Updated: Virus, crisis, repression reflex

17 07 2020

No one seems to quite understand why Thailand has not been ravaged by the virus. The New York Times and The Economist have both suggested multiple possible explanations.

While the regime’s response was initially chaotic and riddled with contradictions and errors, not least by a Minister for Public Health who sometimes appeared balmy. Perhaps one reason for Thailand’s virus success has had to do with sidelining Anutin Charnvirakul.

With the recent errors and initial attempts to cover-up and shift blame, the regime again seems prone to chaos and manic decision-making. When this happens, the regime resorts to repression:

Police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said two men, identified as Nutchanon Payakaphan and Panupong Jadnok, were arrested Wednesday [in Rayong] for failing to comply with police orders. The pair, who said they were there to protest [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s handling of the coronavirus, said they did not do anything wrong.

“I didn’t find my action to resist police functions,” Panupong said. “When I asked why they were taking me, they didn’t say anything. They took me into the car and left me without taking me into custody, so I walked out…”.

The two were protecting as a prime ministerial motorcade was passing. Clearly, when pressed, The Dictator doesn’t need to see dissidents and so the repression reflex kicks in.

Update: As usual, the cops have been told to concoct charges against the two protesters in Rayong. The “two youth leaders from the Eastern Youths for Democracy (เยาวชนตะวันออกเพื่อประชาธิปไตย) … the police [belatedly] responded with the four following allegations against the protesters:

  • Violation of Emergency Decree
  • Violation of the Communicable Disease Act
  • Defying official orders
  • Escaping detention/arrest…”

This is the usual buffalo manure and Amnesty International Thailand has called the regime out: “Piyanut Kotesan, director of Amnesty International Thailand, said that the state officials have a duty to protect citizens’ rights and not silence and punish them merely on the grounds of exercising their freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”

Not this regime and not its cops. Their task is repression.

The junta’s large royalist boot

28 09 2017

Comprehending the repressive compaction of Thai society under the military dictatorship look to the widespread reports on the junta’s latest “voluntary” direction to the media to “tone down.”

Khaosod reports that for the ritual incineration of the dead king, the “military government on Tuesday told news agencies to refrain from airing entertainment content all through October in the run-up to the royal funeral.” This led to bandwagoning, with “media and advertising associations … suggesting an advertising blackout to show respect for the late monarch.”

Expressed as “voluntary,” the dictatorship has demanded “uniform shows of respect.” The military junta knows that, with feudal laws like lese majeste having been vigorously implemented, that no media group is likely to defy its “voluntary” order.

The report predicts that there “will be no entertainment and a lot less advertising online and over the airwaves next month as websites and broadcasts go monochrome and things are toned down on all platforms” for the royal funeral.

That means, says on junta minister, that “all TV stations to refrain from showing entertaining, ‘inappropriate’ or ‘humorous’ programming from Sunday onward.”

Following the monochromization of Thailand, for the “following 10 days [television] must be dedicated to showing documentaries honoring the late king and coverage of the cremation ceremony…”. That means wall-to-wall royalism.

There’s more:

The Digital Advertising Association of Thailand suggests ads run 40 percent desaturated of color between Oct. 13 – the anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death – and Oct. 24.

For the period of Oct. 25 to Oct. 27, at the finale of the cremation ritual, the association advises no visible ads at all. The only acceptable form of advertising will be somber messages of condolence to King Bhumibol on behalf of brands and corporations.

But a guideline published by Society of Online News Providers advises against placing any ads Oct. 13 or Oct. 21 to Oct. 29, except for paid condolences.

Of course, the cremation and the succession that is expected to follow are critical for the junta and for The Dictator’s political plans. Ensuring that these two events go smoothly is meant to provide General Prayuth Chan-ocha with an important platform for promoting the continuation of his regime and to position The Dictator for more years on his throne.

No apology, just lies

6 01 2017

A couple of days or so ago we posted on the the military dictatorship’s goons tracking Yingluck Shinawatra on her holidays. We then updated on that, saying that The Dictator had reportedly “told Yingluck not to complain much since it is anyway a normal measure that she has to be followed.”

