HRW on The Dictator’s European holiday

18 06 2018

Reproduced in full from Human Rights Watch:

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron should press Thailand’s junta leader to respect human rights and ensure a rapid transition to democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut[h] Chan-ocha is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister May on June 20, 2018, in London and President Macron on June 25 in Paris.

“Prime Minister May and President Macron should strongly express their deep concerns about the deteriorating state of human rights under military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “They should make clear to General Prayut that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government, and improves respect for human rights.”

The UK and France are among major allies of Thailand that have repeatedly stated that bilateral relations will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections.

Thailand has made no progress toward becoming the rights-respecting, democratic government that General Prayut promised as the country enters its fourth year after the May 2014 coup. As chairman of Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), General Prayut wields power unhindered by administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for human rights violations. NCPO Orders 3/2015 and 13/2016 provide military authorities with powers to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and to interrogate suspects without giving them access to legal counsel, or providing safeguards against mistreatment.

General Prayut’s much touted “road map” on human rights and the return to democratic civilian rule has become meaningless. The junta’s promised election date continues to slide, making the timing wholly uncertain, and it has provided few reasons to believe that an election, if held, will be free and fair. Unless the junta lifts its severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms, Thailand’s political parties, media, and voters will not be able to participate in a genuinely democratic process.

The junta has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand. Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. Public gatherings of more than five people and pro-democracy activities are prohibited.

More than 100 pro-democracy activists have recently faced illegal assembly charges, some of whom have also been accused of sedition, for peacefully demanding that the junta should hold its promised election without further delay and that it should immediately lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Over the past four years, the military has summoned thousands of people to have their political attitudes “adjusted” and pressured to stop criticizing the junta.

Trying civilians in military courts, which lack independence and do not comply with fair trial standards, remains a major problem. In response to criticism, General Prayut in September 2016 revoked NCPO orders that empowered military courts to try civilians. But the order is not retroactive so it does not affect the more than 1,800 military court cases already brought against civilians, many of them pro-democracy activists, politicians, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

The junta has disregarded Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. Government agencies have frequently retaliated against individuals who report allegations of abuses by filing criminal charges, including for criminal defamation.

Prime Minister May and President Macron should recognize that the UK and France stand to benefit far more from a partnership with a country that respects human rights and rule of law. They should urge the Thai government to urgently:

– End the use of abusive and unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;

– End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;

– Lift the ban on political activities;

– Release all dissidents and critics detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;

– Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;

– Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards; and

– Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping criminal lawsuits against them.

“Business deals should not come at the expense of serious discussions on human rights and the junta’s tightening grip on power,” Adams said. “The UK and French governments need to press the junta to end repression so that Thailand can move toward democratic civilian rule.”

Stop criticizing The Dictator

12 06 2018

Readers will have noticed that PPT is having trouble keeping up with The Dictator’s antics and his junta’s political campaigning for an “election” that may be held at some time in the future and/or for puffing the junta’s collective chest.

The junta gets away with a lot given its political repression and its control of the media through bans, hectoring and the media’s own political timidness and/or support for the military dictatorship.

Even so, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s recent gripe that he deserves more respect because he’s (self-appointed) prime minister (after illegally seizing the state), has us wondering what might have been the media’s response if, say, Thaksin or Yingluck Shinawatra had made the same demand.

Khaosod reports that The Dictator last week made a “plea for the position of prime minister to be spared from insult…”. Prayuth moaned to his puppet National Legislative Assembly that “his ‘honorable’ position should be above reproach…”.

Befitting a dictatorial leader, Prayuth warned his critics: “I want to maintain the position as honorable. Those attacking me should be careful…”.

The Dictator loves power, covets it and cannot stand even the mildest of criticism.

Catholic Church wants an election

11 06 2018

In a report that caught PPT by surprise, the Catholic Church in Thailand has called for an election (see here for an addition to the story).

It is reported that “… people no longer believe in announcements [by the junta], given the continuous postponements of the military junta in power [on elections.”

