Announcing: Talk at Payap University on September 27, 2011

This is an open event, anyone is invited to come and you can RSVP on the Facebook event page. Also, you have any suggestions and hints for material, links, videos etc. send me an email, tweet or post on my Facebook page.

"Challenging the Sovereign Narrative - Media Perceptions of the Thai Political Crisis and the (missing) Role of Social Media"

Speaker: Saksith Saiyasombut

When: Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 5-6pm

Place: Room 317, Pentecost Building, Mae Khao main campus, Payap University

The Kingdom of Thailand rarely pops up on the global news landscape and if so, then it is mostly for a so-called ‘soft’ story. In recent years though, political struggles, often escalating in violent protests on the streets of Bangkok, have dominated the airwaves of the international media outlets, only to disappear shortly after the protests have ended. With the Thai political crisis dragging on for several years now, reporters are struggling to properly report and explain the situation without simplifying this to just a color-coded conflict between two opposing groups. In particular, the anti-government Red Shirt protests of 2010 were a watershed moment for how Thailand and its political crisis are regarded, with many Thais objecting to the foreign media's coverage, as much as to openly vilify the international TV news networks. On the other hand, the domestic media have failed in its role to objectively explain and provide context to the political developments of recent years.

The more important issue is the rise of social media to counter a sovereign narrative of the mainstream and state media - however, Thailand has yet to see a grassroots revolution fueled by the Internet. Nevertheless, online services like Twitter and Facebook provide Thais a way to read and express alternative viewpoints and also a platform to  fill the journalistic void left by other media outlets, but are threatened by the country’s ambiguously written Computer Crimes Act and lèse majesté law.

This talk looks at the perceptions of the international and domestic media of the Thai political crisis and why this struggle has not translated into an online uprising yet and aims to examine opportunities for "filling in the blanks" left by the mainstream media.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai political blogger and journalist. He wrote for his hometown newspapers Weser Kurier and Weser Report in Bremen, Germany, before working as an editorial assistant for Asia News Network and contributing reporter at The Nation. He started blogging about Thai politics on his personal website in early 2010 and since September 2010, Saksith now writes for Siam Voices, a collaborative blog on Thai current affairs on the regional blog and news network Asian Correspondent. He is also currently a graduate student of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany.

As opposition against Thailand's lese majeste law continues, it claims another victim

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 16, 2011 Earlier this month, a 23-year old graduate from the Kasetsart University has been arrested for allegedly posting content on his blog that is deemed insulting to the monarchy - also known as lèse majesté. Prachatai and The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk (and unsurprisingly no one else) with the details:

The person who filed the charge was said to be a vice rector for students affairs, who reportedly said he was pressed to file the charge by the University Council and that the complaint was filed in a bid to protect the university's "reputation". (...)

The man made remarks on his blog that were allegedly offensive to the monarchy while he was a senior student at the university. These were apparently first spotted by fellow students, reported.

He faces charges both under the lese majeste law, which carries a maximum 15-year jail term, and the Computer Crimes Act, which has punishment of up to five years in jail.

"Student held for alleged lese majeste", The Nation, August 7, 2011

Meanwhile, Prachatai reports that he has been released on bail. This student, whose name and picture has been widely published, is another victim of Thailand's infamous Article 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as lèse majesté. In recent years, this law has been excessively abused, the number of such cases has skyrocketed from just a few cases in 2006 to almost 500 in 2010 and, in conjunction with the equally controversial 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA), thousands of websites have been shut down. On the other hand, due to the volatile political atmosphere in Thailand, it has enabled an excessive witch-hunt, as detailed here:

[Name of accused] was apparently 'witch hunted' by a Facebook group calling itself the Social Sanction (SS) group, according to his father. His name, photos, personal address and numbers were posted online, and he was heavily criticised by members of the SS group. (...)

Sawitree Suksri, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, described the SS group's method as "vicious" and "irrational" and a form of online violence that parallels the real-life violence in Thailand. She also noted in a signed article that the ongoing Social Sanction phenomenon appeared to have the support of the Thai authorities.

