Loss of moral and political compass

4 10 2020

Pridi Banomyong’s university is under the control of feeble-minded royalist administrators. Born of the 1932 revolution, Thammasat began in 1934 as the University of Moral and Political Sciences.

The news that political activists Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, and Arnon Nampahave been banned by Thammasat administrators from speaking at a forum marking the 44th anniversary of the Oct 6, 1976 massacre demonstrates that today’s administrators have no moral and political compass.

It is the students who maintain the university’s heritage.

An organizer of the forum, Krisadang Nutcharus said “the university executives had offered no explanation, only saying they felt uncomfortable with the presence of the three pro-democracy leaders at the forum.”

Of course, everyone knows that they feel uncomfortable because the three activists have called for reform of the monarchy.

Krisadang offered “his apology that the three will not be able to share their thoughts,” and observed that this ban “makes us understand the attitudes, views and cowardice of these executives…”.

He added that in 1976, “the young had sacrificed their lives during the massacre to protect rights and democracy. He said they fell because they had differing opinions.” The current administrators reject this history in favor of repression, military-dominated government and feudalism.





Targeting monarchy and regime

10 09 2020

With continuing reports that rights/police/military are continuing to dampen support for anti-monarchists, students from the United Front of Thammasat have made it clear that they will continue to “discuss” the monarchy at their rallies, including the one planned for 19 September. The date coincides with the date of the 2006 military coup.

That rally will begin at the downtown Thammasat University campus. In a pointed reference to the king’s seizing of properties in the area, the protesters say they will “seize Sanam Luang back for the people,” camp there overnight, and then will “march to Government House on the following day and submit a petition to PM [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration…”.

After decades of being a public place, officially under the control of the Bangkoj City administration, Sanam Luang has been closed to the public and fenced since the cremation of the late king.

Activist Parit Chiwarak “confirmed the monarchy will definitely be the subject of discussion at the rally.” He reportedly stated:

For Thammasat, we have been clear about freedom. We will talk about every issue.  We will touch on the Institution (Monarchy). We broke the ceiling on August 10th to open it to the sky.  We will not allow anyone to close it again. The ten proposals (for the reform of the Monarchy) are nothing new.  They have been around for a decade.  I believe the people will agree with us.  The masses will decide victory this time….

Khaosod says that Penguin was criticizing “a comment by an ex-leader of the Redshirt movement, Jatuporn Prompan, who warned the students not to ‘break the ceiling’ by touching the monarchy. Jatuporn said doing so might end up paving a way for another military coup.”

With more than a week to pass before the rally, expect some further political maneuvering.





Hardening lines I

13 08 2020

A couple of days ago, The Guardian reported the now obvious: “Thai protesters have broken a long-standing taboo, risking lengthy jail terms to criticise the king, after weeks of student-led pro-democracy rallies that have swept across the country.”

In fact, as Thai Lawyers for Human Rights recount,

Since 18 July 2020, youth and various civic groups have demonstrated against dictatorship in Thailand. Free Youth has proposed three demands: the state must stop intimidating the people, a new constitution must be drafted, and parliament must be dissolved. At least 107 public activities and assemblies have been organized in 52 provinces, the latest of which was the #ThammasatCan’tTakeItAnymore demonstration organized by the United Front of Thammasat and Assembly at Lan Payanak on Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on 10 August 2020.

The students have included those in high school and university. They have been joined by other pro-democracy groups and individuals. The movement is decentralized and multi-headed.

That some protesters have begun to openly criticize “the country’s wealthy and powerful monarchy” has shocked some and provoked others.

The Guardian report believes this has “left the government in a bind. Allowing criticism to pass would undermine the status quo that keeps them in power … while cracking down hard on the students could foment further protests and intensify scrutiny of the monarchy.”

With King Vajiralongkorn having made another flying visit to “his kingdom,” we expect that the regime has been ordered what it must do.

(We assume Vajiralongkorn is on his way back to Germany via Zurich as the taxpayer-funded TG970 left Bangkok at about 2.30 am. If that is his flight, then he spent just 18 hours in country, visiting his hospitalized mother and swearing in new cabinet ministers.)

At Thammasat University on Monday students issued “a 10-point list for reform of the monarchy.”

The regime and the palace have reacted. Rightists have been mobilized, but for the moment remain relatively contained and constrained. But the self-proclaimed protectors of the monarchy have also been vocal in warning and threatening the students.

Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong provided the example for rightists by borrowing from rightist social media to describe the protesters as “nation-haters.”

Sunai Phasuk at Human Rights Watch warns that legal measures and intimidation of pro-democracy protesters “is getting more and more aggressive…”.

