Updated: Limp royalistness

24 02 2021

Vitit Muntarbhorn is a Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University and was formerly UN Special Rapporteur, UN Independent Expert and member of UN Commissions of Inquiry on Human Rights.

His op-ed at the Bangkok Post, “Thailand’s bail system — is it made for the rich?“, was recently presented at a web-conference organized by Thammasat University.

“Discussing” lese majeste

Given the fact that lese majeste defendants were more-or-less routinely refused bail for the years from 2006 to 2017 and that four defendants – all political activists – have been denied bail three or four times in quick succession, and you’d think that Vitit and his publisher would have something to say. But you’d be wrong.

Not a word. Sure, there’s limp comments about “the chasm between power derived from the coup d’etat and the aspirations of a democratic and just society” and “the spate of cases in relation to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” and some appropriate statements about access to bail. But nary a word on lese majeste and the bizarre actions of the courts.

Vitit’s work with the UN and on international law means he knows truth. Does he dare not speak it?

Update: A reader drew our attention to a second statement (added later?) to the Post op-ed, stating:

Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn teaches at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. He has helped the UN in a variety of positions and is currently a member of a UN Human Rights Commission of Inquiry. This article is derived from his speech at the recent Conference on Asean Traversing 2015: Challenges of Development, Democratisation, Human Rights and Peace, organised by Mahidol University, Bangkok.

Yet the original attribution to a February web-conference remains. Work it out. Something very limp going on.

With 3 updates: Dumb and dangerous

15 01 2011

The report yesterday that the police were about to begin rounding up kids aged below 18 years found outside after 10 p.m. “without a sound reason” is both dumb and dangerous. Presumably it is so stupid a plan that it will be quietly buried. That it is even considered says a lot about how reactionary ideas have become embedded under the influence of the ancien regime that was ushered in by the serial interventions of palace and military.

As reported in The Nation, even the usually timid National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) “is calling on the police to consult all relevant parties before enforcing [this] … newly announced measure…”. Well, “consult” is timid, but at least the NHRC said something.

Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner Major-General Amnuay Nimmano has said the measure “is part of the government’s plan to cut crime by 20 per cent in six months.” Seemingly confirming this, “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that the police would mainly focus on Internet cafes, which were off-limits to children late at night anyway. He said the government would also rely on privately owned security cameras, as well as volunteers and patrol policemen, in a bid to tackle crime.”

Major-General Amnuay claimed the police were using “relevant laws, namely the Children Protection Act. He said that if children were found straying outside late at night, they would be taken to a police station and their parents alerted. A second offense would see fines and jail for parents.” He added that this was not a case of limiting rights but “protecting them…”.

The measure is dangerous because it is an infringement of human rights. It is dangerous because the reputation of the police is for exploiting the law for their own benefit, not least in bribes. It is potentially damaging to children. It is likely to be discriminatory, sparing rich kids and falling mainly on the children of poor families. It will disadvantage persons aged 15 to 18 who may legally work until 10 p.m., meaning they face police harassment as they return home. Those kids who work after that hour, and there are plenty, because employers regularly ignore the Labor Act, at also at risk.

It is dumb because it simply does not match the social and economic realities of contemporary Thailand. But this is what happens when social conservatism is backed by political power and rights are flung aside.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post has more on this ill-conceived project. Deputy commissioner Amnuay “said the proposed regulation was not a curfew and insisted it would not violate anybody’s basic rights.” He essentially claims that Thailand is dangerous after 10 p.m.: “Basically, after 10pm, it is not safe for youngsters to still be wandering in the park, on the road, on a bridge or sitting in an internet shop…”. And he adds that: “We’re not targeting those kids who are out late to attend a tutorial school, have an appointment with a dentist, or do a part-time job…”. But, of course, those kids will be caught up in this social order campaign. Surprising to PPT, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, “head of the International Law Department of Chulalongkorn University, however, said he saw the proposal as good for discipline.” We would have thought that the professor would have been concerned with rights rather than moral panic.

Update 2: Readers who want to read more of this nonsense, including senior Democrat Party members supporting it, read this story in The Nation. Perhaps locking them up and beating them consistently is the way to solve “youth problems.” Perhaps not.

