And now lese majeste

27 03 2017

One of the things we should have predicted about the “weapons seizure” said to involve junta critic and renegade red shirt Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee was further lese majeste charges. We should have predicted this, but as Ko Tee already faces a charge, we became negligent of the junta’s modus operandi when dealing with such cases. After all, the dictators have claimed a “republican plot.”

Prachatai reports that the junta has “accused one of the nine people arrested over the alleged plot to assassinate the junta leader of lèse majesté over Line messages.” The report states:

On 24 March 2017, Maj Gen Wicharn Jodtaeng and Col Burin Thongprapai, legal officer of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took nine people accused of involvement in the alleged plot to assassinate Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) in Bangkok….

Most of them, who are anti-establishment red shirts, are accused of terrorism and possessing unauthorised or illegal weapons, and involving in a criminal association. The nine were detained for seven days at the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok after their arrest before being handed to the police.

One of those arrested, Suriyasak Chatphithakkun, 49, is now “accused of Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law and Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crime Act, a law against the importation of illegal content.”

According to the military snoops, Suriyasak is a “local red shirt leader from Surin Province…”. They claim that on “13 July 2016 allegedly wrote a message deemed defamatory to the Thai Monarchy in a Line chat group called ‘People Outside Coconut Shell’.”

He will go to a military court.





A couple of corrections

26 03 2017

On a Sunday, as we read a few stories that continue to keep us glum about Thailand’s prospects for some political progress, as opposed to regression, we came across a couple of stories that appear to us to requires a little corrective attention.

The first is at Prachatai. Kornkritch Somjittranukit has a story on red shirt renegade Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee as public enemy no. 1 for the old guys running the military junta. A couple of things bothered us a bit. One was mention of the 2009 Pattaya events without noting the role played by the Democrat Party’s Suthep Thaugsuban and his then new best friend Newin Chidchob who goaded and challenged red shirts with their own blue shirts, many of them being military and police in different clothes.

PDRC shooter

On the 2014 People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) seizure of the Lak Si District Office to prevent the 2 February election, mention is made of a “violent clash with Ko Tee and his supporters from Pathum Thani. The sound of gunfire came from both sides.” The latter is true but ignores something. After that event it was officially stated:

A police forensics director stated that his team’s investigation showed “39 shots have been fired from the position of PCAD protesters, and 3 shots from the direction of pro-election protesters.”

The second story is at the Bangkok Post. Editor Umesh Pandey briefly recounts the actions taken over the past few years as pro-Thaksin election winners were ditched, missing the important 2008 judicial coup. What bothered us was the headline, “Army needs to learn to be neutral.”

While the article doesn’t exactly amount that, the idea that the military could be neutral is baffling in the extreme. The military is now, after more than half a century of pro-monarchy and pro-elite military is firmly attached to the side of privilege, hierarchy, wealth and repression.





The Ko Tee trifecta

24 03 2017

In one of our earlier posts on the military junta’s marvelous story about a mammoth plot to accumulate war weapons, assassinate The Dictator using a sniper rifle and cause a rebellion based on Wat Dhammakaya, we had three predictions.

First, that Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul was claimed to be involved in the “plot” as a way to gain his extradition from Laos. The junta has announced that. Second, we said the men arrested would “confess.” The junta announced that they have “confessed.” We added that the third usual event was a parade of “suspects.”

We now have the trifecta, with the Bangkok Post reporting, with video, that the men have been paraded. But, for the junta, they even get a “bonus” payout because after all this time in military custody, the “suspects” incriminated red shirts and and the Puea Thai Party, and that allowed for the rabid yellow shirt media to also incriminate Thaksin Shinawatra.

For the junta, this seems like a perfect “crime”! They have it all!





Stunned by reporting

23 03 2017

Well, we know nothing should stun us when it comes to Thailand, its politics and its media. Yet a report at the Bangkok Post is seriously stunning. We are stunned because the report seems to buy, consume, digest and reproduce junta propaganda.

In a report at the Bangkok Post, the newspaper combines reports on Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul and the claims by the junta that he was seeking to kill a couple of dictators, a story on the junta’s instrument, the Department of Special Investigation, a senior monk from Wat Dhammakaya surrendering himself for interrogation and a falling out between a DSI man, now assigned by The Dictator to head up the National Buddhism Office and fascist monk Buddha Issara.

Without the junta’s stories from a few days ago, there’s no connection between the stories, except for DSI being involved in each. But that’s not the headline, which is the junta ruse. That’s either really lazy editing or its a dumb acceptance of junta stories.

