- Sawit Keawwan, the leader of the workers’ union of Thai State Railway
- Sriwichai Maingam, the leader of Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand’s workers’ union
- Pichit Chaimongkol, former executive committee member of New Politics Party
- Anirut Kaewsanit, a farmer activist
- Amnaj Palamee, Deputy Secretary General of the State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Federation
- Pairoj Polpetch, a committee member of the Law Reform Commission of Thailand
- Saree Ongsomwang, Secretary General of the Foundation for Consumers
For all its faults, Wikipedia has been a godsend to the Thai education system. Think of the thousands and thousands of term papers and theses that have benefitted from a judicious cut-and-paste job, sometimes on a massive scale, sometimes even with proper attribution.
In this way, Wikipedia has helped to secure a ready supply of suitably trained academics to serve the plagiarism-friendly educational institutions of the country.
But there are fears that Thai scholarship may be deprived of this invaluable resource and that the internet encyclopaedia may soon be blocked because of repeated blatant violations of the lèse majesté law. This threat comes from the apparent willingness of the judiciary to see Article 112 as applying to all monarchs, dead or alive.
Last year the Supreme Court ruled that a glancing reference to a lack of personal freedom in the reign of King Rama IV (when slavery still existed) constituted ‘defaming, insulting or expressing ill will towards the king, queen, heir apparent or regent’, i.e. a crime with 3 to 15 as the statutory penalty. And it didn’t matter that King Rama IV died in 1868, because by extension, this scurrilous comment negatively affected the current monarch.
Those who fondly conjectured that this was a transient fit of the vapours on the bench have had their hopes dashed by the latest prosecution of serial lèse majesté offender Sulak Srivaraksa for wondering aloud if the boy’s own heroics of King Naresuan (1555-1605) as narrated in hyperbolic school textbooks were completely factual.
So, with the help of an eager Thai student who reads Prachatai to improve his English, I have taken it upon myself to ‘clean up’ the pages of Wikipedia so that Thai students can continue learning in their own distinctive way. And we’re going to start with King Ekkathat.
Eager Thai student: Ah, the last King of Ayutthaya who braved personal danger to valiantly rouse his subjects to the defence of the capital, despite his, er, …
HG: Yes, I don’t think it would be very nice to specify exactly what he was supposed to have suffered from. Shall we say ‘medical condition’?
OK, that’s, er, very subtle.
And not defamatory. Everyone has a medical condition, after all. But, valiant rousings notwithstanding, it was under his watch that Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese. But perhaps the biggest difficulty is with the way he became King.
He wasn’t just crowned?
Well, after he snitched to his father, who was King, that his elder brother was having it off with one of the royal concubines, the King had his brother bludgeoned to death, removing one obstacle on his route to the throne. There might be a few lèse majestés to get rid of there, the telling tales, the hanky-panky and the bludgeoning.
Erm, perhaps not. The elder brother was Front Palace so certainly he may have been expected to become King but there was no ‘heir apparent’ as such in those days.
Ah, ‘heir presumptive’, good one. So he’s not covered, so no problem. Then the King skipped Ekkathat and made his younger brother heir. Royal prerogative. Nothing wrong with that.
So how did Ekkathat become King and not his brother?
When their father died, the brother did become King. But Ekkathat fomented a civil war, executed his half-brothers and forced his brother to abdicate.
Yes, well, a bit of sibling rivalry is quite normal. It’s not really defamatory, is it? Nowhere near as dangerous as claiming some Thais used to be slaves.
So you think we can get away with that? OK, then there’s this story that he sneaked out of Ayutthaya under the Burmese siege, leaving the nobility to surrender and that was Ayutthaya’s lot.
Ah, yes, but that’s just what some foreigner said. Foreigners are known to be incapable of understanding Thailand, so the story’s obviously not trustworthy.
So the foreigner may be guilty of posthumous lèse majesté but if Wikipedia couches this in the right way, I think we’re home and dry.
Except for his name.
His name? Why?
Well the ‘ekka-’ means ‘one’ or ‘single’.
Yes? And the ‘-that’?
That’s the root for things to do with vision.
Bugger. This is not going to be easy. Because it’s not just Thai kings we have to deal with, you know. The law doesn’t say ‘the Thai King’, just ‘King’. So we’ll have to do Richard the Third who was just exhumed from a car park.
