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Media report on the death of Amphon Tangnoppakul (aka Uncle SMS)

A Thai man in his 60s who became known as “Uncle SMS” after he was convicted of defaming Thailand’s royal family in mobile phone text messages has died while serving his 20-year prison term, his lawyer said Tuesday.

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BP has already blogged on the death of Amphon Tangnoppakul/Uncle SMS, who is serving a 20-year sentence for sending four SMS messages deemed to be lese majeste (also see companion post at Siam Voices which has a chronology of the case).

AP:

A Thai man in his 60s who became known as “Uncle SMS” after he was convicted of defaming Thailand’s royal family in mobile phone text messages has died while serving his 20-year prison term, his lawyer said Tuesday.

The case of Amphon Tangnoppakul, a grandfather who had suffered from mouth cancer, drew attention to Thailand’s severe lese majeste laws last November when he received one of the heaviest-ever sentences for someone accused of insulting the monarchy.

Thai activist jailed 15 years

Amphon’s cause of death was not immediately known, but he had complained of stomach pains on Friday and was transferred to a correctional department hospital, his lawyer Anon Numpa said.

It was not immediately clear when he died, but Amphon’s wife learned the news early Tuesday during a visit to the Bangkok prison where he was being held, Anon said.

Amphon was arrested in August 2010 and accused of sending four text messages to a government official that were deemed offensive to the queen. He denied sending them, however, and said he didn’t even know how to use the SMS function on his telephone to send texts.

He wept during his court proceedings, saying, “I love the King.”

The sentence was believed to be the heaviest ever received in a lese majeste case because of additional penalties issued under a related law, the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.

Before his arrest, Amphon had lived with his wife, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren in a rented room in Samut Prakan province, on the outskirts of Bangkok. He was retired and suffered from cancer of the mouth.

 

 

Reuters:

Successive governments have ignored international calls to reform the lese-majeste laws, a highly sensitive issue in a country where 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is regarded as semi-divine.

The laws are increasingly questioned in Thailand itself, with some critics arguing the legislation is abused to discredit activists and politicians opposed to the royalist establishment.

Thomas Fuller in the New York Times:

Mr. Ampon, who is widely referred to as “Uncle SMS,” was repeatedly denied bail despite a history of cancer. The court ruled last year that Mr. Ampon was a flight risk and that his condition “did not appear to be fatal.” His lawyer, Anon Numpa, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that prison may have worsened his condition.

Mr. Ampon complained of stomach pains last week and was sent to a prison hospital, where he died. An autopsy was being performed Tuesday, Mr. Anon said. “His condition would have been better had he been on the outside,” he said.

In a handwritten note to his lawyer from prison last month, Mr. Ampon said he was “often disheartened,” and missed his wife and grandchildren. “I’m trying to be patient,” he said. “I have high hopes that I will get freedom soon.”

Bloomberg:

Ampol Tangnoppakul died at 9 a.m. at the government-run Klang Hospital, Suchart Wong-ananchai, director-general of the Department of Corrections, told reporters in Bangkok. In November a court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for sending text messages that threatened and defamed Queen Sirikit, 79.

“Grandfather died,” Arnon Numpa, Ampol’s lawyer, wrote on his Facebook page. “Please accompany him at the prison.”

Ampol’s sentence prompted the U.S., European Union and United Nations to issue statements calling on Thailand to respect freedom of speech. The Southeast Asian country has seen a surge in the number of cases alleging insults against the royal family in recent years, coinciding with political violence since a 2006 coup.

BBC:

He was convicted in November last year of sending four messages to an official working for then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

He denied the claims and said he did not know how to send a text.

The conviction – the heaviest for a lese majeste case – sparked outrage among rights groups, with Amnesty International describing Ampon as a political prisoner and the European Union expressing ”deep concern”.

Sunai of Human Rights Watch has some audio comments on ABC.

BP: First, prison conditions in Thai jails are not good.  For someone in their 60s who has/had cancer in the crowded conditions of a Thai prison cell (e.g. 35 prisoners in a 40 sqm cell) you are more susceptible to picking up other illnesses and combined with the poor quality of prison food, a person’s health can easily deteriorate in a Thai jail. Prachatai has more details on that:

According to the lawyer, Ampon has been suffering from stomachache for months, but he was first transferred to hospital around noon last Friday and was admitted around 3.40 pm. He did not immediately receive diagnosis as the hospital lab was closed on weekend. His blood was taken for testing on Monday, but before the results were made known, he passed away around 9.10 am today.

