As investigations around the Bangkok deadly bomb attacks continue, the Thai police paraded a main suspect around the scene of the blast in a public reenactment. But why is this odd practice still being carried out?
You wouldn’t notice that not too long ago something happened here at this busy intersection in central Bangkok. That’s how cleaned up and restored the popular Erawan Shrine looks like after a deadly bomb attack on August 17 killed 20 people and injured 150. Three and a half weeks later, the Thai police are still hunting for perpetuators of the crime but believe that they have closed in on them.
Despite the rushed reopening of the shrine and an investigation full of contradictions and controversy (most notably the police rewarding themselves the investigation money), the authorities are claiming to have a direction in the search for the culprits and have issued multiple arrest warrants, including who police think is the ‘main organizer’ of the bomb attack.
Thai authorities have also made two arrests within a short period of time: an unknown foreigner on August 29 in an apartment on the outskirts of Bangkok and another man named by Thai police as Yusufu Mieraili, a Chinese national arrested in an attempt to cross the border into Cambodia on September 1 (we reported). The latter was initially presented as the “main suspect”, but later Thai officials admitted that Mieralli is “a conspirator”, meaning the bomber himself (depicted in CCTV footage and police sketches as a young man in a yellow t-shirt), who left the backpack with the explosive device at the shrine, still remains at large.
Nevertheless, Thai police are certain that they have made significant progress with these two arrests (hence why probably the police rewarded the investigation money to themselves despite the ongoing investigations), which explains why they – with the second suspect and droves of media members in tow – came back to Ratchaprasong Intersection on Wednesday morning, the very same crime scene of the bomb attack, to conduct a long-used, yet questionable staple of Thai police work: the public crime reenactment.
Like the reenactment on Tuesday at an apartment on the outskirts of Bangkok, suspect Mieraili was paraded around the area at Ratchaprasong Intersection and Hua Lamphong railway station, retracing his steps he allegedly made on August 17 before, during and after the deadly bomb attack (including handing over the backpack with the bomb to the main suspect). All that happened in public accompanied by a large contingent of police officers, photographers and cameramen.
With the investigation still ongoing and no conviction made in the Bangkok bombing case, why are Thai police still resorting to this very public and, for some, seemingly bizarre method of ‘fact-finding’?
While public crime reenactments are common police procedure in Thailand, albeit usually not at this scale, its effectiveness has been questioned for a while now, despite police officers insisting on its “necessity” for the authorities themselves and also for the public:
A Metropolitan Police specialist said a re-enactment is important for an investigation because each criminal or each gang behaves differently in committing a crime. Details on how criminals commit each crime help the police understand the pattern of a crime. This can help them track down other criminals showing the same behaviour pattern and help reduce the loss of life and property.
Crime re-enactments must be kept for future investigation, he said.
“Legal experts query need for crime re-enactment“, The Nation, June 17, 2014
What is presented here as an argument for collecting intelligence on criminal activity is in reality more a sideshow: during an reenactment, the suspect mostly is instructed by the police to act out how they think the crime took place, practically ‘directing’ the suspects like a movie director regardless whether they’re guilty or not.
Such scenes took place for example in the reenactment of the murder of two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last year (we reported) – another high-profile police investigation overshadowed by doubt – where the two main suspects were brought to the crime scene to confirm the officials’ version. And bizarrely, two foreign journalists among the accompanying media were asked to stand in for the victims.
Bizarrely asked to be “David Miller” in Thai police reconstruction on Koh Tao. Refused. Sky News lady took “Hannah” role.
— Jonah Fisher (@JonahFisherBBC) October 3, 2014
It is these perceived conclusions the police are drawing from these reenactments that is being criticized by rights activists:
Top human rights lawyer and chairman of Amnesty International Thailand Somchai Hom-laor said criminal suspects should be treated as innocent until proven otherwise by the courts, adding that the re-enactment of crime, which often sees an angry mob attacking the suspect, is contradictory to the rule of law and the justice process.
“The re-enactment of crime is like reinforcing that the person has committed crime,” said Somchai, adding that going soft on angry mobs, who seek to physically attack suspects during the re-enactment, is tantamount to encouraging “private vendettas”, which contravene the justice system.
“Acting out crimes is necessary: police“, The Nation, July 4, 2013
Indeed, the main credo of the Thai justice system for the accused seems to be in many cases ”guilty until proven innocent”. In the case of Bangkok bombing suspect, it didn’t help that for some inexplicable reason he was wearing a yellow t-shirt (see photo above) – like the bomber in the CCTV footage – under a bulletproof vest during the reenactments.
