Reflexive denial I

5 03 2017

We earlier posted from the annual US State Department’s human rights report on Thailand.

These days, the military dictatorship responds to negative human rights allegations and reports in a reflexive way. It denies and lies.

A report at the Bangkok Post is the latest example of this unthinking and deceitful response. This time it is from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which operates now at the level equivalent with the official spokesmen of the junta.

The Foreign Ministry covers for the regime’s failures, stating:

The report is an exercise carried out unilaterally by the United States of America to present the situation in Thailand from an outside perspective. Many of the concerns, statistics and case studies cited in the report come from unidentified or unverified sources….

The Ministry is saying believe us and our military dictatorship over any other sources.

The “unidentified or unverified sources” are mainly reports from local NGOs with long experience of the issues they deal with. As far as we can tell, almost all points made in the US report have been reported in the local media as well (for how the dictatorship is screwing the media, read this report).

The Ministry engages in propaganda for the military regime:

The government is committed to the implementation of the roadmap towards achieving sustained democracy, social harmony and lasting stability … Laws and orders that have been issued by virtue of the Interim Constitution have the objectives of preserving public order and solving problems that have been long overdue and could not otherwise be addressed with ordinary legislation….

Actually, they mean “sustainable democracy,” which is a non-democratic political system controlled by the military, the royalist elite and the monarchy itself. Using “laws and orders that have been issued by virtue of the Interim Constitution” is acknowledging that the military dictatorship makes up its laws that mean it can do anything it wants and call it “lawful.”

That’s what military dictatorships do.

It then states: “the government [they mean the junta] exercises this power only when necessary, with prudence and in the best interest of the nation.” Article 44 has been used umpteen times to do minor things like make administrative changes to a broader use to repress regime opponents and to run operations against “seditious” monks. It uses its self-granted powers to repress and to give itself and its minions impunity.

That’s what military dictatorships do.

Oddly, while rejecting that which it deems anti-regime, the Ministry “saw a bright side to the report, saying it recorded advancement in several areas such as gender equality, combating trafficking in persons, and lifting of prosecution of civilians under military jurisdiction.”

Presumably those bits of the report weren’t “carried out unilaterally” or from “an outside perspective” and did not use “statistics and case studies … from unidentified or unverified sources.”

2016 State Department human rights report

5 03 2017

PPT thinks that human rights are probably not going to be anywhere near the top or even the middle of what passes for President Trump’s foreign policy agenda. So the US State Department’s 2016 report on human rights might be the last that tries to be a comprehensive review as seen from the United States.

The country report for Thailand is pretty much as expected, although the State Department does regularly under-report on human rights violations in Thailand and does so in a rather glib manner. Here’s some clips from some 60+ pages:

Reports continued, although less than in previous years, that security forces at times used excessive and lethal force against criminal suspects and committed or were involved in extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings….

Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and legal entities reported police and military officers sometimes tortured and beat suspects to obtain confessions, and newspapers reported numerous cases of citizens accusing police and other security officers of brutality….

In fact, torture is standard practice.

The military government held some civilian suspects at military detention facilities….

NCPO Order 2/2558 grants the military authority to detain persons without charge or trial for up to seven days. Military officials frequently invoked this authority. According to OHCHR the military government summoned, arrested, and detained approximately 1,500 persons since the 2014 coup. Prior to releasing detainees, military authorities often required them to sign documents affirming they were treated well, would refrain from political activity, and would seek authorization prior to travel outside the local area. According to human rights groups, authorities often denied access to detainees by family members and attorneys. Military authorities threatened those who failed to respond to summonses with prison and seizure of assets….

Emergency decree provisions make it very difficult to challenge a detention before a court. Under the decree detainees have access to legal counsel, but there was no assurance of prompt access to counsel or family members, nor were there transparent safeguards against the mistreatment of detainees. Moreover, the decree effectively provides broadly based immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liability for officials acting under its provisions….

