Maintaining the monarchy’s secrets

12 12 2020

As lese majeste charges pile up, Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta – one of Suthep Thaugsuban’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee men – seems to think that the best way to douse the flames of anti-monarchism is to cut off sources of information.

That’s about what we’d expect from a rightist with a track record of censorship for the monarchy. His last effort was against Pornhub, where Buddhipongse declared “that the decision was not related to a clip featuring an important Thai personality that was posted on the website.” Everyone knew he was talking about the king and his former wife, the latter having been treated loathsomely by the former, and that the clip of her near naked was the reason for the ban.

This month, Buddhipongse is seeking to censor critics of the monarchy and those who provide information on the monarchy that the regime and palace would prefer remained secret.

DES claims to have sent “evidence” to police and to be seeking “legal action against social media platforms that fail to remove URLs deemed inappropriate.” The PDRC minister said “the ministry has asked the Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to take action against a total of 496 URLs which violated the Computer Crime Act and security laws between Oct 13 and Dec 4.”

Marshall

Of these, “284 URLs are on Facebook, 81 on YouTube, 130 on Twitter, and the rest on other platforms,” with DES identifying “19 account owners — 15 on Facebook and four on Twitter…”.

The ministry is after “Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who faces 74 court orders to block 120 URLs; Somsak Jeamteerasakul, who faces 50 court orders to block 66 URLs, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who faces 194 court orders to block 439 URLs.” This time, the PDRC minister is also going after anti-government protesters, with court orders to block two of Arnon Nampa’s URLs and four of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

Pavin

Um, that’s already 631 URLs…. Something is wrong with the numbers, but let’s just say that the regime reckons these social media activists are lighting the fire under the protesters, so dousing them, they mistakenly think, will put out the anti-monarchism. In a sense, to mix metaphors, the DES and the regime are trying to put the horses back in the barn after thousands of them have bolted.

This time, the PDRC minister is also going after anti-government protesters, with court orders to block two of Arnon Nampa’s URLs and four of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

Somsak

The ministry’s public cyber vigilantes are continuing to report anything and everything. Last month alone, these royalist screenwatchers reported, via the “Volunteers Keep an Eye Online” webpage, 11,914 URLs. Of these, even the ministry could only deem 826 of them “illegal” while the pliant courts found 756 were to be blocked. The ministry and police must be inundated with work for the monarchy.

Buddhipongse is furious that the social media platforms don’t follow his orders, with Facebook blocking 98 of the 487 links he wanted blocked. Twitter removed 8 of 81 URLs. YouTube is far more pliant, blocking all 137 links the ministry flagged.

It is deeply concerning that these social media giants take seriously court orders from a judiciary that is a tool of the regime in political cases and on the monarchy’s poor PR. All the same, the information and the monarchy’s secrets are out there, and the regime will not be able to sweep it away.





Challenging monarchism II

1 11 2020

A couple of days ago Thai PBS wrote that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha had “warned anti-monarchy students not to do anything deemed improper or that could offend … the King and Queen as they preside over the second day of the graduation ceremony at Thammasat University…”.

The Dictator was spooked by students promising a “big surprise.” He babbled on about “a long-standing tradition for the Monarch to present degrees to new graduates…”.

The Bangkok Post followed up with its usual pro-regime buffalo manure, using the headline “Army keeps eye on Thammasat University ceremony,” implying the Army is a benign force rather than a murderous outfit under the command of royalist dolts. And we guess that’s the point.

It states that The Dictator’s response was to bring in “[m]ilitary personnel … to provide security at Thammasat…”. They weren’t needed as the “big surprise” was that nothing happened except that the regime got spooked.

But, there was a boycott by students of the “long-standing tradition for the Monarch to present degrees to new graduates.” Only half of the graduating students signed up and less than half turned up for the rehearsal. A rehearsal is required so that all the ceremonial BS that goes with mechanical processes of receiving the certificate from the king goes off without a hitch.

The Post tries to play the boycott down, stating:

According to Thammasat, about 51% of the university’s graduates have registered to receive degrees from His Majesty the King — a similar proportion to most years.

During the rehearsal period, many graduates who boycotted were more interested in receiving their degrees from cutout figures of anti-royalists Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

Clipped from Khaosod

Khaosod adds better detail which corrects the Post’s pathetic reporting and editing.

