Friday, February 27, 2009

Homophobia and Politics

*All photos Copyright*
The 'Red Shirts' protesting at Government House on February 24th, 2009 with a rather effeminate poster of Prime Minister Abhisit.

From Pravit at the Nation:

"Homophobia has been used as a political tool by key elements in both camps on different occasions, casting doubt on how democratic and pluralistic some of these people truly are."

Monday, February 23, 2009

From the gutter to the sewer

*all photos copyright*

As outlined by Awzar Thi over at the Rule of Lords, Thailand's human rights reputation has been in serious decline.

Citing the The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), the main issues are:

  • Repeated overthrow of elected governments by antidemocratic forces
  • Large-scale public criminal activity not followed with investigations or prosecutions
  • Internet censorship and lese majesty witch-hunt
  • Threats to human rights defenders
  • Refoulement, murder and impunity on the high seas
The ALRC declares that these abuses indicate a 'rise of the internal-security state and decline of human rights' since the 2006 military coup d'etet.

But I dont think blame solely rests with the junta or the ultra-nationalist forces. Yes, things are much worse now, but Thailand's human right's downward spiral began with Thaksin.

Which Thi summarizes as:

"All this [the above listed offenses] and more is being put before the current sitting of the Human Rights Council. Ironically, back in 2006 before the coup Thailand tried to get a seat on the council. It failed then not because of poor diplomacy, as it claimed, but because after five years of government under Thaksin Shinawatra its rights reputation was in the gutter. It is not in the gutter any more. Now it’s in the sewer."

I couldnt agree more, Thailand's human rights reputation was already soiled by Thaksin, and what we are seeing now is simply a bad situation getting worse and worse.

And as Thailand's international reputation sinks, anti-foreign sentiment grows.

Issues like the military's persistent torture and murder in the South, PAD's lawlessness on the Bangkok streets, the Rohingya being cast off to their death in the ocean are now being discounted as some sort of foreign conspiracy to discredit Thailand international reputation.

Like the xenophobic comments by Col Manas Kongpan - regional commander of the Internal Security Operations Command - when queried about the death of the Rohingya: "They all [news reports] come from journalists who have problems with Thailand and just want to slander us,"

So instead of cleaning up a seriously disgraced human rights record and restoring international confidence in Thailand, it is easier for narrow minded xenophobes to concoct a ridiculous conspiracy theory.

And anti-foreign statements like this simply highlight the downward spiral of Thailand's international human rights reputation that was in the gutter with Thaksin, but is in the sewer with the military.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More from Giles

Giles is back and has some interesting quotes.

First, from the Guardian, titled "Thailand's battle for democracy":

"Five years ago, Thailand had a thriving and developing democracy with freedom of expression, a relatively free press and an active civil society, where social movements campaigned to protect the interests of the poor. Today, the country is creeping towards totalitarianism.

Since his (Thaksin's) overthrow and as a result of the prolonged crisis, a grassroots "red shirt" democracy movement has developed. They are moving beyond Thaksin. What is also amazing is that this is becoming a republican movement because of the actions of the military and the PAD in dragging the monarchy into politics."

Not sure how the rest of the Red Shirt movement is going to appreciate being labeled as republican. But in a country where there is simply no honest discussion of the monarchy, it is hard to say whether there is actually support for a republic. If the Red Shirts quietly adopt this, fracture into different groups, or distance themselves from republicanism will be the only way to really see if Giles is correct about it becoming a republican movement.

Regardless though, royalists will be boiling with violent rage over this and the likelihood of clashes between Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts seem certain.

And over that the New Mandala, there is part one of an interview with Giles. Some of the more interesting quotes:

"But I was not going to leave the country with my tail between my legs, I was not going to run away. Once, I left the country, I decided to fight back without any restriction. I wrote the notes of the Manifesto on the airplane I flew from Bangkok to London.

I felt that really it was necessary for someone to say those things because it was in the mind of thousands of people in Thailand but nobody has said it.

What is interesting is that this Manifesto, in a Western European context, is not very progressive. It is normal. In a Thai context, however, it is explosive. I think that indicates the difference between the amount of democracy in Thailand and the amount of democracy in Britain or Western Europe.

I think the whole situation in Thailand has reached what I would describe as a civil war. It might not be a violent civil war, but it is a civil war of ideas between two sections of society. And the Red Shirts section is rapidly becoming republican. So, really, people want to move beyond just fighting Lese Majeste, and talk about political reform. I think people are ready for that.

I think that the monarchy must be feeling insecure. Even more important, I think that the military and those that have in the past enjoyed undemocratic power but claimed legitimacy from the monarchy are really very, very scared that when this King dies, their legitimacy will evaporate because they are not going to be able to claim the same legitimacy from the Crown Prince.

I am not necessarily in agreement with Giles but I certainly appreciate his decision to fight back and to force discussion on the monarchy.

He is certainly right about his manifesto not being progressive in Europe, but it is nothing short to seditious in Thailand.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Thai Law" from Al Jazeera

There are reports that the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, or MICT is attempting to block all access to Professor Giles Ungpakorn's incendiary 'Red Siam Manifesto.

From Prachatai:

Aree Jiworarak, Director of the Information Technology Supervision Office under the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, sent e-mails to executives of internet service providers (ISPs), saying that the Office had found there was a publication disseminated on the internet called the ‘Red Siam Manifesto’ which affected national security.

He asked for their cooperation in ‘keeping watch for the circulation of the article. And if your systems can enable filters to prevent access to it, please do so, as that would greatly benefit national security. Please act urgently.’

This above Al Jazeera video is rumored to be blocked already by a few Thai ISP's. But, at the time of posting, it was still available.

The real question though is how long MICT will attempt to stifle the internet because a simple search for 'Red Siam Manifesto' in quotes found 1990 sites...and counting.

