Updated: More lese majeste censorship

26 04 2017

The military junta is again exercised by lese majeste, suggesting they may be getting a boot in the backside from the new and the easily annoyed king.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, a regulator, and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society which is actually a censorship ministry, have, according to the Bangkok Post, “reiterated their demand that all internet service providers (ISPs) and international internet gateway providers block webpages and content that contain or promote illegal acts or breach Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law.”

“Illegal acts” usually mean things like sedition, gambling and pornography, but previous bouts of blocking and censoring have mostly been about lese majeste.

The junta has demanded that these agencies do more to protect the tawdry reputation of the king. It wants ISP cooperation “to remove illicit video streaming on Facebook and YouTube from their local network server, called a content delivery network (CDN).”

Takorn Tantasith, the NBTC secretary-general, opined that there’s been “good cooperation between the regulator and the ministry” but that “the government [he means military junta] hopes for more, and expects better result by next month…”.

Takorn is dutifully and enthusiastically calling for “serious cooperation” from ISPs and international internet gateway (IIGs) providers to “block webpages … after receiving a court order or when their own monitoring staff finds such [offending] material.” He demands that they “immediately inform the NBTC or DE if they cannot block a webpage due to it being encrypted overseas.” When that happens, these agencies again say they will “ask cooperation from embassies and the Foreign Ministry…”.

A more difficult area is when content they don’t like derives from “online video or video streaming stored with ISP servers in country on their CDN or cache server.”

It also seems that the Ministry and the NBTC are “reiterating their warning to people not to ‘follow’ or correspond with three well-known opponents of the regime, who are now living overseas.” This means exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, exiled political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

This military dictatorship has tied itself to the monarchy, meaning that, at least for the time being, it will reflect the views from the king, and he has shown that he is intolerant and violent.

Update: Prachatai has background on the NBTC’s new role on censoring streaming and online video. It also has information on a probably related piece of legislation that gives police the right to intercept communications. Welcome to the new reign (of terror).





Critic in fear for his life

23 04 2017

Asia Sentinel carries a report headlined “Thai Critic Faces Death Threat.” We guess that the story is blocked for many readers in Thailand, so while not reproducing the report in full, PPT posts the main points from it.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun has become one of the most implacable critics of the country’s ruling king, … Vajiralongkorn, and the junta that took over the country in a coup in 2014. Now that may have put his life in danger from the country’s erratic and violence-prone king.

The report reports the story that Pavin and two others have been “banned” by the junta, with anyone contacting them being threatened with jail.

… The junta has unsuccessfully attempted to persuade several governments to return Pavin to Thailand. He has lived in exile since the coup, mostly as an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan although he has traveled and lectured widely in the United States and Europe, often with royalist Thais attempting to shout him down. The government has also sought to persuade foreign governments to bar him from speaking.

… In recent days, Pavin has escalated his attacks with a series of articles published in Asia Sentinel, New Mandala, and Washington Post, charging that the new king is reigning “as a monarch whose authority is based on fear and cares little about those around him. In vivid and depressing language, Vajiralongkorn’s command structure, Pavin said, resembles those of Thai mafias, or chaophos.

After the article ran, Pavin learned from a number of credible sources that the new king would seek to “manage” him, which in Thai vernacular usually means he would seek to kill his critic.

“So the warning is credible given the credibility of the source,” Pavin told Asia Sentinel. “Someone may come after me in Japan, although my friend believes it will be difficult because of where I live. But they could attack me when I travel overseas, that would be more likely.

Asia Sentinel reminds readers that “several people who worked for or with the new king have met their deaths under mysterious circumstances.” It mentions deaths and disappearances, naming: Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha and Major General Pisitsak Saniwong na Ayutthaya, Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri and Police General Akrawut Limrat.

… Deep concerns about the new king’s behavior have circulated for years, and although the country’s severe lese majeste laws have kept them out of the local press, they have circulated widely….