We also note that, as The Dictator demanded, the media is dutifully cutting back on its reporting of the Ko Tee story.

While on that story, does it seem odd that Ko Tee is reported charged: “A police source said warrants have been issued for Mr Wuthipong’s arrest on charges of possessing weapons of war and violating the Firearms Act.”

Now how does that work?

After all, the junta “plans to seek the extradition of Mr Wuthipong from Laos following the discovery of a huge [sic. that’s the Post accepting the junta story, again] cache of weapons…. They suspect the weapons were his.”

So he’s been on the run outside Thailand for more than three years but “charged” with “possessing weapons”? Poor reporting or dopey reporting?

Or is the new story that these weapons were sitting there for years and police didn’t find them in previous searches? We think we’ll go for dumb junta and dopey reporting.





“Evidence” for an “assassination” plot

22 03 2017

The assassination story, already remarkable, is becoming increasingly stunning for its contradictions.

The Bangkok Post reports: that the junta has now “found” a “movement” working against it and called it “Red Radio.” It claims it has been “for several months been planning to assassinate Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon…”.

Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said “Red Radio” had also been “working to stifle the authorities’ efforts to investigate Wat Phra Dhammakaya by causing unrest there…”.

No one could possibly believe that the junta’s own efforts at Wat Dhammakaya could have caused any unrest there.

Pol Gen Srivara said his lot are “now seeking arrest warrants for six people who are suspected of being involved in the group including red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, who goes by the alias Kotee and is believed to have taken refuge in neighbouring Laos.”

That seems to be six in addition to the nine already arrested. (We are surprised that they have not been paraded yet, although that usually awaits the passing of seven days in military custody somewhere secret.

Then a claim that it is “not clear whether the group has ties to the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)…”.

The police claim is that “Red Radio” “aims to kill Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit and had been told to attack military, police and other officials during the authorities’ raids on the temple, according to the police investigation.”

And the evidence is….

Our investigation has shown that several of the suspects, detained previously, were spotted at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and nearby Khlong Luang central market, for reasons unknown….

As police investigators have found no link between Mr Wuthipong or Red Radio and the temple, they believe the group’s main goal has been to stir up unrest during the authorities’ operations there….

Yes, that’s “no links,” none, zilch.

The temple itself has “denied any involvement with Mr Wuthipong or the group.”

And, The Dictator is playing down the Wat Dhammakaya link: “Gen Prayut said he was more concerned about the alleged assassination plots and the seizure of weapons of war.” He’s also playing down the size of the “plot,” saying it was small.

Previous reports stated that police said “some of the seized weapons had been taken from soldiers during the violent red-shirt political rallies in mid-town Bangkok in 2010.”

Now, Justice Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said just one “M16 rifle seized at the weekend has been confirmed to be among the state weapons stolen during the red-shirt protest … in April 2010.”

The story is changing and the evidence is flimsy, but the junta seems rattled.





Seeing red

21 03 2017

As the junta approaches the anniversary of its third year of military dictatorship, it is going through another phase of red shirt repression. The regime is again seeing reds under its beds and it doesn’t like it.

There are frantic junta imaginations of fantastical red shirt assassination plots, reds infiltrating Wat Dhammakaya, separatist rebellion and more.

This reaction appears to derive from two closely related perceptions: first, a view that any opposition is an immediate threat to the junta’s stability; and second, a desire for regime longevity, where “regime” is the broader elite military-monarchy-business alliance.

At least an element of this perception derives from yellow-shirted and anti-democratic grumbling about the junta having lost its zeal for “reform” – defined as rooting out the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. That grumbling has also been associated with some southern protests over ports and cola-fired power stations. It seems the junta felt its right wing was weakening in its support.

The result has been an intensification of both anti-Thaksinism and anti-red shirt repression.

The targeting of Thaksin has involved an effort to levy Thaksin for past taxes due (although we had somehow thought that the assets stripping case was part of the “tax’) and going after loyalists in a series of legal cases.

The anti-red shirt effort has been frenzied of late, with the Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee weapons and assassination stories and the earlier (and probably related in the minds of the junta) plots said to be originating in Laos.

At the same time, the courts have been at work, dealing with red shirt cases. The most recent of those sees the Appeals Court upholding a “lower court’s sentence of a four-year jail term each, without suspension, for singer Arisman Pongruangrong and 12 other red-shirts for leading protesters who forced their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel in Pattaya, where the 2009 Asean Summit was being held.”

