Taxpayers squeezed

13 07 2017

The royals and the military are in cahoots in ripping off the Thai taxpayer.

The military is the biggest spender at present. The most recent bit of kit added to the ever-expanding list of big-ticket item for the military is a flight of Korean jets. That follows submarines, tanks, helicopters and armored personal carriers. In total, the bill under the current military dictatorship is is tens of billions of dollars.

The royals aren’t spending that much, but it is the wealthiest royal family in the world, according to Forbes. It is also dragging in hundreds of millions of baht each year from state coffers. Think of the two jets the king uses, dozens of expensive cars, his many residences, his jail, pets, girlfriends, antiques, security, and far more. It is far more than a gravy train.

Then there’s the other members of the family, each sucking at the taxpayer’s teat. One of the king’s daughters has been bathed in money for all of her foibles and fancies. The latest report on her gives a brief view into the lifestyle of this selfish royal:

If there were a prize for most enthusiastic fashionista on this list, the Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana of Thailand would undoubtedly get the title. As it is, she’s been crowned Most Stylish Princess In The World instead. A regular on the front row at couture, a designer in her own right (she showed in Paris a few seasons ago) and with a wardrobe that boasts pieces by Chanel, Balmain and Hermes, shrinking violet and modest style maven she is not. Unafraid to experiment with more out there, non-princessy looks – including exaggerated shoulders, leather and tuxedos – she’s definitely changing the face of modern royal fashion.

Taxpayers screwed again.





Mad at Facebook or just mad?

9 06 2017

Colonel Natee Sukonrat is the vice chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. We are not sure he’s all that bright, but that’s not uncommon when a military junta appoints based on loyalty rather than any skill, ability or capacity.

In a report at Bloomberg, it is reported that the dunces in the junta and at the Commission have decided that they will be able to “impose financial penalties on Facebook Inc. and other companies with video-sharing platforms if they fail to swiftly remove what they deem to be illegal content, including insults to the royal family.”

In fact, it mainly about the paranoia involving lese majeste in Vajiralongkorn’s Thailand.

The junta’s view is that it wants Facebook and others to remove lese majeste material “without waiting for a court order…”. Colonel Natee said “[d]etails will be released as early as this month, he said, and companies would have about a month to comply.”

Colonel Natee sniggered that he was going to do this by “touch[ing] the way you make money…”. Natee gloated: “I think they will cooperate because they make a lot of money from Thailand.”

Colonel Natee complained that “Facebook asked for the orders to be translated into English before they could comply with them — a process that can take weeks.” Really? Perhaps under the junta where they use dopes in the military as translators.

Colonel Natee declared that the “new framework would force broadcasters to comply with requests immediately and then petition the courts if they think the order was illegal…”. This twist on legal process – again, not unusual under a regime that is itself based on an illegal act – “would also compel them to have a senior manager in the country who is able to understand Thai…”.

It seems that the incapacity of the junta’s flunkies to translate or even find decent translators results in a twisted linguistic nationalism: “We will not talk in English to them…. They have to have someone to talk to us. When we give the order we will talk in Thai.”





UN Human Rights Committee findings

29 03 2017

The UN Human Rights Committee has published its findings on the civil and political rights record of countries it examined during its latest session. These findings are officially known as “concluding observations.” They contain “positive aspects of the respective State’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and also main matters of concern and recommendations.”

All of the reports generated for Thailand’s review, including the Concluding Observations are available for download.

The Committee report begins by welcoming Thailand’s “submission of the second period report of Thailand, albeit 6 years late, and the information contained therein.”

There are 44 paragraphs of concerns and recommendations. There’s a lot in it: refugees, enforced disappearances, Article 44, freedom of expression, torture, constitutional issues, arbitrary detention, the National Human Rights Commission, military courts, problems in the south, repression during the constitutional referendum, defamation, computer crimes, sedition and much more.

