Lese majeste-like arrest

21 02 2020

While lese majeste arrests are no longer permitted in Thailand, other laws are used to arrest those the regime and palace believe are insulting the king or monarchy.

The most recent case is reported by Prachatai.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is quoted on the case of a Twitter user arrested under the Computer Crimes Act, allegedly for tweets, images and satirical messages about King Vajiralongkorn. Taken before a court, he has been refused bail.

On 19 February, TLHR received complaints from a Twitter user “anonymous_” (@ ssj_2475), who identified himself as a 20-year-old living in Chonburi. Apparently without a warrant, at about 10.30 am, some 10 uniformed and plainclothes police had searched his family home, confiscating two phones, and took him and his parents to the Pattaya police station. The action apparently related to his tweets about the king. At the station, the parents were separated from him.

The police demanded “cooperation” and demanded phone passwords on threat of prosecution. They then identified more than 30 messages from his Twitter account, many of which were related in various ways to the monarchy. He was taken before a court the next day.

Police officers claimed the arrest was in pursuit of a “movement against the monarchy.”

An aspect of this case will be how the police link the arrested man to the posting of anonymous tweets.

Lese majeste may not be used much these days, but other laws are used to “protect” the monarchy.





Updated: The military and monarchy post-Korat

17 02 2020

The criticism of the military is missing  an essential point: the role of the monarchy. More realistically, it is being censored and suppressed. This is the parasitic relationship between monarchy and military. It is a relationship that has been mutually reinforcing for decades, and both monarchy and military have reached their current political and economic power through this relationship. Neither can do without the other.

The previous king built that relationship.

Bhumibol promoted the military as the monarchy’s military and the military promoted itself as the “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family. The relationship remained strong from the late 1950s, with the royal family militarizing itself.

As Bhumibol and his acolytes gained control over the promotion of the top military brass, he populated his Privy Council with retired generals, allowing the growing aura of the monarchy to envelop the military and protect its criminality and corruption, while in times of political crisis, Bhumibol intervened in ways that prevented the military being brought down. Promotion came to those military men who could best satisfy members of the royal family.

King Vajiralongkorn was trained as a soldier from his earliest days and being a soldier has been one of the few constants in his life. He appears to love discipline, bullying and uniforms. As a fellow student explained:

what marked him most was his enthusiasm for the Combined Cadet Force…. Here, he so excelled in the meticulous wearing of kit, the parade-ground drills, the shouting and saluting that he was promoted to some sort of officer status, allowing him to lord it over the rest of us….

Like others whose sense of superior status is toxically combined with insecurity and isolation, Mahidol could suddenly drop his pretence of amiable normality and become a vile bully: indeed, his behaviour might now be described as bipolar….

With few academic skills, his training as a soldier continued at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The Bangkok Post has the officially approved story of Vajiralongkorn as soldier, described as a “fondness for military affairs.” It adds that he has:

served as a career officer in the Royal Thai Army (RTA) and attended the Command and General Staff College in 1977. He also served as a staff officer in the Directorate of Army Intelligence, and later became head of the King’s Bodyguard Battalion in 1978.

Part of that military service has been lauded by Gen Apirat Kongsompong. In one of his more deranged haranguings he pointedly connected military and monarchy, saying the king had:

helped soldiers fight against communist troops in … Loei province on Nov 5, 1976…. His Majesty was in the operation base, ate and slept like other soldiers. His Majesty visited local residents, gave moral support and fought shoulder by shoulder with brave soldiers.

He added:

The royal institution, the military and people are inseparable. In the past, kings were on elephants surrounded by soldiers. Those soldiers were the people who sacrificed themselves in battles beside kings….

The point he makes is obvious: the military and monarchy are bound together. That obvious relationship is currently being ignored/avoided/censored.

Yet everyone knows that Vajiralongkorn holds the ranks of general in the Royal Thai Army, admiral in the Royal Thai Navy, air chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force and is constitutionally he is “Head of the Thai Armed Forces.”

The silence is deafening.

And Princess Sirindhorn should not be let off this particular hook either. She’s also a general in the Army, admiral in the Navy, and air chief marshal in the Air Force. As a uniformed instructor at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy she has been an enthusiastic supporter and shaper of the current military-monarchy relationship and of the sordid mentality that allows Gen Apirat to consider the Army as “sacred institution.”