And this simply reaffirms the uselessness of lese majeste laws, the more you try to suppress information, the more curious people will be about it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Red Siam Manifesto

From the Guardian UK: British professor flees Thailand after charge of insulting king

A leading Bangkok-based professor who has joint British and Thai nationality fled Thailand at the weekend in the face of a lengthy sentence under the country's draconian lese-majesty laws, which forbid criticism of the king.
"I did not believe I would receive a fair trial," said Ungpakorn

He said that the charges arose out of eight paragraphs in the first chapter deemed insulting to King Bhumibol. He claimed that the director of a university bookshop stocking his book had informed the special branch that it "insulted the monarchy". The offending paragraphs deal with incidents around the coup.

"It is clear that the charge is really about preventing any discussion about the relationship between the military junta and the monarchy," Ungpakorn said. "This is in order to protect the military's sole claim to legitimacy: that it acted in the interests of the monarchy."

As was the case of Harry Nicolaides, it is not a matter of a free trail but an attempt to stifle discussion on the monarchy.

But Professor Giles has gone much, much further. He has now released the "Red Siam Manifesto" and its now not just a matter of lese majeste but a call for revolution.

The contents, which I will not link to because of my own genuine fear of lese majeste, can now be found all over the internet in both English and Thai.

As we all know, the consequences draconian laws that stifle usually result in increased attention and readership of offending writings. This, of course, has the opposite result of what the authorities want - increased readership of lese majeste writings.

But there are two much more serious implications this time.

The first is that the international press is reporting that a prominent academic has fled Thailand claiming political repression. Thailand's increasingly ugly international reputation is seemingly in free fall.

The next, and much more serious, is that repression has resulted in a call to resistance. And for a nation which genuinely loves the King, it is simply stunning.

And this is the true failing of lese majesty, because it is a tool most often employed by shady politicians, it has backfired and has sown the seeds of dissent.

This conflict is going to going to be nasty.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New, easy, legal tools for circumventing Internet censorship

With lese majesty laws reaching a fever pitch in Thailand, there is some helpful advice from Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT):

Thailand's Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, the Official Censor of the Military Coup, has blocked at least 17,775 websites which, along with blocking by the Royal Thai Police, resulted in more than 50,000 websites blocked in Thailand. Public webboard discussions, circumvention tools, voices from Thailand's Muslim South and critical commentary of Thailand's monarchy were particularly targetted for censorship.

Thailand's military government also passed a Computer-Related Crimes Act with draconian penalties and onerous data retention provisions abnegating privacy and anonymity and chilling public discussion of vital issues among Thais. The result of this cybercrime law was to criminalise circumvention with one notable exception, the Virtual Private Networks (VPN) relied on by business to create a secure, private, encrypted channel.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) is pleased to provide links to two new, easy tools for private citizens to legally ignore Thailand's Internet censorship. Virtual Private Networks have been complicated to set up and difficult to maintain. However, with these two free, public tools, VPN is available to everyone.

Your own private network is located overseas beyond the reach of Thai censors using an encrypted tunnel so that governments and ISPs won't even be able to see where you're surfing. Unlike anonymous Internet proxies, criminal under the cybercrime law, using VPN makes streaming video and audio freely available.

Two simple, free VPN applications are HotSpot Shield (Mac and Windows) <

, AlwaysVPN (Mac, Windows, Linux) <> and Social VPN (Windows, Linux) Run the installer and they just work with one click every time you get to a blocked website.

The United States has plans to create a national broadband network which will censor all "pornography" and Australia is planning on spending $189 million on a firewall to ensure pornography cannot be accessed there.

Both Sweden and England have announced plans to capture every electronic communication passing their borders.

The Thai government has announced plans to set up a national firewall to block l?se majest? content along with "pornographic, obscene and terrorist websites" with a budget of 100 to 500 million Thai baht or $2.9 to $14.6 million. Current law requires government to obtain a court order to block websites. This is most often accomplished by rubber-stamp orders. The new censorship plan would illegally block websites without court order.

Can any country afford such measures to censor free expression?

Would this money not be better spent on amazing Thailand's amazing social crises, such as peace, justice and reconciliation in the South, or even Internet education?

Thailand's prime minister deposed by fiat had plans to block 800,000 websites here. His legacy in the current government claims to block "only 2,300" sites, emphasising censorship of sites critical of Thailand's monarchy with plans to block a further 400. A video insulting the Thai King resulted in a seven-month ban on YouTube by the coup government. This ban resulted in dozens of copycat videos.

Google cooperated with the Thai government's requests in secret, creating geolocational blocking; when users attempt to access a blocked video, a message states, "This video is not available in your country," and occurs along with government redirection by transparent proxy. Much of the Internet censorship is directed at the dozens of videos satirising, criticising, insulting, demeaning, defaming or merely commenting on Thailand's monarchy, particularly the prolific and irreverent StopLeseMajeste YouTube channel.

There are now wholesale accusations of l?se majest? in Thailand with each faction claiming to act for the protection of the monarchy. Two webboard forum posters were arrested under the cybercrime law for their comments about the monarchy after being tracked by their IP address. At the time of King Bhumibol's 60th anniversary celebrations, there were more than 60 persons under charges of l?se majest?. Currently there are at least 34 charged but this figure is misleading as accusations of l?se majest? have resulted in numerous bans of critical media, including books, film, television, radio and websites.

The King himself has invited criticism but Thai people love their King but never listen to his words. L?se majest? charges always result from petty bureaucrats and policemen.

Governments believe they can censor free speech with impunity. VPN proves they cannot.

HotSpot Shield (Mac and Windows) <>

AlwaysVPN (Mac, Windows, Linux) <>

Social VPN (Windows, Linux) <>