A rotten and unfree society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The rotten stench of dictatorship in Thailand grows by the day. Last week the junta announced the key members of the National Strategy Committee, which has been designed to oversee any future elected governments for the foreseeable future. Naturally, top dog is Generalissimo Prayut, followed by his favourite henchmen General “Pig-face” Prawit and General Anupong. Both Prayut and Anupong are guilty of state crimes from the mass murder of pro-democracy civilians in 2010. Alongside other despots in uniform are top bankers and businessmen, representing the Kasikorn and Bangkok Banks and AIS, Thailand’s largest GSM mobile phone conglomerate. Also included are various civilian cronies of the junta and an ex-rector of Chulalongkorn University.

This National Strategy Committee has the power to veto the policies of future governments and remove elected politicians from office. It will ensure an ultra-neoliberal agenda, devoid of any pro-poor policies and block any influence of Taksin and his allies. It is a committee for a permanent “Coup for the Rich”.

In the same week, mass murderers Abhisit and Sutep from the mis-named Democrat Party were cleared of any charges of ordering the killings of civilians in 2010. These two cronies of the military were part of a four-man command centre, along with Generals Prayut and Anupong, who ordered the use of military snipers to shoot red shirts, journalists and medical professionals attending to the wounded. Sutep was also a key leader of the middle-class gangsters who wrecked the February 2014 elections, paving the way for Paryut’s coup.

After Yingluck recently left the country to avoid being jailed by Thailand’s kangaroo court over heading a rice price guarantee scheme, Abhisit sniggered about her “fleeing justice”. The kind of so-called justice that Eton and Oxford educated Abhisit was talking about, lets mass murderers go free while jailing opponents of the junta who dare to speak out and politicians who try to help the poor. At a recent trial of student democracy activist Pai Dao-din, a military witness claimed that peaceful protests against Prayut’s military coup were a “threat to democracy”. One is immediately reminded of George Orwell’s book “1984”, which is banned in Thailand. So, “Dictatorship is Democracy”, Freedom of Expression is a Crime” and “Mass Killings are Keeping the Peace”.

The backwardness of the pro-military royalists can be seen by the way that ex-Prime Minister Yingluck has constantly been subjected to sexually degrading insults, ever since the middle-class anti-election protests in 2014. The latest sexually degrading insult was from a so-called national poet.

The inclusion of the ex-rector of Chulalongkorn University in the National Strategy Committee fits with the general policies of this university. Student activist Netiwit Chotipatpaisarn, and his fellow elected student assembly representatives, have had their “behaviour marks” cut for objecting to first year students being forced by academic staff to grovel to royal statues in the rain. One lecturer assaulted a student representative by holding him in a head-lock, pulling his hair and shouting obscenities. There is no word of any action taken against this lecturer.

The cutting of the “behaviour marks” for students like Netiwit, means that according to the university regulations, they automatically are excluded from holding office as student assembly representatives. The vile authorities in charge of this university have staged a “coup” to topple elected representatives; a trait favoured by the puffed-up generals who now run the country.

The whole idea that mature university students should have such a thing as “behaviour marks”, which can be cut by academic staff, and that they should be forced to wear uniforms and grovel to dead kings is a pathetic example of the state of education and academic freedom in Thailand.

Thailand is a rotten and unfree society.

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Thai Kangaroo Courts Set New Low in Standards of Justice

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The jailing of former government ministers for 30-40 years because of the Rice Price Guarantee Scheme has set a new low in the Thai standards of justice. The sentences given out by the lap-dogs of the dictatorship who hold positions as judges are ten times the average sentences for murder committed by ordinary citizens. The aim is purely political with the purpose of destroying politicians associated with the Thai Rak Thai or Pua Thai parties. It has nothing to do with justice or the eradication of corruption.

While the likes of Generalissimo Prayut and former military appointed Prime Minister Abhisit smirk about Yingluck leaving the country to avoid jail, the real criminals who have avoided justice are the coupsters and mass murderers like Prayut and Abhisit. These two disgusting specimens, along with their mates in the military junta and the Democrat Party, ordered the deliberate killing of nearly a hundred unarmed protesters back in 2010. Together these anti-democrats have pushed Thailand back to the dark ages and destroyed any prospects of freedom and democracy for years to come.

So in Thailand, the hired judges of the military lock people away for 30-40 years for being involved in the rice scheme while mass murderers and coupsters enjoy impunity with some running the country. Those who are brave enough to criticise the political situation are either locked up for decades or have been forced to seek exile and asylum outside the country.