Her most recent military boostering was reported in Indian newspapers as she enjoyed yet another taxpayer-funded tour right after the Korat massacre. With a 20-member delegation, she visited the Indian Military Academy “to strengthen engagement and defence cooperation between the two countries.” Sirindhorn reportedly “expressed keen desire to take defence cooperation with India to the next level,” (This might have her Chinese sponsors a bit concerned.)

Interestingly, all the royal family seem to have been too busy to do much about Korat. In what should be a PR disaster – except that in feudal Thailand no one can gripe – the king skipped the funerals and ceremonies, sending “representatives from the Privy Council.

The king’s message seems to be that he’s either not really interested in dozens of deaths and injuries and/or that he’s throwing his support (again) behind the current belly slitherers who pass for the military brass.

But he did send his 904 volunteers for the clean up at Terminal 21. More accurately, according to the t-shirts in the picture, the Army deployed them for him.

Clipped from Prachatai

That all seems rather too mechanical and uncaring. But, then, the royal family and the king in particular are never keen for the military to get too much criticism.

Update: Prachatai has a summary assessment of 2019’s politics. Among other things, it says this: “Put concisely, the most important theme of 2019 is how the power of the monarchy and military in Thai politics persists or changes…”.





Going backwards VI

16 02 2020

We have posted a couple of times on the monarch’s plans for Crown Property Bureau buildings on Rajadamnoen Avenue and the fears that this royal vandalism amounts to a Talibanization of the avenue. Some worry that it might eventually mean the destruction of the Democracy Monument.

The massive renovation is to occur along a 1.2-km stretch of the road, ordered by the king and managed by the CPB. As we have posted before, critic Chatri Prakitnonthakan, an expert and author on buildings from the era of the revolution that toppled the absolute monarchy, lamented the attack on the art deco architectural style of the avenue. His view is that the art deco architecture, which symbolized a break from feudal absolutism, is being removed as a sinister effort by royalists to erase relics related to the 1932 revolution.

Rajadamnoen now. Clipped from Wikipedia.

The plan is to transform the buildings to neoclassical style.

Interestingly, this motivation on the part of right-wing reactionaries is not limited to Thailand. In a recent article in The Economist has revealed that property developer-cum-President Donald Trump is also interested in going backwards:

On February 4th the Architectural Record, a trade journal, reported that it had been leaked a draft copy of an executive order the president intends to sign, ordering that new federal buildings should be designed in neoclassical style….

He seems to believe that:

architects designing federal buildings have been too much influenced by “brutalism and deconstructivism” and should return to the era of America’s founding, when the inspiration, both politically and architecturally, came from ancient Athens and Rome.

The Architectural Record stated that the White House’s “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” report on an Executive Order that:

would require rewriting the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, issued in 1962, to ensure that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for new and upgraded federal buildings.

Since then, there’s been an outcry:

The response to RECORD’s article was instantaneous. Newspapers from San Francisco to London jumped on the story, social media and websites were flooded with comments, and design critics and editorial boards weighed in—most attacking the proposed EO. The AIA issued a statement, opposing “uniform style mandates and the idea of any official architectural style”—and called on its members to to protest; in the first week, nearly 11,000 architects wrote to the president.

Further, the AIA has

… reached out to the chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees, “strenuously” urging them “to ensure that no funding is appropriated to implement or carry out this new dictate,” arguing, among other objections, that the order could increase the cost of a federal building by as much as two or three times.

When Thailand’s rightist royal seeks to vandalize the past because of royalist bile that has been rising for 80+ years, what happens? Almost nothing. Most of the mass media self-censors and doesn’t even mention the destruction being done. Fear, murders, jailings and assaults, censorship, lese majeste and a military-backed government means that the silence is deafening.





Taxpayers and official glorification

11 02 2020

We were struck by yet another big dip into taxpayer’s pockets for even more glorification of dead King Bhumibol.  The military-backed regime has decided to shovel 864 million baht (US$27 million) to “build a museum dedicated to the royal cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej … in Pathum Thani’s Klong 5…” to be run by the Fine Arts Department.

