Busy day in Bangkok I

8 08 2013

It has been a busy few days in Bangkok, with more stories than PPT can possibly comment on, so we are going to combine several of them in a couple of posts. We begin with monarchy stories.

First, the Bangkok Post reports that the queen is “recovering from shoulder pain and soreness in her left wrist.” That used to be called “poker wrist.”

Second, and more serious, Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn, the leader of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) has filed “lawsuits against group of anti-government activists who accused her of planning to overthrow the monarchy and install a Communist regime.”

Thida has “filed a formal complaint against the group calling itself ′People′s Army Overthrowing Thaksin Regime′…”. As Khaosod explains, this Dad’s Army, is “the latest resurrection of the anti-Thaksin faction,” and it has claimed Thida is anti-monarchy, which is considered a crime in Thailand and results in longer sentences than many meted out to murderers. Apparently, Thida’s complaint is against the aged leadership of the royalist ninnies:

The lawsuit names core leaders of the People′s Army as defendants. They are Mr. Thaikorn Polsuwan, the webmaster of the People’s Army website, Adm. Chai Suwannaphap, Gen. Chukiat Tansuwatna, Gen. Preecha Iaemsuphan, Am.Watchara Rittakhanee, Adm. Banwitya Kengrean, and Mr. Phichet Pattanachote.

Third, the Bangkok Post had egg all over its front page yesterday. Or does it? We’ll get to this, but the build-up to the egging is worth mentioning.

A couple of days ago, on its front page, the Bangkok Post reported at some length that former prime minister Anand Panyarachun has turned his back on Yingluck Shinawatra’s proposed political reform assembly, “saying he will not allow himself to be used as a political pawn.” It adds that “Mr Anand’s remarks yesterday came as Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanchana and PM’s Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn began visiting senior political figures, asking them to embrace the prime minister’s initiative.” Anand is then cited:

Mr Anand said yesterday he had not been approached by the government to join the proposed council, but stressed he would not take part in it to avoid being used as a pawn by any party.

He also questioned the motives of those who floated the names of people they wanted to take part in the assembly.

“[This tactic] would make it seem to the public that the government is trying to foster national reconciliation but the others just won’t cooperate,” he said.

These are direct quotes and reporting of statements. PPT had no reason to doubt the report. After all, the royalist Anand has long opposed Thaksin and pro-Thaksin governments, as our many Wikileaks posts attest. In addition, we would have posted on the story and asked why Anand is prepared to be a pawn of palace and military (as when he served twice as unelected prime minister) but not now? Once a pawn always a pawn? But maybe just on the royalist side?

But in yesterday’s Bangkok Post there is this:

Yesterday’s edition of the Bangkok Post carried a front-page article with the headline “Anand spurns advisory council”.

The Bangkok Post would like to clarify that both the headline and statements attributed to former prime minister Anand Panyarachun in the article are erroneous and totally groundless.

Mr Anand confirmed that he has never spoken to any Bangkok Post reporter about the matter.

The Bangkok Post regrets the error and apologises for any inconvenience or negative repercussions caused by the article upon Mr Anand and the government.

So the story is that the Bangkok Post either made up the whole story (unlikely) or that the comments were made “off the record” by the patrician Anand (more likely) or that Anand thought again about his outburst and asked the Post to protect him (also likely). We think the Post took egg for Anand.

Finally, at The Nation it is reported that Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “defended the monarchy against what he called unfair criticism, and lambasted rumour-mongers calling for a coup to end the ongoing political instability.” This refers to some reporting that linked the flight of the king and queen to Hua Hin to preparations for either a coup of political violence. Prayuth said:

He said Their Majesties’ current stay outside Bangkok did not signify anything about a looming political confrontation, and that comment and speculation on reasons for their trip, on social media, was not fair towards the monarchy.

The general also criticised people who spread rumours of a military coup and tell others to hoard food supplies ahead of political “turmoil” that could turn violent.

Prayuth said he was personally happy with the King’s improving health and many senior foreign military officers congratulated him upon what he described as a national delight.

Military

In uniform for the monarchy and “People’s Army”

We are not sure what a “national delight” is, but probably is a treacly royalism.

Then Prayuth said: “But I don’t know what’s with some Thai people who do not like the monarch,” and he is said not to have elaborated. He was also ticked off that the “rally held by an anti-Thaksin Shinawatra movement that referred to the monarchy. He maintained that the monarchy played no part in Thai politics and stayed neutral, and beyond political conflicts, all along.” He added:

“I don’t understand what’s wrong with some people, who not only fight against compatriots but also hurt the monarchy and attack the military, or these people want the country to no longer exist, through internal conflicts, or they are not Thai people,” he said, in an emotional way.

