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.





Keeping the repression lock on

8 07 2017

After more than three years, the military dictatorship is not about to allow critics much space. This doubling down on repression is likely to continue until the junta decides it can hold its “election” and be assured of an outcome that suits it.

In a recent piece at Prachatai, readers get a clear idea of the repressive tasks it has allocated itself, in addition to making sure that the Shinawatra clan is hobbled and nobbled.

The story of the mopping up those who identified themselves as junta enemies by daring to discuss the junta’s constitution as it was mixed, rolled and roasted by various well-paid junta flunkies, sometimes considered lawyers and law “scholars.” Eventually they came up with the 2017 constitution, which the king and junta still changed after it was “approved” in a wobbly junta referendum.

A year after the constitution “referendum” Khon Kaen police – who have become especially politically active – have decided “to press charges against 11 people accused of breaking the junta’s political gathering ban for participating in a discussion about the 2017 Constitution.”

Heavens, not a discussion! How threatening! Lock ’em up!

They have been ordered to report to the 23rd Military Circle in the province (not the police). The police decided “to press charges against them and submit the case file to the military prosecutor.”

The 11 are: Cherdchai Tantisirin, former Member of Parliament for the Pheu Thai Party, Panwadee Tantisirin, lecturer in the Nursing Faculty of Khon Kaen University, Rangsiman Rome, key member of the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG), Panupong Sritananuwat and Akhom Sributta, activists from Dao Din Group, [the jailed] Jatuphat ‘Pai Dao Din’ Boonpattararaksa, Narongrit Uppachan, Nattaporn Ajharn, an environmental activist, Duangthip Khanrit and Niranut Niamsap, staff of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), and another person who requested anonymity.

The junta’s thinking seems to be that these activists could annoy them when it decided to hold its “election.”





Still detained, law ignored

28 06 2017

Prachatai reports that what PPT calls the torture of lese majeste “suspects” continues unabated and is being applied to human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul.

For the sixth time, the Criminal Court has “refused to release a human rights lawyer facing up to 50 years in prison for royal defamation and sedition.” [Actually, as the report later states, he faces 171 years on lese majeste and sedition, but there’s a 50 year sentencing limit.]

On 26 June 2017, the Criminal Court in Bangkok renewed the pre-trial detention period for Prawet. He has now been held for two months, while the police “investigate.”

Of course, the aim is to wear down Prawet, forcing him to plead guilty.

The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) argued that “the case’s interrogation process is already complete.” It was also argued that “prolonging of the detention is against Article 29 of the 2017 Constitution, which in brief states that suspects of crimes have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

The error here is in thinking that any lese majeste case will be considered on the basis of law. As many cases have demonstrated, law is strikingly absent from these acts of political intimidation and repression.

As expected, the court ignored law and statements by the prosecution that the case was investigated and kept Prawet locked up.

Prawet was one of six people arrested by police and military officers on 29 April 2017. We have no further information on the other five.

All are accused of a variety of lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition offenses for “sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 revolution plaque by Somsak Jeamteerasakul…”.

The claim now heard is that “Prawet allegedly posted Facebook comments asserting that Thailand should become a republic.”

Thailand should be a republic.





Extreme lese majeste secrecy?

16 06 2017

PPT had an email alert today about a lese majeste case. As it turned out, this was a link to an old Reuters story at the Jakarta Globe, from late May. That story referred to the arrest of “five people for allegedly setting fire to portraits of late King Bhumibol…”.

The report set us thinking. Has there been a change to the already significant levels of secrecy associated with lese majeste cases, coinciding with the new reign?

We can’t think of any recent reports regarding these five. Have they been brought before a court in the last three weeks? If so, was this in secret, with no reporting? Or have we just missed it?

Then we recalled the Stolen history 6 case. Their detention was approved on 3 May 2017, for allegedly sharing a Facebook post by Somsak Jeamteerasakul on the theft/official removal of the 1932 revolution plaque.

The last report PPT can recall on their cases was when, on 11 May 2017, the Criminal Court in Bangkok refused bail for human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul, one of those arrested, renewing his detention.

We checked at iLaw, and couldn’t find any more. We also had a quick look at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, but no recent reports there either.

Again, we wonder if this is a case of extreme secrecy.

If this is the case – and we may have missed a report – then the military dictatorship has ditched all pretenses that lese majeste is a legal charge. It is more like an extreme purge by a gang. No law is necessary.

As a footnote, we wonder how all of those academics attending the International Conference on Thai Studies are feeling about the arrest of the six? One is a human rights lawyer and another is an academic, just like them, who has even had a paper accepted for the conference. They were arrested for sharing a social media post by a historian who has to live in exile. How’s that feeling?





Burning down the house II

22 05 2017

The Reuters report mentioned briefly in a recent post has now been updated with more detail at Prachatai and at Khaosod. There are significant differences between the latter two reports on the alleged burning of a roadside portrait of the dead king.

