Chinese-style snooping

25 01 2020

In a report a couple of days ago, Zachary Frye at ASEAN Today considers how Thailand’s repressive state apparatus may seek to follow the Chinese and create a snooping regime that is far more intrusive than anything seen in Thailand so far.

He says that “China is exporting its AI-driven surveillance technology to Thailand.” In fact, (state-linked) Chinese firms selling facial recognition technology have set up in Thailand. Immigration in Thailand is using the technology. And, it’s not just the state, with Thailand’s largest conglomerate (outside the crown), CP, set to use the intrusive technology.

In China, as the article explains, “facial recognition technology, abetted by artificial intelligence (AI), forms a backdrop to citizen’s lives. Their faces are scanned in supermarkets, subway stations and airports, allowing the authorities to identify and track millions of people in real time.” All of this is claimed to be in support of anti-terrorism and to “reduce crime and fraud,” but, in fact, they about surveillance and control.

The Thai authorities, keen to stamp out anti-monarchism and to prevent all political unrest, have been looking at the Chinese technology and systems: “In 2019, Thailand struck a deal with the Chinese firm Megvii, which makes AI-enhanced surveillance and deep-learning software. The Thai government is also opening a 5G testbed with Huawei…”.

Thais have already “seen their digital freedom curtailed in recent years.” The military junta-cum-military-backed regime “goes to great lengths to keep tabs on its citizens online, especially surrounding delicate topics like the monarchy.” Its cyber laws are highly repressive. The Chinese technology (c)would restrict online freedom even further:

Surveillance technology is a powerful weapon. The government’s manipulation of cybersecurity laws and lese-majeste provisions have given no indication that [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government can be trusted to implement Chinese tech for the public benefit. While a surveillance state [like that in China] is still a long way off, the purchases will no doubt further government control.





Another year of PPT

20 01 2020

Eleven years have passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our disappointment that we remain active.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is no better following last year’s March “election,” which was rigged to return a junta-based regime.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad.

We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship-turned-military-backed regime, initially brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that protects an anti-democratic ruling class and efforts by the king to enhance his political and economic power, cheered on by the regime. This royalist state lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta and its “elected” spawn have used a politicized judiciary, a rigged constitution and blunt military and police repression to maintain power.

Last year we argued that the junta’s rigging of an “election” that would embed a military-royalist constitution and lead to a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come. Sadly, we were right.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy. The junta supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime – as military junta and then “elected” regime – hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, since 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. There remain several persons held or charged with lese majeste and cries of lese majeste still emanate from royalists and ministers.

These days, other charges, including sedition, are used to repress political opponents.

As for PPT, we have now had more than 6.5 million page views at our two sites (one now closed). PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

Tired after all these years, we did take a break in late 2019, but we are now back.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste, sedition and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against all political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

Royalism and neo-feudalism must be opposed.





Defining 2019

1 01 2020

Several recent topics, actions and reports have defined 2019 under the junta, its military-backed “elected” government and the ever more powerful monarchy:

Law for the rich and powerful

Suchanee Cloitre (clipped from LePetitJournal.com)

Reporters Without Borders has condemned a “draconian two-year jail sentence that Thai journalist Suchanee Cloitre … received for allegedly defaming an agribusiness company [Thammakaset] in … Lop Buri in a tweet more than three years ago…”.

This is the maximum sentence given and its for an old tweet in an old case, where the journalist for Voice TV told the truth – the company was treating its workers as if they were slaves.

Her tweet was about a court “ordering Thammakaset to compensate 14 migrant workers who had been forced to work up to 20 hours a day on the company’s chicken farms while being paid less than the minimum wage and no overtime.”

When she referred to “slave labour,” the company sued.

In criminal defamation cases, truth is irrelevant. These cases flutter about like confetti as the rich and powerful use their law to silence critics. This includes the current regime. The media is so cowed by such cases that almost no one is prepared to tell the truth.

Going backwards

Khaosod reports on yet another effort directed by King Vajiralongkorn to erase all symbols of the 1932 revolution. This is the latest in a string of secret, then semi-secret and now brazenly open efforts by the palace to de-memorialize 1932 and replace it with symbols of the monarchy.

History is being re-constructed as we watch.

In this instance, memorials to two leaders of the 1932 revolution – Phraya Phahol Pholphayuhasena and Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram – “are due to be removed from public view…” at a military base in Lopburi.

Apparently, the statues will be sent to a museum. We fear they will be destroyed.

It is no surprise that the statues will be replaced by “a new statue depicting the late King Bhumibol…”. No one will be permitted to contest the palace’s actions. A military spokesman stated that the two statues were “commoner statues [and] have to make way for the new [royal] statue…”.

