Maintaining the monarchy’s secrets

12 12 2020

As lese majeste charges pile up, Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta – one of Suthep Thaugsuban’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee men – seems to think that the best way to douse the flames of anti-monarchism is to cut off sources of information.

That’s about what we’d expect from a rightist with a track record of censorship for the monarchy. His last effort was against Pornhub, where Buddhipongse declared “that the decision was not related to a clip featuring an important Thai personality that was posted on the website.” Everyone knew he was talking about the king and his former wife, the latter having been treated loathsomely by the former, and that the clip of her near naked was the reason for the ban.

This month, Buddhipongse is seeking to censor critics of the monarchy and those who provide information on the monarchy that the regime and palace would prefer remained secret.

DES claims to have sent “evidence” to police and to be seeking “legal action against social media platforms that fail to remove URLs deemed inappropriate.” The PDRC minister said “the ministry has asked the Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to take action against a total of 496 URLs which violated the Computer Crime Act and security laws between Oct 13 and Dec 4.”

Marshall

Of these, “284 URLs are on Facebook, 81 on YouTube, 130 on Twitter, and the rest on other platforms,” with DES identifying “19 account owners — 15 on Facebook and four on Twitter…”.

The ministry is after “Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who faces 74 court orders to block 120 URLs; Somsak Jeamteerasakul, who faces 50 court orders to block 66 URLs, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who faces 194 court orders to block 439 URLs.” This time, the PDRC minister is also going after anti-government protesters, with court orders to block two of Arnon Nampa’s URLs and four of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

Pavin

Um, that’s already 631 URLs…. Something is wrong with the numbers, but let’s just say that the regime reckons these social media activists are lighting the fire under the protesters, so dousing them, they mistakenly think, will put out the anti-monarchism. In a sense, to mix metaphors, the DES and the regime are trying to put the horses back in the barn after thousands of them have bolted.

This time, the PDRC minister is also going after anti-government protesters, with court orders to block two of Arnon Nampa’s URLs and four of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

Somsak

The ministry’s public cyber vigilantes are continuing to report anything and everything. Last month alone, these royalist screenwatchers reported, via the “Volunteers Keep an Eye Online” webpage, 11,914 URLs. Of these, even the ministry could only deem 826 of them “illegal” while the pliant courts found 756 were to be blocked. The ministry and police must be inundated with work for the monarchy.

Buddhipongse is furious that the social media platforms don’t follow his orders, with Facebook blocking 98 of the 487 links he wanted blocked. Twitter removed 8 of 81 URLs. YouTube is far more pliant, blocking all 137 links the ministry flagged.

It is deeply concerning that these social media giants take seriously court orders from a judiciary that is a tool of the regime in political cases and on the monarchy’s poor PR. All the same, the information and the monarchy’s secrets are out there, and the regime will not be able to sweep it away.





With 3 updates: Voice TV shut down (but not quite)

20 10 2020

While not unexpected, the regime has decided to shut down media broadcasting about and in support of the demonstrators. The first victim is Voice TV.

The government claims “a court backed its order to close down ‘all platforms’ of … [Voice] TV channel…”. Ministry of Digital Economy and Society Deputy Permanent Secretary Putchong Ntethaisong “said Voice TV must now shut down all of its broadcasts, whether on air or social media, due to violations of the emergency decree.”

He added that “the court is also deliberating on the shutdown order for three other media sites: The Standard, The Reporters, and Prachatai.”

Putchong went on to accuse “Voice TV and three other media agencies of spreading information that could cause unrest in the country, which is banned under the Severe State of Emergency imposed by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha…”. Of course, by “spreading information,” the regime means news that for several nights via YouTube has been a largely uninterrupted and without much editorial comment.

The regime does not want people to see what’s happening. Worse, it could be that it wants to prevent the broadcast of any further state crackdown.

Update 1: Thai Enquirer quotes The Dictator:

Speaking after the cabinet meeting, Prayut said that a much-reported gag order on some news agencies were to prevent the spread of “fake news” which has exacerbated the conflict within the country.

Prayut said the order was necessary to maintain peace.

“Any agency that has to be shut down will be shut down as according to the continuous police procedures and I am not violating anyone’s rights,” he said.

