Double standards are the only “standards”

16 07 2017

PPT has several times posted on the undermining of the rule of law under the military dictatorship. The essential underpinning of the junta’s injustice system is double standards.

Readers may have noticed a swathe of cases brought against the junta’s political opponents of late. These include cases against the Shinawatra clan, including laws to be used retroactively, red shirts and anti-coup activists.

At the same time, there have been precious few cases against the junta’s allies. Yellow shirts, where cases go back to at least 2008, have barely been touched. The anti-democrats of 2013-14 have seldom been subject to any legal action, and when they are, the outcomes seem to be benign when compared with the treatment meted out to junta opponents.

Political double standards are everywhere. The latest iteration is the support to rubber growers. Of course, they were supporters of the anti-democrats and the military coup. Yingluck Shinawatra is being tried and harassed for price support to rice growers.

The legal double standards that serve the rich go back decades, but this dictatorship has done nothing to change them. Indeed, the symbolic case of the rich getting away with murder is that involving Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, of the filthy rich Red Bull family, who has been free and living the life of a domestic and international playboy since 2012. Despite occasional movement among authorities, usually caused by media reports, nothing much has happened.

The latest report is that “[p]olice have yet to send a request to the Attorney General’s Office for the extradition of … Boss … accused of killing a policeman in a hit-and-run case five years ago, according to an official in charge of extradition.”

Amnat Chotichai at the Attorney General’s Office said “they were waiting for the request. Amnat stated: “As of now, the police have yet to send us the request. I don’t know what’s causing the delay…”.

Everyone knows what the delay is. It is that the Yoovidhya’s are fabulously wealthy, very powerful and have lots of friends in the regime and in the bureaucracy. The longer they delay, the closer the statute of limitations.

Notice that the puppet National Legislative Assembly was able to vote “unanimously … to pass the controversial draft organic law on criminal procedures for holders of a political position.”

The double standards are so wide that a fleet of buses could be driven through the dictatorship’s gape. The double standards gap expands still further when the military dictators begin to talk of morals.

What can we make of the deputy chairman of the junta General Prajin Junthong telling “education officials” that they need “increase focus on religions in their teaching curriculum”?

Rather like a historical clutch of military and royalist commentators, the general reckons that education is about shaping the lower classes to ruling class ideology. A tepid subaltern class and a strong moral ideology have long served the rich and powerful. Of course, the rich and powerful are not held to this same moral ideology; its just about political control. But it’s also a double standard.

General Prajin declares that education can be dangerous: “Having only education to increase one’s knowledge, ability and talent is not enough…. Because they may use that knowledge in a wrong way and take advantage of other people…”. It is the lack of “religion” in education leads to immorality and corruption.

By “religion,” we can assume that the general means Buddhism, but we can assume that he means particular state-authorized or junta-sanctioned Buddhism. (Certainly not that Wat Dhammakaya stuff!) We can assume this because the general goes on to babble that “schools should also teach their students to appreciate ‘Thainess’.”

“Thainess” and “religion” have little to do with “morals.” For the junta, they mean order and stability, not to say political docility. And, naturally enough, the junta is not bound by “religion” or “morality.” It prefers nepotism, corruption, torture, commissions and unusual wealth.

Double standards? Yep. The junta didn’t invent double standards but has made them stark. In doing so, the junta has seriously undermined justice and the rule of law.





Protecting “greatness”

20 11 2016

The New York Times carries an Associated Press report on the huge increase in Thailand’s internet censorship, which has also appeared at Khaosod.

The military dictatorship has presided over the shut down  1,370 websites in October. That’s more than the 1,237 they had blocked  over the previous five years.

censored

The past month reflects the junta’s efforts to allegedly “protect” the dead king’s “reputation” as a “great” king. The crackdown is doubly significant as it is also meant to “protect” Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn as he unsteadily moves towards accession to the throne.

