Tag Archives: Lèse Majesté

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.

China World Mental Health Day

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.

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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.

Three years of Prayut’s Dictatorship

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The past three years of Prayut’s dictatorship have caused immense damage to Thailand’s democracy and to the fabric of society.

I have posted many articles on this site about the way the junta and its allies have been busily crafting “Guided Democracy” in order to entrench the conservative elites’ dictatorial powers.

The past three years have also seen attacks on any fragments of progressive social policy.

The Thai military junta has been looking to slash billions of baht from the universal health care budget. The tired old excuse of the “aging population” has been trotted out. Working people who are now reaching old age are the very people who created the wealth in Thai society. They deserve better than this. Another stupid excuse, on a par with the nonsense coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth, is that “more people are getting sick”! There is absolutely no evidence for this. However, it might well be the case that more people are being treated in the health care system with better technologies. This is only right and proper. Yet, the elites and anti-democrats have always hated the universal health care system, preferring that the old and the sick just crawl into a corner and die. There is one exception, however, when Pumipon was old and sick, no expense was spared to keep this parasite alive. Even after his death, society is being forced to cough up huge amounts of money for his funeral.

At the same time the Education Ministry has announced that it will no longer give free text books to children in school. Instead the books will be “loaned”. This is an attempt to slash 5 billion baht from the education budget.

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The junta and its lackeys are well known for their extreme neo-liberal views and I have written about this before. [See http://bit.ly/2kiUZSl ]

At the same time, the purchase of more and more weaponry and increases in the military budget continue unabated. The latest waste of money is the buying of 50 Chinese tanks and a plans to buy  submarines.

The junta’s mismanagement of the economy is resulting in a drastic fall in treasury reserves from an average of 400 billion baht over the last ten years to only 75 billion baht at the end of 2016. Yet the military government has also announced that all members of the royal family will be exempt from inheritance tax. The Thai royals are among the richest people in the country. No doubt the junta will be seeking to increase the tax burden for ordinary working people, while the elites successfully avoid paying any significant amounts of tax. There is talk of increasing the regressive Value-Added Tax.

Oxfam produced a report showing that the richest 10% in the country own 79% of all the country’s wealth. They even held a seminar about it showing that the wealth owned by a handful of people could raise the entire population out of poverty.

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Yet because of the lèse–majesté law, no one could discuss the obscene wealth in the hands of the monarchy. The strangle-hold of the military and their constant chanting about the dead king’s neo-liberal “Sufficiency Economy” ideology also means that neo-liberal inequality is enshrined into the constitution and economic policy.

In addition to this, the lack of freedom and democracy under the military and the weakness of trade unions means that the ability of social movements to fight for a welfare state and redistribution of wealth is so far very limited.

Oxfam is able to highlight the symptoms of inequality but like most NGOs, it is unable to provide a solution other than inviting well-known people to make well-meaning but worthless comments about the situation.

The state of democracy and equality are closely connected to the strength of mass left-wing social movements, especially the trade unions. Yet another negative result of the three years of dictatorship has been the total destruction of the mass movement against the military. This has been achieved by a combination of repression and, even more importantly, the demobilisation of this movement by Taksin and his supporters.

Culture of dictatorship responsible for Thai education failings

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While conservative newspapers like the Bangkok Post agonise over the state of the Thai education system, complaining about the inability of students to engage in critical thinking, they cannot identify the most important cause of this problem: the culture of dictatorship.

Today, anyone who criticises the military junta is faced with repression, insults from the authorities, or short stretches in military camps undergoing “attitude changing sessions”. The military are present at all levels of society, enforcing dictatorship down to grass-roots levels. Last year, the mere distribution of red plastic bowls at Songkran was enough to invite arrest.

However, when I talk about the culture of dictatorship in Thai society, I do not mean just the fact that the country is ruled by a military junta today and for long periods in the past. This is an important part of this appalling culture, but it is only one aspect.

