Masters of repression III

18 07 2021

A couple of days ago, Thai PBS reported on the ongoing efforts to suppress anti-monarchism and political opposition. It reported that public prosecutors “have decided to indict 14 core members of the anti-establishment Ratsadon group, in connection with the mass protest at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok in July last year.” It seems to us that “decided” is the wrong word here, for this is a concerted lawfare campaign to silence critics.

The list of the 14 is:

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok, alias Mike Rayong, Anon Nampa, Juthathip Sirikan, Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, Nattawut Somboonsap, Korakot Saengyenphan, Suwanna Tarnlek, Thanayut Na Ayutthaya, Baramee Chairat, Tossaporn Sinsomboon, Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, Tanee Sasom and Panumas Singprom….

This group is targeted with charges of sedition (Article 116) and Article 215 of the Criminal Code as well as breaching the Emergency Decree “for their leading role in the mass protest, organized under the ‘Free Youth’ umbrella.” Article 215 states:

Whenever ten persons upwards being assembled together do or threaten to do an act of violence, or do any thing to cause a breach of the peace, every such person shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or fined not exceeding one thousand Baht, or both.

Noraseth Nanongtoom, a lawyer of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, provided “35,000 baht in cash for each of them, to be used as bail surety. There are also five Move Forward party MPs and lecturers at Thammasat University who are willing to lend their status to bail them…”. There were 11 who attended, and as we understand it, all were bailed.

Several of the activists face scores of legal cases. The regime’s aim is to tie them and their supporters up in a myriad of legal proceedings while making their freedom conditional on the actions of royalist courts.





Updated: Masters of repression II

16 07 2021

Lawfare is a tool authoritarian regimes use for political repression. Thailand’s military-backed/monarchist regime has become particularly adept at this means of silencing criticism. There’s been a blizzard of cases of late, even excluding the obvious and odious lese majeste cases.

Just in the past days or so, there have been several cases that warrant attention.

One case involves the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, reported by Reuters to have “initiated a defamation suit against the prominent chairman of a private hospital operator over his criticism of its procurement of Moderna (MRNA.O) COVID-19 vaccines.” He’s been a critic so he’s targeted. Interestingly, after this criticism, the GPO seemed to suddenly get moving on procurement. All vaccine procurement – and not just in Thailand – remains incredibly opaque.

A second case is reported by The Nation and involves the Royal Thai Army. Army chief General Narongpan Jittkaewtae has bellowed that “eight Facebook users and one Twitter user will be arrested over defamation charges” and can expect jail time, fines or both. His anger is because they shared information suggesting that “Thai soldiers were being flown to the United States for Covid-19 booster shots.”

censorship-1

The army claims that the soldiers were not heading off for the “Strategic Airborne Operation at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.” The army didn’t help its case by initially declaring that the soldiers were involved in Cobra Gold, which has nothing to do with travel to the USA.

A third case is reported in two related stories at Thai Enquirer and Prachatai. The toady National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission has ordered Voice TV “to take its programs off the Video To Home 9 TV (V2H9TV) channel…”. The NBTC claims the channel infringed “regulations when it aired … programs on April 27 which covered the protests Standing Still to Stop Incarceration (ยืนหยุดขัง), the White Ribbons (ผูกโบว์ขาว) and the Let Our Friends Go (ปล่อยเพื่อนเรา)…”. Other live protest broadcasts are reportedly being “investigated.”

In other words, the regime is using the NBTC to prevent Voice TV from providing live coverage of protests.

The NBTC has fined the MVTV company 50,000 baht for airing Voice TV’s “Voice Go” programme, “claiming that the content of the programme affects national security.”

The broadcast on the PSI satellite network on 27 April “was a report on the protest in front of the Supreme Court, in which a group of student activists from Thammasat University occupied an area on the footpath to demand the release of student activists then under detention. The programme also featured interviews with protesters on the reasons for their activities.”

The NBTC “stated that the content of the programme affected national security, peace, and public morals.” In fact, the reason for these moves is to remove opposition criticism.

A fourth case involves more defamation and sedition charges as the regime seeks to shutdown critical commentary on its botched vaccine rollout.

In this case, the regime has gone after veteran politician Sudarat Keyuraphan, with red shirt traitor and now regime flunky Seksakol [Suporn] Atthawong and spineless regime doormat, Sonthiya Sawasdee, adviser to the House committee on law, justice and human rights filing charges.

