On Constitution Day

10 12 2017

Constitution Day remains a holiday, but most of the meaning of the event has been drained away by palace propaganda aided and abetted by decades of royalist governments.

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod asks: “what’s really left to really celebrate?” It is a good question.

Eight and a half decades after the 1932 revolt put the “constitutional” into constitutional monarchy, the kingdom has seen too many charters discarded. The current one is No. 20. Divide that by 85 years, you get an average lifespan for Thai constitutions of just slightly over four years.

An average car is more durable. A typical refrigerator is going to get more use.

He argues that almost no one in Thailand “a strong attachment to the Thai constitution.”

That’s only partly true. There are those who have an attachment to the first 1932 constitution. That is the one that represented the spirit of 1932 before the royalists began rolling it back and replacing people’s sovereignty with royalism.

Of course, there’s no reason to celebrate the junta’s 2017 Constitution. This document is the spirit of military despotism, paternalism and anti-democracy. We at PPT would celebrate this military charter cast into history’s dustbin, along with the aged flunkies who crafted it.

One Bangkok Post story that caught our attention for Constitution Day concerns a group of political activists who “will petition the Constitutional Court to lift one of the junta’s orders on the grounds that it is an outright violation of the constitution.”

Violating constitutions is pretty much stock-in-trade for the junta.

The Democracy Restoration Group of the New Democracy Movement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and “representatives of people affected by NCPO Order No.3/2558 announced the move at Thammasat University on Saturday.”

That order “bans freedom of assembly and empowers soldiers to summon any person to testify and to detain people for up to seven days, among others.”

The activists seem determined to keep the pressure on the junta for its illegal rule.

And then there was another Bangkok Post story – indeed, an editorial – that seemed to fit Constitution Day for its gentle push-back on the royal re-acquisition of the old zoo, consolidating royal property and privatizing it.

It begins with what seems like a justification for the new zoo which is expected to begin construction around 2019. But then it carefully changes tack, referring to “a few concerns about the new site.” Distance, entrance fees,  lack of public transport. It then gets really interesting:

One key question remains about the future of the old Dusit Zoo after the relocation is completed….

But the [zoo] agency should be aware that any decision on the future of the zoo should be based on the history of the place.

Acknowledging that history, the Post calls for the old zoo to become “a botanical garden or a park for public use.”

That’s a rare call in a neo-feudal military dictatorship.





Of monarchy, repression and a bloody reign

23 10 2017

In a timely and brave op-ed stimulated by the ludicrous lese majeste case being brought against Sulak Sivaraksa, Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod makes some excellent points.

In what follows, we want to add some points that he couldn’t or didn’t make.

On Sulak’s case, facing “15 years in prison under the anachronistic and draconian lese majeste law,” is simply buffalo manure as the feudal law does not “protect” a “a king who ruled and died four centuries ago.” Pravit continues:

What will become of Thai history, the study of history, and ordinary people’s understanding of the past if we cannot questions historical events that have to do with a past king or queen? Should we stop calling it history altogether and refer to it as illuminated texts only for rote memorization and recitation without question? There can be no study of history if some questions about the past cannot be asked. We will truly not know ourselves if we cannot gaze back critically.

In fact, in the minds of Thai nationalists, the real Naresuan is already a fabrication. Nowhere do we learn much about the nature of his reign.

Jacques de Coutre is one of the first Westerners to visit Siam, staying for eight months in 1595, during Naresuan’s reign. He portrays the king as a brutal, once burning 800 men he considered had refused to fight the Burmese. Another time, in a fit of fury he is said to have executed 1500 officials. In his memoir, de Coutre portrays Naresuan as a cruel despot, torturing and killing children as well as adults, often in gruesome detail. Naturally enough, it is this despot that the modern military venerates and “protects.”

For details, readers may peruse Dirk van der Cruysse’s Siam and the West, 1500-1700, chapter 2.

Pravit refers to the current unthinking veneration of monarchy:

Listen to royalist songs or read widespread texts praising the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and one cannot fail to notice the common ticks of describing love for “our king” as held by “all Thais.”

There is no space to even acknowledge Thais who think differently about the institution or allow themselves to express themselves. You either have to flee the kingdom and never return or face a jail term here for expressing something otherwise….

It’s a sad state for Thailand. This is a country where many people do not want to look straight in the mirror. They want comfortable stories that are tear-jerking or push safe emotional buttons to reinforce a preferred image. Anything that disrupts that prevalent narrative must be censored, silenced or made illegal.

The hagiographic drivel of recent weeks is to be expected with the death of a monarch made a god by those who wanted to use him, ally with him, worship him and earn from him. Nowhere do we learn much about the nature of his reign.

This past reign drips with the blood of the Thai people. An exaggeration? Not really. For some time we have had the banned report 60 Years of Oppression and Suppression in Thailand (opens a PDF banned in Thailand) at our downloads page a compilation of political assassinations and extra-judicial killings since 1947.

The compilation begins:

This document brings together some of the evidence of the fearful tension that underlies the power struggle between the Institution of Monarchy and the Parliament of the People, tension that must be faced with dispassionate reasoning by all sides if the governance of Thailand is to mature in the name of peace and sustainable development.

Between these two competing forces there squats the greatly over-grown, hugely self-important Royal Thai Army – playing the game of ‘protecting the Monarch’ from ‘corrupt government’.

