Critic in fear for his life

23 04 2017

Asia Sentinel carries a report headlined “Thai Critic Faces Death Threat.” We guess that the story is blocked for many readers in Thailand, so while not reproducing the report in full, PPT posts the main points from it.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun has become one of the most implacable critics of the country’s ruling king, … Vajiralongkorn, and the junta that took over the country in a coup in 2014. Now that may have put his life in danger from the country’s erratic and violence-prone king.

The report reports the story that Pavin and two others have been “banned” by the junta, with anyone contacting them being threatened with jail.

… The junta has unsuccessfully attempted to persuade several governments to return Pavin to Thailand. He has lived in exile since the coup, mostly as an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan although he has traveled and lectured widely in the United States and Europe, often with royalist Thais attempting to shout him down. The government has also sought to persuade foreign governments to bar him from speaking.

… In recent days, Pavin has escalated his attacks with a series of articles published in Asia Sentinel, New Mandala, and Washington Post, charging that the new king is reigning “as a monarch whose authority is based on fear and cares little about those around him. In vivid and depressing language, Vajiralongkorn’s command structure, Pavin said, resembles those of Thai mafias, or chaophos.

After the article ran, Pavin learned from a number of credible sources that the new king would seek to “manage” him, which in Thai vernacular usually means he would seek to kill his critic.

“So the warning is credible given the credibility of the source,” Pavin told Asia Sentinel. “Someone may come after me in Japan, although my friend believes it will be difficult because of where I live. But they could attack me when I travel overseas, that would be more likely.

Asia Sentinel reminds readers that “several people who worked for or with the new king have met their deaths under mysterious circumstances.” It mentions deaths and disappearances, naming: Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha and Major General Pisitsak Saniwong na Ayutthaya, Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri and Police General Akrawut Limrat.

… Deep concerns about the new king’s behavior have circulated for years, and although the country’s severe lese majeste laws have kept them out of the local press, they have circulated widely….

Since he replaced his … father, the lese-majeste laws and the military’s campaign to build Vajiralongkorn’s royal presence into near-mystical status have become a kind of trap for the junta. His erratic and violent behavior are now unchecked….

It is believed that the king engineered the disappearance of [a] memorial plaque of 1932 revolution, since he hated the revolutionaries who abolished absolute monarchy 85 years ago. And now he wishes to revive royal absolutism….

Thailand has arrived at a critical juncture in which the head of state is ruling its subjects with fear. His yearning for absolute power seems to have been met with the military’s own wish, a country where politics is a game of the political elites. To consolidate their rule, events have shown both the monarchy and the military have resorted to brutal tactics to eliminate its critics….


An official epidemic

21 02 2016

In an op-ed at Asia Sentinel, usually blocked in Thailand, Charupong Ruangsuwan, the executive-director of the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (OFHD), based in San Francisco, and a former Puea Thai Party leader, writes on an epidemic of suicides and flight among senior police and military.

Because of the blocking, we reproduce much of the op-ed.

On 12 February, it was reported that “a Thai police spokesman announced that a high-ranking official, Lt. Col. Chan Chaisawatra, had committed suicide.” Charupong states:

We believe he didn’t commit suicide. We believe he was murdered, the latest in a long series of “suicides” that began last year in what amounts to a reign of terror within the Royal Thai Police.

The claim that he committed suicide is belied by the fact that Chan had been promised a promotion a month earlier. Our investigation in Bangkok has revealed that the junta wanted to set an example for any government employees of the consequences of daring to challenge the authority of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha….

On Feb. 8, Chan lodged a formal complaint regarding the use of the junta’s notorious Article 44 which gives universal power to the junta leader, including the disbandment of the officer’s  investigative division at the police department.

If Chan was murdered, then his “death, after 20 years of service, has sent a shiver to every police officer in Thailand.”

Charupong states that: “The news of his death has not been reported by any Thai media at the moment or they could face grave consequences including the shutdown of their publication.”

But why an “epidemic”? Charupong points out that “[l]ate last year, Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, another high-ranking Thai police officer resigned and escaped death, fleeing to Australia in fear of his life.”

