Monthly Archives: November 2011

Hillary Clinton Arrives in Myanmar

The WSJ reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday on a historic mission to gauge whether the government’s recent steps toward reform are real, even as dissident groups stepped up their efforts to keep the U.S. from lifting sanctions soon.

Ever since Myanmar’s new government launched a series of limited but important reforms this year—including a partial release of political prisoners, a loosening of restrictions on the Internet, and the legalization of labor unions—observers have been both excited by the prospects of change and skeptical about government intent in the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.

Now U.S. officials face renewed pressure from exiled dissidents and human rights activists who fear the emerging thaw between U.S. leaders and Myanmar’s government is moving too fast. Their offensive includes a series of new reports released in recent days documenting human rights abuses in the country, especially in areas controlled by ethnic insurgent groups that have fought on-again, off-again wars with Myanmar military’s for years.

The NYT says:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here on Wednesday to measure the depth of the political and economic opening the country’s new government has unexpectedly begun.

After years of abysmal relations between the United States and Myanmar, the Obama administration has promised to respond to progress — Mrs. Clinton’s trip being the most significant reward so far — even as it presses for more significant steps to end the country’s repressive rule and international isolation.

Those include freeing hundreds more political prisoners, an end to often violent repression of democracy advocates and ethnic groups, and clarification of the country’s illicit cooperation with North Korea on developing ballistic missiles and, possibly, nuclear technologies.

And there’s a lot more where that came from.

Meanwhile, check out ABC News Radio affiliates, Slacker Personal Radio, or Aol Radio for my brief dispatches from Bangkok.

Infographic: How Does Thailand’s Flooding Compare to other Disasters?

Thanks to reader D for passing along this infographic showing the scale of Thailand’s ongoing flooding.

The graphic was created by David McCandless, of the well known data visualization site Information is Beautiful.

2011 11 28 Information is Beautiful 001

For a bigger image — and to see how Thailand’s flooding compares to other disasters, click through to the The Guardian’s DataBlog. The post begins:

Floods. Amazon deforestation. Earthquake destruction. Satellite maps somehow don’t always help us to fully imagine the size of these disasters. Is there a better way to visualize the scale of destruction?

Here I’ve been playing with the ranges of various natural and unnatural disasters, pulling data from various media reports and the US Geological Survey.

Notes from Commerce Minister Kittiratt’s FCCT Talk

Last night Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong gave a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) on the country’s economy following the floods.

The FCCT site has more info on Kittiratt and provides some background information on the talk.

Below is what I tweeted last night. I have no additional observations to share at this time, but I thought these short notes — though perhaps none of them are surprising — may be interesting to those who follow Thai economic matters.

These are in reverse chronological order.

  • 2. Kittiratt: wouldn’t mind if Thaksin chooses to “not to come back to Thailand for a while,” but he cld help w/ investor confidence.
  • 1. Comm. Min. Kittiratt says former PM Thaksin has no official role in helping restore foreign investors’ confidence.
  • Commerce Min. Kittiratt at @fccthai: government has no plan to change rice pledging scheme.
  • 2. Was once manager of Thai national soccer team. Stadium never full til played Myanmar. Thailand scored and place was quiet, he says.
  • 1. Kittiratt says official figure for foreign workers must be higher than stated 1.9 million. He thinks it’s higher than 5 million.
  • Er, make that: Kittirat says Thai economy is too export dependent. Should rebalance and stimulate domestic demand, he says.
  • Kittirat: Thailand too exports. Jokes that he’d like to rename Dept. of Export Promotion the Dept. of International Trade Promotion.
  • At @Fccthai for Thai Dep. PM/Commerce Minister Kittirat Na-Ranong talk on Thai economy. Will tweet any interesting tidbits.

(All emphasis mine.)

Thai government: “Liking” or “Sharing” on Facebook Could be a Crime

A quick follow-up on my post yesterday about Thailand’s latest lèse-majesté case, in which a man has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for sending SMS messages deemed offensive to monarchy:

Today’s Bangkok Post reports:

People who press “share” or “like” buttons on Facebook in response to lese majeste-related content can violate the Computer Crime Act, Information and Communication Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap has warned.

Although the clicks were only aimed at showing support for people who posted messages or to oppose the ill-intentioned messages, they could be considered an infraction of the law, the minister said.

The information and photos of on-line participants in such topics can be exploited by web operators who can reuse them in making “fake Facebook” pages, said Capt Anudith.

The Facebook users will then become supporters of a group or network that offend the monarch.

