Extreme lese majeste secrecy?

16 06 2017

PPT had an email alert today about a lese majeste case. As it turned out, this was a link to an old Reuters story at the Jakarta Globe, from late May. That story referred to the arrest of “five people for allegedly setting fire to portraits of late King Bhumibol…”.

The report set us thinking. Has there been a change to the already significant levels of secrecy associated with lese majeste cases, coinciding with the new reign?

We can’t think of any recent reports regarding these five. Have they been brought before a court in the last three weeks? If so, was this in secret, with no reporting? Or have we just missed it?

Then we recalled the Stolen history 6 case. Their detention was approved on 3 May 2017, for allegedly sharing a Facebook post by Somsak Jeamteerasakul on the theft/official removal of the 1932 revolution plaque.

The last report PPT can recall on their cases was when, on 11 May 2017, the Criminal Court in Bangkok refused bail for human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul, one of those arrested, renewing his detention.

We checked at iLaw, and couldn’t find any more. We also had a quick look at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, but no recent reports there either.

Again, we wonder if this is a case of extreme secrecy.

If this is the case – and we may have missed a report – then the military dictatorship has ditched all pretenses that lese majeste is a legal charge. It is more like an extreme purge by a gang. No law is necessary.

As a footnote, we wonder how all of those academics attending the International Conference on Thai Studies are feeling about the arrest of the six? One is a human rights lawyer and another is an academic, just like them, who has even had a paper accepted for the conference. They were arrested for sharing a social media post by a historian who has to live in exile. How’s that feeling?





Updated: The budget and the monarchy

9 06 2017

Reuters has helpfully dug through the draft budget to report on funds to the monarchy. We reproduce much of it below:

Thailand’s junta plans to allocate more than $123 million for the monarchy in the 2018 budget, an apparent cut of more than 14 percent from this year, figures published on Thursday showed.

Thailand makes public few details of the finances for its monarchy, whose assets, estimated at more than $40 billion, rank it among the world’s richest.

Since taking the throne in December, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has set about restructuring the palace and in April, parliament agreed to transfer to him control of royal agencies managed by the prime minister and defense ministry.

A draft of the annual budget allocated 4.19 billion baht ($123 million) to the monarchy for “security fundamentals”, but gave no explanation of what this comprises.

The figure compares to 4.89 billion baht for the fiscal year from October 2016 to September 2017, a decrease of more than 14 percent. Last year, the figure was given under national security as being for “upholding and preserving the monarchy”.

It was not made clear whether funding on any of the other budget lines would directly or indirectly benefit the palace.

Update: In comments posted to Political Prisoners of Thailand, our mirror, Somsak Jeamteerasakul says that the Reuters report misses much. He demonstrates a royal budget increase of some 28%.





No laughing matter

13 05 2017

The military junta has laid its bets on King Vajiralongkorn for ensuring the future of the monarchy and the system of hierarchy, privilege and wealth it underpins.

Nothing about the king can be a laughing matter.

Yet the junta knows the king is erratic and demanding, as well as odd in his demands and personal foibles. He’s also showing he’s a political neanderthal, which might be expected of a monarch, but when combined with his other traits and limited intelligence, that makes him dangerous and unpredictable.And probably not very funny.

Some of that may have said about his father, but that king was young and subject to controls by the military, mother and old princes. Once the palace propaganda was put in place for that king, in the popular imagination, he became a polymath and a savvy politician.

By the time the military was firmly in the hands of leaders who got to the top simply by their capacity for royal ego polishing, the king and palace became a locus of political power.

That’s why the dictators have been so desperate to ban and erase all of the foibles associated with Vajiralongkorn. That’s not easy when he spends a lot of time overseas, behaving oddly. Seeking a kind of Chinese firewall without the investment, the military junta is trying to bully ISPs and international corporations into doing their censorship.

Yet that is making the situation worse. Ham-fisted censorship makes a nonentity king reigning in a relatively small and unimportant country become international news of the tabloid variety.

Among a range of other channels, VICE News recently got interested, stating:

Facebook has blocked users in Thailand from accessing a video that shows the country’s king strolling through a German shopping mall wearing a crop-top revealing his distinctive tattoos, accompanied by one of his mistresses.