Claims on social media that the palace has been speaking to owners and executives of media firms, encouraging them to scale back their reporting of the protests and to oppose the students seems reflected in television news and in the press.

For example, the Bangkok Post seems to have become more recognizably rightist. Its report on Monday’s rally made accusations: “Comments made by protesters at the university’s Rangsit Campus in Pathum Thani have potentially violated Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law.”

That amounts to a threat to the students by essentially calling for Article 112 to be used against the students.

They cite university administrators and their threats to students and distancing themselves from the rally: “Police will take legal action against all involved, particularly those who are not Thammasat University students…. For the university’s students who acted improperly during the rally, Thammasat will itself take action based on facts and in line with its regulations.”

For a university that has been the site of so much political activism, its compromised administrators made the astounding statement that the university will now “ban political activities on its premises that risk violating the law.”

The report went on to cite rightists and yellow shirts. Not a single student voice is heard in this “story.”

Unelected senator and rightist Kamnoon Sidhisamarn “told parliament that the demands made by protesters during the rally were unprecedented and their comments were the most violent he’d ever heard.”

Violent? Is he quoted correctly? If he is, then it is a lie and a fabrication that threatens the students and invites violence from the right.

Like many others, Kamnoon raised the specter of 6 October 1976 and its violence. While he moderates his threats by arguing that parliament should have a role in sorting out this conflict, his commentary remains threatening.

(At least royalists are admitting that the massacre at Thammasat in 1976 was by royalists and for the “protection” of the monarchy.)

Another unelected senator, Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana claimed the students had offended “tens of millions of Thai people loyal to the royal institution and the tradition of peaceful co-existence based on the mercy of the royal institution.” That’s pure royalist drivel but also a call fro a response from the right and ultra-royalists.

The Bangkok Post joins the call for parliament to play a role in preventing the “country plung[ing] into a deep divide, with the possibility of violent confrontations … [in] what could become a national crisis.”

It makes no comment on the student’s demands.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has observed that

The exercise of the right to freedom of expression and public assembly has caused at least 76 organizers of the events to face intimidation and surveillance, as well as being told to call off the events, denied permission to hold the events, and the events being intervened by the authorities, etc. At least four legal cases have been initiated against individuals who have exercised their right to freedom of expression, particularly as a result of their criticism of the monarchy. It has led to the arrests of lawyer Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, and Phanuphong Jadnok, a university student, and it appears more people will be slapped with legal cases. The issue has ignited widespread and fiery debate online as some view the exercise of such freedom of expression by the demonstrators as illegal acts and “insulting to the monarchy.” They have even threatened that the dehumanizing violence of 6 October 1976 at Thammasat’s Tha Pra Chan campus could repeat itself.

In response to the official and rightist threats, 130 academics issued a statement “to voice their support for student protesters who raised a 10-point manifesto on reforming the monarchy in a rally at Thammasat University on Monday.” They argue that the proposal “does not undermine the Palace.”

The academics supported the 10-point manifesto to reform the monarchy and stated that “the protesters were sincere and expressed their opinions within their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Section 34 of the Constitution. Moreover, it said, their activities are in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is recognised by Thailand.”

They pointed out that the proposals do not violate any law, arguing that “it’s a straightforward proposal that aims to protect the constitutional monarchy and democracy.”

Implicitly criticizing Thammasat administrators, they declared: “Educational institutions must not avoid or shut the door on freedom of expression. The universities should set an example and teach society to face challenges with patience, which is essential to democracy…”.

Part of the motivation for the academic statement was talk of a military coup, a point also made by the anti-government Free People movement which stated “it was also opposed to all attempts to stage a military coup…”.





Students, EC and censorship

30 03 2019

It has been widely reported that university students have begun a campaign to impeach the bungling, opaque and puppet Election Commission over its mishandling of the 24 March “election.” The universities involved were reportedly: Chulalongkorn, Thammasat (Rangsit campus), King Mongkut Institute of Technology (Thon Buri campus), Kasetsart (Bang Khen campus), Chiang Mai, Naresuan, Burapha, Prince of Songkla (Pattani campus) and Rajabhat Rachanakharin.

Channeling 1957, the Chulalongkorn University Student Council demanded “an explanation from the EC about widespread allegations of irregularities.” Meanwhile, the Thammasat University Student Union released a “statement saying that commission officials must be investigated because their sloppy procedures resulted in ambiguous election results…”.

Following up on the Army’s apparent support for the EC, the junta’s Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam, poured ice water on the student’s demands for impeachment, saying the “process would be long as the [junta’s handpicked] Senate is required by law to forward the case to the [junta’s puppet] National Anti-Corruption Commission.” And, even if malfeasance is found by the NACC, it is the senate that decides whether to remove the EC officials.

