Surapak’s lese majeste trial begins

18 09 2012

The Bangkok Post reports on the new lese majeste court case that “began on Tuesday with three prosecution witnesses giving testimony against 41-year-old computer programmer Surapak Puchaisaeng, from Bung Kan province.” As we noted in a previous post, Surapak’s case carries the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, although investigations began under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

With friends and supporters showing up Surapak was said to be “in good spirits…”. The report of the case is of basic information regarding Surapak’s residence and activities provided by prosecution witnesses.

A witness who supervised the condominium where he rented a room said Surapak “had never done or expressed anything inappropriate to her knowledge, and sometimes the door to his room was open and people could see he was working on his computer, like a technician.” She added that on “his arrest Mr Surapak cooperated well with the police, who also confiscated his computer…”.

The interesting witness is teh one who apparently laid the lese majeste complaint with the police, “Chalermchai Mongkolkerdkij, 21, then a third-year student of the Chandrakasem University’s faculty of alternative medicine. He told the court that he has used a computer for 10 years and  his Facebook username is “prasertpatpat”.

Chalermchai’s case against Surapak turns out to be a yellow-shirted witch hunt. He was “informed by a friend that a Facebook page” called “We Would …..The Land by the Coup” was posting stuff considered to “defame, insult and threaten the monarchy.” Chalermchai’s job then became monitoring the site for three months, seeking out the associate email with the account and then filing a complaint with police.To get information from the site he posed as a red shirt, using “the symbol and username ‘I Like Red’ to request friend status for the Facebook page.”

Remarkably, he “told the court he could not remember exactly what the defamatory messages said.” He also denied that “he belonged to any witch-hunting group.” Chalermchai claimed he acted alone but admitted he was a follower of the People’s Alliance for Democracy and stated that he was a “loyal subject of the monarchy.”

He claims to have gone after Surapak alone, even though he recognized many anti-monarchy web pages. Clearly, Surapak’s team would have every reason to think that Chalermchai is a PAD stooge.  The Post report states:

At the court room, two people assisted and gave support to the witness. One of them said he was an academic and member of several groups protective of the monarchy. Members of liberal Intellectual groups and red-shirt sympathisers also showed up in solidarity with the defendant.

While we are not sure what “liberal” means in this context, we think the picture of this case of cyber-snitching is pretty clear.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

Lese majeste and elite (in)justice

18 09 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has a worthy op-ed on a court appearance by a lese majeste prisoner. The article makes a point PPT has mentioned several times: the double standards involved when the political crime of lese majeste is involved. It can be read with a report of the trial, also in the Bangkok Post (PPT will post separately on the trial). The case involves 41 year-old computer programmer Surapak Puchaisaeng.

Surapak was arrested on 2 Sept 2011. Surapak’s case carries the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, although investigations began under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

Achara notes that the “police have accused him of posting defamatory remarks about the royal family on Facebook several months ago. He was denied access to a lawyer on the day of his arrest.” And, of course, in the usual practice – unconstitutional to be sure – he has been “denied bail four times, even though, for his last request, the last bail guarantor was the Justice Ministry.” As PPT has pointed out before, the reason for this, as in many lese majeste cases, is that  Surapak refuses to plead guilty, so the royalist court uses the refusal of bail as a form of torture in trying to get a guilty plea.

Achara points out that Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, the late Ampol Tangnopakul,  and Wanchai Saetan have suffered similar refusals of bail. She could have added Joe Gordon, Surachai Danwattananusorn and several others to the list.

In addition, Achara points out that others “who are routinely denied bail” are the “political prisoners” at the “Temporary Prison at Laksi _ most of whom are grass-roots supporters of the red-shirt movement facing hefty penalties and long prison terms _ face the same situation.”

She notes that “their legal battles for bail have rarely been brought up by the mainstream media.” And she makes the all too obvious point that rich kids get off, get bail, get slapped on the wrist, even when they are responsible for multiple deaths in, say, road crashes.  She makes the points for several cases over several years, showing political and class bias that is the stock-in-trade for the judiciary:

With so many cases pointing to a double standard, it is understandable and inevitable for the public to feel that the legal system is unfair to the poor, and unjust to prisoners of conscience. Justice delayed is justice denied. Sadly, this is not the exception in our our legal system, but the norm that routinely applies to the weak and poor.