Asking what was in the video banned by Facebook, VICE posted it. The report states the king was filmed while shopping at:

Riem Arcaden mall in Munich on June 10, 2016….  The video shows Vajiralongkorn walking through the shopping mall, with a woman who is believed to be one of his mistresses, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, aka Koi. The king’s bodyguards are also visible in the video.

The junta “banned” Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul for posting some of this kind of material and then rushed about arresting seven people in Thailand and accused them of sharing posts or liking them when they were considered by the junta as defaming of the king. Odd that, for the king is the one dressing up as some kind of anime character and prancing about public places with a concubine.

This has caused even wider publicity to royal shenanigans and the junta’s remarkable desperation to defend the king’s “honor” and “reputation.”

The junta holds few good cards, but is betting even more of its treasure on the “protection” of the king. They prefer to show him dressed in full military uniform, accompanied by a uniformed woman who is, at least for the moment, his official consort or the No. 1 wife.

Meanwhile, in the king’s preferred home, in Germany, the publicity provided by the junta’s actions, arrests and threats to Facebook have brought considerable attention to the royal immigrant ensconced in Tutzing (when he’s in Munich).

That leads to television reports that make the king appear weird, guaranteeing even more scrutiny and sharing; exactly what the dopes at the junta think they are preventing.

Even without German, a viewer gets the message. The junta doesn’t. For them, covering up for the king is no laughing matter. It is protecting their bread and butter, and they want lots of it on their plates.





The Nation on latest lese majeste case(s)

11 05 2017

The Nation has an editorial on the latest lese majeste cases:

The monarchy will only suffer when so many dubious actions are carried out in its name….

When the current crop of junta leaders came to power three years ago they made it a priority to go after violators of the lese majeste law. The high number of arrests since then shows how serious this military government is about it, but, as was clear enough even before the coup, protecting the monarchy is too often nothing more that an excuse for suppressing regime opponents.

Thus, when human rights lawyer Prawet Prapanukul was seen as suggesting that the limits of the lese majeste law be tested, the military wasted no time in silencing him. For more than a week he was held incommunicado until he and five others were charged on Monday with violating that very law.

Prawet was arrested at his home on April 29 and not seen in public again until Monday. The junta has long had an axe to grind with this defender of anti-junta red-shirt leaders. He also represented Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul (“Da Torpedo”) before she was convicted on lese majeste charges.

It is a sad state of affairs when national leaders who claim to be defending or restoring democracy instead show disrespect for due process and a law solely intended to protect the monarchy. In fact their action places the monarchy in an unwanted spotlight, dragging it into the mundane realm of politics. The spike in the number of arrests carried out since the coup is no coincidence. It is part of a strategy. And the climate of fear that results further undermines Thailand’s international standing.

The United Nations Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia has reiterated a call for the government to stop arbitrarily detaining political activists and to release those now in custody. “I am concerned at the sharp increase in the use of the lese majeste law after the 2014 coup, with more than 70 people detained or convicted,” said acting regional representative Laurent Meillan.

The authorities seem heedless of the fact that their actions violate international conventions that Thailand is obliged to honour. Human Rights Commissioner Angkana Neelapaijit said Prawet’s arrest violated both the “human rights principle” and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. It can “be considered a forced disappearance and illegal, because the officers arrested him [and took him] to an unknown place without notifying his family”. Angkana pointed out that, while the authorities can arrest anyone who commits illegal acts or harms national stability, forced disappearance is prohibited under any circumstances by the UN convention.

Five others were charged along with Prawet after allegedly sharing Facebook posts by Paris-based Thai historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. The postings were supposedly about last month’s replacement of a historic marker in Bangkok’s Royal Plaza. The original plaque commemorated the 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy. It was replaced under mysterious circumstances with another that praises the monarchy and makes no reference to history.

The authorities had warned last month that anyone sharing Somsak’s social media posts would face legal action. Prawet et al fell victim, but it is Thailand’s government that’s suffering a self-inflicted wound to the foot.

We would point out that there are far more than 70 lese majeste cases. More than 100 cases. Readers are invited to look at our pages on these. If the junta has shot itself in the foot, that foot must have disintegrated by now.

