Lese majeste and the collapse of human rights

23 02 2017

Amnesty International joins Human Rights Watch in declaring human rights at a new low in the military dictatorship’s Thailand.

AI’s overview of the past year in royalist Thailand states:

The military authorities further restricted human rights. Peaceful political dissent, whether through speech or protests, and acts perceived as critical of the monarchy were punished or banned. Politicians, activists and human rights defenders faced criminal investigations and prosecutions for, among other things, campaigning against a proposed Constitution and reporting on state abuses. Many civilians were tried in military courts. Torture and other ill-treatment was widespread. Community land rights activists faced arrest, prosecution and violence for opposing development projects and advocating for the rights of communities.

Read the sorry story here.

As if to confirm the human rights decrepitude of the junta’s human rights record, the Bangkok Post reports that Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa (or Pai), accused of lese majeste for circulating a BBC story somehow deemed critical of Thailand’s king, was again refused bail.

The report states that Pai’s “family and lawyers … vowed to keep on appealing to secure bail for the 25-year-old after their seventh request was rejected by a court.”

The junta’s court reportedly “took less than 20 minutes in considering [the bail] … petition and again ruled it would not allow temporary release for Mr Jatupat…”.

That denial of bail “came even though the lawyers increased the surety from 400,000 cash to 700,000 baht and had prominent social critic Sulak Sivaraksa as a second bail guarantor, apart from Mr Jatupat’s father, Wiboon Boonpattararaksa.” The application included “letters [guarantees] from academics and people with credibility which confirmed Mr Jatupat would not flee the trial or do anything of concern.” This included senior academics like Gothom Arya and former National Human Rights commissioner Niran Pithakwatchara.

The court denied and dismissed “the defence lawyer’s argument that there is no point in detaining Jatuphat further because the case’s investigation process is already completed, the court reasoned that the suspect could try to interfere with evidence or jump bail if he is released.”

Pai is being framed by the military junta because he is identified as a troublesome anti-junta activist and his fate and jailing is considered by royalist and military thugs as a way to threaten and silence others.

His case is not unique, but Pai’s travails do show (again) how the royalist junta denies rights and destroys the rule of law. Its also indicates (again) that the courts have no independence and that the courts are partners in human rights abuse in Thailand.

In essence and in fact, lese majeste is a law that underpins dictatorship and domination in Thailand.





Unusual, extraordinary, exceptional

23 02 2017

The amendments to the junta’s draft constitution remain secret. At last, the media is beginning to notice that this secrecy and the processes involved are strange.

Khaosod quotes legal scholar Jade Donavanik who said that it is “unusual for constitutional revisions to be submitted for royal consideration without first disclosing them to the public…”.

He added that this was especially the case since the draft charter was “approved by public referendum.” Of course, that referendum was a farce and a PR show by the junta, so it has no particular reason not to alter a document “approved” in such a sham referendum.

But the law professor did hedge, saying such secrecy “could be acceptable under certain conditions…”. What conditions might these be? Jade isn’t clear, at least not in this account. PPT can’t think how any constitutional changes could be kept secret in the modern world.

Jade did say: “It’s an extraordinary circumstance…”. It is indeed. He continued: “I’m not sure if this has ever happened in history, but I suppose it probably happened before in exceptional cases such as this one.”

We can’t think of a previous situation like this, ever, but if readers can help, let us know.

Thailand’s serfs must wait for the king to tell them what he demanded and what he got. And, they can do nothing about it. When the secrets are revealed, under threat of lese majeste, we assume that no critical commentary will be permitted.





Still pressuring Laos

21 02 2017

The Nation reports that Army Chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart has declared that “Laos has agreed to consider Thailand’s proposal to help tackle Thai criminals including anti-monarchy dissidents in its territory.”

The royalist Army boss spent two days in Laos on an official visit meeting with “high ranking security officials there.”

Chalermchai seemed to feel that the most important thing from the meetings was that “he had expressed concerns over the moves against Thailand in Laos and asked the counterpart to help Thailand in the matter.”

Thailand’s junta seems remarkably paranoiac and apparently wants to lock up everyone who is critical of the monarchy.

Interestingly, the boss “said he did not discuss with his counterpart about extradition.” But he reckons the Lao authorities are “working on it…”.

It is clear that the anxious junta is putting a huge amount of pressure on its neighbor.





More trouble in the palace

21 02 2017

A few days ago, PPT posted on the troubles facing Jumpol Manmai, a former deputy police commissioner and palace grand chamberlain.

Another palace official is in trouble, this time the incident is not so vague and he has clearly displeased the touchy king.

In yet another report that notes that “details of this article has been been omitted to comply with the criminal royal defamation law [lese majeste]…”, it is stated that “Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum, who served in the King’s bodyguard unit,” has been “fired … for alleged misconduct damaging to the royal household.”

Chitpong was “also stripped of his military ranks and royal decorations” for “offenses include stealing royal property, disclosing [the king’s] personal health records and failing to report to duty as required.” He lost “the eight royal decorations he had [previously] received.”

