Lese majeste catch-ups

18 02 2018

Natthika Worathaiwit was one of The Facebook 8 who were arrested by the military dictatorship because of a satirical Facebook community page that poked fun at The Dictator. They were charged with sedition and computer crimes on 28 April 2016. Tow of them, Harit Mahaton and Natthika were charged with lese majeste.

Initially all were refused bail. When six of the eight were bailed, a military court refused bail for Natthika and Harit. The two firmly maintained their innocence. After more than two months in prison, on 8 July 2016, the two were released on bail. A month later, a military prosecutor indicted the two anti-junta critics on lese majeste and computer crimes.

Little more was heard about the case until in January 2018 Natthika revealed that she had decided to flee Thailand to seek asylum in the U.S. She remains critical of the military dictatorship. Prachatai has an interview with her in the U.S.

Prachatai also reports on a case with a curious twist. Back in March 2016, it was reported that that nine persons are to be charged with lese majeste over the Tob Jote/ตอบโจทย์ television show in 2013. ThaiPBS aired the program on the monarchy and lese majeste law on 11-14 March and 18 March 2013. The series featured historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who later went into exile, conservative royalist Sulak Sivaraksa, the execrable Surakiart Sathirathai and retired ultra-monarchist Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn. The show hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma. All are mentioned in the new set of charges, with four others.

Later, in July 2014, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) imposed a 50,000 baht fine on ThaiPBS for broadcasting political discussions about the monarchy. The NBTC declared that the broadcasts violated “Article 37 of the NBTC Act. The Commission accused the station of publishing content that instigated conflict, damaged peace and order, or damaged the good morality of the people.”

Royalists and the junta could not abide by notions that Thais could have a reasonable discussion of the monarchy or be allowed to think for themselves about the monarchy.

On 15 February 2018, the Administrative Court invalidated the fine. In doing so, it ruled that the NBTC showed bias (which is standard operating procedure for this bunch of junta minions). That bias got a name:  Lt Gen Peerapong Manakit, one of the NBTC members. According to the report, the “court ruled that bias on the part of … [Peerapong] who proposed the punishment, led to an unfair trial. The court ordered the Commission to refund the fine to Thai PBS…. However, the verdict does not rule whether the show’s content was legal or not.”

It is an interesting ruling. If Peerapong’s name rings a bell, it could be because he is another of those military hogs who can’t keep out of the trough, as reported in The Nation:

… there was a public outcry after an Office of the Auditor-General investigation revealed Peerapong Manakit had topped the list of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission members who had made the most overseas “study” trips last year…. He spent about one-third of his time (129 days) on 20 overseas trips at a cost of Bt12.03 million…. Peerapong has reportedly appointed his wife Janya Sawangjit as his adviser, effective October 1. Her salary is Bt120,000 a month…. It is not clear if NBTC commissioners can take their advisers on overseas trips.

Of course, nothing happened about this nepotism and he remains a commissioner, with a bunch of other military and royal-connected men.

Lese majeste repression

16 02 2018

The Bangkok Post has an editorial on lese majeste, calling for the “misuse and abuse” of the law be ended. Essentially, the editorial calls for the law to be rewritten, citing both Sulak Sivaraksa (one of the few to get off) and Nitirat.

That’s about as brave as it gets in Thailand these days. Calling for amendment rather than the abolition of the feudal law.

Noting that since the 2014 military coup, iLaw, “at least 94 people were charged under the lese majeste law,” it is said many of those accused, charged and jailed have been “political activists, politically active citizens or merely internet users who happened to share articles deemed to offend the … [monarchy].” We think the figure is far higher (well more than 130), not least because the figure seems to omit dozens charged within Prince-cum-King Vajiralongkorn’s palace.

As well as the palace’s vindictive use of the law, the editorial might also have mentioned that the law has been used against juveniles.

The editorial concludes with the misguided claim the “late King Bhumibol Adulyadej once said he must also be criticised” as a claim that the lese majeste law be amended.