Since he replaced his … father, the lese-majeste laws and the military’s campaign to build Vajiralongkorn’s royal presence into near-mystical status have become a kind of trap for the junta. His erratic and violent behavior are now unchecked….

It is believed that the king engineered the disappearance of [a] memorial plaque of 1932 revolution, since he hated the revolutionaries who abolished absolute monarchy 85 years ago. And now he wishes to revive royal absolutism….

Thailand has arrived at a critical juncture in which the head of state is ruling its subjects with fear. His yearning for absolute power seems to have been met with the military’s own wish, a country where politics is a game of the political elites. To consolidate their rule, events have shown both the monarchy and the military have resorted to brutal tactics to eliminate its critics….

 





Fear and unintended consequences I

18 04 2017

Yet another strange media event highlights the politics of the new reign.

Yesterday it was reported that the dead king’s funeral would take place on 26 October. Later in the day, Khaosod has published this, with the black nothingness being in the original:

Note to Readers: Removal of An Article About a Palace Announcement
Khaosod English
April 18, 2017 6:41 pm

From the Editors of Khaosod English.

Khaosod English has deleted an April 18 article about a certain statement made by the royal palace.

The story was removed because the announcement was not yet released formally by the palace, and Khaosod’s editorial management feared that the content in the article might lead to legal action.

As a news agency based in Thailand, Khaosod English is obliged to comply with Thai law. However, we strive to serve the public interest by presenting objective, accurate news reports.

That the newspaper is unable to present “objective, accurate news reports” due to the monarchy is nothing new. However, the fear that is seen in bizarre news reporting like this, under the new reign, is now part of a commentary.

We have briefly mentioned a New Mandala op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun on fear in the new reign. Earlier we mentioned an op-ed by Claudio Sopranzetti also writing of fear.

While we agree that fear now seems central to the new reign under the erratic and violent King Vajiralongkorn, we do not agree with their contrasting references to the previous reign as one that was one of love and reverence. Idealizing the previous reign is a political mistake based on an incomplete reading of history.

In fact, the previous reign was also one that was defined by patronage and a feeling of impending danger, leading to bizarre politics. Yet for the earlier period of the reign there was also a political struggle as the palace sought to revive monarchy and royalism, along with its wealth and power.

It is in this sense, that the last 10 years marked the political success of that strategy, even if the king was not particularly involved, being hospitalized for the last decade or so of his reign.

Yet his proxies demonstrated a bizarre pattern of rightist and royalist politics that were a direct result of the monarchy’s manufactured position, power and influence. They fought the ghosts of the past and what they perceived as the threat to their position and power that had come from monarchism. That threat was seen in popular sovereignty.

It is in this sense that the current reign is the true and real outcome of that struggle and its politics.

Royalists have always known that Vajiralongkorn is a thug and unstable yet they now seem  somewhat confused that they have aided and abetted a new reign that sees monarchism moving towards an absolutism that they may not have contemplated.

Confusion will lead to bizarre politics and bizarre acts as those who consider themselves part of the royalist ruling class maneuver for influence.

Yet this is also a dangerous time for both the ruling class and for the monarchy as missteps in this small circle of the rich and powerful can have unintended consequences that threaten both.





Updated: Who took the plaque?

18 04 2017

Being on holidays and out of Bangkok for a few days, the social media frenzy surrounding the political vandalism of the People’s Party plaque has been a bit difficult to follow.

This post is quite a bit out of the ordinary for PPT as we are getting into very heavy speculation with little to go on other than joining some dots together. We are posting now because we think this is a very dangerous reactionary trend in Thailand, one that goes far beyond that of the military junta.

We think we know why it is difficult to follow, but more on that below.

The vandalism was not a minor bit of pilfering. This had to be a fair sized and well-planned operation.  After all, the historic plaque had to dug up and stolen on a day with light traffic and replaced with another plaque commemorating nothing significant, but displaying ridiculous monarchist graffiti.

That piece of royalist metal pap was set in cement, or so the pictures suggest, and that takes time to set, so this was not a snatch and grab raid.

