Updated: Thongbai Thongpao dies

24 01 2011

The Bangkok Post carries the sad news that human rights lawyer Thongbai Thongpao has passed away. PPT has been critical of Thongbai since he chose to support yellow-shirt causes. However, this does not diminish the huge efforts the Magsaysay Award winner for expanding human rights in Thailand.

Thongbai, 84, died on Monday morning of heart failure. The Post says his funeral rites were held today “at Sala 4 of Wat Phra Sri Mahathat in Bang Khen. A bathing rite is scheduled for 4pm and evening prayer 6.30pm. The cremation will be on Jan 29 at 4pm.”

The Nation has a story also.

Update: Grant Peck at AP has a story on Thongbai.

A yellow Thongbai should be red-faced

7 11 2010

Thongbai Thongpao was once a respected human rights lawyer who gained considerable credit by taking on difficult cases. It is indeed sad to see that, when he adopted a yellow-shirt to attack Thaksin Shinawatra, he seems to have thrown aside notions of fairness and logic. His most recent column in the Bangkok Post is positively embarrassing. It is embarrassing enough to get him a seat on the Constitutional Court.

Thongbai seems ticked off that Thailand’s ranking has dropped precipitately this past year in the world press freedom index. All Thongbai can mutter is that this fall beggars belief and “calls into question the validity of the survey.” By questioning the index in this way, Thongbai aligns himself with a bunch of despots and their cheer squads worldwide.

He gets his racist hat on to assert: “What the ranking tells us is that press freedom in Thailand is scant when measured against the yardstick of the West.” In fact, this statement seems ignorant of the headline comments made by Reporters Without Borders when releasing the index, when they drew attention specifically to failures and backsliding in Europe.

Worse is to come. Ignorance and slothfulness, for example, when Thongbai states: “I have not been able to learn the criteria used for compiling the index.” Perhaps he might have looked at the page that appears next to the index, here. Maybe Thongbai found the term “methodology” somehow misleading. Maybe he was just to lazy or ignorant to look for it. Or perhaps he knows it is there and is simply making things up.

He adds: “The plunge is attributed, rather simplistically, to the killings of two journalists and the injuries of some fifteen others during their field coverage of the clashes between the red shirt protesters and security forces in Bangkok in April and May.” That is simplistic. It seems having 17 journalists injured is unworthy of consideration.

Where has human rights lawyer Thongbai had his head buried of late? At best, if we are being polite, his comment is tasteless. It is “downright unfair,” he says, to factor in deaths of journalists. If that were the case, the Philippines would leap several dozen places. In fact, the journalists are themselves to blame for getting killed and injured by trying to get stories from conflict areas! Remember that Thongbai remains a self-described human rights lawyer….

Then human rights lawyer Thongbai prattles on about how great Thai laws are regarding human rights: “Without doubt, Thai laws provide for full respect of human rights, certainly no less than in Europe and the US. There is not a single law that condones restrictions on the freedom of the press…”.

Like Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Thongbai is disingenuously and stupidly claiming that press freedom is second to none in Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Thailand. In fact, he goes even further, shouting: “Freedom of the broadcast media in Thailand these days is vast and almost limitless.” Sounding downright pleased about the coup, he claims that the 2006 coup did not impact media freedom “in any significant way.”

The best way for an index to be constructed “should be based on an evaluation of the extent to which a country’s laws limit press freedom.” He seems to not give a hoot about the implementation of the laws or the enactment and implementation of laws that directly oppose any laws that are supposed to support media freedom. Thaksin’s regime, which was criticized extensively by Thongbai, would have looked good by Thongbai’s mindless calculations.

We will not sit idly by and watch as our hard-fought freedoms are taken away. We will mount a resistance without prompting from any international organisation.

We cannot think of a dumber commentary on media freedom for several years. When he says: “No form of witchhunt or suppression of the media will be tolerated in Thailand,” you see what he has become. “Dumb” is too polite, for what Thongbai is doing is throwing aside decades of good work in order to be a propagandist for a regime that has done more to restrict the media than any government for years.

Human rights a horror story

25 07 2010

Reading just the Bangkok Post as a bit of relaxation turned into a horror story for PPT on Sunday. There are just too many articles that call into question human rights in Thailand, in the past but especially under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Earlier today we posted on one of the these stories, but as PPT ploughed through more of the paper, jaw dropping, we found it all a bit much. For interested readers, here are the articles we refer to, in no particular order:

1) In its report on the Constituency 6 by-election, the Post manages to not mention that Puea Thai Party candidate Korkaew Pikulthong is in jail, has been prevented from campaigning and even from making a recorded message available to potential voters. The latter restriction imposed by the supposedly independent Election Commission. Preventing voters from gaining electoral information is a crime in many places. In Thailand, where censorship reigns it seems normal.