The law gives military forces authority over civilian institutions, including police, regarding the maintenance of public order. NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March, 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.”…

Procedures for investigating suspicious deaths, including deaths occurring in police custody, require a prosecutor, forensic pathologist, and local administrator to participate in the investigation and that, in most cases, family members have legal representation at the inquests. Authorities often failed to follow these procedures. Families rarely took advantage of a provision of law that allows them to sue police for criminal action during arrests….

Human rights groups remained concerned about the NCPO’s influence on independent judicial processes, particularly the practice of prosecuting some civilians in military courts….

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. On September 12, 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. At the time of the order, the NCPO explained that approximately 500 pending civilian cases would continue in military courts, as would any other cases in which the alleged crimes were committed before September 12. According to government and NGO sources, from May 2014 to May, military courts initiated at least 1,546 cases against civilians involving at least 1,811 persons, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste, defaming or insulting the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives.

Military courts do not provide the same legal protections for civilian defendants as do civilian criminal courts. Military courts do not afford civilian defendants rights outlined by the interim constitution or the 2016 constitution to a fair and public hearing by a competent, impartial, and independent tribunal.

The NCPO routinely detained those who expressed political views (see section 1.d.). As of March the Department of Corrections reported there were 103 persons detained or imprisoned in the country under lese majeste laws that outlaw criticism of the monarchy (see section 2.a.). Human rights groups claimed the prosecutions and convictions of several lese majeste offenders were politically motivated….

Yes, that’s as far as the State Department is willing to go. Sadly deficient and spineless.

The NCPO enforced limits on free speech and expression using a variety of regulations and criminal provisions….

The NCPO also invoked criminal sedition statutes to restrict political speech….

Senior government officials routinely made statements critical of media. Media operators also complained of harassment and monitoring….

The government continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and censored online content….

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….

The military government continued the process of revising secondary and primary school textbooks and increased instruction on patriotic themes….

Invoking authority under Article 44 of the interim constitution, coup leaders prohibited political gatherings of five or more persons and penalized persons supporting any political gatherings….

The interim constitution set the framework for the adoption of a new constitution but did not provide citizens the ability to choose their government peacefully….

There have been no elections since the 2014 coup….

The interim constitution did not contain provisions providing for the right of freedom of association or the right to bargain collectively….

There’s a lot more. Despite the State Department’s reticence and dull tone, it is a sad read.

Clowns and spokesmen

8 04 2016

The longer it stays in power, the more repressive the military dictatorship becomes. At the same time, as it faces quite mild opposition it becomes angry and more ridiculous. Red dipper bowls and garlic-inspired incantations are recent examples.

Of course, these two bizarre events are related by the junta’s view that everything they don’t like in the world is because of Thaksin Shinawatra, and they just wish they could be rid of him, because everything, including the drought, is his fault. They dream of a wonderful time when, without Thaksin, they think, Thailand would be harmonious, monarchy-loving and hierarchical as of yore. They think the people would love them and everyone would know their appropriate slot in their hierarchy.

This is a long way to getting to a Bangkok Post report that has the junta responding to US criticism. The report states that it “has hit back at the US State Department over criticism of the regime’s order giving soldiers police-like powers to arrest and detain criminal suspects.” Well, that reporting is a bit off. It actually gives powers beyond police powers, such as searches without warrants.

Nasty clownThe US State Department was mild in its criticism.

In response, “Government spokesman [Major General] Sansern Kaewkamnerd yesterday said the order is intended to allow soldiers to support police efforts to crack down on ‘mafia’ and ‘influential criminal figures’ more efficiently.” Everyone, even the junta members, know this is horse manure. But Sansern donned a clown’s outfit – metaphorically – to go further with some commentary that was so far-fetched that he must have been clowning around.

Sansern juggled two balls in one hand and frightened small children by advising the US State Department “to study the order carefully before making any comments. Ill-judged remarks could cast the US in a bad light…”. What a joker!

