The decision by the Royal Thai Army to charge Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and the Cross Cultural Foundation with criminal defamation is in line with similar charges brought earlier by the Royal Thai Navy against Phuketwan online newspaper. It also heralds a slew of similar prosecutions which critics say are designed to silence any criticism of the governing military junta and the government they have installed.
In the Navy case, Phuketwan, after reporting numerous examples of the mistreatment of Rohingya refugees by the Thai authorities over the years, quoted from a Reuters report alleging that Thai navy officers were involved in trafficking some refugees. This quotation earned the editor and reporter of Phuketwan a lawsuit that threatens jail and the end of their journal. The report itself earned Reuters a Pulitzer Prize.
After some cynical comments about the Navy picking on the small guys while leaving the real perpetrators alone, further charges were later initiated against the Reuters journalists, though that investigation seems to have quietly sunk into the sand.
Now we have the notorious Ranger Unit 41 claiming that they were maligned after the Cross Cultural Foundation called for an investigation into allegations of torture. A suspect detained by them had lost consciousness and had to be hospitalised. The family claimed to have a medical certificate consistent with claims of torture.
The open letter that Pornpen wrote did not claim that there had been torture. It asked for an independent investigation, and noted that if the allegations were true, then Thai and international laws had been broken.
But that was enough to sting the thin skins of the military. A week later, they issued a statement that they had conducted their own not-quite-independent investigation and guess what, he’d had some kind of stress-induced seizure, no torture involved at all. Why, they even had a signed statement that he’d not been mistreated, but it did not explain what might have caused so much stress that he blacked out.
So they sued.
Prachatai has learned that further criminal defamation suits are in the pipeline. One will be filed jointly by the Prime Minister’s Office, the NCPO, the Royal Thai Army and Army United Football Club against a blogger (name withheld for security concerns) who noticed that in a recent comment, Gen Prayuth said the Cabinet would be announced in October.
In the event, it was announced on the last day of August but all previous statements had talked of a date in September. The blogger wondered if Gen Prayuth had suffered a slip of the tongue. But if he hadn’t, he feared that this sudden slippage in the junta’s timetable for reform indicated that the return of democracy would be even later than advertised.
The criminal defamation suit claimed that it was slanderous to imply that Gen Prayuth was in any way trying to slow progress toward Thai-style democracy. It was also a slur on his reputation to imply that he was incapable of saying what he meant.
A doctor’s note was submitted as evidence. This claimed that the General’s statement was the result of ‘spasmodic neurolinguistic tachypraxia’. Anyone with this condition speaks faster than normal (because of their superior intellect of course), which causes mass misperception among listeners, who may report that the speaker said something that was not in fact what was said. The fault, if any, lay with all those who thought that the General said ‘October’ when he meant ‘September’.
A second defamation suit will shortly be filed by the Office of the Prime Minister over comments about the Minister and Permanent Secretary (that’s the same person – the current administration is clearly unworried about possible unemployment problems caused by top people holding multiple jobs).
ML Pannada Diskul posted a denunciation of the riotously lavish lifestyle of an unnamed elected provincial politician, or so he had heard. Other elected provincial politicians took offence at the broad brush that branded them guilty by association and forced the Minister/Perm Sec into an apology of sorts. He didn’t mean that all of them were corrupt high-rollers. Just that, er, …
So was he going to name names? It’s not something he’s shy about. He’s the person who filed a complaint against this website that earned a criminal conviction for the person who gets to vet this column every week (as if that was not punishment enough). But in this case he has refused to reveal the identity of the malefactor.
This led one commentator to question ML Pannada’s commitment to the junta’s policy of eradicating corruption. How can corruption be stamped out if high-ranking officials fail to bring charges when they hear of cases?
This commentator will shortly be charged with defaming the Minister/Perm Sec. A medical affidavit attached to the charge sheet notes that the Mom Luang is blessed with the condition of ‘mahamettabhavana’, a hereditary medico-spiritual trait commonly found among nobles, high-ranking officials and anyone with three or more pips on their epaulettes.
Such persons are given to acts of exceptional mercy, where wrong-doers are absolutely forgiven (provided they are sufficiently well-connected) and no blame should or could be attached to such magnanimity.
But note that no columnist with this condition has ever been known to medical history. So if I hear even the slightest whisper that the best ideas of this column are plagiarised, the offender can expect to feel the full weight of the law.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).