Updated: “Fake” news, state news

13 06 2021

Anyone who struggles through the blarney posted by the regime’s PR outfits must wonder about the meaning of “fake news.”

But when the regime’s bosses talk “fake news” one can expect they are talking about others and their news. Mostly, they are worried about news on the monarchy and criticism of themselves.

All kinds of political regimes have taken up “fake news” as a way of limiting criticism, but it is authoritarian, military and military-backed regimes that have been most enthusiastic in using it to roll back and limit criticism. In Thailand, repression has been deepened through all kinds of efforts to limit free expression and to silence opponents.

With laws on computer crimes, defamation, treason, sedition, and lese majeste, a reasonable person might wonder why the regime needs more “legal” means for repression. But, then, authoritarian regimes tend to enjoy finding ways to silence critics.

It is thus no real surprise to read in the Bangkok Post that Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has ordered “the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES) and security agencies to take tough action against those who spread fake news.” He included the “Anti-Fake News Centre, the Royal Thai Police, the Justice Ministry and the DES” telling them to “work together to respond swiftly to the spread of fake news on social media platforms, and take legal action accordingly.”

I Can't Speak

His minions “explained” he was worried about virus news, but when Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “instructed the Council of State, the government’s legal advisory body, to study the laws and regulations, including those in foreign countries, dealing with the spread of fake news” the focus was much broader and was clearly about anti-monarchy news. After all, officials added that the Computer Crime Act was insufficient for curbing “the damage speedily enough.”

The Thai Enquirer sensed an even broader regime agenda. They saw the use of the Council of State as a path to a “law that would control the online media in Thailand.”

They recognize that the aim is to strengthen “national security,” code for the monarchy. But, they also note a desire to limit “the criticism that the government has received over its Covid-19 response program from online platforms” including by Thai Enquirer. Of course, that criticism has also involved the monarchy.

They rightly fear that the online media “would be targeted under the new law.” They say:

This law, as commentators have noted, is an affront and a threat to free and fair press inside this country. It would make our job thousands of times harder and open us up to lawsuit and the threat of legal harassment by the government.

As we have been saying at PPT, Thai Enquirer believes:

we are being taken back to the dark days of military rule because the government believes criticism aimed at them is a threat to the entire nation. That they are unable to differentiate between a political party, its rule, and the fabric of the nation is arrogant and worrying.

But here we are, even as Deputy Prime Minister and legal predator Wissanu Krea-Ngam thinks of an excuse to shut us down, we promise to you that we will keep reporting to the end.

They call for opposition to tyranny, adding that “this new onslaught against press freedom” will be opposed through their reporting.

In a Bangkok Post op-ed by Wasant Techawongtham acknowledges that fake news can be a problem but notes that a new law “Bootis aimed at silencing critics of the ruling regime.” He adds:

Since democracy was banished from Thailand following the 2014 military coup d’etat, a number of laws have been enacted purportedly to protect the Thai people against the harmful effects of computer crimes. But it is crystal clear that the real purpose of these laws is to suppress the voice of the people.

Authoritarians tend to go to great lengths to ensure their stay in power through silencing dissent.

Under this regime, Wasant observes that regime opponents have been “harassed, or even put in jail” and several have been dissappeared and others killed.

He recognizes that a range of repressive laws have:

done quite a remarkable job of suppressing free speech. Those who insisted on speaking their minds against the current rulers have been severely dealt with. Those who were put in jail were allowed back to their families only after they agreed to seal their lips.

Not only regime and monarchy critics are silenced, but the “media — broadcast, digital and print — have felt compelled to screen their offerings very carefully, which in many cases leads to self-censorship.”

But none of this is enough! The regime wants more! There can be no freedom. There can only be the regime’s “truth.”

Update: Thinking about fake news from the regime, the royal propaganda machine is pumping out some real tripe. The latest has the king and his number 1 consort cooking meals allegedly for “medical professionals,” although in the story at The Nation, Sineenat isn’t even mentioned.

Royal cooks

Clipped from The Nation

As they often are, the couple appear in identical kit with minions groveling around them. We are told that “King … Vajiralongkorn on Saturday cooked a variety of food at the kitchen of Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall in Dusit Palace…”. He’s the cleanest cook in history, with not a stain to be seen, suggesting that its fake news or, in other words, a photo op meant to deceive the public. And, their gear changes in several of the pictures.