Sansern represents a murderous military that illegally assumed power after planning and supporting the overthrow of an elected government, a government that hands out 60 years sentences for lese majeste, imprisons people for speaking ill of dead kings, royal pets and for truthful criticism. He represents a regime that aggregates power to itself, installs puppet legislatures, uses military courts, threatens students and bans eating sandwiches, three finger salutes and reading books as national security threats. Sansern represents viscous thugs planning to control Thailand for years to come. Who is in a “bad light”? Thailand is in a place where the light doesn’t shine.

The Major General also “warned the US not to receive distorted information from ‘public relations companies’ he alleged were hired by some groups with ill-intentions toward Thailand.” He means Thaksin.

This is a claim with a long pedigree among Thailand’s anti-democrats. They seem to believe that people in other countries cannot read newspapers, blogs, academic articles and gain an understanding of Thailand’s murderous regime. The regime is murderous but supremely ignorant. So ignorant are they that we can conclude that Thailand is run by some very nasty clowns.

Talking with the junta

5 04 2016

The New York Times has an AP report that has the United States urging “Thailand to limit the role of its powerful military after the ruling junta gave military officers new police-like powers to arrest and detain criminal suspects.” We guess that “Thailand” means the military junta in this context as it is the only group with any political power in Thailand today.

The State Department is indeed correct to have “voiced concern that Thai authorities issued an order extending the internal policing authorities of the military to seize assets, search premises, and summon, arrest, and interrogate civilians.”

Where we got lost was on a statement by Katina Adams, State Department spokeswoman for East Asia who reportedly said: “We continue to urge the Thai government to limit the role of the military in internal policing and to allow civilian authorities to carry out their duties…. This includes returning the prosecutions of civilians to civilian courts and providing adequate due process and fair trial protections.”

There’s a problem here. There is essentially no distinction that can be made between the “Thai government” and the military junta. To ask the military government to “limit the role of the military” is like asking a bank robber to consider stealing less money. Thailand is a military dictatorship. The military state is embedding itself ever more deeply, and it makes no sense for the United States State Department to distinguish between government and military.

Equally confusing is the AP report’s citing of Human Rights Watch on General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s dictatorship. AP feels the need to render this as “dictatorship.” This implies that there is debate on this term. There shouldn’t be. Thailand remains the world’s only state currently ruled by a military junta. Ipso facto, it is a military dictatorship.

We would hope that the various new agencies see not just the government as a dictatorship but the charter as the military’s tool for authoritarianism and the referendum campaign as a military propaganda exercise.

Cheering the dictatorship

28 09 2015

Shawn Crispin has long been based in Bangkok as a journalist. Most of his writing in recent years has been for the Asia Times Online. Much of it has been conspiratorial revelations based on anonymous sources.

In a recent article at The Diplomat, he turns his hand to Thai-U.S. relations. His basic point is the relationship needs some fixing as they have been strained by recent coups and the persistence of the military dictatorship. He says the new ambassador Glyn Davies, who has just arrived in Bangkok has a chance to be the fixer. The ambassador’s position has been vacant for almost a year.

From that basic point, Crispin proceeds to reproduce a milder version of the vitriol that infects rightist and royalist social media when spitting at the U.S. for not sticking by the warped royalist vision of Thailand, something the U.S. has done since the 1950s.

Crispin sates that “[o]utgoing U.S. ambassador Kristie Kenney staked out a hard line against the coup, a position the State Department has maintained on democratic principle to the detriment of the wider strategic relationship.”

That might seem reasonable when Thailand is the world’s only country currently ruled by a military junta. But this is not Crispin’s view. He alleges that “Kenney’s stance has so far outweighed the views of Thailand specialists in Washington who have called for a more nuanced approach to guard the United States’ considerable economic and strategic interests in the country.”