Others have fled:

Police Gen. Khachachart Boondee  as well as Maj. Gen. Suchart Prommai, former 11th Infantry Regiment commander now stripped of military rank; Police Col. Col Pairoj Rojanakhajorn, a former chief of the Crime Suppression Division’s Sub-Division 2; and his-then deputy Lt Col Thammawat Hiranyalekha.

In addition:

Police Major Prakrom Warunprapa and Major General Pisitsak Saneewong na Ayutthaya, the chief bodyguard of Prince Vajiralongkorn, supposedly committed suicide in jail. The prince’s soothsayer, Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, aka Mor Yong, supposedly died of renal failure. Former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri also disappeared.

All of this is chilling:

Academics and past politicians dare not exercise free speech. Countless numbers of Red Shirts and pro-democracy activists has disappeared without any traces. Their loved ones and relatives have contacted me but I couldn’t help them. I am now living in exile in the United States.

What can be done? Not much in Thailand, where the royalist generals and their murderous minions have impunity. Charupong urges:

The United States, the U.K., the E.U., Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all other civilized nations must continue to put pressure on the illegal regime of Gen. Prayuth to respect human rights and stop murdering people who speak their minds peacefully.

Another victim of the royal scam

20 02 2016

We have used the word “scam” in the headline, but we admit that we do not know whose scam this is.

Back in October 2015 Suriyan Sujaritpalawong was secretly arrested and charged with lese majeste. He died in custody at a then secret prison on a military base in Bangkok. His death was not adequately explained and his body was hurriedly cremated.

Suriyan was a well-known fortune teller known to be a close aide to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and a chief organizer of the Bike For Mom and Bike for Dad propaganda events for the prince.

Also arrested were Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, Suriyan’s aide, and Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha, an officer of the Technology Crime Suppression Division. Prakrom was also charged with lese majeste and also died in custody at the same prison at the military base. Like Suriyan, his death was not adequately explained and his body was cremated within hours of his death.

Khaosod now reports that “[h]igh-ranking police officials including a well-known police spokesman will be prosecuted for allegedly installing a communications device atop Bangkok’s tallest building for a ‘suspicious purpose’ during last August’s Bike for Mom event.”

“Suspicious purpose” raises all kinds of possibilities. We can recall that there were very confused claims, from the junta, of an “assassination plot.”

Is it this alleged “plot” that has “Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri and other unnamed officers face prosecution for malfeasance after their case was forwarded to the national police chief…”. The chief is meant to send the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Could there have been such a plot? Who was the target?

Or could all of this be a further clipping of the prince’s wings? Or is it the prince getting rid of aides he’s fallen out with (a not uncommon event)? It remains guesses.

But back to Prawut, who has not been seen in public since 27 October “when he seemed to be swept up in a crackdown on officials said to be abusing their connections to the monarchy.”

An arrest warrant states that “Prawut for allegedly installing a radio transmitter on the Baiyoke Tower II during the Bike for Mom event.”

The report states that in October there was “a purge of high-level officials accused of defaming the monarchy by exploiting their links, one of the suspects, later found dead in his cell [presumably Prakrom], was accused of sneaking into the skyscraper to install radio devices taken from the Bung Kum Police Station.”

These radio devices were linked with five mobile phones found at Prakrom’s residence and allegedly “tuned in to the signal coming from Baiyoke II, which led to an accusation of unauthorized eavesdropping.”

Who was he alleged to be listening to? The prince? Other royal aides? The Dictator and his minions?

The report says nothing is yet known of “Prawut’s alleged criminal link was to Prakrom” and there is no “mention … of Prawut’s present whereabouts.”

All of this is confused and deliberately so.

Prince’s purge?

6 11 2015

As readers will know, the most recent palace-associated lese majeste purge has been murky and baffling for many, PPT included. Because there is so much censorship on the one hand and social media speculation on the other, it has been a guessing game.

Trying to make sense of this, a story at Asia Sentinel – Thailand’s Crown Prince Starts Another Purge – is likely to be big news for several claims it makes. Because of the powerful interests involved, the deaths of several caught up in the events and the lese majeste law, the article is written anonymously, simply tagged “Our Correspondent.” Asia Sentinel

Because Asia Sentinel is often blocked in Thailand, the story will circulate clandestinely and the military junta will try to prevent it getting out.

