Taxpayer funding for the monarchy II

24 09 2022

The enveloping mourning and funeral of the dead British queen was unable to completely obliterate anti-monarchism. Opponents of monarchy were able to be heard, even if the mainstream media became absurdly royalist for a couple of weeks.

Interestingly, questions have been raised regarding the cost of the monarchy in Britain. As we noted yesterday, analysis of the Thai monarchy’s cost to the taxpayer has (re)emerged. There was very limited discussion of the taxpayer contribution to the rich royals under the dead king.

Shutting down discussion of the monarchy’s cost was one of Bhumibol and his coterie’s remarkable political achievements, built on military dictatorship, repression, and the deaths of many opponents of the military-monarchy regime. Recently, thanks to a few dedicated researchers and youthful protesters, such questioning is at least politically possible, even if the royalists push back and the regime still arrests, charges, and arrests activists.





283 minors charged

17 09 2022

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights maintains a database on political charges. In a recent report compiled from the database is about juveniles/minors prosecuted since 2020.

It calculates “at least 283 youths from 211 cases have been prosecuted for political expression and protest.”

From August 2021 to the end of October 2021, in the Din Daeng area, “[a]t least 210 youth from 104 cases were charged…”.

There are 17 in 20 cases charged under Article 112 with lese majeste. The majority of these have been indicted.

TLHR provides a month-by-month account of this effort to shut down young rebellion.





Authoritarianism for royalists, monarchy, tycoons, and military

7 09 2022

PPT has been reading some of the commentaries regarding Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s suspension as premier. We thought we better post something on these as Prayuth’s case could be (almost) decided by the politicized Constitutional Court as early as tomorrow.

Prawit and Prayuth: Generals both

At East Asia Forum, academic Paul Chambers summarizes and lists the pedigree and connections that have led to his former boss, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, to become (interim) premier.

A few days before that, Shawn Crispin at Asia Times wrote another piece based on his usual anonymous sources, that assesses the balance of forces. He thinks the Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend Gen Prayuth was a pyrrhic victory and writes of:

… a behind-the-scenes, pre-election move away from Prayut by the conservative establishment, comprised of the royal palace, traditional elites and top “five family” big businesses, he has cosseted both as a coup-maker and elected leader.

One source familiar with the situation says a group of traditional and influential Thai “yellow” elites including an ex-premier and foreign minister, after rounds of dinner talks, recently delivered a message to Prayut asking him to put the nation before himself and refrain from contesting the next general election to make way for a more electable, civilian candidate to champion the conservative cause.

It is clear that the conservative elite are worried about upcoming elections. Pushing Prayuth aside is thought to give the Palang Pracharath Party an electoral boost. Crispin reckons that the Privy Council beckons if Gen Prayuth does as asked. That’s a kind of consolation prize for Gen Prayuth having done his repressive duty for palace and ruling class.

But, as Crispin makes clear, the ruling class and the political elite is riven with conflicts. Indeed, one commentary considers the contest between Gen Prawit and Gen Prayuth.

It may be that Prayuth comes back. Recent leaks suggest that one faction still wants him in place, “protecting” the monarchy as the keystone to the whole corrupt system.  If Gen Prayuth returns to the premiership, where does that leave the ruling party and its mentors in the ruling class?

On the broader picture, an article by Michael Montesano at Fulcrum looks beyond personalities to the system that the 2014 military coup constructed:

The function of Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system is to channel and coordinate the overlapping interests of a range of conservative stakeholders: royalists and the monarchy, the military, much of the technocratic elite, a handful of immensely powerful domestic conglomerates, and the urban upper-middle class. This channelling or coordinating function is the system’s crucial defining feature. No individual or cabal of individuals gives orders or controls the system. Rather, collectively or individually, stakeholders or their representatives act to defend a shared illiberal and depoliticising vision with little need for explicit or direct instructions.

He adds:

Understanding these realities makes clear that Prayut’s premiership of eight long years — so far — has not been possible because of his leadership skills, the loyalty that he might command, or his indispensability. Rather, the remarkable longevity of his stultifying service as prime minister is due to the fact that someone needs to hold that office and he has proved adequate. His premiership satisfied the collective interests that Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system serves. For all of his manifest inadequacies, keeping him in place has, at least up to now, been deemed less costly than replacing him.

Has that cost risen so much that Gen Prayuth can be “sacrificed” for the royalist authoritarian system he constructed?





