Impunity not just for the military

24 10 2014

PPT has often posted on the abject failure of Thailand’s so-called justice system. We have also posted on the impunity enjoyed by officials – mostly in the corrupt military – who torture and murder citizens. Impunity is promoted by the failed justice system that is politicized and works in the interests of the royalist elite.

It is clear, though, that impunity extends to others who do the elite’s dirty work. It is reported at Khaosod that the former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who was “summoned to give testimony for a court inquest into the death of Muramoto Hiroyuki, the Reuters reporter who was shot dead while covering the clashes between Redshirt protesters and security forces on Din So Road on the night of 10 April 2010.” As Khaosod states, this “crackdown was authorized by Suthep and then-PM Abhisit Vejjajiva.”

Suthep “said he would not attend the court hearing because he has already given testimonies in other court cases related to the 2010 crackdown…”. Clearly, Suthep’s bloody work for the elite outweighs the law.

Here’s how impunity works, as clipped from Khaosod:

According to the official, the court will issue another summons for Suthep to provide testimony in court on 25 November. It is unclear whether the former deputy PM will face any legal action if he refuses to attend the hearing. 

… Suthep and Abhisit have repeatedly insisted on their innocence, claiming that the military operation was necessary to restore order in the capital city. They also alleged that many of the civilian casualties were in fact caused by “Blackshirt” militants allied to the protesters, not security forces.

Commanders of the Thai military have echoed this account, including Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the 22 May coup.

Although court inquests in the recent years have identified military forces as responsible for many of the deaths caused by the crackdown, no official has ever been held accountable.

Murder charges filed against Abhisit and Suthep were thrown out by the Criminal Court this August. According to the judges, Thailand’s Criminal Court lacked jurisdiction over the case because Abhisit and Suthep were holders of political office at the time of their alleged crimes.

… In contrast to the drawn-out inquiries into Abhisit and Suthep’s murder charges, Thai authorities convicted 26 Redshirt demonstrators of charges related to the unrest in the first year after the crackdown. At least two Redshirt activists were jailed for 10 months before facing trials and never compensated for their time in prison even though they were eventually acquitted.

The Army’s story

20 06 2013

Since 2010, the Army has been denying that their actions resulted in any deaths when more than 90 persons died during the Abhisit Vejjajiva’s two crackdowns on red shirt protesters in April and May 2010. Very few military personnel have provided any testimony for any of the official inquiries into the deaths.

Now a report in Khaosod has details of one officer’s testimony to court in the inquest into the death of Reuters photographer Hiroyuki Muramoto on 10 April 2010. He stuck to the script, testifying “that the military were not responsible for the death…”. Of course, he blamed the mysterious “men in black.”

The major, who led soldiers from Prachinburi, wasn’t named as the “court has asked Khaosod not to publish the name of the witness, citing the need to protect the witness′ privacy and personal safety.”

From the Telegraph.

From the Telegraph.

The officer told the court his unit was “equipped with riot shields, batons, and shotguns loaded with rubber bullets. He said M-16 rifles and their ammunition were stored on battalion′s trucks.” He made the claim that the order to clear the red shirts “”explicitly instructed the soldiers to treat the protesters as innocent civilians, and firearms would be used only for ′self-defense′ or when the protesters started attacking public properties.”

The anonymous officer complains of red shirt “provocation” and claims “he saw 4-5 men clad in black and balaclava armed with AK-47 and M-16 rifles firing at the soldiers.” He declared that the Japanese photographer was shot by the MIB “because the armed men were known for their precise shooting skill and the Japanese was shot in the left side of his chest, a critical spot in the body.”

Reiterating that “his unit was not authorized to use live ammunition on that day,” and claims the dead and injured “were not the doing of the military…”.

Most of the evidence PPT saw on these events suggest that the military’s version of the story is concocted.

Remembering 2010

19 05 2013

As another anniversary of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s army-led crackdown on red shirts is upon us, it is worth recalling that it is only a year or so ago that the Department of Special Investigation reported its investigations of the deaths.

DSI stated back then that state authorities “may be responsible for the deaths of at least 25 people…”.

Since then, while the DSI under the Yingluck Shinawatra has made some moves towards having Abhisit and Suthep Thaugsuban held responsible, it seems the army brass is again sitting in the world of unconscionable impunity (more on this below).

A series of recent reports reflect on the tragic events of 2010 and on the events since.

At the Red Shirts blog, it is reported that on 12 May 2013, a hearing finally:

took place at the Bangkok Criminal Court on the investigation and autopsy reports concerning 6 corpses found inside the Pathumwan Temple grounds. These victims were shot dead during the government suppression of the UDD protest on May 19, 2010.

