Dead-weight lese majeste

21 05 2019

Lese majeste or Article 112 has often been considered as a draconian law. It is. It has been wielded by the current military dictatorship to imprison hundreds. Critics of the regime have been threatened with the law to silence them.

However, less often emphasized is the way the lese majeste law hangs like a millstone around the collective neck of journalists and commentators.

This is why we recommend an an AFP blog post by journalist Sophie Deviller. She has a long account of the ways in which lese majeste directs every aspect of reporting associated with the recent coronation. She also comments on how the secrecy has been significant for the monarchy in maintaining its power.

Thais recognize that the new king is being remade:

… when I tried to bring up the new king’s personality and his escapades, which have been reported by foreign media, she [a Thai journalist] shut down. “This is of no importance,” she told me. “This image is disappearing, in favor of an image of a sacred and powerful king.”

We were, however, stumped by the blog’s final paragraph:

What purpose does it serve for you to constantly criticize your leaders?” she asked me. I had little choice but to answer with the same smile that the Thais use to get out of a delicate or embarrassing situation.

Two points: first, Thai journalists do constantly criticize leaders, although this depends on the political climate. It is only the monarch and royal family that are spared, and that’s the role of lese majeste; second, a journalist should be able to explain that one purpose of the media is to hold leaders to account.





Updated: Media self-censorship

24 04 2019

It is well-known that self-censorship is an absolute must for mainstream media in Thailand when reporting anything related to the monarchy and royals.

So it is that both The Nation and the Bangkok Post avoid the royal aspects of a weird event at the Rajaprasong intersection yesterday.

Clipped from social media

Clad in a yellow shirt, a man jumped out of an elaborately decorated Mercedes sedan with a large knife and a bag of snakes. Watched by thousands, he was said to have killed some of the snakes and to have cut himself (video here).

If that wasn’t strange enough, the car was heavily decorated with portraits and designs all related to King Vajiralongkorn.

Neither newspaper saw fit to report this royal link and neither reproduced photos showing that royal decorations on the vehicle, although the Post did include links to other sources that included such images.

While the man might have been crazed, the connections between coronation, blood sacrifice and the particular location chosen – the site of the red shirt massacre in 2010 – are not considered. The royal portraits and decorations are deliberately expunged  from the reporting to make the reports essentially faked news but not fake news.

Nor have these media suggested links to PAD demonstrations of the past

The media is crippled by royalist repression and self-censorship.

Update: The Bangkok Post produced another story that again failed to come up with any mention of the royal connections in the story. It even managed to find links that had photos with none of the royal stuff that was in the portraits he displayed or the writing on the car. Bravely, in this context, Khaosod reported that real estate businessman Ganeshpisnuthep Jakphopmahadecha, 42, “placed portraits of King Vajiralongkorn on his vehicle.”

Bonkers he might be, but our guess is that the location, the iconography and the mans history suggest he thought he was doing some purifying before the coronation.





Stop criticizing The Dictator

12 06 2018

Readers will have noticed that PPT is having trouble keeping up with The Dictator’s antics and his junta’s political campaigning for an “election” that may be held at some time in the future and/or for puffing the junta’s collective chest.

The junta gets away with a lot given its political repression and its control of the media through bans, hectoring and the media’s own political timidness and/or support for the military dictatorship.

Even so, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s recent gripe that he deserves more respect because he’s (self-appointed) prime minister (after illegally seizing the state), has us wondering what might have been the media’s response if, say, Thaksin or Yingluck Shinawatra had made the same demand.

Khaosod reports that The Dictator last week made a “plea for the position of prime minister to be spared from insult…”. Prayuth moaned to his puppet National Legislative Assembly that “his ‘honorable’ position should be above reproach…”.

Befitting a dictatorial leader, Prayuth warned his critics: “I want to maintain the position as honorable. Those attacking me should be careful…”.

The Dictator loves power, covets it and cannot stand even the mildest of criticism.





Law and junta “law”

20 02 2018

The issue of junta law versus rule of law has been discussed by academics.Discussing this aspect of “rule of law,” where the junta uses law for propaganda and for political repression, is of critical importance.

An academic forum at Thammasat University “heard doubts about the legitimacy and lasting effects of laws enacted by the NCPO and the current appointed branches of government.” Teerawat Kwanjai, a law lecturer at Prince of Songkla University, observed:

The NCPO [the military junta] always claims that it follows the law, which is in fact the offspring of the junta’s own appointments…. This has paved the way for the NCPO’s almost four years in power, combined with the public’s fear of prosecution.

Teerawat pointed to examples of laws being used for repression and engendering fear as including “martial law; NCPO order no 3/2015, which authorises military officers to exercise police powers and arbitrarily detain people for seven days; the computer crime bill; and the public assembly bill.” Lese majeste appears to have gone missing due to self-censorship.

Whereas the junta “had initially relied on martial law but recently invoked its own orders to detain people in specific cases.” The junta now trusts the courts to enforce its will.





HRW on Thailand under the military boot

19 01 2018

Human Rights Watch has released its World Report 2018. The Thailand report‘s first heading is: “Sweeping, Unchecked, and Unaccountable Military Powers.” That country chapter is only about 7 pages and worth reading.

The media release on the Thailand chapter begins (with our bolding):

Thailand’s government took no significant steps to restore democratic rule and basic freedoms in 2017…. The military junta’s adoption of a national human rights agenda and repeated assurances that it would hold elections for a civilian government did nothing to reverse the country’s human rights crisis.

