Guess which high-profile lese majeste case has been dropped

29 07 2010

That’s easy, right? It is the daft action against yellow-shirted, People’s Alliance for Democracy supporting actor Pongpat Wachirabanjong. It was always a daft case.

The Bangkok Post reports that police have decided that they will not take legal action against the actor who made a speech that was supportive of the monarchy while being remarkably intolerant of political dissent (no commentator seems to dwell on this).

The Metropolitan Police Bureau decided this after “consulting linguists and law experts on ways the word ‘father’ might be perceived by the audience listening to Pongpat’s speech at the Nataraj Awards ceremony held on May 16.” Apparently the police were able to determine that the actor was being respectful of the king. Of course he was.

But that’s not the point for PPT. The case has amply demonstrated the abuse of this political law and the double standards involved in lese majeste cases. The point is to get rid of a terrible law, not decide which unfortunate to investigate, prosecute and jail. Drop all cases and release and exonerate all the victims who currently languish in the horrid prison system.





Human rights a horror story

25 07 2010

Reading just the Bangkok Post as a bit of relaxation turned into a horror story for PPT on Sunday. There are just too many articles that call into question human rights in Thailand, in the past but especially under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Earlier today we posted on one of the these stories, but as PPT ploughed through more of the paper, jaw dropping, we found it all a bit much. For interested readers, here are the articles we refer to, in no particular order:

1) In its report on the Constituency 6 by-election, the Post manages to not mention that Puea Thai Party candidate Korkaew Pikulthong is in jail, has been prevented from campaigning and even from making a recorded message available to potential voters. The latter restriction imposed by the supposedly independent Election Commission. Preventing voters from gaining electoral information is a crime in many places. In Thailand, where censorship reigns it seems normal.

2) We can’t find it on the Post site to link to it, but the inside front cover has a series of stories by Alan Dawson who correctly points out that: censorship has run wild under the current government; the premier’s image as a human rights man is in need of revision, that the DSI is failing and that the military is riddled with corruption. Okay, he doesn’t use those words, but the meaning is clear.

3) Vitit Muntarbhorn is a professor of law at Chulalongkorn University has an opinion piece on the national human rights plan. Yes, there was one, and a new one was recently launched. It was launched by none other than Prime Minister Abhisit. To cut the whole sorry tale short, nothing much was achieved on the first plan and the prospects for the second appear even more dismal.

4) In the entertainment gossip column called “Mae Moo,” there is a story reflective of the ongoing political struggle, the political use of lese majeste and distasteful yellow-shirted antics. The story is of personal attacks, lies and human rights abuses. It is a sorry tale.

Actor Kowit Wattanakul and his actress daughter Mintita “Mint” Wattanakul have had to speak out to defend themselves against accusations that they are disloyal to the king. Accusing someone of such a “crime” is an abuse of human rights because it almost guarantees police investigation and can cripple a career, as has been seen in another recent case. Kowit says he and his daughter “have been through a media maelstrom since the inaugural Nataraja (performing arts) awards in May, when reports accused the pair of refusing to partake in the royalist grandeur of the occasion.” Recall that yellow shirt supporter Pongpat Wachirabanjong was accused of lese majeste for a speech at the same awards.

Kowit stands accused of having “walked out of a nationalistic speech by yellow shirt director Pongpat … while Mint [is accused of having] refused to sing her part of a song commissioned by Her Majesty the Queen.” When monarchy-loving yellow shirts made these (false) accusations, the reaction was immediate. “Mint was dropped from a soap opera in which she had been acting for months. She was also yanked from another production due to start filming the next day.” They were attacked on “webboards, with Thais [PPT: not sure why the collective noun is used here] accusing them of supporting the red shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship – painted by their yellow shirt rivals as being against the monarchy.”

Both were essentially forced to come out and declare their loyalty and explain what had happened. The Post seems to be at least a little supportive, “explaining” the events. It’s a pity that no one, anywhere in government, including the human rights plan launcher (see above), has the guts to denounce such scurrilous and gutless behaviour. PPT surmises that, secretly, Abhisit and his buddies really do enjoy seeing the “other side” squirm, even when they aren’t in chains. Every forced claim of loyalty is imagined to be a victory for the past-its-use-by-date institution and its conservative and right-wing supporters.

5) Sort of related, the comedy – or smart-arse – column (or whatever it is) by a lad named Andrew Biggs, who gets his celebrity from speaking Thai reasonably well gets one thing right when he comments on the penalties for speaking out against those higher up the social scale (think nai-phrai perhaps?). Commenting on the Withawat Thaokhamlue Academy Fantasia television talent show case, he says: “the higher you are, the more your opinion and status is revered and thus those below you are rude and unacceptable if they complain about you. Even our esteemed prime minister, drilled about freedom of expression during his extensive UK schooling, is still Thai enough to understand this. When asked about Mark’s right to free speech, he replied, as if he were riding a fun park carousel, that Mark has the right to say what he feels but then again he is young, and he should be careful of his words, and as a young person he shouldn’t really be slamming older people, and he is a celebrity, and thus a role model for youth, and … and … Okay we get the picture. Shut up Mark, and respect your elders.” And “betters!”

But where Biggs gets totally balls-up is when he makes ludicrous comments about freedoms. He acknowledges Thailand’s lack of freedoms, but then says: “Young Mark has committed an offence in Thailand; he exercised free speech. I announce this fact not to vent my outrage _ I’m more outraged True Visions considers 12 vocally-challenged Thai teenagers entertainment _ but rather to tell you, dear reader, that the Mark incident serves as a reminder that we don’t have freedom of speech in Thailand. But we still get along just fine.