Prayuth seems frustrated that the monarchy is now (visibly) central to political struggles. Given the military’s huge budget for promoting and protecting the monarchy, he is probably reflecting on his organization’s inability to get beyond Cold War-style “protection” and “promotion” of the declining monarchy.





Updated: What red shirts want

4 08 2013

Marwaan Macan-Markar has a useful account, at The Irrawaddy, of the position of red shirts on amnesty.

He argues that the “amnesty bill that Worachai Hema, a government lawmaker, has proposed to be taken up when a new parliamentary session…” is the most likely bill to be taken up. He adds that this amnesty bill is not just reviled by the anti-government agitators as a ruse by Thaksin Shinawatra to come home, but “has become a rallying cry for Thailand’s strongest and most enduring street protest movement—the Red Shirts.”

There are other red shirts who want a different bill, but that’s another story.

With the Yingluck Shinawatra government still partly reliant  on the red shirts, at least when political push becomes angry shove and when elections come along, Marwaan says the red shirt “cry” is one that cannot be ignored. And, red shirts are likely to show up outside parliament to show support for the bill, risking clashes with the yellow shirts (or whatever color they choose this time).

Marwaan points out that

[t]he Red Shirts’ endorsement of the Worachai bill is rooted in the campaign for justice launched by the leading arm of this movement, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), and other groups not linked to the UDD, dubbed by some here as the “Free Red Shirts.” The campaign emerged after the bloody crackdown that ended weeks of Red Shirts-led street protests on May 19th, 2010. Over 90 people were killed, of whom 82 were civilians, and more than 2,000 people sustained injuries in the wake of heavily armed troops driving off anti-government protesters from Ratchaprasong, the center of Bangkok’s glitzy shopping mall core.

One of the reasons the red shirts like the bill is because the “military’s role has not been spared…. [T]he Worachai proposal … seeks [a] pardon … only for all low-ranking members from across the country’s color-coded protest movement who are facing charges since the 2006 coup.”

When Thaksin, “on May 19th this year, … delivered a speech via Skype … to thousands of Red Shirt supporters who had packed the streets of Ratchaprasong to commemorate the third anniversary of the 2010 crackdown … publicly endorsed the Worachai bill, … [it] prompted wild cheers from the crowds.” This represented a 180-degree turn for Thaksin from the previous year. Marwaan observes:

Such a turn has brought into relief a view among political observers that neither the Yingluck administration nor Thaksin can take Red Shirt support for granted. And the Worachai bill, more than a lightning rod, emerges as an occasion of Red Shirts muscle flexing against their patron—a rare moment that has compelled Thaksin to concede ground.

That can only be a good development.

Update: Kind of related to this, PPT observes that there are two recent posts at the official Red Shirts blog that indicate recognition by diplomats of the red shirts/UDD. The first is about  U.S. Embassy officials visiting the UDD and reportedly “praised the UDD organization for their commitment to the practice of transparency and other democratic principles within the organization.” The second has UDD President Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn attending “the anniversary of the National Day of the Swiss Confederation.” We are sure the yellow lot will be depressed and angered by this.

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On being free

12 07 2013

Readers may be interested in a post at the Thai Red Shirt blog that interviews Thanthawut Thaweewarodomkul, recently released from prison after serving three years for lese majeste. Thanthawut explains that he agreed to seek a royal pardon after the death in custody of Ampol Tangnopakul.

The interview was provided on the day he was released. Some excerpts:

TRS: How was your time in prison?

Thantawut: It is better now toward the end of my sentence since the government and the UDD are paying more attention in political and 112 prisoners. Back in 2010, the Red Shirts supporters who were imprisoned have been picked on more frequently than others. At first, it was a hard time for all of us. Especially for the 112 prisoners who were particularly targeted.

… I have never been in jail before. In my heart, I believed that I wouldn’t be in here for long since I would get bail soon. I never thought that have to be in prison until today. Due to the judicial process and injustice, I was denied bail and remain incarcerated until now.

TRS: How are the other 112 prisoners doing?

Thantawut: We have been well taken care of since the government and the UDD are paying attention to us prisoners more than before. The correctional officers do not bother us as much, even though a few of them hated us, but they leave us alone, unlike before.

TRS: You have written many letters to Assoc. Prof. Tida, did she help or response to you at all?

Thantawut: I never thought that Mrs. Tida would have paid this much attention to my letters because I feel that nobody cares about the 112 prisoners but she have proved me wrong. She stopped by and encouraged us not to lose hope. Every request that was sent through the letters has been answered one way or another by Ar-jarn Tida herself.

