Escaping the junta and rabid royalism

8 06 2018

Korean journalist Lee Jae-ho has written a poignant account of the plight of those hunted by the junta on lese majeste charges. It is a long story that deserves to be read in full.

After the coup, dissidents sought by the military junta and accused of various charges but including especially lese majeste, flooded across borders to Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Laos and Cambodia may have seemed safe for a time, but seem less so now as the junta does deals with regimes there. The relationship between the military in Myanmar and in Thailand makes it less safe.

Some well-connected political refugees went to France, New Zealand, the U.S., Sweden, U.K. and elsewhere, but those in Asia have been living an often precarious life.

Lee’s story is of Chanoknan Ruamsap who arrived in South Korea in January this year.

She arrived in Seoul as a “tourist.” But she had a contact who took her to Gwangju.

She had been accused of lese majeste for sharing the now famous and widely known and widely shared BBC Thai article on new King Vajiralongkorn. It included truthful comments on his past and alleged “philandering, gambling, his extravagant lifestyle and his involvement in illegal businesses.”

It was that story that has Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa in jail. Chanoknan’s summons came two years after she shared the article, but she was targeted as a political activist with the New Democracy Movement that the junta wanted to silence.

She’s from a well-to-do family, so she may be better off than other refugees. She’s in South Korea, because UNHCR has a presence there and with a 90 day visa it gave her time to deal with international officialdom, hoping to end up in Europe.

In Gwangju, an extensive set of human rights groups helped her. The May 18 Memorial Foundation covered “her living expenses until she gained approval as a refugee.” That Foundation has a history of involvement on lese majeste cases.

Now she waits….





Junta gets another slap

29 01 2018

In another important legal case, the Bangkok Post reports that a Ratchaburi provincial court “has acquitted four students and a reporter charged with violating the constitutional referendum law in 2016.”

The students were in court and accused of opposing the junta’s constitution, which was made more-or-less illegal. As the Post puts it, they were accused of “collaborating to publicly disseminate content inconsistent with facts or in a violent, aggressive, impolite, seditious or threatening manner for the purpose of discouraging voters from casting the ballot or voting in a particular way on the 2016 constitution draft.” The reporter, from Prachatai, was with them in a car and accused also.

The four students from the New Democracy Movement were Pakorn Areekul, Anan Lokate, Anucha Rungmorakot and Panuwat Songsawat. The reporter was Taweesak Kerdpoka.

The “evidence” was “stickers the student brought with them … had the text: ‘Let’s vote no on Aug 7 on the future we can’t choose’.”

Reportedly, the “court saw nothing wrong with this…” and rejected the prosecutor’s case.

The one “crime” they were convicted of was “failing to cooperate with officials when the refused to give fingerprints.” For this, they were fined.

The police were ordered “to return them the seized materials.”

If these kinds of legal victories continue, we might conclude that the judiciary is peeling itself away from the junta.





Vajiralongkorn, lese majeste and the repression of political activists

28 01 2018

Readers will know that out of the thousands who shared BBC Thai’s accurate profile of the new King Vajiralongkorn only Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, also known as Pai, was the only one arrested, charged with lese majeste and eventually sentenced to 5 years jail on 15 August 2017.

It might have been forgotten that, at the time, one other activist was accused of the same “crime.” Chanoknan Ruamsap, an New Democracy Movement activist, also shared the profile on her Facebook page on 3 December 2016.

Also known as Cartoon or Toon, she was also one of six key members of the NDM who were arrested in late 2015 for organizing a field trip to Rajabhakti Park (or the military’s Corruption Park). She was also arrested on 24 June 2016 for commemorating the first efforts at democracy in Thailand when the absolute monarchy was removed.

More than a year after he Facebook share, she “received the summon on 16 Jan to meet the police at Khan Na Yao Police Station, Bangkok, on 18 Jan. A military officer named Sombat Dangtha filed a lese majeste complain against her…”. She believes the long delay was due to the “inefficiencies” of the police, but come for her they did.

As Chanoknan explains, realizing that she faced years in jail, “she decided within 30 minutes after learning about the charge to flee Thailand to an Asian country.”

She is the second person of the almost 3000 who shared the profile to be charged with lese majeste. And it is no accident that both are anti-junta activists.





Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”





On Constitution Day

10 12 2017

Constitution Day remains a holiday, but most of the meaning of the event has been drained away by palace propaganda aided and abetted by decades of royalist governments.

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod asks: “what’s really left to really celebrate?” It is a good question.

Eight and a half decades after the 1932 revolt put the “constitutional” into constitutional monarchy, the kingdom has seen too many charters discarded. The current one is No. 20. Divide that by 85 years, you get an average lifespan for Thai constitutions of just slightly over four years.

