Suspended sentences for anti-junta activists

30 03 2013

The Bangkok Post reports that former senator Jon Ungphakorn and nine other activists, including Phairoj Pholpet, a Law Reform Commissioner, National Broadcasting and Telecommunications commissioner Supinya Klangnarong and Foundation for Consumers secretary-general Saree Aongsomwang, “have been sentenced to suspended prison terms for trespassing on the grounds of parliament during a protest in 2007.” The names of the 10 are here. The background to the saga, as summarized by the AHRC is:

Following the military coup on 19 September 2006 and the suspension of the 1997 Constitution, the military council formed by the coup leaders established a “National Legislative Assembly” (NLA) to act as an interim unicameral legislature for enacting legislation until parliamentary elections were held under a new constitution. All members of the NLA were selected by the military council.

After the promulgation of the 2007 constitution on 24 August 2007, the NLA continued to function as the legislature, and during the last two months before the general parliamentary election of 23 December 2007, the NLA rushed through the passage of a number of extremely controversial laws affecting human rights, civil liberties, community rights, and social justice. This was done despite strong opposition and protests by many civil society groups. The most controversial of these was Internal Security Act, a law demanded by the military to allow them to hold special powers to deal with national security issues after the return to elected civilian government. Other controversial laws passing through the NLA included legislation on privatisation of state universities, water management, and state enterprises.

On 11-12 September 2007 the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee (NGO-COD) with Jon Ungphakorn … serving as Chair and Pairoj Polpetch … as Vice-Chair held a consultation involving a number of civil society networks and labour union leaders which ended with a public statement and press conference calling on the NLA to abandon consideration of 11 controversial bills considered to violate the rights, freedoms, and welfare of the public according to the 2007 Constitution….

On 29 November 2007, a mass demonstration was held outside the parliament building and grounds, demanding that the NLA immediately abandon consideration of the 11 controversial bills, requesting members of the NLA to consider resigning their office , and asking members of the public to sign a petition for the NLA to cease all legislative activities in view of the coming elections for a democratic parliament.

On 12 December 2007 another mass demonstration was held outside the parliament building and grounds, this time involving well over one thousand demonstrators. At around 11.00 a.m. over 100 demonstrators climbed over the metal fence surrounding the parliament building using make-shift ladders to enter the grounds of parliament. Then, around 50-60 demonstrators were able to push their way past parliamentary guards to enter the lobby in front of the NLA meeting chamber where the NLA was in session. They then sat down peacefully in concentric circles on the lobby floor. Negotiations with some members of the NLA and with a high-ranking police official ensued, until at around 12.00 noon the demonstrators were informed that the NLA meeting had been adjourned. The demonstrators then left the parliament building and grounds, returning to join the demonstrations outside the premises.

Further demonstrations were held outside the parliament building and grounds amidst tight police security on 19 December 2007. Despite all the protests, the NLA passed the Internal Security Act which remains in force to this day. Some of the other controversial laws were also passed.

More details can also be found here.

Jon and the nine activists were accused of inciting unrest and trespass. The “Criminal Court yesterday sentenced Jon and five other defendants to two years each in prison and a 9,000 baht fine. The sentences were then reduced by one third because of their cooperation during the trial to one year and four months and a 6,000 baht fine.” The others were “sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 9,000 baht. Their jail sentences were reduced to four months, and the fines to 6,000 baht.” The court suspended the prison terms for two years.

Jon reportedly “insisted he and his colleagues acted out of goodwill. “Our conscience told us to prevent harmful laws from being passed but we never intended to resort to violent means, engage in non-peaceful demonstrations or harm anyone…”. Phairoj “said the demonstration was a form of freedom of assembly and expression.”

It seems that protecting the military junta’s laws remains important.

Wikileaks: Anand on the 2006 coup

7 03 2012

Following the 19 September 2006 palace-military coup, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce met with palace insider and former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun. Boyce’s conversation with Anand is reported in a cable dated 21 September 2006. Boyce considered Anand as “Thailand’s most distinguished elder statesmen.” He also notes that “Anand made waves in August [2006] when he publicly denounced Thailand’s course under Thaksin [Shinawatra].”


Boyce begins by recounting that Anand’s view on the coup was that it had “forestalled imminent political violence between Thaksin’s enemies and loyalists.” Helpfully, Boyce points out that the People’s Alliance for Democracy “had called for a major rally on September 20 to persuade Thaksin to resign. Thaksin’s allies publicly condemned the plan and rumors arose of an impending crackdown on protesters by security forces.”

