Updated: A sorry story of military repression

24 04 2018

We all know that Thailand is under the military boot. The US State Department’s 2017 human rights report is now out and chronicles some aspects of the natur of military repression. We summarize and quote some parts of the report below. A general statement worth considering is this:

In addition to limitations on civil liberties imposed by the NCPO, the other most significant human rights issues included: excessive use of force by government security forces, including harassing or abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detention by government authorities; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces…; corruption; sexual exploitation of children; and trafficking in persons.

As the report notes:

Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect during the year. NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, grants the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.”

The military junta continues to detain civilians in military prisons. Some prisoners are still shackled in heavy chains.

Impunity and torture are mentioned several times as a major issue. This is important when it is noted that the number of “suspects” killed by authorities doubled in 2017.

Approximately 2,000 persons have been summoned, arrested and detained by the regime, including academics, journalists, politicians and activists. There are also “numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the military government.” Frighteningly,

NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March 2016, grants military officers with the rank of lieutenant and higher power to summon, arrest, and detain suspects; conduct searches; seize assets; suspend financial transactions; and ban suspects from traveling abroad in cases related to 27 criminal offenses, including extortion, human trafficking, robbery, forgery, fraud, defamation, gambling, prostitution, and firearms violation. The order also grants criminal, administrative, civil, and disciplinary immunity to military officials executing police authority in “good faith.”

Too often detainees are prevented from having legal representation and are refused bail.

The use of military courts continues:

In a 2014 order, the NCPO redirected prosecutions for offenses against the monarchy, insurrection, sedition, weapons offenses, and violation of its orders from civilian criminal courts to military courts. In September 2016 the NCPO ordered an end to the practice, directing that offenses committed by civilians after that date would no longer be subject to military court jurisdiction. According to the Judge Advocate General’s Office, military courts initiated 1,886 cases involving at least 2,408 civilian defendants since the May 2014 coup, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives. As of October approximately 369 civilian cases involving up to 450 individual defendants remained pending before military courts.

On lese majeste, the reports cites the Department of Corrections that says “there were 135 persons detained or imprisoned…”.

Censorship by the junta is extensive, with the regime having “restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it [national security and the monarchy], and media widely practiced self-censorship.” It is added that the junta “continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet and routinely censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.” In dealing with opponents and silencing them, the junta has used sedition charges.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression are extensive against those it deems political activists. This repression extends to the arts and academy:

The NCPO intervened to disrupt academic discussions on college campuses, intimidated scholars, and arrested student leaders critical of the coup. Universities also practiced self-censorship…. In June [2017] soldiers removed artwork from two Bangkok galleries exhibiting work depicting the 2010 military crackdown on protesters, which authorities deemed a threat to public order and national reconciliation.

It is a sorry story.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a timely editorial on torture in Thailand. Usually it is the police and military accused and guilty. This time it is the Corrections Department, which runs almost all of Thailand’s prisons. All these officials are cut from the same cloth.





(Still) not free

13 04 2018

Freedom House produces a yearly report on media and political freedom in the world. The ranking and definitions have some issues, but for Thailand it has been a reasonable assessment of where the country sits on these scores and which countries rank about the same as Thailand.

In the latest ranking, Thailand is considered “Not Free.” No surprise there as the country has had a similar standing since the 2014 military coup. Thailand’s dismal performance since 2001 is listed in the following table:

Year

Political Rights

Civil Liberties
2018               6             5
2015               6             5
2012               4             4
2007               7             4
2005               2             3
2001               2             3

The report for 2018 is summarized in the following clip from the Freedom House website:

As bad as this score and decline are, the ruling elite prefers it when Thais are not free.





Updated: A catch-up II

28 03 2018

Continuing our catch-up:

Khaosod reports on the prosecution of red shirt leaders: Nothing unusual about that. After all, one of the central tasks of the military dictatorship has been to break up and disburse the red shirt movement, jailing leaders and repressing the movement since the 2014 military coup. The unusual bit is that this prosecution refers to events in 2009. Prosecutors accuse red shirt leaders “group of inciting unrest and an open rebellion against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva in a April 2009 protest, which saw parts of Bangkok occupied for several days.” Political advantage is being maintained.

Reuters reports on new political blood: It says that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit sees little prospect of winning a junta “election.” He says: “Election laws are unfavourable to us, timing is unfavourable to us, the attitude of the government is unfavourable to us…. The chance is very slim. But a little hope is better than no hope at all.” Joshua Kurlantzick is quoted: “Political success in Thailand depends on being able to placate the military and royalist elite…”.

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a new article available: Entertaining Ananda is the “story of Britain’s bumbling efforts to win the loyalty of Thailand’s young king [Ananda Mahidol] in the last months of his life.” PPT hasn’t read it yet – it is rather long – but it looks very interesting, based on documents from British archives.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the 10 United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leaders have all entered not guilty pleas in the case mentioned above. The court “set May 28 for the examination of evidence and witness lists submitted by both the accused and prosecutors. Witness testimonies are to begin in August.” The charges are “illegal assembly and stirring up unrest from Jan 31 until April 4 of that year [2009] by organising rallies at several important government offices…. They are also accused of being involved in two more serious incidents — the torching of a public bus and the hijacking of a petrol tanker that was later found abandoned during a violent street protest.” (Some aspects of the report are historically inaccurate.)