Frankly, we do not know which “Thailand specialists” Crispin speaks with. As usual, he does not name any. In fact, some of the old guard in Washington are confused by State’s position. These conservatives have long had palace connections and hobnobbed with the elite. Others have maintained close relations with the military from the days when the U.S. rented the Thai military. Many academic specialists and the younger, more broadly connected State officials know more about contemporary Thailand than the old duffers and are thus more critical of military and royalist fascism.

Crispin refers to the U.S. having had “a series of less distinguished and sometimes disinterested envoys” in Thailand. He adds that “[m]any officials and analysts in Bangkok argue that former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph ‘Skip’ Boyce, a fluent Thai speaker with top connections across the political spectrum, was the last top American diplomat to see clearly through the country’s complex, personality-driven politics.”

He’s factually wrong and ideologically-driven in these claims. Again, no one is named. Kenney is a career diplomat who has been Ambassador in Ecuador, the Philippines and Thailand. She is currently a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. PPT didn’t always like what she did, but she was anything but disinterested and could not be considered “less distinguished” than Boyce, who only ever held one ambassadorship.

Boyce was replaced as Ambassador to Thailand by Eric John, whose CV looks very similar to that of Boyce.

What marked John and Kenney as different from Boyce was that they did not lodge themselves exclusively on the rabid yellow side of politics. Wikileaks cables clearly show Boyce’s remarkable royalist bias and John’s questioning of the old elite, refusing to accept the usual positions. Like John, Kenney had far wider contacts than Boyce. It was this difference that marked them for attack by the rabid yellow right.

What is useful in Crispin’s report is the revelation of the efforts by the royalist elite to re-capture the U.S. Ambassador, a la Boyce:

Prior to his arrival in Bangkok, Davies received personal calls from Privy Councilors, royal advisors to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, welcoming his appointment, according to a source familiar with the communications. (In one of his first moves as ambassador, Davies on Friday visited the Grand Palace to pay respects and wish good health to the king.)

Obviously, the palace meddlers are keen to re-establish the U.S. relationship as theirs. Crispin goes on:

That royal treatment contrasts with Kenney’s initial reception in 2010, where she was scolded by Privy Council President and long-time U.S. ally Prem Tinsulonanda for the leak of confidential U.S. cables, including one that detailed a meeting he and other royal advisors held with Boyce to discuss sensitivities around the royal succession. It’s unclear if that meeting, which Kenney later described to confidantes as among the toughest of her career, colored her diplomacy in favor of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her family clan’s affiliated ‘Red Shirt’ pressure group.

Notice Crispin’s accusation of bias against Kenney but his silence on the captured Boyce. The notion that Kenney was biased in favor of red shirts is little more than a repetition of yellow-shirt social media vitriol. The bias of Boyce is in the record and in his own words.

Crispin then makes the case for military rule: “While the United States has publicly pushed for a rapid restoration of democracy, it has no doubt by now dawned on American policymakers that [The Dictator] Prayut intends to stay in power until the [royal] succession is secure.”

BreadThe point seems to be that the U.S. should accept this succession repression and royalist hegemony until the king dies. This sounds like Crispin as spokesman for the military and royalist elite. His bread seems buttered.

The problem with such advocacy is that the junta may decide to stay on for years after that, to manage the succession and long period of mourning. Still, that’s what some of these advocates seem to prefer.

US still wrong on lese majeste

29 06 2015

PPT has, each year, been critical of the U.S. State Department’s report on human rights for failing to acknowledge that the lese majeste law is a political law and that almost all of those held under this law are political prisoners. This year (referring to 2014), the report moves a little closer, but still can’t accept that lese majeste is used for explicitly political purposes and for political repression. This is what the report says:

Political Prisoners and Detainees112
Prior to the May 22 coup, there were no government reports of political prisoners or detainees, but sources estimated that 20 persons remained detained under lese majeste laws that outlaw criticism of the monarchy (see section 2.a.). Some of the cases involved persons exercising their rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Following the May 22 coup, the military government opened at least 15 new lese majeste cases for investigation as of September, while authorities also revived other cases in which officials had not previously filed charges.

