Human rights a horror story

25 07 2010

Reading just the Bangkok Post as a bit of relaxation turned into a horror story for PPT on Sunday. There are just too many articles that call into question human rights in Thailand, in the past but especially under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Earlier today we posted on one of the these stories, but as PPT ploughed through more of the paper, jaw dropping, we found it all a bit much. For interested readers, here are the articles we refer to, in no particular order:

1) In its report on the Constituency 6 by-election, the Post manages to not mention that Puea Thai Party candidate Korkaew Pikulthong is in jail, has been prevented from campaigning and even from making a recorded message available to potential voters. The latter restriction imposed by the supposedly independent Election Commission. Preventing voters from gaining electoral information is a crime in many places. In Thailand, where censorship reigns it seems normal.

2) We can’t find it on the Post site to link to it, but the inside front cover has a series of stories by Alan Dawson who correctly points out that: censorship has run wild under the current government; the premier’s image as a human rights man is in need of revision, that the DSI is failing and that the military is riddled with corruption. Okay, he doesn’t use those words, but the meaning is clear.

3) Vitit Muntarbhorn is a professor of law at Chulalongkorn University has an opinion piece on the national human rights plan. Yes, there was one, and a new one was recently launched. It was launched by none other than Prime Minister Abhisit. To cut the whole sorry tale short, nothing much was achieved on the first plan and the prospects for the second appear even more dismal.

4) In the entertainment gossip column called “Mae Moo,” there is a story reflective of the ongoing political struggle, the political use of lese majeste and distasteful yellow-shirted antics. The story is of personal attacks, lies and human rights abuses. It is a sorry tale.

Actor Kowit Wattanakul and his actress daughter Mintita “Mint” Wattanakul have had to speak out to defend themselves against accusations that they are disloyal to the king. Accusing someone of such a “crime” is an abuse of human rights because it almost guarantees police investigation and can cripple a career, as has been seen in another recent case. Kowit says he and his daughter “have been through a media maelstrom since the inaugural Nataraja (performing arts) awards in May, when reports accused the pair of refusing to partake in the royalist grandeur of the occasion.” Recall that yellow shirt supporter Pongpat Wachirabanjong was accused of lese majeste for a speech at the same awards.

Kowit stands accused of having “walked out of a nationalistic speech by yellow shirt director Pongpat … while Mint [is accused of having] refused to sing her part of a song commissioned by Her Majesty the Queen.” When monarchy-loving yellow shirts made these (false) accusations, the reaction was immediate. “Mint was dropped from a soap opera in which she had been acting for months. She was also yanked from another production due to start filming the next day.” They were attacked on “webboards, with Thais [PPT: not sure why the collective noun is used here] accusing them of supporting the red shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship – painted by their yellow shirt rivals as being against the monarchy.”

Both were essentially forced to come out and declare their loyalty and explain what had happened. The Post seems to be at least a little supportive, “explaining” the events. It’s a pity that no one, anywhere in government, including the human rights plan launcher (see above), has the guts to denounce such scurrilous and gutless behaviour. PPT surmises that, secretly, Abhisit and his buddies really do enjoy seeing the “other side” squirm, even when they aren’t in chains. Every forced claim of loyalty is imagined to be a victory for the past-its-use-by-date institution and its conservative and right-wing supporters.

5) Sort of related, the comedy – or smart-arse – column (or whatever it is) by a lad named Andrew Biggs, who gets his celebrity from speaking Thai reasonably well gets one thing right when he comments on the penalties for speaking out against those higher up the social scale (think nai-phrai perhaps?). Commenting on the Withawat Thaokhamlue Academy Fantasia television talent show case, he says: “the higher you are, the more your opinion and status is revered and thus those below you are rude and unacceptable if they complain about you. Even our esteemed prime minister, drilled about freedom of expression during his extensive UK schooling, is still Thai enough to understand this. When asked about Mark’s right to free speech, he replied, as if he were riding a fun park carousel, that Mark has the right to say what he feels but then again he is young, and he should be careful of his words, and as a young person he shouldn’t really be slamming older people, and he is a celebrity, and thus a role model for youth, and … and … Okay we get the picture. Shut up Mark, and respect your elders.” And “betters!”

