Opposing junta repression and censorship

25 09 2014

The censorship and repression of the military dictatorship is suffocating for many.

Opposing it is difficult and often requires considerable courage.

At Khaosod and also at The Nation, it is reported that some brave academics have opposed the military junta’s ban on any discussion it considers to be about “politics.” Artists are joining protests.

The aged General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is the junta’s Minister of Defense, has been threatening academics who had the temerity to oppose the junta’s censorship.censorship-1

Those academics were condemning “the arrest of three student activists and four professors at Thammasat University for organising a panel on the ‘Demise of Foreign Dictators’ on 18 September.” Prawit responded, demanding that academics “toe the line.”

Khaosod reports that Prach Panchakunathorn, a Chulalongkorn University philosophy lecturer, has “lashed out” at Prawit and the junta’s smothering of academic freedom. Prach stated:

Academics never crossed any line. It’s the military who crossed the line by arresting lecturers and students inside the premises of the university…. We cannot accept that.

Referring to intimidation, Prach stated that “the military has no right to require academics seek permission before organising a public discussion.”

Another academic, Hara Shintaro, from the Prince of Songkhla University, called the junta’s actions “irrational.”

The NCPO  banned all forms of political activity and public protest after seizing power in late May. Violators have been sent to face trials in military court and five anti-coup protesters have been given suspended jail sentences.

Last week, the military also “forced academics at Chiang Mai University to cancel a discussion scheduled for Thursday, titled ‘Happiness and Reconciliation Under 2014 Interim Charter’.” Somchai Preechasilpakul, a law lecturer at Chiang Mai University, pointed out the obvious: “academic freedom is an important issue.”

Some activists have take to social media and others to public protest, wearing box metal cans (beeps) or woven baskets on their heads, said to “embody a Thai idiom for feeling shameful.”

They also pointed at royalist university administrators who joined anti-democrats and who now work for the junta and express shame about this. Somchai pointed out that they have no legitimacy.

Another academic has said, at The Nation, that he and his colleagues would “continue to try and organise a political talk” despite the junta’s restrictions. This came after the military cancelled a third talk, “on shame and the right to freedom of speech slated for yesterday [at Chiang Mai University, which] had to be abruptly called off after a local Army officer contacted the organisers.”

Meanwhile, at the Bangkok Post, it is reported that another social media campaign against censorship and lese majeste repression is involving some in the arts. Using “The Song of Commoners,” they are calling “for the release of two theatre artists Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong” accused of lese majeste and for the release of other political prisoners.

The two accused of lese majeste were involved in the play called Jaosao Mapa (The Wolf Bride), the first rime that a “theatre production has been accused violating lese majeste.”

Some artists feel that their space and creativity as been “trespassed on.” The reaction against The Wolf Bride saw ultra-royalists baying for charges to be laid. The attention of such monarchist fascists is unsettling for some artists. One stated: “Frankly, I don’t feel safe to communicate because I don’t know how my work will be interpreted…. This [lese majeste] law is dangerous to everyone…. If someone interprets your intention the wrong way, that’s the end of you.” Another said, “I’m afraid, but I’m also interested in the challenge of how to handle this topic in my work…”.





Updated: No bail on lese majeste

9 09 2014

Khaosod reports that two detainees who are accused under the draconian lese majeste law for their roles in  a theatrical performance in October 2013 “were denied bail for the second time in criminal court today.” This is now standard operating procedure in most lese majeste cases: presume them guilty before trial and lock them up.

Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong have been jailed since mid-August.

The court came up with a rather different excuse for keeping them locked up. Usually the media report that the judge says that he or she fears flight by the accused. This time the court reportedly stated that “it is necessary to detain Mr. Patiwat and Ms. Pornthip until the investigation into their alleged wrongdoing is complete…”. Normally that would be unconstitutional, but Thailand operates essentially under the military dictatorship’s rules, so constitutionalism is out the window.

The court is saidto have “instructed officials to ‘quickly wrap up their investigation.” That is not a good sign for the defendents for these cases hardly involve much real evidence.

Update: Read Achara Ashayagachat’s very useful account of one of these jailed activists.





HRW on the Thai dictatorship

23 08 2014

Human Rights Watch on the rise of The Dictator and his regime, reproduced in full:

Thailand: Junta Leader Named Prime Minister
Repression Continues Three Months After Military Coup
August 22, 2014

(New York) – The appointment of Thailand’s junta leader as prime minister by the military-picked legislature does not advance human rights or a return to democratic rule, Human Rights Watch said today.

On August 21, 2014, the 191-member National Legislative Assembly unanimously approved Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha as the new prime minister while permitting him to retain his chairmanship of the ruling military authority, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Three months after the May 22 military coup, the junta continues its crackdown on those exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms and has made no genuine progress towards restoring democratic rule. Under martial law, the junta’s sweeping powers can be carried out without any judicial or other oversight, and with full immunity from prosecution.