Thai authorities are thought to be particularly concerned with websites with content about Vajiralongkorn, the 64-year-old designated heir to the throne who lacks the popularity of his father. The public at large has long traded rumors about Vajiralongkorn’s finances, hot temper and other matters. Three stormy marriages are a matter of public record. But critical news reports from abroad about Vajiralongkorn are commonly blocked in Thailand.

The third significance is in protecting the military junta, which has tied its tank to the prince’s succession.

The report states that the military junta has purposely used the king’s death to eliminate “online remarks” about the late king and members of his remaining family and “[s]ince the king’s death, Thailand has charged more than 20 people with making anti-royalty statements [lese majeste], requested deportations of suspects from at least seven countries and attempted to wipe out content it finds offensive from websites and social media.”

Junta members and Deputy Prime Minister Air Chief Marshal Prajin Junthong tong “explains” the situation using one of the junta’s “Thainess” cliches: “Thais have been attacked by websites that twist the truth…”.

The junta’s “truth” on the monarchy is usually a treacly fairy tale.





Line falls into line

28 10 2016

After Google was said by the military dictatorship to have cooperated in hunting down allegedly lese majeste content on Google platforms including YouTube, we are now told that Line is also falling into line.

Minister for Digital Economy and Society, Air Chief Marshal Prajin Junthong, has declared that “Line headquarters in Japan will set up a steering committee to investigate reports of lèse-majesté.”

So when he met with “representatives from Line, the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC)” on 27 October, this was to confirm the arrangement.

We again note that this news is from the junta, but it does appear Google caved in before the junta, despite weak denials that have no details. Meanwhile, the “minister stated that the junta has received close cooperation from Google and Youtube after their meetings last weekend, with many lèse-majesté web pages blocked since then.”

After the meeting with Line representatives, the air force General “told media that Line is willing to comply with the junta’s censorship measures, saying the Line headquarters in Japan will set up a steering committee to investigate reports of lèse-majesté.” He added that the “committee will coordinate with the Thai embassy in Japan, NBCT, TCSD and INTERPOL in searching for lèse-majesté content and users.”

The military dictatorship will “talk with Facebook next week,” and the cave-in on freedom of expression is likely to continue.

The claim is that this is for the “national mourning for the late King,” but everyone knows that lese majeste repression is stock-in-trade for the military junta and that this period – however long it is – will continue.

The representatives of these companies have fallen for the military dictatorship’s nonsensical claim that lese majeste is an issue of national security, where “web pages and online content [are] threatening national security.”





Google named again

26 10 2016

On Sunday PPT posted a story about Deputy Prime Minister Air Chief Marshal Prajin Junthong having “asked Google and YouTube to cooperate in blocking websites and videos with alleged lèse majesté content.” He claimed Ann Lavin, Director, Public Policy and Government Affairs in Asia Pacific, Google Asia Pacific and she “agreed to set up an ad hoc team in the US to monitor alleged lèse majesté content with Thai nationals in the team and adjust the complaint form in the Thai language to make it easier for Thai people to file complaints about such online content…”.

We added that that team has reportedly begun work.

We also said that this was a junta-sourced claim. Sure enough, Google “denied it is monitoring posts by Thai social media users but said it would simply consider Thai government requests to remove certain sensitive posts on a case-by-case basis.” That is, its standard operating procedure and nothing special for the junta. The implication was that the junta was not entirely truthful.

Now it seems that it was the junta that was more truthful. A report in the Bangkok Post states that the junta claims a “joint blocking effort” with Google has seen almost 100 YouTube addresses or URLs “blocked over the past four days for insulting the monarchy…”. Four days exactly matches the joint teams establishment claimed by the junta.

The military regime also claims that “[a]nother 380 web addresses … run by a subsidiary of Google, are in the process of being blocked…”.3

How does 480 URLs compare with previous Thai government requests approved by Google?

