All posts by uglytruththailand

We are sick of the hypocritical and dishonest reporting of events by mainstream institutions in Thailand. This non-commercial, activist blog is dedicated to the political struggle for democracy, equality and human rights in Thailand. To contact the main writer please e-mail: ji.ungpakorn@gmail.com

After the Irish referendum: Thailand needs a Woman’s Right to Choose

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

After the recent referendum result in Ireland on abortion rights, it is worth revisiting the issue of a woman’s right to choose in Thailand.

The women’s movement in Thailand is weak and conservative, concentrating on issues that have little impact upon most women such as the number of women members of parliament, irrespective of their politics, or the number of women business leaders. In the past these women’s groups joined the anti-democracy movement and helped to usher in the military dictatorship.

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In recent times, the trade union movement has had the greatest role in advocating women’s rights and has won important improvements like maternity leave and child care facilities. Some sections of the trade union movement are also campaigning for the right to abortion on demand, something that has been ignored by most middle-class activists.

Abortion is severely restricted in Thailand because women have to convince clinicians that their physical or mental health will suffer from an unwanted pregnancy. Many clinicians are conservative and seek to impose their moral judgments on women who need abortions. This adds to pressure on women and prevents the right to choose.

Free and safe abortions should be routinely available through the universal health care scheme, but they are not. Even when there are clinics or a few hospital which are willing to perform abortions, workers or the rural poor need to raise large sums of money. It is very difficult for ordinary women to access free and safe abortions. Many women are therefore put at risk from visiting back street abortionists.

In the past there have been unsuccessful attempts to liberalise the Thai abortion law, especially after the 14th October 1973 uprising and later in the 1980s. One of the leaders of the anti-abortion campaign in Thailand was Chamlong Srimuang, a leading yellow shirt activist who called for and supported the military coup which overthrew Taksin’s elected government.

Abortion is about democracy and human rights.

Abortion is a class issue because it is working class and poor women who cannot access free and safe abortions. It is also an issue which affects young people who are more at risk of unwanted pregnancies.

With all the talk about new political parties and the need for a party of the new generation. The inclusion of a policy to liberalise Thailand’s abortion law will be a measure of the real progressive nature of such a party. So far none of the major parties, including the Future Forward Party have said anything about this issue.

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Shame on British and French governments for inviting Thai Dictator to London and Paris!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In a few days’ time Generalissimo Prayut, head of the Thai military junta, will be wined and dined by the British and French governments in London and Paris. This is a disgrace!!

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Since Prayut took power in a military coup in 2014, the number of political prisoners and pro-democracy exiles has increased dramatically. The number of people charged and jailed under the lèse-majesté law, merely for daring to express opinions, has rapidly increased. In recent months pro-democracy activists who have staged peaceful protests demanding free and fair elections have been slapped with multiple charges for “violating the junta’s orders”.

[See reports from Amnesty International: https://bit.ly/2M8bnmW and https://bit.ly/2sOhCmT ]

Generalissimo Prayut was also a key state official responsible for the cold-blooded murder of nearly a hundred unarmed pro-democracy Red Shirts in Bangkok in 2010. Snipers were deliberately used to pick-off protesters and other members of the public, including paramedics and journalists.

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Added to this, the junta is engulfed in corruption scandals. However, no general is facing any charges.

The junta’s so-called “road map” towards elections and returning the country to democracy has been continuously changed, postponing elections repeatedly. Even when elections are eventually held, they will not be free and fair because the junta has crafted a system of “Guided Democracy”, intended to restrict the democratic space, tie the hands of any future elected government and also to censor the policies of political parties. The military constitution, the appointed senate, judiciary and electoral commission, and the junta’s National Strategy are all weapons in prolonging the influence of the dictatorship for the next 20 years. [See https://bit.ly/2JdK9xc ]

Given that Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron have a history of entertaining various despots from around the world, including the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia, it is not very surprising that the British Tory government and the French conservatives are happy to see Prayut and discuss trade links and weapons sales with him.

