Observation a crime under the junta

29 12 2017

Back on 31 July 2016, two members of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) observed a “Talk for Freedom” seminar on the military junta’s then draft constitution that was meant to be approved in a referendum. In order to ensure a positive vote, the junta had banned any discussion of its constitution that it deemed negative.

The activists who organized the seminar were charged with breaching the junta’s ban on public gatherings of five or more people.

Remarkably – well, not really, for no act of political repression is remarkable in Thailand – the police and military also arrested the two TLHR observers.

Even more remarkably – well, not really, for no act of political repression is remarkable in Thailand – a Military Court in Khon Kaen province has begun hearing the case against the two for doing no more than observing the seminar.

While the two have pleaded not guilty and will fight the case, Prachatai points out that “the TLHR staff were not the organisers of the event, but rather human rights defenders who came to observe,” and adds that this “is the first case under the NCPO [junta] regime where the authorities have pressed charges against human rights defenders for merely monitoring an anti-junta activity.”





More judicial harassment

15 12 2017

The military dictatorship has repeatedly used the judiciary to harass its political opponents. It has also repeatedly used this harassment against individuals. It is at it again.

One such case is Arnon Nampa, a human rights lawyer who is also anti-junta and a member of Resistant Citizen. He is associated with Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and has defended numerous individuals accused of lese majeste and the Computer Crimes Act since 2010. His high profile cases have included Ampol Tangnopakul, the aged lese majeste victim who died in prison in 2012 and the case of a man accused of lese majeste for mocking the then king’s dog.

Arnon has faced several situations identified as judicial harassment. In 2015, the military accused him of “importing into a computer false information which may damage national security” under the Computer Crimes Act for five Facebook posts that criticized the military regime’s administration of “justice” under martial law. Then he faced up to 25 years in jail and a fine. In 2016, he was charged with “standing still.” This was a public protest against the junta’s detention of anti-coup activists. The public prosecutor filed charges under Public Assembly Act.

The junta is again using the judiciary to harass Arnon. Is the EU following this case?

According to Prachatai, police have summoned Arnon “over his 2 Nov 2017 Facebook post, accusing him of contempt of the court and importing false information into a computer system under Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act.”

His “crime” was to question the Khon Kaen court’s 2 November verdict “which found seven anti-junta activists guilty of contempt of the court for their activities in front of Khon Kaen Court on 10 Jan 2017.” This case had accused a “peaceful symbolic activity was organised to give moral courage to Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, alias Pai Dao Din, a pro-democracy activist who has been sentenced to 2 years and six months in jail for lèse majesté.”

Arnon copied a news story and wrote a comment, questioning if it is fair or even possible for a court to prohibit those convicted “from associating with each other.”

For this he gets slapped with a charge that could result in many years in jail.

The harassment of political opponents continues. The junta brooks no opposition.





Royal secrecy deepens

13 12 2017

King Vajiralongkorn’s reign has been characterized by fear and secrecy.

The fear has spread throughout society. Fear of getting on the wrong side of a powerful man said to be vicious and cruel. Fear of his enforcers, including the junta. Fear of doing the wrong thing. Fear of the royalists patrolling royal boundaries. Fear of not knowing what those boundaries are and how they move.

Secrecy has surrounded all official dealings, from the raft of laws (including the constitution) that have been changed to suit the king and give him vastly increased power to the cremation of the dead king.

Put all of this fear and secrecy together and it means that officials are petrified.

Prachatai reports on how this petrified state has played out in yet another bizarre lese majeste case.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the Office of the Council of State (OCS) has denied lawyers access to a document required to defend a client charged with lese majeste for allegedly defaming Princess Sirindhorn.

Sensible readings of Article 112 are clear that she is not covered by the law. Yet that has not stopped courts from ruling on lese majeste cases about her.

The document is requested because “Sirindhorn’s official title in Thai before King Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne included ‘Crown Princess’.” This leads to “dispute as to whether she was considered an heir apparent of the Thai monarch,” and thus covered by the law.

We think this is buffalo manure because, from 1972, there was only one heir apparent. But as the courts apply the law willy-nilly and in cases involving dogs and long dead kings, we see why the lawyer seeks it.

The report states:

The lawyer first requested access to the document in June 2017 but the OCS declined the request citing the Rule on Maintenance of Official Secrets 2001 and Article 14 of the Public Information Act 1997.

The OCS claims the document “is classified because information in the document could damage the monarchy if it is published.” The TLHR counters that “the document was accessible on the OCS website until at least June 2017.”

In August 2017, the court trying the lese majeste case to allow access, but this was rejected, with the court “stating that it can rule on the case regardless of the OCS document.” It also ruled that the “OCS does not have authority over the document.”

All things royal are becoming even more opaque than they were in the past. Neo-feudal Thailand is a dark, dangerous, unpredictable and daft administrative space.





On Constitution Day

10 12 2017

Constitution Day remains a holiday, but most of the meaning of the event has been drained away by palace propaganda aided and abetted by decades of royalist governments.

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod asks: “what’s really left to really celebrate?” It is a good question.

