Updated: An old lese majeste case

15 04 2018

As we read stuff about Thailand’s political past we sometimes come across little stories that throw some light on more recent events. In reading about the period around the time of the two coups engineered by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, we came upon this translation of a story from Khao Phap, on a lese majeste case. We do not know the outcome:Update: Somsak Jeamteerasakul writes about this case:

The accused was found guilty and sent to jail.

The interesting thing about this case is: the incident happened before the 1957 coup. At the time, the Pibul-Phao government ignored it, because Phibun-Phao had a plan to revive the King’s Death Case (also they wanted to attack the palace circles). It’s only after Sarit took power in the October 1957 coup, with the support of the King, that the case was brought to trial.

This is quite a well-known case. Suphot Dantrakul published the verdict of the case (or at least the summary of the verdict) in his famous 1974 book on King Ananda’s Death Case. I don’t have the book in its various editions at hand. But if my memory serves, only the first edition contained the verdict (or its summary) in the appendix. Subsequent editions don’t.

We appreciate the update. We are not at all that sure that the case is “well-known.” We also agree that the sequence of events is important. Another reader adds that the case has resonances with recent lese majeste cases where people have been convicted for implications drawn from speeches rather than what was actually said.

 





Caving in

1 04 2018

The repression associated with lese majeste is critical for the maintenance of the status quo in Thailand. So critical in fact that even the thought of an amendment to the law is greeted with threats of violence. As it has been for seven decades, the rightist alliance between monarchy and military is a keystone for the establishment order in Thailand, with lese majeste, ultra-royalist ideology and murderous enforcement are the means for maintaining that conservative order.

When the Anakhot Mai/New Future/Future Forward Party was recently formed, ultra-royalists foamed and fumed about a young academic lawyer, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who had once called for minor amendments to Article 112 of the criminal code. Ultra-royalist Sonthiya Sawatdee “petitioned the Election Commission … to disqualify the FFP. He alleged that Piyabutr’s previous involvement with the anti-lèse majesté group Nitirat had caused conflicts among the country’s population, in violation of the Organic Act on Political Parties.”

Knowing that in royalist Thailand Sonthiya’s banal claim may well carry weight, Piyabutr immediately went into reverse political gear, declaring “he would not press the issue of amending the lèse majesté law in the new party…”. He is quoted: “I insist that I will not involve the party in the issue of amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code and will not press the issue in the party…”.

Piyabutr’s backpedaling has opened debate.

Exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, himself a victim of ultra-royalist and military attacks, “commented that without the issue of amending Article 112, the new party would be just a smaller version of the Phue Thai Party.” He saw a familiar path being taken whereby the young become prematurely old as they flinch on the most significant political issue of recent years, the monarchy.

Somsak believes that the new party didn’t have to say anything:

“When the party’s general meeting (to pass policies, select executives, etc.) happens, and Piyabutr or other important party members see that it is inappropriate to put the issue of Article 112 into the policies because it will lead to the party’s disqualification, then just remove it and register without this issue. So what’s the necessity of yesterday’s announcement [by Piyabutr]? I can’t’ see one…”.

He might have added that the new party has little chance of attracting large numbers of voters, so the strategic withdrawal on monarchy means little more than another ultra-royalist and military victory in its crusade to “protect” the monarchy and, thus, the establishment.

Puangthong Pawakapan of the now-defunct Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 was less critical, saying Piyabutr ‘s vow was unsurprising as “the political establishment never hesitates to suppress those who challenge the royal defamation law, making an amendment to Article 112 through legislative measures nearly impossible.”

Puangthong added:

“The difficulties in this issue are not about the number of votes in the parliament, but it is a sensitive issue that political parties are afraid to touch because they will be easily attacked by anti-monarchy allegations…. This is why all political parties are afraid to fix this issue. This is why people’s signatories and the draft amendment [to Article 112] by the CCAA 112 was immediately rejected by the Parliament Chairperson, who was at that time a Phue Thai MP.”

It is clear that Puangthong “believes that Piyabutr’s statement was a strategic move to ensure that the FFP will wins seats in the parliament, which will allow the party to make progress on other significant political missions, like eliminating the military influence from Thai politics.”

We recall, back in 2004-2005, so-called progressives signing up to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its royalist agenda, using a similar line of argument. They may have been anti-monarchy or even republican, but saw the need to get rid rid of Thaksin Shinawatra as being so crucial that they could accommodate the royalist stuff, and fix the monarchy later. How did that turn out for them? Most are now ardent royalists.





