Conspiracy

Thai junta's lawmakers see 'nothing wrong' with hiring family members

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 2, 2015 Dozens of Thailand's lawmakers have employed their family members with state money and see nothing wrong with that, while they claim to eradicate exactly that kind of behavior out of Thai politics.

The Thai military junta pledged to do everything better and cleaner than their politician counterparts when they executed their hostile takeover of powers in a coup last year. The mindset of them and their allies is that Thai politics is so tainted with corruption it is incapable of redeeming itself, hence the indefinite suspension of electoral democracy and an almost crusade-like campaign to "eradicate" corruption from Thai politics. In order to achieve this, the junta has created fully appointed government bodies that have been busy "reforming" the country and also claim to adhere to a very high ethical standard.

And then this happens:

report published by the investigative newsite Isra News revealed that 57 lawmakers in the 220-member National Legislative Assembly (NLA) have hired their own spouses, siblings, children, and cousins as staff.

Salaries for the aides range from 15,000 - 24,000 baht per month. The positions awarded to relatives include legislative specialists, who must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, experts, who need at least three years of relevant work experience, and assistants, who must be at least 18 years old.

"Thai Government Defends Hiring Relatives", Khaosod English, February 28, 2015

For example, Nipon Narapitakkul has appointed his wife, daughter and son to help with his work while Adm Taratorn Kajitsuwan appointed his wife and daughter.

As the regulation states that one person can take only one position at a time, Adm Taratorn appointed his wife three times to different positions, with the latest one as personal specialist, effective on Jan 1, 2015.

"57 lawmakers name kin as aides", Bangkok Post, February 27, 2015

This is rather embarrassing for these people since they are supposed to be much, much better than your regular (elected) politicians. In fact, it is the same political camp - though a different government body (the Constitutional Drafting Committee) - that has recently floated the proposal to have an "indirectly elected" Senate that is essentially nothing but a fully appointed one, as we have deconstructed last week.

It is also the same political camp that have been vocally against the constitutional amendments by the government of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (ironically the younger sister of former Premier Thaksin) that would have not only made the Senate a fully elected one, but also done away with the one term-limits and (surprise!) direct relatives of politicians to run for office - a regulation previously set by the 2007 Constitution after the previous military coup of 2006! The opponents were that vocal, so much so that they dragged the case to the Constitutional Court and won.

So, how are the current military government and its lawmakers reacting? Like nothing has happened apparently:

National Legislative Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said the regulations did not prohibit NLA members from appointing their spouses and children as their helpers, and thus making them eligible for salaries from the state.

When asked whether the practice was appropriate, Pornpetch said the NLA simply wanted to have helpers whom they could trust and the practice has been done earlier.

"President says NLA members can hire spouses, children as helpers", The Nation, February 27, 2015

Today [Saturday] a member of the ruling military junta also came out to defend the practice.

"I share the same view as Mr. Pornpetch. They didn't break any laws," said army chief and junta member Gen. Udomdet Sitabutr. "Your relatives have knowledge and expertise, and be qualified for the jobs. This is personal matter, and it is in accordance with the regulations about what is prohibited and what is not prohibited."

"Thai Government Defends Hiring Relatives", Khaosod English, February 28, 2015

And of course, the junta leader and Prime Minister also chimed in on this as well, saying that

พล.อ.ประยุทธ์ จันทร์โอชา นายกรัฐมนตรี (...) ว่า (...) อย่าไปพันกันกับเรื่องสภาผัว-สภาเมีย เพราะมันคนละสมัย ครั้งนั้นก็บอกว่ากฎหมายไม่ได้ห้าม ครั้งนี้ก็เหมือนกัน (...)

Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha (...) said that (...) this shouldn't be confused for the house-wife Senate [as mentioned above] because that was at a different time and back then it wasn't illegal either, as it is this time (...).

มีเหตุผลความจำเป็นหรือไม่ หรืออาจจะเขียนกฎหมายในรัฐธรรมนูญหรือระเบียบเพื่อระบุว่ากลไกเหล่านี้จะต้องไม่มีครอบครัวซึ่งจะเขียนได้หรือไม่ตนก็ไม่ทราบ (...) เพราะทุกคนก็ต้องการประชาธิปไตยอีกทั้งเป็นเรื่องส่วนบุคคลด้วย เรื่องนี้คงต้องพูดด้วยกฎหมาย แต่ถ้าถามตนว่าถูกหรือไม่ ตนไม่ขอตอบ

"Whether or not it is necessary to write in the constitution or into law to specify that there can be no family members [being employed] I don't know, (...) because everybody needs democracy, but it is also a personal matter. This matter has to be addressed by law but if you ask me if it's right or wrong, I prefer not to answer.

"นายกฯยันสนช.ตั้งลูก เมีย ญาติเป็นที่ปรึกษาได้ ไม่ผิดกม.", Krungthep Turakij, March 1, 2015

The problem in this obvious case of nepotism is not so much whether or not it is illegal (it isn't, but then again it's the junta currently making up their own new rules), but rather that it is highly unethical, especially because this government and its fully-appointed bodies claims to adhere itself to a much higher ethical standard.

Thai junta's constitution drafters propose 'indirectly elected' Senate

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 27, 2015 The Constitutional Drafting Committee are continuing to re-write the political rule book for a post-coup Thailand. But, like with all the military junta's government bodies, the claim to "reform" and bring "true democracy" is questionable, as the most recent proposals for an unelected sorry, "indirectly elected" Senate shows.

One of the key elements of Thailand's military government is the Constitutional Draft Committee (CDC), which is tasked to, well, write a new constitution that lays the legal groundwork for a new elected government (when we actually get there is another matter), the first one since the military coup last May that has temporarily indefinitely suspended electoral democracy. However, just like all other government bodies of the Thai junta - such as the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the rubber-stamping ersatz-parliament, and the National Reform Council (NRC), a rather exclusive group suggesting wide-ranging reforms - the CDC is fully-appointed and of questionable political bias.

Since its nomination in November, the 36-member strong committee has 120 days to accomplish the herculean task to not only write a new charter, but also to have one that (appears to at least) curtail what they call "parliamentarian dictatorship", which they and their allies accuse the past successfully elected governments associated to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of, including the last one of his sister Yingluck Shinawatra before it got toppled by the military that is running the country now.