Eight and a half decades after the 1932 revolt put the “constitutional” into constitutional monarchy, the kingdom has seen too many charters discarded. The current one is No. 20. Divide that by 85 years, you get an average lifespan for Thai constitutions of just slightly over four years.

An average car is more durable. A typical refrigerator is going to get more use.

He argues that almost no one in Thailand has “a strong attachment to the Thai constitution.”

That’s only partly true. There are those who have an attachment to the first 1932 constitution. That is the one that represented the spirit of 1932 before the royalists began rolling it back and replacing people’s sovereignty with royalism.

Of course, there’s no reason to celebrate the junta’s 2017 Constitution. This document is the spirit of military despotism, paternalism and anti-democracy. We at PPT would celebrate this military charter cast into history’s dustbin, along with the aged flunkies who crafted it.

One Bangkok Post story that caught our attention for Constitution Day concerns a group of political activists who “will petition the Constitutional Court to lift one of the junta’s orders on the grounds that it is an outright violation of the constitution.”

Violating constitutions is pretty much stock-in-trade for the junta.

The Democracy Restoration Group of the New Democracy Movement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and “representatives of people affected by NCPO Order No.3/2558 announced the move at Thammasat University on Saturday.”

That order “bans freedom of assembly and empowers soldiers to summon any person to testify and to detain people for up to seven days, among others.”

The activists seem determined to keep the pressure on the junta for its illegal rule.

And then there was another Bangkok Post story – indeed, an editorial – that seemed to fit Constitution Day for its gentle push-back on the royal re-acquisition of the old zoo, consolidating royal property and privatizing it.

It begins with what seems like a justification for the new zoo which is expected to begin construction around 2019. But then it carefully changes tack, referring to “a few concerns about the new site.” Distance, entrance fees,  lack of public transport. It then gets really interesting:

One key question remains about the future of the old Dusit Zoo after the relocation is completed….

But the [zoo] agency should be aware that any decision on the future of the zoo should be based on the history of the place.

Acknowledging that history, the Post calls for the old zoo to become “a botanical garden or a park for public use.”

That’s a rare call in a neo-feudal military dictatorship.





Sanctioning and campaigning II

18 10 2017

In an earlier post, we mentioned the case of a military court having accepted a case against several people who participated in seminar last year discussing the junta-backed charter.

The point we didn’t make, and should have was that three of those charged are human rights lawyers who, it is reported, “merely observe the event”

In Khon Kaen, the Military Court accepted the case against five student activists,  Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, Phanuphong Sithananuwat, Akhom Sibutta, Chadthai Noiunsaen and Narongrit Uppachan. Two other charged are staff of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Duangthip Karnrit, Neeranuch Niemsub. The final person charged was local human rights activist, Natthaphon Athan.

The report states:

This is the first case that authorities have ever pressed charges against those merely observing an anti-junta seminar. Duangthip and Neeranuch were at the seminar to observe and record human rights violations. However, they were accused of the same offence as the event’s organizers.

Amnesty International is cited in another report stating:

The two TLHR staff did not directly participate in the event, but rather attended as observers. They wore badges displaying their affiliation with TLHR and informed senior police and military officials present at the event that they were attending in an observational capacity….

The charge and case “will prevent Duangthip and Niranut from fully doing their jobs, according to Thai Lawyers chairwoman Yaowalak Anuphan.” She states:

Instead of working 100 percent to help other people, they must take care of their own cases…. And the military court is very slow. They arrange a hearing every three or four months. And the officers like to cancel. So people must travel there again and again.

The junta doesn’t want human rights activists bothering its people as they prepare for an “election.”





Sirindhorn 4 lese majeste case continues

27 09 2017

PPT worked on this post some time ago. However, unnoticed until now, it became hung up between a draft and a finished post. We have finally “rescued” it.

Prachatai reports that a “court has detained a suspect accused of royal defamation further although there is no apparent evidence linking him to the a group of people accused of defaming Princess Sirindhorn.”

This case refers to a group we have called the Sirindhorn 4. The case became known from about 20 August 2015, when the Kamphaeng Phet provincial court issued arrest warrants for Kittiphop Sitthirat, 23, Atsadaphon Sitthirat, 45, and Wiset Phutthasa, 30, on lese majeste accusations. Later, a fourth name was added, Noppharit (surname not known), 28.

According to Prachatai, on 18 September 2017, the Kamphaeng Phet Provincial Court began the trial of four persons accused of Article 112 offenses or lese majeste.

They are accused of forging “documents from the Secretariat Office of Princess Sirindhorn promising the Princess’ presence at a religious event in April 2015 at Wat Sai Ngam Buddhist Monastery in Kamphaeng Phet Province, provided the temple paid them 100,000 baht.”

Few would find such a claim odd as, for example, every university student participating in a graduation ceremony pays for the “privilege” of having a royal hand out the diploma. The royal gets the loot.

In the case in court, “[o]nly two of the accused, Atsadaphon and and Noppharit … are still fighting the case because the two others have pleaded guilty.”

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Noppharit is not pleading guilty because he denies involvement and claims he does not know the other defendants. TLHR states that “all the witnesses who were present at the religious event testified that they did not know the suspect prior to the event.”

