Seeing red

21 03 2017

As the junta approaches the anniversary of its third year of military dictatorship, it is going through another phase of red shirt repression. The regime is again seeing reds under its beds and it doesn’t like it.

There are frantic junta imaginations of fantastical red shirt assassination plots, reds infiltrating Wat Dhammakaya, separatist rebellion and more.

This reaction appears to derive from two closely related perceptions: first, a view that any opposition is an immediate threat to the junta’s stability; and second, a desire for regime longevity, where “regime” is the broader elite military-monarchy-business alliance.

At least an element of this perception derives from yellow-shirted and anti-democratic grumbling about the junta having lost its zeal for “reform” – defined as rooting out the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. That grumbling has also been associated with some southern protests over ports and cola-fired power stations. It seems the junta felt its right wing was weakening in its support.

The result has been an intensification of both anti-Thaksinism and anti-red shirt repression.

The targeting of Thaksin has involved an effort to levy Thaksin for past taxes due (although we had somehow thought that the assets stripping case was part of the “tax’) and going after loyalists in a series of legal cases.

The anti-red shirt effort has been frenzied of late, with the Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee weapons and assassination stories and the earlier (and probably related in the minds of the junta) plots said to be originating in Laos.

At the same time, the courts have been at work, dealing with red shirt cases. The most recent of those sees the Appeals Court upholding a “lower court’s sentence of a four-year jail term each, without suspension, for singer Arisman Pongruangrong and 12 other red-shirts for leading protesters who forced their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel in Pattaya, where the 2009 Asean Summit was being held.”

(What has happened with the yellow shirt occupation of airports in 2008?)

They were prosecuted “for defying an order prohibiting a rally of more than 10 people and causing unrest.”

(What has happened to all the yellow shirts who broke similar laws?)

In early 2015, they were sentenced to four years each in jail, without suspension, and a fine of 200 baht. Those sentenced were:

Arisman Pongruangrong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Payap Panket, Worachai Hema, Wanchana Kerddee, Pichet Sukjindathong, Sakda Noppasit, Pol Lt Col Waipot Aparat, Nopporn Namchiangtai, Samrerng Prachamrua, Somyot Promma, Wallop Yangtrong and Singthong Buachum.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which sentences the 13 to four years each in jail without suspension. Bail may follow, but the threat is clear.

This is a pattern seen previously, although the junta does appear more frantic in its efforts at present.

Finishing off Puea Thai

14 08 2016

Now that the military dictatorship has pushed through its constitution in a period of deep political repression, the next phase in the military’s roadmap (our use of the term, not their use) is to politically cripple or eliminate the “Thaksin regime.”

As demanded by the anti-democrats, much has already been achieved by the regime in this direction. However, as the junta prepares for an election, it will seek killer blows.

Yingluck Shinawatra is likely to be jailed and/or subjected to crippling fines. A swathe of other court cases are grinding on, and the political repression of Puea Thai Party politicians and red shirt sympathizers is likely to deepen.

Most recently, as the Bangkok Post reports, the politicized National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has come up with a scheme to know out dozens of former Puea Thai MPs in one go.

It is reported that the NACC is “set to investigate a group of 40 former Pheu Thai Party MPs who tabled a controversial 2013 amnesty bill for abuse of authority…”.

Of course, the idea that MPs can be held to be corrupt for introducing a bill to parliament is absurd. But this is The Dictator’s anti-democratic Thailand.

That the bill was never passed by parliament and was withdrawn makes the absurd into something more … what’s crazier than absurd? We are lost for a description that is adequate.

Apparently, the “inquiry panel,” was set up in response to “complaints from the Democrat Party before the May 22, 2014 coup…”.

At the time, the anti-democratic Democrat Party was working with the anti-democratic street protests led by “former” members of the party. It was their provocations and vandalism of parliament and the rule of law that led to the military coup.

According to the report:

The 40 former MPs have been accused of abuse of authority when they signed in support of the amnesty bill and put forward the bill for deliberation by the House of Representatives during the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.