Using the same Isra news agency report that the Post (mis)used, Khaosod quotes “Thammasat vice rector Chalie Charoenlarpnopparut [who] attributed the low attendance to the ongoing protests, along with other reasons.” He is reported to have stated:

“It may be related to the current political situation,” Chalie was quoted as saying. “There’s a campaign against the ceremony. Some people may find it inconvenient to take coronavirus tests prior to attending the ceremony, while others may not be available due to a short notice given by the university.”

Television news reporting confirmed low numbers attending and also showed the king and queen both being awarded honorary doctorates. Queen Suthida has now received dozens of honorary degrees over a few weeks..

As the report notes, there has been opposition to degree ceremonies in the past, but these have been isolated and without much publicity. Most recently, there was criticism of the high fees paid, which were reportedly handed over to the presiding royal.

Many graduates find the rigid codes that have been implemented for the royals to be farcical. Khaosod quotes one graduate as saying she “found the ceremony, in which attendees have to conform to a strict dress code from head to toe, to be oppressive.” She added: “I don’t want to attach my success to the university or the establishment. I want my graduation to be a chance where I celebrate with my friends and family rather than giving in to nonsense rules.”

Another complained: “I don’t want to sit there for half a day and follow the ridiculous dress code, in which shoes must have no laces and even a banknote is not allowed to be brought in.”

These events were invented as a way for the monarch to establish a “relationship” with graduates and the middle class that “administers” the country. That connection seems strained to breaking point.





Updated: Kids and their influences

12 09 2020

Activists report that, a couple of days ago, the authorities had gone after a 17-year-old high school student over “her role in a recent pro-democracy protest in Ratchaburi province.” It is said she made a speech about education reform.

She was one of five students targeted for protesting on 1 August. It isn’t clear if they have been charged.

Thammasat University political scientist Prajak Kongkiarti claimed: “This is the first instance of pursuing a case against a high schooler…. Likely the first government in [Thai] history to exercise their power in this way.”

The group were summoned for holding an “illegal protest,” despite the fact that the:

Ratchaburi activist group said that they had already asked for and received permission from police officers onsite to hold the protest. Indeed, even the official Ratchaburi Police Facebook posted on Aug. 1 photos of their preparation of 127 officers to take care of the protest’s security.

Such police actions are a common tactic as the regime seeks to dampen support for the student-led protests.

Clipped from Khaosod

Meanwhile, Reuters reports on the “social media influencers.” It refers to the images of exiled academics Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. While the two are quite different characters, both “have openly criticized the monarchy,” and that seems to be what is attractive for the student demonstrators who have repeatedly used their images and memes from Pavin’s Royalist Marketplace.

Students say that it has been their discussion of the monarchy that has provided critical information that has been difficult to come by in Thailand. It is their exile that gives them this influence.

The students’ 10-point demand for reform of the monarchy is said to be “based on a reform proposal by Somsak, which he wrote a decade ago and revised and published on Facebook last year…”. That the two “have been singled out for attack by [Gen] Prayuth [Chan-ocha]” adds to their influence.

The report says there are more than 100 Thais who have gone into exile since the 2014 military coup. Some of them who were exiled in Laos and Cambodia have been “disappeared” and others have turned up dead.

In addition to these post-2014 exiles, there are others who fled during the years of political conflict. Together, several of the exiles have maintained a constant criticism of the monarchy.

While some, like Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University points to Royalist Marketplace as the current movement’s “real catalyst,” this ignores too much. After all, Royalist Marketplace built on a tremendous and growing anti-monarchism among the young.

Many of those who went into exile did so because of lese majeste and had spoken out on the monarchy before their exile. The students grew up under the junta’s reign of lese majeste terror that sought to stamp out growing anti-monarchism. That repression and the effort to enforce idolization of the previous and current king was part of the eye-opening experience for many of these students. As they have sought new knowledge and have shared it, the anti-monarchism of exiles has been important.

Update: Prachatai reports that teachers are also policing the thoughts of youngsters. It states “a 16-year-old student in Bangkok was summoned by a teacher after making a speech at the student protest on 5 September. She was asked to give the names of schoolmates who joined the protest and not to make any speeches again out of concern for the school’s reputation.” It adds: “Student harassment by teachers is one of the lingering problems in the Thai education system.”





