Updated: Junta-style business (as usual) IV

24 04 2020

Two more reports show that despite the junta/post-junta regime is conducting (political) business as usual.

Amnesty International has issued a report – They Are Always Watching – denouncing the regime’s continuing persecution of “social media users who criticize the government and monarchy…”. It says this is “a systematic campaign to crush dissent which is being exacerbated by new COVID-19 restrictions…”.

The military-backed authorities have”increased the use of vague or overly broad laws to bring criminal charges against dozens of peaceful critics since being elected [sic.] last year.” It refers to a “climate of fear designed to silence…”, with “[m]any of those targeted for their online posts are currently awaiting trial and could face up to five years in prison and heavy fines.”

The restrictions that follow from the regime’s declaration of emergency powers have further limited freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Of course, all of this is a continuation and deepening of political repression that came with the 2014 military coup. Thailand is now coming up to sixth year of military repression.

The report provides numerous examples of the most recent efforts by the military, police and regime to silence dissent.

Noting the “pause” in the use of lese majeste – an effort by the king to bolster his damaged reputation –  critics of the monarchy now face the Computer Crimes Act and sedition charges.

Business as usual for the junta/post-junta regime.

Adding to the weight of evidence for decline, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index shows how Thailand’s ranking has declined further. Thailand now ranks 140th of 180 countries, ranked below Myanmar, and having fallen four places in the global ranking. Being in the press basement puts Thailand in some very dubious company.

RSF states:

… the long-promised elections held in March 2019 made no difference to the total control wielded by the elite surrounding Gen. Prayuth [Chan-ocha], who is now prime minister, defence minister and chief of the Royal Thai Police.

Any criticism of the government is liable to lead to harsh reprisals facilitated by draconian legislation and a justice system that follows orders.

Business as usual for the junta/post-junta regime.

Update: For the junta/post-junta’s view, read the letter to the New York Times by an official. It essentially takes The Dictator’s line that “life trumps liberty.” Thailand’s officials are becoming increasingly combative with the international media – except on the king, where there’s a stunning and incriminating silence. Perhaps they are being advised by the Chinese and  Singaporean regimes.





Press freedom declines further

20 04 2016

We all know that the junta has tried to manage the media more than most recent regimes in Thailand. Press freedom has been wound back since the 2014 military coup, and according to Reporters Without Borders and its World Press Freedom Index, the situation worsened even further in 2015.

RWB rank 2015





RWB on press freedom

8 02 2013

Web

Reporters Without Borders has released their latest ranking of media freedom around the world. Thailand makes a very, very small improvement after a considerable leap last year, but remains in the lower ranks on this particular table, at 135 of 179 countries.Ranking

As far as PPT can tell from the press release and the full report (downloads a PDF), Thailand is not mentioned except in the rankings table. However, the Bangkok Post has some commentary. It says:

“The press is much freer in Thailand than in neighbouring countries,” the report said, but then attacked the government for its treatment of internet media.

“Online freedom of expression began to deteriorate from the moment the new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra assumed power in July 2011,” said the report by Reporters Without Borders.

It cited in particular prosecution under the lese majeste law and commented, “Apparently the government has forgotten its promises to amend Article 112 of the Thailand Penal Code.”

Apparently, the Bangkok Post confuses the new report with the one from last year. When that report came out last year, PPT took issue with the RSF report. Like others, RSF claims that:

online freedom of expression began to deteriorate from the moment the new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra assumed power in July 2011. Abusive recourse to the politically exploited lèse-majesté law has led to an increase in litigations and strict censorship.

We noted that only part of that was true. While there has reportedly been an increase in URL blocking (including PPT), we did not see evidence of any increase in litigation on lese majeste under the Yingluck government. That remains largely true. The claims also took attention away from the upgrades Thailand received in the ranking that year following the end of the repressive Abhisit Vejjajiva regime in mid-2011.

As RWB said in that 2012 report, “Other than for monarchy-related issues, the media are relatively free in Thailand.” I Can't SpeakIt is the lese majeste and related computer crimes legislation that undermines the media in Thailand (and the judiciary and the monarchy itself). The recent conviction of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk is just one more example of the draconian lese majeste law being used to demonstrate that journalists, and anyone else who thinks they should have a voice, must self-censor on the monarchy.





