Further updated: Authoritarian darkness

16 04 2021

Thailand’s royalist authoritarianism and the desire to “cleanse” the nation of anti-monarchists appears to have taken a significant turn as the regime targets an American academic it considers has fomented political activism in the northeast.

From New Mandala

Thai Enquirer, Bangkok Post, and Prachatai report that David Streckfuss, who worked for Khon Kaen University, CIEE: Council On International Educational Exchange, and with regional news outlet The Isaan Record, has had his work-permit with KKU revoked on 19 March, which means his tenure in Thailand is tenuous as his visa is also revoked.

It is reported that Streckfuss had “been with the university for the past 27 years before his work permit was terminated.”

Prachatai states that the “decision reportedly came after police visited the University President and Faculty Dean, after Streckfuss participated in a workshop which partly involved decentralization.”

Hathairat Phaholtap, the editor of the The Isaan Record, confirmed the work permit cancellation and stated that it came “after Streckfuss attended a workshop about the preservation and development of the local Isaan identity which was held at a Khon Kaen hotel on 12-14 February.”

The police reportedly told the university that this meant Streckfuss was “involve[d] with local politics…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, where Streckfuss has been an author, he has “published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is also the author of Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté, published by Routledge Press, in 2011… [and] has a PhD in Southeast Asian history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” His recent academic work has been on censorship and self-censorship.

One of his roles since 1994 has been has been as director for CIEE Programs in Thailand, facilitating college students study abroad experiences in Thailand. In this he “works with the program’s administration and programs managers to oversee student health, safety, and welfare as well as all issues related to academics, services, projects, administration, and finance.”

Over the years, Streckfuss has spoken at various seminars, including with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. This action against a high-profile academic, and someone who might be described as a “friend” of Thailand, suggests either a bureaucratic miscalculation or, more likely, a further deepening of the regime’s repressive authoritarianism.

Update 1: A couple of reports in the media suggest that there’s some dissembling going on about this case. The Bangkok Post reports that Pol Maj Gen Kritsada Kanchana-alongkon, a commissioner at the Immigration Division 4 in Khon Kaen has gone all Sgt Schultz, saying: “The local immigration authorities didn’t know why the university terminated Mr Streckfuss’ contract…”.

Thai PBS reports multiple denials (one of which contradicts Pol Maj Gen Kritsada):

Immigration Police and Khon Kaen University have denied that the termination of the employment contract, work permit and visa of David Streckfuss are related to his political activism in Thailand.

Khon Kaen University’s International Affairs Division also denied allegations of police pressure, telling ThaiPBS World that the termination was due to his failure to fulfill his duty regarding student exchange programs.

Making matters worse for itself, KKU now states: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he allegedly failed to arrange student exchange programs, leading to the contract termination.” So, they say that students couldn’t come, so Streckfuss must go….

Update 2: Khaosod states that the Khon Kaen Immigration Office has “deferred the decision to extend the work permit and visa…”. An official stated: “This has nothing to do with politics and David is not a prohibited person under the immigration act. Therefore, there should be no problem with his visa application process.”

KKU continues to maintain that there was no official pressure applied – Streckfuss says there was – and says it sacked him for circumstances created by the virus:

The longtime expat worked as the director of the exchange student program at Khon Kaen University for the past 27 years before he was given a one-month notice of termination in February for “not being able to do assigned work.” He believed the decision was politically charged, an allegation denied by his former employer.

“No police or any other state officials have met with the rector or the dean,” Khon Kaen University rector Charnchai Pangthongviriyakul said Saturday. “The faculty saw that there has been no progress in his work, so it decided to notify him of contract termination.”

Even if this was the case, it marks KKU as an uncaring employer, not averse to taking decisions that destroy lives.





With several updates: Royalists, recycling and ratbag rightists

31 08 2020

Watching the ultra-royalist Thai Pakdee group “rally” on Sunday was reminiscent of some of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee events. There was some yellow, some whistles, old head and arm bands, and the white, flag-themed t-shirts all seemed recycled from Suthep Thaugsuban’s efforts to overthrow an elected government and/or provide the political space for a military coup.

