Journalist charged after angering The Dictator

9 08 2017

The military dictatorship has has again demonstrated its capacity for sullen and vengeful (mis)use of what passes for law and the justice system in Thailand.

Khaosod journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk has been charged under Article 116 of the criminal code (sedition) and computer crimes for criticizing the junta. Yesterday he met police to actually learn what it was in his social media account that annoyed the junta. Before then, the police had refused to explain.

Both charges carry penalties of up to seven years in jail. Facing up to fourteen years in jail, Pravit revealed that one charge relates to a post from February 2016, “when he criticised the junta-drafted constitution.”

The second charge is revealing of the reason for these charges and why the junta’s police had to trawl back to 2016. Last month, Pravit posted a critical comment on The Dictator’s “handling of floods and the trial of ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra.”

From Wikipedia’s article on lese majeste

Clearly, The Dictator went into yet another rage and demanded action against the impertinent journalist.

This is confirmed in Khaosod’s report that “a representative from the military filed complaint against Pravit … on July 28. The source … said the charges under the Computer Crime Act would rely on its provisions covering online defamation.”

Quite obviously, criticizing General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s dictatorial leader since May 2014, is now an act of treason. The sedition and computer crimes law are now The Dictator’s equivalent of lese majeste. He is so thin-skinned that he can brook no critical comment. His arrogance is monarchical and maniacal.

Pravit has “vowed to continue to speak out against the junta…”. He added, “I’m not surprised by the charge…. Anyone who criticizes them [the junta] must pay the price.” He might have added that criticizing The Dictator means angry and concocted uses of the law as punishment.

Repressing opponents

6 08 2017

Two reports in Khaosod show how insecure the military dictatorship becomes when it identifies critics of its dominance.

The first Khaosod report is, naturally enough, related to the trembles it has when Yingluck Shinawatra looks popular and seems to have supporters boosting her. The junta has blustered about conspiracies and plots. Who have they targeted?

A day after several hundred supporters “gathered to support former premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s closing statement in her malfeasance trial, the … police … launched a crackdown against the people who drove them there.”

It is reported that “Gen. Srivara Rangsipramkul, who usually handles matters of national security, charged 21 minivans drivers Wednesday with violating the Land Transport Act by straying from their designated routes to bring Yingluck supporters to Bangkok.”

In addition, the regime has sent its uniformed thugs to threaten red shirt supporters seeking to prevent them from showing up at the court. The report states:

Redshirt supporters say these efforts are emblematic of the Prayuth regime’s strategy of uprooting the legacy of its political rivals, the Shinawatra clan, and falling short of that, render it invisible.

A second Khaosod story reports that two former Puea Thai Party politicians and a well-known journalist (for Khaosod) have been slapped with sedition allegations.

Former energy minister Pichai Naripatapan met police last Friday to “acknowledge a charge of sedition filed against him…”.

PPT has mentioned journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk in a previous post. The third is the outspoken Watana Muangsook.

For the junta, “sedition” seems to amount to criticism of the junta.

Pichai’s “crime” is that he “violated the law in things they wrote on social media.” He quoted an academic on economic problems. It seems that this amounts to sedition.

Watana “acknowledged the charge on Wednesday and insisted on his innocence.”

The Article 116 charge against Pravit cites “unspecified Facebook posts…”. He is due back before the police in a few days, when the police say they will finally disclose which of his posts are determined to be “seditious.”

It seems that appearing pathetic is not an issue for the military dictatorship.

Pressing all opponents

2 08 2017

The military dictatorship appears to have decided to double-down on its repression of those it considers opponents.

The regime’s current round of repression appears to be focusing not on political activists but those the regime’s thugs consider “fellow travelers.” Two examples show how this is happening.

In a recent Facebook post, Khaosod journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk states:

I received a call from the Deputy Head of the Technology Crime Suppression Division informing me at about 6.40pm that a police of the rank of Police Lieutenant Colonel is charging me of violating sedition law through an estimate 5 Facebook postings. I insist that I criticize the military regime in good faith and will with my lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights meet with police to hear charges next Tuesday, Aug. 8. I will continue the criticize the illegitimate military regime until they take away my smartphone. BTW, I am honoured to be represented by Khun Yaowalak Anuphan , head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights as my lawyer.

In a second case, Prachatai reports that:

On 31 July 2017, Sirikan Charoensiri, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), received a letter from Chanasongkram Police Station, summoning her to hear charges against her at 10:30 am on 8 August.

