The king and his rightists II

10 11 2020

The Nation reports that “[t]alk of an impending coup is growing louder online, as the government shows no sign of heeding protesters’ demands.”

But Army chief Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae has dismissed this talk as “rumours.” When reporters pointed out that people – all of them are yellow-shirted ultra-royalists – “were urging the military to stage a coup, he responded that the possibility of a coup was less than zero.” All coup leaders have said the same thing before their coups, including Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Thai Enquirer reports that Narongpan revealed that all of those men in short haircuts and wearing yellow shirts backing up police on Sunday were all out-of-uniform army personnel. The Army says that “the soldiers were just there to facilitate and observe and not actively take part in the confrontation between the police and the protesters – clashes which left five demonstrators injured and needing medical care.”

That’s a lie. Anyone who watch the various livestreams saw the soldiers in action.

The “presence of army personnel during violent confrontation between the state and protesters has everybody on edge.” Many think something else is going on, and this is reinforced by Gen Narongphan’s exaggerations, reported by Thai PBS. He rattles on about “provocation” and “violence.”

And he doesn’t mean by the police who used water cannon. He is reported as pointing to “smoke flares … hurled by people among the protesting crowd…” and talks of “elements who are bent on provoking violence…”. And he doesn’t mean the police or military.

Thisrupt reports that: “At every major protest, hundreds of army men in yellow shirts stand watch.” It adds; “They aren’t in uniform. They wear no badge. They never identify themselves. There’s only the yellow shirts, the blue scarves, and the military haircuts.” And it observes: “The deployment of non-police to police the citizens through force and intimidation, in a uniform not authorized by the state nor recognized by the citizens” is a fascist tactic.

According to another Thai PBS report, Deputy Metropolitan Police Bureau Commissioner, Police Maj Gen Piya Tawichai, the use of water cannons against the protesters “was done according to the rule of law.”

It seems us that it is the police and military who are those threatening violence.

As usual, the police are looking at how they can tie up protest leaders in legal cases. Police have the “letters and the four red post boxes from the protest…”. They are going through the letters trying to find “content [that] violates any law.” Others will be charged with violations “of the Public Gathering Act.”

More worrying, however, are the yellow-shirted minions being mobilized.

Egged on by the palace, the king, queen and the king’s daughters, the Thai Enquirer reports that “[u]ltra-royalists, pro-military politicians, and some senators are agitating for conflict and said this week that they will escalate the situation themselves unless the authorities take a harsher stance against the pro-democracy demonstrators.”

Krit Yeammaethakorn, secretary general of the People’s Networks to Protect the Monarch, has demanded a “special law” to “shutdown” the country.

The “Center for People Who Protect the Institution said on Monday that they will escalate their protests against the pro-democracy protesters…. They said they will shut down streets, if necessary, to get the government to crackdown and arrest more pro-democracy protesters.”

The quite mad ultra-royalist and military junta appointed senator Pornthip Rojanasunand has accused protesters of being “unThai” and complained that “police commanders are not doing enough to protect the law and suppress [pro-democracy protesters]…”.

Ratbag Palang Pracharath MP and deputy leader Paiboon Nititawan urged “royalists … [to] file complaints of sedition against the students.”

Meanwhile, the palace women continue to promote the celebrity PR model and wed it with intimations of violence. Most recently, it has been the queen going shooting and carousing with yellow-shirted royalists, as reported at Royal World Thailand – รอยัล เวิลด์ ประเทศไทย

Crony senate

14 05 2019

As simply everyone expected, a Senate has been unveiled by the military junta that is packed full of junta supporters, backers and lackeys:

Khaosod reports: “Military top brass and the junta’s inner circle dominate the full list of 250 appointed senators unveiled to the public on Monday, ending months of secrecy.”

The Nation states: “Many of the newly appointed senators are from the ruling junta and people close to its key figures.”

The Bangkok Post: “The Royal Gazette on Tuesday published an announcement on the royally-approved list of 250 senators, including 66 army generals…. The Senate list includes the names of 105 people with ranks in the military or police….

None of this is a surprise. Perhaps some hoped that the members of the junta might demonstrate at least a pinch of political decorum, but that is misplaced as the military junta has repeatedly demonstrated that is has no shame at all.

Some other quotes from the reporting linked above are worth preserving here, demonstrating that the junta is a chip off the 1991 coup group and operates as a representative of yellow-shirt interests. (Those who imagined that the red-yellow divide was gone should look more carefully at the manner of the junta’s operations.):

The list – mostly handpicked by junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha – includes generals, loyal government technocrats, 15 ex-ministers who served under Prayuth until their resignation last week, and even a younger brother of the junta leader.

