Can the Puea Thai Party change?

28 10 2013

In our last post we commented on the Democrat Party’s apparent incapacity for change. In this post, we ask if the governing Puea Thai Party can change. Can it be diverted from a path that will damage the party? Can it reduce its apparent capacity for self-harm?

Both the official red shirt leadership and rank-and-file red shirts seem united in their opposition to the nonsensical changes proposed for the amnesty law, although their opposition may focus on slightly different aspects of the bill.

At the Bangkok Post, there is a useful report of the Red Sunday Group, which mobilized more than 200 people on Sunday at Rajaprasong to oppose the government’s  amnesty proposal.

Red Sunday “voiced particular opposition to the amnesty for Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Surat Thani Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban…”.

Sombat Boonngamanong “said the party’s move to provide a wholesale amnesty was beyond his understanding and ran against the red shirts’ stance.” He made an excellent point:

“Thaksin and other party leaders fail to explain to their supporters what is really behind this compromise deal. They must tell us. Politics can no longer be kept exclusive and dictated by back-door negotiators,” Mr Sombat said.

Sombat urged red shirts to rally: “More people will come out on the street if the party defies the will of the red shirts who shed blood and tears to put it into power…”.

Historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul claimed that “red shirts felt cheated as they had shown full support for the Worachai [Hema amnesty] bill which was later changed.”

Former lese majeste convict Suchart Nakbangsai demanded that “lese majeste offenders should also be included in the deal.”

Different ideas, but the same message: this amnesty is a lose-lose situation for the Puea Thai Party. It risks losing the support of red shirts and it will see demonstrations by the broader opposition of anti-Thaksin Shinawatra yellow shirts.

The way out is for Thaksin to disown the amended proposal and remember his promise to red shirts on the Worachai proposal. A return to that amnesty draft will preserve the Puea Thai Party’s electoral base.

Can Thaksin and the party display collective good sense and political savvy?

The monarchy, freedom and democracy

1 05 2013

The US Department of State has released its Human Rights Report for 2012. PPT was alerted to this by a story at the Bangkok Post that referred to this report as “a highly critical report detailing … Thailand’s human rights failings.” It added that: “Observers noted this year’s report was more rounded and detailed, especially regarding the southern insurgency.”

Indeed, on our first skim of the report, released a week ago, it does seem somewhat better than its somewhat bland and repetitive reports of recent years. PPT has been especially critical of the State Department’s reports for their failure on lese majeste and the existence of political prisoners. Indeed, last year we commented on a:

hopelessly, probably deliberately, deceitful U.S. “human rights” report for Thailand in 2011. If it wasn’t deliberately deceitful, then we imagine that everyone on the Thailand desk at the Department of State and in the Embassy in Bangkok has been lobotomized to the extent that they are deaf, dumb and blind on lese majeste and other political prisoners in Thailand.

This year there is a change. As in previous years, there are useful comments on a range of issues including officials’ impunity, the use of emergency and other special laws and a range of abuses by security forces and local defence volunteers in the south. That list is disturbing reading. As the Post has it:

Security forces, the report said, were guilty of using excessive force, including killing, torturing and otherwise abusing suspects, detainees and prisoners.

PPT wants to highlight some of the report’s comments on politics, monarchy, lese majeste and political prisoners, which we think represents an attempt to break out of the previous genuflecting to the royalist propagandists and flunkies who have previously shaped American official discourses on Thailand. We will just quote and highlight (with some of the headings added by us):

Red shirts: According to an advocacy group, as of December, 16 protesters jailed after the 2010 United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD or “Red Shirts”) protests remained in pretrial detention, charged with protest-related crimes such as rioting and arson. Lawyers affiliated with the UDD movement continued to pursue bail for these remaining detainees held in several provinces. According to a UDD-affiliated information center, of the 1,857 arrests related to the 2010 protests, authorities prosecuted 1,664 individuals as of December, and the courts dismissed 91 cases, sentenced 850 individuals to probation and/or fines, and imprisoned 220 for less than one year, 63 for one to three years, 10 for three to five years, 10 for five to 10 years, and 27 for more than 10 years. According to the Department of Special Investigations, of the 270 protest-related cases under its jurisdiction, it completed 216 investigations as of December, and trials in 62 cases continued at year’s end.