Our decision, after April-May 2010, to attempt to fill the void of public data about the fallen heroes of the people’s struggle for democracy gradually became an eye-opener – even for the seasoned activist, not just because of the number of top-down political assassinations but because of the consistency of the top-down brutality throughout the 6 decades of the current kingship.

The military “protects” the brutality of the past and the present using lese majeste.





Junta repression deepens VI

22 08 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship seems to be in a panic. As we recently posted, some of this seems to be caused by Yingluck Shinawatra’s upcoming verdict. But there’s more going on.

The Criminal Court has “sentenced Watana Muangsook, a key Pheu Thai Party figure and former commerce minister, to one month in prison, suspended for one year, and fined him 500 baht for contempt of court after broadcasting via Facebook Live at the court.” He was also ordered to “delete the clip from his Facebook page.”

The report at the Bangkok Post states that the “sentence was handed down while he was waiting for the court’s decision on whether to detain him on charges of inciting public chaos, breaching Section 116 of the Criminal Code.” It adds that that “charge is in connection with a case involving the removal of a memorial plaque commemorating the 1932 Siamese Revolution.”

A charge related to the plaque is quite bizarre given that the state has not acknowledged that the plaque was stolen or officially removed. Yet complaining about this historical vandalism is considered sedition. That the removal coincided with the royalist ceremonies associated with the junta’s faux constitution is evidence of official efforts to blot out anything not royalist or military in political life and memory.

Watana points out that:

…[T]he Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) on Monday submitted a request to detain the politician from Aug 21-Sept 1. Mr Watana was awaiting the ruling on that matter when he started filming in the court.

Earlier at the police station, Mr Watana acknowledged the charge of importing false information into a computer system in violation of the Computer Crime Act after he posted content relating to the plaque’s replacement on his Facebook page.

He was temporarily released on 200,000-baht bail for both charges.

He said it was not common for TCSD investigators to summon someone again after the person has already acknowledged the charges again him.

Mr Watana also said the detention request is intended to hinder him from giving moral support to former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the Supreme Court this Friday.

Then there are those academics and others who attended and organized the International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University. They have reported to police and been fingerprinted while denying charges brought against them.

Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, met Chang Phuak police with Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam after the summons had been issued for them on Aug 11, almost a month after the four-day 13th International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University ended on July 18.

They face charges of assembling of more than four for political activities, which is prohibited by the National Council for Peace and Order.

As with the fit-ups of Pravit Rojanaphruk and Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, Chayan is being fitted up. He had nothing much to do with those protesting the military’s surveillance of conference attendees. The other four are also being fitted up as there were others who held the signs and appeared in photos, and these persons have not been summoned by the police.





Neutering media

21 08 2017

The military dictatorship has generally been able to neuter the media. It got rid of most of the red shirt media soon after the 2014 military coup. It has then managed and manipulated the media. Initially, this did not require much effort as the mainstream media cheered the coup.

As the regime has gone on and on, some elements of the media have become just a little more critical of the junta’s nepotism, corruption, political repression and so on. The Dictator has shouted orders at journalists on those many occasions where he has felt the media should be doing more for his regime.

Most recently, as widely reported, the regime has been doing a little more to direct the media:

The government has ordered all television channels to promote the work of its ministers in an effort the head of its public relations division said was meant to take the focus off the prime minister.

Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the government spokesman who heads its Public Relations Department, said Thursday that he ordered each channel assigned to different ministers because he did not want the coverage to focus only on the prime minister.

“I didn’t force them. I let them choose freely but each channel must do differently,” he said after word got out and the effort was slammed as state-mandated propaganda. “Some channels even asked me to choose for them, but I didn’t because I know each channel has a different interest.”

It should be no surprise that most media enthusiastically signed up.

Dissent in the media is difficult under a military regime. One example of rare but consistent dissent by a journalist has seen Pravit Rojanaphruk who is now being punished by the military junta. He says:

It never occurred to me that what I write could be seditious.

Under military rule, criticizing the junta on social media can be construed as an act of sedition, however.

I learned this the hard way when police rang me up at the end of last month, informing me that I had been charged with sedition for a number of my Facebook postings.

That this is yet another fit-up. Each of Pravit’s posts was critical of the military junta. Yes, criticizing the junta constitutes sedition in totalitarian Thailand.

Pravit comments on the junta’s charges:

… no one really knows what constitutes sedition under military rule makes this a chilling effect and ensures greater self-censorship of anything critical of the junta in social media, however. The hazier the boundaries of what constitutes sedition, the more effective they become in instilling fear.

It may also be baffling that people who criticize the military junta, which usurped and continues to usurp power from the people, are the ones being charged with sedition. Control is more effective when fear is induced by logic-defying situations because one suspends disbelief of the illogical and absurd in Juntaland Thailand any longer. When right is wrong, wrong is right and might is right, rationality no longer gives guidance. We live not under the rule of law but under rule by arbitrary law of the junta. And logic is not necessary. Just obey. In fact, to obey without logically asking why or questioning the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the military regime, makes control effective. Just obey. Don’t ask what’s wrong with the order imposed upon us.

On the future and on dissent, he declares:

It’s a privilege and an honor to defend freedom of expression on social media during the past three years. It is also an honor to be singled out among the select few Thais who have stood up and effectively disturbed the make-believe world of Juntaland Thailand.

We cannot defend freedom of expression if we are not willing to pay the price. The price is worth paying when one takes the long-term benefits of society to heart.





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.