Seeing red

21 03 2017

As the junta approaches the anniversary of its third year of military dictatorship, it is going through another phase of red shirt repression. The regime is again seeing reds under its beds and it doesn’t like it.

There are frantic junta imaginations of fantastical red shirt assassination plots, reds infiltrating Wat Dhammakaya, separatist rebellion and more.

This reaction appears to derive from two closely related perceptions: first, a view that any opposition is an immediate threat to the junta’s stability; and second, a desire for regime longevity, where “regime” is the broader elite military-monarchy-business alliance.

At least an element of this perception derives from yellow-shirted and anti-democratic grumbling about the junta having lost its zeal for “reform” – defined as rooting out the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. That grumbling has also been associated with some southern protests over ports and cola-fired power stations. It seems the junta felt its right wing was weakening in its support.

The result has been an intensification of both anti-Thaksinism and anti-red shirt repression.

The targeting of Thaksin has involved an effort to levy Thaksin for past taxes due (although we had somehow thought that the assets stripping case was part of the “tax’) and going after loyalists in a series of legal cases.

The anti-red shirt effort has been frenzied of late, with the Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee weapons and assassination stories and the earlier (and probably related in the minds of the junta) plots said to be originating in Laos.

At the same time, the courts have been at work, dealing with red shirt cases. The most recent of those sees the Appeals Court upholding a “lower court’s sentence of a four-year jail term each, without suspension, for singer Arisman Pongruangrong and 12 other red-shirts for leading protesters who forced their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel in Pattaya, where the 2009 Asean Summit was being held.”

(What has happened with the yellow shirt occupation of airports in 2008?)

They were prosecuted “for defying an order prohibiting a rally of more than 10 people and causing unrest.”

(What has happened to all the yellow shirts who broke similar laws?)

In early 2015, they were sentenced to four years each in jail, without suspension, and a fine of 200 baht. Those sentenced were:

Arisman Pongruangrong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Payap Panket, Worachai Hema, Wanchana Kerddee, Pichet Sukjindathong, Sakda Noppasit, Pol Lt Col Waipot Aparat, Nopporn Namchiangtai, Samrerng Prachamrua, Somyot Promma, Wallop Yangtrong and Singthong Buachum.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which sentences the 13 to four years each in jail without suspension. Bail may follow, but the threat is clear.

This is a pattern seen previously, although the junta does appear more frantic in its efforts at present.





What a story!

20 03 2017

The junta’s minions have come up with a remarkable story regarding the weapons “seized” in Pathum Thani.

In our earlier post we did express some skepticism about the report and added a note about Thai Rath saying the weapons were for an assassination plot. We expressed skepticism about that claim as well.

There has been a lot of skepticism, and not just from us. (The yellow-shirted royalists and anti-democrats believe all the stories.)

So the junta has come up with a story of a “plot” that suggests a remarkable effort to weave together a range of moral and political panics by the junta and among its anti-democratic supporters.

We cannot say that there is nothing in the “plot” claims – after all, all “plots” have to have some aspect to them that will convince true believers to believe. However, the royalists and anti-democrats have concocted a remarkable number of plots over the past decade to justify their political actions. Think of the Finland Plot, the infamous republican plot diagram and the “Khon Kaen model.” None of these has ever been shown to be other than a political concoction.

More recently, there was the claimed republican plot to murder The Dictator. We mention this, because it seems that the junta is using this to weave its current plot:

Police believe the huge cache of mostly military weapons retrieved on Saturday were intended to be used against authorities who had laid siege to Wat Phra Dhammakaya, including a plot to kill Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Add to this remarkable aggregation of Wat Dhammakaya and a plot to assassinate The Dictator, the weapons are located at a “house linked to hardcore red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee.” Then stir in a claim that “some of the seized weapons had been taken from soldiers during the violent red-shirt political rallies in mid-town Bangkok in 2010.”

Even the words in that quote are meant to reinforce the notion that red shirts are still “violent” and a political problem.

The cops reckon that the “weapons were being prepared for a potential attack against officers that had surrounded and were searching Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani’s Khlong Luang district…” and “were prepared to ‘harm or assassinate’ … Gen Prayut…”.

A police chief says that something he called “[a]n investigation” that “found people in Kotee’s group were preparing to use weapons to assassinate the government’s leading figures including Gen Prayut…. We found a rifle with a scope. We guarantee that this is not to shoot at birds but was going to be used to assassinate the leader of the country…”.