They include Mr Worachai [Hema], who proposed the original bill, and Tasanee Buranupakorn, vice-president of the Chiang Mai provincial administrative organisation and former Pheu Thai MP for Chiang Mai.

Tasanee was “arrested last month for her alleged involvement in letters containing allegedly distorted information on the draft charter discovered in Chiang Mai during raids.”

Expect more of this as the regime sets out to ensure that it and its proxies win any election the junta decides to hold. As with the charter referendum, the repression is likely to render any election illegitimate.

Deadly and dangerous clowns

12 05 2016

Despite an inglorious day before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, where the junta was shown to be tyrannical, rancid and hopelessly out of its depth, this seems to count for nothing in a regime composed of very dangerous clowns.Nasty clown

We do not intend to diminish the gravity of the situation facing Thailand under the junta by the use of the word “clown,” but this junta is composed of buffoons who only understand hierarchy, violence and repression.

The clownish aspects are demonstrated in a Prachatai story. Justice Minister General Paiboon Khumchaya has lapped up some royalist kool-aid sufficient to declare that “other countries” can’t understand Thailand’s lese majeste law because they lack Thailand’s level of “civilization, sensitivity, and gentleness.”

Yes, he’s lost his marbles, and to make that absolutely clear, the royalist maniac blurted out that “by having the King, Thailand was unique and civilized. That makes Article 112 or the lèse majesté law necessary…”. More remarkably, Paiboon told the media to report his “explanation.”

Meanwhile, the junta continued its witch hunts for political opponents, real or imagined.

In Pitsanulok, up to nine persons were detained by the military for joining a “field trip to investigate corruption allegations over a canal dredging project by the War Veterans Organisation.” The military accuses the Puea Thai Party of being involved. The alleged corruption involves the Ministry of Defense.

In Bangkok, the last two of the Facebook 8 have been denied bail by the military court. They are Harit Mahaton and Natthika Worathaiwich. At the same time, one of their supporters, Burin Intin, has been detained on lese majeste charges. The military court denied bail “citing flight risk, the possibility that they might attempt to distort evidence and the seriousness of the offence.” That is standard practice by the courts. It is also a gross breach of their rights under the law. The defendants allege that the military and police used illegal measures to obtain “evidence.”

In another case of the junta breaking the law, “military and police have attempted to break into the house of a Pheu Thai Party politician to detain him after he criticized the junta leader.” It is reported that early today soldiers and police “surrounded the house of Worachai Hema, a former Member of Parliament (MP) of the Pheu Thai Party from Samut Prakan Province, and attempted to break into the house.” They allegedly “pulled out the telephone line to the house and ordered Worachai’s daughter-in-law to remove a CCTV camera from the house.” Presumably they don’t want any evidence surfacing of their illegal acts. The thugs apparently had no warrant nor permission to enter the compound. The Bangkok Post reports that 50 soldiers and police were involved and Worachai states that “soldiers broke into his bedroom and ransacked it.”

Another raid was carried out against a former Puea Thai deuty minister, Pracha Prasopdee. A later report states that 12 homes were searched and this thuggish fishing trip yeilded “two BB guns, an ID card for a security guard of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), four CDs on UDD rallies, three communication radios, a notebook computer of Noppakao Kongsuwan, one of the eight Facebook users suspected of violating the Computer Crime Act, and two mobile phones” along with “11 firearms of various types, handguns and rifles, all of them properly registered but taken for examination, and a communication radio.” The military thugs claim that these raids are part of their crackdown on dark influences. Readers will recall predictions of this “crackdown” being politically motivated.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy monk Phraiwan Wannabut revealed that the military have visited him at his temple more than five times asking him to “stop all political activities, including writing articles and Facebook posts…”. This is intimidation of a religious figure, a new low for the military’s thugs.

It is only going to get worse.

With a major update: Paranoia and politics

27 03 2016

The courts have been busy dismissing charges against southern anti-democrats for preventing an election by blockading candidate registration centers and voting centers.

These anti-democrats worked under the orders of southern boss Suthep Thaugsuban, one of those responsible for ordering the murder of protesting citizens in April and May 2010.

