Holding the dictator’s coat

12 06 2014

Richard Lloyd Parry is Asia editor of the London Times and a regular commentator on Thailand’s politics. In the most recent issue of the London Review of Books, Parry has an article titled “The Story of Thaksin Shinawatra.” In fact, we think it is as much about the failure of the Democrat Party as about Thaksin.

As is well-known, the Democrat Party has fallen at the feet of dictators, abandoned the electoral process and been taken over by the extremists who drove the anti-democrat movement. Of course, others have noted this and scoffed at the party and its failures. As we have regularly observed, the Democrat Party has a long history of cuddling up to dictators in military uniforms, all in the interest of promoting royalism and attacking opponents with royalist slander.

When reading this sorry account of school chums, class war and the failure of the royalist party, we recommend perusal of a story that recently appeared in The Guardian.


Yellow senators see black

9 04 2013

No one should be surprised by a report in the Bangkok Post that begins: “Mysterious ‘men in black’ did attack security forces on April 10, 2010 on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, a senate sub-committee looking into political violence has concluded.”

For one thing, the report of the senate sub-committee is curiously timed to coincide with the events that saw red shirts killed, many targeted by snipers, and some military men killed in unexplained circumstances as the military was repeatedly pushed back when they used rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition to clear what had been quite peaceful red shirt protests.Red shirt coffins That timing suggests that, far from announcing an end to what are described as intensive investigations, the sub-committee has chosen to make a political stand, blaming MiB and linking them to red shirts.

A second obvious point is that the quoted senator is Somchai Sawaengkarn, a member of the yellow-hued Siam Samakkhi group that has long worked a anti-Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-royalist line. Back in early 2010, he was already saying that the red shirts were engaged in violent plots. In 2009, he and his group was dashing about lobbing lese majeste charges around, with Thaksin Shinawatra, Richard Loyd Parry, Asia editor of The Times, and Ji Ungpakorn.

A third reason for considering Somchai nothing more than a royalist stooge is that he is a member of the so-called Group of 40 Senators who do little more than seek reasons to bring down elected governments. The Post refers to “Elected senator Somchai Sawaengkarn” when the Senate itself shows him as one of the unelected lot.

And finally, Somchai presents nothing – or at least nothing is revealed in this story – that is in any way new or revealing. It is just the same stuff that has been trotted out by Somchai, the Democrat Party and other yellow groups.

Hurt feelings not lese majeste?

14 11 2009

While several xenophobic nationalists formerly attached to shadowing national security agencies recently lodged complaints with the police alleging lese majeste against Thaksin Shinawatra, The Times of London and its Asia editor Richard Lloyd Parry, the Democrat Party-led government might have a different view.

In an interview reported by Thailand’s National News Bureau (12 November 2009), Prime Minister’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey is cited as saying that “The Times of London editorial criticizing Thailand’s lèse majesté law was aimed at dissembling an interview given by ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to the website [newspaper].” Sathit seemed upset that the “editorial views … the lèse majesté law …[as having] no benefits.” Serial censor Sathit, who knows the political benefits of using lese majeste and computer crimes laws against opponents, warned that the “government would take action against the website [newspaper].”

Sathit then made the interesting claim that “the government rejected Mr Thaksin’s interview because it hurt the feelings of Thai people, not because it violated the lèse majesté law.” PPT emphasizes this, because Sathit then goes on to say that “he would monitor the government’s process to request the interview tape of Mr Thaksin from the news agency closely. He added that Mr Thaksin had intentionally and evidently violated the monarchy and the tape was the most important evidence.”

On the suggestion that the Puea Thai Party “would translate the interview given by Mr Thaksin and publish it,” Sathit warned the opposition party that it “must be responsible for the consequences of its distribution of the translated transcript.”

It seems that the political use of lese majeste is now getting so complicated that even the staunchest advocate of the law is becoming confused.

Update: At least Thanida Tansubhapol at the Bangkok Post (15 November 2009: “Don’t let him get away with it”) is certain about Thaksin and lese majeste. Thanida seems to think that Thaksin’s Cambodia ploy with Hun Sen was to take the heat off his Times interview. Yes, PPT realizes that this is tortured logic and the timing doesn’t match up, but it does provide the flavor of “debate.” Thanida is convinced that the “government should expedite its decision whether to charge Thaksin Shinawatra for lese majeste following his recent interview with Times Online. The case should not disappear from the limelight because Thaksin can’t have any excuses for what he said.”


