Updated: Military cover-up continues

19 12 2015

The Corruption Park scandal just won’t go away. Most of the reason for that is that the junta is using very heavy-handed measures to stamp out all discussion of military corruption.

Prachatai reports that the police have been ordered by the military junta to issue “summon[s] letters for at least 11 Rajabhakti activists for violating the Thai junta’s political gathering ban.”  According to the report:

Chanoknan Ruamsab, one of the key leaders of the New Democracy Movement (NDM), a pro-democracy activist group, told Prachatai that on Friday, 18 December 2015, she received a summon letter from Suan Rot Fai Thonburi Police Station in Bangkok.

The letter orders her and 10 other activists whom were intercepted and detained en route an excursion to Rajabhakti Park [2]earlier this month to report to the police station at 9 am on 22 December 2015.

The summon order states that she and her fellow activists have been accused of violating the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s Order No. 3/2015, which prohibits political gatherings of five or more persons.

The cover-up continues.

Update: Saksit Saiyasombut at Asian Correspondent has a useful round-up of information on Corruption Park.

Polishing The Dictator II

27 09 2014

Our last post was about honoring The Dictator by buffing his posterior ego. In this short post PPT wants to draw attention to an important post at Siam Voices.

There, Saksith Saiyasombut deconstructs the opinion polls that have regularly had the military dictatorship’s approval rating at unbelievably stellar heights. While the run-of-the-mill polling companies and agencies in Thailand are described as using “dodgy methodology and phrasing, small sample sizes, questions about representation etc.,” Saksith points to even dodgier polling.

He points to Master Poll surveys conducted by the Thai Researchers in Community Happiness Association (TRICHA). Neither group has much information available, although the Master Poll website says it was founded in May 2014. Now what else happened in May 2014??

Saksith’s research also reveals that Noppadon Kannika, the person behind the organizations, claims some interesting connections:

1. Research Advisor to the Commander in Chief, the Royal Thai Army.

2. Research Advisor to the Permanent General of the Ministry of Justice.

3. Advisor to the Secretary General of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission.

4. Advisor to the Police Commissioner-General (Police Chief), Royal Thai Police.

5. Advisor to the Immigration Police Bureau.

6. Research Project Director and Advisor to the Office of Narcotics Control Board, the Ministry of Justice.

7. Research Project Director of the Thai Health Promotion Office.

8. Research Project Director and Member of the Government’s Working Group for Solving the H1N1 Flu Epidemic Problems in Thailand.

9. Research Advisor the Thai Consultant Database Center, the Ministry of Finance.

It seems likely that this polling agency is nothing more than a military-backed propaganda agency. That would explain its unlikely results giving the military dictatorship and General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Lese majeste and vigilantism

23 04 2014

Saksith Saiyasombuthas a useful and chilling blog post on this topic, spanning the vigilantes of the extreme right and the two most recent lese majeste cases against Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee and Rose Amornpat, to the vicious assassination of anti-lese majeste activist Kamol Duangphasuk or Maineung K. Kunthee.

On lese majeste vigilantism, Saksith makes this good point:

Pro-monarchist vigilantism online is not a new phenomenon in Thailand – at one point in recent history it was even state-sponsored. Those accused of being critical of the monarchy have often been the target of cyber witch hunts. Victims of such attacks have often have their personal details and contact information disclosed in public.

For PPT, this new group of so-called rubbish collectors, which is both an online group and active in the real sphere, represents an unleashing of extremist repression that is armed and murderous, as in the 1973-76 period. We say more about this group in an upcoming post.

Debating lese majeste and responses to it

4 02 2013

Saksith Saiyasombut at Siam Voices has a very useful post summarizing the debates that have arisen regarding lese majeste since the sentencing of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk.

He mentions the strong international reaction, including one by the U.S. State Department that PPT hadn’t previously seen. Also mentioned is the spineless response by those in Thailand who should be concerned, including the  such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Thai Journalists’ Association.

Football Somyos

Picture from Siam Voices, where the credit is: via Twitter/@Anuthee.

