Military and their (slave) conscripts

10 11 2020

One of the policies that attracted voters to the Future Forward Party was to get rid of military conscription in peacetime.

Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party has revealed that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has dumped the “military conscription bill by refusing to endorse it.”

The bill was meant “to create professional armed forces that are smaller but more efficient. The number of recruits will be lower but they will be trained more intensively.”

Of course, as has been pointed out many times, including at PPT, what the military brass wants is no so much conscripts, but slaves. Not that long ago, Wilat Chantarapitak, a former Democrat Party MP and former advisor to a parliamentary anti-corruption committee, said the conscription system is “riddled with corruption because more than half of the conscripts end up as servants in the houses of senior officers or in military cooperative shops.”

The stories of conscripts being flogged, enslaved and exploited are common and several conscripts die in circumstances that the military almost never satisfactorily investigates or explains. Yet, as the Post notes, “[o]ver the past six years, demand for conscripts by the armed forces was on the rise, from 94,480 in 2013 to 104,734 in 2019.”

And, as soon as Rangsiman revealed The Dictator’s move, it was reported, sadly, that another two conscripts “were found dead in their bases in the Northeast.” In one case, the mother of the deceased stated that “he was pinned to the floor while his hair was cut and hit in the back. Chili and salt were put on his back…”. The other reportedly dies in a military prison.

A feudal institution maintains not just its loyalty to a feudal monarch but to feudal (mal)practices.

 





Substantive reform

30 09 2020

Building on years of struggle by other activists and exiles, the great success of the student-led movement has been in initiating a discussion on the monarchy. A couple of recent reports highlight this.

Rangsiman Rome is no longer a student, but he was one of those students who stood up to the junta after the 2014 coup. Those demonstrating now draw inspiration from the opposition Move Forward MP.

Thai PBS reports he has proposed a “new deal” between “the people and the monarchy” to make Thailand becomes a “real democratic constitutional monarchy.” This, he says, requires “a new Constitution, written by an elected charter drafting assembly.”

In speaking of the monarchy, he’s observed: “What’s happening does not benefit ordinary people. They know these things would not happen if the monarchy was truly constitutional…”.

He wants “public scrutiny” of the monarchy with it being “supervised by an elected government body, like any other organisation under the Constitution.” He wants the people to be soverign and the monarchy to “stand … alongside democracy…”.

During his speech, conservative, royalist junta party MPs sought to silence him, to no avail.

Debate is also on the agenda outside parliament. Prachatai reports about a panel discussion on 15 September at the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University titled: “If politics were good, how would we discuss the monarchy”?

The report observes that “[a]ddressing the issue of the monarchy straightforwardly is a very rare sight in this country, especially after the 2014 coup when prosecution of critics of the monarchy intensified.”

Read the report of the discussion and marvel at how far the students have moved Thailand’s politics.





Moving the country towards a dead end

25 09 2020

The king has come and gone and about the only notable thing seems to have been a meeting between the king, queen and Pojaman na Pombhejara (formerly Shinawatra), at least according to social media.

While the king and queen were doing their “duties,” constitutional change was front-and-center elsewhere.

A few demonstrators conducted an exorcism in front of the Army headquarters on Wednesday “to rid the country of senators chosen by the junta.” This was followed yesterday with a  mass rally outside outside parliament. The “pro-democracy group says the current charter was put in place by a military junta and is undemocratic. They are calling for amendments specifically to clauses which allow the military-appointed senate to vote for the prime minister.”

Inside parliament, the junta selected and appointed senators, “many of them generals and military officials, escaped from parliament on Thursday by boat and the back-exit rather than face angry pro-democracy demonstrators after they voted to postpone amending the constitution.”

The junta’s party, coalition and senators combined to vote 432 to 255 “to set up exploratory committees to study potential amendments to the military-drafted constitution instead of amending the charter on Thursday night.”

The opposition parties walked out of parliament “in protest with the leader of the Move Forward Party, Pita Limjaroenrat, calling the vote ‘a way to stall for time’ and said that parliament’s decision on Thursday was moving the country towards a dead end.”