The Times on lese majeste, succession and breaking a taboo

10 11 2009

Presumably this article from the Times will also be blocked in Thailand (11 November 2009: “Siamese spat”). PPT reproduces it here:

Thais should be free to understand more about the role of their own monarchy

On Monday The Times published an interview with Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted Prime Minister of Thailand. As a result of his comments about that country’s Royal Family, part of the Times Online website has been blocked in Thailand. Thaksin and this newspaper’s Asia editor could also, theoretically, face up to 15 years in jail. The Thai laws of lèse-majesté have always been excessive. They now look childish, too.

To those unversed in the peculiarities of the Thai system, Thaksin’s alleged offence may be hard to discern. He did not abuse the Royal Family, or even find fault with them. Instead, he merely discussed the link between the monarchy and Thai politics, and speculated as to how the landscape might change if the much revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, should one day die.

King Bhumibol is the world’s longest-serving head of state and is admired in Thailand for the stabilising role he has played during his six decades on the throne. He is also 81, and has been in hospital for the past seven weeks with suspected pneumonia. This should not have been inflammatory stuff. Thailand is an exciting, modern, forward-looking nation, but nothing jars with this quite so much as the antiquated prohibition against discussing the monarchy in anything but the most fawning and platitudinous terms. At times, the country can seem less like a constitutional monarchy and more like a personality cult. This benefits nobody, not even the royals themselves.

Indeed, in this as in so many things, King Bhumibol himself is a beacon of good sense. “The King can do wrong,” he reminded the Thai people, in an address on the eve of his 78th birthday. “If we hold that the King cannot be criticised or violated, then the King ends up in a difficult situation.”

In recent years, the King has found himself in such a difficult situation a number of times. The Royal Family themselves do not invoke the law of lèse-majesté , but when citizens bring charges on their behalf the police are obliged to investigate. Earlier this year the King pardoned an Australian author who had been sentenced to three years in prison owing to a 100-word passage in a novel that sold seven copies. More often, they are exploited as a means of silencing dissent, imprisoning dissenters or of cowing domestic and international journalists. The BBC’s respected correspondent Jonathan Head has found himself investigated for lèse-majesté on several occasions. This is a petty law, which only opens Thailand up to ridicule.

In Thaksin’s words, either way, one finds neither criticism nor violation of the monarchy. Instead we find something that the Thai Establishment regards as equally taboo — the mere acknowledgement that some in the royal circle may have some involvement in Thai politics. That this should be publicly unutterable in any 21st-century nation beggars belief, let alone one with the potential and ambition of Thailand.

In his interview, Thaksin spoke of how influences in Thai public life may change, should King Bhumibol be succeeded by the Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. We wish the King a speedy recovery, but whatever the future holds, Thailand can only benefit from a free and frank discussion of its own system of government. Scrutiny need not entail disrespect.

Update: Richard Lloyd Parry (Times, 11 November 2009: “The interview that dared to break Thai royal taboo”) has a short commentary on the meaning of his interview with Thaksin and the question of succession, which is reproduced in full below:

Blogs, chat rooms and websites are buzzing with it; the item has been partially banned [Thaksin-RichardLloydParry] and the interviewee and interviewer face prosecution for “insulting” the monarchy. So what has so upset Thailand about The Times’s interview with Thaksin Shinawatra , the deposed Prime Minister?

In the interview, Thaksin — who was deposed in a military coup subsequently approved by King Bhumibol — spoke warmly of the monarch. The former Prime Minister’s complaint that royal courtiers had plotted his overthrow had been made before.

“The King is the most respected person,” he said. “The monarchy is good for Thailand. Thailand needs a monarchy, but it should not be abused or played by the palace circles.” But Thaksin also spoke of his hopes for the King’s heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

“After he becomes king, I’m confident . . . because he has observed His Majesty, his father, for many years.”

It appears that this reference to the eventual demise of King Bhumibol has upset Thai royalists. A commentary in the Bangkok Post, a national English-language newspaper, said: “Several people who have read the full transcript of Thaksin’s interview do not find any remarks offensive to the monarchy. But for many Thais, any public discussion about the succession is deemed offensive and inappropriate to the reigning monarch.” However, there is more to it than the pain of imagining the inevitable demise of a beloved monarch.

