Updated: HRW on increasing repression

28 08 2020

Reproduced in full, with links, from Human Rights Watch:

Thailand: More Protest Leaders Arrested
Stop Detaining Democracy Rally Organizers

(New York) – Thai authorities are increasingly arresting pro-democracy leaders in Bangkok for their role in organizing the widening protests, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release pro-democracy activists arbitrarily detained for participating in peaceful rallies.

On August 26, Thai police arrested Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseree and Panumas “James” Singprom of the Free Youth Movement. The police charged the activists with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, assembly with an intent to cause violence, violating the ban on public gatherings, and other criminal offenses related to their involvement in a peaceful pro-democracy protest in Bangkok on July 18. Both are prominent advocates for gender equality and LGBT rights.

“Thai authorities should stop arresting and charging activists for organizing and participating in peaceful pro-democracy rallies,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Thai government should stop believing that cracking down on protest organizers will make the pro-democracy rallies go away.”

The Bangkok Criminal Court released Tattep and Panumas on bail in the evening of August 26 after an opposition member of parliament used their position to guarantee the activists’ release, and on the condition that they would not engage in the alleged offenses for which they were arrested. Upon their release, the two activists announced that they will continue to speak at pro-democracy rallies.

The police previously arrested six pro-democracy activists on similar charges. Tattep, Panumas, and these activists are among 31 people whom the police seek to arrest for speaking onstage at the July 18 protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument organized by the Free Youth Movement. The protesters called for democracy, political reforms, and respect for human rights.

Since the July 18 protest, youth-led protests by various groups have spread across Thailand. The largest protest was in Bangkok on August 16, with participants calling for the dissolution of parliament, a new constitution, respect for freedom of expression, and reforms of the institution of the monarchy to curb the current monarch’s powers. One of the activists, Arnon Nampha, a lawyer, has been arrested three times in one month on the same charges involving different protests.

In recent days Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha appears to have dropped his previous pledges to listen to dissenting voices and adopted a more hostile stance toward pro-democracy activists. “There are conflicts in our society,” the prime minister said at the gathering of government supporters on August 25. “The core of Thailand is comprised of nation, religion, and monarchy. This will never change. I will never allow that to happen. Every Thai must defend Thailand from those who want to destroy our country … The law will never forgive them.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. However, Thai authorities have routinely enforced censorship and gagged public discussions about human rights, political reforms, and the role of the monarchy in society. Over the past decade, the government has prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for peacefully expressing their views.

“Thailand’s human rights crisis is increasingly reverberating around the world,” Adams said, “The United Nations and concerned governments should press the Thai government to end the crackdown on pro-democracy activists and peaceful rallies, and unconditionally release those arbitrarily detained.”

Update: Thai Enquirer reports that following some events this week, the total number of arrests now stands at 28. Today, 15 students and political activists “turned themselves in to the Samranrat Police Station …[on] charges filed against them by the government.” The 15 “are being charged for a small altercation that happened during a political rally at the Democracy Monument on July 18 between protestors and the police.”

Of the 28, 13 have been charged with sedition, which can lead to seven years in prison. A list is provided in the report.





Sedition = lese majeste

22 08 2020

The Nation reports that the regime is accused of falsely charging pro-democracy protesters with sedition as if they are lese majeste charges.

The report states that Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has said several times that the king had ordered that lese majeste not be used.

However, the Democracy Restoration Group has pointed out that “the detainees’ police files [are] … are similar to those of lese majeste.”

It says that the police report on human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa states: “On August 3, Arnon delivered a speech inciting hatred toward the monarchy. The accused also used Facebook to post messages persuading people to gather and undermine the monarchy. The protestors are showing the intention of overthrowing the crown.”

In other words, the sedition charge has replaced lese majeste but the impact is the same.





HRW on arrests

20 08 2020

Human Rights Watch has issued a note on some of the recent arrests of political activists:

Thailand: Drop Charges, Free Democracy Activists
Thailand: Drop Charges, Free Democracy Activists Authorities Disregard Own Pledge to Allow Dissent

(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release prominent pro-democracy activists arbitrarily detained for their role in peaceful protests, Human Rights Watch said today. On August 19, 2020, Thai police separately arrested Arnon Nampha, Baramee Chairat, Suwanna Tanlek, and Korakot Saengyenphan, charged them with sedition and other offenses, and jailed them.

“The Thai government’s repeated promises to listen to dissenting voices have proven meaningless as the crackdown on pro-democracy activists continues unabated,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The authorities should right their wrong and immediately drop the charges and release Arnon and other detained activists.”

