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%.





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.