Sudarat’s Sang Thai Party has been campaigning to sue the “murderous government” for “mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis.”

She’s accused sedition and defamation.

The regime’s mouthpiece Seksakol claims that Sudarat has been “wrongly accusing the government of poorly managing the Covid-19 crisis. This was defamatory, according to Mr Seksakol.” He’s an idiot working for a ridiculous regime, making ridiculous claims while botching the crisis. Only diehard regime supporters would think that the regime’s recent virus work has been anything other than a deadly farce.

The execrable Seksakol made it clear that the charges were to prevent “disharmony in society.” In other words, support the regime or else.

Update: On the attack on Sudarat, consider the commentary by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, which is highly recommended as a full read:

Thailand’s vaccine rollout is evidently a complete shambles due to questionable procurement, supply shortage, and misallocation amid a deadly surge of the Covid-19 “Delta” variant. The situation has been going from bad to worse with no end in sight as a poorly conceived strategy unfolds into a national calamity. As public anger mounts with fast-spreading calls for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s ouster, the Covid-19 pandemic is becoming Thailand’s political game-changer more than anyone could have anticipated.

Instead of the youth-led political movement or the parliamentary opposition’s demands for reform, fundamental political change in this country will likely cascade from the Prayut government’s gross mishandling that is claiming lives, inflicting daily hardships, and causing unhappiness nationwide. When the time comes to pick up the pieces with more abundant and efficacious vaccines with virus control under way, a national inquiry for public accountability will be imperative….

What sets Thailand apart are what appears to be inherent nepotism and vested interests where people suspect there is more than meets the eye behind the country’s vaccination procurement. For inhabitants of this country, it matters less that other countries are suffering the same conditions, but that the country they live in can and should be doing much better. What’s worse, the Prayut government keeps repeating the same mistakes and making matters worse by the day.

Is he up for a state defamation action too?

 





Protesting on 24 June

22 06 2021

cropped-1932-plaqueThe regime’s police are warning protesters that they should not rally on 24 June. They are relying on the Emergency Decree but will also be looking to arrest rally leaders for lese majeste and sedition.

Protest groups are lining up to rally on the day that marks the 1932 revolution.

The New Generation of Democratic People of Nonthaburi is planning to demonstrate at the Democracy Monument at about 11am, demanding that the government resign. Another group – Samakkhi Prachachon – is led by red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, which plans to rally at Government House. A third group is planning to demonstrate at the October 14 Memorial at about 1pm. A fourth group – Prachachon Khon Thai – led by yellow shirt Nittithon Lamlua, also plans to rally in front of Government House at about noon. The latter group is calling for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to stand down.

In warning protesters, Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai said:

Those taking part in the protests should avoid gathering in large numbers. They might benefit from the political protests but the country as a whole will suffer from their action.

They should consider staging the rallies after the pandemic has subsided….

We doubt they would let anyone protest then, either.

Interestingly, Pol Col Kissana Phathanacharoen, a deputy police spokesman, has revealed “that since July 2020 a total of 150 people have been arrested on charges in connection with political rallies. They included people who instigated illegal gatherings over social media.”





Updated: “Fake” news, state news

13 06 2021

Anyone who struggles through the blarney posted by the regime’s PR outfits must wonder about the meaning of “fake news.”

But when the regime’s bosses talk “fake news” one can expect they are talking about others and their news. Mostly, they are worried about news on the monarchy and criticism of themselves.

All kinds of political regimes have taken up “fake news” as a way of limiting criticism, but it is authoritarian, military and military-backed regimes that have been most enthusiastic in using it to roll back and limit criticism. In Thailand, repression has been deepened through all kinds of efforts to limit free expression and to silence opponents.

With laws on computer crimes, defamation, treason, sedition, and lese majeste, a reasonable person might wonder why the regime needs more “legal” means for repression. But, then, authoritarian regimes tend to enjoy finding ways to silence critics.

It is thus no real surprise to read in the Bangkok Post that Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has ordered “the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES) and security agencies to take tough action against those who spread fake news.” He included the “Anti-Fake News Centre, the Royal Thai Police, the Justice Ministry and the DES” telling them to “work together to respond swiftly to the spread of fake news on social media platforms, and take legal action accordingly.”