That Anand is repeating a mere rumor suggests that he was either disconnected from the reality of political events or, far more likely, was conjuring a justification for the coup that foreigners might “buy.” After all, none of the coup “explanations” and justifications for the coup by the junta really gave this rumor much credence.

While Anand reportedly stated that “he could not have advocated a coup,” he was crystal clear in stating that he supported it. He claimed that “Thaksin’s administration had already become undemocratic.” For a twice unelected and appointed premier, the claim to democracy is more than a bit rich. Neither of his administrations was to be overthrown by the military-palace clique as he represented each.

He added that:

Thaksin had controlled the media, suppressed the free flow of information, and manipulated an uninformed electorate. He had corrupted the judiciary, to the point that court cases against him could not proceed. He had sabotaged the Constitution, manipulating political institutions that were supposed to be independent, destroying the system of checks and balances set up by the 1997 Constitution. Thaksin’s administration lacked accountability and transparency. In this environment, elections by themselves hardly ensured democracy. Thaksin blocked off all avenues for political change, leaving his opponents no option other than a coup.

Yes, Thaksin was powerful and had some arrogant and authoritarian tendencies. After all, his party controlled 75% of the seats in parliament, having won a massive electoral landslide. But had he done all of this and did his power demand a coup by a bevy of unelected and unrepresentative agents?

Here we see the patrician Anand expressing his position that ignorant voters were “manipulated.” The same Anand, of course, has never been elected to anything. He is a member of the elite that is selected for their powerful positions through birth, connections and money. He’d be lucky to know anyone from the “uninformed electorate,” unless they are his drivers, maids and gardeners.Maybe they could have told him whether elections had anything to do with democracy.

Did Thaksin corrupt the judiciary? He tried to but was far less successful than, say, the monarchy in getting the judiciary to do his bidding. Indeed, prior to the coup, he lost one very significant case that was seen as a measure of media freedom when journalist Supinya Klangnarong was sued for a fortune. She won.

This case also relates to the idea that Thaksin controlled the media. We think he’d have like to have had more control. He lost the case against Supinya and by early 2006, almost every newspaper was attacking Thaksin. Also, the military control a big segment of the electronic media, and Thaksin didn’t win control of them.

Did Thaksin try to pervert the independent agencies? The answer on that has to be yes, but that he still faced resistance from some of them.

In other words, Anand is both a consumer and purveyor of the royalist elite’s position on Thaksin that justified a coup. We think the elite essentially took a lazy way of working against Thaksin. These people simply couldn’t be bothered fighting Thaksin on democratic and lawful grounds; it was “easier” just to get the praetorian guard to ditch him out and restore Thai-style (non-)democracy.

Emphasizing Anand’s royalism, he argues that:

Thaksin further aggravated the Thai people by appearing to put himself on the same level as the King. Anand stopped short of characterizing Thaksin as disloyal to the King, but he said Thaksin failed to understand how many people came to perceive him as hostile to the monarchy.

PPT can’t recall the “Thai people” being aggravated. The royalist yellow shirts used this line as a way to weaken Thaksin but, frankly, most Thais weren’t buying it as anything other than royalist propaganda. Again, Anand is a member of a cabal of royalists who convinced themselves of Thaksin’s “disloyalty.”

Anand also noted “Thaksin had brought trouble upon himself by picking fights with Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda…”. We’d suggest that it was Prem who chose to fight Thaksin and actively planned his downfall by Prem’s men in the military.

Anand’s political views are further revealed when he is asked about “constitutional reform.” He is said to have:

acknowledged problems in the 1997 Constitution, and he advocated abolishing the Senate as a non-partisan elected body…. A better alternative would be a House of Lords model, with the Senate consisting perhaps at least in part of former high-ranking officials, appointed in a transparent, systematic process.

Ah, yes, Anand feels like an English lord perhaps.Again, he is opposed to the idea of elections, and advocates the oxymoronic notion of appointments of “high-ranking officials” in a “transparent” manner. Anything but elections!

Boyce uses Anand as a tool in making his point to Washington that the coup is acceptable:

Given Anand’s experience as a Prime Minister who was appointed by a coup-instigating junta and then worked to restore democracy to Thailand, the ease with which he accepts the CDRM’s claim of noble intentions is noteworthy.

Well, of course he does; it is what he wanted. Get rid of Thaksin and put the patrician royalists back in their rightful position as rulers and string-pullers.