Lese majeste repression

24 08 2022

Readers may find a recent report on “civic space” in Thailand, by the CIVICUS coalition, of interest. It begins:

Civic space in Thailand is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. Civil society has documented a range of violations in recent years by the government, including the use of criminal defamation, lese-majesté (royal defamation), and other restrictive laws against activists and journalists as well as harassment, physical attacks, and allegations of enforced disappearances of activists. There has also been a crackdown on peaceful protests, the arrests and criminalisation of protesters, and the use of excessive force by the police….

The authorities have continued to use Section 112 of the Criminal Code to charge, detain, and convict critics for royal defamation. Commonly known as the lese majeste law, the statute criminalises any criticism of the king or the royal family and carries a punishment of up to 15 years imprisonment.

Read it all for a refresher on how the royalist-military regime has engaged in widespread political repression.





The 13 year-old “threat” to national security

17 08 2022

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has a story about “Pink,” who is “one of the young activists who has been subjected to excessive surveillance and harassment by the authorities. Pink has been … followed. The authorities followed her everywhere including her house and school.”

Read all of it. Here’s a sample:

Clipped from TLHR

Pink found out that she is the only one that is being placed under excessive surveillance. “Strangely, many of my friends that went to greet the king, none of them had to be under surveillance like me. Nowadays, I have to share my locations to my friends wherever I go. I am paranoid to go somewhere alone.”

The consequence of her activism made her name appear on the list of persons of interest. The youngest person ever to be considered a threat to national security.

When children become threats to national security – the monarchy – then you know that the regime, its ruling class, and its royalist ideology are crumbling. The problem is that those who control the wealth and the arms will fight long and hard to protect their wealth and power.





Be careful what you wear and don’t sing

30 07 2022

A campaign targeting the monarch on his birthday is a big deal. And that’s just what a group of political activists started when they asked supporters to wear black on Thursday, Vajiralongkorn’s birthday.

According to The Nation, their “messages contain the hashtag #28กคแต่งดําทั้งแผ่นดิน, which means “wearing black throughout the land on July 28”. It was among the top hashtags trending in Thailand, with over 200,000 tweets.

It also reports that “[s]mall groups of black-clad demonstrators gathered at certain locations in Bangkok and Chiang Mai on Thursday.” One of the photos we saw on social media suggested that the crowd in Bangkok was actually quite large.

Royalists, including regime leaders, were stunned. Minor prince and mad monarchist MC Julajerm Yukol, “said that the campaign to wear black on the King’s birthday was like ‘stomping on the hearts of Thais throughout the Kingdom’.”

The police sprang into action, with a “meeting chaired by the Police Chief on 26 July called on police around the country to monitor a movement to wear black on 28 July…”. The top cops decided that wearing black was “improper.” Police “were ordered to be cautious and monitor public activities. In cases of legal violations, police were also told to take a suspect’s outfit colour into consideration.”

The linked article goes into some of the recent history of colored clothing.

Perhaps more threatening to the status quo than colored clothing is singing. The Economist has a paywalled story worth reprinting in full about singer “Pyra … driven out by Thailand’s conservatism:. Here’s the story:

A Thai pop star uses her music to critique her homeland

Known for her “dystopian pop”, Pyra has been driven out by Thailand’s conservatism

Jul 28th 2022 | BANGKOK

The video is captioned “UGLY TRUTH ABOUT THAILAND”. Peeralada Sukawat—better known by her stage name, Pyra—looks into the camera and rolls her eyes. “Bangkok babies in Mercedes,” she raps over looping drums and a synth beat. “Rich gets richer, poor gets poorer,/Inequality’s a bitch, this place is gettin’ shittier.” Unable to perform during lockdown, the musician took to TikTok to release short clips in which she criticised her country’s inequities and what she called the “dictatorship regime”:

Where tax is spent on submarines,
People dying in the street,
Health care is not a priority.

Pyra didn’t think anyone “would care about my sarcastic videos”. She was wrong: they were watched and shared by hundreds of thousands. In their comments on the clips, many viewers expressed similar feelings of disillusionment with Thailand or with other countries’ governments.

But abuse flooded in, too, not just on TikTok but on all Pyra’s accounts. She feared she had been designated a threat to national security by Thai officials, and that the online barbs were the work of government-paid trolls. In any case, the conservatism of Thai society had become too much for her. Wary of further retribution, she announced in March that she had moved to London. “U can’t be the best version of yourself living in an environment that you’re tryin’ to outgrow,” she wrote.

