On the lese majeste regime

17 10 2018

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times has a longish piece on lese majeste. He’s making a point about a seeming change to the lese majeste regime that has been noted by several analysts for several weeks, but still has some points worth considering.

He focuses on the controversial dropping of Sulak Sirivaksa’s Article 112 case when he “appealed to monarch [King] … Vajiralongkorn for a royal reprieve.”

Sulak “claims the case was stopped after King Vajiralongkorn advised Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on the situation.”

Readers should note that this claim runs contrary to the palace’s long-held propaganda claim that the monarchy does not interfere in lese majeste cases. (There were several instances where the previous king and his palace did intervene, but the propaganda has been otherwise.)

Sulak is quoted as stating: “If the case went to the military tribunal, they were bound to put me in jail without any law, because the law doesn’t mean anything to them…”. Sulak is partly correct in this guess, but, then, no lese majeste case has ever stuck for him.

He says The Dictator was uninterested until the king intervened: “… when the King told him to drop the case, obviously it was royal advice that worked.”

Crispin suggests that the huge lese majeste “clampdown has come against the backdrop of what was once seen as an uncertain royal succession…”, ignoring the fact that the rise in the use of lese majeste predates the 2014 coup. PPT sees the use of Article 112 as a part of political efforts to rid Thailand of republicanism and to defeat the red shirts.

How Crispin concludes that the “military top brass [is]… now seemingly poised to relinquish power at democracy-restoring polls early next year…” is beyond our comprehension. However, he is right to see “signs that the fearsome law will be used less frequently, if at all, under the new reign,” although he does not note that the crown prince-cum-king was fearsome himself in the use of lese majeste against persons he saw as personal enemies. This included deaths in custody.

Sulak is then cited on his discussions with the king. He “says King Vajiralongkorn recognized the law’s past abuse for political purposes in a recent personal audience he had with the King where he offered his royally sought advice on myriad issues.”

Presumably Sulak has been given royal permission to say these things; that is, he is the king’s messenger. He does this by adhering to palace propaganda about the dead king: “I told the King his father said that clearly – it’s on record – that anybody that makes the case of lese majeste harms him personally and undermines the monarchy…”.

He then says that in his own case, “you can say publicly the king wrote personally to the Supreme Court and Attorney General, and since then there have been no new cases under [Article] 112.”

Sulak, adding to the new royalist discourse on the new monarchy, says that the recent dropping of 112 charges “are indicative of the new King’s ‘mercy’.” As with all royalist discourse, this involves untruths: “[King Bhumibol] regarded himself as a constitutional monarch, so he would not interfere,” but of course he did.  Sulak says of the previous king: “He used an indirect way, the Siamese way, he talked to the judges, he talked to the public prosecutor, but then many ignored his advice.” Of course, this is nonsense.

Interestingly, Sulak claims: “it is clear now that future cases will only be accepted for investigation and prosecution with the royal household’s consent. That, he says, marks a change from father to son.”

That is good news, perhaps. There remain about 60 cases of lese majeste still under the purview of prosecutors and the judiciary. But is is not such good news to have it confirmed that Vajiralongkorn is a determined interventionist, likely to ignore law, parliament and judiciary. Sulak states: “… the present King, unlike his father, he not only advises, he instructs…”.

As Crispin notes:

King Vajiralongkorn has moved with an alacrity and purpose in consolidating his reign that few diplomatic and other observers anticipated or foresaw upon his acceptance of the throne in late 2016. That’s entailed a recentralization of royal power….

Sulak seems to revel in his new role as royal spokesman. But beware the royalist who speaks for royal power.





Updated: Regressive politics

5 10 2018

Not that long ago, one of Thailand’s oldest generals briefly got himself back in the spotlight. Former Prime Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, sitting with Jatuporn Promphan of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, the official red shirts, he opposed an election.

He proposed an interim or national government “to solve the country’s problems and the 1997 constitution should be revived with some changes…”. He’s suggested a national government umpteen times.

It seems he was provoked by The Dictator’s plans for future control of politics following a rigged election.

The leader of the 2011 election’s military-backed party Bhum Jai Thai Anutin Charnvirakul observed, “next year’s election is a foregone conclusion…”. We are not sure whether he meant the election itself or the outcome. Probably both.

But at least five people took up Chavalit’s call and decided to petition the kin, asking him to ditch out the junta. Now, this is feudal bizarre, but the reaction from the military regime was predictably unrestrained.

Police arrested the five, dragged them off to a police station, along with their flag and portrait of the king, before presenting them to the military. The military whisked them off to the 11th Military Circle base for “attitude adjustment.”