These reenactments are normally done after a suspect has confessed of his or her crime – which is noteworthy since Yusufu Mieraili reportedly made one in the apparent absence of any legal representation for him. But in court that shouldn’t matter anyways according to the law:
For criminal cases liable to over five years imprisonment, the court will not consider suspects’ testimony during police investigations, whether confessions or denials. A confession is not enough for conviction and police must provide evidence to prove that suspects committed a crime. If a suspect reverses his confession during a trial, then the re-enactment is meaningless […]
“Legal experts query need for crime re-enactment“, The Nation, June 17, 2014
So, if these reenactments have no weight in court, why are police still doing them anyways?
One possible answer could be the media presence at these events, as police officers often invite them to witness the procedure. In general, the relationship between the Thai media and police can at times result from oddities in form of ad-vertabim crime/police reports to downright ethically questionable actions, such as the premature publication of the victim’s identity. Regardless of the presence of any substantial and hard evidence or the progress of the investigation itself, Thai authorities want to be seen in command, proactive and knowledgable, which not only often results in contradictions, but also what essentially boils down to ritualized PR theatrics such as the public crime reenactment or the also popular victim-pointing-at-the-suspect-at-a-press-conference (this particular incident ended with the victim assaulting her alleged attacker).
Nearly a month after what’s described as the worst attack in Bangkok, Thai authorities are undeniably under high pressure to show results of their ongoing investigation. But it’s high profile cases like these where Thai authorities are sometimes showing results not to resolve a crime but just for the sake of it.
UPDATE (11.00 AM, Sunday, September 6, 2015):
The National Reform Council has REJECTED the constitutional draft with 134 to 105 votes and 7 abstentions. A new constitution has to be drafted and thus a whole new process with an all new committee is set in motion, while the whole timetable to possible future elections will be delayed by at least 6 months. The Thai military junta and the interim constitution (incl. the catch-all Article 44) will still stay in power in the meantime to at least roughly early 2017.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE (Published earlier Sunday morning before NRC vote)
One could say that it’s a sign of dedication if you’re coming to work on a Sunday. Others would say that they have no other choice – which is rather ironic since the very reason they’re currently convening this morning (as of of writing) is about a vote.
The National Reform Committee (NRC) is coming together this Sunday morning to deliberate and vote on the draft for Thailand’s next constitution, a crucial step that decides the political direction of the foreseeable future in the country.
Since the beginning of the year, the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) has been busy penning the country’s charter No. 20 after the previous 2007 version (enacted after the military coup of 2006) was suspended after the military coup of May 2014. They were so busy in fact that they needed another month to put on the finishing touches.
Despite all the polish and trimming (from a 315 article behemoth to ‘just’ 285), there are many members of the NRC who are not entirely happy with many of its contents and have already voiced their opposition to it. Does this mean a possible bump in the road back to democracy in Thailand and a sign of trouble for the military junta (which has appointed all NRC members, by the way), which has kept the whole political discourse strictly in line until now?
The answer is rather simple: it doesn’t really matter for them either way!
On one hand, a positive outcome for the draft would constitutionally enshrine the undemocratic nature of the junta’s ‘reforms’ to Thai politics that enables non-elected elements to intervene any elected government at almost any time. One of these clauses is the recently added Article 260, the “Committee for Reform Strategy and National Reconciliation” – a euphemism for a politburo-style executive committee co-existing for five years alongside an elected government (still with a 4-year term limit) with powers to take over at anytime in a yet-to-be-defined ‘crisis’ situation. Also, this and other bodies would be created to deter any substantial constitutional amendments that could dismantle these bodies.
On the other hand, a ”no” vote would also come in handy for the military junta since the timetable for this whole drafting process – which took round about 8 months – would start anew as stipulated in the interim constitution. We have pointed out several times that an endless loop of drafting and rejecting would technically be possible and this legislative limbo would be the junta’s Groundhog Day. In other words, the military government would be able to prolong their direct rule.
Either way, the stakes are incredibly low for the military junta.
Also, if the NRC members were really concerned about the undemocratic nature of the draft, they wouldn’t and shouldn’t have agreed to take part in this kabuki theater, as this process only creates the illusion of choice and proper process.