In fact, the dead end was the junta and its constitution.

Getting out of that means more pressure: “Anon Numpha, a key protest leader, told reporters and protesters that now was the time to step up protests and called for more rallies in October.”





Talking king things

14 09 2020

In a piece of (what we think is) good news, The Nation reports that Padipat Suntiphada, a Move Forward MP and chair of the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation has agreed to a “safe” dialogue on the demands made by protesters. This includes discussion of reform of the monarchy.

The dialogue is scheduled for 22 September and is “aimed to provide an intimidation-free ‘safe zone’ for the students to share their opinions on reform…”.

Self-crowned

After decades of an enforced void on serious discussion of the monarchy, punctuated only by ridiculous royalism, this is a welcome opening.

It is reported that he discussion will include the 10 Demands on:

… reform of the monarchy.  It seeks to, among other things, scrap the lese-majeste law, defund the royal family and bar the palace from expressing political opinions.

(In fact, there’s no demand to “defund the royal family.” Rather, the demand is “reduce the amount of the national budget allocated to the King in line with the economic conditions of the country.”)

Rightist royalists will be very uncomfortable and some will become belligerent.

The article states that this will be:

the first time ever that monarchy reform is raised in Parliament and comes after protest leaders broke a decades-long taboo by challenging the palace’s status in public during protests in Bangkok early last month.

In the past, when the monarchy has been discussed, parliament has usually gone into secret session.

Padipat “said the forum will be a two-way dialogue between proponents and opponents of royal reform and other issues” in a “framework was designed by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University.”

The regime has been seeking to silence student discussion of the monarchy. including arresting many it considers protest leaders. Its “youth forums” have tried to limit discussion to “curriculum improvement, environmental issues and job opportunities for students. The core demands made by protesters are not being discussed.”

Padipat says he “hoped this panel’s forum would lead to another level of discussion in Parliament and has plans to hold more forums in other regions.” That, too, would be a huge step forward over the enforced adulation of the past.





Students push 10 demands

27 08 2020

If you thought the students would back down on their 10 demands for bringing the monarchy (back) under the constitution, then you would be wrong.

The Bangkok Post reports that leaders from the Free Youth Group, including “Panasaya Sitthijirawattanakul, a leader of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, forwarded the 10-point manifesto compiled at a demonstration on Aug 10 at Thammasat University to Move Forward Party MP Padipat Suntiphada who is the chairman of the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation.”

Panasaya believed that “the government should consider their 10 demands” for reforming the monarchy

As this was going on, students from the same group were being arrested: “Ford Thatthep and James Panumas … were arrested and taken to Samranrat station yesterday on seven charges including sedition…”.

The arrest count is increasing, with police having “issued arrest warrants for 15 leaders of an anti-government protest on July 18 at the Democracy Monument. Thirteen of them have been arrested.”





Further updated: Dechathorn arrested

20 08 2020

Al Jazeera reports that Rap Against Dictatorship artist Dechathorn Bamrungmuang – “Hockey”/”Hockhacker” – has been arrested and charged with sedition.

Known for its anti-military government lyrics, Rap Against Dictatorship’s ประเทศกูมี video got millions of views in late 2018 and caused international attention to the nature of the military dictatorship and its rigged election.

Dechathorn was arrested on Thursday, and “brought to a police station outside the capital Bangkok ‘for documentation’, and is expected to be transferred to Samran Rat central station, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).”

It may be that his arrest is for “appearing and singing on stage at recent student-led pro-democracy protests.”

Rap Against Dictatorship “have over 500,000 followers on the video platform, YouTube, and their songs have attracted more than 100 million views.”

The report says that at least four other activists have been arrested over the past 18 hours.