Hardline critics of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains a popular figure among opposition voters, also made it to the final cut. They include poet and activist Nawarat Pongpaiboon, former anti-corruption chief Klanarong Chanthik, and royalist law scholar Kamnoon Sitthisamarn….

The announcement dated on Saturday included Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Adm Sitthawat Wongsuwon, younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, Klanarong Chantik, former secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), former deputy prime minister Chatchai Sarikulya, former national reform member Khamnoon Sitthisaman, former foreign trade director-general Duangporn Rodphaya, and former national security council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri.

Among other senators were Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, former president of the National Legislative Assembly, former NACC chairman Panthep Klanarongran, forensic expert Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, former deputy agriculture minister Luck Wajananawat, and former tourism and sports minister Weerasak Kowsurat.

More than a third of  the newly appointed senators have military or police backgrounds….

But one surprise is this for the conflict of interest and nepotism it involves:

Some of the new Senate’s members sat in the committee tasked with nominating senatorial candidates to be selected by the National Council for Peace and Order.

More than 100 of them are retired or active high-ranking officers from the armed forces and the police, including 70 from the Army, 12 from the Navy, eight from the Air Force and 12 from the Royal Thai Police.

Many new senators are family members of people in power.

These include General Preecha Chan-o-cha, who is the younger brother of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha; Air Vice Marshal Chalermchai Krea-ngam, who is the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam; Admiral Sitsawat Wongsuwan, who is the younger brother of Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan; and Som Jatusripitak, who is the elder brother of Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak.

Nothing more or less can be expected from the military junta. Be prepared for this kind of cronyism to breed deeper corruption. After all, that’s the pattern of past military-dominated regimes.

GT200 conviction and the cover-up continues

11 10 2018

Not that long ago we had some posts on the ongoing GT200 corruption scandal.

As a follow-up, Khaosod reports that the military’s middleman on all these deals has been convicted again:

Sutthiwat Wattanakij and his company Ava Satcom Ltd. were guilty of fraud for selling the so-called GT200 devices worth 6.8 million baht to the ministry’s Central Institute of Forensic Science from 2007 to 2009.

The ruling came two weeks after he was handed down the same sentence for selling the devices to the Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department in 2008.

Again, no official seems to have been investigated.

We recall that back in 2010, we posted on a story by Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation who suggested that “superstition trumps logic in this country.” He asked:

How else can one explain Army chief General Anupong Paochinda and forensics department chief Pornthip Rojanasunand insisting on using the so-called bomb detectors even though a Science Ministry test had proved that they are basically useless?

We also recall that Pornthip is always claimed to be Thailand’s leading forensic scientist and that her support for the GT200 was enthusiastic.

At the time we suggested that corruption was a better answer to Pravit’s question.It still is, but because all three of the most senior junta generals – Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit and Gen Anupong – were involved, there’s no investigation.

Doubling down

10 02 2015

The quiet struggle between the Thaksin Shinawatra clan and its supporters and the military dictatorship is heavily weighted in favor of the latter. After all, the military junta has lots of armed soldiers, control of the police and has plenty of overcrowded prisons. In addition, it has the courts, the puppet assemblies and so on.

There has been talk of a “deal” being negotiated between Thaksin and the junta. Yellow-shirted ideologues see bombs, student demonstrations and anti-monarchy activism as being the weapons of Thaksin and his clan. They might also see the military dictatorship’s increasing screwing down of red shirts and others as and example of the junta responding.

We could believe this. After all, Thaksin has been a skilled negotiator. That said, each “deal” that has been said to have been done in the past has ended badly for Thaksin. Think of the “deal” undone by the amnesty debacle.

In this context, the continuing attacks on the Thaksin clan seems to us at PPT to be more likely to be an example of the military seeking to expunge that group – something it was accused of failing to do following the 2006 putsch.

Khaosod reports that the politicized National Anti-Corruption Commission has decided it “will prosecute former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his deputies [former Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, and ‘some more Cabinet members’] for authorizing a crackdown on Yellowshirt protesters in October 2008.”

On 7 October 2008 the Somchai government “ordered police to clear Yellowshirt [People’s Alliance for Democracy] protesters who were blocking the entrance to Parliament and calling on Somchai to resign. Two people were killed…”.