Lese majeste: A July 10 royal pardon allowed the release of dual-national Joe Gordon (also known as Lerpong Wichaikhammat), who was sentenced in December 2011 to two and one-half years’ in prison for lese-majeste offenses. On August 16, a mass pardon in honor of the birthdays of the crown prince (July 28) and the queen (August 12) led to the release of approximately 30,000 prisoners. On August 24, in honor of the queen’s birthday, Suchart Narkbangsai and Suriyan Kokpuai, who were both serving three-year sentences for lese-majeste convictions, received royal pardons and were released.

PPT isn’t quite sure how releasing lese majeste convicts a bit early is an “honor” for the anyone. Thailand’s royals should be ashamed – not honored – that this feudal law remains in place; they could easily have it done away with if they had sufficient honor.

Trials: While most trials are public, the court may order a closed trial, particularly in cases involving national security, the royal family, children, or sexual abuse.

PPT can’t help but wonder why the State Department didn’t point out that closing courts infringes Section 40 of the current constitution. In other words, a court may close its proceedings but in doing so is infringing Thailand’s basic law.

Political Prisoners and Detainees: There were no government reports of political prisoners or detainees; however, sources estimated that seven to 18 persons remained detained under lese-majeste laws that outlaw criticism of the monarchy…. Some of those cases involved persons exercising their rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

While this statement is something of a step forward for the State Department, it still makes serious errors. For example, the claim that there are no government reports of political prisoners is simply a stupid claim. After all, the government has established a special prison for political prisoners at Laksi. Indeed, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra mentioned political prisoners in a speech this week.

Freedom of Speech and Press: The international and independent media operated freely, except in coverage of matters deemed a threat to national security or offensive to the monarchy…. Journalists generally were free to comment on government activities and institutions without fear of official reprisal. Nonetheless, they occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly with regard to the monarchy and national security. For example, in April the Thai distributor of The Economist magazine withheld one issue because of a story about lese-majeste prosecutions…. The government imposed some restrictions on access to the Internet and reportedly monitored Internet chat rooms and social media without judicial oversight. Individuals and groups generally engaged in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail, although there were several limitations on content, such as lese majeste, pornography, and gambling…. The RTP Electronic Crime Suppression Division reported receiving 776 computer-related complaints during 2011 that resulted in 442 investigations–a complaint rate markedly greater than the 47 in 2009 or 285 in 2010. Most cases involved alleged defamation, lese majeste, and illegal activity such as gambling and pornography. Separately, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology operated the Cyber Security Operations Center to monitor and block Web sites. According to a report by the NGO iLaw, court orders officially blocked nearly 21,000 Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) during the year, 80 percent of which were related to lese majeste. Since passage of the 2007 Computer Crime Act, authorities blocked more than 102,000 URLs, 76 percent related to lese majeste.

From this list it is crystal clear that the major impediment to free speech is the monarchy, lese majeste and national security. Indeed, “national security” is usually defined n terms of the monarchy as well. Can it be said that, apart from the monarchy, Thailand is relatively free? It certainly seems that way.

And finally, this: The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal, compulsory suffrage.

How true is this? Yes, there are periodic elections, but there are also periodic military and judicial coups…. More to the point, Section 68 of the constitution effectively makes it illegal to advocate for a republic in Thailand. Again, the monarchy is an obstacle to full democratic freedoms.

Debating and damning lese majeste

5 02 2013

Mong Palatino at Global Voices has a useful post that summarizes some of the anti-112 actions and debates sparked by the cruel sentencing of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk.

