Odd reports

18 02 2017

News reports from Thailand can reflect on all kinds of things related to politics, lifestyles, entertainment, crime and more. Sometimes, though, there are reports that are rather difficult to comprehend. Here we list two that we saw over the past week. We felt we needed more information to make these curiosities comprehensible.

The air force looked like it had lost another plane when we read this headline at Khaosod: “Pilot Ejects Over Loei, Severely Injured by Fall.” Confirming that, the story told us that:

Squadron Leader Sukothai Somsrisai was found in a rubber plantation in Loei city at about 11am after he ejected from the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, which had taken off from Udon Thani province. He was hospitalized for his injuries and remained in critical condition.

But then this:

The jet’s other pilot, Puri Julapallop, landed the plane safely after the accident at an air base….

Okay…. so what has gone on here? The air force has asked for people not to speculate or to talk about the non-crash.

The next story was of religion. Not about the high-profile raid on a middle-class temple by thousands of police and soldiers, but about Thai bureaucrats using religious teachings in their work. We don’t religiously read World Religion News, but this headline jumped out at us: “Thai Officials Using Jehovah’s Witnesses Publications To Address Social Issues.” It begins:

This year marks three years since Thai Government officials started using publications by Jehovah’s Witnesses as part of the national initiative to educate the public officials on how to address some key social issues. These issues include prevention of domestic violence, effective parenting, and improving physical and mental health.

The report claims that these publications are being used in “over 8,700 regional Community Learning Centers that are spread across the country.”

Remarkably, the report cites the “director of CDLC in Nakhon Nayok province Chaiwat Saengsri,” who says the “goal of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very clear and aims at helping the people and communities get to know their Creator.” He then adds that this “is the same goal that CDLC has…”.

As we understand it, every Jehovah Witness is an evangelist, and that their goal is conversion to their religion. They believe that “the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent, and that the establishment of God’s kingdom over the earth is the only solution for all problems faced by humanity…”. They reject militarism, “do not work in industries associated with the military, do not serve in the armed services, and refuse national military service…”.

Back in Nakhon Nayok, Chaiwat requested more support from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He wanted:

their publications available during the SMART Leader seminar. This seminar seeks to bring together 20 instructors and 100 community leaders from 28 provinces, who will receive training on community building and leadership.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Thailand are reportedly “happy to know that community leaders are making such good use of the Bible-based advice found in our publications.”

We find it just a little odd.

But then its also odd to see thousands of police and troops raiding exceedingly wealthy temples where senior monks are accused of numerous and major crimes. And that comes after yet another state intervention in managing the monkhood, reverting power to a monarch with a checkered past.

Nation, monarchy and now religion

16 07 2014

The military dictatorship, headed by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, is becoming increasingly dictatorial and is looking like it is getting set to be in place for a long period.

The junta controls everything. It has established notions drawn from the prehistory of Thailand’s political development, when military leaders reigned supreme (with the support of the king, of course, who also reigned).The nationalism of the junta is clear. So is its royalism as it promotes its public subservience to the monarchy while institution a reign of lese majeste terror.

The third element in the fascist trilogy that dominates the ruling royalist elite’s ideology is religion. Older readers will recall that the last major reordering of the sangha so that it was aligned with authoritarian principles of government was under General Sarit Thanarat. He made it so that he Buddhist hierarchy was a firm supporter of his military dictatorship.

It should surprise no one that the junta and The Leader should get senior monks on side for their mission to make Thailand moral, royalist and hierarchical.Junta As the picture left shows, the junta already has themselves floating spiritually in the sky as they bring repression to the population.

Khaosod reports that the “spiritual leader of Thai Buddhism,” Somdet Phra Maharatchamongkhalachan, the acting Supreme Patriarch, “has deemed the leader … fit to be the Prime Minister of the country’s next government.” He said this as the junta visited him “to offer alms on the occasion of Buddhist Lent.”