The draconian lèse-majesté law, which forbids any critical thinking about the monarchy, is part of this culture of dictatorship even when there are elected civilian governments. The extreme right-wing ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy”, enforced in all schools and constantly promoted by the military, is part of this. The ingrained hierarchical nature of Thai society, where citizens have to crawl on the floor before the royals, where lower-class people have to bow their heads and show respect to those who are richer and more powerful than themselves, and where all this nonsense is decreed to be “Thai Culture”, cannot possible encourage critical thinking.

Long periods when it was deemed to be a “crime” to be a communist or socialist also blocked off the flowering of alternative viewpoints in open society. “National Security”, for the elites, is used to silence dissent. The idea of “one Thai nation” was not even challenged by the Communist Party because of its nationalistic ideology. Public playing of the National Anthem and the fact that citizens are forced to stand to attention at 8am and 6pm mean that there is no room for critical thinking about Thai nationalism. This is reinforced by the extremely high levels of official racism.

Until recently, people were afraid to admit to being atheists on official documents because it would lead to accusations of being a communist. This is part of the culture of dictatorship.

The weakness of trade unions in Thai society is linked to the main stream anti-socialist ideology. This in turn strengthens hierarchy and undermines alternative views about society which could encourage critical thinking.

Justification for military coups and so-called “reforms”, which decrease the democratic space, send out a message that citizens are “too stupid” to be allowed to choose their own governments. The middle-class reactionaries claim the people are not ready for democracy because of poor education. Therefore they need to be educated “in the right way”. Of course, this is a lie. Lack of democracy, caused by the actions of the elites, is the real obstacle to critical thinking.

Given that no mainstream newspapers or TV stations and no mainstream academics ever question this culture of dictatorship, it is a wonder that any young students can learn to think for themselves. Even the term “think for yourself” has been hijacked by the dictatorship to imply that those who have dissenting views are somehow brain-washed by people like Taksin and therefore those who “think for themselves” must obviously agree with the military and the conservatives.

Yet, as a former university lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, and a follower of Thai current affairs, I know that each generation of young Thais throws up critical thinkers. But it takes courage to do this. Today there are young students locked away in Thai jails for thinking for themselves, most are charged with lèse-majesté.

Apart from the culture of dictatorship, inequality in education is also a factor helping to keep the Thai education system in a poor state. This was highlighted by a couple of Finish educational researchers recently. But here the issue is closely linked to the culture of dictatorship because this culture exists to entrench inequality and to protect the elites. Those who have taken part in the destruction of democracy in Thailand are extreme neo-liberals who are totally opposed to a welfare state, progressive taxation or increasing wages. They justify all this with free-market ideology, including the former king’s reactionary “Sufficiency Economy”. Finland’s high education standards are a result of a welfare state, strong trade unions and a history of democracy.

The struggle to educate oneself, and the struggle to liberate oneself, are part of the same struggle. Thai citizens do not need to be fed “better” education by conservative experts, they need to throw off the chains of the culture of dictatorship.

Why is the Thai junta paranoid about pictures and news of king Wachiralongkorn?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai junta has warned that anyone who follows, contacts, or shares posts online with three prominent critics – historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, journalist and author Andrew MacGregor Marshall, and former diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun – will be prosecuted under the Computer Crimes Act. Why is this happening? To understand this paranoid behaviour we need to look at the role of the Thai king today.

However, latest article about King Wachiralongkorn by my friend Claudio Sopranzetti in Aljazeera is disappointing because it is a sensational and unreal depiction of the awful Wachiralongkorn [see http://bit.ly/2oXtDae ].

Firstly, Sopranzetti claims that the king is trying to wrestle power from the military junta. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wachiralongkorn is on the throne because the military put him there. Like his father before him, he is totally beholden to the military who use the monarchy to justify their own power and “right” to intervene in politics.

The idea that Wachiralongkorn has been increasing his power is also parroted by The Guardian.

