Death for corruption and press freedom abused as Thailand continues Nth Korean-like slide

Death for corruption and press freedom abused as Thailand continues Nth Korean-like slide
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Thailand’s slide towards an authoritarian state deepened this week with a series of measures solidifying the junta’s iron grip on the nation sending tremors throughs the international community as the country’s democratic facade continues to rapidly crumble, revealing a chilling reality that evokes comparisons to a North Korea-esque state. The most egregious of these include:

  • Death penalty for corruption: Amendments to the anti-graft law now prescribe the death penalty for certain corruption offences, mirroring the harsh punishments seen in regional neighbours like Vietnam and Indonesia. This move raises concerns about due process and the potential for abuse, especially given the junta’s already tight grip on the judiciary.
  • Muzzling the press: Two Phuket-based journalists, Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathien, face up to seven years in jail for defamation charges stemming from their reporting on Rohingya human trafficking. This case exemplifies the junta’s growing intolerance of dissent and independent journalism.
  • Lese majeste crackdown: Ten members of an anti-monarchy group were sentenced to up to 10 years in jail for producing videos deemed critical of the royal family. This harsh verdict underscores the junta’s ruthless suppression of any perceived threat to the monarchy.

Civil servants face death for corruption

State officials who solicit or accept bribes and those who pay them, including foreigners, face jail penalties up to 20 years, or execution
State officials who solicit or accept bribes and those who pay them, including foreigners, face jail penalties up to 20 years, or execution John Le Fevre

As of last Friday, July 10, any “state official” who solicits or accept bribes and those who pay them, including foreigners, face jail penalties up to 20 years, or execution.

Unlike previous legislation the amended Constitution Organic law on Counter Corruption 2015 widens the net on those considered “state officials” to include anyone down to local organisations, but who posses state powers.

In addition to widening the scope of offences the amended Law has copied penalties contained in Article 149 of the Criminal Code which states: Whoever… wrongfully demands, accepts or agrees to accept for himself or the other person a property or any other benefit for exercising or not exercising any of his functions, whether such exercise or non-exercise of his functions is wrongful or not, shall be punished with imprisonment of five to twenty years or imprisonment for life.”

Fines have been boosted from Bt2,000 – Bt40,000 (about US$59 – $1,175) to Bt100,000 – Bt400,000 ($2,937 – $11,747) while the previous 20-year statute of limitations has been amended to unlimited. At the same time it abrogates the odd provisions of Article 98 of the Thailand Criminal Code which grants freedom to convicts who flee and remain at large for periods as little as five years.

Article 98 of the Thailand Criminal Code states: If any person, convicted by the final judgment, has not yet undergone the punishment, or has not completely undergone the punishment on account of having made an escape, and such person is not brought to undergo the punishment till the following periods of time reckoning from the day of the final judgment, or the day on which the offender has made the escape, as the case may be, the execution of punishment shall be precluded by prescription, and the punishment shall not be inflicted upon such person:

  • After twenty years in case of a sentence to death, to imprisonment for life or to imprisonment of twenty years;
  • After fifteen years in case of a sentence to imprisonment of over seven years but not up to twenty years;
  • After ten years in case of a sentence to imprisonment of over one year up to seven years;
  • After five years in case of a sentence to imprisonment of one year downwards or any other punishment.

Tom Yum Goong crisis

In 2009 Rakesh Saxena, a former executive of the now defunct Bangkok Bank of Commerce Plc., was extradited from Canada narrowly ahead of receiving a free pass over the loss of some $82 million in events that led to the 1997 Asian financial crisis (Tom Yum Goong crisis). Mr Saxena fled Thailand in 1996 and the statute of limitations on the Securities Exchange Act charges he faced were due to expire in July 2010.

In legislating a maximum penalty of death for corruption Thailand joins regional neighbours Indonesia and Vietnam whose statutes also contain the death penalty for corruption offences.

In 2012 Englishman Lee Aldhouse became the first criminal suspect to be extradited from the UK to Thailand
In 2012 Englishman Lee Aldhouse became the first criminal suspect to be extradited from the UK to Thailand

Vietnam introduced capital punishment for even minor corruption offences involving state officials in the late 90s to combat festering high levels of graft which was impeding foreign investment growth. Despite many executions of corrupt State officials and those who paid them since, corruption remains an impediment to business in Vietnam.

While there is currently some debate in Vietnam on abolishing the death penalty for certain offences, it will remain on the books for corruption offences.

While signifying a stronger stance by Thailand on corruption the provision for executions could backfire and hamper getting suspects who flee returned to Thailand to face justice.