We guess that means a lese majeste charge will follow.

The royal household announcement at the Royal Gazette continued:

[Chitpong] disobeyed his supervisors and conducted himself in a manner inappropriate for his rank and duty…. Furthermore, he slackened, neglected and skipped his duties. He conducted himself undeservingly of His Majesty’s trusts, doing grave damage to His Majesty’s Household.

The announcement did not “give specific details about Chitpong’s alleged wrongdoing.”

The report states that “Chitpong, as well as serving in King Vajiralongkorn’s bodyguard unit, worked as a physician and started his own health supplement company in November 2016, which he described in a video as a ‘direct sales’ business” called Richkarherbs and he “made references to suggest that [the king] personally approved of his organic health products.” The website for that company now says: “This account has been suspended. Either the domain has been overused, or the reseller ran out of resources.” There’s still a Facebook page as we write this post and a YouTube marketing video for the company’s business.

Another report adds that “Chitpong is the latest in a string of people close to Vajiralongkorn to have been publicly stripped of their titles or seen legal cases brought against them.” There have been dozens over the years, including now former consorts and their families.

Because the king is paranoiac, erratic and a narcissist, and because so many hangers-on seek to profit from the royal relationship, we would expect these events to remain regular for this palace.





Evil and threatening

20 02 2017

The anti-coal protest has been seen off by the junta. In the end, it became a kind of political bonding exercise. Double standards proliferated throughout.

The other confrontation has been the 4,000 police and soldiers raiding Wat Dhammakaya. PPT has posted a bit on this case previously and why it has been so central for the junta and for the broad yellow shirt movement.

For the junta and its supporters, the perceived connection to the Shinawatra political clan seems to have been the underlying motivation.

What is not at all clear to PPT is why a wealthy temple, supported mainly by Bangkok’s middle class is politically associated with red shirts and Thaksinites, but the wealth of the temple certainly worries the junta, which continues to operate on the assumption that money motivates all political positions other than those of the great, the good and the royalists.

We do understand that Thaksin and his elected regimes were considered a threat to monarchy and thus nation, so perhaps throwing in the third element of the royalist and nationalist trilogy – religion – is a way of further conveying the royalist notion that Thaksin was an evil threat to the very core of the royalist nation.

In this context, we thought that readers might be interested in the views of a dedicated anti-Thaksinista on the evil threat posed by the temple, its monks and its followers.

Veera Prateepchaikul declares:

The real objective of the operation, I believe, is to clamp down on the temple, to strangle the Dhammakaya cult until it is no longer active and does not pose a threat to Buddhism for its distorted Buddhist teachings.

We can’t imagine what “real Buddhism” constitutes for Veera. Not the almost daily scandals of monks drinking alcohol, drug taking, engaging in sexual predation, gambling, high living and so on of official and hierarchical Buddhism. Perhaps he is thinking of that other “cult,” Santi Asoke so close to the yellow shirt movement? He goes on:

More importantly, the trial of Phra Dhammajayo — if there is one — is not the trial of the monk as an individual. It can also be seen as a trial of our own monastic order for its failure to rein in the monk and for its complacency that allowed the monk and his sect to grow so strong they can defy the state and the monastic order with impunity. This does not mean there are no other rogue monks who have misbehaved, but they were deemed a lesser threat than Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult….

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is more than a temple. It qualifies as an empire. Besides the main headquarters in Pathum Thani … [i]t has spread its wings to reach out to the world with meditation centres overseas and across the country, most of which encroach on forest reserves or parks.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya branched out in a similar fashion that a business branches out to get a bigger share of the market.

For the cult, its goal is to attract a bigger following and spread its adulterated Buddhist gospel to encourage its followers to make donations under the slogan that the bigger the amount of the donations, the higher the plane to heaven for the donors.

What the preachers didn’t tell their gullible followers is that some of them may find hell in this life before they may or may not go to heaven in the after-life….

Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult are just one major problem that poses a threat to Buddhism in this country.

We get the feeling that nation, religion and monarchy are under threat. But it isn’t a threat from the Thaksinites as much as from the forces that surround military dictatorship. Conservative forces that seek to maintain feudal and hierarchical institutions of (let’s say) the mid-20th century in a society that has changed.

Winding back the clock to some perceived “simpler”, “purer” and “better” time for the old heads and old men doesn’t mean that their clock isn’t broken. That their “model” (and clock) is broken is their biggest worry and their problem. Thaksin and his supporters heralded the royalist problem, they didn’t create it.





Palace problems

17 02 2017

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post reported that the police were investigating “encroachment of forest land in Thap Lan National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima allegedly committed by former deputy national police chief Jumpol Manmai and two other suspects.”

The details are in the report.