Lug nuts and dipsticks II

27 08 2020

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has sounded daft and predictably reactionary when he babbled about Facebook. His commentary focused on “the Royalist Marketplace page on Facebook operated by Pavin Chachavalpongpun and the Facebook page of Somsak Jeamteerasakul, both of which contain plenty of sensitive issues related to the monarchy.”

“Sensitive” is royalist-speak for anything that is truthful and critical of the long-absent monarch.

As Thai Enquirer reports, he told reporters that student activists “were being led, in-part, by anti-establishment dissidents living abroad who wished to harm the country.”

That report explains that the general’s “statement echoes those of the army chief and other members of the cabinet who say that the students were being guided by a mysterious third hand while other conservative media figures has blamed the United States and the CIA for funding and influencing the students.”

Unlike the students, the geriatrics are lazy, relying on yellow-shirted social media for banal accusations by ultra-royalists and bloggers aligned mad “anti-imperialist” and “leftist” American conspiracy theorists hosted by Russian disruptive media.

In recent days, other geriatric royalists have given their “advice” to students. The Bangkok Post had an interview with failed politician, junta posterior polisher and appointed cabinet member Higher Education Science Research and Innovation Minister Anek Laothamatas.

He deems that the students are ignorant and proceeds to provide a “historical primer” on earlier student movements in Thailand. His paternalism continues as he dismisses their protests as a function of age rather than knowledge and justified political despair. He denigrates them: “The students of today don’t know very much about the past. They have been galvanised by a rather one-sided information passed to them in the social media.”

Presumably, when Anek joined the communists in the jungles, he was similarly dull, led about by the nose, and hotheaded rather than informed and, then, frightened and angry about military massacres. But, no, his arrogance and self-righteousness shines through: “my generation,” he asserts, knew the “real world.”

Like his geriatric leaders, Anek rejects any notion that the students “joined the anti-government protests of their own free will and that they were not led by any political elements or politicians.” Impossible!  Without evidence, he declares “it can’t be denied that some people might try to pull strings.”

His real point is that the students are not “respectful.” Like his yellow-shirted buddies, he considers “they have crossed the monarchy and customs lines, which many people regard as a violation. It’s a blatantly offensive act which might be met with a backlash.” His rhetoric invites rightists to provide the backlash.

Anek then wanders about, praising the general and polishing his posterior.

Thai PBS has another report on ultra-royalist Warong Dechgitvigrom, who also has “advice” for the students he is agitating against, or as the report has it “leading a crusade against anti-government protesters and to protect the country’s most revered institution.”

“Most revered institution” is ultra-speak for the monarchy and the monarch.

The yellowman is apoplectic: “The father of the country is being harassed.… How can Thai people stand by?”

“Father” is ultra-speak for the king. Rarely has Vajiralongkorn had this moniker, previously used for his dead father to instill paternalism.

Warong “has countered these calls with three demands of its own – no dissolution of Parliament, maximum legal action against anyone who seeks to topple the monarchy, and no change to the Constitution except via the proper channels.”

Like Anek, he then rambles about his experience, but he’s more outspoken: “When I was president of Chiang Mai University Student Union, I once wanted to overthrow the monarchy like you, brothers and sisters. But the masterminds were senior students linked with the Communist Party of Thailand…”.

He seems to believe that he was gullible as a student and, therefore, today’s students must be as impressionable and dumb as he was. Perhaps he should reflect on his own conversion and wonder why it is that he has needed an ideological prop throughout his life.

Reflecting the view expressed by Anek and paternalist geriatrics, Warong believes student activists are misled by social media and “fake news.” And, he confirms that there must be people leading the students astray: “scriptwriters are preparing speeches for the protest leaders…”.

The ultras and the regime are petrified. They fear that their corrupt paternalist system is being shaken to its roots. This is why they are even willing to support a king who appears to be more of a nation hater/chung chat than any student activist. After all, he demonstrates his disdain for the nation, sucking up its taxpayer money but living in self-imposed exile, not unlike a fugitive Red Bull scion.





King, virus and a propaganda war

3 05 2020

A new article at Deutsche Welle and variations elsewhere should cause royalists and the military-backed regime some angst.