Our not always competent mathematicians got to work and calculated that for the period 2010 to 2013, the various governments made 21 requests for 754 “items” (we assume URLs). The big years were 2011 (374 items) and 2013 (322). After that, 2014 saw 18 requests for 73 items and 2015 saw 33 requests for 1,566 items. Of these items, for 2010 to June 2012, 100% of requests were partially or fully processed, blocking 431 items. For the following years, requests were not fulfilled entirely in 2013 (27% approved), 2014 (56%) and 2015 (85%). It is not clear how many items were fully or partially blocked. Only one of these requests over the entire period was on the basis of a court order. It doesn’t say it, but the majority of items relate to monarchy.

So 480 items in a few days is huge! 2016 will probably be a bumper year for the junta and will see Google folding under even more. A regime source stated that the “government [the military junta] needs strong assistance from Google to permanently remove all the web addresses showing inappropriate videos on YouTube…”.

The censorship success with Google has inspired the military dictatorship, and it is now calling in “representatives of Facebook this week to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation in blocking users that post content or comments insulting the monarchy.”

The media giants are falling into line for the worlds longest serving military regime. The junta is actually playing the death card effectively, using it to further tighten repression in Thailand.

We are pretty sure that PigProgress won’t be one of those blocked. It might be an odd outlet, but it has joined in with a laudatory and fawning article on the dead king among other items on robust piglets and gut problems in pigs.

 





Updated: In bed with the fascist regime

23 10 2016

We guess it should not be any surprise at all, but after years of trying, a report at Prachatai indicates that, by using the death of the king and the extraordinarily gushing reporting that is appearing, the military dictatorship has finally signed up some of the big, global, internet firms to the junta’s parochial, nasty and repressive internet censorship program.

We should note that the account is from the junta itself, so we do hope that the firms involved are willing to deny the accuracy of the report.

Deputy Prime Minister ACM Prajin Junthong, who is also deputy junta head says he “has asked Google and YouTube to cooperate in blocking websites and videos with alleged lèse majesté content.”censorship-1

He says that on 21 October 2016, he invited Ann Lavin, the Director of Public Policy of Google’s Southeast Asia and Greater China Office, to a meeting where censorship was the topic. The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore lists her as “Director, Public Policy and Government Affairs in Asia Pacific, Google Asia Pacific.” It also notes that she has been a member and executive of several organizations with links into the palace.

The junta’s website states that “Prajin consulted with Lavin about ways to block websites and video clips deemed defamatory or offensive to the Thai [m]onarchy.”

According to the junta, Lavin “placed great importance on the case under the current circumstances after the recent death of King Bhumibol.” We are not at all sure why the death of a king (or anyone else) should be cause for censorship.

The report states that Lavin “agreed to set up an ad hoc team in the US to monitor alleged lèse majesté content with Thai nationals in the team and adjust the complaint form in the Thai language to make it easier for Thai people to file complaints about such online content…”. That team has reportedly begun work.

The junta “will also set up a team in Thailand to send web addresses and URLs of people alleged to have posted such online content to the Google team after which the team will consider within 24 hours whether the content should be blocked.” Prajin added that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “will send a request to the US to obtain information from Google about people who post lèse majesté content on the internet…”.

Prajin noted that “on 19-20 October, 120 people, mostly Thais, reportedly posted online content deemed offensive to the … monarchy.” It is not clear if this refers to persons overseas, in Thailand or both.

The junta’s deputy leader said that pressure would also be brought to bear on Line and Facebook.

The junta is using the king’s death to promote and embed its politics and enhanced censorship is critical for the junta in denying critical voices.

Update: Above, we stated: We should note that the account is from the junta itself, so we do hope that the firms involved are willing to deny the accuracy of the report. At The Nation, it is stated:

INTERNET giant Google has denied it is monitoring posts by Thai social media users but said it would simply consider Thai government requests to remove certain sensitive posts on a case-by-case basis.

Google was reacting to a claim by Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong that it would help the government scan sensitive posts during the mourning period for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In a statement to The Nation, Google said: “We have always had clear and consistent policies for removal requests from governments around the world. We have not changed those policies in Thailand.

“We rely on governments around the world to notify us of content that they believe is illegal through official processes, and will restrict it as appropriate after a thorough review. All of these requests are tracked and included in our Transparency Report.”