Distinctive haircuts, odd plainclothes, usual repression

20 03 2018

A couple of days ago, Prachatai reported on some dopey dicks sent to surveil a university workshop, then to intimidate and threaten organizers and participants.

Clipped from Prachatai

Given that the thugs are easily identifiable as police and military, it makes almost no sense when they show up as undercover officers and banal “cover” stories. Yet we somehow guess that this foolishness is also a means of intimidation.

The event reported was police and soldiers at at Silpakorn University’s Nakhon Pathom campus where Achara Rakyutitham, an Art lecturer, held a classroom seminar on the pro-democracy movements entitled “A talk with suspects: ordinary people who want an election.”

Achara stated:

… she had invited over 10 guest speakers who were prosecuted for joining the pro-election protests at MBK shopping centre and Democracy Monument. The activity was held mainly for students who enrolled in Achara’s classes, but she also allows non-students who registered online to attend.

Two hours before the event started, two rather poorly dressed plainclothes officers, neither of whom had registered, claimed they were “students from a university in Bangkok and wanted to video-record the seminar for their thesis.” This obviously bogus claim was made all the more unlikely “because of their style of haircut,” which seems to follow king’s guidelines on neatness and is called the 904 haircut.

Achara was also suspicious about these bogus students arriving two hours early and wanting to “know … the organisers of the seminar.

When the seminar began, more “undercover” officers arrived and “asked to join the seminar without prior registration.” This lot said they wanted to “make sure everything in order.” Some time later, during the seminar, “a police officer from the Special Branch Bureau told Achara that a guest speaker had said something that was inappropriate and might constitute a violation of the National Council for Peace (NCPO) and Order Head order 3/2015.”

That officer then threatened Achara, saying she might be “on the watch list” because of the seminar.

Naturally enough, Achara and her students “felt intimidated and disturbed by the authorities.” That, of course, is the point of such visits. Such intimidation is a hallmark of dictatorships.

Achara actually thanked the officer-thugs “for ‘demonstrating’ state intimidation of ordinary people for her students.”





When the military is on top XV

1 03 2018

Soldiers have forced villagers in Phayao to cancel plans to “submit a petition, which urges the authorities to stop prosecuting them for [allegedly] violating the junta’s order.”

The prosecutions resulted from support to the We Walk march.

When the petitioners arrived at the office where they were to lodge their petition, “soldiers and police officers, some in plainclothes, intercepted them and told them not to submit the petition.” Further intimidating them, the police and military thugs “invited the villagers to talk at a military camp…”. The villagers refused!

However, after over three hours of “negotiations, the villagers decided “to cancel the plan to petition.”

This is just one more example of the ways in which the military seeks to restrict, repress and oppress.





Law and junta “law”

20 02 2018

The issue of junta law versus rule of law has been discussed by academics.Discussing this aspect of “rule of law,” where the junta uses law for propaganda and for political repression, is of critical importance.

An academic forum at Thammasat University “heard doubts about the legitimacy and lasting effects of laws enacted by the NCPO and the current appointed branches of government.” Teerawat Kwanjai, a law lecturer at Prince of Songkla University, observed:

The NCPO [the military junta] always claims that it follows the law, which is in fact the offspring of the junta’s own appointments…. This has paved the way for the NCPO’s almost four years in power, combined with the public’s fear of prosecution.

Teerawat pointed to examples of laws being used for repression and engendering fear as including “martial law; NCPO order no 3/2015, which authorises military officers to exercise police powers and arbitrarily detain people for seven days; the computer crime bill; and the public assembly bill.” Lese majeste appears to have gone missing due to self-censorship.

Whereas the junta “had initially relied on martial law but recently invoked its own orders to detain people in specific cases.” The junta now trusts the courts to enforce its will.





A non-junta roadmap

17 02 2018

The junta has a roadmap that we have dubbed the map for the road to nowhere. We say this because the junta’s “roadmap” changes whenever the generals want more time in power.

A roadmap that might be more likely to be followed has been announced by pro-election activists.

They have set “a clear timetable for rallies until May” that is also “challenging politicians to make up their minds whether to stand alongside the people or the military.”

The challenge to the politicians is useful because they have shown themselves spineless before the military dictatorship. They have been “conspicuous by their absence at pro-election rallies so far…”.

The next pro-democracy gathering “would take place at Lan Ya Mo in Nakhon Ratchasima at 5pm on Sunday, followed by a rally at the Thammasat Tha Phra Chan campus at 3pm next Saturday.” Other events are planned for March 10 and 14.

Then in “May the groups plan to gather every Saturday, and to stage a non-stop rally from May 19-22.”