Boyce then makes the somewhat surprising admission:

This elitist point of view — shared by many wealthy and educated Thais, especially in Bangkok — gets to the heart of Thaksin’s claim about revolutionizing Thai politics, precisely by taking on these entrenched elites.

Indeed. What Boyce – and the royalist elite – doesn’t foresee is that their day is essentially gone, and the struggle to push the old and rich duffers aside would continue until today.

More reporting on floods

15 10 2011

Bang Pa-In Industrial Estate flooded (Bangkok Post photo)

As PPT noted in our first post on these 2011 floods, the Yingluck Shinawatra government is bound to be held responsible for failures on handling the massive floods that have now claimed more than 300 lives. Over the past two days, the government has rightly been chastised for its lack of clear communications on flooding. National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission member Supinya Klangnarong has some reasonable advice. She

urged television channels to pool their resources so that coverage isn’t duplicated. “It’s up to the Broadcasting Journalists Association to decide,” she said. As for online social media such as Twitter, of which Supinya is an active user, the commissioner urged people of various political stripes to “calm down” and not get bogged down in attacking one another.

She also made an acute observation that deserves attention:

Bangkok, she warned, would have to deal at some stage with the question of why it is necessary to sacrifice other areas by allowing them to be flooded in order to save the capital. The matter would have to be addressed “decisively” by the government, she said.

More reports listed below. See also National Geographic’s photos. Apologies if we repeat post items. It is difficult to keep up:

  1. Floods threaten to inundate Bangkok

    ‎ABC Online

    By South-East Asia correspondent The Thai military and civilian volunteers are continuing their efforts to try and stop Thailand’s worst floods in decades

    In-Depth: Frazzled over floods? Remember: The tide will turn‎ Bangkok Post

  2. US sends disaster experts to assess help

    Bangkok Post

    The US would draw on know-how from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to help Thailand with its flood relief efforts said Foreign Minister
  3. Prioritise water management

    ‎Bangkok Post

    He said Thailand’s worst floods in decades were exacerbated by poor urban planning. Deforestation, overbuilding in catchment areas, the damming and
  4. Fourth Ayutthaya estate falls

    ‎Bangkok Post

    Massive floods swamped a fourth major industrial estate in Ayutthaya Narapot Tewtanom, deputy governor of the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand,

Media, democracy and politics

12 02 2011

Supinya Klangnarong of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform is in The Nation making the seemingly semi-annual call for an open media in Thailand.

Supinya “hopes the new National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) will be up and running by end of this year. Unless such a crucial regulatory body is in place soon, the structure of broadcasting and telecom interests in Thailand will remain unchanged.” She says that “[a]s long as the current structure is intact … [t]here will be no free and fair competition for the benefits of consumers in terms of prices and quality of service.”

After battling court cases and other pressure during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, she says: “Today, the same thing has happened again. The persons and political parties involved may have changed, but it’s still basically vested interests involving the state and private firms.” She adds: “In politics, for example, the quality of governance and politicians will heavily depend on the people’s access to information and freedom of expression.”

The power-that-be are reluctant to release control of the media for they fear freedom of expression.

The media is not free

18 09 2010

Following the reported investigation of Fah Diew Kan and the earlier official prevention of printing for Somyos Prueksakasemsuk‘s Red Power magazine, seasoned media academic Ubonrat Siriyuwasak, chairwoman of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR), has been reported as damning the lack of media freedom under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

While calling for “respect for freedom of expression,” Ubonrat recognized that different groups in Thai society “don’t enjoy equal levels of freedom…”, this report includes this observation: “Yesterday … an independent bookshop owner in Bangkok told The Nation an officer in uniform stood and stared at the Fah Diew Kan magazine for more than ten minutes without uttering a single word.” The owner of the shop said: “I feel a bit threatened. Another bookshop has already removed the magazine from its shelves.”

Ubonrat warns: “When the right to oppose is taken away, it will affect citizens’ rights in general. Freedom cannot be divided, because just like clouds [in the sky] it belongs to us all.”

Supinya Klangnarong, a former CPMR coordinator, warned that the regime’s crackdown on opposition media would make society “more regressive”.

Of course, media is just one avenue of the continuing repression that is the hallmark of the current Abhisit regime.

Updated: More internet censorship likely

30 07 2010

There had been some hopes, harbored by the more optimistic, that the draconian provisions of the post-2006 coup Computer Crimes Act might be liberalized. That hope seems to have turned to despair, according to a long report in the Bangkok Post. The conservatives are well out in front on this.

The story now seems bleaker than ever. More cyber-snooping, more censorship, less attention to human rights, more charges and, potentially, more people in the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s prisons.