As far as PPT can recall, with the help of Wikipedia, only one protester died in the skirmishes between police and a violent PAD. The second “protester” blew himself up in a car bomb gone wrong. The “investigation” involved the use of GT200 magic wands by royalist forensic “scientist” Pornthip Rojanasunand, who simply decided that the woman killed was hit by a police tear gas canister.

But the point is to punish. A spokesperson for the NACC says that it has a ton of “evidence,” and “that the agency will prosecute Somchai and his deputies in the Supreme Court’s Division for Holders of Political Office,” charged with “abuse of power.”

The NACC is pushing this case “because the Office of Attorney-General declined to take the case…”.

The queen, when she was still politically active, attended the funeral of the victim and praised her.

What has the NACC done to investigate the murder of red shirts by the military in 2010?

In line with the doubling down on the Thaksin clan, The Bangkok Post reports that a request “by former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to travel abroad will take a long time to process…”. More pressure is applied to her after the ridiculous “impeachment.”

The junta says it “must be careful when considering her travel requests, to avoid affecting legal proceedings…”. Of course, all they are doing is squeezing her and her clan.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, appears to be promoting the doubling down. He wants to expunge popular politicians, probably so that his men and women can win any future “election.”

News we missed

29 11 2014

PPT thought it time to catch up on some of the stories we’d seen but didn’t have time to post on. They are all making important points and worth reading in full. No particular order is used in presenting them here:

Asia Sentinel: “Thailand Junta Not Wearing Well

Six months into Thailand’s latest experiment with military rule, cracks are starting to show, with irritation rising at the lack of widespread reform and the growing realization that the military won’t give up power any time soon….

“Whatever hopes originally arose for reform are now being abandoned,” a banker with many years of experience in Thailand told Asia Sentinel. “There is lots of tension as people see that this junta is simply going to try to enforce the status quo ante, allowing the establishment to run the country more tightly than before.”…

“As discontent builds, will the military crack down more?” asked the longtime banker. “If so, will people put their heads down or become rebellious? If so, will there bloodshed in big way? These are the things that people are beginning to contemplate here.

IPI Global Observatory: “Understanding Thailand’s Monarchy Problem

One of the more telling decisions of the Royal Thai Army, which seized power in Thailand in a coup on May 22 this year, is to erect a new “Great Kings Monument,” comprising nine giant statues representing Thailand’s greatest kings, to honor Thailand’s monarchy and its aging king, the ninth in the current dynasty.

The monarchy also figures prominently in the military regime’s Orwellian “12 core values,” which it has ordered all Thai students to recite daily: “to uphold the nation, the religions and the Monarchy, which is the key institution”; “to understand and learn the true essence of democratic ideals with His Majesty the King as the Head of State”; “to be conscious and mindful of one’s actions in line with His Majesty’s the King’s statements”; and “to practice the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy of His Majesty the King.”…

Since Thailand’s political crisis began in 2005, the monarchy has become intensely politicized. The lèse majesté law has been used liberally. There are possibly hundreds of prisoners in Thai jails convicted under the law. Lèse majesté cases are so sensitive that trials are held in private; relatives, human rights organizations, and the media are usually forbidden from attending, so the exact number of convictions is unknown….

The military, bureaucracy, and the now powerful Thai-Chinese business sector, have all exploited this ideology of monarchy to stifle dissent from the rural and urban poor–those who have least benefitted from Thailand’s industrial transformation.

Prachatai: “3-fingered salute Khon Kaen students: we’re not red shirts

Q: Now that the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order proposed the reform agendas and suggested that the participations of the youth and students might be on the table, if you are invited to participate in this, would you join?

A: In principle they don’t go together. They have guns, but we only have empty hands. How can we cooperate for reform. If they really want the reform then they should remove the martial law first.

National News Bureau & Public Relations: “Khunying Pornthip examines locals affected by gold mine toxic waste in Phijit

The Forensic Science Institute Director has revealed a shocking discovery that more than half of the group of locals randomly selected around a gold mine in Phijit Province have a high level of heavy metal in their bodies.

Forensic Science Institute Director Khunying Pornthip Rojanasunand has conducted a toxic contamination examination on the locals around a gold mine in Thupklor District of Phijit Province.

The examination was triggered after numerous complaints had been lodged against a private company illegally disposing of its toxic waste from its gold mining operation, in the surrounding community.

The Director reported to the provincial administration and the truth finding committee that 329 out of 600 randomly selected locals have Manganese in their blood and arsenic acid in 70% of their body systems. Khunying Pornthip, however, could not identify the origin of the toxic waste, prompting environment-related agencies to launch a further probe into the case….