This is all suggesting an operation that could only have been done by the authorities or with their connivance. (We will pretty much ignore the predictable ultra-royalist cheering that another step to re-establishing feudalism has been taken.)

The junta and its minions, including the police, are Sgt Shultzing this. They know nothing.

But, oops, someone complained. This brings one of those police responses which is the response you get when you just know that something is being hidden or that the cops have their private parts in an important vice.

Then some unexpected persons decide to protest, and the cops quickly get agitated and see off these more-or-less unknowns operating for reasons that are not entirely clear. It’s a small group and hardly threatening, but the cops feel differently. This is suggesting the motive behind the removal is somewhere reasonably high up.

This is followed by serial prodder of regimes, Srisuwan Janya of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, showing up at the junta’s “public service centre” to “submit a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asking him to look for the 1932 Siamese Revolution memorial plaque…”.

So far The Dictator has been silent, suggesting that the normally talkative general is feeling unable to comment. It is as if he feels constrained, dumbfounded or fearful.

Odder than that, when Srisuwan shows up, soldiers are waiting and he is “whisked away in a military van … for talks at the 1st Cavalry Regiment…”.

That suggests there’s something to hide and that the regime is jittery as hell.

And then there’s the linking of the plaque and the earlier “order” about three overseas bloggers, seeking to criminalize and prevent contact with them.

We think there’s a story here of orders coming from the king. Of course, we have no evidence, but the fingerprints are there. There’s a fear that the banned bloggers are able to soak up leaks from close to the palace and that they will publicize them.

They already publicized the odd behavior of one of the king’s favorite concubines just meters from the plaque a month or so ago.

There’s a perspective emanating from the palace that suggests a desire to roll back 1932 as an aberration. In fact, the view is that the 17th century was a time when kings ruled with few constraints on their often aberrant behavior. Don’t be surprised to hear of suggestions that pre-Bangkok laws might still be useful in contemporary times.

We kind of hope our speculation is wrong.

Update: We think that Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s latest post at New Mandala, on the fear that infects palace circles and which infects much else, should be read with this post. He makes some excellent points about the reign after just a few months.





Updated: Banning contact with the banned

13 04 2017

The Bangkok Post reports, with the order (reproduced below), the junta’s declaration that it is now “illegal to exchange information on the internet with three prominent government critics wanted on charges of lese majeste.”

The order from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society “requested all citizens not to follow, contact, share or engage in any other activity that would result in sharing information” with exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. All three live outside Thailand and concentrate some of their energies on revealing information about the regime and the monarchy.

The order states that “people who spread such information, directly or indirectly, could be violating the country’s Computer Crime Act, even unintentionally. This could result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years for each contact.”

In other words, this is backdoor lese majeste.

The Post states that the “reason for the letter is not known.” It also expresses its doubts about why these three are considered the most significant of critics.

Amnesty International criticized the warning for showing a “brazen determination to silence dissent.” In its statement, AI “Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Josef Benedict said authorities [he means junta] have plunged to fresh depths in restricting people’s freedoms of expression’.”

PPT reckons there is more to be learned about this order. We note that the jittery and angry junta is forever twitchy about monarchy news. However, we can’t help but notice that these critics are targeted at the beginning of a reign of a nasty monarch who is highly sensitive to even the slightest criticism. In this case we can’t but notice a whiff of palace intervention in this.

Update: Amid wide criticism of the “order,” the “ministry’s caretaker permanent secretary, Somsak Khaosuwan, who signed the announcement admitted yesterday that the document was aimed at sending a message to people, telling them about the ‘proper’ use of the Internet and making clear what sources of information should or should not be shared online.”

He babbled that the “order” was “intended also to advise Internet users to use discretion in reading or sharing information.” Yeah, right.

When asked “how the ministry would deal with a possibly large number of people following or making contact with people named persona non grata, the official said it was the responsibility of the … Police.”





