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.





Hardening lines II

16 08 2020

With another student-led gathering planned for today, rightist ultra-royalists are networking in opposition.

Thai Post reproduces a letter being circulated to oppose the students and their ten demands. This group appears to be the handiwork of Tul Sitthisomwong, the Chulalongkorn University medical faculty lecturer who has quite a history.

Clipped from The Nation several years ago

We think PPT’s first mention of Tul was in early April 2010 when he was a part of a pink shirt – channeling the king – rally, opposing red shirts. Abhisit Vejjajiva, then premier, gave them lots of support. At the time, Tul claimed that the group saw “themselves as a civic group opposing the offensive attempts against the monarchy, an unjustified snap election and runaway protests disrupting normalcy and peace.” Despite his claims that the pink shirts were not linked to the People’s Alliance for Democracy, Tul acted as a representative and member of PAD. The pink shirts later morphed into the “multicoloured- shirt group” and the “Citizen Protecting Homeland Group” or sometimes rendered “Citizen Network for Protection of Motherland.” In 2012, royalists including Tul cheered two thugs who had beaten up Nitirat’s Worachet Pakeerut because he called for reform of the lese majeste law. In 2013-14, Tul Sitthisomwong joined People’s Democratic Reform Committee rallies.

In other words, Tul’s has been around at the beginning of every royalist movements since the mid-2000s. His beffuddled understanding of monarchy is reproduced here.

The mobilizing of ultra-royalists has been a task often assigned to the Internal Security Operations Command, and has often been a precursor to increased political conflict.

While ultra-royalists are organizing, the media is being censored. In a remarkable op-ed at Khaosod, on the divide between youngsters and the old man royalist-military elite, Pravit Rojanaphruk demonstrates censorship.

The demands are listed here.

Meanwhile, universities have been ordered to prevent students from expressing their views on the monarchy.

Former communist, former academic, former failed politician, opportunist, bow-tied buffoon, and newly appointed Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Anek Laothamatas demanded universities fall into line on royalist boundary riding and indoctrination:

Universities must be strict with their students in this respect and they must take responsibility if they fail to act, Mr Anek said.

“Teachers must explain to their students how important the monarchy is. Thailand has a constitutional monarchy. We must work together to prevent students and outsiders from insulting the monarchy. You can’t afford to turn a blind eye,” Mr Anek said.

Those present at the meeting included the presidents of Chulalongkorn University, Kasetsart University, Thammasat University, Chiang Mai University, Khon Kaen University, and Silpakorn University.

We imagine that this hardening of response, including arrests, represents the regime’s response to “royal advice” received during the king’s few hours in Bangkok earlier in the week.





Madness and monarchy

18 07 2020

A few days ago, PPT posted on the disturbing account of Tiwagorn Withiton’s forcible incarceration in a Khon Kaen psychiatric hospital on 9 July, Tiwagorn is the Facebook user who went post a picture of himself wearing a shirt printed with “I lost faith in the monarchy.”

Reuters reports that his case is not being ignored. It says a “small group of Thai activists protested at a psychiatric hospital on Friday…”. More than a dozen protesters called for his release at the hospital, described as “a rare sign of public support for someone who has openly criticised the monarchy.”

In response, Khon Kaen’s police chief Maj Gen Puttipong Musiku, told Reuters: “He is getting treatment, his relatives had him admitted…”. The police chief was supported Nattakorn Champathong, director of hospital who “told Reuters that Tiwagorn had not been forced to enter the hospital.”.

However, human rights lawyer “Yingcheep Atchanont, who visited Tiwagorn on Monday, told Reuters he believed the engineer had been held against his will at the hospital since July 9.”

Former political prisoner Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, himself a victim of the lese majeste law, also called for Tiwagorn’s release.

According to Prachatai, “[b]oth Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and the Student Union of Thailand (SUT) have issued statements calling for the release…”.

In a report at the Bangkok Post it is reported that, so far, “[n]o charges have been pressed against [Tiwagorn]…”. He remained under medical “assessment” at the hospital.

In response to official claims, Tiwagorn’s mother “said officials turned up at his home on July 9 to arrest him…. She said although she was some distance away her son appeared to resist being arrested before being bundled into a hospital vehicle.”

