Amnesty on the junta’s agenda

9 01 2017

There have now been several reports that the military junta is considering a political amnesty. A report at Prachatai states that the the junta is “currently reviewing the recommendations of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand before it forms its official policies on promoting reconciliation.”

After that review, the National Reform Steering Assembly will “recommend to the junta that future political amnesties be inapplicable to those suspected or guilty of violating the country’s anti-corruption laws, as well as Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code — the lèse majesté law.” Political leaders will also be outside any amnesty and compensation will be available.

The exclusion of those accused of lese majeste and corruption continues a legal path where murderers and those involved in violence are considered less reprehensible than the “corrupt” and those who are anti-monarchists.

The NRSA is also likely to “recommend the establishment of a special committee tasked with deciding the merits of political amnesty on a case-by-case basis.” It will suggest that the amnesty be available for the period since 2004.

Amnesty has been a cause of political conflict, with an earlier amnesty bill – quickly withdrawn – under the Yingluck Shinawatra government sparking events that led to the 2014 military coup.

This version of amnesty is targeted to exclude the junta’s political opponents. Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra are excluded because of corruption charges. With lese majeste excluded, many of those politically charged and considered anti-junta activists will be outside “reconciliation.”

The exclusion of political leaders has no impact on Abhisit  Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban as the murder charges against them have all been dropped. Likewise, military criminals who have murdered and maimed continue to enjoy impunity. As for those leading the illegal coups of 2006 and 2014, they have already granted themselves amnesty.





Torture routinized

9 02 2016

About a week ago, PPT posted on torture as a standard operating procedure for state authorities. In that post we linked to a Prachatai report on allegations of torture and ill-treatment in the South expanding under the military dictatorship. The allegations, reported by former detainees were of being “beaten or hit with hard objects, … put in a room kept at a low temperature, … suffocated, and … electrocuted.” Others said they were “pierced with needles, tortured with pliers, forced to drink their own urine, stripped naked, injected with unspecified chemicals, tortured in the genitals, and threatened with execution.”

A few days later, the Internal Security Operations Command claimed the report on the use of torture was a work “of imagination not based on reality…” and accused its authors as having “released the report of … to undermine the credibility of the Thai state in the eyes of the world.”

A second report alleging torture has been released. Khaosod reports that the new report is also based on “interviews with former detainees” in the south and was to be “released Wednesday by the Cross Cultural Foundation, Network of Human Rights Organizations in Pattani and Dua Jai Group…”. The 120-page report can be downloaded as a PDF, in Thai.

The report alleges systematic “[t]orture ranging from waterboarding and strangling to threats of violence and sexual assault are used systematically by the army and police to force confessions from suspected insurgents in the Deep South…”. It also notes the impunity enjoyed by criminal officials: “… no single security officer has even gone to jail during the past decade over cases involving torture.”

The response from ISOC is reported:

Col. Pramote Promin, spokesman for the Internal Security Operation Command, or ISOC, said they had not seen the report but dismissed it as yet another figment of its authors’ imaginations. He also accused one of its principal authors, foundation Director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, of wanting to discredit the army and state.

Equally disturbingly, “human rights lawyer Somchai Hom-laor, another figure behind the report, said some torture techniques are now being adopted against ordinary Thais elsewhere in the kingdom who are believed to be threats to national security.” He might have mentioned deaths in custody in the south and in Bangkok’s political prisons.

Somchai is no ordinary commentator. He has been supportive of some yellow-shirted causes in the past and was a member of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission set up by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. At the same time, he has been a human rights lawyer for a very long time. These connections and history cause him to be careful in dealing with the junta: “We don’t want to condemn them or create hatred but want them to rectify the situation because it is undermining the state itself…”.

Torture by the state’s officers is routinized in Thailand, as a string of our posts indicate.





Updated: Truth?

15 10 2014

Readers who can get access may find this academic paper of some use:

Wreck/Conciliation? The Politics of Truth Commissions in Thailand

By Duncan McCargo and Naruemon Thabchumpon

Abstract: More than ninety people died in political violence linked to the March–May 2010 “redshirt” protests in Bangkok. The work of the government-appointed Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) illustrates the potential shortcomings of seeing quasi-judicial commissions as a catch-all solution for societies struggling to deal with the truth about their recent pasts. The 2012 TRCT report was widely criticized for blaming too much of the violence on the actions of rogue elements of the demonstrators and failing to focus tightly on the obvious legal transgressions of the security forces. By failing strongly to criticize the role of the military in most of the fatal shootings, the TRCT arguably helped pave the way for the 2014 coup. Truth commissions that are unable to produce convincing explanations of the facts they examine may actually prove counterproductive. Following Quinn and Wilson, we argue in this article that weak truth commissions are prone to politicization and are likely to produce disappointing outcomes, which may even be counterproductive.