Like his father, the Crown Prince is protected by the lèse-majesté treason laws, which explains the tentativeness with which even the foreign media speak of Thai attitudes towards him. But, as Thaksin acknowledged with considerable understatement, Vajiralongkorn “may not be as popular as His Majesty the King”. A biography of King Bhumibol by Paul Handley, an American writer, which also touches on the taboo subject, is denied distribution in Thailand.

Giles Ungpakorn, a left-wing Thai academic who fled to Britain after facing a lèse-majesté prosecution, said: “The King will be dying soon and his son — to quote Paul Handley — is ‘hated and feared’. And I think Paul Handley is right.”

The fear is that, with Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn on the throne, the shaky unity would be tested, perhaps to breaking point.

Stop, block, intimidate in the monarchy’s name

10 11 2009

The Nation (11 November 2009: “Audio recording of interview requested”) says that despite various accusations that the Times and its Asia editor have committed lese majeste, the government is requesting their help in trying to nail Thaksin Shinawatra. PM’s Office Minister and self appointed censor and protector of the monarchy Sathit Wongnongtoey has requested an audio recording of Thaksin’s interview with the newspaper.

The government wants to disprove Thaksin’s claim that he was misquoted on the king and monarchy. Sathit said: “We’ll try to prove who really told the truth and who distorted the facts…”. The Thai ambassador in London had also “explained to Times” that the matter was “sensitive” and “the embassy would also send a written explanation.”

The Nation states that the “Web page containing the report was blocked in Thailand early yesterday by the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry. A message appeared that said: ‘This URL has been blocked by court order, as it could have an effect on, or be against, the security of the Kingdom, public order or good morals’.”

Meanwhile, a “spokesman for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva warned journalists not to report contents of the interview and hinted the government would use the country’s lese-majeste law.” It was also reported that “Special Branch police were working with the ICT Ministry in an investigation into Thaksin’s interview with Times…”.

Block, ban, censor seems to be the government’s response to anything that is considered in  any way critical of “the institution” and, by extension, of the government. Dangerous and dark times for Thailand’s politics.

A PDF of the Thaksin interview is available by clicking this link: Thaksin-RichardLloydParry.

Lese majeste charges flow fast and furious

10 11 2009

The Bangkok Post (10 November 2009: “Lese majeste complaint against Thaksin”) reports the “Siam Samakkhi Group on Tuesday filed two complaints alleging lese majeste with Dusit police against Thaksin and two other people.” The group included Senators Somchai Sawaengkarn and Warin Thiamjarat, General Somchet Boonthanom, who is reportedly a former chief of the secretariat of the Council for National Security, and Lt-Gen. Nanthadet Meksawat who is said to be a former deputy chief of the national intelligence co-ordination center.

It is stated that: “The first complaint was against Thaksin and Richard Loyd Parry, asia editor of The Times. Parry was the one interviewing Thaksin in Dubai. The second was against Jai Ungphakorn, a former lecturer of Chulalongkorn University who fled the country after being charged with lese majeste, and the website redsiam.net for disseminating articles alleged to contain lese majeste.”

These allegations are of serious concern for they relate to alleged offenses committed outside Thailand, and in the case of Parry, by a foreign national. PPT is sure that these complaints will be followed with considerable interest.

PPT has updated our pages on the lese majeste allegations against Thaksin and Giles, and we have added a page for Parry. PPT is having difficulty keeping up with all of the allegations of lese majeste and computer crimes that the current government and others are throwing about at present.

Update: The Times (11 November 2009: “Richard Lloyd Parry and Thaksin Shinawatra accused of lèse-majesté”) include a comment, reproduced in full here:

A group of Thai politicians and generals have accused a Times journalist of insulting the country’s monarchy by reporting comments by Thaksin Shinawatra — an offence that carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

The complaint against Richard Lloyd Parry, the Asia editor of The Times, derives from an interview with Thaksin that was published in Monday’s newspaper and on Times Online the day before.