We just cite the comments on lese majeste:

37. The Committee is concerned that criticism and dissention regarding the royal family is punishable with a sentence of three to fifteen years imprisonment; and about reports of a sharp increase in the number of people detained and prosecuted for this crime since the military coup and about extreme sentencing practices, which result in some cases in dozens of years of imprisonment (article 19).

38. The State party should review article 112 of the Criminal Code, on publicly offending the royal family, to bring it into line with article 19 of the Covenant. Pursuant to its general comment No. 34 (2011), the Committee reiterates that the imprisonment of persons for exercising their freedom of expression violates article 19.  





Updated: Lese majeste incompatible with international human rights law

7 02 2017

From the United Nations:

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today called on the Thai authorities to stop using lèse-majesté provisions as a political tool to stifle critical speech. In Thailand, defaming, insulting or threatening the royal family carries a penalty of three to fifteen years’ imprisonment.

“Public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, may be subject to criticism, and the fact that some forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify restrictions or penalties,” the expert underlined.

“The lèse-majesté provision of the Thai Criminal Code is incompatible with international human rights law,” Mr. Kaye said, “and this is a concern that I and my predecessors have raised on numerous occasions with the authorities.”

The expert’s call comes as law student activist Jatupat Boonpatararaksa awaits trial for defaming the crown. Mr. Boonpatararaksa is the first person charged with lèse-majesté since the new King, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, acceded the throne on 1 December 2016.

On 2 December 2016, Mr. Boonpatararaksa was arrested and charged under the lèse-majesté provision of the Criminal Code and under the Computer Crimes Act, after having shared a BBC news article on the new King and quoted content of the news on his private Facebook page.

Mr. Boonpatararaksa is currently in detention after his bail was revoked by an appeals court on 27 December, reportedly justified by the case’s sensitive matter and on public order and national security grounds. “I concerned about reports that the court hearing on his bail took place behind closed doors, in contradiction to the right to a fair and public hearing,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Earlier this month, on 1 February, his remand was extended for another 10 days. His next appearance before the court to hear whether there will be a new extension or not is on 10 February. No trial date has been confirmed.

In September 2016, the Thai Prime Minister revoked a previous order that granted military tribunals the authority to try lèse-majesté cases. All lèse-majesté acts committed after September 2016 will be tried at civilian courts.

However, actions committed before September 2016 continue to be brought before military tribunals, which have applied harsher penalties on lèse-majesté cases. In 2015, a military tribunal sentenced Phongsak Sribunpeng to 30 years, Ms. Sasiwimol Patomwongfa-ngam to 28 years and Mr. Thiansutham Suttijitseranee to 25 years imprisonment for criticizing the monarchy on Facebook.

“Lesè-majesté provisions have no place in a democratic country. I urge the authorities of Thailand to take steps to revise the country’s Criminal Code and to repeal the law that establishes a justification for criminal prosecution,” the human rights expert stressed.

He let them off the hook a bit. Thailand isn’t a democratic country. It’s a military dictatorship.

Update: Thailand’s military dictatorship’s minions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have responded or, as they say, “clarified.” PPT’s “response” in brackets:

With regard to the news release issued by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression voicing concerns over the use of the lèse-majesté law, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to clarify as follows:

1. The Thai monarchy has always been a pillar of stability in Thailand [Not accurate. Since 1932, royalists and the palace have consistently destabilized governments]. The Thai sense of identity is closely linked to the monarchy [Palace propaganda], an institution that dates back over 700 years [More palace propaganda and historically inaccurate]. The institution, to this day, continues to play a unifying role and symbolizes the unity of the Thai communities [well, for the royalist elite, certainly]. Enacting appropriate legislation to protect the highly revered institution is a common practice in Thailand as in other nations [Not true].