Running to the king and calling for a national government are equally regressive political acts, but this is where Thailand is located, thanks to the junta.

Update: Khaosod reports that the arrested would-be royal petitioners have been released from military custody. The group “was taken to an army base for questioning before they were freed without charges at 5pm on the same day, military sources told the media.” The arresting officers claimed that the group “violat[ed] the junta’s ban on political gatherings.” It seems the king is not above politics.





Reporting lese majeste

3 10 2018

Two recent articles in The Nation reflect on lese majeste and both deserve some attention.

The first story is a poignant account of Nattathida Meewangpla’s case and the personal impact it has had. Nattathida’s misery over a lese majeste charge cannot be separated from the fact that she is a “key witness in the 2010 killings at Bangkok’s Wat Pathum Wanaram…”. She is currently on bail on the lese majeste case.

Being held in prison and without bail since March 2015 until her recent successful bail application was a form of lese majeste torture that has been repeatedly used by this regime and others before them.

She refers to fellow inmates who “knew how long they had to serve in prison before they could return home. But I didn’t have any hope. I had no idea what the punishment would be.”

Now also accused of lese majeste, she walked free on bail last month but has no idea when she’ll be back in jail.

Described as “a successful businesswoman, the mother of two boys and a part-time volunteer nurse” the charges she faced related to “terrorism” and lese majeste meant “her world collapsed almost overnight.”

In jail, she was harassed “for being a red-shirt supporter.” But it was when she was initially bailed on “terrorism” charges and then abducted by unknown officials even before she had left the gates of the prison and banged up again, on a concocted lese majeste charge, that she really struggled with the deliberate effort to break her. The military didn’t want a witness to the Wat Pathum Wanaram massacre talking.

She says she “became mentally unhinged,” adding: “I was shattered. It was beyond anger what I felt. It was intensely frustrating…”.

What would you do if you were me? Everybody at some point got to go home but I had to stay. What in the world? Why was did the trial go so slowly? What was I supposed to think when other inmates were suggesting I was being buried in the forgotten cell? There was no hope.”

Nattathida “knows she could be returned to prison at any moment. She refrained from talking about any mistreatment or discrimination because of uncertainty over her future.”

The second story is not particularly new but makes a point about the regime’s current lese majeste strategy. As we have noted, the military dictatorship, probably prodded by the palace, has decided to ease up on its use of lese majeste, replacing it with other charges like sedition and computer crimes.

The story cites iLaw’s documentation center head, Anon Chawalawan on the declining use of lese majeste. We do not necessarily agree with iLaw’s count of lese majeste cases, but there was a peak in cases in 2014 following the coup and into 2015, and then a decline following that.

Anon is correct in noting that immediately after the 2014 coup the military was clearing up cases, but not exactly as expressed in the article. The junta was using the law to attack mainly red shirts and others it considered “republicans.”

Anon stated that “during the military-led rule from 2014 to 2015, at least 61 people were prosecuted under Article 112…”. That’s a significant under-estimate. Our case lists suggests it was closer to 200 cases filed.

That makes the fact that there have been no reports of Article 112 cases this year all the more notable. That charges have been dropped, sometimes without any stated reason or explanation, is suggestive of high-level direction being given to the judiciary.

In this report, Anon is not quoted as saying anything about the use of other, “replacement” charges.

What we see, reading between line, that the junta feels that the anti-monarchists have been defeated or at least silenced (at least in country). It also seems that the argument that mammoth sentences and a huge number of cases does damage to the regime’s international reputation and to the monarchy may have been accepted for the moment. The change of practice also suggests that the military-royalist regime feels confident it can control politics going forward.





For king and junta

29 09 2018

In the “tradition” of dullards and political allies, the new boss of the Army is Gen Apirat Kongsompong, son of the corrupt 1991 coup leader Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong. For more on the 1991 coup, see PDFs here and here.

As a political ally of The Dictator and Deputy Dictator, Gen Apirat has vowed to “strengthen the army…”. We hadn’t noticed it had weakened. In fact, it is the most significant and best armed political “party” in the country.

Gen Apirat was speaking at one of those dopey loyalty ceremonies that the brass love so much and where he made sure to express “his great gratitude to His Majesty the King for appointing him…”. And that seems a real rather than mechanical genuflection. Being a military man himself, the king matters in deciding who leads the military.

Gen Apirat gladly accepted the expanded role of the army that the junta has provided it.

He praised “the empowerment of the army, which has leading roles in solving major problems affecting national security and order and is always ready to be there for people…”. Gen Apirat means that the military will continue to play the leading role in controlling the country and its politics.