Lese majeste catch-ups

18 02 2018

Natthika Worathaiwit was one of The Facebook 8 who were arrested by the military dictatorship because of a satirical Facebook community page that poked fun at The Dictator. They were charged with sedition and computer crimes on 28 April 2016. Tow of them, Harit Mahaton and Natthika were charged with lese majeste.

Initially all were refused bail. When six of the eight were bailed, a military court refused bail for Natthika and Harit. The two firmly maintained their innocence. After more than two months in prison, on 8 July 2016, the two were released on bail. A month later, a military prosecutor indicted the two anti-junta critics on lese majeste and computer crimes.

Little more was heard about the case until in January 2018 Natthika revealed that she had decided to flee Thailand to seek asylum in the U.S. She remains critical of the military dictatorship. Prachatai has an interview with her in the U.S.

Prachatai also reports on a case with a curious twist. Back in March 2016, it was reported that that nine persons are to be charged with lese majeste over the Tob Jote/ตอบโจทย์ television show in 2013. ThaiPBS aired the program on the monarchy and lese majeste law on 11-14 March and 18 March 2013. The series featured historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who later went into exile, conservative royalist Sulak Sivaraksa, the execrable Surakiart Sathirathai and retired ultra-monarchist Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn. The show hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma. All are mentioned in the new set of charges, with four others.

Later, in July 2014, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) imposed a 50,000 baht fine on ThaiPBS for broadcasting political discussions about the monarchy. The NBTC declared that the broadcasts violated “Article 37 of the NBTC Act. The Commission accused the station of publishing content that instigated conflict, damaged peace and order, or damaged the good morality of the people.”

Royalists and the junta could not abide by notions that Thais could have a reasonable discussion of the monarchy or be allowed to think for themselves about the monarchy.

On 15 February 2018, the Administrative Court invalidated the fine. In doing so, it ruled that the NBTC showed bias (which is standard operating procedure for this bunch of junta minions). That bias got a name:  Lt Gen Peerapong Manakit, one of the NBTC members. According to the report, the “court ruled that bias on the part of … [Peerapong] who proposed the punishment, led to an unfair trial. The court ordered the Commission to refund the fine to Thai PBS…. However, the verdict does not rule whether the show’s content was legal or not.”

It is an interesting ruling. If Peerapong’s name rings a bell, it could be because he is another of those military hogs who can’t keep out of the trough, as reported in The Nation:

… there was a public outcry after an Office of the Auditor-General investigation revealed Peerapong Manakit had topped the list of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission members who had made the most overseas “study” trips last year…. He spent about one-third of his time (129 days) on 20 overseas trips at a cost of Bt12.03 million…. Peerapong has reportedly appointed his wife Janya Sawangjit as his adviser, effective October 1. Her salary is Bt120,000 a month…. It is not clear if NBTC commissioners can take their advisers on overseas trips.

Of course, nothing happened about this nepotism and he remains a commissioner, with a bunch of other military and royal-connected men.





Challenging the courts on lese majeste

18 09 2017

One of the Stolen history 6, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul (57) has challenged the courts on lese majeste.

Prawet is one of six persons detained on 29 April 2017 for alleged lese majeste for apparently sharing a Facebook post by Somsak Jeamteerasakul on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. The junta has “blacklisted” the exiled Somsak and considered the post to favor republicanism. Other charges thrown at Prawet included computer crimes and sedition.

He has been in custody since the military grabbed him.

While little is known of the fate of the other five, Prawet, who has been critical of the military dictatorship and the lese majeste law and has defended lese majeste victims, faces a total of somewhere 171 years in jail, depending on the charges finally brought (although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years).

According to the Bangkok Post, Prawet “has told the court [on 18 September] he did not accept the Thai judicial system and forfeited his right to examine witnesses and evidence against him.” Prawet said that as he did not accept the judicial system on lese majeste, then he “did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.”

Prachatai states that Prawet’s challenge is to the court’s “impartiality … in his case, as it is related to the monarchy.” It reports that he prepared a statement on this lack of impartiality:

“Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case,” Prawais wrote, adding that he will not participate in the case nor grant authority to any lawyer to represent him.

Facing 50 years in prison, he believes that it will not make any difference whether he pleads guilty or innocent because he will not be able tell the truth anyhow.

