed by police.

At least 17 minors have been charged in 20 lawsuits.

The listing of cases is revealing of the depths of repression.





Another coup rat hole?

27 09 2022

Thai Enquirer has been following a story that developed after Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn warned of/about another military coup.

Chaiwut was moved to declare that “if a lot of people come out to protest on September 30th to seek the removal of the suspended Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, there might be no election at all.” He said this not once but twice. Clearly he meant that there could be yet another military coup.

As Erich Parpart put it:

The fact that these statements are coming out is a clear indication of how the 2014 coup leaders manipulated the system to remain in power and are now threatening to silence opposition in order to continue to remain in power.

In this society that is being run by a pro-military government, Chaiwaut’s comments were a reassurance to their supporters that the hideous cycle of coups will continue if the people in power do not like the way how things are going against them.

Since then, “Thailand’s rumor mills were running overtime…”.

One academic-like commentator Thanaporn Sriyakul, president of the Political Science Association at Kasetsart University, said:

If there is an election, Pheu Thai will win and one of the ways to stop that from happening is to stop the election from happening….

They [the regime and its supporters] know that if they fight on this battlefield they will lose and they also do not know what is going to happen to them after the battle so what they can do now is to delay the election to buy more time for negotiations….

Thanaporn reckoned Chaiwut was not just blowing hot air: “I do not believe that Chaiwut was just joking around…”. Maybe not a coup, he said, but maybe other “legal” measures to delay an election. Whatever means, “there will be no election at the moment…”.

At the same time, Chaiwut’s comments showed he believes and perhaps knows that “Prayut will survive the Constitutional Court’s verdict on his 8-year premiership term limit that would be handed down on September 30.”

In a complicated situation, Chaiwat has probably expressed the “thinking” among the regime and its supporters.





Sharing Pavin 112

26 09 2022

On 26 September 2022, Absorn (pseudonym), 23, employed at a private company, was sentenced by the Criminal Court to 4 years in prison on lese majeste, computer crimes.

The court decided that as she had never been previously been sentenced to prison, her sentence was reduced to 2 years and suspended for 3 years. She will be on probation for 2 years.

Absorn, a trans woman, was charged on a complaint made by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society after she shared a Facebook post by academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun. The exiled Pavin argued that the campaign was “outdated” and:

claimed that the … royal family launched a public relations campaign in order to compete with pro-democracy protesters, such as by having Princess Sirivannavari, King Vajiralongkorn’s youngest daughter, join a dance event, or reporting that Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, the [then] King’s royal consort, supported a Royal Project by buying products from the Sai Jai Thai Foundation.

Absorn shared the post and without adding anything to it.

She was charged in November 2020. The public prosecutor prosecuted her “on the grounds that the post contain false information and may mislead the public into thinking that the King is an enemy of the people and tries to interfere with politics. The prosecutor also said that the post was rude and intended to cause hatred against the King.”

Of course, facts about the royal family are disputed, but never by the royalist courts. At the time, it was clear that the royal family mobilized to push back against reform calls.

Absorn said the “post was shared onto her old Facebook account which she no longer used. She also immediately took the post down after a coworker warned her it might be illegal.”





Updated: Cyber-snooping

18 07 2022

A few days ago we posted on agreements between the military-backed government and the cyber agencies of China and Israel.

On the agreement with Israel, a new revelation of cyber-snooping in Thailand aimed at political and monarchy reform activists, shows the use of the Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli security firm NSO.

Clipped from Popular Mechanics

The report states:

At least 30 Thai activists involved in pro-democracy protests were victims of Pegasus spyware during a government crackdown on dissent, according to an investigation by a group of internet watchdog organisations.

The individuals – who include academics, activists and civil society leaders – were monitored by an unnamed entity using the Israeli-made software during the past two years, according to the results of a forensic investigation released on Monday.

The results of the investigation came out yesterday in a seminar in Bangkok. See more here, including links to the report and the list of those who, so far, have been identified as victims.

Canada’s Citizen Lab and Thai NGOs iLaw and DigitalReach investigated “after six Thai activists received notifications from Apple in November 2021 advising that they had been the victims of ‘state-sponsored attacks’ intent on distributing malware.”

Citizen Lab “could not definitively tie the spyware attack to the Thai government but its investigators concluded there is at least one known Pegasus operator currently in Thailand.” NSO says it only sells the spyware to governments:

Emilie Pradichit, founder of the Manushya Foundation, a Bangkok-based human rights non-profit, said it would be “no surprise” for the Thai government to target its critics with spyware.

