Moneyed monarch

18 01 2013

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Giles Ungpakorn on Da Torpedo and dark age politics

2 09 2009

Da Torpedo’s case pushes Thailand back to the Dark Ages

Time for Redshirts to be clear about how to fight

Giles Ji Ungpakorn (also here คดี “ดา” สังคมไทยถอยหลังอีกก้าว เสื้อแดงต้องชัดว่าจะสู้อย่างไร)

Last month Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul (or “Da Torpedo”) was sentenced to 18 years in prison for “lese majeste” after a secret trial in Bangkok. This is just another example of how Thailand is rapidly coming to resemble authoritarian countries like North Korea. Other examples are the use of the Internal Security Law to prevent peaceful demonstrations by the pro-democracy Redshirts and the way that the unelected Prime Minister, Abhisit, urged the military to kill demonstrators in April this year. What is also shocking is the way that there has been complete silence from so-called “human rights activists” or NGOs and academics in Thailand about what has been going on. This can only be described as shameful. Amnesty International’s long term policy of turning its back on Thai prisoners of conscience, jailed over lese majeste, is also appalling. It throws into question the role of this organisation.

Da Torpedo never committed an act of violence. She never killed anyone or destroyed anyone’s property. She is a pro-democracy activist who made speeches in public. She has been jailed for 18 years for making these speeches. In Thailand, army officers and state officials who commit violent crimes against the people are free to enjoy power and privileges. The worst crime in the eyes of the Thai ruling elites, is to think for oneself and to express those thoughts. This is why Da is in prison. This is why Suwicha Takor and others are in prison on lese majeste charges.

From Wikipedia's articleon lesemajeste

From Wikipedia's article on lese majeste: Treason against England's King George III, 1798

The Thai elite want us to be half-wits. They want us to do as we are told and be loyal to Nation, Religion and King. When the Leader farts, we all have to fart. If he wears a pink shirt, we must all wear one too. We must all believe that he invented everything that is of value in the country. The elite want us to crawl on the ground in front of them as though we are not human. We must smile like idiots and chant in unison that we “love our King and country”. The problem in Thai society has always been that the rulers are corrupt, brutal and barbaric, while the people are generally good. Yet ‘They’ claim the right to lecture us on being good citizens.

Democracy doesn’t grow on trees or fall into our hands like ripe fruit. We all have to fight for it and it must be a collective struggle. That means that we must never forget Da Torpedo, Suwicha, or any other prisoners of conscience in Thai prisons. We must campaign for the abolition of the lese majeste law.

The dispute among Redshirt leaders

The current dispute among Redshirt leaders is not a problem. It is an opportunity for millions of pro-democracy Redshirts to take part in an extremely important debate. We must have this debate in the open, while trying to maintain some unity on specific issues among the Redshirt movement as a whole. A democracy movement, by its very nature, will be full of debate and argument. The debate is about the way forward to democracy. It isn’t primarily about personal gain or bravery, although Redshirts are not angels. Current disputes among the Royalist Yellowshirts, however, are more about fighting over the rich pickings which come with power and public office. This is because what unites the Yellowshirts in the first place is their defence of personal privilege in the face of popular democracy.

The Redshirts have learnt through struggle since the 19th September 2006 coup, that “Real Democracy” will not just be achieved by mass demonstrations or by winning repeated elections. Demonstrations have been put down by bloody repression and election results have been repeatedly overturned by unconstitutional means. The pro-democracy movement has come to realise that our aims are being blocked by powerful and entrenched interests. It isn’t any single person or institution among the elites. It is the Army, the Courts and top Civil Servants, the Royal Family and the Privy Council and the Democrat Party and their allies. They stand together against the wishes of millions of ordinary Thais. They are against democracy, social justice and progress.

These conservative elites carry two main weapons: the means of violence and the means to try to build legitimacy. The centre of power and violence is the Army. But they constantly use the Monarchy to legitimise their actions and the weak and unprincipled King goes along with this.

The current debate among Redshirts is about Reform or Revolution as a road to democracy. It isn’t about whether or not to overthrow Capitalism. The debate is sharp now because we stand at an important juncture. The full power of the elites is now plain for all to see. The question is how to deal with it. Should we compromise by hoping to reform the elites or should we fight to overthrow them?

Thaksin and the 3 political leaders of the Kwam Jing Wan Nee programme are in the Reform camp. They feel that the task of overthrowing the elites is too big, too risky and counter-productive. They want a peaceful road with compromise. They are prepared to keep the Monarchy like it is today with minor changes. Many Redshirts would agree with them because they fear violence and upheaval. Revolution risks a bloody crack-down and long jail sentences. It is a difficult task. But Reform risks capitulating to the conservative elites. The recent petition to the King to pardon Thaksin, which was supported by this faction and organised by millions of grass-roots Redshirts, carries many dangers. It gives power to the King in an undemocratic fashion and can create illusions. But equally it can expose the King and the Royalists for being against the People. It has caused a real head-ache for the conservatives.