The Reuters report referred to five detainees. Prachatai’s report states that three men – Chirayut, Rattathammanoon, Akkarapong (witholding surnames due to privacy concerns) – and a 14 year-old boy, all from Khon Kaen, were arrested on 19 May. It adds that two other suspects, Setha and Preecha, were “still at large.” Khaosod states:

Seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, are in military custody on suspicion of setting fire to a roadside portrait….

… an internal memo circulated by the Ministry of Interior Affairs identified four of them as Chirayu Sinpho, 19; Ratrthathammanoon Srihabutr, 20; Akkharapong Aryukong, 19; and a 14-year minor.

Prachatai states that those arrested, including the boy, are being investigated on lese majeste. Khaosd states that no charges have been laid so far.

Justifiably, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have issued a statement on the arrests:

The TLHR pointed out that the arrest of the four through the use of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Head’s Order No. 3/2015 is arbitrary and is against Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand is a state party of.

Under the order, peace keeping officers have authorities to detain incommunicado suspects of crimes against national security without specific charge and warrant for seven days.

The detention of the 14 years old suspect and ensuing detention at the military base is also against Article 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to police, the arrests are for allegedly burning an arch erected in Chonnabot District of Khon Kaen on 15 May. The detainees are held at the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok. The impression from the reports is that the “investigation” is by the military.

According to one report, four of those arrested have allegedly “confessed.” They allegedly state that “Preecha paid them 200 Baht each to burn the arch.”





Prawet’s bail refused

14 05 2017

PPT should have posted this a couple of days ago and we expect that most readers will have seen the report.

As usual in lese majeste cases, on 11 May, the Criminal Court in Bangkok refused bail for human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul, who was abducted by official junta thugs on 29 April.

Prachatai reports that the court rejected a defence lawyer’s submission of “a bail request with the position of a university lecturer friend of Prawet, valued at about 680,000 baht, as guarantee.”

As usual, the judge babbled about “flight risk, severity of the charge, and the possibility that the suspect might interfere with evidence.” On lese majeste, these judges are junta automatons and unconcerned by law.

Prachatai claims that “[a]ccording to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Prawet allegedly posted Facebook comments that Thailand should become a republic.”

We have no way of confirming this, but simply arguing for republicanism does not constitute lese majeste. Given that the constitution states that the form of government is a “democratic regime of government with the king as head of the state” may mean that advocating a republic is unconstitutional. Yet no military junta has ever had a problem with throwing out constitutions as if political confetti.

We do think Prachatai’s report is somewhat misleading. It states that Prawet faces “up to 50 years in prison for royal defamation and sedition.” They say 50 years because the “maximum penalties for Prawet for all counts of lèse majesté and sedition add up to 157 years in prison.  Under Thailand’s Criminal Code, however, the maximum total jail term other than life imprisonment is 50 years.”

We think this is diminishing the impact of the lese majeste law. It is not unlike the common media practice of stating that X was sentenced to 10 years for lese majeste when the sentence was actually 20 years, reduced by half for a guilty plea. The sentence was 20 years, not 1o years.

Hence, our reading is that Prawet is subject to 10 sentences of a maximum of 15 years each. He is also subject to more years on the sedition charges.

We see no reason to diminish the seriousness of lese majeste, which sometimes see heavier sentences than for murder.





More details on the Stolen history 6

5 05 2017

In posting on the latest use of the lese majeste law, we have taken to referring to the six abducted and arrested as the Stolen history 6. This is because, as far as we are aware from the reporting, the six are charged for comments relating to the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque that celebrated constitutionalism and people’s sovereignty. Its theft was to deny that and to effectively steal history, replacing it with royalist propaganda.

To steal history, the royalist junta must seek to prevent discussion of the theft of the plaque because this reminds people of the history this ham-fisted bit of vandalism was meant to erase. When black magic is at work in the palace, such dimwitted schemes are hatched. And the junta is left to clean up the mess in an equally ham-fisted and distinctively belligerent manner.

The lese majeste arrests reportedly have to do with posts on Facebook by monarchy critic Somsak Jeamteerasakul. As one report says, since “4 October 2016, Prachatai has received reports of at least six cases of intimidation against people who follow Somsak.”

Three of the victims of this last piece of junta thuggery for the monarchy were identified as Prawet Praphanukul, a human rights lawyer, and Danai Tipsuya and Wannachai, political dissidents. Danai was said to have wanted anonymity, but is named in another Prachatai post. Three other detainees requested to remain unnamed.

When were taken before the Criminal Court it refused to release two detainees despite “bail requests of 790,000 and 900,000 baht…”. We are not aware of the circumstances for the other four, although it seems bail is not being considered.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported “that some of the detainees were blindfolded after they were arrested by the military who did not present warrants for their arrest or searches of their houses.”

Prawet, abducted by police and military thugs, was held incommunicado, and was only permitted a phone call when he refused to take food.

Prawet is now reported to face 10 counts of lese majeste (up to 150 years in jail), and violations of Article 116 of the Criminal Code (sedition, earlier reported to be three counts and possibly 21 years in jail), and Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act (up to 3 years on each count).

Danai is also accused of lese majeste and sedition.

The six are now detained for an initial custody period of 12 days from 3 to 14 May with the possibility of further renewals by the court.