The nasty one in Shakespeare?
Afraid so. Then Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Caligula.
A Roman Emperor. Off his rocker by all accounts. Even had his horse made Consul.
Oh, that’s just like …
Comments like that are not at all helpful.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).
After the paranoid Thai military pressured students in northern Thailand to cancel a discussion during lunch session, students responded with distributing anti-junta leaflets in university’s restrooms.
Over 30 military officers came to Chiang Mai University on Tuesday afternoon to monitor an activity ‘Eating and Debating About Student Activities Under the Martial Law’, an event organized by students from Chiang Mai University of the northern province of Chiang Mai.
The activity which was supposed to take place at noon was eventually cancelled due to the pressure amounted from the military presence in the campus.
After the event was cancelled students reportedly distributed anti-junta fliers in the Student Association building’s restrooms. The messages of the fliers read, “No Coup”, “Stop intimidating students”, and “Dictator get out”.
Plain fliers with a message read "Dictator Get Out" in restroom of Student Association's Building of Chiang Mai University
According to the organizers of the event, the activity was meant to allow students space discuss and exchange ideas casually. However, a lot of military officer and police in and out of uniforms were seen in campus before the event was supposed to be held.
The cancelled event coincided with an activity to decorate Student Association’s Building of Chiang Mai University with the national and the King’s flags, which was allegedly planned by the university administrators to distract students from joining the anti-junta event.
In Bangkok at around 5pm, police in plain cloths and military officers also came to Srinakarin Wirot University in central Bangkok to find students who distributed anti-junta leaflets earlier.
On Tuesday morning, students from ‘Graft Liberty for Democracy’, a student activist group based in Srinakarin Wirot University in central Bangkok,distributed fliers to urge the junta to put an end to the imposition of the martial law and stop intimidating students.
According to Matichon, one member of the group stated that six months after the coup staged by the National Council for Peace and Order on 22 May, it is proven that the martial law does not solve the political problem in society which people have various different ideas. Therefore, the junta should reconsider this and remove the martial law as soon as possible.
Police (in plain cloths) and military officers at Srinakarin Wirot University in central Bangkok on 25 November evening (courtesy of Matichon)
(New York, November 25, 2014) – Thailand’s military government is severely repressing fundamental rights and freedoms six months after its May 22, 2014 coup, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has shown no genuine signs of restoring democratic civilian rule.
“Respect for fundamental freedoms and democracy in Thailand under military rule has fallen into an apparently bottomless pit,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Six months after the coup, criticism is systematically prosecuted, political activity is banned, media is censored, and dissidents are tried in military courts.”
Protesters who express disagreement with the junta—such as by showing the three-finger salute used in “The Hunger Games” movies as an act of defiance, putting duct tape or a hand over their mouths in public or in photos posted on Facebook—face a possible two-year prison term. Coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, now prime minister and NCPO chairman, announced on November 17 that criticizing or obstructing him, the government, or the NCPO was unacceptable. He also undermined his claims about a road map to return to civilian democratic rule through free and credible elections, saying on November 21: “Don’t ask me to give you democracy and elections. This is not the right time.” Prayuth then added that the enforcement of martial law would continue “as long as necessary.”
The junta’s intolerance was exemplified on November 19 in northeastern Khon Kaen province when military authorities arrested five university students for standing up during a speech by Prayuth and revealing t-shirts emblazoned with “Don’t Want a Coup” in Thai. They then raised their hands to give the three-fingered salute, a symbol of resistance in Thailand since the coup. Shortly after the students were taken away to a nearby military camp, Prayuth announced, “Anyone else want to protest?” During interrogations, military authorities threatened the students with a military court trial for violating martial law and expulsion from their state-run university. However, after a public outcry, the five students were released without charge on November 20.
Two days later, another student was arrested for showing the three-finger salute at a Bangkok cinema. She was detained and interrogated at the Bangkok Army Club for several hours before being released without charge. In Chiang Mai, Loei, and other provinces, soldiers and police have summoned activists and students who posted self-portraits on Facebook holding up a three-finger salute and ordered them to sign agreements to cease all “anti-coup activities.”