According to the Bangkok Post, members of a group of Thai monarchists called Siam Samakkhi (United Siam) have made an allegation of lèse-majesté against Thaksin and Mr Lloyd Parry. The Government blocked parts of Times Online from being accessed within the country.

Kasit Piromya, the Foreign Minister, said: “Thaksin’s interview is a violation of the monarchy, which is the country’s core pillar and a highly respected institution. It is unacceptable and should have never taken place.”

It is not clear which parts of the interview led to the complaint by four members of Siam Samakkhi. They include Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn, a critic of Thaksin, and General Somchet Boonthanom, the former head of the Thai Council for National Security.

In a letter published in The Times today, Thaksin says: “Accusations that I am against the monarchy have been used by my political enemies in Thailand many times in attempts to discredit me. They will not succeed for I am and always will be a faithful and loyal servant to the King.”

Lèse-majesté was enacted in the 1950s but has never been invoked by members of the Royal Family. Thai citizens are empowered to bring charges against others — although it is up to police and prosecutors to decide whether to act on them.

The BBC’s former South-East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, was investigated, although never charged, for the crime. One complaint was that a photograph of the King appeared below that of a Thai politician on a page on the BBC website.

Abhisit Vejjajiva at Oxford: charmer?

15 03 2009

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke at St. John’s College at Oxford on 14 March 2009. This engagement followed a meeting with Gordon Brown, the U.K. prime minister. There has been considerable commentary. According to the Bangkok Post (14 March 2009: “PM: Recovery will take longer. Democratic credentials questioned on UK trip”), PM Abhisit was forced to respond to criticism regarding Thailand’s armed forces and their abuse of Rohingya migrants and to other human rights issues, including lesé majesté.

On the Rohingya, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Abhisit’s line continues to be: “We have taken these allegations seriously, we have tried to check up on the facts and I can say that the alleged abuses have not happened, especially in terms of whipping or body abuses or so on.”

Prior to speaking on democracy in Thai politics at Oxford, the prime minister faced some opposition from dissident Thais, Oxford academics and the media (see below). The prime minister’s response was to label any moves opposing his speech as undemocratic. Of course, there was no disruption and his speech went ahead as planned. Abhisit went further and accused Giles Ungpakorn, who fled Thailand to Britain last month to avoid imprisonment on lesé majesté charges, of being behind the move. According to the Bangkok Post, “Mr Abhisit criticised the former Chulalongkorn University political lecturer for acting undemocratically as his activities violated other people’s rights of expression.”

PPT wonders if Abhisit is aware of the irony of his complaint when lesé majesté and computer crimes laws in Thailand prevent free speech on a daily basis.

Dr. Lee Jones, Rose Research Fellow in International Relations, Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford, has accused Abhisit’s Democrat Party-led coalition of human rights failures caused a stir when an email he sent to a St. John’s College colleague was leaked to the press (see his letter and his later response at his blog). Jones has a long history of supporting freedom of speech, and was pointing out the same irony PPT notes above. It is also worth reading the commentary on this at New Mandala, where much of the pro-Democrat statements follow the Party’s own statements.

For example, the Democrat Party has felt the need to demonstrate and state its credentials (Bangkok Post, 14 March 2009: “Spokesman defends PM’s rise to power”): “Thepthai Senpong, spokesman of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, insisted that the government came to power democratically and is not backed by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) nor soldiers as claimed by the foreign media.His response came after Lee Jones, an Oxford lecturer, accused Mr Abhisit of being undemocratic and came into power with the help of ‘street politicians’ who were rewarded with ministerial posts. Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia editor of The Times, also wrote a commentary attacking Mr Abhisit. He, however, said that the media have the right to express their opinions.”

Meanwhile, Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia editor of The Times of London (13 March 2009: “The charmer making a mess of his country”), wrote a commentary attacking Prime Minister Abhisit, observing that “Mr Abhisit’s charm should not be a distraction from ugly truths about what is happening in Thailand. In the past four years, it has gone from being one of the most free and stable countries of South-East Asia to one of its most chaotic and divided. Writers, academics and journalists have been imprisoned or hounded into exile for harmless comment on Thailand’s monarchy. Helpless boat people have been chased out to sea to their deaths. Democratically elected governments have been forced out, first by the army and then by the power of the mob.” He adds, “Mr Abhisit owes his job, not to the will of his people, but to the support of powerful friends – and even they have required a comically large number of attempts to propel their boy to power.”