Critics of the rice scheme claim that the government “wasted” millions of public money but they remain quiet as the junta massively increases military spending on weapons, tanks, aeroplanes and submarines. Some of this wasted military spending is also going to be used to kill Thai citizens when they dare to fight for their rights.

But the rice scheme was not a waste of money or a “loss” to state coffers. It was state spending intended to help poor rice farmers. Rather than being a “loss” it was an investment in people. Yes, there may well have been corruption involved at local level, but the recent court case was nothing to do with this and the military and their cronies enjoy impunity for their own rampant corruption today.

The ridiculous sentences handed out have a second purpose other than to destroy politicians belonging to Taksin’s party. The second aim is to make it clear that government spending in the future must not be used to eradicate poverty or help ordinary working people. This is the nasty neo-liberal agenda of the junta and its supporters in the Democrat Party and the middle classes.

Some Thais have expressed disappointment that Yingluck left the country rather than stay and fight by going to jail. Others have expressed hopes that she will lead a struggle from abroad. The fact of the matter is that Taksin and his allies have deliberately dismantled the red shirt movement and turned their back on any struggle against the military. Yingluck may well have been allowed to leave the country by the junta in order to lessen the potential anger among millions of her supporters.

All this means that any future struggle to topple the junta and rip up its authoritarian constitution which will restrict any future civilian governments, will have to be led by an independent mass social movement built from below. Those who understand this will have to work very hard to persuade the majority of activists of the need to build such a movement.

Junta implies country never ready for democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently, General Chalermchai, head of the Thai army, told the media that the three Thai academics who objected to plain clothes soldiers and police attending the Thai Studies Conference to take notes and photograph people, should stop all political activities and stop all criticism of the junta. He claimed that the country was still in crisis and not ready for political activity.

A media outlet has been punished for calling the government a dictatorship and one of the few decent journalists faces prosecution for writing the truth.

Generalissimo Prayut added his putrid hot air comment to the discussion by saying that Thailand’s democracy had not developed properly “because Thai people had no morals”. Perhaps he was just talking about himself and his gang of anti-democratic criminals?

It has been revealed by the military that the student  Pai Daodin is now in jail because he was “stubborn” and refused to attend an “attitude changing session” in a military camp for the so-called “crime” of opposing the military coup. Of course the real criminals are those who staged the coup and now rule the country by dictatorship, denying all rights to Thai citizens. We need more stubborn citizens like Pai to rid us of this vile junta!

 

At the same time the junta has been trying to force prominent people to sign a “Civil Society Agreement” to abide by the junta’s twenty year plan for Guided Democracy. This is supposed to be part of the junta’s “reconciliation” strategy. It is more like reconciliation under duress.

No doubt part of this reconciliation strategy was to jail Red Shirt leader Jatuporn for a year for saying at a protest that former Prime Minister Abhisit had blood on his hands. Abhisit was Prime Minister in 2010 when his military appointed government ordered “live fire zones” to be set up in Bangkok in order to repress the peaceful Red Shirt protest which was calling for democratic elections. Ninety civilians were shot down during this military action. An official report revealed that the military had used 117,923 bullets against Red Shirts, 2120 of which were sniper bullets. The only military or police casualties were due to “friendly fire” from security forces. Abhisit’s deputy, Sutep, commented that the Red Shirts just “ran into the bullets”.

There is documentary evidence that the names of both Abhisit and Sutep appear on the government orders to use force to disperse the protests. Of course these orders would not have been possible with the agreement or even the prompting of the military.

So, yes, Abhisit and his government, and General Prayut, who was the top military man at the time, all have blood on their hands. They are murderers. Yet it is “illegal” to say this in public and the murderers remain free while democracy activists are in jail.

Pai Daodin, a student democracy activist from the north-east, has now been jailed for two and a half years while the royalists who used violence to disrupt elections enjoy freedom. The standards of justice in Thai courts is non-existent.

campaigning for Pai’s release

In general, the effect of being ruled by the present military junta is to destroy basic rights and stifle dissent at all levels of society. A recent seminar at Thammasart University, on the effect of 3 years of military rule on the people of the north-east, revealed that soldiers and local business mafia routinely collaborate to threaten villagers who are campaigning for land rights. Soldiers set up military camps in villagers and treat locals as enemies of the state.