Updated: FACT on continuing censorship

3 11 2012

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand hasn’t posted since July, but is back with a long post on continuing internet censorship in Thailand. FACT claims that the Royal Thai Government now blocks more than 1,000,000 URLs.

In January 2004, during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, it was announced that 1,247 URLs were blocked. Following the 2006 military coup, “the military’s fifth official order on its first day in power was to block the Internet. Under the coup regime, tens of thousands of webpages were blocked.” In 2007, FACT says that Thailand became the first country to block YouTube and in the same year introduced the notoriously politicized Computer Crimes Act. Much of this censorship was related to anti-monarchy sites and postings.

FACT claims that, today, the “Thai government censorship was rising at a rate of 690 new pages blocked every single day.” It adds: “Thailand’s censorship has shown no signs of abating and almost none of the webpages blocked during the [Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s] ‘emergency’ have been unblocked [under the Yingluck Shinawatra regime]. In 2012, more than 90,000 Facebook pages were blocked.”

Update: In a related comment, Reporters Without Borders has commented on the lese majeste acquittal of  Surapak Puchaisaeng. In doing so, RWB notes: “Thailand is ranked 137th of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders and is among countries under surveillance in the list of Internet enemies, updated by the organization in March last year.”





RWB: Release Somyos

5 05 2012

Reporters Without Borders has issued a call for Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, now awaiting a verdict in his lese majeste case, to be released. Somyos is unlikely to hear the verdict in his case until September 2012, meaning that, if not bailed, he will have been jailed for 17 months before his case is decided by the less than impartial courts. Here’s the RWB call, in full:

Reporters Without Borders again urges the Thai authorities to release Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, the former editor of the banned magazine Voice of Thaksin [sic. Taksin], who was tried on lèse-majesté charges during the past four days in Bangkok [sic., the trial began in November 2011], with witnesses for the prosecution and defence giving evidence. Somyos has been detained for the past 12 months.

“The nine bail requests for Somyos during the past year were all rejected on the grounds that he could influence witnesses if he were released before his trial,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Now that the trial is all but over, we reiterate our call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

A Reporters Without Borders representative was able to speak briefly with Somyos on 1 May, shortly after Somyos testified in his defence. “I just want to expose the facts,” he said. “If I am punished for that, then so be it.” Somyos’ wife, who visits him once a week in prison, said the 50-year-old journalist seems to have been treated acceptably in prison, but his mental health is deteriorating.

In his testimony, Somyos argued that the two February 2010 articles that prompted his arrest did not refer to the monarchy. “I did not really imagine that these articles would be seen as criticizing the monarchy,” he testified. “In my view, the author was just referring to the Thai elite.” For the first time he revealed the real name of the person who wrote the two articles under the pen-name of Jit Polachan.

“The articles contain no explicit reference to the monarchy,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They and the law are being interpreted in a particular way in order to punish a ruling party opponent. We condemn this political use of the draconian lèse-majesté legislation to silence Somyos, and we urge the court not to convict him on the basis of a purely subjective interpretation of the articles.”

Somyos’ two defence lawyers petitioned Thailand’s constitutional court on 24 April, asking it to determine whether the lèse-majesté law is constitutional and complies with international legal standards, and requesting a suspension of the trial until it issued its ruling.

A member of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (better known as the “Red Shirts”), Somyos was arrested on 30 April 2011 after refusing to identify the person who wrote the two articles that allegedly defamed the king. He was formally charged on 26 July 2011 on two lèse-majesté counts for which he could get a combined sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

The court that is trying Somyos will not issue a verdict until the constitutional court has issued a ruling.

Thailand is classified as a country “under scrutiny” in the “Enemies of the Internet” report that Reporters Without Borders updates every year.





Lese majeste on the international agenda

20 03 2012

The lese majeste “scene” – if such a term can be used for something so horrid – has been relatively quiet of late in Thailand. Of course, that’s a view that can only be considered relative to the past few years when people were being accused and locked up with gay abandon by the royalist regimes, and then the initial raucous approach by some of the royalist toadies in the Puea Thai Party.