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They justify this by claiming that the junta is “making progress” towards democracy. But the real reason is that these governments do not give a damn about freedom and democracy in Thailand or anywhere else. They are only interested in “global stability” and the opportunity to do trade deals, including the sale of weapons. [See https://bit.ly/2Jir2SP and https://bit.ly/2JfK5gx ]

There will be small protests against Prayut when he comes to Europe. But the real lessons from this shameful state of affairs is that democracy activists in Thailand should never hope that Western governments or the United Nations will ever help them in their struggles.

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Unfortunately pro-democracy activists place too much faith in Western governments

The emancipation of Thai citizens can only be achieved through the building of strong pro-democracy social movements.

Future Forward Party fails to move beyond the mainstream

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

All Thai mainstream political parties in the past have had rich businessmen or military generals heading the party. Many have retired military officers in leadership positions. At the general meeting of the Future Forward Party a few weeks ago, the executive committee members of the party were elected.

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Not surprisingly, business tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was elected as leader of the party and former academic Piyabutr Saengkanokkul was elected as secretary general. Among the executive committee were two other business people, a number of academics and a couple of NGO activists. One of the NGO activists specialises in labour issues. Most of these people have a track record of holding anti-dictatorship views. However, without a serious attempt to build a pro-democracy social movement outside parliament, all talk about scrapping the military constitution and erasing the legacy of dictatorship will just be hot air.

What is worrying is that one of the deputy leaders of the party is retired Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo, a former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council. He was removed from office by Generalissimo Prayut after the coup. But his association with the NSC is worrying because all former governments, especially military juntas, have always stressed “national security” over freedom and democracy.

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Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo wrote a recent column in a national newspaper about Patani. He said that what was needed was a softer approach by the state, without human rights abuses. But he never mentioned the right to self-determination for the people of Patani, a need to prosecute state officials who had ordered the murdering of Malay Muslims, nor the fact that negotiations between the state and freedom fighters ought to be a civilian matter, rather than being led by the military. His position is the same as the “doves” in the Thai military. It affirms that the Thai nation state cannot grant independence or be divided. This is different from initial comments from a Future Forward Party member some months ago about the need for autonomy in Patani.

From the makeup of the executive committee, one can see that this is no “grass roots” party of the 99% as there are no real representatives of organised labour or small farmers. It is a middle-class party for the middle-class which supports the free-market.

To be fair to them, none of the party activists apart from Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, ever claimed that the party would be a party of the working class and small farmers, who make up the vast majority of the population. But Piyabutr and another academic made erratic claims comparing the party to the new left parties in Europe.

Of course, we can only guess what the party’s policies will be from the makeup of the executive committee and from what some of the leaders have said. However, if the party’s manifesto does not include the need for a welfare state funded through high taxes on the rich and businesses, a commitment to repeal the lèse majesté law, a commitment to the right to choose to have free and safe abortions, a commitment to raise the minimum wage according to demands of the unions and to rewrite the labour laws which restrict the actions of unions, and a commitment to self-determination for the people of Patani, the party will merely be a mainstream, neo-liberal, anti-military party.

There is still an urgent need to build a left-wing political party of the working class and peasantry.

 

Thai Junta’s continuing repression shows they have no plans for democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The manner in which the military junta has treated the protests by the “People Who Want Elections” on the 4th anniversary of the military coup shows that they have no intention of restoring real democracy.

Before the planned protests soldiers and police were sent to activists houses as a crude form of intimidation. The parents of student leaders were told to rein-in their children. Trade unionists were also paid nasty visits at home. Road blocks were set up on approaches to Bangkok in order to deter people travelling from the countryside. The police lied that they were trying to look for weapons. The vehicle number plates of activists were placed on a black list. The person that provided the sound system for the protest was taken off to a military camp for an attitude changing session.