Preventing an election is a base act of anti-democrats and in this instance, had another aim – getting the military brass to intervene and throw out the government.

Using threats and violence to prevent persons exercising their democratic rights under the then constitution is both an illegal act (except to Thai courts) and an attack on the base of a society seeking to establish the sovereignty of citizens (except in Thailand, where it is an act of loyalty).

In the military dictatorship’s world, these anti-democrats are heroes. The threats to “national security” are another group; those who speak about politics in ways the paranoiac self-appointed premier finds uncomfortable.

So it is that “a former politician from the Pheu Thai party that he will be taken in for an attitude adjustment [political re-education] session over remarks against the junta leader.

On 25 March 2016, Worachai Hema, a former Member of Parliament for Samut Prakan Province revealed that “military officers had informed him that they will take him for a so-called attitude adjustment session.”

Apparently this re-education session was prompted by Worachai stating that The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, “should resign if the current draft constitution does not pass the upcoming public referendum.”

Based on an earlier comment by The Dictator that “he had done his best and if the constitution was rejected in a public vote, all sides, including the people, had to take responsibility.” Worachai said, quite reasonably:

“People did not get to choose the writers. Gen Prayut appointed them and they did their duty by his order and within the framework of the interim charter, which was written by the NCPO, led by Gen Prayut.

“Therefore, Gen Prayut has to take the most responsibility, not the people, who are the owners of the power.

“How could the people take responsibility when they don’t get a chance to determine their own future? Other people are doing it for them.

“When people think [the charter is] undemocratic — and the referendum will also be held when Section 44 is in place to suppress dissent — they won’t endorse the draft. And Gen Prayut is the one to take responsibility. He must resign if it doesn’t pass.

“Extending power is a tricky business as the May 1992 uprising taught us. If it happens again, it will be a crisis over a crisis….

“When no party wins a majority vote, small parties will join hands and bring in an outsider to be PM. Those opposing the NCPO might not win or might win by a small margin. But if they manage to come in, they will be toppled by many traps, deepening the conflict.”

Yes, that’s it. Such an observation is considered far more dangerous than electoral vandalism.

Soldiers took him from his house on Saturday morning for his re-education and attitude adjustment.

The military dictatorship has stated its correctness on everything. Junta sock puppet and spokesman Colonel Winthai Suwaree stated that “Worachai was taken for talks at Military Circle 11 because his recent expression of opinion had not been constructive.”

We therefore understand that preventing an election and gunning down protesters is “constructive” in the eyes of the military gangsters.

My brain hurts

Apparently, Prayuth felt he had been “derided” and that Worachai had “looked down” on him. When Prayuth interprets such basic statements as threatening he displays a paranoia that is then displayed in a personalized construction of politics that is deeply disturbing and very dangerous.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the “Pheu Thai Party has issued a statement calling for an immediate release of … Worachai … and for the government to clarify its action.”

The party declared that “such action by the military under the supervision of the government was unlawful and a serious violation of the human rights principle[s]…”.

The party was clear: “If Mr Worachai had made any legal offence, he should have been treated according to legal procedures.  In this case, he had not bee properly charged…”.

Arresting people, spiriting them off to re-education in military bases, closing websites, television broadcasters and radio stations is “a gross violation of human rights and liberties of the people…”.

According to the party, “Worachai had expressed his opinions to the public with honesty without causing unrest in the country…. His … call … for the prime minister to show responsibility if the draft charter does not pass the public referendum is legitimate and in line with ethical standards recognised internationally…”.

Further updated: Blame and other games

12 04 2015

Readers will be aware of the deadly [sorry, not deadly, but certainly damaging] car bomb in Koh Samui, causing several injuries. There is little evidence about the culprits or about the reasons for the bombing. There has been no claim of responsibility to date.

What is remarkable is that all political sides seem to agree that the attack was politically motivated, and as The Nation reports it, “aimed at challenging the government.”