To add to the “news,” the “Royal Office” is quoted as saying:

These foods have nutrition values of five food groups with fingerroot as a key ingredient…. Fingerroot or Krachai is a Thai traditional herb that has various medicinal benefits and could help strengthen the body’s immune system and help prevent Covid-19. Furthermore, eating freshly cooked meals is one of the recommended ways to stay safe from the virus.

We have to say that we at PPT must have wasted our time getting vaccinated because, as the royals have, hot food protects us, and we eat “freshly cooked meals” at least twice a day! Krachai may well be the king’s favorite ingredient as it is said to help with male sexual performance. But how to explain the erect chef’s hat is beyond us.

That aside, this palace propaganda must rank as “fake news.”





Promoting The Dictator

6 06 2021

Trump supporters used to chant “Four more years!” In Thailand, the state’s PR arms are chanting “Seven more years!” or something similar for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been hopeless on the economy, has botched recent virus policy, and has pandered to palace and royalists, while promoting criminals like Thammanat Prompao. He’s been adept at shuffling loot to the military and the big conglomerates, and he’s been especially good at political repression.

The Prime Minister Operations Centre (PMOC) “has launched a campaign, derided by critics, to end attacks on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for holding on to power for so long.”

For us, one day was already too long.

According to reports, the state is wasting money on infographics “featuring Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and projects developed during his seven-year tenure are posted on the Facebook page of the … PMOC … in its campaign to counter criticism spreading on social media of his lengthy stay in power.”

The PMOC has come up with slogans that don’t roll off the tongue: “Uncle Tu, 7 years. So, what’s wrong?” Lots!

The PMOC has the difficult task of making a silk purse from a water buffalo ear, “highlighting the government’s achievements.” Of course, its main “achievement” has been staying in power for seven years, and the regime hopes for another 13 years.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s op ed this week lists just some of the regime’s “successes”:

  • a subpar economic performance
  • persistent controversies from his cabinet’s incomplete oath of office
  • a cabinet minister’s past drug conviction and imprisonment in Australia
  • Prayuth’s house on army premises after retirement
  • leading the military coup in May 2014
  • jacked up public debt to nearly the legal ceiling of 60% of GDP
  • hopeless coalition government
  • neutering’s and cooption of supposedly independent agencies and judiciary

Thitinan points out that “the main implication from Thailand being stuck with Gen Prayut indefinitely is that the country’s near-term political future is likely to be tumultuous and turbulent due to pent-up and mounting grievances that are being systematically suppressed.”

As he says, there’s “no available means to change government at this time.” This means more of the same and maybe Gen Prayuth for another six years. If that happens, this dolt will have become Thailand’s longest-ever premier.

The opposition, primarily Pheu Thai, Move Forward, and Seri Ruam Thai parties, perform accountability and checks-and-balance functions as much as they can but they can only go so far due to a lack of parliamentary numbers. Unless a coalition partner pulls out, the Prayut government can stay on until the four-year clock runs out.

Thing were different in the past. In contemporary Thai politics, coalition withdrawals in the 1980s and more recently in 1995 and 1996 led to new polls, returning the mandate to the people. In 1997, the sitting premier resigned, enabling the then-opposition to form a government. Government coalition dynamics have changed in the past two decades.

The coups of 2006 and 2014, the new constitutions and the shift of power towards the military have made the playing field less even and more lopsided. It meant that when the military took over in 2014 and took matters into its own hands, the generals would be in charge for good. Elected politicians had to fall in line. If they wanted to partake in the spoils of government in a country with a weak society and even weaker checks and accountability mechanisms, then there is no other way than to stay and stick with the ruling coalition.

Backed by the incumbent centres of power with enough elected politicians in the government’s stable, while oppositional ranks that recently included the youth-led student movement lack momentum, Gen Prayut is likely able to muddle day by day to the last syllable of his four-year term. At issue will be when the time comes for potential change in early 2023. The piled-up public unhappiness will be immense in view of a slow economic recovery and accumulated government incompetence and mismanagement. Although cathartic change can happen in the interim, the time around the next election is likely to see Thailand either perk up or sink inexorably downwards.