Police arrested Arnon, a defense lawyer with the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, outside the Bangkok Criminal Court after he finished his day’s cases. He was charged with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, assembly with an intent to cause violence, violating the ban on public gatherings, and other criminal offenses related to his involvement in a pro-democracy protest in Bangkok on August 3. At the protest, he wore a Harry Potter costume and publicly demanded reforms to bring Thailand’s monarchy into conformance with democratic constitutional principles. The police detained him at the Chanasongkram Police Station in Bangkok.

Three other activists – including Baramee from the Assembly of the Poor in Bangkok, Suwanna from the June 24 for Democracy Movement, and Korakot from the Democracy Restoration Group – also face sedition and other charges similar to those brought against Arnon. They have been detained at Bangkok’s Samranrat Police Station.

The police previously arrested Arnon on similar charges together with another pro-democracy activist, Panupong Jadnok, on August 7. A week later, on August 14, the police arrested a well-known student leader, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, bringing similar accusations.

These six activists are among 31 people whom the police were purportedly seeking to arrest for speaking onstage at a protest sponsored by the Free Youth Movement in Bangkok on July 18. Since the Free Youth Movement held that peaceful protest in front of the Democracy Monument demanding democracy, political reforms, and respect for human rights, youth-led protests by various groups have spread across in Thailand. The largest protest was in Bangkok on August 16, with more than 20,000 participants calling for the dissolution of parliament, a new constitution, respect for freedom of expression, and reforms of the institution of the monarchy to curb the current monarch’s powers.

Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has denied that he ordered the police to arrest the activists and has maintained his pledge to listen to the youth protests. “There has been no order from the prime minister to target those activists,” General Prayuth said during a media interview on August 15. “The police simply use their own judgment and carry out their duty to uphold the law. In the current situation all sides should be reasonable and listen [to each other]. We need to avoid provocation and confrontation.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. However, Thai authorities have routinely enforced censorship and gagged public discussions about human rights, political reforms, and the role of the monarchy in society. Over the past decade, hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views.

Government repression has intensified in Thailand over the past five months as the authorities used state of emergency powers assumed by the government to help control the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to ban anti-government protests and harass pro-democracy activists.

International pressure is urgently needed to press the Thai government to end the crackdown on pro-democracy activists and peaceful protests, and release those arbitrarily detained, Human Rights Watch said.

“The United Nations and concerned governments should speak out publicly against the rolling political repression in Thailand,” Adams said. “Thai youth are increasingly demanding real progress toward democracy and the rule of law so they can freely express their visions for the future of the country.”





Arnon arrested (again)

19 08 2020

Democracy activist and human rights lawyer Arnon Nampahas again been arrested. This time, the arrest reportedly relates to the Harry Potter-themed rally on 3 August.

At that rally, protesters “demanded changes to the monarchy and called for its powers to be curbed in unusually frank public comments.”

He was arrested at the Bangkok Criminal Court, where he was working.

It is reported that the arrest “warrant accused him of seditious acts under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail. He was also charged for violating the Computer Crime Act.”





Student leader arrested

15 08 2020

Most readers will already know that:

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak was approached by a group of police officers and arrested in Nonthaburi on his way to a durian-themed protest. The arrest was captured in a video later posted on social media. The officer can be heard reading the charges of insurrection and blocking traffic….

The Bangkok Post reports that he’s facing sedition and other charges. It adds:

He was taken to the Samran Rat police station where he faces charges including sedition, assault and holding an event that could spread a disease. Dozens of supporters were gathering outside the station in the rain on Friday night to demand Mr Parit’s release. They cheered when he appeared briefly in a second-storey window and waved to them.

The allegations stem from a rally staged by the Free Youth movement at Democracy Monument on July 18. It was the first major protest against the government since the easing of restrictions imposed to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

When approached by police, Parit refused to go with them. As Plainclothes officers then “picked Mr Parit up by the arms and legs to drag him into an unmarked car…”.

Within a few hours, the Twitter tag #SaveParit had 1.6 million tweets.

The arrest came only a day after Parit and other student leaders used social media to raise alarm about unidentified men following them. The activists thought they were police. The police and Minister for Political Repression Gen Prawit Wongsuwan both denied this.

Regional police commander Ampon Buarubporn said he has no knowledge about the alleged operation…. He said: “I checked with the local units and they said there was no order to arrest them…”. Gen Prawit “denied knowledge of the rumored arrest…”. He declared: “No, there’s not. It’s all in their heads…”.