There is a related story at the Bangkok Post about a new group that is challenging the lese majeste law. The report says they are “calling themselves the Alliance for People’s Democracy [กลุ่มแนวร่วมประชาธิปไตยภาคประชาชน (นปป)] – all wearing red shirts – gathered on Monday to challenge the judiciary’s interpretation of the lese majeste law.” It adds that “The gathering began with a few dozen participants and then swelled to at least 150…”. The group included former lese majeste convict Suchart Nakbangsai, who spoke to the crowd.

The group expressed concern regarding a warning by the Criminal Court chief judge that the court “has the right to prosecute and sentence those who comment on the court’s verdict on Somyot (such as controversial monarchy commentator Somsak Jeamteerasakul and others posting on the Internet) for contempt of court…. Their statement said these remarks by the chief justice undermined people’s confidence in the fairness of the courts.”

PPT thought that that “confidence” was already shot to pieces and that the courts are seen as unfair and politically partisan.

Are we being crazy optimistic or has this latest sentencing unleashed forces that cannot be contained?

Released lese majeste convicts

29 08 2012

Prachatai has a story with photos of the release of Suchart Nakbangsai or Worawut Thanangkorn and Suriyan Kokpuey  on 24 August 2012, following a pardon.

Family, friends and red shirt supporters including the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn, red shirt leader and Puea Thai Party MP Weng Tojirakan, other red shirts and several reporters.  After his release, Warawut waited to visit other political prisoners still imprisoned there and ordered food for them, while Suriyan and his parents went to Lak Si Prison to visit political prisoners there.

Worawut “told reporters that he would hold a talk show on 3 Nov to share the experiences of his anti-coup activities, prosecution and life in prison, with tickets priced at 112 and 2,000 baht.” That may make interesting listening, although PPT reckons that speaking openly is impossible in such cases.

Updated: Prachatai update on lese majeste prisoners

24 08 2012

Prachatai has a useful update on several prisoners currently held on lese majeste charges or convictions. It reports on two who are due for release, the state of pardon requests for two more, and other activities. PPT has used the article to update some of our pages on those convicted and those awaiting trial. We are not reproducing the story here but recommend that readers consult the story.

Update: It is now reported that Suchart Nakbangsai or Worawut Thanangkorn and Suriyan Kokpuey were released on 24 August 2012, following a pardon.

Nat Sattayapornpisut released in April

4 08 2012

Prachatai reports that Nat Sattayapornpisut was finally released from jail in April 2012 after serving 2 years and 4 months on lese majeste charges.

Nat’s case goes back to 2008, although it was only in October 2009 that the Criminal Court has agreed to a request by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to detain Nat , then aged 27, under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act after he was found to have sent offensive clips to a blog called StopLeseMajeste.

The DSI began investigations on 29 August 2008 that led to YouTube clips and the arrest of Suwicha Thakor and the discovery of an alias StopLeseMajeste. The latter was believed to belong to “Emilio Esteban,” a Briton living in Spain, who had been in email contact with Suwicha. Between 19 April 2008 and 15 September 2009, Esteban allegedly published contents offensive to the throne on his blogs and called for the abolition of the lese majeste law. The police gained access to Esteban’s email, where they allegedly found that on 21-23 July 2009 Nat had sent him three “offensive clips” which were then posted by Esterban.

DSI initially charged Nat with offenses under the Computer Crimes Act—disseminating pornographic materials through the internet – which we assume to be the naked pictures of various royals and associates that have long been in circulation.  He was eventually bailed out by his relatives with 200,000 baht in cash but a month later was summoned to the DSI, and further charged with lese majeste.

These charges are interesting as the website includes, in addition to some of the most childish clips that appeared at YouTube about the king, clips involving the crown prince and his various consorts in compromising situations as well as other royals in similar situations. Some of the clips are real and have been surreptitiously circulated in Thailand, while others are concocted and silly. Involving the crown prince’s private life has seen others jailed (such as Harry Nicolaides and Akechai Hongkangwarn).