Many countries, including Australia, the UK, and members of the EU will not extradite suspects if they face a death sentence.

In 2012 Englishman Lee Aldhouse became the first criminal suspect to be extradited from the UK to Thailand to face murder charges after a prolonged extradition process during which Thailand guaranteed the death penalty would not apply.

In recent times China, who Thailand appears to be building increasingly closer relations with, has executed business executives and state officials

According to statistics released by China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate, some 25,000 people were investigated in relation to corruption related offences in the first half of 2014. About 25 per cent were civil servants and 1,680 were at or above county level.

Phil Robertson, deputy director, Asia for Human Rights Watch (HRW) said HRW “opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases since we view it as an inherently cruel and unusual punishment.

“Imposing capital punishment based on judgments in judicial systems that are often far from free and fair in their proceedings is the equivalent of a crap shoot with people’s lives”, he added.

Royal Thai Navy sues Phuketwan

Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathien,face up to seven years jail and fines of Bt300,000 ($11,810) if found guilty of defaming the Royal Thai Navy (RTN)
Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathien,face up to seven years jail and fines of Bt300,000 ($11,810) if found guilty of defaming the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) Supplied

Coinciding with the military junta flexing its anti-corruption muscles in Bangkok was the beginning of the trial of two Phuket-based journalists under the country’s draconian Criminal Defamation law and all-encompassing Computer Crime Act.

Former Melbourne, Australia, The Age senior editor Alan Morison, the Australian owner and editor of the small news website Phuketwan, and Chutima Sidasathien, a Thai journalist, have been taken to task by the Royal Thai Navy (RTN).

The pair are accused of defaming the RTN after they copied a paragraph from a much larger Pulitzer Prize winning Reuters news agency story on Rohingya human trafficking. If found guilty the pair face up to seven years jail and fines of Bt300,000 ($11,810).

The two have refused to apologise saying the copied paragraph alleging some navy officials “work systematically with smugglers to profit from the surge in fleeing Rohingya” has been incorrectly translated into Thai and does not indicate the entire RTN is involved.

According to evidence given by the RTNs Captain Pallop Komalodaka on the first day of the trial on Tuesday, the RTN had also filed a suit against Reuters, but the case remains in the hands of the prosecutor’s office.

Human rights and press freedom groups globally have condemned the trial, with the International Committee to Protect Journalists (ICJ), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), Reporters Without Borders, and the Australian Government amongst those observing proceedings. Journalists reporting on the case have been forbidden from taking notes inside the courtroom, with the only written record of the trial being what notes the presiding judge takes.

Mr Robertson says the charges against the two journalists violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified.

“The fact that these two journalists are even on trial is a scathing indictment of the Thai government’s unwillingness to respect media freedom and clear indicator of how far and fast the environment for free expression has deteriorated under military rule.

“Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha should have ordered the Navy to stand down and withdraw the charges, instead he effectively endorsed their effort to gag media critics, and in doing so, administered another body blow to what little remains of Thailand’s international rights reputation.

Human Trafficking camps on Thai border

In April and May this year some 73 Rohingya human trafficking camps were found inside Thailand, while in June three-star Thai army general, Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, was charged with four offences under the nation’s anti-human trafficking and immigration laws.

On Monday ten members of an anti-monarchy group known as the “Banpodj Network” were sentenced to up to ten years jail (sentences were reduced by 50 per cent due to a guilty plea) by a Bangkok Military Court after being found guilty under Thailand’s strict lese majeste law, Article 112 of the Thailand Criminal Code, and the Computer Crime Act for producing and circulating video recordings deemed to criticising the Thai royal family.

According to iLaw, an independent group established to monitor the effects of the Computer Crime Act (CCA) on freedom of expression and opinion, “at least 48 people have been charged under the lese majeste law and/ or Computer Crime Act since the May 22 coup”.

At least 143 civilians have been tried before military courts, whose decisions can not be appealed.

Next week the Bangkok South Criminal Court will rule whether it intends to indict prominent English labour rights activist Andy Hall on charges of Criminal Defamation and breaches of the Computer Crime Act over a report alleging labour abuses against workers by giant Thailand pineapple processing company, the Natural Fruit Company. If convicted Mr Hall faces up to seven years in jail.

While the eyes of the world may be on Thailand for more reasons than its failing economy, Thailand is at this stage not giving any indication it cares what the rest of the world thinks.


An earlier version of this story was published in The Establishment Post, July 16, 2014 as Thailand Continues Slide Towards Nth Korea-Like State



 Feature photo John Le Fevre





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John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

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