“My job is to prevent any harm done on the country and to stop the efforts to incite unrest and create a rift within the society,” he said.

Of course, he’s lying. There’s been no “fake news” that we have seen, except from the likes of Nation TV. And, he’s violating everyone’s rights to protect himself, the king and his regime.

Update 2: Voice TV continues to broadcast, vowing to defy the military-backed regime.

Update 3: The broadcaster continued last evening, with several live broadcasts from spots where protesters congregated. In one of these, a vigorous statement of commitment to the promotion of democracy was a message to the regime.





The regime goes lower II

20 10 2020

Dozens arrested – although it may be a lot more – and with protest rallies continuing, the regime is dipping ever lower into its dictatorial bag of repression tactics and dirty tricks.

As one experienced reporter had it:

Busy day for the Thai Ministry of Censorship [Ministry of Digital Economy and Society]. 300,000 bits of online content deemed threatening to nat[ional] security (monarchy mostly), Telegram app ordered blocked, 4 news organisations threatened with suspension and a publishing house raided. What next?

That’s an excellent question.

There have been some developments over the last 12 or so hours.

The regime has just released some of those held, but not those seen as long-term anti-monarchists. We would expect the released activists to further strengthen the anti-regime protests.

Panupong Jadnok was “detained for 12 days for sedition and altering a historic site.” The sedition charge seems to be a lese majeste charge in disguise and is “related to his participation in the September 19 protest…. The second charge was related to his role in the installing of the 2020 coup memorial plaque in Sanam Luang on September 20.”

But it is the response to repression that is most interesting.

Following the regime’s decision to investigate the Standard, the Reporter, Prachathai, and Voice TV, the editorial board of Thai Enquirer published the following statement:

Journalism is not a crime, censorship is not an option.

That the government of Prayut Chan-ocha would choose to censor free and digital media at a time of national emergency is indicative of the type of government that it actually is. Whether that censorship is in whole or in part, both are unacceptable to a free and fair society.

Instead of dialogue, opening up discussion and press, the government has chosen to embrace its authoritarian roots and censor, shutdown, and intimidate journalists working to present the news.

The government of Prayut Chan-ocha should, instead of censoring the press, read the content of new and digital media to understand the grievances and viewpoints of the people it claims to represent.

The Thai Enquirer calls on the government to rescind the gag order immediately and to engage in dialogue with the press, the opposition and the people.

Even the Bangkok Post seems to have found something resembling a spine, observing:

It seems this government is blind to the fact that truth can no longer be distorted nor narratives crafted by those in the seats of power. Blocked websites can be accessed by alternate means and social media transcends geographical boundaries.

Its efforts at censorship may ultimately be a bigger blight on its reputation than the already disseminated content it futilely hopes to redact.

The Post urges discussions between “student leaders” and the regime. PPT doesn’t think that there’s much point talking with a regime that includes heroin smugglers and corrupt and murderous generals, has engaged in enforced disappearances and a myriad of human rights abuses is worth talking with. It is a regime that came to power via a coup, changed laws to suit itself, came up with a rigged constitution and arranged a rigged election and rigged parliament. Talking with this regime is unlikely to be anything other than a waste of air.





Updated: Protecting regime/protecting monarch

25 08 2020

If it was needed, two reports today again demonstrate how the political fortunes of the regime and the monarch are tied together.

One report is of student activist Panupong  Jadnok, arrested for (we think) a third time while “protesting in Rayong outside a market being visited by Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut[h] Chan-o-cha.” Expecting Gen Prayuth and his cabinet to show up, “Rayong Mike” was protesting “a land reclamation scheme at Ban Phe municipality market when police showed up with an arrest warrant.” It seems the warrant was “issued by Thanyaburi Court over Mr Panupong’s role in the Aug 10 political gathering at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus…”. That’s when the 10 demands were issued for the monarchy to be made properly constitutional.

A second report is about Facebook’s capitulation to threats from the regime regarding Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s dissident Royalist Marketplace group. Facebook has geoblocked it for Thailand, claiming to be acting on legal requests from the regime: “Access to this group has been restricted within Thailand pursuant to a legal request from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.”