Giving Abhisit more credit than he probably deserves, Parry states, “At times, it has looked as if someone in power is consciously making a fool of Mr Abhisit – such as the speech he gave last week about the importance of media freedom, which was followed a few hours later by the arrest of the webmaster of an independent website.”

Parry concludes: “Thailand is no Zimbabwe or China, and by comparison with most of their Asian neighbours, Thais are blessedly free and prosperous. But it has the alarming air of a democracy lurching into reverse and out of control, in which familiar freedoms are flying out of the window with unpredictable speed. It is all the more painful that this should be happening under a leader of such obvious talent, a man with all the qualifications except the essential one – democratic legitimacy.”

At Oxford, according to The Nation (15 March 2009: “Democracy is strong and alive”), Abhisit said: “I can’t tell how fast the Thai democracy will progress. Looking back at the Western experiences, you’ll find that it took centuries.” He added, “Most importantly, democracy in Thailand will no longer go backward. Thai people are now at the crossroads. Be assured that the people have taken the right path and will go ahead despite some obstacles.” The Nation reports TNA as having an exchange with Giles Ungpakorn, who reportedly accused the government of using the lesé majesté law to protect itself and the military.

In his usual style, Abhisit again claimed that this law could be compared to a defamation law for ordinary people and pointed to similar laws in European countries. For commentary on this, see PPT’s notes here, here and here.

Abhisit then attacked Giles personally, stating that many cases had been brought to court and most defendants had not fled. Giles is reported to have replied: “I didn’t escape;” to which the PM said: “Then why can you be here now?”

Like so much related to  lesé majesté, it is unclear what the prime minister thinks should happen to those charged with lesé majesté. PPT cases listed here and here, show that some others have fled and that there are some who have been held in jail, in poor consitions for a long time, without having had their day in court. And, data for 1999 to 2005 show that of the cases taken to court, the conviction rate is 100% in all years but one, when a sole case was acquitted.

Giles has circulated a brief account of Abhisit’s talk. He says, amongst other things: that Abhisit’s talk was “full of lies, excuses and half-truths. But despite his arrogance, … anyone … with a simple knowledge about Thai politics would not have been taken in. Two exceptions were the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University and the President of St John’s College who … praised Abhisit’s “commitment to Democracy”.

Giles continues to state that “Abhisit claimed that he had been democratically elected and that he was a ‘guardian of Thai Democracy’. Yet, he fully supported using lese majeste to protect ‘national security’ and agreed that I should face charges for writing an academic book which criticised the 2006 coup. However, he could not remember which in which part of the book I had ‘insulted the King’. He claimed the lese majeste charges against Chotisak Oonsung had been dropped and that the arrest of Prachatai website manager was a ‘police mistake’. He said he had ‘cleared the matter’ with a phone call to the Prachatai Manager. He stated that the PAD leaders who seized the airports would ‘definitely be charged’ and that the Generals responsible for the Takbai massacre ‘would also be charged’. He denied that his foreign Minister was a PAD supporter who took over the airports.”

We at PPT await more news of this event and more statements and details from the prime minister that will see charges dropped, “mistakes” rectified and the lesé majesté abolished.

Again, however, PPT must point out that Prime Minister Abhisit’s statements on these matters are short on detail and are full of contradictions.

It was only a couple of days ago that he met a group of cyber activists, and told them that the arrest at Prachatai was not a result of government policy (Prachatai, 14 March 2009: “PM tells cyber activists crackdown on websites damaging country’s image”) while the police claim that the Prachatai arrest was strictly legal.

Remarkably, Abhisit asked the activists for details of the arrest. How can it be that a prime minister does not know what his police and ministries are doing?

Abhisit admits that the crackdown on websites that are periodically announced by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology have adversely affected the country’s image and that this was cause for concern. Surely the prime minister should be expected to do better than this?

Abhisit also said that the crackdown on websites and arrests of “internet users were not problems resulting from the provisions of Criminal Code Article 112, or the lèse majesté law, but from implementation. If anything needs to be changed, it should be the practice, not Article 112.” So the logic – if theat is the right word – is to keep the political law but improve on the implementation of it, when the prime minister himself claims that he doesn’t know how it is being used.