When talking about “power”, it is important to understand that it is a concrete thing, not some abstract concept. Political power comes hand in hand with the “power to shape society and politics”.

There was never any evidence that former King Pumipon ever had such power. He never shaped Thai foreign policy or had any influence on the direction of domestic political policies. He could not order military coups because he did not control the military. Pumipon always went with the flow, at times praising Taksin and his government. Pumipon shared his right-wing conservatism with most of the military and bureaucratic elites. It wasn’t his ideas that influenced events. He had no influence on the policies used by the Taksin government to dig Thailand out of the 1996 economic crisis. The anti-Taksin movement which emerged much later was not his creation. The conservatives merely claimed they were monarchists in order to try to obtain legitimacy. Pumipon once told the military not to buy submarines because they would “get stuck in the mud of the Gulf of Siam”, but no one took any notice of him. His “Sufficiency Economy” ideology was repeatedly quoted by the elites, but never acted upon by anyone. [See more here:  http://bit.ly/2oppTvb ]

Wachiralongkorn is less politically aware than his father, being completely uninterested in Thai society and politics. There is zero evidence that he is trying to wrestle power from the military in order to influence domestic political policy or foreign policy. [See also http://bit.ly/2kBwOlm ]

Secondly, Sopranzetti, and other commentators, can only raise the issue of Wachiralongkorn’s insistence on amending the constitution in areas that merely affect the organisation of the royal household, as an example of his quest for “power”. But Wachiralongkorn merely wanted to control his personal household staff and ensure that when he spent a lot of time in his palace in Germany, someone wouldn’t appoint a regent over his head without his approval. This is hardly an example of Wachiralongkorn amassing power to rule over the Thai population. As I have previously written, “Wachiralongkorn wants the Crown, but not the job”. He isn’t interested in the slightest in Affairs of State. His only interest is in his own “affairs” with numerous women, some of whom have been promoted to high army ranks. He also once promoted his former dog to an air force rank.

Wachiralongkorn’s so-called “power” is much more akin to that of a petty local Mafia boss who wishes to protect his patch.

As for the so-called “fear” factor, it must be frightening for those in his immediate household circle to serve such a self-centred and erratic boss. But a WikiLeaks episode some years ago exposed the fact that many high-ranking generals viewed Wachiralongkorn with irritation bordering on contempt.

Thirdly, Sopranzetti claims that the student activist Pai Daodin was jailed under the lèse-majesté law as soon as Wachiralongkorn became king, implying that Wachiralongkorn had something to do with it. This is conspiratorial nonsense. Pai Daodin is a pro-democracy activist and constant thorn in the side of the military junta. They were itching to get him for months and when he shared the BBC’s biography of Wachiralongkorn on social media, it was just the excuse they were looking for. We need to remember that hundreds of other Thais shared the same article but have not been charged with lèse-majesté.

Finally, Sopranzetti fails to understand that in order to be able to use the present and past king as a legitimising figure in their class rule over the population, the military and elites have to give them something in return. Since the image of the monarchy is there to protect the elites, the monarchy acts like a guard dog with all bark and no bite. But guard dogs need to be thrown a bone every day to keep them in line. The bone thrown to the Thai monarchy is the immense wealth given to them, the freedom for them to live their lives as they please, and the willingness of the elites to pamper the royal ego by grovelling on the floor in front of them and pretending to be under the dust of their feet. This latter bit of theatre is for the benefit of ordinary citizens while real power is in the hands of the elites.

Just like the top bosses of most religions who claim to speak on behalf of non-existing gods, the military claim to speak on behalf of the monarchy.

In addition to this, in order to make this trick work, the monarchy needs to appear to be worthy of some respect. Yet Wachiralongkorn’s personal life style makes this difficult. That is why the exiles   Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, have been singled out by the junta for publishing 2016 photos from Germany, of the tattooed Wachiralongkorn with his skimpily dressed girlfriend. They have also published news of his latest escapades. This poses a danger to his credibility to be a monarch in the eyes of most Thais and they are  therefore a threat to the military.

