Protest-busting police

28 11 2009

PPT thinks that readers will find Awzar Thi’s latest column at Rule of Lords of interest (28 November 2009: “Bangkok’s new protest-busting police chief”). The police chief saga has dragged on and on. Recently though, reports stated that Suthep Thaugsuban had appointed Police Lieutenant General Santhan Chayanont as acting metropolitan police commissioner. Awzar provides the grim background on Santhan.

The Nation reported his first day in the office. Among his first orders were to beef up security at police headquarters and for all officers to wear guns.

Debating human rights

5 11 2009

Our headline is a little misleading, it is really debating the way many self-proclaimed human rights activists and groups in Thailand and in international agencies such as Amnesty International are weak or silent on lese majeste and most other alleged crimes that stifle free expression.

Prachatai has published a short debate involving the chair of Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) Danthong Breen who responds to Awzar Thi’s criticism of human rights advocates in Thailand, and academic Thongchai Winishakul, who responds to Danthong (Prachatai, 5 November 2009: “Danthong Breen’s response to Awzar Thi’s criticism on human rights activists in Thailand”/วิวาทะจุดยืนนักสิทธิมนุษยชนไทยในสถานการณ์ปัจจุบัน).

UCL was once was a brave opponent of the political “crime” of lese majeste (see here as an example). It seems that Awzar Thi’s criticism of human rights diplomacy and comments has caused Danthong some concern. PPT suspects that comments such as these trouble people like Danthong, for he agrees on the criticisms of ASEAN’s human rights mechanism:

“Rights diplomats fear to speak out because they might step on officials’ toes or risk their status with fellow diplomats. They sacrifice their ability to communicate on critically important issues on the streets in order to keep their cherished places at the table. This is why, for instance, some groups have failed to speak out against the use of the lèse majesté law to silence and imprison people in Thailand, when in principle they ought to have not even hesitated.”


“Persons who engage in self-censorship on the pretence of dialogue should expect little sympathy later when they find that they have been made victims of their own attempts at diplomacy, and then cry out that they have been unfairly treated.”

PPT presents the comments in full here:

Dear Pen Name, [PPT: he means Awzar Thi, who uses this pen name, it is mentioned in the Thai version. As readers will see below, Danthong is critical of the use of pen names….]

I am totally in agreement with you on your assessment of the new ASEAN human rights initiative. I am also all for breaking silences and challenging taboos. However, I also respect the opinion of other human rights activists who sincerely believe that they can work from within the system and seize whatever foothold is offered, however tenuous it may appear. I have avoided all meetings and initiatives on the ASEAN mechanism because I truly believe like you, that it will be fruitless. But, I am aware that I do not have access to total understanding on the issue and I am very certain that your understanding is also limited. If people whom I know and respect think they can succeed in another way, why then, good luck to them. Let the dialectic work. Scathing condemnation will not be effective in changing their totally legitimate viewpoint. All that you achieve by attacking them is to spread discouragement and division in our movement. You claim 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights in Thailand. Your assumed right to criticise is hardly explained or justified by the 15 years. I can not only match you but claim even longer experience, including united front activity which based itself on finding common ground. May I gently recommend that you reconsider the tactic of denunciation.

AHRC provides an excellent service of cataloging and exposing injustice, both for those within Thailand itself and abroad, often drawing attention to abuses of which we were not aware. But please do not try to damage the working liaisons we have. You must know that each one has to choose an area of activity, it is hardly wise to expose oneself on every issue however strongly one might feel about them. We are continually assailed by accusations such as ‘You speak on issue x, how can you remain silent on issue y?’ As well accuse an army fighting on the eastern front, of neglecting the war on the western front!

I challenge you to circulate this letter to your readers and allow discussion on the issue. I know several people who no longer read your valuable emails because of the occasional ranting. May I also point to the anomaly of your writing anonymously, while urging action on those who cannot preserve nor wish anonymity in speaking out openly on contentious issues. Please declare yourself bravely for who you are and hear the opinions of others with the respect they deserve.

Danthong Breen,

Union for Civil Liberty, Bangkok

Thongchai Winichakul’s response is shorter and reproduced below:

Dear Mr. Breen,

When there is a pattern in the selectiveness and omission of issues to fight for, and the pattern is in accordance with certain political camps, we call bias and partiality.

If a human rights advocate, like you, cannot make the distinction between practical limits (therefore need to set a priority of issues) and a bias/impartiality, if a human rights activist cannot see their own serious mistakes like impartiality, your human rights works may contribute to more injustice and the widespread hopelessness for justice. Human rights works then contribute to more divisiveness and potential to violence.

Is this criticism polite enough? I think Thi’s article is not as strong as your reaction to him/her.

The above name is real, not a pen-name.

The debate here is representative of the splits within the Thai human rights and activist community that really began in the late 1990s. Recall that back then, some became racist neo-nationalists and joined extreme rightists and the monarchy in nationalist campaigns that also had somethign to do with the support the Thai Rak Thai Party achieved in getting elected. Those nationalist and royalist traits were shown again in the often uncritical support that NGOs and activists gave to the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Those splits have now widened and the result is that there are now human rights groups and activists who are thoroughly royalist and are seemingly unable to distinguish political enemies and human right abuses. It is a sorry state of affairs.

ASEAN human rights and Thailand

30 10 2009

PPT recommends Awzar Thi’s column “Beware of ASEAN rights diplomacy” at his Rule of Lords page at While we posted on some of these issues earlier, we find Awzar’s analysis most enlightening and comprehensive.

