Defining 2019

1 01 2020

Several recent topics, actions and reports have defined 2019 under the junta, its military-backed “elected” government and the ever more powerful monarchy:

Law for the rich and powerful

Suchanee Cloitre (clipped from LePetitJournal.com)

Reporters Without Borders has condemned a “draconian two-year jail sentence that Thai journalist Suchanee Cloitre … received for allegedly defaming an agribusiness company [Thammakaset] in … Lop Buri in a tweet more than three years ago…”.

This is the maximum sentence given and its for an old tweet in an old case, where the journalist for Voice TV told the truth – the company was treating its workers as if they were slaves.

Her tweet was about a court “ordering Thammakaset to compensate 14 migrant workers who had been forced to work up to 20 hours a day on the company’s chicken farms while being paid less than the minimum wage and no overtime.”

When she referred to “slave labour,” the company sued.

In criminal defamation cases, truth is irrelevant. These cases flutter about like confetti as the rich and powerful use their law to silence critics. This includes the current regime. The media is so cowed by such cases that almost no one is prepared to tell the truth.

Going backwards

Khaosod reports on yet another effort directed by King Vajiralongkorn to erase all symbols of the 1932 revolution. This is the latest in a string of secret, then semi-secret and now brazenly open efforts by the palace to de-memorialize 1932 and replace it with symbols of the monarchy.

History is being re-constructed as we watch.

In this instance, memorials to two leaders of the 1932 revolution – Phraya Phahol Pholphayuhasena and Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram – “are due to be removed from public view…” at a military base in Lopburi.

Apparently, the statues will be sent to a museum. We fear they will be destroyed.

It is no surprise that the statues will be replaced by “a new statue depicting the late King Bhumibol…”. No one will be permitted to contest the palace’s actions. A military spokesman stated that the two statues were “commoner statues [and] have to make way for the new [royal] statue…”.

In addition, the military base which “bears the name of Phahol Pholphayuhasena, will also be renamed to King Bhumibol Base per an instruction from the current monarch…”.

When will Thais stand up for their history?

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

An op-ed writer in Manila has bought the monarchist nonsense piled high in Thailand. He seems to believe that Thailand is “stabilized” by a “revered” monarchy.

Vajiralongkorn hopes this monarchism infects the citizens of Thailand to facilitate his reign, rule and grasping.

So far, he’s getting his way. And the king seems very intent on getting his way: land, money, laws, constitution, wives (who come and go) and much more. The more he gets the more he wants.

The missing … and “protecting” monarchy and regime

Vajiralongkorn and his henchmen in the military seem to have gotten his way on disappearing some of his opponents – probably meant as a “message” to anyone who dares speak against the monarchy. They should not be forgotten.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

When they are not being murdered, political opponents are bashed .It is this regime of fear seems to have replaced the use of lese majeste.

Clipped from VOA News

We feel that this strategy has been devised by the palace in an effort to maintain both monarchy and military-backed government.

Regime gangsters

All of this “protection” serves monarchy and regime well (at least for the moment).

After manufacturing an election “victory,” the razor-thin majority that allowed the military junta to steal government, it has protected ministers and members who are needed to maintain the huge, unwieldy and Election Commission manufactured coalition.

Perhaps the best example of protection is deputy minister Thammanat Prompao, a convicted heroin smuggler. He also flaunts fake university degrees. But he’s not just a political fixer for the government’s Palang Pracharath Party who is being protected. He claims connections to the top.

When under arrest in Australia, he “told police he had worked as a bodyguard for the then crown prince of Thailand, had been an army spy…, and ran a side business while serving as an assistant to a top general.” That’s how it works in Vajiralongkorn’s Thailand.

Then there’s Palang Pracharath MP Pareena Kraikupt and her father. Her recent case of acquiring and using land that is supposed to be for poor farmers and/or national park seems unlikely to go anywhere as a cover up goes on.

The only thing keeping the issue in the cowed media is her father’s penchant for hit-and-run driving and mad media conferences, filled with lies. Once he’s quiet, watch Pareena squeeze out of her own problems. The regime prefers no criticism of it or its MPs.

Again, the rich and powerful can get away with murder (probably literally in Thammanat’s case), heroin smuggling, theft and other misdemeanors.