Banning noise, banning protests

18 05 2021

PPT has frequently commented on news made weird by the monarchism that infects post-coup government. Most recently, our comment was about health rumors and the regime’s bizarre response.

But here’s another one deserving of attention and interpretation, made available by reporting from Prachatai.

The report is about a Royal Gazette announcement declaring a new regulation signed-off by Bangkok Metropolitan Police Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Phukphong Phongpetra, who also heads the Traffic Police Division. The regulation is to limit “speed and noise around royal premises referred to as ‘901 Land’.”

As far as we are aware this terminology for land has not been previously seen. Prachatai states that:

901 is one of a set of code numbers used within the police and military to refer to members of the monarchy. 901 refers to the late King Rama IX, 902 refers to then Queen, now Queen Mother Sirikit, 903 refers to their eldest daughter Princess Ubolratana and 904 refers to then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, now King Rama X.

The land referred to is “an area that used to be the Nang Loeng Racecourse of the Royal Turf Club, whose lease was cancelled in 2018 by the Crown Property Bureau.”

As Prachatai’s accompanying picture shows, the area is now a huge, barren, construction zone. Imposing a reduced speed limit might make some sense around such a huge construction zone. But noise? There’s likely to be more noise from construction than from vehicles, and the royal property hardly needs noise abatement as there’s no one there, among the sand, dust and rubble. Just the workers and the guards.

Is this royalist nonsense? More likely, it an attempt to limit protests in the area, which has seen numerous demonstrations over several decades. It seems clear that King Vajiralongkorn is seeking to prevent the whole Rattanakosin area off limits to protests while making it all royal land.





Hunting political prisoners

7 05 2021

Rising disillusionment with the hopelessness of the mafia regime, its kowtowing to a nasty and erratic king, and the judiciary’s subservience to both regime and monarch saw the membership of a new Facebook group “Let’s Move Abroad” or “Migrate” explode. When we last looked it was approaching 900,000.

While no one expects 900,000 young Thais to pack their bags and head for more liberal environs, the regime correctly diagnosed another political challenge. And, as expected, its group idiocy kicked in.

Get outta here

Clipped from Juliology

The Digital Economy and Society (DES) Ministry announced that it “is closely monitoring a new Facebook group…”. All of the “Let’s Move Abroad” lot would rightly see this response as confirming that the current regime is hopeless.

While the Bangkok Post thinks the group “sprang up out of frustration over the government’s handling of the Covid-9 pandemic,” it is wrong. The group reflects a much, much broader disillusionment. As one academic put it:

There’s a huge disillusionment. It’s an economic, political and ideological response to what’s going on…. It’s a way of attacking the regime politically by suggesting that there are people who have lost faith.

This is confirmed by the political nature of the posting. And that is what has the DES flustered and fuming seems to be “political content and posts about highly sensitive issues which are alleged to be in violation of the lese majeste law have also been spotted.”

DES Minister Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn said the ministry’s working panel “has been instructed to take legal action against any illegal content when necessary.”

The regime continues to hunt for those it can incarcerate as political prisoners. That’s enough to send people looking for something better.





Bail protests

3 05 2021

Frustration, sadness, and anger are common responses to the repeated denial of bail for protest leaders, most of them charged with political “crimes.” The continued use of the lese majeste law to silence political protest and the repeated use – over many years – of a cadre of “lock-them-up” judges who take orders from higher authorities heightens those emotions.

On Sunday, all of these emotions were on display, heightened by the political prisoner Parit’s mother displaying her frustration and deep sadness:

Sureerat Chiwarak … shaved her head yesterday (30 April) to protest against the court’s decision to repeatedly deny bail for her son, whose health is reported to be rapidly declining after being on a hunger strike for the past 46 days.

She’s begging for her son to be bailed.

One result of the callous and savage actions of the military-monarchy regime was the frustration of:

Hundreds of Thai protesters hurled red paint, tomatoes and eggs at a Bangkok court Sunday, demanding the release of all political detainees, including an activist who was hospitalised after a hunger strike.