Same goes for the public referendum (in case this draft gets passed) scheduled early next year, which decides when (or rather if) the next election is going to be held. But the people’s choice itself could seemingly become a moot point, since the junta’s law experts ‘just’ happen to discover that it is seemingly nearly impossible to even reach a minimum quota of positive votes for the constitution draft thanks to the wording in the interim constitution, unless that hole get patched pretty soon. And even if everything goes smoothly up until that point, the latest suggestion for new elections is for the end of 2016, which is a whole year later than what the junta originally promised.
Either way, we’ll soon know more about where Thailand’s political future goes next – until that most people would have likely woken up on this Sunday morning.
ConstitutionNet: Last minute add-on to Thailand’s post-coup constitution: Crisis Committee or the long arm of the military
“If I were a woman I would fall in love with his excellency.”
Those flattering words were spoken by General Thanasak, until recently Foreign Minister of the Thai military government, who expressed his adoration for the Chinese Premier at an ASEAN security forum in early August. His counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, stood next to him looking somewhat embarrassed, not knowing what to say. Some would regard this open adoration as a sign of blooming relations between the two countries. After Thailand’s ties to Western countries soured since its 2014 military coup, it quickly pivoted towards China. The statement regarding the Chinese premier also underlines something else: the desire of the Thai military government to assert a more rigid and streamlined control of governance. Reading between the lines, General Thanasak’s praise for China’s “excellency” also pays regard to its form of governance in general. China’s politburo – the supreme policy-making body of the Communist party overseeing governance – has long been criticized for its level of stricture and unrepresentativeness; yet Thai constitution drafters have openly mooted the idea to implement something similar.
Following the military coup in May 2014, the generals who instigated the movement have been looking to cement their vision of a “reformed” democracy. They preach a system free from corruption, cronyism and imbalance; yet they continue to commit these very acts themselves. The junta that formally calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has taken firm control over the political discourse. It has outlawed public gatherings, detained dissenting opponents, and enforced a high degree of media scrutiny and online surveillance. It also oversees nearly all branches of government. Most NCPO members are also members of the cabinet, most notably former army chief, junta leader, and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha. The NCPO unilaterally appointed most other government bodies, including the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)acting as the ersatz-parliament, the National Reform Council (NRC), which hands out political and legislative recommendations, and the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC).
The CDC has worked hard since the beginning of 2015 to draw up a new constitution with the hope that this will be the last one for the foreseeable future. While the draft was originally scheduled to be completed by late July, the CDC was granted a 30-day extension to clarify certain aspects of the constitution. The draft, reduced from 315 to 285 articles, was forwarded to the NRC, which will vote on its adoption in September 5. If the vote outcome is positive, the draft constitution will then be subject to a nationwide referendum in early 2016. This may or may not pave the way for elections sometime at the end of 2016 – a whole year later than what the military junta originally promised. Regardless in which form the draft will be enacted, Thailand’s twentieth constitution could deeply transform the country’s political landscape and have lasting negative consequences due to the changes severely hobbling the powers of elected officials to govern.
Crisis Panel: Committee for Reform Strategy and National Reconciliation
Certain features proposed in the constitutional draft, such as the new electoral system or the pre-vetted Senate, have previously been discussed on ConstitutionNet. Additionally, a highly controversial article was added to the draft constitution at the last minute. Article 260 provides for the establishment of the Committee for Reform Strategy and National Reconciliation that would co-exist with the elected government. The Committee would have the power to “commit or suppress any action” in the event of a crisis or conflict in the country that cannot be contained. Committee’s non-elected membership and lack of definition on what constitutes a “chaos” or “crisis” appears to be yet another signal of how the Thai military attempts to hold onto power and limit the power of elected officials by constitutional design.
As the hunt for the main suspect in the Bangkok bomb attacks continues, Thai authorities are increasingly contradicting each other about the possible perpetrators. That’s par for the course, says Saksith Saiyasombut.
“He doesn’t really look Thai,” a woman was heard saying Tuesday, looking at the grainy CCTV footage showing the main suspect in Monday’s bomb attack at Bangkok’s popular Erawan Shrine that killed at least 20 people and injured about 120. Authorities are looking for a young man who was wearing a yellow t-shirt, dark shorts and dropped a suspicious backpack at the shrine before leaving the scene. On Wednesday, police released a composite sketch of the suspect, based on eyewitness reports, and announced a bounty of 1 million Baht ($28,000).
