Critic in fear for his life

23 04 2017

Asia Sentinel carries a report headlined “Thai Critic Faces Death Threat.” We guess that the story is blocked for many readers in Thailand, so while not reproducing the report in full, PPT posts the main points from it.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun has become one of the most implacable critics of the country’s ruling king, … Vajiralongkorn, and the junta that took over the country in a coup in 2014. Now that may have put his life in danger from the country’s erratic and violence-prone king.

The report reports the story that Pavin and two others have been “banned” by the junta, with anyone contacting them being threatened with jail.

… The junta has unsuccessfully attempted to persuade several governments to return Pavin to Thailand. He has lived in exile since the coup, mostly as an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan although he has traveled and lectured widely in the United States and Europe, often with royalist Thais attempting to shout him down. The government has also sought to persuade foreign governments to bar him from speaking.

… In recent days, Pavin has escalated his attacks with a series of articles published in Asia Sentinel, New Mandala, and Washington Post, charging that the new king is reigning “as a monarch whose authority is based on fear and cares little about those around him. In vivid and depressing language, Vajiralongkorn’s command structure, Pavin said, resembles those of Thai mafias, or chaophos.

After the article ran, Pavin learned from a number of credible sources that the new king would seek to “manage” him, which in Thai vernacular usually means he would seek to kill his critic.

“So the warning is credible given the credibility of the source,” Pavin told Asia Sentinel. “Someone may come after me in Japan, although my friend believes it will be difficult because of where I live. But they could attack me when I travel overseas, that would be more likely.

Asia Sentinel reminds readers that “several people who worked for or with the new king have met their deaths under mysterious circumstances.” It mentions deaths and disappearances, naming: Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha and Major General Pisitsak Saniwong na Ayutthaya, Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri and Police General Akrawut Limrat.

… Deep concerns about the new king’s behavior have circulated for years, and although the country’s severe lese majeste laws have kept them out of the local press, they have circulated widely….

Since he replaced his … father, the lese-majeste laws and the military’s campaign to build Vajiralongkorn’s royal presence into near-mystical status have become a kind of trap for the junta. His erratic and violent behavior are now unchecked….

It is believed that the king engineered the disappearance of [a] memorial plaque of 1932 revolution, since he hated the revolutionaries who abolished absolute monarchy 85 years ago. And now he wishes to revive royal absolutism….

Thailand has arrived at a critical juncture in which the head of state is ruling its subjects with fear. His yearning for absolute power seems to have been met with the military’s own wish, a country where politics is a game of the political elites. To consolidate their rule, events have shown both the monarchy and the military have resorted to brutal tactics to eliminate its critics….


Palace punishment

4 03 2017

PPT has posted on the travails of former top cop and top aide to King Vajiralongkorn, Police General Jumpol Manmai.

jumpol-shavedAs has been something of a pattern when the prince-cum-king tires of people or he believes they have done him down in some way, Jumpol was first rumored to be in trouble, then legal cases were mentioned, followed by his disappearance. When he reappeared, like others, his head was shaved and he refused to apply for bail and entered guilty pleas on the legal accusation.

The Nation has a series of photos of what is a public humiliation of the former confidante to the king. Accounts on social media and The Nation report speak of dozens of photographers and reporters fighting for a piece of the new public face of the now officially disgraced Jumpol.

SuriyanThose reporters know that Jumpol is lucky to reappear – others, like Suriyan Sujaritpalawong have died.

Oddly, a later report in The Nation manages to mangle events, actually writing that “Jumpol surrendered to the Crime Suppression Division to face the charges…”.

The reporters also know that land encroachment charges seem rather “light” if Jumpol is really to be disgraced as others usually face lese majeste charges.

After all, not that long ago, former appointed premier, coup plotter and Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was seen to have engaged in forest encroachment and nothing legal seemed to happen to him. He was still able to remain on the Privy Council as he apparently retained the support of General Prem Tinsulanonda and the palace. At the time, Surayud was seen as a leading light in the anti-Thaksin-cum-yellow shirt machinations against Thaksin Shinawatra and his parties and supporters.

Another reason for huge interest in the Jumpol case is that he is widely considered to have provided a link between Thaksin and the prince-now-king. The evidence for this is seen in some Wikileaks speculation and because Jumpol was treated as a Thaksin man by the former Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, despite his links to the then prince.

