Tag Archives: Military junta

Mafia style military rule ensures impunity

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Last year I reported that soldiers in Chiang Mai shot down Chaiyapoom Pasae, a 17 year old Lahu activist. This killing was committed in cold blood. A villager who witnessed the event, which took place at a military check point, told Thai PBS news channel that soldiers dragged Chaiyapoom out of his car and beat him up, stamping on his face. They fired two warning shots and then deliberately let him go. While he was running away they shot him dead. [See https://bit.ly/2o4Wq99 ].

After many attempts by lawyers to get the military to release the CCTV footage of the event, which they repeatedly claimed they had, it now appears that the footage has been “lost”. This is despite the fact that a senior military officer, General Wijuk Siribanpot, commander of the 3rd Region Army gave a televised interview saying that if he had been at the scene he would have switched his gun to automatic mode and riddled Chaiyapoom with bullets because “he had drawn a knife and attempted to throw a bomb” at soldiers. How would he know what happened, given that there is now no physical evidence available?

impunity

The “loss” of CCTV footage is no surprise and it paves the way for the continued impunity enjoyed by the thugs in uniform.

Another recent news item reported that Sawai Tong-om, a pro-democracy red shirt protestor, who was shot and seriously injured by troops in 2009, has had his legal case against the military appointed Abhisit government and the military overturned. Initially the courts awarded him damages of more than a million baht. But the court of appeal overturned this ruling, and worse still, ruled that he must pay the military’s legal expenses. His property has now been seized and sold for this purpose.

29011485777_cba7f65dc9_o

29011486307_615ed4f37a_o

So not only do security forces and their political lackeys enjoy impunity for state crimes, the victims have to pay for legal fees.

Witnesses to military killings are intimidated in order to silence them. “Wan” or Nattathida Meewangpla, was a volunteer paramedic who witnessed the military killings of red shirts at Wat Patum in 2010. Because she was a key witness to this event, she was fitted up with terrorism and lèse-majesté charges by the military and she has been languishing in jail for the past 3 years.

16208903544_3fa4df4653_o
Nattathida Meewangpla

Of course, this kind of thing happens all the time over the situation in Patani, where innocent people end up being abused and jailed while security forces go unpunished. Fa-ist Mayu, a community volunteer from the NUSANTARA foundation, is the latest person to be arrested on questionable grounds by the security forces for a shooting incident in Naratiwat.

38938475_1487129651388768_4425564486828556288_n
Fa-ist Mayu

Many Malay Muslim students, studying a Ramkamhaeng Open University fall foul of indiscriminate arrests by the police and military. They are then often subjected to torture in order to confess crimes they did not commit.

No politician, military officer or policeman has ever been punished for the disappearance of the lawyer Somchai or the massacre of unarmed civilians at Takbai.

The entire situation makes it feel like the country is being run by the Mafia, with a total lack of justice and no one at the top ever being accountable to the public.

Meanwhile it has been revealed that over the last 5 years the Mafia Bosses in Uniform have spent 1,061,171 million baht on the ever-increasing military budget…..

 

Advertisements

The ASEAN Dictators and their Sham Elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent sham election in Cambodia was yet another example of the lack of democracy in many countries of South-East Asia. Dictator Hun Sen banned opposition parties, outlawed dissent, controlled the media and then held an “election”. Not surprisingly, Hun Sen’s governing party “won” a land slide victory.

800

Generalissimo Prayut, the Thai dictator, must have been following events in Cambodia with interest.

hun-sen-ap_650x400_61451295630

Another example for him to follow has been the “Burmese Model”. This involved fixing the constitution to ensure that the Burmese military remained in charge, with powers to veto government decisions and step in at any time, regardless of who may win elections. This is the situation under which Aung San Suu Kyi is operating, although after years of opposition to the generals, she seems to have decided to willingly go over to their side and adopt the military’s policies. She has even become a mini-dictator in her own party.

Min-Aung-Hlaing-and-Aung-San-Suu-Kyi-940x580

Of course, the dictatorships of the “Stalinist” communist parties in Lao and Vietnam have been holding sham elections since the end of the Indo-Chinese war in the late 1970’s. Only candidates approved by the ruling party are allowed to stand in elections and there is heavy control and censorship of the media.

Prayut’s much delayed elections in Thailand may or may not take place next year. But what is clear is that the military will still be in charge, whatever the outcome of the election. This will be achieved through the National Strategy, outlining junta approved policies which all governments must adhere to for the next 20 years. The military domination of the Senate and the judiciary will also ensure this.

At the same time, the Thai junta is harassing opposition parties for organising meetings or making statements in the media. Both the Future Forward Party and Pua Thai are facing such repression through bogus legal sanctions. If necessary the junta can even convict party leaders on trumped-up charges and get them banned from politics. Incidentally, this latter tactic is a favourite of the ruling party in Singapore, yet another ASEAN dictatorship.

Prayut himself has not ruled out running in the elections, although this could be risky. Quite a few “politicians for hire” are jumping over themselves to join the military party.