The Post is right on the need for change. Based on what we’ve seen of the prince-cum-king and lese majeste, we are not confident that the law will be amended for the better.

While on lese majeste and Vajiralongkorn, about a week ago we mentioned Tyrell Haberkorn’s East Asia Forum article on the junta’s use of political repression and lese majeste. A reader has drawn our attention to another article by the US-based academic, also on lese majeste, and in the magazine Dissent.

Her article refers to the lese majeste case against human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul. He’s multiple charges with “insulting” Vajiralongkorn and sedition. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to 171 years in prison.

We this is a reflection of Vajiralongkorn’s perception of lese majeste.

Piling on lese majeste cases

14 02 2018

Usually the military dictatorship just piles up lese majeste cases at a rate of one to two a week since 2014. However, in the case of singer and red-shirt Tom Dundee (Thanat Thanawatcharanon), the regime is piling case up against him.

The 60 year old activist is already in jail for more than 10 years on two lese majeste “convictions,” but the regime seems determined to bury him under cases and to keep sending the message to those inclined to republicanism to keep very quiet or risk charges, more-or-less mandatory conviction and jail.

Following his conviction, in early 2018, another charges was laid. Now, on 13 February 2018, the Bangkok Criminal Court summoned Tom from prison to be indicted on a fourth lese majeste charge. This charge relates to “a speech at a red-shirt rally in 2011 in Lamphun Province.”

Yes, that’s 2011. It is not a typo.

This latest charge against Tom suggests how desperate the regime and palace are in stamping out republicanism.

The activist has agreed to plead guilty to a charge that he compared “Thailand with Denmark, where the King has to stop at traffic lights.”

Yes, that’s commenting on kings and traffic lights. The prosecutor claimed this comparison was illegal because Tom’s words “can be understood to be referring to King Rama IX, and makes ordinary people have negative thoughts against the monarchy…”.

There’s a couple of things to note here. First, it seems Tom did not mention any royal by name. Second, it seems the prosecutor knows that Thais understand that the comment is about their then king because stopping traffic for all levels of royal in Thailand is common and commonly hated. In such circumstances, it seems the prosecutor is also “defaming” the monarchy by drawing this conclusion. And, third, discussion of delays associated with tiresome, polluting and expensive royal cavalcades has been public for many years. Back in 2012, efforts were made to “improve” the situation. (We doubt the current obsessive-compulsive king would want other than to make the cavalcades more intrusive and wasteful. That’s his style.)

All of this makes the fourth case against Tom simply mindless vengefulness on the part of the royalist military regime.

Tom apparently “agreed” to plead guilty after previously denying all accusations and fighting his cases because he knows that defending the cases means longer jail terms. He now “wants the prosecution to end as soon as possible,” and hopes to seek a pardon.

A ditch question

13 02 2018

A few days ago PPT posted a note on the long-proposed Kra Canal. We said the story at the little-known web-based The Independent in Singapore was weird. We said this because the source for its story, “‘Very erratic’ new Thai King may pave the way for Kra canal leading to Singapore’s doom” is the right-wing extremists of the LaRouche organization, including its Schiller Institute.  The Independent’s story, while somewhat garbled, says that the king is “favorable to building the Kra Canal … [and] that several leading figures on the Thai Privy Council are fully behind the project…”. The main LaRouche claims on the Canal are here and here.

Apparently, this story is not a complete concoction. The Bangkok Post now includes an editorial on the Kra Canal project being back on the books for the military junta. It says: “has brought the Kra Canal proposal back to life. To be precise, it has ordered a study on a project it has officially renamed as Klong Thai. The new name is presumably a minor celebration of the new eternal Thai-ness campaign, Thai Niyom Yangyuen.”

There’s no particular mention of the LaRouche connections, no mention of the current king (but a couple of kings past) and no mention of the Chinese role in the push for the big ditch.

The junta says that there’s only an update study being done. At the same time, there seems limited enthusiasm:

Lt Gen Sansern [junta spokesman] put exactly the correct, two-part spin on this age-old proposal for a cross-Thailand canal. The first is that there never has been any public push for such a project. The manufactured claims of urgency for studies and start of construction are entirely by involved interests, chiefly businesses who see great profits from everything, including construction, maintenance and, of course, buying and selling land.

