Mad monarchists under pressure

24 05 2017

The frenzy of efforts to “manage” the internet and cleanse it of allegedly anti-monarchy information has become so manic that Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nongharnpitak, the chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, has threatened every user of social media in the country.

Some estimates place the number of Thais now under lese majeste threat and repression at over 50 million. That probably includes people with multiple accounts, but you get the picture and users, the mad monarchists hope, get the message.

A Bangkok Post editorial states that the madness of the authorities “have gone unacceptably overboard in their censorship.” It adds that “[t]he always questionable campaign to clean the internet of nasty material now is out of control.”

We think that point was passed many years ago, but the madness is clearly now having an impact on middle class opinion. Even the Post still considers the lese majeste crackdown a “righteous” effort. That is indeed sad because it fails to adequately acknowledge this core element of military authoritarianism. It also fails to acknowledge the dangerous nature of the new reign for Thailand.

As the editorial notes, the CIB is just one of a plethora of agencies hunting lese majeste in the king’s laundry:

lese majeste “detectives” who already include the army, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the National Intelligence Agency, the CIB’s parent Royal Thai Police Bureau, the CIB’s “brother” technology police, the Thai Internet Service Provider Association (Tispa) and others.

The resources used (and wasted) in this lese majeste laundry are immense. But the question of why the military monarchists have gotten so mad is not addressed.

Another Bangkok Post report is of another mad performance by Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. He has declared that:

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an industry association made up of eight internet giants, has agreed in principle to work with local authorities to tackle webpages and content that violate the law.

Takorn, who seems to relish media performance rather than substance, declared again that “it was crucial that all illicit webpages be removed according to court orders issued in Thailand.” He said that the junta has “asked the AIC if we could work together and achieve long-term cooperation on this matter…”. He claimed “the AIC agreed to be another source in helping alert the NBTC to illicit content and send it details of websites that break the law.”

What does this mean?

The AIC is “an industry association made up of Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo. The AIC seeks to promote the understanding and resolution of Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region.” It is a policy network made up of “government relations” employees of the firms involved.

Censorship does not seem to be one of the policy aims of the AIC. Indeed, and interestingly, its most recent “activity,” from December 2016, was to criticize the junta’s efforts.

In other words, Takorn is posing. Is it that the CIB is also grandstanding? Why would this be? We can only guess that the mounting madness has a lot to do with pressure being put on the junta to behave more maniacally than might be considered usual for authoritarian royalists. That pressure could only be from the palace.

If we are wrong, then we can only assume that the regime has completely lost its collective mind.





Burning down the house II

22 05 2017

The Reuters report mentioned briefly in a recent post has now been updated with more detail at Prachatai and at Khaosod. There are significant differences between the latter two reports on the alleged burning of a roadside portrait of the dead king.

The Reuters report referred to five detainees. Prachatai’s report states that three men – Chirayut, Rattathammanoon, Akkarapong (witholding surnames due to privacy concerns) – and a 14 year-old boy, all from Khon Kaen, were arrested on 19 May. It adds that two other suspects, Setha and Preecha, were “still at large.” Khaosod states:

Seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, are in military custody on suspicion of setting fire to a roadside portrait….

… an internal memo circulated by the Ministry of Interior Affairs identified four of them as Chirayu Sinpho, 19; Ratrthathammanoon Srihabutr, 20; Akkharapong Aryukong, 19; and a 14-year minor.

Prachatai states that those arrested, including the boy, are being investigated on lese majeste. Khaosd states that no charges have been laid so far.

Justifiably, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have issued a statement on the arrests:

The TLHR pointed out that the arrest of the four through the use of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Head’s Order No. 3/2015 is arbitrary and is against Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand is a state party of.

Under the order, peace keeping officers have authorities to detain incommunicado suspects of crimes against national security without specific charge and warrant for seven days.

The detention of the 14 years old suspect and ensuing detention at the military base is also against Article 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to police, the arrests are for allegedly burning an arch erected in Chonnabot District of Khon Kaen on 15 May. The detainees are held at the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok. The impression from the reports is that the “investigation” is by the military.

According to one report, four of those arrested have allegedly “confessed.” They allegedly state that “Preecha paid them 200 Baht each to burn the arch.”





Burning down the house I

21 05 2017

Reuters has a report on the latest arrests that seem likely to result in another clutch of lese majeste charges, with four men and a boy arrested on 19 May 2017 “for allegedly setting fire to portraits of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died last year.”

There’s not much to the report, not least because it repeats several standard and unthinking lines about monarch and Thais.

The suspects were arrested in Khon Kaen and the “case is being processed and under investigation at this time…”. How that is done is a mystery because the names of the men are unknown and they are not in Khon Kaen, as all five “have been transferred to the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok,” presumably to be threatened and tortured.





The king and junta have the world agog

16 05 2017

A tabloid is often sensationalist and there is some emphasis on “celebrities.” Britain’s Daily Mail is often described as this kind of tabloid.

Yet the Daily Mail has shown an interest in Thailand over the past few years, mainly focused on odd stories and accounts of celebrity holidays and problems faced by tourists. It has published a bit on the monarchy.

Its most recent story on King Vajiralongkorn is a doosie.It has it all. Naked wife, first marriage, concubines, fake tattoos, weird clothing, lese majeste, Fu Fu, coups, military junta, Facebook threats and more. And it all comes with lots of pictures and video.