Some of the claims and points made deserve consideration. First, a bit like Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s widely read A Kingdom in Crisis, succession is cast in terms of ancient battles, with this opener:

As Thailand’s royal interregnum approaches, the country’s ruling class has been seized by what amounts almost to a reign of terror, with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn apparently clearing out his enemies in a fashion that goes back to the installation of a long line of Rama kings.

This is scenario one. The article is undoubtedly correct in assessing that The Dictator, “Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha … appears to have accepted Vajiralongkorn as the next king and is seeking to manage the situation the best way he can.” Yet another scenario, not mentioned in the article, is that the military junta and perhaps even some Privy Council members are conducting the purge, cutting the prince off from his networks of support and loot, thus making him dependent on the junta, military and Privy Council (scenario two).

The article does lend some credence to second scenario when it observes that “Vajiralongkorn is so thoroughly detested in royal circles that efforts have been vainly made to sideline him for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his refusal to adhere to royal rules.” However as an unnamed source declares in the Asia Sentinel story, “There is no longer any doubt that the prince will become the king.” If that is so, then controlling his funds and advisers might make sense.

The widespread fear that surrounds the most recent purge is also noted. With the king not having been seen for some time, and rumors that he may have already passed, no one dares speculate for fear of jail or worse.

Describing the “four-times-married” 63 year-old prince as a “wastrel,” he “spends most of his time in Germany although he has made recent periodic trips back to Thailand to seek to rehabilitate his image, most principally through a series of bicycle rides in honor of his ailing parents.”

It is these bike rides that seem to be at the center of the current purge, with “a source in Bangkok” revealing that “the prince has become enraged over allegations that people in his entourage have apparently been profiting from the sale of ‘Bike for Mom’ and ‘Bike for Dad’ souvenir and promotional items.”

While other reports have mentioned CP tycoon Dhanin Chearavanont, this article claims that the purge follows complaints about “Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, better known as Mor Yong, the prince’s soothsayer, allegedly because he went to spirits [and Chang beer] tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, Thailand’s second-richest man, to ask for funds for the Bike for Dad event.” Such “asks” have been common and accepted in the past, so it isn’t clear what has gone on in this case, but “Charoen is said to have complained to Princess Sirindhorn, who told her brother in Germany.  That has blown up into a major incident with the arrest of the fortune teller and others.  Dozens of army and police officials are believed to be under fire.”

There’s a couple of things here. First, the link between the prince and his sister has sometimes been seen as distant and competitive, and this claim would not support that. Second, the scenario one claim made in the article seems difficult to fit with the terror and vengeance of the arrests and investigations. Sure, the “Prince is said to be trying to whitewash his image ahead of  the succession,” but skimming is the norm for those close to the palace. Why get flustered about it now? The story says: “He [the prince] is also said to be outraged that most of the people who have helped run his networks over recent decades have been skimming money from them too.” A source is quoted: “I have no idea why the prince would be so angry about this, because it’s standard for everybody to take their cut. But anyway, the prince is sending a message to everybody — don’t fuck with me ahead of the succession.”

Unless it is scenario two.

The story also directly refers to another social media event that has terrified local media:

In the latest purge, two top police officials have died mysteriously and a third has disappeared. Major General Phisitsak Seniwong Na Ayutthaya, the prince’s main bodyguard, died in mid-October.  Local media have been so terrified by the situation that they have hesitated to name Phisitsak in print. His family was told he had committed suicide by hanging himself with his shirt.

As is well-known, Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha, caught up in this latest purge also died while in military custody, with the military junta claiming he committed suicide by hanging himself. In the purge late last year, another police officer died when he fell, committed suicide or was pushed from a hospital window. Another senior police officer associated with the organizing of the biking events has “disappeared” and an army officer has gone into hiding across the border.

These deaths have been the subject of considerable conjecture, with some saying that the two most recent “suicides” are suspicious, not least because:

Sources in Bangkok say both were beaten and tortured. Instead of releasing the bodies to their families, as is the case for most Buddhist deaths to give time for making merit and preparing the bodies for the afterlife, the two were rushed to crematoriums and immediately burned.  The gossip in Bangkok is that officials wanted to hide the evidence of torture.