Articles with stark headlines that will poke the royalist bear. These include: “Thailand’s king living in luxury quarantine while his country suffers” and “Thailand’s king a ‘disaster’ in the corona crisis.” By quoting opponents of the monarchy like Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Somsak Jeamteerasakul will increase the bear’s rage.

The DW article doesn’t have much that will be new for PPT’s readers, they do package some interesting material to show that the king is remote from Thailand and widely disliked. Marshall is quoted as describing Vajiralongkorn a “troubled, sadistic and authoritarian monarch…”. The article observes rising criticism of the monarch in Thailand:

Despite the risks [of lese majeste and other laws], a tweet from exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul circulated in Thai social media at the end of March, showing the king’s flight path to Germany and asking in Thai: “What do we need a king for?” It was quickly shared thousands of times and was a trending topic for weeks.

And for a long time, several popular memes have circulated. A particularly biting example uses HBO’s Game of Thrones: “We don’t go serving some shit king who’s only king because his father was.”

… Some users even went so far as to implicitly demand the abolition of the monarchy: “Honestly, I already want to have a president.”

Expounding on the symbiosis between monarchy and military the report states:

The unloved king needs the military and its government to secure his power. The military relies on the king, because it is easier to come to terms with a monarch ruling for life than with a constantly changing set of politicians and parties in a democratic system.

The royalists and regime have little to respond with, because the king is nowhere to be seen and his reputation is rubbish. So they have tried to burnish the king’s image by seeming to claim he’s in the country.

On social media there have been a few fake images of the king cleaning and sanitizing streets, seemingly with the Army. Officially, the military has published photos of the king and queen watching and helping Royal Guards making masks and other equipment. These photos are now available from the Daily Mail.

The report doesn’t make it clear that the photos are from the king’s 20 hour visit to Thailand in early April, implying that the king and queen are in Thailand: “The couple’s appearance at the regiment comes just a month after the King jetted off to Bavaria in Germany.”

Others have shown that the photos were old, using the date-stamps embedded in the photos, which was 6 April. After this was revealed, the photos released appear to have been edited for date.

The Daily Mail headline is “Thailand’s king and queen inspect PPE made by the military in front of groveling army chief – weeks after royal ‘self-isolated’ with 20 concubines at German hotel.” It mentions Gen Apirat Kongsompong again in the text:

King, queen and the groveling Army boss (clipped from the Daily Mail)

Pictures show an army chief grovelling on the floor as he bows down before the ruler. Others soldiers were also spotted crawling on their knees as the monarchs strolled around the regiment.

It is noted that the king’s “self-isolation in Germany was met with anger by thousands of Thai people…”.

Ardent royalists will try to believe everything and anything that is positive about the king and his dysfunctional family. But the king’s long absences raises important questions about legitimacy. More importantly, it remains to be seen how much longer the military will hold fast to and grovel before a monarch who is failing to do his job.





With a major update: Re-feudalization and repression

26 01 2020

Somsak Jeamteerasakul has posted another before and after picture of the destruction of symbols of the 1932 revolution and the People’s Party. This time at the Field Marshal P. Phibulsonggram House Learning and History Center in Chiang Rai:

Meanwhile, yet another critical report seems to have been removed from the Khaosod news website.In this case, an opinion piece by Pravit Rojanaphruk titled “Opinion: The Talibanization of Bangkok’s Architectural Heritage” about the erasing of post-1932 architectural style from Rajadamnoen Avenue, has gone.

When one looks for the article at the site, the return is:

It was there.

And it was circulated:

And it was re-posted in Thailand:

Frustratingly, PPT didn’t copy the article before it was taken down. If any reader has a copy, please email us.

The last time this happened it was a news story about the trouble caused by Princess Sirivannavari when she and some rich friends had a holiday in the south and officials closed land and sea to allow her to have fun with “security.” Ordinary Thais lost income and work while taxpayer funds were burned.

As far as we can tell, in neither case has Khaosod explained why the articles have been disappeared. We assume the management and owners came under pressure. But from where? From notions of self censorship? Or from the regime? Or from the palace?

The fear about commenting on anything royal is reinforced. The erasure of memory and history gathers pace.