The new 7,200m² “royal museum … will resemble the royal crematorium…” and will “be located on a 32ha plot of land, it will also house the Supreme Artist Hall, the King Rama IX Archive, and the national museum warehouse of the department…”.

It is planned to “consist of five major zones to exhibit every angle of the royal cremation” and “will display art pieces and materials used to construct and decorate the Royal Crematorium, including the royal urn, royal coffin, and 132 sculptures used to decorate the royal crematorium.” It is expected to open in 2022.

864 million baht is chicken feed in the billions of baht used for all kinds of taxpayer-funded glorification. Yet it adds to other museums that maintain the elements of royal cultural hegemony: the supposedly largest museum in Southeast Asia, the Rama 9 Museum, the National Museum of Royal Barges, and the Royal Elephant National Museum, to name just a couple.

Every year, billions of baht flow into this kind of glorification of royals. Can anyone come up with the real figure on how much of the people’s money supports this feudal family? How much is wasted on palace propaganda?





With 3 updates: Reflections on Korat murders I

10 02 2020

It isn’t often that the unelected soldier at the head of the country and his critics are in agreement. But on the tragic events in Korat, there’s at least one point of agreement.

Prayuth’s political weapons

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was reported as saying:

All I can say is if we had fully followed [the standard security procedure], we would have been able to mitigate the degree of violence [in this incident]….

Even if we insisted we had completely followed a proper security procedure, the question is what more could we have done to improve the efficiency of security measures?

By “we,” Gen Prayuth is continuing to think of himself as a soldier.

It is certainly true that the security of arms and armories is slack on military bases and soldiers arms trading is relatively common. This is a part of the corruption in the military that is organized to the top.

Meanwhile, Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong seemed to confirm slack weapons security when he issued an “urgent order” for:

all army units to adopt stricter security measures including that the bolt carriers of the guns in guard post armouries are removed and kept separately by the chief of the guard post.

Also under the same set of new measures, bullets and machine guns will also no longer be stored at any guard post….

Apirat shooting at protesters

As the events of the terrible events in Korat remain somewhat murky, Gen Apirat’s orders on machine guns remains unexplained, at least in what we’ve seen.

Gen Prayut also said:

he had learned from investigators that it was a personal conflict involving a dispute over a house sale involving a relative of Jakrapanth’s commanding officer, which arose three days before the shooting incident.

In another report, citing some of the regime’s critics, it is agreed that “Thailand’s military faces hard new scrutiny of its ability to secure weapons and control troops at its bases and barracks.”

While this report is wrong that this “the worst mass shooting of civilians in the often violent kingdom’s modern history” – think of the military’s many attacks on civilian protesters in recent decades – it raises important issues.

Not least, critics are right to point to the unprofessional nature of Thailand’s military and:

the wisdom of the wisdom of having many of its senior-most officers busy in politics, running ministries and staging frequent coups instead of imposing discipline among its rank-and-file.

“Discipline” in the military is usually feudal, with torture and violence used on its own and junior soldiers have to act as the servants and laborers for officers. As the report adds:

Thailand’s heavily politicized and sometimes poorly disciplined military culture has not yet been mentioned as a possible motivating factor in the killings. But officials, dissidents, politicians and others have frequently criticized its lack of focus on purely military affairs.

Apirat on his knees. Clipped from Khaosod.

It might also be asked if the military’s focus on supine obeisance to the monarchy, where its senior leaders gain their positions through playing palace politics and, now, doing all it can for the king, following his compulsive-obsessive manias and spending billions on exalting and “protecting” the king.

Clearly the brass has its attention to politics and propaganda.

This is all worse by the impunity enjoyed by the brass and those working for them. This allows the military to get away with murder. This adds to ill-discipline and promotes corruption and money-making.

All of this is (possibly) seen in the motives of the murderous soldier in Korat:

The gunman’s rage allegedly erupted after a land sale where he apparently expected to receive a commission fee. Thai soldiers are often involved in side businesses, many security-related, to bolster their low incomes.

The first person among three killed at the Suatham Phithak military camp was his commanding officer, who allegedly was involved in the land deal. Details about their relationship were not immediately clear.