Thai PBS reports that mostly aged royalists rallied in support of the absent monarch and the junta’s constitution and to demand strong legal measures against student and pro-democracy activists. It was a full bag of rightist demands, recycled from earlier movements going back to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the military-backed rightists of earlier decades.

Former Democrat Party member, former Action Coalition for Thailand member, and long-term yellow shirt Warong Dechgitvigrom led the rally, and denied he planned and “confrontation” with rallying students and other pro-democracy groups. He did not say that his assigned task is to rally support from the right and royalists and to provide a potential base for further military-backed intervention, should that be deemed necessary by the powers that watch over him and his ilk.

Like his predecessors, Warong blamed all of Thailand’s “troubles” on “politicians,” accusing them of “plunging Thailand into deeper political divide, separating the old and new generations.”

His claim was that his ragtag ratbags had:

come together to protect the [m]onarchy, to retain the Thai identity, to do away with all forms of monopoly, to attain career equality for all Thai people, through the application of technology, and to enhance national prosperity via a sufficiency economy.

He also called for the “Education Minister and all university rectors” repress the student-based activism by not allowing space for rallies and to stop “lecturers, who may harbor anti-[m]onarchy leanings, from ‘brainwashing’ their students.” In this, he is recycling rightism from the 1970s.

In addition, Thai Pakdee planned to recycle rightist demands on the Japanese Embassy to stop Pavin Chachavalpongpun criticizing the monarchy.

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s Jatuporn Promphan, who has sounded rather royalist of late, said Thai Pakdee had “an extreme right-wing agenda, similar to a combination of the former Nawaphol, Red Guard and Village Scout groups.” We are not sure how Red Guards get into the mix, but his reference to Thai rightist heritage is apt.

The recycling of rightists and their rhetoric is dangerous, often leading to the unexplained/uninvestigated bashing of regime critics, probably by rightists working with the authorities.

It is dangerous also for regime and monarchy critics who live in exile. Rightist rhetoric gives cover and justification for the several enforced disappearances in Laos and Cambodia. These are very likely black ops by the Thai military operating on orders from the regime and the palace.

These acts of violence have been meant as “warnings” to anti-regime and anti-monarchists, to instill fear and to silence them.

Getting away with abduction, torture and murder in “brother authoritarian” regimes is relatively easily arranged, often a quid pro quo for similar operations by those regimes in Thailand.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

But it seems that this is not enough. The regime’s panic about anti-monarchy exiles in Japan, the USA and Europe is heightened, probably provoked by recent activism targeting the king in Germany.

The Nation reports on recent efforts to threaten those overseas based critics. Jom Petpradap, a “journalist living in exile in the United States has accused the Thai government of making veiled threats to his life and safety.” He has received a “package sent to him from Thailand [that] contained threatening materials” that made it clear that he is under surveillance and being followed.

Other exiles and outspoken monarchy critic Andrew MacGregor Marshall have reported similar packages and/or stalking.

Rightists in Thailand are also recycling Alt-Right inspired propaganda.

Thisrupt has a limited report on this development, noting that these conspiracy-based “revelations” of “plots” against the right’s Thailand mirror efforts in the 1970s to link student movements to international communism and efforts to overthrow the monarchy.

Something called “Thailand Vision” has been claiming a “plot,” backed by the USA – claimed to be promoting a “color revolution” in Thailand – and funded by Thai and international billionaires and capitalists. Like racists and rightists elsewhere, George Soros is identified as one of the culprit. Soros is remembered by Thai rightists as a culprit in the 1997 economic crisis. But his real “crime” is support for liberal causes.

In an elaborate concoction, Thailand Vision actually recycles claims made in earlier years by a self-exiled American, yellow-shirted conspiracy theorist who has been writing for one of Russia’s propaganda outfit, the New Eastern Outlook, which provides links to a range of alternative media sites, some of them anti-Semitic, others climate change deniers and many libertarian. Some of the co-authors have links to the extreme right in the U.S., including Lyndon LeRouche. and with connections to Alex Jones and much of the anti-imperialist alt-right.