The 1st Police Region commissioner, Maj. Gen. Amnuay Nimmano, told the media that people are not allowed to oppose the sovereign authority of the NCPO.
Suppression of Free Expression and Public Assembly
As part of its crackdown and attempt to maintain its hold on power, the junta has repeatedly vowed to prosecute critics of the monarchy, in violation of the right to freedom of speech, Human Rights Watch said. Thai authorities have frequently used the offense of lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) under article 112 of the penal code to intimidate, arrest, and prosecute people accused of criticizing the king and members of the royal family. At least 14 new lese majeste cases are pending in the Bangkok military court and in criminal courts around Thailand. On November 18, the Bangkok military court sentenced online radio host Kathawut Bunpitak to five years in prison for insulting the king. On November 24, the Bangkok military court jailed website editor, known by his penname as Somsak Pakdeedech, four years and six months for publishing an article that Thai authorities deemed to defame the monarchy. Under martial law, a military court verdict is final and cannot be appealed. The Bangkok criminal court continues to deny bail applications for Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong, who were arrested on August 14 and 15 respectively for their participation in “The Wolf Bride”—a play considered by the military authorities to be insulting to the monarchy.
On November 12, national police chief Pol. Gen. Somyot Poompanmuang announced a ban on the book “A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century,” written by former Reuters journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. The police said the book insulted and fomented hatred of members of the royal family. Using powers under the 2007 Printing Act, the police ordered the seizure and destruction of copies of the book. Violators of the ban are liable to a prison term of up to three years.
Since the coup, the NCPO has enforced a broad ban on discussion about political issues, including topics related to democracy, freedom, and human rights, Human Rights Watch said. On November 21, soldiers entered Burapha University in the eastern province of Chonburi and forced the university to cancel a “Rights and Freedom of the People” seminar organized by students activists. On November 22, Chulalongkorn University canceled a seminar on the topic “Desirable Parliamentary System for Democratic System” that was hosted by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies because the organizers had not received prior permission to hold the seminar from the NCPO.
The junta has also tightened restrictions on media. On November 13, Lt. Gen. Suchai Pongput, the NCPO-appointed head of a special committee to monitor media, said that reporting needed to be controlled to ensure reconciliation in society: “We do not limit media freedom but freedom must be within limits.” The military pressured Thai PBS TV to remove Nattaya Wawweerakhup from the talk show “Voices of the People That Must Be Heard Before the Reform” after she allowed participants on a November 8 program to criticize the coup and raise concerns about repression under military rule.
The NCPO’s suppression of free expression and public assembly makes the government’s self-proclaimed “reform” process into a sham that lacks broad-based participation and strictly follows the junta’s guidelines, Human Rights Watch said. Public forums on issues such as land reform, forest conservation, energy policy, and tax policy have been canceled by the military citing concerns that the discussions could fuel social divisions. Any gathering of more than five people can be prohibited under martial law.
The NCPO has also targeted activists who disagree with the NCPO’s reform process. For example, local military authorities summoned 16 activists in northeastern Thailand to report to them after 12 human rights and civil society organizations issued a statement on November 3 that they would not participate in the reform process initiated by the NCPO, whose legitimacy and authority they questioned. Some of those summoned reported as ordered and were released following questioning and after promising not to engage in any further political activities. Some were compelled to publicly recant their views and issue a statement to that effect on Facebook.
On November 9, the military arrested and briefly detained Professor Prapart Pintobtang, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, and three activists after they attempted to organize a march against the NCPO’s forestry policy, which Prapart and colleagues believe could lead to forced evictions of many poor villagers across Thailand.
“Instead of a path toward the return of democracy, the junta is tightening its grip on free speech and any public criticism,” Adams said. “Simply offering an opinion on politics can land a person in military court and prison. The junta needs to reverse course and revoke martial law, end rights abuses, and take concrete steps towards democratic elections if it wants to persuade the international community it’s not a dictatorship.”
Nitipong Samrankong (left) and two others flash the anti-coup salute at Thapae Gate, Chiang Mai on Thursday
November 20: A student activist gave three-fingered salute and showed a placard read "Prayut is President Snow" at Siam Paragon department store.
A student activist give three-fingered salute at Paragon Cineplex