That’s a remarkably frivolous piece of evidence gathering and imaginative supposition.

He goes on: “If the government uses forces to suppress people in Wat Phra Dhammakaya, the armed group would be ready to help the temple and hurt officers.”

Evidence? It seems that “police and the DSI have always suspected that political groups have operated in Wat Phra Dhammakaya and intelligence from both agencies points to allegations they had tried to cause unrest.” Confirming this for the authorities, “[0]fficials found people in Mr Wuthipong’s network had been entering and leaving the temple prior to the siege and had been meeting him in the neighbouring country [Cambodia].” In fact, of the nine people so far arrested, the police say “[o]ne … was found to have showed up to the temple before…”.

It is a flimsy story. But there’s more: “Pol Gen Chakthip [Chaijinda] said Mr Wuthipong has played a role in inciting people to fight against the monarchy, and he is a supporter of Wat Phra Dhammakaya.”

And still more: The nine “suspects” had “joined the 2010 red-shirt political rally in central Bangkok.” The implication that the public is meant to draw from this is that the suspects might be “men in black.”

So far there’s red shirts, republicanism, Wat Dhammakaya, assassination, war weapons, men in black and monarchy involved in the plot. What more could there be? How about the frustration of the regime unable to extradite those they hate?

While Ko Tee has denied the arms belonged to him, the cops admit he’s been on the run since early 2014 (not since the coup as we said in our earlier post). “Pol Gen Chakthip said police had tried to contact … Cambodia … for Mr Wuthipong’s extradition, but had received no helpful reply.”

Now the police can claim that Ko Tee “allegedly played a leading role in gathering weapons to support the temple and as such must be considered a threat to national security…”. This “plot” will presumably help with gaining his extradition.

The next step for the police will be to parade the “suspects” before the media where they will presumably admit their guilt and “confirm” the “plot.” They may even be made to re-enact some “crime.” That’s the pattern.





Updated: Suthep demands more dictatorship for longer

18 03 2017

The People’s Democratic Reform Foundation (PDRF) is the legalistic renaming of the anti-democratic People’s Democratic Reform Committee to allow it to keep operating under the junta it helped seize power in 2014.

It is still led by Democrat Party stalwart Suthep Thaugsuban, who “left” the party to arrange his anti-democratic actions opposing elections and the elected government led by Yingluck Shinawatra. Its bosses remain those anti-democratic elite and Democrat Party (former) members, Sathit Wongnongtoey, Akanat Promphan, Chitpas Kridakorn (Bhirombhakdi), Thaworn Senniam, Nattapol Teepsuwan, Chumpol Julsai and Sakoltee Patthippayakul.

It was this group that recently met with representatives of the military junta for “reconciliation talks.”

Readers might be surprised to learn (or maybe not) that, almost three years after he got the coup he wanted, Suthep “remained firm in its stance of ‘reform before election’, saying it did not mind a delay in the holding of the next election.”

Suthep and his clutch of anti-democrats also declared their full support for “absolute power under Article 44 of the interim charter” and claimed it “was not a problem for reform. Suthep said it as an opportunity for the junta to effectively reform the country.” We know he supports the murderous military and we guess he would also support military courts, torture and all manner of draconian measures against his political opponents.

Of course, we also know that Suthep hates elections, not least because his party never won one in its own right, and repeatedly hung off the military and royal coattails.

Likewise, it is no surprise that this group of anti-democrats “admitted to being fans of junta head General Prayut Chan-o-cha and the desire to complete key reforms.” Why wouldn’t they be? It was Suthep who claimed that he had worked since 2010 with General Prayuth on ways and means for preventing a Thaksin Shinawatra-aligned government from getting elected and then, if it did, on bringing it down.

Suthep and his cronies met with the junta’s people for “four hours of reconciliation talks” after which Suthep declared or maybe even threatened: “We’ve made the point in the meeting that the masses expect the National Council for Peace and Order [the junta] and the government led by [Prayuth] to finish the reforms so the country can continue as a democracy with the monarch as the head of state.”

Suthep, who spent many years as a Democrat Party powerbroker and politician chortled about “politics” being a problem: “Politics has to serve the people. In the past, it was [dominated by] politicians and financiers as well as interest groups. It’s never about the people…”. Because his party was resoundingly defeated time and time again, we can understand his reluctance to accept the will of the people.