Prominent pro-democracy journalist Pravit Rojanapruk has been accused of “sedition” for trying to speak the truth and TV journalists who interviewed passers by at Bangkok’s Victory Monument about the new proposed election legislation, were approached by military thugs demanding to photograph their ID cards. “We are in charge of this area”, they said, “and you need our permission.”

Even if elections are held next year, they will not be free and fair and any elected government will still have to conform to the diktats of the military.

Junta use Yingluk’s Rice Policy as an excuse to destroy elected Politicians

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the junta and the kangaroo courts in Thailand are using the court case against former Prime Minister Yingluk to destroy the Pua Thai Party and elected politicians close to Taksin. Yingluk is facing a court case over the rice price guarantee scheme which was introduced when she was in office.

The junta claim that she must take responsibility for losses incurred under this scheme and the corruption that took place. No one disputes the fact that Yingluk was never involved in any corruption and did not gain anything financially from any corruption that may have taken place.

On the one hand Yingluk does need to take responsibility for any wrong-doing that took place under her time as Prime Minister. In the same way Prayut and Abhisit must answer for the mass murder of pro-democracy red shirts in 2010. Abhisit was the military installed Prime Minister at the time and Prayut was the most powerful general in the military. There is clear evidence that they were directly involved with orders which led to the cold-blooded shooting of demonstrators.

In the case of Yingluk and the rice price guarantee scheme, she needs to take “political” responsibility for any corruption by others, if it took place. In a democracy that would be resolved in elections or a politician might be forced to resign.

But when we are talking about “financial losses” under the rice price guarantee scheme, they are not mainly about corruption. Such losses to the state budget which took place in order to support the livelihoods of poor farmers are perfectly right and proper.

Of course, the neo-liberal free-marketers decry using state money to relieve poverty. Yet they remain silent about the huge amount of state spending on Thailand’s new idiot king, his father’s wasteful funeral and on the tanks, submarines and aircraft for the military.

I do not really care if the millionaires in the Shinawat family have their riches taken off them. I care more for the plight of ordinary working people, including the farmers. That is why Yingluk’s rice price guarantee scheme was a good scheme. That is why the Universal Health care policy brought in under Taksin needs to be defended from the military vultures who want to bring in “co-payments”.

If anyone should be in the dock for not preventing corruption, it should be Generalissimo Prayut. Not only has he incurred massive state losses on weaponry and the royals, he has failed to prevent endemic military corruption which is taking place right now. His friends and relations have benefitted from this corruption. Soldiers have also enjoyed free junkets abroad at taxpayers’ expense.

Prayut should also be charged with mass murder and over his military coup which destroyed democracy. That can only happen if a mass movement is built to overthrow the military.

It would be foolish to predict if such a mass movement could develop and grow out of public anger over the way Yingluk is being treated. Some Pua Thai politicians are hoping for mass support on the streets for Yingluk. That would be a good thing. If this does actually happen, and there is no guarantee that it will happen because of the way that Pua Thai has demobilised the red shirts, then pro-democracy activist should be part of such a movement. Pro-democracy activists need to be arguing that the movement go well beyond merely defending Yingluk and develop towards confronting the military and demanding the release of all political prisoners. But that requires political organising independent of Pua Thai.

Shameful behaviour of Chulalongkorn University Staff reflects state of Thai society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Last week a disgraceful incident occurred at my old university where I used to teach. Assistant Professor Ruangwit Banjongrut, who was in charge of student affairs, head locked a student representative and dragged him off, pulling his hair. At the same time he was heard to shout obscenities at another student. Ruangwit was part of Sutep’s anti-democracy mob before the latest coup.

All this happened because the elected student representatives decided to walk out early from an open air induction ceremony as it had started to rain. Previous to this incident the student representatives had sought agreement with teaching staff that the event would be cut short if it started to rain.

Those teaching staff who were there, including Ruangwit, committed gross violations of teaching codes of practice. There was physical violence used against a student, obscenities were used, and these teaching staff also forced hundreds of first year students to stay out in the rain, thus failing in their duty of care to the students.

So what was this induction ceremony? It was a ceremony where hundreds of new students are forced to prostrate themselves in front of a statue of two kings: king Chulalongkorn (Rama 5) and king Wachirawut (Rama 6).