Prachatai: “Thongchai Winichakul on anxiety over the succession

… I would like to ask is this: if it is certain that the monarchy and the king himself is undoubtedly revered and respected by people throughout the country, genuinely respected, and if loyalty is assured, then I don’t see what the problem should be. It would be a normal change, wouldn’t it? Although there will naturally be grief and sorrow, it is normal and very understandable but it should not become a problem of politics or economics or anything else….

… I think that the people who are worried about this and those who are concerned that there will be a threat to national security and a crisis are in fact not really certain of the people’s loyalty. Aren’t you certain that people are incessantly loyal towards the monarchy? If they were certain, there would be nothing to worry about at all. This is my first answer. If they are sure then when it happens, the new king will take the throne, which is normal, so those who express concern are just those who are unsure….

If they really succeed in creating sincere loyalism, then there is nothing to be afraid of at all, but the reason why they are afraid is because they are not so sure that they can. This is because the honjao [โหนเจ้า. To cling to the monarchy] and ultra-royalist environment is illogical. It is like a doctrine or faith that when it reaches certain point, people will see that it’s just too illogical. If people are sincerely loyal, there is no need to coerce such a illogical [honjao environment]. This is why the law [lèse majesté] needs to be enforced, which destroys itself day by day.

Lese majeste in the south

28 02 2013

Prachatai has a post on a mysterious case of lese majeste being conducted in Pattani province. PPT had basic details of this case posted previously.

It is now reported that the “Pattani Provincial Court is proceeding with an in camera lèse majesté trial against a Malayu Muslim man, who is accused of putting up banners about the country’s conflict with a picture of Her Majesty the Queen in 2009.” This is alleged to have involved a number of banners being put up in public areas such as pedestrian bridges in the province on 12 August 2009, the queen’s birthday and “Mother’s Day.”

Prachatai states that the defendant has asked that his name not be revealed.

This man was “arrested without charge under special laws in late August 2009. He claimed that he was hit by army officers and was threatened to force a confession to charges he wasn’t aware of. After he confessed, the military later informed him that he was being investigated on a lèse majesté charge. Later the defendant was able to get bail with a 300,000 baht guarantee.”

Prosecution witnesses are reported to include “forensic expert” and GT200-loving “Pornthip Rojanasunand and former national police chief Priewpan Damapong” who are said to have “already testified in the case, which began in December 2011.” There are slated to be 109 witnesses appearing in the secret trial.

Prachatai reports that further “hearings will take place on February 28, March 1 and March 6, 2013.”

As noted in the report, the only previously known in-camera lese majeste trial was that of Darunee Charnchoensilpakul. In that case, the court “gave national security as the reason for the closed-door [trial].” An appeal was made to the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of this trial in secret. A ruling was sought on whether the prosecutors’ request for the trial to be held in camera under Section 177 of the Criminal Procedures Code contravenes Sections 29 and 40 of the constitution. In a remarkable demonstration of the injustice inherent in the Thai courts on lese majeste, the Constitutional Court’s contorted verdict was that Darunee’s secret trial was constitutional!

Updated: Reporting Ampol’s lese majeste death

10 05 2012

At the Bangkok Post it is reported that the death of lese majeste convict Ampol Tangnopakul has predictably “reignited heated criticism of the lese majeste law and the way it has been used by the authorities against suspected offenders.”

If the death of an old, sick and poor grandfather who allegedly committed slanders of the most powerful and wealthiest family in the country in just four short text messages didn’t ignite criticism of the lese majeste law, then the society would be rotten to the core.

The Post reports that as the the news of Ampol’s death leaked out, “dozens of red shirt activists [went] to the hospital and the Criminal Court … to condemn the lese majeste law.”

Those red shirts brought “funeral wreaths, red roses and lilies to pay respect to Ampon. At the Criminal Court, they tied black ribbons on fences to protest against the verdict sentencing him to jail.” As well, there were banners that condemned the lese majeste law.

Some of those at the gathering criticized the Puea Thai government for its spinlessness and others reckoned the leadership of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship hadn’t done enough to help imprisoned red shirt, “especially those who have been convicted under Section 112.”

Red shirt community radio 104.1 attacked Article 112 and condemned those responsible for Ampol’s death to “rot in hell for seven generations.”

While the red shirt leadership was criticized, Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn lamented Ampol’s death stating:

The people must learn of this case. What were the amataya [ruling elite] Thailand so afraid of that they wouldn’t allow Ah Kong to be bailed out? Now that this has happened, who will take the responsibility for his death?