He advised people who pressed those buttons in Facebook to delete all their reactions and comments.

“If they don’t delete them, they can end up violating the Computer Crime Act for indirectly distributing inappropriate content,” Capt Anudith said.

(All emphasis mine.)

Meanwhile, AFP says today:

Thailand has asked Facebook to delete more than 10,000 pages which it that are “offensive” to its monarchy.

The news came a day after a Thai court jailed a man for 20 years for sending four text messages deemed insulting to the monarchy, alarming critics who say the kingdom’s strict lese-majeste laws hamper free speech.

“We have informed Facebook and sought their assistance in deleting content which is offensive to our monarchy,” the country’s information minister Anudith Nakornthap said.

Back in 2007, of course, the government blocked YouTube in Thailand due to content that ran afoul of lèse-majesté laws.

Question: Would the Thai government consider blocking Facebook in Thailand if the company doesn’t remove the material?

Thailand’s Latest Lèse-Majesté Case: 20 Year Sentence for Insulting SMS Messages

The AP reports:

Thailand’s criminal court sentenced a 61-year-old man to 20 years in prison Wednesday for sending text messages deemed offensive to the country’s queen.

The court found Amphon Tangnoppaku guilty on four counts under the country’s lese majeste and computer crime laws, sentencing him to five years imprisonment for each charge.

Lese majeste is the crime of insulting a monarch, and Thailand’s laws against it are the most severe in the world. Even repeating the details of an alleged offence is illegal.

The court said Mr. Amphon had sent offensive text messages in May 2010 to a personal secretary of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Mr. Amphon denied the charges, saying he was unfamiliar with the text message function on mobile phones and did not know the recipient of the message.

The New York Times says:

A retired truck driver was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Wednesday for sending cellphone text messages that a court deemed insulting to Thailand’s monarchy.

The conviction is the latest in a growing number of cases in Thailand under a law imposing harsh penalties for making insults or threats directed at King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, and his family, even in private communications.

Bloomberg reports:

A Thai court sentenced a retired truck driver to 20 years in prison for sending text messages that threatened and defamed Queen Sirikit, one of the longest jail terms given under laws protecting the royal family.

Meanwhile, Bangkok Pundit has some analysis.

There are already multiple stories from AP, AFP, BBC etc. Amnesty International have already issued a statement stating he is a political prisoner and almost certainly a prisoner of conscience – BP understands Human Rights Watch will likely issue a statement as well – and well the severity of the sentence for insults sent by text message puts lese majeste back in the spotlight particularly given the personal circumstances of the person convicted. His plight will likely invoke more sympathy than for other cases. If there is going to be a poster child (for want of a better word) of the problems of lese majeste law and its application then this is the case. How will the government respond? Will this be one of the lese majeste cases reviewed? (or will the reviews only apply to those yet to proceed to prosecution?)

(All emphasis mine.)

For posts on various past cases, see the lèse-majesté tag.

7 links

Some Thailand-related, some not:

  1. “Solitude and Leadership”The American Scholar
  2. “The Umbrella Man” — short Errol Morris documentary for The New York Times.
  3. “Thai Leaders Hold Out for Thaksin’s Return”Wall Street Journal.
  4. “A Discipline Problem: Paterno Fought Penn State Official Over Punishment of Players”Wall Street Journal
  5. “Defendant Says Khmer Rouge’s Aim Was to Protect Cambodia From Vietnam”New York Times
  6. “Tracing His Menus Back to Chiang Mai”New York Times.
  7. Embedded above: “RoboKopter Zamieszki I,” on YouTube. From “Drone Journalism Arrives,” at The New York Times‘s Lede Blog.

Thailand flooding update November 22, 2011: Waters draining slowly

Just briefly: I have received emails asking for an update on the flooding situation here in Thailand. So here goes:

Summary

In short, there’s not much new to report. Waters are reportedly draining slowly from affected areas, which are generally Bangkok’s western and northern outskirts.

This Nov. 12 WSJ map shows that the parts of the city that have been hit are areas that tourists are unlikely to visit:

2011 11 11 bangkok flooding wsj

Phuket, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and other parts of the country — aside from central Thailand and Ayutthaya — have not been affected.

The international airport, Suvarnabhumi, continues to function normally. Don Muang, the domestic airport, remains closed, but domestic flights are operating via Suvarnabhumi.

The BTS (Sky Train) and MRT are still fine.

Central Bangkok is still dry.

Following the flooding news

Going forward, I will only post about the floods if there are significant developments.

