Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ugly lese majeste

A Banksy portrait of the Queen of England.

The ugly appearance of lese majeste/Computer Crimes Act is back and freedom of speech and the press is again under attack.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, at the liberal Prachatai online news site, was arrested and charged for not censoring user comments fast enough.

As the above picture illustrates, constitutional monarchies like Great Britain have evolved (pun intended) to a point where freedom of speech can coexist with a monarchy.

Yet in Thailand, citizens and foreigners are subject to draconian laws that can send people to jail for not standing up during the royal propaganda played at movie theaters, for expressing political opinion, posting online comments, and in the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, for simply not self-censoring free speech fast enough.

Not only is Thailand's lese majeste law an international disgrace, but in perspective of personal freedoms, it is also barbaric.

That anyone can face an astounding 50-year sentence for exercising one of the most basic human rights is astounding.

Political Prisoners Thailand suggests to "watch this case carefully and urges all interested and concerned parties to write to the Thai embassies and consulates in their areas."

I think we also need to push organizations like
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to take Thailand to task for violating basic human rights.

We should also consider discouraging tourists from visiting Thailand. If Burma's tourism industry is subject to such an embargo, Thailand's continued attacks on human rights warrants similar treatment.

Dont forget, its not just lese majeste which Thailand transgresses on human rights. Thailand is a habitual and abuser of human rights as demonstrated by a number of issues like the Rohingyas being towed out to sea to die or the simple fact that not a single member of the security forces have been been prosecuted for gross human rights violations in the deep south.

And finally, this should serve as an example that Prime Minister Abhisit is simply a liar who should not be trusted.

I remember a triumphant Abhisit last year boldly claiming that "justice" would be the way to measure the success of his government.

By any measure, his government has been a complete failure and it is specifically the failure of justice, as demonstrated by the continued use of lese majeste and the computer crimes act, that shows just how hollow his rhetoric has been all along.

ไชโย! (Chai yo)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

M79s and ungovernability

While the red shirts are gaining traction with their political message of double standards in the judicial system, there is a more serious problem with looming ungovernability in Thailand.

When I first came to Thailand I was told that "only the stupid and the poor go to jail".

And while there are exceptions, this sharp summary of the Thai judicial system is apt.

There are judicial double standards currently being manipulated by Abhisit's disingenuous and ineffectual government and the powerful non-democratic powers which control Thailand, but the real problem is that there simply is not much 'rule of law' anyway.

While we might talk about the manipulation of the judiciary, corrupt police, or simply the scoff-law traits so prevalent in Thai society, the real problem is that major violent crimes conducted in the political arena are rarely, if ever, resolved.

The list is too long to be detailed but major events like the eight new year's eve bombings in 2006 which killed three and injured 38 or the attempted assassination of Sondhi Limthongkul have simply disappeared, like countless other cases, without resolution.

The key point is that political violence - if not simply violence in general - is not only rampant but exists virtually unchecked. Major violent crimes occur with startling frequency and are rarely, if ever, subject to the police arrest, trial, or conviction.

(This is not even mentioning the southern insurgency which will never, and I really do mean never, be resolved without an end to the judicial impunity exercised by state security forces.)

Take the case of M79 grenade launchers as the quintessential example. Not only have M79s been the weapon of choice for the last couple years in a string of unresolved attacks which have escalated in the last couple weeks but there is the more serious issue of M79 manufacturing.

Characteristic of the shambolic enforcement and judicial system, police raids in Ayutthaya and Samut Prakan provinces uncovered workshops producing literally thousands of M79 grenade launchers but failed to explain or resolve the very serious issues of the production of war weapons.

Also characteristic of Abhisit's military-dependent government, groundless and shrill accusations from sycophantic and mindless ministers quickly pointed towards the red shirt protesters as the destination of the M79s.

We should not underestimate what the accusations imply.

Should protesters be arming themselves with thousands of war weapons, the implication is clear. If thousands of weapons were being commissioned by opponents of the government it would mean that Thailand is at the cusp of a serious and bloody civil war.

But, what is more likely, is that Thailand's puppet government, non-democratic leaders, keystone cops, and incompetent judiciary have fostered a serious ungovernability crisis in Thailand.

The big question, and one hardly broached by the local media, was the more likely destination of a large scale commission of war weapons.

Burma would be a logical guess. The Wa and the Tatamadaw are are at it again and it is not exactly a leap of the imagination to think that locally manufactured weapons are being sold to the Wa or the myriad of ethnic separatist groups or drug gangs operating in Burma.

But, the most plausible explanation, is that the M79s were being manufactured for local consumption not for anti-government forces but for the unaccountable Thai military.

If the GT 200 scandal has taught us anything, it is that wildly uncontrolled military spending equals wildly uncontrolled military corruption.

Military corruption - as opposed to bottom-up police corruption - is a top-down process in which weapons procurement is a core source of ill-gotten revenue for Thailand's curiously wealthy generals.

Rumor is that the recent silence around the raids on the manufacture of M79s is not because the police 'investigation' led to the red shirts but because the military had spent x-billion baht on M79s supposedly manufactured abroad but had commissioned them locally (despite serious concerns over quality in which many simply can not be fired) in a standard-practice procurement scheme that would net top generals millions of baht.

And here we have the crux of ungovernability.