This summons flows from a case where she was representing political activists:

The letter states that she is accused of violating Articles 172 and 174 of the Criminal Code for making false accusations against investigating officers….

The accusation relates to Sirikan’s refusal to allow a police officer to search her car without a warrant in front of the Military Court of Bangkok on 27 June 2015.

At the time, the police wanted to confiscate the mobile phones of some of the 14 pro-democracy activists she represented which were in Sirikan’s car, but she refused, claiming that the police did not present a warrant to search her car.

Sirikan later file a complaint against the police under Article 157 of the Criminal Code — malfeasance in office — pointing out that the officers unlawfully confiscated her car for the search.

She is also accused under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for disobeying the orders of an official.

Clearly the military dictatorship is expanding its repression. This is probably because it feels threatened by the rising red shirts/pro-Yingluck Shinawatra action and a desire to trample any voice that may seek to throw grit in the wheels of the junta’s “election” plans.

Fear and unintended consequences II

19 04 2017

Most of the breaking stories on the fate of the 1932 plaque are on social media, including the Facebook accounts of Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Another Facebook account worth following is that by Pravit Rojanaphruk, one of the bravest of local journalists.

The mainstream media is publishing material but because it is now widely assumed that the king had the plaque removed, that media is treading very carefully and fearfully.

Marshall claims that the plaque was removed on 5 April, the evening before the announcement of the military junta’s 2017 constitution. That, of course, would be symbolic vandalism.

When thinking about the king’s reason for moving against memories and symbols of 1932, it is important to recall that all he would know of that revolution would have been gained from his grandmother and father, both of whom were anti-People’s Party and anti-Pridi Phanomyong, or from disgruntled royals who mostly hated the events and people of what they consider a travesty of (their) history.

Reuters reported that The Dictator and the junta have been getting a plausible story together.

Self-appointed royalist premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “warned people not to protest against the mysterious disappearance of a plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy, a theft some activists see as a symbolic threat to democracy.” He’s also been working on “protecting” the replacement plaque “celebrating the monarchy.”

Prayuth babbled something about “police … investigating…”, but also diminished the significance of the theft, the plaque and the 1932 revolution. Essentially, Prayuth’s message was a mafia-like “forget about it.” He said that it was all in the past, history, and not worth the effort.

The idea that the junta doesn’t know what happened in an area that is usually crawling with police and military and is watched by dozens of cameras beggars belief. As Reuters says, the “square where the plaque went missing is close to parliament, to a royal throne hall and to an army barracks. The area is also surveyed by several police posts.”

Prayuth knows what happened. He is now worrying about the political fallout and the boot he may get up the backside if he says or does anything wrong.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, the police claim sudden attacks of brain death. Deputy police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul “admitted yesterday that he had no idea how to proceed with the case involving the mysterious removal of a plaque marking a 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy.” He knows he can’t move on this without some kind of “insurance” that he won’t end up shaven headed in the Bhudha Monthon Temporary Prison.

His babbling seemed like a man crazed or crazed by fear. In any case, while Prayuth declares the police are investigating, the police say they aren’t.

A group of activists filed a complaint, part of which explained to the police what they should be doing and why. We doubt the police, knowing the risks, will get of their ample posteriors.

What the police did do, according to several reports, was throw up a protective fence around the new royalist plaque, with a sign declaring it “royal ground.” You get the picture.

Reporters didn’t get the picture, however, as the police with some military support tried to prevent them from filming in the area.

They would not have done this without orders from The Dictator or from Tutzing.

Srisuwan Janya, arrested yesterday while trying to complain about the removal of the plaque, was released from military custody. He proclaimed that he would continue to complain, saying the new constitution gave him that right.

It remains to be seen what the full consequences of royal vandalism will be for the junta and the monarchy. It is certainly a damaging fiasco. Yet the junta knows it can manage fiascos – it has in the past. The question for the junta is whether they can manage the king.