Despite people still suffering in prison on this vicious political charge and the mainstream media having gone quiet on lese majeste and Nitirat since the attack on Worachet Pakeerut, international attention is being maintained.

PPT mentioned the Reporters Without Borders report a couple of days ago, Bangkok Pundit has noted a review of Saying the Unsayable in the prestigious and influential Foreign Affairs, and now the LA Times and Chicago Tribune have given critical attention to lese majeste.

Our attention was caught by this latter report that rightly argues that this draconian law is a century old and essentially unchanged from when the monarchy pretty much did as it wanted, including using the state’s money for personal consumption. That law still locks up people and has them in chains, ignores human rights and punishes them incessantly.

The report notes the push for reform and the opposition from those who chant that the feudal law “is necessary to uphold the dignity of a king they portray as enlightened and selfless, transcending raucous, corruption-prone Thai politics.” Of course, this king may dislike populist politics, but he has played it just as hard as any politician.

The report cites more statistics on lese majeste:

The number of charges rose to 478 in 2010 from 33 in 2005. In 2011, the figure dropped to 85 as protests eased, according to Thailand’s Office of the Judiciary, but many critics remained outspoken about the law.

Remarkably for international reporting, this account speaks with Surachai Danwattananusorn, recently sentenced to more than 7 years in jail on this draconian charge, and still facing more charges. It is no surprise that Surachai should say that Article 112 is “an obsolete law not applicable to the modern world…”. It is pointed out that Surachai, despite a guilty plea, stated that he “denied doing anything wrong…”.

Surachai

Equally interesting is the profile provided to American citizen Joe Gordon, said to be a “high-profile case involving vexing jurisdictional issues…”. That’s kind of an understatement given that Joe was found guilty for, the court says, while living in the United States, posting a Thai translation of the Yale University Press bestseller The King Never Smiles.The pathetic effort to “protect” one of the world’s most politically and economically powerful monarchy extends beyond the borders of Thailand. Joe pleaded guilty apparently thinking he’d get some mercy from the palace, but nothing has happened and he continues to be punished for an alleged crime that was a legal act in his country.

On the chances for reform, the article comments:

With an increasingly polarized electorate, an aging king, a weak government, a conservative judiciary and a divided legislature, few analysts see much chance of the law changing soon. Even Thais advocating reform … say a majority of the public probably wouldn’t support new rules.

That’s probably a reasonable assessment but misses the point that the activism associated with lese majeste would have simply been impossible a few years ago. Despite the comments of the foreign academic cited in the story, much has changed.

Surachai gets the last word, making the point that even more change is required:

it’s time for Thailand to modernize and join the ranks of constitutional monarchies that have watered down or all but eliminated their lese-majeste laws.

“We just want the law updated,” he said, dressed in a dark red prison jumpsuit, “so it is more like countries such as Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden.”

That position seems entirely reasonable.





Updated: Thailand: The new Burma

14 03 2012

At The Irrawaddy, it is reported that:

Burma could soon be removed from the ‘enemies of the internet’ list if current reforms on media censorship continue, claims a leading press freedom watchdog.

Yes, that is a bit of a beat up, but it should worry everyone who follows Thailand’s politics, and it should especially worry the Yingluck Shinawatra government. It should also concern royalists – but it won’t – because it is their desire to protect the country’s largest corporate conglomerate. Of course, we mean the wealthy and politicized monarchy.

It is a beat up because Burma remains one of the world’s 12th worst government for censored internet access as ranked by Reporters Without Borders. RSF is reported:

Burma could soon leave the enemies of the internet list if the country takes the necessary measures…. It has clearly embarked on a promising period of reforms, which has included the release of journalists and bloggers and the restoration of access to blocked websites.

But, even though Thailand’s ranking has improved – but remains a lowly 137th, up from 153rd in 2010 under Abhisit Vejjajiva’s repressive regime – RSF “believes that Burma could soon overtake Thailand which was heavily criticized for jailing bloggers who transgress its strict lèse-majesté laws.”

In Burma, the situation is improving as “the military have permitted the release of journalists and bloggers and the unblocking of news websites,” whereas Thailand keeps them locked up.

