Friday, June 27, 2014

Thoughtcrimes in Bangkok

"One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”


It was a bright, sunny day in Bangkok, and the clocks were striking thirteen.  


Last Sunday, one month after the May 22 coup of 2014, police arrested eight Proles for demonstrating against the military junta, including Winston Smith, who was dragged away for eating a ham sandwich and reading a copy of "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Smith, who once worked as a records clerk in the Ministry of Truth, now faces 7 years in Room 101 for sedition. 


"The best books are those that tell you what you know already."


Smith first chewed the sandwich quietly, then held up the book as officers from the Thought Police approached and the attendant media took photos. When questioned, Smith said he was reading for "liberty, equality and fraternity" — the slogan of the French Revolution.  He was also caught playing the French national anthem on his iPhone.


“The consequences of every act are included in the act itself.” 


The arrest was the first known case of anyone being detained for reading as a form of protest since the military seized power in ThailandGroups of Proles (anti-coup protesters) have staged several silent readings of the book elsewhere in the capital. Why? Because they say that its indictment of totalitarianism is relevant after the military deposed the elected government in the May 22 coup.


Winston Smith is taken into custody by the Thought Police


All of the arrests took place in and around Siam Paragon, a crowded, upscale mall in downtown Bangkok that is one of Southeast Asia's largest monuments to conspicuous consumerism. Several other Proles were also detained in the mall for preparing to hand out sandwiches, copying another recent protest in which a group of student agitators from Bangkok's Thammasat University gave out "sandwiches for democracy."


“A lunatic is just a minority of one.”


The eighth arrest was of a female Prole wearing a t-shirt with the words "Respect My Vote." The phrase was once popular with pro-democracy Proles trying to counter anti-government Proles who obstructed elections on Feb. 2 that were later annulled in a controversial court ruling. The Proles had accused the government of corruption and abuse of power, and had repeatedly called for it to be overthrown and urged the army to intervene. The government, meanwhile, had argued that the nation's democracy was under attack by Proles, the courts, and finally the military which staged the coup.


"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."


But the junta that took power is one of the most repressive in Thailand for decades. Military authorities have made it quite clear that they will not tolerate any lip from the Proles. And they have summoned many people perceived as threats to public order — members of the ousted civilian government, armchair activists and wooly intellectuals. Those released have had to sign pledges saying they will not provoke unrest.


"Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death.”


The junta has proclaimed national unity through "love and reconciliation" as its main aim. Round-the-clock radio and television broadcasts proclaim the army's virtues. And a song the junta says was written by coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha, with lyrics such as "We will act with honesty and just ask that you trust us", is played at the top of the hour on most stations.



The military rulers of Thailand say they want reconciliation but right now they are snuffing out any sign or form of protest in the capital. The Thought Police have warned that anyone calling for action on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, will face prosecution for sedition. The military has shut down hundreds of "inappropriate websites", radio stations and television channels since the coup. The Thai Journalists Association, in a statement on its website on Wednesday, said it was worried about the action against the media. "It could impact the information the public receives and be an obstacle to our work.


“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing." (as not said by Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree).


Junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree said they were not trying to restrict the Thai media or mislead the public. "We won't close or obstruct the public's right to know truthful news," he said. "We ask for cooperation to write balanced and appropriate news." 


“In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four.”


All of this has impacted the country in real terms. Data released on Thursday showed exports and factory output fell more than expected in May, showing that the economy remains weak, underscoring the tough task that the new military government faces. And, further battered by lower tourist arrivals, it shrank 2.1 percent in January-March over the previous quarter. The junta has promised to install a government by September and stage elections in a little more than a year, but says it must first ensure stability for the nation and crush any form of critical reportage or social resistance.


"It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face… was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…"