In earlier times, it was Thaksin Shinawatra who was the “culprit” in motivating the international liberal/globalist conspiracy to bring down the monarchy. Now it is Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and international capitalists “behind” NGOs and international “co-conspirators” like the German newspaper Bild (for its tabloid journalism n the king in Germany), Business Insider, PixelHELPER, Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even Netflix!

In Thailand, “co-conspirators” include almost all of the NGOs and other organizations that are not rightist and sufficiently royalist, including the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Thai Volunteer Service, Asian Network for Free Elections Foundation (ANFREL), Union for Civil Liberty, Prachatai, 101.world and The Isaan Record.

This might all sound bizarre, but in the recent past, such conspiracy nonsense has gained traction among former leftist yellow shirts like the late Kraisak Choonhavan and the regime/junta.

Recycling propaganda is about promoting notions of “threat” and mobilizing rightist reaction.

Update 1: We missed a Khaosod story about the ultras on Sunday. As well as one rally speaker – the youngest – seeming to incite violence and, later, calling for military dictatorship, coupled with a “Down with Democracy” screech, “speakers dish[ed] out conspiracy theories that implicate the governments of the United States and other Western countries in the ongoing anti-government protests.” Celebrity Hatai Muangboonsri said onstage: “Western powers want us to be divided. They encouraged a mindset that hates the pillars of our country…”. The reaction from the US Embassy was predictable. There’s also a strain of pro-China agitation from the ultras, who have mostly opposed Hong Kong democracy protesters.

Update 2: Two stories at The Nation deserve some attention. The first is about a street sweeper attacked outside the Thai Pakdee rally at the Thai-Japanese Stadium in Din Daeng. He was allegedly beaten up “because he was wearing a red shirt.” The story states: “It is assumed that the guard of Thai Pakdee royalist group may have assumed that Sukhon [the man beaten] had worn red to show he was associated with the anti-coup red-shirt movement.” The second story is a most unconvincing “denial” by Warong. Yellow social media is denigrating the cleaner as a “red buffalo” who got what he deserved as a Thaksin supporter. Fascism is on the march.

Update 3: In another story at The Nation, Student Union of Thailand spokesperson Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul insisted that the only people “behind” the student protests were the students themselves. She was logical in pointing out that the use of social media to raise political awareness among students and the young generation means that the students have a lot of supporters: “It wakes up many people. There are a lot of people who think like us.” She added: “It is human nature that if we know that many people share our views, then we have the courage to speak out … our fear is lessened…”. She added that she doesn’t even know all of the groups who associate themselves with Free People. Unlike Russian-paid trolls and yellow-shirted dolts, she’s brave, smart and appears (rather too) innocent.

Update 4: We added a link to Update 1 and corrected a point there.

Update 5: The Nation reports that Warong has “denied that the 15-year-old who posted a message on Facebook Live encouraging dictatorship was a member of his group.” He declared:  “he is not our member. I don’t know. Go ask him. He’s just a kid”.

Clipped from Khaosod

As the above picture shows, Warong is dissembling. He’s shown pulling a Thai Pakdee shirt over the lad’s yellow shirt. He’s applauded and lauded. Warong is trying to mislead people because he doesn’t want Thai Pakdee portrayed as it really is: an undemocratic, pro-military, pro monarchy mob that promotes the dictatorship.





No, no, no! No debate or discussion II

13 07 2016

At its Facebook page, The Isaan Record has a series of photos from its 8 July “public forum on freedom of expression in Isaan went ahead despite the presence of about 15 military and police officers, who took photos of the forum participants and videotaped the event.”

Clipped from Prachatai, this man is one of the junta's thugs

Clipped from Prachatai, this man is one of the junta’s thugs

The first extensive report f the event we have seen is available at Prachatai.

In yet another example of how Orwellian the military regime is, this forum on freedom of expression was told by a gang of military and police thugs that the forum was “prohibited … to talk about politics, referendum, and the lèse majesté law.”

Apparently, the gang allowed a discussion of “human right issues only.” It seems the thugs are as dull as they are repressive.

The pictured gang leader, Lt Col Phitakphon Chusri stated: “We just want to warn them [the organisers] that if there’s any talk related to politics or Article 112, we cannot let them continue the event. Other topics are fine, but we would like to send some personnel to observe the discussion…”.