That about sums up what the Thai authorities can agree on so far. After the initial uncharacteristic hesitant response by Thai officials on who could be behind the unprecedented attack (and the subsequent failed bomb attack on Tuesday), the police and the military government seem to be slowly but steadily getting back to their usual “we said, they said”-thing, complete with open, unsubstantiated speculations, making the overall investigation seem less credible as it is being observed by a wider international audience.
Four days after the attack, officials are still in the dark about the possible motives and perpetrators, with the usual suspects getting a mention and wilder theories popping up. This hasn’t stopped Thai authorities from pressing forward with their own findings and opinions – regardless of any contradictions among themselves.
With the release of the sketch, reports cited an motocycle taxi driver who is believed to have given the suspect a lift away from the scene of the blast, who he described as somebody who didn’t “seem to be Thai” and spoke “an unfamiliar language” on his phone. Police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri wouldn’t confirm the description, saying that: “If the suspect disguised himself, wore a wig, put on fake nose and spoke Arabic, we wouldn’t know if he’s really [a foreigner] anyway.” Nevertheless, the arrest warrant issued a few hours later was for an unnamed “foreigner”, which is based on the sketch.
The contradictory statements started then to pile up on Thursday, starting with the National Police Chief Somyot Poompanmuang’s assessment that “at least 10 people” of a “big network” were involved in preparing it “at least one month in advance”. How he knows this, despite still not knowing who’s behind the attack, is not known.
Regardless of the amount of suspects and the ambiguous nationality and ethnicity of the main suspect, the military junta has ruled out that the attack was carried out by an international terrorism network, which kinda makes sense since Thailand is rarely targeted by any international terrorist group, except for a few instances but never against Thais (we reported). Junta spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree then suggested an “organized crime” connection, without giving any clear motive.
Meanwhile, it was reported that Thai police requested assistance from Interpol, as confirmed by deputy national police spokesman Kissana Phathancharoen first to Reuters, whereas Thai military junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha – who appeared comparatively measured in the first two days after the attack – was quoted saying in his usual manner:
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha bristled when asked if his government, which was installed after a military coup last year, was seeking outside help. “This incident happened in Thailand. It is Thailand. Why do we want other people to come in and investigate?” the former general told reporters on Wednesday.
“Thai police grapple for firm clues to Bangkok bomb suspects“, Reuters, August 19, 2015
He later went on to suggest to that police officers watch an American police procedure drama for inspiration. Whether he was being sardonic or serious is not known. That still didn’t stop his military junta deputy PM and defense minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan asking the UK and US for assistance in the investigation – but only in form of equipment, not personnel. How the Thai officials are going to use the tools without any instruction and assistance and what tools were actually requested is not known.
With the hunt ongoing and the authorities continuing to chase any clue they can find, their senior officers aren’t really sure if they’re too late, as police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri openly wondered whether the main suspect is still in the country, while Major-General Werachon Sukondhapatipak, another military junta spokesman (mostly dealing with the foreign media), is certain that he’s still in the country.
These few examples from Thursday alone show how contradictory the statements from the police and military government are, sometimes even coming from the same branch. The root cause for this problem can be regarded as a pathological phenomenon in Thai bureaucratic culture: the compulsive need to say something – no matter if it’s substantial, truthful or none of that – in order to appear knowledgeable, proactive and in command. While in many Western countries, the police would have one or two daily press briefings, many Thai senior police officers are constantly give updates whenever they’re asked. It also doesn’t help that Thai police and military usually have a tense rivalry.
The shambolic investigation in the murder case of two British tourists on Koh Tao last year garnered a torrent of international criticism and now heightened international attention is observing the ongoing investigations of the bomb attack. The Thai authorities are collectively already guilty of one thing: being incapable of delivering a clear and consistent message.
And thus, the worst case scenario could be what Thai scholar and political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak describes:
At issue will be whether any party makes a credible claim of perpetration, or the authorities make a credible apprehension of the culprit. Without either, the latest blast may well fit the pattern of previous Bangkok-based explosions that ultimately fade into Thai oblivion due to a lack of forensic means and popular regard for the law.
