Liberty: The three fractions of Thailand’s dissident movement

Within Thailand’s dissident movement, there are three prevailing thoughts. First it is those that follow dissident Pavin, exiled to escape the junta in Japan, who says in Thailand there is a climate of fear. Then there is dissident Sombat, nabbed, jailed and under intense psychological warfare attack, who says the coup is a done deal and it is time to shift to keeping the junta honest. Then the third group of dissident is one such as my source, let’s call them dissidents “x” who says let the initial coup storm hit, wait and then we will resists.

That “x” resistance movement, according to my source, he says, quote: “Everyone and every side can also play a nasty dirty dangerous game.”

And perhaps the junta understand, that putting the three types of dissident together, can mean some rough times ahead. And perhaps that is why the junta, that has lifted curfew, says if the situation calls for it, the curfew could go up again.

All in all, Thailand exists, in a delicate balance. Reports coming out of Northern Thailand and the Issan Region, strong-hold of liberal thoughts and support of the Shinawatra family, tell of incredible massive suppression, to keep the heads of millions upon millions of Thais suppress and oppressed into not rising up.

A great deal of that not rising up, apart from the incredibly massive suppression and oppression, is that their leaders, Shinawatra Family and the Red Shirts leader, are being managed by the junta, with a carrot and stick approach,  meaning, cooperate or long jail term. Thus far, most have agreed to cooperate.

The bottom line is, we will just have to wait and see. Like my dissident “x” says, this is the time to get back to working to make money, gather strength and wait.

Japan Times: A climate of fear in Thailand (source)


JUN 20, 2014

The Thai military has claimed that the coup it staged May 22 was needed to restore peace and order in the country. In reality, the military intervention has restored neither peace nor order. Instead, what has come to replace the political uncertainty is a climate of fear.

The governing body of the junta — the National Council for Peace and Order — has committed gross human rights violations. It has issued a series of orders, summoning hundreds of people from various backgrounds, including those close to the deposed government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and those critical of the coup makers.

Politicians, political activists, media personalities as well as members of civil society organizations have been summoned to appear before the authorities for no apparent reason. They can be detained for up to seven days. Some have been released and some have been charged with various wrongdoings. They all had to go through the military court without lawyers to represent them.

For the first time in a long while, academics have been summoned by the junta too. Known critics of the government or politics have been harassed and detained. Those released were forced to sign a contract affirming that they would not participate in political activities or publicize their political opinions again. Some academics have left Thailand for fear of imprisonment.

My name is on the list of those wanted by the junta. Since the coup, I have been critical of the army. I rejected the legitimacy of the coup and have refused to report to the military. I will not take orders from despots. Consequently, on June 13, an arrest warrant was issued for me. I am now officially a fugitive.

The argument that the military intends to transform Thai politics into something more democratic is absurd. Indeed, the junta has no plan to return power to the Thai people anytime soon. Holding an election is not a priority for the junta. Staying in power to oversee the imminent royal succession is the army’s ultimate goal.

Fear of a power vacuum occurring as a result of the royal succession drove the military to stage its coup. Military leaders have schemed to take control of the royal transition to maintain their power interests when King Bhumibol Adulyadej passes from the scene.

The enemy of the military has long been former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, brother of recently overthrown Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Should the Shinawatras manage to further dominate electoral politics, the military fears it could lose its fortunes and benefits.

Therefore, this coup is not only about the looming royal succession but also about eliminating pro-Thaksin elements, once and for all.

The elimination began with calls for top leaders of the Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai Party to be summoned before the junta. As most refused to surrender, arrest warrants were issued for them, hence guaranteeing at least two years’ imprisonment for them.

The army has also targeted supporters of the Shinawatra family in the “red shirt” movement. Crackdowns on the red shirt networks are ongoing, but their stories have not been told in the mainstream media.

It is reported that the army has sent its troops to the far-flung north and northeast regions — known to be pro-Thaksin strongholds — to harass, detain and charge members of the red shirt movement. Some have been kidnapped and some have disappeared.

Psychological warfare has been waged against the red shirts. Red shirt villages, established in the aftermath of the last coup of 2006, have been forced to close down and red flags burned. Almost overnight, the color red is missing from these once anti-coup villages.

One of the most powerful tools in undermining political opponents has been the lese-majeste law, which stipulates that anyone committing defamatory or insulting acts against the king, queen or heir apparent could be sentenced to three to 15 years in prison.

Under this precarious situation where the only justice is the martial court, cases of lese-majeste almost guarantee a lengthy jail term.

It is true that there is an anti-monarchy element in the red shirts. After all, some have come to the realization that the monarchy has long actively participated in politics despite the limits of its role stipulated in the constitution.