In addition, the military base which “bears the name of Phahol Pholphayuhasena, will also be renamed to King Bhumibol Base per an instruction from the current monarch…”.

When will Thais stand up for their history?

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

An op-ed writer in Manila has bought the monarchist nonsense piled high in Thailand. He seems to believe that Thailand is “stabilized” by a “revered” monarchy.

Vajiralongkorn hopes this monarchism infects the citizens of Thailand to facilitate his reign, rule and grasping.

So far, he’s getting his way. And the king seems very intent on getting his way: land, money, laws, constitution, wives (who come and go) and much more. The more he gets the more he wants.

The missing … and “protecting” monarchy and regime

Vajiralongkorn and his henchmen in the military seem to have gotten his way on disappearing some of his opponents – probably meant as a “message” to anyone who dares speak against the monarchy. They should not be forgotten.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

When they are not being murdered, political opponents are bashed .It is this regime of fear seems to have replaced the use of lese majeste.

Clipped from VOA News

We feel that this strategy has been devised by the palace in an effort to maintain both monarchy and military-backed government.

Regime gangsters

All of this “protection” serves monarchy and regime well (at least for the moment).

After manufacturing an election “victory,” the razor-thin majority that allowed the military junta to steal government, it has protected ministers and members who are needed to maintain the huge, unwieldy and Election Commission manufactured coalition.

Perhaps the best example of protection is deputy minister Thammanat Prompao, a convicted heroin smuggler. He also flaunts fake university degrees. But he’s not just a political fixer for the government’s Palang Pracharath Party who is being protected. He claims connections to the top.

When under arrest in Australia, he “told police he had worked as a bodyguard for the then crown prince of Thailand, had been an army spy…, and ran a side business while serving as an assistant to a top general.” That’s how it works in Vajiralongkorn’s Thailand.

Then there’s Palang Pracharath MP Pareena Kraikupt and her father. Her recent case of acquiring and using land that is supposed to be for poor farmers and/or national park seems unlikely to go anywhere as a cover up goes on.

The only thing keeping the issue in the cowed media is her father’s penchant for hit-and-run driving and mad media conferences, filled with lies. Once he’s quiet, watch Pareena squeeze out of her own problems. The regime prefers no criticism of it or its MPs.

Again, the rich and powerful can get away with murder (probably literally in Thammanat’s case), heroin smuggling, theft and other misdemeanors.

Make overs for the evil

Perhaps the weirdest of all news reports in late 2019 was when local “anti-corruption agencies awarded the Thai army for having the highest score on transparency and integrity among government agencies at an event held to commemorate the International Anti-corruption Day on Dec 9. It scored 97.96 points out of 100.” Weird, unbelievable and very silly. However, the point is the whitewashing. The powerful seem to relish whitewashing almost as much as it relishes ill-gotten gains.

Eating the state

Corruption is a bit old-hat these days as there are plenty of ways to feed at the breast of the private sector as it exploits the state and Thai taxpayers.

We couldn’t help noticing that on 15 December it was reported: “Airports of Thailand (AoT) is likely to scrap bidding to run duty-free pick-up counters at Don Mueang airport after only one company [King Power] expressed interest in the contest.” Of course, AoT didn’t. A few days later it was reported that the “board of Airports of Thailand Plc has awarded a 10.5-year duty-free concession at Don Mueang airport to King Power Duty Free Co, which offered a yearly 1.5-billion-baht minimum return…”. King Power, the current monopoly duty free store at all airports now has new 10-year contracts for all those airports.

There must be many in various military and state offices – right to the top – who will benefit from these new contracts.

Somehow we doubt that 2020 will be better than 2019.





Political violence

10 12 2019

Kai M. Thaler is an assistant professor of global studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In an op-ed at Foreign Policy, he makes some excellent points about political violence.

We felt that his most important issue he raises is the way in which calls for protests to be non-violent ignores the often unrestricted use of violence by the state.

Whenever protesters fight with police, burn vehicles, or smash windows, a familiar chorus rings out, from a safe distance: Why can’t they be nonviolent, like Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King Jr.? With anti-government protests raging around the world since the summer, this common refrain has returned. Even United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, while reminding governments to allow free assembly and expression, said protesters must “follow the examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and other champions of nonviolent change.”

An AP photo from the Telegraph: Protesters surround the coffins which will be used for the bodies of their comrades killed in clashes with troops in April 2010.

Every time there are protests in Bangkok, this chorus is heard, usually first from so-called civil society groups and journalists, although from the state too. So pervasive is this call that protest leaders almost routinely deny any intention to resort to force. But, as Thaler points out,

This creates a double standard: Protesters are expected to remain nonviolent, even in the face of attacks by powerful, heavily armed governments. Yet no matter what protesters do, governments always portray them as “thugs” or “criminals” to legitimize violent crackdowns….