Among the many changes the CDC is currently proposing is the make-up of the Senate, the Upper House next to the House of Representatives. In pre-2014 coup Thailand (and thus post-2006 coup), the 150-member Senate was half-elected and half-appointed. But now, the CDC is suggesting this model instead:

Thailand's new 200-member Senate (...) will be chosen from pools of candidates, including former premiers, ex-military leaders and representatives of different professions, another committee spokesman, Lertrat Ratanavanich, said Wednesday. They can only serve one six-year term.

"Thai constitution drafters say Senate to be unelected", Associated Press, February 26, 2015

This doesn't sound as straightforward as the previous system, so how will they be exactly chosen?

The Senate will consist of 200 members, half of whom will be chosen by the council of "experts," which Bowornsak described as "a diverse group of individuals with expertise and morality about politics, national administration, the judicial system, society, ethnology, and folk wisdom."

It remains unclear how the council of experts will be chosen.

The other Senators - also appointed - will be chosen from a pool of former high-level politicians and bureaucrats such as prime ministers, military commanders, parliament speakers, judicial leaders, and representatives from other civic organizations.

"Junta's Charter Drafter Clarifies 'Unelected' Senate", Khaosod English, February 26, 2015

In case you're wondering how this "pool" of candidates is being set up, here's the complete list:

Senators will be selected from among five categories of people: former prime ministers, former Supreme Court presidents and former parliament presidents; former high-ranking state officials such as military leaders and permanent secreta­ries; heads of legally registered professional organisations; people's organisations such as labour unions, agricultural co-operatives and academics; and other groups such as lawyers, environmental activists, poverty networks and healthcare experts.

Senators from the first four groups will be selected from among themselves, while those from the fifth will be nominated by a screening committee and selected by the National People's Assembly and executives and members of local administrative bodies.

"CDC agrees to indirect Senate pick", Bangkok Post, February 26, 2015

So basically a bunch of yet-to-be-defined committees supposedly representing a broad spectrum of the population would be tasked to choose the candidates for the Senate, making it practically fully appointed.

However, the chairman of the CDC, Bowornsak Uwanno (pictured above), does not agree with this notion:

"Certain newspapers and TV channels have identified the new Senate as unelected," CDC chairman Bowornsak Uwanno said at a press conference today. "It's not lovely. It's an inaccurate presentation of news.” (...)

However, the CDC chairman stressed today that elected members of local administrative organizations will be included in the process of selecting senators, because they will be responsible from choosing 100 senators from a list of 200 candidates approved by the panel of "experts."

"Therefore, accusations that the new Senate is unelected are false," Bowornsak said.

He also told reporters that some foreign countries have similar parliamentary models, citing France, though he failed to point out that French senators are indirectly elected by a "super-electorate" of elected local and regional officials, whose options are not screened by any unelected panel of professionals.

"Junta's Charter Drafter Clarifies 'Unelected' Senate", Khaosod English, February 26, 2015

OK, so he is saying that it is still a democratic process because the people are voting the local officials, who then, alongside other officials, are going to pick 100 senators pre-selected from a yet-to-be-defined-but-very-likely-appointed "expert" vetting panel, which still leaves the other 100 senators to be chosen in a yet-to-be-defined-but-also-very-likely-appointed fashion.

And how large is that percentage of elected local officials who would be picking the senators? It doesn't matter, because the military junta has suspended local elections anyways and replaced outgoing officials with - guess what? - appointed ones!

To say that CDC chairman Bowornsak's argument that the Senate wouldn't be unelected is shaky at best and at worst rather disingenuous, which makes the description of an "indirectly elected" upper House one hell of a political euphemism.

There's a certain irony here when you compare this to the efforts during the Yingluck administration to amend the constitution to make the Senate fully-elected again. While the underlying motivations could still be questioned, the principle of a fully-elected Senate was enough of a reason for the Constitutional Court, in what many observers say a politically charged verdict, to outlaw these proposed amendments. Even worse, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) - which has recently impeached the already toppled former PM Yingluck - was going after most of the lawmakers involved and is thinking about doing it again.

And now (arguably) the same similarly politically-aligned camp that was against the previous amendments and is now running the country (one striking example is Rosana Tositrakul, back then an appointed senator who petitioned the Constitutional Court and now, surprise, a member of the National Reform Council), is now floating the proposal for a Senate that really isn't elected at all.

Thailand’s new cyber laws – Part 5: Admin error

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 26, 2015

In the last part of our Siam Voices series examining the new cyber laws, we chronicle the criticism against and the defense for the controversial bills - and what’s behind the military junta’s motivation to push these into law.

In the past two weeks we have analyzed the cyber law bills for its potential impact on policies, censorship and also business. More often than not we found that the flaws outweigh the benefits and, if signed into law without large-scale amendments will have very serious implications of the civil liberties, free speech, personal privacy and even e-commerce of every Thai internet user - except for those in charge of the law.

So it is no wonder why there has been a significant amount of criticism against the cyber bills. Here’s just a small selection:

"Proposed cyber-security legislation in Thailand represents a clear and present danger to media freedoms," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "If Prime Minister Prayuth is sincere about returning the country to democracy, he should see that Parliament scraps this bill, which is reminiscent of a police state, and instead enact laws that uphold online freedoms."

Cyber security bill threatens media freedom in Thailand”,  Committee to Protect Journalists, January 20, 2015

"The consumers will feel that they are being watched when they go online,” said Arthit Suriyawongkul, an expert on cyber and computer law from the Thai Netizen Network. (…)

“They'll feel unsure about sharing their private information fearing that officials could abuse their privacy,” Mr Arthit said. “If consumers are not confident then online businesses will suffer."

"Fears over Thailand's online freedom, as junta drives towards digital economy”, Channel NewsAsia, January 29, 2015

Six civil organizations [Thai Netizen NetworkFTA WatchFoundation for Community Education Media (FCEM)Green World FoundationPeople’s Media Development Institute, and Thailand Association for the Blind (TAB)] denounced the eight Digital Economy bills recently approved by the junta, saying they are national security bills in disguise and that the bill will pave the way for a state monopoly of the telecommunication business.

"Thai junta’s Digital Economy bills are national security bills in disguise: rights groups”, Prachatai English, January 14, 2015

Also, almost 22,000 people have signed an online-petition against the bills, calling for them to be stopped.