There was very little news on Nat’s case until well after his release from prison in April 2012 and then via this Prachatai report.

It states that Nat went to court on 14 December 2009. He went alone and without a lawyer.  Without support and advice, when he was asked by court officials what he had decided to do he was also told that if he confessed, a verdict would be delivered immediately. He knew that “this kind of case was almost impossible to fight.” He confessed. That day he was found “guilty on three counts for sending three e-mails on 22-23 July 2009, and sentenced him to 9 years in prison, but reduced the term by half as he had pleaded guilty.

Nat’s time in prison was extremely difficult for him. Prachatai reports that “During his time, he got to know other ‘Section 112’ prisoners, starting with Wanchai Saetan who was in the same zone, Worawut Thanangkorn who was moved to the zone in early 2011, and then Thanthawut Thaweewarodomkul.  It was Thanthawut who told visitors about Nat and Wanchai.  As a result, from mid-2011 onward, Nat, who had previously been rarely visited, had more visitors, including red shirts and other concerned people, and that lifted his spirits.”

Nat now visits his compatriots who remain imprisoned on lese majeste charges.

Free them!

23 03 2012

Prachatai provides brief details of a letter by eight lese majeste convicts to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra “to help seek a royal pardon to ‘free them from suffering’.”

Those seeking a pardon are: Surachai Danwatthananusorn (serving 7.5 years in prison), Suchart Nakbangsai (3 years), Joe Gordon (2 .5 years), Suriyan Kokpuey (3 years and 15 days), Nat Sattayapornpisut (4.5 years), Sathian Rattanawong (3 years), Wanchai Saetan (15 years) and Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul (15 years)

Apparently in a first-ever joint appeal for pardon, they have written:

Now all of us feel guilty and are very sorry for what we have done wrong. So we have decided not to fight our cases, and have pleaded guilty so that the court would decide on our punishment to end court proceedings, and we could exercise our right to petition for a royal pardon….

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, these people can “seek a royal pardon through the Minister of Justice, or the Minister or Cabinet can, on their own initiative, propose to HM the King a royal pardon for convicts.”

The Nation in an article by Avudh Panananda says that the Yingluck government is in a “a dilemma over whether to act on granting the royal pardon for eight lese majeste convicts who happen to be its red allies.” The Nation report spends a large amount of space discussing the novelty of the joint appeal:

Yet the eight have chosen to go through the long and uncharted route for their pardon. Furthermore, they want the government to intervene on their behalf. They specifically called attention to their letter two weeks after the government remained silent on the matter.

Avudh claims that:

After the vetting of petitions by relevant authorities, His Majesty the King would grant pardon to every case. Thai and alien offenders often walked out of prison within a month.

PPT isn’t sure that this is a true statement. It sounds more like royal posterior polishing in the public domain. Reader knowledge on this would be appreciated. One reason we wonder about this is that the report then states:

Even if the government agrees to intervene and issue a pardon decree, the process will take months, perhaps even a year to complete.

Months, years? So what is it?

The report states that none of the government leaders “want the political hot potato dumped in their lap. PM Yingluck appears clueless that the letter was addressed and sent to her.”

In another statement that is made but isn’t justified, Avudh states:

The eight see themselves as political prisoners, hence their demand for the government’s intervention to resolve their legal predicament. But the government is duty-bound to look beyond personal and political ties. Under domestic and international laws, the eight are convicts who can not be classified and treated as political prisoners.

We think Avudh is making this up. As far as we can tell, the Thai laws on political prisoners are non-existent and the only criteria that were developed were those of January this year. Internationally, political prisoners tend to be defined as those who are jailed because they have opposed or criticized their government. That would include criticizing a monarch or a political system. This is the approach PPT has taken.

