Critic in fear for his life

23 04 2017

Asia Sentinel carries a report headlined “Thai Critic Faces Death Threat.” We guess that the story is blocked for many readers in Thailand, so while not reproducing the report in full, PPT posts the main points from it.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun has become one of the most implacable critics of the country’s ruling king, … Vajiralongkorn, and the junta that took over the country in a coup in 2014. Now that may have put his life in danger from the country’s erratic and violence-prone king.

The report reports the story that Pavin and two others have been “banned” by the junta, with anyone contacting them being threatened with jail.

… The junta has unsuccessfully attempted to persuade several governments to return Pavin to Thailand. He has lived in exile since the coup, mostly as an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan although he has traveled and lectured widely in the United States and Europe, often with royalist Thais attempting to shout him down. The government has also sought to persuade foreign governments to bar him from speaking.

… In recent days, Pavin has escalated his attacks with a series of articles published in Asia Sentinel, New Mandala, and Washington Post, charging that the new king is reigning “as a monarch whose authority is based on fear and cares little about those around him. In vivid and depressing language, Vajiralongkorn’s command structure, Pavin said, resembles those of Thai mafias, or chaophos.

After the article ran, Pavin learned from a number of credible sources that the new king would seek to “manage” him, which in Thai vernacular usually means he would seek to kill his critic.

“So the warning is credible given the credibility of the source,” Pavin told Asia Sentinel. “Someone may come after me in Japan, although my friend believes it will be difficult because of where I live. But they could attack me when I travel overseas, that would be more likely.

Asia Sentinel reminds readers that “several people who worked for or with the new king have met their deaths under mysterious circumstances.” It mentions deaths and disappearances, naming: Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha and Major General Pisitsak Saniwong na Ayutthaya, Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri and Police General Akrawut Limrat.

… Deep concerns about the new king’s behavior have circulated for years, and although the country’s severe lese majeste laws have kept them out of the local press, they have circulated widely….

Since he replaced his … father, the lese-majeste laws and the military’s campaign to build Vajiralongkorn’s royal presence into near-mystical status have become a kind of trap for the junta. His erratic and violent behavior are now unchecked….

It is believed that the king engineered the disappearance of [a] memorial plaque of 1932 revolution, since he hated the revolutionaries who abolished absolute monarchy 85 years ago. And now he wishes to revive royal absolutism….

Thailand has arrived at a critical juncture in which the head of state is ruling its subjects with fear. His yearning for absolute power seems to have been met with the military’s own wish, a country where politics is a game of the political elites. To consolidate their rule, events have shown both the monarchy and the military have resorted to brutal tactics to eliminate its critics….

 





Jirawong gets 7 years for lese majeste

4 08 2016

Jirawong Wattanathewasilp was secretly arrested on or about 16 October 2015 and charged with lese majeste. He has now been sentenced by a military court to 7 years jail, reduced by half for a guilty plea. Jirawong

He was accused of using his connections with the royal household – to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn – for financial gain.

Khaosod reports that a “military tribunal convicted an assistant to the Crown Prince’s late court astrologer of insulting the monarchy and sentenced him Monday to three and a half years in jail.”

His lese majeste travails are not over as he “will be tried twice more by the military court on the same charge for two other alleged offenses.” He was “immediately returned to the detention facility at the 11th Army Circle base on Bangkok’s Nakornchaisri Road, where he has been held since October, to await his further trials.”Vajiralongkorn

Khaosod states:

As with many other cases that involve the monarchy, the exact nature of the trio’s alleged wrongdoing was never made clear by police, and media agencies were instructed not to report about the scandal other than publishing official statements and authorized leaks.

Jirawong was initially detained with his boss Suriyan Sujaritpolwong, alias Mor Yong and Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha, of the Technology Crime Suppression Division. There case was palace-related. The authorities froze some of their assets while comparing these cases with those surrounding former Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) chief Pongpat Chayaphan.

Initial reports said Suriyan had “confessed” while Jirawong and Prakrom denied the charges. Within a day, all were said to have “confessed.”

Prakrom was soon dead. He was said to have hung himself. Suriyan followed, with authorities denying his death. Only Jirawong survived custody (so far).

The massive pre-succession clearout of the prince’s previous allies and those of his former wife have been vicious,





Lese majeste and the crushing of justice

8 07 2016

In a couple of posts, about a year ago, PPT referred to the “development” of “legal” notions that seemed to amount to a new “law” that we dubbed “lese dictateur.” This “law” was protecting The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

At the time, we did not link this “law” to the Bike for Dad shenanigans and the clutch of lese majeste cases that resulted from very odd claims about an “assassination plot.”

Bike for dad

At the time of the Bike for Dad event, celebrating the king and and supposedly organized by  and showcasing Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, it was never made clear who the target of the “plot” was.

We do know that the event resulted in the “death” in custody of two men who had been close to the prince. In neo-feudal Thailand, the deaths of Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha were never adequately investigated or explained.

It was never made clear how the “plotters” – referred to by the media and regime as “terrorists” – had committed lese majeste. Rumors were that the “target” was The Dictator himself. If that was so, then it was unclear how lese majeste was a charge.