2. The lèse-majesté law is part of Thailand’s Criminal Code that gives protection to the rights or reputations of Their Majesties the King and Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent in a similar manner that libel law does for commoners to uphold national security and public order [the law has also been used to attack political opponents and protect dead kings, jail fraudsters, manage a royal “divorce” and protect a royal dog]. It is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression [Blatant lie]. Similar protection is provided for the King, Queen and Heir-apparent of other States as well as official representatives thereof as enshrined in article 133 – 134 of Thailand’s Criminal Code [This is an innovation in these kinds of claims. As far as we know, the law has never been used for foreign heads of state]. Cases proceeded under the lèse-majesté law are in no way politically motivated [Blatant lie].

3. While Thailand supports and values freedom of expression, these rights are not absolute and shall be exercised within the boundary of the law in a manner that does not disrupt public order and social harmony or infringe upon others’ rights or reputations, as stipulated in Article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. [This is accurate] Hence, the application of the lèse-majesté law is not incompatible with international human rights law [The point is that lese majeste is used against political opponents and to restrict them in ways that defy Thai law and constitutions].

4. As with other criminal offences, proceedings on lèse-majesté cases are conducted in accordance with due legal process [This includes secret trials and military courts, all “legal” in the junta’s Thailand]. Those convicted for lèse-majesté are entitled to the same rights as those convicted for other criminal offences, including the right to file an appeal and the right to seek royal pardon [True enough. However, they are routinely denied bail, treated badly in prison, have lawyer access limited and proceedings are dragged out to gain “guilty” pleas].

5. Regarding the legal proceedings against Mr. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa who has been charged under the lèse-majesté law and the Computer Crimes Act, the case is being independently deliberated by the Court of Justice [No court in Thailand is “independent”]. The government is not in a position to intervene in the proceedings while the judiciary exercises its power in accordance with the law. The accused’s bail was granted on 23 December 2016 and was later revoked as he was repeating his offense, thereby violating his bail conditions [Jatuphat is a political opponent and is being framed].





Protecting “greatness”

20 11 2016

The New York Times carries an Associated Press report on the huge increase in Thailand’s internet censorship, which has also appeared at Khaosod.

The military dictatorship has presided over the shut down  1,370 websites in October. That’s more than the 1,237 they had blocked  over the previous five years.

censored

The past month reflects the junta’s efforts to allegedly “protect” the dead king’s “reputation” as a “great” king. The crackdown is doubly significant as it is also meant to “protect” Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn as he unsteadily moves towards accession to the throne.

Thai authorities are thought to be particularly concerned with websites with content about Vajiralongkorn, the 64-year-old designated heir to the throne who lacks the popularity of his father. The public at large has long traded rumors about Vajiralongkorn’s finances, hot temper and other matters. Three stormy marriages are a matter of public record. But critical news reports from abroad about Vajiralongkorn are commonly blocked in Thailand.

The third significance is in protecting the military junta, which has tied its tank to the prince’s succession.

The report states that the military junta has purposely used the king’s death to eliminate “online remarks” about the late king and members of his remaining family and “[s]ince the king’s death, Thailand has charged more than 20 people with making anti-royalty statements [lese majeste], requested deportations of suspects from at least seven countries and attempted to wipe out content it finds offensive from websites and social media.”

Junta members and Deputy Prime Minister Air Chief Marshal Prajin Junthong tong “explains” the situation using one of the junta’s “Thainess” cliches: “Thais have been attacked by websites that twist the truth…”.

The junta’s “truth” on the monarchy is usually a treacly fairy tale.





Lese majeste convictions in Ying Kai case

19 11 2016

For some months PPT has been following the so-called Ying Kai case, which came with accusations of lese majeste. That case continues while spinning off four other lese majeste cases.

Those four cases are reported in the Bangkok Post.

KamolthatThe first involves Kamonthat Thanathornkhositjira or Kim-eng Sae Tia, 62, a half-sister of Ying Kai or Monta [Montra] Yokrattanakan. With others, she was accused of criminal plots, fraud and lese majeste. Kamonthat was first detained on 26 August 2016. She was accused of fraud and falsifying documents, and with alleged links to lese majeste offenses, presumably those Ying Kai stands accused of. She is claimed to have invoked the so-called royal institution in a scam that allegedly swindled more than 3 million baht from victims. However, other, much larger figures, are also mentioned in some reports.