Make overs for the evil

Perhaps the weirdest of all news reports in late 2019 was when local “anti-corruption agencies awarded the Thai army for having the highest score on transparency and integrity among government agencies at an event held to commemorate the International Anti-corruption Day on Dec 9. It scored 97.96 points out of 100.” Weird, unbelievable and very silly. However, the point is the whitewashing. The powerful seem to relish whitewashing almost as much as it relishes ill-gotten gains.

Eating the state

Corruption is a bit old-hat these days as there are plenty of ways to feed at the breast of the private sector as it exploits the state and Thai taxpayers.

We couldn’t help noticing that on 15 December it was reported: “Airports of Thailand (AoT) is likely to scrap bidding to run duty-free pick-up counters at Don Mueang airport after only one company [King Power] expressed interest in the contest.” Of course, AoT didn’t. A few days later it was reported that the “board of Airports of Thailand Plc has awarded a 10.5-year duty-free concession at Don Mueang airport to King Power Duty Free Co, which offered a yearly 1.5-billion-baht minimum return…”. King Power, the current monopoly duty free store at all airports now has new 10-year contracts for all those airports.

There must be many in various military and state offices – right to the top – who will benefit from these new contracts.

Somehow we doubt that 2020 will be better than 2019.





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.





The BBC dancing with the junta

7 04 2017

PPT has posted on stories about the BBC and its dance with Thailand’s dictators. There were the lese majeste rattlings, then Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa’s fit-up lese majeste case for reposting a BBC Thai story that has now been was read by more than three million people. And who can forget the “failed” negotiations on the transmitter.

The Bangkok Post reports that the dictator’s dance has become a little more complicated, requiring what we hope is fancy footwork.

The Post reports that the Beeb “is ready to move forward as a digital news content provider in Thailand and it is also ready to adjust its work culture to suit Thai laws and audiences…”. That’s Francesca Unsworth, “director of the BBC World Service Group and the BBC’s deputy director of news and current affairs…”.

Sounds like self-censorship is the next dictator’s waltz. But then she adds: “But we still need to serve all audiences in a way that we feel they are best served. We have to find a balanced operating environment.”

A two-step? Unsworth had one dance with with deputy junta spokesman Lt. Gen. Werechon Sukhondhapatipak. He spun her around with talk of the “lessons arising from incidents that prove sensitive for Thais…”.

To be honest, we have no idea what he’s babbling about, but when he states: “I think we can form common ground where we can work together,” anyone interested in the BBC and a free media should be very, very worried.

The General stated: “We now have communication channels through which [the BBC] can verify or check comments from the government so the stories will be balanced and well-rounded.”

Really? That sound dangerously like manipulating the news to suit a military dictatorship. Would the BBC stoop to such low levels? Well, yes, it has bent to governments in the past, but usually prides itself on editorial independence. Fortunately, Unsworth “insisted the BBC team would stick to its strong editorial values to tell the truth accurately, impartially and reporting from all sides.”

At the same time, Unsworth twirled around the BBC as business conundrum: “It [Thai market] is important to us. It’s a big country, it’s a very vibrant country. It’s a young country and they say the 21st Century belongs to Asia. So it is important for us to be in Asian markets…”. We can hear the self-censors and corporate bosses sharpening their scissors to cut content when markets are “threatened.”

When Unsworth says that “Thailand already have very lively local media scenes in newspaper, broadcasting and increasingly in digital space,” you have to wonder which Thailand she is in and which band she’s listening to.

Hopefully the BBC two-step is a way of allowing the dictators to save face and that adequate to good journalism will be the BBC’s future when reporting on Thailand, including reporting on lese majeste, the monarch and the monarchy.





Be very, very careful

28 11 2016

A reader sent PPT a link to a report by an Australian journalist based in Bangkok and presented at the ABC’s Correspondent’s Report on the weekend. It’s an audio report that comes with this introduction at the website:

The death of Thailand’s revered King last month will be remembered as a turning point in the country’s history.

It’s also a topic that’s difficult to cover as a journalist, given Thailand’s extremely harsh laws against royal defamation.

A new official version of the royal anthem, sung by tens of thousands of Thais outside the palace, is the latest talking point.

Our South-East Asia correspondent, Liam Cochrane, reports from Bangkok.

There’s still some blarney in the report yet it is mainly about lese majeste censorship and self-censorship associated with monarchy, the Crown Property Bureau, the late king and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The fear the journalist feels is palpable.