“As both prime minister and junta leader, Gen. Prayuth can wield broad power without accountability,” said Brad Adams [3], Asia director. “This marks a dark day for human rights and the future of democracy in Thailand.”

Under the interim constitution proclaimed on July 22, the military junta created a closed and undemocratic political system. The NCPO filled the National Legislative Assembly with military personnel and others known to be close to the junta. Since its formation, the assembly has appeared to operate as a rubber-stamp body for the NCPO rather than placing any checks on the junta’s broad executive powers. For instance, during Prayuth’s presentation of the national budget proposal on August 18, not a single assembly member made a critical comment.

Human Rights Watch learned that after the presentation Prayuth asked, “Anyone disagree with me?” The room remained silent.

Since the military coup on May 22, the NCPO has enforced widespread censorship, largely banned public gatherings and other political activity, carried out hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and disregarded allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

“Three months under military rule, the junta continues to show contempt for fundamental rights and freedoms,” Adams said. “Criticism is prosecuted, political activity is banned, free speech is censored and subjected to punishment, and several hundred people have been arbitrarily detained.”

Censorship and Restrictions on Free Expression

Restrictions on media and free expression and censorship that began after the coup have continued. Under martial law, the authorities can censor any information considered to be “distorted” or likely to cause “public misunderstanding.” Failure to comply with censorship orders could result in prosecution before a military court. As a result, print and other media operators have generally refrained from publishing news and commentary critical of the military.

The junta has not only targeted media outlets affiliated with the ousted Pheu Thai Party and its mass organization, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts,” but it has also banned criticism from pro-junta newspapers and other media.

On July 26, the junta issued an order threatening to prosecute the weekly magazine Phu Jad Karn Sud Sapda if it continued to publish “false information to discredit the NCPO” after the magazine published stories alleging military cronyism and corruption. The junta also instructed the National Press Council of Thailand to launch an ethics inquiry against the magazine. In protest, Phu Jad Karn Sud Sapda announced on August 2 that it would stop publication for one month. Through August 21, the magazine’s sister ASTV satellite broadcast is off the air since the NCPO shuttered the station on May 22.

The junta has repeatedly vowed to prosecute critics of the monarchy, in violation of the right to free expression. Since the coup, at least 14 new cases of lese majeste – insulting the monarchy – have been brought to the Bangkok Military Court and criminal courts around Thailand.

On August 14 and 15, the authorities arrested two activists involved in a play, “The Wolf Bridge,” performed in October 2013 that the junta considered to be “insulting to the monarchy.” Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong were denied bail and are being held in detention facilities in Bangkok.

On August 14, the Bangkok Criminal Court found Yuthasak Kangwanwongsakul, a taxi driver, guilty of lese majeste based on his conversation with a passenger, and sentenced him to 30 months in jail. On July 31, the Ubon Ratchathani Court sentenced a 27-year-old man to 15 years in prison for posting messages on Facebook deemed insulting to members of the monarchy.

On August 5, the Cultural Ministry announced that the simulation game Tropico 5 was banned because it contained content that appeared to be offensive to the monarchy. The Cultural Promotion Department chief said the game allowed players to name the country and its leader or king as they pleased, and therefore the content was deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy and might affect the country’s dignity.

Arbitrary Arrests and Detention

Since the coup on May 22, the military has detained more than 300 politicians, activists, journalists, and people accused of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-coup protests and activities.

The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits any opposition to the military authorities. On August 20, police and soldiers arrested at least 11 energy-reform advocates while they walked on the Asian Highway in Songkhla province’s Rattaphum district. The activists were told that their activity violated martial law provisions banning public gatherings of more than five people. Those arrested were taken to the Senanarong Army Camp in Hat Yai district, where they are being held indefinitely.

On August 10, the authorities ordered Amnesty International Thailand to stop its campaign activity in Bangkok calling for peace in the Gaza Strip, citing the public assembly restrictions and prohibition on political events.

On August 8, the NCPO attempted to stop an academic seminar on the interim constitution at Thammasat University in Bangkok. A letter, signed by Col. Noppadon Tawrit, commander of the Kings Guard’s 1st Field Artillery Regiment, to the university rector, stated that the event should be stopped in order “to prevent the resurgence of differences in political attitude.”

The NCPO has held people in incommunicado lockup in unofficial places of detention, such as military camps. Some have been held longer than the seven-day limit for administrative detention under martial law. For example, Yongyuth Boondee, a well-known Red Shirt supporter, was arrested by soldiers in Chiang Mai province on June 28. He was brought to a news conference on July 1, in which the authorities accused him of involvement in grenade attacks and shootings at opposition demonstrations. Since then, the authorities have refused to provide Yongyuth’s family with information on his whereabouts. On August 8, military officers told legal aid activists that Yongyuth had “consented” to voluntarily stay in military custody at an undisclosed location.