At the moment the right cyber bills are in the military junta’s all-appointed ersatz-parliament, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) - dominated by active and former military officers - and are awaiting deliberation. It is not expected that the rubber-stamping body will be making any fundamental changes to the drafts.

Nevertheless, the military government’s response to the criticism is - like with any other criticism out there - aggravated and irritated. Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha responded in his usual style:

“We will develop software for goods and services. If there is private [online] content, no one would mess with it. But if [some people] commit crimes [such as lèse majesté], we have to investigate the matter. The accusation that the government is not taking care of Article 112 [of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté law] is because those lèse majesté websites operate from overseas.

"Junta leader admits controversial digital economy bills target lèse majesté”, Prachatai English, January 22, 2015

And when pressed by another reporter…

"Today, have I ever restricted anyone's rights? Have I ever done that?" asked Gen. Prayuth, who imposed martial law after leading a military coup on 22 May 2014, and has banned any political protests or public criticism of his regime.

The reporter pressed Gen. Prayuth to justify the sweeping nature of the bill, prompting Gen. Prayuth to lose his temper and shout, "I don't have to answer why! I will pass it. You have a problem with that? Otherwise, why the hell am I the Prime Minister? Why am I the Prime Minister?"

Gen. Prayuth then walked away from the reporters and said angrily, "I'm in a very bad mood."

"Thai Junta Leader Deflects Concern Over Mass Surveillance Bill”, Khaosod English, January 21, 2015

This incident at a small activist symposium shows how much the military government is trying to claim its narrative over the bills:

Also present at the Bangkok symposium was an Army Lieutenant who arrived uninvited with three other soldiers in an armoured Humvee and "asked" to be allowed to defend the draft bills. (…)

Army Lieutenant Kittiphob Tiensiriwong (…) urged the 35-strong crowd to accept the bills, saying that the NLA had good intentions but acknowledging that the bills must have more positive than negative aspects.

When asked to explain, Kittiphob, who did not remove his footwear like the other participants, said there were times when speedy access to the Internet was needed.

He said the bills aimed "to control those who think unlike others - those who have their own mind and are not considering the thinking of the collective."

"Calls to hold cyber bills until democracy is restored”, The Nation, February 2, 2015

While this should come as no surprise to anyone, that right there is actual main motivation of the military junta for the cyber law bills and for the way it was written! Ever since the military coup in last May, one of the key elements of its tight grip is the massive monitoring of the media, including online, to curtail any signs of criticism and dissent.

Even without the cyber laws and thanks to the still ongoing martial law, the military junta has already taken steps for wide-spread online surveillance as we have previously reported, as well as ordering Thai internet service providers to preemptively block websites. Since then, there have been further developments that are in line with the authorities' efforts to scrutinize online traffic: the development of software to intercept secured SSL-connections, mandatory sim-card registrations (in a country that predominantly uses their phones with pre-paid subscriptions) as well as for free wifi and the reported creation of a "cyber warfare" unit by the Thai military.

The desire by Thai authorities to control the flow of information online is not new and was evident in past governments (see hereherehere and here), but under the authoritarian rule of the military junta, it can operate with no checks and balances - and thus also legalize its unprecedented powers to monitor, spy, filter, censor and collect anything online.

The main purpose of an army is to protect the country from external threats, but history has shown that the Thai army has mainly acted against the Thai people. Now with the new online surveillance measures and the cyber law bills, the Thai military and the junta is expanding its fields of operations (or rather battlespace) to the cyberspace - and thus not against an external force, but again against every Thai internet user.

THAILAND'S NEW CYBER LAWS: Part 1: Introduction - Part 2: Changes to Computer Crime Act - Part 3: Far-reaching and all-encompassing cyber security - Part 4: Bad for business, too! - Part 5: Admin error

Thai court jails theater activists for lese majeste

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 25, 2015 Thailand's courts are continuing to jail people under the lèse majesté law, as two young students have been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for allegedly insulting the monarchy in a theater play. The conviction shows yet again the draconian law is still thriving and even more so under the current military junta.

Dozens of students outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok began to sing when Patiwat "Bank" Saraiyaem (23 years old) and Porntip "Golf" Mankong (26) were taken out of the building (see video below) in shackles and back into their prisons after the judges handed down their sentences: five years in prison, reduced to two and a half. Both students were found guilty of allegedly violating the lèse majesté law by seemingly insulting the monarchy with a theater production.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TH0X9mPMjW0?rel=0]

The draconian lèse majesté law, Article 112 of the Criminal Code, states that it is a criminal offense to “defame, insult or threaten” the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent. If convicted, the accused can face up to 15 years in prison. The law also prohibits media and anyone else from citing or quoting the details of the offense, as this also constitutes a violation of the law itself.

Use (or rather abuse) of the law has been constantly on the rise for most of the past decade, but has seen a sharp increase since the military coup last May. One of the first orders by the military junta was to transfer jurisdiction of such cases to a military court, as martial law remains since the coup.

Patiwat and Porntip - respectively, a student until his suspension at Khon Kaen University because of the trial, and a recent graduate - were part of the "Prakai Fai" (literally Sparking Fire) activist theater group and staged the play "The Wolf's Bride" ("เจ้าสาวหมาป่า" in Thai) at Bangkok's Thammasat University in 2013, which was the scene of the student-led pro-democracy rallies and its bloody military crackdown in 1973 and 1976.

The play itself is set in a fictional kingdom about a fictional king and his fictional advisor. Nevertheless, its contents (which we cannot elaborate further upon for the aforementioned reasons), were still deemed enough to defame the actual Thai monarchy. Patiwat (who acted in the play) and Porntip (who primarily co-ordinated the production) were arrested last August, while many others of the group have fled Thailand fearing they would be targeted as well.

The fact that a work of fiction is at the center of the offense shows not only the problematic flexible interpretation of the law by the authorities of what constitutes lèse majesté and what doesn't, it also bears some similarities of the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk. The veteran labor activist was sentenced to 11 years for merely editing political essays - that were written by somebody else - which were at best vague allusions to the royal family. He has been incarcerated (including his detention before the trial) since April 2011 and has been denied bail 16 times so far.

The two accused students have been denied bail six times as well, as have most other lèse majesté suspects. Both defendants have previously pleaded guilty, which doesn't necessarily mean they acknowledge the crime, as this is a standard procedure to reduce the sentence. Also, like many other sentenced lèse majesté prisoners, it seems unlikely that the two will be appealing the verdict, which would leave a royal pardon the only legal avenue to shorten the prison term.