Police investigators found bullet holes and:

reported that many more bullet holes could be found all over the temple grounds. Bullet holes were found on a metal sign in front of the temple, on the wall of the temple, on the advertisement sign under the BTS sky train, on the sky walk connecting the sky train stations, on the overpass and many more on the concrete platforms of the sky train.

Soldiers denied investigators access to the sky train tracks and the sky walk area.

Police ballistic analysis showed “23 bullet holes found on the temple grounds and Rama 1 Road …indicated that these shots had been fired from a higher angle and definitely not from a horizontal line of fire.” There was no evidence reported of shots from inside the temple.

At the Bangkok Post it is reported that the “parents of a boy who was killed as security forces moved in to clear the Ratchaprasong area … claim …  not enough is being done to find the people responsible for their son’s death.”

Pansak Srithep, was the father of 17-year-old Samapan, his only son. Samapan was killed on Ratchaprarop Road, where several people were shot dead. Pansak said “it has been draining for him and other families of those killed during the unrest to struggle to find witnesses willing to appear in court.”

Pansak “wants the government … to do more to help, and said investigators could do more to help with the court cases.” He claimed the Yingluck government “lacked the will to help…”.

The Bangkok Post states that there are currently “37 cases are at the initial inquest stage,” while “[a]nother 15 cases, including the death of Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto and six deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram, are at a stage where authorities are still determining if the security forces were responsible.” Another four cases “are awaiting a decision from prosecutors as to whether they will proceed,” and five others, “including that of Maj Gen Khattiya Sawatdiphol, known as Seh Daeng,” are at initial stages of police investigation.

The family of Kamolkate Akkahad, a medic shot at Wat Pathum Wanaram, are “also dismayed by the slow progress…”. They “will not join the main [official red shirt] stage during the event on Sunday.”army-snipers

At Prachatai it is reported that on 29 April, “the Criminal Court began an inquest into the deaths of Mana Saenprasoetsi and Phonsawan Nakhachai who were shot at Bon Kai on Rama IV Rd on 15 May 2010…”. They were two of 16 killed at this location, where video evidence shows army operations, including snipers.

Mana “was fatally shot in the back of the head near the mouth of Soi Ngam Duplee … while he was trying to help people who had been shot there.” Phonsawan, who was assisted by Mana later succumbed to his stomach gunshot wound.

Mana’s  mother Naree stated he was shot “while holding a red-cross flag in his hand”and helping two others who had been shot.

Soon after his death, the authorities (mis)used photos of Mana to justify actions that took place some distance from where he was shot.

Another story at the Bangkok Post directs attention to red shirt dissent on the Puea Thai government’s amnesty push:

Some red shirts see the proposal championed by Deputy Premier Chalerm Yubamrung as a betrayal because it would cover senior Democrat Party figures who were in government when the military crackdown on the Bangkok rally took place three years ago Sunday.

Of course, the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra lot oppose amnesty as a move to bring the man home. Thaksin is due to address supporters via videolink this weekend.

As PPT has stated several times, a blanket amnesty “would simply perpetuate the culture of impunity in Thailand, where senior figures rarely take responsibility for anything…”. The report adds:

Prominent scholars have been criticising the Pheu Thai flip-flop in social media forums. They include Nitirat Group core member Piyabutr Saengkanokkul; Thammasat University scholars Kasian Tejapira and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Hard-core red-shirt activists Nithiwat Wannasiri, Jittra Kotchadet and Suda Rungkuphan also oppose the Chalerm plan.

 They say the party is betraying the red-shirt rank and file, as if a hundred deaths and a thousand injuries were simply the price to pay for the party’s compromise with the old establishment for the sake of its own survival.

PPT reiterates that those responsible for the murder of civilians must be brought to justice as an important step to rooting out the culture of impunity that state officials and the military has when murdering civilians.

Elisabetta Polenghi on amnesty

18 05 2012

A reader has pointed out an article PPT missed at the Bangkok Post about Elisabetta Polenghi’s fifth visit to Thailand since her brother, Fabio Polenghi, was gunned down on 19 May 2010 while reporting on the Army’s lethal crackdown. According to most accounts, he was shot by the Thai military in an area of the city they considered a “free fire zone.”

Fabio Polenghi’s funeral in Bangkok on 24 May 2010

Fabio was one of 93 persons killed in April and May 2010.

