Thai Insider

Not above politics

One of the mantras of the military dictatorship and the broader royalist coalition is that the monarchy is “above politics.” This notion that the monarchy is “above politics” has been a part of the royalist claims about scurrilous lese majeste claims and charges. “Protecting” the monarchy – a decidedly politicized process – involves claims that this maintains the monarchy’s position “above politics.”

Everyone knows this is horse manure tarted up as palace propaganda. Yet it is a powerful narrative that has underpinned the monarchy’s political role and its more intense politicization since about 2001.

The most recent example of palace political interference is in the Bangkok Post (Oct. 22). The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has stated that it “will be up to the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) to decide if the new draft charter should ban for life politicians found guilty of corruption and strip them of their electoral rights…”.

Prayuth “was responding on Tuesday to a question involving a proposal by Privy Council member and former premier Tanin Kraivixien who recently sent a letter to Gen Prayut offering suggestions about reforms on several issues including corruption.”

Thanin has never been “above politics” and neither have his mates in the Privy Council.

Thanin has dived in, boots and all, seeking to ban pro-Thaksin Shinawatra politicians from all politics for life.

He makes this clear in his letter to The Dictator. Thanin’s view – and probably the view of the broader palace – is that “the fight against corruption has been a failure because politicians who are barred from politics for five years are allowed to return.” In case readers are still unconvinced that Thanin is playing politics, he makes one more demand: “that changes be made to extradition laws to enable the state to seize assets of corrupt politicians even if they are stashed abroad.”

I am unsure how extradition and grabbing funds overseas are related, but Thanin is clearly making a politicized claim.

As a “loyal servant,” Prayuth has sent Thanin’s “suggestions” to the royalist Meechai Ruchupan for the CDC to consider.

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When it comes to Thailand’s feudal institutions, nothing is extraordinary. The new round of lese majeste cases raises numerous questions, almost none of which may be seriously asked or addressed in the country due to Article 112 and the military dictatorship’s monarchy psychosis.

The current cases against Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, Jirawong Wattanathewasilp and Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha will likely remain in an opaque cloud of rumor, fear and state obfuscation for years if not decades.

The Bangkok Post reports that the authorities have now “frozen some of the assets of the three lese majeste suspects…”. I am told they used the “monarchy to obtain benefits” and that the cases are “similar to the criminal case against former Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) chief Pongpat Chayaphan, whose criminal network was brought down late last year.”

It might have been a criminal network, but all of those associated with it were linked to the crown prince and/or his then wife, Princess Srirasmi. What is happening in the prince’s household that has him associated with criminal networks? Is the military junta protecting him or undermining him?

Whatever it is, the police say that they are “expanding their investigation…”. The press is told that this may include “eight CIB police officers who were transferred to inactive posts on Sunday pending a probe” and who are now said to have “cooperated well with investigators and they were providing useful information.”
One of the more bizarre elements of the current cases is that these are not persons who can be considered opponents of the monarchy.

Indeed, Pol Maj Prakrom “won a scholarship from the Defence Ministry to further his military studies in England …[and a]fter graduating, he served as a soldier at the army’s Artillery Centre in Lop Buri.” He later joined the police force. He had a slip-up in 1999, and “was dismissed from the police following an accusation that he forged the signature of the late Supreme Patriarch. However, prosecutors later decided not to indict him.” Who arranged that?

He later joined the Technology Crime Suppression Division and was with the Crime Suppression Division special operations unit when arrested. The Post buys off at this point, just when the story is getting interesting. Fortunately, a report in Khaosod has more.

It states that Prakrom “served as an officer in the online crime unit from January until last Friday…”. That is, he was at the Technology Crime Suppression Division, in charge of hunting lese majeste online. Indeed, Prakrom played a key role in the investigation of Pongpat! He also played a role in having Chayapa Chokpornbutsri arrested back in June. She allegedly “spread rumors of an imminent counter-coup against junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha.”

Readers may recall that “Chayapha was later charged with lese majeste after Prakrom’s unit said it found critical remarks about the monarchy on social media.”

So Prakrom is at the center of the group of monarchy protectors within the state. Who has he damaged within that group? Was he close to the prince or is he being punished?