In other words, Wissanu thumbed his nose at the students, essentially saying, expend your energy, but fat chance that anything will happen.

And then the usual dirty tricks began, manifested as repression.

Students at Kasetsart “were barred by the university from campaigning and collecting signatures from other students,” and uniformed and plainclothes police and the university’s security guards photographed the students before forcing them to campaign off campus. In fact, they were forced to move twice.

Kasetsart’s rector Jongrak Watcharinrat either lied or is non compos mentis that “he did not know about the incident and insisted that students have the right to hold any campaign on the campus as long as it’s not against the law.” We know he is in one of these states because the “university issued an announcement prohibiting any unauthorized activities from taking place on university grounds, and university officials told the students that the university cannot get involved in politics.”

Not only did the university and police thugs make the students move, but they reportedly “stopped some students from signing the petition…”.

One might have “hoped” that this was a case of one deep yellow set of anti-democrat administrators acting to protect the junta. Sadly, though, it appears that this is a junta-directed campaign against the anti-EC students, with Prachatai stating:

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that Chiang Mai University has also prohibited students from campaigning, claiming that the students did not ask for permission to use the space, and at Khon Kaen University, students said that police officers came to observe the campaign and questioned them. There was also a report that university officials also came to tell the students that the Faculty of Law did not allow them to use the space.

The whole election process, always bogus and rigged, is now being “validated” as a fraud by the actions of the junta and its thugs. But did anyone expect anything else from this regime?





Limiting academic freedom II

9 09 2018

A couple of weeks ago, PPT posted on the lackadaisical discussion of academic freedom in Thailand from an Australian-based historian. That blasé account was purportedly about the charging of the principal organizer and several others involved with the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies held at Chiang Mai University in 2017.

Interestingly, as a reader informs us, the Association for Asian Studies has now announced in an email to members that its next AAS-in-Asia conference will be held in Bangkok on July 1-4, 2019. In part, the announcement says:

The AAS-in Asia conferences offer opportunities for Asia-based scholars to interact with each other and their international colleagues. AAS is partnering with a five-university coalition of organizers led by Thammasat University; the other members of the coalition are Chiang Mai, Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, and Mahidol Universities. In terms of travel, tourism, and obtaining necessary visa documents, Bangkok is known as an easily accessible hub in Southeast Asia.

It then goes on to discuss controversy.

At its most recent AAS-in-Asia, held in Delhi, India, before the event began it became clear that there were major issues of academic freedom, with the President of the AAS writing to members stating that the:

Government of India, while granting political clearance to the conference (a requirement under Indian law), has refused to issue conference visas to citizens of Pakistan or even to persons of Pakistani origin. The officers of the AAS (that means, currently, Katherine Bowie, Past President; Laurel Kendall, Past Past President; Prasenjit Duara, Vice President; and me, President) and all the members of the AAS Board of Directors abhor the exclusion of Pakistani scholars from the conference.

Abhorred, but went ahead, stating: “we believe our course of action is the right one under the circumstances, despite the heated objections that it has generated.”

Remarkably, the AAS has now chosen Thailand, ruled by a military junta. This time it is explained that the AAS:

is encountering challenges in determining venues for international academic conferences, ranging from finding host institutions with faculty and staff willing to take on the significant workload involved in organizing a conference with some 1,000 attendees, to facing the risk of becoming ensnared in the politics of governments in the countries in which the host institutions are located. The U.S. government itself has issued new regulations regarding visa applications from citizens of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. Although Thais remain hopeful that their country will have elections (current news reports are suggesting the possibility of early 2019), Thailand currently is ruled by a military junta. Nonetheless, our host partners affirm that holding the AAS-in-Asia conference in Thailand provides support for free academic inquiry in their country. In this spirit, the AAS Board of Directors voted in October 2017 to hold the 2019 AAS-in-Asia conference in partnership with this coalition of Thai universities.

The partners are Chiang Mai, Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, and Mahidol Universities, none of which have recently been at the forefront of the promotion of academic freedom. To take one example, Chulalongkorn has several times prevented students from protesting (here and here). Several academics, including from Thammasat and Chulalongkorn have had to flee Thailand for fear of arrest for their academic writings that caused lese majeste charges. Others have been threatened by university administrations, assaulted on campus and attacked by the military.

That there may be a rigged “election” will not immediately change the repressive atmosphere that regularly sees military personnel in uniform patrolling university campuses and “inviting” students and academics to military bases for “attitude adjustment” session. There’s also massive censorship of online media and the domestic news media is not free from interference.