Thailand and much more

3 04 2017

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, editor of the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia (KRSEA), published with the financial support of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), Kyoto University, has brought three years of articles together in a new book.

For those who want a copy of the book, download it here, for free. It is over 100MB.

It includes articles on Thailand and much, much more.His advertising states:

We have compiled all the English articles from Issue 13 (March 2013), to Issue 20 (September 2016). This period marked a turning point for KRSEA with the re-launch of the website in March 2013 and the new online archive of earlier issues. That was when I was assigned as the chief editor of the KRSEA.

Looking back to the original KRSEA, it was launched in March 2002 by CSEAS to promote exchange among the intellectual communities of Southeast Asia. The primary goal was to bring news of important publications, debates, and ideas into region-wide circulation through lively and accessible writing. It also wanted to encourage more sustained engagement between university-based intellectuals and those working in NGOs, journalism, and cultural production. Those ambitions are still at the root of today’s publication.

The KRSEA Committee recognizes that mutual inaccessibility of national languages is an arduous barrier in deepening the knowledge of neighbouring countries. To address this, we use translation to facilitate informed discussion. All thematic articles are translated into the national languages of selected Southeast Asian states, for now Thai and Bahasa Indonesia, as well as two languages, English and Japanese. It is the only journal, which carries articles in four languages. We plan to add more languages to the translations, possibly Vietnamese and Burmese in the near future. However, in the volume, we only include the English version of all articles.

…Moreover, there is a new column, Young Academic’s Voice, launched in September 2013, to promote works among young intellectuals who conduct research on Southeast Asia. We provide a platform for them to disseminate their work through our extensive networks across the globe. With KRSEA being an online journal, we pay special attention to bring visibility to this writing. The fast development of the cyber community allows KRSEA to connect with readers in many ways. The impressive statistics of those visiting our website each quarter is a testament of how the Internet is vital to the future of knowledge dissemination.

 





No hope for electoral democracy

23 03 2017

The Deutsche Welle headline actually says “Little hope.” We think “no hope” is far more accurate for Thailand under the military dictatorship:

Despite the promised return to democracy, the military government in Thailand has shown little inclination to hold elections anytime soon. Fears abound about the country sliding increasingly into authoritarianism.

We think Thailand is already in a deep authoritarian freeze.

DW is right to observe that:

A free and frank discussion about the prevailing political situation in Thailand can, under current circumstances, only take place outside the country. Since the 2014 military coup, the freedom of expression and of the press has shrunk drastically in the Southeast Asian nation. Critics are either coerced by the military to acquiesce in government’s actions or, in worst cases, vanished without trace.

It also notes that “foreign academics and scholars have refrained from traveling to Thailand.” We know that is true. We also know of at least one scholar turned away – deported – from the airport on arrival.

The report mentions “Wolfram Schaffar, who works for the Institute for International Development at the University of Vienna, hasn’t visited Thailand since the 2014 coup. The expert had previously been a regular visitor to the country for work and research purposes.”

DW then suggests that there’s a conflict between the traditional elites and “sections of the emerging middle class that demand more say in the political process. These segments are supported by peasants, particularly in the north of the country.”

We are stumped by the notion that middle classes in Thailand want democracy. In fact, they are the main ballast of authoritarianism. We can only guess that DW has swallowed the nonsensical line that red shirts are some kind “middle class.” Such falsities do nothing to advance clear analysis of the nature of Thailand’s deep authoritarianism.

Its on solid ground quoting Pavin Chachavalpongpun who observes that:

The traditional elites were driven by fear… adding that they were scared of facing an uncertain future. They were particularly afraid of the then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is now king.

That fear resides in the middles classes who fear the loss of a “protection” they have from the “rough classes” in the current military-monarchy system. There’s also a great fear among the elite itself. They fear an erratic, greedy and violent palace. Managing both sets of fears requires a military regime prepared to establish succession and the new reign. Because Vajiralongkorn is unpredictable and unreliable character, that “management” may need to be in place for many years to come.