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.





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.