The judges reasoned their verdict and sentencing as following:

"Although the defendants have never committed previous crimes, their action - performing the play in an auditorium at Thammasat University - was an act of defamation and insult in front of numerous people," said a judge at Ratchada Criminal Court in Bangkok. "Moreover, it was disseminated on many websites, causing damage to the monarchy, which is revered by all Thais. Such action is a grave crime that warrants no suspension of the punishment."

"Theater Activists Jailed Over Satirical Play About Monarchy", Khaosod English, February 23, 2015

The judge's assumption that the offenses in that theater play were insulting to the monarchy despite being "revered by all Thais", underlines "the contradictory task of trying to argue how inflammatory the slanderous remarks are (...) while at the same time maintaining that the words have no such effect on them," as academic and lèse majesté expert David Streckfuss wrote once (read here).

In fact, this contradiction has reached new (and absurd, if it wasn't so serious) lows under the current military government, which is hunting for lèse majesté suspects and dissidents alike with vigorous zeal - especially an estimated 40 suspects that have fled abroad.

A change for the better in Thailand is not in sight with the authoritarian military junta at the helm. But dissent is still alive, which is currently mostly upheld by student activists and public displays of resistance still do occur (as seen recently last Valentine's Day), only to be immediately shut down by the skittish authorities.

Porntip's and Patiwat's family members broke down in tears after the verdict was read out, as the dozens of supporters were waiting downstairs at the exit of the Criminal Court in Bangkok and started singing "The Faith Of Starlight" ("แสงดาวแห่งศรัทธา" in Thai), a song written by Thai leftist intellectual Chit Phumisak and popularized as a protest anthem by the pro-democracy student activists in the 1970s, which ended with the words:

ขอเยาะเย้ย ทุกข์ยากขวากหนามลำเค็ญ / คนยังคง ยืนเด่นโดยท้าทาย / แม้นผืนฟ้า มืดดับเดือนลับมลาย / ดาวยังพราย ศรัทธาเย้ยฟ้าดิน / ดาวยังพราย อยู่จนฟ้ารุ่งราง

May I mock the miserable thorns of poverty / the people are still standing defiantly / and even the skies turn dark and the moon vanishes forever / the stars are still shining, the faith of the starlight / the stars are still shining, until heaven is obscured

As the choir kept chanting, the pair were put in a transport van. Patiwat "Bank" Saraiyaem and Porntip "Golf" Mankong - the two thespians, now prisoners - calmly and defiantly flashed the three-finger-salute from "The Hunger Games" movies (and declared illegal by the military junta) as the van darted out of the garage to drive them to their prisons.

Thai junta lays groundwork for its own guided democracy

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 16, 2015 As the Thai military government pushes ahead with its so-called reform plans, the legal groundwork in form of some sort of reform continuation body is being laid out so that the generals will have enough power to influence Thai politics for the foreseeable future.

One line often purported by the Thai military junta is the need to "reform" Thailand's dysfunctional political system before there can be any return to elections or democracy in general. But one of the main motivations of the generals and their allies in the all-appointed government bodies, including the "National Reform Council" (NRC) and the "Constitutional Drafting Committee" (CDC), is to permanently exert control over an eventually elected government.

And exactly this seems to be happening:

Constitution drafters decided yesterday to set up a national reform body and empower it by adding it to the new constitution, so reform work and plans will be continued by future governments.

Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) member Kamnoon Sidhisamarn proposed the idea of setting up the organisation, reasoning that if the agency's role is spelled out in the new charter, the National Reform Council (NRC)'s work would not be wasted.

"With this national reform body, NRC proposals can be synchronised not just for now, but for the next five years," he said.

"CDC agrees to set up, empower new reform body", The Nation, February 14, 2015

Basically it seems that they're creating an extra-parliamentary body that will be constitutionally enshrined and it also seems that they're going to stay longer than the usual four-year term of a government (unless they're going to change that as well), which hints at the long-standing problem in Thai politics that no elected government has stayed long enough in office to see their planned polices through, let alone even survive a full term (with the notable exception of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra).

To ensure that the reforms of the junta are actually being carried out, the drafters have put in these constitutional failsafes:

Under the proposals, those responsible for implementing reforms would be obliged to complete them within a specified time frame of between one and nine years.

The subcommittee has suggested that failure to complete reforms on schedule would constitute dereliction of duty — a criminal offence.

"CDC backs reform safeguards", Bangkok Post, February 13, 2015

That's at least two consecutive terms to put the "reform" plans to actions - or else face charges. That's apparently how the military junta and its government bodies doubles down on their project to fundamentally change the Thai political system and also to safeguard their undertaking, making a clear sign that the current powers-to-be are here to stay - even after a somewhat democratic election. Sounds familiar.

Tongue-Thai’ed! - Tough week for Prayuth ends in another tirade

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 30, 2015 This is part XXIX 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's been quite an eventful week in Thailand and a challenging one for the military government. Not only did it feel the need to assert its sovereignty after it was "wounded" by the critical remarks by Daniel R. Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, on Monday (we reported), but also by summoning "inviting" the US Chargé d'affaires W. Patrick Murphy to express its "disappointment" (we also reported on that).

This diplomatic spat with the United States also kept Thai junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha busy, who retaliated declaring that "Thai democracy will never die, because I’m a soldier with a democratic heart," and that it "It saddens me that the United States does not understand the reason why I had to intervene and does not understand the way we work."

Those who expected that things would calm down for the rest of the week were also disappointed, because that's when the military junta really just started to get going. Within 24 hours it summoned four former ministers from the cabinet of toppled former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (Surapong Tovichakchaikul, fmr Min. of Foreign Affairs; Nattawut Saikua, fmr Dep.-Min. of Agriculture; Chaturon Chaisaeng, fmr Min. of Education; and Pichai Naripthaphan, fmr Min. of Energy). This followed their public criticism of the military government, especially after the retroactive impeachment of Yingluck last Friday.

And then on Thursday, the junta ordered the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation to cancel an event scheduled for Friday. The German political NGO intended to present their annual report on the state of the media in Asia.