Amnesty International talks of prisoners of conscience, and this refinement is reserved for those who act peacefully in their politics. None of these prisoners in Thailand appear to fall outside that definition, although AI in Thailand is hopeless and doesn’t apply its own definition.

Equally, though, there are political prisoners, recognized by the U.N., as having taken up arms in freedom struggles. Those supporting Palestinians and Burmese seeking freedom have used a broader definition than AI. The Council of Europe has been debating the term for several years. If any reader knows more, let us know.

In the end, it seems Avudh is making this claim up for political gain. You see this again in the final paragraph of the story:

Abandoning the eight is tantamount to political suicide as the red shirts will condemn the government as ungrateful. But rescuing them will create a dangerous precedent and make it pointless to enforce the lese majeste law.

As much as we wished that the lese majeste law would become pointless by granting a pardon, we think Avudh is again being politicized in approach.

The bottom line is: these political prisoners should be freed.

Free the political prisoners!

6 03 2012

At Prachatai, there is a report that political jailed activist Surachai Danwattananusorn is about to “petition the government to seek a royal pardon for all political prisoners including those jailed for lèse majesté offences.”

Surachai is to write to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to have Minister of Justice Pracha Phromnok to seek the royal pardon.

The letter is planned to be “signed by eight lèse majesté convicts and defendants including Surachai himself. The others are Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, Joe Gordon, Sathian Rattanawong, Wanchai Saetan, Nat Sattayapornpisut, Suchart Nakbangsai and Darunee Charnchoensilpakul.

PPT believes that such a move will bring much needed pressure on the government and the palace to consider the plight of Thailand’s political prisoners, many of who are victims of the draconian political crime that is lese majeste. PPT doubts the palace is in any mood to respond positively, as it harbors a deep fear that it is under threat from republicanism.


Updated: Suchart Nakbangsai has been convicted

29 11 2010

On 24 November 2010, Suchart Nakbangsai (Worawut Thanongkorn) was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code. He was accused of defaming the queen during comments made during a UDD rally on Sanam Luang on 14 October 2008.

Initially, Suchart was facing a six year sentence, but he confessed and so his sentence was cut in half.

Brief details can be found here: Prachatai, 29 November 2010, “ตัดสินจำคุก ‘สุชาติ นาคบางไทร’ 3 ปี ข้อหาหมิ่นสถาบัน”.

Update: English-language reporting is available here.

PPT has now moved Suchart’s case from Pending Cases to Convictions.

How many more people will be placed behind bars before Article 112 is nullified?

Anti-coup campaigner Suchart and lese majeste

10 11 2010

At Prachatai there ios a follow-up story on the case of Worawut Thanangkorn/Suchart Nakbangsai. He has been arrested on lese majeste charges since 1 November.

He has apparently told Prachachat Thurakij “that he would not fight his case in court, and expected to do time in jail and then seek leniency for an early release as in the cases of Suwicha Thakor and Bunyuen Prasertying.”

A member of the “anti-[2006] coup group called ‘Saturday People against Dictatorship’, which was formed by members of a political webboard…, the group gathered regularly at Sanam Luang on Saturdays to speak against the coup, and was among several other anti-coup groups which preceded the advent of the red shirts and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).”

Police are holding him on remand. Suchart “told the newspaper that he had refused to give interviews to many reporters because he did not want to draw attention to his case.” He said: “I don’t want to be in the news. I don’t want publicity. I don’t want the media which may not understand my intent to report on me, because that would cause trouble to my family. So I think that this should be kept low-key, and end properly.” He added that he “would plead guilty in order to have his sentence commuted by half, and would do good [as a prisoner] to seek further commutation.”

He denied any association with red-shirt leaders, saying: “they did not accept me. I mean nothing to them. I fought for democracy, but not for elections.” He denied any links to Thaksin Shinawatra. In other words, he claimed to be a political loner, fighting for democracy.

Choosing to plead guilty has been made the only option on lese majeste. To do otherwise risks many, many years in jail.

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