Elisabetta is visiting Bangkok for the anniversary of those tragic events and has stated that she is dismayed by the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s “haste in pushing for an amnesty bill while the people have not yet fully learned the truth about the 2010 political violence…”.

She added: “… I want to hear from the actors who were responsible that they were wrong. I want the people who were involved to admit their mistakes…”.

Unfortunately, the Thai military has never been held responsible for the atrocities it has committed in the past nor apologized for its crimes. PPT can’t see the Army brass of that period such as Generals Anupong Paojinda and Prayuth Chan-ocha taking responsibility. Nor can we believe that the responsible civilian leaders Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban will concede that they were wrong.

Another motivation for Elisabetta’s visit is to urge the Yingluck government to establish a sign of remembrance such as a plaque or a sign “in memory of the foreign journalists who were killed recording during this historic upheaval…”. Fabio and Hiro Muramoto were killed during the political violence. She suggested that a memorial

… would at least tell the world that despite all the bad things that happened, the ensuing governments care about the freedom of the press, and also serve to remind the Thai people not to allow this to happen again….

And just as we finished writing this post, we saw that Prachatai has an article by Lisa Gardner that comments on Elisabetta’s visit and her campaign for Fabio’s case to be brought to court. It is stated that a “preliminary hearing is scheduled to be heard on July 23.” Apparently witnesses have come forward, with Elisabetta suggesting that “the 2011 election of the Yingluck Government may have encouraged more witnesses to come forward.” She added: “Maybe because the government has changed, the people are feeling more comfortable in talking to the police…. Maybe they feel more safe…”.

The report states that a small memorial will be held on Ratchadamri, at the spot where Fabio was killed, on Saturday, 19 May at 10:30am.

Red shirt actions

2 12 2011

It has been interesting to see several actions that relate to the Battle for Bangkok of April and May 2010. Clearly, the election result has brought no end to the efforts of royalists to win the bigger political battle now focused on the monarchy. Red shirts may be the target but they are also fighting back. In no particular order the stories include:

1) Prachatai reports that Reporters Without Borders has commented on the “latest developments in the investigation into the fatal shooting of Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto in Bangkok in April 2010, including Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung’s statement about the involvement of the security forces.” Chalerm has apparently stated that the security forces were clearly involved and cites forensic evidence and witnesses.

RWB adds that “The Thai authorities finally seem determined to shed light on all aspects of this case and to recognize the army’s role in Muramoto’s death…. We urge them to display the same determination with the investigation into the Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi’s death in May 2010, in which no progress has been made. It continues to be hampered by procedural obstacles and a failure to explore leads.”

PPT would hope that the same energy is applied to all investigations of these events where the military, with the mass of weapons and snipers at work, clearly bears considerable responsibility for the deaths.

That the Department of Special Investigation said on 24 March 2011 “that the army could not have been to blame because forensic tests had established that the round that killed Muramoto came from a type of gun that government troops had not been using that day,” should be sufficient for DSI’s posterior polishing boss Tharit Pengdit to be sacked.

2) While on the politically-disgraceful and incompetent DSI, according to the Bangkok Post, it “has ordered a review of evidence to decide if it will pursue lese majeste charges against 19 red shirt leaders.” It is stated that “DSI deputy chief Pol Col Prawes Moonpramuk, the newly appointed chief investigator in the lese majeste cases” explained the order from Justice Minister Pracha Promnok. He claimed that “investigators have found new evidence, received more detailed statements from suspects and examined their speeches which were alleged to have offended the monarchy.”

Based on recent cases, evidence hardly matters to the courts on lese majeste, so the sudden desire to be “thorough” is a welcome advance!

Interestingly, the DSI man states “a team of special DSI consultants initially found the speeches were directed at the then government rather than the monarchy.” He added that “not all of the accused would be charged with lese majeste.” We wonder how Arny boss Prayuth Chan-ocha will react to this. He was the one who pushed charges of lese majeste.

3) The Bangkok Post reports that the Election Commission “has resolved to disqualify Pheu Thai Party MP Jatuporn Prompan because of the doubts that he still had party membership at the time of the general election, not because he was in jail and did not get to vote, as widely reported, Somchai Juengprasert said on Thursday.”

Now are we reading this right: the EC has “doubts.” It is unable to say, so it disqualifies him? Really? It seems the EC is making yet one more politicized decision, but its explanation is that if they don’t know, the Constitutional Court must make the decision. “The EC voted 4 to 1 to ask the House speaker to seek the Constitution Court’s ruling on whether Mr Jatuporn was disqualified under  Section 106 (4) of the constitution,” but disqualified him because they say this is the only way to have the Court make a decision?