For more frequent updates, I suggest consulting the government’s travel information site, ThailandTourismUpdate.com.

There’s an update from yesterday (Nov. 21), for example, that provides a run-down of the situation.

And of course, you can also consult the Bangkok Post and Nation newspapers.

A Google News search for “Thailand flooding” may also be helpful.

No pardon plan for Thaksin, government says

The death toll from Thailand’s record flooding has risen above 600, the government says.

But both the Bangkok Post and The Nation newspapers are leading with non-flooding news this Monday morning.

The government had reportedly been attempting to arrange a royal pardon for controversial former prime minister Thaksin.

But the headlines today tell us that won’t be happening.

Here’s a cell phone pic of today’s Bangkok Post front page:

2011 11 21 bkk post

And here, via @tukky_nt, is a screen capture of The Nation‘s leading story.

2011 11 21 nation

In its story, the Post says:

The government has withdrawn its plan to seek a royal pardon for its de facto leader and fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra following strong opposition.

Justice Minister Pracha Promnok said Sunday the draft royal decree for royal pardons for convicts on the occasion of His Majesty the King’s 84th birthday anniversary on Dec 5 this year would have conventional conditions.

They include bans on convicts found guilty of drugs offences and corruption and convicts who absconded.

And The Nation reports:

Justice Minister Pracha Promnok insisted yesterday that former prime minister Thaksin Shina-watra would not benefit from the draft Royal Decree seeking pardons for inmates on the occasion of His Majesty the King’s birthday.

“Thaksin will not receive any benefit from the decree, and his name will not be included on the list of convicts eligible for a royal pardon,” Pracha said.

“Convicts on the run will not be eligible.”

Pracha told a press conference that the draft Royal Decree for 2012 used the same wording as the 2011 decree enacted under the Democrat Party’s then justice minister Piraphan Saliratwipak.

(All emphasis mine.)

More to come on the ongoing flooding. But I wanted to note that news coverage among Bangkok’s English language papers had temporarily shifted away from the floods.

Perhaps it shows that interest in the floods may be waning — and that underlying political issues (namely, Thaksin’s future) remain pressing.

Thailand flooding update November 18, 2011: Floodwaters receding, but suffering continues

Here’s the latest as of 7:30 p.m. today, Fri. November 18, 2011.

Note: There have been two interesting non-flooding-related developments here in Thailand and within the region recently.

First, the Thai government has reportedly discussed a pardon that could allow Thaksin to return.

And second, President Obama said today that Sec. of State Clinton will visit Myanmar next month.

These are both important stories, and I’m sure I’ll touch on them at length later. But for the time being, I will continue to focus on the flooding situation here.

Reminder: This post, like the last, will consist of links to notable news stories. I will post new maps and other images as I come across them.

For previous summaries of the flooding situation, see the Thailand flooding tag.

And as always, for more frequent updates, you can follow me on Twitter.

News reports

The WSJ‘s Southeast Asia Real Time says today:

Water levels may have receded significantly in parts of Bangkok after weeks of devastating flooding, and the number of affected provinces in the Thai capital is now just 20 compared with a high of 64. But as more than 5.3 million remain affected by the floodwaters, the crisis is far from over for the Thai kingdom. The death toll — now at 594, according to the Thai government — continues to rise steadily, with more than 60 deaths since last Thursday.

The NYT had this story yesterday about Sec. Hillary Clinton’s recent visit:

Thailand is still reeling from the Great Flood of 2011, but government officials stayed true to the country’s deeply ingrained sense of hospitality during the visit of its important guest. A large banner was strung on the facade of the evacuation center for flood victims welcoming Mrs. Clinton.

What Mrs. Clinton witnessed on Thursday was not a Potemkin village by any stretch. As she entered an air-conditioned sports complex that now serves as an evacuation center, flood victims sat on mats where they have slept every night for many weeks.

But in a land of almost instinctual deference and automatic smiles for foreign visitors, the organizers of Mrs. Clinton’s visit shielded her from a genuine encounter with the frustration and the stress felt by the tens of thousands of flood victims in the country.

Reuters said today:

Thailand’s worst floods in 50 years have hit tourism at the start of the high season, but the country has recovered quickly in the recent past from all sorts of scourges and some tour operators are hopeful a recovery might start next month.

Meanwhile, here’s a Nov. 15 travel alert from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok:

…Floodwaters are generally receding, and the overall situation is improving. However, flooding still hampers transportation and limits access to some essential services in the affected areas.

(All emphasis mine.)