“Terrorist attack in Bangkok turns up heat on Thailand“, by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Nikkei Asian Review, August 19, 2015
With the Erawan Shrine already cleaned up and re-opened again within 72 hours after the blast, one can wonder if the work to find the callous attacker(s) behind Monday’s bomb attack has been thorough enough. A BBC report suggests the contrary, with reporters still finding shrapnel and ball bearings at the scene. And when correspondent Jonathan Head attempted to hand them over at the National Police headquarters down the road, he was told that it was outside the office hours…
After the deadly bomb attack in central Bangkok claimed at least 22 lives Monday evening, questions remain about who carried out the attack and why? Saksith Saiyasombut puts the questions into context.
It was at almost 7pm when a huge blast rocked the busy Ratchaprasong intersection in central Bangkok in the middle of rush hour. Moments later, a horrifying scene of carnage, injured people and bodies revealed itself in front of the Erawan Shrine, a Hindu religious sanctum popular with both Buddhist Thais and foreign tourists.
In the initial confusion over whether it was a targeted explosion or an accidental blast – slightly hampered by the language barrier since both the words for ‘bomb’ and ‘blast’ or ‘explosion’ are the same in Thai (“ระเบิด”) – the authorities quickly closed off the scene to commence their investigation. One hour after the blast, a spokesman for the national police stated that the explosion was caused by an “improvised explosive device” (IED), which was later confirmed by national police chief Somyot Poompanmuang to be a “pipe bomb”. Two more explosive devices were found in very close proximity to the scene and were defused by police bomb disposal experts.
Latest official figures as of writing report that 22 people have been killed, 123 people have been injured.
(READ MORE: Bangkok blast: Thai authorities hunt male ‘suspect’)
As no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Thai authorities themselves have been hesitant to point the blame in any direction. During a televised address late Monday night, a spokesmen for the Thai military government read out a statement expressing “deep concern” for the victims and their families, while emphasizing that it is “too early to speculate which group may have been responsible for this crime but authorities are following possible leads”.
However, at roughly the same time, the army’s Internal Security Operation Command openly speculated on possible motives for the attack (“political conflict, state official reshuffle, and international terrorism”) without providing any substantial information that supports their assessment. It also reportedly ruled out insurgents from the Deep South.
Defense Minister and deputy junta leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan told Reuters that the perpetrators “intended to destroy the economy and tourism, because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district,” while his spokesman got a bit carried away…
But Defence spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanich said later the bombing was “the work of those who have lost political interests and want to destroy the ‘happy time’ of Thai people. It’s an attempt to ruin Thailand’s tourism image and cause damage to the country’s business sector.”
“19 killed, 123 hurt as bomb blast rocks Bangkok tourist attraction“, Bangkok Post, August 17, 2015
With many details still murky at best, much speculation has arisen in the aftermath of the bomb attack. We attempt to put these claims into context and analyze the likelihood of each scenario.
Option 1: Anti-junta activists? Highly unlikely, because…
…it would do their cause more harm than good.
Ultra-nationalists and supporters of the Thai military government like to point their fingers at the red shirt supporters of the ousted government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for any disturbances and incidents that cause unrest.
Since the hostile takeover of power by the Thai military on May 22, 2014, there have been two explosions in Bangkok: one just down the road from Monday’s blast in front of the Siam Paragon mall on February 2, 2015 and a grenade blast at the Criminal Court a month later on March 7, 2015. Both incidents caused minimal damage (only two were slightly injured in the Siam Paragon incident). Another blast occurred on Koh Samui in April after a car exploded in the underground parking garage of a mall after closing time. Authorities have been quick to point the finger at anti-junta activists, but have so far failed to apprehend suspects in some cases, and make a solid connection in all cases.
Also since the coup, the military junta keeps a tight lid on any possible display of opposition and dissent, as protests have been curtailed and activists arrested, including groups unaffiliated with any political factions. Furthermore, mainstream media and internet are being heavily monitored.
While targeted grenade blasts (some of them deadly) have occurred at political rallies on both sides in the past, a bomb attack on this scale, with casualties being coldly accepted as part of the plan, would be absolutely out of character for any political protest groups and thus highly unlikely.
Option 2: Muslim separatist insurgents from Southern Thailand? Unlikely, because…
…the separatists hardly operate outside of the south. And just because foreign media has raised this issue before any Thai outlet did, doesn’t mean it has any more or less credence.
The ongoing conflict in the southernmost Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat are often overlooked and underreported in Bangkok. However, the sad reality is that the separatist insurgency has been going on for over a decade now and claimed thousands of lives on both sides, on nearly a daily basis.