In addition, under the military government, films, discussions, seminars and more, related to Thailand and other countries, have been suppressed.

Even if there is a change of government following the junta’s rigged “election,” there are major topics of interest to academics working on Thailand and probably Myanmar, Cambodia, China and Vietnam that will be frowned upon. There will also be an effort to censor and self-censor discussion of anything to do with the monarchy and the military that is not laudatory.

Thailand seems a rather poor choice. But, as the AAS makes clear, visas will be relatively easy to get. Well, at least for those who are not already blacklisted or who face arrest in Thailand.





Pushing and shoving

21 01 2018

Reuters report that “[h]undreds of police in Thailand on Saturday blocked protestors planning to march from Bangkok to Khon Kaen in the northeast of the country in a rare display of public discontent in the junta-ruled country.” While displays of “discontent” have been anything but “rare,” this event comes when some see as a junta under pressure.

According to Prachatai, this march has been planned for a while and there was considerable publicity and discussion on social media. The network organizing it has a series of related activities:

… called “We Walk, A Walk for Friendship” [it] is organised by a group of civil rights activists called the People Go Network. The campaign focuses on four main themes: the right to universal health care, the rights of farmers, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution.

Lertsak Kumkongsak, a community rights activist and one of the event organisers, stated that “[h]e expected about 200 people to join the march.” At the time of the Prachatai report it was said that:

The campaign commences with an event on Friday, 19 January 2018, at Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus. The event comprises a play and a public forum with speakers including Jon Ungpakorn, Director of iLaw, Kannika Kittiwetchakun of the People’s Health Systems Movement, and Lertsak from the Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources. The march sets off from the Rangsit campus on Saturday, 20 January 2018, at 9 am after a reading of testimonies. The first stop is scheduled at Wang Noi District, Ayutthaya. There will be more activities to come along their route to Khon Kaen… Lertsak said the group will inform the police today (Wednesday) of the planned rally so as to comply with the Public Assembly Act….

Complying with the junta’s draconian law seemed to mean walking in groups of four. It was also reported that some lawyers, academics and intellectuals were also involved.

Sangsiri Teemanka, a leader of People’s Network for Welfare, proclaimed: “This walk is a friendship walk. Over the past four years under the coup government we have no rights in terms of speech, action. We want the junta to hear us…”. Anusorn Unno, dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, said that the “group said it wants to cultivate a network of those with opposing views to the government’s policies in relation to food security, natural resources, community rights and civil liberty.”

It was said that when the demonstrators got to Khon Kaen, they planned to visit Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, a student activist who was jailed on trumped up lese majeste charges last year.

As the gathering got underway, the Reuters report said one leader declared: “We want to tell the junta that you have taken Thailand back a long way. The people in the agriculture ministry are all generals. There are just generals!”

The report states: “The demonstration, which was broadcast live on Facebook, was shared more than 900 times and viewed by more than 32,000 times.” View some of the footage at the People GO network Facebook page. The Bangkok Post also has pictures.

As more than 200 assembled, the call was: “Let’s hold hands! We are friends!”

Some 200 police blocked roads at the university to prevent protestors from leaving.

Police, however, blocked the group from leaving the university on the grounds that were in breech of the public assembly law and also posed a risk to public safety. The Bangkok Post reports that the “demonstrators nevertheless tried to break through the police cordon, prompting a brief tussle.”

The group “met with Pol Maj Gen Surapong Thanomjit, chief of Pathum Thani police, to ask for permission for 10 people from the group to complete the protest march to Khon Kaen, but the proposal was rejected.” Even so, “four people from the network slipped through the defence line [sic.] and walked together on Phahon Yothin Road. Soon after, another two groups — of four people each — also followed them.” They were tailed by “[p]lainclothes police officers on pickup trucks and motorcycles …[photographing] them from time to time.”

The remaining activists planned “to meet those who had managed to begin the march in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima next weekend.”

Generally, yellow-shirted intellectuals and academics have been critical of this rally, warning against public protest.





The 6 October website

30 09 2017

As reported at Prachatai, a new website has been launched from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, to establish and maintain an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

That horrid massacre, mainly of students gathered at Thammasat University, was led by police, ultra-royalist rightists and the military. The massacre and the military coup that was a part of the plan was enthusiastically supported by the king, queen, then Prince Vajiralongkorn and other members of the royal family.

A photo by Frank Lombard available at the new website.

The students killed and the more than 3,000 arrested were maniacally alleged to be “communists and threats to Thailand’s monarchy.”