"THAILAND: Student blogger charged with lèse majesté", University World News, August 13, 2011

As charges for lèse majesté grow in numbers, so does the resistance against this law. We have previously reported about an open letter by a group of 100 young writers calling to amend this law and stop its excessive abuse. This group has now grown to 359 writers and they also have published a new open letter, key excerpt:

We hereby appeal to the Members of the Thai Parliament who are the representatives and law makers for the Thai people to take the lead in amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code. This is our call for courage to politicians, academicians, the media and intellectuals from all sectors of Thai society to awaken their conscience and to recognize that the suppression of freedom of speech and expression through the misuse of Article 112 by means of physical threats, pressing charges, lawsuits and intimidation by government officials in power or among members of the Thai public including the mass media, is a grave danger to the stability of our nation. This is of utmost national concern and in urgent need of reform.

A society will fail not as a result of diversity of opinions, nor lack of solidarity in political discourse, but a society will fail due to its inability to respect basic human rights, to allow opportunities for the public to voice their opinions, and to cherish and learn from the constructive exchange of different points of view. For our society to progress and prosper, it must develop a spirit of cooperation and cultivatean understanding of human rights, freedom and equality. The goal is for all Thais to live harmoniously under the constitutional monarchy rather than privilege those few who hold their view supreme, above and untouchable by common law and legal provisions or even the constitution which governs the nation.

"359 Thai Writers Manifesto", via Prachatai, July 25, 2011

The numerous cases show the problem about how this law is applied. In theory, anybody can file such a complaint at the police, who are obliged to investigate everyone of them, no matter how nonsensical they are. They can forward them to the prosecution and subsequently to the court which then has to decide on the very ambiguously worded law as well. Throw in the also very vague 2007 Computer Crimes Act (which was at one time planned to be replaced by an even worse new draft), then you are in a very (perhaps deliberately) unchartered legal territory - as the trail against Prachatai webmaster Chrianuch Premchaiporn has shown.

Many have laid their expectations on the new government to change something about this. But hopes for a quick solution to the problem were quickly dashed when the new prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that she has no intention to amend Article 112, but does not want see this law misused. Any administration even thinking publicly about reforming or changing this problem will have to face attacks by royalists who will brand them anti-monarchist, a severe accusation which is a killer argument that prevents any rational discussion about possible political and societal reforms.

Even worse, the new Minister for Communication and Technology (MICT) Captain Anudith Nakornthap of the Pheu Thai Party has gone on record declaring this:

(...) นับจากนี้ไป จะมีการกำชับให้ข้าราชการ และเจ้าหน้าที่ของกระทรวง ในทุกระดับ มีการเข้มงวดมากยิ่งขึ้น ในการกำกับดูแลปราบปรามการกระทำผิด พ.ร.บ.เกี่ยวกับคอมพิวเตอร์ และการหมิ่นสถาบันผ่านเว็บไซต์ต่างๆ โดยจะดำเนินการบังคับใช้กฎหมายอย่างเด็ดขาด

(...) from now on, the ministry's officials and staff members of every level have been urged to be more stringent in the pursuing of violations against the Computer Crimes Act and lèse majesté on websites, by enforcing the law to the fullest.

"รมว.ไอซีทีประกาศปราบเว็บหมิ่น ก่อนประเด็นลามถึงในเฟซบุ๊ก เจ้าตัวย้ำจะบังคับใช้กม.อย่างเป็นธรรม", Matichon, August 13, 2011

The new MICT minister made clear that nothing will change about the status quo, which means a continuation of the online witch-hunt, with support from a state-sponsored volunteer 'cyber-scout' network of denunciators and like-minded people who act on anticipatory obedience (see this link again for the aforementioned Social Sanction group and how students feel intimidated to speak their mind). All that in an atmosphere of when the army feels the urge to overemphasize their loyalty to the royal institution and openly threatens to crackdown on lèse majesté offenders. It sets a dangerous precedent of a black-and-white dichotomy against the Thai people, who think out of the norm.

It will be a long process until those who claim to protect the institution see that they are doing more harm than good in the long-run. One of the country's most outspoken social activist Sulak Sivaraksa was recently quoted in an foreign newspaper interview that "loyalty demands dissent. Without dissent you cannot be a free man, you see." Ironically, due to the same legal reasons as discussed here, I cannot provide a link to the source of that quote...!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Bangkok youth still pessimistic about current state of poltics

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 6, 2011 Last year, we blogged about a survey that found out that 60 per cent of the Bangkok youth did care little to nothing for politics, most of them irked and weary because of conflicts, untrustworthy politicians and generally headache-inducing complex issues. So much so that 90 per cent said that there's no way under the current circumstances they'd enter politics.