International concern

5 02 2014

Many readers will already know that the U.S. government has expressed concerns regarding anti-democratic actions in Thailand regarding the election:

The United States has warned against any moves to stage a military coup in Thailand and said it was “concerned that political tensions” are challenging the nation’s democracy.

“We certainly do not want to see a coup or violence … in any case of course. We are speaking directly to all elements in Thai society to make clear the importance of using democratic and constitutional means to resolve political differences,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after anti-government protesters tried to disrupt Sunday’s election.

While there had been “peaceful and orderly polling” in most areas “there were also disturbing incidents of violence on the eve of the election”, as well as efforts to block voters getting to the polls, she said.

“We remain concerned that political tensions in Thailand are posing challenges to the democratic institutions and processes of Thailand,” Psaki said. “We certainly don’t take sides … but we continue to urge all sides to commit to sincere dialogue to resolve political differences peacefully and democratically.”

Now the U.N. Secretary-General has also expressed his concerns:


New York, Feb 4 2014 10:00AM

Concerned that some Thai people were unable to vote after national elections were reportedly disrupted by protests over the weekend, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue, and underscored that any actions that undermine democratic processes cannot be condoned.

“While he recognizes the complexity of the situation and that some chose not to participate in the election, the Secretary-General is concerned that a number of Thai people were not able to exercise their right to vote,” said a note to correspondents issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson last evening. Noting that the UN chief is closely following the developments in Thailand, the note reiterated Mr. Ban’s call for political differences to be solved through dialogue and in the best interest of the Thai people.

“Any action that undermines democratic processes and hinder the democratic right of the Thai people cannot be condoned,” said the note, adding that the Secretary-General encourages all Thais and political leaders in particular to move towards a political solution based on dialogue, compromise and respect for democratic principles.

While there may be “complexity,” both statements are made all the more stark by their simple rendering of basic facts about democratic principles.

No doubt the anti-democrats will proclaim a conspiracy against Thailand funded by an evil devil, and this conspiracy will be supported by the extremist bloggers from the U.S. who have become anti-democratic idols.

Debating lese majeste and responses to it

4 02 2013

Saksith Saiyasombut at Siam Voices has a very useful post summarizing the debates that have arisen regarding lese majeste since the sentencing of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk.

He mentions the strong international reaction, including one by the U.S. State Department that PPT hadn’t previously seen. Also mentioned is the spineless response by those in Thailand who should be concerned, including the  such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Thai Journalists’ Association.

Football Somyos

Picture from Siam Voices, where the credit is: via Twitter/@Anuthee.

He also mentions some of the domestic reaction, including the widely publicized demonstration at the:

… football match between the universities of Thammasat and Chulalongkorn on Saturday, students (including Somyot’s son) from both sides were seen showing a large banner in the stands saying “FREE SOMYOT” and protesting around the stadium. The public protest happened in the opening ceremony – from which they were forbidden to participate – where giant paper-mache figures lampoon political figures, which was obviously this year prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Add to this the actions by Chiang Mai students similarly demonstrating and a range of other protests, including a constant barrage of events and actions seen at Facebook and other social media, and it is seen that outrage is being expressed quite vigorously.

Saksith also mentions the debate over lese majeste at and about the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. On the debate held there, a useful link is made to a transcript of the statement by the self-lampooning royalist Tul Sitthisomwong. On the raging controversy regarding the FCCT itself, Saksith states:

There’s been some controversy that the FCCT did not issue a statement on the Somyot verdict – understandable, since the club board has been targeted with a lèse majesté complaint in the past that was utterly politically motivated. However, the club itself defended their decision on the night of the panel discussion by saying that the FCCT is a club and not a journalist’s association.

For PPT the most basic point is that the FCCT has sidestepped its own claims on freedom of expression. Being part-time defenders of this freedom sets a dangerous precedent and, as royalist Tul explains in his comments linked above, it gives succor to the lese majeste defenders:

I am Dr. Tul Sittisomwong from the group of „Citizen Protecting Homeland“ including the monarchy that the Thai people love…. I want to be here, invited by the FCCT and (I am) so relieved that the FFCT [sic]. won’t have any statement about this sensitive issue. That will be a big thing after the EU.