It goes on to admit that the “Catholic Church, at first, had somehow appreciated social pacification [by the junta].” No longer” “But now it supports democratic elections. They are necessary for our future…. Young people are a driving force today in demanding democracy and freedom. They are brave and have publicly protested. We need a new hope…”. That’s according to Fr. Peter Watchasin, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Thailand.

Explaining the current situation, Fr. Peter said: “Everything in the country is controlled today. We speak of silent dictatorship.” He added: “[T]oday especially young people and students are dissatisfied with the censorship of freedoms and oppression they feel. People today, rather than taking to the streets, write on social media and this is also a cultural change.”

He pointed to the main problem of military dictatorship: “The central problem is that of freedoms: even if one writes for mass media you can be put in jail.”

He noted other critical issues as: “… the country’s economic situation is in decline, partly because of government policies. Another major problem is corruption. A third element of concern is the concentration of wealth in the hands of two or three family clans…”.

Fr Peter declared: “The country is now ready to return to democracy. This desire has matured. But will the military leave power? This is the question.”

Sadly, the answer seems clear: the military has no intention of giving up its stranglehold on the state and power.

Lese majeste as culture wars

9 06 2018

The news that the military junta has defended the lese majeste and computer crimes laws is no news at all.

However, a series of letters that Khaosod came upon between Ambassador Sek Wannamethee, Thailand’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and United Nations officials reinforces the junta’s claims – and by some earlier regimes – that such laws are somehow consistent with “Thai traditional and cultural values.”

In a very real sense, this claim matches the origins of the term “culture war.” The junta has used these laws in its efforts to enforce traditionalist and conservative values against those who favor more democratic, progressive or even bland liberal values.

We might note that Sek’s position reflects him being rewarded for his support of the regime and the draconian use of lese majeste over the past few years. One might say he’s just doing his job. But Sek is far more enthusiastic than that. He’s a cultural warrior for the military dictatorship.

As usual, Sek was disingenuous: “The lese majeste law, hence, to certain extent, reflects and accords with Thai traditional and cultural values with respect to the Monarchy. It is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression…”.

Of course, the law takes direct aim at freedom of expression, in public and in private, in the media, in literature, in art and among academics and students, and much more. It is a chilling means of political repression.

We might also ask whether “Thai culture” and its law protects dead kings, dead king’s dead dogs, past “royals” who may or may not have actually existed, minor royals and so on. Sek and the regime seem to think it does.

UN experts David Kaye and Michel Forst who “monitor freedom of expression and human rights defenders,” stated, in their letters:

We express grave concerns at the continued use of article 112 and of the Computer Crime Act against the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Thailand….

The letter singled out prosecution, detention and long prison sentences for those convicted under the law for “acts that appear to constitute a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”

It added that the United Nations is also concerned about such cases being tried in military courts in closed session, sometimes with no family members or public in attendance.

The letter noted that all public figures, including heads of state, “are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

The UN experts cited 21 lese majeste cases, some already through the courts, others continuing is deliberately slow “legal” processes meant to elicit guilty pleas.

They also mentioned the illegal activities of the authorities when “investigating” these “crimes” and “trials” held in secret.

The military dictatorship has used lese majeste as a political and cultural weapon. It will continue to do so.

Repression and harassment

26 05 2018

A number of pro-democracy activists were arrested at Tuesday’s rally marking the 4th anniversary of the 2014 military coup.

Prachatai has two reports about the harassment, repression and arrest was used to limit the numbers joining the pro-democracy/anti-coup rally and to intimidate participants, before the police actually arrested protesters.

The first is about the widespread use of large gangs of police and military to prevent people joining the rally. These acts of political repression began well before the event.

Lecturers were harassed at their universities in Bangkok and in the provinces, with particular attention to universities in the northeast.

Soldiers arrested Uthai Phokaeo and his wife at their house and detained them at a military camp in Bangkok. Uthai had previously rented out loudspeakers for pro-election protests.

Police “visited” activists at their homes. They and soldiers trailed and followed activists as they went about their daily tasks in and around Bangkok and in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Ratchaburi and Kamphaeng Phet.

