Updated: More lese majeste censorship

26 04 2017

The military junta is again exercised by lese majeste, suggesting they may be getting a boot in the backside from the new and the easily annoyed king.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, a regulator, and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society which is actually a censorship ministry, have, according to the Bangkok Post, “reiterated their demand that all internet service providers (ISPs) and international internet gateway providers block webpages and content that contain or promote illegal acts or breach Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law.”

“Illegal acts” usually mean things like sedition, gambling and pornography, but previous bouts of blocking and censoring have mostly been about lese majeste.

The junta has demanded that these agencies do more to protect the tawdry reputation of the king. It wants ISP cooperation “to remove illicit video streaming on Facebook and YouTube from their local network server, called a content delivery network (CDN).”

Takorn Tantasith, the NBTC secretary-general, opined that there’s been “good cooperation between the regulator and the ministry” but that “the government [he means military junta] hopes for more, and expects better result by next month…”.

Takorn is dutifully and enthusiastically calling for “serious cooperation” from ISPs and international internet gateway (IIGs) providers to “block webpages … after receiving a court order or when their own monitoring staff finds such [offending] material.” He demands that they “immediately inform the NBTC or DE if they cannot block a webpage due to it being encrypted overseas.” When that happens, these agencies again say they will “ask cooperation from embassies and the Foreign Ministry…”.

A more difficult area is when content they don’t like derives from “online video or video streaming stored with ISP servers in country on their CDN or cache server.”

It also seems that the Ministry and the NBTC are “reiterating their warning to people not to ‘follow’ or correspond with three well-known opponents of the regime, who are now living overseas.” This means exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, exiled political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

This military dictatorship has tied itself to the monarchy, meaning that, at least for the time being, it will reflect the views from the king, and he has shown that he is intolerant and violent.

Update: Prachatai has background on the NBTC’s new role on censoring streaming and online video. It also has information on a probably related piece of legislation that gives police the right to intercept communications. Welcome to the new reign (of terror).





Fear and unintended consequences II

19 04 2017

Most of the breaking stories on the fate of the 1932 plaque are on social media, including the Facebook accounts of Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Another Facebook account worth following is that by Pravit Rojanaphruk, one of the bravest of local journalists.

The mainstream media is publishing material but because it is now widely assumed that the king had the plaque removed, that media is treading very carefully and fearfully.

Marshall claims that the plaque was removed on 5 April, the evening before the announcement of the military junta’s 2017 constitution. That, of course, would be symbolic vandalism.

When thinking about the king’s reason for moving against memories and symbols of 1932, it is important to recall that all he would know of that revolution would have been gained from his grandmother and father, both of whom were anti-People’s Party and anti-Pridi Phanomyong, or from disgruntled royals who mostly hated the events and people of what they consider a travesty of (their) history.

Reuters reported that The Dictator and the junta have been getting a plausible story together.

Self-appointed royalist premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “warned people not to protest against the mysterious disappearance of a plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy, a theft some activists see as a symbolic threat to democracy.” He’s also been working on “protecting” the replacement plaque “celebrating the monarchy.”

Prayuth babbled something about “police … investigating…”, but also diminished the significance of the theft, the plaque and the 1932 revolution. Essentially, Prayuth’s message was a mafia-like “forget about it.” He said that it was all in the past, history, and not worth the effort.

The idea that the junta doesn’t know what happened in an area that is usually crawling with police and military and is watched by dozens of cameras beggars belief. As Reuters says, the “square where the plaque went missing is close to parliament, to a royal throne hall and to an army barracks. The area is also surveyed by several police posts.”

Prayuth knows what happened. He is now worrying about the political fallout and the boot he may get up the backside if he says or does anything wrong.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, the police claim sudden attacks of brain death. Deputy police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul “admitted yesterday that he had no idea how to proceed with the case involving the mysterious removal of a plaque marking a 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy.” He knows he can’t move on this without some kind of “insurance” that he won’t end up shaven headed in the Bhudha Monthon Temporary Prison.

His babbling seemed like a man crazed or crazed by fear. In any case, while Prayuth declares the police are investigating, the police say they aren’t.

A group of activists filed a complaint, part of which explained to the police what they should be doing and why. We doubt the police, knowing the risks, will get of their ample posteriors.

What the police did do, according to several reports, was throw up a protective fence around the new royalist plaque, with a sign declaring it “royal ground.” You get the picture.

Reporters didn’t get the picture, however, as the police with some military support tried to prevent them from filming in the area.

They would not have done this without orders from The Dictator or from Tutzing.

Srisuwan Janya, arrested yesterday while trying to complain about the removal of the plaque, was released from military custody. He proclaimed that he would continue to complain, saying the new constitution gave him that right.

It remains to be seen what the full consequences of royal vandalism will be for the junta and the monarchy. It is certainly a damaging fiasco. Yet the junta knows it can manage fiascos – it has in the past. The question for the junta is whether they can manage the king.