What is hidden in this is who ordered and arranged the removal of the plaque. We have said enough on that, but the problem we think that faces the junta is that it has no choice but to cover up.





The emperor’s clothes may not be seen

5 05 2017

When the king is in residing in his beloved Germany, he is prone to behave in ways that are not seen in Thailand. The German media paparazzi has shown the king dressed in casual, indeed, in odd ways (see left).

No Thailand-based media outlet has dared to publish pictures or video of the casual king, although in the past they did publish photos of his father in casual – but not odd – attire such as Hawaiian shirts and shorts.

In Thailand, this king is portrayed in particular ways, usually at ceremonies and fully garbed in (usually) a military uniform (see below) or a dress suit.

It seems that the military junta is engaged in efforts to prevent Thais in Thailand from seeing the king in all his foreign “fashion” glory.

Prachatai reports that the junta has managed to convince Facebook to block pictures of the “German king” in Thailand.

It states:

On 4 May 2017, the exiled academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul announced on his Facebook that he has received an email from Facebook informing that one of his statuses violates Thailand’s 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA). Facebook has subsequently decided to restrict access to the post in Thailand.

“We’re contacting you because the Ministry of Digital Economy & Society [MDE] has sent us a Court Order issued by the Judge Tassanee Leelaporn and Judge Somyod Korpaisarn of the Criminal Court of Thailand stating that the following post you made on Facebook violates Section 14(3) of the Computer Crimes Act B.E. 2550 (2010),” read the email.

A court order from royalist judges is, for the dictators, a bit like sitting on the toilet – easy, normal and convenient. As we have stated previously, the courts in Thailand have been made a royalist tool for political repression.

Section 14(3) is about national security. As many readers will recall, a military junta has determined that the monarchy is a matter of “national security.” In the small military mind, this means that seeing photos of the king dressed casually is a threat to national security.

That Facebook accepts this kind of bizarre claim means that any crazy regime can enact any law it pleases and the Facebook money counters will comply (at least when they have a decent market in that tinpot dictatorship).

So now, instead of seeing Somsak’s post of a king in odd clothing users in Thailand get a message: “Content unavailable in Thailand.”

Prachatai states that:

According to Somsak, the blocked post is a video clip of a man believed to be King Vajiralongkorn walking in a shopping mall in Germany. Before its removal, the video had generated over 400,000 views.

That bit about “a man believed to be the king” is odd indeed, but there you are, Thailand under the military dictatorship and mad monarchists is an odd place. It resembles a children’s tale made very scary for its reality.





More details on the Stolen history 6

5 05 2017

In posting on the latest use of the lese majeste law, we have taken to referring to the six abducted and arrested as the Stolen history 6. This is because, as far as we are aware from the reporting, the six are charged for comments relating to the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque that celebrated constitutionalism and people’s sovereignty. Its theft was to deny that and to effectively steal history, replacing it with royalist propaganda.

To steal history, the royalist junta must seek to prevent discussion of the theft of the plaque because this reminds people of the history this ham-fisted bit of vandalism was meant to erase. When black magic is at work in the palace, such dimwitted schemes are hatched. And the junta is left to clean up the mess in an equally ham-fisted and distinctively belligerent manner.

The lese majeste arrests reportedly have to do with posts on Facebook by monarchy critic Somsak Jeamteerasakul. As one report says, since “4 October 2016, Prachatai has received reports of at least six cases of intimidation against people who follow Somsak.”

Three of the victims of this last piece of junta thuggery for the monarchy were identified as Prawet Praphanukul, a human rights lawyer, and Danai Tipsuya and Wannachai, political dissidents. Danai was said to have wanted anonymity, but is named in another Prachatai post. Three other detainees requested to remain unnamed.

When were taken before the Criminal Court it refused to release two detainees despite “bail requests of 790,000 and 900,000 baht…”. We are not aware of the circumstances for the other four, although it seems bail is not being considered.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported “that some of the detainees were blindfolded after they were arrested by the military who did not present warrants for their arrest or searches of their houses.”

Prawet, abducted by police and military thugs, was held incommunicado, and was only permitted a phone call when he refused to take food.