As can be seen in the above clip, even though only formed in April, the group had more than a million followers, and it may be assumed that most of these were young people in Thailand. This “demand” certainly makes a mockery of claims that the monarch is revered. Rather, he’s widely disliked.

But, this huge popularity and the sarcasm of the site caused the regime considerable angst.

Pavin responded, saying “Facebook had bowed to the military-dominated government’s pressure.” He added: “Our group is part of a democratisation process, it is a space for freedom of expression…. By doing this, Facebook is cooperating with the authoritarian regime to obstruct democracy and cultivating authoritarianism in Thailand.”

According to Reuters, Facebook is reacting:

Facebook said on Tuesday it was planning to legally challenge the Thai government after being “compelled” to block access to the group.

“Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“We work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request.”

Despite being blocked, always the entrepreneurial anti-monarchist, Pavin is said to have a “new group of the same name already had over 455,000 members on Tuesday.”

Update: For more on Royalist Marketplace, its blocking and the new site, see the excellent article at Prachatai.





Facebook and the censors

2 08 2020

A couple of days ago we mentioned a report that “Facebook has admitted to an error in its automatic translation, from English to Thai, and has offered a profound apology to the Thai people.” As the error was not detailed, we assumed it involved the monarchy.

Several readers have now told us that the translation for the king’s birthday made it his death day.

But even after Facebook had made its apology, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society sprang into royalist action. It:

sent an urgent letter to Facebook in Singapore and Thailand, demanding the social media giant take responsibility over a mistranslated headline from English into Thai about the live broadcasting ceremony to celebrate the King’s birthday seen on several media Facebook pages on Tuesday.

At lightening speed, the police have begun “collecting evidence for an investigation into the matter following a complaint made by Thai PBS TV station on Wednesday.” Comparisons with the farce of the Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya case. The regime’s priorities are all too evident.

The panicked Thai PBS groveled, contacting ” the Royal Household Bureau, the DES Ministry and various agencies about the incident.”

DES Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, one of Suthep Thaugsuban’s men, “confirmed the letter was sent to Facebook” while “at a meeting with National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) together with internet service providers (ISPs) about efforts to deal with the violations of the Computer Crime Act.”

In other words, the Minister and the regime he serves are more broadly concerned about social media and the monarchy and to declare that the Ministry has been active, “gather[ing] evidence and fil[ing] complaints to the courts, which were asked to issue an order to close websites or delete information which breached the law.”

Buddhipongse said the Ministry had “received complaints about 8,715 URLs. Of them, the courts issued orders for action against 7,164 URLs.” Apparently this is for the first seven months of the year. The Minister added that “YouTube removed 1,507 out of 1,616 URLs [93%] on the court orders from its platform. Facebook took down 1,316 out of 4,676 URLs [28%] as ordered by the court.”

This caused him to criticize and threaten Facebook: “Facebook gave little cooperation although it operates a service in Thailand and Thais generate fruitful benefits to the company…”.

We decided to look at the data. While not yet available for the period the Minister rants about, Google (including YouTube) reports that for the whole of 2019, it received 4,684 requests for removal of specific items from Thai officials. It removed 3,945 or about 84%.

Facebook reports data that is only This report details instances where it has “limited access to content based on local law.” While we can’t find data for the number of requests received, the data do show how blocking has expanded over time (see our first post on this).

As the Thai Enquirer observes, this action coincides with “heightened tensions over the treatment of the Thai monarchy, in recent weeks, with ardent royalists becoming increasingly more active in protecting the [monarchy]… from becoming embroiled or linked with political commentary…”.

It might have added that it coincides with the long absence of the king from the country. As far as we can remember, since early this year, he’s only been in Thailand for a few hours. This has led to considerable muttering.





Facebook and lese majeste

26 05 2017

As we predicted, it seems that the military dictatorship has been able to convince Facebook to block the remaining 131 sites/URLs/posts that the junta deemed as containing lese majeste content.

We say “seems” because the reporting in The Nation is poorly written.

The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society claims it “has managed to have Facebook block 131 remaining posts deemed illegal under a sweeping court order since Tuesday.”