Remarkably, as if Thailand’s elite is still under threat, he grasps the monarchy shibboleth by the throat and thunders: “Most importantly, political parties must be run by people who support democratic rule with the monarch as the head of state, not a republic.”

That purported danger justifies for Suthep, and his gaggle of anti-democrat scions of the elite, continuing military dictatorship. He reckons “the people” don’t want an election any time soon.

If the message wasn’t clear, Suthep stated: “The PDRF has no concerns over the NCPO staying in power so long as it works to push reforms.” He added that his support for “the military and Gen Prayut … was never hidden…”.

Update: And just in case anyone was wondering, the Bangkok Post reports that Suthep declined “to say whether his group would accept the outcome of the next election in the event that the Pheu Thai Party wins the poll.”





Monarchy, junta and judiciary entwined

17 03 2017

In a couple of recent posts, PPT has emphasized the lawless or rule-by-law nature of the military dictatorship. Under this regime, rule-by-law is essentially lawlessness as the junta can make everything it does legal, while using law to repress and oppress all of its opponents, be they red shirts, “politicians,” grannies, kids or activists.

Lese majeste has been one important law used against political opponents and the prince-cum-king’s personal acquaintances, minions and consorts who fall out of favor. The threat of lese majeste, interpreted in ways that are not even covered by the law, threatens and silences many.

The junta uses Article 44 dozens of times to make illegal actions legal or to ride roughshod over law and procedure. Having come to power illegally through a military coup, later made “legal,” the junta uses law when it suits it, but makes law up as it feels fit. In other words, it behaves lawlessly but makes that lawlessness “legal” through “special” decrees.

The judiciary is complicit in both the manipulation of lese majeste and the making legal the junta’s lawlessness. Since the late king’s infamous intervention in 2006, the judiciary has been more highly politicized, with movement to judicialization, marking itself out as a royalist court that “interprets” law for the political advantage of royalists and its class.

The most recent example of the judiciary’s view of itself as “above” the hoi polloi is its use of “contempt of court” allegations and charges against anyone daring to question or criticize a court or judges. This is a ploy used by various courts in recent years, always in political cases.

In Khon Kaen, the Provincial Court is going after student activists.

This court, doing the junta’s work, has repeatedly refused bail for Jatuphat (Pai) Boonpattaraksa, the sole person accused of lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai nes story on the new king. More than 2,000 others did the same thing and are not targeted. Jatuphat is charged and jailed simply because he is an anti-junta activist.

The director of the Provincial Court’s Prosecutor’s Office has accused several supporters of Jatuphat with “contempt of court for participating in a peaceful gathering to demand for … [Pai]’s release.”

In a junta pattern, the charges are targeted on activists considered leaders. The junta wants to threaten all by targeting leaders. The junta wants to decapitate opposition groups. The judiciary supports the junta’s work.

The activists are:

Phayu Bunsophon, Chatmongkon Janchiewcharn and a female student activist (who does not want to reveal her identity), the three law students of Khon Kaen University who are members of Dao Din group, and Narongrit Upachan, a political science student from the same university who is a member of NGC.

The court will hold a hearing on the case on 24 April 2017, essentially considering its own evidence. Whatever the outcome, the court, complicit with the junta, is seeking to threaten and  silence.





Secrets and miracles

16 03 2017

The news media has been quite taken up with the scramble among junta people – and their accusations flying back and forth – on the failure to levy any tax on the Shin Corp sale deal back in early 2006.

Part of the problem for the tax authorities was that a later grab for Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets. The authorities wanted to his kids, but the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions had ruled that the assets really belonged to Thaksin, not his kids.

That seemed like a tax dead end, but no! At the last moment, before the statute of limitations expires, and amid recriminations within the bureaucracy, a way to tax Thaksin has been found!

Problem is, it is a secret. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is involved in just about every news event of late, said the “Revenue Department will proceed with the tax collection process before the statute of limitations in the case expires on March 31.” He claims the junta has decided on a “miracle of law” that will allow to collect the taxes, which he says should “be worth a try.”

Secrets and miracles are hardly the stuff of rule of law, but this is a military dictatorship.

This secrecy reminded us of the secret changes to the draft junta constitution. As we understand it, the king has flitted off to Germany.

As far as we know from news reports, he has not signed off on the document that he received back in early February. That version, the junta says, only made changes to the (so far) secret things the king demanded. So why is he sitting on it? We know he has 90 days (although some reports did claim 30) to sign and only about 38  of those have so far been used.