Given these developments, there was a lot of questions for the military government. So, at a press conference on Thursday, the media were asking General Prayuth about the summons - and this is what he had to say:

Unlike last year's summons, the orders given to the four politicians in recent days were not written into official documents or publicly announced on television.  Junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha explained today that formal notices are no longer necessary. "No need. The [junta] directly contacts and invites these people," Gen. Prayuth said (...). "I don't want it to become big news. When we invite them, we use telephones to call them for talks." (...)

When a reporter asked whether anyone who publicly comments on the political situation in Thailand will be summoned for "attitude readjustment," Gen. Prayuth shot back, "Is it the right thing to say those things? Is it appropriate to say them in this time? That's all. You keep making this a big issue with your questions."

"Thai Junta Renews Summons Orders to Quash Criticism", Khaosod English, January 29, 2015

And this is where Prayuth really got started...

When the reporter pressed Gen. Prayuth to answer, the junta chairman launched into an angry tirade.

"You will be summoned too, if you keep asking many questions like this," he said. "You ask unconstructive questions. I want to ask you, is it a right thing to do, challenging my full power? Even though I have such full power, these people still challenge it like this. If there's no martial law, what's going to happen? You all know the answer. Do you want it to happen?"

He continued, "I know that the media wants it to happen, so that they can sell news ... I am [the head of] the government. I have full power. Is it the right thing to challenge it like this? I have relaxed my power too much already these days."

Responding to a reporter who noted that the NCPO seems to be intensifying its crackdown on criticism, Gen. Prayuth shouted, "So what? So what? In the past, you said I was incompetent. Now that I am intensifying, you are angry. What the hell do you want me to do?"

Swiftly changing the topic, the junta chairman also scolded the media for publishing a photo of him inadvertently pointing his middle finger, which appeared in Post Today.

"I am not mad on power. You don't understand it. You keep picking on me," Gen. Prayuth said. "Yesterday, for instance. How can you photograph me like that? I was pointing my finger. You bastard. You chose to photograph me pointing my finger. This is what they call a lowly mind."

"Thai Junta Renews Summons Orders to Quash Criticism", Khaosod English, January 29, 2015

Just to give you a general idea how much of a tirade it was, just take a look at this video of the aforementioned press conference. As regular readers know, General Prayuth's relationship with the media is always a tense one with the former always being sardonic - but this here takes the cake!

Note: If anybody knows a better translation for the Thai swear word "ไอ้ห่า", please let me know!

Thai junta hunts down lèse majesté fugitives abroad

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 15, 2015

The hunt for people suspected of breaking Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law continues, with the military junta even looking to extradite those who have fled abroad while ultra-royalist vigilantism at home reaches a new absurd low.

After months on the run, Ekapop Luara seems have to found asylum, but it is a long way from home and it remains to be seen if he will ever return to Thailand. Nevertheless, he uploaded a picture on his Facebook account showing his and his girlfriend’s new New Zealand passports.

The military coup of May 22, 2014 caused the 23-year-old Thai student, also known as Tang Acheewa, and his partner to flee Thailand, as the military junta rounded up many people associated with the former government and those perceived to be supporters. Hundreds were summoned and temporarily detained, and many have been charged in the intervening months, over 20 of them with the draconian lèse majesté law.

Article 112 of the Criminal Code punishes defamation of the King, Queen, Heir Apparent and Regent with a maximum 15 years prison sentence, but the law has been used more vigorously, practically silencing any debate on the Thai monarchy. One of the first orders during the coup was to transfer jurisdiction of these cases to a military court. Ekapop’s alleged offense dates back to late 2013, when he allegedly insulted the monarchy at a red shirt rally and was subject of an arrest warrant shortly after that.

Ekapop and his girlfriend fled to Cambodia first and stayed for months, under the protection of the United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR. They regularly changed location as the neighboring country isn’t entirely a safe haven, especially after the apparent rapprochement of Phnom Penh with the Thai military junta and rumors to forcefully return Ekapop to Thailand. That has not stopped him from constantly mocking the Thai authorities on his Facebook account, which is currently deactivated.

The fact that the fugitive couple suddenly popped up in New Zealand has resulted in some diplomatic tensions back in Bangkok:

Thailand's Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned the charge d'affaires at New Zealand's Bangkok Embassy on Tuesday to "express its concerns".

Thai spokesman Sek Wannamethee said Thailand had asked New Zealand officials to clarify Mr Ekaphop's refugee status.

"Mr Ekaphop is exploiting his status granted by the New Zealand Government to conduct political activities which have reverse impact on Thailand's security," he said.

"Such a movement is considered an obstacle to the peace-building process and the good relationship between both countries. Therefore, Thailand requested New Zealand to revoke his status in order to stop his actions against the law."

Thailand wants refugee returned”, New Zealand Herald, January 8, 2015

As of writing, New Zealand officials remain tight-lipped on the matter.

The junta’s reaction is just the latest in a series of increased efforts to extradite numerous Thais accused of lèse majesté that have fled abroad. Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan looks to be leading the hunt:

Gen Prawit, who is in charge of security affairs, said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wants all fugitives in lese majeste cases who have fled abroad, including Thammasat University history lecturer Somsak Jeamteerasakul, to return and fight the cases.

He declined to reveal how many suspects are on the government's wanted list and in which countries these suspects are believed to be hiding.

Gen Prawit, who is also defence minister and deputy chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said some of those countries do not have an extradition treaty with Thailand, or a lese majeste law, which causes problems.

What Thailand can do is ask for cooperation from those countries. Interpol has also been asked for help in extraditing these suspects, he added.

Govt pursues lese majeste suspects overseas”, Bangkok Post, December 28, 2014

Somsak Jeamteerasakul has been a vocal critic against the lèse majesté law and for that has been attacked both verbally and physically by ultra-royalists and in 2013 was hit with a lèse majesté complaint filed by none other than the army itself. In late November 2014, after months of silence and not responding to an army summons, he reappeared on Facebook with a message hinting that he had left Thailand.

The junta leader, former army chief and current Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has promised a ”fair trial” for those coming home voluntarily. However, use (or rather abuse) of the lèse majesté law has been rampant since the coup, utilized to silence dissidents (not to mention the online surveillance and media censorship), as evident by a recent pledge of the Thai police to speed up the investigations of such cases.

The recent establishment of an inter-departmental and inter-ministerial committee to find every possible way to extradite lèse majesté suspects from abroad shows a certain frustration among the Thai authorities who are not only unable to get them back to Thailand within certain legal boundaries, but are also struggling also to convince other countries that the junta is justified to hunting them down.

