Deep harassment for the monarchy

13 06 2019

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have released a report that must be read in full. “Silent Harassment: Monitoring and Intimidation of Citizens during the Coronation Month” is a brave and important account of how royalism is enforced.

Of course, there are many loyalists and royalists in Thailand, with the most fanatical ever eager to harass, attack and slander. But this is a report of how perceived “opponents” are identified and repressed.

Here, we simply quote some bits of this seminal piece of work on “violations of personal freedom through constant monitoring and intimidation by state authorities … [conducted] in secret throughout the course of the [coronation events” for King Vajiralongkorn.

Authorities involved in harassing included “police, military, and special branch police…”. They “identify” groups categorized as “target groups” or “monitor groups” and “track their movements and restrict their political activities…”.

TLHR reports at least 38 instances “of monitoring and intimidation…”. In addition, activists have also been harassed.

In fact, “the groups of people being monitored during this period were quite diverse, as they had not necessarily previously expressed anything about the monarchy.”

The harassment has included home visits by authorities who ask about travel plans, take photos and are seen by other family members and neighbors. They are:

warned by the authorities not to do anything during the coronation period. Some were threatened by the police and told that if they did not comply, they would be handed over to the military and that the military might “abduct” them. In some cases, if the wanted person was not home the authorities talked to his/her family member instead.

Monitored groups get more regular harassing visits and are tracked and followed. For some “special” individuals, the harassment is continuous and involves family and harassing phone calls often from an officer assigned to trail and monitor. Former Article 112 prisoner Somyos Prueksakasemsuk found his residence monitored around the clock. On 5 May 2019, activist Akechai Hongkangwarn revealed that “police took him to the cinema in order to keep a close watch on him all day.”

All were warned not to do or say anything during the coronation period.

Vigilantes were also at work, on the internet, tracking “people who posted their opinions about the coronation online” and reporting them to the authorities.

Royalist Thailand in 2019 is a dark and fearful place.





Loyalism and royalism

1 03 2019

When the whole princess-for-PM stuff blew up, PPT mentioned that the election see “loyalty” become an issue. And so it has.

In another move against the Future Forward Party someone the Bangkok Post chooses to label “an activist” – Boonthaworn Panyasit – has requested that the junta’s Election Commission recommend dissolving the party to the Constitutional Court.

Said to be a leader of “a group called People Protecting the Constitution,” the loyalist royalist declared that the Party was “exhibiting behaviour against the monarchy…”. The “activist” slammed Party” secretary general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul’s personal stance in opposition to the lese majeste law.”

This royalist logic, fomented by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha when he was Army chief, alleges that wanting any changes to Article 112 is an attach on the monarchy itself. Warped royalism soon leads to violent royalism.

Boonthaworn also claimed that party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit probably meant harm to the monarchy when he “recently that Future Forward would complete the mission of Khana Ratsadon [from 1932].” He went on to allege that the two party leaders “had made several comments threatening to the constitutional monarchy.”

“Loyalty” now demands the erasing of 1932, as has been seen in actions by the monarchy-military alliance over the past couple of years. Who would have guessed that 1932 would be an election issue.





Army generals and their servants

28 02 2019

Not unexpectedly, The Dictator-junta leader-former Army boss-self-appointed prime minister-prime ministerial candidate-Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his Army commanders are on the same page when it comes to protecting the military.

The Nation reports that Gen Prayuth, maybe speaking as prime minister, maybe as junta boss or maybe as Candidate Prayuth, has declared that like an industrial free trade estate, “investing in soldiers is important and expenditure on military affairs cannot be seen as a financial gain or loss.”

He’s responding to campaign speeches by several political parties stating that the military’s budget could be trimmed and military conscription ended.

The Dictator views the suggestions, coming from “Pheu Thai, Future Forward and Seri Ruamthai parties” as an attack on the military and part of an anti-military political push.

Not explaining how conscripts are trained and how mission-ready they are, Gen Prayuth declared: “The country can call troops out any time of the day for a mission. If you downsize the armed forces, who will help out in times of disaster?”

The general was campaigning/visiting “with several Cabinet members to the Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology and the Kamnoetvidya Science Academy in Rayong province to follow up on education progress during his government’s tenure.”

He wondered how Thailand’s borders could be “watched/protected” by a slimmed military.

Predictably, The Dictator was vigorously supported by the Defense Ministry which “leapt to the defence of military conscription, insisting there would be a shortfall of troops if only voluntary recruitment is adopted.”

Ministry spokesman Lt Gen Khongcheep Tantravanich said:

400,000-500,000 males are selected for conscription each year but just 100,000 are drafted. He said only 46% of eligible young men volunteer for service. Moreover, just under a third of all drafted men request to have their military service postponed, leaving 70,000 in service….

