“This is considered unusual in legal practice”

28 06 2018

On 27 June 2018, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 16 months in prison. This is a somewhat surprising outcome in a case where the lawyer challenged the courts.

With five others, Prawet was arrested  by the military on 29 April 2017. The six were detained on lese majeste charges for allegedly sharing a  Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. That post was allegedly authored by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. It was claimed that the post called for Thailand to become a republic.

Initially detained incommunicado, Prawet has been held in jail since then. In addition to lese majeste, he and the others faced sedition and computer crimes charges.

Prawet himself was accused of three separate charges under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste. In total, Prawet faces up to 171 years in jail, although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years.

PPT’s view was that the twinning of sedition and lese majeste made it clear that the military dictatorship was seeking to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Little has been heard of any of the detainees other than Prawet.

Prawet appeared in court on 18 September 2017 and stunned the judges by stating that he did not accept the Thai judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet challenged the court’s impartiality: “Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case…”. Prawet said he would not participate in the case nor have a lawyer represent him.

When he finally reappeared in court on 8 May 2018, Prawet engaged in a heated 30-minute argument with judges, stating he did not believe the court will rule his lese majeste case with fairness and impartiality. He asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

Prawet again stated that he would not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but said he would not obstruct testimony. He again refused lawyers and refused to sign any documents. He repeated that the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

Again, the judges seemed flummoxed by this challenge to the way the judiciary (mis)handled lese majeste cases.

The judges then closed the court for a secret trial. The verdict was supposed to have been delivered on 23 May but was delayed for more than a month, suggesting that behind the scenes there was considerable activity.

The surprises in this verdict for Prawet were that the sedition sentences were remarkably short and  that the court dropped “any mention of the royal defamation charge against him…”. Nor did the court explain why the lese majeste cases were “dropped without explanation.”

In the three sedition cases where the “military [regime] alleged he [Prawet] was behind a group calling on Redshirts and Yellowshirts to unite and turn Thailand into a federal republic,” he received only five months on each count, suggesting that the “evidence” was weak but that the court needed to save some face. With time served, he could released within weeks.

Prawet was given another month in jail “for refusing to fingerprint court documents…”.

On lese majeste charges disappearing, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said: “Usually, when the court acquits someone, they have to clearly explain it…. This is considered unusual in legal practice.”

In the context of Prawet’s challenge, we read this short report as a statement that the court and the regime probably wanted to prevent further criticism of the courts. Yet by mysteriously dropping the lese majeste charges the court again demonstrates that the law is a feudal remnant that is not only incongruous with modern law but is itself outside the law. Lese majeste cases are not subject to the law as it is written and nor are those charged given legal and constitutional protections to which they are entitled.

While the sedition “convictions” save face, the lese majeste is a festering sore for the judiciary. A gangrenous judiciary does Thailand no good. “Amputating” the law is the only solution if the courts are ever to be taken seriously and to fulfill their duties to the people.





An “election” that cannot be free or fair

27 06 2018

We at PPT have long pointed out that notions of Thailand’s junta delivering a free and fair election are ridiculous. In several posts we have shown why this is impossible. There has been relatively little discussion of this so far, but as the “election” becomes a site of debate, there’s more discussion of the nature of the junta’s rigged “election.”

One recent report worth noting is of a human rights activists speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand and reported at Khaosod has delivered a similar conclusion: “Democratic elections next year will be meaningless under the existing political and legal conditions imposed by the military government…”.

One aspect of the report worth considering is the conclusion that “the next elected government could become a puppet of the military, even with the junta out of the picture…”.

According to Sirikan Charoensiri of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, that puppetry can only be avoided if there is a strong civil society:

Civil society can strongly support the new government to fulfill the wishes of civilians under democratic rules. In this way, civilian authorities could disconnect from the absolute power of the military junta….

That strikes us as grasping at straws. One of the main tasks the military dictatorship gave itself was the atomization of civil society, disciplining some, crushing others and supporting anti-democrat elements of civil society.

Another assessment is by academic James Taylor at East Asian Forum. He argues that the current military dictatorship is just one more authoritarian government:

… throughout its history and in the years since the 2014 coup, Thailand’s fascistic tendencies have emerged through the crevices of an imaginary democratic state. Thailand was never able to establish its democratic bearings and has been constantly held back by military–monarchy interests.

He points to the most basic facts of the post-coup regime and its tasks:

Upon seizing power … the military junta was quick to suppress dissent, limiting rights and freedoms. The coup makers replaced officials at all levels with hand-picked senators and lackeys emplaced in all public sectors, administration, courts and so-called independent bodies. Aside from the implications of the 2017 military constitution, this would make it difficult for a new freely elected party to implement institutional or policy reforms.

Taylor thinks the way forward is for “new movements and sites of struggle must emerge…”.

Such movements and sites are only likely to emerge from principled opposition to military authoritarianism.





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.”