Update: In fact, the political dragnet caught up nine democracy activists. It is reported that the nine were granted bail after being arrested for alleged offenses at political rallies on 18 July and 3 August. Bail was granted when three Move Forward Party MPs, two Puea Thai Party MPs and four academics used their positions to act as guarantors. The arrests represent a concerted and coordinated effort by the regime to squash the rising rebellion.





Political arrests I

7 08 2020

The challenge posed to the regime (and monarchy) by the student- and democracy activist-led has been met by an expected crackdown.

Most readers will know by now, as reported by Prachatai, that:

Anon Nampa and student activist Panupong Jadnok are now under arrest on sedition charges under Section 116 [sedition] of the Criminal Code and for violating the Emergency Decree after they took part in the mass protest on 18 July.

Recall that when last extending its emergency decree, the regime took time to explain that it was not to be used for preventing protest. That was a lie.

Arrested at about 2 pm on 7 August, the warrant:

… accuses Anon of sedition under Section 116 of the Criminal Code; of organizing an assembly of ten or more people and threatening to cause violence or a breach of peace under Section 215 of the Criminal Code; violating the Emergency Decree, which bans large gatherings; obstructing the public way without permission under Section 385 of the Criminal Code; violating Section 19 of the Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country Act; and of using loudspeaker without permission under the Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act.

Panupong was arrested at about 3 pm. at Ramkhamhaeng University. He is “a Rayong-based student activist who previously face harassment from the authorities after he attempted to hold up a protest sign during … Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to Rayong last month…”.

Depending on the report read, it is clear that this is a wider crackdown, with the police going after somewhere between 7 and 31 protesters, with “[s]tudent activist Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak said on the phone he was informed by his lawyer that he was among the wanted list.”

As is usual in such cases, the police ignore law and constitution:

At 17.40, both Panupong and Anon are being taken to the Bangkok Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road. TLHR [Thai Lawyers for Human Rights] said that, if both are detained and are unable to post bail in time, they will be send to prison.

TLHR also reported that the inquiry officer at the Samranrat Police Station has forced Panupong to sign a statement without waiting for his lawyer to arrive. He was then taken to court without his lawyer.

They appeared before the court outside court hours, considered an unlawful act.

Move Forward party MPs reportedly attended the Criminal Court and were said to be “using their positions as security to post bail for the pair.” However, as a political act, both men withdrew their bail requests. Arnon explained:

“The dictator is using the judicial process as a tool in shutting the people up. Being granted bail with the condition of being prohibited from protesting or raising questions about the monarchy is something we cannot accept.

“I am willing to sacrifice my freedom to stand by my principles. I ask all of you to come out and fight for our goals. Don’t waste your time on freeing Anon. Use your time to fight for the goals we are fighting for.

I believe in my friends who are outside.

In the latter, he was referring to the crowds assembled outside the court and at the Bangkhen police station.

Panupong explained why he withdrew his bail request:

“When the law becomes a tool for the dictatorship, it probably is time for the people who fight for democracy. I ask you to stand and keep fighting with the strength of your beliefs. When I get my freedom, I will be fighting and I won’t back down.”

At about 10 pm, the Criminal Court decided that it would “not accept the temporary detention request for Anon … and Panupong … as the request was submitted outside of working hours and ordered the officers to bring them in for detention again within 48 hours.”

According to reports, this meant that the police could not hold the two men. Again, the police ignored the law and detained them overnight, planning to return them to the Criminal Court in the morning.

Clipped from Prachatai

Protesters unsuccessfully tried to block the forcible transfer of Arnon and Panupong and crowds grew outside the police station where they were detained.





Updated: Preempting regime and king

20 06 2020

When we first posted on Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s apparent enforced disappearance, we understood that the rumors would be about assumptions regarding the king’s role. We suggested some caution:

Most observers would likely consider the criminals at work in this enforced disappearance are working for Thailand’s military and its regime. PPT’s guess would be that they work under orders from Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who has oversight of “national security.”

Whether Gen Prawit is acting on the orders of the vengeful king is likely to remain unknown, but the enforced disappearance does coincide with heightened protests in Germany about the truant king, which have been widely viewed in Thailand. The palace and regime probably see these protests as the result of cooperation between anti-monarchists and political activists.

