Thai Critic Faces Death Threat

Pavin Chachavalpongpun has become one of the most implacable critics of the country’s ruling king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, and the junta that took over the country in a coup in 2014. Now that may have put his life in danger from the country’s erratic and violence-prone king.

Recently the military decreed that anybody who even read anything by the 46-year-old scholar, along with fellow academic Somsak Jeamteerasukul and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall, would face charges in Thailand. The junta has unsuccessfully attempted to persuade several governments to return Pavin to Thailand. He has lived in exile since the coup, mostly as an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan although he has traveled and lectured widely in the United States and Europe, often with royalist Thais attempting to shout him down. The government has also sought to persuade foreign governments to bar him from speaking.

A statement from the government forbade citizens from following, contacting or sharing content from the three on the internet or other social media and that those who did could be in violation of the country’s draconian Computer Crimes Act.

In recent days, Pavin has escalated his attacks with a series of articles published in Asia Sentinel, New Mandala, and Washington Post, charging that the new king is reigning “as a monarch whose authority is based on fear and cares little about those around him. In vivid and depressing language, Vajiralongkorn’s command structure, Pavin said, resembles those of Thai mafias, or chaophos.

After the article ran, Pavin learned from a number of credible sources that the new king would seek to “manage” him, which in Thai vernacular usually means he would seek to kill his critic.

“So the warning is credible given the credibility of the source,” Pavin told Asia Sentinel. “Someone may come after me in Japan, although my friend believes it will be difficult because of where I live. But they could attack me when I travel overseas, that would be more likely.

As Asia Sentinel has reported previously, several people who worked for or with the new king have met their deaths under mysterious circumstances. They have included Police Major Prakrom Warunprapa and Major General Phisitsak Saneewong na Ayutthaya, the chief bodyguard of Prince Vajiralongkorn, who supposedly committed suicide in jail. The prince’s soothsayer, Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, aka Mor Yong, supposedly died of renal failure. Former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri also disappeared. Police General Akrawut Limrat was also found dead following a mysterious fall from a building.

As Pavin reported in Asia Sentinel, Vajiralongkorn ordered a 60-square-meter prison built within his palace, Dhaveevatthana, in which at least one person, Gen. Phisitsak, died. Phisitsak was cremated in an adjacent crematorium.

Deep concerns about the new king’s behavior have circulated for years, and although the country’s severe lese majeste laws have kept them out of the local press, they have circulated widely within the population. They were given a major boost with the 2010 release of wikileaks cables written by the then-US Ambassador, Eric G. John, indicating that top officials within the Thai palace harbored grave misgivings because of his links for fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and because of his reputation as a womanizer. Unflattering and occasionally scandalous pictures of Vajiralongkorn have made their way into widespread circulation in Bangkok, particularly one of his giving a birthday party for his dog at which his then-consort, the now-disgraced and banished Princess Srirasmi, appeared topless and almost nude.

Since he replaced his revered father, the lese-majeste laws and the military’s campaign to build Vajiralongkorn’s royal presence into near-mystical status have become a kind of trap for the junta. His erratic and violent behavior are now unchecked. For instance Reuters reported on April 20 that Thailand's parliament has agreed in a confidential session to transfer control of royal agencies from the government to the new king including agencies that work for the monarch so that they are grouped together and report to the king," said one parliament member, who declined to be identified. The organizations are the Royal Aide de Camp Department, the Office of His Majesty's Principal Private Secretary, the Bureau of the Royal Household, the Royal Guard Command and the Royal Court Security Police, the assembly member said.

It is believed that the king engineered the disappearance of A memorial plaque of 1932 revolution, since he hated the revolutionaries who abolished absolute monarchy 85 years ago. And now he wishes to revive royal absolutism. Those who filed a complaint about the disappearance of the plaque had their attitude adjusted, deepening suspicion that the new king ordered its removal. The brass plaque on the road surface in the Royal Plaza bore the inscription: “Here at dawn on June 24, 1932, Khana Ratsadon brings into being the constitution for the country’s prosperity.” Khana Ratsadon was the group of military and civil officers behind the move. The plaque was replaced by a new one bearing the unremarkable words: “May Siam be blessed with prosperity for ever. May the people be happy and cheerful and become the strength of the country.”

Thailand has arrived at a critical juncture in which the head of state is ruling its subjects with fear. His yearning for absolute power seems to have been met with the military’s own wish, a country where politics is a game of the political elites. To consolidate their rule, events have shown both the monarchy and the military have resorted to brutal tactics to eliminate its critics. Pavin’s case has proven that disloyal subjects must be dealt with harshly.