I Can't Speak

His minions “explained” he was worried about virus news, but when Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “instructed the Council of State, the government’s legal advisory body, to study the laws and regulations, including those in foreign countries, dealing with the spread of fake news” the focus was much broader and was clearly about anti-monarchy news. After all, officials added that the Computer Crime Act was insufficient for curbing “the damage speedily enough.”

The Thai Enquirer sensed an even broader regime agenda. They saw the use of the Council of State as a path to a “law that would control the online media in Thailand.”

They recognize that the aim is to strengthen “national security,” code for the monarchy. But, they also note a desire to limit “the criticism that the government has received over its Covid-19 response program from online platforms” including by Thai Enquirer. Of course, that criticism has also involved the monarchy.

They rightly fear that the online media “would be targeted under the new law.” They say:

This law, as commentators have noted, is an affront and a threat to free and fair press inside this country. It would make our job thousands of times harder and open us up to lawsuit and the threat of legal harassment by the government.

As we have been saying at PPT, Thai Enquirer believes:

we are being taken back to the dark days of military rule because the government believes criticism aimed at them is a threat to the entire nation. That they are unable to differentiate between a political party, its rule, and the fabric of the nation is arrogant and worrying.

But here we are, even as Deputy Prime Minister and legal predator Wissanu Krea-Ngam thinks of an excuse to shut us down, we promise to you that we will keep reporting to the end.

They call for opposition to tyranny, adding that “this new onslaught against press freedom” will be opposed through their reporting.

In a Bangkok Post op-ed by Wasant Techawongtham acknowledges that fake news can be a problem but notes that a new law “Bootis aimed at silencing critics of the ruling regime.” He adds:

Since democracy was banished from Thailand following the 2014 military coup d’etat, a number of laws have been enacted purportedly to protect the Thai people against the harmful effects of computer crimes. But it is crystal clear that the real purpose of these laws is to suppress the voice of the people.

Authoritarians tend to go to great lengths to ensure their stay in power through silencing dissent.

Under this regime, Wasant observes that regime opponents have been “harassed, or even put in jail” and several have been dissappeared and others killed.

He recognizes that a range of repressive laws have:

done quite a remarkable job of suppressing free speech. Those who insisted on speaking their minds against the current rulers have been severely dealt with. Those who were put in jail were allowed back to their families only after they agreed to seal their lips.

Not only regime and monarchy critics are silenced, but the “media — broadcast, digital and print — have felt compelled to screen their offerings very carefully, which in many cases leads to self-censorship.”

But none of this is enough! The regime wants more! There can be no freedom. There can only be the regime’s “truth.”

Update: Thinking about fake news from the regime, the royal propaganda machine is pumping out some real tripe. The latest has the king and his number 1 consort cooking meals allegedly for “medical professionals,” although in the story at The Nation, Sineenat isn’t even mentioned.

Royal cooks

Clipped from The Nation

As they often are, the couple appear in identical kit with minions groveling around them. We are told that “King … Vajiralongkorn on Saturday cooked a variety of food at the kitchen of Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall in Dusit Palace…”. He’s the cleanest cook in history, with not a stain to be seen, suggesting that its fake news or, in other words, a photo op meant to deceive the public. And, their gear changes in several of the pictures.

To add to the “news,” the “Royal Office” is quoted as saying:

These foods have nutrition values of five food groups with fingerroot as a key ingredient…. Fingerroot or Krachai is a Thai traditional herb that has various medicinal benefits and could help strengthen the body’s immune system and help prevent Covid-19. Furthermore, eating freshly cooked meals is one of the recommended ways to stay safe from the virus.

We have to say that we at PPT must have wasted our time getting vaccinated because, as the royals have, hot food protects us, and we eat “freshly cooked meals” at least twice a day! Krachai may well be the king’s favorite ingredient as it is said to help with male sexual performance. But how to explain the erect chef’s hat is beyond us.

That aside, this palace propaganda must rank as “fake news.”





Lost faith = 112

30 05 2021

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) advises that the Khon Kaen Provincial Court “has accepted a lèse-majesté case  filed against Tiwagorn Withiton, a Facebook user whose picture wearing a shirt printed with ‘I lost faith in the monarchy’ went viral in 2020.”

