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.

US and UK governments and lese majeste

28 05 2012

It has long been known that the Government of the United States couldn’t care less about lese majeste in Thailand. Not even when one of their own – Joe Gordon – is incarcerated for totally legal actions in the Unites States does the government get off its lazy, politicized and collective posterior and do or say anything principled.

PPT has posted on the recently published but 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.

A reader points out a useful story at IPS News reflecting on the hopelessly unprincipled and contradictory approach to human rights by the U.S. The rport coincides with the release of the annual human rights reports.

The report quotes the head of Amnesty International’s Washington office who criticizes the U.S. for “selectively champion[ing] freedom and human rights when convenient…”. PPT entirely agrees.

Of course, we also wonder what AI does about its own selectivity on lese majeste in Thailand. What they criticize for the U.S. government has long been characteristic of AI Thailand’s selectivity and Benjamin Zawacki’s unprincipled position on lese majeste.

As the IPS story makes plain, the State Department has explained its unprincipled actions in terms of President Barack Obama’s “theory” of “principled engagement”, where human rights are contingent, limited and inconsistently prioritized.

All of that says quite a lot about lese majeste and political prisoners in Thailand. They are ignored because other interests – economic, military, ideological – hold sway.

But what about the Government of the U.K.? Readers may recall that a week or so ago, we briefly mentioned questions posed regarding lese majeste and political prisoners by the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kerry McCarthy Labour MP. The responses are instructive. Here they are:

Q. 1: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Government of Thailand on the imprisonment and death of Ampon Tangnoppakul.

A. 1, by Jeremy Browne (Minister of State for South East Asia/Far East, Caribbean, Central/South America, Australasia and Pacific, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat):  In November 2011, following the sentencing of Ampon Tangnoppakul, the UK issued a statement jointly with our European Union partners to express concern about the court decision to convict and imprison Ampon for 20 years. The statement reiterated the importance attached by the EU to the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights. The EU also urged the Thai authorities to ensure that the rule of law was applied in a non-discriminatory and proportional manner consistent with upholding basic human rights, including freedom of expression.

PPT: This is essentially a non-response, and completely ignores the question related to Ampol’s death in custody. As weak as this is, at least “concern” has been expressed.

Q. 2: … what recent assessment his Department has made of access to health care for prisoners in Thailand.

A. 2: Conditions in Thai prisons are generally poor. Prisons are old and often have run down infrastructure. However, basic medical treatment is available in all prisons in Thailand and prisoners may be transferred to a local hospital for more complex medical treatment.

As part of our consular responsibilities, embassy staff in Thailand visit British detainees every eight weeks. These visits are carried out by trained consular staff, who check the welfare of detainees. Any issues of concern can be then brought to the attention of the prison authorities, including any medical or dental problems a detainee might have.

PPT: This is essentially a non-response. At least conditions are described as “poor,” but then any visitor to a prison recognizes this within seconds, so not great insight. There seems no idea of how many prisoners die while incarcerated or of the actual availability of medical care to prisoners. The rampant corruption of prisons is not mentioned. Lese majeste detainee Darunee Charnchoensilpakul has been waiting some 4 years for proper dental treatment. Ampol died while in a prison “hospital.”

Q. 3: … what assessment his Department has made of the treatment of people (a) arrested and (b) convicted under lèse majesté laws in Thailand.

A. 3: The UK attaches great importance to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of every human being. We are closely following the development of freedom of expression in Thailand and are concerned by the significant increase of lese-majeste cases in the country and the application of the laws and length of sentences in recent cases.

With our European Union partners, the UK expressed concern last year at the conviction and imprisonment for 20 years of Ampon Tangnoppakul for violating the lese-majeste laws.

Our embassy in Bangkok continues to monitor the ongoing trials of high profile lese-majeste and freedom of expression on the internet cases. We have urged the Thai Government to ensure that the rule of law is applied in a non-discriminatory and proportionate manner consistent with upholding basic human rights, and will continue to take appropriate opportunities to do so.

During my visit to Thailand in 2010, I raised the issue of conditions for detainees in Thailand, referring specifically to the importance of access to exercise, proper food and medical facilities.

PPT: This is more like a real answer. Yes, the trite human rights response is repeated, but Browne indicates that there is concern for the development of freedom of expression in Thailand, about the large increase of lese majeste cases and the length of sentences. That the Embassy monitors trials is presumably useful. His representations on the conditions of detainees apparently had no impact at all.

