Imprisoned

11 06 2017

Almost a week ago, Pavin Chachavalpongpun had an op-ed at The Japan Times. In it, he stated:

Inside the sprawling Dhaveevatthana Palace in Bangkok is a prison built to lock up those betraying the trust of the new Thai king, Vajiralongkorn. On March 27, 2012, during the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, the Ministry of Justice issued an order regarding the construction of a prison within Dhaveevatthana Palace on a 60-sq.-meter plot of land. Named Buddha Monthon Temporary Prison, it is under the authority of the Klong Prem Central Prison.

Dhaveevatthana Palace or Residence, in Bangkok’s west, was one of Vajiralongkorn’s residences, favored until he ditched and demeaned his former consort, then Princess Srirasmi.

Pavin had mentioned this prison previously. He makes several claims about the prison and how the royal residence is used.

What is more interesting is the response of Thailand’s ambassador in Japan, in a letter to The Japan Times. It is interesting because it says little other than “we object.” Here it is, as published:

Regarding the column by Pavin Chachavalpongpun in the June 3 edition, while Thailand respects freedom of opinion and expression, this right has to be exercised responsibly in order to protect the rights and reputation of others.

In the article, several unsubstantiated claims were made by Chachavalpongpun, who, to the best of my knowledge, has never been to the palace in question.

As Chachavalpongpun himself acknowledged, there is a lack of information about the palace and that rumors thus play an important part. The article is biased and reflects the author’s hidden personal agenda. It is intended to offend the institution of monarchy, which is one of the main pillars of Thai society and highly revered.

I therefore strongly object to the publication of this article.

BANSARN BUNNAG
THAI, AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN

Several of Pavin’s claims are unsubstantiated, but that is the nature of reporting on a monarchy that is made as opaque as possible and where any real commentary on it risks years in jail. What is substantiated is that the prison exists – it was announced in the Royal Gazette, as Pavin says – and that former Grand Chamberlain Jumpol Manmai was held there.

So Bansarn and the military junta he represents may object but they are unable to convincingly deny the refeudalization of “justice.” Officials like Bansarn are imprisoned too; they cannot escape having to defend a decrepit royalism.





King, fear and feudalism

26 05 2017

A couple of recent articles that seek to comprehend the admittedly odd politics of contemporary Thailand deserve wide attention. We summarize and quote below.

The first is by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at the Washington Post. Pavin looks at the oddness that has emerged in the early months of this reign, with the military junta frantic to control the king’s image. He says “Thailand finds itself in the grip of a strange political fever.” It is a potentially deadly disease.

He notes that “there’s nothing particularly new about Thai officials displaying zealousness in their efforts to protect the image of the king.” But, there’s something different: “there is a palpable sense that the current government is reacting with much greater sensitivity in the case of the current king — far more so than at any other time in recent memory.”

Pavin continues to the widespread view that the “mysterious incident six weeks ago, when a modest memorial plaque suddenly disappeared from the sidewalk of the Royal Plaza in Bangkok” was on the king’s orders.

He continues, noting that “the removal of the plaque and the intense official reaction to any online questioning of King Vajiralongkorn’s image show that he [Vajiralongkorn] is beginning to exert his influence over the state.”

That’s scary enough, but its scarier still when Pavin says that the king “is clearly very serious about reintroducing royal absolutism, and not at all interested in defending democracy or free speech.”

That raises a question. Will the king’s “increasingly hard-line policies … reinforce support for the monarchy or ultimately contribute to its weakening.” We are betting the latter. But it could be very messy.

The second article is at Asia Sentinel. It pulls no punches, beginning with this:

Thailand, once known as the Land of Smiles, is a country today seemingly trapped in a perpetual nightmare, headed by a half-mad king determined to return the country to the era before … the last absolute monarch of the country after the military ended [royal] absolute power in 1932.  Nobody appears willing to stop him.