Supinya Klangnarong, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, says that conservatives want “more severe punitive measures against so-called national security threats…”. She adds: “We believe that pushing for amendments to the law in parliament now means risking it being changed in the opposite direction, leaning towards harsher punishment for violation by internet users…”.

Conservatives like the prime minister have “thrown … support behind a so-called ‘online scout project’ to monitor improper content on the internet which poses a threat to national security and the highest institution.” This is a vigilante movement for the monarchy, being the middle class and internet generation’s equivalent of the right-wing Village Scouts.

Within the Senate, a panel dominated by the appointed senators “has been formed for the specific task of protecting the monarchy and monitoring anti-monarchy movements…”. Meanwhile, the “police are also setting up a special force to monitor online actions deemed in violation of the act…”.

Things can only to worsen as this government continues to be led and dominated by conservatives and royalists.

Update: has a picture posted (scroll down to the second picture for 31 July) that adds considerable visual weight to the idea that the conservatives are fully in command of internet censorship and that things are likely get worse. In the picture of a huge billboard, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is pictured apparently reporting an inappropriate web site. The billboard calls for Thais to come together in reporting inappropriate web sites. This could refer to all kinds of sites but the fact is that most sites the regime blocks have to do with the monarchy. Most people know the message means “protect the monarchy.” Abhisit has thrown his weight behind this task and encourages vigilantes.

Lese majeste and Facebook

3 07 2010

The Bangkok Post warns that the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime is continuing its lese majeste witch hunting activities, including monitoring social networking sites.

The Post report refers to Wiphat Raksakunthai/Wipas Raksakulthai, a 37-year-old businessman based in Rayong, who has been detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison for 2 months, refused bail, having been the first member of the social networking site Facebook accused of lese majeste.

Wipas is said to be a supporter of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and had left public political comments on his Facebook page. The Post reports that royalist Facebook users have been “unsocial,” criticizing him and “ sharing his personal information and contacts they acquired from his profile pages.” These royalists urge each other to report lese majeste cases to the police.

Media reform activist Supinya Klangnarong “says the Wipas case reflects an expansion of the government’s crackdown on online political dissidents, from content-based public websites into social networks.” She says the “case further escalates the climate of fear among internet users…”. She predicts more arrests.

PPT points out that there is no transparency on lese majeste and the number of cases, convictions and imprisonments remains unclear. News reports on such cases are sparse on details. When Wipas’ bail was refused, Prachatai reported it, but other coverage was limited. Prachatai noted that “on 28 June, despite his lawyer’s opposition, the court extended his detention to 10 July at the request of the public prosecutor who has received the case from the DSI. His family has twice asked for bail, offering bank accounts with 500,000 and 1,000,000 baht, but the court has refused, claiming that his offence was against the monarchy which is revered by the people and that the accused might flee.”

Note that DSI is handling all political cases.

Even when the state maintains draconian laws on lese majeste and computer crimes, under the current emergency laws, “the state more power to control dissidents, and also to hunt them [suspects] down. These include a new online crime agency that will go after violators of the lese majeste law and a so-called online scout network that encourages users to monitor violators of this and other laws…”. Supinya warns that: “Even when users opt to use fake identities, the police may be able to find ways to get them by other means…”.

Welcome to 1984 in 2010 Thailand.

Pravit reminds people to question censorship

15 05 2010

Reporting on a seminar held by the Thai Netizen Network on censorship in present-day Thailand, Pravit Rojanaphruk reminded readers to question censorship.  He quoted Supinya Klangnarong, deputy chairperson of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, who commented that “”Normally, censorship is not allowed, but the government might get used to it because they’ve been able to do it under the emergency decree.”

This is a grave development. PPT urges readers not to get used to censorship, to question authority, and fight against the normalization of repression.

Read the original article here: The Nation, 14 May 2010, “People urged not to ‘quietly accept’ gov’t media censorship”

Pravit on censorship

9 04 2010

The Nation’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has written a smart — and chilling — piece in response to the recent censorship of Prachatai, Fa Dieu Kan, and red media sources in Thailand.

Pravit commented that after the order closing websites was issued: “Elsewhere, at the office, staff were frantically trying to unlock the Website, which had gone black but nobody dared enter its office near Ratchadaphisek Road for fear of arrest.”

Pravit further notes that Supinya Klangnarong, one of the founding members of the Thai Netizens’ Network said yesterday that, “We oppose [the move] to censor internet-based media. It’s a mistake for the government to think that this will bring about peace.”