Apart from having a role in the founding of the university, these two kings have a disgusting past. Chulalongkorn kept a harem with hundreds of women and had 3 “queens” who were half-sisters. When one of them drowned, no one dared to help because to touch the property of the king was a capital crime. Chulalongkorn modernised Thailand, but this was done to increase his power to become an absolute monarch. The freeing of slaves was also done to lower the price of hiring labour.

Wachirawut loved his dog more than the people and he ordered that a statue be built to honour the mutt. After his death it was observed that he had generally been hated and that he had spent so much money on himself that the finances of the nation were in trouble. On the plus side this awful legacy helped to spark the 1932 revolution against the next king at a time when Thailand was sucked into the world economic crisis.

Anyone looking at the behaviour of these two kings will be reminded of the present new king of Thailand.

Forcing students to grovel in front of these statues distorts history and is aimed at maintaining a respect for authority and dictatorship.

When I became a lecturer at Chula I was forced to go to an induction session. I avoided the grovelling part but I had to sit through a session where the speaker made fun of my Thai and English name and gave us tips on psychology, claiming that thin people were bad-tempered and fat people were jolly!

Many young lecturers at Chula lord it over the students in order to cover up for their own inadequacies. They are just “baby generals” who shout at and abuse students about not wearing their uniforms properly or other meaningless things. At the Faculty of Political Science, where I once taught, these baby generals were dead against teaching students to write argumentative essays and to hold their own opinions.

http://bit.ly/2aE7zc6

Eventually the authorities at Chula started a process which ended with me being charged with lèse-majesté. I had written the book, “A Coup for the Rich”, which criticised the 2006 military coup. They gave the book to the police Special Branch.

Despite all this it is important not to see Chulalongkorn University as merely a conservative institution. The famous left-wing radical Jit Pumisak, who later became a communist fighter, once studied at Chula. After 1973 Chula students set up a socialist group and many of them joined the communist party in the jungle after 1976. Twenty years ago, I and another lecturer were involved in starting a Marxism courses for students. These were the only Marxism courses in the country. Finally, this year the Chula students elected a radical team to become their representatives.

Chulalongkorn University reflects the state of Thai society, with those in power being dictatorial and brutish, the institution being steeped in class inequality, and with revolts from below by those who want freedom and democracy.

News Update:

Chulalongkorn University is trying to press disciplinary charges against Netiwit and other students while the lecturer who abused and assaulted the students enjoys impunity.

Human trafficking case only deals with the tip of the iceberg

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The huge human trafficking court case in July where 62 people were given sentences was only the tip of the iceberg in the country’s murky record on human rights.

[See http://bit.ly/2uJ8Hqh ]

Although Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the convictions are a “major step” in combat human trafficking, the trial was criticised by Fortify Rights. Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights stated that “Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured, and killed by human traffickers during the last several years.” The rights organisation criticised the fact that the government did not prevent witnesses and interpreters from being threatened with violence. Most vulnerable were the Rohingya witnesses who are the victims of these gross crimes of trafficking. Despite the fact that the Thai government issued a Cabinet Resolution providing automatic protection to witnesses involved in human trafficking trials, the implementation of this Cabinet Resolution failed to extend to Rohingya witnesses confined to closed-door government-run shelters. [See http://bit.ly/2uA4QeI ]

What is more, the most senior military figure who was on trial, Lt.-Gen. Manas Kongpan, was allowed to give evidence and be cross-examined in secret “in order to protect state security”. At the time of the crimes he was deputy of the special military unit of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4. ISOC was in charge of the disgusting government policy of pushing Rohingya refugees back out to sea. In contrast to government policies, local villagers offered the Rohingya humanitarian help.

In December 2015 the chief police investigator in the case fled the country to seek political asylum in Australia because he was facing intimidation.

This trial raises a number of serious issues.

Firstly, given that a senior member of ISOC was involved in human trafficking, and that his evidence was heard in secret, who else among the top military generals were involved but have so far not been charged?

Secondly, human trafficking of refugees on this scale is only possible because Thailand does not accept the resettlement of refugees within the country. According to Human Rights Watch, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or functioning asylum procedures. Therefore refugees are either forced to live in appalling prison camps indefinitely without the right to work or earn a living, or to become illegal migrants without any protection from exploitation, arrest and deportation. [See http://bit.ly/2uJuZs5 ]

So when will Thailand ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and bring in a humanitarian refugee and asylum law? Given the poor state of human rights for refugees throughout the world and especially in the West, and given the track record of the junta in abusing the rights of Thai citizens, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Within Thailand itself, the rabid nationalism and racism throughout society, which is continuously promoted by the ruling class, means that there is virtually no social movement which calls for the humane settlement of refugees. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ]

Thirdly, we should long ago have stopped idolising the Burmese Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. It is her government in alliance with the Burmese military and extremist Buddhists who have been oppressing the Rohingya and forcing them to escape the country into the arms of the human traffickers.