But where Biggs gets totally balls-up is when he makes ludicrous comments about freedoms. He acknowledges Thailand’s lack of freedoms, but then says: “Young Mark has committed an offence in Thailand; he exercised free speech. I announce this fact not to vent my outrage _ I’m more outraged True Visions considers 12 vocally-challenged Thai teenagers entertainment _ but rather to tell you, dear reader, that the Mark incident serves as a reminder that we don’t have freedom of speech in Thailand. But we still get along just fine.

There it is. Biggs becomes Thai and says “we” are “fine.” But what of the implications of this? Of human rights? Well, Biggs goes on to observe: “Despite frequent claims of Thailand’s democracy and freedoms, it’s not quite the way it is portrayed. Again I must stop here and say this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I’m only saying traditionally in Thai society there’s hasn’t been freedom of speech per se. Rather, you have the freedom to say what you like as long as the person on the social strata directly above you isn’t offended by it.” Yeah, right. If you are at the bottom of the heap, you can’t say a thing.

At least Biggs gets back on track when he admits: “The big rumour is that Mark wrote something disparaging about the monarchy on his Facebook page as well, something he vehemently denies. Thais will tell you that’s the real reason he got the boot.” We’ll stop there, without adding Biggs’s final silly remark.

6) And a sad corrective to conclude on. A while ago PPT decided to have a stab at how many political prisoners were being held in Thailand. Ancient lawyer Thongbai Thongpao, who once had a great human rights record, but is now sullied by his support for all kinds of military and government nonsense points out our error. In his article, he points out that there are 500 held in the South under emergency rule there.

PPT stands corrected. Add those in, and we estimate that Thailand now has 1,500 political prisoners. Hopefully foreign and international organizations join with progressive Thai human rights groups in demanding that political prisoners be released immediately and in condemning the Abhisit regime’s failure to uphold basic human rights.

So much for the long and pleasant Sundays of leisurely reading the paper…. Now it’s a horror story.





Further updated: Don’t criticize Abhisit (or his boss)!

15 07 2010

Think of the poor kid Withawat Thaokhamlue now having to withdraw from the rather awful Academy Fantasia television talent show. He criticized and damned Abhisit Vejjajiva on his Facebook page. He was then attacked by the yellow shirts, the media and others for it. Okay, he might have used some swear words, but many are frustrated. He’s then accused of attacking the monarchy – the redoubt of the political right in Thailand. Now he’s out of the show.

The lesson is that criticizing any of the higher-ups is likely to get you in deep brown stuff. Even the prime minister is now held to be above criticism by the plebs.

The horrid yellows argued for the kid’s “immediate expulsion from the show, insisting that while Withawat enjoys the right to free speech, his use of abusive language on a web page open to the public is intolerable and sets a bad example.” Oh dear, he expressed himself profanely.

More startlingly, the government’s political bully boys at the Department of Special Investigation and boss Tharit Pengdit “said investigators will look into Withawat’s alleged anti-monarchy comments….  Tharit heads a working group investigating lese majeste cases.”

PPT wonders if we should add the kid to our page of pending cases. Sadly, we probably will.

Update 1: AP has a story on this case. It says that the “hip-looking 17-year-old student, suggested on Facebook that protesters might not have set buildings on fire if the prime minister had dissolved parliament and called an election, as the demonstrators demanded. Government supporters attacked Witthawat, and many viewers expressed their disapproval. Many on the anti-government side became his fans. The whole affair received widespread media coverage.”

Free media advocate Supinya Klangnarong is cited: “More battles here and there — in the entertainment industry, in politics, in schools, in universities or even in homes — will be occurring, I think, throughout the country.”

AP adds: “Last Saturday, as the scandal peaked, Witthawat’s parents asked the show’s producer not to have their son perform on stage, saying they didn’t want him to be in the middle of any conflict. He still managed to get the most votes, apparently drawing support from both fans and political sympathizers.”

Lese majeste isn’t covered.

Update 2: Bangkok Post has an editorial that is reasonably sensible on the topic and the ever useful Suranand Vejjajiva has a good story on this sad topic.

PPT has added a page to pending cases, until we hear that the Gestapo-like DSI has dropped the silly and spiteful lese majeste investigation.








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