Jakrapop and Surachai are for Revolution. So am I. But we may disagree on other issues. I cannot and will not speak for them. That would be unfair. However, they are clear that the Monarchy must be reformed. My view is that it is too late to wish for a Constitutional Monarchy in Thailand in the same model as Britain or Japan. The army generals and the conservative elites have shown that at any time they are prepared to use the Monarchy to destroy democracy and rip up the Constitution. Therefore we must abolish the Monarchy and cut down the size and power of the Army. Thai history teaches us from the 1970s and 1990s that such significant changes in society only come about through mass struggle. Actions by small groups or by armed groups cannot achieve the necessary thorough-going changes. A large number of Redshirt activists are now against the Monarchy. There is a growing anti-Monarchy feeling throughout the country and the elites recognise this.

As a Socialist, I would hope that during the revolutionary struggle for democracy, many people will come to realise that parliamentary democracy is not enough. We need economic democracy where the people decide on investment and production. This is the true democracy of Socialism. It is a million miles from the Stalinist dictatorships of North Korea, China, Laos or Cuba.

There is no guarantee of success for the revolutionary road in Thailand. It will be a long hard struggle. But I believe that there is no longer any room for reform in order to achieve democracy. The behaviour of the elites since the 2006 coup has proved this.

Pravit on Darunee and the whitewashing the 2006 coup

1 09 2009

At Prachatai (1 September 2009), Pravit Rojanaphruk has this article “There She Was: Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul on The New York Times” about reaction to the harsh sentencing of Darunee Charnchoensilpakul. A couple of points from the story.

First, readers should note Pravit’s self-censorship when citing the New York Times article on Darunee. All that is left out is the word “supported” in “The three-judge panel ruled that even though she did not mention the king or queen by name in the speech, she had insinuated that they supported the coup.” This is interesting, for as PPT pointed out in an earlier post, journalists made this point about palace support right after the coup. In fact, there is plenty of journalistic and academic comment on this support from that period.

This comment on support for the coup is one of the reasons for the lese majeste charges against Ji Ungpakorn. In his book A Coup for the Rich, which Ji says is an academic analysis, it is stated: “The major forces behind the 19th September [2006] coup were antidemocratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the Monarchy.” Why Ji was singled out for stating the obvious is unclear except for the fact that he was politically active in opposing the 2006 coup.

In other words, the palace, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, various other official agencies and the courts are recruited into a campaign to wipe out all references to the monarchy’s support for the coup. A whitewashing of history that is practically impossible, but an enforcement of a particular political position in Thailand.

Second, Pravit mentions the controversy over the attempt to have Yale University Press drop the Paul Handley book, The King Never Smiles, before its publication. For more details of this tawdry little affair, conducted by the Thaksin Shinawatra government and led by Bowornsak Uwanno, there is an account in an academic paper about the book in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, available here.

Darunee sentenced to 18 years

29 08 2009

Reuters photo: Darunee leaving court

It is no surprise to learn that “Da Torpedo,” Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, a former journalist, pro-Thaksin and democracy campaigner, who was arrested on  22 July 2008 on lese majeste charges, has been sentenced to 18 years in jail.  No-one can claim that this was a fair trial as the decision comes from a court that was closed.

According to a Reuters report in the Sydney Morning Herald (28 August 2009: “Torpedo gets 18 years for insulting king”), she was sentenced to 6 years on each of “three different remarks deemed insulting to the monarchy during public political rallies…”. PPT had anticipated this outcome and so had Darunee, who said “I expected the verdict…”. She told reporters that she will appeal the verdict.

Darunee remained defiant, vowing to fight on. In fact, PPT believes that her refusal to plead guilty is the reason why she has received such a harsh sentence. Ususally, it is expected that those on lese majeste charges will plead guilty in the belief that they will receive a lighter sentence in exchange for the case not having to go to court. This view is expressed in a Financial Times (28 August 2009: “Thai activist jailed for 18 years”) article that states: “Few defendants in lèse majesté cases choose to fight the charges as Ms Daranee did: lawyers say the ill-defined laws are almost impossible to beat even in a case that is open to public scrutiny, and most choose to plead guilty and beg the king for mercy on conviction. Thai law stipulates that defendants who choose to admit the charges against them can receive more lenient sentences.”