In other words, the Bike for Dad deaths and plot were shrouded in neo-feudal and military junta-imposed secrecy and a fog of rumor.

Prachatai reports that this in not going to change. The trial, in a provincial military court, of the alleged “plotters” will be held in secret:

Citing national peace and order, a military court has given the green light to the prosecution’s request to hold the trial of six lèse majesté suspects in secret. They are alleged to have been involved in a Bike for Dad terrorist plot and making lèse majesté comments behind bars.

The “Military Court in Khon Kaen approved the military prosecutor’s request to hold a secret trial for Prathin Chanket and five other suspects charged with lèse majesté, arguing that a public trial would affect national peace and order since the case contained sensitive messages…”.

The secret trial will begin on 4 August 2016.

This trial now revolves around the six suspects being accused of, “some time between August 2014 and February 2015, the defendants uttered three lèse majesté messages to two witnesses.” (They still face cases under other laws for a “terrorist” plot.)

That, apparently, is the totality of lese majeste aspect of the allegations.

Remarkably, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “during that time [when they committed the alleged lese majeste], the defendants were being detained separately at a prison in Khon Kaen Province.”

It is understood they were being held as defendants in another murky case brought by the military dictatorship, claiming they plotted separate anti-coup actions in 2014, when they were arrested and jailed.

As might be expected from persons already incarcerated, all the defendants therefore denied the lese majeste allegation.

Prayuth’s authoritarian Thailand is a lawless place where justice is crushed under the military boot.





An official epidemic

21 02 2016

In an op-ed at Asia Sentinel, usually blocked in Thailand, Charupong Ruangsuwan, the executive-director of the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (OFHD), based in San Francisco, and a former Puea Thai Party leader, writes on an epidemic of suicides and flight among senior police and military.

Because of the blocking, we reproduce much of the op-ed.

On 12 February, it was reported that “a Thai police spokesman announced that a high-ranking official, Lt. Col. Chan Chaisawatra, had committed suicide.” Charupong states:

We believe he didn’t commit suicide. We believe he was murdered, the latest in a long series of “suicides” that began last year in what amounts to a reign of terror within the Royal Thai Police.

The claim that he committed suicide is belied by the fact that Chan had been promised a promotion a month earlier. Our investigation in Bangkok has revealed that the junta wanted to set an example for any government employees of the consequences of daring to challenge the authority of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha….

On Feb. 8, Chan lodged a formal complaint regarding the use of the junta’s notorious Article 44 which gives universal power to the junta leader, including the disbandment of the officer’s  investigative division at the police department.

If Chan was murdered, then his “death, after 20 years of service, has sent a shiver to every police officer in Thailand.”

Charupong states that: “The news of his death has not been reported by any Thai media at the moment or they could face grave consequences including the shutdown of their publication.”

But why an “epidemic”? Charupong points out that “[l]ate last year, Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, another high-ranking Thai police officer resigned and escaped death, fleeing to Australia in fear of his life.”

Others have fled:

Police Gen. Khachachart Boondee  as well as Maj. Gen. Suchart Prommai, former 11th Infantry Regiment commander now stripped of military rank; Police Col. Col Pairoj Rojanakhajorn, a former chief of the Crime Suppression Division’s Sub-Division 2; and his-then deputy Lt Col Thammawat Hiranyalekha.

In addition:

Police Major Prakrom Warunprapa and Major General Pisitsak Saneewong na Ayutthaya, the chief bodyguard of Prince Vajiralongkorn, supposedly committed suicide in jail. The prince’s soothsayer, Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, aka Mor Yong, supposedly died of renal failure. Former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri also disappeared.

All of this is chilling:

Academics and past politicians dare not exercise free speech. Countless numbers of Red Shirts and pro-democracy activists has disappeared without any traces. Their loved ones and relatives have contacted me but I couldn’t help them. I am now living in exile in the United States.

What can be done? Not much in Thailand, where the royalist generals and their murderous minions have impunity. Charupong urges:

The United States, the U.K., the E.U., Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all other civilized nations must continue to put pressure on the illegal regime of Gen. Prayuth to respect human rights and stop murdering people who speak their minds peacefully.





Another victim of the royal scam

20 02 2016

We have used the word “scam” in the headline, but we admit that we do not know whose scam this is.

Back in October 2015 Suriyan Sujaritpalawong was secretly arrested and charged with lese majeste. He died in custody at a then secret prison on a military base in Bangkok. His death was not adequately explained and his body was hurriedly cremated.

Suriyan was a well-known fortune teller known to be a close aide to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and a chief organizer of the Bike For Mom and Bike for Dad propaganda events for the prince.

Also arrested were Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, Suriyan’s aide, and Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha, an officer of the Technology Crime Suppression Division. Prakrom was also charged with lese majeste and also died in custody at the same prison at the military base. Like Suriyan, his death was not adequately explained and his body was cremated within hours of his death.

Khaosod now reports that “[h]igh-ranking police officials including a well-known police spokesman will be prosecuted for allegedly installing a communications device atop Bangkok’s tallest building for a ‘suspicious purpose’ during last August’s Bike for Mom event.”