It isn’t entirely clear what contribution involuntary conscripts have on the size of the military. Adding together Wikipedia data, we find the total size of the military establishment is 326,000, although a Bangkok Post graphic suggests that there are just 127,000 in the Army, whereas the estimate at Wikipedia is 210,000. Another Wikipedia page has an estimate of 360,000 active personnel, 245,000 reservists and 94,000 paramilitaries for a total of almost 700,000.

What is even more opaque is the number of generals. Most estimates put this at around 1,700. Guess that those generals, when not golfing or gulping from the public trough, need the services of conscripts.

Even Lt Gen Kongcheep had to admit that the “conscripts end up running personal errands for generals…”. An senior Navy officer living close to one of the PPT lot regularly has 5-8 uniformed “sailors” running errands, cooking for his family at their apartment, washing their cars, cleaning the apartment, and so on. They are servants and slaves.

We doubt this pattern prepares conscripts for “going to war.”

Also important for the broader interests of the ruling class, Lt Gen Kongcheep states that the usually lower class “conscripts acquired discipline and good ideology during their time in service … so they will be quality citizens after they are discharged”. He means they are indoctrinated with notions of royalism and hierarchy sufficient for them to “go to war” with protesting citizens.

The vast majority of serving and retired generals and few in the ruling class want a professional military. They prefer a politicized military.

Ruling class ideologues and professional military posterior polishers like “Panitan Wattanayagorn, an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, [who] said conscription is a patriotic Thai tradition.” That so-called tradition only goes back to the mid-1950s.





Further updated: Doubling down on Thaksin I

13 02 2019

With Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Raksa Chart Party in danger of dissolution for nominating Ubolratana as its PM candidate, the party and other Thaksin parties are well and truly on the defensive.

In an election that is now about loyalty, it is no surprise to see more royalist action against the party.

Khaosod reports that the party now stands accused of “inappropriately displaying” the king’s portrait as it tried to apologize for its previous “error.” So powerful is royalism in Thailand that this caused the police to rush to the party’s headquarters.

The police were hot on the trail of the party for displaying “a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn displayed with krueang thong noi, a flower arrangement only used to memorialize … royals.”

A senior officer and several policemen went to “Thai Raksa Chart headquarters to make sure the portrait was being displayed correctly.”

Who knew this was the job of the police?!? Drugs, murder, slaughter on the roads and making sure everyone displays the royal portrait with the correct flowers.

For royalists, this was just further evidence that the party must be destroyed as inappropriately pro-royal.

Update 1: The Nation reports that the Election Commission has already sent its case to the Constitutional Court, calling for the dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart.

Update 2: Reporting the same move by the EC, the Bangkok Post cites EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma as stating that: “The act [nominating Ubolratana] is deemed hostile to the constitutional monarchy…”. This statement will echo through the junta’s election. Whatever one thinks of the failed move by Thai Raksa Chart, the notion that the party can be dissolved without knowing the exact charges against it is weird, even for royalist Thailand. Party leader Preechaphol Pongpanit stated: ‘We still don’t have the details of the allegations or what’s being submitted to the court…. I still stand by our position that we’re innocent.” The EC did not even meet with the party leadership before making its recommendation.





Further updated: What a day!

9 02 2019

Thai PBS’s headlines

Yesterday was quite a day. Startling, bizarre and almost inexplicable.

The headlines were something to behold.

Of course, none of that seems to have caused the usual pundits from speaking on Ubolratana’s nomination, making all kinds of claims, almost none of which carried much factual content. Speculation reigned.

Then the king intervened, causing the same pundits to say something quite different a few hours later, sometimes contradicting their earlier predictions and speculative claims.

What can we say with some degree of confidence?

Khaosod English’s headlines

First, the idea of a member of the top-most members of the royal family standing as an “outsider” candidate for prime minister shocked most Thais, including politicians. As Khaosod put it:

There was a sudden silence across most of the political spectrum Friday after a royal nomination left a smoking crater in everyone’s election plans.

Many worried about what this meant for political development, observing that regular political robustness might be dampened and some worried how parties might reject her after an election. No one seemed to know what to do. In other words, decades of dull royalist compulsion and repression has left Thailand’s polity and many of its politicians with few options for marking difference and disagreement with the monarchy and royal family.

For example, when asked to comment, the junta’s legal specialist and Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-Ngam had no comment. When asked whether he was surprised, he quipped “Are you?”

The Democrat Party’s Nipit Intarasombat “wouldn’t give a specific response,” but he turned out to be correct when he said: “It’s still too premature. We’ll wait until the dust settles first.” It is a pity the pundits didn’t listen.