The debate on the FCCT continues at New Mandala and at ZenJournalist, where even PPT is chastised for recalling that “the FCCT bravely put on talks by lese majeste opponents,” while posting about the FCCT sadly ducking the issue of freedom of expression and the draconian sentencing of Somyos.

Shackling and fettering

20 12 2012

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk shackled in 2012

There’s a brief story at The Nation that caught PPT’s attention. In it, National Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pithakwatchara has “voiced concern about the use of fettering and its impact on human dignity.”

Apparently the “rules” that are currently used demand that “the fettering of all male inmates aged not over 60 to prevent any attempt at jailbreak or suicide.”

Niran seemed to think that  there was concern “[a]t the international level.” All lese majeste prisoners under 60 years are shackled on every court appearance.

Niran also raised issues regarding the health care provided to inmates, noting that lese majeste convict Ampol Tangnopakul died in jail earlier in 2012.

Joe Gordon in chains in 2011

Joe Gordon in chains in 2011

He also mentioned the case of Ampon Tangnoppakul, who died while serving a jail term for a lese-majeste offence earlier this year: “Niran pointed out that the Corrections Department might have failed to take care of Ampon’s health well enough.”

Harry Nicolaides in chains in 2009

Harry Nicolaides in leg irons in 2009

The Corrections Department’s senior executive Lawan Ornsamlee “explained that prisoners were only handcuffed at correctional facilities.” In 2011, the U.S. State Department stated: “Authorities also used heavy leg irons to control prisoners who were deemed escape risks or possibly dangerous to other prisoners.” She added that: “Only convicts held on grave offences are fettered by both ankles and wrists…”.

She continued to explain that: “Other prisoners were fettered in the same way only when they travelled out of correctional facilities.”

Lese majeste is deemed not a libel or a defamation but a “grave offense.” As the Constitutional Court has it, lese majeste is so serious that it threatens the very foundations of the state!

Limited Debate on Thailand

27 07 2010

A bit off PPT’s usual tack, but a story in The Nation caught our attention. It has a report on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment hearing on Thailand’s political crisis that led to the House of Representatives bland and non-binding Resolution 1321 that was supported by almost all. This was back on 10 June, and the story probably reflects the fact that journalist just got around to reading the statements. The opening statement by Eni F.H. Faleomavaega is revealing of the intent of the sponsor.

One of the interesting points is that a “panel of Asian/Thai academic experts” is mentioned as providing testimony. They were: Dr Richard Cronin of the Stimson Centre (his statement is here), Dr Karl Jackson who is a professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University (see his testimony) and Catharin Dalpino, visiting associate professor and director of the Thai Studies Program at Georgetown University (statement). They were joined by Scot Marciel of the State Department.

By the way, it is better to read their statements/evidence than to rely on The Nation’s report. There’s also a webcast and this seems to be The Nation’s reference, but PPT can’t get it to work.

For PPT, one interesting thing here is that only relatively conservative commentators were at the hearings and yet they came up with mildly divergent views. At the same time, they pussyfoot around, with barely a mention of the monarchy in their statements. A second point is that each of these speakers is a kind of policy, inside-the-beltway policy people who are not really Thailand experts. None of them has produced major political analysis on Thailand. What has happened to Thai studies in the U.S.? Where are the political scientists? There are some – for example, Allen Hicken at Michigan, Kevin Hewison at UNC-Chapel Hill, Danny Unger at NIU – but their views are not heard. PPT can only wonder why this is when these specialist academics have written extensively on recent politics.

It is noticeable that, since the Cold War/Vietnam War days, Thai studies in the U.S. has been in decline. That’s a shame but the recent crisis may at least have more students thinking that Thailand is a place worthy of critical study.

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