It must be clear to everybody involved - especially those in the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs - that it is futile to pursue lèse majesté suspects that have already left the country, no matter what explanation they use. So, why are Thai officials are going about everything involving lèse majesté so overzealously? One simple and short answer would be that it shows to the public that the authorities are working hard to ensure the law is upheld and the suspects are being hunted - regardless of yielding any actual tangible results. Whether or not the intentions behind those efforts are sincere is a different matter.

However, this doesn’t prevent ultra-royalists from rampaging against their perceived enemies and anybody who helps them:

After the report on the New Zealand Herald spread across social media, aided by a translation to Thai that appeared on the right-wing Thai newspaper Naew Na, a number of royalists in Thailand have started calling for a "boycott" of the UNHCR for allegedly helping the "anti-monarchy" suspect.

The campaign, which appears to be coordinated by several Facebook pages, has also urged all Thais to refrain from donating to the UN agency.

Thai Royalists Call For Boycott of UN Refugee Agency”, Khaosod English, January 10, 2015

This kind of extreme Thai royalist witch hunt is nothing new. This week the Facebook page of the UNHCR’s Thailand office was bombarded with profanity-filled threats of boycott and even violence (i.e. one angry user pledged to "destroy the [UNHCR] donation booths and slap the staff! **** UNHCR Thailand!"), so much so that the social media profiles of UNHCR Thailand have been offline since Wednesday morning. Sources have independently told Siam Voices that the accounts were taken down for ”maintenance,” but don’t know when they will return and also could not answer if this was scheduled.

What does Thailand really know about the CIA's 'black site' prisons?

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 12, 2014

Thai officials have denied the existence of secret U.S. detention and interrogation facilities in Thailand, following the highly anticipated release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's use of torture in the past decade during the interrogation of terrorist suspects. But there may be some indications that Thailand may knows more than it is ready to admit.

The 525-page, highly redacted report finds that the CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" were brutal - far worse than previously thought and ineffective in acquiring credible information. Among the 119 detainees, 26 were wrongly detained and 39 were tortured, according to the report. What the Senate Committee report didn't further reveal were the exact locations of these CIA facilities around the world. Fifty-four countries are suspected to have participated in the CIA rendition program to aid in the capture, detainment, transport and interrogation of terrorist suspects outside the jurisdiction of the United States - among them is Thailand.

However, members of the current Thai military government were quick to deny the accusations:

"A secret prison has not existed here and there are no reports of torture in Thailand. No Thai agencies have carried out such operations," Prime Minister's Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said. "There have never been cases of bringing in these sorts of prisoners. We have never conducted any illegal activities with the US."

Suwaphan, a former director of the National Intelligence Agency, said he did not see Thailand being mentioned anywhere in the report. "The incidents mentioned in the report took place many years ago … Anyway, I can assure [you] there are no secret prisons or torture in Thailand." [...]

Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda affirmed that no secret prisons had existed in Thailand. "The Army was unaware of any secret prison in Thailand when I served as the Army chief. At that time, I had given assurance that Thailand did not have any secret prisons," Anupong said.

Armed Forces Supreme Commander General Worapong Sanganetra said he had no information regarding secret prisons or torture of suspected terrorists in Thailand.

"Govt denies secret prisons here, tightens security at US Embassy", The Nation, December 12, 2014

Contrary to Suwaphan's statement, Thailand is actually mentioned in the report by name (starting at page 301) in the capture of "Hambali", former leader of the Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (which has links Al Qaeda) and the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings. The capture in Ayutthaya in 2003 is being credited to "signals intelligence, a CIA source, and Thai investigative activities", even though the report now says it was "largely through luck."

There have been rumors about a detention facility in Thailand since the early 2000s during the administration of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Washington Post was first to report in 2005:

By mid-2002, the CIA had worked out secret black-site deals with two countries, including Thailand and one Eastern European nation, current and former officials said. An estimated $100 million was tucked inside the classified annex of the first supplemental Afghanistan appropriation.

Then the CIA captured its first big detainee, in March 28, 2002. Pakistani forces took Abu Zubaida, al Qaeda's operations chief, into custody and the CIA whisked him to the new black site in Thailand, which included underground interrogation cells, said several former and current intelligence officials. Six months later, Sept. 11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh was also captured in Pakistan and flown to Thailand.

"CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons", Washington Post, November 2, 2005

Despite the very few mentions of "Thailand", the report very often cites "DETENTION SITE GREEN", which is widely believed to be the CIA black site prison in Thailand. It has been rumored that the location was somewhere either in Udon Thani province, in Sattahip at the Thai Navy base or near Don Muang Airport.

This is where the aforementioned Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was brought to and "placed in isolation on June 18, 2002, and remained in isolation for 47 days, until the CIA began subjecting him to its enhanced interrogation techniques on August 4, 2002" (page 30 of the report), hoping to gain intelligence on an imminent terrorist plot.

The report also indicates (despite the many redactions) that at least a few officials had knowledge about Abu Zubaydah's detainment at the black site in Thailand, contradicting this week's official denials. Under the section "Tensions with Host Country Leadership and Media Attention Foreshadow Future Challenges" in the chapter about Abu Zubaydah's case, it reads:

On April █ 2002, the CIA Station in Country █ attempted to list the number of Country █ officers who,[t]o the best of Station's knowledge," had "knowledge of the presence of Abu Zubaydah" in a specific city in Country █. The list included eight individuals, references to "various" personnel █████████████ and the "staff" of ████████████████ and concluded "[d]oubtless many others." By April █, 2002, a media organization had learned that Abu Zubaydah was in Country █, prompting the CIA to explain to the media organization the "security implications" of revealing the information. The CIA Station in Country █ also expressed concern that press inquiries "would do nothing for our liaison and bilateral relations, possibly diminishing chances that [the ███████████ of Country █] will permit [Abu Zubaydah] to remain in country or that he would accept other [Abu Zubaydah]-like renderees in the future." In November 2002, after the CIA learned that a major U.S. newspaper knew that Abu Zubaydah was in Country █, senior CIA officials, as well as Vice President Cheney, urged the newspaper not to publish the information. While the U.S. newspaper did not reveal Country █ as the location of Abu Zubaydah, the fact that it had the information, combined with previous media interest, resulted in the decision to close DETENTION SITE GREEN.

"Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program", United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, published December 9, 2014, page 24 - PDF

That's at least a strong indicator that the report lists eight individuals (possibly more) who know about the detainee's presence in the country of "DETENTION SITE GREEN" and highly likely the same country the local officers come from - which is believed to be Thailand in this case.

The "major U.S. newspaper" that was asked not to reveal the information about Abu Zubaydah's whereabouts is likely the Washington Post, which also wrote that the Thai officials at one point must have become aware of the CIA facility and its operation eventually:

Two locations in this category -- in Thailand and on the grounds of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay -- were closed in 2003 and 2004, respectively. [...]

But after published reports revealed the existence of the site in June 2003, Thai officials insisted the CIA shut it down, and the two terrorists were moved elsewhere, according to former government officials involved in the matter. Work between the two countries on counterterrorism has been lukewarm ever since.

"CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons", Washington Post, November 2, 2005

Both Hambali and Abu Zubaydah, among other former detainees of "DETENTION SITE GREEN", are currently beingheld at Guantanamo Bay.

The question now is who among the Thai officials knew what at what point? Obviously, the blanket denial by the current military junta is not only to protect themselves from losing face and potential legal and diplomatic repercussions both domestically and from abroad, but even more so since some members of the junta (like then-army chief Gen. Anupong EDIT: he became army chief in 2007) were in charge wof national security back then.

It also highlights the tenure of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra again and his dealings with the United States, Thailand being its oldest ally in the region. Asia Times Online wrote in 2008:

Months before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington, the US and Thailand established the Counterterrorism Intelligence Center (CTIC), a secretive unit presciently which joined the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Thai intelligence officials to gather information about regional terror groups. [...]

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinwatra's democratically elected government paved the way for the CIA's secret prison's establishment, first by refusing to ratify the previous Democrat Party-led administration's decision to sign onto the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and second by granting a legal exemption and agreement not to extradite any US citizens who violated the Rome statute on Thai soil to an ICC signatory third country.

His government also, apparently on the US's urging, introduced terrorism-related charges into Thai criminal law. In quid pro quo fashion, Washington rewarded Bangkok in 2003 with the bilateral promise to negotiate a free trade agreement and upgraded Thailand to major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, which allows the Thai military to procure, sometimes at friendship prices, sensitive military technologies.

Yet the public revelations about CIA-led torture of terror suspects brought to Thailand cast a harsh new light on that special bilateral relationship and raises even harder questions about Thaksin’s motivations for allowing the US to violate Thai sovereignty.

"US and Thailand: Allies in torture", Asia Times Online, January 25, 2008

It has also been argued that the participation of Thaksin's government in the "war on terror" indirectly led to his campaign in the infamous "war on drugs" that resulted in some 2,800 possible extrajudicial killings and also horribly mishandled the situation in the Deep South, which sparked an Islamic separatist insurgency that still lasts until today.

Back in the present, questions remain about Thailand's role in harboring the CIA's detainment facilities and knowledge about the torture of terrorist suspects inside the black site prison, what is now widely billed elsewhere as "America's shame". The current military government's denial is in stark contradiction to the US Senate report. It does not raise confidence that anyone in Thailand will come clean about it - let alone be transparent - and it could grow into yet another dark stain on Thailand's military junta.

The curious case of Yingluck Shinawatra's Bangkok Post (non-)interview

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 27, 2014 On Monday, the 'Bangkok Post' ran what was touted as the "first interview" given by former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra since the military coup of May 22, 2014, which ousted her government after nearly six months of anti-government protests and thus a manufactured political deadlock.

In the story, written by the Post's military correspondent Wassana Nanuam, Yingluck said that she "knew from the first day" in office that her tenure would be cut short; if not by "the independent agencies or the judiciary, [then] it would be a coup." In another poignant quote attributed to Yingluck, she described her removal from office with this metaphor:

I did my best to fulfil my duty as a prime minister installed via an election and who preserved democracy,” she said. “It’s the same as if the people had handed me the car keys and said I must drive and lead the country. Then suddenly, someone points a gun at my head and tells me to get out of the car while I’m at the wheel driving the people forward.

"Yingluck saw the coup coming", by Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post, November 24, 2014 [article removed, read copy here]

This is a rather strong statement from the former prime minister, who's known for her rather soft and reconciliatory rhetoric and has shied away from giving interviews or to comment publicly since the coup. Furthermore (according to the article at least), Yingluck also didn't rule out that she may enter politics again, if she isn't disqualified before and if there'll be any democratic elections in the near future.

Then, the article was removed from the 'Bangkok Post' website on Tuesday.

That raised suspicions as to whether or not there was some sort of outside interference, given the sensitive subject and the rather bold words. After all, since the military coup the media is under strict scrutiny of the military junta, hardly allowing any criticism (let alone opposition voices) - so much so that Thai junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha told the media not to report on the ousted PM or her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself toppled in a military coup in 2006 and has been in self-imposed exile for years; while still wielding considerable influence in Thai politics from afar.

But the actual reason was apparently more banal:

[...] its author, Wassana Nanuam, later wrote on her Facebook that the piece was not based on an interview with Yingluck. Rather, the article was drawn from bits and pieces of private conversations with the former leader, Wassana wrote. 

"I just wanted to present lighthearted and colourful angles [of former PM Yingluck]. I didn't want to focus on politics," Wassana wrote. "Let me insist that this is not an interview. It's a recollection of lighthearted and colourful topics about the former Madam Prime Minister."

According to Wassana, the editors at Bangkok Post"misunderstood" the intention of her article when they edited the piece.

"They may have looked at the heavy angles and raised them into points that are different to what the author intended to present, but I recognise it as the error on my own part."

She concluded, "I'd like to take responsibility for any [errors] that were caused by the lack of clear communication from my article. I know that I will be criticised and scolded by many sides."

"Bangkok Post Reporter Retracts Interview With Yingluck", Khaosod English, November 25, 2014

Just to recap on what Wassana said: she essentially intended to write a fluff, "lighthearted" piece about former prime minister Yingluck's life after the coup - all based on comments by her that were off-the-record! Yingluck's former secretary Suranand Vejjajiva also confirmed in a TV appearance that, while the two women did meet,  Yingluck did not give an official interview. And yet somehow, these off-the-cuffs remarks have found their way into written word and were then suddenly published as an interview that was in no way "lighthearted".

