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.





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%.