As well as monitoring and videotaping the event the regime also sent along provincial administration flunkies “and legal staff of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)…”.

The report concludes:

The Isaan Record said that they thanked the authorities for prohibiting the discussion in the ‘Freedom of Expression in Isaan’ forum as the attendees could clearly understand what the human rights situation in the area looks like, adding that the threat of prosecution clarifies that freedom of expression has already been absent from Thai society.

Interesting, Lt Col Phitakphon and his gang are reportedly a part of the junta’s so-called peace keeping centers, recently established “to prevent incidents that would lead to violence and ensure a clean and fair referendum process…”.

As we noted when these “centers” were established, their true nature was to control and repress. The gang in Khon Kaen have demonstrated that the “centers” are doing the junta’s dirty work.





Updated: Crushing red shirts

16 12 2015

Part of the paranoia that drives the military dictatorship to behave in ways that seem bizarre is the fear of red shirts/opposition organizing. Like all royalists, the junta thinks that large amounts of money from Thaksin Shinawatra is behind the “plots” the military concocts.

So fearful are they that, in some “red shirt areas,” banks are required to report any incoming funds of more than a few hundred dollars, with funds being withheld from recipients until they can prove these are not funds for political organizing. Think of the thousands of families of overseas workers having to go through political hoops to prove the money is from law abiding relatives working hard overseas.

When the military ran its illegal coup in May 2014, it was far better prepared than in 2006. This time, the military had collected considerable information allowing red shirt leaders and organizers to be neutralized and threatened. Any red shirt leader getting “involved” in what the junta says is “politics” is quickly called in and threatened.

More worrying for the junta a grassroots red shirts who continue to be politically active or are considered so by the military thugs. As can be seen in recent lese majeste cases, the junta is vigorously going after lowly red shirts. It is hitting them hard as examples to others to be quiet, cowed and accepting of the royalist-military regime and the “reforms” it plans so that the hoi polloi can never even think of gaining political, social or economic justice.

In other cases, we have seen a mammoth lese majeste sentence to single mother and long sentences to red shirts in Khon Kaen who protested the military’s murderous crackdown in Bangkok in 2010 by burning symbols of state power.

As Khaosod reports, an even longer sentence – death* – has been handed out by the Supreme Court “to a Redshirt leader in the northeast – which was reduced to a lifetime sentence – for allegedly torching a provincial city hall during political unrest five years ago.” The death penalty is meant to be seen as draconian and incredibly harsh because the military junta is determined to crush all red shirt activism. [*See update]

A lower court had earlier found Pichet Tabudda guilty and sentenced him to one year in prison. The Supreme Court then stepped in and overturned that sentence and sentenced Pichet to death. This was reduced to a life sentence because of a guilty plea.

There is no doubt the highest courts and the junta work hand in glove, and as hierarchical and paternalistic elites, they see the need to teach their children how to behave. That is, how to grovel, kowtow, know their place and serve the elites. Once this is clear, through harsh punishment, the elites believe they will have the conformity they require to maintain their rule.

If readers want to know more about how grassroots organizing and the red shirts are getting on, we recommend a recent story at Prachatai and another at The Isaan Record.

Update: Khaosod reports that the “court … has refuted reports the Supreme Court handed down a death sentence to a Redshirt leader convicted of setting fire to a provincial city hall as widely reported earlier this week.” Apparently, a lawyer was “confused.”





Dictating III

1 10 2014

According to one definition, a military dictatorship is:

a form of government different from civilian dictatorship for a number of reasons: their motivations for seizing power, the institutions through which they organize their rule, and the ways in which they leave power. Often viewing itself as saving the nation from the corrupt or myopic civilian politicians, a military dictatorship justify its position as “neutral” arbiters on the basis of their membership within the armed forces. For example, many juntas adopt titles, such as “National Redemption Council”, “Committee of National Restoration”, or “National Liberation Committee”. Military leaders often rule as a junta, selecting one of them as the head….Prayuth

Military juntas are keen to ensure compliance with their political views. This is as true today for Thailand’s current junta as it was for some of its predecessors, of which there have been many. Today the junta seeks to turn back the political clock, repressing, controlling and “re-educating.”