PPT takes issue with the RSF report for Thailand in 2011-12. Like others, RSF claims that:

online freedom of expression began to deteriorate from the moment the new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra assumed power in July 2011. Abusive recourse to the politically exploited lèse-majesté law has led to an increase in litigations and strict censorship.

Only part of this is true. While there has reportedly been an increase in URL blocking (including PPT), we do not see evidence of any increase in litigation on lese majeste under the new government, not yet, anyway.We do note one piece of evidence from RSF:

Based on photocopies of official documents shared by Mahidol University’s Kwanravee Wangudom Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies between January and October 2011, 122 lèse-majesté cases (which may or may not have been prosecuted) were reviewed by courts of first instance, eight reviewed by appeal courts, and three by the Supreme Court.

It is important to note the dates cited. Almost all of that period was under the previous Abhisit administration, so the evidence remains unclear.

There has been a lot of lese majeste talk and this has been designed to embed self-censorship, but all of the litigation we have seen to date appears to have been set in place by the Abhisit regime. In addition, much of the red shirt media that was blocked under that regime is now more readily available.

PPT is critical of the Yingluck administration on lese majeste and political repression – indeed, we recently posted on continuing repression. However commentators like RSF need to be accurate and careful in their assessments.

Update: Channelnewsasia.com reports the following:

Thai authorities have blocked thousands of web pages deemed insulting to the monarchy in the past three months, police said on Wednesday, amid growing debate about the kingdom’s lese majeste law.

More than 5,000 pages with content deemed to be critical of the royal family were taken down between December and March, Thailand’s national police spokesman Piya Utayo told reporters.

We found that the number of inappropriate or insulting posts was less and less,” he said, without explaining the cause of the reduction.

PPT is becoming confused on all the zeros floating about on this. In the report in the original post, RSF says the Yingluck government has blocked “60,000 Web pages in less than three months, as opposed to 70,000 in the preceding three years.” If there really has been a reduction of tens of thousands to 5,000, something is happening. Fear? Republicans becoming bored or changing tack? Maybe readers know?





Red shirt journalist gunned down

13 01 2012

Reporters Without Borders writes that it

is shocked to learn that Wisut “Ae Inside” Tangwittayaporn, a freelance journalist and member of the “Red Shirts” political movement, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle today in the southwestern resort island of Phuket.

Wisut

Reporters Without Borders demands that the authorities “carry out a thorough investigation into this murder, without ruling out the possibility that it was linked to his work as a journalist.”

Wisut was murdered while driving with his wife in Phuket. Police say:

the grouping of the shots suggested that the murder was carried out by professional killers and that his coverage of land disputes or other stories may have been the motive. The newspaper also reported the Wisut was the leader of a group opposed to the private use of a Phuket beach and had many enemies.





Red shirt actions

2 12 2011

It has been interesting to see several actions that relate to the Battle for Bangkok of April and May 2010. Clearly, the election result has brought no end to the efforts of royalists to win the bigger political battle now focused on the monarchy. Red shirts may be the target but they are also fighting back. In no particular order the stories include:

1) Prachatai reports that Reporters Without Borders has commented on the “latest developments in the investigation into the fatal shooting of Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto in Bangkok in April 2010, including Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung’s statement about the involvement of the security forces.” Chalerm has apparently stated that the security forces were clearly involved and cites forensic evidence and witnesses.

RWB adds that “The Thai authorities finally seem determined to shed light on all aspects of this case and to recognize the army’s role in Muramoto’s death…. We urge them to display the same determination with the investigation into the Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi’s death in May 2010, in which no progress has been made. It continues to be hampered by procedural obstacles and a failure to explore leads.”

PPT would hope that the same energy is applied to all investigations of these events where the military, with the mass of weapons and snipers at work, clearly bears considerable responsibility for the deaths.

That the Department of Special Investigation said on 24 March 2011 “that the army could not have been to blame because forensic tests had established that the round that killed Muramoto came from a type of gun that government troops had not been using that day,” should be sufficient for DSI’s posterior polishing boss Tharit Pengdit to be sacked.

