Students vs. the feudal regime I

24 10 2021

As Pravit Rojanaphruk points out in a Khaosod op-ed:

A year has passed since the students-led monarchy reform movement descended to the streets of Bangkok and beyond in large numbers. One year on, over 140 have been charged with lese majeste crimes, or defaming the monarchy. It’s punishable by a maximum imprisonment term of 15 years. Around half a dozen of them are currently … incarcerated….

Scores of others face hundreds of other charges. Some are in jail, others have bail, others await more charges.

While the media face censorship and with “self-censorship are the norm, combined with self-denial or silence to due fears of repercussions or political expediency,” the students continue to push for change.

Thai PBS reports that the Chulalongkorn-Thammasat football match procession will be different this year. The executive committee of Chulalongkorn University’s Student Union is unanimous in canceling the Phra Kieo coronet, Chulalongkorn University’s emblem. Why? They see “it to be representative of a feudal culture and a symbol of inequality.”

As the most royalist of universities, with many connections with the monarchy and royal family, the message is clear.

In his  article in support of other students who suffer feudal repression – lese majeste – Pravit calls on the media to support them:

The press could continue to watch and simply report about more prosecutions as more youths take the risks, are taken to jail, repeatedly denied bail, and refrain from questioning the anachronistic law . Such stance means the Thai press continue to be part of the problem for their lack of courage and commitment to greater press freedom.

It means the mostly young political activists feel the need to express themselves publicly on the streets or on social media, despite the risks as they regard the current situation as not just abnormal but unacceptable, untolerable and undemocratic…..

The least that journalists and media associations can do is to call out publicly and say we need to talk about the lese majeste law and something needs to be done about it. Even if they do not support the abolition of the law, there are crucial details worth reforming: the severity of the law which is disproportionate and more.

In fact, from our observation, the media has not been comprehensive in reporting of these arrests and charges and the reporting is so sporadic that we feel the regime and its supporters have cowed the mainstream media.

The students deserve better. Thailand deserves better.





Further updated: A violent interlude III

16 08 2021

More on political protest.

Thai Enquirer has a series of photos and videos of the weekend’s protests. Thai PBS reports:

Young hard core anti-establishment protesters, many of them vocational students, clashed with crowd control police at Bangkok’s Din Daeng intersection again this evening (Sunday), as they tried to breach a wall of shipping containers and a police cordon blocking access to the out-bound side of Vibhavadi Rangsit highway.

These protesters did not join the three “car mob” convoys, organized by former red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar, Sombat Boonngarm-anong and the “Talu Fah” group, which were separately heading for the Ratchaprasong intersection, the Democracy Monument and Lat Phrao intersection, after travelling through the streets of Bangkok and Thonburi.

The young protesters gathered at Din Daeng intersection during the afternoon and, at about 5.30pm, tried to remove one of the shipping containers, in order to march toward Prime Minister Prayut Chan-op-cha’s residence inside the nearby barracks of the First Infantry Regiment of the Royal Guards.

Crowd control police responded, starting with teargas and followed by rubber bullets and high-powered water cannons. The protesters reportedly fought back with “ping pong” bombs, flares, giant firecrackers, bricks and sling shots.

We are reminded that it was only a few days ago that the media was calling for less police violence. Chairith Yonpiam, a news editor at the Bangkok Post, suggests that the “state’s heavy-handed approach suggests the authorities are confident that the anti-government movement has lost substantial public support.” He goes on to say that protesters  risk losing support if violence continues. Clearly, though, the state is violent. Across the globe, resurgent authoritarians have learned that they can easily out-wait and defeat peaceful protesters. Where does this leave protesters?

Update 1: Pravit Rojanaphruk posted today on Facebook, with some important observations:

Three brief observations about the young protesters clasing with police over the past two weeks.

1) They are mostly working class teenagers (a number of them have small motorcycles making them very mobile when confronting police), their families are among the most affected by the economic crisis due to COVID-19 mismanagement. They are not middle-class intellectuals or students from Chulalongkorn or Thammasat Universities like those leading the call for monarchy-reform.

2) They don’t take order from middle-class protest leaders and arevmore that ready to use the calls for prostests by whichever anti-government groups to assemble and continue the protest onward and further by confronting with riot police long after the protest organisers have called it a day.

3) They have their own way of expressing themselves and it is through the willingness to violently confront riot police with slingshots, fireworks, rocks, bricks, water bottles, wooden and metal sticks and burn symbols of police that they manifest themselves. Middle-class’ theory of nonviolence does not apply to them and is not attractive. What’s attractive for them is to be together in state of ‘communitas’, anthropologically speaking where they feel empowered and express their collective anger about their bleaked future prospect in Thai society as they are close to the bottom of the social echelon with little or no light at the end of the tunnel.