The singer has earned plaudits for her unique brand of “dystopian pop” and idiosyncratic fashion sense, as well as for her determination to expose Thailand’s ills. In January NME, a British music website, chose Pyra as its Best Solo Act from Asia. Forbes recently selected her as one of its emerging Asian entertainers under 30.

Ironically, her first hit was a nationalist song—a hymn to Thai mothers on which she was chosen to sing at the age of nine. That precocious success instilled a passion for music, and she taught herself music production as a teenager. While studying at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Pyra became interested in politics and the media and, she says, developed a sense of righteous anger. “When I realised that everything is tied to politics, it became about me living in an oppressed society. I started to develop a sense of how to stand up for myself and other people.”

Her music became an outlet for this discontent. Her first adult single, “Stay”, a brooding hip-hop song, was independently released in 2016. Two years later came “White Lotus”, a single blending lyrics about mental health and Taoist and Buddhist philosophy with hip-hop, pop, dance beats and traditional Thai instruments. After a tour of Asia and a gig at Burning Man festival in Nevada, Pyra had a recording stint with Warner Music Thailand.

In collaboration with Sean Hamilton, a Grammy-nominated producer, she released “Bangkok” in 2020. Though she has called the song a tribute to the “political activists who have fought bravely and sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom and democracy”, the lyrics are deliberately oblique. At that point, she was still “careful not to produce material that would eliminate me straight away”.

She had good reason to be cautious, as Thailand’s government has often sought to silence critics. For instance, Rap Against Dictatorship, a hip-hop collective, attracted the ire of the authorities with tracks such as “Prathet Ku Mee” (“What My Country Has Got”), which lambasted corruption and the stifling of free speech. In 2020 Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, one of the group’s members, was arrested and charged with sedition after appearing at a pro-democracy protest.

He was released; but a report compiled by a clutch of NGOs suggests his phone may have been infected by spyware. (This month Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, the minister of digital economy and society, seemed to admit that the government has used spyware to monitor some individuals, though he later backtracked.) A Thai court recently banned Rap Against Dictatorship’s latest song because it criticises the monarchy. More drastically still, Faiyen, a folk band, fled abroad in 2014 after speaking out against Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, an act that can itself incur a prison term. The musicians have since been granted asylum in France.

“We don’t have the laws to support creative freedom. Anybody can accuse us of criminal defamation,” says Pailin Wedel, a Thai-American journalist and film-maker. “When we can’t make stories about reality, it really limits us.” Natapanu Nopakun, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insists that the government is “very supportive of Thai arts and culture in any form and any kind of content”. At the same time, “there is a line, everything has a line.”

Pyra understood the risks, from both official and freelance sources, when releasing her denunciations on TikTok. “They come for you when you’re specific about things,” she notes. Yet coded language or allusiveness wouldn’t have resonated with youngsters on the social-media platform, she suggests. “To make a TikTok clip go viral, the approach is the opposite of making music [and] art. You need to be direct.”

Now safely ensconced in Britain, she says she can focus on bringing her creative ideas to fruition. “I can finally breathe. I have stopped feeling heavy political oppression.” Her adopted country is by no means a paradise: her latest videos on TikTok condemn its immigration policy and poke fun at its crisis of leadership. But a weight has lifted: “Here in the UK, everyone dresses as they like, everyone is free to express themselves, and no one questions me. I feel I belong here.”





Political repression unabated

24 07 2022

Cyber-snooping, lawfare, and locking up opponents without bail seem to be the regime’s main means of repressing opponents, including monarchy reform activists. But, as Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports, so is heavy-handed harassment.

TLHR refers to the regime’s “abuse of authority,” saying that the harassment “of citizens and activists at their homes, offices, and education institutions without any warrants regularly occur, thereby normalising the situation.”

TLHR calculates that, “since the beginning of 2022, citizens and activists have been harassed at home or summoned to talk – 83 between January and February (including 9 youths), 66 between March and April (including 8 youths), and 42 between May and June (including 4 youths).” In addition, “between January and June 2022, there are at least 191 individuals being followed/harassed. Among this number, there are 19 youths under the age of 18 (two of which are only 13 years old).”

They suggest that these data are under-estimates. The scale of regime harassment of political opponents is widespread.





Updated: Political prisoners denied bail (again and again)

23 07 2022

The courts are working hard maintaining the monarchy, its ruling class and its royalist-military status quo.