TLHR reported that on 27 May 2021, the “public prosecutor has filed a case against Tiwagorn under Sections 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code, or the lèse majesté law and the sedition law, as well as under the Computer Crimes Act.”

Tiwagorn was granted bail using a security of 150,000 baht and his next hearing is scheduled on 3 August 2021.

Tiwagorn first became known in July 2020 when a Facebook post showed him wearing a t-shirt printed with “I lost faith in the monarchy on it.”

This act initially confused the state’s monarchy police who tried to convince him to give up the t-shirt and not advertise his lost faith. When he refused, he was arrested, dragged from his home, “and forcibly admitted to Khon Kaen Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital…”. He was discharged following a public campaign demanding his release.

He was re-arrested on 4 March 2021 and “taken to Tha Phra Police Station in Khon Kaen on charges under Section 112, Section 116, and the Computer Crimes Act because of Facebook posts he made on 11 and 18 February 2021.” On 26 May he was informed that the public prosecutor had decided to proceed with the case.

While such a case could be written of as daft and silly – which it is – this is royalist Thailand and daft and silly things now have serious consequences when pursued by the royalist establishment and its minions.





Juvenile lese majeste

25 05 2021

112Not for the first time, a teenager, under 18 at the time of the alleged offense, has been indicted under Article 112 or lese majeste.

Thanakorn, nicknamed Petch, with surname withheld, an LGBTQ activist, was arrested for “taking part in a protest in December, to demand reform of the country’s monarchy…”.

It is reported that the “decision to indict was made on April 9th, but was only found out yesterday … [25 May 2021]  when the teenager reported himself to the Central Juvenile and Family Court.”

The now 18-year-old was charged in January when he was 17 years old. He was charged with “having given a speech during which he insulted the monarchy…”.

Petch denies the allegation and the court “released him on a bail of 5,000 baht … [with t]he next hearing … on June 11th.” He is reportedly worried about the injustices seen in recent lese majeste cases and for the future of democracy in Thailand. Petch was supported by his father who criticized prosecutions for expressing opinions and urged protesters on.

Petch also a total of five charges. In addition to lese majeste, he faces charges of sedition and violation of the Emergency Decree.





Intolerance and monarchy

27 04 2021

Political intolerance is a virus that has infected much of Southeast Asia, rolling back the minimal democratic gains made in the late 20th century.

An Australian report shows how monarchies are being resurrected and revamped as symbols of and sites for political intolerance. Thailand’s lese majeste law is ridiculous enough, but in Malaysia there’s now competition for the most ludicrous use of the law that represses, silences and threatens.

The report is of Fahmi Reza who “unleashed his latest Spotify playlist at a party in Australia…”, to now find himself “arrested, thrown behind bars and facing a potential three-year prison sentence.”

Fahmi is a “well-known satirist [who] is being investigated under the country’s sedition law, as well as its communications and multimedia legislation, for allegedly insulting Malaysia’s Queen…”.

His playlist is centered on the words “jealous” and “jealousy” and is “a reference to the queen’s riposte on social media to speculation about members of the royal family and their staff having jumped the queue for COVID-19 vaccines.”

Like Thailand’s police, Malaysian cops claim Fahmi’s playlist “intentionally threatens public security.” Yes, really. It turns out that the “investigation” was “triggered by a complaint made by pro-establishment government MP…”.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch was clear: the “investigation” was “patently absurd,” showing that the “Malaysian government persecution of free expression is reaching all new lows.” He added:

The intolerance of PM Muhyiddin Yassin and his government is really off the charts, and this kind of violation of civil and political rights betrays an anti-democratic tendency that values power and control over respect for the people and democracy….

Thailand ranks far lower.





Updated: Another 112 incarceration

24 03 2021

The Bangkok Post reports on yet another lese majeste incarceration.

Chukiat  Saengwong, also known as Justin, a member of the Ratsadon group, has been arrested on lese majeste and a slew of other charges including sedition.The charges relate to several protests, with the most recent being on March 20.

Clipped from Prachatai

Police allege that at last Saturday’s protest near the Supreme Court, “Chukiat affixed a piece of paper on which were written offensive words to a portrait of … the King erected outside the premises.”

The police claim his “action was recorded by a security camera…”. Soon after, “protesters allegedly set fire to the portrait…”.

Chukiat has denied all charges.

The court approved a police request to detain Chukiat for 12 days. A bail application was rejected, with the court claiming that, if released, Chukiat “may commit similar offences again.”