The protesters rallied outside “Bangkok’s Criminal Court to demand Penguin’s release — and that of other detained activists involved in the pro-democracy movement,” demanding justice and not the rubbish dished out by the regime:

They sloshed red paint all over the court’s entrance, where they had plastered posters of the judge who protesters believed had denied Penguin’s bail.

Protesters also hurled eggs and tomatoes into the compound as police stood guard with plastic riot shields.

Meanwhile, long-time anti-coup and labor rights activist Patchanee Khamnak, who joined the rally “began a hunger strike in front of the Bangkok’s Ratchadapisek Criminal Court at 4pm on Sunday, demanding release on bail of all anti-establishment Ratsadon leaders and followers indicted on lèse majesté charges and being held on remand.”

Protesters also rallied at the Victory Monument, where they railed against politicized judges.

The police responded with more of the same. They made arrests, “dispersed” protesters, lied about the actions of protesters and promised more arrests.





Another 112 political prisoner

29 04 2021

Yet another activist has been “detained pending trial” on a lese majeste charge.

Wanwalee Thammasattaya has been detained on an Article 112 charge stemming from a protest on 6 December 2020.

On 27 April 2021, the “public prosecutor filed a case against Wanwalee and activist Chukiat ‘Justin’ Saengwong in a royal defamation charge relating to speeches given during a protest at Wongwian Yai” on that day. Chukiat is already “detained pending trial on another Section 112 charge. He has been in prison since 23 March.”

In addition, a minor, “Thanakorn (last name withheld), 17, is also facing charges in the same case, but as he is a minor, his case is being processed by the Central Juvenile and Family Court.” He is due “to report to the prosecutor on 24 May 2021 to hear whether the prosecutor will file a case against him.”

The complaints against them that have led to charges were “filed by Chakrapong Klinkaew, leader of the royalist group People Protecting the Institution.”

It was the Thonburi Criminal Court that “ordered Wanwalee to be detained pending trial, and denied her request for bail with a security of 200,000 baht on the ground that the plaintiff objected to granting her bail and that she is likely to flee, since she is facing several counts on the same charge.”

Wanwalee has two other 112 charges “for a speech given at a protest in front of the Siam Commercial Bank headquarters on 25 November 2020 and [another] for posting a picture of a protest banner containing a message about the monarchy on her Facebook page on 21 November 2020.”

She is “detained at the Thonburi Women Correctional Institution, making her the 17th person to be detained pending trial in cases relating to political expression.” Ten of those face lese majeste charges.





Monarchism and secrecy

25 04 2021

Prachatai reports on cabinet approved draft amendments to the Official Information Act. As with changes proposed for the registration and operation of NGOs, the approved amendment promotes and supports political authoritarianism that is rooted in monarchism.

As the report notes:

The Official Information Act B.E. 2540 (1997) was intended as the cornerstone of the people’s right to access state information….

Under the current procedure, the authorities are required to make a wide range of information accessible to the public on request, including cabinet resolutions, the structure of state agencies, policies, regulations, budgets and concession contracts with private companies.

Of course, the authorities could still legally “withhold or not give information that would damage the monarchy (Section 14), or that would damage national security, international relations, law enforcement or the wellbeing of a private individual (Section 15).”

Those bits of information on the monarchy would be available after a massive 75 years and after 20 years for other withheld information.

The draft amendment, however, expands the kinds of information that can be withheld and adds “a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a 200,000 baht fine for any ‘individual’ who discloses such information.”

The draft now states that withheld information is that which could be “used to damage the monarchy and information about royal security, cannot be disclosed.

In addition, the amendment:

… prohibits the publication of information about state security regarding the military, defence, terrorist prevention, international affairs related to the state security, intelligence, individual security and “other information about state security as announced by the Cabinet following recommendations of the Board.”

“National security,” dominated by issues surrounding the secretive monarchy, has “been interpreted in a highly military manner after the 2014 coup.” Nakorn Serirak, a lecturer at the College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University, a former expert on the Information Board, said the:

increased presence on the Board of military officers expert in national defence, intelligence, counter-terrorism and security-related international affairs may cause a greater information lockdown when it comes to considering appeals against non-disclosure decisions.

