Updated: A sorry story of military repression

24 04 2018

We all know that Thailand is under the military boot. The US State Department’s 2017 human rights report is now out and chronicles some aspects of the natur of military repression. We summarize and quote some parts of the report below. A general statement worth considering is this:

In addition to limitations on civil liberties imposed by the NCPO, the other most significant human rights issues included: excessive use of force by government security forces, including harassing or abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detention by government authorities; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces…; corruption; sexual exploitation of children; and trafficking in persons.

As the report notes:

Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect during the year. NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, grants the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.”

The military junta continues to detain civilians in military prisons. Some prisoners are still shackled in heavy chains.

Impunity and torture are mentioned several times as a major issue. This is important when it is noted that the number of “suspects” killed by authorities doubled in 2017.

Approximately 2,000 persons have been summoned, arrested and detained by the regime, including academics, journalists, politicians and activists. There are also “numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the military government.” Frighteningly,

NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March 2016, grants military officers with the rank of lieutenant and higher power to summon, arrest, and detain suspects; conduct searches; seize assets; suspend financial transactions; and ban suspects from traveling abroad in cases related to 27 criminal offenses, including extortion, human trafficking, robbery, forgery, fraud, defamation, gambling, prostitution, and firearms violation. The order also grants criminal, administrative, civil, and disciplinary immunity to military officials executing police authority in “good faith.”

Too often detainees are prevented from having legal representation and are refused bail.

The use of military courts continues:

In a 2014 order, the NCPO redirected prosecutions for offenses against the monarchy, insurrection, sedition, weapons offenses, and violation of its orders from civilian criminal courts to military courts. In September 2016 the NCPO ordered an end to the practice, directing that offenses committed by civilians after that date would no longer be subject to military court jurisdiction. According to the Judge Advocate General’s Office, military courts initiated 1,886 cases involving at least 2,408 civilian defendants since the May 2014 coup, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives. As of October approximately 369 civilian cases involving up to 450 individual defendants remained pending before military courts.

On lese majeste, the reports cites the Department of Corrections that says “there were 135 persons detained or imprisoned…”.

Censorship by the junta is extensive, with the regime having “restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it [national security and the monarchy], and media widely practiced self-censorship.” It is added that the junta “continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet and routinely censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.” In dealing with opponents and silencing them, the junta has used sedition charges.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression are extensive against those it deems political activists. This repression extends to the arts and academy:

The NCPO intervened to disrupt academic discussions on college campuses, intimidated scholars, and arrested student leaders critical of the coup. Universities also practiced self-censorship…. In June [2017] soldiers removed artwork from two Bangkok galleries exhibiting work depicting the 2010 military crackdown on protesters, which authorities deemed a threat to public order and national reconciliation.

It is a sorry story.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a timely editorial on torture in Thailand. Usually it is the police and military accused and guilty. This time it is the Corrections Department, which runs almost all of Thailand’s prisons. All these officials are cut from the same cloth.





Pawning bling?

31 12 2017

Fourth Army commander Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich has claimed “10 local politicians for allegedly being ‘partly’ responsible for the southern unrest…”. There’s no information on who they are or their party affiliation, but the Army has “talked with them…”.

But never fear for the junta is on top of things.

Deputy Dictator Prawit Wongsuwan, or General Bling, is reported to have “approved a proposal to set up more state-run pawnshops in southern border areas…”.

Lt Gen Piyawat reckons the “idea” for more pawnshops was hatched while he was watching Pawn Stars because “the government has information that some of the assailants carrying out attacks in the deep South critically needed money to pay for their children’s schooling at the start of a new school term.” He claimed “[m]ore pawnshops could provide short-term solutions for those who desperately need cash.”

We think Prawit needs more places to pawn his large collection of luxurious watches.





Going to the goats

29 11 2017

Prime Minister and junta boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha went south in what some say was a campaign trip and a publicity exercise.

It did not go well.

The Dictator’s mobile cabinet meeting took him to Pattani and Songkhla where many promises were made and billions of baht in infrastructure and other projects highlighted.

Listening but not hearing

With his jet black Chinese Politburo hair and Prem Tinsulanonda-style, “royally-bestowed,” but invented “traditional” suea phraratchathan looked suitably 1980s as he campaigned for his “election,” whenever he decides to bestow one on the Thai people.