When there was much lambasting of the Ministry and junta for its failed “deadline” threat to Facebook, we posted (linked above):

Of course, the junta can order up anything it likes from its courts, all of them the junta’s tools. That is Facebook’s problem, and not just for Thailand. Many governments, just like Thailand’s junta, have little legal legitimacy and can get a court order as easily as a takeaway pizza.

This makes Facebook a pawn in the hands of governments, both legitimate and illegitimate.

We assume that the garbled report at The Nation is saying that the royalists courts dutifully provided the court orders and Facebook, acting as if an algorithm, complied.





Facebook continues in Thailand

16 05 2017

The 10 am deadline for Facebook to remove 90-131 URLs (depends who you read) has passed. Facebook is still up and running in Thailand.

The Nation “explains” that the deadline was yet another piece of junta grandstanding (to use a Trumpism). It was a false and empty threat, at least as directed to Facebook.

To be clear, The Nation doesn’t quite say this, but it is the logical conclusion to draw from its reporting. Facebook “had not received official court orders to block the URLs so it could not make them inaccessible in Thailand.”

The deadline was false because the junta did not provide a court order for any of the 131 URLs. It is very well known, including by the junta’s showboat secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, Takorn Tantasith, who still appeared before the media, grandstanding about the media scam he had run.

He “explained” the “authorities had only sent court order No 31 to Facebook without providing details, and the US-based social media giant needs all the details.” He added that the “Digital Economy and Society Ministry will request court orders for all 131 URLs and it will send them to Facebook.”

What was the purpose of the junta’s grandstanding? We think that the military dictatorship was again seeking to threaten those accessing Facebook, warning them, trying to make them less likely to access any sites or pages that might be defined by the junta as “offending” the monarch or monarchy.

Of course, the junta can order up anything it likes from its courts, all of them the junta’s tools. That is Facebook’s problem, and not just for Thailand. Many governments, just like Thailand’s junta, have little legal legitimacy and can get a court order as easily as a takeaway pizza.

This makes Facebook a pawn in the hands of governments, both legitimate and illegitimate.





Threatening Facebook for the king

12 05 2017

The military dictatorship is showing no signs of “transition” to anything other than political authoritarianism. Unless, that is, we include transition roads to feudalism and totalitarianism.

Like other authoritarian regimes, the military junta has decided that “protecting” the monarchy – indeed, the king – it want to control internationally-based internet sites and services it doesn’t like.

The Bangkok Post reports that the junta sees Facebook as “threatening,” at least to the monarchy, it has decided to threaten Facebook.

It has “given Facebook until Tuesday morning to remove 131 remaining posts by the Thai court order[ed offensive to the monarchy] or face legal action.”

That decision was said to have been “made by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DE).” In other words, the military junta has ordered this threat.

Representatives of the Thai Internet Service Provider Association told the censors that Facebook had “removed 178 of 309 posts on the Criminal Court’s blacklist. The remaining 131 posts were still accessible in Thailand and Facebook did not explain why.”

NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasith said the junta would “press charges if the deadline was not met since it is empowered to control illicit content on websites by using the Computer Crime Act.” He added that “legal action would first be against Facebook Thailand and its partners…”.

The regime does seem to have become frantic and maniacal in this effort to expunge all content it considers to constitute a “threat” to the monarch and monarchy. We might guess that this also reflects the palace perspective.

One “suggestion” is that the regime must become more China-like in controlling the internet: “If a government needs to block all illegal content, they will have to use the China model — shutting down the entire Facebook service, which can block 80-90%.”





Further updated: Technical or testing?

7 05 2017

Several readers alerted us to the problems at 3BB on Saturday. Thaitech reported that subscribers “report problems when trying to access Google services such as Gmail, Google News and YouTube.” The impact was nationwide and for about 14 hours.

The Bangkok Post reported with the headline: “Ministry denies blocking attempt in 3BB meltdown.” This was because many users assumed that the military junta was again meddling, driven by its latest push to expunge or block all content it considers to constitute lese majeste.