Update 3: Something like sense prevailed, as reported here.

Explosions, red shirts, emergency decree

12 10 2010

Marwaan Macan-Markar in The Irrawaddy has a useful report reflecting on recent events in Thailand. He notes the Nonthaburi explosion came just “a few hours after the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva extended the emergency decree for another three months in Bangkok and three neighbouring provinces.”

The explosion was also used by the regime “to buttress its claims that the decree needs to be extended due to the unsettled political climate.” It’s a good point to make as previous extensions have relied on relatively small bombs as justification. Now the government has a really large blast to point to as justifying their decision.

He cites acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn as being keen to link the explosions to red shirts: “This emerged for the first time with last week’s bomb—to establish the link…. These people are connected to the red shirts, and they are capable of exploding bombs…. It is clear, the threat is clear…”.

PPT is sure that the government has made this link many, many times in the past. So what is Panitan on about? It seems that the government thinks a really big explosion will be more convincing and will invoke heightened fear and disdain for their political opponents, especially if it can show a link to the Puea Thai Party that is in any way convincing.

Interestingly, in this context of fear, some observers are questioning the emergency decree. Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, Thailand analyst of the International Crisis Group, makes the point that “The emergency decree is not needed in the red shirt areas… The government could use regular laws to deal with the disturbances.” Why aren’t the alleged red shirt bombers operating in their heartland?

Vitit Muntarbhorn of Chulalongkorn University worries that “the political climate in the Thai capital is steadily inching toward one where laws meant for abnormal circumstances are becoming the norm,” where “National security laws are becoming permanent…”. PPT has been pointing this out for some time.

Marwaan claims that the emergency decree had resulted in a situation where, by “late August, the jails in Bangkok and in cities across the north and northeast held close to 470 political prisoners…”. That leaves out the sizable (but still largely unknown) group of lese majeste political prisoners. Panitan says there are only184 detainees.

Thailand lingers in the half-light at the edge of a political dark age.

Human rights a horror story

25 07 2010

Reading just the Bangkok Post as a bit of relaxation turned into a horror story for PPT on Sunday. There are just too many articles that call into question human rights in Thailand, in the past but especially under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Earlier today we posted on one of the these stories, but as PPT ploughed through more of the paper, jaw dropping, we found it all a bit much. For interested readers, here are the articles we refer to, in no particular order:

1) In its report on the Constituency 6 by-election, the Post manages to not mention that Puea Thai Party candidate Korkaew Pikulthong is in jail, has been prevented from campaigning and even from making a recorded message available to potential voters. The latter restriction imposed by the supposedly independent Election Commission. Preventing voters from gaining electoral information is a crime in many places. In Thailand, where censorship reigns it seems normal.

2) We can’t find it on the Post site to link to it, but the inside front cover has a series of stories by Alan Dawson who correctly points out that: censorship has run wild under the current government; the premier’s image as a human rights man is in need of revision, that the DSI is failing and that the military is riddled with corruption. Okay, he doesn’t use those words, but the meaning is clear.

3) Vitit Muntarbhorn is a professor of law at Chulalongkorn University has an opinion piece on the national human rights plan. Yes, there was one, and a new one was recently launched. It was launched by none other than Prime Minister Abhisit. To cut the whole sorry tale short, nothing much was achieved on the first plan and the prospects for the second appear even more dismal.

4) In the entertainment gossip column called “Mae Moo,” there is a story reflective of the ongoing political struggle, the political use of lese majeste and distasteful yellow-shirted antics. The story is of personal attacks, lies and human rights abuses. It is a sorry tale.

Actor Kowit Wattanakul and his actress daughter Mintita “Mint” Wattanakul have had to speak out to defend themselves against accusations that they are disloyal to the king. Accusing someone of such a “crime” is an abuse of human rights because it almost guarantees police investigation and can cripple a career, as has been seen in another recent case. Kowit says he and his daughter “have been through a media maelstrom since the inaugural Nataraja (performing arts) awards in May, when reports accused the pair of refusing to partake in the royalist grandeur of the occasion.” Recall that yellow shirt supporter Pongpat Wachirabanjong was accused of lese majeste for a speech at the same awards.

