Release all political prisoners

28 01 2013

The “29 January United Front for the Release of Political Prisoners” is launching a campaign demanding that all political prisoners be released regardless of which political faction they belong to. Led by Suda Rankupan from Chulalongkorn University, the group claims 10,000 supporters, and is linked to anti-coup groups and political reformers such as Nitirat and academics like Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Suthachai Yimprasert and Pichit Likhitkitsomboon.

Suda says the group is actively campaigning for lese majeste and other political prisoners and correctly points out that: “The death of [lese majeste victim] Ampol [Tangnopakul] in prison demonstrates the cruelty of the country’s justice system…”.

Suda knows that “her group is pushing the government to take a political risk, [but] she said it had the responsibility to help people who support it.” She is absolutely right!

The judiciary damned

25 01 2013

It is reported that several dozen protesters came together on Friday to burn “mock law textbooks in front of the Criminal Court in protest against the prison sentence given to Somyot Prueksakasensuk…”, sentenced to 11 years in jail, after being convicted on lese majeste charges. The authorities, including court officials filmed the protest, and the courts have repeatedly stated that they will charge those who “unfairly” criticize the court’s decisions.

A Bangkok Post picture

A Bangkok Post picture

Another group visited Somyos at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

The court protesters was a diverse group that broadly protested Article 112 and pointed to its heinous impact on rule of law, freedom of expression and constitutional and international rights. “The burning of mock textbooks, mainly relating to the rights of the innocent, bail and free speech … [was] in front of a large crowd of local and international media.”

Statements “cited the previous case of Daranee Charncherngsilapakul, saying she was given an unconstitutional secret trial and then sentenced to 15 years in prison, and also Thantawut Taveevarodom, who was sentenced to 13 years, and Ampon Tangnoppakul, or Uncle SMS, who was sent to prison for 20 years and died not long after in a prison hospital in May last year.”

The report also refers to “18 organisations hav[ing] staged [a] protest against the 10-year sentence for Somyot, in front of the Thai embassy in Seoul, South Korea.”

It is clear that the judiciary, in its role as protector of the monarchy, is destroying the foundations of the legal system. Article 112 undermines the limited credibility it still has.

Updated: Persons of the year

31 12 2012

All of the media come up with men and women of the year. Most of those listed are representatives of the elite often with few connections to the grassroots.

PPT has decided to choose our persons of the year in what was an exceptionally easy decision for us. The PPT Persons of the Year are each and every political prisoner who remains locked in a Thai prison.

Most of these political prisoners are red shirts arrested during the political struggles of 2010, around the time that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government ordered a military crackdown on protesters. A number of them are incarcerated on charges of lese majeste or for infringing the computer crimes law.

Two of these political prisoners – Ampol Tangnopakul and Wanchai Raksanguansilp – died in 2012 while incarcerated.  Darunee Charnchoensilpakul has been  jailed since 22 July 2008.

Naturally, we can’t congratulate them. Rather, we wish them a better 2013 and hope they are soon released. They are not forgotten.

Update: This post has been translated to French.

Shackling and fettering

20 12 2012

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk shackled in 2012

There’s a brief story at The Nation that caught PPT’s attention. In it, National Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pithakwatchara has “voiced concern about the use of fettering and its impact on human dignity.”

Apparently the “rules” that are currently used demand that “the fettering of all male inmates aged not over 60 to prevent any attempt at jailbreak or suicide.”

Niran seemed to think that  there was concern “[a]t the international level.” All lese majeste prisoners under 60 years are shackled on every court appearance.

Niran also raised issues regarding the health care provided to inmates, noting that lese majeste convict Ampol Tangnopakul died in jail earlier in 2012.

Joe Gordon in chains in 2011

Joe Gordon in chains in 2011

He also mentioned the case of Ampon Tangnoppakul, who died while serving a jail term for a lese-majeste offence earlier this year: “Niran pointed out that the Corrections Department might have failed to take care of Ampon’s health well enough.”

Harry Nicolaides in chains in 2009

Harry Nicolaides in leg irons in 2009

The Corrections Department’s senior executive Lawan Ornsamlee “explained that prisoners were only handcuffed at correctional facilities.” In 2011, the U.S. State Department stated: “Authorities also used heavy leg irons to control prisoners who were deemed escape risks or possibly dangerous to other prisoners.” She added that: “Only convicts held on grave offences are fettered by both ankles and wrists…”.

She continued to explain that: “Other prisoners were fettered in the same way only when they travelled out of correctional facilities.”

Lese majeste is deemed not a libel or a defamation but a “grave offense.” As the Constitutional Court has it, lese majeste is so serious that it threatens the very foundations of the state!

Ampol inquest

19 12 2012

The Bangkok Post reports that the Criminal Court has begun “an inquest into the death of lese majeste convict Ampon Tangnoppakul.” As most readers will know, in one of the most political of lese majeste cases, Ampol was accused and then convicted of insulting the queen in series of SMS messages. Ridiculously sentenced to 20 years in a farcical court case that failed to prove Ampol had sent any messages, he perished while in jail.

The report states that the “inquest is in response to a petition from Ampon’s wife, Rosmalin Tangnoppakul, who claimed her husband died under suspicious circumstances.”

A senior nurse “admitted the prison hospital was not properly equipped to treat cancer patients” and “confirmed no doctors were present when Ampon died about 9.10am.” Why were no doctors attending?

Dr Kittibun Techaporn-anan, 39, the resident doctor, said he was with the hospital director when Ampon died.

He said a ward nurse had contacted him to say Ampon’s heart had stopped and they were trying to revive him.

He could not attend to help because he had been instructed by the hospital director to welcome the director-general of the Corrections Department, who was visiting the prison.