We notice his comment:  “Rights diplomats fear to speak out because they might step on officials’ toes or risk their status with fellow diplomats. They sacrifice their ability to communicate on critically important issues on the streets in order to keep their cherished places at the table. This is why, for instance, some groups have failed to speak out against the use of the lèse majesté law to silence and imprison people in Thailand, when in principle they ought to have not even hesitated.”

Sounds like Amnesty International to us. They still refuse to comment on lese majeste and refuse to answer polite emails. They have never responded to PPT.

Awzar Thi on the judiciary and lese majeste

7 09 2009

Awzar Thi, Member, Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong has an article at Jurist, a website from the School of Law at the University of Pittsburg (6 September 2009: “Thailand judiciary further discredits itself with harsh lese majesty sentence against protestor”). The article begins: “A court in Thailand inched closer to its counterparts in neighboring Burma last week when it sentenced an anti-coup protester to 18 years in prison.” Darunee of course.

Awzar says that in her speech, she “connected the 2006 military takeover to the palace, and drew parallels between events in her country and the fate of the monarchy in Nepal, which was abolished in 2008 after a popular uprising.”

On the way the trial was conducted, Awzar states: “The judges made little pretense of conducting the trial fairly. They denied bail three times, reportedly because they were worried that Darunee’s release would affect public sensibilities, which is not a justifiable reason under the Criminal Procedure Code. They closed the court on grounds of national security.”

The cases of Suwicha Thakor and Chiranuch Premchaiporn are also mentioned.

Awzar concludes with a most apt note on the judiciary: “Thailand’s judiciary has again shot itself in the foot in its hurry to defend increasingly outdated social arrangements. A court has for the umpteenth time in the last couple of years succeeded in injuring itself while scrambling to protect an entrenched political order that is less and less relevant to a fast-changing society. Although the disservice the judges did to themselves is in certain ways detrimental to everyone in Thailand – declining respect for their institution only further undermines the rule of law – it has also done a service by having the opposite effect from what it intended. Instead of silencing critics, it has triggered a new round of debate and comment at home and abroad about the limits to what can be said, let alone done, in the kingdom. The more courts try to stop people in Thailand from saying what they think, the more people will stop to ask why.”

Awzar Thi and HRW on the flailing NHRC

15 05 2009

Both Awzar Thi at Rule of Lords and Human Rights Watch have issued recent statements about the current state of the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand. Both are well worth reading and considering.  See Awzar Thi, 14 May 2009, “Thailand’s Anti-Human Rights Commission” and Human Rights Watch, 13 May 2009, “Thailand: Replace Flawed Rights Panel”

If the events of the last six monts have made anything clear, it is that Thailand is in desperate need of a transparent, impartial, and just human rights commission. Unless the current path changes course, this seems unlikely.

Legal double standards

25 04 2009

Awzar Thi of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong has an article at the JURIST website (25 April 2009: “Thai courts’ use of legal double standards encourages extralegal means by opposition”).

The article concludes: “The double legal standards in the handling of rival political camps have done nothing to diminish the likelihood of further bloodshed and uncertainty in the near future. On the contrary, the obvious differences in how the yellow shirts and red shirts have been treated will only encourage government opponents to resort to increasingly extralegal means to get their way. Both sides and their backers have the aptitude and means for violence. Thanks to the politicizing of Thailand’s courts, now they have more appetite for it too.”

Awzar Thi on the crisis of truth in Thailand

16 04 2009

In a new essay for Rule of Lords, Awzar Thi has identified the truth as “the first casualty of war” in Thailand. Rather than informing the public, Awzar notes, “most newspaper space has been taken up with headlines jeering at the Red Shirts failed putsch accompanied by content-free commentary that has at best been infantile and at worst shameful.”

Awzar carefully examines media coverage of the crisis of the past week and unpacks the repression and divided loyalties that have created this situation. After exploring the failures of the mainstream media, the threats to Prachatai, and the courage of bloggers, Awzar concludes by noting, of the truth, that “While both sides in the latest battle for Thailand’s future were arguing furiously about how many lives and limbs they had claimed, the first casualty went uncounted. Its passing is now more obvious than ever, its presence sorely missed.”

Read the entire article here, Awzar Thi, 16 April 2009, “The first casualty”

Awzar Thi on un-legal laws in Thailand and Burma

20 03 2009

At Rule of Lords, Awzar Thi compares recent repression and constriction of speech in Burma and Thailand.  Awzar Thi explicates the recent ten-year sentences given to Win Maw, Zaw Min and Aung Zaw Myo under the 2004 Electronic Transactions Law for allegedly distributing information about the 2007 Saffron Revolution and the recent arrest of Chiranuch Premchaiporn and the raid on the Prachatai office under the 2007 Computer Crime Act.

While noting the significant differences between the two countries and the ways in which cyber crime laws are used to silence speech and constrict citizens, the comparison is provocative. Awzar Thi closes the articles by noting: “Although the scale of abuse in Burma and vengefulness of its government far exceed that of Thailand, the computer crime laws in the two countries are not substantively different. They are in every respect an affront to human rights, and in their deliberate indeterminacy run contrary to legality itself. They are un-legal laws. They are an insult to the millions of Internet users who deserve to be treated better, not least among them, Win Maw, Zaw Min, Aung Zaw Oo and Chiranuch Premchaiporn.”

Awzar Thi’s observation that the laws are un-legal is astute — and PPT urges readers to continuously expose and struggle against un-legal laws.

Read the entire article at UPIAsia: 19 March 2009, “Cyber-thought crime in Bangkok and Rangoon”

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