It continues on the king’s time in waiting:

The prince, now 64, is said to be regarded with loathing by many within royal circles for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his apparent refusal to adhere to royal rules, according to official US cables leaked in 2011 by the Wikileaks organization, verbatim copies of which were carried in Asia Sentinel.  He has repeatedly scandalized the nation despite the military’s desperate attempts to use the world’s most restrictive lèse-majesté laws to keep a public lid on his behavior.

Since becoming king, he has largely lived up to his ominous promise….

And there is talk of the king’s bizarre and macabre behavior and how the junta must support it and even condone it:

“For decades, the Thai Army has used the excuse of upholding the monarchy to justify their actions and deeds that have included feathering their own nests, suppressing people’s rights, and conducting multiple coups to hold on to power and retard progress towards democracy,” a western source said. “So now Prime Minister Prayuth [Chan-ocha] is hardly in a position to meaningfully oppose Rama 10’s power grab that takes the situation back to the pre-1932 coup era, when palace officials had no protection and were subject to the king’s every whim, or in the case of this latest monarch, every cruelty.”

So far, the source said, “most of the new king’s abuses have been inflicted upon his own entourage, but the fear is what happens after Rama IX’s funeral in October, when the memory of his father is laid to rest and the last restraints on his power are released?  Will he start inflicting abuses against perceived opponents or dissenters in the wider populace? Will he launch a campaign against those who he views as having slighted him in the past, since it is well known that he has a list of such people?…”.

Who will be willing to stop him?





No laughing matter

13 05 2017

The military junta has laid its bets on King Vajiralongkorn for ensuring the future of the monarchy and the system of hierarchy, privilege and wealth it underpins.

Nothing about the king can be a laughing matter.

Yet the junta knows the king is erratic and demanding, as well as odd in his demands and personal foibles. He’s also showing he’s a political neanderthal, which might be expected of a monarch, but when combined with his other traits and limited intelligence, that makes him dangerous and unpredictable.And probably not very funny.

Some of that may have said about his father, but that king was young and subject to controls by the military, mother and old princes. Once the palace propaganda was put in place for that king, in the popular imagination, he became a polymath and a savvy politician.

By the time the military was firmly in the hands of leaders who got to the top simply by their capacity for royal ego polishing, the king and palace became a locus of political power.

That’s why the dictators have been so desperate to ban and erase all of the foibles associated with Vajiralongkorn. That’s not easy when he spends a lot of time overseas, behaving oddly. Seeking a kind of Chinese firewall without the investment, the military junta is trying to bully ISPs and international corporations into doing their censorship.

Yet that is making the situation worse. Ham-fisted censorship makes a nonentity king reigning in a relatively small and unimportant country become international news of the tabloid variety.

Among a range of other channels, VICE News recently got interested, stating:

Facebook has blocked users in Thailand from accessing a video that shows the country’s king strolling through a German shopping mall wearing a crop-top revealing his distinctive tattoos, accompanied by one of his mistresses.

Asking what was in the video banned by Facebook, VICE posted it. The report states the king was filmed while shopping at:

Riem Arcaden mall in Munich on June 10, 2016….  The video shows Vajiralongkorn walking through the shopping mall, with a woman who is believed to be one of his mistresses, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, aka Koi. The king’s bodyguards are also visible in the video.

The junta “banned” Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul for posting some of this kind of material and then rushed about arresting seven people in Thailand and accused them of sharing posts or liking them when they were considered by the junta as defaming of the king. Odd that, for the king is the one dressing up as some kind of anime character and prancing about public places with a concubine.

This has caused even wider publicity to royal shenanigans and the junta’s remarkable desperation to defend the king’s “honor” and “reputation.”

The junta holds few good cards, but is betting even more of its treasure on the “protection” of the king. They prefer to show him dressed in full military uniform, accompanied by a uniformed woman who is, at least for the moment, his official consort or the No. 1 wife.

Meanwhile, in the king’s preferred home, in Germany, the publicity provided by the junta’s actions, arrests and threats to Facebook have brought considerable attention to the royal immigrant ensconced in Tutzing (when he’s in Munich).

That leads to television reports that make the king appear weird, guaranteeing even more scrutiny and sharing; exactly what the dopes at the junta think they are preventing.