The life of a lese majeste convict was clearly inferior to a visit by a big shot.

Updated: Failed on human rights

17 12 2012

In yet another op-ed, Pavin Chachavalpongpun comes to the conclusion that many drew at the time of her appointment as chief of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) back in 2009:  the NHRC has been “rendered toothless by its Quisling chairwoman” Amara Pongsapich.

A Thai Rath cartoon of Amara's close relationship with Abhisit and the army

A Thai Rath cartoon of Amara’s close relationship with Abhisit and the army

Writing at the Asia Sentinel, Pavin is angered that Amara has not had the NHRC do much of anything on some of the major human rights issues that have emerged during her tenure as chair. He mentions lese majeste, the deaths at the hands of the Army of red shirts in 2010 and the death in custody of lese majeste victim Ampol Tangnopakul.

Back in mid-2010, PPT commented:

PPT has serious doubts about the NHRC and its effectiveness. We’re not even sure that the NHRC even has the capacity to understand the significance of, and deal with difficult, human rights issues in a society that is divided by political conflict. Amara has been totally ineffective and compromised by her links to royalists and Privy Councilor Prem Tinsulanonda.

Amara with CRES at an army base during the red shirt uprising in 2010

Amara gets chummy with the Democrat Party leadership at an army base during the red shirt uprising in 2010

Pavin notes that Amara has been especially supportive of Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was the premier who appointed her. PPT has no doubt that Abhisit appointed her precisely because he knew she was prepared to be a human rights charlatan.

Readers can view several posts over the past three years that are similarly critical of Amara: AHRC on the National Human Rights CommissionAHRC on the new NHRC, We do not lie. Of course they do, King, country, chaos?, NHRC compromised (again), How many are detained?, Somyos and another chance for the NHRC, Is dialogue possible on human rights?, and On the NHRC’s lese majeste procrastination.

Where Pavin’s piece is useful is in pointing out the double standards employed by Amara while she has been at the head of what is meant to be an important protector of human rights. He observes, as PPT has, that “Amara has never been politically neutral since the beginning. Her inclinations and sympathy toward the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the royalist Yellow Shirts…”.

One example of double standards is seen in her recent actions:

When the Yingluck Shinawatra government decided to employ teargas to disperse crowds in the latest anti-government rally led by an elderly former general in late November, Amara and her NHRC were fuming. She immediately released a statement reproaching the government’s measures in dealing with the demonstrators…. “The government was over-reacting and the use of teargas was unacceptable,” she said.*

NHRC head Amara Pongsapich and friend: opposing human rights

NHRC’s Amara with Abhisit: opposing human rights

Another is in the arena of political prisoners, of which there were hundreds during the Abhisit regime: “The NHRC has shown a marked lack of interest in many other cases involving political prisoners, as well as harassment against Thai academics in Thailand who spoke critically of the monarchy.”

Pavin concludes with an observation that is a perfect demonstration of Amara’s bias and disdain for real human rights. He notes that she:

has offered human rights awards to a number of dubious personalities, ranging from a celebrity monk, a controversial [royalist] forensic pathologist and a[n ultra-royalist and ultra-nationalist] detainee in a Phnom Penh prison who was arrested by Cambodia for provoking a conflict between the two countries.

The demise of the NHRC under Amara’s “leadership” is a travesty, but it was what Abhisit intended when he appointed her, and she has not disappointed Abhisit or the royalist elite.

Update: *Bangkok Pundit suggests this attribution to Amara is incorrect.

Further updated: Surapak acquitted!

31 10 2012

There’s good news today. The Bangkok Post reports that Surapak Puchaisaeng, accused of lese majeste, has been acquitted by the court, “ruling that the prosecution had failed to prove its case.” Surapak joins a very small list – 5% of those charged – who are acquitted. The last person acquitted was yellow-shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul, but for very different and politicized reasons.

A Bangkok Post photo

Surapak stood accused of posting defamatory Facebook messages and was arrested in 1 September 2011 and denied bail since then.

The Criminal Court “was convinced that the HTML files were not cached when browsing Facebook but were pasted into Mr Surapak’s computer.” This suggests that the computer used as evidence was tampered with, probably by the police.

In our page on Surapak, we had noted that, while the newspaper accounts of the evidence were incomplete, there certainly appears to be little substantial evidence in this case. We added that we hoped Surapak would be one of those in the tiny 4-5% who get off lese majeste and computer crimes charges, but the recent behavior of the courts suggest that acquittal is unlikely. We hope we are wrong.  We were wrong, and we are overjoyed that this case has been trashed by the court.

The Post notes the frame-up: “Asked if he would file a counter lawsuit against the people who framed him, [Surapak] said he would think about it first.” No doubt a year in jail on false charges is a bitter pill.

His aged mother Taem Phuchasaeng, 68, said: “It is a pity that certain other lese majeste defendants were not in a position to defend themselves. I was quite sorry, in particular, about the death of Ah Kong [Ampol Tangnopakul].”

The Post also reports that “Panitan Prueksakaemsuk, the son of another lese majeste defendant, Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, was among those who attended Wednesday’s court session. He said Mr Surapak’s victory might be a good example and comfort to other lese majeste defendants.” He added: “We just hope for a political solution for other lese majeste prisoners…”.

Update: It is worth viewing The Nation’s website for seemingly malicious reporting of this case. In its first account of the acquittal, The Nation states and headlines: “Red shirt leader acquitted” and adds: “The Criminal Court on Tuesday acquitted a red shirt leader in a lese majeste lawsuit, giving the benefit of the doubt to the defendant.” PPT has never before heard claims that Surapak is or was a red shirt leader. In the next story it has posted, by Pravit Rojanaphruk, the account appears more factual. We wonder what The Nation is up to?