Suriyan is very well known as a soothsayer to the elite and, until recently, was proclaimed close to the prince: “Before his arrest, he served as an adviser to a subcommittee responsible for holding activities for the ‘Bike for Mom’ cycling event in August, as well as the ‘Bike for Dad’ event scheduled for December.” What has he done? Has he fallen out with the prince or is the junta decapitating the prince’s closest advisers?
Strange times indeed.

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The strange case of the still mostly unexplained lese majeste cases against a person known to be close to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and his assistant, and a police officer responsible for some lese majeste investigations gets stranger still.

The Nation reports (Oct. 24) that there are fears for the safety of these men, held incommunicado and, apparently, lawyer-less in a military facility. It is stated that “special wardens, made up of military officers and guards from the Corrections Department, has been appointed to take care of three suspects detained over in a high-profile lese majeste case.” It is added that the “wardens’ key responsibility is to ensure the three men’s well-being during detention…”. Having thugs in the military “take care” could be code for something else.

Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, and Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha are at a “temporary detention facility at the 11th Military Circle on Bangkok’s Nakhon Chaisri Road.”

In moves that may or may not be legal – but in lese majeste cases, true legalities go out the window – the men have seen their assets seized. In the previous lese majeste case involving persons close to the prince’s palace, assets were also stripped from people like policeman Pongpat Chayapan is raids that were portrayed as revealing their ill-gotten gains but seemed to be more a stripping of unusual wealth gained in unspecified ways.

The report states that the “seized assets are being kept under tight security at the 11th Infantry Regiment…”. Things that make you go hmm.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have stated that Suriyan appears to have been “a victim of enforced disappearance during the 6 days, from 16 October 2015 to 21 October 2015, according to International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance…”. They say that Suriyan was taken by the authorities on the evening of 16 October 2015. The police denied this. Then Suriyan did not appear again until 21 October when the police and military officers paraded him to the Bangkok Military Court.

It is also reported that a total of “13 police have been transferred to inactive posts, as inquiries are underway to determine whether they are also involved in the lese majeste case.” The jails won’t be large enough to accommodate all of these “lese majeste” detainees.

I observed that there are fears for the safety of Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, Jirawong Wattanathewasilp and Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha, held incommunicado and, apparently, lawyer-less at a temporary detention facility at the 11th Military Circle.

I noted that special wardens, including military officers were appointed to take care of three suspects detained for lese majeste. These wardens were assigned responsibility for ensuring the safety of the detained men. I observed that “[h]aving thugs in the military ‘take care’ could be code for something else. The recent news is that Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha is dead. Prachatai reports that Prakrom is said to have “hanged himself and died while he was detained at the remand facility in the 11th Army Division…”. The authorities say that at “about 10 pm on Friday, 23 October 2015, hanged himself with clothes that were given to him by prison officers.” He was not dead when found and it is reported that he “was in a critical condition when he was found by prison officers who tried to help him and later sent him to the hospital. He was later pronounced dead by a physician in hospital of the remand facility.”

There is likely to be an investigation, but I have serious doubts that anything the authorities say about this case will be believable.

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Readers may have noticed that the mainstream media has been markedly quiet on the death in custody of Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha, accused of lese majeste and held at an Army base when he was “found” hanging in his cell.

Certainly, the holidays means that news is slower, but I can’t help but wonder if the mainstream media has been ordered to say no more? I have no doubt the military junta would want to distance itself from the death, especially when it was the junta that made the lese majeste complaint against the dead man and his two co-accused.

I generally don’t comment on rumor or post without some link to media reports. However, on this occasion, I feel it reasonable to mention some of the speculation doing the rounds.

One story that has had wide circulation is that one more of the detained men is dead or hospitalized. Police have already denied that Suriyan Sujaritpalawong is in hospital. These claims by the rumor mill are sometimes linked with previous rumors about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn having been violent to those he dislikes or sees as opponents.

Another rumor is that the military dictatorship is seeking to blame the “previous regime” for the detained man’s demise. The story being concocted seems to be that police, considered close to the various Shinawatra regimes, was seeking to keep him quiet. In other words, the claim is/will be that he was murdered for political reasons.

As I have stated previously, this death, like the charges against the three men, will probably never be satisfactorily explained. This is the nature of a political system that is shaped by impunity, a hierarchical official culture and secrecy surrounding the monarchy.