We can only guess that the constitution is not considered urgent by either the king or the junta. It may be that a full 90 day “consideration” suits the junta which seeks every way it can to extend its military rule. There are no miracles in the constitution story, just secrets.





Even more palace cleansing

15 03 2017

The prince-cum-king has been cleansing and reorganizing the palace – his palace – for quite some time. One of the most high-profile bits of cleaning was the ousting of his former consort, the former Princess Srirasmi back in late 2014.

Since then there’s been a constant churn of people and officials close to the prince-now-king.

Now a report of yet another purge, this one in Khaosod English, which we reproduce in full:

The royal household announced a number of reassignments Monday in a reshuffling of the ranks.

Six palace aides working under His Majesty the King were stripped of their rank, some due to alleged misconduct, while five officials were promoted by the monarch for their service. Nineteen civil servants also left the royal household, four of them senior officials known as grand chamberlains.

Among the six military officers who lost their status were two officials, Cmdr. Jaruwan Changmool and Maj. Thanapon Yooman, who were expelled for serious offenses described in the Royal Gazette on Monday.

A royal statement said Jaruwan was slacking in her duties.

“[She] did not develop herself, lacked enthusiasm; was idle, and lacked correct judgment which caused damage” to His Majesty’s household, the Royal Gazette said in its proclamation stripping her of her rank.

Another statement accused Thanapon of multiple offenses, including disobeying orders from His Majesty the King himself.

“[He] used inappropriate words and behavior; disputed royal commands; displayed arrogance, insolence and insubordination; committed gravely evil acts; behaved carelessly in his bureaucratic duties; procrastinated; and neglected his bureaucratic duties,” the statement said.

Four other officers were stripped of their rank on technical grounds. The Royal Gazette said they had recently moved up two ranks within six months, which is not allowed under military regulations.

On the same day, His Majesty the King also promoted five members of his household corps, including three air force officers and two colonels, to generals, citing excellence in their services.

Meanwhile, 19 officials were fired from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary. Four of them held the rank of deputy director to the royal household, a title known formally as grand chamberlain.

The Royal Gazette did not say why the officials were expelled.

Some details of this article have been been omitted to comply with the criminal royal defamation law.

The machinations in the palace, this lot coming as the king jetted off to Germany, are quite amazing. In fact, “amazing” is probably too limited a term. It is bizarre.

We wonder if lese majeste charges will follow.

Obviously, the king has the support of the military dictatorship as he behaves in this odd manner.





An example to other activists

14 03 2017

A Prachatai story on the continuing refusal of bail to activist student Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa begins:

While the government was humiliated at the UN’s ICCPR meeting in Geneva for serious human right violations, at home a Thai court has again refused to release a student activist who has become a posterchild of the pro-democracy movement.

He’s also a “posterchild” for the junta; an example of what can happen to anyone who opposes the junta’s regime.

Of course, there are plenty of others who deserve to have their lese majeste and sedition and computer crimes and anti-junta charges and jailing protested and given a political stage, not least those who are from classes other than those represented by student activists.

Jatuphat’s case is highlighted because he’s a university student of the middle class but also because it is clear that lese majeste is a tool being used by the military dictatorship to repress its political opponents. Joined at the hip to an unpopular king, the junta’s legitimacy and longevity is tied to that of the new monarch. Jatuphat’s jailing is a constant reminder to others of the middle class and other students that they should shut up and accept authoritarian royalism.

On 13 March 2017, for a seventh time, Khon Kaen’s Provincial Court “rejected a 700,000 baht bail bid by Jatuphat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa, a law student and key member of the New Democracy Movement (NDM).”

The court remains miffed that “the activist had mocked the authority of the state without fear of the law” and added that he “faces other charges for violating the Public Referendum Act and the junta’s political gathering ban in connection with his previous political activities.”

He is an example to others: don’t mess with the military junta!

As a reminder, the story adds these details:

Jatuphat is accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, for sharing on his Facebook account a controversial biography of King Vajiralongkorn published by BBC Thai. He is the first person to be arrested for lèse majesté under the reign of the new King.

Shortly after he was arrested for lèse majesté on 3 December 2016, the court released him on bail. However, his bail was revoked on 22 December after he posted a satirical message mocking the authorities on his Facebook account. The message read, “Economy is poor but they (authorities) took my money for bail.”

Despite the fact that more than 2,000 people shared the same article on Facebook, he was the only one arrested for lèse majesté.