Q. 4: … what assessment his [Browne’s] Department has made of the compliance of lèse majesté laws in Thailand with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and what representations he has made to the government of Thailand on freedom of expression and the lèse majesté laws.

A. 4: We understand the particular reverence the people of Thailand have for the monarchy. The Government attaches importance to the respect of fundamental human rights in line with the universal declaration of human rights. Specifically on article 19 which covers freedom of opinion and expression, the UK thinks that it should be possible to discuss constitutional reform without fear of coming under the purvue of laws that were designed for non political purposes. In October 2011 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the human rights situation in Thailand was reviewed as part of the Universal Periodic Review process. The UK played an active role, including raising our concerns about freedom of expression and specifically recommending that the Thai Government seek to review its lese-majeste laws. The report of this session can be found online at the following link:

Our ambassador in Bangkok has raised the issue of freedom of expression with the Thai authorities. I also raised the issue when I visited Thailand in September 2011. We will continue to take appropriate opportunities to do so.

PPT: A reasonable answer suggestive of the U.K. Government being concerned about the suppression of discussion of constitutional matters, including the position and role of the monarchy.

While the answers do sound like the usual parliamentary careful responses, if they are compared with the pathetic U.S. human rights report “there are no political prisoners” nonsense, then the U.K. response is downright explosive.

PPT can’t help thinking that readers can bring pressure on their local and national politicians to ask more questions of Thailand’s government and embassies about these issues. We have some links that readers might find useful here.

Why is the truth unacceptable?

25 05 2012

In a recent post PPT focused on the most recent human rights report by the U.S. Department of State that made a case that there was not a single political prisoner in Thailand in 2011. This claim is made about a period when PPT would estimate that there were more than 300 political prisoners in the country. As we mentioned in that post, this claim by the United States is even contradicted by the Thai state.

Why is it that the United States cannot deal with (political) truth in Thailand? One reason is that Thailand is a major ally, and has been for a very long time. We know that the U.S. state is not as critical of major allies as it is of declared enemies. Hence, the Unites States can work hard to get an anti-abortion activist out of China, while Joe Gordon, a U.S. citizen convicted as a lese majeste political prisoner for alleged acts that were legal and carried out in Colorado, is left to rot in a Thai jail. In other words, the U.S. has not principled human rights position.

But the issue of truth and the inability to accept it is also evident in Thailand. The impunity enjoyed by state officials in murdering citizens is one cruel manifestation of this.

Another example of not being able to deal with the truth was seen at the time that the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime was cracking down on red shirt protesters in 2010, killing and injuring many. At the time, ultra-royalists organized a campaign against foreign correspondents for telling the world what was really happening. One example of a campaign is seen here. These complaints were rewarded with the support of Queen Sirikit.

Ironically, the silliest and least serious but probably the most publicized story – to 24 million on Twitter – on the failure to accept truth in Thailand comes from the Lady Gaga visit.  The singer said what everyone knows: fake Rolex watches (and every other brand one can think of) are sold on Bangkok’s streets.

Te predictable response from ultra-nationalists is that speaking the truth is a dastardly action. The Telegraph reports on the pathetic reaction:

Now she is stirring nationalist fervour in Thailand, where people tend to get upset when the country’s seedy underworld is highlighted by outsiders.

“We are more civilised than you think,” tweeted Thai DJ Surahit Siamwalla, who has a ticket to Friday’s show in Bangkok but said he plans to boycott.

“She came to our home, but instead of admiring us she insulted us,” said a commentator on popular Thai web board

So the truth is unspeakable, even on illegal knock-offs by a pop star. Imagine if Lady Gaga had said the king was a powerful political figure who has been actively engaged in ousting elected governments. She’d be in jail.

We at PPT imagine that she’ll need to tweet something pro-monarchist so those who feel their house has been slandered by the truth at least feel that the “father” is respected.

The truth really cannot be spoken. Many prefer to hear and purvey lies and fantasies.

Updated: No political prisoners in Thailand?

24 05 2012

Earlier today, the U.S. State Department released their annual reports on human rights, the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. There is a lot that PPT could say about the authority of the U.S. government to comment on human rights, given the U.S.’s own terrible track record on respecting and promoting human rights. However, for now we will restrain ourselves and simply make one point.