At last, HRW on lese majeste and bail

25 02 2012

Yesterday, in commenting yet again on the repeated denial of bail for those accused and convicted of lese majeste, PPT observed:

the US Embassy, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say nothing. They have a sham interest in human rights in Thailand and stand on the side of those who abuse human rights. They should be ashamed as they are complicit in these ludicrous events.

For months, indeed years, we have been making the point that the denial of bail is a form of torture and a means to further punish lese majeste victims. We have also stated that the courts engage in behavior that is arguably unconstitutional.

We are now able to say that Human Rights Watch has finally said something useful on the non-use of bail as punishment. Here’s HRW’s statement, apparently released late on Friday:

Thai courts are refusing bail for people charged with the crime of lese majeste for apparently political reasons, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai law criminalizes the expression of peaceful opinions deemed offensive to the institution of the monarchy.

How come Sondhi gets bail?

In all 12 cases of lese majeste that the public prosecutor has filed against supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, known as the Red Shirts, since 2009, bail has been denied, Human Rights Watch said. By contrast, the leader of the pro-monarchy People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), Sondhi Limthongkul, was charged with lese majeste on July 5, 2010, and granted bail the same day.

“Bail appears to be systematically denied to members of the Red Shirts while they await trial for lese majeste,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Denial of bail seems to be for punishment rather than for justified reasons.”

A verdict is expected on February 28, 2012, in the case of Surachai Danwattananusorn, a prominent political activist and leader of the Red Siam, a faction in the Red Shirt movement that has often expressed anti-monarchy opinions. He was arrested and charged with lese majeste in February 2011, and his bail application was denied five times. He said his health problems, including a heart condition, hypertension, and diabetes, and the repeated rejections of his bail applications are the main reasons he has decided to seek a quick end of his trial by pleading guilty.

Joe Gordon, an American citizen known to be a supporter of the Red Shirts, pleaded guilty to lese majeste charges and was sentenced in December 2011 to five years in prison. He told Human Rights Watch that he decided to plead guilty, hoping to have his penalty lessened, after being denied bail eight times since his arrest in May 2011. The sentence was later reduced by half and he is now preparing to ask for a royal pardon.

PPT needs to interject here: we are unsure why HRW makes the point that Joe is “known to be a supporter of the Red Shirts.” We have no evidence that Joe was a red shirt supporter when arrested. That said, the claim made of Joe could equally apply to millions throughout the country. HRW’s statement is questionable and politicized. HRW are also neglectful of the fact that Joe cannot apply for a pardon as his case is being appealed by the prosecutor. HRW appears to lack adequate information regarding lese majeste victims.

Somyot Preuksakasemsuk, a well-known labor activist and editor, was arrested on lese majeste charges on April 30, 2011 in connection with articles published in the now banned Voice of Taksin magazine, which supports the Red Shirts. He has been denied bail seven times since his arrest, most recently on February 20.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Thai authorities are using Somyot’s pre-trial detention to mistreat him. Somyot told Human Rights Watch that he had been transferred to attend witness hearings in Sa Kaeo, Petchabun, Nakorn Sawan, and Songkhla provinces, during which he had to stand up throughout the journeys in an overcrowded truck, with his ankles shackled and without access to toilet facilities, leading to the aggravation of his medical conditions, which include hypertension and gout.

Holding the witness hearings in the provinces may have been unnecessary because, as Human Rights Watch learned, a number of prosecution witnesses in Somyot’s case actually live and work in Bangkok despite having registered residences in the provinces. On September 12, the criminal court in Bangkok rejected Somyot’s request to hold hearings in Bangkok. The four provincial courts rejected a similar request. Holding numerous, and perhaps unnecessary, pre-trial hearings outside Bangkok – at least 10 more such hearings are scheduled before May – will mean that Somyot will have been in pre-trial detention for at least a year before his case goes to trial.

HRW might have added that his last appearance in Songkhla was cancelled when the single prosecution witness failed to show up, meaning the 24 hours of traveling was wholly unnecessary.

On February 11, Panitan Preuksakasemsuk, Somyot’s son, started a hunger strike in front of the criminal court to demand his father’s release on bail while he stands trial. The campaign has since been backed by the families of other lese majeste prisoners.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, states that, “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.” Those denied bail need to be tried as expeditiously as possible.

HRW could go further, as we stated several months ago. PPT considers the use of extended incarceration for lese majeste victims in order to force guilty pleas is a form of torture, as defined by the U.N.:

… any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

That’s our quote from the U.N., but but back to HRW:

“The glaring injustices of the lese majeste cases are being made even worse by the denial of bail and long periods of pre-trial detention,” Adams said.