It seems Parit’s arrest was also in Gen Prawit’s head. It is clear that the arrest would require Prawit’s order.

Such lies are common among the thugs running the country.





Political arrests I

7 08 2020

The challenge posed to the regime (and monarchy) by the student- and democracy activist-led has been met by an expected crackdown.

Most readers will know by now, as reported by Prachatai, that:

Anon Nampa and student activist Panupong Jadnok are now under arrest on sedition charges under Section 116 [sedition] of the Criminal Code and for violating the Emergency Decree after they took part in the mass protest on 18 July.

Recall that when last extending its emergency decree, the regime took time to explain that it was not to be used for preventing protest. That was a lie.

Arrested at about 2 pm on 7 August, the warrant:

… accuses Anon of sedition under Section 116 of the Criminal Code; of organizing an assembly of ten or more people and threatening to cause violence or a breach of peace under Section 215 of the Criminal Code; violating the Emergency Decree, which bans large gatherings; obstructing the public way without permission under Section 385 of the Criminal Code; violating Section 19 of the Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country Act; and of using loudspeaker without permission under the Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act.

Panupong was arrested at about 3 pm. at Ramkhamhaeng University. He is “a Rayong-based student activist who previously face harassment from the authorities after he attempted to hold up a protest sign during … Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to Rayong last month…”.

Depending on the report read, it is clear that this is a wider crackdown, with the police going after somewhere between 7 and 31 protesters, with “[s]tudent activist Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak said on the phone he was informed by his lawyer that he was among the wanted list.”

As is usual in such cases, the police ignore law and constitution:

At 17.40, both Panupong and Anon are being taken to the Bangkok Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road. TLHR [Thai Lawyers for Human Rights] said that, if both are detained and are unable to post bail in time, they will be send to prison.

TLHR also reported that the inquiry officer at the Samranrat Police Station has forced Panupong to sign a statement without waiting for his lawyer to arrive. He was then taken to court without his lawyer.

They appeared before the court outside court hours, considered an unlawful act.

Move Forward party MPs reportedly attended the Criminal Court and were said to be “using their positions as security to post bail for the pair.” However, as a political act, both men withdrew their bail requests. Arnon explained:

“The dictator is using the judicial process as a tool in shutting the people up. Being granted bail with the condition of being prohibited from protesting or raising questions about the monarchy is something we cannot accept.

“I am willing to sacrifice my freedom to stand by my principles. I ask all of you to come out and fight for our goals. Don’t waste your time on freeing Anon. Use your time to fight for the goals we are fighting for.

I believe in my friends who are outside.

In the latter, he was referring to the crowds assembled outside the court and at the Bangkhen police station.

Panupong explained why he withdrew his bail request:

“When the law becomes a tool for the dictatorship, it probably is time for the people who fight for democracy. I ask you to stand and keep fighting with the strength of your beliefs. When I get my freedom, I will be fighting and I won’t back down.”

At about 10 pm, the Criminal Court decided that it would “not accept the temporary detention request for Anon … and Panupong … as the request was submitted outside of working hours and ordered the officers to bring them in for detention again within 48 hours.”

According to reports, this meant that the police could not hold the two men. Again, the police ignored the law and detained them overnight, planning to return them to the Criminal Court in the morning.

Clipped from Prachatai

Protesters unsuccessfully tried to block the forcible transfer of Arnon and Panupong and crowds grew outside the police station where they were detained.





Thanet’s long trial

30 06 2020

A few days ago, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported on the long-running set of cases against Thanet Anantawong. A couple of news outlets picked up the story, including The Thaiger.

A photo from The Straits Times of a damaged statue at Rajabhakti Park

Thanet’s case goes back to 2015 and protests against the Army’s huge posterior polish of the monarchy when it opened its tacky Rajabhakti Park of giant bronzes of selected kings. The Army was accused of corruption and students and activists demonstrated. Thanet supported them.

This sent Army thugs in search of reasons to jail Thanet, a red shirt. A military court soon issued a warrant for the arrest of the working class 25 year-old on charges of lese majeste, inciting disorder and computer crimes, accused of having shared an infographic detailing the corruption, criticized Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and commented on the death in custody of then then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s soothsayer,  Suriyan Sujaritpalawong in five Facebook posts.

The lese majeste charge was quietly dropped soon after he was arrested but the other charges remained, alleging that Thanet’s posts “caused people to dislike the government, leading to protests to topple it.”

When arrested, Thanet was dragged from a hospital bed, and eventually spent 3 years and 10 months in jail awaiting some of the charges to be heard.