Such reactions seem entirely justified in the circumstances of this most unnecessary of deaths.

Meanwhile, reactions to Ampon’s death are still as polarized as during his trial last year.

However, as another report at the Bangkok Post makes clear, Ampol’s death has unleashed political extremism on the part of some royalists. Apparently some of these people “feel the demise of a man accused of lese majeste is a case of karma at work.”

For PPT, such attitudes say little about Buddhism and more about royalists  lodged in a world of superstition and adherence to vile symbols of a feudal past, as this shows:

He [Ampol] was punished according to the principle of karma…. He had offended the institution of monarchy despite the institution’s dedication to the nation.

The deep strain of unfeeling nastiness amongst these conservative royalists is shown when those who expressed sympathy for Ampol’s family were chastised: “[This] kindness is misplaced. Giving attention to an ungrateful person. This is madness…”.

Some apparently called for a “post-mortem examination be carried out in a transparent manner.” The call was apparently for “[Khunying] Pornthip [Rojanasunand] and other doctors should be brought in to carry out an autopsy to prevent his death [from] being [politically] exploited….”.

The problem with this call is that it is already a politicized claim. Pornthip is deeply superstitious and deeply royalist. Not only that, but her position as a member of Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations makes her political loyalties apparent.

Meanwhile, at The Nation it is suggested that Ampol’s death puts increased pressure on the Yingluck Shinawatra government and its timidity on lese majeste:

His death will most likely rekindle controversy about the lese majete law, which led to his conviction and a staggering 20-year prison term…. While the death has politically embarrassed the Democrat Party, under whose reign the charges were brought against Amphon, Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, which has vowed never to support any moves to amend the law, might face pressure from the red shirts.

Assistant Professor Puangthong Pawakapan of Nitirat and Chulalongkorn University sounded a timely warning:

This is the biggest tragedy of the law. The more it is enforced, the less merciful it becomes. He wouldn’t have died if he had been granted bail and given the opportunity to get proper medical care….

The unnecessary death of Ampol should be a clarion call to all who care for human rights, justice and freedom to stand up and trash the draconian lese majeste law that does nothing more than protect the most powerful, not from slander, but to permit them to rule and exploit.

Update: At Prachatai, Pravit Rojanaphruk comments on some of the royalist commentary on the death of Ampol. As Pravit points out, it is “clear that they [royalists] will blame it [Ampol’s death in custody] on anything or anyone but the draconian and undemocratic law and themselves.” They royalists are engaging in a black fiesta of delusional conspiracy theories.

For PPT, what we see is an attempt to blame anyone but the monarchy, Abhisit Vejjajiva, the military, or themselves. Lese majeste kills and royalists justify this in terms of protecting the most powerful and the wealthiest in society over the weak and poor.

We wonder if Abhisit feels any remorse for being complicit in Ampol’s death. After all, like school prefects, he and his secretary snitched to the headmaster when they received a nasty SMS. Most people would have deleted it and got on with life. Not these elite lads it seems.


Updated: Royals and tsunamis

15 04 2012

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg. At Asian Correspondent, he has a post worth considering. It raises the issue of criticism of the mainstream media over a failure to give adequate warnings during the recent tsunami scare.

The reason for this was the fear that cutting away from the funeral of a royal, largely unknown to the public, but feted by the royal family, would get too many people hauled over the royal coals. More on this below.

This is not the first time there has been a conflict of royal interest at work. And it won’t be the last. The other event we are thinking of was the tsunami in December 2004 that killed more than 5,000 normal, average Thai and holidaying foreigners. The conflict appeared when royals were caught up in the tsunami. But let’s look at Saksith’s report at Siam Voices first:

At 3.38pm (all times local) April 11, 2012, an earthquake occurred at the bottom of the Indian ocean west of Sumatra…. The … magnitude … [was] very strong 8.9 (subsequently downgraded to 8.6). At 3.45pm, the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning … predict[ing] the arrival of the waves on the Thai islands of Phuket, Kho Phra Thong and Kho Tarutao in a timespan of two hours beginning at 6.18pm local time. The Thai authorities issued their own warnings in six provinces and many coastal areas were evacuated….

However, on Thai television there was hardly a hint about it. All Thai terrestrial TV channels were covering the funeral ceremony of Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda, a cousin of King Bhumibol and the only child of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), throughout the afternoon until they switched over for “breaking” news coverage.… But how could that happen?