The junta claims “there were ill-intentioned groups seeking an opportunity to disturb peace and instigate violence.” It reckons that because it has cracked down so hard in Bangkok that “the perpetrators have moved to other areas.”

Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat said the bomb “was the work of anti-government groups and had nothing to do with the southern insurgency…. The culprits focused on a tourism place. They want to demonstrate their power…”.

Thaworn Senneam of the anti-democratic People’s Democratic Reform Committee said the attack “was the work of someone who wanted to cause problems for the government and the country’s economy…”.

Puea Thai Party’s Worachai Hema believed “the attack was aimed to discredit the government after it imposed Article 44 to keep peace and order.”

PPT got a bit lost, however, when the junta spokesman said “initial reports revealed that the people responsible for the car bomb was the same group that had planted a bomb in Bangkok.” We understood that the junta had claimed to have arrested those responsible for the Bangkok bombing. Yet this turns out to be the wrong bombing!

Military “intelligence” suggests that “there is a possibility that the perpetrators were southern insurgents or natives of southern border provinces who have expertise in assembling car bombs and were hired with the same motivation as in the case of the bomb blast on Soi Ramkhamhaeng 43/1 in Bangkok…”.

That bomb was on 26 May 2013, injuring seven people. Conveniently, those responsible were sentenced less than three weeks ago. As far as we know, these men, all from Pattani, did not give up anyone else.

That attack, when the Yingluck Shinawatra elected government was in office, has been attributed to “southern insurgents.” A report in The Nation observed that some linked 2014 blasts in “Sadao and Phuket [to] attacks back to the May 26, 2013 attack on Ramkhamhaeng Soi 43/1 by an insurgent cell.” It added that political leaders at the time “maintain[ed] the Ramkhamhaeng bombing was not linked to unrest in the deep South…”. Yet, “security officials confirmed that the attack was a bid by one of the longstanding separatist groups to enhance its leverage in negotiations…”.

That report also stated that “a group did claim responsibility for the Ramkhamhaeng operation, stating its aim was to be at the negotiating table.”

If readers can explain all of this confusion, we’d be happy to learn more.

Update 1: Not prizes for guessing what this update is about. The Bangkok Post reports that all of the politicians quoted above, as well as the junta spokesmen, may all be wrong. The report states that “might have been caused by a local business or political conflict…”. That’s “according to a report from the government committee on solving problems in the southern border provinces.” At the same time, a red shirt supporter has been detained.

Update 2: As noted in our first update, a red shirt supporter had been arrested. Khaosod reports that Narin Ambuathong was arrested in Nonthaburi on 11 April. The military dictatorship’s spokesman stated that Narin was arrested an held under the draconian Article 44 of the junta’s interim institution, which allows the military to search properties and detain individuals without warrants and to interrogate them in secret, usually military, locations for seven days. He was arrested because of Facebook posts that appeared to refer to trouble in Suratthani. This report also refers to a fire that “broke out at Surat Thani Cooperative Store on the mainland, though no one was injured. Police say the store belongs to Suthep Thaugsuban, former deputy chairman of Democrat Party and leader of the street protests…”. While the idea of a cooperative being owned by Suthep seems odd, the implication is that the bomb and fire were linked political acts. Despite the earlier claimed link to the Soi Ramkhamhaeng bombing of 2013, the report says the “military junta has also insisted that the incidents are not related to the ongoing insurgency in the southern border provinces…”. They seem to be having trouble getting their story straight.

AHRC on amnesty

6 11 2013

From the Asian Human Rights Commission, and reproduced in full:

THAILAND: No amnesty for state-sponsored murder

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) would like to express grave concern about the current state of the draft amnesty bill in Thailand. The draft amnesty bill (in full, the Draft Amnesty for Those Who Committed Offences as a Result of the Political Protests and Political Expression of the People B.E…..) is broad, vague, and appears to be motivated by political expediency at the expense of human rights, justice, and the rule of law. If passed in its current form, the bill will allow murderers to walk free without even a slap on the wrist. The amnesty will constitute the erasure of the suffering and losses of those who died or were injured as a result of violence perpetrated by state actors. In particular, if passed in its current form, the amnesty will allow those who were responsible for the deaths of 92 persons and the injuries of over 2000 during the clashes between state forces and Red Shirt protestors in April-May 2010 to evade accountability.

