A military court in Thailand on Nov. 24 sentenced web editor Nut Rungwong to four-and-a-half years in jail for publishing an article five years ago that the court ruled defamed the nation's king. Thailand's lese-majeste law, which punishes people who defame, insult or threaten the monarchy, is one of the harshest in the world with jail terms of up to 15 years. Rungwong's sentence was cut in half because he pleaded guilty to the charge. Rungwong edited the Thai E-News website which is now blocked by censors. He was charged for publishing an article in 2009 written by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a former university political scientist and radical Thai intellectual who fled to Britain in 2009.
George Orwell, and especially his dystopian novel 1984, has long been appropriated by neocons and (before that) Cold War hawks in the West. It's almost heartwarming to know that international despots still consider it dangerous. Seemingly oblivious to their own irony, police in Egypt last week arrested a 21-year-old student near the entrance of Cairo University for carrying a copy of 1984. It is unclear if the student, identified only as "Mohamed T," will face charges. The Egyptian Interior Ministry actually issued a statement explaining the arrest, innocently and not quite accurately saying that the novel "talks about military regimes which rule in corrupt countries." (The Week, UK, Nov. 10)
We've noted that Iran is a de facto member of the Great Power convergence against ISIS, but the Islamic Republic wasn't invited to today's summit in Paris, where leaders of some 30 nations pledged to support Iraq in its fight against the so-called "Islamic State" by "any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security." However, the two principal US imperial rivals were there: Russia and China. Of course we can take the reference to "civilian security" with a grain of salt, and the final statement made no mention of Syria—the stickiest question in the ISIS dilemma. (AFP via Lebanon Daily Star, Sept. 16) China's interest in the issue was crystalized over the weekend by the arrest in Indonesia of two ethnic Uighurs on suspicion of ties to ISIS. The two were detained in Central Sulawesi province, said to be a "major hotbed of militancy," in a sweep of suspected ISIS recruits. They had allegedly procured false passports in Thailand, and were in possession of literature and other paraphernalia with ISIS insignia. (SCMP, Sept. 15)
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its newly released annual Southeast Asia Opium Survey (PDF) finds that opium production in Burma continued to increase in 2013—up 26% to an estimated 870 metric tons. This is the highest amount since the UN began keeping track in 2002. In 1999, the Burmese regime promised to eradicate opium production by 2014, but production has increased every year since 2006. The UNODC report acknowledges that eradication efforts have failed to address the political and economic factors that drive farmers to grow opium in the first place. With poppy fetching 19 times more than rice, struggling peasants have few other options to make a living.
This week saw an amazing turn of events in the current reprise of the inter-factional protests that shook Thailand three years ago: riot police in Bangkok yielded to the protesters they were ordered to disperse, in apparent defiance of their commanders. The police removed barricades and their helmets as a sign of solidarity. Disobedience of orders for repression is an incredibly hopeful sign; if this sets an example for similar situations around the world, the horizons of possibility for nonviolent revolution are broadened almost dizzyingly. What complicates it is that while in 2010 it was the populist Red Shirts that were protesting the government and the patrician Yellow Shirts that were rallying around it, today the situation is reversed. The Yellow Shirts are seeking the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister (and perceived puppet) of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and whose restoration to power the Red Shirts had been demanding last time around. (VOA, Dec. 13; Political Blind Spot, Dec. 6)
Burma's persecuted Muslim Rohingya people were in the news again over the weekend with the Thai navy's denial that its forces opened fire on a group of refugees off the country's southwestern coast last month, killing at least two. Survivors said that Thai naval troops fired a boat of around 20 refugees off Thailand's Phang Nga province on Feb. 22, as they jumped into the water to escape custody. "Navy personnel fired into the air three times and told us not to move," a refugee told Human Rights Watch (HRW). "But we were panicking and jumped off the boat, and then they opened fire at us in the water." More than 100,000 Rohingyas have been displaced since ethnic violence broke out in western Burma last year. Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens and labels the minority of about 800,000 as "illegal" immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh—which in turn disavows them as nationals. (BBC News, March 15; Press TV, March 13)
Accused Burmese drug lord Naw Kham was executed in China on March 1 along with three accomplices in the murder of 13 Chinese merchant sailors on the Mekong River in 2011. The executions were carried out by a court in Kunming, Yunnan province. Thai national Hsang Kham, Lao national Zha Xika, and Yi Lai, who was named as "stateless," were executed by lethal injection along with Naw Kham. In an unusual move, authorities allowed state media to film Naw Kham during his transfer from a detention center to the court's execution area. China Central Television showed police removing Naw Kham's handcuffs and binding his arms behind his back with rope, a standard ritual before executions in China. The executions themselves were not broadcast, as cameras were not allowed in the death chamber. But the spectacle still sparked dissent on the Internet within China.
Thai soldiers killed at least 17 insurgents who attacked Bacho military base, Narathiwat province, in an audacious pre-dawn raid Feb. 13—the deadliest episode since the conflict flared nine years ago. Authorities say some 100 insurgents were involved in the attack near the Malaysian border, and the rebels displayed a greater degree of military organization than ever before—dressed in army fatigues of the same kind worn by Thai soldiers, and armed with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles. One unnamed "military source" told Thai media the insurgents have formed a "Pattani Army."