In a final nod to the rumors and speculation, the article states:

“What is interesting [and worrying] is that it’s not just the major players who are being caught up in the purge, even peripheral figures, such as former police spokesman Prawuth [Thawornsiri], are being targeted,”  a source said. “The prince is being egged on by his latest wife, who is encouraging this behavior. Presumably, this was a way of saving face and pretending he was not involved in the corruption. In fact, he was fully involved in it, just as he was with Srirasmi’s family’s shenanigans.”

Scenario one or two? Whatever is going on, it is murky, dirty, dangerous and, ultimately, threatening to the regime.

Internal consumption II

5 11 2015

Yesterday, PPT posted that Pol Lt Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, acting deputy national police chief had stated that “between 40 and 50 military major generals and colonels could be involved in the current high-profile lese majeste case…”. Indeed, the headline on the story we quoted from the Bangkok Post was: “50 army officers tied to case, Srivara says.” There was even a photo of the policeman.

For some unexplained reason, the Bangkok Post now reports that it was “Pol Maj Gen Piyapan Pingmuang, deputy police spokesman, [who] said an inquiry was under way into the alleged involvement of 40-50 military officers in the lese majeste case.” More than this, the “police later insisted the report had been misquoted.”

We suspect that the military brass went ballistic and wanted the big story hosed down. Who knows? Thailand is so opaque that there is hardly a light or truth to be seen or known.

The new report claims that the “army has launched a probe into reports a major general and a colonel,” seemingly following intervention by The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. He seemed to head for cover, saying “further questions should be directed to army commander Gen Theerachai Nakvanich.”

The two being investigated also seem to have headed for the hills, in one case, literally.

One of the military suspects is said to be “a senior officer attached to the Army Secretary Office.” The army colonel … has fled over the border to Myanmar’s Myawaddy township, opposite Tak’s Mae Sot district,” apparently taking “20 million baht from a bank…”.

Reportedly implicated by Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, these officers are “accused of making false claims involving the monarchy to solicit money from business operators.”

Suriyan now faces 13 charges with “20 more charges being prepared after police complete witness questioning.”

Meanwhile, Pol Gen Prawuth Thawornsiri, the former police spokesman is said to have “disappeared last week during a ‘holiday’ in Europe…”. No one has seen him and some rumors are black. He is said to have resigned from the police, although the police chief seemed to have forgotten signing the file.

This is all astounding stuff and, it has to be said, barely believable. It does seem the royalist regime is consuming itself.

Internal consumption I

4 11 2015

The still murky lese majeste case, which has so far seen three arrested, one dead and perhaps a dozen others mentioned as possibly implicated, has just gotten much bigger.

The first indications of deepening internal rivalry and regime consuming action was the removal of national police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri, who was on the Bike for Dad and Bike for Mum organizing committees. There was also the revelation that persons close to Sino-Thai royalist tycoon and CP boss Dhanin Chearavanont.

In a Bangkok Post report it seems that the network of disputation has been expanded significantly. Police have announced that “between 40 and 50 military major generals and colonels could be involved in the current high-profile lese majeste case…”.

Pol Lt Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, acting deputy national police chief in charge of the investigation, is the one who has made this claim.Saturno devorando a su hijo

There is, as yet, no “solid evidence to seek arrest warrants for any of them” and the “armed forces have also not lodged a complaint with police about the suspects…” yet lack of evidence seems off the mark for lese majeste cases.

The police boss stated: “I can say that more arrest warrants will be issued for sure…”.

Leaks say that Suriyan Sujaritpalawong has “admitted to making false claims involving the monarchy to solicit money from business operators.” It is also said that “Suriyan named one army major general and one army colonel as members of his criminal network.”

The junta mouthpiece Col Winthai Suvaree has said the “army does not have any clear information linking the army major general and the colonel to the allegations made by Mr Suriyan.”

The case is likely to get murkier still and raises questions about the stability of the junta, which trumpets its support for the monarchy and accuses only “politicians” of corruption. A finger is now gingerly pointing at police and the military, and these accusations of criminality are reaching ever higher into the ranks of self-proclaimed monarchy supporters.

Increasingly, it seems the royalist regime is consuming itself.

Of course, the exact reasons for this, related to succession, will likely remain opaque.

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