Updated: A sorry story of military repression

24 04 2018

We all know that Thailand is under the military boot. The US State Department’s 2017 human rights report is now out and chronicles some aspects of the natur of military repression. We summarize and quote some parts of the report below. A general statement worth considering is this:

In addition to limitations on civil liberties imposed by the NCPO, the other most significant human rights issues included: excessive use of force by government security forces, including harassing or abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detention by government authorities; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces…; corruption; sexual exploitation of children; and trafficking in persons.

As the report notes:

Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect during the year. NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, grants the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.”

The military junta continues to detain civilians in military prisons. Some prisoners are still shackled in heavy chains.

Impunity and torture are mentioned several times as a major issue. This is important when it is noted that the number of “suspects” killed by authorities doubled in 2017.

Approximately 2,000 persons have been summoned, arrested and detained by the regime, including academics, journalists, politicians and activists. There are also “numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the military government.” Frighteningly,

NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March 2016, grants military officers with the rank of lieutenant and higher power to summon, arrest, and detain suspects; conduct searches; seize assets; suspend financial transactions; and ban suspects from traveling abroad in cases related to 27 criminal offenses, including extortion, human trafficking, robbery, forgery, fraud, defamation, gambling, prostitution, and firearms violation. The order also grants criminal, administrative, civil, and disciplinary immunity to military officials executing police authority in “good faith.”

Too often detainees are prevented from having legal representation and are refused bail.

The use of military courts continues:

In a 2014 order, the NCPO redirected prosecutions for offenses against the monarchy, insurrection, sedition, weapons offenses, and violation of its orders from civilian criminal courts to military courts. In September 2016 the NCPO ordered an end to the practice, directing that offenses committed by civilians after that date would no longer be subject to military court jurisdiction. According to the Judge Advocate General’s Office, military courts initiated 1,886 cases involving at least 2,408 civilian defendants since the May 2014 coup, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives. As of October approximately 369 civilian cases involving up to 450 individual defendants remained pending before military courts.

On lese majeste, the reports cites the Department of Corrections that says “there were 135 persons detained or imprisoned…”.

Censorship by the junta is extensive, with the regime having “restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it [national security and the monarchy], and media widely practiced self-censorship.” It is added that the junta “continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet and routinely censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.” In dealing with opponents and silencing them, the junta has used sedition charges.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression are extensive against those it deems political activists. This repression extends to the arts and academy:

The NCPO intervened to disrupt academic discussions on college campuses, intimidated scholars, and arrested student leaders critical of the coup. Universities also practiced self-censorship…. In June [2017] soldiers removed artwork from two Bangkok galleries exhibiting work depicting the 2010 military crackdown on protesters, which authorities deemed a threat to public order and national reconciliation.

It is a sorry story.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a timely editorial on torture in Thailand. Usually it is the police and military accused and guilty. This time it is the Corrections Department, which runs almost all of Thailand’s prisons. All these officials are cut from the same cloth.

Updated: Junta lost in international politics

14 05 2016

PPT has long observed that the junta is manned – and its almost all men involved – by a bunch of inglorious dolts who got to their positions in military and government, not through learning or skills in any arena other than in posterior polishing, mostly in the palace, but of other superiors as they gravitated to the top. Almost none of them have any capacity in governance or foreign affairs.

In foreign affairs, the junta’s record is lamentable. Most recently, its performance at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was full of lies and hypocrisy. It has to be admitted that “defending” the junta’s record is like pushing piles of excrement up mountains. Yet even looking beyond human rights, the military dictatorship has shown itself incapable. Think of it s failures with the EU. Its fallout with the USA and even its problems with China (on the latter, the big deal was rail, and that seems gone).

In recent days, the junta and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs flunkies have been in a spin over the US and its relationship with the junta. The junta’s actions demonstrate its lack of diplomatic skill and its narrow-minded and bloody-minded approach to criticism. More broadly, its response to the US in recent days show how doltish the regime is.

The most widely reported incident is a tense and very public standoff between US Ambassador Glyn Davies and the junta’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

The junta became agitated when an AFP report that stated that the US had “condemned Thailand’s arrest of an activist’s mother [Patnaree Chankij] for allegedly insulting the royal family in a one-word Facebook post.”