Even without German, a viewer gets the message. The junta doesn’t. For them, covering up for the king is no laughing matter. It is protecting their bread and butter, and they want lots of it on their plates.





With 3 updates: Lese majeste arrests in stolen democracy plaque case

3 05 2017

We recently posted on the abductions conducted by the military dictatorship’s official thugs.  That post mentioned that the military had detained, incommunicado, two political dissidents.

One was human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul who has been critical of the military dictatorship and the lese majeste law. The other was Danai (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), a political dissident from Chiang Mai, initially reported to be accused of Facebook messages critical of the military junta.

Those abductions have now morphed into lese majeste cases against these two and four others.

According to a report at Prachatai, the Criminal Court has permitted the detention of “six people accused of royal defamation for sharing a Facebook post from an academic who the junta has blacklisted.” That was said to be Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

When the “ban” on contact with Somsak, Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, many scoffed that enforcing the ban was likely illegal and difficult to enforce.

But legalities and formalities have never been a barrier to the lawless military dictatorship.

So it is that, on 3 May 2017, Bangkok’s Criminal Court “granted police custody over six people accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.” Those six were abducted “by police and military officers across different parts of the nation in late April.”

Apart from Prawet and Danai, the ” identities of the four other detainees remain unknown.”

Prachatai states that lawyer Arnon Nampa says “the six are accused of lèse majesté for sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque posted by Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an academic currently living in self-imposed exile in France.”

Arnon says that “Prawet is also accused of Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law.”

The twinning of sedition and lese majeste tell us that the military dictatorship is determined to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

The court allowed an initial “custody period of 12 days with the possibility of renewal by the court.”

The notion of “possibility” is banal; we all know that the royalist courts want quick convictions but are prepared to do whatever the junta wants and will keep people in jail as long as necessary to get “confessions.” When there is no “confession,” cases drag on as a form of torture.

No investigations, let alone arrests, have occurred for the theft and vandalism of the 1932 plaque. Rather, the junta has covered up and silenced questions. They are the best “confessions” we have seen in this case.

What’s next for feudal Thailand? Public executions and anti-royalist’s heads on stakes in front of the palace?

Update 1: PPT rewrote bits of the account above for initial poor expression and the omission of Somsak’s name in one place. No changes were made to the known facts and allegations in the case.

Update 2: An AFP story has more on this case. It says that Prawet faces “a maximum 150 years in prison after he was charged with a record ten counts of royal defamation…”.

On Wednesday afternoon Prawet “appeared in court charged with ten counts of royal defamation and a separate charge of sedition.”

Each account of lese majeste carries a maximum of 15 years in jail. That’s 150 years. The sedition charge can add another seven years in jail.

The report states that “[t]en royal defamation charges is the most anyone has ever faced in Thailand since the law become increasingly used.” (This means since the 2006 military coup, and especially since the 2014 military seizure of state power.)

The report also adds that “[i]t is not known what Prawet said or wrote. However media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the monarchy, including repeating any content deemed defamatory.”

Update 3: The Bangkok Post has reported these cases and adds further details. It states that Prawet faces 10 separate counts of lese majeste and three separate counts of sedition. That means he potentially gets 171 years in a royal jail.

The reports states that the normally outspoken “spokesman for the military government said he was unable to comment on the case.” That’s because it involves the king and not just in the usual way. Here the king seems to have been connected to the original crime (the un-investigated theft).

Prawet, who is “accused of posting 10 messages insulting the monarch and three messages with content believed to instigate social disorder,” continues to be detained “incommunicado at the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok, a facility the military uses as a temporary prison.”

Prawet has denied the allegations. So has Danai “but the details of [his] alleged wrongdoings were not outlined in the police submission…”. The secrecy is a part of the Thai (in)justice system and raises questions about the legality of his detention (not that the junta is ever worried about law and legality).

The report also reveals that three other suspects “admitted they shared messages of Thammasat University historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul on Facebook pages, which concern the controversial disappearance of the 1932 Siamese Revolution plaque from the Royal Plaza…. The other suspect denied the accusations.”





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.