PPT agrees with and seconds Supinya’s statement.  There is a deep crisis in Thailand.  The act of reporting the news has become an act of (necessary) courage.

Read Pravit’s entire piece here: 9 April 2010, “Decree shuts down red media and those deemed sympathetic”

Media bias

23 03 2010

A debate on media bias has now been going on for some time, and as regular readers will well know, PPT has made several comments on this in the recent past (for an example, see here). There have been some comments in the international press about this also. Now Simon Montlake in the Christian Science Monitor (22 March 2010) has a story on it that has also been taken up by Bangkok Pundit.

Montlake rightly observes that thousands of red shirts – interestingly, he accepts an official figure of 65,000 – paraded around Bangkok on Saturday and points out that “viewers of Thailand’s TV stations, the most popular source of news, were told that 25,000 attended. As usual, pictures of protesters were bracketed by statements from government officials. No airtime was given to ordinary protesters. And last week when protesters dumped blood at the prime minister’s office and home, pro-government media hyped up the health risks and the ethics of wasting human blood, while antigovernment media focused on the symbolism of Thais willing to shed blood for the cause.”

It is also accurate for Montlake to observe that “Thailand’s mainstream media faces fresh questions over its neutrality, which has already been tested by four years of political turmoil and polarization. Critics say bias is acute on free-to-air TV channels, which are all under government or military control.”

Supinya Klangnarong, “a free-media campaigner,” is quoted by Montlake as arguing that “the spread of new media is providing a check on the government’s control of the message, … [adding] mainstream TV channels no longer have the power to distort the facts as blatantly as they did in 1992 as they must compete with other sources of information, including images and texts spread via mobile phone and the Internet.” Supinya believes that the government “realizes that if they push too much control or manipulation, people will not believe it anymore…”.

PPT believes this is a premature judgment. For one reason, the government television stations have become little more than mouthpieces for items of propaganda that is now remarkably similar to that seen on ASTV. As one of Montlake’s informants, a “TV news editor, who declines to be named for fear of reprisals” says, the “government meddling in news coverage, which was also a hallmark of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s five-year rule, remains pervasive.” That editor adds: “It’s worse now…”.

A second reason for doubting Supinya is because while mobile phones are everywhere, they are limited sources of news, and while the internet is better, penetration rates in Thailand remain low. A third problem is that internet censorship has expanded exponentially under this government and the government also has officials working the blogs to post pro-government and anti-red shirt material. Even the English-language blogs see a suspicious rise in mole-like posting by particular commentators, often adopting multiple identities, who only appear in times of conflict..

While we usually agree and admire Bangkok Pundit, PPT has to say that we think BP’s account of media bias is trite. One of the major differences we have with Pundit is that we do not think that watching and reading is enough. In fact, early on in the current red shirt rally, PPT was also getting adjusted to the media’s coverage. Hence, when PPT went to the protest site expecting to see a dwindling crowd and a lack of interest, we were staggered by how different it was. The media was simply not reporting factually or wasn’t be permitted to do so. Worse, it often seemed like reporters were waiting for the sensational or hoping for violence.

Indeed, PPT has been to three red shirt events of late and none of them had any noticeable media interest. At Rajadamnoen, the media huddles around the red shirt leaders (is that because they get to sit in a cool tent?). PPT saw no attempts by the media to get around the very large area of the rally or any attempt to interview the protester in the street, apart from a BBC reporter. We know there have been some interviews, but all of these spots are stuck into hugely biased contexts. Context matters a heck of a lot. And, in a context of extreme bias, so does getting out and seeing what’s going on.

Worse, the talk shows on most of the mainstream television stations don’t even make a pretense of being fair, and government stations that Bangkok Pundit says was the best of the bunch last week is, in PPT’s perspective, now irretrievably biased if one takes any notice of the talk shows, which occupy far more airtime than the news broadcasts. And it was only a year or so ago that the Democrat Party-led government’s Sathit Wongnongtoey, said that he was going to create a true public broadcaster. That now seems like a nightmare rather than a dream.

The past couple of days has been a travesty for Thai journalism, which was once considered one of the best in Asia. Thaksin can be blamed for some of this, but the military-backed governments led by Surayud Chulanont and Abhisit Vejjajiva have ground journalism into the dust.

That said, PPT continues to appreciate those few journalists who hold out against a tide of repression, censorship and bias. In addition, we feel somewhat heartened by some of the expression of dissent that we see in some reports, often with the pictures not matching the words, as was clear on TNN reporting of Saturday’s red shirt caravan.

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