This report was widely carried internationally and in Thailand. The junta became incandescent over the use of the word “condemn.” The National News Bureau & Public Relations propaganda site declared on behalf of the junta:

The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has thoroughly reviewed the United State’s Department of State’s stance on Thailand’s Article 112 and Computer Crime Act and finally found that the US agency has not released any official statement on the matter.

The Foreign Ministry’s Information Department announced that the US Department of State’s spokesperson has not used the term “condemn” during a press conference as mistakenly reported by some news agencies.

Besides, the Information Department said the Thai government has affirmed that it respects the international principles of human rights and values all freedoms and that its actions have been taken only to maintain stability and unity in the Kingdom in the face of the country’s reform plans.

The last paragraph repeats lies and propaganda propagated at the UN.

The first paragraph is at best a deliberate mirepresentation or just another junta lie. US State Department officials have described  “grave reservations about the practice of using military courts to try civilians [and] … utilizing the lèse majesté laws in a way that is unprecedented…” and, after several years of not doing so, the Human Rights Practices Report for 2015 lists lese majeste victims as political prisoners.

The second paragraph is the main point of the report. The junta’s claim is that the word “condemn” was not used, and so the problem in the relationship can be ignored. In fact, the AFP report stated clearly the words used by the State Department:

“These actions create a climate of intimidation and self-censorship,” said Katina Adams, the State Department’s spokeswoman for east Asia and the Pacific.

“We are troubled by the recent arrests of individuals in connection with online postings, and the detention of Patnaree Chankij.

“The arrest and harassment of activists and their family members raise serious concerns about Thailand’s adherence to its international obligation to protect freedom of expression.”

That seems clear enough. Does this add up “condemn”? Various definitions suggest that condemn is a reasonable description of the US statement. Synonyms are: censure, criticize, castigate, attack, denounce, deplore, decry, revile, inveigh against, blame, chastise, berate, upbraid, reprimand, rebuke, reprove, reprehend, take to task, find fault with, give someone/something a bad press, etc.

Foreign Minister Don’s impatient intervention makes things far worse and would have observers believe that the junta is unconcerned about the US. Yet the junta does seem to have a propaganda problem with the deterioration of the relationship with the US. So much of a problem that it has had the official propaganda agency concoct a story of US understanding.

The agency “reports” that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “clarified to a representative of the United States that his administration complies with human rights principles and expressed gratitude for the country’s understanding of the Thai political situation.”

A reader could be confused by this claim. But who is this “representative”? The report states:

Adm Dennis Blair, Chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, paid a courtesy call on Gen Prayut at Government House for a discussion on several topics. Deputy Government Spokesman Maj Gen Weerachon Sukontapatipak, who accompanied Gen Prayut during the meeting, revealed that the premier assured Adm Blair of the government’s adherence to the law and human rights principles when making arrests and taking judicial proceedings against law breakers. He insisted that citizens are guaranteed full freedom of expression within the legal framework.

As for the national reform process, Gen Prayut confirmed that general elections will take place in 2017 as stipulated by the roadmap. He also gave details on the guidelines for various areas of reform and said any advice from the US would be welcome.

Maj Gen Weerachon pointed out that Adm Blair has extensive experience both in the military and the administrative branch and thus already has a clear picture of Thailand’s reform process. During the discussion, Adm Blair showed his awareness of political developments in Thailand as well as the reasoning behind the military takeover of the administration. He also expressed his confidence that the Prime Minister will be able to overcome all impending challenges.

Admiral Blair is not a representative of anything other than the privately-funded Sasakawa Foundation. He has no official role.In fact, Blair “resigned” from the Obama administration after “a tenure marred by the recent failures of U.S. spy agencies to detect terrorist plots and by political missteps that undermined his standing with the White House.”

And what standing does his Sasakawa Peace Foundation have? A good place to begin is the Wikipedia page for Ryoichi Sasakawa, its founder. On his death, an obituary in Britain’s Independent newspaper referred to him in these terms:

The last of Japan’s A-class war criminals has died, a nonagenarian multimillionaire. In the land where most people do their utmost to pass unnoticed, Ryoichi Sasakawa stood out as a monster of egotism, greed, ruthless ambition, political deviousness and with a love of the limelight equalled in his time only by his fellow right-winger Yukio Mishima.