Update: Thanks to readers, including @barbaricthais and “a republican reader,” we have located the deleted Khaosod op-ed by Pravit. It is clear that the equating of royal vandalism and Talibanization annoyed/scared/worried some. The op-ed is reproduced here, in full, but without the pictures:

What struck me as rather disturbing as I met with people along the Ratchadamnoen Avenue to discuss the upcoming renovation is their sense of fear.

Very few whom I interviewed wanted to be identified. Some even said they did not want to talk at all about what could be the most significant change to the landscape of the historic avenue in 80 years.

The reason is rather straightforward. All of the ten art deco buildings along the avenues are to be replaced with a new “neoclassical” pastiches per instruction from the Crown Property Bureau, who owned the structures since the time when it was still under the oversight of a civilian government that overthrew absolute monarchy in 1932.

In the present time, the agency is a different kind of entity. Following a vote in 2017 by the junta-appointed rubber stamp parliament, the Crown Property ceased to be under the control of state and was placed under the supervision of new monarch, King Vajiralongkorn.

In early 2019, the Crown Property Bureau invited tenants of these art deco buildings along the 1200-meter stretch of the avenue to a meeting, and informed them that a decision has been made to replace the structures with a neoclassical façade.

Words of the meeting were relayed to me by one of the participants, who was apparently at a discomfort of discussing the topic, but I assured him there was nothing to worry; what he told me was perfectly in line with the Crown Property’s very own announcement of the plan on Jan 17.

Not everyone is thrilled by the makeover. Critics like Chatri Prakitnonthakan, an expert and author on buildings from the era of the revolution that toppled the absolute monarchy, told me the new façade will be “fake” because it’s more like applying a veneer on art deco architectural structure which is fundamentally different.

He also suspected a deeper agenda. Chatri said art deco architecture in Thailand symbolized a break from feudal absolutism. He believes there is a sinister attempt by some people to exact revenge on the long-dead revolutionaries by removing any relics related to their memories.

No matter what your political ideology is, Thailand has lost enough architectural heritage when its old capital Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767; the city was also subject to a series of looting and vandalism by both Thais and Chinese merchants in the centuries that followed.

Bangkok is relatively new, anointed as the capital in 1782. Why, then, are we defacing and deconsecrating the few architectural legacies and monuments that we have?

Let us not Talibanize our tangible heritage, our past, our history – lest we end up not knowing who we are, where we came from and surrounded by Disney-like environ.

In the fast-developing megacity of Shanghai, the Chinese managed to preserve many buildings constructed by former colonial powers despite the bitter history. Thais should also learn to cherish material cultures, buildings included, that speak about a crucial portion in our history, instead of trying to deface what we do not like.

Many have given up, resigned to the fate that one of the most historic landmarks in Bangkok’s Old City will be Disneyfied with the shallow neoclassical veneer.

Some even fear that Democracy Monument, the most visible memorial to the birth of parliamentary democracy in 1932, might be either altered or removed altogether eventually. Some have begun taking selfies with the symbolism-filled monument in a half-nervous jest. Just in case.

And if the renovation is truly inevitable, I hope they save at least one art deco building on Ratchadamnoen Avenue: the imposing Royal Hotel at the southeastern end of the avenue.

It was opened in 1943 by none other than the revolution’s co-leader Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, and has since played a role in several key moments of Thai political history. Like when it was a safe haven for protesters in the May 1992 uprising against the military rulers, until soldiers invaded it, beating and forcefully arresting those inside.

I wonder if anyone will launch any campaign to save these historical relics at all. Given the current climate of fear and sensitivity of the issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if many will think more than twice before lending their signature – or even change their mind afterwards.





Further updated: “The Threat” II

19 01 2020

Like some mid-20th Century Hollywood B-grade movie, The Threat emerges from the (authoritarian) political sludge to try to undermine and crush Thailand’s monarch and the monarchy. Yes, even when almost all the supporting actors are military and the regime is military-dominated and military-backed, The Threat is always there, eating away at authoritarian monarchism.

The Threat is most usually from those who oppose the military and its never-ending efforts to control politics. Under the current regime, where the military is in the hands of ultra-royalists and, in fact, where the king has a firmer hand on the military than at any time since 1932, “threats” are most often associated with Thaksin Shinawatra because of his electoral popularity in the first two decades of this century.