The police state they “have yet to charge him with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which involves lese majeste,” so it seems that this step is likely.

After his initial appearance, the military used one of their aircraft to take Jumpol to Nakorn Ratchasima for several legal matters associated with land encroachment.

One further step in the palace punishment process is to also charge family members as “accomplices.” These people may have committed real crimes, but their position close to a now “failed” royal relationship also places them at risk and they also get disgraced.

In this quite feudal and narcissistic approach to “relationships” has now seen Jumpol’s wife appear to be charged. Unusually, the police banned reporters from taking photographs of her.

She is described as having “turned herself in to police yesterday to face the same [forest encroachment] charges. She is reported to have “denied some of the charges against her, but allegedly made partial admissions during the police interrogation.” She was released on bail.

It is also reported that:

three other defendants had been released on bail after police investigators concluded that they were unlikely to flee. They were identified as Region 5 Police deputy commissioner Pol Maj-General Pongdej Prommijit, his wife Chanasit Pisitwanit, and her relative Manop Plodkhoksoong.

We suspect there’s a lot more to play out in this case.

Lese majeste convictions in Ying Kai case

19 11 2016

For some months PPT has been following the so-called Ying Kai case, which came with accusations of lese majeste. That case continues while spinning off four other lese majeste cases.

Those four cases are reported in the Bangkok Post.

KamolthatThe first involves Kamonthat Thanathornkhositjira or Kim-eng Sae Tia, 62, a half-sister of Ying Kai or Monta [Montra] Yokrattanakan. With others, she was accused of criminal plots, fraud and lese majeste. Kamonthat was first detained on 26 August 2016. She was accused of fraud and falsifying documents, and with alleged links to lese majeste offenses, presumably those Ying Kai stands accused of. She is claimed to have invoked the so-called royal institution in a scam that allegedly swindled more than 3 million baht from victims. However, other, much larger figures, are also mentioned in some reports.

Sounding very similar to earlier cases of claimed lese majeste fraud, such as the Pongpat group and that associated with the now deceased Mor Yong, police also raided a Lat Phrao Soi 60 condominium and searched three luxury units for further evidence related to lese majeste offenses. The search reportedly found valuable items like antique porcelain, ivory tusks, swords, statues and amulets. Documents and some “valuable items” bearing royal emblems were collected by the police raid team.

The list of offenses grew and grew, with the alleged crimes taking place between 1 November 2010 and 16 March 2014. On 18 November 2016, Kamonthat was sentenced to a total of 150 years on 33 charges. Her jail term was reduced because of her confession. As the maximum jail term is 50 years, that’s what the Criminal Court gave her when declaring her “guilty of lese majeste, fraud, falsifying documents and invoking the royal institution.” These accusations include “making fake documents purported to be from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and conning people to contribute money for royal kathin ceremonies.”

[PPT is not aware of this last “crime” or that it was not covered under Article 112. We would welcome any advice on this from readers. We suggest using the comments facility here and we will not post the comment and will delete it.]

Kamonthat was sentenced along with and alleged accomplice Sak Siriyakhom, 50. Other alleged accomplices are Pol Lt Col. Ekkasit Thanathornkositjit, 68, and Taworn Puanprathum [sometimes Puangpratoom], 66, who have opted to fight the charges.

Sak received 144 years on 31 charges. The two were also ordered to repay “5.14 million baht to the damaged parties,” a trifling amount in anything associated with the royal house.

There is obviously much more going on in these cases than the press reports – for fear of Article 112 – and questions remain about whether this alleged fraud was, at one time, sanctioned by some royal figure and that these persons managed to alienate that figure, resulting in punishment. We just don’t know. Of course, the lese majeste law is much about limiting information that involves royals.

Updated: More Ying Kai-related lese majeste cases

1 09 2016

A while ago PPT created a page for the Ying Kai lese majeste case. It seems we need to create another three pages for new cases being brought against Monta or Montra “Ying Kai” Yokrattanakan’s elder sister, an official – nor “former” official – of the Royal Household Bureau, and another man, still to be arrested.

The Bangkok Post reports that both Ying Kai’s sister Kamonthat “Kim-eng” Sae Thanathornkhositjira and former Royal Household Bureau employee Taworn Puangpratoom are both accused of being members of an “alleged … criminal plot,” fraud and lese majeste.