He founded Japan’s fascist party before WW2 and remained an extremist rightist and hardline nationalist even after he was released after the war. His postwar reputation and wealth owed much to gambling and rightist connections, with some claims of links with organized crime and the CIA.*

A failed administrator, unrepresentative of anything other than a Foundation of dubious origins in the Japanese far right, seems a perfect fit for Thailand’s rightist military dictatorship. Certainly, as “diplomats,” the junta is a failure that misrepresents its activities internationally and nationally.

(*There is a curious link between Sasakawa and the monarchy, following this list of links: here, here, here and here.)

Update: Above we mentioned the problems the junta had had with the Chinese on the much-hyped railway project. Interestingly, yesterday The Nation had a story stating that the “project back on track.” What this seems to mean is that “Thailand to be sole investor.” This is quite a different project than that which was touted at a propaganda-like “ground-breaking” ceremony and signed MOU back in December 2015.

Updated: Prayuth livid on US comments

29 01 2015

General Prayth Chan-ocha, known widely as The Dictator of Thailand, is livid that he was both snubbed and criticized by a visiting U.S. official. PPT earlier posted on the comments by Daniel Russel, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

At Khaosod it is reported that Prayuth ordered his ministers to denounce Russel’s speech (full text here). PPT heard that he was furious about Russel’s speech at Chulalongkorn University. But he is then reported to have “repeated his remarks in a meeting with Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn, a member of the Thai junta and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”

Indicating his limited knowledge of international affairs and the United States, Thanasak, referring to the maintenance of martial law, “asked Mr. Daniel [Russel], if your country is like ours, with all the factors and restrictions, what would you do without martial law?” Junta spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd claimed the envoy “… could not answer that question, because his country never faced such a situation before.”

A venomous Prayuth also dismissed the US diplomat’s call for lifting of martial law, asking: “If we don’t have martial law, won’t it lead to chaos?… I am not bothering anyone. I only want to make this country peaceful.”

He went on to claim: “There are only few nations that are still stuck on the word democracy. But these countries still trade with us as usual. No one pressures us at all. Some countries even say, Thailand is in better shape than ever. It’s just that they cannot say they agree with us.”

We recall that Thaksin Shinwatra was once was criticized for comments that seemed to make democracy a means to an end. Prayuth, as The Dictator, can’t be criticized for having a view of democracy as nothing but a word.

Khaosod reports that exiled political dissident Somsak Jeamteerasakul “offered an answer to the question Gen. Thanasak reportedly posed to Russel during their meeting.” He says the U.S., faced with the situation Yingluck Shinawatra was in, would have seen the President “would relieve the army chief of his command and court-martial him on a charge of high treason.”

Never in Thailand, where the king is commander in chief and the military brass owe their position and personal wealth to the palace and military corruption.

Update: Prachatai has loaded the video of Russel’s speech.

Updated: U.S. criticism of coup and junta

27 01 2015

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel speaking in Bangkok:

When an elected leader is deposed from office, then impeached by the authority that implemented the coup — and is being targeted with criminal charges while basic democratic processes and institutions are interrupted, the international community is left with the impression that these steps could, in fact, be politically driven….

… [W]e are concerned about significant restraints on freedoms since the coup, including restrictions on speech and assembly….

Our relationship with Thailand has been challenged by the military-coup that removed a democratically-elected government eight months ago….

Update: Most of the military dictatorship and its supporters probably don’t care. For example, the (anti)Democrat Party blamed the Yingluck government for, well, everything.


Who supports the military dictatorship?

6 12 2014

As most readers will be aware, the United States government is meant to have cut off military assistance to Thailand following the 22 May 2014 military coup.

According to a section of the Foreign Assistance Act, first enacted in 1961, the United States is required to suspend foreign aid to any country that has a military coup. The law, according to its text, “restricts assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” When the military coup in Egypt occurred, there was considerable discussion of his requirement.