The government’s goal is to truly put an end to the pro-democracy movement by exhausting activists physically and mentally in order to maintain the establishment in power,” Pradichit told Al Jazeera.

“Now, more than ever, we must mobilize and join forces to resist Thailand’s digital dictatorship and ensure pro-democracy activists remain strong and brave and can care for themselves as a priority.”

Update: After initial denials, the regime has admitted it uses Pegasus. In a surprise, Minister of Digital Economy and Society, Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, “said in parliament late on Tuesday that he is aware of authorities using spyware in “limited” cases but did not specify which government agency used such software, which programme was used or which individuals targeted.” We all know who is being targeted -the regime/monarchy’s opponents. Chaiwat admitted this when he said the program was used in matters regarding national security. That’s now code for the monarchy.

And we can guess that the users are the military/ISOC/palace associated units.





Updated: Music that offends royalists

10 07 2022

The royalist Criminal Court has banned Rap Against Dictatorship’s song “Patiroop” (Reform/ปฏิรูป).

The song criticizes the royalist-military government’s performance and, probably more significant for the court, it supports demands for reform of the feudal monarchy.

The fascist functionaries at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society earlier suspended the “posting of this music video’s URL and then appeal[ed] to the court to halt its distribution.”

The court objected to “profanity” used in the song and declared that “its lyrics conveys a message that affects state security.” They mean the monarchy and its hangers-on.

The crusty judges declared the song “is not a creative contribution to society.” The court probably prefers the dead king’s musical detritus.

The court used the Computer Crimes Act Section 14 (3) in conjunction with Section 20″ to ban the song. It is now geo-blocked on YouTube. Try Vimeo.

Update: Prachatai has a longer account of this case and more detail on the royalist judiciary.





Updated: Lazada madness

17 06 2022

Back in May, royalists went berserk over a TikTok advertisement produced for the Chinese firm Lazada, screaming lese majeste.

On 16 June 2022, the police arrested Aniwat Prathumthin, aka “Nara Crepe Katoey”, Thidaporn Chaokuwiang, aka “Nurat”, and Kittikhun Thamkittirath, aka “Mom Dew,” and charged all three with Article 112 offenses. Aniwat has also been charged under the computer crimes law.

The three were arrested by Technology Crime Suppression Division police, Thidaporn in Ayutthaya, Aniwat at Don Muang airport, and Kittikhun in Bangkok’s Wang Thong Lang district. Each was released on bail of 90,000 baht.

The charges stemmed from a “Lazada clothes shopping clip features Thidaporn in traditional Thai costume and sitting in a wheelchair, while Aniwat was seen accusing Thidaporn, who plays her aristocratic mother, of stealing her clothes.”

The video immediately drew criticism from ultra-royalists who claimed the video mimicked royals, including Princess Chulabhorn who is sometimes seen in a wheelchair. The royalists also reckoned the advertisement mocked the disabled, but that was a smokescreen for their real complaint based on their own hypersensitivity on things royal. Their immediate reaction led to a hashtag campaign on Twitter to boycott Lazada, a call taken up by the Royal Thai Army, Royal projects and foundations, among others.

Clipped from Thai PBS

Lazada issued an apology, as did “Intersect Design Factory, the company which hired the influencers to promote the Lazada sales campaign…”. It was serial campaigner and royalist activist Srisuwan Janya who lodged a complaint with the Technology Crime Suppression Division police, “accusing Aniwat of offending a member of the royal family.”

Aniwat refused to “issue a public apology or show regret has only added fuel to fire.” Quite correctly, but further angering ultra-royalists, in a television interview, Aniwat said that “anyone has the right to wear a traditional costume,” and that “the so-called reference to a Royal was imagined by the netizens.”

Army chief Gen Narongpan Jitkaewtha quickly announced “that he has banned members of all military units to stop buying goods from Lazada. He also banned all Lazada delivery trucks and motorbikes from entering Army compounds.”

Joining the royalist pile-on, Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed his “concern about the clip on May 7 and noting that Thais love and respect the monarchy.” Meanwhile, the “Digital Economy and the Society Ministry also instructed the Police Technology Crime Suppression Division to check if the TikTok clip violated any laws.”

Aniwat had earlier gained online followers “among youngsters fed up with General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s style of governance. She has openly pushed for the PM’s resignation and often criticized his supporters.”

Of course, Princess Chulabhorn is not covered by Article 112 but that has never stopped bizarre lese majeste cases in the past.