We’d tend to believe Google as the junta has a terrible record of lying. Let’s see if Prajin responds.





Lese majeste mania

21 10 2016

Following from our post yesterday, it is becoming clear that the post-death lese majeste action is shifting from vigilante mobs to the military dictatorship.

On the one hand, if there is a decline in mob vigilantism, this might be considered somewhat positive. On the other, the military’s state hardly needs encouragement to enforce the feudal lese majeste law. As readers know, lese majeste has been used by the military regime to enforce social and political order.

In a period where succession remains a subject of intense speculation, using lese majeste for maintaining order is becoming a mania.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[f]ive people have been arrested on lese majeste charges since … the King’s passing…”. This contrasts with an earlier Prachatai reports that stated “police have so far prosecuted 12 people for lèse majesté since King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death on 13 October…”. We think the differnce is that five have been charged and another seven are “identified” and under investigation.

Whatever the number, we can be sure that there will be more prosecutions.

The alleged breaches of the law include references to the dead king, the crown prince and the regent (General Prem Tinsulaonda).

The monochrome nation is in the hands of intolerant royalists and the bland condemnations of vigilantism are often crafted in the most syrupy royalism and efforts to join with the junta in blaming victims and reproduce some of the most flagrant palace propaganda. At times these  propagandists seem to have lobotomized out the work of Handley and others over the past decade.

A member of the routinely hopeless National Human Rights Commission has also condemned vigilantism, but there seems nothing on the NHRC website about this.

None of this faux liberal facade should be permitted to obscure the military dictatorship’s continuing lese majeste mania and ongoing purge.

The deputy national police chief also warned netizens against posts which defame the royal institution. Junta spokesman Lt-Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd has warned against lese majeste. The Dictator has warned too. The message is clear. The authorities are actively seeking out those it considers are in violation of the feudal law and are prosecuting them. They seek to prevent the expression of different opinions on the monarchy.

Sansern stated: “The government won’t avoid enforcing the law in cases of proved violations [of the lese majeste law].”

Indeed. The fact is that the junta is scouring the internet for “offenders.” It is encouraging cyber-vigilantes to report any cases.

Prachatai reports that the “Digital Ministry has increased its staff at an online surveillance centre tasked with searching for lèse majesté content…”. The Ministry “has appointed 118 new staff to the Cyber Security Operation Center (CSOC), a 24/7 online monitoring center…”.

Minister Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong stated:

We’ve co-operating closely with the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commissions and internet service providers both inside and outside the country. This operation is to prevent people who are already in mourning from being subjected to further mental impact…. We don’t want everything to be shown in public because it is an inappropriate time. Please understand that we are seriously working 24/7.

The air force general also claimed “that the CSOC detected 52 lèse majesté webpages on 14 October and another 61 the next day.” He proclaimed that “35 per cent of them have already been blocked…”.

He added that there was now an effort to prosecute those responsible for the pages.

The courts will see a frenzy of lese majeste and computer crimes charges.





Changing ownership

20 06 2014

This is a long post that PPT had hoped to find time to edit and make a commentary, but we have limited capacity at present. Essentially we ask one question: has the military dictatorship begun a process of regaining control over cash cows that it once controlled in order to re-establish the off-budget wealth of the military and its leaders? The answers may well be seen in the following reports:

At the Wall Street Journal:

Thailand’s military junta is moving to extend its control over the nation’s powerful state-owned enterprises, a formidable economic sector that has been a crucial arena for Thailand’s power struggles in recent years.

The nation’s generals, who took power in a coup last month, have stopped short of an outright seizure of the nation’s 56 state-owned companies, which include Thai Airways International THAI.TH +0.64% PCL and oil-and-gas producer PTT PTT.TH -1.34% PCL. But they have put public pressure on the heads of these firms to resign, and many have begun to comply.

Voravidh Champeeratana, the chairman of Krung Thai Bank PCL, KTB.TH -3.33% stepped down on Monday, following the resignation over the weekend of PTT’s chairman. The heads of the Government Lottery Office and the Airports of Thailand AOT.TH -2.76% PCL also have resigned since the coup. So far, none have been replaced.