The Nation picked up on the story about the country's (a)political youth (on a much smaller scale) and has done a straw poll among a few university students. Unlike the previous survey, the opinions are more diverse this time:

"Thailand's colour-coded politics is far from over and will remain so even after the election," said Wiripone Artitraungroj, 19, from the Faculty of Science at Kasetsart University. (...)

Kasetsart University's Na-Bhattara Ongwaranon and Montree Somjai said they often discussed politics and the election among close friends, but steered away from talking with others whose political views they did not know.

"Politics is really a boring topic for youth," said Noppadon Sroything of Dhurakij Pundit University's Political Science Faculty. "But [taking part in] the election, I think, is better than street protests." (...)

Wattanapol Charoenpongteera, 21, from Srinakarinwirot University said people of his generation should pay more attention to politics and, if possible, have a role in it.

"Students believe July 3 election won't end political conflict", The Nation, June 6, 2011

When asked about a favorite who they'd give their vote to, the almost unanimous result is somehow surprising:

Many students said they liked Chuwit because of his extreme, colourful, straight and funny campaign.

"Personally, I think Chuwit campaigns colourfully while other parties are simply boring," said Wiripone.

Other political parties have simple campaigns of visiting and greeting people, but Chuwit's is interesting, said Watthanavut. "It is easy to recognise and remember Chuwit's posters while others are all the same," he said.

"Chuwit is interesting as he has a clear stance and looks sincere, not pretentious," said Boonporn.

"Students believe July 3 election won't end political conflict", The Nation, June 6, 2011

Yes, you read that right - Chuwit Kamolwisit, the outspoken and highly entertaining former massage parlor tycoon seems to be a favorite among the young Bangkokians, very likely for his straight-talking, no-holds-barred, in-your-face campaign posters and his announcement to be an opposition watchdog.

Even though these are just a few voices, they seem to draw a different, more diverse picture of opinions on the current state of affairs. Nevertheless, if the title is to be trusted, most are all realistic enough to see that elections alone cannot solve the deep political problems (with education being one of the more severe issues). But it is still no reason not to vote - especially if it's your first time!

Thai Statistic of the Day: Young People Don't Care About Politics!

Originally published on Siam Voices on September 18, 2010 Note: The following post contains satire!

Here are some numbers for you as seen in the Bangkok Post...

An opinion survey by Bangkok Poll at Bangkok University found that more than 60 per cent of young people pay little or no attention to politics.

The pollsters surveyed 1,159 people in Bangkok aged 15 to 25 years from Sept 10 to 12 asking them about politics, to mark National Youth Day on Sept 20.

Asked about their interest in politics, 30.5 per cent of the respondents said they had some interest and 7.4 per cent of them had a strong interest , Bangkok Poll reported on Thursday. But 54.0 per cent said they paid little attention to politics and 8.1 per cent said they gave it no attention at all.

"Most young people ignore politics", Bangkok Post, September 16, 2010

Well, that happens in the best democracies (*cough*) that young people have other things to worry about such as school, studies, fashion, video games, etc. But why would the Thai youth think so?

Asked about the current political outlook, 47.6 per cent said full of conflict and finding mistakes made by political rivals, 26.7 per cent said it gave them a headache, 11.5 per cent said it’s not democratic, 6.5 per cent said full of violence, 4.3 per cent saw a start of reconciliation, 1.2 per cent thought the situation has returned to normal, and 2.2 per cent said it was just a mirage.

"Most young people ignore politics", Bangkok Post, September 16, 2010

Ok, the current situation isn't really good at the moment and we haven't made much progress on reconciliation so far. But with the right people we can achieve something, right?

