More royal syrup

4 11 2012

It seems that the packaging and re-packaging of the royal story is being accelerated. It could be an acknowledgement of the end of a reign, making hay while it is still possible or it could be yet another response to the political challenge to royalism.

Whatever the motivation, STG Multimedia is the latest to commodify king and royalism. STG boldly claims that it “advocates the noble pursuits of the Thai people for the prosperity of Thai society.” Not just this, but also STG is “devoted to create intellectuality, bringing brilliance to the Thai Society.” Being so cerebral and noble, STG is “the exclusive licensee and distributor of National Geographic, History Channel, Discovery Channel, AnimalPlanet, especially BBC for 25 years.”

So it is that STG has teamed up with National Geographic to essentially re-package a bunch of old clips about the king. PPT looked at the trailer and some clips didn’t see anything new. Given that the royal Chai Pattana Foundation is involved for a cut on the profits at 2500 baht for the boxed set, we’d have thought that there might have been more than the usual images of rough roads, sweat, hill tribes and do on.

Readers might wonder why National Geographic would be involved. Of course, National Geographic has a long history of propagandizing for the monarchy. Some time ago PPT posted a PDF of a 1973 memo of comments from then U.S. Ambassador Leonard Unger to William Graves at NG. Unger was the link to the palace as a story on the royals was constructed to the palace’s satisfaction. The embassy and the palace essentially dictated how NG should frame its story for best effect and when Unger states that he is “confident that the magnitude of your efforts … will not be lost on the palace” seems to explain the relationship until the present.

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.

At last, HRW on lese majeste and bail

25 02 2012

Yesterday, in commenting yet again on the repeated denial of bail for those accused and convicted of lese majeste, PPT observed:

the US Embassy, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say nothing. They have a sham interest in human rights in Thailand and stand on the side of those who abuse human rights. They should be ashamed as they are complicit in these ludicrous events.

For months, indeed years, we have been making the point that the denial of bail is a form of torture and a means to further punish lese majeste victims. We have also stated that the courts engage in behavior that is arguably unconstitutional.

We are now able to say that Human Rights Watch has finally said something useful on the non-use of bail as punishment. Here’s HRW’s statement, apparently released late on Friday:

Thai courts are refusing bail for people charged with the crime of lese majeste for apparently political reasons, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai law criminalizes the expression of peaceful opinions deemed offensive to the institution of the monarchy.

How come Sondhi gets bail?

In all 12 cases of lese majeste that the public prosecutor has filed against supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, known as the Red Shirts, since 2009, bail has been denied, Human Rights Watch said. By contrast, the leader of the pro-monarchy People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), Sondhi Limthongkul, was charged with lese majeste on July 5, 2010, and granted bail the same day.

“Bail appears to be systematically denied to members of the Red Shirts while they await trial for lese majeste,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Denial of bail seems to be for punishment rather than for justified reasons.”

A verdict is expected on February 28, 2012, in the case of Surachai Danwattananusorn, a prominent political activist and leader of the Red Siam, a faction in the Red Shirt movement that has often expressed anti-monarchy opinions. He was arrested and charged with lese majeste in February 2011, and his bail application was denied five times. He said his health problems, including a heart condition, hypertension, and diabetes, and the repeated rejections of his bail applications are the main reasons he has decided to seek a quick end of his trial by pleading guilty.

Joe Gordon, an American citizen known to be a supporter of the Red Shirts, pleaded guilty to lese majeste charges and was sentenced in December 2011 to five years in prison. He told Human Rights Watch that he decided to plead guilty, hoping to have his penalty lessened, after being denied bail eight times since his arrest in May 2011. The sentence was later reduced by half and he is now preparing to ask for a royal pardon.

PPT needs to interject here: we are unsure why HRW makes the point that Joe is “known to be a supporter of the Red Shirts.” We have no evidence that Joe was a red shirt supporter when arrested. That said, the claim made of Joe could equally apply to millions throughout the country. HRW’s statement is questionable and politicized. HRW are also neglectful of the fact that Joe cannot apply for a pardon as his case is being appealed by the prosecutor. HRW appears to lack adequate information regarding lese majeste victims.

Somyot Preuksakasemsuk, a well-known labor activist and editor, was arrested on lese majeste charges on April 30, 2011 in connection with articles published in the now banned Voice of Taksin magazine, which supports the Red Shirts. He has been denied bail seven times since his arrest, most recently on February 20.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Thai authorities are using Somyot’s pre-trial detention to mistreat him. Somyot told Human Rights Watch that he had been transferred to attend witness hearings in Sa Kaeo, Petchabun, Nakorn Sawan, and Songkhla provinces, during which he had to stand up throughout the journeys in an overcrowded truck, with his ankles shackled and without access to toilet facilities, leading to the aggravation of his medical conditions, which include hypertension and gout.