All terrestrial TV channels … were broadcasting the TV pool live footage … and the Royal Palace exclusively for this occasion and not, as some have suggested, by the government or a similar agency. When the first warnings about a potential tsunami were issued, all TV channels stayed on the ceremony.

Viewers were at best informed by an occasional ticker at the bottom of the screen (it could be argued that this should have been run not only in Thai but also in English, considering the many foreign tourists at the beaches)…. It took two hours since the first tsunami warnings before ThaiPBS decided to pull out of the royal coverage at 5.42pm, shortly followed by a few others after 6pm.

Surprisingly, there was criticism, and in response, it was stated that “the Royal Palace actually allowed the TV directors to cut away from the royal ceremony ‘at any time’.” Big of them indeed! Saksith asks why the broadcasters stayed with the unknown royal. He cites ThaiPBS deputy director Vanchai Tantivitayapitak who:

wrote on Facebook that the decision to pull out of the royal ceremony coverage required “presence of mind and courage” – a clear hint at a deeper-lying problem.

Since this was a funeral involving a member of the royal family, it was social pre-emptive obedience that prevented the terrestrial TV channels from reporting on the tsunami warning anytime sooner. In these times, where public loyalty to the royal institution is being demanded and any perceived move outside the norm is being heavily scrutinized (and at times punished), it is difficult to put the priorities desired by some over the essential priority to inform.

Saksith makes the excellent point that:

The relief, when the tsunami warnings have been lifted, was no doubt high among all involved. However, this should not dilute the failures of Thai television to comprehensively inform and report on a developing story and an emergency situation.

The second tsunami-royal case is from 2004 and draws from Pornthip Rojanasunand’s recently published book The Dead Do Talk (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2012).

As a long footnote, we should say that the book is a shambolic mess that probably should never have seen ink on paper as the royalist and former member of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations tells readers of her unhappy childhood and calling for pathology. Along the way, she kind of re-endorses the failed and expensive (especially to her institute) GT200 bomb/drug (non-)detector, her conflicts with the police – all Thaksin Shinawatra supporters – and her exploits as a pathologist, none of which are explained in the book as being very successful. Her interesting observations come in her account of red shirt uprisings and the 2004 tsunami, where PPT goes now.

In her book, on pages 166-8, Pornthip writes of her role in identifying the bodies of the dead. At one point, from the earliest moments of the crisis, she reports:

Problems continued to develop…. The minister [of interior] was unable to provide us [Pornthip’s team from the Central Institute of Forensic Science] with any particular support. Initially that was understandable as he was very busy helping with the search for Poom [Phumi] Jensen, the son of Princess [she’s not a princess] Ubol Rattana, who was missing. Unfortunately, Khun Poom had perished and his body was recovered soon after.

PPT doesn’t really think the minister of interior was actually a part of the team searching for the boy, but it does indicate that huge resources were expended in searching for the body of the son of a former princess when thousands of others had also perished and many more were injured, had had their homes washed away, and so on. This was a huge disaster, and the head of the most significant ministry was looking for a missing royal. Well, almost royal. Readers can get a sense of the event here, although there is no mention of the minister.

Every human life is important, but it seems that, in life and death, some are far more significant than others, most especially in Thailand.

Update: For Thai readers, the story on this in Matichon (สรกล อดุลยานนท์ : สึนามิ “ความกลัว” ….), sent by a reader, is worth considering as it sets out clearly the fear associated with considering potentially millions of others over one royal event.

Further updated: Mass graves, red shirts and bodies aplenty

19 08 2011

There is considerable media, blog and Twitter commentary on the discovery of mass graves at three temples in Rayong. The first English-language report PPT saw was in The Nation (also here, where it got attention), with Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha commenting on earlier media reports:


Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha on Friday urged for calm following the discovery of three mass graves where 169 bodies were buried under suspicious circumstances in Rayong.

“Authorities should be able to give a scientific explanation on the 169 bodies,” he said.

On Thursday, police exhumed for forensic checks on suspicion that the bodies might be linked to the disappearance of the red shirts during the last year’s riots.

The bodies were buried in separate burial grounds of three temples.

Although the temples’ abbots said the bodies were understood to be 1989 Typhoon Gay victims from Chumphon, police would carry out checks to verify on how and why the bodies had to be transported from the South for burial in the East.

It is important to note the two bits we have highlighted. There is doubt expressed and a date of 1989. It is also worth considering whether the authorities or others regularly use temples for mass graves and to recall earlier events where bodies have been piled up (e.g. natural disasters) and political crackdowns over many years, including 1992, April 2009 and April and May 2010.