We stated that this was a sorry situation. It is tragic when the abnormal is normalized and the repressive made usual.

The Bangkok Post has published two stories on this (here and here), both claiming that The Dictator had “apologized.” As far as we can tell, this is untrue.

What General Prayuth Chan-ocha has done is lied.

He made the lamentable and lame claim that “the officers who were following the former prime minister had been assigned to ensure her safety.” At the same time, he advised her “not to whine” about being followed and incessantly photographed because “if something bad happened she would blame the government for not looking after her.” He “apologized” for the goons taking “so many pictures.” He did not apologize for being a bully and a thug.

So Prayuth is making this up. He’s lying. Worse, he is treating the Thai public as morons by expecting that they will believe his manufactured claims.

New year reading

1 01 2017

Unfortunately, 2017 doesn’t look as though it is going to be very happy for any of those who want expanded political space in Thailand. We can be sure that there will be continuing political repression by the military dictatorship. We can also be sure that online surveillance will deepen. Lese majeste cases may decline, but this is simply a measure of the intensification of the use of the draconian law by the junta and the fear this has spread.

The new regime in the palace seems to have changed little. The alliance of palace and military is especially strong and the new king is well-behaved for the moment. He seems likely to continue with the palace propaganda that relies heavily on “inheriting” the “legacy” of his father. How long this lasts for a king who was an unpredictable and erratic prince remains to be seen, but we may be sure the junta has been working hard to close leaks and prevent discussion of errant behavior when it occurs.

In the meantime, we thought that readers might like to peruse a couple of academic papers that reflect on repression and political contestation in Thailand, available for free download from the Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies:

  • Mass Surveillance and the Militarization of Cyberspace in Post-Coup Thailand – Pinkaew Laungaramsri
    DOI 10.14764/10.ASEAS-2016.2-2
    pdficon_small Download PDF
  • New Social Media and Politics in Thailand: The Emergence of Fascist Vigilante Groups on Facebook – Wolfram Schaffar
    DOI 10.14764/10.ASEAS-2016.2-3
    pdficon_small Download PDF

Autocrats and “democracy”

7 08 2016

The Washington Post has a sharp and critical editorial on the military’s referendum. We reproduce it in full:

THAILAND GOES to the polls Sunday for a referendum on a new constitution that was written by a committee appointed by the military junta that took power in 2014. The voting should fool no one. The process has not been democratic, nor would the constitution guarantee a working democracy. Whether the document is approved or rejected by voters, Thailand badly needs reconciliation of deep divisions in society over ideology, economics and ethnicity, rifts that have driven the political conflict between “red shirts” and “yellow shirts,” as the polarized factions are known. This constitution is, at best, unlikely to help achieve that reconciliation and, at worst, an invitation for continued military rule.

The referendum itself is a good illustration of how autocrats have cloaked themselves in procedures of democracy in order to cling to power. Instead of brute force, triggering protest at home and criticism abroad, 21st-century autocrats preside over referendums, talk of elections, create fake organizations and charters, and very quietly suffocate anyone who stands in opposition.

In Thailand, the drafting process of the constitution was not open. Criticism of the draft is punishable by imprisonment. There is no formal “no” campaign. On July 22, a 30-day blackout was ordered of Peace TV, a television station loyal to the opposition. A few weeks ago, at a university campus, students were detained by police for releasing balloons into the air inscribed with the words “Campaigning is not wrong.” At least 120 people have been prosecuted for voicing opposition to or criticizing the charter. No international monitors were allowed for the vote. This is a constitution born by undemocratic means.

Nor is the document itself very promising. When the military took over, the parliament was abolished. The draft constitution would reconstitute the lower house of 500 members but change the membership toward proportional representation and away from district elections, in order to reduce the power of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party — allies of the “red shirts” — which has won every general election for the past 15 years. Also, the charter would make the upper house, the Senate, an unelected body.

A second question on the ballot, if approved, would give the unelected Senate a role in picking a prime minister, leaving open the possibility of a general. Although the junta has promised to eventually relinquish power, the constitution looks to be written as a road map for the generals to hold on to their influence for a long time, while enjoying the window dressing of a new constitution.