Update: Coconuts Bangkok reports on the arrest of Kittikhun “a transgender blogger and  model known as Mom Dew, [who] was being held Thursday afternoon at the Technology Crime Supression Division in Bangkok’s Lak Si over a complaint that she impersonated the Queen Mother Sirikit in an ad campaign that was quickly pulled after it aired last month.”

Like Chulabhorn, Sirikit is not covered in Article 112. To refresh memories, Article112 of the Criminal Code states, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”





Cracking down IV

23 09 2021

Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has “hailed progress in Thailand’s campaign against ‘fake news’…”.

Translation: The regime is getting rid of news it doesn’t like. Its own fake news is okay.

The Nation adds that this cheering from The Dictator comes as “critics accuse the government of an unprecedented clampdown on internet freedom.” Indeed, “fake news” is a term “being weaponised by the government to crack down on its critics and protesters.”

The unelected general praised “state agencies after the latest Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) report showed fake news … stories in 2021 had dropped by 26.43 per cent, following a 6.69 per cent decline in 2020.” Meanwhile, it reported that “the number of genuine news stories had risen by 28.66 per cent…”. Fake statistics.

The Ministry “said 158 cases of fake news were prosecuted last year. So far, 135 cases have been prosecuted this year…”. Almost all of these cases are likely to be about  “online content critical of the government, military or Royal Family, amid rising anti-establishment protests.”

The crackdown targeting political activists has again swept up Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul. She was arrested on Wednesday “and charged with sedition due to her involvement with the Facebook page of the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD).” Much of the mainstream media has been quiet on this, reflecting the regime’s pressure.

This followed the arrest of Niraphorn Onkhao a few days ago.

Plainclothes officers from the Technological Crime Suppression Division presented an arrest warrant “… issued by the Criminal Court and signed by judge Sakda Phraisan. It stated that Panusaya is charged with sedition under Section 116 of the Thai Criminal Code and with entering into a computer system data which is an offense to national security under Section 14 of the Computer Crimes Act.”

Panusaya was taken to the TCSD headquarters in a police van.  They immediately sought her detention.

As in Niraphorn’s case, the cops were acting on a “complaint filed by Nopadol Prompasit, a member of the Thailand Help Center for Cyberbullying Victims [sic.], an online royalist group…”.

According to the dutiful cops, the UFTD “Facebook page contains what they consider to be seditious messages calling for people to rebel against the authorities, and accusations that police have used excessive force against protesters.”

You get the picture. No criticism or protest permitted. The authoritarian pit is a deep and dark one.

She was granted bail on 35,000 baht security.





Faking fake news

11 09 2021

The regime’s efforts to stifle dissent and anti-monarchism has long targeted online discussion. Because of the way that international apps and sites work, this now involves loyalist, royalist courts issuing orders under legislation that delineates so-called fake news. This resort to the courts has been a constant since the 2014 military coup, deepening since the rise of student-led protests.

Prachatai, using work by The Reporters, show that “between 16 – 22 August, the MDES [Ministry of Digital Economy and Society] reported that they have found 44 URLs which they claimed to be spreading fake news, and that they are in the process of requesting a court order to block at least 145 URLs.” Of course, this is in additon to hundreds and thousands already blocked.

In this latest bunch, most are Facebook pages. While it is no surprise, many of these pages are by political activists. What is something of a surprise is that well-established online news sites and those of journalists are also being targeted. This suggests a growing appetite to further censor the media. We would guess that the confidence to take such steps is to bolstering the regime’s more aggressive street-level tactics to repress demonstrators.

Among them is Prachatai’s own Thai language Facebook page and the Facebook profile of their reporter Sarayut Tungprasert. Other media included are “Voice TV’s Talking Thailand Facebook page and the Progressive Movement’s Facebook page.” Other pages listed are:

The Facebook pages for academic in exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun, photographer Karnt Thassanaphak, actor and pro-democracy protest supporter Inthira Charoenpura, and activist Parit Chiwarak are all included on the list, as well as the Facebook pages for activist groups Free Youth, United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), Dome Revolution, and Thalufah. The Facebook group [belong to Pavin] Royalist Marketplace is also listed.

17 Twitter accounts appear, including those of human rights lawyer and activist Anon Nampa, Thalufah and UFTD, as well as @ThePeopleSpaces, an account which often runs discussions relating to politics and the pro-democracy movement on Twitter’s Spaces platform.

Prachatai states that it “does not know which piece of news led to the Facebook page and Sarayut’s Facebook profile being included on the list.”

While the king has not been seen for several weeks – is he in Thailand or holidaying in Germany? – his minions are hard at work erasing anti-monarchism.








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