Meanwhile, The Standard had some breathtaking photos, We include some below:

Update 2: A reader sent us links to what are said to be recent protest videos, focused on police aggression, here and here.





Updated: Trampling remaining freedoms V

11 08 2021

It has been a busy few days and PPT is catching up on some of the reports, in this case, from Thai Enquirer.

In one report, there’s an account of a “document that was leaked to the press on Monday evening purportedly show[ing] a government watchlist of dissidents that is under government surveillance and facing travel restrictions.”

The document, initially said to be “fake” by a military source, it listed “some of the most prominent anti-government protesters along with opposition parliamentarians and journalists.” Some of those included were “Move Forward Party Leader Pita Limjaroenrat, former Future Forward Leader Thanathorn Juangruangroongkit, protest leader Anon Nampa, and journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk.”

The report refers to “the list is real is a worrying escalation of the administrations war on civil liberties.” It cites political analyst Arun Saronchai who states:

Not only is the administration using continuous violence and arrest against peaceful protesters but this document is troubling because it includes members of the press and politicians as well….

That means to the government, they will paint anyone that opposes them with the same brush. What we need to understand now is what membership on this list entails and what kind of surveillance is being done against them….

A second report is of the police “seeking software that would help it monitor chat applications and social media private messages…”. The report states that the “Royal Thai Police have reached out to several companies selling software similar to the Pegasus software developed by an Israeli defense company.” The reason for this is that they want to digitally snoop on those using “popular chat applications like LINE, WhatsApp, and Telegram.”

Police want to “prevent political protest as well as go after members of organized crime and drug smugglers…”. We can guess that the main reason would be to crack down further on anti-monarchism.

This kind of news explains why protesters are targeting police. They are becoming the regime’s Stasi.

Update: The document mentioned in the first report above now seems genuine. The police’s Immigration Bureau seem to say it is their document but they did not release it. They seem to want to deny it is a political blacklist, saying it is an immigration blacklist. They say it is people who are watched on leaving and entering the country. But that lame claim fails to explain why, for example, a reporter with no warrants for his arrest is on the list or why political figures without warrants are also there. It is a political blacklist for harassing people and making their life difficult and to demonstrate the state’s arbitrariness and power.





Making palace propaganda

27 02 2021

Australia’s contribution to royalist propaganda has been posted to the Australian Embassy’s Facebook page. The “documentary” is released in Thai and English versions. Our link is to the English version that covers King Vajiralongkorn’s time as a high school student in Sydney, an officer cadet at Duntroon Military College in Canberra and training with Australia’s Special Air Services Regiment in Perth.

The embassy introduces it thus:

The Australian Embassy, Thailand proudly presents “His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua in Australia” documentary as a gift to Thai people.

Our Embassy is deeply honoured to have His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua and Her Majesty Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana to preside over the premiere screening on Monday 15th February 2021.

There will be a lot of Thais who will look this particular gifthorse in the mouth.

Some days ago, Australia’s most trusted news outlet, the ABC had a story on this propaganda piece, saying that the embassy “has produced a documentary showcasing historical footage of the King of Thailand’s six-and-a-half years in Australia at boarding school and with the Australian Defence Force.” It shows the then prince marching, running obstacle courses, studying, in the cadet’s mess, practicing patrols and “graduating.” It is added that the embassy Facebook post said it “highlights the shared history between the Thai Royal Family and Australia”…”.

The ABC notes that this propaganda piece comes as “dozens of protesters face up to 15 years in jail for allegedly defaming [the king].”

The story cites journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, who said the timing was “unfortunate to put it mildly,” with “59 monarchy reform activists had been charged under the lese majeste laws,” adding:

It’s sending a very awkward message because we are in the middle of unprecedented calls for monarchy reform and then you see the government of Australia simply behave as if, you know, there is no controversy.

Embassy’s are not usually so tone deaf, with Pravit reminding them:

Australia is supposed to be a democratic government that stands for freedom of expression…. Australians have the freedom to criticise … Queen Elizabeth … the Australian people could entertain the future without the monarchy in London, right? Well, this is not the case in Thailand.

The propaganda piece “includes interviews with the King’s classmates including the Governor-General of Australia David Hurley, former governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove, and Major General Duncan Lewis, the former director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).” They all have good things to say.