Update: While we were looking around at recent academic articles, we noted updates at a blog maintained by Kevin Hewison. Back in April, we linked to an article by him on inequality and Thailand’s politics. That article is now available here. We also noted a link to a recent interview with him at the cultural studies blog’s podcasts.





Judicial harassment

17 09 2014

PPT received the following urgent appeal from the AHRC. It refers to Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Somchai Homlaor of the Cross Cultural Foundation. Somchai is well known as a former member of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s Truth for Reconciliation Commission.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-133-2014

17 September 2014

THAILAND: End judicial harassment of human rights defenders

ISSUES: Torture; human rights defenders; military; threats and intimidation; rule of law
———————————————————————

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that the judicial harassment of Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Somchai Homlaor, long-standing and prominent human rights defenders and director and chairperson, respectively, of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) in Thailand, is ongoing. They have been accused of defaming the army and face potential legal prosecution for their work documenting instances of torture and advocating on behalf of victims.

CASE NARRATIVE: As we described in an earlier statement (AHRC-STM-164-2014), on 24 August 2014, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Somchai Homlaor, long-time human rights defenders and director and chairperson, respectively, of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), received warrants summoning them to report to the Yala police by 25 August 2014. Initially, Pornpen and Somchai postponed their reporting to the Tatong police station in Raman district in Yala province until 10 am on 14 September. On 10 September, this was postponed indefinitely at the request of the police investigator. The warrants are in relation to an investigation carried out pursuant to a legal complaint of libel and defamation filed against them by Paramilitary Unit 41. The complaint accuses CrCF of causing damage to the reputation of the Army by disseminating an open letter about a case of torture carried out in southern Thailand.

CrCF was established in 2002 to work on justice and the protection, promotion and monitoring of human rights in Thailand. CrCF’s philosophy and activities are focused on strengthening human rights and delivering sustainable judicial reform throughout society, both top-down and bottom-up. CrCF has a long, well-respected track record of supporting marginalised people such as ethnic minority groups, stateless people, migrant workers and victims of conflict in their struggles for accountability in cases of torture, enforced disappearance, and other human rights violations. Since the declaration of martial law in southern Thailand in January 2004, CrCF has been at the forefront of documenting and calling for justice in cases of torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, and other human rights violations. The work of the organization, and especially the work carried out by Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, is in the service of education citizens about their rights, recording rights violations, and pushing for accountability and redress. As part of this work, they routinely document cases and aid victims in filing both formal complaints and disseminating this information to the public via the media. In this case, the complaint was filed by Paramilitary Unit 41 after an open letter which detailed a case of torture of a young man in Yala circulated in public (Some of the details of the open letter were published online by Isra News Agency here). The Army has claimed that the young man was not tortured, and so therefore the open letter constitutes libel and defamation. In response, on 8th May 2014, the ISOC, the Royal Thai Police, and others – including doctors, examined the victim of the alleged assault, and produced a press release stating that an investigation had been carried out which had found that the allegation of assault was untrue. The press release went on to say that CRCF should be held responsible for intentionally distorting the truth and spreading false statements to the public.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The judicial harassment of Pornpen Khongkachonkiet is part of a broader pattern of harassment and legal proceedings carried out against those who expose torture, call for accountability and defend human rights in Thailand. The Government of Thailand acceded to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading or Inhuman Treatment (CAT) on 2 October 2007. As a state party to the CAT, Thailand is obligated to take action to prevent torture, hold perpetrators to account, and provide redress and protection to victims of torture. The AHRC has noted that this is not always the case, such as in the criminal prosecution of Suderueman Maleh, a survivor of torture in southern Thailand, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2011 after he brought a torture complaint against a police officer who was later cleared of responsibility (AHRC-STM-103-2011). Similarly, when Kritsuda Khunasen, who was arbitrarily detained for nearly a month following the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order, released two video interviews detailed her torture and abuse while in military custody, the junta’s response was to threaten and discredit her (AHRC-STM-151-2014). The appropriate response in all of these cases would be for the military and government to initiate independent investigations into torture.

SUGGESTED ACTION: Please write letters to the authorities below, asking them to immediately cease the judicial harassment and end any ongoing investigation of Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Somchai Homlaor for their work defending human rights.

Please note that the Asian Human Rights Commission is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights seeking his urgent intervention into this matter.





With a major update: Suspicion

13 09 2014

There have been a remarkable number of reports in various media in recent days of the miraculous police action that has netted one woman and four men alleged to have been “men in black” and claimed to have “confessed” to attacking military and other targets in April 2010.