The core of the draft amnesty bill is in Article 3, the measure which describes which actors, what actions, and what period of time are to be covered by the law. In the initial draft, prepared by Mr. Worachai Hema, a Pheu Thai MP and his colleagues, Article 3 stipulated the following: “All actions of persons that were related to political demonstrations or political expression, or individuals who did not participate in political demonstrations but the motivation of the actions was related or connected to political conflict. By calling through speeches or broadcasting through whatever means to call for or create opposition to the state, self-defense, resistance to the operations of state officials, or rallies, demonstrations, or expressions using any means that could impact life, body, hygiene, property, or any rights of other individuals that were incidents related to political demonstrations or political expression from 19 September 2006 until 10 May 2011, are no longer offences, and the actors are absolved from wrongdoing and all responsibility. The actions in the first paragraph do not include the actions of those who had decision-making authority or decisive authority or directed political movements in the period specified above.”

In sum, the draft approved during the first reading exempted from responsibility all those involved in political demonstrations on all sides, including state actors but excluding those in positions of authority inside and outside the state, during the period of political conflict which began with the 19 September 2006 coup and ended with the dissolution of Parliament and announcement of elections on 10 May 2011. Parliament voted to accept this in principle during the first reading of the bill in August 2013. In a written submission to the UN Human Rights Council during the September 2013 session, the Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC), the AHRC’s sister organization, echoed the concerns of the Office of the UN High Commission on Human Rights that the draft bill might allow those involved in the violation of human rights to be exempt from punishment, and further noted that the categories of those to be amnestied were unclear.

Subsequent to the first reading, an ad hoc committee of MPs was appointed to examine the draft amnesty bill. In late October 2013, they returned the draft to the full assembly for the second and third readings. The ad hoc committee made significant changes to Article 3. In the current draft version, Article 3 stipulates that: “All actions of persons or people that are related to political demonstrations, political expression, political conflicts or those accused of being wrongdoers by a group of individuals or an entity established after the coup of 19 September 2006, including organizations or agencies who proceeded in relation to the aforementioned matters that occurred between 2004 and 8 August 2013, whether the person undertaking actions did so as a principal, supporter, someone who ordered [others] to take action, or some who used [by others], if those actions were illegal, the actors are absolved from wrongdoing and all responsibility.”

In sum, the draft returned by the ad hoc committee and approved during the second and third readings exempts all involved persons from responsibility, including state officials who gave orders and protest leaders who directed demonstrations. This draft also expands the period of time covered by the amnesty to begin in 2004 (although when precisely in 2004 is not specified) and to extend until August 2013. As human rights activists have raised, this then seems to be an attempt to extend the amnesty, which already will provide impunity to those state actors who perpetrated violence during the April-May 2010 crackdown on Red Shirt protestors, to cover the incidents of the Krue Se and Tak Bai massacres, the disappearance of human rights defender (HRD) and lawyer Somchai Neelaphaichit, and the murders of other HRDs which took place during the years in which Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister before being extraconstitutionally ousted in the 19 September 2006 coup. This draft version of the bill was passed by Parliament in the second and third readings on 31 October and 1 November 2013, and has now been forwarded to the Senate for examination.

If an amnesty bill which contains this version of Article 3 becomes law, the long history of impunity in the country will be further consolidated by the passage of this amnesty bill. The AHRC would like to remind responsible actors of the state responsibilities to end impunity and to urge concerted effort to act in the service of human rights. In the updated set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity (E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1), the United Nations Commission on Human Rights described the obligation of states to end impunity and secure accountability in the aftermath of state violence as follows: “Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.”