“If Ampon was granted bail and could go see doctor regularly, such incident might not have happened” said the lawyer. Prior to this, Ampon has just had operation for oral cancer.

BP:  Am unsure of the exact prognosis of his cancer and we don’t know exactly what caused his death, but his lawyer is very likely correct when he says his condition would have been better on the outside. And the rationale for no bail again was? That the hospital lab was closed on the weekend shows you that they don’t have the facilities to treat people properly. Yes, public healthcare in Thailand is far from perfect, but it is even worse in the Thai prison system (despite the Klong Prem facility having a hospital).

Second, a general theme mentioned in the articles is of lese majeste reform. Veera in the Bangkok Post:

Regrettably, the calls for the amendment, or even lifting, of the lese majeste law, fell on the deaf ears of the Pheu Thai Party-led  government, which seems set on reconciling with the amataya clique in its attempt to push through  its reconciliation plan and pave the way for the return home of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The party does not want to offend the military, which has stated clearly it does not want the lese majeste law to be amended. Hence, the law remains intact even if the constitution is to be rewritten.

After his conviction, Ah Kong appealed against the verdict but he later withdrew the appeal and instead sought royal clemency. Unfortunately, he died before there was an answer to his plea.

Given the extensive responses to Ah Kong’s death in the Twitter social media, and in foreign news reports, it seems likely that his sudden demise while serving his jail term will re-ignite the calls for changes to the lese majeste law by the free expression and human rights advocacy groups.

It is doubtful that the government, or the Pheu Thai Party, will change its stand on the issue.

 

Continue reading here:
International media round-up on the death of Uncle SMS

Asean

COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Outs in ASEAN Live Updates by Country

Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million. Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies

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ASEAN coronavirus Covid-19 live updates by country

Brunei

Brunei has joined the global Covax scheme and is expecting to have the COVID-19 vaccine in Q1 2021, having sourced enough supplies to cover 50% of the population. Discussions are on-going with other suppliers.   

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  • Brunei recorded one new case on May 8, bringing the total to 330 cases amid three deaths.
  • Brunei saw one new case on May 7, taking the total to 229 cases amid three deaths.
  • Brunei recorded one new case on May 4, taking the total to 228 amid three deaths.

Cambodia

Cambodia is expected to import vaccines from both China and Russia. China’s vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials while Russia has already commenced production. Australia has offered financial support to aid vaccine coverage in several southeast Asia countries including Cambodia.  

  • Cambodia recorded 538 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 18,717 cases amid 114 deaths.
  • Cambodia recorded 558 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 18,179 cases and 114 deaths.
  • Cambodia reported 650 new cases and four deaths on May 6, bringing the tallies to 17,621 cases and 114 deaths.

Indonesia

Indonesia has commenced vaccinations with just over nine million doses being given to front line workers from last month. China’s Sinovac is in discussions with Indonesia to provide supplies, however, the Government faces difficulties with a large population of 268 million and price sensitivity at Sinovac’s estimated costs at 200,000 rupiah (US$20) a dose.

Indonesia’s Health Ministry’s Disease Control and Prevention Director-General Achmad Yurianto said that vaccinations would only be provided to citizens aged 18-59. The vaccine has also been required to pass halal certification prior to use and it is uncertain how the country can source enough vaccines to reach a sizeable part of its population.  Australia has stated it will also provide financial support to solve these issues.  

  • Indonesia recorded 6,130 new cases and 179 deaths on May 8, bringing the totals to 1,709,762 cases and 46,842 deaths.
  • Indonesia saw 6,327 new cases and 167 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,703,632 cases and 46,663 deaths.
  • Indonesia reported 5,647 new cases and 147 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,697,305 cases and 46,496 deaths.

Laos

Laos has been trialing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and is also in discussions with China about acquiring supplies. 

  • Laos recorded 28 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 1,233.
  • Laos saw 28 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 1,205.
  • Laos saw 105 new cases on May 6, taking the total to 1,177.

Malaysia

Malaysia is to provide vaccines free of charge to its nationals, but foreigners will need to pay for the treatment, according to the Malaysian Minister of Health, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who has signed a deal with Pfizer for 12.8 million doses.

These will be administered in two stages of 6.4 million people each, with the program to commence in Q1 2021. The country aims to inoculate between 80-100% of its citizens. 

  • Malaysia reported 4,519 new cases and 25 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 436,944 cases and 1,657 deaths.
  • Malaysia saw 4,498 new cases and 22 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 432,425 cases and 1,632 deaths.
  • Malaysia recorded 3,551 new cases and 19 deaths on May 6, taking the totals to 427,927 cases and 1,610 deaths.