Coincidences do not amount to facts. When it comes to the king, however, verifiable facts are hard to come by and circumstantial evidence and extrapolation are used in their place.

Yet it is a remarkable fact that so many Thais seem to have heard the rumors and concluded that the king is at work on these disappearances. This is evidenced by a sudden surge in social media support for Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome:

The twitter hashtag #saveโรม (#saveRome) began trending on Friday morning after rumours circulated online that powerful people within the Thai establishment were unhappy with the conduct of Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome.

Readers may recall that it was Rangsiman who poked the regime on the disappearance and on the lese majeste law. This brought a regime response and warnings along with claims about an anti-monarchy plot.

Thais on social media used the “saveRome” hashtag “to voice their encouragement and support for Rangisman Rome and also to criticize the establishment and the state for using violence and fear as intimidation tactics.” It was a preemptive strike based on fears and on rumors that Rome and several other activists were under threat.

This is a political strategy previously used. Back in 2019, as several Thai exiles were “disappeared,” members of the Faiyen band feared that they were being hunted by those responsible for the enforced disappearances and murders of fellow exiles. At the time, many observers assumed that Thai paramilitary forces were responsible for these extra-judicial actions.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

That so many fear the king is telling. That they believe that the regime is prepared to condone or engage in illegal acts for the king and to protect their regime is equally revealing.

These fears and assumptions are reasonable. After all, throughout his life, the king has displayed erratic behavior and disdain for symbols of the 1932 revolution is reasonably considered evidence of hatred of those who favor a monarchy limited by constitution and law. This fear is reinforced by the regime’s public statements since the 2014 coup and its efforts to “protect” the monarchy. Indeed, the regime has been actively promoting fear to enhance its repression.

Update: Interesting, PPT has received a letter that is sent to the Embassy for the Federal Republic of Germany in Thailand, pointing to Germany’s responsibility under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit. Appropriately, it notes that the facts are hard to come by but that the German government needs to ensure that the disappearance is not associated with actions taken in Germany.





Monarchy and (more) repression

16 06 2020

With repression being deepened, the prime minister who seized power in the 2014 military coup and who remains in power through military might, his junta’s constitution and rigged elections, has issued a stern warning about anti-monarchism.

Of course, it is no coincidence that this warning comes after the enforced disappearance of Wanchalaerm Satsaksit, the piling on of lese majeste-like computer crimes charges for young social media figure “Niranam_” and ongoing protests in Europe against the king.

With a minion when the king was once in Thailand

As in the past, the regime imagines a plot and a movement led by some unnamed anonymous puppet-master.

Gen Prayuth lamented that what he thinks are “violations” of the lese majeste law “had increased since its use ceased 2-3 years ago.” He reportedly said the king “has … instructed me personally over the past two to three years to refrain from the use of the Law…”. While we already knew this from the king-supporting Sulak Sivaraksa, this is, we think, the first time an official has acknowledged this instruction.

(As an aside, we want to emphasize that under the previous king, royalists defended him on lese majeste by saying he was powerless to do anything about the law. Vajiralongkorn showed what a pile of buffalo manure that excuse was.)

The unelected PM saw anti-monarchism as doubly troubling as he believed that the king, by not using Article 112, had shown “mercy,” and this was being “abused.”

Gen Prayuth called for “unity” by which he means that royalists must defend the monarchy: “Everyone who loves the nation, religion, and monarchy must come together.” Oddly, he warned about the danger of “violent revolutions.” And, Reflecting a broader royalist concern, he worried that “anti-monarchists may use the upcoming anniversary [24 June] of the 1932 democratic revolution to defame the monarchy.”

And he warned that people should “disregard any messages that aim to harbor hatred in the society.” He means anti-monarchism. He added a pointed remark that PPT thinks is a threat:

Those who are operating from abroad should think about what they should or shouldn’t do, where else could if they faced problems in that country? I feel pity as they are Thai citizens.