Noppharit maintains “that he is innocent and only participated in the event because he was invited to make merit at the temple by Wiset, one of the two suspects who pleaded guilty.”

On his arrest he says: “I was shocked and surprised because I didn’t know anything. Suddenly the arrest warrant arrived and [I was] confused and surprised when read the charge…”.

All four suspects have been detained since their arrest and the court has repeatedly denied them bail.

In addition, “Noppharit … submitted a request to the court and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) to reconsider whether the charge of making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn falls under Article 112.”

Of course, his lawyers are correct as the law does not apply to her. But, true to form, the court and the Office of the Attorney General reinterpreted law as if the written words do not convey real meaning: the court “rejected the requests while the AGO confirmed the decision of the  Kamphaeng Phet prosecutor to indict him.”

As we have said previously, when it comes to lese majeste, the actual law hardly matters.





Lese majeste that isn’t

17 07 2017

One of the ways in which the courts have undermined the rule of law has been by applying the lese majeste law to persons, dead, alive, fictional and historical, and some animals.

Anyone reading that sentence will be baffled, but it is a fact that the Thai courts have applied the law to threaten real and imagined opponents of the royalist regime and have tended to ignore what the law actually says.

On or about 20 August 2015, the Kamphaeng Phet provincial court issued arrest warrants for Kittiphop Sitthirat, 23, Atsadaphon Sitthirat, 45, and Wiset Phutthasa, 30, on lese majeste accusations. Later, a fourth name was added, Noppharit (surname not known), 28. Some were arrested on 21 August 2015.

They are accused of having made false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Bureau of the Royal Household. Most significantly, they were accused of using Princess Sirindhorn’s name and so we call them the Sirindhorn 4.

All denied lese majeste charges when they appeared in court on 21 December 2015.

At the time, Noppharit, the fourth suspect, told the court that he does not know why he has been arrested and charged. He stated that he does not know the other three suspects and is not involved in the alleged crimes. He was arrested on 21 August 2015 and requested bail. As usual, the court denied it because the case involves the monarchy and there was a flight risk. All of this is the standard and cruel court practice in lese majeste cases.

Lawyers for Noppharit made an obvious submission, asking the court to consider whether the case falls under Article 112 since that law does not apply to Princess Sirindhorn. It doesn’t.

As has often been the case in the use of the lese majeste, the court chose to ignore the actual law and dismissed the request, saying “under the current procedure, it is not yet necessary to consider the request from the fourth suspect.”

In May 2016, the Provincial Court at Kamphaeng Phet sentenced Kittiphop, 23, and Wiset, 30, to four years’ imprisonment for lese majeste law, for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn for financial benefit.

Now, Prachatai reports that “[h]uman rights lawyers are arguing that suspects accused of defaming Princess Sirindhorn should not be indicted with the lèse majesté law.”

PPT is confused by the report, given earlier reports of convictions, but we will accept that Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is correct in stating that “during the period of 18 July–December the Provincial Court of Kamphaeng Phet will hold trials for four suspects indicted with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code…”.

The report adds that the “four suspects have been detained indefinitely, since the court has repeatedly denied bail.”

It states that “Noppharit also submitted two requests that the court reconsider whether false claims about Princess Sirindhorn falls under Article 112. The court, however, rejected the request.”

TLHR has “pointed out that indicting the four with Article 112 significantly affects interpretations of the lèse majesté law and the country’s judicial system in general…”. The report goes on to explain previous cases related to royals not covered by the lese majeste law. These are worth setting out in full:

In 1989, the Royal Thai Police submitted a request to the Council of State to conclude whether Princess Sirindhorn is an heir to the throne. The Council concluded that based on the 1924 Palace Law of Succession and a statement from the Bureau of the Royal Household, the only heir-apparent to the throne at the time was the then Prince Vajiralongkorn, now the current King.

The Council ruled further that defaming the princess falls under Article 326 of the Criminal Code, the criminal defamation law, under which a case can only begin if the injured party files a complaint against the offender, or gives authorisation to another person to file it. However, in Noppharit’s case, the plaintiff is Wat Sai Ngam Buddhist Monastery.

In 2012, Thanyaburi Provincial Court sentenced Anon (surname witheld due to privacy concerns) to two years in prison for defaming Princess Sirindhorn and Princess Soamsawali during a private conversation. He was initially indicted with Article 112, but the court ruled that the alleged crime fell under the normal criminal defamation law. The Appeal Court later dismissed the charge against him.

In another case in 2004, Nonthaburi Provincial Court handed 10 years of imprisonment to Prachuap (surname withheld due to privacy concerns). He was indicted with two counts under the lèse majesté law for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn, the then Prince Vajiralongkorn, the Queen, and Princess Bajrakitiyabha.

In 2005, the Appeal Court reduced the jail term for Prachuap to five years after concluding that Princess Sirindhorn was not an heir-apparent. Later the Supreme Court reduced his imprisonment to 4 years, reasoning that Prachuap is loyal to the monarchy and had never committed a crime before.