In response to recommendations by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand, the Justice Ministry’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department has begun using its budget from the “Justice Fund” to guarantee bail applications of those being held on lese majeste charges, as well as supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship facing various charges in connection with political protests in 2010. The commission’s chairperson, Kanit Na Nakhon, has also publicly called for judges to treat lese majeste offenders more leniently. In February, though, the courts have rejected the first three bail requests under this effort.

The House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Law, Justice, and Human Rights began a hearing on February 22 to investigate the refusal of bail in lese majeste cases in which the defendants are believed to have connection with the Red Shirt movement.

“Freedom of expression is seriously under threat in Thailand because of harsh treatment and severe penalties being meted out for peaceful expression,” Adams said.

Since the September 2006 coup, Thai authorities have taken increasingly repressive actions against those perceived to have made criticisms of the institution of monarchy. In response to mass protests led by the Red Shirts in 2009 and 2010, the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva frequently used article 112 of the Penal Code and article 14 of the Computer-Related Crimes Act to intimidate, arrest, and prosecute activists, journalists, and academics, both Thai and foreign. Despite its promises to restore respect for human rights in Thailand, the new government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which took office in August 2011, has shown little interest in ending lese majeste crackdowns. On September 1, 2011, a computer programmer, Surapak Phuchaisaeng, was arrested in Bangkok for allegedly posting pictures, audio clips, and messages deemed insulting to the royal family on the social networking site Facebook.

While PPT has been critical of the Yingluck government on lese majeste, we think HRW is being misleading on this. Surapak’s case does have the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government. At the same time, the case began under the Abhisit  government.

In this sense, as far as we are able to tell, while the current government was strong on lese majeste rhetoric, the level of cases being investigated and charged appears to have declined. That could easily change, but at the moment, HRW’s claim about the new government does not appear to match the available facts.

HRW continues:

In his 2005 birthday speech, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself stated that he was not above criticism. “Actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the King cannot be criticized, it means that the King is not human,” he said. “If the King can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the King is not being treated as a human being. But the King can do wrong.”

This speech is usually cited by “liberal royalists” in recognizing that the post-2006 coup use of lese majeste has been highly politicized. Frankly, we think that these royalists and HRW have misunderstood the point of that speech, which was essentially an attack on then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

PAD and the airport saga

24 02 2012

Remember when the People’s Alliance for Democracy occupied parliament, Government House, a bunch of southern airports and then Bangkok’s airports back in 2008? While it isn’t a complete account, see here. All of that began in late March 2008 as PAD reactivated itself and joined with the Democrat Party, appointed senators, yellow-hued academics and sundry others on the right and in the military and palace to overturn the election result of 2007.

Sound familiar? It seems that the same groups are mobilizing again in 2012.

In the Bangkok Post it is reported that charges related to the PAD occupation of the airports in Bangkok are still being investigated, some charges are being dropped and others are being added. It is all a bit ho hum when it is considered that this all relates to events from late 2008. That’s more than 3 years ago.

Meanwhile, while the PAD leadership walks about, sit in parliament, do their business, plot against the government and come up with weird conspiracy theories, lese majeste victims Ampol Tangnopakul, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, Joe Gordon, Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, Wanchai Saetan, Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Surapak Puchaisaeng, Suporn Atthawong, Surachai Sae  Dan continue to rot in jails and about 50 red shirts have been jailed since mid-2010.

Double standards continue to prevail in a judicial system that is politicized and at the service of the royalist elite.


HRW on lese majeste penalties

3 12 2011

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on lese majeste, taking the opportunity afforded by the recent sentencing of Ampol Tangnopakul.

We have some problems with their approach while applauding every call that blasts lese majeste on human rights grounds.

HRW observes that the “20 years in prison for sending four text messages illustrates the misuse by successive Thai governments of laws intended to protect the monarchy…”. HRW calls for the lese majeste law to “be amended to prevent unnecessary restrictions on freedom of expression.”

HRW concludes that the “severity of penalties being meted out for lese majeste offenses in Thailand is shocking…. The new government seems to be responding to questions about its loyalty to the monarchy by filing countless lese majeste charges.”

Frankly, this particular assertion is a misrepresentation. To date, as far as we are aware, there has only been one charge filed since the Yingluck Shinawatra government came to power. That case of  Surapak Puchaisaeng was the first of a person arrested under the new government (and later mentioned in the HRW statement).