Sounding very similar to earlier cases of claimed lese majeste fraud, such as the Pongpat group and that associated with the now deceased Mor Yong, police also raided a Lat Phrao Soi 60 condominium and searched three luxury units for further evidence related to lese majeste offenses. The search reportedly found valuable items like antique porcelain, ivory tusks, swords, statues and amulets. Documents and some “valuable items” bearing royal emblems were collected by the police raid team.

The list of offenses grew and grew, with the alleged crimes taking place between 1 November 2010 and 16 March 2014. On 18 November 2016, Kamonthat was sentenced to a total of 150 years on 33 charges. Her jail term was reduced because of her confession. As the maximum jail term is 50 years, that’s what the Criminal Court gave her when declaring her “guilty of lese majeste, fraud, falsifying documents and invoking the royal institution.” These accusations include “making fake documents purported to be from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and conning people to contribute money for royal kathin ceremonies.”

[PPT is not aware of this last “crime” or that it was not covered under Article 112. We would welcome any advice on this from readers. We suggest using the comments facility here and we will not post the comment and will delete it.]

Kamonthat was sentenced along with and alleged accomplice Sak Siriyakhom, 50. Other alleged accomplices are Pol Lt Col. Ekkasit Thanathornkositjit, 68, and Taworn Puanprathum [sometimes Puangpratoom], 66, who have opted to fight the charges.

Sak received 144 years on 31 charges. The two were also ordered to repay “5.14 million baht to the damaged parties,” a trifling amount in anything associated with the royal house.

There is obviously much more going on in these cases than the press reports – for fear of Article 112 – and questions remain about whether this alleged fraud was, at one time, sanctioned by some royal figure and that these persons managed to alienate that figure, resulting in punishment. We just don’t know. Of course, the lese majeste law is much about limiting information that involves royals.





The junior partner

31 10 2016

Readers will surely find a new Foreign Policy op-ed by Paul Chambers of considerable interest.

It begins with the statement of a view: “The military cooperated with the royal family for decades – but now it wants a subordinate, not a partner.” While the article doesn’t really follow through on this claim, there does seem something to the notion of a transition.

Chambers notes the “unstable interregnum where a junta-led military is enforcing an arch-royalist order” and where Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has not taken the throne, “leaving the future of both the monarchy and military unclear.”

He observes the long symbiotic relationship between monarchy and military:”The alliance between military and monarchy dates back to 1957-1958, when twin coups eviscerated the country’s young democracy, and they have since dominated the nation together, with the monarchy as junior partner.”

We are not sure we agree that the monarchy has been the junior partner throughout that period, and note the rise of the monarchy from 1973 until about 1978, when the military pushed back; the remarkable abdication of leadership to the palace under the regime headed by General Prem Tinsulanonda; and the further rise of influence after the 1992 events. To be sure, since about 2006, the monarchy has been in decline as the military has risen.

Chambers predicts that “unstable interregnum” could see “the military … soon insist that the monarchy’s quiet subordination become more explicit. A reassertion of the military’s role as palace guardian would permanently solidify its prerogatives and legitimacy.”

In looking at the military’s rise, Chambers notes that the draft constitution “enshrines a whole set of new powers for the military, most notably immunity to civilian oversight of its personnel and budget and a 20-year plan impervious to later government intervention.”

He also observes that the “junta has sought to follow Prem’s example of connecting to the palace, symbolically linking itself to the monarchy’s past…” and has promoted the prince’s public image. With a new reign (maybe) upon Thailand, Chambers says that “the armed forces will be tasked with both protecting the palace and acting as its representative.” He suggests that as the “new monarch comes to depend more on the military to prop up his own legitimacy, the power of the armed forces will only increase.”

The argument then loses steam and coherence in guessing about the future. That the military has increased its power over the throne, however, seems certain. After all, the monarchy has essentially been without a (active) king, not since 13 October, but since about 2006. Predictably, the generals have filled the political space.