The reports states that “intimidation varied from repeated visits to overnight detentions…” and focused on activists in several fields.

Police broadcast that the were establishing “security checkpoints” in the provinces and outside Bangkok to prevent people from joining the rally.

When the rally was held, police and soldiers in uniform and in plainclothes corralled and met them with huge numbers, to prevent any marching.

They also arrested about 15 leaders. Prachatai’s second story is by arrested activist Nuttaa Mahattana. It recounts the details of their arrest and detention.

Updated: Held, supported and undefeated

24 05 2018

As we write this post, those anti-junta activists arrested at and near Thammasat University are thought due for release after being held longer than expected. The police say they intend to hold them longer. The courts are due to decide.

Meanwhile, as The Nation reports, there has been an outpouring of support for the detainees.

Local and international organizations calling on authorities to release the anti-junta/pro-election protesters arrested on Tuesday:

[a] dozen activists, led by the Democratic Restoration Group (DRG), were arrested and charged with sedition which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, and with violating the military junta’s ban on political gatherings of more than five people.

Several activists and politicians visited them in detention. They included “Thanathorn Juangroongruan-gkit of Future Forward Party, former police commissioner Pol General Seripisut Temiyavet, and representatives of the Pheu Thai Party.”

The former top policeman offered bail for all the detainees. However, “they had not been granted bail at press time last night.”

Updated: The 15 detainees were released on bail after police requested further detention from the court. As one declared: “Down the dictatorship. Long live democracy.”

APHR calls for immediate release of activists

23 05 2018

The following is reproduced in full:

Lawmakers from across Southeast Asia today condemned the arrest of at least 15 activists following peaceful pro-democracy protests in Thailand, calling for their immediate release and for all charges to be dropped.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) stressed the Thai military government’s responsibility to uphold civil and political rights in line with its international obligations and reiterated its call on the regime to urgently restore democratic rule.

“The arrest of peaceful activists under draconian legislation, for simply expressing their opinions, exemplifies the entrenchment of intolerance under this regime – a worrying signal of a junta that is unwilling to relinquish power any time soon,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“Some of these young men and women, the future of our region, are facing the possibility of years behind bars under archaic sedition laws just for calling for accountability and a return to civilian rule. This is not acceptable in today’s ASEAN. As supporters of democracy and the people’s prerogative to fully exercise their human rights, we stand in solidarity with all human rights defenders and community activists in Thailand whose right to peaceful assembly continue to be curtailed.”

At least 15 pro-democracy activists were arrested and have been charged under a list of laws, including sedition (Section 116 of the Penal Code), being part of a gathering of more than nine persons that have either caused or threatened to use violence (Section 215 of the Penal Code), disobeying orders to disperse by the authorities (Section 216 of the Penal Code), violating a ban on political gathering of more than four persons (Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2015) and for obstructing traffic (Section 108 of the Road Traffic Act). As of 3pm today, the activists are being detained at the Phayathai and Chanasongkram police stations, and APHR understands that they are granted access to lawyers.

The arrests followed their involvement in a peaceful rally held on 22 May to mark the four-year anniversary of the military regime’s seizure of power and to call for a return to civilian rule. The rally, one of the largest acts of dissent since the military regime came to power in 2014, was eventually dispersed following the arrests of the leaders.

“The Thai regime has a responsibility to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including the facilitating of peaceful demonstrations. Such rights form the bedrock of any functioning democracy and their exercise should only be restricted in very limited circumstances,” Santiago said. “This is clearly another attempt to scare the Thai people into silence.”

Since coming to power, the military regime has repeatedly delayed promised elections and has used a long list of laws to clampdown on genuine criticisms against the government, which APHR has previously highlighted as a contravention of accepted democratic norms.

Lawmakers reiterated their call on the military regime to end its crackdown on fundamental freedoms and take concrete steps to pave the way for democratic elections.

“As elected representatives, it is vital that we listen to the demands and aspirations of the people. It’s time the junta does the same and make good its pledges to restore true democracy in Thailand,“ Santiago concluded.