Government security forces are considered restrained if they use rubber bullets, tear gas, and other such weapons termed “nonlethal,” instead of live ammunition [although they use this too]. But protesters are labeled and condemned as violent as soon as the first rock flies, justifying even harsher state repression. The violence of the state is normalized—and even excused—by those who claim to decry violence of all stripes. Even careful use of force by protesters, however, such as targeted property destruction or direct resistance to police brutality, becomes an excuse to condemn the whole movement.

Thaler asks: “For those on the outside, who are we to tell protesters how long they should accept beatings or seeing their friends killed before they turn violence back on their repressors?”

He concludes:

In a perfect world, protesters—and governments—would not resort to violence. But if anti-authoritarian protesters feel they have no other way out from under a violent, repressive government, then solidarity and pressure on the government, not moralizing [about non-violence], is the best way to support the movement.





National security means monarchy

2 12 2019

We recommend two brief reports of recent days on Thailand’s new National Security Plan and Policy Guideline for 2019-2022 that was announced in the Royal Gazette on 22 November.

Both Prachatai and Supalak Ganjanakhundee at ISEAS have accounts that deserve to be read for information on this important document.

The latter observes:

The guideline foresees global geo-political changes presenting insignificant threats to the country in the years ahead. But it regards domestic issues, notably declining faith in the monarchy and political divisions, as greater concerns.

The Plan argues “the monarchy remains the main pillar of the country” – what else could it do? – while observing “that domestic and international developments pose risks to the institution [elite lingo for monarchy].”

Supalak points out that the documents worry:

that some elements in Thailand — perhaps meaning young activists and dissidents — “have linked the [monarchy and political conflict] for their political benefit, providing false information [sic.] and spreading misunderstanding [sic.] to undermine the national institution [monarchy]”. It notes, “The new generations have not had a bond to the monarchy since they lack understanding [sic.] and correct awareness of the importance of the royal institution as the national soul of the country [sic.]”.

The plan “admits that the bond to monarchy remains weak among the new generation.”

That latter bit is certainly true, but much of the fear is royalist nonsense and we guess it also reflects King Vajiralongkorn’s position.

The one-item security plan has to be read as a statement of a military that has become entranced by its own propaganda about the monarchy. This makes both “institutions” extremely dangerous.

At least the military royalists admit that “people have lost faith in the judicial system and at the same time want to participate more in government decision-making and to exercise their political rights.”

The only answer from the military and royalists is more propaganda:

The new security plan maps out policy guidelines to safeguard and strengthen the royal institution [monarchy] by providing it with more protection, and by glorifying and exalting it further. The authorities are to take more effective measures to defend the monarchy and to improve [state-sanctioned] understanding of the institution.

To these ends, the government agencies … are to campaign for public awareness and understanding of the role and value of the monarchy as the centre of the nation’s spirit. The authorities will use all possible means to preserve the monarchy. Thailand will apply King Bhumibol’s Sufficiency Economy philosophy for sustainable development and propagate such royal thinking domestically and internationally.

Vajiralongkorn’s fingerprints include the erasing of lese majeste:

In a change from the previous plan, concern over the lèse majesté law has been removed. The previous plan said the use of the lèse majesté law was important but caused concern over the violation of human rights. So appropriate use of legal measures without affecting the monarchy has been added as an indicator. Only one case has been prosecuted under Section 112 during the reign of King Vajiralongkorn, but laws relating to sedition and computer crime have been increasingly enforced.

More significantly, all activists have been threatened by bloody beatings of domestic opponents and the torture, murder and disappearance of exiled activists, probably ordered by the king.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Erasing 1932 from the collective memory is a part of this royal strategy.





“Law” and repression I

8 10 2019

The current discussion of a biased and politicized judiciary should not be separated from the use of “law” for political repression. In fact, the military junta of 2014-19, under the direction of the evil, rightist lawyer-for-military-hire Wissanu Krea-ngam and the military’s ideologues, worked harder on establishing rule by law – quite different from rule by law – than most previous rightists regimes. The military junta recognized that its laws could be used for ongoing political repression once the regime it self transmogrified into a corrupt civilian front organization now sometimes erroneously referred to as an elected government.

Rule by law has been an increasingly favored means of political repression adopted by rightist regimes worldwide and is also infecting electoral democracies as well.

Human rights lawyer Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen recently observed that “the authorities’ main method of suppression has evolved into the use of laws and state orders to enable them to cling on to power.”

In essence, the law is used to repress the regime’s opponents, whether they be journalists who step outside the bounds of self-censorship, elected opposition politicians or democracy activists.