Foreign academics at Thai Studies Conference send weak and meaningless message to Thai junta

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 

Despite the military junta, the repression and the destruction of academic freedom in Thailand, it was “business as usual” for most of the foreign academics who attended the 13th International Thai Studies Conference in Chiang Mai last week.

Because academics from outside Thailand attended this conference it legitimised the military dictatorship. This is the real message sent out internationally despite the limp and meaningless declaration by 31 foreign academics and 145 Thai academics.

The declaration was limp and meaningless because abstract calls for academic freedom and democracy and the freeing of political prisoners will just be ignored by the junta. It isn’t worth the paper upon which it is written. What is more, they couldn’t even bring themselves to demand the abolition of the draconian lèse majesté law.

I do not in any way criticise the Thai academics who signed this declaration. That was a reasonably brave thing to do. But I criticise the foreign academics who signed the declaration so that they could absolve their consciences. And let us be clear. Not all the foreign academics even bothered to sign. Missing from the list of signatures were some of the so-called “key note speakers”.

What is more, the junta have now summonsed 3 Thai academics, who attended the conference, for posing with a sign stating that “Universities Are Not Military Camps”. As Pinkaew Laungaramsri, one of the three academics, explained, they put up this sign because the conference was full of security personnel in plain clothes who never bothered to register and who sat in meetings, took notes and photographed people. Yet the declaration by the 176 academics never even addressed this problem.

An important question for the western academics now is what are they going to do to protect these three lecturers? (photo above)

A few days ago, at 6:45 am, plain clothed military officers paid a visit to Sanhanut Sartaporn (above) at his secondary school and threatened him with violence if he did not stop posting articles critical of Generalissimo Prayut on social media. “If you don’t stop criticising our boss, we’ll send your name to people and who knows what will happen to  you”, they told to him. Sanhanut is part of an activist student group called “Education for Freedom”. They have criticised the way the junta leader has intervened in education policy.

A much more powerful message to the junta would have been the total boycotting of such a conference held in Thailand. They could have organised an alternative conference outside the country and purposely invited those Thai academics in exile to speak, all expenses paid. I say “all expenses paid” because many of the exiled Thai academics in Europe and elsewhere, who are on the junta’s “wanted list”, have had to give up their academic jobs and now survive on low incomes.

There are also exiled students and journalists living frugal lives. Most of these people have been granted political asylum. What a message such an alternative conference would have sent out to the world about the state of Thailand, but also about the need to defend asylum seekers and migrants!!

As already stated, foreign academics attending the conference in Thailand helped to legitimise the military junta and its plans for a military controlled “Guided Democracy” system after any future elections. The participants would have been rubbing shoulders with various toadies of the junta during dinners and ceremonies. Remember that all the academic administrators in Thai universities have collaborated with the junta’s repression.

For Thai citizens the present political situation does not allow people to discuss the vicious and demented new king, who not only abuses women but who also personally consumes millions of much needed public funds. The military has blood on its hands from shooting down unarmed pro-democracy activists and is totally tainted with corruption. Like the king, the military has helped itself to billions in order to buy new weapons. Such funds are urgently needed to provide a decent welfare state, education and health care for the majority of the population. Yet Thai citizens are being told by the junta that there is “no money” to improve these services and people face having to retire at a later stage in life while having to pay for health care. None of this could be discussed at the Thai Studies Conference.

People are being arrested and jailed or carted off for “attitude changing sessions” in secret locations for using social media in a manner which upsets the generals.

Among the political prisoners in Thai jails, who are often tried in military courts, are some prominent students who have been locked up for questioning military rule and corruption or staging political plays in a universities. Political seminars and discussions in universities and public places have been banned or shut down by soldiers.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as academic freedom in Thailand today. The exception is the select few privileged foreign academics who haunt the Thai Studies conferences, making sure that they don’t upset the people who are in power. For these pathetic people, their careers and visas to visit Thailand are more important than freedom, democracy and human rights among the very people they claim to study.

More details about political prisoners: https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/

Thai politics