Prayuth Chan-ocha
Democracy difficult for Prayut to swallow

At a recent junta event, the police issued “guide lines” to the press on how to approach the “Dear Leader”. No one was to approach him at a distance of less than 5 metres, journalists were told to bow and scrape before taking pictures or asking questions and no unflattering photos were to be taken. After an avalanche of amusement on social media, with people referring to Prayut as a dangerous wild animal who should not be approached, he relented and ordered the police to scrap the guide lines. But he hates being brought to account by some sections of the media.

Prayut and frog
Prayut talking to a frog

There are some in ASEAN who oppose Prayut’s dictatorship. A recent article in the Jakarta Post argued that Thailand should not be allowed to be the next chair of ASEAN, given that Prayut has not stepped down to hold free elections [see https://bit.ly/2vHiHOM ]. It is good that this article was published, but it is doubtful that it will prevent Prayut from being the next chair of ASEAN. It is interesting to note that Indonesia is the most democratic of all ASEAN countries at the moment.

Of course there are many voices of opposition to the destruction of democracy from within Thailand and these voices, should they succeed in mobilising large numbers of people, will be key to achieving democratisation. At the same time we need to condemn the various European governments, and that of the United States, for deciding that it is “business as usual” in their relations with Thailand.

Junta’s repression and double standards regarding forest conservation

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Three villagers in the north-east province of Chaiyapum have been given prison sentences and fines for supposedly encroaching on forest reserves. Another woman is due to be sentenced early in August. This is all part of the military junta’s so-called policy of “taking back the forests”.

34121336_1068523516636665_5560548155012939776_n33580044_1064870037002013_7534326476405997568_n

Previously other villagers have been sentenced to jail for collecting mushrooms in forest reserves.

This contrasts with the treatment of those who have power and wealth.

A government funded housing scheme for senior judges on the forest slopes of Doi Sutep, in Chiang Mai, has caused public outrage, both for the damage to the forest, but also for the ugly scar left on the hill side. The junta has refused to stop the scheme and demolish these houses, claiming that they would face law suits from contractors.

The houses of poor villagers are often demolished by forestry officials and soldiers without any care for the effect on peoples’ lives.

As previously mention on this site, encroachment of forest reserves and the shooting of protected wild life by the rich and powerful takes place with impunity. Premchai Gunasoot, president of the Italian-Thai Development PLC (ITD) construction company, was initially arrested by forestry officials in the Tungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, in the west of Thailand, near the Burmese border. He was in possession of skinned carcasses of protected wild animals, including a black Indochinese leopard. Yet, unlike poor villagers, this rich businessman is not in prison [See https://bit.ly/2mLFh4W ]. Pol Gen Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul was even photographed apparently grovelling to Premchai.

p53xjh8awmi6pDwPw1k-o

This same policeman was involved in further controversy when he warned the volunteers trying to rescue the football team from the cave that they must not break the law by trying to drill down to find an alternative access to the boys.

The military junta and previous governments have not been reluctant to grant forest land to large companies for them to exploit various resources. What has never been on the agendas of governments is the provision of housing and land for poor farmers to use.

There has been a long-running problem regarding forest reserves which were often declared in the past with no recognition of the fact that villagers were already living and working there. Apart from Thai villagers, those from ethnic minority groups are particularly vulnerable.

Over fifty years ago Thailand had a small population with large amounts of unsettled land, much of it forests. It was normal practice for villagers to move in and clear land for agricultural purposes.

Typical of any military dictatorship, the present junta’s “taking back the forests” policy is carried out with a heavy hand, disregarding the needs of ordinary people.

A sensible and just way to manage Thailand’s forests would be to turn them into social forests where local people have a collective and important role in managing and conserving forests together with government organisations. But the culture of officialdom dictating policy in a top-down manner is preventing this from happening. Having a military dictatorship in charge of the country only makes things worse, especially when military personnel are now in charge of every facet of public life at a local level.

The Thai State cares little about ordinary people

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Now that we have heard the good news about the successful recue of the young football team from the cave, we are in a position to draw some serious lessons from this event and also from the tragedy of the sinking of a tourist boat off the southern island of Puket, where a number of people drowned. We should also not forget the death of a Thai diver during the cave rescue operation.

There are three important lessons which I wish to discuss.

Firstly, safety standards for ordinary citizens and visitors to Thailand are extremely poor. We must not blame the football coach or the parents of the football team who got stuck in the cave. They have suffered enough and are clearly in a position to learn lessons. It is about collective responsibility in society for safety standards, not about the actions of an individual. The political situation in Thailand means that the Thai State has never given priority to the safety of citizens. There are few regulations and enforcement is lax. In the West adults who take children on outdoor activities have to be fully trained and have to follow strict guidelines. Access to places like caves which are liable to dangerous flooding would be strictly controlled.

Transport safety standards in Thailand are extremely bad. The tourist boat that sank off Puket put out to sea in storm conditions. There seems to have been little coordination between the harbour authorities and the meteorological office. There were no strict enforcement of safety standards for different sized boats and the greedy tour operators were allowed to get away with murder, literally. This is similar to the total lack of safety standards for road transport, where unacceptably high accident rates occur during public holidays due to a lack of good public transport and long working hours with few days off for many working people. Instead of the police trying to ensure safe travelling all the year round, many motorists experience being stopped by corrupt police in order to collect illegal payments.