Royalist rightist Rientong

Anyone who attended the recent rally for the regime at Lumpini Park would have noticed the placards linking the Future Forward Party and its leaders to Thaksin. Also noticeable was the claim that FFP represented a threat to the monarchy and, ipso facto, the nation. These demonstrators for the regime and those who organized them consider FFP’s popularity and the urge for democratization to be a threat to the monarchy. We have no doubt that, scared witless by the red shirt rising of a few years ago and associated anti-monarchism, the palace and the royalists in government worry endlessly about how to turn the tide, especially among the younger generation.

Opposing The Threat involves not just all kinds of electoral cheating, constitution rigging and shoveling increased power to the king, but bellicose ultra-rightist thugs and expensive, taxpayer-funded displays of military power and loyalty to the king and throne.

On the rightists, the Bangkok Post has an unusual electronic headline (right) that seems to indicate that the recently unleashed royalist attack dog Maj Gen Rientong Nan-nah was thinking he might be king. It turns out he was just thinking of following the regime and its opponents and organizing a run/walk not for the regime per se, but “a run to ‘save the king’…”. Yes, so great is The Threat from FFP, a party in opposition, that the barking Major General feels the need to “save the king.” He’s been told to reign that idea in for a while. But watch his space. Once unleashed rightist royalists become murderous thugs.

All of this agitation plays into the bizarrely concocted Illuminati “case” against FFP at the regime’s Constitutional Court. Somehow we don’t think that this “case” will be the end of FFP – even the hopelessly biased Constitutional Court and its mentors could not be this ridiculous, maybe, perhaps. Betting seems to be that the Court will dissolve FFP in another case, where the Court will miraculously define a loan as a donation to a political party. In the end, the plan is to do away with Thailand’s third most popular party.

For the displays, even in his so far short reign, King Vajiralongkorn has had plenty, and he’s not even in the country all that much. He’s also had the Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong doing his bidding and a bit of his own in also barking about The Threat. He’s sees FFP as a bunch of Commie rats.

Clipped from Khaosod

An AP report on the most recent (waste of taxpayer money) display of defending the king from The Threat came when the king, queen and the most senior of his children (from wife #1) Princess Bajrakitiyabha “presided over an oath-taking ceremony Saturday at an army base where almost 7,000 soldiers and police paraded to mark Armed Forces Day.”

The report notes that “Vajiralongkorn’s presence at the ceremony was unusual, as Thai monarchs have rarely, if ever, attended the occasion, even though the royal palace and the military are closely linked.” The regime – and presumably the palace – linked the parade to the king’s coronation last May.

As ever, the military brass groveled and frog-marched to show their willingness to face The Threat, declaring: “I pledge my life to honor and sustain the greatness of the king. I pledge my loyalty to Your Majesty and will serve and guard Your Majesty till the end of my life…”.

The monarchy, military and regime are making clear their intention to destroy upstarts who comprise the contemporary “threat.” The broader ruling class – which should be worried about this concentration of power – is probably willing to go along with it so long as the regime that maintains the ruling class’s wealth is maintained.

Update 1: Leaked documents appearing at Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s Facebook page suggest that the taxpayer has been hit with a bill of at least 340 million baht for the Army’s display for defending the king.

Update 2: For an example of how “The Threat” causes great fear among regime supporters, try former Bangkok Post Editor Veera Prateepchaikul’s most recent op-ed. Veera’s a hack, but writes op-ed’s essentially for the broad yellow group that supports the military-backed regime. He’s been running a campaign against FFP since they did so well in last year’s election, and he’s obviously very frightened that, should FFP do well and not be dissolved, electoral democracy might make a comeback. Veera and his ilk fear that.





Mid-week reading: monarchy, academics, hypocrisy, hope

30 08 2018

There are several articles we think deserve a reading this week.

The first is actually two articles by University of Leeds academic Duncan McCargo. In recent weeks he’s been reporting on visits he’s making inside Bangkok’s rapidly expanding royal zone. The first was at Asia Times Online, on the end of the military’s Royal Turf Club, which reverts to the Crown Property Bureau, which itself is now the personal property of the king. We have posted on this. This article says little about that link, which is odd, as it is the story.