Kamonthat, aged 62, was detained a few days ago. She was accused of “fraud and falsifying documents, with alleged links to lese majeste offences.” Police raided “a condominium building on Lat Phrao Soi 60 in Bangkok where they searched three luxurious units for further evidence related to lese majeste offences.”

She stands “accused of invoking the royal institution in a fund-raising scam that swindled more than 3 million baht from victims.” The search reportedly “found many valuable items including antique porcelain, ivory tusks, swords, statues and amulets. Documents and some valuable items bearing royal emblems were also found.”

(This all sounds like the reporting of the Pongpat case and that of Mor Yong.)

The police are “examining the royal emblems to determine if the items are fake. If evidence is found that she had cited the royal institution as alleged, police would press additional charges of breaching Section 112 of the Criminal Code…”.

The second person being investigated is Taworn, aged 66, who was “detained” on 29 August 2016, at his home in Huay Kwang. Taworn was charged “as an accomplice of Ms Kamonthat.” He faces “allegations of fraud and falsifying documents in a scheme involving lese majeste offences.”

The arrest of Taworn is “seen as a significant breakthrough in the case.” What is significant is that he “worked at the [Royal Household B]ureau’s Royal Chamberlains Division (Chitralada Palace)…”.

The Criminal Court also approved a police request to arrest “another man, identified as Somsak Siriyakom, who is still at large. Mr Somsak faces the same charges as Mr Taworn.” We do not know if he was also employed in the royal household.

Several people “have  lodged official complaints with police that they were conned by the alleged Kim-eng scheme. They include an army major-general and a colonel.” The “scheme” seems to have involved taking donations after a television program where Kamonthat lauded the monarchy.

The police claim “Kamonthat’s network” was larger than the three who have been named so far.

This case, along with several others, suggests massive corruption has riddled the royal household, probably for many years.

Update: Khaosod reports a somewhat ambiguous police claim: that Taworn “dressed himself to look similar to an official from the royal palace to fool victims into believing that Mrs. Kim Eng was someone close to people in the high circle…”. He did work for the Royal Household Bureau.

Jirawong gets 7 years for lese majeste

4 08 2016

Jirawong Wattanathewasilp was secretly arrested on or about 16 October 2015 and charged with lese majeste. He has now been sentenced by a military court to 7 years jail, reduced by half for a guilty plea. Jirawong

He was accused of using his connections with the royal household – to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn – for financial gain.

Khaosod reports that a “military tribunal convicted an assistant to the Crown Prince’s late court astrologer of insulting the monarchy and sentenced him Monday to three and a half years in jail.”

His lese majeste travails are not over as he “will be tried twice more by the military court on the same charge for two other alleged offenses.” He was “immediately returned to the detention facility at the 11th Army Circle base on Bangkok’s Nakornchaisri Road, where he has been held since October, to await his further trials.”Vajiralongkorn

Khaosod states:

As with many other cases that involve the monarchy, the exact nature of the trio’s alleged wrongdoing was never made clear by police, and media agencies were instructed not to report about the scandal other than publishing official statements and authorized leaks.

Jirawong was initially detained with his boss Suriyan Sujaritpolwong, alias Mor Yong and Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha, of the Technology Crime Suppression Division. There case was palace-related. The authorities froze some of their assets while comparing these cases with those surrounding former Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) chief Pongpat Chayaphan.

Initial reports said Suriyan had “confessed” while Jirawong and Prakrom denied the charges. Within a day, all were said to have “confessed.”

Prakrom was soon dead. He was said to have hung himself. Suriyan followed, with authorities denying his death. Only Jirawong survived custody (so far).

The massive pre-succession clearout of the prince’s previous allies and those of his former wife have been vicious,

Lese majeste and the crushing of justice

8 07 2016

In a couple of posts, about a year ago, PPT referred to the “development” of “legal” notions that seemed to amount to a new “law” that we dubbed “lese dictateur.” This “law” was protecting The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

At the time, we did not link this “law” to the Bike for Dad shenanigans and the clutch of lese majeste cases that resulted from very odd claims about an “assassination plot.”

Bike for dad

At the time of the Bike for Dad event, celebrating the king and and supposedly organized by  and showcasing Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, it was never made clear who the target of the “plot” was.

We do know that the event resulted in the “death” in custody of two men who had been close to the prince. In neo-feudal Thailand, the deaths of Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha were never adequately investigated or explained.