Whether this is true or not, you get the picture.

Update 1: Above we mentioned that we were unsure about the mention of machine guns. That is explained in a Khaosod report which states that shooter Sgt Jakkrapanth Thomma “left the base with firearms including a Heckler & Koch rifle, an M60 machine gun, a shotgun, a handgun, several types of grenades, and over 700 rounds of ammunition.” It adds: “The soldier reportedly switched to a machine gun loaded with armor-piercing rounds when fighting the besiegers, leading to the death of one police commando.”

Update 2: Readers might be interested in Ji Ungpakorn’s views on the Korat massacre.

Update 3: Worth looking at Atiya Achakulwisut’s op-ed at the Bangkok Post and her criticism of the military that runs Thailand via the unelected PM.





Royal infection

31 01 2020

It seems that in neo-feudal Thailand, any utterance from a royal is newsworthy. That apparently includes even Ubolratana, who “resigned” her royal status but still enjoys her “princessness” as a member of the royal family and the king’s elder sister.

As the regime arrests people for spreading “fake news” on the Wuhan coronavirus, perennial attention-seeker (non)Princess Ubolratana,

took to social media to question the government’s inaction as well as giving her own experience of trying to avoid the coronavirus in Bangkok. The government said the repatriation could begin by Feb. 4, but added that they have yet to secure permission from the Chinese authorities.

“I don’t know what the government is waiting for. They’re starving over there!” she wrote in response to a comment on Instagram.

“Starving” in Wuhan is not something that has regularly come up in reports from Wuhan, except from one tabloid story about a panicked Thai student.

In another report, another woman “all kinds of rumors online” and some shortages of food as people in Wuhan stocked up.

Other reports are of the Chinese government ordering

… farmers to step up vegetable production, opened roads for delivery trucks and is punishing those trying to profit in order to keep feeding residents of the locked-down city….

Why Ubolratana should be telling the government what to do is reflective of Thailand’s royalist fever. Should she be more careful in her public attention-seeking? Of course she should.

Evacuations are not easy, and returning people who may add to the infected population and require considerable forward planning and preparation as well as Chinese permissions. The BBC lists the countries evacuating citizens and it it clear that its really only Japan and the US that have arranged flights so far.

Many foreign nationals in Wuhan also hold Chinese passports, which further complicates things.

Until yesterday, “World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday that the UN health body “does not recommend the evacuation” of foreign nationals from virus-hit Hubei province as he called on the international community to remain calm.”

Like the average social media user, perhaps Ubolratanta should have a bit of a think before tweeting. Not least because the royal virus in Thailand means she’s an “influencer.”





Big Joke, police and politics

29 01 2020

We guess that our readers will have been following the rapid fire events associated with Big Joke or Surachate Hakparn, a former immigration chief who, back in April 2019, was quickly and surprisingly taken into custody, removed from his posts and then made a civilian before being resurrected as a cop assigned to Government House.

Then, we noted that a Khaosod report about the events then carried a disclaimer: “Note: Some details were omitted from this story due to legal concerns.” We observed then that this kind of self-censorship usually implies that the events have something to do with the monarchy.

We were guessing, and we are again when we see more palace involvement in this story that is never explained and has involved gunshots, leaked phone calls, and allegations involving national police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda and his two deputies.

There’s an incomplete summary of this debacle at the Bangkok Post. But what piqued our interest was a Khaosod report that King Vajiralongkorn had “expelled two former deputy police commanders from the royal police bodyguard corps…”.

In an order dated 25 January, Gen Wirachai Songmetta and Gen Chaiwat Ketworachai “were fired from the royal guards” with no reason stated. The day before, the police had “abruptly removed … on Jan. 24, and transferred … to civilian posts under the Prime Minister’s Office.”

Another announcement announcement ordered that the two were not to wear “medals that bear the emblem of the royal guards.”

That Surachate speedily “departed Thailand with his wife and family for India, where he would take up monkhood for about a week, according to his aides, just days after the government issued him with an unusually harsh warning not to bring disgrace to the bureaucracy” is suggestive of fear. Such fear from big shots usually points to the king being involved.

Something is going on and the king has form on interfering in senior police appointments of senior police.

If any readers have information, please email us.