The Nation’s next report is of speculation that the bodies were of missing red shirts:

Deputy national police chief General Prew Damapong denied Friday that he ordered the checks on 169 unidentified bodies on suspicion of linkage to the missing red shirts, in three mass graves in Rayong.

“I have no involvement in the matter,” he said.

Mass grave site

Prewpan said he had no knowledge about the mass graves until he read the newspapers this morning. He added that he would check why police’s legal commissioner Lt General Santhan Chayanont invoked his name as authorising the search of the mass graves.

He said he had no jurisdiction over Rayong which is under the Provincial Police Region 2.

In related development, three reds leaders refused to speculate whether the bodies found were the missing red shirts.

Pheu Thai MP and reds leader Nattawut Saikua said the red shirts were closely monitoring the police investigation into the 169 bodies. He said he would check on the investigative progress in the next few days. “In my personal opinion, I will not draw any conclusion before the complettion of forensic checks,” he said. He urged police to complete the checks in a speedy manner in order to prevent the issue from being politicised.

Reds chairwoman Thida Thawornseth said the government was obligated to dispell lingering doubts on the mass graves. Thida said she could not confirm or deny about the missing red shirts.

Pheu Thai MP Weng Tojirakan said he wanted Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung to take charge of the checks into the 169 bodies.

That the red shirt leadership is reluctant to comment in detail is interesting.

The Bangkok Post has a story that combines much of the information mentioned above and then a flurry of stories on what are essentially denials. One of the most interesting is by former security boss for the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is reported to be remarkably sure of what happened in this case:

Suthep and friends

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government had never received any reports from police or intelligence officials of missing red-shirt protesters during the April-May political protests last year, Democrat Party key member and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban said on Friday.

Security officials had not hidden or disposed of any bodies, Mr Suthep said.

He was responding questions about the 169 unidentified bodies discovered in three temples in Rayong’s Klaeng district.

Officials from a foundation in Chumphon province were responsible for the bodies. They had transferred them to another foundation in Rayong, he said.

That would tend to fit with the mention of typhoon deaths in 1989. But he then trots out the usual Abhisit regime nonsense regarding deaths in 2010:

“… Protesters were injured or killed by the armed men among the red-shirts.”

“We can see that authorities could not get hold of the bodies. The people who took the bodies away were rescuers, nurses and foundation workers.

“Therefore, I don’t suspect that government officials were behind the bodies,” the Democrat former secretary-general said.

In other words, if there are any unidentified bodies from 2010, Suthep is apportioning the blame to others, including the red shirts. PPT is unsure whether Suthep has stated this line so many times that he now believes it or whether he is sounding a little desperate.

In another Bangkok Post story (which combines information from the earlier stories and adds more detail), one of Suthep’s partners in crackdown, Department of Special Investigation director-general Tharit Pengdit stated:

… the DSI had never received reports about missing people during the April-May political violence last year.

“It would be too soon to conclude that the unidentified bodies were the red-shirt protesters and it would be more appropriate to wait for the autopsy results first,” Mr Tharit said.

In the same story, Justice Ministry’s Central Institute of Forensic Science director Pornthip Rojanasunand, who is associated with several spectacular cases and several spectacular failures (think GT200), makes some observations of which this is noteworthy:

As for the suspicion that the bodies could be the missing red-shirts, we might not be able to verify it because we cannot find out where, when and how they died from examining their bones….

It seems that the police are keeping Pornthip’s Institute away from this particular investigation. It seems they may have some doubts about her credibility and political neutrality. That probably follows her work on the submerged containers in 2009 and various allegedly red shirt bombings.

Also in this report, Police chief of the Office of Legal Affairs and Litigation Santhan Chayanont, explained that:

… police had suspicions about the 169 bodies because there were no death certificates or reports of their deaths.

He said police would look into whether the bodies were victims of Typhoon Gay from Chumphon province in 1989, as claimed by the temples’ abbots. “The police question why the bodies were moved from Chumphon to Rayong, since there are many burial grounds in Chumphon,” Pol Lt-Gen Santhan said.

Finally, in its series of reports, the Bangkok Post has a story that appears to provide “answers” to the mystery of the bodies in super quick time:

Suspicions that missing red-shirts may be among 169 bodies found in Rayong are likely to carry little weight after a Chumphon-based rescue group confirmed it handed over the bodies to its counterpart in Rayong as part of a cemetery clean up ceremony there.