However, the conflict has never spread out of the region – let alone reached the capital – as Southeast Asia security expert Zachary Abuza explains:
The conflict remains dominated by conservative Sha’afi clerics, who see themselves as the guardians of traditional Malay culture, and a bulwark against Thai colonialism and cultural influence. Thai officials are frustrated that the 100-year project to assimilate the Malays has failed, unlike every other minority group. (…)
Despite concerns that the insurgents could reach out to transnational groups, such as the Islamic State, to date they have remained inwardly focused. Thai authorities have expressed concern about the influence of the Islamic State, including after recent arrests in Malaysia, but the concerns are driven more by ignorance than reality.
“The Smoldering Thai Insurgency“, by Zachary Abuza, Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, June 29, 2015
And then there’s this:
“This does not match with incidents in southern Thailand. The type of bomb used is also not in keeping with the south,” Royal Thai Army chief and deputy defence minister General Udomdej Sitabutr said in a televised interview.
“Bangkok bombing ‘does not match’ insurgent tactics in Thai south – army“, Reuters, August 18, 2015
As mentioned above, the ICOC “ruled out insurgents from the deep South” Monday, the Nation reported.
Unless there’s a change in tactics and a claim has been made by any of the insurgent groups, the likelihood that they carried out Monday’s attack remains low at this point.
Option 3: Who else? Well…
This is probably the most theoretical territory and thus also the most dangerous as pure speculation has thrown around a lot of names, groups and factions. Many of the theories being thrown around in the vast space of the internet are incidental or anecdotal at best and should be – until any further solid confirmation pointing into any of these directions – taken with a huge grain of salt.
Nevertheless, whoever made carried out these attacks has played into the hands of the hawkish Thai military government, regardless of the intentions. It potentially delivers them the justification for harsher security measures or, even worse, a reason to somehow remain even more of an influential power stakeholder in the near distant future, thanks to political changes being undertaken since the coup.
What we can say for certain is…
…that we don’t know anything about the perpetrators yet! But – as the above is subject to change once we do know more – what can also be said for certain is that the attack, the way it has been carried with the aim of causing the most damage possible, is unprecedented for the city of Bangkok and, with possible suspects and motives being still highly elusive, is serving the very definition of terrorism: causing chaos and intimidating uncertainty in an already tense political situation.
Thailand’s military courts have issued record prison sentences – 30 years and 28 years – against suspects for allegedly defaming the country’s monarchy on Facebook. Two separate verdicts have found the accused guilty of posting content on Facebook that is deemed a violation of the country’s infamously draconian lèse majesté law, also known as Article 112 of the Criminal Code, that states “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”
The first sentence was delivered Friday morning in the Thai capital Bangkok:
On Friday morning, 7 August 2015, the Military Court of Bangkok sentenced Pongsak S., a suspect of offences under Article 112 or the lese majeste law and Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act (importing of illegal content into a computer system), to 60 years imprisonment.
The court gave 10 years prison term to each of the six lese majeste counts he was charged with. Since the suspect pleaded guilty as charged, the court, however, halved the sentence to 30 years in jail.
Pongsak used Facebook under the name “Sam Parr” to distribute messages and images defaming the monarchy, which he copied from other sources. At the press conference in January 2015, he pleaded guilty to all charges and said he did so because he was instigated by some Facebook friends. He also said that he went to anti-establishment red-shirt demonstrations.
He told Prachatai that he was tricked into meeting a decoy who had been talking to him via facebook under name ‘Numbannok Rak Seri’ (a free country boy) in the northern province of Tak and was arrested on 30 December 2014 at the bus transit in Phitsanulok Province.
“It turned out when I met the guy at the military base later that he was an officer out of uniform,” said Phongsak.
“Military court sets new record on lese majeste sentence; man gets 30 years behind bars“, Prachatai English, August 7, 2015
Hours later on the same day, another military court in the northern city of Chiang Mai sentenced a woman to prison:
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the military court of the northern province of Chiang Mai on Friday afternoon, 7 August 2015, sentenced Sasiwimol (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), a 29-year-old employee of a hotel in the province, to 56 years in jail for allegedly posting six lese majeste messages under the Facebook identity ‘Rungnapha Kampichai’.
The military court gave 8 years jail term to each of the 7 lese majeste counts of the suspect. However, since the defendant pleaded guilty as charged, the court halved the jail term to 28 years.
At the deposition hearing in June 2015, the defendant denied all allegations. However, during the plaintiff’s examination hearing today, 7 August 2015, she retracted her pretrial statements and pleaded guilty.