A reporter asked the monk whether he thought “Prayuth is capable of being Prime Minister.” The monk replied: “If he wants to be, he surely can…. Judging from his action and strength, Gen. Prayuth is capable of being a Prime Minister.”

PPT reckons that you might read this as a statement that Prayuth is The Leader and can do pretty much what he likes as head of the military dictatorship. But that would be too charitable for this propaganda exercise. In any case, the old monk added: “What the NCPO has done so far is considered to be the right path…. Because the NCPO leader wants to establish reconciliation, unity, and harmony.” And he gave “his moral support” to Prayuth “so that he stays strong and accomplishes works for the goodness of the country.”

So it is Nation, Religion and Monarchy again. And it is Prayuth for President prime minister.

Religion? monarchy?

26 08 2012

A reader comment at New Mandala alerted PPT to this clip featuring Robert Smith of The Cure. Can anyone imagine his comments on the monarchy and religion being made in Thailand? Impossible. His comments on religion would, of course, stir controversy in many places, kind of making his point.

His comments on religion begin about 4:58 and his reasonable perspective on monarchy (in this case the British one) begin about 6:01.

AHRC on Chiranuch

8 05 2012

Many of PPT’s readers will have seen the statement of concern by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the case concerning Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Even so, it is worth reiterating it here, in full:

On 30 April 2012, the Criminal Court in Bangkok was scheduled to read its verdict in Black Case No. 1667/2553 on ten alleged violations of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. The defendant is Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the 44-year-old webmaster of Prachatai, an independent online news site. Suddenly, instead of reading the decision, 20 minutes before the proceedings were to begin court staff notified Chiranuch and her lawyers that the decision would be delayed for an additional month. The rather dubious reason given by the court for the delay was that the judges had too many documents to read, and could not complete preparing the verdict in time for the scheduled date.

Both the delay to this case and the explanation for the delay are sources of serious concern to the Asian Human Rights Commission. The judges gave the date for reading the verdict in mid-February 2012, on the last day of hearings. At that time, they knew the case and the amount of evidence that they had to review. If they required a longer time to reach their findings, they ought to have set the date later. That they did not casts doubt on their excuse for not delivering the verdict on the appointed date, as does the manner in which the notification was delivered to the defendant. Had the judges really known that they could not prepare the verdict in time, the court need not have waited until minutes before the scheduled reading date to postpone the ruling; it could have notified the defendant’s lawyers the week before that the hearing would have to be postponed. That they notified the defendant at the last minute constitutes a form of psychological torture, since Chiranuch was already on her way to court and had readied a bag of items to take with her to prison in the event of a conviction. Now she faces another month of waiting, of not knowing her future.

From the beginning, the case brought against Chiranuch has made a mockery of the notion of justice, and so too the institutions in Thailand responsible for it. In this sense the delay constitutes only the latest in a series of state-endorsed abuses of the defendant’s rights. In particular, this case represents an instance of the clear abrogation of the state’s responsibilities under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party.

The formal proceedings against Chiranuch began on 3 March 2009, when the Criminal Court issued a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. On March 5, a warrant to search the Prachatai office was issued and the next day police from the Crime Suppression Division raided the office and arrested Chiranuch in response to one complaint of her alleged violation of the vaguely worded, anti-democratic Computer Crimes Act, which an unelected legislature operating under a military-appointed government passed in 2007. The police released Chiranuch later that evening, but the next month nine further complaints were brought against her. On 31 March 2010, the Office of the Attorney General proceeded with the prosecution and she was arrested and held at the Criminal Court before again being released on bail.

Reading the above account, we might infer that Chiranuch had published some highly inflammatory, dangerous or secret material on the Prachatai site that warranted the heavy involvement of specialist police and state prosecutors. In fact, her crime was to have not done something: to have failed to remove 10 comments alleged to be injurious to the monarchy from the Prachatai webboard quickly enough. Her alleged crime, to underscore the point, was that she removed the comments, which consisted of allusions rather than direct references to the royal family, with insufficient rapidity.