He also mentions some of the domestic reaction, including the widely publicized demonstration at the:

… football match between the universities of Thammasat and Chulalongkorn on Saturday, students (including Somyot’s son) from both sides were seen showing a large banner in the stands saying “FREE SOMYOT” and protesting around the stadium. The public protest happened in the opening ceremony – from which they were forbidden to participate – where giant paper-mache figures lampoon political figures, which was obviously this year prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Add to this the actions by Chiang Mai students similarly demonstrating and a range of other protests, including a constant barrage of events and actions seen at Facebook and other social media, and it is seen that outrage is being expressed quite vigorously.

Saksith also mentions the debate over lese majeste at and about the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. On the debate held there, a useful link is made to a transcript of the statement by the self-lampooning royalist Tul Sitthisomwong. On the raging controversy regarding the FCCT itself, Saksith states:

There’s been some controversy that the FCCT did not issue a statement on the Somyot verdict – understandable, since the club board has been targeted with a lèse majesté complaint in the past that was utterly politically motivated. However, the club itself defended their decision on the night of the panel discussion by saying that the FCCT is a club and not a journalist’s association.

For PPT the most basic point is that the FCCT has sidestepped its own claims on freedom of expression. Being part-time defenders of this freedom sets a dangerous precedent and, as royalist Tul explains in his comments linked above, it gives succor to the lese majeste defenders:

I am Dr. Tul Sittisomwong from the group of „Citizen Protecting Homeland“ including the monarchy that the Thai people love…. I want to be here, invited by the FCCT and (I am) so relieved that the FFCT [sic]. won’t have any statement about this sensitive issue. That will be a big thing after the EU.

The debate on the FCCT continues at New Mandala and at ZenJournalist, where even PPT is chastised for recalling that “the FCCT bravely put on talks by lese majeste opponents,” while posting about the FCCT sadly ducking the issue of freedom of expression and the draconian sentencing of Somyos.

Some commentary on lese majeste after the Somyos verdict

24 01 2013

David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based independent scholar and lèse-majesté expert: The lèse-majesté law works against the long-term interests of the Thai monarchy…. To a society that is becoming ever more politically conscious, the holding and trying of defendants seems arbitrary, petty and a clear violation of human rights.

Saksith Saiyasombut, at Siam Voices: The general chatter of the crowd was interrupted by an all too familiar sound from the back of the room: metal being dragged on the ground, the sound of the shackles the defendant was wearing as he walked barefoot into the courtroom.

At the time of writing, there were no reactions from national organizations like the National Human Rights Commission or the Thai Journalists’ Association, as they haven’t made a statements during the entire length of Somyot’s incarceration.

This is indeed a worrying verdict for free speech and the press in Thailand, which is progressively going backwards. Not only is it possible to be charged based on an ambiguously worded law; not only can anybody file a lèse majesté complaint against anybody else; not only are prosecutors determined to prove the intention of the accused (despite the lack of evidence in some cases); but now it is also possible to be held liable for other people’s content. This is especially true with online content thanks to an equally terrible Computer Crimes Act, where a culture of denunciation is state-sponsored and self-censorship is the norm.

Sunai Phasuk at Human Rights Watch: “So, now there is a new standard in Thailand that for Lese Majeste offenses nothing can be used in the defense as constitutional guaranteed freedoms to shield and to assure protection of basic rights.  So, this is a very worrying moment…. The conviction of Somyot is a very worrying step that freedom of expression in Thailand is under very serious attack. [PPT: Sunai is quoted as speaking of the present. In fact, since the demise of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, charges have been substantially reduced. That said, every lese majeste/computer crimes charge is a serious attack on freedom of expression.]

Duncan McCargo from Leeds University: Unfortunately, the failure of this government to review the lese majeste law is entirely predictable…. Yingluck Shinawatra is performing a delicate balancing act to preserve the political deal which keeps her in office – and doing so involves keeping the country’s conservative institutions, including the palace, the judiciary and the military onside. [PPT: not sure which particular “deal” McCargo means. But, yes, predictable, for deal or no deal, Yingluck and Thaksin want to maintain the government, at almost any cost.]

More on PPT’s Persons of the Year

2 01 2013

As readers know, a couple of days ago, PPT announced our PPT Persons of the Year as being each and every political prisoner who remains locked in a Thai prison. We now want to draw attention to two other blogs that have stories that are relevant to these political prisoners.