Prior to the ruling, Sasiwimol submitted a letter to the court, requesting the judges to reduce the jail sentence because she has never committed any crime and is a mother of two daughters aged seven and five. The military court judges dismissed the request and reasoned that the jail sentence is already light since case is severe because it is related to the revered Thai monarchy and gravely affected public sentiment of Thai people.
“Northern military court sends mother of two to 28 years in prison under lese majeste“, Prachatai English, August 7, 2015
Both cases have set an unprecedented record for long prison sentences, since the court issued the punishment per offense that was deemed not only a violation of the lèse majesté law, but also to the Computer Crimes Act. In other words, the accused were punished twice for allegedly violating two vaguely worded laws and also accumulated a long prison term because the courts counted each Facebook post as separate offense. Both defendants have pleaded guilty not only to halve their sentences (the fact that they were still unprecedentedly long is telling) but also to keep the possibility of a royal pardon open.
Lèse majesté-related complaints have sky-rocketed in the past decade (regardless of who was in power) thanks to self-proclaimed ultra-nationalist vigilantes as more verdicts have shown increasingly looser interpretations of the law, rendering a reasonable debate or even a possible amendment of the law impossible. To make matters worse, ever since Thailand’s military – which sees itself as the defender of the Thai monarchy – took power in the coup of May 22, 2014, it has transferred jurisdiction of lèse majesté cases to military courts. Unsurprisingly, the number of cases have piled up under the junta.
The Thai military government is fighting against lèse majesté suspects at multiple fronts: evidently, social media is under increased surveillance and Facebook itself reported a sharp increase of blocked content in the second half of 2014, while it also states that Thai authorities have requested information of certain Facebook users three times.
Furthermore, the junta is hunting a number activists charged with lèse majesté that have fled abroad, often resulting in diplomatic spats, and other repeated requests to countries that have granted asylum to the prosecuted suspects.
“If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency” – Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimapakorn
This is part XXXI of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.
It is no big secret that ever since Thailand’s military seized power in a hostile takeover with the coup of May 2014, the military junta would face big challenges – among them, on the diplomatic world stage. Thailand just narrowly avoided becoming a pariah state among Western countries (we reported) only because it is still a (geo-)strategically important stakeholder in Southeast Asia. But all the rather soft and symbolic sanctions still couldn’t avert Bangkok’s diplomatic pivot towards Russia and especially towards China.
We reported back in December:
(…) it did not come as a surprise when then-army chief and still-to-this-day-junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha greeted Chinese businessmen as his first guests shortly after the coup of May 22 in an effort to woo investors back to the country and help jump start Thailand’s struggling economy. That was shortly followed by a visit of Thai military commanders to China.
Other bilateral meetings between Prayuth and Chinese leaders took place during the Asia-Europe Meeting in October, where he met China’s premier Li Keqiang and a month later at the APEC Conference hosted in Beijing with president Xi Jingping. The latter would welcomePrayuth again to the Chinese capital last week, where both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and build a “medium-speed” rail network linking the countries.
“Thai junta seeks deeper ‘China pivot’, lauds Beijing’s leadership style“, Siam Voices, December 29, 2014
Since then, the Thai military government has made more advances towards Beijing by fulfilling the navy’s long-held dream of buying submarines from China worth $1bn – even though the purchase is on hold for now – while around the same time controversially deporting around 100 Uighur muslims to China.
But what’s strikes a bigger chord with the Thai generals is China’s authoritarian one-party rule in exchange for economic propensity.
So, it came to no surprise when the Thai military’s Foreign Minister General Thanasak Patimaprakorn was full of praise for China again, as expressed earlier this week at an ASEAN forum in Kuala Lumpur…
At a joint press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn made a surprise declaration while standing on a podium with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
“If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency,” he told reporters in English, much to the surprise of China’s top foreign envoy who appeared somewhat unsure how to respond. (…)
“Let’s say we are so close, we are more than friends, just say we are cousins with a long history together,” he said.
“We don’t talk diplomatic talk, we talks like personal, like family, like friend,” he added.
“Thai junta envoy admits crush on China“, AFP, August 5, 2015
Well, that got awkward pretty quickly…
Also, why the need to change gender to express your love? There’s no need to be ashamed of expressing one’s man crush. And even if the probably biggest one-sided declaration of bromance on the diplomatic stage has been so far not reciprocated, this will most likely not the last we hear of it.