While there are now suggestions that there might be more, even the one known case was investigated under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government. The cases of several others arrested and jailed under the previous government have gone to court. We prefer not to guess why HRW is taking this line; readers will have their own views.

While noting the cases under the Abhisit government, HRW highlights events under the Yingluck government. While statements and some actions by the current government are worrying, lese majeste repression has not reached the levels of the previous government by a long shot.

Of course, we agree that a “chokehold on freedom of expression is being created in the name of protecting the monarchy…”.

That HRW should then go ahead and quote the king on lese majeste, suggesting he can accept criticism is odd indeed. That line has been used ad nauseum and it seems that HRW is unable to see that lese majeste is a part of a system of domination. They misinterpret the political situation and the nature of political domination.

That said, we agree with HRW in urging the “government to make public information about everyone who has been arrested, charged, or convicted for lese majeste under article 112 of the Criminal Code and article 14 of the Computer Crimes Act. In particular, the Thai government should make available information about how many of the lese majeste complaints have been filed by private parties and how many have been filed by state agencies.”

Sounding rather like “liberal royalists,” HRW urges “the Thai government to amend the laws so that private parties cannot bring complaints of lese majeste since no private harm is incurred.” While calling for the abolition of lese majeste may be considered unlikely to have a practical impact in Thailand, it would make excellent human rights sense.

Again, though, HRW is politically misinformed, considering that “[p]rivate persons and groups often misuse lese majeste laws for political purposes.” That is true, but they seem intent on portraying the monarchy as a disinterested and blameless party and with no interest in lese majeste. We think that is, at best, dumb, and at worst an exercise in dissembling.

Even though we agree with HRW on the most basic aspects of lese majeste, we consider them rather too weak and careful on lese majeste and on political prisoners. They are beginning to sound rather like Amnesty International – protective of their own interests rather than being a brave and unbending beacon on human rights.

Facebook user indicted on lese majeste

30 11 2011

Prachatai reports that on 25 November, “programmer and Facebook user Suraphak (family name withheld) was indicted by the public prosecutor for lèse majesté, according to lawyer Anon Nampha.”

Surapak is “accused of being the owner of a Facebook account entitled ‘I shall…by staging coups’ and posting messages deemed offensive to the monarchy…”.

According to the report, the “indictment states that the defendant posted the defamatory comments on 4 May, 18 and 22 June, and 16 Aug 2011.  He was arrested on 2 Sept, and the police seized his laptop, an air card, two True Move SIM cards, a One Two Call SIM card, 52 CDs, a modem, a desktop computer and a circuit board.”

Surapak has denied all charges.  As has become the norm, he has been denied bail.

Prachatai quotes the public prosecutor in opposing bail:

The defendant is Thai, living on Thai soil which has His Majesty the King as Head of State, who has shown his immeasurable graciousness to the country and its inhabitants. The defendant, apart from not recognizing His Majesty’s graciousness towards the inhabitants, has the audacity to express great malice with the intent of overthrowing the institution of the monarchy, which is worshiped by the Thai people.  This is considered a threat to national security, which is unacceptable to the Thai people.  The defendant’s acts do not warrant any leniency whatsoever, and he deserves harsh punishment.  He committed serious crimes which threaten the security of the kingdom.  If granted temporary release, he will possibly flee, or tamper with the evidence, or recommit the crimes.  The public prosecutor objects to his temporary release in the event that he seeks bail.

It seems that lese majeste is now considered the most heinous of crimes for the Thai royalist state.

Prachatai reveals two little known lese majeste cases

15 10 2011

Prachatai has revealed two little-known lese majeste cases. One involves a secret trial and conviction and the other is the ongoing and first known case brought under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, with the defendant held in prison without bail. PPT saw this story first at the Thai-language version of Prachatai and is pleased to report that it is now available in English.

In the convicted case, in secret trials in 2009, Wanchai (family name withheld), about 60 and a Singaporean who has lived in Thailand for over 30 years and speaks fluent Thai, received combined sentences of 15 years for pleading guilty to charges of disseminating leaflets considered offensive to the monarchy.

On 6 April 2009, he was arrested near Government House during a protest rally of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. He was distributing 6-page leaflets strongly critical of the 2006 coup.

Angered by the seizure of airports by the People’s Alliance for Democracy in December 2008, he wrote a document of over 50 pages. He later edited it into leaflets and distributed them at more than 10 schools and universities. According to friends, he was not affiliated with the UDD. On the day of his arrest, he was seized by the UDD guards who saw him handing out the leaflets, and they took him to the police.