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security forces pay a visit to someone’s home to intimidate them

The anti-junta protest assembled at Thammasat University. Previously the university authorities, working hand in glove with the junta as usual, closed the football pitch, claiming they needed to destroy weeds!

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photo from BBC

Initially the police would not allow the protest to leave the university, but some people managed to evade police lines and get as far as the UN building where they read out a proclamation. The protest leaders were informed by police that they had broken “the law”. They then gave themselves up to the police and were detained for two nights in police stations before being taken to court.

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Visits to activist’s homes take place on a regular basis and some are followed around where ever they go. Soldiers deem it that they have a right to enter buildings and attend seminars and meetings without asking permission. There isn’t a single Thai-based pro-democracy activist who isn’t facing some charge or other.

A few days ago prominent members of Pua Thai Party, including junta critics Chaturon Chaisang and Watana Muangsook, were summoned by the police because they had given a press conference demanding an end to the junta. They were given a warning and released. At any time the junta could ban them from taking part in future elections or even order the dissolution of the party. Many believe that Pua Thai would win substantial numbers of votes in a future election.

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Chaturon Chaisang
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Watana Muangsuk

All this gives the lie to the junta’s laughable claim to “respect human rights” or to have a “road map” towards holding free and fair elections.

The latest rant by Generalissimo Prayut seeks to confirm that elections will be held in Thailand in early 2019. Election dates have been announced before and the junta’s record is littered with broken promises and bare-faced lies. However, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the junta cannot carry on ruling as it does now for the next decade. The junta understand that they need to create the image of restoring democracy and holding elections. Otherwise popular opposition to the junta will increase and at some point they will be overthrown, a fate which befell most previous Thai military regimes.

The junta’s plan is to set its rules in concrete under the National Strategy and to place all its appointees in powerful positions in the Senate and the judiciary before elections are held. They have already forced through a military-inspired constitution. All this is in order to fix election rules, censor manifestoes of political parties and tie the hands of future elected governments to junta approved policies for the next 20 years. In addition they may even set up an “army party” with the hope of transforming Prayut into an “elected Prime Minister”, much like what happened in Egypt.

A number of political parties, including Pua Thai Party, Future Forward Party and the Commoners Party have stated that they would scrap the military constitution if they win enough seats in parliament. But without a mass movement on the streets to back them up this “illegal act”, according to the junta’s rules, cannot be achieved as it will be sabotaged by the Senate and the judiciary. Unfortunately none of these parties seems interested in building a mass social movement to fight for democracy. This is another reason why we need a genuine left party allied to workers.

[One photo in the featured image is from the BBC]

Class struggle has always been a feature of recent Thai history

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Given the recent discussions about the new “Future Forward Party”, whose leading members seem to deny the existence of class struggle [See http://bit.ly/2HAyO59 ], it is worth taking a long term look at class struggle in the country.

Since the transformation to a capitalist state in the 1870s, Thai society has been a constant battle ground. It has been a struggle between the rulers and the ruled. Naturally, different factions of the ruling class have also had their conflicts. But intra-ruling class disputes have been about which faction can benefit most from the wealth generated by the class exploitation of workers and farmers. Class struggle also existed in pre-capitalist Thailand.

In 1932 a revolution overthrew the capitalist absolute monarchy of King Rama VII. The revolution was staged by the Peoples’ Party, led by the socialist politician Pridi Panomyong. It was staged in the context of rising class discontent associated with the world economic crisis. The royal government brought in austerity measures which affected the civil service. Workers’ wages and farmers’ incomes fell dramatically as a result of the economic down-turn. Farmers’ and workers’ demands for the government to do something about the crisis fell on deaf ears. Although the revolution was staged by a coalition between civilian bureaucrats and the military, it enjoyed mass popular support. A royalist rebellion one year later was defeated by the government armed forces supported by worker volunteers.

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After the revolution, Pridi proposed a radical economic plan, including land nationalisation and a welfare state. However, he was defeated by forces from the Right. Pridi had failed to build a mass political party of workers and farmers. Instead he relied too much on the military which eventually pushed him out of power.