The royalist judiciary continues to carry out its orders.

Update: Prachatai also reports on Chukiat’s case. It states that his bail was refused because of “the seriousness of the charge, the heavy penalty, and the fact that the accused committed similar offences after previously being allowed bail…”. A Thai Lawyers for Human Rights lawyer met “Chukiat at 00.54 on 23 March, tweeted that the police tried to interrogate Chukiat with a lawyer that they assigned to him and confiscated his phone. Because he objected to this, the police had him handcuffed [him]…”. Chukiat sent a message to supporters “to fight on and not to worry about him.”

Among protesters, “Chukiat became well known for his speeches and public appearances in protests where he wore a crop top. The nickname ‘Justin’ comes from Justin Bieber, a famous singer who wears crop tops.”





Another busy 112 day

4 03 2021

Clipped from Prachatai

In yet another day of Article 112 action, Thailand’s royalist protection police – 20 of them – descended on Tiwagorn Withiton, “a Facebook user who went viral in 2020 for posting a picture of himself wearing a shirt printed with ‘I lost faith in the monarchy,’ was arrested again…”, in Khon Kaen, “on a warrant issued by the Khon Kaen Provincial Court on 3 March 2021 on charges under the lèse-majesté law and sedition law, or Sections 112 and 116, as well as the Computer Crimes Act.”

The charges stemmed from “Facebook posts he made on 11 and 18 February 2021.” The police seized three “I lost faith in the monarchy” t-shirts, computers and smart phones.

Tiwagorn denied the charges.

After a couple of hours in prison, the “Khon Kaen Provincial Court has granted Tiwagorn bail, with a security of 150,000 baht.”





Further updated: 112 detentions

10 02 2021

After all the arrests, the detentions have begun.

On Tuesday, The Nation reported that the “Office of the Attorney-General announced  that it will file charges against four leaders of the Ratsadon pro-democracy movement, namely Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and Patiwat ‘Bank’ Saraiyam.” They are each charged with lese majeste and sedition, stemming from “a rally in Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus in September last year. The rally had also spilled over to Sanam Luang nearby.” That rally was on 19 and 20 September 2020.

Clipped from Khaosod

Thai PBS adds that the four Ratsadon leaders also face charges of “illegal assembly, violation of Emergency Decree … blocking traffic and destruction of archaeological sites.”

It adds that “Parit was also indicted for lèse majesté and incitement of unrest, under Sections 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code, and illegal assembly in violation of the Emergency Decree in a separate case in connection with a protest on November 14th [2020].”

That report also states that “Parit was present at the press conference this morning when Prayuth Petkhun, deputy spokesman of the Office of the Attorney-General, announced the prosecutors’ decision. He asked Prayuth about their request that prosecutors question two defence witnesses.” In response, this legal official saying “public prosecutors … insist that there is no need to question additional witnesses…”. Not hearing witnesses for the defendents has been common under the junta’s judiciary and apparently continues.

When the four accused “appeared before the Criminal Court, where they were formally indicted.”  They were denied bail. That is also common for lese majeste cases. The court “rejected the application on the grounds that some of the charges against them are serious and carry severe penalties,” and thought that if “they were to be released on bail, they may continue to commit similar offences.”

People protested online and in the city. There have been calls for their release.

The usual pattern is for cases to drag on as the defendants are pushed to plead guilty. In these cases, however, we wonder if the order to the judiciary will be to move quickly and make an example of these four anti-monarchy/democracy activists.

Update 1: According to The Nation, taking a lead from anti-coup protesters in Myanmar, “[p]ro-democracy Ratsadon protesters gathered on Bangkok’s Pathumwan Skywalk today for a demonstration dubbed hitting pots to banish dictators’.” Livestreamed, the demonstration included attacks on Article 112, the regime and the king.

Update 2: Thai PBS reports that after the rally at the Pathumwan Skywalk and a march to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, “protesters marched to the Pathumwan district police station, after they learned that a few protesters were being held in custody there.” The report adds:

They laid siege to the police station to demand the release of their fellow protesters by 8.30pm or they said they would storm the station.

During the standoff, at about 8.20pm, several explosions, believed to have been giant firecrackers, were heard behind the police station. A tear gas canister was later found on the road.

At about 9pm, police released all the detainees.