2) We can’t find it on the Post site to link to it, but the inside front cover has a series of stories by Alan Dawson who correctly points out that: censorship has run wild under the current government; the premier’s image as a human rights man is in need of revision, that the DSI is failing and that the military is riddled with corruption. Okay, he doesn’t use those words, but the meaning is clear.

3) Vitit Muntarbhorn is a professor of law at Chulalongkorn University has an opinion piece on the national human rights plan. Yes, there was one, and a new one was recently launched. It was launched by none other than Prime Minister Abhisit. To cut the whole sorry tale short, nothing much was achieved on the first plan and the prospects for the second appear even more dismal.

4) In the entertainment gossip column called “Mae Moo,” there is a story reflective of the ongoing political struggle, the political use of lese majeste and distasteful yellow-shirted antics. The story is of personal attacks, lies and human rights abuses. It is a sorry tale.

Actor Kowit Wattanakul and his actress daughter Mintita “Mint” Wattanakul have had to speak out to defend themselves against accusations that they are disloyal to the king. Accusing someone of such a “crime” is an abuse of human rights because it almost guarantees police investigation and can cripple a career, as has been seen in another recent case. Kowit says he and his daughter “have been through a media maelstrom since the inaugural Nataraja (performing arts) awards in May, when reports accused the pair of refusing to partake in the royalist grandeur of the occasion.” Recall that yellow shirt supporter Pongpat Wachirabanjong was accused of lese majeste for a speech at the same awards.

Kowit stands accused of having “walked out of a nationalistic speech by yellow shirt director Pongpat … while Mint [is accused of having] refused to sing her part of a song commissioned by Her Majesty the Queen.” When monarchy-loving yellow shirts made these (false) accusations, the reaction was immediate. “Mint was dropped from a soap opera in which she had been acting for months. She was also yanked from another production due to start filming the next day.” They were attacked on “webboards, with Thais [PPT: not sure why the collective noun is used here] accusing them of supporting the red shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship – painted by their yellow shirt rivals as being against the monarchy.”

Both were essentially forced to come out and declare their loyalty and explain what had happened. The Post seems to be at least a little supportive, “explaining” the events. It’s a pity that no one, anywhere in government, including the human rights plan launcher (see above), has the guts to denounce such scurrilous and gutless behaviour. PPT surmises that, secretly, Abhisit and his buddies really do enjoy seeing the “other side” squirm, even when they aren’t in chains. Every forced claim of loyalty is imagined to be a victory for the past-its-use-by-date institution and its conservative and right-wing supporters.

5) Sort of related, the comedy – or smart-arse – column (or whatever it is) by a lad named Andrew Biggs, who gets his celebrity from speaking Thai reasonably well gets one thing right when he comments on the penalties for speaking out against those higher up the social scale (think nai-phrai perhaps?). Commenting on the Withawat Thaokhamlue Academy Fantasia television talent show case, he says: “the higher you are, the more your opinion and status is revered and thus those below you are rude and unacceptable if they complain about you. Even our esteemed prime minister, drilled about freedom of expression during his extensive UK schooling, is still Thai enough to understand this. When asked about Mark’s right to free speech, he replied, as if he were riding a fun park carousel, that Mark has the right to say what he feels but then again he is young, and he should be careful of his words, and as a young person he shouldn’t really be slamming older people, and he is a celebrity, and thus a role model for youth, and … and … Okay we get the picture. Shut up Mark, and respect your elders.” And “betters!”

But where Biggs gets totally balls-up is when he makes ludicrous comments about freedoms. He acknowledges Thailand’s lack of freedoms, but then says: “Young Mark has committed an offence in Thailand; he exercised free speech. I announce this fact not to vent my outrage _ I’m more outraged True Visions considers 12 vocally-challenged Thai teenagers entertainment _ but rather to tell you, dear reader, that the Mark incident serves as a reminder that we don’t have freedom of speech in Thailand. But we still get along just fine.

There it is. Biggs becomes Thai and says “we” are “fine.” But what of the implications of this? Of human rights? Well, Biggs goes on to observe: “Despite frequent claims of Thailand’s democracy and freedoms, it’s not quite the way it is portrayed. Again I must stop here and say this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I’m only saying traditionally in Thai society there’s hasn’t been freedom of speech per se. Rather, you have the freedom to say what you like as long as the person on the social strata directly above you isn’t offended by it.” Yeah, right. If you are at the bottom of the heap, you can’t say a thing.

At least Biggs gets back on track when he admits: “The big rumour is that Mark wrote something disparaging about the monarchy on his Facebook page as well, something he vehemently denies. Thais will tell you that’s the real reason he got the boot.” We’ll stop there, without adding Biggs’s final silly remark.

6) And a sad corrective to conclude on. A while ago PPT decided to have a stab at how many political prisoners were being held in Thailand. Ancient lawyer Thongbai Thongpao, who once had a great human rights record, but is now sullied by his support for all kinds of military and government nonsense points out our error. In his article, he points out that there are 500 held in the South under emergency rule there.