On the latter process, The Isaan Record reports from the Northeast, seeking to ensure that red shirts are returned to the “safety” of early 20th century monarchism and ultra-nationalism, led by the preachers of the military junta.

The Isaan Record reports on the indoctrination in one village as a military unit told the villagers:

How was it that we kept a hold on our country and avoided being colonized by another country? It was because our king protected our nation…. If any outsiders come to destroy our country, we will fight until we die. We need to protect our land and we need to love each other as a united country.

Of course, the villagers know this line. It has been the mantra of military dictatorships and royalist governments for decades. It is what they have been repeatedly told in schools and in the mainstream media.The military obviously believes that red shirts have been “misled” whereas others might say they have had their eyes opened.

These activities are part of 3-day indoctrinations “in villages across Isaan.” Known as the “Project to Strengthen Stability at the Village Level,” as would be expected, it is organized by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), formed during the period of counter-insurgency in the 1960s.

ISOC does exactly as anyone who was around in 1966 would recognize. Saluting the national flag, chanting “the truth,” listening to military types lecturing on “the importance of the monarchy in Thailand,” and watching nationalist films. In this case, “The Legend of King Naresuan.”

A “trainer” explains the program: “The intention of the event is to dispense with the colors in the community and provide a unity program…”. This trainer explained that these events “had been 80% successful.” His measure of “success” is easily seen when asked if “any participants expressed opposition to the coup or military government…”. His reply: “They wouldn’t dare!

What did villagers and community leaders say? One observed:

“All we want is democracy and there’s never going to be more democracy that results from a coup…. No government born out of a coup has ever governed democratically.”

The report adds that “nearly all the villagers present were Red Shirts who no longer feel free to express their political views.” A leader states the military wanted to “ensure that people don’t oppose them.”

It gave little attention to the villagers’ political or economic concerns. When the indoctrination did turn to farming, it was to promote the military’s version of the ideological “sufficiency economy” attributed to the king.

It is confirmation of the military-monarchy alliance that is fundamentally anti-democratic.





What happened to the red shirts?

13 06 2014

There are a couple of interesting stories in recent days that give some insights into why the red shirts have been quiet.

The first is at the BBC and includes a video story as well. It speaks of repression and fear.

The “red villages” of Udon Thani are red no longer. Under orders from the military authorities, the red flags and banners have gone, the red gates and buildings are painted over.

Few people are brave enough to wear red shirts any more.

One of the army’s first acts after staging its coup in Bangkok was to detain, or summon, all those with important leadership roles in the UDD, the so-called red-shirt movement.

… When the detained leaders were released, they were forced to sign agreements that they would stop all political activity and refrain from inflammatory statements.

This process has, the report says, left the “mass of red-shirt supporters in the area around the provincial city of Udon Thani … confused and demoralised by the coup…. They had expected to be called on by the UDD leadership to take part in organised resistance to the takeover. That has not happened.”

Why? The report points to “… local activists, especially those running the all-important community radio stations which played an important role in mobilising the red-shirts, have been called in for questioning…. The radio stations have been shut down, their equipment confiscated and their houses searched.”

Soldiers have been everywhere. They “operate checkpoints on all the main roads around Udon Thani, and they have built bunkers at sensitive locations.”

In the face of all of this: “There was little appetite for confrontation anywhere in the village.” And, village activists say that “after the coup, … [there had been] little communication with red-shirt leaders,” and so activists were not sure what to do. ne activists said: “We have to stop our activities, because we have a gun pointed at our heads – we have to. But we don’t want to. I feel so bad towards the army. How are they going to run the country, without the people’s support?”

Meanwhile, at the Isaan Record, there are two important stories. The first tells of initial resistance to the expanded military presence and how this was stifled. The second is a story of the initial action by the junta and the “defeat” of the so-called Khon Kaen Model. In reading this story PPT couldn’t help but think of previously concocted “plots” and “plans” that have been used to undermine red shirts and the various pro-Thaksin Shinawatra movements and parties over the past decade and more. The military has been behind most of these inventions. However, they create a fear that inhibits organizing.