Picture from The Nation

Picture from The Nation

What has happened in Thailand?

Truthout, an independent and critical news outlet, examines this issue. Its analysis of military assistance to Thailand begins:

In the six months since Thailand’s military coup, the United States has exported tens of millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to the unelected government there. This finding is based on a new analysis of US Census Bureau export data conducted by Truthout.

It continues to observe that:

The records, which run through September, show that since the May 22, 2014, coup, the United States has delivered $11 million in parts for military aircraft, more than $1 million in parts for guided missiles and three UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters worth more than $40 million.

And it is added that weapons that can be used against protesters or internal dissidents have continued:

… the United States has continued to deliver arms to the Thai government. In the month immediately after the military seized power, the US government exported more than $1 million in parts and accessories for military rifles and has continued to export hundreds of military rifles and shotguns since the May coup.

Further, it notes that:

When the Thai military took control of Thailand, the State Department suspended $4.7 million in foreign assistance as a result. However, the State Department has continued to approve possible arms sales to Thailand. The most recent example was in September, when nine UH-72A Lakota Helicopters and associated parts, service and support worth $89 million were approved. The State Department has also asked Congress for more than $11 million in foreign assistance to Thailand for 2015 – including $900,000 in military aid.

The report concludes that “US weapons deliveries to Thailand may be illegal under US law…”.

Updated: The U.S. and Thailand

25 06 2014

A whole bunch of the anti-democrats get steamed up that the U.S. is abandoning them through it condemnation of the military coup. Some of them really don’t mind as they prefer Thailand to have a closer relationship with authoritarian China. Some of this is due to an affinity for authoritarianism, some of it comes from a kind of ethnic and cultural desire, and some from the “bending like bamboo in the wind” notion of diplomacy that has been claimed to motivate foreign policy.

There may be something in these kinds of statements. Yet PPT reckons that this emotion and turning against the U.S. is little more than the royalist elite’s inability to understand change. In this case, the way global politics and posturing has changed. If these inward-looking dunces looked, say, to Egypt, they’d know that the U.S. is not the great defender of human rights and democracy that are associated with its current posture in Thailand.

In fact, if they looked at Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Scot Marciel’s testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, they might notice that U.S. policy is not all that much changed from that during previous military interventions:

Our interests include the preservation of peace and democracy in Thailand, as well as the continuation of our important partnership with Thailand over the long-term. We remain committed to the betterment of the lives of the Thai people and to Thailand regaining its position of regional leadership, and we believe the best way to achieve that is through a return to a democratically elected government.

The coup and post-coup repression have made it impossible for our relationship with Thailand to go on with “business as usual.” As required by law, we have suspended more than $4.7 million of security-related assistance. In addition, we have cancelled high-level engagements, exercises, and a number of training programs with the military and police. For example, in coordination with the Department of Defense, we halted bilateral naval exercise CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training), which was underway during the coup, and canceled the planned bilateral Hanuman Guardian army exercise. We continue to review other programs and engagements, and will consider further measures as circumstances warrant. Many other nations have expressed similar views. Our hope is that this strong international message, plus pressure from within Thailand, will lead to an easing of repression and an early return to democracy.

At the same time, mindful of our long-term strategic interests, we remain committed to maintaining our enduring friendship with the Thai people and nation, including the military. The challenge facing the United States is to make clear our support for a rapid return to democracy and fundamental freedoms, while also working to ensure we are able to maintain and strengthen this important friendship and our security alliance over the long term.

Sure, Marciel talks about democracy, but he also talks about strategic interests, enduring friendship, even with the military, and maintaining and strengthening that relationship.

That’s why the U.S. Ambassador is meeting military leaders and anti-democrats like those of the gormless Democrat Party.

Kenny and Thanasak

Update: A reader asked where we collected the picture. It is from the U.S. Embassy’s website from 23 June 2014.

Updated: Thailand’s shame

21 06 2014

There are many reports available on Thailand’s downgrade to Tier 3 – the lowest tier – by the U.S. government. The Guardian reports that:

The US has signalled its mounting concern over modern-day slavery in Thailand and Qatar after it downgraded both countries on its human trafficking watchlist following revelations of appalling maltreatment of migrant workers.