Discrediting the monarchy is useful in undermining the junta, but when taken to extremes, sensational stories about the royals tend to titillate people who are bored with reality while having little benefit in explaining the nature of Thai political society. Most importantly, they add nothing to the discussion about how to overthrow the dictatorship and build democracy through mass movements. Focusing only on the royals lets the military and their anti-democratic allies off the hook.

The Dictatorship’s so-called reconciliation is a sham

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Prayut Dictatorship’s so-called reconciliation is just a sham. It is merely an attempt at forcing the pro-democracy side to concede to a form of long term “Guided Democracy” at gun point.

The various pompous generals have been lying once again, claiming that the military is a “neutral party” in the political crisis and that it can therefore act as an unbiased referee for reconciliation.

Yet, how can the military be neutral when it was the very institution that overthrew the elected Taksin government in 2006?

How can the military be neutral when it deliberately stood by, doing nothing, and allowed the yellow shirts to take over government house and the international airports?

How can the military be neutral when it organised the unelected Abhisit Government from a military camp and imposed him on the Thai people as their Prime Minister? Abhisit’s party, the Democrats, have never won an overall majority in any Thai election.

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How can the military be neutral when it deliberately used snipers and tanks to shoot unarmed pro-democracy red shirts who were demanding elections in 2010?

How can Prayut’s military be neutral when he urged people not to vote for Yingluk’s Pua Thai Party in the 2011 elections?

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How can the military be neutral when they deliberately did absolutely nothing to protect the 2014 elections from Democrat Party mobsters, some led by the fascist monk “Isara”, who is close to Generalissimo Prayut? There was no attempt by the military to defend the democratic process or the rule of law. Prayut was just waiting for an excuse to stage a coup.

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How can the military be neutral when the current dictatorship is using the lèse-majesté law against opponents of the military junta in order to jail pro-democracy activists? How can it be neutral if it hauled large numbers of pro-democracy activists into military camps for “attitude-changing” sessions so that they would stop opposing the military? Arrests and harassment of those who believe in democracy continues to this day.

How can the Thai military ever be neural when it has a long history of destroying democracy and engaging in corrupt practices over the last 70 years?

The true cause of the Thai political crisis is not the fault of “bad politicians” as the military likes to claim. It is because the military, the conservative elites and the reactionary middle-classes, including the NGOs, failed to respect election results and viewed ordinary citizens with contempt, claiming that they were “too ignorant to deserve the right to vote”.

Whatever we might think of them, Takisin’s parties won at election times over and over again because they were genuinely popular with the electorate for very logical reasons. The universal health care scheme was one such reason. This is why the current shower of anti-reformists, appointed by the junta, are busy crafting a “Guided Democracy” system where the views of the military and the conservatives will be more powerful than the will of the people. This is enshrined in the junta’s awful 20 year political strategy and road map.

So talk of “reconciliation” by the military is merely forced capitulation to the junta’s plans so that they can hold sham elections.

But what would genuine reconciliation for peace and democracy look like?

  1. The military would remove itself from politics and all the generals who have been involved in military coups would resign from the ranks, retire, and promise never to engage in politics. The military budget would be slashed and the various sections of the armed forces placed under genuine democratic civilian control.
  2. The Democrat Party and various anti-democratic mobsters would have to agree to abide by the results of all democratic elections.
  3. The military constitution would be scrapped and fresh democratic elections would be held under the 1997 constitution until that constitution can be improved at a later date. An electoral commission would be chosen from a balance of representatives of various political groups. Foreign observers might be necessary to ensure clean elections.
  4. All political prisoners would be released and political trials stopped. Authoritarian laws such as lèse-majesté and the military’s various censorship laws would be abolished.