First, at Siam Voices, Saksith Saiyasombut writes about lese majeste in 2012 which begins with the headlined notion of “cowardice.” Amongst some excellent points, this one is important:

The chances that the law will be somehow changed (or even just remotely touched by politicians) remain slim as two incidents have shown that it is untouchable: the Constitutional Court rejected a petition by Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Ekachai Hongkangwan, both currently on trial for lèse majesté, as it does not see the constitutional right to free speech being violated by Article 112 of the Criminal Code. In another story, a bill petition proposing to amend the law – signed by over 30,000 – was dismissed by the speaker of the parliament.

We remain hopeful that brave activists such as those associated with Nitirat can continue the push for change and reform in this area.

Second, The Isaan Record has posted an update on the fate of four red shirt political prisoners from Ubol, now incarcerated in the special prison for red shirts at Laksi. They have languished in jail for two years yet, as the report states:

… the bars of their prison have not been able to keep them completely locked up. Even from within their cells, they continue to fight for their freedom and democracy in Thailand through letters….

The RedFam Fund considers the four to be political prisoners, asserting they have been jailed due to their political beliefs and activism. This resonates within their letters, which hold sentiments not only about their struggle for their release, but also about the need for change in what they believe to be a broken justice system.

One of the prisoners, Teerawat Satsuwan, in a letter to the RedFam Fund, which supports them and their families writes of justice and democracy:

I miss home so much…. But, in the fight, there must always be someone who sacrifices. I am not sad, professor, because I fight for our brothers and sisters. I fight for justice for Thai people. I don’t want anyone to step on the head of the poor, so I fight for democracy so that the poor can receive it.

Updated: Royals and tsunamis

15 04 2012

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg. At Asian Correspondent, he has a post worth considering. It raises the issue of criticism of the mainstream media over a failure to give adequate warnings during the recent tsunami scare.

The reason for this was the fear that cutting away from the funeral of a royal, largely unknown to the public, but feted by the royal family, would get too many people hauled over the royal coals. More on this below.

This is not the first time there has been a conflict of royal interest at work. And it won’t be the last. The other event we are thinking of was the tsunami in December 2004 that killed more than 5,000 normal, average Thai and holidaying foreigners. The conflict appeared when royals were caught up in the tsunami. But let’s look at Saksith’s report at Siam Voices first:

At 3.38pm (all times local) April 11, 2012, an earthquake occurred at the bottom of the Indian ocean west of Sumatra…. The … magnitude … [was] very strong 8.9 (subsequently downgraded to 8.6). At 3.45pm, the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning … predict[ing] the arrival of the waves on the Thai islands of Phuket, Kho Phra Thong and Kho Tarutao in a timespan of two hours beginning at 6.18pm local time. The Thai authorities issued their own warnings in six provinces and many coastal areas were evacuated….

However, on Thai television there was hardly a hint about it. All Thai terrestrial TV channels were covering the funeral ceremony of Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda, a cousin of King Bhumibol and the only child of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), throughout the afternoon until they switched over for “breaking” news coverage.… But how could that happen?

All terrestrial TV channels … were broadcasting the TV pool live footage … and the Royal Palace exclusively for this occasion and not, as some have suggested, by the government or a similar agency. When the first warnings about a potential tsunami were issued, all TV channels stayed on the ceremony.

Viewers were at best informed by an occasional ticker at the bottom of the screen (it could be argued that this should have been run not only in Thai but also in English, considering the many foreign tourists at the beaches)…. It took two hours since the first tsunami warnings before ThaiPBS decided to pull out of the royal coverage at 5.42pm, shortly followed by a few others after 6pm.

Surprisingly, there was criticism, and in response, it was stated that “the Royal Palace actually allowed the TV directors to cut away from the royal ceremony ‘at any time’.” Big of them indeed! Saksith asks why the broadcasters stayed with the unknown royal. He cites ThaiPBS deputy director Vanchai Tantivitayapitak who:

wrote on Facebook that the decision to pull out of the royal ceremony coverage required “presence of mind and courage” – a clear hint at a deeper-lying problem.