Finally, as the spokesman says, the real need for Thai infrastructure necessarily pushes the proposal for a Kra Canal by any name far down the list….

So the question really has to be asked. Is this study being done to please the king or to please former military commanders, rightists and an odd coterie of businessmen-cum-hunters and other profit seekers?

Ultra-royalism means ultra-stupidity

10 02 2018

The ultra-royalism that has infected Thailand since about the time of the 2006 coup has resulted in bizarre lese majeste cases and equally outlandish behavior by royalists as they manage their “loyalty.”

The latest royalist peculiarity involves Chanthaburi governor Withurat Srinam who has offered his resignation for his misuse of a “royal” word.

The governor has “come under fire after putting the royal term in two of his orders to officials in preparation to receive ministers during a mobile cabinet visit in Chanthaburi on Monday and Tuesday.” He is reported to have used the word rab sadet, meaning to receive, for The Dictator and his junta cabinet.

In most constitutional monarchies there is no “royal language.” But Thailand is an oddity. And the politicization of the monarchy both by ultra-royalists and opponents of the military and monarchical state has made things royal more important and “sacred” than they have been for more than a century. Ultra-royalists patrol the narrow boundaries of “loyalty.”

So in this strange world of ultra-royalism and neo-feudalism, we now find Interior Ministry permanent secretary Chatchai Promlert having to decide whether to “approve the resignation…”.

That decision also puts him in the firing line. Ultra-royalists may detect insufficient loyalty should he make a sensible decision and tell the governor to get back to work.

That senior officials should even have to deal with such antediluvian buffalo manure is a measure of how far Thailand has fallen into a royalist abyss.

Using the monarchy for repression

1 02 2018

We saw it on social media yesterday, but wanted to wait for the news report before posting, thinking that a new junta legal manipulation might have been a hoax as it is so bizarre.

Khaosod reports that the military dictatorship has had 39 pro-democracy activists charged with “protesting too close to royal property.”

The report adds:

It was the first known use of that provision by the junta, which has relied on its 2014 ban on political gatherings to quash dissent in the name of maintaining order. The prosecution relies on Article 7 of an assembly act passed by junta-appointed legislators that bars any gatherings within 150 meters of a royal palace. If found guilty, the 39 activists face up to six months in jail and fines of 10,000 baht.

The protesters had assembled on the Skywalk outside the MBK Center. The allegation is that the protesters were within 150 meters of the Sra Pathum Palace.

As the report points out, the junta is, of course, acting on double standards: “[a]cross town on Thursday, dozens gathered to wave signs in support of junta deputy leader Prawit Wongsuwan directly in front of the Grand Palace without report of any arrests.”

The junta’s looking increasingly frazzled. Using the monarchy for these political charges means that it is willing to engender more confrontation and conflict in order to preserve its power.

Updated: Authoritarianism, king and junta

31 01 2018

Some readers will be interested in a 2017-in-review article by Eugenie Mérieau of the University of Göttingen that appeared a couple of days ago at East Asia Forum. Not that she is saying anything new, but simply for her review of the here-and-now authoritarianism that dominates Thailand’s politics under the junta.

There’s a couple of things that bothered us. The 1932 plaque wasn’t removed “[a] few days after the promulgation of the constitution,” but before that event. She mentions Article 116 but does not name it as the sedition law. And she’s still writing of an election in 2018, which now seems off the agenda unless significant political pressure can be brought on the junta. Yet this is an article that sets out how the military is seeking to continue its control for years to come.

It also recounts some of the king’s moves that roll back the constitutional, economic and political power back to something resembling pre-1932 position without (at least not yet) a reversion to absolute monarchy. The alliance between a military king and a monarchized military makes for a descent into the political darkness inevitable unless citizens oppose them.

Update: The author noted our comments above and advised that an updated version of the article is available.