Thailand was relegated to the lowest rank in the state department’s Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report – meaning it is now considered no better than North Korea, Iran or Saudi Arabia in the way it treats workers and protects them from abuse.

Reuters makes the same point:

The U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand, Malaysia and Venezuela on Friday to its list of the world’s worst centres of human trafficking, opening up the countries to possible sanctions and dumping them in the same category as North Korea and Syria.

This comes at a critical time for the country: coup, military junta, the reports earlier by The Guardian on slavery on ships in the seafood industry, and the mammoth movement of fearful Cambodian migrant workers back home, probably now numbering close to 200,000.

One point to note about this is that, while it comes at a time that reflects particularly badly for Thailand’s military dictatorship, it is not just the military that has failed and, indeed, been implicated in trafficking. All recent Thai governments have been downright awful on this matter, with the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime being amongst the most hopeless. With its military allies, Abhisit’s government adopted hardline tactics more than once. It copped plenty of flak. Then minister Kasit Piromya even worked on plans to repatriate Burmese refugees. The Yingluck Shinawatra government was unable to reign in the military.

The complicity of military and civil officials in trafficking is shown in the TiP report:

There continued to be reports that corrupt Thai civilian and military officials profited from the smuggling of Rohingya asylum seekers from Burma and Bangladesh (who transit through Thailand in order to reach Malaysia or Indonesia) and were complicit in their sale into forced labor on fishing vessels. Thai navy and marine officials allegedly diverted to Thailand boats carrying Rohingya asylum seekers en route to Malaysia and facilitated the transfer of some migrants to smugglers and brokers who sold some Rohingya into forced labor on fishing vessels. Additionally, there are media reports that some Thai police officials systematically removed Rohingya men from detention facilities in Thailand and sold them to smugglers and brokers; these smugglers and brokers allegedly transported the men to southern Thailand where some were forced to work as cooks and guards in camps, or were sold into forced labor on farms or in shipping companies.

The mistreatment of migrants in Thailand is reflective of the elite’s gross capacity for vile exploitation that is often embedded in deeply held and racist perspectives on the elite’s entitlements and privilege. The current military dictatorship is probably the least likely regime to do anything serious about this shameful situation.

Update: One of the creepy things about recent politics in Thailand is how some officials switch sides and sound equally disgusting no matter which political side they currently “represent.” There are several examples, including The Eel, who is notoriously slippery and slimy. Another is the former Thaksin Shinawatra posterior polisher from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sihasak Phuangketkeow. In response to the U.S. report discussed above, the slippery permanent secretary of the Ministry “responded angrily to the TIP report today, calling the downgrade unfair.” He added that he felt “very disappointed and strongly disagree with it [the downgrading].” This comes from a person who has spent his recent years defending the undefendable on human rights, like the military’s use of cluster bombs and the draconian lese majeste law. This slippery character even announced that “Thailand deserve[d] an upgrade in the annual TIP report for its ‘significant progress’ in combatting human trafficking.” There is either more horse manure at MFA than at Churchill Downs or the place is full of dunces. It seems like it is the latter, for Sihasak stated, “I insist that Thailand upholds the principles of human rights…”. He’s deaf, dumb, blind and stupid it seems.


“Stupid foreigners”

23 05 2014

In an earlier post, PPT noted that the hardening attitude of anti-democrats to “outsiders” will probably lead to verbal attacks on these “stupid foreigners.” No sooner posted than one of Thailand’s leading anti-democrats confirms this.

“Veteran journalist”  Somkiat Onwimon, a deeply yellow anti-democrat, reacted badly to US Secretary of State John Kerry statement that the United States would cut aid to Thailand. Of course, Congress requires, by law, that military assistance be cut.

Somkiat seems unaware of this and says it “meant nothing.” He compared the U.S.’s $10 million cut  to “$800 million of the national budget that Thaksin regime has allegedly misused.” We doubt the rabid royalist said “allegedly,” for this is another anti-democrat concoction.

Somkiat then did something else that demonstrates the anti-democrat’s capacity for self-delusion. He claimed: “if the US is happy to support Thaksin corrupted regime, then so be it.” He means that any support for electoral democracy is equal to supporting Thaksin!