Since this was a funeral involving a member of the royal family, it was social pre-emptive obedience that prevented the terrestrial TV channels from reporting on the tsunami warning anytime sooner. In these times, where public loyalty to the royal institution is being demanded and any perceived move outside the norm is being heavily scrutinized (and at times punished), it is difficult to put the priorities desired by some over the essential priority to inform.

Saksith makes the excellent point that:

The relief, when the tsunami warnings have been lifted, was no doubt high among all involved. However, this should not dilute the failures of Thai television to comprehensively inform and report on a developing story and an emergency situation.

The second tsunami-royal case is from 2004 and draws from Pornthip Rojanasunand’s recently published book The Dead Do Talk (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2012).

As a long footnote, we should say that the book is a shambolic mess that probably should never have seen ink on paper as the royalist and former member of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations tells readers of her unhappy childhood and calling for pathology. Along the way, she kind of re-endorses the failed and expensive (especially to her institute) GT200 bomb/drug (non-)detector, her conflicts with the police – all Thaksin Shinawatra supporters – and her exploits as a pathologist, none of which are explained in the book as being very successful. Her interesting observations come in her account of red shirt uprisings and the 2004 tsunami, where PPT goes now.

In her book, on pages 166-8, Pornthip writes of her role in identifying the bodies of the dead. At one point, from the earliest moments of the crisis, she reports:

Problems continued to develop…. The minister [of interior] was unable to provide us [Pornthip’s team from the Central Institute of Forensic Science] with any particular support. Initially that was understandable as he was very busy helping with the search for Poom [Phumi] Jensen, the son of Princess [she’s not a princess] Ubol Rattana, who was missing. Unfortunately, Khun Poom had perished and his body was recovered soon after.

PPT doesn’t really think the minister of interior was actually a part of the team searching for the boy, but it does indicate that huge resources were expended in searching for the body of the son of a former princess when thousands of others had also perished and many more were injured, had had their homes washed away, and so on. This was a huge disaster, and the head of the most significant ministry was looking for a missing royal. Well, almost royal. Readers can get a sense of the event here, although there is no mention of the minister.

Every human life is important, but it seems that, in life and death, some are far more significant than others, most especially in Thailand.

Update: For Thai readers, the story on this in Matichon (สรกล อดุลยานนท์ : สึนามิ “ความกลัว” ….), sent by a reader, is worth considering as it sets out clearly the fear associated with considering potentially millions of others over one royal event.

Updated: More on Norawase’s lese majeste case

15 08 2011

Norawase Yotpiyasathien, a recent and young business administration graduate from Kasetsart University who was arrested last week for his online posts and charged with lese majeste and computer crimes offences, is getting some international attention. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) has an alert and University World News has a detailed account.

While the latter account has Norawase as “the youngest and the latest victim of Thailand’s lèse majesté law,” there are apparently even juveniles who have been charged and who may well be in prison on lese majeste convictions. It reports that the “student was released on bail last week after three nights in Bangkok Remand Prison, when his parents put up a 1.6 million baht (US$54,000) bond.”

UWN states that Norawase’s 5 August arrest in Bangkok “has caused deep dismay among many students.” Norawase was arrested under a warrant issued on 14 October 2010 after a complaint was laid by a Kasetsart Deputy Rector of Student Affairs, “who in turn was reportedly tipped off by students from the same university.” It adds that while “several academics have been charged with lèse majesté, the student arrest is seen as widening the net and has raised questions about how far students should go in expressing themselves online.”

The article goes on to quote several students who express dismay and fear:

Mana Chunsuthiwat, an outspoken final-year student in the faculty of arts at Chulalongkorn University, said the case made her fearful. It could happen to anyone, she said, because the lèse majesté law is “quite random” with no standard interpretation. “If it happens to me, I couldn’t afford to fight the case. I would feel powerless. I have no [political] connections, nothing,” she said.

Rakchart Wongaphichart, 20, the self-assured student union vice-president at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, said: “I think we can express our opinions but they have to be within safe boundaries. “Of course, I’ll have to be more careful of what I say, though usually I’m quite aware of how to express opinions without taking too many risks…”. Rakchart, who described himself as politically active, said he was not afraid it would happen to him because he regards the faculty at his university as quite “liberal.”