Of course, this is all because the Democrat Party-led government had Jatuporn locked up essentially for no other reason than he was a red shirt leader, they hated him and wished to silence him during the election. So the disqualification is “not that Mr Jatuporn lost MP status because he failed to vote in the July 3 election because he was at the time in jail…”. So there’s a way to win elections in the future….

4) The courts have sentenced 7 men claimed to be red shirts who “took part in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protest” to 6 months jail “for violating the emergency decree in connection with the torching of CentralWorld shopping complex on May 19 last year. One of them was additionally sentenced to three years imprisonment for theft.”

Note that most of the charges relate to the emergency decree. While the Bangkok Post headline is “Reds get 6 months in CentralWorld fire,” the men were not charged with arson. Rather, they were initially charged with “armed robbery, obstructing authorities in the performance of their duty, and violating the executive decree for administration in the emergency situation of 2005.”

It seems there was no evidence for the first two charges.As the report with the (deliberately?) misleading headline states, the “court found that the seven were arrested during a state of confusion and there was no evidence to back the charges of armed robbery and obstructing authorities performing their duty.” Further, police “had no evidence to confirm that the seven had anything to do with the 100 rounds of M60 ammunition found in the complex.”

In essence, the men, with the exception of the one convicted of theft, have been charged with breaking a Democrat Party-led government political law activated by Abhisit Vejjajiva in cahoots with the military.

5) One aspect of all of this that represents something of a response by red shirts is the report that noted that the police have “sent a letter inviting former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban to … talk about the government’s crackdown on red-shirt protesters last year…”. They have been asked to “give more information about the crackdown, because the Metropolitan Police Bureau had been assigned to re-investigate the deaths of 16 people” where the police think state officials were involved (see comment 1 above).

The battle for Bangkok Thailand continues.

RWB on re-examing April-May 2010 deaths

23 09 2011

Reporters Without Borders posts on the ” surprising U-turn, Department of Special Investigation chief Tharit Pengdit told Agence France Presse on 17 September that the army was responsible for the fatal shooting of Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto during clashes … in Bangkok on 10 April 2010.”

As RWB states, “the DSI previously reported on 24 March that forensic tests had established that the round that killed Muramoto, who worked for Reuters, came from a type of gun that the army had not been using that day.”

This development is worth watching as Tharit slinks over to the “other side,” seeking to keep his job.

Further evidence needed on red shirt deaths

17 09 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that the police are being asked by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung to take over the cases of 13 red shirts killed during the Abhisit Vejjajiva-ordered crackdown on protesters in May 2010. The Department of Special Investigation has (mis)handled the investigations to date.

Chalerm has “instructed the DSI to hand over the reports, after it failed to make progress in investigating the deaths.” In fact, Chalerm argues that DSI has “no authority to conduct autopsies…”. He claimed that the 13 cases had incomplete autopsy reports.

All of this might sound like good news for those who have been concerned that DSI was politically-driven and was deliberately misleading on the events of April and May 2010. We hope it is potentially good news. However, PPT is suspicious. DSI has investigated 89 of the 92 deaths attributed to those events. However, Chalerm’s order is for a new look at only the 13 deaths initially attributed to security forces (although DSI later retracted some of these). That only 13 cases are so attributed is a sick joke. It is worse that Chalerm, who has not sacked Tharit Pengdit, the hopeless political cop who leads DSI, seeks to only investigate the deaths attributed to security forces.

We fear a whitewash. Indeed, the first time the police looked at these 13 cases they concluded that “there was no evidence of soldiers’ alleged involvement in the killings.”

The 13 cases include those of Reuters Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto and may also include the sniper murder of General Khattiya “Seh Daeng” Sawasdipol, and Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi.

Red shirts will hopefully watch Chalerm’s devious actions. Beware the Chalerm whitewash that will further deepen the culture of impunity in Thailand.

RWB on DSI and its fantasy investigation

15 04 2011

Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement that

deplores Department of Special Investigation director-general Tharit Pengdit’s suggestion that the investigation into Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto’s death could be “delegated” to his employer, the Reuters news agency.

This twist in the political police agency’s “strategy” that shifts blame from the state and its soldiers to anybody else is deplorable. Tharit makes a statement about Reuters being able to get better tip-offs than the DSI. Indeed, there may be some truth in this as many see the DSI as hopelessly politically compromised, not least by Tharit’s former position in the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations that oversaw the military’s murderous crackdown on protesters in April and May 2010.