The state sector has long been a battleground in the clash between Thailand’s two competing political factions, which culminated in the army’s takeover last month.

There is a lot at stake: These firms have combined assets of $360 billion and they spend more annually on investment than the government does. Thailand’s listed public companies and their subsidiaries account for a fifth of the local stock-market capitalization.

Politicians have fought to control these companies, whose revenues are a source of financing for government projects. Analysts said it is common for administrations in Thailand, whether military or civilian, to put allies in charge either as a reward for loyalty or as a way to exert control over spending.

“If we’re talking about investment projects to boost the economy, state enterprises are more important than the government,” said Niphon Poapongsakorn, an economist at the Thailand Development Research Institute, a think tank.

Thailand’s military junta says its intention is to make state enterprises more efficient.

“If we have to make any change, we will find good people who can contribute to the country and put them to work,” Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong, the junta’s economic policy czar, said after the coup.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecom tycoon, moved many of his allies into state companies following his ascent to power in a popular vote in 2001. That upended decades in which Thailand’s traditional royalist elite, which has close ties to the military, kept tight control over government and the state sector.

Mr. Thaksin tried to privatize some state enterprises to boost liquidity and listings on Thailand’s stock exchange, and sold stakes to the public of some companies including PTT, Airports of Thailand PCL and telecommunications provider MCOT PCL. But the military deposed him in a 2006 coup, cutting short his privatization plans.

The struggle since then between Mr. Thaksin’s backers and Thailand’s establishment has created a revolving-door dynamic at state enterprises. Mr. Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, led her party to power in elections in 2011 and set about restoring control over the state sector, facilitating the appointment of allies to head PTT and MCOT.

A Thai police choir performed in Bangkok’s Lumpini Park on June 15. Zuma Press

In other sectors, the establishment was able to keep some influence in an uneasy balance with Ms. Yingluck’s allies. Most board positions are selected by company committees, typically a rubber stamp for the government’s choice, former directors say.

Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the military’s grab for power in May and heads its new ruling council, has sat on the board of TMB Bank PCL since before the coup. Mr. Prajin, the junta’s economic czar, has been on the board of Thai Airways from before the army’s seizure of power.

The Government Lottery Office, which runs the nation’s monthly state lottery, has had a number of bosses in recent years. The office made 2.7 billion baht ($83 million) net profit in 2012 on 61 billion baht in revenue, the latest available figures.

Much of the profits go to fund government programs. The office also can print tickets for special lotteries to raise additional funds for specific government projects.

Since the coup, the office’s former director-general, Attagrit Tharechat, who was appointed by Ms. Yingluck, has stepped down. Mr. Attagrit denied the junta had pressured him to resign.

“In order for the organization to move forward, I should open the door for the new administration,” he said.

Chaiwat Pasokpuckdee, another former director-general of the lottery under Mr. Thaksin, said most board members of state-owned companies are politically appointed and lack knowledge about operations.

Wanchai Surakul, director-general of the office under the establishment government of former Democrat Party prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said it was normal for heads of state firms to resign when governments change to “make room for new people.”

The military has long tried to control many state enterprises for the wealth they generate for the military as an institution and for the military brass who alsways end up with consider and unusual wealth.

At the Bangkok Post:

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is planning to order the national broadcasting and telecom regulator to remit to the central government tens of billions of baht in revenues it obtained from the auction of digital TV spectrum.

The NBTC’s headquarters in Phaholythin Soi 8. The high-profile group has been controversial almost since its inception, with particularly strong criticism of bringing 3G service to Thailand. (File photo)

The move follows the Office of the Attorney-General’s (OAG) finding that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is unable to manage the money efficiently under the law.

The military junta also looks set to revamp some sections of the 2010 Frequency Allocation Act (FAA) to help TOT Plc regain its concession revenue to help the state telecom enterprise’s ailing financial status, and eliminate loopholes in the law.

Thakorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC, confirmed the NCPO wants to overhaul the NBTC’s budget and revenue structure to improve transparency and public accountability.