The long-term consolidation of military power in politics came with the Sarit military coup in 1957. The economic development during the subsequent years of the highly corrupt military dictatorship took place in the context of a world economic boom and a localised economic boom created by the Korean and Vietnam wars. This economic growth had a profound impact on the nature of Thai society. The size of the working class increased as factories and businesses were developed. However, under the dictatorship trade union rights were suppressed and wages and conditions of employment were tightly controlled. Illegal strikes had already occurred throughout the period of dictatorship, but strikes increased rapidly due to general economic discontent in the early 1970s. The influence of the Communist Party increased among workers and students.

Economic development also resulted in a massive expansion of student numbers and an increased intake of students from working class backgrounds. The new generation of students, in the early 1970s, were influenced by the revolts and revolutions which occurred throughout the world in that period, May 1968 in Paris being a prime example. The struggle against US imperialism in Vietnam was also an important influence.

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In late 1973, the arrest of 11 academics and students for handing out leaflets demanding a democratic constitution resulted in hundreds of thousands of students and workers taking to the streets of Bangkok in October. As troops with tanks fired on unarmed demonstrators, the people of Bangkok began to fight-back. Bus passengers spontaneously alighted from their vehicles to join the demonstrators. Government buildings were set on fire. The “Yellow Tigers”, a militant group of students, sent a jet of high-octane gasoline from a captured fire engine into the police station at Parn-Fa Bridge, setting it on fire. Earlier they had been fired upon by the police.

The successful 14th October 1973 mass uprising against the military dictatorship shook the Thai ruling class to its foundations. For the next few days, there was a strange new atmosphere in Bangkok. Uniformed officers of the state disappeared from the streets and ordinary people organised themselves to clean up the city. It was the first time that the pu-noi (little people) had actually started a revolution from below. It was not planned and those that took part had conflicting notions about what kind of democracy and society they wanted. But the Thai ruling class could not shoot enough demonstrators to protect their regime. It was not just a student uprising to demand a democratic constitution. It involved thousands of ordinary working class people and occurred on the crest of a rising wave of workers’ strikes.

Success in over-throwing the military dictatorship bred increased confidence. Workers, peasants and students began to fight for more than just parliamentary democracy. In the two months following the uprising, the new Royal appointed civilian government faced a total of 300 workers’ strikes. On the 1st May 1975 a quarter of a million workers rallied in Bangkok and a year later half a million workers took part in a general strike against price increases. In the countryside small farmers began to build organisations and they came to Bangkok to make their voices heard. Workers and peasants wanted social justice and an end to long-held privileges. A Triple Alliance between students, workers and small farmers was created. Some activists wanted an end to exploitation and capitalism itself. The influence of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) increased rapidly, especially among activists in urban areas.

It was not long before the ruling class and the conservative middle classes fought back.

In the early hours of 6th October 1976, Thai uniformed police, stationed in the grounds of the National Museum, next door to Thammasat University, destroyed a peaceful gathering of students and working people on the university campus under a hail of relentless automatic fire. At the same time a large gang of ultra-right-wing “informal forces”, known as the Village Scouts, Krating-Daeng and Nawapon, indulged in an orgy of violence and brutality towards anyone near the front entrance of the university. Students and their supporters were dragged out of the university and hung from the trees around Sanam Luang; others were burnt alive in front of the Ministry of “Justice” while the mob danced round the flames. Women and men, dead or alive, were subjected to the utmost degrading and violent behaviour.

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The actions of the police and right-wing mobs on 6th October were the culmination of attempts by the ruling class to stop the further development of a socialist movement in Thailand. The events at Thammasat University were followed by a military coup which brought to power one of the most right-wing governments Thailand has ever known. In the days that followed, offices and houses of organisations and individuals were raided. Trade unionists were arrested and trade union rights were curtailed. Centre-Left and left-wing newspapers were closed and their offices ransacked.