The increased restrictions and penalties for those who disclose it will cause a “shrinking of freedom of information for Thais…”.

Mana Nimitmongkol, Secretary-General of the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT), is also quoted. He says that the amendment will allow “the authorities to sweep many documents, like those to do with procurement or construction project details, under the security carpet, making it impossible to check corruption in projects.”

The descent into dark authoritarianism was the aim of the 2014 military coup and is a part of the military-monarchy dictatorship.





Mad authoritarianism

23 04 2021

There’s been considerable discussion in recent days of a draft law that would allow state monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities. This amounts to a predictable deepening of control by an authoritarian regime. At the same time, it is reflective of a quite mad authoritarianism as the regime has increasingly come under the influence of ideas of conspiracy that dominate the “thinking” of mad monarchists.

Thai PBS reports that the effort to strictly control civil society organization and dominate political space by limiting NGOs by the “monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities” through the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations “stems from fears of foreign intervention in local politics and adverse impacts of NGOs’ foreign donations on national security.”

That report cites Amnesty International as saying that other states have also introduced “restrictive laws and policies, and stigmatising rhetoric…”. The examples provided include “Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Hungary, and the Philippines.”

In the Thai case, the bill appears to reflect the increasingly frenzied deep yellow shirt conversations about CIA (meaning the USA) and Jewish (meaning George Soros) conspiracies to undermine the monarchy. There’s no evidence for such conspiracies, just an ever-mounting social media gnashing of teeth and tan ever-higher piling of buffalo manure, some of it egged on by organized anti-Western bloggers and “news” outlets. Such sources have waged a campaign against “colour revolutions” and, since the rise of the red shirts, have increasingly focused on Thailand. In Thailand, their deeply conservative narrative has been couched in “radical” terms, railing against “American imperialism.”

This narrative caught on among yellow shirts who themselves had dealt in fictious notions of conspiracy against the monarchy that constructed accounts of the Finland Plot to bring down the monarchy and of Thaksin Shinawatra’s anti-monarchism.

Such conservative fictions were easily imbibed by military monarchists. One result is this bill to control civil society groups. It was the post-junta cabinet, dominated by military monarchists that “in late February approved in principle the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations, which would require NGOs to report their financiers and amount of funding, to have their accounts audited, and to ensure that their activities are lawful.”

Thai Enquirer refers to the Bill as the “Operation of Non-profit Organizations Act,” and notes that the “legislation was proposed by the Council of State…” which cited the concerns that resulted in the draft bill, including that NGOs “receive funding from foreign persons or entities.” Nothing new there; it has been a standard operating procedure for decades. However, in these reactionary times, there’s a view that this “might adversely affect the relationship between Thailand and that of other countries.”

Thai Enquirer explains what the Bill will do:

This draft bill, if passed into law, would require NGOs to register themselves with the Director General of the Department of Provincial Administration, prior to commencing its activities in Thailand. Once registered, they will be additionally required to comply with rules and conditions prescribed by the Minister of Interior, in addition to those requirements set forth in the legislation.

In addition, NGOs would be subject to an annual disclosure viz-a-viz sources of funds and must file an annual tax report to authorities. And, more horrendously, the NGOs can only receive funding from foreign persons, entities, or groups of persons, only for the purpose as prescribed by the Minister of Interior. Failure to comply with these requirements would subject the NGOs to criminal sanctions. Potentially imprisonment for persons involved.

It is unclear whether receiving funds to engage in political advocacy such as calling for the amendment of the constitution would be one of the permissible purposes. However, given the government’s track record and how the government MPs have reacted to iLaw’s requests, it is reasonable to fear that the purpose of political advocacy would not be permitted.

The article continues, noting that the regime:

does not wish to appear subtle about its motives either. It includes as material substance of the law that the bill would effectively ensure that NGOs are operating in Thailand without “Tai-ya-jitr” (hidden agendas). It remains unclear what “hidden agenda” means in this context. Is advocating for democracy … under the authoritarian regime regarded as a “hidden agenda?” … One might therefore reasonably conclude that this law is aimed at curtailing the activity of liberal NGOs….