This is not the first miracle worked by the police since the May 2014 military coup. The miracle worker was, in several such cases, the gold miner businessman and now police boss General Somyos Pumpanmuang. Several of the cases seemed to fade as fast as the miracle was produced.

MIB

A Bangkok Post photo

If that isn’t reason enough for some skepticism, the sight of the police dressing the detainees in black clothing, attaching red armbands and ribbons to them, forcing them to wear balaclavas, and having them “re-enact” alleged “crimes,” including taking them to the streets and having them pose with grenade launchers and assault weapons is completely bizarre and legally fraught.

The first report PPT saw was in the Bangkok Post, where the police already had the detainees were already in fancy dress.

Despite the fact that, at the time the so-called men in black were “identified” as “responsible” for actions against the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime the police and military were under the control of pro-Abhisit commanders, no suspects were captured and convicted and there were precious few video or photo images of the MiBs.

They lived on in military and royalist lore as “responsible” for all the killings in 2010. As The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha and other military brass have said many times, the military did not kill anyone. The courts have disagreed with this in several cases. Even when anti-democrats were violent in 2013 and 2014, they blamed mysterious MiBs. Such claims were demonstrated to be false, concocted for political purposes and to take the heat off the violence of the royalist anti-democrats.

This is not the first time that authorities have claimed to have identified the “perpetrators.” A sub-committee of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission headed by the compromised Somchai Homlaor stated that it had “identified” MiBs. We posted:

In its report on the 2010 Battle for Bangkok, Somchai Homlaor, who headed the investigating sub-committee, said the commission had “found connections between the ‘men in black’ and security guards of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship in at least two clashes with authorities at Kok Wua intersection near the Democracy Monument and the Pratunam area on April 10, 2010.” He adds that “many” of the men in black “were found to be close to Maj Gen Khattiya…”. He added that the commission did “not have evidence to conclude whether they had a connection with UDD key figures…”.

If they did, there was little follow-up and no naming of names.

Prayuth once reportedly stated: “I do not know whether there were men in black or not, but soldiers and police were injured and killed in those clashes…”. The Democrat Party and Abhisit have been sure, and have repeatedly campaigned about MiBs, but their government never found any. Abhisit has repeatedly claimed that MiBs were responsible for all deaths.

That first report in the Bangkok Post stated that the recent arrests saw Somchai Sawaengkarn resurrected the claim that it was only MiBs who were responsible for “killing of soldiers and civilians during political unrest in 2010…”. He added that the arrests might “lead to the identification of those responsible for masterminding the violence…”. He essentially means Thaksin Shinawatra, who he blames for all Thailand’s ills including heavy rainfall. Somchai is of dubious character: a member of the puppet National Legislative Assembly, he was also an unelected senator. He is a huge supporter of anti-democrats.

The police claimed that all “five suspects have admitted involvement in the violence that led to the killing of soldiers near Democracy Monument in April 2010.”

The report states that these suspects “were taken into custody on Tuesday but the arrests were only made public yesterday. They have all been charged with illegally carrying and using guns, bullets and bombs.” In fact, one of those arrested was a “red shirt activist who went missing after he was arrested by soldiers last week…”. He was “arrested by soldiers on 5 September and held incommunicad0 for almost a week while the military denied having him in their custody, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Wednesday.”

The police also implicated now-exiled red shirt activist Kritsuda Khunasen saying that the raids on her house “found clear evidence relating to the transfer of large sums of money to the five suspects, although he declined to reveal how much.”

Within hours, the police and the military dictatorship has sought to condemn those arrested. Police General Somyos also defended his arrest of the suspects. He said he has “solid evidence,” but didn’t say anything much about it.

Somyos declared that he “would not argue with red shirts who insisted there were no ‘men in black’ among their ranks.”

Meanwhile, The Dictator stated that he would not comment on the case. As usual, though, he was unable to control himself. He “warned people behind the fatal attacks during the political unrest to … turn themselves in because he has all of their names in his hands.”

He claimed to have “the names of the supporters and financiers of the violent attacks in 2010 as well as those in 2013 and this year, and he urged them to report to authorities. Some are inside the country and some had fled abroad,” as if to blame red shirts yet again. He promised to prosecute and name “those who provided support for the acquisition of such weapons, including their financing…”.