Kowit stands accused of having “walked out of a nationalistic speech by yellow shirt director Pongpat … while Mint [is accused of having] refused to sing her part of a song commissioned by Her Majesty the Queen.” When monarchy-loving yellow shirts made these (false) accusations, the reaction was immediate. “Mint was dropped from a soap opera in which she had been acting for months. She was also yanked from another production due to start filming the next day.” They were attacked on “webboards, with Thais [PPT: not sure why the collective noun is used here] accusing them of supporting the red shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship – painted by their yellow shirt rivals as being against the monarchy.”

Both were essentially forced to come out and declare their loyalty and explain what had happened. The Post seems to be at least a little supportive, “explaining” the events. It’s a pity that no one, anywhere in government, including the human rights plan launcher (see above), has the guts to denounce such scurrilous and gutless behaviour. PPT surmises that, secretly, Abhisit and his buddies really do enjoy seeing the “other side” squirm, even when they aren’t in chains. Every forced claim of loyalty is imagined to be a victory for the past-its-use-by-date institution and its conservative and right-wing supporters.

5) Sort of related, the comedy – or smart-arse – column (or whatever it is) by a lad named Andrew Biggs, who gets his celebrity from speaking Thai reasonably well gets one thing right when he comments on the penalties for speaking out against those higher up the social scale (think nai-phrai perhaps?). Commenting on the Withawat Thaokhamlue Academy Fantasia television talent show case, he says: “the higher you are, the more your opinion and status is revered and thus those below you are rude and unacceptable if they complain about you. Even our esteemed prime minister, drilled about freedom of expression during his extensive UK schooling, is still Thai enough to understand this. When asked about Mark’s right to free speech, he replied, as if he were riding a fun park carousel, that Mark has the right to say what he feels but then again he is young, and he should be careful of his words, and as a young person he shouldn’t really be slamming older people, and he is a celebrity, and thus a role model for youth, and … and … Okay we get the picture. Shut up Mark, and respect your elders.” And “betters!”

But where Biggs gets totally balls-up is when he makes ludicrous comments about freedoms. He acknowledges Thailand’s lack of freedoms, but then says: “Young Mark has committed an offence in Thailand; he exercised free speech. I announce this fact not to vent my outrage _ I’m more outraged True Visions considers 12 vocally-challenged Thai teenagers entertainment _ but rather to tell you, dear reader, that the Mark incident serves as a reminder that we don’t have freedom of speech in Thailand. But we still get along just fine.

There it is. Biggs becomes Thai and says “we” are “fine.” But what of the implications of this? Of human rights? Well, Biggs goes on to observe: “Despite frequent claims of Thailand’s democracy and freedoms, it’s not quite the way it is portrayed. Again I must stop here and say this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I’m only saying traditionally in Thai society there’s hasn’t been freedom of speech per se. Rather, you have the freedom to say what you like as long as the person on the social strata directly above you isn’t offended by it.” Yeah, right. If you are at the bottom of the heap, you can’t say a thing.

At least Biggs gets back on track when he admits: “The big rumour is that Mark wrote something disparaging about the monarchy on his Facebook page as well, something he vehemently denies. Thais will tell you that’s the real reason he got the boot.” We’ll stop there, without adding Biggs’s final silly remark.

6) And a sad corrective to conclude on. A while ago PPT decided to have a stab at how many political prisoners were being held in Thailand. Ancient lawyer Thongbai Thongpao, who once had a great human rights record, but is now sullied by his support for all kinds of military and government nonsense points out our error. In his article, he points out that there are 500 held in the South under emergency rule there.

PPT stands corrected. Add those in, and we estimate that Thailand now has 1,500 political prisoners. Hopefully foreign and international organizations join with progressive Thai human rights groups in demanding that political prisoners be released immediately and in condemning the Abhisit regime’s failure to uphold basic human rights.

So much for the long and pleasant Sundays of leisurely reading the paper…. Now it’s a horror story.

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