Thousands of activists joined the armed struggle led by the Communist Party of Thailand in remote rural areas. However, this struggle was ultimately unsuccessful, but it managed to put a great deal of pressure on the ruling class.

Three years after 1976, the government decreed an “amnesty” for those who had left to fight alongside the communists. This coincided with splits and arguments between the student activists and the Stalinist CPT leaders. By 1988 the student activists had all returned to the city as the CPT collapsed. Thailand returned to an almost full parliamentary democracy, but with one special condition: it was a parliamentary democracy without the Left or any political parties representing workers or small farmers. But the economic boom helped to damp down discontent.

Three years later the military staged a coup against an elected government which it feared would reduce its role in society. Resistance to the coup took a year to gather momentum, but in May 1992 a mass uprising in Bangkok braved the deadly gunfire from the army and overthrew the junta. Many key activists in this uprising had previously cut their teeth in the struggles in the 1970s.

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Four years after this uprising, Thailand experienced a deep economic crisis. Activists pushed for a new, more democratic constitution, in the hope that the country could escape from the cycle of corruption, human rights abuses and military coups. There was also an increase in workers’ struggles and one factory was set alight by workers who had had their wages slashed as a result of the crisis.

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In the general election of January 2001, Taksin Shinawat’s Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) won a landslide victory. The election victory was in response to previous government policy under the Democrats, which had totally ignored the plight of the rural and urban poor during the crisis. TRT also made 3 important promises to the electorate. These were (1) a promise to introduce a Universal Health Care Scheme for all citizens, (2) a promise to provide a 1 million baht job creation loan to each village in order to stimulate economic activity and (3) a promise to introduce a debt moratorium for farmers. The policies of TRT arose from a number of factors, mainly the 1997 economic crisis and the influence of some ex-student activists from the 1970s within the party. The government delivered on their promises which resulted in mass support for the party.

Eventually, there was a backlash from the conservative sections of the ruling class and most of the middle-classes. By allying himself with workers and farmers, Taksin had built a coalition between them and his modernising section of the capitalist class. TRT policies were threatening the interests of the conservatives and upsetting the ruling class consensus which had determined the nature of Thai politics since the defeat of the Communist Party. This political consensus had managed to exclude the interests of workers and farmers. The conservative backlash re-established the era of military rule which we see today.

Anyone who studies this period of Thai history, since 1932, cannot fail to see the importance of class struggle. Denying the importance of class struggle, or a divide between left and right, can only be either sheer ignorance or an excuse to ignore the interests of the majority of citizens.

 

 

Read more in my book “Thailand’s Crisis”….at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/47097266/Thailand-s-Crisis-and-the-fight-for-Democracy

Thailand lacks adequate rights for those accused of mental illness

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent incident where a pro-democracy activist was forcibly taken away to a mental hospital by police after giving a speech at Thammasart University, raises issues about a lack of rights for citizens accused of mental illness and also the use of mental illness as a means to punish political activists.

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Sasinut (“Pen”) Shinthanawanitch gave a speech on the “People Who Want an Election” stage at Thammasart University on Saturday 5th May and talked about Thai monarchs, demanding that the present king stand with the people in promoting democracy. The organisers tried to shut her up and after leaving the stage she was taken away by plain-clothed policemen, who took her to the local police station. She was then forcibly taken to Somdet Chaopraya mental hospital.

Later in the day, some activists and two human rights lawyers tried to telephone her and later they tried to visit her at the hospital. When they arrived at the hospital they found that her hands and feet had been tied to a wheel chair and the doctors refused to let them speak to her. She reports that she was forcibly medicated and made to undergo a blood test. She was also stripped naked along with other patients and given a shower. She was detained in the hospital until Tuesday afternoon.

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Pen might hold, what I perceive to be, slightly eccentric views, but during a recent video interview with the exiled journalist Jom Petchpradab on Thai Voice TV, she did not exhibit any psychiatric problems.