His trial was held in secret and even his wife had to stay outside the court. He was denied bail and the court handed down its verdict on 26 February 2010.

According to the prosecution, Wanchai’s leaflets “contained offensive comments with the intention of making the public lose faith and respect for the King.”

The court found him guilty and gave him a jail term of 15 years. However, “as he had confessed during the investigation and his testimony was considered somewhat beneficial to court proceedings, the jail term was reduced by one-third to 10 years.”

On 5 March 2010, the public prosecutor brought another case against him, this time for distributing the same leaflets at Kasetsart University Demonstration School on 16 February 2009 and on 28 February 2011, he was given a 10-year prison sentence, which was reduced to 5 years because of his guilty plea.

The report says Wanchai is presently imprisoned in Zone 4 of Bangkok Remand Prison.

In the other case, which is still pending, 40-year-old software developer Suraphak (family name not released, although PPT has a post on the case), was arrested by Technology Crime Suppression Division police on 1 September 2011. He was accused of being the owner of a Facebook page entitled ‘I shall reign with … [censored]’ which allegedly contained messages offensive to the monarchy. He denied all charges.

His 4th 12-day remand period is set to expire on 20 October, and a further bail application will be made. All previous bail requests were denied.

Freedom House on Surapak’s lese majeste case

12 09 2011

Surapak Puchaisaeng’s lese majeste case is generating considerable international interest. Freedom House has issued a “Freedom Alert” on his case. It states, with emphasis added by PPT, in full:

Computer programmer Surapak Puchaieseng was arrested, detained and had his computer confiscated after “insulting” the Thai royal family on Facebook.  Puchaieseng’s arrest marks the first lèse majesté case  since prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected. He also was accused of violating the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.  Yingluck is the sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and assumed office in August 2011.

The number of lèse majesté cases where citizens face criminal charges for defamation of the monarchy has significantly increased in recent years, and can be punished by a prison sentence of up to 15 years. The 2007 Computer Crimes Act makes the online publication of false information or statements “detrimental” to national security punishable with a five-year prison sentence or several-thousand dollar fine. Authorities have used both laws to target activists, scholars, students, journalists, authors and politicians. In May 2011, Thai authorities arrested U.S. citizen Joe Gordon, with the Thai name Lerpong Wichaikhammat, after he published a blog linking to a banned book on King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and charged him under both lèse majesté laws and the Computer Crimes Act.

Freedom House calls on the Thai government to release Puchaieseng and repeal both its lèse majesté and criminal defamation laws to bring the country in line with international standards of freedom of expression. Thailand dropped from Partly Free to Not Free in 2011 following four straight years in declines in press freedom according to the Freedom of the Press index.

Bangkok Pundit on the money

7 09 2011

Bangkok Pundit has two very good posts that deserve attention.

The first is about the lese majeste case of Facebook user Surapak Puchaisaeng. It includes updated information from a law office that PPT had only recently seen. Note the comments in this statement regarding a confession that was made apparently under pressure and with no lawyer.

The second post relates to the flurry of stories in the media regarding the transfer of National Security Council boss Thawil Pliensri by the Puea Thai government. Democrat Party leaders including both Abhisit Vejjajiva (and here) and Suthep Thaugsuban have cried that Thawil is just a civil servant doing his job and that the new government is politicizing the case. Indeed, Thawil has made the same point, reportedly claiming that “[t]hroughout his time in government service he never served any particular political party.” BP very effectively demolishes this patently false line.

Short and to the point on lese majeste

6 09 2011

The San Francisco Examiner gets right to the point on the latest lese majeste case: it is outrageous. PPT posted on the case yesterday. Read it all below:

Felonious: Man could serve 15 years for ‘defaming’ Thailand’s king

WHAT: Thai police arrested a Bangkok computer programmer on charges of insulting the nation’s 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej on a Facebook page. The charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

WHY: Thailand has a “lese majeste” law that can paint any critical comment mentioning the monarchy as governmental disloyalty. It also has a 2007 Computer Crime Act prohibiting online statements that jeopardize national security or cause panic.

WHY IT’S OUTRAGEOUS: Thai rulers have long used the criminal insult charges to silence political opponents. But this case is the first arrest by the newest government, which is now pledging to crack down on websites with monarchy-insulting content.

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