How can a state function properly when those supposedly upholding the state are slinging incendiary allegations of civil war to bolster their highly questionable legitimacy while turning a blind eye to blatant military corruption and allowing an already impotent police force to fail, again and again and again, to bring resolution to serious politically-inspired crime?

So, while the red shirts are gaining political capital pointing out a major deficiency in the Thai judicial system, the net result of a chronic lack of law and order means that the state can not accommodate political contestation and is stumbling forward, like an aging alcoholic, towards a crisis of ungovernability.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A gross misstep

When the UDD (red shirts) marched
triumphantly through bangkok on Monday (March 15) they gained a political victory.

The residents of Bangkok came out to great them, and importantly, came out to support them.

The macabre blood drive that happened today will likely negate
any public victory that they have made.

Yes, it is symbolic and representative of the 'blood of the nation' but it is radical and will serve to alienate the so-called silent majority.

My first hand experience is this; it was simply awful.

The waste of blood which could have been donated to a hospital, the awful way the protesters threateningly threw it at the police, and the vile smell, it was a simply an ugly day and not appropriate for a struggle which claims democracy and equality as their goals.

I think the photos from today, particularly at the Democrat Party office, describe it best.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Photo of the Day: Convoy to 11th Infantry

Photos from the red shirt convoy to the 11th Infantry Battalion - where the government has set up their command center.

Hard to guess the numbers but certainly much higher than government, military, or the propaganda-oriented ASTV has been stating.

I saw the convoy at about 9am flowing down Pahonyothi road and it simply did not stop.

I finally hitched a ride with the reds at about 11 and there was no end in sight of the convoy.

Notable were the crowds of people gathered on the streets cheering for the reds.

They were Bangkok residents coming out to great and support the reds. Many were waving anything red that they had in their homes or work. I saw red bed sheets and red coffee mugs among other things.

Also notable were the police which came out to wave and some even sported red.

The mood was boisterous, like a party really, and the reds certainly scored a psychological victory by showing residents that there are far more protesters than reported in the media.

Finally, I talked with many people and asked, in Thai, the same question.

What is the most important reason you came to the protest. Is it Thaksin, justice, or democracy?

Everyone claimed democracy as the primary reason.

Two polities, one ungovernable state

The Bangkok Post is reporting some simply bizarre protest numbers that the Ministry of Interior (MoI) is trying to flog.

46,377 in total with "23,569 red-shirts were from the Northeast, 11,127 from the North, 4,190 from the central region, 3,667 from the East, 2,990 from the West and 834 from the South."

While wildly low, they are also unbelievably detailed to the exact number and location.

While I would put my own first-hand estimate at 200,000+, I think the important thing to remember is that the MoI is probably not floating such imaginatively low numbers for the foreign media or for those who can literally see how absurd their estimate is, but they are likely using their apocryphal numbers for the blissfully ignorant Bangkok middle class.

Watching Thai television this evening, it is remarkable that while the streets are teeming with anti-government protesters, Thai TV is filled with soap operas and game shows.

The news and political talk shows are nearly void of images from the protest and completely void of representatives of the red shirts or dialog on issues fueling red shirt grievances.

Should middle class Bangkok residents chose either their ASTV or government/military media, they might simply remain ignorant of the storm brewing in their city.

Far removed from the soring high-rises, luxury cars, and pleasantly cooled shopping malls is a political movement sown in economic and judicial inequality and the out-right theft of citizens democratic franchise.

The reds are organized, they have an established ideology, and they are growing.

The MoI's hopeful and imaginative numbers are analogous to the hopeful and imaginative idea that the whole red shirt movement is simply a bunch of bumpkins duped and paid by Thaksin.

How long Bangkok will try to sweep the reds away with the trinity of the Military, the Judiciary, and the Democrats remains anyone's guess.

Currently, there is a clearly distinguishable failure of Bangkok based elites to come to grips with the morally questionable suppression of rural voters.

And until the power-brokers in Bangkok begin to negotiate and address the grievances that the reds have, Bangkok and Thailand will remain two very different polities within one ungovernable state.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Photo of the Day: Reds coming to Bangkok

From Sunday morning in Nonthaburi, reds coming into Bangkok.

The trip was slowed by security forces preventing boats from leaving and then only allowing one boat at a time to leave while only being half full.

At Rama 8 bridge, small navy boats forced them to dock and all reds had to get off. Still, they were not deterred and were in a triumphant mood.

While the government is trying to slow them down, I suspect it will be the weather that will ultimately wear them down.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Photo of the Day: Reds massing

All photos taken Saturday March 13 from 12 noon until 7:30 PM.

The NSC has estimated that there are about 100,000.

If they continue to grow, they will be moving into historic highs for protesters on the streets.

Will it be a game changer? Will their be violence? Who knows, so many variables that there is no way to know.

Rumors circulating stated that at 9pm the so-called 'third hand' would launch some sort of attack which would justify marshal law and unleash the troops to clear the streets. But, there are always lots of rumors.

Either way, it is a combustible situation on the streets.

Photo of the Day: Showing support

On the Makwang Bridge last night (March 13) at about 6:10 PM. Large contingent of riot control troops standing guard in the heat when a chauffeured car pulls up and a well-to-do Bangkok resident hands out water for the troops.