What makes this draft amnesty a signal of a particular crisis of impunity in Thailand is that in contrast to earlier instances of mass state violence, namely 14 October 1973, 6 October 1976, and May 1992, there has been extensive investigation of the violence of April-May 2010, and the beginnings of judicial processes to hold state perpetrators to account. A series of investigations have been carried out by different kinds of actors, including a state agency, two state-appointed independent bodies, and a citizen group. The citizen group, the People’s Information Center (PIC), released their report in late August 2012; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), the first of the independent bodies, released a short report in September 2012 and their full report in July 2013; and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the second of the independent bodies, released their report in August 2013. The report of the state agency, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), has not been made public. In comparison to the reports of both the TRCT and the NHRC, the report of the PIC represents a rigorous accounting of the events of March-May 2010. The ALRC views the report of the PIC as an important action by citizens in the service of protecting human rights and ending impunity. Although the AHRC wishes to note concerns about the lacunae in the TRCT and NHRC reports, and dismay at the continued refusal of the DSI to release their report to the public, this marks the first time in Thai history that there has been a sustained, public attempt at gathering information about state violence carried out by state, or state-appointed, agencies.

Further, in addition to gathering information, judicial proceedings have begun in many instances with post-mortem inquests into the deaths of April-May 2010. To examine but one example, on the final day of the crackdown, 19 May 2010, 6 civilians were killed inside a Buddhist temple, Wat Pathum Wanaram, which was close to the center of the protests. On 6 August 2013, the Bangkok Southern court ruled in the postmortem inquest in Black Case No. C5/2555 that these 6 civilians were killed by soldiers. The court noted that, “The deaths were caused by being shot with .223 or 5.56 mm bullets and the direction of fire was from where the competent officials were stationed to perform their duties to maintain order on the BTS’s rail tracks in front of Wat Pathum Wanaram Ratcha Worawiharn and around Rama I Road. At the instructions of the Center for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES), the officials took control over the area of the Ratchaprasong Intersection. And as a result of that, the first deceased died of gunshot wounds on his lungs and heart causing hemorrhage, the second deceased died of gunshot wound that destroyed his lungs, the third deceased died of gunshot wounds that destroyed his lungs, heart and liver, the fourth deceased died of gunshot wounds that destroyed his lungs and liver, the fifth deceased died of gunshot wounds that destroyed her brain and the sixth deceased died of gunshot wounds that went through his oral cavity, whilst no particular perpetrators can be identified” (unofficial translation provided by Prachatai). Given the conclusion by the court, the AHRC is concerned that if the amnesty is passed in its current form, it means that the case will end with the inquest, rather than further action being taken so that the officials responsible for carrying out the violence and the officials responsible for ordering the violence are held to account.

The dangers posed by the draft amnesty bill in its current form are not only specific to the instances of state violence and violation of human rights which have taken place since 2004, but extend into the future as well. In a recent statement criticizing the draft amnesty proposed by the Parliamentary ad hoc committee, the Khana Nitirat, a group of law lecturers at Thammasat University warned that in addition to being in direct conflict with the Thai state’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the amnesty will “further habituate[s] state officials, especially soldiers, to take such actions against the people without concern that they will have to accept legal responsibility in the future.”

At this important juncture in Thai history, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Members of Parliament, Senators, and all other responsible actors in Thailand to act in the service of ending impunity and fostering human rights. The AHRC is cognizant that it may not be possible to halt the amnesty process and recommends that if this is the case, that the Senate send the draft bill back to the Parliament for reconsideration and redrafting so as to bring any potential amnesty bill in line with the principle and rationale decided upon by the Parliament during the first reading.

However, rather than an amnesty bill being passed, the AHRC urges full and equal prosecution under existing criminal law for acts of violence committed during the protests and subsequent crackdown. The AHRC is concerned that if a blanket amnesty such as the current draft bill is passed, it will allow state officials who murdered citizens to evade being held to account. Given that the state prosecutor has already filed charges against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban for their roles in ordering the killings, any amnesty that halts this process will amount to the direct obstruction of truth and justice. In addition to continuing with prosecutions against involved state officials, who have not been prosecuted to date, the AHRC urges review of the cases of Red Shirt activists who were prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms related to their actions in the protests. In many cases, the accusations and prosecutions were highly politicized, and the AHRC is concerned that the judiciary may not have acted independently. Individuals who were prosecuted on the basis of their ideas, including those prosecuted under Article 112, the law which criminalizes alleged lese majeste, should be immediately released. The unprecedented documentation of information about the events of April-May 2010, including the ongoing inquest process, means that in comparison to prior instances of mass state violence in Thailand, there is an unprecedented opportunity to act in the service of justice and human rights, rather than the further entrenchment of impunity. This is an opportunity that must not be wasted.