TRS: Is there anything you want to say to the Red Shirts supporters?

Thantawut: As a former 112 prisoner, I do not want the Red Shirts supporters to differentiate between political prisoners in Lak Sri Prison and 112 prisoners at Bangkok Remand Prison because all of us shared the same ideology. We derived from the same beginning, we attend the same rally and we listen to the same speeches. Why is there a need to separate us from the other political prisoners? Why should 112 prisoners received less support from the Red Shirts? I want the Red Shirts supporters to think of us the same way that they think about other political prisoners because being in jail is already like living in hell.





Red shirts bailed

24 04 2013

In a post yesterday PPT noted the “miraculous” bailing of red shirts accused of arson in 2010. The Red Shirts blog has further details.

It notes that last Friday “four Red Shirt prisoners were released from Laksi prison [for political prisoners] on bail as they appeal convictions for the arson attacks on the Udon Thani provincial hall that occurred on May 19th 2010.”

The provincial court in Udon Thani handed out “severe sentences of up to 22 years” for these men.

It is stated that:

Red Shirt activists and UDD leader Tida Tawornseth welcomed the four prisoners as they were released from Laksi on Friday morning. They spent the rest of the day among friends at UDD headquarters.





Hoping and waiting

16 04 2013

The Red Shirts blog reports that after “intense lobbying by the UDD and Red Shirt activists fighting on behalf of political prisoners, the Ministry of Justice has recently agreed to transfer 4 convicted Red Shirt political prisoners from Bangkok Remand Prison to Laksi Prison.”

UDD chairwoman Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn says the “decision to transfer political prisoners already convicted of violating the Abhisit government’s Emergency Decree of April-May 2010 brings Laksi one step closer to becoming a prison for all political prisoners…”.

Thida also noted with concern that the “Ministry did not approve the transfer of lèse majesté (112) prisoners that were included in the UDD’s request.” She noted that lese majeste prisoners caused the Ministry to proceed “with caution, for fear of retaliation from the other side.”

The report adds:

Human rights activists are growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of political will to work on behalf of all political prisoners, including those charged under Article 112.

Meanwhile, at the Bangkok Post, it is reported that “[r]elatives of those convicted and jailed for lese majeste are pinning their hopes on royal pardons so they can be reunited with their loved ones.”

Having to rely on a royal pardon – paper work for seeking a royal pardon reportedly up to two years – may be less than satisfying but the fact that the only hope is feudal fickleness is damning of the law and those who do nothing about it.





Updated: Political prisoners

15 03 2013

Update: This post is also available in French.

For those who haven’t seen it, Red Shirts blog includes a post regarding the official red shirts calling on the government to make an “immediate transfer of 10 Red Shirt and lèse majesté prisoners to Laksi prison which is reserved for political offenders. The list includes noted 112 prisoners Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, Thantawut Thaweevarodomkul, and Daranee Chanchengsillapakul, who are currently imprisoned alongside violent criminals.”

This call is made as the amnesty “discussion” drags on and as requests for royal pardons seem to be ignored.

While this call is appropriate, it is a measure of how odd Thailand’s politics has become when UDD leader Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn,  has to express the request in these terms:

The manner in which Thailand is treating its political prisoners is contrary to basic democratic principals. Even the Sarit [Thanarat] dictatorship recognized a distinction between political offenders and other prisoners. Now that we are more democratic we can’t even meet such low standards.

In fact, it goes against democratic principles to have any political prisoners at all. Realistically, and sadly, PPT notes that some democracies have held political prisoners and some still do.

Thida argues that “while political prisoners are deprived of their freedom, they still have the right to information, education, health care, and fair visiting hours.”

She also “called on the National Human Rights Commission to fight for the bail rights of prisoners that are trying to fight their cases from behind bars.” This right is one that is regularly abused in lese majeste cases, but apparently not when political crimes are committed by yellow shirts; they regularly get bail for all kinds of alleged crimes.

On the amnesty issue, the comment attributed to Jatuporn Promphan is worth repeating:

Thaksin and the Red Shirt leaders will not be granted amnesty, but the democrats [Democrat Party] are still playing stupid. They keep claiming that it’s for Thaksin. This has nothing to do with Thaksin or UDD leaders. It’s for the people. Releasing political prisoners is essential for progress in Thailand.





UDD, Somyos and amnesty

16 02 2013

The Red shirts blog has two recent posts of interest.