The Dictator promised to do something about falling rubber prices. Interestingly, because of their political profile in supporting anti-democrats and The Dictator’s military coup, the rubber growers seem to have Prayuth on a string. Thailand’s rubber price follows market prices which were high earlier in the year. The Dictator wants to shore up his political support among growers.

After those efforts, things went south.

General Prayuth seemed to throw doubt on local elections, telling “local administrative organisations not to merely focus on elections…”.

The police and military lit into 500 protesters opposing a coal-fired power plant project in Songkhla’s Thepha district. With images of the authorities pushing people to the ground, “16 people, including four leaders, of the  were arrested Monday after their rally resulted in three injuries during a clash with police.”

Can that one vote?

Many of the protesters also fall into the groups that (previously) supported the junta and the coup. They are now finding out what it means to be considered oppositional. Predictably, The Dictator defended the authorities and their violence.

The Dictator was also short-tempered with potential voters and was accused of being deaf to locals. Worse, The Dictator and his “government” were “perceived as ‘unfriendly’ to residents.”

In another incident, The Dictator launched a pail of “vitriol at a fisherman during his visit in Pattana’s Nong Chik district on Monday when Paranyu Charoen, a 34-year-old fisherman, asked the prime minister to change fishing regulations to increase the number of days that fisherman can put to sea.”

Prayuth’s PR people soon apologized “for his foul temper.”

The Democrat Party sought to make political mileage, saying Prayuth did not understand “the problems of fishermen…”.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist and devout yellow shirt Chaiyan Chaiyaporn warned the junta “to abstain from being a political player.”

It is a bit late for that. What he means is that the junta should not get involved in political campaigning so that it may continue to dominate politics following any “election.”





Nothing changed III

8 04 2017

The Nation looks at the widespread bombing campaign in the south and states that the “super sleuths” in the military and police are probing a “link between multiple bombings and promulgation of the new constitution…”.

The Bangkok Post reports on how extensive the bombings were, targeting power poles and bridges.

These geniuses have detected that “people in the predominantly Muslim region rejected the charter during the referendum last year” and consider that makes them all suspects.

One of the junta’s men, Deputy National Police Commissioner Pol General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, reckoned there was no link. This was just separatists going about their work: “In my opinion, the attacks were not related to national politics. With simultaneous attacks, it is quiet clear that the attackers must have been from a big gang…”. Brilliant!

And these separatists don’t think about symbolism and national events that the junta manufactures for its own political purposes. They could not possibly have thought about the junta’s decision to link the promulgation of its constitution and Chakri Day.

Meanwhile, the junta’s post-“election” regime is being negotiated. There’s no surprise that the party closest to the junta: Bhum Jai Thai Party.

If Wikileaks of several years ago is to be believed,and some of the relationships it meantions have dissolved, Bhum Jai Thai Party may also be the choice of the king.

Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul said he was confident Thailand would now return to democratic rule with the King as head of state.

His party now has 12 to 18 months to prepare for the upcoming polls in line with the regulations laid out under the new charter, he said.

Mr Anutin said his party will work on fine-tuning the details of four key policies that will be of the most benefit to the general public in the lead-up to the poll.

It is necessary for Bhumjaithai to field its candidates in all constituencies because all votes carry weight under the new charter, he added.

Referring to his relationship with the other political parties, he said Bhumjaithai is not in conflict with any of them.

The election results will dictate whether or not the party decides to join a coalition government, he added.

“We are ready to serve in any role,” Mr Anutin said.

Royalist “liberals” are already supporting the junta’s “road map,” suggesting its better to have a junta constitution and civilianized and military-dominated “elected” regime than a military dictatorship. But even they note that the “ceremony” for the constitution, arranged by palace and junta, means that this constitution will be difficult to change:

… as the royal ceremony surrounding the promulgation was timed to usher in a new reign in an auspicious manner, this means it may be hard to come up with a completely new and more balanced charter. This charter, in other words, now has some staying power, although all of its 19 precursors were eventually upended.

Whatever changes that are needed to rebalance the lopsided appointments system and popular representation may have to be done through amendments because this charter now carries more weight. Democratic aspirations in the charter will have to be expressed by way of amendments rather than a complete rewrite for the foreseeable future.