Prawet is now reported to face 10 counts of lese majeste (up to 150 years in jail), and violations of Article 116 of the Criminal Code (sedition, earlier reported to be three counts and possibly 21 years in jail), and Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act (up to 3 years on each count).

Danai is also accused of lese majeste and sedition.

The six are now detained for an initial custody period of 12 days from 3 to 14 May with the possibility of further renewals by the court.





With 3 updates: Lese majeste arrests in stolen democracy plaque case

3 05 2017

We recently posted on the abductions conducted by the military dictatorship’s official thugs.  That post mentioned that the military had detained, incommunicado, two political dissidents.

One was human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul who has been critical of the military dictatorship and the lese majeste law. The other was Danai (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), a political dissident from Chiang Mai, initially reported to be accused of Facebook messages critical of the military junta.

Those abductions have now morphed into lese majeste cases against these two and four others.

According to a report at Prachatai, the Criminal Court has permitted the detention of “six people accused of royal defamation for sharing a Facebook post from an academic who the junta has blacklisted.” That was said to be Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

When the “ban” on contact with Somsak, Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, many scoffed that enforcing the ban was likely illegal and difficult to enforce.

But legalities and formalities have never been a barrier to the lawless military dictatorship.

So it is that, on 3 May 2017, Bangkok’s Criminal Court “granted police custody over six people accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.” Those six were abducted “by police and military officers across different parts of the nation in late April.”

Apart from Prawet and Danai, the ” identities of the four other detainees remain unknown.”

Prachatai states that lawyer Arnon Nampa says “the six are accused of lèse majesté for sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque posted by Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an academic currently living in self-imposed exile in France.”

Arnon says that “Prawet is also accused of Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law.”

The twinning of sedition and lese majeste tell us that the military dictatorship is determined to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

The court allowed an initial “custody period of 12 days with the possibility of renewal by the court.”

The notion of “possibility” is banal; we all know that the royalist courts want quick convictions but are prepared to do whatever the junta wants and will keep people in jail as long as necessary to get “confessions.” When there is no “confession,” cases drag on as a form of torture.

No investigations, let alone arrests, have occurred for the theft and vandalism of the 1932 plaque. Rather, the junta has covered up and silenced questions. They are the best “confessions” we have seen in this case.

What’s next for feudal Thailand? Public executions and anti-royalist’s heads on stakes in front of the palace?

Update 1: PPT rewrote bits of the account above for initial poor expression and the omission of Somsak’s name in one place. No changes were made to the known facts and allegations in the case.

Update 2: An AFP story has more on this case. It says that Prawet faces “a maximum 150 years in prison after he was charged with a record ten counts of royal defamation…”.

On Wednesday afternoon Prawet “appeared in court charged with ten counts of royal defamation and a separate charge of sedition.”

Each account of lese majeste carries a maximum of 15 years in jail. That’s 150 years. The sedition charge can add another seven years in jail.

The report states that “[t]en royal defamation charges is the most anyone has ever faced in Thailand since the law become increasingly used.” (This means since the 2006 military coup, and especially since the 2014 military seizure of state power.)

The report also adds that “[i]t is not known what Prawet said or wrote. However media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the monarchy, including repeating any content deemed defamatory.”

Update 3: The Bangkok Post has reported these cases and adds further details. It states that Prawet faces 10 separate counts of lese majeste and three separate counts of sedition. That means he potentially gets 171 years in a royal jail.

The reports states that the normally outspoken “spokesman for the military government said he was unable to comment on the case.” That’s because it involves the king and not just in the usual way. Here the king seems to have been connected to the original crime (the un-investigated theft).

Prawet, who is “accused of posting 10 messages insulting the monarch and three messages with content believed to instigate social disorder,” continues to be detained “incommunicado at the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok, a facility the military uses as a temporary prison.”

Prawet has denied the allegations. So has Danai “but the details of [his] alleged wrongdoings were not outlined in the police submission…”. The secrecy is a part of the Thai (in)justice system and raises questions about the legality of his detention (not that the junta is ever worried about law and legality).

The report also reveals that three other suspects “admitted they shared messages of Thammasat University historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul on Facebook pages, which concern the controversial disappearance of the 1932 Siamese Revolution plaque from the Royal Plaza…. The other suspect denied the accusations.”