Can the Puea Thai Party change?

28 10 2013

In our last post we commented on the Democrat Party’s apparent incapacity for change. In this post, we ask if the governing Puea Thai Party can change. Can it be diverted from a path that will damage the party? Can it reduce its apparent capacity for self-harm?

Both the official red shirt leadership and rank-and-file red shirts seem united in their opposition to the nonsensical changes proposed for the amnesty law, although their opposition may focus on slightly different aspects of the bill.

At the Bangkok Post, there is a useful report of the Red Sunday Group, which mobilized more than 200 people on Sunday at Rajaprasong to oppose the government’s  amnesty proposal.

Red Sunday “voiced particular opposition to the amnesty for Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Surat Thani Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban…”.

Sombat Boonngamanong “said the party’s move to provide a wholesale amnesty was beyond his understanding and ran against the red shirts’ stance.” He made an excellent point:

“Thaksin and other party leaders fail to explain to their supporters what is really behind this compromise deal. They must tell us. Politics can no longer be kept exclusive and dictated by back-door negotiators,” Mr Sombat said.

Sombat urged red shirts to rally: “More people will come out on the street if the party defies the will of the red shirts who shed blood and tears to put it into power…”.

Historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul claimed that “red shirts felt cheated as they had shown full support for the Worachai [Hema amnesty] bill which was later changed.”

Former lese majeste convict Suchart Nakbangsai demanded that “lese majeste offenders should also be included in the deal.”

Different ideas, but the same message: this amnesty is a lose-lose situation for the Puea Thai Party. It risks losing the support of red shirts and it will see demonstrations by the broader opposition of anti-Thaksin Shinawatra yellow shirts.

The way out is for Thaksin to disown the amended proposal and remember his promise to red shirts on the Worachai proposal. A return to that amnesty draft will preserve the Puea Thai Party’s electoral base.

Can Thaksin and the party display collective good sense and political savvy?

Collective cerebral and political dysfunction

20 10 2013

Worachai Hema, a Samut Prakan Puea Thai Party MP sponsored the amnesty bill that went to parliament for discussion. It was a proposal that had the support of the official red shirts. As PPT posted back in early August, of a plethora of proposals on amnesty, this was the version that had widest support.

It was supported because it was rooted in the struggle for accountability and justice that red shirts led following the murders of April and May 2010. The proposed bill did not spare the military or leaders of political factions, seeking to pardon only low-ranking members of these groups. Thaksin Shinawatra, backing down from previous statements that saw him angling for a pardon, publicly supported Worachai’s proposal.

Thaksin’s about-face was to shore up his alliance with red shirts and to moderate opposition to the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

All that amounted to political good sense. But by an act that is amnesiac, self-destructive or gross political arrogance that good sense has been undone, with Puea Thai politicians and the party’s leadership appearing to have suffered a collective political brain failure as the amnesty bill can now be branded as being a bill for Thaksin. This is because the committee reportedly expanded the definition of “amnesty to include people found guilty by groups or ‘organisations set up after the military coup on Sept 19, 2006’.” Reportedly, it “also seeks to absolve all people involved in political unrest, including soldiers, protest leaders and authorities.” It means no accountability and impunity.

The only group left out of this blanket amnesty? You guessed it: “those found guilty of lese majeste offences under Section 112 of the Criminal Code would be excluded from the revised section’s coverage.” Yes, lock people up for supposedly “dangerous speech” but let the state’s murderers go free.