Prachatai reports that 31 political prisoners now detained without bail.

That milestone in political persecution was achieved through the denial of bail for the 7 Thalufah activists for a rally at Democrat Party headquarters on 30 July 2021 and another man named Boonma, detained pending an appeal on his conviction for computer crimes “after he was accused of running an anti-monarchy Facebook page…”.

Five of the 31 “are detained on royal defamation charges.”*

Reproduced from Prachatai, this is the list of the five:

  • Private Methin (pseudonym), 22, a soldier detained at the 11th Military Circle Prison since 19 March 2022 after he was accused of mentioning King Vajiralongkorn while arguing with another person who hit his motorcycle with their car. TLHR reported that Methin was held at the 11th Military Circle for 30 days while facing disciplinary action, before being arrested by officers from Bangbuatong Police Station and detained at the military prison.
  • Nutthanit, 20, an activist from the monarchy reform activist group Thaluwang. She has been detained pending trial on charges of royal defamation, sedition, and refusing to comply with an officer’s order filed against her for conducting a public poll on royal motorcades in February 202 She has been denied bail 7 times and has been on a hunger strike for 50 days to demand the right to bail.
  • Netiporn, 26, another activist from the monarchy reform activist group Thaluwang. She is detained on the same charges as Nutthanit, has been repeatedly denied bail, and is also on a hunger strike to demand the right to bail.
  • Sombat Thongyoi, a former Red Shirt protest guard sentenced to 6 years in prison on charges of royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act over 3 Facebook posts he made in 2020. Sombat has been detained pending appeal at the Bangkok Remand Prison since 28 April 2022.
  • Pornchai Yuanyee, a Thalufah activist, who was accused of burning a royal ceremonial arch in front of Ratchawinit School during a protest on 19 September 2019. He has been detrained pending trial at the Bangkok Remand Prison since 7 July 2022.

At present, three of these detainees are on a hunger strike, demanding the constitutional right to bail, and several detainees have engaged in self-harm, also protesting their continued detention.

*PPT gain points out to Prachatai that “royal defamation” is the wrong term, risking a “normalization” of Article 112. It is Article 112 and lese majeste. “Royal defamation” has no meaning as in defamation only the injured party can initiate a legal suit.

Update: This graphic is from TLHR:

 





Regime cyber-spying

22 07 2022

In commenting on the regime’s Pegasus hacking of his phone, Prajak Kongkirati, an academic at Thammasat University, told VOA News: “It’s very scary…. It’s like the 1984 novel,” referring Orwell’s dystopian novel about the surveillance state. He added: “But this is in real life, it’s really happening.”

The team that outed the spies is “continuing to search for more targets…”.

Yingcheep Atchanont, iLaw’s program manager, stated: “So far we have only some names in our heads that we think they should be checked, but I know there are more people who can be targets…. We believe that if the government possesses this weapon, the victims will be much more.”

In fact, Prachatai has already reported that Phicharn Chaowapatanawong “a Move Forward Party MP has claimed 5 more victims of state-sponsored spyware attacks using Pegasus. 3 are his party colleagues and 2 are core figures in the Progressive Movement, a splinter group from the dissolved Future Forward Party. Most attacks were timed to coincide with bold speeches in parliament.” They are:

  • Bencha Saengchantra, MFP MP, attacked three times,
  • Chaithawat Tulathon, MFP Secretary-General and MP, attacked once
  • Pakorn Areekul, former activist and former MFP MP candidate, attacked twice,
  • Pannika Wanich, Progressive Movement spokesperson, attacked twice,
  • Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, Progressive Movement Secretary-General, attacked eight times.

 





The legal blitzkrieg

21 07 2022

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has provided its June update for the blitzkrieg of charges and arrests that the regime uses to repress political and monarchy reform activists.

TLHR’s documentation of cases (which may not be complete), between 18 July 2020 and 30 June 2022, “at least 1,832 individuals in a total of 1,095 cases have been prosecuted due to their expression and participation in demonstrations. This includes 282 individuals under the age of 18.”

It totals “at least 3,641 prosecutions based on political activism, with many of the accused being prosecuted in multiple cases.”

The main prosecutions can be categorised as follows:

Modern Thailand has never before seen such a crop of Article 112 charges.

The report adds that of the 1,095 cases, just 197 have reached a verdict. The regime is tying people up in legal cases, keeping some locked up, and generally extending political repression in ways that might be considered lawfare.








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