It was never made clear how the “plotters” – referred to by the media and regime as “terrorists” – had committed lese majeste. Rumors were that the “target” was The Dictator himself. If that was so, then it was unclear how lese majeste was a charge.

In other words, the Bike for Dad deaths and plot were shrouded in neo-feudal and military junta-imposed secrecy and a fog of rumor.

Prachatai reports that this in not going to change. The trial, in a provincial military court, of the alleged “plotters” will be held in secret:

Citing national peace and order, a military court has given the green light to the prosecution’s request to hold the trial of six lèse majesté suspects in secret. They are alleged to have been involved in a Bike for Dad terrorist plot and making lèse majesté comments behind bars.

The “Military Court in Khon Kaen approved the military prosecutor’s request to hold a secret trial for Prathin Chanket and five other suspects charged with lèse majesté, arguing that a public trial would affect national peace and order since the case contained sensitive messages…”.

The secret trial will begin on 4 August 2016.

This trial now revolves around the six suspects being accused of, “some time between August 2014 and February 2015, the defendants uttered three lèse majesté messages to two witnesses.” (They still face cases under other laws for a “terrorist” plot.)

That, apparently, is the totality of lese majeste aspect of the allegations.

Remarkably, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “during that time [when they committed the alleged lese majeste], the defendants were being detained separately at a prison in Khon Kaen Province.”

It is understood they were being held as defendants in another murky case brought by the military dictatorship, claiming they plotted separate anti-coup actions in 2014, when they were arrested and jailed.

As might be expected from persons already incarcerated, all the defendants therefore denied the lese majeste allegation.

Prayuth’s authoritarian Thailand is a lawless place where justice is crushed under the military boot.

An official epidemic

21 02 2016

In an op-ed at Asia Sentinel, usually blocked in Thailand, Charupong Ruangsuwan, the executive-director of the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (OFHD), based in San Francisco, and a former Puea Thai Party leader, writes on an epidemic of suicides and flight among senior police and military.

Because of the blocking, we reproduce much of the op-ed.

On 12 February, it was reported that “a Thai police spokesman announced that a high-ranking official, Lt. Col. Chan Chaisawatra, had committed suicide.” Charupong states:

We believe he didn’t commit suicide. We believe he was murdered, the latest in a long series of “suicides” that began last year in what amounts to a reign of terror within the Royal Thai Police.

The claim that he committed suicide is belied by the fact that Chan had been promised a promotion a month earlier. Our investigation in Bangkok has revealed that the junta wanted to set an example for any government employees of the consequences of daring to challenge the authority of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha….

On Feb. 8, Chan lodged a formal complaint regarding the use of the junta’s notorious Article 44 which gives universal power to the junta leader, including the disbandment of the officer’s  investigative division at the police department.

If Chan was murdered, then his “death, after 20 years of service, has sent a shiver to every police officer in Thailand.”

Charupong states that: “The news of his death has not been reported by any Thai media at the moment or they could face grave consequences including the shutdown of their publication.”

But why an “epidemic”? Charupong points out that “[l]ate last year, Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, another high-ranking Thai police officer resigned and escaped death, fleeing to Australia in fear of his life.”

Others have fled:

Police Gen. Khachachart Boondee  as well as Maj. Gen. Suchart Prommai, former 11th Infantry Regiment commander now stripped of military rank; Police Col. Col Pairoj Rojanakhajorn, a former chief of the Crime Suppression Division’s Sub-Division 2; and his-then deputy Lt Col Thammawat Hiranyalekha.

In addition:

Police Major Prakrom Warunprapa and Major General Pisitsak Saneewong na Ayutthaya, the chief bodyguard of Prince Vajiralongkorn, supposedly committed suicide in jail. The prince’s soothsayer, Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, aka Mor Yong, supposedly died of renal failure. Former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri also disappeared.

All of this is chilling:

Academics and past politicians dare not exercise free speech. Countless numbers of Red Shirts and pro-democracy activists has disappeared without any traces. Their loved ones and relatives have contacted me but I couldn’t help them. I am now living in exile in the United States.

What can be done? Not much in Thailand, where the royalist generals and their murderous minions have impunity. Charupong urges:

The United States, the U.K., the E.U., Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all other civilized nations must continue to put pressure on the illegal regime of Gen. Prayuth to respect human rights and stop murdering people who speak their minds peacefully.