It cites HRW Asia director Brad Adams:

Thailand’s military junta has used its unchecked powers to drop the country into an ever-deeper abyss of human rights abuses. Instead of restoring basic rights as promised, the junta prosecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, and censored the media.

On media censorship it states:

During the year the authorities temporarily forced off the air Voice TV, Spring News Radio, Peace TV, and TV24 for criticizing military rule. The stations were permitted to resume broadcasting after they agreed to practice self-censorship.

Writing of The Dictator’s power:

As head of the junta, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha wields limitless authority, including the military’s power to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse. There are still at least 1,800 civilians facing prosecution in military courts, which do not meet international fair trial standards.

On lese majeste:

Since the 2014 coup, Thai authorities have arrested at least 105 people on lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) charges. The crackdown on lese majeste offenses has intensified since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016.

It is a sorry tale.





Criticism is not contempt

24 08 2017

Don’t criticize the monarchy, their pets or dead kings (and any other body the royalists get exited about). They are protected by the lese majeste and computer crimes laws.

Don’t criticize The Dictator or the military junta. They are protected by defamation, sedition and computer crimes laws.

Don’t criticize the judiciary. It is protected by contempt and computer crimes laws.

Perhaps because these three groups and bodies have, by their own actions, been so politicized the invention, re-invention and application of these laws has been so crucial for Thailand’s turn to feudalism and authoritarian rule.

Khaosod has a long story on the judiciary’s use of contempt laws to protect its tarnished reputation.

We won’t do more than quote a couple of parts of the story.

On Monday, a court fined prominent transparency activist Srisuwan Janya 700,000 baht. He was found guilty of the same offense that in the past week alone has seen a former politician given a suspended jail term and a media agency cowed into self-censorship….

Contempt of court, a law once limited to maintaining order in court proceedings, is now being interpreted to cover a broad range of offenses in the kind of creeping legal expansion that have reshaped other draconian laws, such as the Computer Crime Act and lese majeste, into powerful weapons against dissent.

The trend has alarmed a number of lawyers who fear the integrity of the justice system is in jeopardy….

Thammasat University law professor Piyabutr Saengkanokkul warned that an unchecked power to punish alleged violators could lead to a completely unaccountable judiciary….

Now the law is being used for crowd control. The authorities are anxious about an outpouring of support for former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra when the verdict in her malfeasance trial is read Friday – a verdict many expect to not be in her favor.

On Sunday, police announced supporters – or gatherings of any kind – would not be allowed outside the court that day.

… Piyabutr said punishing criticism of any institution is contrary to the principle of accountability.

“Since the court exercises sovereign power that belongs to the people, the people are entitled to the right to scrutinize, criticize and disagree with the court,” he wrote.

The courts, with double standards and politicized rulings, has much to “protect.” In fact, criticism of courts is permitted in most non-authoritarian polities. Contempt is something different.





Neutering media

21 08 2017

The military dictatorship has generally been able to neuter the media. It got rid of most of the red shirt media soon after the 2014 military coup. It has then managed and manipulated the media. Initially, this did not require much effort as the mainstream media cheered the coup.

As the regime has gone on and on, some elements of the media have become just a little more critical of the junta’s nepotism, corruption, political repression and so on. The Dictator has shouted orders at journalists on those many occasions where he has felt the media should be doing more for his regime.

Most recently, as widely reported, the regime has been doing a little more to direct the media:

The government has ordered all television channels to promote the work of its ministers in an effort the head of its public relations division said was meant to take the focus off the prime minister.

Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the government spokesman who heads its Public Relations Department, said Thursday that he ordered each channel assigned to different ministers because he did not want the coverage to focus only on the prime minister.

“I didn’t force them. I let them choose freely but each channel must do differently,” he said after word got out and the effort was slammed as state-mandated propaganda. “Some channels even asked me to choose for them, but I didn’t because I know each channel has a different interest.”

It should be no surprise that most media enthusiastically signed up.

Dissent in the media is difficult under a military regime. One example of rare but consistent dissent by a journalist has seen Pravit Rojanaphruk who is now being punished by the military junta. He says:

It never occurred to me that what I write could be seditious.

Under military rule, criticizing the junta on social media can be construed as an act of sedition, however.

I learned this the hard way when police rang me up at the end of last month, informing me that I had been charged with sedition for a number of my Facebook postings.

That this is yet another fit-up. Each of Pravit’s posts was critical of the military junta. Yes, criticizing the junta constitutes sedition in totalitarian Thailand.

Pravit comments on the junta’s charges:

… no one really knows what constitutes sedition under military rule makes this a chilling effect and ensures greater self-censorship of anything critical of the junta in social media, however. The hazier the boundaries of what constitutes sedition, the more effective they become in instilling fear.

It may also be baffling that people who criticize the military junta, which usurped and continues to usurp power from the people, are the ones being charged with sedition. Control is more effective when fear is induced by logic-defying situations because one suspends disbelief of the illogical and absurd in Juntaland Thailand any longer. When right is wrong, wrong is right and might is right, rationality no longer gives guidance. We live not under the rule of law but under rule by arbitrary law of the junta. And logic is not necessary. Just obey. In fact, to obey without logically asking why or questioning the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the military regime, makes control effective. Just obey. Don’t ask what’s wrong with the order imposed upon us.

On the future and on dissent, he declares:

It’s a privilege and an honor to defend freedom of expression on social media during the past three years. It is also an honor to be singled out among the select few Thais who have stood up and effectively disturbed the make-believe world of Juntaland Thailand.

We cannot defend freedom of expression if we are not willing to pay the price. The price is worth paying when one takes the long-term benefits of society to heart.