The regime “has provided numerous hints about how it intends to use the law,” citing “a senior intelligence official specifically cited a statement signed by 13 human rights organisations … as demonstrating the need for further control over organisations working in Thailand.” That statement by human rights groups “condemned the government’s use of force against protesters.”

As The Interpreter observes:

Since a military coup in 2014, however, civic space and fundamental freedoms have taken a beating in Thailand. Authorities have harassed activists, cracked down on protesters and obstructed the proceedings of civil society. But these actions have failed to fully extinguish dissent, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government has now proposed a draconian new law governing associations and organisations, which, if passed, would do more to crush civic space and undermine Thailand’s role in the region than any other effort by the Thai government in the past decade….

Under the proposed legislation, any group engaged in non-profit activities – no matter how small, informal or unorganised – would be required to register with the ministry. Student groups, community organisations, protest movements, artistic collectives, social clubs and short-lived associations would all fall within the remit of the law.

It establishes a “mandatory registration scheme overseen by the Ministry of Interior” and gives “authorities expansive powers to control and monitor groups of all sizes and types.”

Under the current authoritarian regime, the proposed law’s “broad terms and steep penalties would likely be wielded arbitrarily against independent-minded individuals and organisations.”

It imposes harsh penalties for failing to register: “individuals associated with an unregistered group could be punished with up to five years’ imprisonment.”

…The law would give the Ministry of Interior sweeping powers to determine the conditions under which registered groups operate. Activities backed by foreign funds would require pre-approval by the ministry, with foreseeable consequences for groups that frequently come into conflict with the government. More worrying still, the law would allow officials to inspect a registered organisation’s office and access its emails without justification or judicial oversight. It provides no safeguards against governmental misuse or arbitrary application of the law.

…Moreover, the selection of the Ministry of Interior as the ministry responsible for enforcing the law is telling. The Ministry of Interior oversees local administration and internal security within Thailand. As a result, it frequently comes into conflict with community associations, non-governmental organisations and other groups that would be governed by the law. The surveillance and enforcement powers granted by the law would bolster the ministry, to the detriment of those seeking to hold government officials accountable for corruption, human rights abuses or other misdeeds.

Such requirements and such intrusive surveillance mean that the government would determine which NGOs could register and what they could do, if they receive international funding.

The Interpreter further observes:

Adding to the law’s recklessness, the timeline set forth for registration – 30 days from the date of enactment – does not provide enough time for the ministry to register the thousands of currently unregistered groups operating in Thailand. If it were passed, numerous organisations would be forced to cease operations, and many would never reopen.

That is likely one of the aims of the legislation.

Each of the reports mentioned in this post reports on responses from NGOs. Among many issues, they note that the law is in conflict with several provisions of the constitution – not that such matters have ever bothered this regime – and that the law would allow “authorities to harass civil society groups and activists critical of the government by categorising them as NGOs.”

The Interpreter concludes:

If enacted, the proposed law would devastate Thai civil society and could lead to an exodus of international organisations currently based in Thailand.

Clearly, the regime’s support for the monarchy and the need to suppress anti-royalism puts it in alliance with all kinds of mad monarchists. For them and the regime, only conspiracy theories can “explain” attacks on their beloved monarchy and monarchist ideology. When mixed with the regime’s military-induced love of hierarchy and order, the outcome is a political system that is deeply authoritarian. The threat is to make Thailand forever authoritarian.





Protest=arrest

18 04 2021

There’s been considerable sympathy for the political activists detained without bail on lese majeste charges, some of them refusing solid food. In a situation where the virus is spreading rapidly, a lot of this has been seen on social media.

Yet, as Prachatai recently reported, for some time, the Resistant Citizen group has been arranging 112 minute daily “Just Standing” protests, targeting court buildings across the country, and attracting dozens to several hundred people.

Among those joining have been academics, lawyers and the mothers of some of the detainees, all holding banners. Some of the mothers are quoted:

The mother of Panupong Jadnok, one of the leading protest figures, told Matichon that the prolonged and strict judicial process and the rejection of bail have made her son guilty without a court ruling. The repeated travel to numerous proceedings have exhausted her.

Malai Nampa, mother of Anon Nampa, another leading figure, said the last time she met Anon was on 9 April when he walked past her but was not allowed to speak.