As demonstrated by the Bangkok Post, the revision to the Worachai proposal allows opponents to justifiably claim that the amendment is “clearly intended to help fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” While Worachai “attempted to placate opponents, saying MPs could always make further changes when it comes back to the House for second and third readings,” considerable political damage has been done.Homer-Simpson-Doh

In another report, Worachai “said he stood by his original version of the bill. He said when the revised bill reaches parliament for a second reading, he will ask lawmakers to stick to his version.” The process and decision-making involved appears a Homer Simpsonesque political moment.

The political damage includes allowing the anti-government alliance currently led and organized by the Democrat Party a cause for mobilization. It also damages the links with red shirts, both with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship and with rank-and-file red shirts. Nothing could be worse for the Puea Thai Party.

The bill was approved on Friday in a Puea Thai-dominated parliamentary committee and already the Democrat Party and its allies are laughing all the way to the political bank.

Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut really has been given something to mouth off about, saying “all party branches would be directed to mobilise members to show their opposition to the bill.” His statement focused on the bill being crafted for Thaksin.

At The Nation it is reported that the Democrat Party is already planning to “lead an[other] anti-government rally once the government-sponsored amnesty bill is passed by Parliament.” That may be a way off, but why is the Puea Thai Party so keen to hand their opponents a battle cry and to provide Abhisit Vejjajiva with instant credibility? And, it would let Abhisit and his former deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban off murder charges. Puea Thai brain failure or arrogance?

In putting red shirts offside, another Bangkok Post reports the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship “leadership said yesterday it was unlikely they would accept the revised amnesty bill offering a blanket reprieve.” Showing good sense, “UDD chair Tida Tawornseth insisted that the UDD still adhered to the original version of the bill…”.

Thida said “she believed most red-shirt supporters will oppose the revised version if it grants amnesty to authorities responsible for the crackdown on red-shirt protesters in 2010, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and … Suthep Thaugsuban.”

Clearer political thinking is required from Puea Thai and Thaksin needs to once more support the original Worachai proposal.

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.


“New” anti-government group is old and tired but threatening

26 07 2013

In recent days there has been talk of a “new” anti-government alliance. The Bangkok Post announces a “newly formed anti-government ‘People’s Army [Against the Thaksin Regime]…’.” It may be new in its current form and alliance, and it may excite the scribes in the mainstream media, but it is dreadfully old and corked wine in a not particularly new or even clean bottle.

This “People’s Army” – as much a misnomer as “People’s Alliance for Democracy” – says that it “hopes to mobilise at least 30,000 people to join a rally in Bangkok when the House resumes next week to deliberate the amnesty bill of Pheu Thai MP Worachai Hema.” It plans “co-ordinated” rallies and a “big event” on 4 August, aimed at “overthrowing the Thaksin Shinawatra regime…”. In fact, The Nation describes the “People’s Army” as being “formerly known as Pitak Siam…”. And, the group did meet at General Boonlert Kaewprasit’s Royal Turf Club.

But let’s be just a little more generous and agree that there is more to this than just the old men of Pitak Siam. So who are they? The leaders of the so-called new “People’s Army” include:

  • Thaikorn Polsuwan of the PAD in the Northeast;
  • Pitak Siam group under the new leadership of retired Admiral Chai Suwannaphap;
  • the Thai Patriot Network;
  • Card-carrying old man wanting to run Thailand for the monarchy, Police General Vasit Dejkunchorn of the misnamed Thai Spring non-group, said his (non)group would demonstrate against the amnesty bill. Vasit is able to mobilize royalists associated with the old counterinsurgency and mercenary groups from the Cold War;
  • dull royalist Tul Sitthisomwong, leader of the so-called multicolor movement,that is really a bunch of yellow shirts;
  • Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator of the Green Politics Group, and of PAD; and
  • PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan, who says PAD core leaders are to meet to assess their role.

While the Post says that the “People’s Army” is mobilizing “its” provincial chapters, these are the old PAD  networks.

This coalition is potentially threatening for the Yingluck Shinawatra government. Last time, when Pitak Siam rallied, the the cabinet decided to impose the Internal Security Act in three districts of Bangkok. That was criticized.

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