Update: Somewhat belatedly, the mainstream media has decided to raise questions about facts and process involved in this case. As is usual in the Bangkok Post, it has a story that cites a single anonymous source as if that source is unimpeachably reliable. That source claims: “The DSI source said the agency has files on all of the alleged ‘men in black’, but the probe ground to a halt when the Yingluck Shinawatra government was elected in July 2011…. A ‘powerful politician’ in the since-deposed government laid out a guideline for the DSI that the so-called men in black did not exist and there was no armed element, the source alleged.” This is initially plausible, but only until one asks why the DSI did not act against these suspects when the Abhisit regime was in control and backed by the military?

The claim comes as “rights groups label … a press conference in which the suspects were forced to dress in black paramilitary attire as a publicity stunt likely to rob them of the chance of a fair trial.”

The People’s Information Centre pointed out that “there was no compelling evidence linking them to the nine deaths on Din So Road…”. It adds that “[t]hree of the four military casualties … on Din So Road were as a result of grenade blasts, according to … an inquest, not from gun fire as claimed by police on Thursday.”

As noted above, the police have accused exiled red shirt Kritsuda of financing the suspects. She has responded that, at the time of the events, she was 23 year-old. She asks General Somyos: “How can you accuse me without feeling ashamed of yourself?”At the conclusion of this Post story there is a brief mention of how the police decided to track those they now say are guilty: “Soldiers ‘remembered him’ [one of the suspects] from when he and the others allegedly rode in a van past an army Humvee on April 11, 2010.” On that day, the soldiers were in disarray and retreated when they tear-gassed themselves and when faced with red shirt resistance. They fled leaving behind weapons and other equipment. It seems dubious at best that memories of that day could be clear.

The Bangkok Post also has an editorial that comments on the case. It states: “The presentation of the suspected ‘men in black’ last week raises more questions about justice in Thailand under the military regime than it answers.” It continues to raise questions about dressing the men up and having them “re-enact” events that they may not have been involved in. It says: “The questions raised by this series of events are myriad and troubling…. The use of re-enactments is troubling and would be considered highly prejudicial in a legal system that relied on juries.”

On the arrests it asks: “what was that evidence? Who handled the interviews? How can we be certain the confessions were genuine?” It adds that the “suspects are still just that — suspects. They are all entitled to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial and they are entitled to be treated equally under the law.”

Of course, under the military dictatorship, the law is but a tool for those who rule.

Oddly, when the Post editorial concludes, it does so in a curious manner: “The families of those killed by the men in black in April 2010 deserve to know the right people have been brought to justice, and that can only happen in an open, transparent and accountable system.” In making this statement, it is neglecting the red shirts who were murdered by the military commanders who now rule the country.





ICC in Bangkok III

3 11 2012

At the Bangkok Post web site, this is the headline: “legal advice is pretty well unanimous” (see right) in rejecting the idea of allowing the International Criminal Court to examine the events of April and May 2010.

Yet when the reader clicks through to the story, it turns out that the headline is a fabrication of what the story actually does. In fact, the story cites just two lawyers, one of whom is anonymous. Of the two, one is opposed and another raises several points that could be problems. As we said, the headline at the web site is a concoction.

The opposing lawyer is Thammasat University’s Pokpong Srisanit, a former member of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission, who argues for ratification of the ICC treaty but then argues “against accepting the court’s jurisdiction in cases which the Thai justice system is able to handle by itself,” which seems to completely contradict the idea of ratifying the treaty. Yet, as we have pointed out, logic is often lost in this debate. Perhaps the logic is that Pokpong knows that “ratifying the treaty … would require parliamentary approval necessary for legally binding matters involving national sovereignty under Section 190 of the constitution.” He probably knows that this would be unlikely as it would be opposed by the opposition and conservative appointed senators.

The anonymous “legal expert” says the “government must be careful in deciding whether to request that the ICC looks into the 2010 clashes.”

In other words, there is no “unanimity” even amongst the two legal professionals interviewed by the Post.

The other opponent of the ICC route cited is the conservative Deputy Senate Speaker, an appointed senator, Surachai Liangboonlertchai. No surprise there!

Both the Bangkok Post and The Nation appear to be ready to move into high campaign against the government, as they have consistently done since 2005, whenever the military or yellow shirts provided the opportunity. We guess the editors are pleased that Pitak Siam is providing that opportunity.





A provincial critique of the TRC report

16 10 2012

As we did yesterday, PPT draws attention to a Prachatai posting. This post presents a perspective from the provinces on the Truth for Reconciliation Commission report on the events of April and May 2010. In it, a representative of volunteers who collected information on the impact of 2010 April-May crackdown in Ubon Ratchathani, makes observations regarding the TRC report.