Anurak. Clipped from TAHR

Recent cases involve a Belgian freelance journalist Kris Janssens,taken into police custody “for inquiries because our intel suggested that he might have been a threat to national security…”. In fact, he was detained because he planned to interview an anti-government activist Anurak Jeantawanich. He was warned not to and advised to leave Thailand. The Immigration Police claimed this was “normal procedure” and cited immigration law. But they could not specify how the journalist was a threat to this vague but useful notion of national security.

A second example of the authorities using the law to repress opponents is the case of the 12 speakers – academics and opposition politicians – at a public discussion of constitutional reform who have all been slapped with sedition complaints by the shadowy Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).

Behind a “national security” law, ISOC lies that “it is persecuting opposition political parties in laying a sedition complaint over their public forum in the far South…”. Unbelievably, “Isoc spokesman Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng said … no one ordered that legal action be taken.” We do know the action was taken, so this being the military, someone ordered it. We also know that the nasty watchman Gen Prawit Wongsuwan approved the action.

Maj Gen Thanathip continued his charade by insisting “Isoc was not abusing its power to persecute the opposition parties.” In a warped sense, he’s probably right on this because the military junta allocated ISOC powers to repress its opponents before it metastasized.

He then babbled in a manner that explains how authoritarian regimes use the law for repression: “Isoc does not see the people as an enemy, but it does abide by the law. Words spoken at the constitution amendment forum in Pattani caused concerns…”. He doesn’t say for who. Obviously the person who did not order the legal action.

Obviously and unreservedly, the military and other authorities supporting the present regime are using the law for repression. We can expect much more of this abuse of the law. Meanwhile, thugs, forgers, liars and criminals serve as ministers.





Updated: Royalist plotting

19 09 2019

Among others, Khaosod noted the “report” that was “seen on PM [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha’s desk during a parliament session on Wednesday” when he did not respond to his unconstitutional oath.

That official document is apparently titled “Network Plotting to Destroy the Nation…”. Initially, “Government spokeswoman Naruemon Pinyosinwat said the report was compiled by officials who work on ‘national security issues,’ but declined to elaborate, saying the content is ‘classified’.”

Khaosod observed that the “report’s cover photo appears to show the aftermath of a recent bomb attack in Bangkok.”

The Bangkok Post has more detail, translating the report’s title as “network of elements sabotaging the nation…”. Its anonymous “source within the government” disclosed that the report was “prepared for a briefing by intelligence and security agencies,” with “the elements” claimed to be “sabotaging the nation” are “political figures whose acts are deemed to offend the high institution of the monarchy.”

In other words, as has been since the period leading up to the 2006 military coup, the royalist military and its supporters are concocting yet another “plot” against the monarchy. This follows concoctions like the Finland Plot and the infamous anti-monarchy “plot” and “diagram” under the royalist military-backed Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

The anti-monarchy plot diagram

Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has confirmed that it “has information about a network…”.

As the Post observes, no names have been mentioned, but Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong “had previously mentioned some groups which he believed intended to harm the country…” and referred to “a movement which was trying to provoke a civil war between ‘pro-democracy’ and ‘pro-junta’ factions.” He was essentially attacking the Future Forward Party.

And it was only a few days ago that the Criminal Court ruled that ultra-royalist prince Chulcherm Yugala, who declared the Future Forward Party dangerous republicans “seeking to overthrow the monarchy,” had not libeled that party.

Quite obviously, the military, its ISOC – an “intelligence” agency – and the regime is going to use the monarchy against democratic and parliamentary opposition.

Such plotting by the regime may be dismissed as the musings of old generals who crave power and serve the ruling class.

However, such maniacal plotting in the military and probably in the palace has real and terrible consequences such as military coups, lese majeste, jailings, bashing of opponents, enforced disappearance and torture and murder.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Even in recent days, the family of victims of such accusations have been harassed by the regime thought police. Kanya Theerawut, the mother of missing political refugee Siam Theerawut, disclosed “that the Rights and Liberties Protection Department [a useless part of the Ministry of Justice] … told her not to take her son’s case to the UN, as it could ruin the country’s image.” We think the regime has done plenty to ruin Thailand’s image. She was also “visited and questioned by Special Branch officers…”, which is a standard regime means of intimidation.

It is the royalist plotting that is most intense and most deranged. It is also hugely expensive. This regime plotting is far more dangerous than anti-monarchists.

Update: A reader points out that the report on the political harassment of Kanya came just a couple of days after Shawn Crispin at Asia Times erroneously claimed: “Political scores are being aired and contested in the open, not through late-night police state knocks on the door…”. Like the reader, we are confused as to why a journalist would want to whitewash the current regime’s political repression.