Asked about the attitudes of Thai politicians, 44.0 per cent of them said they thought only about their own self-interest, 16.2 per cent said politicians would do anything to hold power, 12.2 per cent said they were corrupted, 10.8 per said they good only for talking, 6.5 per cent said they had more privileges than ordinary people. Only 4.6 per cent said they were competent and suitable to be people’s representatives, 4.3 per cent thought politicians think of the country’s best interests, 0.6 per cent said they were honest, and 0.8 per cent had no opinion.

"Most young people ignore politics", Bangkok Post, September 16, 2010

Alright, our MPs are not the youngest bunch and admittedly many of them could be out of touch with the young, hip demographic. But they will soon retire and soon a new generation of politicians will sweep in. And isn't this the right opportunity to encourage young people to finally stand up and take a fresh approach in order for some changes in politics as politicians?

Asked whether they wanted to become a politician, 90.6 per cent said no, 9.4 per cent said yes.

"Most young people ignore politics", Bangkok Post, September 16, 2010


Housekeeping: Panel, Berlin & Guest-Blogging

Got some housekeeping announcements here for you: First off, the panel discussion we have hosted here in Hamburg last Monday went really well! I will write a round-up about this event (and the academic conference in Trier as well) soon, because secondly...

I'll be on the road again for the next few days, this time to a workshop at Humboldt University in Berlin about the Thai political crisis (they even have the same title "Thailand am Scheideweg" as ours!). They don't have a website for this event but you can read the programme here (PDF). I'll also give a little talk about myself and about the panel in Hamburg.

And finally, political blogger Bangkok Pundit has announced that he'll take some time off during the next few weeks. I'm happy to announce that I will be guest blogging for him during his break alongside other well-known bloggers. I want to thank Bangkok Pundit and his blogging platform AsianCorrespondent (AC) for this opportunity! Naturally, there'll be some slight chances. During the time of my guest blogging, most articles will be published on AC first and then on this blog one or two days later. Certain topics such as academia and general housekeeping will stay here.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter (@Saksith) for all the latest posts (and rants).

Student Leaders Summoned to CRES

Students in front of 11th Infantry Regiment after being summoned (picture from UDD on Facebook)

On Saturday I was alerted to a tweet by a former colleague of mine and at the same time to an article by New Manadala, saying that...

(...) นายอนุธีร์ เดชเทวพร เลขาธิการสหพันธ์นิสิตนักศึกษาแห่งประเทศไทย (สนนท.) และเพื่อนนักศึกษา ได้รับหมายเรียกจากศูนย์อำนวยการแก้ไขสถานการณ์ฉุกเฉิน (ศอฉ.) ให้ไปรายงานตัวที่กรมทหารราบที่ 11 รักษาพระองค์ (ราบ 11) ในวันอาิทิตย์ที่ 2 พฤษภาคม เวลา 10.00 น.
ทั้งนี้ ในเว็บไซต์เฟซบุ๊ค (...) ได้มีการเชิญชวนให้เดินทางไปให้กำลังใจเพื่อนนักศึกษา (...) เนื่องจากเกรงว่าอาจสุ่มเสี่ยงต่อการใช้อำนาจไม่เป็นธรรม หากสังคมมิได้จับตามอง เพราะตามพระราชกำหนดการบริหารราชการในสถานการณ์ฉุกเฉินได้ให้อำนาจเต็มที่แก่เจ้าหน้าที่ทหาร

(...) Mr. Anuthee Dejthewaporn, Secretary-General of the Students Federation of Thailand (SFT), and two other students have been summoned to the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) at 11th Infrantry Regiment on Sunday, May 2 at 10.00h.

On Facebook there were calls and posts urging people to go to the 11th Inf. Reg. to show their support for the students. (...) [They are] worried about a potential misuse of power that the people might miss, because the CRES is giving full powers to the military.

"ศอฉ. เรียก เลขาฯ สนนท. รายงานตัว 10 โมงเช้า วันนี้ (2 พ.ค.)", Prachatai, May 2, 2010

The summons were hand-delivered by a group of 6 policemen and also "They also took her photo and some photos of her apartment." Prachatai then reports today that...

The students were met by Lt Col Wiboon Sricharoensukying, Deputy Commander of the 11th Infantry Battalion. They were denied the right to bring in their lawyers to hear the interrogation, and were told not to worry as it was just for talks with police and there was no need for lawyers.