(What has happened with the yellow shirt occupation of airports in 2008?)

They were prosecuted “for defying an order prohibiting a rally of more than 10 people and causing unrest.”

(What has happened to all the yellow shirts who broke similar laws?)

In early 2015, they were sentenced to four years each in jail, without suspension, and a fine of 200 baht. Those sentenced were:

Arisman Pongruangrong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Payap Panket, Worachai Hema, Wanchana Kerddee, Pichet Sukjindathong, Sakda Noppasit, Pol Lt Col Waipot Aparat, Nopporn Namchiangtai, Samrerng Prachamrua, Somyot Promma, Wallop Yangtrong and Singthong Buachum.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which sentences the 13 to four years each in jail without suspension. Bail may follow, but the threat is clear.

This is a pattern seen previously, although the junta does appear more frantic in its efforts at present.





King, junta and politics

21 03 2017

We are not sure if we have ever quoted from StrategyPage previously, but a recent article on their webpage caught some attention.

Their story, titled “Thailand: Actions Have Long Term Consequences,” is the one we mention here. We have no way of judging the veracity of some of its claims when it comes to palace and king, but felt some of them worth quoting.

As is the custom in Thailand, compromise is in the works between the new king, the military government and the democratic majority. Once the new king took the throne at the end of 2016 he apparently made a deal with the military government that would, in theory, benefit both of them in the long run. First, the king wants to be freed from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions that were part of the 1930s deal that turned the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. The military government is in the process of changing the constitution and that presents a rare opportunity to give the king more power. The generals need the backing of the king because they justified their 2014 coup by insisting they were doing it to protect the monarchy. Last year the military got their new constitution approved in a referendum and the king must approve it by May and apparently will do so as long as his requests are agreed to.

Where’s the “democratic majority in that you might ask. This is the StrategyPage answer:

Meanwhile the king is apparently also trying to negotiate a peace deal with the pro-democracy groups which have demonstrated that they still have the majority of voters with them. In late 2015 pro-democracy leader (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra called on his followers (the “red shirts”) to “play dead” for the moment and wait for the military government to allow elections. The military has agreed to elections in 2018 but only if some fundamental changes were made in the constitution. The king’s representatives have apparently been seeking a compromise deal that would allow Thaksin Shinawatra and other exiled democracy leaders to come home and abide by the new rules.

If there is any truth in this – it may just be an old story rehashed – then recent events have interesting potential meanings: think Jumpol Manmai as one once said to be close to Thaksin; think of Suthep Thaugsuban’s testy reappearance and emphasis on “democracy under the king”; and then think of the military’s manic obsession with red shirt and firebrand Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee. There’s more:

Since 2014 the troops have been ordered to arrest anyone who appeared to be leading resistance to the coup, but the anti-coup sentiments were so widespread that trying to decapitate the opposition by taking most leaders out of action did not work. The opposition had plenty of competent replacements for lost leaders and those leaders did not call for a civil war.

We do not get that sense of the red shirt opposition and certainly not from the Puea Thai Party. We actually think the military goons have succeeded in cowing much of the opposition, often through nasty but carefully planned example, i.e. capturing leaders and making their life a public misery so as to frighten others.

StrategyPage continues:

The king and the generals recognize that most Thais are fed up with the coups…. The royals have learned to keep their heads down, even though the military has always been staunchly royalist. The army and the king now seek to change this deadlock with “reforms” in the existing constitution.

We don’t think this is all true. The royals’ heads are always visible, scheming, wheedling, getting wealthy and allowing their status to be used against “threats.” Do they recognize that Thais are fed up with coups? Probably, but they can still pull them off whenever they feel the need to.

While the red shirts have lots of popular support, most Thais are more interested in economic issues and the army has not been able to deal with that because of widespread opposition to military rule in Thailand and abroad. The economic problems cannot be ignored…. So the army is paying attention to economic problems and is not doing so well at it.

That’s an understatement! The economy is looking awful and the junta is at a loss as to what to do. Its infrastructure projects are a mess of verbiage and little action. But StrategyPage has an upside (if you buy the “deal” notion):

The new 2017 compromise will restore elections with the king and armed forces believing they now have more power when the country is run by an elected government. The democrats note that long-term the kings and dictators lose. Most royalists recognize that if the king becomes too unpopular the monarchy could be abolished…. Actions have consequences.

Read in total, the article is highly contradictory, but the notion of the “deal” pops up often enough for this page to get a run.