McCargo’s second piece is at The Nikkei Asia Review and is on the soon to close zoo. In it, he does dare to at least mention the king in the context of the zoo’s closure. We have also posted on this. He implies that it might also suit the military regime. So careful does the academic have to be that self-censorship means a casual reader might miss these associations.

As an important footnote, McCargo did put his name to an undated International Statement in support of Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti and colleagues some time ago.

Another article worth considering is at The Nation, reflecting on the ill-health of exiled academic Professor Somsak Jeamteerasakul and his principles. The comments on hypocrisy among political activists and academics are well made. At the same time, some of the journalists at The Nation, including the author of this piece – Tulsathit Taptim – have also been been extravagant propagandists for those who have attacked and reviled Somsak.

Somsak has indeed stuck with his principles. He’s been brave and determined in addressing important historical issues and the monarchy and Article 112. Like rabid dogs, the military and ultra-royalists attacked Somsak and made him pay.

We wish Somsak a speedy recovery and applaud his efforts to pull back some of the curtains that hide the monarchy and its actions.

The third set of articles is from the Focus on the Global South. Its 4th Newsletter “tackles the issue of democracy in Asia and its different facets–elections, constitutions, (extreme) nationalism, populism, majoritarian rule, and press freedom.” Two of the Newsletter’s items are especially relevant for Thailand. One is an article titled “The Indomitable Spirit of Democracy in Thailand.” The second is an interview with pro-democracy activist Rangsiman Rome. There’s room for some optimism.





“This is considered unusual in legal practice”

28 06 2018

On 27 June 2018, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 16 months in prison. This is a somewhat surprising outcome in a case where the lawyer challenged the courts.

With five others, Prawet was arrested  by the military on 29 April 2017. The six were detained on lese majeste charges for allegedly sharing a  Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. That post was allegedly authored by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. It was claimed that the post called for Thailand to become a republic.

Initially detained incommunicado, Prawet has been held in jail since then. In addition to lese majeste, he and the others faced sedition and computer crimes charges.

Prawet himself was accused of three separate charges under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste. In total, Prawet faces up to 171 years in jail, although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years.

PPT’s view was that the twinning of sedition and lese majeste made it clear that the military dictatorship was seeking to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Little has been heard of any of the detainees other than Prawet.

Prawet appeared in court on 18 September 2017 and stunned the judges by stating that he did not accept the Thai judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet challenged the court’s 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…”. Prawet said he would not participate in the case nor have a lawyer represent him.

When he finally reappeared in court on 8 May 2018, Prawet engaged in a heated 30-minute argument with judges, stating he did not believe the court will rule his lese majeste case with fairness and impartiality. He asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

Prawet again stated that he would not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but said he would not obstruct testimony. He again refused lawyers and refused to sign any documents. He repeated that the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

Again, the judges seemed flummoxed by this challenge to the way the judiciary (mis)handled lese majeste cases.

The judges then closed the court for a secret trial. The verdict was supposed to have been delivered on 23 May but was delayed for more than a month, suggesting that behind the scenes there was considerable activity.

The surprises in this verdict for Prawet were that the sedition sentences were remarkably short and  that the court dropped “any mention of the royal defamation charge against him…”. Nor did the court explain why the lese majeste cases were “dropped without explanation.”

In the three sedition cases where the “military [regime] alleged he [Prawet] was behind a group calling on Redshirts and Yellowshirts to unite and turn Thailand into a federal republic,” he received only five months on each count, suggesting that the “evidence” was weak but that the court needed to save some face. With time served, he could released within weeks.

Prawet was given another month in jail “for refusing to fingerprint court documents…”.

On lese majeste charges disappearing, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said: “Usually, when the court acquits someone, they have to clearly explain it…. This is considered unusual in legal practice.”

In the context of Prawet’s challenge, we read this short report as a statement that the court and the regime probably wanted to prevent further criticism of the courts. Yet by mysteriously dropping the lese majeste charges the court again demonstrates that the law is a feudal remnant that is not only incongruous with modern law but is itself outside the law. Lese majeste cases are not subject to the law as it is written and nor are those charged given legal and constitutional protections to which they are entitled.

While the sedition “convictions” save face, the lese majeste is a festering sore for the judiciary. A gangrenous judiciary does Thailand no good. “Amputating” the law is the only solution if the courts are ever to be taken seriously and to fulfill their duties to the people.





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.