An average car is more durable. A typical refrigerator is going to get more use.

He argues that almost no one in Thailand has “a strong attachment to the Thai constitution.”

That’s only partly true. There are those who have an attachment to the first 1932 constitution. That is the one that represented the spirit of 1932 before the royalists began rolling it back and replacing people’s sovereignty with royalism.

Of course, there’s no reason to celebrate the junta’s 2017 Constitution. This document is the spirit of military despotism, paternalism and anti-democracy. We at PPT would celebrate this military charter cast into history’s dustbin, along with the aged flunkies who crafted it.

One Bangkok Post story that caught our attention for Constitution Day concerns a group of political activists who “will petition the Constitutional Court to lift one of the junta’s orders on the grounds that it is an outright violation of the constitution.”

Violating constitutions is pretty much stock-in-trade for the junta.

The Democracy Restoration Group of the New Democracy Movement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and “representatives of people affected by NCPO Order No.3/2558 announced the move at Thammasat University on Saturday.”

That order “bans freedom of assembly and empowers soldiers to summon any person to testify and to detain people for up to seven days, among others.”

The activists seem determined to keep the pressure on the junta for its illegal rule.

And then there was another Bangkok Post story – indeed, an editorial – that seemed to fit Constitution Day for its gentle push-back on the royal re-acquisition of the old zoo, consolidating royal property and privatizing it.

It begins with what seems like a justification for the new zoo which is expected to begin construction around 2019. But then it carefully changes tack, referring to “a few concerns about the new site.” Distance, entrance fees,  lack of public transport. It then gets really interesting:

One key question remains about the future of the old Dusit Zoo after the relocation is completed….

But the [zoo] agency should be aware that any decision on the future of the zoo should be based on the history of the place.

Acknowledging that history, the Post calls for the old zoo to become “a botanical garden or a park for public use.”

That’s a rare call in a neo-feudal military dictatorship.





Fighting for political space

20 07 2017

According to a report at Prachatai, a court in Bangkok “has commenced a trial against initiated by democracy activists against the junta leader, the [Royal Thai] Army and the Royal Thai Police (RTP).”

These activists have accused these thugs “of violating their rights during a crackdown on a gathering to commemorate the 2014 coup d’état.” We consider “commemorate” a misnomer as it was actually an attempt to mourn the illegal acts of the military junta.

Most of the activists were members of the New Democracy Movement when junta thugs prevented the event.

They accuse the “authorities of malfeasance and abuse of human rights in arresting and abusing NDM activists and other demonstrators who on 22 May 2015 participated in a peaceful gathering…”.

It may be a case doomed to failure, but the demand for “16.5 million baht in compensation from the three public agencies” is a fabulous way of drawing attention to the thuggish acts of the military dictatorship.

Back in 2015, all the activists did was “stand… for 15 minutes in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.” Afterwards, they were “arrested and in many cases physically assaulted by security officers both in uniform and in plainclothes.”

We can’t wait for the court to call The Dictator and other senior thugs to testify.





Arresting one as a threat to many

25 06 2017

This military dictatorship has established a pattern of threat to repress.

In its early days, the military regime arrested hundreds and directly threatened thousands more, the latter mainly in the countryside. That level of mass repression is costly in political terms and a strategy emerged of arresting or high-profile threatening one activist as a way of threatening and repressing similar activists.

One high-profile example was Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa. He was charged with lese majeste and jailed for sharing a BBC Thai story that thousands of others had also shared. Yet the regime went after Jatuphat because he is an activist with links to other activists, several causes and relatively poor villagers.

The most recent arrest is of activist Rangsiman Rome, who was taken into police custody late on Sunday afternoon. Reporting of his arrest are at Khaosod and the Bangkok Post.

Police in Bangkok “detained the New Democracy Movement member on Tao Nao Road near the Oct 14 Memorial, where he was to attend a fund-raising event organised by the group to help political prisoners.”

Yet it seems that it was not this particular event that caused an “arrest warrant for him and 12 other activists for launching a campaign for voters in the area to throw out the draft charter in the referendum held on Aug 7, 2016” was suddenly activated.

Rangsiman expects to be taken before a military tribunal.

He has stated that he “believes the arrest was ordered because he was going to petition the military government to disclose information about the deal it struck with China allowing it to build a high-speed rail connection between Bangkok and Korat.”

Now all those who have been challenging the military junta’s use of Article 44 to push through the rail project know that they are under threat. As Rangsiman stated, “Now we have to postpone it [the petition], otherwise my friends will risk facing the same fate…”.

Or, they could go ahead and see if they do join Rangsiman in jail and ignore the junta’s strategy of repression by example.