Maintaining authoritarian monarchism

26 11 2016

It may seem odd that “a special event in Bangkok next month to mark the birthday anniversary” for the late king, on his former birthday of 5 December, and described as “huge” is being overseen by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

It seems that the dead king has to be properly handled and managed to be made a series of ceremonies that will accord him the status of figurehead. That’s important for the monarchy, the military dictatorship and also for Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

The aim is to maintain the previous king’s “aura” for the institution of the monarchy in anticipation that the person of the new king is not bringing any of that with him when he takes the throne. Maintaining the aura of the monarchy is important for the military junta as it “protects” the monarchy and manufactures and protects authoritarian Thailand.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, writing in Khaosod, explains some of this:

The reason why the military government is still very vocally vowing to have these two dozen or so people extradited to Thailand has become a performance for the sake of the domestic audience of royalists and ultra-royalists to reinforce the military’s claim to leadership in loving and revering the monarchy.

By vocally pursuing these anti-monarchists, the regime inadvertently contradicted it own oft-repeated claim that all Thais love and revere the monarchy without exception.

Any shade or nuance between those who totally love and revere the monarchy and those who oppose the institution often gets buried in repeated performance of loyalty, however.

These performances are likely to continue as markers of loyalty to the regime and the monarchy and as a means to repress opposition.

Cult of personality

5 11 2016

At Khaosod, journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk asks:

Excessive and incessant praise and veneration, growing rituals of worship will likely elevate the late King into a demi-god and produce a King-worship cult, and a climate where the only thing one could possibly say about the late King is how great he was and how much you loved him.

What will this mean for Thailand in the long run? I can’t help but wonder.

PPT’s answer is that we already know. Thailand today is seeing nothing that it hasn’t seen for the past 3-4 decades as palace propaganda grew in intensity and became highly politicized.

The cult of personality was a creation that began to be promoted in the 1960s as a political tool for counterinsurgency. By the time of General Prem Tinsulanonda’s never-elected prime ministership, the promotion of the monarchy was taken to new levels. Prem supported the king in ways never seen since the overthrow of the absolute monarchy. Prem picked up all of the royal projects and funded them all with taxpayer monies. Legends were created with taxpayer funds, promoting the king as a demi-god.

Prem was rewarded with political support, lucrative corporate sinecures and a house and job for life at the top of a royalist hierarchy he did so much to create.

Every royal idea has been promoted as the greatest this and that. The king was promoted as great and good. No facts were allowed to stand in the way. School books and even university texts were modified to meet the need for portraying the king as a demigod. And, as we know, laws were strengthened and used to shut up those who found all this cult creating just a bit too stifling.

So Thailand has had a cult of personality for some time. What we are seeing now is an outpouring of this treacly fairy tale compressed in time. That too is a creation, paving the way for a new reign.

Those who thought the death of the “father” might lead to something different in Thailand are probably going to be disappointed as his image will be “protected” as a means to embed the new regime. Royalists are coming on board for the new reign. The cult of personality will remain, for the dead king, but that will be used to protect the military-monarchy regime going forward.

The EC and fixing the referendum

4 08 2016

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk had a very useful (and scary) article published a couple of days ago. We highlight just a few points, while noting that the Election Commission is a failed and partisan organization.

Pravit asks:

Can people trust that the Aug. 7 referendum charter draft will be transparent, impartial and credible?

Given the junta’s wielding of absolute power and its big stakes in a “successful” outcome of the Aug. 7 referendum on the constitution it wants passed by the public, there are many questions about the process.

Is that a no to the question asked? We suggest never trusting the military in Thailand. Never, ever.

The next question is startling: Why does the ballot require a fingerprint? This is the first time ever that this has been part of a ballot. The EC says this in not for identifying voters (all of whom are fingerprinted for their ID cards) or for intimidating voters. The EC says it is a “a marketing maneuver.” Yes, seriously, that’s what they say and why there’s a space on the ballot for the print.

Will the ballot be secret: There is the fingerprinting…. But the EC says: “Despite recent rumors circulating on social media that ballots would be counted in secret, the [Election C]ommission said ballots will be counted at polling locations Sunday.”

Is public monitoring possible? The official answer is yes. But, and its a big but: “To make a formal complaint of misconduct or irregularity, one must physically visit a provincial office of the Election Commission, or EC [HQ], or via an EC smartphone app available for iPhone and Android.”

Will there be military interference? Probably. The military’s men and women will be everywhere and in many roles, but according to the EC, “they will be outside the stations…”. But it is admitted that The Dictator could use Article 44 to intervene anywhere he likes.

Why will only 95 percent of the votes be initially reported by the EC? The EC says this is “in order to avoid possible discrepancies with the official result process running in tandem, the results of which will be made public by Wednesday at the latest.”

That’s three days of opacity, added to all the opaqueness, threats and repression to date.