From Red Shirts blog

From Red Shirts blog

The first discusses amnesty. When the mainstream media is reporting (long existing and well-known) splits in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship over leadership, the UDD itself speaks of unity on “the necessity of amnesty for political prisoners…”. For the official red shirts, amnesty means “for political prisoners of all colours, with the exception of rally leaders…”. Jatuporn Promphan stated: “Our brothers and sisters have been stuck in Laksi prison for too long. We must not be selfish and prioritise our own success over their release.” Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn stated that “amnesty is imperative. We need to continue this struggle until there is genuine democracy in Thailand. We also need to grow stronger as a movement, although the elites would not like us to.”

The second post is about lese majeste political prisoner Somyos Prueksakasemsuk. As is his style, Somyos is said to remain determined to fight the conviction, despite having spent almost two years in jail already. As he and his lawyers have repeatedly demanded, in order to defend himself, Somyos needs adequate access to his lawyers. The state, by keeping him locked up, prevents Somyos from receiving his Section 40 constitutional right to adequate, unimpeded and proper legal representation.

Having had 13 bail requests rejected, Somyos continues to fight for rights. Long ago the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his detention as being in contravention of Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 19 (2) of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, stating that his detention is arbitrary.

Somyos says: “They keep denying me bail on the basis that I might flee the country. I have every intention to fight my case to the end, but I can’t do it behind bars.”

 





Red shirts on amart and amnesty

7 02 2013

The Red Shirts blog has a report on a recent political school the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship conducted in Korat and involving some  “2,000 local grassroots activists” who met with “UDD co-leaders” and “engaged with  on the core beliefs and principles of the Red Shirt movement.”

Free them allThe “most pressing issues of amnesty for political prisoners and amending the constitution were discussed…” along with “the movement’s long term goal of overcoming the amaat power structure that continues to undermine democracy in Thailand.”

The amart system is defined as “based on an old elite network of patronage that survived the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932. It comprises Thailand’s old moneyed elites, military generals, and high-ranking civil servants.”Phrai

UDD leader Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn responded to criticism that the red shirts “are purely motivated by restoring Thaksin Shinawatra to power”:

The opposition is afraid of Thaksin, and therefore assumes that we are fighting on his behalf. If they asked us, however, we would respond that we are not fighting for or against particular individuals, but for and against different political systems, with the goal of finally having democracy, justice, and equality … Red Shirts want liberal values in Thai society.

On amnesty, Thida said:

Coup-makers have been granted amnesty eight times through new constitutions. We must pressure the government to provide amnesty for political activists.

And Jatuporn Promphan pushed the official UDD line on amnesty: “We must get the prisoners out as soon as possible, and the Amnesty Decree would be the fastest way.”





Red shirts on Somyos

30 01 2013

The Red Shirts blog has a comment on the sentencing of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk. PPT won’t repeat what they say. Rather,we just repeat a couple of their points.

First, the blog describes the “arrest, detention, and verdict” meted out to Somyos as a case that “betrays Thailand’s disregard for the fundamental human rights that should be at the basis of any true democracy.”

It is next noted that “Somyot maintains that he had a target on his back after he refused to collaborate with the Abhisit administration … in April-May 2010” when he was “detained by the officers of … CRES [and] offered preferential treatment in exchange for testimony that the UDD was directly affiliated with the nebulous “men in black”. He promptly refused.”

UDD leader Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn observes:

Somyot’s case proves that liberal democratic ideals are non-existent in Thailand. It reaffirms our conviction that comprehensive political reform is necessary if this country can call itself democratic.

The blog adds: “It is impossible to ignore the intrinsic link between authoritarian regimes and the suppression of the freedom of speech.”

Finally,the UDD states that it “hopes that the proposed draft amnesty decree would be applicable to him [Somyos].”





UDD strategy

6 01 2013

The Red Shirt blog reports on the announcement of the official United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship strategy for 2013. Four points are listed and each “means to challenge a different consequence of the 2006 coup and its aftermath.” They are:

Thida

Thida

1. The UDD “will prioritize its ongoing struggle for amnesty for political prisoners. UDD leader Tida Tawornseth called on the government to issue an amnesty decree within the next two months.” Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn spoke of “anger and frustration among Red Shirts who expected more action from the Pheu Thai administration.”

2. The “fight for justice and an end to state violence  in Thailand.” The “UDD believes that granting the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction to open a preliminary investigation would help ensure a fair process for all.” While welcoming legal actions against Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, the UDD noted that “their criminal responsibility is shared by high ranking military officers who have avoided any scrutiny from the Thai judiciary.”

3. Constitutional reform. “The UDD is unwavering in its conviction that the government must proceed with a third reading of the charter amendment bill.”

4. The UDD “will continue to appeal to new members to join in the battle for democracy. Political schools will be opened throughout the year to help local leaders advance a common strategy which adheres to the fundamental principles of democratic practice and non-violence.”