Kritsuda Khunasen, another Red Shirt activist, was arrested by soldiers on May 27 in Chonburi province and held incommunicado until June 24, when she was released without charge. In a video interview released on August 2, Kritsuda alleged that soldiers beat her during interrogation and suffocated her with a plastic bag over her head until she lost consciousness. The Thai authorities quickly blocked access to the interview on YouTube and to an English language article about her case. There has not been any official inquiry into Kritsuda’s allegations or other reports of mistreatment in military custody.

The NCPO’s response to Kritsuda’s allegations has been dismissive, raising broader concerns for the authorities’ treatment of all detainees.

On August 20, Worawut Thuagchaiphum, a student at Mahasarakham University, told the media that military personnel threatened him with enforced disappearance and death while in military custody in May because he had protested against the coup. He and his friends had made cloth banners with anti-coup messages and hung them from a clock tower and around Mahasarakham. After the media reported Worawut’s account, the army unit that allegedly interrogated him summoned him to report to its base.

Since the NCPO’s announcement on June 24 that all detainees held without charge had been released, no information has been provided about releases, and individuals continue to be arrested and detained. Those released from military detention have to sign an agreement that they will not make political comments, become involved in political activities, or travel overseas without the junta’s permission. Failure to comply could result in a new detention, or a sentence of two years in prison, or a fine of 40,000 baht (US$1,250).

“Since the May coup, the generals have tightened rather than relaxed their grip on power,” Adams said. “Instead of the promised path back to democracy through free and fair elections, Thailand’s military seems to be opting for a road to dictatorship.”





AHRC on lese majeste

16 08 2014

Reproduced in full from AHRC:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AHRC-STM-157-2014
August 15, 2014

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

THAILAND: Criminalization of freedom of expression of student activist and human rights defender by junta

The Asian Human Rights Commission is gravely concerned to have learned that Patiwat (last name withheld), a fifth-year student in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University and a human rights defender, is facing a criminal investigation in relation to a complaint under Article 112 of the Criminal Code in Thailand. The complaint against Patiwat is in relation to his role in a play, “The Wolf Bride,” (Jao Sao Ma Pa), performed by Prakai Fai Kan Lakorn, a progressive theatre troupe.  The play was performed in October 2013 at Thammasat University in Bangkok as part of the fortieth-anniversary commemorations of the 14 October 1973 student and people’s movement and uprising. Patiwat acknowledges having performed in the play but has fully denied that it violated Article 112. At this time, Patiwat was arrested after a warrant was issued and the police investigation is ongoing. The AHRC views the actions against Patiwat as an indication of the ongoing crisis of human rights and constriction of freedom of expression that have characterized Thailand since the 22 May coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The investigation of Patiwat is part of an expansion following the coup in the number of people facing charges with alleged violations of Article 112, which stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” According to information collected by the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), there are twelve new cases pending in various criminal courts around the country and in the Bangkok military court. The cases which are pending in the military court are those in which the alleged violations took place following NCPO Announcement No. 37/2557 [2014], made on 25 May, which placed crimes against the crown and state into the jurisdiction of the military court; the AHRC detailed the dangers of processing civilians in military courts in an open letter to UN special procedures mandate holders (AHRC-OLT-006-2014). The AHRC views this upsurge in charges under Article 112 as a politicized and ominous constriction of freedom of expression by the military junta. The particular way in which action has been taken against Patiwat only now, ten months after the performance of the play in question, suggests that the past is an open book of acts which can be criminalized in retrospect by the junta and their allies.

In addition, the AHRC is also concerned about the manner in which Patiwat was arrested. According to information released in a statement by the Thai Student Center for Democracy, the dean of the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, where he is a student, was informed on 13 August that Patiwat had been ordered to report to a provincial military base for “attitude adjustment.” Patiwat, the dean and other staff members of the Faculty of Fine Arts complied with this request.  But then when they met with the responsible soldier, rather than taking Patiwat to the military base, he was informed that he was being arrested in relation to alleged violations of Article 112 and was taken first to the local police station in Khon Kaen, and then the Chana Songkram police station in Bangkok where the complaint against him originated.

The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms possible and wishes to express grave concern about the rapid decline of human rights protections and denial of freedom of expression it has engendered. The AHRC calls for Patiwat’s immediate release and for the investigation against him and others facing prosecution under Article 112 to be dropped. Further, the AHRC calls on the NCPO to recognize that tolerance for different ideas and dissent are part of building a polity grounded in human rights and the rule of law. To defend human rights and think differently than the junta are not crimes.








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