Political commentator Greg Raymond said he felt it “not the right time” to release an “effusive commemoration of our relationship with this particular monarch.” He added:

They’re producing this documentary in a social and political context where the place of the monarchy in Thailand is becoming increasingly a fraught question.

For the real (but still redacted) details of the then prince’s time in Australia, click here.





With 3 updates: Violence and double standards I

15 02 2021

There has been some banter about students, protesters and violence, mainly on social media. For example, Cod Satrusayang has an op-ed at Thai Enquirer stating:

On Saturday, student protesters confronted police officers in front of the Bangkok City Shrine. Led by vocational students and the We Volunteer protest guards, the protesters hurled rocks and homemade firecrackers at the police.

The police responded with batons, mass charges, and mass arrests. The security officials were indiscriminate in their response – infamously beating high school students, volunteer medics, and journalists in their bid to get to the agitators.

There was no excuse for the action of the police that night. Numerous “international norms” were violated by the security operations.

But there was no excuse for the student guards to needlessly confront and provoke the officers either….

There has been an increasing and alarming tendency in recent weeks by protesters to resort to violence or threaten violence in their confrontations with the police.

Is this reasonable? Should protesters simply remain punching bags and targets for arrest and jails? And is it reasonable to compare “student guards” tactics with those of heavily armed and aggressive police and military, including the use of plainclothes officers on the student side, provoking and arresting?

The protesters “reiterated its peaceful stance but said protesters had a right to retaliate against violence by authorities.”

Even the conservative royalist commentator Veera Prateepchaikul refers to Saturday as involving “a minor scuffle during in which stones, smoke bombs and firecrackers were hurled at the police by the protesters.” Did such a “minor scuffle” need a violent response? Should a volunteer medic have been attacked, kicked, beaten and arrested? These are, of course, rhetorical questions.

Others have been more willing to question the imbalance of power. For example, the Rural Doctor Society demanded “an explanation and legal action against the officers involved [in the beating of the volunteer], saying it was a violation of human rights.” Why is it that mainstream media aren’t showing some of the truly violent police responses?

Pravit Rojanaphruk has posted a considerable amount of it on Facebook, but none of it has yet appeared at his newspaper. Why does Cod post a link to video of a few rocks being thrown, most of them not even reaching the main police line, but nothing of consequence about police violence?Newspapers report 20-25 police officers injured but say little about protesters, some of who have been dragged off to a secret prison.

Double standards? We think so.

Prachatai has a report worth reading. It is balanced, covers the whole event and is a useful account of the ways that the authorities provoke and how protesters respond.

Update 1: Khaosod finally has some updates posted. One report is of the top Bangkok cop saying “a police officer was behaving properly when he shot live rounds over the weekend in a bid to fend off a crowd of pro-democracy protesters.” Of course he does. But, the same cops have charged the volunteer health worker they beat to unconsciousness and arrested at the same rally. The charge is that he breached the virus emergency decree. The cops really are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Double standards? You bet!

Update 2: Further to our point above about the inequalities in comparing protesters and state authorities, Prachatai has a useful report on the events of the rally and confrontations, with numerous examples of “crowd control police carrying firearms,” contradicting claims by “Pol Lt Gen Phukphong Phongpetra, the Metropolitan Police Chief, that the police did not use tear gas or rubber bullets against protesters on 13 February.”

Update 3: For a video showing the large numbers of military/police infiltrators and “third hands,” look at this video at Facebook.





Updated: 112 = 55+

22 01 2021

The tally of known lese majeste cases has now shot past 50 and is heading for 60. These known cases involved almost 100 counts of lese majeste.

The graphic is from Prachatai:

Update: Pravit Rojanaphruk’s comments in an op-ed are fitting: “Draconian, disproportionate, anachronistic, outrageous, barbaric, unjust…”.

So are the BBC’s Jonathan Head’s comments, in the same article, commenting on Anchan’s bail application being rejected :

“This sums up the madness of lese majeste, and the warped reasoning it produces. How many royalists were ‘traumatized’ by the podcasts this lady posted? How many even heard them? Does the judge know?”





Year-end articles II

31 12 2020

The local English-language press now has some year-end reflections on the year just about gone:

Khaosod, “Our Person of the Year 2020: Rung Panusaya, the Woman Who ‘Shattered the Ceiling’.

… the demonstrations truly took a historic turn that shocked all when a 22-year-old student named Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, or Rung, stepped onto a stage at Thammasat University’s Rangsit Campus on Aug. 10. There, she read a 10-point manifesto that challenged the institution at the very top of Thailand’s social strata [they mean the monarchy].

Clipped from Prachatai

Khaosod, “Opinion: 2020 is a Year to Reflect on What We Have, and What We May Lose,” by Pravit Rojanaphruk.