These hunches may be right. For one thing, there seems no news from Google on the outage. And, while a later Thaitech report was headlined”3BB back to normal after major technical issues on Saturday,” it had nothing on the “technical issues,” saying only, “It is unclear what caused the issue.” And, most assuredly, the “issued seemed to affect anyone trying to access the sites from a Thai IP address.” So 3BB users on VPNs could access the services.

You get the picture.

Anyway, let’s have the official excuses as displayed in the Post article.

Telecommunication authorities … [are] saying it was merely a technical problem.

Somsak Khaosuwan, deputy permanent secretary and spokesman of the Digital Economy and Society Ministry, on Sunday said the inaccessibility was not the government’s attempt to control political content on video-sharing website YouTube.

… 3BB did not provide any explanation to the problem and customers could not reach its support call centre….

The comedians at the Digital Economy and Society Ministry insisted “it had never violated people’s rights by cooperating with Google to screen inappropriate content.” They are liars, and that leads to further speculation that they are interfering, not least because the outage was for so long that it suggested the ministry’s cack-handedness.

The idea that there was a “technical problem” associated with “a maintenance service to improve access to the popular video service [YouTube]” would need to be confirmed by Google. We have to say that we have never heard of such a long outage for “maintenance” before, but we aren’t techies.

3BB’s chief operating officer Yodchai Asawathongchai reportedly said that the “inaccessibility started at 9am on Saturday because an overseas team of Google conducted a repair and maintenance task.” The ISP’s boss said it “was waiting for more detailed explanations from Google.”

So is everyone else.

*For those interested in VPNs, and proxies, where this is a useful site.

Update 1: https://pantip.com/topic/36426362/comment7 comments that there was maintenance. It says all ISPs were advised and all but 3BB rerouted. Help us out here techies. Does this explain how VPN users on 3BB could access the sites?

Update 2: We fixed the bit marked above with a *. We are dummies, confusing proxies and VPNs.





The emperor’s clothes may not be seen

5 05 2017

When the king is in residing in his beloved Germany, he is prone to behave in ways that are not seen in Thailand. The German media paparazzi has shown the king dressed in casual, indeed, in odd ways (see left).

No Thailand-based media outlet has dared to publish pictures or video of the casual king, although in the past they did publish photos of his father in casual – but not odd – attire such as Hawaiian shirts and shorts.

In Thailand, this king is portrayed in particular ways, usually at ceremonies and fully garbed in (usually) a military uniform (see below) or a dress suit.

It seems that the military junta is engaged in efforts to prevent Thais in Thailand from seeing the king in all his foreign “fashion” glory.

Prachatai reports that the junta has managed to convince Facebook to block pictures of the “German king” in Thailand.

It states:

On 4 May 2017, the exiled academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul announced on his Facebook that he has received an email from Facebook informing that one of his statuses violates Thailand’s 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA). Facebook has subsequently decided to restrict access to the post in Thailand.

“We’re contacting you because the Ministry of Digital Economy & Society [MDE] has sent us a Court Order issued by the Judge Tassanee Leelaporn and Judge Somyod Korpaisarn of the Criminal Court of Thailand stating that the following post you made on Facebook violates Section 14(3) of the Computer Crimes Act B.E. 2550 (2010),” read the email.

A court order from royalist judges is, for the dictators, a bit like sitting on the toilet – easy, normal and convenient. As we have stated previously, the courts in Thailand have been made a royalist tool for political repression.

Section 14(3) is about national security. As many readers will recall, a military junta has determined that the monarchy is a matter of “national security.” In the small military mind, this means that seeing photos of the king dressed casually is a threat to national security.

That Facebook accepts this kind of bizarre claim means that any crazy regime can enact any law it pleases and the Facebook money counters will comply (at least when they have a decent market in that tinpot dictatorship).

So now, instead of seeing Somsak’s post of a king in odd clothing users in Thailand get a message: “Content unavailable in Thailand.”

Prachatai states that:

According to Somsak, the blocked post is a video clip of a man believed to be King Vajiralongkorn walking in a shopping mall in Germany. Before its removal, the video had generated over 400,000 views.

That bit about “a man believed to be the king” is odd indeed, but there you are, Thailand under the military dictatorship and mad monarchists is an odd place. It resembles a children’s tale made very scary for its reality.