“Suspicious purpose” raises all kinds of possibilities. We can recall that there were very confused claims, from the junta, of an “assassination plot.”

Is it this alleged “plot” that has “Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri and other unnamed officers face prosecution for malfeasance after their case was forwarded to the national police chief…”. The chief is meant to send the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Could there have been such a plot? Who was the target?

Or could all of this be a further clipping of the prince’s wings? Or is it the prince getting rid of aides he’s fallen out with (a not uncommon event)? It remains guesses.

But back to Prawut, who has not been seen in public since 27 October “when he seemed to be swept up in a crackdown on officials said to be abusing their connections to the monarchy.”

An arrest warrant states that “Prawut for allegedly installing a radio transmitter on the Baiyoke Tower II during the Bike for Mom event.”

The report states that in October there was “a purge of high-level officials accused of defaming the monarchy by exploiting their links, one of the suspects, later found dead in his cell [presumably Prakrom], was accused of sneaking into the skyscraper to install radio devices taken from the Bung Kum Police Station.”

These radio devices were linked with five mobile phones found at Prakrom’s residence and allegedly “tuned in to the signal coming from Baiyoke II, which led to an accusation of unauthorized eavesdropping.”

Who was he alleged to be listening to? The prince? Other royal aides? The Dictator and his minions?

The report says nothing is yet known of “Prawut’s alleged criminal link was to Prakrom” and there is no “mention … of Prawut’s present whereabouts.”

All of this is confused and deliberately so.





Another Bike for Dad victim

24 01 2016

The military regime’s toadies must feel that sufficient time has passed following the bad publicity associated with the deaths in custody of “lese majeste” suspects Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and Prakrom Warunprapha to get back to the case.

The Bangkok Post reports that a “warrant has been issued for the arrest of a former deputy chief of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) with an alleged link to a high-profile lese majeste case.”

Police Colonel Siwapong Patpongpanit is reportedly facing “charges of negligence of duty in connection with the possession of police radio communication devices.” Police Major Prakrom is said to have requested 100 “radio communication devices.” It isn’t clear if the devices were requested for the Bike for Mom/Bike for Dad events or for duties associated with Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn or something else. (We do know that the prince has plenty of communication devices, with all of his many cars have a multitude of aerials.)

The late Pol Maj Prakrom was said to have “more than 200 radio communication devices…”. That’s a lot of communicating!

The police allege that “Pol Col Siwapong, then the deputy CSD chief, handed over the devices to his fellow officer…”.

He has “been under a police watch for suspected links with a lese majeste network led by celebrity fortune-teller Suriyan…. Pol Col Siwapong was transferred to the Central Investigation Bureau before voluntarily resigning from the police service.”

This report reminds us that Jirawong Wattanathewasilp remains in custody. This is odd given that palace-related “lese majeste” cases have generally been resolved in record time, with the “suspects” pleading guilty and immediately being sentenced.





The military’s blacksite

30 12 2015

Some time ago, when two lese majeste detainees – Prakrom Warunprapha and Suriyan Sujaritpalawong – died in custody, PPT asked about the origin and nature of the detention site, inside a Bangkok military base.

In a Prachatai report, at the time, Gen Paiboon Kumchaya, the Minister of “Justice,” denies any responsibility for the site or for the deaths. He argued that “the remand facility in the 11th Army Division is not a ‘military prison’, but a normal remand facility runs by the Department of Corrections.”

PPT added: We do not think that “normal” is in any way the right description of this military facility housing a makeshift prison (or is it Detention Site Green?).

At last, more attention is being given to this dark and deadly detention facility that the regime is expanding.

The Bangkok Post reports on the site using information from lawyers. It says it is a “new” detention center, although we remain unconvinced by this. If it is new, it appears developed following learning from the CIA’s covert prison sites.

For example, when “lawyer Winyat Chatmontree was allowed to meet his client in detention at a Bangkok army base, Pratin Chankate shuffled in blindfolded and shackled by military guards.” Former Border Patrol Police officer Pratin is accused of being involved in the mysterious “Khon Kaen model” plot to perhaps assassinate someone, somewhere. He was transferred to the military detention site from police custody, apparently deemed a threat to national security. Winyat’s client was “taken away after five minutes by soldiers…”.

Lawyers who work with the “detainees say they are routinely denied access to their clients and, in some cases, have themselves been subject to intimidation.”

Winyat says that in most cases: “The military is running most of the process, from interrogation to building cases…. Then they hand it over to police to continue what they started.”

The military dictatorship claims that the detention center at the 11th Army Circle base “is necessary for the efficient investigation of major threats to the kingdom.” In fact, it seems more likely that it is a convenient place for the milder forms of “enhanced interrogation” and for extracting “confessions.” Indeed, it seems that all inmates either confess or die in custody.

Human rights groups say the facility is designed to keep “suspects under army control as they are railroaded through a system of military courts…”.

The facility, “established within the military base under a decree issued on Sept 11 … [t]hat means detainees can be held there for up to three months.”

Sunai Phasuk, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, declares: “It’s fair to call this facility a ‘black site’ of the Thai military…”