Updated: Banning contact with the banned

13 04 2017

The Bangkok Post reports, with the order (reproduced below), the junta’s declaration that it is now “illegal to exchange information on the internet with three prominent government critics wanted on charges of lese majeste.”

The order from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society “requested all citizens not to follow, contact, share or engage in any other activity that would result in sharing information” with exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. All three live outside Thailand and concentrate some of their energies on revealing information about the regime and the monarchy.

The order states that “people who spread such information, directly or indirectly, could be violating the country’s Computer Crime Act, even unintentionally. This could result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years for each contact.”

In other words, this is backdoor lese majeste.

The Post states that the “reason for the letter is not known.” It also expresses its doubts about why these three are considered the most significant of critics.

Amnesty International criticized the warning for showing a “brazen determination to silence dissent.” In its statement, AI “Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Josef Benedict said authorities [he means junta] have plunged to fresh depths in restricting people’s freedoms of expression’.”

PPT reckons there is more to be learned about this order. We note that the jittery and angry junta is forever twitchy about monarchy news. However, we can’t help but notice that these critics are targeted at the beginning of a reign of a nasty monarch who is highly sensitive to even the slightest criticism. In this case we can’t but notice a whiff of palace intervention in this.

Update: Amid wide criticism of the “order,” the “ministry’s caretaker permanent secretary, Somsak Khaosuwan, who signed the announcement admitted yesterday that the document was aimed at sending a message to people, telling them about the ‘proper’ use of the Internet and making clear what sources of information should or should not be shared online.”

He babbled that the “order” was “intended also to advise Internet users to use discretion in reading or sharing information.” Yeah, right.

When asked “how the ministry would deal with a possibly large number of people following or making contact with people named persona non grata, the official said it was the responsibility of the … Police.”





Sulak’s lese majeste case

3 03 2017

Sulak Sivaraksa is a self-professed royalist who has faced at least five lese majeste charges. He is a leading academic and long-time conservative critic of the lese majeste law.

180px-sulaksivaraksa_3-smallHe was first arrested in 1984 in Bangkok and charged with insulting the king. His second case, in 1991 he was again charged after giving a speech at Chulalongkorn University. A third set of allegations were made against Sulak in 2006. Sulak’s fourth lese majeste case saw him taken from his Bangkok home late one night in November 2008 and driven 450 km to a police station in the northeast province of Khon Kaen. The outcome of these cases can be seen at our page on Sulak.

His fifth case saw two retired royalist generals file a lese majeste complaint against Sulak for a speech he made about King Naresuan, a historical figure considered important for the royalist mythology about Thailand.

On 16 October 2014, Lt Gen Padung Niwatwan and Lt Gen Pittaya Vimalin filed the complaint at Chanasongkram Police Station accusing Sulak of “defaming” the former king during a public speech on “Thai History: the Construction and Deconstruction” on 5 October at Thammasat University, Bangkok. It is reported that in the speech, Sulak claimed the legend of an elephant battle between Naresuan and a Burmese king was constructed and he criticized the king of some 400 years ago for being cruel.

Prachatai reports that “police have permitted a renowned royalist intellectual accused of lèse majesté to postpone hearing the charges against him” in this fifth case.

The report adds that Sulak is fighting another lese majeste case. PPT’s account notes a sixth case against Sulak. In early July 2015, it was reported that Sulak could face a sixth lese majeste charge for comments made in a panel discussion on the anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy. The discussion was organized by Rangsit University’s Faculty of Economics and the Heroes of Democracy Foundation. We had not heard any more on this case.

The Prachatai report, however, notes yet another case:

In 2016, Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, Deputy Police Chief, announced that nine people, including Sulak, and two corporations accused of lèse majesté for their involvement in a talk show aired in March 2013 called Tob Jod (The Answers) on Thai PBS, the only public TV channel in Thailand.

Tob Jod on 11-14 March and 18 March 2013 televised a debate on the lèse majesté law featuring Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an academic now in self-imposed exile in Europe, Sulak, Surakiart Sathirathai, former Deputy Prime Minister, and Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunchorn. The show was hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma.

The five persons featured in the debate are among the nine accused.

We think Sulak holds the record for cases brought.





The censorship regime

16 01 2017

The military dictatorship is currently engaged in another round of intensified censorship. It also seems like it has the support of Facebook to block material about the monarchy and the regime that the junta finds objectionable.

We can confirm that PPT is getting far more blocking than we have seen in the past.

A report a few days ago at TechCrunch and elsewhere states that:

Facebook is blocking content from a number of users following an apparent request from the government. Thailand’s lèse-majesté law prevents criticism of the country’s royal family, and it looks like it is being used to suppress postings from a number of high-profile users who are writing about the transition to a new king, including journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

It seems that some posts by Somsak Jeamteerasakul are also being blocked.

TechCrunch says that it has “independently confirmed that, as MacGregor Marshall noted, at least one of his posts is not available in Thailand but can be read outside of the country. Marshall McGregor’s profile and the rest of his feed remain visible in Thailand.”