In what appears as a coordinated warning, the Watchman, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan said “security officials” – that usually means the military – were already “investigating those involved” in this alleged anti-monarchist plot.

He was warning: “Once we get the list of names, we’ll prosecute them” using lese majeste-like laws including computer crimes and sedition.

Prayuth seemed to want Article 112 back, complaining that “[t]here were no such problems when Section 112 was in use,” which is actually buffalo manure. When the junta came to power, it repeatedly claimed republican plotting and used the lese majeste law more than any other regime, ever.

He went on to pile on lies and threats:

As a Thai, you must not believe distorted information or news from hatemongers because it’s not true. You must look behind [their motive] and see what they really want. … Why would you become their tool?

Targeting the young, he “urged people not to disseminate such information or click to read it, referring to social media.” It is easy to see why the regime has targeted “Niranam_”. They are making an example of him as a way to (they hope) silence others.

There’s also a hint that the regime is coming under pressure from royalists and perhaps even the palace itself to do something about the protests in Europe and criticism from exiles:

Regarding exiled people in neighbouring countries and Europe, he said the government had already sent letters asking those countries to send them back to Thailand if they caused trouble. “But when they don’t send them back, what do you expect the government to do?”

It seems clear that enforced disappearance and torture and murder is one outcome of displeasure with these dissidents.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

One response to these warnings has been social media disdain for the regime and the generals. Another response came from former Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich who called for the lese majeste law to be abolished: “they should get rid of this section of the criminal code as the MPs of the Move Forward Party have been saying in Parliament…”. For good measure, she also called for the Computer Crimes Act be amended.





Foreign minister dissembles

12 06 2020

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai is a tool. A tool of the junta when appointed. Yet he’s also a tool that enjoys the work he does for the junta/post-junta military-backed regime. The ministry he heads is a nest of elitists and royalists.

Recently, Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party and a spokesman of the House committee on legal affairs, justice and human rights, asked parliamentary questions about Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s disappearance. Rangsiman said: “The government isn’t paying any attention. Since Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha came to power, nine activists have disappeared. But the government has not given any explanation…”.

Don (clipped from Bangkok Post)

Foreign Minister Don’s dissembling response was execrable. He lied that “Wanchalearm bears little significance in terms of international and security affairs, so he should not be considered a threat to security.” He didn’t explain why the regime had been chasing him since the 2014 military coup.

Regarding Wanchalearm’s disappearance, Don said “Cambodia is investigating the matter and all the Thai government can do is to ask Cambodia to follow up on the case…. We cannot speculate as to his whereabouts until we receive an answer [from Cambodia]…”. Of course, this sidesteps the issue that it was most likely Thai operatives who grabbed the man – “Cambodian National Police spokesman Pol Lt Gen Chhay Kim Khoeun insisted Cambodian authorities did not arrest the activist…”. Don’s response also ignores the questions regarding all the other disappearances and murders. Nothing done on them, either.

Commenting on the same parliamentary exchange, the Thai Enquirer reports that Don also felt moved to comment on Article 112, the lese majeste law. He claimed “that people affected by the enforcement of Article 112 … was not a priority and the majority of people simply didn’t care about the law.”

Rangsiman responded: “If the Minister says that [Article 112] is not important, allow me to ask, why was #Cancel112 a top trend on twitter then?”

Reportedly, Don lied that “various international organizations are reporting this issue … just to attract attention and call[ed] out foreign journalists for creating fake news…”.

Don’s lese majeste comments are a part of a wider campaign to denigrate Wanchalerm. By linking him with anti-monarchists, the regime seeks to limit the support his case has gained – when lese majeste is alleged, not only do rabid royalists begin wagging their tails, but censorship/self-censorship restrict discussion.

We also think that such dissembling is an admission that monarchy is a central issue in not just Wanchalerm’s disappearance, but that of the eight others who have been disappeared or killed. When the authorities refuse to be involved, this is more like confirmation of these unspoken admissions.