Her plight only came to light because of the efforts of an exiled Thai political activist in Cambodia, a group of lawyers for Human Rights and the actions of a Prachatai reporter.

The 2008 Mental Health law in Thailand allows the police to detain people after any complaints and it also allows mental hospitals to detain citizens and forcibly treat them without proper checks and balances.

This is not the first time that a pro-democracy activist has been accused of having mental health issues in Thailand. It is similar to the way that political dissidents are treated in Russia, China and other authoritarian countries.

The lèse-majesté law also means that people are fearful when someone starts talking about the monarchy from a public stage, even when it is something as mundane as demanding that the king stand with the people for democracy.

The treatment and human rights of people with mental health problems and those accused of having mental health problems is something which has for too long been ignored in Thailand. This is similar to the lack of human rights and civilised treatment of prisoners in Thai jails.

Somyot Released but We Still Need to scrap Lèse Majesté!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, the Thai journalist and trade union activist, has been released from prison after serving 7 years for lèse majesté.  He was a prisoner of conscience. He was convicted in a Thai Kangaroo court for publishing two articles in an anti-establishment magazine that made negative references to the crown. On principle, Somyot always refused to admit any guilt and he spent his time in prison trying to organise the library and act as a leader and mentor to other prisoners.

On being released, Somyot indicated that he would campaign for the rights of prisoners and try to improve their conditions. He has told stories about the conditions in jail. The prisoners have to wear chains on both legs which weigh 5 kg. The prisoners have to clean the chains regularly otherwise they go rusty and people’s legs become infected. There is also a chronic shortage of bedding. According to Somyot, standard practices in jail are mainly designed to reduce the humanity of prisoners. “If you are in jail you are treated like an animal”.

When I moved back to Thailand in 1996, in order to become a politics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, I headed straight for meetings and gatherings of the Thai labour movement. I had been an active socialist and trade unionist in Britain before that. As I started talking to women factory workers from the Rungsit area, I would start to hear the name Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.

Rungsit trade union activists would explain to me that Somyot had been a very clever and skilful trade union organiser and that he had led the unionisation of many textile factories in Rungsit. Union activists risked being sacked if they were known to management as being involved in building the union and Somyot had many ideas about building. Workers told me that he would advise them how to leave union leaflets in secretly in strategic places such as toilets and dining rooms. Eventually many unions won recognition.

There are still many political prisoners sentenced to jail under lèse majesté in Thailand and we must not forget them.

The lèse majesté law in Thailand represents a gross attack on the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and academic freedom. It is a fundamental attack on democracy carried out by the military, royalist judges and bureaucrats, and all the political elites, including Taksin and Pua Thai. Lèse majesté prisoners are tried in secret courts and denied bail. The royalist judges claim that the offense is “too serious” and “a threat to national security”. Thai dictatorships have long used the excuse that their opponents were seeking to “overthrow the monarchy” in order to kill unarmed demonstrators or throw people into jail. Jail terms for lèse majesté are draconian. Meanwhile, armed anti-democracy thugs and state killers continue to enjoy freedom of action and impunity.

The lèse majesté law in Thailand is an authoritarian law which has been designed primarily to protect the interests of the un-elected elites, especially the military. It is used hand in hand with the computer crimes law and the contempt of court law to stifle full debate and accountability in society. Lèse majesté and the computer crimes laws have resulted in many outspoken critics going to prison or leaving the country and they have also resulted in the systematic censorship of books and the internet. Government departments, both civilian and military, have been set up to spy on citizens who use the internet, and those involved with radio and television, with a view to prosecuting citizens under the lèse majesté law. People have also been encouraged to spy on others and report them to the authorities.

The truly repressive nature of lèse majesté can be highlighted by the fact that some Thai citizens are too afraid to refuse to stand up at the cinema when the king’s anthem is played. It is an image that would not look out of place in Nazi Germany or North Korea.

As Somyot left the prison, he gave a defiant three-fingered, anti-dictator salute. He clearly has not been crushed.