Mr Thakorn said the act applies only to the auctions of telecom spectrum, not the auctions of broadcasting spectrum.

This has allowed the NBTC to keep the proceeds from the broadcasting spectrum auctions in its Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund for the Public Interest and allocate the funds to develop broadcasting services.

“The NCPO wants the NBTC to transfer the proceeds from the auctions of broadcasting spectrum to state coffers instead,” he said after meeting the NCPO’s legal sub-committee.

A source said the NCPO’s move to review the NBTC’s financial gains stemmed from an OAG probe.

According to the probe, the massive sum of money, particularly the revenues from the auction of digital TV frequencies worth 50.8 billion baht, is managed on an off-budget basis which is not in line with the spirit of the constitution.

The NBTC independently manages the proceeds without any scrutiny by state experts such as the Budget Bureau and the National Economic and Social Development Board.

This deviates from the state’s fiscal disciplinary framework, the probe found.

The state auditing agency also questioned the criteria and qualifications which the NBTC uses in recruiting its board members, which has raised questions over whether these people are qualified to manage the money or oversee telecommunications and broadcasting affairs.

As a result, the OAG has recommended that the NCPO take back the sum, particularly the gains from the digital TV spectrum auction, to state coffers.

Another important legal loophole which needs amending is Section 84 of the FAA, which stipulates that TOT, which is a state telecom enterprise, cannot book any revenue related to concessions in its financial statements.

The law has required the state firm to pass this revenue to state coffers since Dec 20, 2013.

This rule has hurt TOT’s financial status as the state enterprise is bracing for a hefty operating loss of 10 billion baht this year after posting a loss of 1.7 billion baht in the first quarter.

TOT reported a profit of 4.3 billion baht in 2013. It received 20 billion baht in revenue from its operations last year, a little lower than its total expenditure.

Its salary payments and benefits for 22,000 employees account for 48% of total fixed costs annually.

Earlier, TOT asked the NCPO to allow it to keep the concession revenue until the contract with its concessionaire expires.

Leading mobile telephone service provider Advanced Info Service (AIS) pays TOT about 16 billion baht in concession revenue a year under an agreement to provide the 2G mobile service on the 900-megahertz spectrum.

AIS’s concession is scheduled to expire in September 2015.

Mr Thakorn said an amendment to Section 45 of the FAA, which limits the NBTC to allocating frequencies via an auction process only, is also necessary to ensure efficiency.

Col Settapong Malisuwan, the NBTC’s vice-chairman, said the section has hindered the country’s telecom and broadcasting development as “unlicensed regimes” have been gaining momentum internationally.

Allocations of some spectrum ranges like spectrum for taxi radio and satellite frequencies do not need an auction to comply with international practices, he said.

Col Settapong said he personally believed that more than half of the 95 sections under the FAA should be amended to eliminate legal disputes and promote local telecom and broadcasting industries.

Sections that need to be revamped include the NBTC’s management structure, the number of commissioners which might need to be reduced from the present total of seven, and the selection process for commissioners.

Mr Thakorn also said he believed the NCPO will order the amendment before the auctions of 4G spectrum takes place.

Army secretary Maj Gen Polapat Wannapuk said yesterday Col Settapong has represented the NBTC in submitting documents to explain the details of the digital TV coupon subsidy, worth 25 billion baht, which is among the NBTC projects that have been suspended by the NCPO.

The NCPO has put the brakes on three critical broadcasting and telecommunications megaprojects to examine the transparency and functioning of the regulator.

The suspension of the three projects worth a combined 85 billion baht has drawn criticism from mobile and digital TV operators, which say it could damage the overall industry.

The suspended projects are two spectrum auctions to provide 4G services, worth 40 billion baht; the digital TV coupon subsidy worth 25 billion baht; and the universal service obligation fund to provide basic telecommunications infrastructure nationwide worth 20 billion.

What a neat idea! Billions into the junta’s coffers, all in the name of anti-corruption! You’d be a dunce to believe them.