Gen Apirat has played a significant role in defeating and demobilizing the red shirts following the 2014 coup. He is described as “one of the movers of the May 22, 2014 coup when he supervised the 1st Division, King’s Guard, which was a key unit in the putsch.”





Judiciary, military, impunity

20 09 2018

Under the military dictatorship the judiciary has been less interventionist that it was when it opposed elected governments. The royalist elite charged the judiciary with drawing lines in the political sand and protecting it against uppity elected governments.

But the loyal servants of monarchy and military on the bench can still be quite royally repugnant when they are told to enforce the military’s will or charge themselves as enforcers.

Sawai Thongom was shot in a 2009 protest against the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. That left him disabled. Later, a “court ruled the armed forces must pay him 1.2 million baht…”.

Not long after that an appeals court “overturned the judgment on appeal, ruling that the bullet wounds sustained by Sawai and another injured plaintiff were caused by a type of gun not issued to soldiers.” [As far as PPT can recall, this is not the case, and the Army does have the weapon in question.]

The case went to the Supreme Court, which decided that not only was Sawai up for “over 300,000 baht in fees and damages for harming the military’s reputation.”

Yes, we know, the military’s reputation is as murderous thugs, but one of the judiciary’s tasks is to save the face of big bosses in state positions maintain the impunity of the military.

The latest twist is that not only has impunity and face been maintained, but the junta has decided to further punish the disabled Sawai; they have seized his land and his money.

In June, “all the money in his bank account, just over 5,000 baht” was grabbed by the military’s thugs. More recently, Sawai received a letter “telling him he must surrender the deed to his 8 rai (1.3 hectare) of land in … Surin province.”

The letter said his land was valued “at 460,980 baht, the letter said it would be auctioned off to compensate the military.”

Interestingly, Sawai is fighting back and is now supported by “[v]eteran political activist and former lese majeste prisoner Somyot Prueksakasemsuk [who] is helping him raise funds and file petitions.”

Somyos said:

Will citizens dare to sue the state in the future if there’s such a crackdown?… You get shot and become physically handicapped. Then you go to the court and end up having to pay the army.

Sawai is unwilling to hand over his land title. He also realizes the government can sell it regardless. He knows that he’s merely buying time for what he fears is the inevitable outcome.

The Army has been prancing about in red shirt-dominated electorates intervening in “loan sharking” and returning land to farmers. But when it comes to the “dignity” of the murderous thugs of the Royal Thai Army, there is no sympathy. Rather there is just punishment.

Justice in Thailand excludes the poor as it protects the rich, the monarchy and the military.

Sawai has another mark against him. He holds political views that irk the royalist elite. On joining the rallies in 2009, he says of the Abhisit regime: “I did not join the protest due to hatred. I just oppose a party with minority seats forming a government on a military base…”. He continued: “I am just a normal person who, unarmed and wearing a Redshirt, exercised my rights to sue the armed forces…”.

It seems that no such right exists. Impunity remain intact.





Republicanism and those shirts III

13 09 2018

More details are becoming available about the alleged republican movement that the junta says is not a threat to the monarchical state but claims it has been watching it for years.

The Bangkok Post reported that police charged Wannapa, a woman taxi motorcyclist, “with illegal assembly and sedition for possession of T-shirts the government has linked to an anti-monarchist movement.”

This reporting is a bit hard to follow. We are not at all sure what “illegal assembly” means in this case, unless this is the ancient ang yee charge. The sedition fits with the regime’s efforts – as we see it – to reduce the international damage that comes each time it uses lese majeste charges. In fact, though, the sedition law is more draconian even than lese majeste.

Wannapa has denied all charges and it was her mother who was hawking the shirts.

The police sought to detain her further, but she made bail (see below).

It was the junta, the “National Council for Peace and Order [that] handed her over to the CSD on Tuesday evening.” It was the junta, “NCPO officers [who] arrested her in Samut Prakan province in possession of black T-shirts with a small chest emblem said to represent the so-called Thai Federation movement, which Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon referred to as an anti-monarchist movement.” Here, junta/NCPO means the military.

Wannapa’s lawyer Pawinee Chumsri of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “said her client denied the charges. She had never been a member of any political movement and did not know the meaning of the small rectangular logo on the shirts…”. She was “distribut[ing] the shirts on instructions from her mother, the lawyer said. Her mother paid her to transport the shirts. The military seized 400 of the T-shirts from her…”.

Her client used the internet only to watch cartoons and movies and listen to music, and did not visit any political websites, the lawyer said.

