Free them!

23 03 2012

Prachatai provides brief details of a letter by eight lese majeste convicts to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra “to help seek a royal pardon to ‘free them from suffering’.”

Those seeking a pardon are: Surachai Danwatthananusorn (serving 7.5 years in prison), Suchart Nakbangsai (3 years), Joe Gordon (2 .5 years), Suriyan Kokpuey (3 years and 15 days), Nat Sattayapornpisut (4.5 years), Sathian Rattanawong (3 years), Wanchai Saetan (15 years) and Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul (15 years)

Apparently in a first-ever joint appeal for pardon, they have written:

Now all of us feel guilty and are very sorry for what we have done wrong. So we have decided not to fight our cases, and have pleaded guilty so that the court would decide on our punishment to end court proceedings, and we could exercise our right to petition for a royal pardon….

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, these people can “seek a royal pardon through the Minister of Justice, or the Minister or Cabinet can, on their own initiative, propose to HM the King a royal pardon for convicts.”

The Nation in an article by Avudh Panananda says that the Yingluck government is in a “a dilemma over whether to act on granting the royal pardon for eight lese majeste convicts who happen to be its red allies.” The Nation report spends a large amount of space discussing the novelty of the joint appeal:

Yet the eight have chosen to go through the long and uncharted route for their pardon. Furthermore, they want the government to intervene on their behalf. They specifically called attention to their letter two weeks after the government remained silent on the matter.

Avudh claims that:

After the vetting of petitions by relevant authorities, His Majesty the King would grant pardon to every case. Thai and alien offenders often walked out of prison within a month.

PPT isn’t sure that this is a true statement. It sounds more like royal posterior polishing in the public domain. Reader knowledge on this would be appreciated. One reason we wonder about this is that the report then states:

Even if the government agrees to intervene and issue a pardon decree, the process will take months, perhaps even a year to complete.

Months, years? So what is it?

The report states that none of the government leaders “want the political hot potato dumped in their lap. PM Yingluck appears clueless that the letter was addressed and sent to her.”

In another statement that is made but isn’t justified, Avudh states:

The eight see themselves as political prisoners, hence their demand for the government’s intervention to resolve their legal predicament. But the government is duty-bound to look beyond personal and political ties. Under domestic and international laws, the eight are convicts who can not be classified and treated as political prisoners.

We think Avudh is making this up. As far as we can tell, the Thai laws on political prisoners are non-existent and the only criteria that were developed were those of January this year. Internationally, political prisoners tend to be defined as those who are jailed because they have opposed or criticized their government. That would include criticizing a monarch or a political system. This is the approach PPT has taken.

Amnesty International talks of prisoners of conscience, and this refinement is reserved for those who act peacefully in their politics. None of these prisoners in Thailand appear to fall outside that definition, although AI in Thailand is hopeless and doesn’t apply its own definition.

Equally, though, there are political prisoners, recognized by the U.N., as having taken up arms in freedom struggles. Those supporting Palestinians and Burmese seeking freedom have used a broader definition than AI. The Council of Europe has been debating the term for several years. If any reader knows more, let us know.

In the end, it seems Avudh is making this claim up for political gain. You see this again in the final paragraph of the story:

Abandoning the eight is tantamount to political suicide as the red shirts will condemn the government as ungrateful. But rescuing them will create a dangerous precedent and make it pointless to enforce the lese majeste law.

As much as we wished that the lese majeste law would become pointless by granting a pardon, we think Avudh is again being politicized in approach.

The bottom line is: these political prisoners should be freed.



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