The offending post seems to be this one, reportedly of one of King Vajiralongkorn’s concubines performing some kind of animist ceremony. Somsak has posted these photos as well, and they seem blocked.

In response, Marshall has a new page at Medium.





Looking after the family’s interests I

17 04 2016

The recent chatter on social media has been of nepotism is becoming a din. Several of the local media have tiptoed around the story because it involves the leaking of a secret military order that involves the testy and erratic General Prayuth Chan-ocha, The Dictator of Thailand.

Khaosod has an initial report. It states that a “nephew of junta chairman and [self-appointed] Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has allegedly been given a post in the army and a lieutenancy…”.

The order appointing the 25 year-old Patipat Chan-ocha was “signed by his father, a member of the ruling junta who until recently was a top army commander.” That is General Preecha Chan-ocha, The Dictator’s brother. Preecha has form, having been involved in the Rajabhakdi Park cover-up and also to have displayed poor arithmetical skills (well, that would be the kind interpretation) on his wealth declaration.Preecha

Khaosod was careful – as it needs to be when dealing with a ruthless junta – and declared that the leaked document’s “appearance and format is consistent with formal documents of the Thai bureaucracy.”

The document was marked “secret,” which itself seems odd when it is about a lowly appointment. This suggests that those involved, including Preecha, knew this appointment was not above board.

Initially, junta ventriloquist’s dummy Colonel Winthai Suvaree refused to comment, using the Sgt Schultz excuse.

Khaosod describes Preecha as “former commander of the Third Region Army and a brother of Gen. Prayuth. Preecha is currently a member of the junta and serves on its appointed legislative body.”These latter appointments caused some raised eyebrows and claims of nepotism, but The Dictator is, well, The Dictator.

The leaked letter “identified Patipat as a graduate of Naresuan University’s mass communications faculty. It did not explain his job description in the army, or why he was chosen for both the position and the lieutenancy other than noting that nothing in army regulations disqualified Patipat from serving.”

In a follow-up Khaosod story, Preecha “admitted … that he gave a job and army rank to his son,” and then went on to defend his actions, “saying it’s common practice in the military.”

We guess that it’s common, like torturing and murdering recruits. It’s just one of those things that makes the Army one of the most bestial and corrupt organizations in the country.

Preecha’s explanation of his actions sounds like the comment of a Sino-Thai tycoon promoting a young son to vice president in the family-run conglomerate: “My son graduated with a Bachelor’s degree, and he has to work…. Now that there’s a vacant position, I put him to work in it. Many people in the army do it. It’s not like only my son does it.”

He refused to say more. As he put it, in the best traditions of a corrupt military: “That’s all for now.”

Preecha’s nepotism has caused critics to point to double standards: “Stop Hypocrisy in Thailand, which was the first to publicize the leaked memo, compared the letter to the junta’s gripe with nepotism in the previous government led by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.” It recalls the anti-democrat’s claiming that the Shinawatra clan was “running the country like their family business.” It observes that “Today, they [the Chan-ocha family] do the very same thing.”

Exiled academic and Prayuth foe Somsak Jeamteerasakul is correct when he likens “the Chan-ochas to the Kittikachorns, the family of the junta that ruled the kingdom in the 1970s. Thanom Kittikachorn and his son Narong served as chairman and secretary-general of the ruling junta, respectively.” He reportedly added: “But Narong [at least] studied in the military academy … It’s not like he graduated with something totally unrelated and used his father’s status as prime minister’s brother to get himself into the military,” Somsak wrote on Facebook.

We expect The Dictator to be livid and to jump about a bit and then seek a cover-up. We might be wrong, but this is his form. As the junta indulges in double standards, corruption and nepotism it undermines its political position. That said, the junta retains the foundational support of the establishment suggesting that double standards, corruption and nepotism can further deepen as the charter referendum gets closer.





Updates on Somsak and LINE

12 04 2016

A couple of updates of record.

First, several outlets have reported the good news that Dr Somsak Jeamteerasakul, currently in political exile in France, has seen the Central Administrative Court rule that his dismissal by Thammasat University without pension and other benefits “was unlawful, thus reinstating Somsak’s status as a lecturer at Thammasat.” The university may appeal, which would be retrograde and spiteful.

Second, New Mandala has tracked down the “offending” LINE “stickers” that recently caused a royalist kerfuffle. It has more information on these:

The set called “Silly Family” featured 41 stickers cleverly poking fun at the politically controversial clan. In Thailand, critical public discussion of the family has been banned under the nation’s notorious and harsh lese majeste laws.

The satirical set depicts Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn competing for their father’s attention and squabbling over the throne. It also portrays Princess Chulabhorn next to a chemistry set underneath the caption “Trust Me”, referencing her numerous and questionable honorary degrees in the field, as well as featuring the Crown Prince’s spoiled poodle Foo Foo.