We know that Mongkol Thrakhote was arrested on Wednesday during a protest in front of the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court and that he has since been charged with lese majeste.

Protesters are now being harassed, with “leaders” being targeted by police. The Bangkok Post reports that police “are preparing to charge four key figures behind the political rally outside Government House on Thursday for organising a public gathering in violation of the Disease Control Act and the emergency decree…”.

The regime is seeking to harass all political opposition figures it identifies as likely to “lead” others.





Further updated: Authoritarian darkness

16 04 2021

Thailand’s royalist authoritarianism and the desire to “cleanse” the nation of anti-monarchists appears to have taken a significant turn as the regime targets an American academic it considers has fomented political activism in the northeast.

From New Mandala

Thai Enquirer, Bangkok Post, and Prachatai report that David Streckfuss, who worked for Khon Kaen University, CIEE: Council On International Educational Exchange, and with regional news outlet The Isaan Record, has had his work-permit with KKU revoked on 19 March, which means his tenure in Thailand is tenuous as his visa is also revoked.

It is reported that Streckfuss had “been with the university for the past 27 years before his work permit was terminated.”

Prachatai states that the “decision reportedly came after police visited the University President and Faculty Dean, after Streckfuss participated in a workshop which partly involved decentralization.”

Hathairat Phaholtap, the editor of the The Isaan Record, confirmed the work permit cancellation and stated that it came “after Streckfuss attended a workshop about the preservation and development of the local Isaan identity which was held at a Khon Kaen hotel on 12-14 February.”

The police reportedly told the university that this meant Streckfuss was “involve[d] with local politics…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, where Streckfuss has been an author, he has “published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is also the author of Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté, published by Routledge Press, in 2011… [and] has a PhD in Southeast Asian history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” His recent academic work has been on censorship and self-censorship.

One of his roles since 1994 has been has been as director for CIEE Programs in Thailand, facilitating college students study abroad experiences in Thailand. In this he “works with the program’s administration and programs managers to oversee student health, safety, and welfare as well as all issues related to academics, services, projects, administration, and finance.”

Over the years, Streckfuss has spoken at various seminars, including with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. This action against a high-profile academic, and someone who might be described as a “friend” of Thailand, suggests either a bureaucratic miscalculation or, more likely, a further deepening of the regime’s repressive authoritarianism.

Update 1: A couple of reports in the media suggest that there’s some dissembling going on about this case. The Bangkok Post reports that Pol Maj Gen Kritsada Kanchana-alongkon, a commissioner at the Immigration Division 4 in Khon Kaen has gone all Sgt Schultz, saying: “The local immigration authorities didn’t know why the university terminated Mr Streckfuss’ contract…”.

Thai PBS reports multiple denials (one of which contradicts Pol Maj Gen Kritsada):

Immigration Police and Khon Kaen University have denied that the termination of the employment contract, work permit and visa of David Streckfuss are related to his political activism in Thailand.

Khon Kaen University’s International Affairs Division also denied allegations of police pressure, telling ThaiPBS World that the termination was due to his failure to fulfill his duty regarding student exchange programs.

Making matters worse for itself, KKU now states: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he allegedly failed to arrange student exchange programs, leading to the contract termination.” So, they say that students couldn’t come, so Streckfuss must go….

Update 2: Khaosod states that the Khon Kaen Immigration Office has “deferred the decision to extend the work permit and visa…”. An official stated: “This has nothing to do with politics and David is not a prohibited person under the immigration act. Therefore, there should be no problem with his visa application process.”

KKU continues to maintain that there was no official pressure applied – Streckfuss says there was – and says it sacked him for circumstances created by the virus:

The longtime expat worked as the director of the exchange student program at Khon Kaen University for the past 27 years before he was given a one-month notice of termination in February for “not being able to do assigned work.” He believed the decision was politically charged, an allegation denied by his former employer.

“No police or any other state officials have met with the rector or the dean,” Khon Kaen University rector Charnchai Pangthongviriyakul said Saturday. “The faculty saw that there has been no progress in his work, so it decided to notify him of contract termination.”

Even if this was the case, it marks KKU as an uncaring employer, not averse to taking decisions that destroy lives.