There it is. Biggs becomes Thai and says “we” are “fine.” But what of the implications of this? Of human rights? Well, Biggs goes on to observe: “Despite frequent claims of Thailand’s democracy and freedoms, it’s not quite the way it is portrayed. Again I must stop here and say this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I’m only saying traditionally in Thai society there’s hasn’t been freedom of speech per se. Rather, you have the freedom to say what you like as long as the person on the social strata directly above you isn’t offended by it.” Yeah, right. If you are at the bottom of the heap, you can’t say a thing.

At least Biggs gets back on track when he admits: “The big rumour is that Mark wrote something disparaging about the monarchy on his Facebook page as well, something he vehemently denies. Thais will tell you that’s the real reason he got the boot.” We’ll stop there, without adding Biggs’s final silly remark.

6) And a sad corrective to conclude on. A while ago PPT decided to have a stab at how many political prisoners were being held in Thailand. Ancient lawyer Thongbai Thongpao, who once had a great human rights record, but is now sullied by his support for all kinds of military and government nonsense points out our error. In his article, he points out that there are 500 held in the South under emergency rule there.

PPT stands corrected. Add those in, and we estimate that Thailand now has 1,500 political prisoners. Hopefully foreign and international organizations join with progressive Thai human rights groups in demanding that political prisoners be released immediately and in condemning the Abhisit regime’s failure to uphold basic human rights.

So much for the long and pleasant Sundays of leisurely reading the paper…. Now it’s a horror story.





Updated: Lese majeste and double standards

23 07 2010

Update: As if to prove the double standards at work, Bangkok Post opinion page columnist Veera Prateepchaikul comes out in support of Pongpat without mentioning any other lese majeste case or the yellow shirt attacks on other people related to the same case . It is interesting that Veera thnks that the “right” to make lese majeste complaints cannot yet be taken away from the population. PPT suspects this is due to the fact that the law is needed by the Abhisit regime to maintain its rule for the traditional elite.

*

Yesterday PPT posted regarding actor and yellow shirt supporter Pongpat Wachirabanjong being accused of lese majeste – as the police say, and accusation has been made but no charge has been made, yet. PPT noted the political nature of lese majeste cases and repeated our call that the law be abolished.

However, as a report in The Nation shows, the way lese majeste accusations are treated is yet another pointer to the deep and embedded nature of double standards in Thai society. As PPT has said previously, it seems we know almost nothing about the vast majority of lese majeste cases and convictions. We can probably assume that these are “small people” who “don’t matter” too much in the broader political debates. In other words, they lack a voice.

But when a die-hard and well-known royalist is accused, what happens? First, as we noted yesterday, the prime minister raises a question. Now that may not amount to much because Abhisit Vejjajiva has a track record of lying on lese majeste and related computer crimes cases. But his intervention was one that clearly raised questions about Pongpat’s case.

Next, the yellow-toned Senator Kamnoon Sidhisamarn sprang to his comrade’s defense, stating that “the actor’s speech at the Nataraj Awards was meant to protect the monarchy and was not within the frame of lese majeste as accused.” Kamnoon is secretary to the Senate’s adhoc committee on the protection of the monarchy, so his comment carries public impact for he is a died-in-the-wool royalist.

That committee plans to call in the “acting police chief, city police chief as well as inspectors involved in the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s airport seizure and Pongpat’s case to explain if the action taken by the police force was fair…”. Note that PAD are involved here. Its supporters in the unelected part of the senate are keen to protect their friends. They couldn’t care less about all of the other in jail, and, like the Department of Special Investigation bosses, consider them deserving of foul treatment as “evil” persons.

It seems that the police are now backing off under all the political pressure and influence. So this is probably one case PPT doesn’t need to add to its lists, but the double standard at work is just too obvious.

Meanwhile, the regime keeps hundreds of red shirts locked up…





Updated: Abhisit’s lese majeste committee is MIA

22 07 2010

PPT is being flooded by news of ever more lese majeste cases. The latest is from The Nation and is, frankly, a big surprise. It involves actor and yellow shirt supporter Pongpat Wachirabanjong. The actor made a declaration of “his love” for the king at Nataraj Awards ceremony and essentially stated that those who didn’t love and respect the king should “leave the king’s house/nation.”

Now Pongpat has been “summoned to hear his lese majeste charges on July 29, and if he fails to show up after two summons have been issued, police will seek an arrest warrant…”. It is claimed that singer Phumpat Wongyachavalit filed a lese majeste complaint against the actor on 23 June “accusing him of using inappropriate words.”

PPT thought Pongpat’s comments immature and stupid at the time, but people should be able to make stupid comments in public without fear of 15 years in jail.

PPT recalls that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he’d set up a committee to oversee lese majeste charges. Actually, if this committee is not missing in action, then all it is doing is accelerating the cases and putting through as many as possible. That may be the plan. Despotic regimes need to scare everyone!

PPT reaffirms its opposition to all lese majeste charges. All lese majeste charges are political and the law must be done away with. Reform is not an option. This is a bad law that is used for repression and censorship.

Update: Bangkok Post has an account of Abhisit claiming that his committee is not being used by the police when proceeding on lese majeste cases. If that were true – and DSI chief Tharit recently claimed otherwise – then the premier should get rid of a useless committee. He can’t consider getting rid of the lese majeste law precisely because it is politically useful to his regime and its longevity. PPT suspects Abhisit, the authoritarian wolf who tries desperately to put on a liberal sheep’s clothing, loves the law for its politics but dislikes the international attention it draws to the wolf and his regime.