Apparently 30-40 of her supporters were present for the reading of the verdict. See red shirt supporters here.

See the Thai report on the decision at จำคุก”ดา ตอร์บิโด”18ปีฐานหมิ่นสถาบัน.

For other reports, see the listing here.

Defamation, film censorship, freedom of speech and the monarchy

2 08 2009


Prachatai (1 August 2009: “Thailand: Report on defamation law”) which begins, “ARTICLE 19 and the National Press Council of Thailand (NPCT) have jointly launched a Report, the Impact of Defamation Law on Freedom of Expression in Thailand. The Report outlines the nature of defamation law in Thailand, as well as the chilling effect it has on freedom of expression.”

The report was released on 30 July.

The report shows the ways in which defamation laws operate and the negative impact for the “free flow of information and ideas.” It also provides examples of defamation cases which have inhibited “political speech.” And the report also outlines “other restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand, including the offence of lèse majesté, which has been used with increasing frequency in recent years to limit open debate about public authorities.”

Find the report here.

Film censorship

Prachatai (2 August 2009: “Thai film archivist: new rating for films confusing, and still includes banning”) has a story on the Cabinet approval of a ministerial regulation on the rating and censorship of films. PPT posted on this back in February, here. The regulation will come into force later this month.

According to Prachatai, “The approved ministerial regulation under the 2008 Films and Videos Act classifies movies into seven categories: 1) educational movies which the public should be encouraged to see; 2) movies appropriate for the general public; 3) movies appropriate for audiences aged 13 and older; 4) movies appropriate for audiences aged 15 and older; 5) movies appropriate for audiences aged 18 and older; 6) movies prohibited for audiences aged below 20; and 7) movies which are banned.”

The inclusion of a banned category is cause for concern: “Chalida Uabamrungjit, the Director of the Thai Film Foundation, said that to include banning in the rating system was like reintroducing Article 4 of the 1930 Films Act which was ambiguous in terms of standards.”

In the banned category, as well as scenes including sexual intercourse or the showing of sexual organs, there is the expected political categories.

On top of the political list is this: any film that “affects the Monarchy or the democratic form of government with the King as Head of State.” Note that this goes beyond the usual lese majeste category, which would normally be handled under the notorious and draconian Article 112 of the Criminal Code.

The inclusion of a vague statement about the “democratic form of government with the King as Head of State” is open to all kinds of political manipulation. So too is the category of a film that “causes disunity among the people.” Such a category gives the authorities a very wide scope to politically censor.

In a similar manner, the inclusion of films that might affect “inter-state relationships” is vague and open to political manipulation.

She also saw a problem of movie classification by age of audience, which would be a headache for those who decide the ratings.

Chalida comments that although the “Film Censorship Board is moved from the National Police Office to the Ministry of Culture, the composition of the board is barely changed…”. Further, as Chalida points out, “Now given various colours in society, if a particular movie appears in a different colour from that of the board, it could be banned…”.

Christian Science Monitor on lese majeste

30 07 2009

Thanks to Bangkok Pundit for spotting a new article by Simon Montlake in the CSM (26 July 2009: “Thailand cracks down on Web users for royal ‘slurs'”).It is important that the international press continue to report on lese majeste as the Thai press self censors.

The article begins: “Using a combination of high-tech online sleuthing and a century-old royal defamation law, Thai authorities are tightening the screws on free speech here during a sensitive time for its influential monarchy.”

As a footnote, it is remarkable that Montlake quotes one Benjamin Zawacki, a researcher on Southeast Asia for Amnesty International, when Amnesty International has essentially refused to take a stand on lese majeste in Thailand. AI’s record on this issue is lamentable.

Montlake states: “As in China, the Internet offers far more freedom than Thailand’s mainstream media for discussing taboo topics. But that started to change in 2006, after the military ousted popular Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” That’s true, although most international blogs are blocked in China, including PPT.

In a remarkably interesting comment,  senior official at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Aree Jiworarak,is cited as saying that  “90 percent of the sites the ministry blocks are outside Thailand, complicating investigations of lèse-majesté.”

Aree then says that the “royal family is informed about his investigations, as well as similar work by other government agencies.” While he then denies that this means that the royal family “push for prosecutions,” he adds. “We don’t want people to think that the royal family are behind these arrests.”

But they are well-informed about all of this and complicit in reducing freedom and the political use of lese majeste.

Lese majeste in Cambodia

28 07 2009

PPT readers might be interested to read a short account of lese majeste in Cambodia. The article in the Phnom Penh Post (27 July 2009) essentially concludes that while “the Thai government regularly invokes its royalty-protecting regulation, Cambodia’s king and govt have taken a laid-back approach.”