Khaosod, “‘Tappanai, Pan the Camera!’ 7 Top Moments of Khaosod English’s FB Live Duo.

The Nation, “2020: the year youth rose up in Thailand.

Thai Enquirer, “2020’s 20 Most Important Moments in Thailand.

Thai PBS, “The movers and shakers behind Thailand’s 2020 protests





Updated: Going after kids

14 12 2020

It seems that the military-monarchy regime is growing in confidence that the lese majeste law can again repress rising anti-monarchism. That confidence is leading them to harass and charge even kids.

The Nation reports that a “16-year-old male teenager has reportedly become the latest to be accused of committing lese majeste offences.” A photo of the teenager, satarizing  Vajiralongkorn’s penchant for crop tops and an image of the police summons has appeared on social media. He is to appear at the Yannawa Police Station on 17 December.

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk, posted on his Facebook page that this teen is “likely the youngest-ever,” to be hit with a 112 charge. That’s not quite correct. Back in 2017, a 14 year-old was charged. Later, the charges were changed even though the accused were pressured to enter guilty pleas.

Lampooning royal antics has also been linked to another 112 case, this one posted at Pravit’s Twitter account (@PravitR):

He tweeted: “Woman staging a walk in Thai traditional dress during protest accused of lese majeste by ‘mocking’ royals. Woman in pic is a female guard of We Vo group. 25 now accused. Maximum imprisonment =15 yrs.”

The political repression of kids is also seen in the north, with The Nation reporting that a “school in Phrae province is reportedly drawing up a list of students who had participated in the school sports day recently and had raised the issue of the lese majeste law, as well as other pro-democracy issues during the event.” The school was reportedly pressured to do this by local authorities: “… intimidation from the authorities of some staff and students. The school director has reportedly been pressured to send the students’ names to the authority.”

No one is safe from royalist vengeance, not even kids.

Update: These cases are now covered in the media at Khaosod and Thisrupt.





Memes, communism, and a republic

8 12 2020

Thailand’s social media and its mainstream media is awash with hysterical commentary about ideas, logos, and republicanism. We will present some examples.

At the usually sober Khaosod, Pravit Rojanaphruk is worried about what he thinks are “drastic ideas.” One such idea comes from the mad monarchist

Warong Dechgitvigrom, leader of royalist Thai Phakdee group, made a counter move. The former veteran politician proposed that absolute power be returned to the king, “temporarily.”

“Isn’t it time for royal power to be returned temporarily in order to design a new political system free from capitalist-politicians for the benefit of the people and for real democracy?” Warong posted on his Facebook page.

In fact, though, Pravit spends most of his op-ed concentrating on “Free Youth, a key group within the monarchy-reform protest movement, [that recently] sent out a message to its followers on social media urging them to discuss the idea of a republic.”

Pravit thinks that both sides are getting dangerous:

It’s clear that the majority of the Thai people, over 60 million, have not expressed their views on the on-going political stalemate.

It’s time for them to speak and act. Continued silence would be tantamount to forfeiting their role as citizens in determining the future course of Thai society. If the silent majority do not speak or act soon, there may be no other options but to allow demagogues of different political stripes to dominate and plunge Thailand deeper towards conflicts and confrontations.

In fact, conflict is normal in most societies, and in Thailand it is mostly conservatives who bay for “stability,” usually not long after slaughtering those calling for change and reform. And, neither Warong’s monarchical rule nor the call for a republic are new. They have been regularly heard in Thailand over several decades. But we do agree that one of the reasons these ideas have resurfaced now is because of the political stalemate, bred by the refusal of the regime to countenance reform. We might also point out that when the silent majority has expressed its preferences in recent years – say, in elections that were not rigged – their preferences have been ignored by those with tanks.

Republicanism has been a topic for a considerable time. Academic Patrick Jory states: “republicanism is deeply ingrained in Thailand’s political tradition. In fact, Thailand has one of the oldest republican traditions in Asia.” Republicanism was around under the now dead king as well. In the late 1980s Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was disliked in the palace and was believed to be a republican for his statements about Thailand’s need of a “revolutionary council” (sapha patiwat) in 1987.

For PPT, republicanism has been regularly mentioned in our posts from almost the time we began in early 2009. Often this was in the context of royalists and military-backed regimes accusing Thaksin Shinawatra of republicanism. This was a theme during the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, with Suthep Thaugsuban often banging this drum. Back in February 2009, it was said that “Bangkok swirls with rumours of republican plots.” There was the Finland Plot and, later, the Dubai Plot.