The last two coups were evidently endorsed by the king. Resentment of this endorsement among some red shirt members could explain the rise of anti-monarchy sentiment.

Using lese-majeste law to silence critics is convenient. Yet it can be dangerous too, not just to the state of human rights in Thailand but also to the position of the monarchy itself.

Already some Thai hyper-royalists living in the United Kingdom have embarked on a hunt for a fellow Thai — a British citizen — who goes by the name “Rose.” She has broken the taboo against criticizing the Thai royal family. Rose has made video clips cursing the Thai monarchy, thus enraging royalists in Thailand to the point that some of them seem willing to kill her in the name of protecting their beloved king.

Rose has recently been harassed by two Thais. A royalist lady went to her house with a dozen eggs, hoping to throw them at Rose if she was there. But she didn’t know that Rose had long moved out of her home in West London.

In another case, a Thai man carrying a fake gun also paid a visit to her old house and vandalized the property by painting a Thai flag on the door. Both cases demonstrate the extent to which Thai hyper-royalists will go.

The coup of 2014 has intensified a degree of hyper-royalism. Both inside and outside Thailand, the army has striven to politicize the monarchy to legitimize its existence. I am lucky to be living in Japan, where my basic rights are protected. Other Thais are not so fortunate, and have their rights restricted by the heavy-handed policy of the Thai junta.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

AP Exclusive: Thai dissident: keep junta honest (source)


BANGKOK — The jailed activist who helped organize protests against last month’s military takeover in Thailand has some advice for his followers: The coup is an accomplished fact, so concentrate on keeping the junta honest.

Sombat Boonngam-anong, speaking Thursday to an Associated Press reporter at a prison in Bangkok’s northern outskirts, also had some words for the ruling military: don’t expect to achieve reconciliation among the country’s sharply polarized people by continuing to suppress free speech.

Sombat, 46, is a veteran social activist who used social media to spearhead the “Hunger Games”-inspired three-finger salute campaign to protest the May 22 coup, even as he was in hiding.

“The more that protesters keep up overt resistance, the longer it will give an excuse for the military to keep martial law in the country,” Sombat said.

He had to shout through a window to speak to his prison visitors, so his voice was hoarse and he had to pause briefly a few times as he was interviewed. It was not clear if he felt he could speak frankly.

Sombat was arrested on June 5 in eastern Thailand after being one of a handful of people — among hundreds summoned — to defy an order to report to the military authorities.

Under regulations imposed by the military, people who don’t report in as ordered are subject to prison terms of up to two years and a fine of 40,000 baht ($1,250). They are also threatened with up to seven years in prison under an existing statute against causing public disorder. Sombat’s political activity leaves him open to additional charges as well, including under a broadly defined law covering online activity.

Sombat was captured after organizing groups of demonstrators to come together on Sundays for peaceful anti-coup protests despite a ban on political gatherings of five people or more. The numbers of protesters have now dwindled in the face of a massive show of force by police and soldiers.

“My message for supporters is that now that the coup is a done deal, they should stop their resistance and instead focus on the issue of transparency for the junta’s actions. Promote more checks and balances for their projects,” Sombat said.

The junta has announced a raft of measure that it says will fight corruption and cronyism and clean up society. Some of their proposals involve massive spending, and with no legislature in place, there is no oversight.

The coup came after months of sometimes violent protests demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra make way for an appointed government to institute reforms and remove her powerful family’s influence from politics. Although the army said it stepped in to curb violence, its agenda is nearly identical to that of the protesters.

Like other detainees, Sombat was first held at an army camp, where he was interrogated and told the military’s line on political developments.

“They came to talk to me a lot and asked a whole host of questions to see whom I have contacted and what kind of activities I was doing,” Sombat recalled. “I agreed with the soldiers about the part about the conflict, that the country was divided and that it could turn out badly,” he said. “What I don’t understand is how they think there could be reconciliation when they haven’t allowed anyone to speak freely.”

The army closed down many television and radio stations, allowing them to reopen only on the condition they do not broadcast controversial political material. Newspapers face the same restrictions.

“No matter what, you have to open up for participation from people from every level and every side. People need to talk. Reconciliation cannot succeed if you don’t allow people to talk openly,” Sombat said.

Sombat was one of the first people to organize protests against Thailand’s previous coup, in 2006, and became known for his imaginative and non-violent tactics. He was loosely associated with the so-called Red Shirt movement, which supported Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister who was ousted in 2006, and more recently his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was forced out of office by a court ruling last month slightly ahead of the coup.

Sombat’s first 12-day detention period ends Monday and he may ask for temporary release, although another arrest warrant involving allegations of anti-monarchy comments — which could carry 15 years’ imprisonment — means his time in prison might be prolonged.

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