Over 50 people gathered in front of the 11th Infantry HQ to give moral support to the three students.

When they came out at about 4 pm, the students were met with over 20 supporters remaining.

"Students not allowed lawyers when interrogated by CRES", Prachatai, May 3, 2010

The question is what have they actually done to be summoned and interrogated by the CRES?

First there was (supposed to be) a statement by the SFT from March 16, 2010, in which they showed their sympathy with the red shirt protesters, so far I have not found it on a neutral platform (the SFT doesn't seem to have an own website), just on the UDD's Facebook page, but it can also be read here.

Secondly, this incident might also have caught the attention by some.

กลุ่มสมาพันธ์นิสิตนักศึกษาแห่งประเทศไทย (สนนท.) และกลุ่ม "ประชาธิปไตยก้าวหน้า" ได้จำลองเหตุการณ์วันที่ 10 เม.ย.ที่ทหารใช้ปืนยิงประชาชน บริเวณหน้าห้างสรรพสินค้าสยามพารากอน เพื่อให้รัฐบาลยุติการฆ่าประชาชน หรือยุติการใช้ความรุนแรงทุกรูปแบบ ที่อาจจะเกิดขึ้นซ้ำสอง พร้อมกันนี้ยังได้เรียกร้องให้รัฐบาลยกเลิกการประกาศใช้พ.ร.ก.ฉุกเฉิน และศอฉ.โดยทันที

The Student Federation of Thailand (SFT) and the Group for Democracy Progress have reenacted the violent clashes of April 10, where soldiers have fired on citizens, at the Siam Paragon Department Store, calling the government to stop killing or using any kind of force against the people in a possible second escalation of violence. They have also called the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation to dissolve the state of emergency immediately.

"สนนท.จำลองเหตุการณ์ 10 เม.ย. ร้องรัฐยุติการใช้ความรุนแรง", Thai Rath, April 18, 2010 [Note: The article is behind a paywall]

Also, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a professor at the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Thammasat University, has written in a Thai forum what (might) has happen with the students at the CRES. He also has written his account in English in the comments at New Mandala.

in the end, there’re 3 students summonded yesterday, the Students Federation’s secretary, a female 4th year student of Faculty of Letters, Chula and a male student at a vocational school. (...) They entered (...) around 11 am and came out only about 4-5 p.m. The reason of so many hours was there were so many people summoned including motorcycle riders, hire caravan operators, etc.

While there are certain ‘rationale’ for summoning the Students Federation secretary, the other two that were summoned are definitely the result of very bad government intelligence! The female student was accused of belonging to the Red Siam group, she’s NEVER was. (In fact, hardly anyone who’s still in the country can belong to this group!). The other male student was accused of being leader of a group called ‘Seri Panyachon’ (Free Intellectuals), he isn’t either!

There were 3 ’rounds’ of interview that everyone summoned had to pass through, including these three students. Altogether all the interviews lasted about one-and a half to two hours. The first round was the police interview. It’s the same kind of interrogation anyone would face if going to or is called to any police station. There were questions and answered, typed into official interrogation form (as in any police station). Then there was a kind of ‘talk’, in which military intelligence personals would ‘chat’ about the political situation, the views of those summoned. The atmosphere this round was ‘informal’ and a bit ‘relaxed’. There’s no typing into official form, but there appeared to be tape recording, and one of the two officers present, would take some notes. Finally, there was a kind of ‘psychological advice’ to those summoned. The person conducted this round of interview appeared to be a ‘psychologist’ (female นักจิตวิทยา). She would ‘lecture’ those summoned on ‘correct’ political, social attitudes, etc.

Comment by Somsak Jeamteerasakul on "Student leaders summoned" at New Mandala, May 3, 2010

This is both very dubious and very concerning. While I do get the idea to interrogate motorbikers, caravan hirers and any other person that might be linked to the logistics of the red shirt protests, I don't get why they would interrogate students other than to intimidate them for expressing some opinions that the CRES probably does not agree on. And what would that psychologist lady 'lecture' the interrogated? Behave, do as we say or you might have to come back again...?

The Student Federation of Thailand played an important historical role of political involvement several times in the past. Be sure to read this blog post by Bangkok Pundit from last year.

h/t to @isAMare