Second, royalists were dumbfounded. But more on this below.

Third, we know that Ubolratana was knowingly and wittingly proposed. She “thanked her supporters and vowed to lead the country toward a golden age.” She also declared her “commoner” status.

Fourth, the Future Forward Party took to the high ground, being the first party (as far as we know) to take a position. It restated “its position against a prime minister coming from outside of Parliament…”. That means a non-royal princess too.

Fifth, some royalists managed to oppose this move and did so on quite interesting grounds. This is probably the most significant response to the events. Paiboon Nititawan of the pro-junta People’s Reform Party asked the Election Commission to reject Ubolratana’s nomination. The EC went into hiding.

Paiboon’s reasoning previewed the king’s announcement. He said:

… the monarchy is a sacred institution that must not be drawn into politics, and pointed to an election law which bans any mention or use of the monarchy for political advantage.

Paiboon, a law scholar who has served as a senator and a constitution drafter, also argued that a 2001 Constitutional Court verdict ruled that any royal family member “either born or appointed with” the title of mom chao (the least senior possible rank) must remain neutral in politics.

In another report, he is quoted as stating that:

… Thai Raksa Chart might use the name of the princess for election campaigning. That would breach Section 17 of the election law, which bars candidates and political parties from using the monarchy…

He added:

The rank of nobility as written in some papers is another issue. The state of being a son and a daughter still exists in the royal institution though it is not in mentioned in the constitution. The fact is Princess Ubolratana is respected and treated as part of the royal institution. Use of the royal institution by any political parties is prohibited. It goes against the law….

On social media, Ubolratana was criticized by ultra-royalists who distinguished between her and the king, essentially dismissing her for having aligned with Thaksin Shinawatra.

Of course, there remain huge questions. One is important: How is it possible that Ubolratana could have nominated without consulting her brother? We know she’s flaky, but this is beyond flaky.

And now for our speculation: we think this series of events has further weakened the monarchy.

Update 1: Oops, forgot our sixth point, which is that we now know what Ubolratana’s political leanings are. What we don’t know is how much her leanings cost.

Update 2: Pravit Rojanaphruk of Khaosod adds another known:

But what is clear and can be said, is that the short-lived nomination of Princess Ubolratana by the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party of Thai Raksa Chart brought back to the surface the bitter enmity between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps like nothing else since the May 2014 coup.





Updated: A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad. We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 6 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.

Update: We completely botched the number of views at PPT. We have amended above to 6 million, not 3 million as we originally had.





The king’s forces and their X-men

20 01 2019

The noise level on the king’s failure to sign the royal decree that is required for an election is beginning to increase. Much of the increased volume seems to have to involve the military.

An AP report on last week’s Armed Forces Day parade has Army Commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong making what is said to be “routine exhortations of loyalty to the king and the country.” It might be “routine” but the times are anything but routine and Gen Apirat is the king’s man.

His “routine” speech could have been made in 1885: “We will sacrifice our physical and mental strength to protect the country and revere the king, and look after the people…”. Royalist, paternal and completely ignoring government.

The report also recalls that it has been Gen Apirat threatening those demanding an election date.

This is important given that the military seems to have (re-)mobilized groups to oppose the pro-election activists.

On this, the Bangkok Post reports that pro-election activists were “denounced” by “students” at Ramkhamhaeng University. Some of the pro-election activists were fearful and backed away, while others moved the rally to Thammasat University from the area of the Democracy Monument.

A group calling itself “Unity Before Elections was attempting to organise a rival demonstration in a bid to silence…” the pro-election activists.

Groups with military links, the “Council of Ramkhamhaeng University Students and the Network of Ramkhamhaeng Students Protecting the Institution [monarchy] and the People” demanded that the pro-election activists cease “fomenting conflict…”.

Invoking the monarchy, Kittipong Thaenkhun, described as being president of the Council, said pro-election activism was wrong “as the country prepares for the coronation of Rama X…”. He added that: “Imposing a deadline for the royal decree to come out…” was “inappropriate.”

Another Bangkok Post report says the group’s statement declared that “no one should be trying to stir unrest as the country was about to witness a very important royal ceremony — the coronation…”. It added that the “royal decree was the prerogative of … the King and it was highly inappropriate for anyone to demand to know when the decree would be issued.”

Khaosod reports that “[i]t is unclear who’s behind the group.”

However, pro-election protest leader Sirawith Seritiwat said he “believes the counter-protesters are agent provocateurs organized by the military to incite violence.” He linked them to the Internal Security Operation Command.

The Unity before Election group is led by Pansuwan Na Kaew, “a former leader of a faction supporting the People’s Democratic Reform Committee…”.

These self-proclaimed X-men are doing the military’s work.