One statement of plotting and republicanism came from royalist scholar and ideologue, the now deceased Chai-Anan Samudavanija. Presciently, he worried in 2009 that if the republicans expanded, the monarchists have little in their arsenal [army, tanks, guns, prisons, judiciary, lese majeste??] with which to counter-attack. He considered the monarchists’ arguments as only holding sway with the older generation, while the under 30s seem uninterested in nation and monarchy. He seemed to think the regime was a house of cards.

There was considerable debate about republicanism in Thailand in 2009. Nor should we forget that, in 2010, there was a spurt in republican feeling, a point obliquely made by Pravit back then. Republicans have cycled through PPT posts: Ji Ungpakorn and Rose Amornpat are examples. And no one can forget the idea of the Republic of Lanna.

Perhaps ideologues like Veera Prateepchaikul, a former Editor of the Bangkok Post, could recall some of this long and important debate and conflict. No doubt that his “it can never happen” was also a refrain heard around Prajadhipok’s palace (or maybe they were a little smarter) and in Tsarist Russia.

Meanwhile, at the Thai Enquirer (and across social media) there’s a collective pile-on to point out how silly/dangerous/childish/unsophisticated the the pro-democracy Free Youth were to come up with a new logo that uses a stylized R (sickle) and T (hammer) for Restart Thailand. Many of the armchair commentators, including local and foreign academics, suddenly become experts on protest strategy and many of them seem very agitated.

Fortunately, Prachatai has the equivalent of a calming medicine, showing how the young protesters have played with symbols, redefining, re-engineering and using irony and parody. We recall, too, that red shirts and other opponents of the military-monarchy regime are regularly accused of being communists – think of 1976 and that the current opposition, attacked as communists in 2019.

Put this together with threats and intimidation: lese majeste, intimidation, lese majeste, gross sexual assault and intimidation, lese majeste, and royalist intimidation and maybe, just maybe, you get a better picture of what’s going on.





Further updated: Cultural monarchism

25 10 2020

With demonstrators again coming together in a “leaderless rally,” they answered King Vajiralongkorn’s declaration of political war. They are not afraid.

That notion of not being afraid has been taken up by at least one journalist. In an op-ed at The Guardian, Pravit Rojanaphruk has supported the demonstrators and he is right to observe that the target of their rallies is now the king and the overbearing monarchy. More importantly, he is, as far as we can tell, the first journalist to ditch the malarkey about the dead king being universally loved and revered. He is critical, stating:

Young Thai protesters want to make sure that if there is yet another coup attempt, King Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the throne after his popular father, King Bhumibol, died in October 2016, will not endorse it – as his late father did many times by putting his signature to orders effectively legitimising a coup. On average, Thailand has experienced one military coup every seven years since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

Clearly, any last remaining hope they had was demolished when the king mingled with ultra-royalists and fascists.

It cannot be doubted that the recent protests have opened space for critical discussion of the monarchy. In our view, the space currently available is the widest since the 1940s. That it has taken so long for this space to be re-opened means that uprooting establishment monarchism is a huge task. Military, schools, art, architecture, religion, administration, areas of science and engineering, and popular culture are just some of the areas that have been distorted and crippled by the influence of staid and backward-looking monarchism.

In Chiang Mai, some have begun to push back against decades of taxpayer funded palace propaganda. A Twitter campaign calls “for students, staff, alumni and the general public to support a removal of the art display installed on the side of an exterior wall at its Faculty of Architecture” that is pure palace propaganda.

The Bangkok Post recently reported that the yellow-shirted administration at Chiang Mai University had had top publicly reject “a bid to remove the Sculpture of Light, an art display bearing the likeness of … King Bhumibol Adulyadej…”. (As usual, we have had to delete words that are royalist trip from this quote.)

The administrators went full-on royalist saying the dead king “was highly revered by students and staff.” Clearly not by all. It is evident that many will come to view the origin of the current problems as lying in the previous reign and the king’s right-wing, pro-military stance.

Getting ever more royalist, the administrators groveled, declaring how “indescribably grateful” they were for the dead king’s “contributions to the country…”. Do they mean military dictatorship? Further, they declared they “would not permit any act to be undertaken within its compound which degraded the honour of the late king in any way.”

Those calling for the propaganda to be removed said “some people were concerned about public space being allocated to art displays and everyone was entitled to express opinions over how the space should be used.” They called for political neutrality at the university and a return of space to the people.

Update 1: There’s more on challenging royalist culturalism at Thai PBS and at Thisrupt.

Update 2: Another account of how royalist culturalism is being challenged may be found at The Nation.








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