Peace and violence

28 01 2014

For those who have missed The Isaan Record for its notes on what’s happening in the Northeast, PPT notes its return with a couple of posts this month, the latest today. In that post, TIR notes that things are peaceful there, despite a tiny group of anti-democrats protesting.

It adds:

The stark contrast between how the conflict is playing out in Bangkok versus Khon Kaen was illustrated when advance voting on January 26 was either blocked entirely or disrupted at 49 out of 50 polling stations in Bangkok, but completely unimpeded in Khon Kaen and other areas in the northeast.

For the time being, political activity in Khon Kaen, and across much of the Northeast, appears far less confrontational than in Bangkok.

Meanwhile at The Establishment Post:

January 26, 2014 is a day that will go down in history as the day Thailand democracy died. Killed by a fascist-like mob comprising a tiny minority of the country’s population led by former politicians and a supporter base frustrated with their inability to win an election by popular vote.

A minority so intent on seizing power that the destruction, division and damage such actions will cause are of little importance, all means seeming to justify the end.

The article adds that this struggle is a:

knock-down-drag-out fight with no quarter being given and no prisoners being taken. A fight unlike any other before it and one that has the potential to have as great, or perhaps even greater an impact on the kingdom as the events of 1932 when King Prajadhipok, the seventh of the Chakri dynasty kings, ended absolute monarchy rule and granted the nation emancipation.





More on PPT’s Persons of the Year

2 01 2013

As readers know, a couple of days ago, PPT announced our PPT Persons of the Year as being each and every political prisoner who remains locked in a Thai prison. We now want to draw attention to two other blogs that have stories that are relevant to these political prisoners.

First, at Siam Voices, Saksith Saiyasombut writes about lese majeste in 2012 which begins with the headlined notion of “cowardice.” Amongst some excellent points, this one is important:

The chances that the law will be somehow changed (or even just remotely touched by politicians) remain slim as two incidents have shown that it is untouchable: the Constitutional Court rejected a petition by Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Ekachai Hongkangwan, both currently on trial for lèse majesté, as it does not see the constitutional right to free speech being violated by Article 112 of the Criminal Code. In another story, a bill petition proposing to amend the law – signed by over 30,000 – was dismissed by the speaker of the parliament.

We remain hopeful that brave activists such as those associated with Nitirat can continue the push for change and reform in this area.

Second, The Isaan Record has posted an update on the fate of four red shirt political prisoners from Ubol, now incarcerated in the special prison for red shirts at Laksi. They have languished in jail for two years yet, as the report states:

… the bars of their prison have not been able to keep them completely locked up. Even from within their cells, they continue to fight for their freedom and democracy in Thailand through letters….

The RedFam Fund considers the four to be political prisoners, asserting they have been jailed due to their political beliefs and activism. This resonates within their letters, which hold sentiments not only about their struggle for their release, but also about the need for change in what they believe to be a broken justice system.

One of the prisoners, Teerawat Satsuwan, in a letter to the RedFam Fund, which supports them and their families writes of justice and democracy:

I miss home so much…. But, in the fight, there must always be someone who sacrifices. I am not sad, professor, because I fight for our brothers and sisters. I fight for justice for Thai people. I don’t want anyone to step on the head of the poor, so I fight for democracy so that the poor can receive it.





The Isaan Record back with a great post!

18 10 2012

After a 5 month hiatus, The Isaan Record has stormed back with a fabulous post on a meeting in Khon Kaen focused on “the role the International Criminal Court could play in bringing justice to the Thai court system by ending impunity for political figures.” We won’t write any more on the post as readers should go back to The Isaan Recod and support it. Welcome back!





Goodbye Isaan Record

20 05 2012

PPT is sorry to see the (hopefully, temporary) end to The Isaan Record. We found it a refreshing take on the northeast and its people that was not found elsewhere.

