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.





Trusted forms of repression

7 02 2018

It was only a day or so ago that various junta allies reckoned that the activism that has bubbled up over the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watches and the “delays” to the “election” timetable would fade away.

It hasn’t and the junta is trying to erase activism. It is engaging in its trusted forms of repression: even deeper censorship of media and websites it finds critical and arresting and charging people.

Voice TV has again been taken off the air. This is the fourth time the channel has been suspended by the junta’s minions. This time, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission cited a program in October 2017 as the reason for the 15-day ban. Any excuse will do.

In Phayao, police arrested 14 activists of the People Go Network and involved in the “We Walk” anti-government campaign. As has been the case in previous movements that have displaced military regimes, several of those arrested were farmers and students. The junta fears such alliances.

The farmers’ group reportedly told police they joined the march because they had been oppressed by local, powerful landlords who charged them with trespassing on private property, despite their claims that the land actually belongs to them.

All denied the charges against them.

In Bangkok, the Democracy Restoration Group called off a news conference “following a police warning not to hold the event or risk violating a junta ban on public gatherings.” The activists “had planned to hold a news conference at the Maneeya Center in Bangkok – home to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) – to call on the junta to keep its promise of an election this year…”. It seems that the FCCT was targeted by the police.

Also in Bangkok, police have charged all of the “39 demonstrators who protested on a skywalk near Pathumwan intersection on Jan 27 against a recently announced delay to the upcoming general election.” The charge is “illegal assembly.” The demonstrators also belong to the Democracy Restoration Group.

The junta thugs are seeking to silence dissent with constant harassment and a flurry of law cases that get very expensive when bail and fines are considered. Junta thugs also bring constant pressure on the families of activists.





Censoring opposition

28 11 2017

The military dictatorship allows little criticism of its operations. The Dictator is short-tempered when it comes to critics and has locked up several people who have made rather tame criticism.

We sometimes think he’d prefer that critics undergo harsh “military discipline.”

When it comes to the media, General Prayuth Chan-ocha can go off like a large firework. It wasn’t that long ago that he demanded that the Computer Crimes Act be even more rigorously enforced and especially against online media.

At about that time, the military regime again went after satellite station TV 24, which it considers oppositional. The puppet National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission said the station’s “Sharp News” and “Green Light Thinking” programs “had violated agreements made with the regime despite prior warnings.”

The NBTC put the station off the air for 30 days. The NBTC provided no information on how the programs offended the junta. However, it has previously ordered Spring News, Peace TV and Voice TV off the air for programs deemed “critical of the ruling junta.” Each outlet is considered by the junta to be pro-Thaksin Shinawatra, like TV 24.

Political repression is deepening.





Fear and repression

10 08 2017

Part of the fear that consumes the military junta is self-created by its fear of the Shinawatra clan. Seeking to punish Yingluck as a way of also damaging Thaksin’s popularity and wealth has come to be viewed as vindictive. Clearly, the fear that has developed over the pending verdict means the military dictatorship has doubled-down on repression.

The police bullying of van drivers for transporting Yingluck supporters is one petty example of this deep fear of responses to the outcome of the trial.

The concocted treason/sedition charges against two Puea Thai Party politicians and a critical journalist are another example. And, we can’t help feeling that the enforced disappearance of Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee is related to the junta’s efforts to shut down criticism and opposition before the Yingluck verdict.

Likewise, it is no repressive coincidence that the junta puppets at the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has banned the red shirt Peace TV for a month.

The military regime has now declared that it “will not lift its restrictions on political activities any time soon owing to the unstable state of Thai politics and the number of pending lawsuits against politicians…”.

Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan “explained” that only he and The Dictator can decide on when Thais can participate in political activities (unless they are a junta political ally). He paternalistic statement was: “Wait until I feel happy [with the situation] and I will see to it the restrictions are lifted…”. He cited a “number of important legal cases that are passing through the justice system which could have a destabilising impact on society and politics.”

He went on to warn that “security” would be tightened for Yingluck’s next court appearance.

It is as if the junta knows the court’s decision and is seeking to prevent any response by Yingluck supporters.





Mad at Facebook or just mad?

9 06 2017

Colonel Natee Sukonrat is the vice chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. We are not sure he’s all that bright, but that’s not uncommon when a military junta appoints based on loyalty rather than any skill, ability or capacity.

In a report at Bloomberg, it is reported that the dunces in the junta and at the Commission have decided that they will be able to “impose financial penalties on Facebook Inc. and other companies with video-sharing platforms if they fail to swiftly remove what they deem to be illegal content, including insults to the royal family.”

In fact, it mainly about the paranoia involving lese majeste in Vajiralongkorn’s Thailand.

The junta’s view is that it wants Facebook and others to remove lese majeste material “without waiting for a court order…”. Colonel Natee said “[d]etails will be released as early as this month, he said, and companies would have about a month to comply.”

Colonel Natee sniggered that he was going to do this by “touch[ing] the way you make money…”. Natee gloated: “I think they will cooperate because they make a lot of money from Thailand.”

Colonel Natee complained that “Facebook asked for the orders to be translated into English before they could comply with them — a process that can take weeks.” Really? Perhaps under the junta where they use dopes in the military as translators.

Colonel Natee declared that the “new framework would force broadcasters to comply with requests immediately and then petition the courts if they think the order was illegal…”. This twist on legal process – again, not unusual under a regime that is itself based on an illegal act – “would also compel them to have a senior manager in the country who is able to understand Thai…”.

It seems that the incapacity of the junta’s flunkies to translate or even find decent translators results in a twisted linguistic nationalism: “We will not talk in English to them…. They have to have someone to talk to us. When we give the order we will talk in Thai.”





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.





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.