Another politically-active student questioned the role of the deputy rector in delivering the charges. A Chulalongkorn University student, said that he “questioned whether some university teachers had moral authority. He said acting morally should include respecting students’ opinions, supporting the development of critical thinking, and allowing students to acquire knowledge beyond their texts.” He added that he felt “freedom of expression is threatened.” This case will make students fearful and make them less willing to express themselves.

The article goes on to explain that Thai universities indicate “deep divisions between pro-royalist and pro-democracy student factions.” This has seen a nasty online discussion that has condemned Norawase. Likewise, there  are those who “condemn the actions of the deputy rector.” According to the report,

Norawase was apparently ‘witch hunted’ by a Facebook group calling itself the Social Sanction (SS) group, according to his father. His name, photos, personal address and numbers were posted online, and he was heavily criticised by members of the SS group. On their Facebook page, the group – sometimes described as ‘ultra-royalist’ – states that its objectives are “to increase public awareness of corruption and create pressure to combat it and to stop the crime of lese majeste”. They add: “Only those with the courage to face the evil will rise to protect and serve the kingdom and the monarchy for the brighter future of Thailand.” On Norawase’s arrest they wrote triumphantly “another one is down”. Norawase is the first student to face lèse-majesté charges, but the group has also targeted other students.

The article cites Sawitree Suksri, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, as describing the SS group’s methods as “vicious” and “irrational” and “a form of online violence that parallels the real-life violence in Thailand. She also noted in a signed article that the ongoing Social Sanction phenomenon appeared to have the support of the Thai authorities.” The latter being a reference to the Abhisit Vejajiva government’s establishment of “cyber-scout” vigilantes.

UWN explains that it is “not clear if … members of the SS group” went to the university administration with a complaint against Norawase. However is says that these students “may have been members of similar self-styled online vigilante groups.”

PPT also notes that the prosecution of this case coincided with the declaration of the new government. We think it highly likely that the Yingluck Shinawatra government is being “tested” by royalists. The latter wish to ensure that the regime of lese majeste repression continues and hence will likely push for more prosecutions, so that the Yingluck administration will need to respond with acts of “loyalty.” So far, the outlook on lese majeste remains bleak.

Update: Readers will find much that is of interest in the excellent post by Saksith Saiyasombut at Siam Voices that reflects on this arrest and lese majeste under a Yingluck administration.

Further updated: Got it!

10 08 2011

Just as he was sent out the door, defeated Democrat Party leader (re-elected) and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that a Boeing 737 the Thai government claims to have gifted to Prince Vajiralongkorn for his regular and personal jaunts to Europe has been released from a court-ordered impounding in Germany.

AP reports that the aircraft “has been released after payment of a guarantee in a business dispute. Abhisit Vejjajiva said the Thai government posted the bond pending resolution of a claim by German company Walter Bau AG related to construction of a tollway in Bangkok more than 20 years ago.”

A German court ruled that the plane could be released after “the Thai government posted a 38 million euro ($54 million) bond, equal to the Walter Bau claim.” The release was confirmed by German authorities.

The Democrat Party must be secretly pleased that it managed this release and – in their view – maintained a distance between Thaksin Shinawatra and the prince.

Update 1:  A reader chastises us for neglecting to mention that Abhisit had earlier emphatically stated that there would be no government guarantee. Good point, but then this just adds to the extensive list of Abhisit’s untruths.

Update 2: Saksith Saiyasombut at Asian Correspondent has an excellent account of this event.

Newin’s pro-monarchist rally a non-event

27 09 2010

Siam Voices is a blog worth following. Most recently, Saksith Saiyasombut has a useful post on the Newin Chidchob-Bhum Jai Thai Party-Ministry of Interior efforts to mobilize so-called pro-monarchy groups prior to the red shirt events on 19 September.

The event was promoted as large and impressive, with loads of pink shirt wearing people marching about with plenty of flags. In fact, while 50,000 people were predicted to participate, the pro-monarchy ASTV/Manager “said only 20,000 came and the national news agency NBT states that only 5,000 showed up…”.

Saksith concludes: “Considering the comparatively mute media coverage in the following days (and since the red shirt protests on Sunday were larger and more significant), this whole occasion was a non-event.”

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