His next claim is bizarre, showing a remarkable lack of knowledge and education:

Someday the US will wake up and realise the difference between the authoritarian Thaksin regime in the guise of their own brand of democracy, and the full democracy as described by Alexis de Tocqueville 180 years ago….

One of the central observations Tocqueville made way back then, as an aristocrat looking at an agrarian society, was that the nature of American democracy was shaped by it general state of equality.

If the anti-democrats were really “fiercely fighting for full democracy,” then their focus would be on reducing inequality, double standards and elite economic and political dominance. Sadly, it is these features of society that Somkiat and his ilk fight to protect!

Just for good measure, Somkiat also attacked the BBC and CNN, “telling them that the situation in Thailand was beyond their grasp.” He added that: “Time and more education will improve your understanding of Thailand…”.

Arguing that every single person who disagrees with his politics, or makes statements he disagrees with, is ignorant is more a statement of Somkiat’s anti-democratic politics and his intolerance than a reflection of the reporting of others. Such statements flag a fascistic incapacity for a tolerant politics.

The monarchy, freedom and democracy

1 05 2013

The US Department of State has released its Human Rights Report for 2012. PPT was alerted to this by a story at the Bangkok Post that referred to this report as “a highly critical report detailing … Thailand’s human rights failings.” It added that: “Observers noted this year’s report was more rounded and detailed, especially regarding the southern insurgency.”

Indeed, on our first skim of the report, released a week ago, it does seem somewhat better than its somewhat bland and repetitive reports of recent years. PPT has been especially critical of the State Department’s reports for their failure on lese majeste and the existence of political prisoners. Indeed, last year we commented on a:

hopelessly, probably deliberately, deceitful U.S. “human rights” report for Thailand in 2011. If it wasn’t deliberately deceitful, then we imagine that everyone on the Thailand desk at the Department of State and in the Embassy in Bangkok has been lobotomized to the extent that they are deaf, dumb and blind on lese majeste and other political prisoners in Thailand.

This year there is a change. As in previous years, there are useful comments on a range of issues including officials’ impunity, the use of emergency and other special laws and a range of abuses by security forces and local defence volunteers in the south. That list is disturbing reading. As the Post has it:

Security forces, the report said, were guilty of using excessive force, including killing, torturing and otherwise abusing suspects, detainees and prisoners.

PPT wants to highlight some of the report’s comments on politics, monarchy, lese majeste and political prisoners, which we think represents an attempt to break out of the previous genuflecting to the royalist propagandists and flunkies who have previously shaped American official discourses on Thailand. We will just quote and highlight (with some of the headings added by us):

Red shirts: According to an advocacy group, as of December, 16 protesters jailed after the 2010 United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD or “Red Shirts”) protests remained in pretrial detention, charged with protest-related crimes such as rioting and arson. Lawyers affiliated with the UDD movement continued to pursue bail for these remaining detainees held in several provinces. According to a UDD-affiliated information center, of the 1,857 arrests related to the 2010 protests, authorities prosecuted 1,664 individuals as of December, and the courts dismissed 91 cases, sentenced 850 individuals to probation and/or fines, and imprisoned 220 for less than one year, 63 for one to three years, 10 for three to five years, 10 for five to 10 years, and 27 for more than 10 years. According to the Department of Special Investigations, of the 270 protest-related cases under its jurisdiction, it completed 216 investigations as of December, and trials in 62 cases continued at year’s end.

Lese majeste: A July 10 royal pardon allowed the release of dual-national Joe Gordon (also known as Lerpong Wichaikhammat), who was sentenced in December 2011 to two and one-half years’ in prison for lese-majeste offenses. On August 16, a mass pardon in honor of the birthdays of the crown prince (July 28) and the queen (August 12) led to the release of approximately 30,000 prisoners. On August 24, in honor of the queen’s birthday, Suchart Narkbangsai and Suriyan Kokpuai, who were both serving three-year sentences for lese-majeste convictions, received royal pardons and were released.