TLHR report that Thanet has now “been acquitted of national security and computer crime charges…”. Showing the good sense that is so often missing from the royalist judiciary, the court ruled “that while Thanet may have had different views from those in power at the time, he acted constitutionally:

The court believes his expression of opinions was not intended to stir up sedition or disobedience among people to the extent it could cause unrest in the kingdom or law violations. It was legitimate free speech. Since the witnesses and evidence of the plaintiff do not carry sufficient weight to warrant a guilty verdict, we’ve dismissed the charges.

The notion of “legitimate free speech” is something the courts should be held to in future.





Another royalist warning

22 06 2020

In a note at The Nation, yet another of the co-ordinated warnings to young Thais is reported.

Chakthip (clipped from The Nation)

The junta-appointed national police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda has “warned young people against taking political sides, saying they may be violating the Criminal Code’s sections 112 [lese majeste] and 116 [sedition].

He also warned that “Thai youngsters may be paying heed to information that violates the national security law or messages aired by political activists who are facing charges under the Computer Crimes Act.”

This repressive royalist rant has become increasingly strident as the absent king comes under pressure in Europe and is not missed in Thailand.

It also reflects an attempt by the regime to keep the lid on the anger over the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit and associated criticism of the monarch and regime.

The royalist rant also coincides with the run-up to the anniversary of the 1932 revolution that ended the absolute monarchy. This has resulted in lame efforts by the police and military to prevent any rally or sign of significance at the few monuments to the 1932 events that have escaped state vandals.

We know the king wants to wipe out all remaining memorials and memories of this event.

His minions have removed several monuments to 1932 and its promoters and he’s taken back several properties that had been removed from the monarchy after 1932.

As significant has been his rollback of post-1932 legal and constitutional measures that provided (limited) controls on the monarch’s economic and political power.

All this means that the king is likely to be paranoid that remembering 1932, especially by the young generation, amounts to anti-monarchism.





Monarchy and (more) repression

16 06 2020

With repression being deepened, the prime minister who seized power in the 2014 military coup and who remains in power through military might, his junta’s constitution and rigged elections, has issued a stern warning about anti-monarchism.

Of course, it is no coincidence that this warning comes after the enforced disappearance of Wanchalaerm Satsaksit, the piling on of lese majeste-like computer crimes charges for young social media figure “Niranam_” and ongoing protests in Europe against the king.

With a minion when the king was once in Thailand

As in the past, the regime imagines a plot and a movement led by some unnamed anonymous puppet-master.

Gen Prayuth lamented that what he thinks are “violations” of the lese majeste law “had increased since its use ceased 2-3 years ago.” He reportedly said the king “has … instructed me personally over the past two to three years to refrain from the use of the Law…”. While we already knew this from the king-supporting Sulak Sivaraksa, this is, we think, the first time an official has acknowledged this instruction.

(As an aside, we want to emphasize that under the previous king, royalists defended him on lese majeste by saying he was powerless to do anything about the law. Vajiralongkorn showed what a pile of buffalo manure that excuse was.)

The unelected PM saw anti-monarchism as doubly troubling as he believed that the king, by not using Article 112, had shown “mercy,” and this was being “abused.”

Gen Prayuth called for “unity” by which he means that royalists must defend the monarchy: “Everyone who loves the nation, religion, and monarchy must come together.” Oddly, he warned about the danger of “violent revolutions.” And, Reflecting a broader royalist concern, he worried that “anti-monarchists may use the upcoming anniversary [24 June] of the 1932 democratic revolution to defame the monarchy.”

And he warned that people should “disregard any messages that aim to harbor hatred in the society.” He means anti-monarchism. He added a pointed remark that PPT thinks is a threat:

Those who are operating from abroad should think about what they should or shouldn’t do, where else could if they faced problems in that country? I feel pity as they are Thai citizens.

In what appears as a coordinated warning, the Watchman, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan said “security officials” – that usually means the military – were already “investigating those involved” in this alleged anti-monarchist plot.

He was warning: “Once we get the list of names, we’ll prosecute them” using lese majeste-like laws including computer crimes and sedition.

Prayuth seemed to want Article 112 back, complaining that “[t]here were no such problems when Section 112 was in use,” which is actually buffalo manure. When the junta came to power, it repeatedly claimed republican plotting and used the lese majeste law more than any other regime, ever.

He went on to pile on lies and threats:

As a Thai, you must not believe distorted information or news from hatemongers because it’s not true. You must look behind [their motive] and see what they really want. … Why would you become their tool?