But, the report did not say much about Jumpol. As Jumpol is known as a “special” policeman and official, this is odd.jumpol

However, Khaosod, after a delay, has reported some of the truth. It’s report is headlined: “Grand Chamberlain Investigated for Land Encroachment.” The story begins:

A man who at the height of his career served in the innermost circle of the royal palace is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

Jumpol Manmai, a former deputy police commissioner and palace grand chamberlain, is accused of building a luxury mansion in a national park without permission, police announced earlier this week. The news came as a shock to many because he is said to be one of the closest confidantes of … the King.

The report adds that the police are “tight-lipped.” We guess this is because they don’t quite know what to do and how to deal with the case. It isn’t clear to them what’s happening.

In fact, no one is clear. Has Jumpol fallen out with the prince. Vajiralongkorn has a penchant for destroying those who fall out with him. Yet Jumpol only became Grand Chamberlain in September 2016.

Another possibility, and this is startling, is that someone is going after the king. Perhaps a delayed succession crisis?

Back to what is known. Deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul is quoted as saying the investigation is a “confidential matter.” He added: “All of the details are in the case file, I cannot talk about them right now.”

It is also reported that “the authorities” told the media “not to report about Jumpol’s case before the police made official statements.”

It was Thai Rath that “broke ranks and briefly posted a story about Jumpol’s mansion in Thap Lan National Park and a possible police investigation into the alleged intrusion Friday afternoon before deleting it without explanation an hour later.”

Jumpol has quite a history. For one thing, after being sidelined as a Thaksinite following the 2006 military coup, he was back by 2009. This is what Khaosod says:

A policeman by trade, Jumpol is better known as a well-connected political player with links to both former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the influential tycoon-turned-politician and de facto leader of the Redshirt movement, and the traditional establishment.

While he served as deputy police commissioner, Jumpol was considered for the top job at the police force in 2009, but did not make the final cut.

He’s considered by many political analysts to be a rare figure who can serve as a liaison between the Shinawatra clan and the palace circle.

After retiring from the force in 2010, Jumpol came back to the limelight in September when he was appointed deputy director of the Royal Household Bureau, a title also known as the Grand Chamberlain.

The job appeared to be tailor-made for him; the title of deputy director in the royal household did not exist prior to Jumpol’s appointment.

There’s more than this. Jumpol was rumored to be the then prince’s “candidate” for police chief back in 2009, which saw a major standoff with then premier Abhisit Vejjajiva. One result of this crisis was the resignation of secretary-general to PM Abhisit, Nipon Promphan, related by marriage to Suthep Thaugsuban.

Wikileaks has several cables that tell various elements of the police chief saga and the rumors of links between Jumpol and Thaksin: 21 Sept 2009, 24 Sept 2009, 28 Sept 2009, 6 Oct 2009.





Still getting the monarchy wrong

17 02 2017

Ralph Jennings, a Contributor at Forbes says he “cover[s] under-reported stories from Taiwan and Asia” but seems to specialize on China and Taiwan. Thus, venturing into things royal and Thailand is thus a stretch and a test of knowledge.

He’s right to observe that the monarchy in Thailand has “massive influence.”

But the picture he paints of the last king is pure palace propaganda when he states:

He had stopped coups, spearheaded rural infrastructure projects and met commoners in rough or squalid conditions. His actions helped strengthen people’s confidence in their country with an otherwise wobbly government.

Let’s correct a bit. He also initiated coups, as in 1957, and he supported coups, as in 2006, when it suited him. And that’s just two examples. He also supported right-wing extremists and acted as a prompt to massive blood-letting, as in 1976. The palace hand was always meddling in politics. The “infrastructure projects” are presumably the royal projects, many of them grand failures and, since the General Prem Tinsulanonda era, at great taxpayer expense.

And, “wobbly government” hardly seems to fit much of the reign, when the monarchy collaborated with ruthless military regimes, just as it does now.

The author is correct to observe that King Vajiralongkorn “is not expected to advocate changes in Thailand that reflect mass concerns or even go around meeting people.”

Recall that the dead king also essentially gave up “going to the people” for most of the last two decades of his reign. For one thing, he was too ill. For another, the “going to meet the people” was a political strategy for winning hearts and minds in his campaign to remake the monarchy. By the 1990s, this was largely achieved.

That King Vajiralongkorn is claimed to have “signaled little interest so far in shifting Thailand from quasi-military rule toward more democracy after a junta took power in 2014” seems an odd observation. And, in this quite natural political position for a monarchy such as Thailand’s, the new king follows the dead one.

That the new king wants more power for the throne is clear to all. That’s why the military’s “constitution” has been changed. But to say that the new version – we still don’t know the exact nature of the changes – allows the king “more freedom to travel overseas, where he has spent much of his life, and can appoint a regent to rule when he’s not around” is a misunderstanding of what The Dictator has let be known. The point of the changes was to allow him to not have a regent during his jaunts.

And, Mr Jennings must be the only one who thinks “[e]lections are due this year.”

He is right, however, to add that “[o]bservers believe that with King Vajiralongkorn, Thailand will continue to retain its strict lese-majeste laws, which ban any criticism of the monarchy.” That is a requirement of continued domination by a royalist elite.