2) While on the politically-disgraceful and incompetent DSI, according to the Bangkok Post, it “has ordered a review of evidence to decide if it will pursue lese majeste charges against 19 red shirt leaders.” It is stated that “DSI deputy chief Pol Col Prawes Moonpramuk, the newly appointed chief investigator in the lese majeste cases” explained the order from Justice Minister Pracha Promnok. He claimed that “investigators have found new evidence, received more detailed statements from suspects and examined their speeches which were alleged to have offended the monarchy.”

Based on recent cases, evidence hardly matters to the courts on lese majeste, so the sudden desire to be “thorough” is a welcome advance!

Interestingly, the DSI man states “a team of special DSI consultants initially found the speeches were directed at the then government rather than the monarchy.” He added that “not all of the accused would be charged with lese majeste.” We wonder how Arny boss Prayuth Chan-ocha will react to this. He was the one who pushed charges of lese majeste.

3) The Bangkok Post reports that the Election Commission “has resolved to disqualify Pheu Thai Party MP Jatuporn Prompan because of the doubts that he still had party membership at the time of the general election, not because he was in jail and did not get to vote, as widely reported, Somchai Juengprasert said on Thursday.”

Now are we reading this right: the EC has “doubts.” It is unable to say, so it disqualifies him? Really? It seems the EC is making yet one more politicized decision, but its explanation is that if they don’t know, the Constitutional Court must make the decision. “The EC voted 4 to 1 to ask the House speaker to seek the Constitution Court’s ruling on whether Mr Jatuporn was disqualified under  Section 106 (4) of the constitution,” but disqualified him because they say this is the only way to have the Court make a decision?

Of course, this is all because the Democrat Party-led government had Jatuporn locked up essentially for no other reason than he was a red shirt leader, they hated him and wished to silence him during the election. So the disqualification is “not that Mr Jatuporn lost MP status because he failed to vote in the July 3 election because he was at the time in jail…”. So there’s a way to win elections in the future….

4) The courts have sentenced 7 men claimed to be red shirts who “took part in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protest” to 6 months jail “for violating the emergency decree in connection with the torching of CentralWorld shopping complex on May 19 last year. One of them was additionally sentenced to three years imprisonment for theft.”

Note that most of the charges relate to the emergency decree. While the Bangkok Post headline is “Reds get 6 months in CentralWorld fire,” the men were not charged with arson. Rather, they were initially charged with “armed robbery, obstructing authorities in the performance of their duty, and violating the executive decree for administration in the emergency situation of 2005.”

It seems there was no evidence for the first two charges.As the report with the (deliberately?) misleading headline states, the “court found that the seven were arrested during a state of confusion and there was no evidence to back the charges of armed robbery and obstructing authorities performing their duty.” Further, police “had no evidence to confirm that the seven had anything to do with the 100 rounds of M60 ammunition found in the complex.”

In essence, the men, with the exception of the one convicted of theft, have been charged with breaking a Democrat Party-led government political law activated by Abhisit Vejjajiva in cahoots with the military.

5) One aspect of all of this that represents something of a response by red shirts is the report that noted that the police have “sent a letter inviting former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban to … talk about the government’s crackdown on red-shirt protesters last year…”. They have been asked to “give more information about the crackdown, because the Metropolitan Police Bureau had been assigned to re-investigate the deaths of 16 people” where the police think state officials were involved (see comment 1 above).

The battle for Bangkok Thailand continues.





RWB on Somyos

3 11 2011

Reporters Without Borders comments on the continued detention of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk:

Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s refusal by a Bangkok court to free Somyos Prueksakasemsuk on bail although he has been held for six months on a lèse-majesté charge in connection with his former position as editor of Voice of Thaksin, a magazine closed in 2010.

“The new government continues to violate the principles it proclaimed,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We are sceptical about its intention to carry out the prime minister’s pledge not to abuse the lèse-majesté laws. We call on the judicial system to free Somyos and drop the charges against him.”

A member of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (which is better known as the “Red Shirts”), Somyos arrested on 30 April for refusing to identify the person who wrote two articles for Voice of Thaksin under the pen-name of Jit Polachan that allegedly defamed the king.

He was formally charged on 26 July on two lèse-majesté counts for which he could get a combined sentence of up to 30 years in prison. His trial is due to take place at the end of the month but it might be postponed because of the current widespread heavy flooding.