Targeting the young, he “urged people not to disseminate such information or click to read it, referring to social media.” It is easy to see why the regime has targeted “Niranam_”. They are making an example of him as a way to (they hope) silence others.

There’s also a hint that the regime is coming under pressure from royalists and perhaps even the palace itself to do something about the protests in Europe and criticism from exiles:

Regarding exiled people in neighbouring countries and Europe, he said the government had already sent letters asking those countries to send them back to Thailand if they caused trouble. “But when they don’t send them back, what do you expect the government to do?”

It seems clear that enforced disappearance and torture and murder is one outcome of displeasure with these dissidents.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

One response to these warnings has been social media disdain for the regime and the generals. Another response came from former Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich who called for the lese majeste law to be abolished: “they should get rid of this section of the criminal code as the MPs of the Move Forward Party have been saying in Parliament…”. For good measure, she also called for the Computer Crimes Act be amended.





Military, palace, regime and repression

6 06 2020

With the enforced disappearance of military and monarchy critic Wanchalerm Satsaksit, it seems appropriate to post, in full, a recent story from The Economist. It seems to PPT that the “disappearance” of the activist probably has much to do with the palace, the military and the regime in Bangkok wanting to silence criticism:

Voice of treason
The Thai government tries new ways to curb online critics
But the critics are feeling emboldened, too

RUNNING A COUNTRY is much easier if you can silence naysayers. Just ask Thailand’s prime minister, [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha. Having seized the job after leading a coup in 2014, he clung to it through an unfair election last year. One of the secrets to his success has been the severe restrictions on what Thais can say about both their government and the monarchy. More than 900 people endured “attitude adjustment” in the years after Mr Prayuth came to power, according to iLaw, a Thai NGO. Approval of a new constitution in a referendum in 2016 was eased by a ban on criticising the draft. As of 2017 at least 100 people were either detained awaiting trial or serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté. But the authorities are not content with the same old gags. They are always coming up with new ways to silence dissent.

The lèse-majesté law, for example, has fallen from favour. It attracted censure from abroad, as anachronistic and repressive. Since last year those writing rude things about King … Vajiralongkorn … or criticising the government have been targeted instead under laws on sedition, computer crimes or defamation. In November the government also inaugurated an anti-fake news centre. An emergency decree passed in March gives the authorities power to prosecute those deemed to be spreading misinformation about covid-19. At the time Mr Prayuth warned Thais against “abuse of social media”.

Online rabble-rousers are sometimes summoned by police or other officials, but not prosecuted for any crime. The intimidating process is often enough to shut them up. One Thai student describes how local authorities contacted his university last month to complain about his Facebook posts querying government spending, before asking him to visit the police and eventually hand over his iPad and Facebook account details. He doesn’t yet know whether he will face charges. But he believes he attracted attention for helping to lead student protests on his campus earlier this year. “If the most active figures are suppressed by the government then this might also result in the ending of the student movement,” he says.

Even as the government’s approach evolves, disgruntled Thais are also changing how they use social media. Frustration over the miserable state of the economy, the king’s antics and the handling of the coronavirus are boiling over online. In recent months netizens have expressed views that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. “We have never seen this level of open defiance, towards the monarchy in particular, before,” reckons Andrew MacGregor Marshall of Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland.

Notable outbursts include rage on Twitter over traffic jams in Bangkok caused by road closures linked to the movements of royal motorcades. So vehement was the criticism that in January a government spokeswoman announced that the king “has acknowledged the traffic problem and is concerned for the people”. Roads are no longer fully shut for royal motorcades. Another bold move was the creation in April of the “Royalists Marketplace” on Facebook. Its members advertise satirical services to lampoon the monarchy. Its founder, Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University, offered pet grooming with a picture of the king’s late poodle, Foo Foo. (In life the animal was made an Air Chief Marshal.) The marketplace has attracted 500,000 members in less than two months. Mr Pavin says at least two of them have lost their jobs for being in the group.

Other Thais are cautious almost to paranoia. Fears last month that Twitter might in some way be sharing information with the Thai government led tens of thousands to switch to an alternative social platform called Minds. “The assertion we’re in co-ordination with any government to suppress speech has no basis in fact whatsoever,” says Kathleen Reen, who works for Twitter in the region.

That will come as a relief to the many Thais who have been using such hashtags as #WhyDoWeNeedAKing and #RIPThailand. “[Thais] have the platforms to release their frustrations,” explains Titipol Phakdeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University, “but it is not easy to translate that to a real movement.” That suits Mr Prayuth.