While the report for Thailand does detail torture cases, point to the continued use of disappearance, and comment briefly on freedom of expression issues, they deny the existence of political prisoners.

In fact, the precise wording is that “There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.”

PPT suggests that the U.S. State Department check their sources of information. Why not ask Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul, or Joe Gordon if there are political prisoners in Thailand? If they read this site or Prachatai, they would have a much different perspective. In the last year, mainline newspapers, including Matichon and the Bangkok Post have carried numerous reports on political prisoners. Even the Thai government no longer denies the existence of political prisoners in Thailand, although their definition is rather narrow.

Update: A reader has commented on PPT’s final sentence above, pointing out that not only does the Thai state now recognize political prisoners, but has created a special prison for political prisoners! That the U.S. Department of State ignores lese majeste as a political crime and ignores the incarceration of prisoners the state itself considers political prisoners is, frankly, both bizarre and stupid.

The betrayal of Joe Gordon

1 05 2012

Joe Gordon is not forgotten.

Joe, an American citizen, was arrested on 26 May 2011 by the Department of Special Investigation on lese majeste, security and related computer crimes infringements. On 7 October 2011, frustrated by the continual refusal of bail and facing the prospect of a long and drawn out trial and a long period in jail (almost no one is found not guilty), Joe decided to plead guilty.

On 8 December 2011, following his guilty plea, Joe was sentenced to a two and a half year prison sentence, reduced from five for the guilty plea. When he is alleged to have insulted the monarchy, he was engaging in legal activity in the United States.

Joe reportedly stood calmly with his ankles shackled as the sentence was read out. He has remained in prison for almost 5 months since that guilty plea.

The United States Embassy and the Department of State have failed this American citizen. The latter’s human rights policies and practices are bizarre, as this post makes very clear.

Why is Joe still incarcerated? Why is the State Department publicly silent? We suspect it has something to do with the gutless advice provided some years ago by the Ambassador to the palace, PAD and privy council, Ralph “Skip” Boyce. He said: “If an AmCit were to be charged with lese majeste, it is likely that a low key approach outside the public eye would stand the best chance of success in getting him or her out of custody and out of Thailand.”

What he means is that one doesn’t rock the monarchy’s boat in a Thailand that is a trusted ally. It seems that “Skip” means skipping the duty to speak out on human rights. In our view, this poor advice is part of the reason why Joe Gordon remains incarcerated.

Joe apparently followed the advice of pleading guilty and waiting for the royal pardon that Boyce reckoned was the best way to deal with this for an “AmCit.” That the Embassy and State Department appear to be neglecting Joe adds insult to his now almost one year in jail.

PPT can’t wait to read the next State Department report in human rights to see how they deal with their abject failure on Joe’s case.

Anyone heard anything at all from Ambassador Kenney in recent months? She seemed to buckle at the first hint of controversy.

Updated: Political prisoners identified

10 01 2012

The U.S. State Department needs to take note of this report in the Bangkok Post. According to the report, there are “about 50 people fitting the status of political prisoners” in Thailand.

PPT reckons this is a very low estimate – we’d put it closer to 300 – but the State Department regularly states, in its Human Rights Report [a PDF], that there are none, zilch, nil, zero political prisoners. Let’s quote them: “There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.”

Now that there is a rough official estimate that makes the State Department look very, very silly indeed.

The report states that the “Corrections Department has drawn up criteria for deciding which inmates are to be defined as political prisoners and moved to a new jail.” That move is in line with a recommendation by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission.

A panel chaired by Kobkiat Kasiwiwat “agreed that political prisoners are those who face criminal charges, are on trial or seeking judicial appeals as a result of political conflicts before and after Sept 19, 2006 coup.”

According to the report:

Under these criteria, yellow-shirt protesters charged in connection with the seizure of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports and red shirts charged with terrorism and arson over political unrest in 2010 are designated as political prisoners.

There have only a handful of yellow shirts jailed over political violence, and we guess that many of them are already released. Meanwhile, the red shirts claim that there remain more than 100 of their number in jail.

Part of the reason the number of political prisoners is so “low” is that “Kobkiat said the Corrections Department would exercise utmost judgement when lese majeste charges are involved.”

Of course, for PPT, all lese majeste cases are political. Indeed, they can’t be anything else in royalist Thailand.