Of course this is just a pipe-dream so long as a vigorous pro-democracy social movement is not present to force through such a democratic conciliation process.

 

Thailand is run by barbarians in uniform

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As some prisoners are released under a traditional amnesty on the occasion of Thailand having a new king, the jails continue to fill up with political prisoners.

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Latest victim is Jatupat Boonpatraksa, better known as “Pai Dao Din”. Naturally Pai is merely “guilty” of opposing the blood-stained Generalissimo Prayut and his junta. A well-known student activist and member of the “Dao Din” student group from the north-east, Pai has long been a thorn in the side of the soldiers who destroyed democracy and who are now busy helping themselves to wealth and more power. The Dao Din group joined up with the New Democracy Movement student group from Bangkok to protest against the junta and its new authoritarian constitution. These students also highlighted military corruption.

The barbarians in uniform have been out to get Pai for a while. The opportunity came when the BBC Thai language website posted a truthful biography of the new king Wachiralongkorn. When Pai “shared” this post on social media he was selected for the special treatment: a lèse-majesté charge. Others sharing this post have not been charged and anyway, Thai citizens have a right to know about the man who has been forced upon them as the new king by the military. Ironically most politically conscious Thais already know that Wachiralongkorn is an unintelligent play-boy thug.

Pai’s hearings in court were held in secret and he has been repeatedly denied bail even to sit his final examinations, which could deny him his university degree. Added to this is the disgusting anal searches that he has to endure “because he might smuggle drugs into prison”. It all amounts to gross bullying, victimisation and a total lack of justice.

Three thousand six hundred people signed a petition for Pai’s release and groups of activists have made solidarity visits to the prison. The authorities tried unsuccessfully to sabotage their train journey. Unfortunately we are yet to see the building of a mass social movement that can actually force the junta from power and release the political prisoners.

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When a group of activists lit candles outside the court to call for Pai’s release on bail, a junta flunkey Seup-pong Sipongkun, Spokesman for the Courts, warned the young activists that they were “in contempt of court”. So the junta’s crack-down on freedom of speech includes banning any comment about Thailand’s contemptable kangaroo courts!

Of course, Pai should not just be released on bail. The false charges against him and all the other political prisoners, such as Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and those whose names are not well-known by the public, should be dropped. Somyot sent Pai an open letter from prison to boost Pai’s morale.

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Meanwhile the leadership of the UDD, or what was known as the Red Shirts, have been sentenced to jail terms for various non-offences including leading a peaceful protest outside Privy Councillor General Prem’s house ten years ago! Not only is there a lack of justice in Thailand, but the wheels of injustice move at a snail’s pace. Of course, none of the whistle blowing and airport blocking yellow shirts are in jail. Nor is Prayut’s favourite fascist monk, who disrupted the last elections, in jail either.

Generalissimo Prayut has stated that so-called “reconciliation” should take place without the release of prisoners. Yet, the existence of political prisoners is a mark of a barbaric and uncivilised society. Prayut’s rants are known for being stupid and erratic, more so even than those of Donald Trump. It’s almost as if he is on hallucinating drugs. In a recent rant he said that he believed that the Thai language could become the international language of the world as Thailand became a super power. Perhaps he was dreaming of being the dictator of the world!!

Reports from across the border in Burma indicate that Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is also keeping up the pace of jailing political prisoners who dare to criticise her political team and her close friends, the barbaric generals. Social media in Burma faces restrictive laws just like Thailand. It is good to see the two despotic regimes working in harmony after centuries of warfare between the two countries!

Just to add to the barbarity, the “hang-em and flog-em” brigade in Thailand are calling for the death penalty for politicians who cause serious loss to the treasury through corruption. Naturally the corrupt generals who forced their way into power at gun-point and then set themselves, their friends and relatives up in multiple lucrative state jobs, will continue to enjoy impunity. So will those generals and royals who squander state money on weapons, tanks and lavish life styles.

The country is being ruled by barbarians.