PPT stands corrected. Add those in, and we estimate that Thailand now has 1,500 political prisoners. Hopefully foreign and international organizations join with progressive Thai human rights groups in demanding that political prisoners be released immediately and in condemning the Abhisit regime’s failure to uphold basic human rights.

So much for the long and pleasant Sundays of leisurely reading the paper…. Now it’s a horror story.

Tricks, dirty tricks and trouble

18 07 2010

The Financial Times (15 July 2010 – readers need to sign-up to get access) has an account of the imprisoned red shirt leaders who are said to “have warned of ‘big, big problems’ if the government pushes ahead with its announced reconciliation plan.” The FT was able to conduct the first interview with Korkaew Pikulthong and Weng Tojirakarn who have been locked up since 19 May 2010. Korkaew is the current Puea Thai Party candidate in the Constitutency 6 by-election in Bangkok.

Both leaders said “they were deeply worried about the future.” Korkaew is the one who suggested big problems lay ahead. Korkaew and Weng “confirmed that the opposition had not been asked for input.” Korkaew said: “I don’t think [the prime minister] has the real intention to reconcile the Thai people…. He has no plan to improve the situation. It is just words, no actions.”

The interview was conducted in circumstances where Weng was said to have had to bend “almost double to shout through the perforated steel mesh, the only way of communicating in the noisy visiting room of Bangkok Remand Prison.”

Korkaew complained about the election situation: “I can’t do anything much, I can’t tell [voters] what is on my mind and have no chance to meet the people to tell them my policies…”.

That’s not quite accurate, for the very generous officials at the Corrections Department have graciously allowed Korkaew to record three 3-minute speeches, one of which the Puea Thai Party may be able to use for campaign purposes while their candidate remains banged-up.

Chatchai Chuiklom, chief of the Corrections Department, is cited in another Bangkok Post story as saying that “Korkaew is not receiving any special treatment because of his candidacy in the by-election. In line with department rules, he is not even allowed to use the internet. Mr Korkaew’s detention under the emer gency decree has been extended twice by the courts. He is appealing to the courts to be released to campaign for the by-election.”

The Post runs the line that the fact that Korkaew is not permitted to campaign is a great advantage because he gets a sympathy vote. On this occasion it quotes former democracy advocate and human rights lawyer turned yellow-shirted anti-Thaksin campaigner Thongbai Thongpao, who claims that a real democrat can get elected from inside jail. It is as if the Post and Thongbai think being in the slammer and being prevented from campaigning is a magical advantage. This is utter nonsense. Even the Post admits that, so far, the “best Puea Thai has managed to do so far is to broadcast a recording of a speech by Mr Korkaew to voters.”

The Post’s headline and some of the items in the story are outrageously biased against Korkaew, while the Post has been highly positive in its coverage of the Democrat Party candidate.

The Puea Thai choice of candidate, however, is undoubtedly meant to be symbolic of the red shirt struggle of democracy versus the anti-democratic Democrat Party-led coalition and its policies.

Democrat candidate Panich Vikitsreth is an acolyte of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, and Kasit is known to be popular with the yellow-shirted crowd in Bangkok’s middle and upper classes, despite his erratic behavior (or perhaps because of it).

The Democrat Party and its coalition are desperate to win this election. A loss would do incalculable damage to the government. Hence, ignoring the fact that Korkaew is locked up, the Democrat Party is already screaming about “dirty tricks.” The Democrat Party shouts about “vote buying and intimidation hav[ing] already begun…”. PPT recalls that, in the 2007 election, it was mainly army money doing the vote-buying (see also Chang Noi below). In fact, so important is this election that PPT expects the military and the government to be the ones engaged in dirty tricks (in addition to keeping the opposition candidate from campaigning).

For an account of the constituency, see this Chang Noi article: “The previous poll in 2007 was almost a dead heat, so the result this time will signal how popular opinion has been changed by the turmoil of the past two years, and especially by the May events. The implications could be enormous because the government’s parliamentary majority is a lot shakier than it looks.”

Chang Noi concludes: “But if Bangkok 6 swings in the red direction, the medium term impact on Parliament could be critical. MPs in the middle ground will start to worry about how they will be treated by the electorate at a future poll if they are clearly identified with this coalition…. [I]f the Democrats win a solid victory in Bangkok 6, the government will be more secure, and the prospect of a Pheu Thai victory in a future general election less certain. So Bangkok 6 is not just another by-election but a contest that the Democrats and their various backers simply cannot afford to lose. For this reason it may not be at all like a normal poll, and may not be decided by normal means.”

If the Democrat Party wins it will have to be by a massive landslide. Anything less would always be a hollow victory over a candidate locked up, essentially gagged and bound by the government parties

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