Update: A reader asks if we are supporting the idea of political prisoners being institutionalized separately is “normalizing” the idea that there are political prisoners in Thailand. We’re not doing this. Rather, we are pointing out that, contrary to the U.S. State Department, even Thai officials now admit that they have political prisoners incarcerated. We also added inverted commas to the word “low” above. PPT wants all political prisoners released.

The United States and Joe Gordon

11 12 2011

There’s an AP feature story at the Winnipeg Free Press that is worth reading in full. It comments on US policy and the fate of lese majeste victim Joe Gordon.

It begins: “The U.S. government prides itself on standing up for freedom of speech around the world, but when it comes to longtime ally Thailand and its revered monarch, Washington treads carefully — even when an American citizen is thrown in jail.”

It is sometimes neglected, but the critical element of Joe’s sentencing is that it was for a “crime” committed as an American citizen while he was living in Colorado. Yes, he is claimed to have translated bits of a perfectly legal and widely available book, by a reputable publisher, while in the United States.

So what does the US government do? It “has offered a measured response to the ‘severe’ sentence — saying it was ‘troubled’ by the outcome and asserting the right to free expression of people around the world. It has avoided direct criticism of Thailand over its use of laws punishing lese majeste, the crime of insulting a monarch.”

Indeed, the report should have added that, like royalist posterior polishers in Thailand, the US went out of its way to declare “loyalty” to the monarchy.

The report points out the glaringly obvious: “Washington’s comments pale next to the strident criticism it gives when dissidents, even those without U.S. ties, are jailed by more authoritarian governments in the neighbourhood, like China and Vietnam. The State Department typically calls for dissidents’ immediate release and urges the government in question to uphold international law.”

The report looks for the reasons for this blatant and jarring contradiction in US policy, saying the “muted U.S. response may be partly explained by an unwillingness to spoil efforts to secure a royal pardon for Gordon, as has happened for foreigners previously convicted of lese majeste.” This is always the excuse of consular and embassy officials and ambassadors who privately express outrage, but only as far as the next cocktail party with the Thai royalist and hi-so elite.

The report also adds that the muted response “also reflects the depth of U.S. relations with Thailand, which date back to 1833. The country was viewed as a bulwark against the spread of communism and served as a key base for U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. As the Obama administration seeks to step up its engagement in Asia, it wants to consolidate its old alliances.” That’s undoubtedly true. It could be added that US anti-communism in Thailand helped create the wealthy and politically powerful monarchy. It poured millions into supporting anti-communist propaganda that promoted the king, royal family and the monarchy.

The report might have also pointed out that US corporations have extensive business interests in Thailand, and protecting the rights of one US citizen (in the US) is said by weak-kneed officials to threaten those interests. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the China case, where business interests dwarf those in Thailand.

There is another claim: That “Washington may also view behind-the-scenes efforts to get Thai authorities to ease up on lese majeste prosecutions more effective in a society where public criticism can backfire.” Like an Asia Times story on “behind-the-scenes” dealing, this claim has no source. Until there is a shred of evidence, PPT believes it is the usual royalist guff sprouted when the regime is under pressure and that little will change.

The story has the other and usual royalist nonsense about “Bhumibol is revered in Thailand and widely seen as a stabilizing force” without considering why the lese majeste law is being used so harshly and whether there is much historical truth to the claim.

Another claim is: “Even among Washington think tanks and U.S. universities, experts on Thailand often prefer not to discuss the monarchy and lese majeste for fear they could be blacklisted.” There are relatively few experts on Thailand in the US, and those close to the State Department are almost universally royalist flunkies.

That US officials, including several ambassadors, have failed the citizens they are meant to represent is clear from even the State Department’s Human Rights reports that regularly parrot that there are no political prisoners in Thailand. Thailand’s Truth for Reconciliation Commission makes the State Department look stupid on this, listing more than 100 still in prison following the events of 2010.

Even the Democrat Party has acknowledged that: “Violations of the state of emergency … along with lese-majeste offences or computer crimes can be counted as political charges…”. If the people who put most of the political prisoners behind bars can acknowledge it, why not the US government and its officials?

When the State Department wrote its last report, there were hundreds more, and that is not including all of the victims of lese majeste and of the southern conflict, where hundreds more could be added to the list of political prisoners.


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