Holding the witness hearings in the provinces may have been unnecessary because, as Human Rights Watch learned, a number of prosecution witnesses in Somyot’s case actually live and work in Bangkok despite having registered residences in the provinces. On September 12, the criminal court in Bangkok rejected Somyot’s request to hold hearings in Bangkok. The four provincial courts rejected a similar request. Holding numerous, and perhaps unnecessary, pre-trial hearings outside Bangkok – at least 10 more such hearings are scheduled before May – will mean that Somyot will have been in pre-trial detention for at least a year before his case goes to trial.

HRW might have added that his last appearance in Songkhla was cancelled when the single prosecution witness failed to show up, meaning the 24 hours of traveling was wholly unnecessary.

On February 11, Panitan Preuksakasemsuk, Somyot’s son, started a hunger strike in front of the criminal court to demand his father’s release on bail while he stands trial. The campaign has since been backed by the families of other lese majeste prisoners.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, states that, “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.” Those denied bail need to be tried as expeditiously as possible.

HRW could go further, as we stated several months ago. PPT considers the use of extended incarceration for lese majeste victims in order to force guilty pleas is a form of torture, as defined by the U.N.:

… any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

That’s our quote from the U.N., but but back to HRW:

“The glaring injustices of the lese majeste cases are being made even worse by the denial of bail and long periods of pre-trial detention,” Adams said.

In response to recommendations by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand, the Justice Ministry’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department has begun using its budget from the “Justice Fund” to guarantee bail applications of those being held on lese majeste charges, as well as supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship facing various charges in connection with political protests in 2010. The commission’s chairperson, Kanit Na Nakhon, has also publicly called for judges to treat lese majeste offenders more leniently. In February, though, the courts have rejected the first three bail requests under this effort.

The House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Law, Justice, and Human Rights began a hearing on February 22 to investigate the refusal of bail in lese majeste cases in which the defendants are believed to have connection with the Red Shirt movement.

“Freedom of expression is seriously under threat in Thailand because of harsh treatment and severe penalties being meted out for peaceful expression,” Adams said.

Since the September 2006 coup, Thai authorities have taken increasingly repressive actions against those perceived to have made criticisms of the institution of monarchy. In response to mass protests led by the Red Shirts in 2009 and 2010, the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva frequently used article 112 of the Penal Code and article 14 of the Computer-Related Crimes Act to intimidate, arrest, and prosecute activists, journalists, and academics, both Thai and foreign. Despite its promises to restore respect for human rights in Thailand, the new government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which took office in August 2011, has shown little interest in ending lese majeste crackdowns. On September 1, 2011, a computer programmer, Surapak Phuchaisaeng, was arrested in Bangkok for allegedly posting pictures, audio clips, and messages deemed insulting to the royal family on the social networking site Facebook.

While PPT has been critical of the Yingluck government on lese majeste, we think HRW is being misleading on this. Surapak’s case does have the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government. At the same time, the case began under the Abhisit  government.

In this sense, as far as we are able to tell, while the current government was strong on lese majeste rhetoric, the level of cases being investigated and charged appears to have declined. That could easily change, but at the moment, HRW’s claim about the new government does not appear to match the available facts.

HRW continues:

In his 2005 birthday speech, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself stated that he was not above criticism. “Actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the King cannot be criticized, it means that the King is not human,” he said. “If the King can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the King is not being treated as a human being. But the King can do wrong.”

This speech is usually cited by “liberal royalists” in recognizing that the post-2006 coup use of lese majeste has been highly politicized. Frankly, we think that these royalists and HRW have misunderstood the point of that speech, which was essentially an attack on then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Keeping them locked up

24 02 2012

In the least surprising report of the day, Prachatai has revealed that the old royalists club that is the judiciary in Thailand has continued its vendetta against those accused of and convicted of the bogus crime of lese majeste.

PPT calls it a bogus crime because the crime is more often a political accusation made by royalists against people they consider political opponents, even if these are old and sick men. Protecting the royalist ruling class depends on being able to attack the weakest, sending a strong message to plebeians throughout the country: conform or you too will be shackled and thrown in a rancid Thai jail.

In this report, the Appeals Court has rejected a bail request by Ampol Tangnopakul. His lawyer reports that that on 22 February, the court

refused to grant her client temporary release for the second time after he was given a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for lèse majesté late last year. The bail was sought this time with guarantees from 7 university academics, and cash from the Ministry of Justice’s Rights and Liberty Protection Department, worth two million baht in total.

The court demonstrated how warped it is on lese majeste cases by claiming that despite these guarantees, it “does not believe that the defendant will not flee.”

The Appeals Court claimed:

that it considered that the charges against the defendant were severe and ‘the defendant’s arguments against the verdict of the Court of First Instance do not have the credibility to believe that the defendant did not commit the crimes. If [the defendant is] granted temporary release, [the Appeals Court] has no reason to believe that the defendant will not flee. The illness which the defendant claims [as one of the reasons for the bail] does not appear to be life-threatening. Given that government medical facilities are already available for the treatment of the defendant, [the Appeals Court] refuses temporary release for the defendant during the appeal.’