Examination of the specific provisions of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act under which these bizarre allegations were brought does not help us to clarify the thinking of those responsible for the prosecution of Chiranuch Premchaiporn. However, it does raise a series of questions about the dubious qualities of this law and the dangers it poses to the rights of citizens. Under its section 14, anyone can be jailed for five years if found to have imported to a computer “false computer data in a manner that it is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic… [or] any computer data related with an  offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code”. Under its section 15, the service provider found to have consented to the use of the computer for this purpose is equally liable as the person committing the offence, which in the case of Chiranuch is the crime of lese majesty, as stipulated in section 112 of the Criminal Code, that, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”

The trial hearings occurred in February and September 2011, and February 2012, and summaries by Freedom Against Censorship-Thailand are available on the campaign webpage that the AHRC has set up for Chiranuch. As these show, much of the testimony turned on the interpretation of how the comments that she removed tardily, in the opinion of the police and prosecutor, constitute criminal content in the meaning of the law. Whether or not a written comment on a webpage or link to an image or video is “likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” is necessarily fraught with difficulty, even more so as the Computer Crimes Act does not specify what might constitute a likelihood to damage the country’s security or create a public panic, or even define “security” or “public panic”. What any of these terms mean, it seems, comes down to the opinion of the judge in the individual case. No standards exist to which we can refer.

The hearings also turned on the question of whether in providing the webboard for public comment the defendant had consented to the posting of all and any comments on that site, making her criminally liable for them. As she removed the offending comments once aware of them, it seems patently obvious that she did not consent to anyone posting anything on the site, and yet the prosecution argument rests on the implicit reasoning that whosoever provides an online chatroom or space for discussion about any topic consents to the posting of any content on any matter. This absurd proposition could only be entertained in the context of draconian legislation of the sort being used against Chiranuch, with the intention of preventing the free expression of opinion about issues that really matter to people in Thailand during a critical period in the country’s modern history. Indeed, the charges did have the effect of forcing Prachatai to shut down its webboard, for fear that both users and more of its staff members could face additional prosecution.

In responding to criticism about the case, the government of Thailand has characteristically shown either an inability to grasp elementary values of human rights, or a wilful disregard for those values. It has also underplayed, either intentionally or unknowingly, the potential consequences of this case. For instance, in a statement submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council on 19 May 2011, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, the sister organization of the AHRC, set out the facts of Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s case and commented that it illustrated “the over-use and manipulation of the law to intimidate citizens and silence speech critical of the monarchy and ruling government regime”. The ALRC highlighted the response of the government of Thailand to the concern expressed in September 2010 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mrs. Margaret Sekkaggya, regarding the case against Chiranuch. The government maintained that both the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and section 112 of the Criminal Code are not in conflict with either the 2007 Constitution or the ICCPR. Instead it replied that:

“Thailand, as an open society, upholds the people’s right to freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. The exercise of such rights, however, must bear in mind considerations regarding national stability and social harmony. Views that are disrespectful of the monarchy, or advocate hatred or hostile feelings toward this important national institution, or those which incite hatred or violence are generally unacceptable in the Thai society.”

Article 19 of the ICCPR allows for restrictions on freedom of expression when necessity is clearly present: that officials deem a view “unacceptable” does not discharge the burden of necessity in this case, and nor does it justify the prosecution of persons for the expressing of such views. Indeed, some of the most atrocious acts in modern human history have been justified through recourse to notions of “national stability and social harmony”. To account for the prosecution of Chiranuch Premchaiporn in these terms indicates how very far removed the state in Thailand really is from the international human rights framework that it claims to respect.

In view of the above facts, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the Criminal Court to ensure that no further delays are caused in the reading of this verdict, and that the trial be conducted openly, honestly and justly. A special effort must be made by the court in this case to ensure that indeed justice is done. The AHRC also wishes to point out to the court that delaying tactics will not cause human rights defenders around the world to lose interest in the case, but only heighten the amount of attention that it receives, since the use of such tactics raises the level of doubt about the manner in which the trial has been conducted and the prospects of the accused for a fair outcome. Last of all, and in this regard, the AHRC urges all those persons and organisations concerned with human rights and freedom of expression in Thailand to return to the Criminal Court on 30 May 2012 for the re-scheduled reading of the decision.

New article by Giles Ji Ungpakorn

15 09 2010

Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s latest essay has been posted to Socialist Worker, the online newspaper of the International Socialist Organization. In it, Ji argues that it is the military, and the nature of its connections to the monarchy, rather than the monarchy itself, which must be interrogated in present-day Thailand. Ji’s argument is important because he dares to question the relationship between the cultural and religious capital vested in the monarchy and the sheer force and possibility of violence represented by the military. These are questions that all those concerned with Thai politics should be asking.

The entire article is well worth a read. It can be found here:  Socialist Worker, 8 September 2010, “The power behind the Thai throne”

PAD rallies

15 11 2009

The Bangkok Post (15 November 2009: “PAD rally for the country, against Thaksin”) reports on the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) rally in Bangkok. Sounding rather like 1976, PAD called “on Thai people to help protect the national institution, religion and the monarchy.”

Some 10,000 people – about what the police had predicted – rallied at Sanam Luang “waving the national flags and signs with messages condemning ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” PAD leaders accused Thaksin of “actions … treacherous to the country…”.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban explained: “The government is unbiased. The Internal Security Act is not enforced since the PAD has not moved to Government House yet…”. Suthep knows that his statement is untrue, for the ISA has been imposed for all red shirt rallies, with just one exception.

As some had predicted, there has been minor violence from a small explosion, with the Bangkok Post reporting a grenade attack “causing at least 10 injuries.” The attack came as “PAD core member and New Politics Party leader Sondhi Limthongkul was on the stage to deliver his speech on why the country needs a monarchy institution at around 8.55pm.” The “unidentified attacker on a motorcycle hurled a grenade towards the backstage, and quickly fled after the blast, the police said.”

The Nation (16 November 2009: “Five injured in blast at rally”) reports 5 injured and a man arrested. The rally continued.

Update 1: A more measured report is in from AFP. The AFP report has a crowd estimate of 20,000 (based on television coverage, this seems a better estimate) and an explosion but cite Sondhi as saying: “four protesters were hurt” when “two men on a motorcycle threw a firecracker.”  He gave no more details and police were investigating.

Update 2: As usual, New Mandala commentator Nick Nostitz has a perspective and some interesting pictures of this rally and the PAD rally in Bangkok, including pictures of those injured by the explosion. Note that Nick estimates 35,000 attending.

Update 3: Police claim that the explosion was caused by an M-79 grenade. They say that the attacker “launched the grenade with the M79 launcher from the City Pillar Shrine near Lod Canal, or about 350 metres away from the yellow-shirt gathering. The grenade’s trajectory indicated that it could not be thrown by a person from a close distance.” The report says 12 were injured.

PAD leader Sondhi is reported to have said “Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the Puea Thai Party chairman, and Gen Panlop [Pinmanee], also a Puea Thai member, might be behind the attack.” Both deny involvement. The military has also denied involvement.

Update 4: From the rally, it is reported that PAD leaders claimed that the “event was ‘colourless’ (without political stripes)” but also urged all people “to put aside their political beliefs and unite behind the institution of the monarchy.” Sondhi said: “The nation comes before colours.”

He also said that “PAD would hold another gathering on Dec 5, His Majesty’s birthday,” and called for “the annihilation of “traitors”. Phibhop Dhongchai, another PAD core leader, read out a six-point statement stressing that Thailand is indivisible and will always be governed by its constitutional monarchy.

PAD also criticized Thaksin “for damage he has inflicted on the country,” and for “acts of treason by conspiring with the enemy, understood to be Hun Sen, in undermining the country’s stability. PAD also attacked Hun Sen.

Small PAD rallies were also reported in Yala and Satun.

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