For a monarchy that is regularly said to be “revered” and “loved,” it is remarkable how many citizens have been killed and jailed to “protect” it.

The website is superbly designed and is an important resource.It is mostly in Thai, although some resources are in Thai and English (like the documentary “Respectfully Yours.”

Prachatai notes that “Thai society has tried to remove the 6 October massacre from the history timelines…”.

Another Lombard photo from the website.

In fact, it is not “Thai society” that has tried to erase the massacre but the ruling class, including royalists, police and military.

Because Thailand is currently ruled by a repressive military junta that came to power following a massacre, to “protect” the monarchy and to wind back political space, this online archive is an important innovation.





Unleashing barbarism

9 05 2017

Prachatai reports that “[t]wo belligerent youths have entered Chulalongkorn University to look for Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a progressive student activist recently elected as the Student Council’s president of Chulalongkorn University.”

On 8 May 2017, two thugs “rode a motorcycle onto the university’s campus in Bangkok and visited the Political Science Faculty to look for Netiwit.” These thugs “reportedly used threatening language to ask for the whereabouts of the student activist.”

Netiwit filed a complaint with police, stating:

Please give me and the new generation opportunities to prove ourselves. If [you] think differently, it is alright, but we should talk if [you] really love Thai society. Do not let the world and other people see that our society is a barbaric one that favours violence. I am afraid of course, but I shall continue to fight….

This threat came after The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha publicly criticized and chastised Netiwit.

We have seen this unleashing of thugs before. In a post in 2012, we said

PPT doesn’t think it a coincidence that as the Army chief [General Prayuth Chan-0cha] returns to threatening behavior that the (relatively quiet) Nitirat group receives threats. At Prachatai it is reported that on 17 August, members of Nitirat “went to Chanasongkhram Police Station to file a complaint after mysterious men had been seen at their [Thammasat University] offices taking photographs of their schedules to meet students.”

Nitirat’s Worachet Pakeerut told Prachatai that “similar incidents had seemed to happen more frequently lately at the campus in Tha Phrachan.”

This followed an attack by two thugs on a motorcycle on Worachet, who was beaten up. Prayuth had led a coterie of right-wingers and royalists in criticizing and chastising Nitirat and Worachet for proposing changes to the lese majeste law.

In other words, as well as unleashing official thugs on a daily basis against political opponents, General Prayuth now has form for inciting vigilantes. That behavior is in line with political tactics used by Thailand’s military over several decades.

Thailand under military regimes is violent and barbaric.





Updates on Somsak and LINE

12 04 2016

A couple of updates of record.

First, several outlets have reported the good news that Dr Somsak Jeamteerasakul, currently in political exile in France, has seen the Central Administrative Court rule that his dismissal by Thammasat University without pension and other benefits “was unlawful, thus reinstating Somsak’s status as a lecturer at Thammasat.” The university may appeal, which would be retrograde and spiteful.

Second, New Mandala has tracked down the “offending” LINE “stickers” that recently caused a royalist kerfuffle. It has more information on these:

The set called “Silly Family” featured 41 stickers cleverly poking fun at the politically controversial clan. In Thailand, critical public discussion of the family has been banned under the nation’s notorious and harsh lese majeste laws.

The satirical set depicts Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn competing for their father’s attention and squabbling over the throne. It also portrays Princess Chulabhorn next to a chemistry set underneath the caption “Trust Me”, referencing her numerous and questionable honorary degrees in the field, as well as featuring the Crown Prince’s spoiled poodle Foo Foo.

 





The judiciary and Somsak

7 03 2016

Readers will recall that late in February, the military dictatorship again moved against Somsak Jeamteerasakul, seeking to again investigate allegations of lese majeste. Somsak has been the subject of lese majeste complaints for years, with several of the complaints emanating from none other than The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

In something of a sideshow to that event, on 1 March, it was reported that the senior judge of the Administrative Court stated that “there were ‘extraordinary reasons’ that prevented historian Somsak … tending a proper resignation to Thammasat University in 2014, when he fled for France in the wake of the military takeover.”

The case is about the “university’s decision to fire Somsak instead of accepting his letter of resignation [which] meant he would be denied a pension and other benefits despite having taught there for more than 20 years.” In exile, Somsak “appointed a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against Thammasat, alleging he was dismissed unfairly.”

Unremarkable in the junta’s Thailand, Khaosod reports that a “ruling in [the] … wrongful termination suit … has been indefinitely postponed…”. Lawyers say the “court has placed its ruling on indefinite hold without explanation.”

In the land of the junta we guess no explanation is required as interference and political connivance with the judiciary is completely normal and expected by all.