Outsiders looking in II

4 08 2016

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a collective of lawmakers from Southeast Asia working to improve human rights responses and justice in the region, has issued a damning statement on the junta’s referendum on the military’s draft charter:

Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today deplored the undemocratic process leading up to this Sunday’s referendum on a new constitution in Thailand, raising concerns over harassment, arrests, and intimidation of those seeking to campaign against the draft charter.

“This is not a referendum in any genuine sense of the word. This is not a democratic process. It’s a forced vote at the barrel of a gun following a campaign in which the authorities have sought to actively thwart informed debate,” said Charles Santiago, member of the Malaysian Parliament and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

The constitution up for a vote on Sunday was penned by a military-appointed drafting committee and has been roundly criticized by human rights groups, including APHR, as well as Thai academics and politicians from across the political spectrum. Their criticism has highlighted anti-democratic clauses in the charter that would entrench military control over politics, undermine the power of elected representatives, and strip communities of previously enshrined rights to protect their own environment.

“As parliamentarians who believe in democracy and the rule of law, we cannot support this constitution, or Sunday’s vote on it. We wish to send a message of solidarity with the Thai people and all those striving to regain basic rights and freedoms in the country,” Santiago said.

APHR sought to highlight the increasingly arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in the lead-up to Sunday’s vote, which have been used to arrest activists, politicians, and journalists now facing charges for their criticism of the charter. Authorities have also ordered the cancelation of public events to discuss the constitution and sought to intimidate participants.

The act governing the rules for the referendum outlaws the distribution of “aggressive” information intended to influence voters, a clause which parliamentarians previously identified as overly broad and in violation of international standards.

“This is no atmosphere in which to conduct a vote. Free and open debate is critical to ensuring that the public can make an informed decision. Without it, there seems little rationale for holding this referendum other than an attempt by an unelected junta to manipulate the democratic process in order to claim some kind of legitimacy,” Santiago concluded.

APHR also noted the junta’s efforts to restrict election monitoring, including by arresting at least 38 people for their involvement in attempts to set up centers across the country devoted to monitoring electoral fraud. These moves further undermine the already tenuous legitimacy of the vote, parliamentarians argued.

Thailand’s military leaders have ignored requests from foreign governments and regional and international actors, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to revoke the arbitrary restrictions imposed on free expression and assembly in order to allow for a more legitimate debate ahead of the referendum.

“The junta has failed to heed any requests for a fair and open debate and stubbornly ignored basic international standards for conducting this kind of referendum,” said Walden Bello, former Congressman from the Philippines and APHR Board member.

The constitution, if adopted, would be Thailand’s 20th since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932. Junta leaders, including Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha, have vowed to stay in power if the draft charter is rejected.

“It seems that the Thai people are damned if they do and damned if they don’t approve this constitution. General Prayuth and his council of elders clearly have no intention of willingly ceding their grip on power, and so they have provided the Thai people not with a clear choice, but a dangerous catch-22,” Bello said.

Repression and the referendum

28 07 2016

We recommend a careful reading of this article by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

27 July, 2016

THAILAND: Structural and legal threats to free expression in referendum process

By Phattranit Yaodam and Samira Saran

August 7, 2016 is scheduled for the constitutional referendum by the Thai Military government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the junta-ruling body. It is during times of political change that the right to freedom of expression is most essential, ensuring that a well-informed and empowered public is free to exercise its civil and political rights. Providing the conditions for free and open political communication is the basic element of ensuring fair and democratic referendum processes.

This concept is mentioned in international standards. It is the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as articulated in articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It is fundamentally interrelated with article 25 of the Covenant, on the right to participation in government through free and fair voting.

Under Thai law, the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559’s Section 61 paragraph two and its implementation along with The Head of NCPO Order No.3/2015 have shown contradictory results. It intends to restrict the people’s rights who need to discuss and to critically evaluate decisions about their country.