Another Bangkok Post report states that while initially reporting that Wannapa had been denied bail, the Criminal Court has granted bail on Wednesday. Her bail was set at 200,000 baht.

This report says she was “charged … for violating the constitution and sedition as well as an act of running an illegal organisation.”

Perhaps the constitution bit is Section 1, “Thailand is one and indivisible Kingdom.” But if there weren’t double standards in Thailand, this could hardly be a serious charge. After all, the current regime trashed a whole constitution in its coup in 2014.

Police now say that “Wannapa received the T-shirts from her mother Somphit Sombathom, who is a member of the movement and is still at large in Laos.” They say Wannapa had distributed about 60 shirts and had another 400 shirts that were confiscated.

Police also confirmed that “three other suspects, including a man named Kritsana Asasu, were earlier arrested by authorities for their alleged involvement in the movement.” It is not clear where they are or what charges they face.

Police alleged that the Organization for a Thai Federation “acts against the National Council for Peace and Order and has the objective of overthrowing the current political regime of the country to a federated republic.”

The junta is making some efforts to get political gain from these arrests, linking the “movement” to both the official red shirts and “people behind the movement … in Laos, some European countries and the United States.” It’s a big net, not unlike other plots the junta has “discovered,” it is the same characters they want to tar and feather.

It seems to us that the junta’s penchant for “revealing” plots is mainly to cause “fear” mainly on the part of its supporters and to “prove” that repression remains “necessary.” At the same time, the junta is promoting a more widespread awareness of republicanism.





Republicanism and those shirts I

10 09 2018

As one of the women arrested on unspecified charges for possession of black t-shirts was permitted to see her two children, more details of the arrests became available.

Another woman, identified only as Surangkanang, who allegedly purchased a shirt was released. However, the woman still in custody, identified as Wannapa and aged 30, is accused of “distributing T-shirts the authorities deemed ‘politically offensive’…”. She was apparently detained at the 11th Military Circle military camp several days ago. Wannapa is reportedly a motorcycle-taxi rider and lived in Samut Prakan.

A later report suggests that she may not have been “distributing,” but this begs the question of why she remains in custody.

Her “crime” relates to the possession and (perhaps) distribution of black shirts “bearing a small red-and-white emblem on the upper left front, a ‘flag’ alleged to be the symbol of a group calling itself the ‘Federation of Thai States’.”

The military now states that she will be held for 7 days and then charged.

A Defense spokesman says it is conducting “an investigation into an underground group seeking to install a federal republic in Thailand…”. He disclosed that the authorities have been “monitoring the group which has urged its supporters to wear black T-shirts with a red and white logo.”

Social media suggests that the “network” is associated with missing red shirt activist Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul. Ko Tee disappeared or was disappeared while in Laos or, some say, Cambodia. That isn’t yet clear.

Maj Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich said: “We have to find out where they got the T-shirts from, and who made the T-shirts … We are investigating the matter.” Dangerous shirts, dangerous message.

Social media reports are that 3-4 others have been rounded up.

Khaosod reports that “republican activists confirmed the shirts as their own and denounced the arrests as an attempt to intimidate the public.” It claims “growing support for its cause.”

The newspaper reports a senior army officer confirming the witch hunt. He worried that social media was misrepresenting the arrests – not the media we have seen, but this is the Thai military speaking – saying the women “might have links to Organization for a Thai Federation. This is a big issue…”, adding that his boys have “evidence” of yet another deep plot.

Khaosod has it that the “Organization for Thai Federation is reportedly run by a group of Redshirt activists living in exile in Laos. It’s difficult to gauge how much or little support it has, though its online videos typically rack up tens of thousands of views.” It is said that the “group issues prolific dispatches, having published numerous videos on YouTube – most of them several hours long – in which they discuss their republican ideas between bouts of dizzying conspiracy theories.”

On YouTube there are several versions of video – actually more like radio programs – under the banner of Organization for Thai Federation and Sanamluang20082008. Some have hundreds of views and others more than 10,000. Clicking the links opens sites probably banned in Thailand.

One of these videos that seems to have agitated the military: “In mid-August, the group leader, known as Uncle Sanam Luang, called upon his supporters in Thailand to don black T-shirts with their red and white flag emblem to raise awareness of the group.” With the group declaring that the new generation no longer wants the monarchy, Uncle Sanam Luang is reported to say: “We have to make it a reality. Who would do it? The people. The people are owners of the country, not anyone else…. Therefore, we have to wake up. We have to do everything we can.”

It is not yet known if the charges likely to be laid are lese majeste, sedition or some other combination.