Sanguan Nilrattanothai, president of the Association of Buddha Prateep Lang Suan, a community based volunteer rescue organisation in Lang Suan district of Chumphon, on Friday insisted his group sent the bodies to one of its affiliated organization in the province in August last year.

According to Mr Sanguan, the Rayong-based group wanted to host a clean-up ceremony at a local cemetery but found out that there were a few unidentified corpses there. It then asked his agency to send more bodies to take part in the religious event which was a usual tradition practice.

He said the delivery of the bodies had already been on the news once when they were sent to attend a cemetery clean-up elsewhere. However, he did not elaborate.

Chukiet Chanbamroong, a rescue worker, said the 169 unidentified bodies had been collected in the past 10 years. Most of them were foreign migrant workers who worked in the fishing sector. He said the transport of the bodies to Rayong was legal as it was approved by Pol Col Supoj Boonchooduang who was then chief of Lang Suan police station.

Pol Col Supoj, who is now chief of Sawi district police station in Chumphon, told reporters he had endorsed the Association of Buddha Prateep Lang Suan’s request to transfer the bodies to an Eastern province but could not remember the number of the bodies. He said he examined the skeletons and gave his permission as there were no irregularities.

Is that really the end of the story? There are essentially no dates in any of the stories. The capacity for volunteer organizations to take and dispose of unidentified bodies is not questioned. That both Suthep and Tharit claim not to have heard about or had reports of missing red shirts in 2009 and 2010 raises several questions. Suthep appears to think that only reports by security forces count for anything and that media reports and statements by families of the missing mean nothing….

The idea that there have been 169 foreign workers killed in the fishing industry – notorious for its poor treatment of workers – is, likewise, not questioned. Do foreign workers not count? PPT has often written of impunity in the state sector and this part of the grave story suggests it exists for local business people employing foreign workers too.

The notion that there may be mass graves littering Thailand and hundreds of deaths without death certificates or explanation is an interesting one that potentially says a lot about the country’s society and politics.

PPT thinks this story deserves to run further. Whether it will is another question. We note that Bangkok Pundit has a post on this story too.

Update 1: A regular reader sent us a link to former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on the mass graves, from Thai-ASEAN News Network, and it is certainly worthy of quotation here:

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has called for a transparent probe into the case of 169 bodies found in Rayong Province….

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said various groups should not speculate on the causes the deaths and suggested that a thorough investigation be conducted to clear all doubts.

Abhisit added he did not know if the issue was intended to deviate media attention from ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra….

PPT would have thought that even Abhisit might have been able to drag himself away from his deep loathing of Thaksin to make a sensible comment on the discovery of a large number of bodies. That Oxford education seems to have done precious little for Abhisit’s basic humanity. Well, I guess we’ve known that for some time.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post has a longer and updated report on the bodies. As noted above, that the bodies may not be missing red shirts doesn’t alter the fact that there are unidentified bodies being transported, buried and dug up deserves attention.

Tampering with evidence

4 02 2011

The Nation has a useful article that links with two PPT posts, one on Phayao and Natthaputt Akkahad  being refused visas by the UK embassy in Bangkok and the second on seemingly stalled investigations into the events of April and May 2010.

Medic Kamolkade Akkahad was shot in front of Wat Pathum Wanaram when state forces “dispersed” red shirts from Rajaprasong on 19 May. Her mother, Phayao, appeared before a sub-panel of the regime-established  Truth for Reconciliation Commission chaired by lawyer Somchai Homlaor. This was the first time Phayao had been called before the Committee, 8 months after her daughter’s murder.

Phayao told the that she “has lost faith in the government, especially the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and forensic expert Khunying Porntip Rojanasunand.” She accused the “DSI and Porntip of trying to cover up crimes allegedly committed by soldiers. She believed they had a conflict of interest, as they were also part of the Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), which was in charge of the crackdown but has since been disbanded.”

Phayao “accused Porntip of tampering and altering evidence relating her daughter’s death, such as forensic records of bullet wounds. She said the bullets had somehow disappeared.” Pointedly, she added: “And now Porntip is quiet…”. Referring to DSI chief Tharit Pengdit’s role in CRES, “Phayao accused the organisation of trying to say most deaths were caused by red shirts themselves.”

Phayao said she had been threatened and offered bribes to cease pursuing her daughter’s case. She remained committed to seeking the truth.

As a footnote, sub-panel chair Somchai re-confirmed that the military still refused cooperation in its investigations: “We have yet to receive the [military] cooperation. There’s no answer [from the Army].”… He added that he had now asked “the government to help it get Army officers involved in the crackdown to speak to the subcommittee.”

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