The NCPO Order No.3/2015, which the government claims is needed, to maintain a “certain degree of restriction, to protect the rights or reputations of others and to uphold national security and public order,” is not an applicable law. Its Article 12 (ban on any political gathering of five persons or more) is a restriction on the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly which are recognized in ICCPR to which Thailand is a state party.

Moreover, Section 61, paragraph two of the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559 (2016), states that “having transmitted a text, or an image, or sound through the print media, or radio, or television, or electronic media, or other channels, which are inconsistent with the truth or are violent, aggressive, rude, inciting or threatening and aimed at preventing a voter from casting a ballot or vote in any direction shall be considered as disrupting the referendum”. It has not been crafted with care to ensure that it complies with paragraph 3 of Article 19 of ICCPR. They do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression (as provided by the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 34, CCPR/C/GC/34).

Therefore, both the Head of NCPO Order No.3/2015 and Section 61 paragraph two of the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559 threatens society’s enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

As of July 2015, according to a Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), 113 people have been prosecuted for publicly opposing the draft constitution— many of them from the capital, Bangkok. As the opening day of the Centers to Combat Referendum Fraud neared, the NCPO suppression escalated.

On 23-24 June 2016, student groups and activists, who demonstrated in public opposition to the referendum, were arrested. An example is the following incident. After distributing leaflets to the general public, 13 individuals, were bought to the Bang Sao Thaong Police Station. They were taken into custody and charged with violating The Head of NCPO Order No.3/2015 and the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559’s Section 61.

On 10 July 2016, the Ban Pong police searched the vehicle of 4 activists, and found campaign material about the Constitutional Referendum and “Vote No” fliers. They were then held in custody for questioning, together with a reporter from Prachatai. No charges were initially pressed against them. But afterwards, the Commander of the Provincial Police Region 7 instructed the officer to charge them with violating the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559’s Section 61 for preparing to distribute fliers.

Moving on to Northern Thailand, authorities cited The Head of NCPO Order No.13/2015 as a premise to conduct search and seizure of all materials remotely related to the Center of Combat Referendum Fraud. As a result, in over 43 provinces, residents were prevented from exercising their right to freedom of expression. Civilians’ homes were raided by police, individuals were summoned by authorities without explanation, and banners and symbols were banned. On June 27, 2016, forces that were originally intended to suppress dangerous societal organizations, like the mafia, burst into homes searching for opposition supplies. Individuals have been arrested for wearing apparel that reads “vote no” or gathering in groups greater than 5.

By arbitrarily pressing charges, the police impair the people from freely expressing their views on the Draft Constitution. Through misconstruing The Head of NCPO Order No.13/2015 and the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559’s Section 61, the government and its organizations intend that individuals be discouraged from opposing the draft. Regardless of the voters’ opinion on the referendum, the results will not be the product of a democratic society that is able to exercise its right to free speech and expression.

Media censorship

23 07 2016

As we noted in our previous post, we noted that the Bangkok Post wrote that the military junta had decided to “allow debates on the draft constitution in all provinces ahead of the Aug 7 referendum, bowing to pressure for calls for open talks.”

It seems unlikely that the junta has bowed to anyone. Rather, the junta’s plans are to force through a Yes vote by all means necessary and then claim legitimacy. This involves carefully delimited “debate” including only trusted participants while ruthlessly suppressing opposition voices.

The most recent examples of blocking discussion and debate include banning the distribution of the most recent print edition of The Economist for a long story on the monarchy and politics. (As we understand it, the online version of the story remains available in Thailand.)

A second example is the 30-day closure of Peace TV. The ban by the Communication Authority of Thailand is for “allegedly disseminating content threatening national security.”

The closure is reportedly based on “three TV programmes which allegedly carried content that breached NCPO [junta] Announcements No. 97/2014 and 103/2014, which prohibit dissemination of content that instigates violence and misleads the public.”

Because Thailand is a military dictatorship, the authorities had no need to disclose what content was chosen by them (or, rather, the junta) as somehow threatening the nebulous concept of “national security.”

We assume that “national security” is defined minimally as anything the military junta doesn’t like. In any case, this is no more than a ruse to close the station as the country moves to vote in an illegitimate referendum on the military’s draft charter.