RWB states:

The DSI’s proposal shows that the Thai government is refusing to identify those who were responsible for Muramoto’s death…. A government that respects the rule of law has an obligation to establish the truth and to ensure that justice is done.

That’s the point really. This government has repeatedly shown that it does not respect the rule of law. In fact, it uses blatantly political laws to repress political opponents and to entrench its power.

The statement adds:

Reporters Without Borders recognizes the importance of cooperation between Reuters and the authorities in charge of the investigation but cannot accept any attempt by the DSI to offload its responsibility.

DSI and “botched” investigations

3 03 2011

The Bangkok Post reports Police Major General Amnuay Nimmano of the Metropolitan Police Bureau as having “slammed the Department of Special Investigation for what he termed a ‘botched’ investigation into the deaths at last year’s anti-government protests.” He said: “Simply put, it’s a botched job…”.

The policeman claimed that the “DSI’s assumption that 13 of 91 people could have been killed by soldiers during the clash on April 10 last year between red shirt supporters and government forces was groundless.” He revealed that the DSI is trying to “take the cases back” from the police and that the latter are conducting their own investigation.

Meanwhile, DSI chief Tharit Pengdit and former police forensic science chief Amporn Jarujinda were briefly interviewed in the Bangkok Post a couple of days ago. The interview is worth reading as they “confirm” that Reuters cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto was killed on 10 April 2010 by a  7.62mm bullet. Some excerpts:

Why did it take almost a year to determine the type of firearms?

Pol Lt Gen Amporn: I don’t know. I figured it out in an hour.

Amporn claims remarkable capacity, so the reporter must have wondered why he didn’t make the “revelation” earlier. The response:

Why was Pol Lt Gen Amporn’s report not included in the first investigative report?

Mr Tharit: This is because the examination of the wound patterns took place after the DSI sent the report to the bureau.

Why did it take so long?

Mr Tharit: We just invited Pol Lt Gen Amporn to take part in the process because his contribution would make the investigation more thorough and comprehensive.

Doesn’t that sound just a little like seeking an “expert” to provide the “evidence” required? Then this:

What about the other victims? Were they killed by the same type of bullet?

Pol Lt Gen Amporn: Those are smaller wounds, as far as I remember.

This appears to mean that only the Japanese journalist was killed with this caliber bullet. That would seem unlikely but this is adding to the policeman’s claim above. For PPT, “bungling” seems the wrong word. It seems like DSI is concocting the story.

More on DSI-army collusion

28 02 2011

The BBC has more on the story regarding the death of Reuters cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto. For PPT’s earlier post, see here.

Noting that: “Critics say the investigations into how 89 people died in last year’s protests have been hurt by interference,” the report details the strange but not unexpected machinations on Hiroyuki’s murder and the army and DSI collusion.

It recalls that the Japanese reporter “died from a bullet through his chest,” and that the earlier DSI report found that the bullet was “fired by an M16 from an army-held position that night. Witnesses from the scene agreed.”

This led to the military being “unhappy with that finding and army sources have told reporters that a military officer was assigned to help the DSI’s investigation.  The result is this new finding – that an AK47 fired the deadly shot, and that soldiers that night were not using AK47s.” This changed finding apparently results from “a fresh look only at the photos of the wounds suffered by Mr Muramoto.”

The BBC says that the journalist’s employer, “Reuters has noted what it called the apparent contradiction between the earlier and later reports. Editor in chief Stephen Adler said it was imperative that full transparency be brought to the investigation.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that DSI boss Tharit Pengdit claims his agency has “submitted investigation reports on 89 people, including Hiroyuki Muramoto, a Reuters News Agency cameraman, killed during the political unrest last year to the Metropolitan Police Bureau.”

Thairit  claims the “DSI has consistently reported on the progress of this case to the Japanese embassy and we welcome any Japanese authorities who want to take part in the investigation…”. If reports are submitted, hasn’t DSI completed its investigations?

It seems that the DSI has gone out and recruited its own forensic adviser, despite the existence of forensic science investigators being long available to DSI. Former “police forensic science chief Amporn Jarujinda … [who] has reviewed a report on the cameraman’s autopsy, said the bullet wound found on Muramoto was large and forensic police did not detect any lead residue inside it. All this indicated the bullet calibre must have been at least 7 millimetres, which suggested that the man was probably killed by a shot from a 7.62mm AK-47 assault rifle, a 9mm Nato weapon or an SKS semi-automatic rifle…”.

Does this make any sense to readers? All PPT can ascertain is that the army’s sniper rifles use 7.62mm ammunition.

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