Again, PPT won’t summarize as the report deserves to be read in full. It is important to note that the events of 2010 were not simply a Battle for Bangkok (as we have repeatedly designate the events). The TRC report also focuses on events in Bangkok. As this Prachatai account points out, in “Ubon Ratchathani alone, 418 warrants were issued for which 88 civilians were taken in custody. Twenty-one individuals were held in custody without bail from the day they were arrested to the day the verdict was handed down.”

In other words, the crackdown by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and the military extended into areas identified as “red zones” as they attempted to repress the red shirts. That makes this report incredibly valuable.





Police investigations on crackdown continue

1 10 2012

The Nation reports that police are continuing to investigate the events of April and May 2010. It states that “the Department of Special Investigation … investigators were summoning commanders of Army divisions and battalions that deployed troops to crackdown on red-shirt protesters to testify.” To date these commanders have failed to give evidence or have postponed meetings with DSI.

Meanwhile, also at The Nation, it is reported that a special government committee has been established to hold public hearings associated with the recommendations of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand. Spokesman for the panel Weerawong Jitmittraparp, said it would be “following up on the proposals of the TRCT, … using parts of the TRCT’s proposals to hold public discussions.”

Weerawong said “his panel would only acknowledge the TRCT report without endorsing it or agreeing with it because it has yet to study reports from other agencies, including the House, the King Prajadipok’s Institute and some private organisations. He said it would be up to the courts to decide who was right or wrong in the political violence.”





Updated: Defending the TRC

30 09 2012

The Bangkok Post decides that the Truth for Reconciliation report on the Battle for Bangkok needs additional boosting. It shouts that the:

condemnations [of the report] bordered on the hysterical, with certain Pheu Thai Party MPs demanding another commission be set up under their rules and terms of reference.

Hysterical? PPT actually felt that the cheers for the report verged not on the hysterical, unless one was referring to them as hysterically silly to the point of bizarre. As one example, consider the account of it by Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Written within hours of the final report being released and with no evidence of having read any of it, the CSIS claims that it “seems to give a balanced treatment to both sides involved in the political violence two years ago…”. As well as being “balanced,” CSIS reckons it is “objective, comprehensive, and critical … groundbreaking [and displays] objectivity…”.

Hysterical support perhaps for a report that is assumed to be all kinds of appropriate things with not a shred of possible evidence.

The Post’s account claims that the “more critical recommendations touched upon the role of the military and the monarchy.”

The Post seems to laud the TRC for a recommendation that PPT has seen for several decades; that “the military must refrain from getting involved in politics and carrying out coups.” Hardly “groundbreaking.” And PPT has already commented on the deeply conservative suggestions on the monarchy.

The Post trumpets the TRC call for “more decentralisation as part of the key solutions to the current political problems as it sees centralisation as part of the root cause of inequality.” Royalist Prawase Wasi and every second public intellectual has been demanding decentralization. The idea that inequality is rooted in centralization is obscurantist nonsense with no basis in data or analysis.

What seems to bothering the Post and Kanit na Nakhon is that the TRC’s elite conservatism is vigorously criticized.

Update: Readers may find Asian Correspondent’s account of the TRC report and reaction to it of use.





Thaksin in Singapore

25 09 2012

A report at Bloomberg is full of ironies regarding politics and Thaksin Shinawatra. Yingluck Shinawatra in New York for the U.N. General Assembly – that’s where Thaksin was in 2006, when the coup was launched – Thaksin himself has been in Singapore, reportedly as a guest of Temasek. It was the sale of Shin Corp to Temasek that unleashed a wave of Bangkok-based anti-Thaksinism that prepared the ground for the coup.

It is a long report which PPT won’t summarize here. Essentially, Thaksin is clear that neither he nor his sister’s government are going to be doing too much to provoke political opponents: “It’s like the government is living in a house full of land mines. So you have to be very cautious of what you are doing.”

Part of the reason for that is self-centered but part is Thaksin the businessman speaking, arguing that political stability helps investment (and the observation that the Thai stock exchange has the world’s second-highest growth this year).

The issue of constitutional reform remains on the agenda, however, as does the investigation of deaths in April and May 2010. Thaksin says: “It’s too much the way they crack down on the people,” Thaksin said, adding that the International Criminal Court is considering whether to accept a petition on the case filed by the Red Shirts. “Definitely they have to be held accountable.”

On the report by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission report and Kanit na Nakhon’s call for Thaksin to leave politics Thaksin says: “That’s the view of a very few people, especially the chairman…”. He adds that “Kanit was ‘still angry with me’ about a dispute over who to include in his Thai Rak Thai political party, the party that brought him to power in 2001. Kanit declined to comment directly on Thaksin’s remarks when reached by phone late yesterday.”