If the military junta needs evidence that its actions and those of the king are problematic, they might look to the Daily Mail’s story. It is as if both junta and king have aimed a machine gun at their collective feet and shot them off.

The Daily Mail has about 4 million readers each day and its website has more than 100 million unique visitors each month. All of them will be either laughing or shaking their heads about the state of affairs in Thailand.





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.





No laughing matter

13 05 2017

The military junta has laid its bets on King Vajiralongkorn for ensuring the future of the monarchy and the system of hierarchy, privilege and wealth it underpins.

Nothing about the king can be a laughing matter.

Yet the junta knows the king is erratic and demanding, as well as odd in his demands and personal foibles. He’s also showing he’s a political neanderthal, which might be expected of a monarch, but when combined with his other traits and limited intelligence, that makes him dangerous and unpredictable.And probably not very funny.

Some of that may have said about his father, but that king was young and subject to controls by the military, mother and old princes. Once the palace propaganda was put in place for that king, in the popular imagination, he became a polymath and a savvy politician.

By the time the military was firmly in the hands of leaders who got to the top simply by their capacity for royal ego polishing, the king and palace became a locus of political power.

That’s why the dictators have been so desperate to ban and erase all of the foibles associated with Vajiralongkorn. That’s not easy when he spends a lot of time overseas, behaving oddly. Seeking a kind of Chinese firewall without the investment, the military junta is trying to bully ISPs and international corporations into doing their censorship.

Yet that is making the situation worse. Ham-fisted censorship makes a nonentity king reigning in a relatively small and unimportant country become international news of the tabloid variety.

Among a range of other channels, VICE News recently got interested, stating:

Facebook has blocked users in Thailand from accessing a video that shows the country’s king strolling through a German shopping mall wearing a crop-top revealing his distinctive tattoos, accompanied by one of his mistresses.

Asking what was in the video banned by Facebook, VICE posted it. The report states the king was filmed while shopping at:

Riem Arcaden mall in Munich on June 10, 2016….  The video shows Vajiralongkorn walking through the shopping mall, with a woman who is believed to be one of his mistresses, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, aka Koi. The king’s bodyguards are also visible in the video.

The junta “banned” Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul for posting some of this kind of material and then rushed about arresting seven people in Thailand and accused them of sharing posts or liking them when they were considered by the junta as defaming of the king. Odd that, for the king is the one dressing up as some kind of anime character and prancing about public places with a concubine.

This has caused even wider publicity to royal shenanigans and the junta’s remarkable desperation to defend the king’s “honor” and “reputation.”

The junta holds few good cards, but is betting even more of its treasure on the “protection” of the king. They prefer to show him dressed in full military uniform, accompanied by a uniformed woman who is, at least for the moment, his official consort or the No. 1 wife.

Meanwhile, in the king’s preferred home, in Germany, the publicity provided by the junta’s actions, arrests and threats to Facebook have brought considerable attention to the royal immigrant ensconced in Tutzing (when he’s in Munich).

That leads to television reports that make the king appear weird, guaranteeing even more scrutiny and sharing; exactly what the dopes at the junta think they are preventing.

Even without German, a viewer gets the message. The junta doesn’t. For them, covering up for the king is no laughing matter. It is protecting their bread and butter, and they want lots of it on their plates.





Reporting successful internet censorship

12 05 2017

Khaosod reports that the “Royal Thai Army’s cyber unit claimed success Thursday in defending the monarchy online, saying it has gone after 820 offensive items since October.”

The report gets a little odd on the numbers, but essentially states that the “Army Cyber Center announced the figures at army headquarters in Bangkok, saying it was proof of progress in the crackdown against alleged online defamation of the royal family.”

We are guessing that almost all the references are to King Vajiralongkorn in the period since October, although we suppose some might have been critical of the dead king.

Assistant Army Chief Gen. Somsak Nilbanjerdkul was happy and “presented a plaque of recognition to those who performed [what he said were] excellent duties.”

Fascists like such symbols and recognition from big bosses.

The Director of the cyber snooping operation is Maj. Gen. Rittee Intravudh. He stated that “the center placed importance on cyber threats against the monarchy through social media.” The figures he provided were that “the 820 items targeted since October included 365 things posted to Facebook, 450 YouTube videos and five tweets.” He added that just “seven of the content creators were based outside Thailand..”.

The Major General did not reveal “how many led to actual blocking or removal.” Confusingly, the report then states: “435 sites defaming the monarchy have been shut down.” (That’s where the numbers get a bit screwy. Is it 435 or 820?)

Despite the huge crackdown and a whole-of-dictatorship effort at censorship, Rittee “said the center has discovered 274 new items, among them 120 made just last month.” Yet he reckons the trend is “that there will be less dissemination of content [defaming] the monarchy…”.

We are guessing, but perhaps the king’s fashions and the royal-inspired theft of the 1932 plaque are the things that the junta most wants to block and which it has been ordered to block.

He would he say if the snooping led to prosecutions. However, if they are getting awards for their work, we might assume prosecutions.

Rittee also revealed “some success in getting Facebook to block some posts from users in Thailand but acknowledged that some have learned how to circumvent such blocking.”

He said a “court has also recently ordered the blocking of 6,000 websites deemed critical of Thailand’s monarchy.”