The court, seemingly flummoxed, fell back on its usual approach on recalcitrant lese majeste victims and decided to drag things out and punish-torture Prawet. His next scheduled hearing will be on 8 May 2018.  Presumably, the court hopes that having him jailed will change his mind and he will plead guilty. If not, the court seeks to silence his criticism.

Prawet’s stand is brave and he’s undoubtedly correct. As far as we can recall, he is the first to challenge the courts in this way.





Republicanism means 50 years in prison

27 07 2017

Talking or posting about a republic or republicanism is considered and act of lese majeste. Governments for sometime, including the ultra-royalist military dictatorship, once “defended” lese majeste by saying that it was just like defamation but for royals. The case of human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul, one of the Stolen history 6, clearly show that such bleating was a concoction and expressed as blatant lies.

On 25 July 2017, Bangkok’s Criminal Court “accepted charges filed against [the]… human rights lawyer facing five decades of imprisonment for royal defamation and sedition.” Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have said that Prawet is accused of posting Facebook comments that are deemed to have asserted that Thailand should become a republic.

Even Prachatai uses the term “defamation” when reporting this case. Clearly lese majeste is not defamation. Rather, it is a law that represses political opponents and jails them for daring to think about and discuss alternative forms of government.

Prawet stands accused of importing digital content “deemed defamatory to the [m]onarchy and seditious.” He is alleged to have done this from 25 January- 23 April 2017 and this probably relates to Facebook posts made by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

As well as being charged under Articles 112 (10 counts) and 116 (3 counts), Prawet is “also charged with Article 14(3) of the Computer Crime Act for importing illegal information online and violation of the Council for Democratic Reform (the 2006 coup-maker) Order for obstructing … the police [in]… obtain[ing] his fingerprints.”

It is easy to see that the military junta is determined to lock him away for decades, with 50 years being the legally maximum cumulative sentence. The lese majeste and sedition charges alone, if proven, amount to 171 years of jail. Few who go to court on these charges are ever exonerated by the royalist courts.

Prawet and the other five (for whom there is precious little information that PPT can locate) have been held in jail since 29 April 2017.





A feudal king

26 07 2017

One of the themes of the new reign has been the accumulation of power to the king. Since his December 2016 accession, King Vajiralongkorn has managed a rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution.

That process has seen constitutional change demanded and received, control of formerly state offices associated with the palace handed over to the king and the king gain unfettered control of the Crown Property Bureau and its great wealth.

It has also seen a large reorganization of palace staff as Vajiralongkorn purged masses of people including many formerly considered close to him. These purges seemed to begin with his third wife, Srirasmi.

A further step in the king’s massing of wealth and power in his palace has been a refeudalization of the king’s relations with those in the palace. The most recent example of this has been revealed by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. He shows that at least 11 women have been royally granted the family สิริวชิรภักดิ์ /Sirivajirabhakdi.

This royal attention to young women seems to indicate that a return to 19th century  concubinage and a royal harem will be another retrogression introduced in this reign.





Still detained, law ignored

28 06 2017

Prachatai reports that what PPT calls the torture of lese majeste “suspects” continues unabated and is being applied to human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul.

For the sixth time, the Criminal Court has “refused to release a human rights lawyer facing up to 50 years in prison for royal defamation and sedition.” [Actually, as the report later states, he faces 171 years on lese majeste and sedition, but there’s a 50 year sentencing limit.]

On 26 June 2017, the Criminal Court in Bangkok renewed the pre-trial detention period for Prawet. He has now been held for two months, while the police “investigate.”

Of course, the aim is to wear down Prawet, forcing him to plead guilty.

The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) argued that “the case’s interrogation process is already complete.” It was also argued that “prolonging of the detention is against Article 29 of the 2017 Constitution, which in brief states that suspects of crimes have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

The error here is in thinking that any lese majeste case will be considered on the basis of law. As many cases have demonstrated, law is strikingly absent from these acts of political intimidation and repression.

As expected, the court ignored law and statements by the prosecution that the case was investigated and kept Prawet locked up.

Prawet was one of six people arrested by police and military officers on 29 April 2017. We have no further information on the other five.

All are accused of a variety of lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition offenses for “sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 revolution plaque by Somsak Jeamteerasakul…”.

The claim now heard is that “Prawet allegedly posted Facebook comments asserting that Thailand should become a republic.”

Thailand should be a republic.