In fact, changing the 2007 constitution was relatively easy in principle but impossible in practice. The military junta has sought to symbolically add to that impossibility. This military constitution is only likely to be changed by the military or if the military is deposed from its powerful pedestal.





Sounding familiar II

4 04 2017

With the top general in the Army claiming that “strict discipline” – inhumane beatings, torture and murder – are just “old habits” and that he wants the old habits gone, you have to wonder if he’s suggesting he can change a routinized and standard practice that exists to maintain hierarchy and is done with impunity.

Meanwhile, sounding all too familiar and also like standard practice protected by impunity, Prachatai reports that “[s]oldiers and paramilitary officers in Rueso District of Narathiwat on 29 March 2017 summarily killed Isma-ae Hama, 28, and Aseng Useng, 30.”

The police have again come out to protect soldiers. They say:

Region 4 Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the two resisted arrest and exchanged gunfire with officers, adding that they were allegedly involved in the shooting on 2 March 2017, which killed four people, including an eight-year-old student.

Civil society groups say this is buffalo manure and “have urged an end to the culture of impunity…”.

There’s only one civilian witness, a 13 year-old sister of Isma-ae, who has stated that “the two were unarmed when they were shot. She said the car her brother was driving was halted by officers who shot them shortly after they stepped out of the car.”

No drugs, grenades or knives this time. At least the “authorities” have not made this claim as yet.





UN Human Rights Committee findings

29 03 2017

The UN Human Rights Committee has published its findings on the civil and political rights record of countries it examined during its latest session. These findings are officially known as “concluding observations.” They contain “positive aspects of the respective State’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and also main matters of concern and recommendations.”

All of the reports generated for Thailand’s review, including the Concluding Observations are available for download.

The Committee report begins by welcoming Thailand’s “submission of the second period report of Thailand, albeit 6 years late, and the information contained therein.”

There are 44 paragraphs of concerns and recommendations. There’s a lot in it: refugees, enforced disappearances, Article 44, freedom of expression, torture, constitutional issues, arbitrary detention, the National Human Rights Commission, military courts, problems in the south, repression during the constitutional referendum, defamation, computer crimes, sedition and much more.

We just cite the comments on lese majeste:

37. The Committee is concerned that criticism and dissention regarding the royal family is punishable with a sentence of three to fifteen years imprisonment; and about reports of a sharp increase in the number of people detained and prosecuted for this crime since the military coup and about extreme sentencing practices, which result in some cases in dozens of years of imprisonment (article 19).

38. The State party should review article 112 of the Criminal Code, on publicly offending the royal family, to bring it into line with article 19 of the Covenant. Pursuant to its general comment No. 34 (2011), the Committee reiterates that the imprisonment of persons for exercising their freedom of expression violates article 19.  





Coal back down or back on?

2 03 2017

The military junta appears to many as somewhat befuddled by the coal issue in Krabi. That said, it could be read as being duplicitous, which would be par for the military course.

A couple of days ago, the Bangkok Post reported that The Dictator “ordered the halted environmental and health impact assessment processes for the Krabi coal-fired power plant project to be scrapped…”. That’s what the protesters had demanded, threatening to again rally if the junta didn’t do this.

Indeed, one of the junta’s spokesmen stated that General Prayuth Chan-ocha dumped the process “out of concern that without the cancellation, there might be some issues with public participation in deciding which fuel source was best suited for the controversial project.” He means they feared having political allies protest.

The Bangkok Post also reported The Dictator as saying something quite remarkable: “the public must be allowed to have their say.” That’s potentially a first. But he does it for political allies and he probably expects to be able to control the process.

But then he declared that public “forums will not focus on issues relating to the controversial coal-fired power plant so as to avoid any conflicts.” So there will be forums but not discussing the issue at hand….

Yet another report in the Bangkok Post states that the junta has been working to “improve the public’s understanding about new environmental and health impact assessments needed for the Krabi coal-fired power plant project, saying they have to be completed within a month from now.”

That will be the quickest EHIA in history. So it will be crafted to meet the junta’s desires and political concerns.

This Post report also suggests that some locals have different perspectives from those “leading” the earlier protests in Bangkok and showing less “trust” in the junta.