1st year anniversary of Darunee’s jailing

26 07 2009

Prachatai (26 July 2009: “Activists call to Khlong Prem, to mark one year of Da Torpedo’s imprisonment”) reports that activists have called on the public to visit Darunee “Da Torpedo” Charnchoensilpakul on 30 July.

The visit is meant to mark the first anniversary of her imprisonment on charges of lese majeste.

The activists call themselves “Social Move” and have sent emails inviting visits to Khlong Prem Prison from 9.30-11.30 a.m. on that day to give her moral support. They suggest bringing flowers and banners in support.

Darunee was arrested on 22 July 2008, and has repeatedly denied bail. Her jailing has been extended because she refuses to plead guilty and accept a court decision rather than a trial.

More worryingly, her hearings are being conducted in secret because the judge considers the case involves national security.

The hearing of prosecution witnesses was on 23-25 June and defence witnesses will testify on 28 July and 5 August.

In this political case there is no possibility of a fair trial in a closed court.  A long sentence can be expected. The Thai judiciary is demonstrating that it cannot be trusted to deliver justice.

Update: Read in more detail about Darunee’s case and Social Move (สมัชชาสังคมก้าวหน้า) in Thai here/อ่านรายละเอียดภาษาไทย: “สมัชชาสังคมก้าวหน้านัดเยี่ยม “ดา ตอร์ปิโด” 30 ก.ค. ครบรอบ 1 ปีคุมขังระหว่างพิจารณาคดีหมิ่นฯ”

ASEAN and protecting Thailand’s royals

25 07 2009

During the ASEAN meetings held with extreme security measures taken, it was reported in The Nation (21 July 2009: “Body ‘A necessary start'”) that when the body’s new human rights commission was being challenged for its lack of power to take action against rights violations in member countries. lese majeste was raised.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who chaired the Asean Ministerial Meeting, was defending the commission when a journalist from Indonesia asking Kasit “what the commission would do about the criticism of the Thai monarchy.”

Kasit replied that “Thailand has a constitutional-monarchy system that keeps the monarchy and especially the personality of His Majesty the King above politics.” He advised: “Don’t mix it up, there are certain quarters in society that would like to bring the institution of the monarchy down into the political fight inside Thailand…” .

He went on to explain, “The royal institution and HM the King have no protection when they’re being attacked. We have to have a law to protect the institution. The lese-majeste law is simply there to protect the institution of monarchy because they cannot protect themselves. The King cannot go to court…”. Adding to this, he opined: “What we have in Thailand is similar to what a lot of countries have with the institution of monarchy.” …

There’s no need for PPT to point out Kasit’s errors in this statement which the current Democrat Party-led government regularly trots out for foreigners. However, it is clear that, for all the talk of Burma and human rights, Thailand’s doesn’t want an ASEAN human rights body that could raise questions about lese majeste and the way it is used to infringe on individual rights.

Democrat Party actions to control the media

23 07 2009

Prachatai (23 July 2009: “‘Very confidential’ letter instructs government to deal with red radio, websites and cable TV”) reports more Democrat Party-led pressure to limit red shirt media.

Prime Minister’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoei, who has a record of opposing media freedom, is reported to have sent a confidential letter instructing the “blacklisting websites, community radio stations and cable TV stations.” The sites and stations were all “subversive and inflammatory.”

It seems that Sathit had assigned “a special task force which includes Special Branch police … to monitor the contents of these outlets,” and that it was “found that these outlets have been inciting the public against the government and democracy as well as the Monarchy on an almost daily basis.” Apparently the offending outlets even have songs that attack the “government and the elite…”.

Sathit’s media spies have compiled a report and sent it to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, and Abhisit, Suthep and Sathit are “reportedly coordinating with the police, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and the task force to make arrests.”

The Prachatai report lists the cable TV station, some of the community radio stations and the websites involved. Not surprisingly, they are all associated with the UDD and red shirts.

In the same report, Sathit is said to have commented on the broader issue of the registration of community radio station operators, with some 4,000 having signed up. Apparently, not all operators have signed up. Sathit claims: “It has been checked and found that community radio operators who have not registered are mostly those who serve political interests.” He complains that not enough is being done to close these stations, but expects that the process can begin in about 2 weeks.

He claims that “non-conforming community radio stations would be immediately closed, especially the dozens of stations which served political interests.” Stations are “not [permitted] to air content subversive to Thai institutions and the government.” Sathit said that closing these stations, run by “bad people” was “necessary to maintain order.”

PPT assumes that “Thai institutions” means the monarchy and probably now includes the privy council.

We recall the huge outcry that rightly criticized then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s efforts to limit media freedom. Where are those critics now?

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