The blackout of the red shirt-aligned Peace TV began at one minute past midnight on 22 July.

Jatuporn Promphan of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship “said that the station will sue the CAT for 6.3 million baht as compensation…” and “petitioned the Administrative Court to hold an urgent hearing to provide the station with legal immunity.”

Jatuporn also explained that:

the junta has made various attempts to shut down Peace TV since the station became a public space for those who oppose the junta-sponsored draft charter, further adding that the blackout will intensify dissatisfaction against the junta itself. He also rejected the allegation that Peace TV disseminated content threatening national security and condemned the junta for abuse of power….

In fact, the move by the junta is not an abuse of power as much as a demonstration of its basic nature. This is how dictatorial regimes behave.

Moralizing thugs

14 07 2016

The military gang of thugs running Thailand are nothing if not hypocritical. Perhaps the best example of their hypocrisy is their various morality campaigns.

These began with The Dictator’s “12 core values of the Thai people.” Of course, like most dictatorial regimes, such moral diktats were designed to repress, suppress and discipline.

While schoolchildren are still required to rote learn these “values,” the idea that Thailand’s murderous and corrupt military can lecture citizens on anything like values is unadulterated hypocrisy and has nothing to do with morals and everything to do with repression.

The military dictatorship’s moral campaigns are not being embedded for the long term. The propaganda arm of the regime, the National News Bureau of Thailand reports that the junta “has given approval to the national moral promotion master plan, with the intent of creating peace [they mean order and discipline] at all levels of society.”

Minister of Culture Weera Rojpotchanarat has said that there is a “national master plan for the promotion of moral integrity for the year 2016-2021 as proposed by the ministry. The objective of the plan is to involve all sectors in instilling morality, ethics and the right values in the people.”

The “master plan” has four “strategies,” and there are no prizes for guessing what they are:

  1. “to elevate the mind of public members by encouraging them to uphold religion and the monarchy.”
  2. “to strengthen related operations and mechanisms in order to promote morality in a concrete and effective manner”
  3. “to foster cooperation networks and role models to spearhead the effort
  4. “to turn Thailand into a model of morality for other countries in ASEAN and around the world.”

The moral enforcers are threatening to ensure “that the plan reaches people in all communities.”

The junta seems to be settling in for the long haul.

No, no, no! No debate or discussion II

13 07 2016

At its Facebook page, The Isaan Record has a series of photos from its 8 July “public forum on freedom of expression in Isaan went ahead despite the presence of about 15 military and police officers, who took photos of the forum participants and videotaped the event.”

Clipped from Prachatai, this man is one of the junta's thugs

Clipped from Prachatai, this man is one of the junta’s thugs

The first extensive report f the event we have seen is available at Prachatai.

In yet another example of how Orwellian the military regime is, this forum on freedom of expression was told by a gang of military and police thugs that the forum was “prohibited … to talk about politics, referendum, and the lèse majesté law.”

Apparently, the gang allowed a discussion of “human right issues only.” It seems the thugs are as dull as they are repressive.

The pictured gang leader, Lt Col Phitakphon Chusri stated: “We just want to warn them [the organisers] that if there’s any talk related to politics or Article 112, we cannot let them continue the event. Other topics are fine, but we would like to send some personnel to observe the discussion…”.

As well as monitoring and videotaping the event the regime also sent along provincial administration flunkies “and legal staff of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)…”.

The report concludes:

The Isaan Record said that they thanked the authorities for prohibiting the discussion in the ‘Freedom of Expression in Isaan’ forum as the attendees could clearly understand what the human rights situation in the area looks like, adding that the threat of prosecution clarifies that freedom of expression has already been absent from Thai society.

Interesting, Lt Col Phitakphon and his gang are reportedly a part of the junta’s so-called peace keeping centers, recently established “to prevent incidents that would lead to violence and ensure a clean and fair referendum process…”.

As we noted when these “centers” were established, their true nature was to control and repress. The gang in Khon Kaen have demonstrated that the “centers” are doing the junta’s dirty work.

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