The two authors have a goodbye post that is well worth a read. This is the part that intrigued PPT:

Lèse-Majesté

The lèse-majesté law changed our work in significant ways: we didn’t write what we heard and people didn’t tell us what they thought. It doesn’t take 15 months in the field to know that that’s what a law like this does. What did come to surprise us, though, was just how differently our interviewees would adhere to, interpret, sidestep, or just outright ignore their half of the bargain. Many chose to place the onus of censorship squarely on our shoulders, which is, of course, a most regrettable duty. Villagers were often surprisingly candid about exactly who and what they didn’t like about Thailand’s political elite – they could be refreshingly critical. Others would clam up the very moment we said the words “lèse-majesté” (which was, incidentally, the longest and most esoteric word in our Thai vocabulary). In response to a question we posed to a particularly influential Red Shirt leader about lèse-majesté reform, the woman said, “This is something that is simply not in the Red Shirts’ interests at this time and that is all I would like to say about that.” That was as far as she would go.

Still others found a comfortable compromise between these two extremes. A very well-known Isaan Red Shirt leader and Pheu Thai Member of Parliament (MP) had taken a liking to the Isaan Record and always found time to talk to us at a rally or demonstration, for which we were always grateful. Most likely the man relished the opportunity to practice his English, and he never failed to entertain us with his innuendos regarding institutional reform. He’d gesture to the sky, wink, give a knowing laugh or pat one of us on the shoulder when he talked about the power of “The Invisible Hand.”

Nevertheless, almost none of these interactions ever made it into our stories. Though we wrote a couple of articles about the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 (CCAA 112 – a movement, in part, to reform the lèse-majesté law) in Khon Kaen, we only ever wrote one story that addressed lèse-majesté directly and it only stayed up on the site for a couple of months before we reconsidered the possible consequences of our decision.

Early on, when our readership was still small and our work was not yet translated into Thai, we ran a story about a Northeastern MP who had been accused of lèse-majesté for the comments he had made at a Red Shirt rally the week before. It was hastily written and was based solely on a thirty-minute phone interview with the accused, and really, at this point, is more a testament to our idealism than it was a gutsy exposé. Nevertheless, we agonized over what we could and could not publish. We consulted with an expert in the field and concluded that if the remarks had been published elsewhere, we could cite that publication and we’d be in the clear. But of course, it wasn’t that simple.

The MP had caught the public’s attention the month prior when during a nationally broadcast parliamentary debate he shouted down a particularly despised government politician with an idiomatic (and quite commonplace) vulgarism: “Shut the hell up!” Literally translated, it works out to “Holler for your father.” In the weeks that followed, the MP’s outburst on the House floor had grown into something of a rallying cry. Not long after the televised debate, on the stage of a Red Shirt rally the MP repeated his catchphrase at the audience’s insistence. Then he said it again with a slight alteration: “You don’t just have to holler for your father,” he said, “you can holler for your mother, too.” Two days later he was summoned to a Bangkok police station and charged with lèse-majesté.

Though to a Western audience the MP’s remarks may appear entirely innocuous (even if indecorous), Thailand’s hierarchical and familial system of pronouns allows this to be read as an affront to the king and queen, the “father” and “mother” of the country at large.

So, what could we publish? The catchphrase’s origins were on YouTube for goodness’ sake. He was simply repeating a rude colloquialism. Did that mean we could link to the video and we’d be safe? Or was writing about its repetition at the Red rally tantamount to slander? What about the reference to “your mother”? Was that crossing the line?

Most Westerners are blessed with legal systems in which innuendo and sentence constructions cannot constitute felonies.

We ran the story, but with one glaring omission. The remark about “your mother” was excised. In retrospect, it seems like an overly cautious decision, but with a long history of arbitrary enforcement comes an unhealthy dose of journalistic paranoia. Charges can be brought, dismissed, put on hold and reanimated without any rhyme or reason. Just last Thursday, the Bangkok Post reported that the charges brought against this MP and others around the same time are likely to be dismissed – 13 months later.

There are few silver linings to be found in discussing lèse-majesté. “Uncle SMS”’s tragic passing while behind bars is yet another reminder of just how devastating the law can be. What we can say, however, is that we are amazed how in the last year alone, lèse-majesté reform came out of obscurity and started regularly making front page headlines. Finally, the conversation has begun.