Myanmar

Myanmar is seeking assistance from the Gavi and Covax programs to acquire vaccines, while Australia is also providing financial relief. At present, the Government aims to treat 20 percent of the ‘most at risk’ in the country with vaccines. The Government is struggling with finances and logistics and is also under US sanctions, while cases are surging. The Government has banned the celebration of Christmas and other seasonal celebrations.   

  • Myanmar recorded 31 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 142,934 amid 3,210 deaths.
  • Myanmar saw 29 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 142,903 amid 3,210 deaths.
  • Myanmar recorded 16 new cases and one death on May 5, bringing the total to 142,874 amid 3,210 deaths.

Philippines

The Philippines aims to commence vaccinations from June 2021 and expects to inoculate about 25 million people (about 25 percent of its population) over the course of the year. The country has been badly affected by the virus and has the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia.

The business community has reacted, more than 30 local companies signed an agreement to purchase at least 2.6 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the country’s first such deal to secure coronavirus vaccines, ten days ago. They plan to donate a large part of the doses to the government for its planned vaccination program and use the rest to inoculate their employees. 

  • The country saw 6,979 new cases and 170 deaths on May 8, taking the totals to 1,094,849 cases and 18,269 deaths.
  • The Philippines reported 7,733 new cases and 108 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,087,885 cases and 18,099 deaths.
  • The Philippines saw 6,637 new cases and 191 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,080,172 cases and 17,991 deaths.

Singapore

Singapore has been working on producing its own ‘Lunar’ vaccine, in a joint venture between the US company Arcturus together with the Duke-NUS medical school. It is a single dose, mRNA shot, developed from genetically engineering COVID-19 genes into an otherwise harmless virus. This technique is marginally safer than other vaccines which rely on dead Covid-19 material to provoke an immune response. The vaccine is expected to be available from Q1 2021. High-risk personnel will receive the vaccine first in a process to be determined by the government.     

  • Singapore recorded 20 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 61,331 cases amid 31 deaths.
  • Singapore saw 25 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 61,311 cases amid 31 deaths.
  • Singapore saw 18 new cases on May 6, bringing the total to 61,286 cases amid 31 deaths.

Thailand

Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million.

Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies. Discussions are also on-going with Oxford University in the UK to secure a vaccine that could be available in Q1 if trials are completed in time.   

  • Thailand reported 2,419 new cases and 19 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 81,274 cases and 382 deaths.
  • Thailand recorded 2,044 new cases and 27 deaths on May 7, taking the totals to 78,855 cases and 363 deaths.
  • Thailand reported 1,911 new cases and 18 deaths on May 6, taking the tallies to 76,811 cases and 336 deaths.

Vietnam

Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), a division of Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, has signed an agreement with Medigen Vaccine, a Taipei, Taiwan-based vaccine company to secure the supply of 3 million to 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021. Medigen is currently conducting Phase II studies of the vaccine, co-developed with the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Taiwan and Vietnam with a view to a Q1 2021 rollout.  

Vietnam is also working on producing its own vaccine, with the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC) in Nha Trang City, partnering with New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine and the global health non-profit organization PATH. Phase 1 trials are already underway in Vietnam, while Phases 2 & 3 will be conducted at the beginning of 2021. The institute plans to submit documents for approval to the health ministry as early as April next year and claims to be capable of producing 30 million doses a year, expecting that a national vaccine could be distributed to the general population in October 2021.

  • Vietnam saw 15 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 3,152 cases amid 35 deaths.
  • As of May 7, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,091 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Thai Binh, Bac Ninh, and Da Nang among others. 16 local cases are linked to the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi’s Dong Anh district.
  • As of May 6, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,030 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi’s outskirts district of Dong Anh.

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Thailand’s Consumer Confidence Drops to Record Low in April

The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTTC) estimated an economic loss of 400-600 billion baht if the outbreak continues beyond this month

National News Bureau of Thailand and Headline Editor

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BANGKOK (NNT) – The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTTC) said consumer confidence hit a record low in April, dropping to 46.0 from 48.5 in March, dented by a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

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Thailand Q1 Investment Applications Soar 80% as FDI More Than Double says BOI

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The Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) said today that in the first quarter of 2021, investment applications rose 80% from the year earlier period to a total value of 123.4 billion baht (USD3.9 billion), led by projects in the medical and electric and electronics (E&E) sectors, as foreign direct investment (FDI) applications more than doubled.

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