PPT isn’t quite sure how releasing lese majeste convicts a bit early is an “honor” for the anyone. Thailand’s royals should be ashamed – not honored – that this feudal law remains in place; they could easily have it done away with if they had sufficient honor.

Trials: While most trials are public, the court may order a closed trial, particularly in cases involving national security, the royal family, children, or sexual abuse.

PPT can’t help but wonder why the State Department didn’t point out that closing courts infringes Section 40 of the current constitution. In other words, a court may close its proceedings but in doing so is infringing Thailand’s basic law.

Political Prisoners and Detainees: There were no government reports of political prisoners or detainees; however, sources estimated that seven to 18 persons remained detained under lese-majeste laws that outlaw criticism of the monarchy…. Some of those cases involved persons exercising their rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

While this statement is something of a step forward for the State Department, it still makes serious errors. For example, the claim that there are no government reports of political prisoners is simply a stupid claim. After all, the government has established a special prison for political prisoners at Laksi. Indeed, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra mentioned political prisoners in a speech this week.

Freedom of Speech and Press: The international and independent media operated freely, except in coverage of matters deemed a threat to national security or offensive to the monarchy…. Journalists generally were free to comment on government activities and institutions without fear of official reprisal. Nonetheless, they occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly with regard to the monarchy and national security. For example, in April the Thai distributor of The Economist magazine withheld one issue because of a story about lese-majeste prosecutions…. The government imposed some restrictions on access to the Internet and reportedly monitored Internet chat rooms and social media without judicial oversight. Individuals and groups generally engaged in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail, although there were several limitations on content, such as lese majeste, pornography, and gambling…. The RTP Electronic Crime Suppression Division reported receiving 776 computer-related complaints during 2011 that resulted in 442 investigations–a complaint rate markedly greater than the 47 in 2009 or 285 in 2010. Most cases involved alleged defamation, lese majeste, and illegal activity such as gambling and pornography. Separately, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology operated the Cyber Security Operations Center to monitor and block Web sites. According to a report by the NGO iLaw, court orders officially blocked nearly 21,000 Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) during the year, 80 percent of which were related to lese majeste. Since passage of the 2007 Computer Crime Act, authorities blocked more than 102,000 URLs, 76 percent related to lese majeste.

From this list it is crystal clear that the major impediment to free speech is the monarchy, lese majeste and national security. Indeed, “national security” is usually defined n terms of the monarchy as well. Can it be said that, apart from the monarchy, Thailand is relatively free? It certainly seems that way.

And finally, this: The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal, compulsory suffrage.

How true is this? Yes, there are periodic elections, but there are also periodic military and judicial coups…. More to the point, Section 68 of the constitution effectively makes it illegal to advocate for a republic in Thailand. Again, the monarchy is an obstacle to full democratic freedoms.

Achara interviews Joe Gordon

10 11 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has joined those interviewing lese majeste victim Joe Gordon as he returns home to the United States. This level of critical comment by one who has been convicted and released is unusual, and PPT hopes Joe eventually writes up his experience.

Joe again talks about The King Never Smiles. (It seems that the Post is unable to mention the book’s title.) He says he “did buy the book from a bookstore. It was published by Yale University Press and was written in an academic style.” He adds that reading it and posting links to it and unauthorized translations was his right and that he was a “victim of polarised Thai politics. I was in Thailand for health reasons but was dragged into dirty politics.”

A Bangkok Post photo

On prison, he states: “Prison conditions were far beyond being acceptable.”

On repeated refusals of bail for lese majeste inmates: “Without bail, the accused are never able to defend themselves well.”

On the lese majeste law: “It’s a shame that this government doesn’t dare to touch on the controversial aspects. I truly support the Nitirat group in its push for for the amendment [of the law], although I think what we really need is its abolition…. The law is used by conservatives to destroy the progressives.”

On the U.S., lese majeste and his case: “I was dismayed that the US issued a mild statement when I was convicted in December…”. PPT agrees that the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Kristie Kenney should be ashamed; they were spineless.

Finally, Joe notes that the “lese majeste law has shown its effect in sabotaging the institution of the monarchy rather than fostering and protecting it.” PPT understands this point but also views lese majeste as a part of the foundation of the repressive royalist state.

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