The Thai State cares little about the safety of ordinary citizens, children, tourists, or workers in construction and manufacturing industry. It is a state which is blatantly run by and on behalf of the upper classes. It is only through pressure from trade unions and social movements that this situation can change.

Secondly, the Thai State has neglected the creation of rescue organisations and other types of infrastructure to protect citizens. Thailand needs a properly organised emergency service throughout the country, including rescue teams. The use of soldiers, who are not properly trained for such duties, is just not good enough. These teams need to be locally based, properly funded and they need to be civilian organisations run by experienced permanent crew. Instead, we still see emergency ambulances, where they exist, stuck in traffic with no one clearing the way for them. In contrast, we see much police activity to clear the way for various royals and big-shots when they want to travel.

The neglect by the Thai State of the rights of citizens to enjoy high standards of safety and decent government services is due to decades of military rule and/or rule by the elites, with little political input from below. The Left and the trade unions are still too weak. This is why Thailand still does not have a welfare state funded by progressive taxation of the rich and large corporations.

Many have rightly praised the role of the governor of Chiang Rai. But the elite and hierarchical nature of society meant that he had to start his press statement by praising the king and the fact that the royals had somehow shown great concern for the safety of the football team. The genuine concern shown by millions of people in Thailand and other countries was just ignored. It should be emphasised repeatedly that the efforts of hundreds of ordinary volunteers was crucial. Needless to say, the king did not fly in and roll up his sleeves to help with the rescue work!

Thirdly, there is the role of Nationalism in Thai society, fostered by the elites. The “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” ideology is constantly used to exclude people and to enforce obedience towards the upper classes. This has resulted in many racist comments in social media about the drowned Chinese tourists and the Chinese tour operator. Ordinary Thai citizens may count for nothing as far as the Thai State is concerned, but foreigners count for even less as far as the racists are concerned. [See https://bit.ly/1JaeTJY  ]. In addition to this, there are thought to be a million or more stateless people living in Thailand. The Thai government has refused to grant them citizenship. Some of these stateless people were among the members of football team stuck in the cave. One of them was the one with the best language skills who was able to communicate with the British divers. We need to demand that all stateless people be granted citizenship.

Those who support the junta and its plan for Guided Democracy have said that the spirit of cooperation shown in the rescue of the football team proves that Thais can unite across political differences and no doubt forget the destruction of democracy. But for me, the spirit of cooperation shown during the cave rescue shows the potential to build a new and inclusive society in Thailand based upon democracy, equality and socialism.

Protests as Dictator Prayut shakes hands with British and French leaders

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

There were symbolic protests by pro-democracy Thais and their allies in Europe as the dictator Prayut shook hands with Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron. [See video here]. Prayut was on a shopping spree to buy weapons and sign investment agreements with Britain and France. The visit exposes the hypocrisy and empty words of Western governments regarding democracy and human rights in Thailand. [See Previous post on this].

 

20180620_200111
Outside 10 Downing Street, London
36114148_10212637065542288_4317893616677683200_n
Paris

There have been many sarcastic comments on Thai social media about Prayut’s body language during the meeting with Theresa May. He is clearly not used to diplomatic discussions and some have suggested that he looked more like he was at a job interview! Of course Theresa May hardly ever looks relaxed and normal herself. There have also been amused social media comments on his apparent inability to say anything to Theresa May other than “yes yes” “Sure” and “thank you”.

35973638_1835103583237047_8168601517192904704_n

Others have commented on how the Generalissimo briefly changed his image from the aggressive bully that he is inside Thailand to a compliant lapdog.

35922957_10211811839038596_3870413236239073280_n

Prayut has just restarted the death penalty in Thailand, claiming that it would provide a “lesson” to criminals. Of course, the real criminals like himself, who ordered the cold-blooded murder of pro-democracy demonstrators, know that they will always enjoy immunity from prosecution.

Prayut has been upset by a recent article in Time magazine comparing him to former dictator Sarit and calling him a “mini Sarit”. Despite denials from the junta, it seems that the current issue of the magazine is difficult to obtain in Thailand!

36121376_1715034781915297_1081888208729407488_n

Thai pro-democracy activists in France used Pinocchio images of Prayut, which initially appeared on anti-junta demonstrations in Bangkok. The military junta has repeatedly lied about elections and constantly postpones them. The latest excuse is that they must be held after the coronation ceremony of the new king.

35849079_10214228612882366_3395344610115977216_oThe French newspaper “Liberation” wrote that “Prayuth has scuttled the reputation of Thailand, a country yet traditionally so concerned about its image internationally. Under his belt, the country has fallen to the last places of all the international indicators to measure respect for human rights and democratic principles”.

36177328_10212637068502362_2465469304175329280_o

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!!

p0101170855p1

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.

29261_396888369924_537184924_3877956_727694_n

32261_399319099924_537184924_3928134_4527140_n

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.

visit

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.

34605905_10155712246440819_8867687056130703360_n
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.

57-5

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.

ebbk8ba7k95jbkebjgcak

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.