Pointing to the reason for Tiwagorn being dragged to a psychiatric hospital, TLHR state:

… that the police do not have the authority to press charges against Tiwagorn, as the sentence “I lost faith in the monarchy” does not count as defamation, an insult, or a threat under Section 112 of the Criminal Code. It also does not count as sedition under Section 116, or as any kind of computer data listed under Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act.

TLHR adds that the official claims about Tiwagorn are concocted nonsense:

as Tiwagorn had to be carried out of his house by 6 officers, it is evident that he did not consent to being admitted. The fact that the police took around 10 vehicles to Tiwagorn’s house without a request from his family could also mean that his family is not able to tell the authorities what they really want.

It also accused the police of unlawful actions in arbitrarily detaining Tiwagorn:

… there is no reason why the police had to confiscate Tiwagorn’s computer and mobile phone, because they have nothing to do with medical treatment. TLHR believes that searching and confiscating objects without a warrant and without pressing charges is not lawful.

It might have been added that the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) was also involved in Tiwagorn’s detention, emphasizing the political nature of the regime’s actions. Police and military, along with complicit medical officials effectively forced him to hospital and forced his mother to “consent” to this abduction.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, writing an op-ed at Prachatai rather than Khaosod, makes it clear that this is lese majeste by another name: “Instead of using the controversial and anachronistic law, a man who insisted on wearing a controversial T-shirt was forcibly taken to a psychiatric hospital.”

Pravit takes the issue to a broader context:

Although Section 6 of the Constitution requires Thais to hold the monarchy in reverence, it’s clear that some Thais can no longer keep on pretending. Some fled abroad, and a few of these end up mysteriously disappearing while in exile. And if you are still inside Thailand, they may put you inside a mad house as occurred to Tiwagorn.

Tiwagorn was right, we cannot force people to hold on to faith when it’s no longer there.

He adds:

Losing faith in the institution of the monarchy is not a mental illness. A society which puts someone who loses faith inside a psychiatric hospital is mad.

Only a mad society would accuse someone who refuses to toe the line of being insane and keep him inside a madhouse.





Don’t trust them

26 02 2020

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed on military “reform” that warns:

Reforming the Thai army is much easier said than done. After all, the current army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong himself called the Royal Thai Army a “sacred” organization, setting the tone of whatever debate the society may have.

Gen. Apirat. Clipped from Khaosod

When someone wants an organization to be treated as sacred, it’s often because they want it to be above criticism, accepting neither scrutiny nor accountability….

Most significant in discussions of “reform” is that current “investigations” are internal to the Army. There’s no question that, following the Korat massacre, there will be any kind of independent scrutiny of the Army. In normal countries, there is usually some serious parliamentary oversight of the military. Not in Thailand.

Then there’s the sense of entitlement and real impunity that protects the perquisites, corruption and crimes of senior officers. This “culture” means that “reform” is all but impossible. The flow of funds to the top are unlikely to stop. As Pravit points out, “the sense of military entitlement is indeed so deep-rooted that it bypasses political divisions.”

Chaiyaphoom

Since the 2006 coup and especially since the 2014 coup, these attitudes have been further embedded. Think of the way that the military gets away with murder, literally. The case of Chaiyapoom Pasae where the military has withheld evidence, lied and more.

More recently, as outlined in The Thaiger, anti-military/pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat was attacked several times, once beaten senseless with baseball bats, in broad daylight. Police were assigned to “investigate.” Result? Nothing.

As the report observes, “Bangkok police have abruptly suspended their investigation into the brutal attack on a political activist and pro-democracy leader in June of last year.”

Sirawith posted on Facebook that police wrote to him, stating:

Sirawith. Clipped from VOA News

The investigation into the case has already been completed and the probe report was forwarded to public prosecutors, who recommended that “the investigation should be halted” on the grounds that evidence gathered could not identify who was involved.

In our view, it is unlikely that the police will uncover evidence against the attackers, most likely because the attackers are associated with the military, regime and/or police. The attackers were warning Sirawith, silencing him. It’s an old tactic. Sirawith “wondered police might be involved.”

If a “sacred” institution can run coups, murder, and engage in multiple other crimes and massive corruption, internal investigations are going nowhere.