But it is really hard to tell that "bits and pieces of private conversations" are off-the-record and aren't supposed to be published, no?!

To say that the Post and Wassana's (whose apparent closeness to many of the top brass has often been questioned) decision to run the story as it was is a major blunder would be a major understatement. This fundamental editorial misjudgment (even more glaring given Wassana's experience) has - intended or not - set things in motion already.

Prayuth is apparently fuming and is considering to put a travel ban on Yingluck (while another Bangkok Post story still is referring to the non-existent 'interview'), which would prevent her from fleeing Thailand as she is still facing an investigation for dereliction of duty in her government's controversial rice pledging scheme by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). This could result in her impeachment - despite the fact that she is already toppled from power but could also be additionally barred from running for office in the future. But the NACC is also thinking out loud about criminal charges against Yingluck, which could spell real trouble for the former prime minister.

Yingluck has publicly said she won't flee the country and that she will be "keeping a low profile", looking after the house and her son - all in all, avoiding the media spotlight. It didn't quite work out that way because, it seems, that somebody doesn't know the difference between on- and off-the-record...!

28 weeks later: Prayuth, censorship and the media in post-coup Thailand

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 18, 2014 Since his time as army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s relationship with the media has been strenuous at best. Now as the coup leader and prime minister he constantly in the limelight, and his gaffes are under more scrutiny than ever. On the other hand, the media itself is facing stringent censorship.

Reporter 1: [...] so it will be sorted very soon in order to have elections, right?

Prayuth: [inaudible]…see my first answer, I already said it.

Reporter 1: General, may I ask another question: are you now the prime minister?

Prayuth: [pause] It is in progress…I don’t know yet, we’ll see, keep calm! [points to the reporter] You wanna be it?

Reporter 1: [sarcastically] YES, YES, YES…!

Prayuth: Ok, that’s enough! Thank you very much…

Reporter 2: General, just a quick question…how long will the timeline, roadmap take until a new election?

Prayuth: As long as the situation returns to normal!

Reporter 2: General, [the public] may be asking themselves how long’s gonna take, whether if it’s one year…

Prayuth: It depends of the situation! I don’t have an answer. There’s no set time!

Reporter 2: …or one year and a half…

Prayuth: …we’re controlling the situation as fast as possible! Enough! [walks off]

Reporter 2: So do you mean then…General? General…?!

That scene took place when then-army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha held a press conference shortly following the confirmation of him as coup leader by royal command on May 26, 2014 - just a few of days after Thailand’s military has seized absolute power in a coup.

For Prayuth, this was a fairly typical exchange with the media. We have previously pointed out his strenuous relationship with the press here and here - more often than not resulting in the general lashing out at a reporter, resorting to sardonic remarks or simply walking out of a press briefing.

However, that exchange on the May 26 (see full clip here) and what followed shortly after that would set the tone for the coming months: The two reporters from that press conference, Thai Rath’s Supparerk Thongchaiyasit and Bangkok Post’s military correspondent Wassana Nanuam (whose relationship with the top brass has been often brought into question), were summoned and chastised by the military junta for their ”aggressive” hounding of the junta leader.

It was an early sign that the military junta was assuming full control of the press and thus also claiming the sovereignty of the narrative. Mainstream media outlets are put under heavy scrutiny by the “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO) as the junta officially calls itself. It has created monitor watchdogs dedicated to each medium in order to check that nobody is breaching the junta’s orders aimed at curtailing criticism against the NCPO. Also, the military government has taken on social media platforms for perceived coup-critical and anti-monarchy content, reportedly having installed a system for mass online surveillance.

And yet, with the General himself - now the leader of Thailand's military government - constantly in the limelight, he still continues to deliver one gaffe after another too tempting for most of media not to report about it. From a seemingly endless stream of gaffes (see a ”best”-of list from September here), here are three examples:

As we mentioned, there are a lot more examples of the junta leader putting his foot in his mouth. The continuous stream of gaffes is indicative of a massive PR headache with Gen. Prayuth and the military junta, even though it seems that the former is resistant to advice - that is if he gets any, despite close aides reportedly worried about his ‘loose canon’ nature. And if he’s not being sardonic, he comes across as an annoyed uncle in his weekly TV addresses, seemingly knowing the answers to most of the nation’s problems.

However, the conditions most Thai journalists are currently working under are no laughing matter, no matter how many verbal (and other) fouls the junta is committing. Several journalists have either been directly or indirectly pressured by the military junta for their critical reporting.

Last week, ThaiPBS dropped a TV discussion program after it aired criticism of the junta, seemingly after a visit from army officers voicing their displeasure. The program’s host has also been "temporarily” pulled off-air . This has sparked a campaign by most of the mainstream media to protest against the military’s interference. Even the otherwise tepid and often silent Thai Journalists'Association has joined the chorus calling for restrictions on the media to be lifted.

The military has denied accusations of censorship and says it would never limit press freedom - only then to threaten the media from crossing the line. And that exactly is the problem: with the military junta claiming solid sovereignty of its narrative and almost everything else in the political discourse it can easily move the undefined and invisible line to suit its needs.

And if you need any further evidence of the military junta’s open contempt towards the media, just listen to Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan - for many the real mastermind behind the coup - responding to the demands in a press conference on Monday (full clip HERE):

The policy of the NCPO is…let me put it this way: I would like to remind the media that the government, the NCPO are currently in the process to achieve reconciliation in this country. Everything that is an obstacle to reconciliation… everything that will create divisions - we won’t let that happen! Let it rest, wait for now. We have the National Reform Council, the National Legislative Assembly - they’re currently at work, so wait… for a year! We have our roadmap, the government, the NCPO are following it, they’re following their promise. So why the hurry?!

________________________ The 28 Weeks Later series – Thailand 6 months after the coup:

Introduction: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand Part 1: Economic stability comes at a cost under Thailand’s military junta Part 2: Prayuth, censorship and the media in post-coup Thailand Part 3: An education fit for a zombie? Part 4: Are Thai people really happy after the coup? Part 5: Thailand’s junta and the war on corruption Part 6: PDRC myths and Thailand's privileged 'new generation' Part 7: Thailand tourism down, but not out Part 8: Education reform in Thailand under the junta Part 9: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand: Some personal thoughts