The Appeals Court is to be condemned. Recall that Ampol is an old, poor and sick man with several grandchildren and no overseas connections. The court is being completely and utterly nonsensical for political purpose. In Ampol’s case, he is being punished for daring to appeal his conviction.

Ampol’s lawyer said he would submit another bail request with the Supreme Court next week.

As we have previously said, in many cases, the courts are a part of a broader process of torturing lese majeste defendants by refusing bail and treating them as worse than murderers. An excellent example is the ongoing case of Joe Gordon. Readers will recall that Joe finally agreed to plead guilty when it became clear that he would remain locked up and shackled as his case dragged on. He was convicted on 8 December 2011 without a trial – because a guilty plea only requires sentencing – and handed 2.5 years in jail, and he hoped for a royal pardon. In fact, the sentence was 5 years, reduced for his guilty plea.

Now it is reported that the public prosecutor has been granted another month to appeal Joe’s case. That means that the prosecutor will have had 3 months in which to appeal against Joe’s “light sentence” for allegedly translating a perfectly legal book in the United States, where Joe is a citizen and resident. Of course, one of the reasons for the appeal is to prevent Joe getting a royal pardon. And, according “to the lawyer, the public prosecutor can ask the court to extend the period for appeal indefinitely.”

This is Thailand’s sham justice system at work on lese majeste. It is persecuting Joe and Ampol, amongst others.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say nothing. They have a sham interest in human rights in Thailand and stand on the side of those who abuse human rights. They should be ashamed as they are complicit in these ludicrous events.


American arrested for lese majeste

27 05 2011

Prachatai (ไทย) reports that on 26 May 2011 the Department of Special Investigation has arrested and charged an anonymously named Mister Joe, a 54 year-old, on lese majeste and related computer crimes infringements. His computer and mobile phone were seized. He is in custody after 20 – yes, 20!! –arrested him on the 23rd in Nakorn Ratchasima and brought him to Bangkok for interrogation by DSI.

AFP reports that the man’s Thai name  is Lerpong Wichaikhammat.

Joe is reported to be Thai but lived in the US state of Colorado for many years. He holds US citizenship. He returned to Thailand about a year ago for treatment of high blood pressure and gout.

DSI say he is the owner of a blog that was established 4 years ago (i.e. when he did not reside in Thailand) with links that allowed downloading of Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. Yes, a book that is banned but very widely available in Thailand in English and Thai.

Despite friends presenting 1.7 million baht, the court refused bail as it was opposed by DSI and because it was a serious case related to national security. He remains in jail not least because he has denied the charges.

In the AFP report, the DSI say Joe “translated articles which are deemed insulting to the monarchy and posted them on his blog. Also he provided a link to a book ‘perceived as critical of the royal family…’.”

The US Embassy has said that he is an American citizen and that it was providing consular assistance.

On the basis of this report, this case reveals three things. First, the royalists are not backing off despite the mounting calls for reform. Second, they seem unconcerned that they are moving into areas of lese majeste that are patently ludicrous. Third, foreigners are again being warned.

It is good that the international media has picked this case up.

Update: As we wrote this, Prachatai posted its story in English. Here it is in full:

Joe Gordon, 54, has been arrested by the Department of Special Investigation in Nakhon Ratchasima for lèse majesté and computer crimes.  The DSI alleges that he owns a blog which offers a link to download The King Never Smiles.

Over 20 DSI officials arrested him at his house in Nakhon Ratchasima on 24 May at about 10 am, seized his desktop computer and mobile phone, and took him to DSI headquarters in Bangkok for interrogation.

He has been charged by the DSI with lèse majesté, inciting unrest and disobedience of the law in public, and disseminating computer data which threatens national security.

On 26 May, the DSI brought Gordon, his Thai name withheld at his request, to the Criminal Court to ask for him to be remanded.

The DSI considers that this is an important case, as it believes that he is ‘Nai Sin Sae Jiew (นายสิน แซ่จิ้ว)’, the owner of a blog, which was created in the USA in 2007 and has a link to download the banned book The King Never Smiles.

Gordon denied all charges and contacted the US Embassy.

His friends brought a land title deed worth over 1.7 million baht to place as a bail guarantee, but, in response to objections from the DSI, the court denied bail, citing that this was a serious case concerning national security, and that the accused might tamper with evidence.

He was then sent to Bangkok Remand Prison.

According to Gordon, he lived in Colorado, USA, for over 30 years, and has acquired American citizenship.  He returned to Thailand over a year ago to receive medical treatment for high blood pressure and gout.

He said that he had never thought of returning to Thailand, but due to his illness and the death of his wife who had died from cancer, he decided to come back to receive treatment in his hometown.

During his stay, he taught English to children.  He said that the authorities had sent a young man to study with him as a spy.  They, however, never discussed politics, he said.

An official from the US Embassy has visited him at the prison, and told him that the embassy will try to help him as much as possible.

%d bloggers like this: