Thailand has once again descended down the rabbit hole, subsumed by another political crisis in which the nation’s fragile democracy is facing a destabilizing threat from coordinated network of elites related to the Democrat Party.
It is amazing to behold the rhetoric at play. Just three and a half years since the former government ordered the military to violently disperse a peaceful protest, resulting in the murder more than 90 Thai citizens, those same people responsible for the killings are now parading themselves under the flag of “rule of law,” “accountability,” and “reconciliation.” The victims must be turning in their graves.
The reason for this latest attempt at destabilization is an ill-conceived amnesty proposal, (which is guaranteed be voted down by the Senate), the Democrat Party network is seeking to use it as a pretext to apply the leverage of their activist judges and engineer a seizure of power.
As many are aware, a seizure of power in Thailand can take place through the military or judiciary. In today’s international environment, military coups and the threat of violence are generally frowned upon, though they cannot be ruled out. But it seems much more likely that the Democrat Party network will opt for the judicial coup, where some form of false charges or legal technicalities are mounted against the current government, backed by the coordinated acquiescence of civil society fronts in order to undermine elected leaders and “legitimize” a transfer of power that would not otherwise take place.
The network is also looking to capitalize upon the court ruling on the Preah Vihear temple dispute with Cambodia, a sensitive issue that inflames the passions of many Thai nationalists. They apparently see the controversy as an opportunity to fan the flames and incite disorder.
Since the April-May 2010 massacre, steps have been made toward accountability. Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has been indicted on murder charges – which is the first time in the history of Thailand a leader has been held responsible for the death of citizens. But clearly more has to be done, which is challenging for a nation where civilian control over the military is more a concept on paper than a political reality.
It is important to take time to analyze where we are and what can be done for Thailand to navigate this present season of uncertainty.
Firstly, it is clear that the Yingluck Shinawatra government is under grave threat. The familiar opponents of the ruling party see an opportunity to gain momentum that they would not otherwise be able to summon by capitalizing on public distrust of the amnesty bill – which critically failed to address those serving jail sentences on convictions of lese majeste.
Secondly, the present government, in an attempt to maintain power, has come dangerously close to losing its legitimacy by depriving its core supporters of the fruits of representative democracy.
The current political crisis is a product of history. In the years since the 2006 military coup that removed the popularly elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s experience with democracy has been uneven. Elections are held, but sometimes with limited participation, as political leaders and parties have been repeatedly suspended and dissolved by coup-appointed judges, buttressed by an absence of freedom of speech. Thanks to the Democrat Party network, lese majeste has been weaponized against political speech, making it difficult for citizens to articulate their policy demands without fear of criminal charges.
Meanwhile the international media has given a free ride to would-be coup planners. Even coverage from the widely read New York Times, whose correspondent once literally stood feet away from Seh Daeng when he was assassinated (a murder which was never properly investigated), has fallen short of understanding the functioning of the Democrat Party’s network throughout the nation’s institutions. Other foreign correspondents have been instrumentalized as propaganda outlets for the elites simply because they have never travelled north of the Marriott Bangkok swimming pool.
It is a great pity that there is such a lack of awareness of how power is exercised by this network. As a system of governance, democracy in Thailand cannot be successful without rule of law, and the continued partisan activism on behalf of a number of Constitutional Court judges is a matter of grave concern. It is this lack of judicial independence that led the former government to unleash the military against the population without fear of consequence. Unfortunately, the amnesty bill, which may have been proposed out of good intentions, would only perpetuate this impunity.
The current Pheu Thai administration has repeatedly attempted to introduce constitutional amendments to restore representative avenues to their constituents, but they have been blocked at every turn. It is perhaps this frustration and desperation that brought forward the amnesty proposal, but like it or not, these actions were taken within the lawful context of democratic governance, and similarly should be resolved as such. Instead, the former leadership is delaying the issue to keep it alive while they essentially call for an elected government to be overthrown.
Having experienced firsthand the brutality of 2010, I will tell you that what motivated demands for accountability was not revenge or politics, but history. Thai history involves a cyclical process of repeated violence by the state against the population, followed by demands from the elite that the people forget. It is a plea for self-deception and forgetting that augurs poorly for Thailand ever moving ahead.
The failure to date to properly investigate the events of 2010 cannot go unremarked. If rule of law is to survive in Thailand, it is for the government to put principle above its interest of staying in power and properly expose the networks that have led to the violent repression of citizens seeking suffrage and representation.
If the government survives the present crisis, the UDD should demand nothing less than the full accountability for 2010 and international assistance in restoring the rule of law and bringing about long overdue constitutional change in Thailand.
When the dust settles from this crisis, the government may wake up and take more seriously their obligations to respect the interests of the electorate to whom they are accountable. For my part, the best demonstration of that would be for Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul to file a 12(3) acknowledgement with the International Criminal Court (ICC) so that for the first time, a real page could be turned in the history of Thailand.
But in the meantime, the Thai people will have to summon the determination to hold steadfast against this familiar incursion. Coups, both judicial and military, should exist only in Thailand’s past – they have no place in the future.
On the surface it seems as though the misnamed Thai anti-democracy and pro-military coup movement, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, has dissolved itself. On the surface, therefore, those committed to democracy should be rejoicing – the violent extremists in the PAD were certainly a block to a peaceful, stable Thailand. Yet we shouldn’t be fooled by the mass resignation of the PAD leadership last week. The extremists opposed to democracy once epitomised by the PAD are still looking for the ways and means to prevent the Thai people choosing their own popularly-elected leaders.
Step-forward, as if on cue, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. At every single turn of his leadership of the Democrat Party Abhisit has taken the path that leads his party further away from democracy. In 2006, knowing he would lose badly in the general election, he boycotted the vote. He then aligned himself with the PAD and shrank into silence when the military coup the PAD called for transpired in September 2006. Abhisit then led his party to electoral defeat in 2007 yet still managed to hold the Prime Minister’s role hostage for over two years, after more military machinations and another alliance with the violent extremists in the PAD. When Abhisit’s illicit role as PM was challenged he sent 1000s of Thai soldiers onto the streets of Bangkok, not once, but twice and such was his desperation to hang onto power he slaughtered dozens of his fellow Thai citizens to do so.
Given that track record it is therefore no surprise at all that Abhisit has now assumed the de facto leadership of the PAD. Abhisit’s speech to a few hundred hard-line followers a couple of days ago (24th August 2013) – a speech which came in the wake of the PAD leaderships’ resignation – made it clear that he would be now be taking forward the PAD’s ideas on “democracy”. Abhisit said he “saluted the PAD” and would “continue the PAD’s purpose of fighting against injustice and the Thaksin regime”.
Abhisit’s moves to place himself at the head of the relatively tiny remnants of Thailand’s extreme nationalist and anti-democratic forces are in keeping with his attempts to take his Democrat Party onto “the streets”. After his own personal failings to lead his party towards any kind of electoral success – he has effectively reduced the Democrat Party’s electoral support – the streets, and the kind of violent mob-politics associated with the PAD, could prove to be Abhisit’s final and desperate gamble.
However, no-one should assume the “ideas” and “purpose” of the PAD are finished. Abhisit, to his ever growing shame, has made it apparent that he wishes to carry on their work – which will ultimately fail – of destroying Thai democracy.
The news today from a Bangkok court that there were no armed Red Shirts or their affiliates in Wat Patum temple on May 19th 2010 and that the army, under orders from the then Abhist Vejjajiva-led Thai government, were solely responsible for the deaths of 6 civilians in the temple, should be welcomed by all those seeking a genuine process of truth, justice and reconciliation in Thailand. That it has taken three full years for the truth to begin to emerge reveals the mendacious hand Abhisit’s government played when it set up the flawed Truth For Reconciliation Committee of Thailand (TRCT), giving it almost no legal power to find that truth, refusing it the ability to subpoena witnesses.
Without truth there is no justice. And without justice there can be no real workable amnesty. Some might argue a de facto legal amnesty already exists for the extremist anti-democratic People’s Alliance for Democracy and the groups aligned with them, including Abhisit’s Democrat Party. Abhisit and his former deputy PM, Suthep Thaugsuban, have both been charged with the murder of civilian protesters in 2010, yet arrogantly strut around, even dismissing the court’s bail conditions, assured of their own impunity.
The Thai Army officers and soldiers involved with the deaths of protesters in 2010 have refused point blank to answer almost any questions from investigators regarding the deaths of their fellow Thai citizens. This mask of impunity is very different to any kind of just and workable amnesty as is the venality with which Abhisit has dismissed the charges against him.
The flipside of this de facto amnesty and continued impunity for the PAD, Army and Democrat Party are the ordinary Red Shirts still languishing in prison, many on cooked-up charges, sanctioned by flawed procedures and crooked evidence. There has been no impunity for them, no bail, and sometimes mistreatment and what could amount to torture. Many are still grieving their lost and fallen comrades from the 2010 massacre. Many still bear the physical and mental scars of that slaughter.
Yet those who enacted that massacre, and who have enjoyed impunity since, are now attacking the very amnesty that would free their victims. They do so using bogus and ambiguous logic, claiming that mysterious armed elements – which have never been proven to be connected to the Red Shirts – gave them the moral and legal authority to shoot, incarcerate and murder. There has also never been any obligation on them to offer any kind of “truth” – despite Abhisit’s efforts to concoct a process via his spurious TRCT – something that must be legally enforceable before any bonafide amnesty could take place.
An amnesty of some kind is one way for conflicts to be resolved. However, without truth, without justice and with an impunity still enforced for one side only, any sustainable resolution won’t be achieved.
The purpose of this White Paper is to alert the international community to an ongoing assault—carried out largely under the standard of the Democrat Party of Thailand, but engineered by a broader coalition of groups hostile to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra—designed to remove a democratically elected government by illegal means.
This alert to protect Thai democracy is even more pertinent and urgent given the recent military coup in Egypt. The actions of the Egyptian Army bluntly revealed to any of those who were still in doubt how fragile burgeoning democracies can be, particularly in countries where a lack of civilian oversight and accountability holds sway. The insipid response of the international community to the Egyptian coup and the violence and deaths that occurred on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere in the aftermath of the Egyptian Army’s actions lend a stark warning to what might occur in Thailand should anti-democratic forces take significant action.
The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which was elected and duly constituted in July 2011, is responsible to protect its citizens from (among other things) crimes against humanity, such as the brutal slaughter of dozens of unarmed civilians under the Democrat administration of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during the “Red Shirt” pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok in April/May 2010. The Yingluck administration is working toward justice for those victims, and toward ensuring that no such atrocities occur ever again in Thailand. While the Thai government’s responsibility toward its citizens flows from basic principles of democratic governance, it is also enshrined in principles of international law, including the concept of Responsibility to Protect.1 Responsibility to Protect principles not only urge states to protect their citizens against mass atrocity crimes, such as the crimes against humanity inflicted upon the Thai citizenry during the 2010 Red Shirt demonstration; they also oblige the international community to encourage and assist individual states to meet those responsibilities. Further, if an individual state is failing in its duty, the concept of Responsibility to Protect calls upon the international community to take collective action within the framework of the UN Charter.2
Protecting innocent civilians from brutal slaughter is no simple task in Thailand, as doing so requires breaking a cycle of lawless coups and killings that dates back decades. The same groups that have been responsible historically for this cycle of impunity—the almost exclusive beneficiaries of the status quo that held before the first truly democratic Constitution was adopted in 1997—are now using every conceivable method to remove a duly elected government, primarily through an extra-parliamentary campaign of street action and judicial manipulation.
This White Paper describes the efforts by the anti-Thaksin coalition to undermine the results of the 2011 election, and it calls upon the international community to throw its full-throated support behind the Yingluck government as it strives to advance true democracy in Thailand, while preventing a repeat of April/May 2010.
The full White Paper can be read below:
Over the last few weeks a small but effectively managed and carefully strategised “protest” group has emerged on the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities. Dubbed the “White Mask” group – because they have adopted the white V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask long associated with the progressive Occupy and Anonymous movements – the Thai incarnation is about as far from the notion of democratic accountability, spontaneity and progressive politics as anyone could imagine.
As New Mandala point out in two recent blog posts here and here the White Mask group are little more than a re-incarnation of the extreme right-wing violent nationalist groups that previously coalesced around the PAD, Pitak Siam and similar. These groups call themselves “anti-Thaksin” but their real enemy is democracy itself – the White Mask group are noted for making calls for the democratically-elected Pheu Thai government to be “overthrown”. The White Masks are also not shy of launching violent attacks on pro-democracy activists as this report in Thailand’s Khao Sod newspaper reveals – in central Bangkok two weeks ago they attempted to beat Red Shirt members with iron bars.
Such is the collusion between the White Mask groups and extreme right-wing sentiment that these masked activists have reportedly taken to the routine singing of a notorious neo-fascist Thai song entitled Nak Phaen Din or “Scum of the Earth”. In addition the leadership associated with the White Masks, such as “Green Politics coordinator” Suriyasai Katasila are beginning to make bizarre and outlandish claims that the Yingluck Shinawatra-led Pheu Thai government are “creating the conditions for a coup”.
What shouldn’t be underestimated is the White Mask group’s sophistication. The carefully calibrated air of contrived “spontaneity” gives them the image of a “grassroots” protest movement similar in tone to the Arab Spring groups of the last few years. Furthermore, their co-opting of the symbolism of the progressive Occupy and Anonymous protest movements has led to some benign – though deeply flawed – international press coverage. Such benign coverage is being further pushed by the Thai Democrat Party English language-mouthpiece, the Bangkok Post, who have gone to quite ludicrous lengths of deception to portray the White Masks as a legitimate protest group rather than as a confection of the most anti-democratic elements in Thailand.
So who is behind the White Mask group? The powerful and wealthy media mogul, Sonthiyan Chuenruethainaitham, founder of the Independent News Network and T-News outlets – both of which endlessly spout extreme-rightwing, anti-democratic invective – has emerged as one of the shadowy backers of the White Masks.
The Bangkok Post recently reported that Sonthiyan said that “that he supports the group, believes it is doing the right thing, and is confident it will continue to grow.” Sonthiyan went on to say that his company has been selling the White Masks to protesters and that “10,000 masks have been sold so far and orders are still coming in.” Yet Sonthiyan seems to be a bit out of step with his fellow Thais when he suggests that “Thaksin and his family must now ask themselves how they can continue to live in a place where people hate them.” Maybe Sonthiyan has conveniently forgotten the last five general election results stretching back 12years and the regular and large electoral democratic mandates the Thaksin-led political project has enjoyed and that the White Mask movement has yet to raise any substantial numbers on Bangkok’s streets?
The Thai White Mask group, whilst certainly exhibiting an increased sophistication in terms of how it portrays its message, is little more than the same reactionary, anti-democratic forces coalescing in a new, media-friendly form. It shouldn’t be underestimated but simply borrowing and co-opting the fashionable symbolism of global progressive protest movements won’t make it any less reactionary.
The democratically elected Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, gave a career-defining speech yesterday at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
In this speech she highlighted the forces in Thailand that oppose democracy and the brutal and bloody lengths they will go to in order to secure their illegitimate and continued dominance over the Thai people. We have posted PM Yingluck’s speech below and suggest all read it in its entirety.
Already the former and unelected Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has condemned PM Yingluck’s call for greater democracy in Thailand. This comes as no surprise – Abhisit’s main legacy is of a man committed to the destruction of accountability, the continuation of impunity and the subjugation of the Thai people. As Abhisit has done on several occasions in the past he reveals, once again, his complete lack of understanding of the most basic principles of democracy and rule of law. It is no great surprise he leads a broken party that remains unelectable and unable to carry out its basic democratic duties as the official party of opposition and, instead, is reduced to the worst kind of demagoguery.
Statement of Her Excellency Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 29 April 2013.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Delegates to the Conference, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to begin by expressing my appreciation to His Excellency the President of Mongolia for inviting me to speak at this Conference of the Community of Democracies.
I accepted this invitation not only because I wanted to visit a country that has made many achievements regarding democracy, or to exchange ideas and views on democracy. But I am here also because democracy is so important to me, and more importantly, to the people of my beloved home, Thailand.
Democracy is not a new concept. Over the years, It has brought progress and hope to a lot of people. At the same time, many people have sacrificed their blood and lives in order to protect and build a democracy.
A government of the people, by the people and for the people does not come without a price. Rights, liberties and the belief that all men and women are created equal have to be fought, and sadly, died for.
Why? This is because there are people in this world who do not believe in democracy. They are ready to grab power and wealth through suppression of freedom. This means that they are willing to take advantage of other people without respecting human rights and liberties. They use force to gain submission and abuse the power. This happened in the past and still posed challenges for all of us in the present.
In many countries, democracy has taken a firm root. And it is definitely refreshing to see another wave of democracy in modern times, from Arab Spring to the successful transition in Myanmar through the efforts of President Thein Sein, and also the changes in my own country where the people power in Thailand has brought me here today.
At the regional level, the key principles in the ASEAN Charter are the commitment to rule of law, democracy and constitutional government. However, we must always beware that anti-democratic forces never subside. Let me share my story.
In 1997, Thailand had a new constitution that was created through the participation from the people. Because of this, we all thought a new era of democracy has finally arrived, an era without the cycle of coups d’état.
It was not to be. An elected government which won two elections with a majority was overthrown in 2006. Thailand lost track and the people spent almost a decade to regain their democratic freedom.
Many of you here know that the government I am talking about was the one with my brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, as the rightfully elected Prime Minister.
Many who don’t know me say that why complain? It is a normal process that governments come and go. And if I and my family were the only ones suffering, I might just let it be.
But it was not. Thailand suffered a setback and lost international credibility. Rule of law in the country was destroyed. Projects and programmes started by my brother’s government that came from the people’s wishes were removed. The people felt their rights and liberties were wrongly taken away.
Thai means free, and the people of Thailand fought back for their freedom. In May 2010, a crackdown on the protestors, the Red Shirts Movement, led to 91 deaths in the heart of the commercial district of Bangkok.
Many innocent people were shot dead by snipers, and the movement crushed with the leaders jailed or fled abroad. Even today, many political victims remain in jail.
However, the people pushed on, and finally the government then had to call for an election, which they thought could be manipulated. In the end, the will of people cannot be denied. I was elected with an absolute majority.
But the story is not over. It is clear that elements of anti-democratic regime still exist. The new constitution, drafted under the coup leaders led government, put in mechanisms to restrict democracy.
A good example of this is that half of the Thai Senate is elected, but the other half is appointed by a small group of people. In addition, the so called independent agencies have abused the power that should belong to the people, for the benefit of the few rather than to the Thai society at large.
This is the challenge of Thai democracy. I would like to see reconciliation and democracy gaining strength. This can only be achieved through strengthening of the rule of law and due process. Only then will every person from all walks of life can feel confident that they will be treated fairly. I announced this as part of the government policy at Parliament before I fully assumed my duties as Prime Minister.
Moreover, democracy will also promote political stability, providing an environment for investments, creating more jobs and income. And most importantly, I believe political freedom addresses long term social disparities by opening economic opportunities that would lead to reducing the income gap between the rich and the poor.
That is why it is so important to strengthen the grassroots. We can achieve this through education reforms. Education creates opportunities through knowledge, and democratic culture built into the ways of life of the people.
Only then will the people have the knowledge to be able to make informed choices and defend their beliefs from those wishing to suppress them. That is why Thailand supported Mongolia’s timely UNGA resolution on education for democracy.
Also important is closing gaps between rich and poor. Everyone should be given opportunities and no one should be left behind. This will allow the people to become an active stakeholder in building the country’s economy and democracy.
That is why my Government initiated policies to provide the people with the opportunities to make their own living and contribute to the development of our society. Some of these include creating the Women Development Fund, supporting local products and SMEs as well as help raising income for the farmers.
And I believe you need effective and innovative leadership. Effective in implementing rule of law fairly. Innovative in finding creative peaceful solutions to address the problems of the people.
You need leadership not only on the part of governments but also on the part of the opposition and all stakeholders. All must respect the rule of law and contribute to democracy.
Another important lesson we have learnt was that international friends matter. Pressure from countries who value democracy kept democratic forces in Thailand alive. Sanctions and non-recognition are essential mechanisms to stop anti-democratic regimes.
An international forum like Community of Democracies helps sustain democracy, seeking to promote and protect democracy through dialogue and cooperation. More importantly, if any country took the wrong turn against the principle of democracy, all of us here need to unite to pressure for change and return freedom o the people.
I will always support the Community of Democracies and the work of the Governing Council. I also welcome the President’s Asian Partnership Initiative for Democracy and will explore how to extend our cooperation with it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to end my statement by declaring that, I hope that the sufferings of my family, the families of the political victims, and the families of the 91people, who lost their lives in defending democracy during the bloodshed in May2010, will be the last.
Let us continue to support democracy so that the rights and liberties of all human beings will be protected for future generations to come!
It’s been another terrible week for Thai democracy with the kingdom’s judicial system adding one more political prisoner to its jails – democratically-elected Pheu Thai MP and Red Shirt leader, Korkaew Pikulthong.
This time the act of imprisonment didn’t even have the cover of a criminal conviction nor has anyone been found guilty of any offence. Korkaew’s imprisonment came about as his bail – on charges relating to what many consider to be entirely politicised matters – was removed by the Criminal Court after he dared to publicly express an opinion about Thailand’s infamous Constitutional Court.
Korkaew’s original charge came from the illegitimate Abhisit-regime making a politicised decision to use legal threats to intimidate the leadership of the pro-democracy Red Shirt movement. In 2010, after 100 Red Shirts had been shot and killed on the streets of Bangkok, Abhisit’s Democrat Party government conjured up bogus terrorism charges against Korkaew and 23 other Red Shirt leaders. Of course only Abhisit would have such an abject misunderstanding of the rule of law as to create claims of terrorism against an entirely legitimate and largely peaceful pro-democracy protest. Yet the long-term aim of these charges wasn’t to necessarily secure convictions. On the contrary it was to create an atmosphere of intimidation wherein the Red Shirt leadership could be returned to prison at any time deemed necessary.
In addition, it is now abundantly clear that Korkaew’s imprisonment and withdrawal of bail is meant to work on two other levels. The first is to silence any criticism of the Constitutional Court and its attempts to waylay perfectly legal changes to the Thai Constitution as proposed by the Thai people’s democratically elected representatives. Secondly, the imprisonment of Korkaew is a further signal that Thailand’s unelected “Deep State” is willing and able to use the judiciary in order to curtail the democratic process.
To further understand the politicised nature of the revocation of Korkaew’s bail it needs to be set against the court’s treatment of Democrat Party MP Kanchit Tabsuwan. Kanchit has been charged in connection with a brutal murder after a man was caught on CCTV at a gas station firing several bullets into the head of his victim, killing him instantly. The police are not seeking any other individual in regards to this case and there has not been any question of Kanchit being denied bail. It is therefore not unreasonable to question the basis whereby legitimate protest is deemed “terrorism” and murder is considered a lesser, bailable, offence. Of course, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Kanchit is a Democrat Party MP and therefore not subject to the same rule of law that has been consistently and ruthless invoked against anyone who dares to be a Red Shirt.
Those analysing the present political situation in Thailand should be under no illusion that the connection between acts like the imprisonment of Korkaew and the use of the kingdom’s notorious 112 lese majeste laws are explicit. In a democracy decisions affecting basic constitutional rights should be fully open to scrutiny, discussion and objection. The Constitutional Court’s decisions and their validity must become part of the everyday public discourse of Thai democracy if that democracy is to flourish. Korkaew’s imprisonment is clearly a breach of his political and freedom of expression rights. He must be immediately released without condition and no further intimidation carried out by the Constitutional Court against its critics must be enacted.
Terdsak Phungkinchan was only 29 when the sniper’s bullet took his life. Three years ago today, on April 10th 2010, he fell, mortally wounded, onto the hard tarmac of a Bangkok street. The force used against Terdsak – despite it being very clear to the person pulling the trigger that his victim was completely unarmed and posing no threat to anyone – was deadly and meant to be so. The only word that can be used to describe this act is murder and my law firm are still doing all we can to bring the people responsible for this to justice.
There can also be no equivocation regarding an analysis of the force used against the Red Shirts at Kok Wua that dreadful night in April 2010 – it was designed, purely, to kill. And kill it did, with 21 Red Shirts falling in a hail of bullets fired from the guns former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had ordered onto Bangkok’s streets. In addition five Thai Army soldiers died, their lives ending in what can only be described as mysterious circumstances, whilst an investigation into the death of the Japanese cameraman, Hiro Muromoto, is still ongoing. All these acts left behind even more grief-stricken widows and mothers.
Without justice for all victims the tragedy of April 2010 is still being played out. Thailand is not yet at peace with itself and, since that night, the families of the dead have been left with more questions than answers.
To get a sense of the depth of feeling the April 10th Kok Wua Massacre arouses you need look no further than the remarkable Thai language book published by the Democracy Martyr Foundation whose title loosely translates as “The Dead Have a Face and Those Who Were Killed Had a Life.” This book gives voice to the victims of April 2010, a cry that must be heard if Thailand wishes to move towards true reconciliation.
Take Terdsak’s mother, Suwimon, who told the authors of this exceptional book that
Deep down, I still want to fight for my son because he was innocent – he didn’t deserve to die, he shouldn’t have been treated like that. I feel as if I couldn’t do much as we are just ordinary people… I will never forget this.
It is Suwimon’s words that we should meditate on as we commemorate the fallen of April 2010 – “I still want to fight for my son.” The mothers of the fallen Red Shirts, unlike the commentators, politicians and, dare I say it, lawyers, can’t just “forget” when it comes to the destruction wrought against their offspring. We can only continue to offer the likes of Suwimon support and solidarity in her struggle for justice.
Another victim of the Kok Wua Massacre was tailor Wasan Puthong (39). His young sister, Numthip, is also quoted in “The Dead Have a Face and Those Who Were Killed Had a Life” saying
Nowadays, I am still missing him as we had been working together for such a long time – whenever I turned, I saw him there because we were together all day all night…. It is hard for me to accept this.
Numthip’s comment are an apt reflection on the death of a brother who was taken down in such abhorrent circumstance. The lack of definable justice will continue to make it hard for victims of Kok Wua to just “accept this”.
Today my office had the honour of speaking to Wasan’s brother-in-law, Klin, and it his words we end on here. These words must be our banner as we mark another year where loved ones were taken from us.
There is still not justice as the perpetrators have not yet been held to account. We will continue fighting for this justice.
Nearly three years after more than 90 pro-democracy protesters were killed by government forces on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand’s Red Shirt movement has scored a substantial victory before an important multilateral institution, shedding light on the pervasive injustices in the country’s political system.
Following its most recent summit in Ecuador, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) – a body which has permanent observer status at the UN and which is considered by the UN to be the leading international organisation for parliaments – has issued an historic resolution condemning the unlawful disqualification of Thai Member of Parliament Jatuporn Prompran.
As a prominent Red Shirt leader in the Thai Parliament, Jatuporn was disqualified from his seat in parliament by a coup-appointed judge on Thailand’s Constitutional Court in May 2012 stemming from his participation in the April-May 2010 protests in Bangkok, which later led to periods of detention that made it impossible for him to vote as an MP.
The IPU Resolution maintains that the grounds under which Jatuporn was disqualified “appear directly to contravene Thailand’s international human rights obligations,” while also reiterating concerns that Jatuporn’s arrest occurred under the previous government’s unlawful use of emergency powers and politically motivated charges of terrorism.
According to the IPU Resolution TH/183, filed on 27 March 2013, Jatuporn’s parlimentary seat had been terminated at a time when “it had not been established that he had committed any wrongdoing” and on account of a speech that appeared to fall “within the exercise of his right to freedom of expression.” The resolution also finds that the practice of preventing those accused of crimes from voting represents an “unreasonable restriction,” particularly in the light of the Covenant’s provisions guaranteeing persons accused of a crime the right to be presumed innocent.
The IPU cites concerns over the legal basis and reasoning behind Jatuporn’s preventative detention, and issued a request for a copy of the charge sheet, while also setting issuing a request to the Secretary General “to visit Thailand with a view to raising this matter with the competent parliamentary, executive and judicial authorities and exploring the possibility of IPU assistance in this area.”
The IPU Resolution can be downloaded here. The full text is below:
CASE No. TH/183 CASE No. TH/183 — JATUPORN PROMPAN — THAILAND
Decides to recommend to the Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union that it adopt the following resolution:
The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Referring to the case of Mr. Jatuporn Prompan, a former member of the House of Representatives of Thailand, and to the resolution it adopted at its 191st session (October 2012),
Taking into account the information provided by the Secretary General of the House of Representatives in his letter of 15 February 2013 and by the source on 23 March 2013,
Recalling the following:
- Mr. Jatuporn, a leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and at the time a member of the House of Representatives, played a prominent role in the “Red Shirt” demonstrations that took place in central Bangkok between 12 March and 19 May 2010; in the weeks following the demonstrations, Mr. Jatuporn and his fellow UDD leaders were officially charged with participating in an illegal gathering that contravened the state of emergency declared by the government and with terrorism in relation to arson attacks on several buildings that took place on 19 May 2010, when the UDD leaders had already been taken into police custody; Mr. Jatuporn was quickly released on bail thereafter;
- On 10 April 2011, Mr. Jatuporn took the stage during the commemoration organized at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok to mark the first anniversary of the government’s response to the Red Shirt demonstrations; in his speech, he criticized the then government and the Royal Thai Army for using the pretext of “protecting the monarchy” to criminalize the Red Shirt movement and kill its members the year before; Mr. Jatuporn also criticized the Constitutional Court for sparing the Democrat Party from dissolution, making reference to leaked video recordings that showed some of the justices colluding with party officials; following this, representatives of the Royal Thai Army filed a complaint alleging that Mr. Jatuporn had committed lese-majesty in his speech; the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) asked the Criminal Court to
revoke his bail following the complaint, which it did on 12 May 2011; Mr. Jatuporn was subsequently held in Bangkok Remand Prison until 2 August 2011; the DSI subsequently dismissed the charge and the case was referred to the Office of the Attorney General for consideration on 17 January 2012;
- A week after the revocation of his bail, Mr. Jatuporn’s name was included on the party list submitted by Pheu Thai for the legislative elections to be held on 3 July 2011; the Election Commission endorsed the list after verifying that the candidates met the required legal conditions; in advance of the elections, Mr. Jatuporn’s lawyers repeatedly filed motions requesting that the Criminal Court grant bail or temporary release to allow him to vote; the requests were denied and Mr. Jatuporn was thereby prevented from exercising his right to vote; according to the source, his failure to cast a vote was immediately seized upon by the opposition as evidence that he was not qualified to sit in parliament; at first, the Election Commission certified the election results, allowing Mr. Jatuporn to be sworn in as a member of the new House of Representatives, which first met on the day of his release; in late November 2011, however, the Election Commission ruled by a 4-1 vote that Mr. Jatuporn should be disqualified as a member of parliament and asked the Speaker of the House of Representatives to refer the case to the Constitutional Court for a final ruling;
- On 18 May 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled that Mr. Jatuporn’s detention on election day, and consequent failure to vote in the election, disqualified him from serving as a member of parliament; it reasoned that Mr. Jatuporn was prohibited from voting under Article 100(3) of the 2007 Constitution, which specifies that “being detained by a warrant of the Court or by a lawful order” on election day was one of the prohibitions leading to disenfranchisement, and that this in turn meant that he had automatically lost his membership of his political party under the 2007 Organic Act on Political Parties; the loss of party membership was the basis (under Articles 101(3) and 106(4) of the Constitution) on which he was disqualified from sitting in the House of Representatives,
Recalling that the source affirms that the charges against Mr. Jatuporn are entirely inapposite, that the specific charge of participation in an illegal gathering stemmed from the previous government’s unlawful use of emergency powers, and that the terrorism charges on which Mr. Jatuporn and other Red Shirt leaders were indicted in August 2010 are politically motivated, but that, while the Red Shirts were accused by the government of committing various acts of violence, there exists no evidence that their leaders played a role in planning the attacks, or even knew about them; considering that hearings will be held twice a week in the criminal case between 19 April and July 2013,
Recalling further that Mr. Jatuporn was sentenced on 10 July and 27 September 2012 respectively in two criminal cases to two six-month prison sentences (with a two-year suspension) and fines of 50,000 baht on charges of defaming then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, but that an appeal is pending in both cases; bearing in mind that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression repeated in his report (A/HRC/17/27 of 16 May 2011) the call for all States to decriminalize defamation, Bearing in mind that Thailand is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and therefore obliged to protect the rights enshrined therein,
Considering that, on 1 April 2013, the House of Representatives will start debating changes to the Constitution that are expected to affect inter alia the legal framework governing political parties and their dissolution; recalling that the source fears that Mr. Jatuporn’s disqualification may be used by his party’s opponents to argue that the governing Pheu Thai party “inappropriately endorsed” Mr. Jatuporn’s candidacy, and that Mr. Jatuporn’s inclusion on the party’s slate of candidates therefore caused the election to be conducted in a “dishonest and unfair manner” and that his party therefore should be dissolved,
1. Thanks the Secretary General of the House of Representatives for his letter and cooperation;
2. Reaffirms its view that the letter does not dispel its concerns that Mr. Jatuporn was disqualified on grounds that appear directly to contravene Thailand’s international human rights obligations;
3. Considers that, although the Thai Constitution specifically provides for the disenfranchisement of persons “detained by a lawful order” on election day, preventing those accused of a crime from exercising the right to vote is at odds with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25 of which guarantees the right to “take part in the conduct of public affairs” and “to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections” without “unreasonable restrictions”;
4. Considers in this regard that denying an incumbent member of parliament temporary release from prison to exercise the right to vote is an “unreasonable restriction”, particularly in the light of the Covenant’s provisions guaranteeing persons accused of a crime the right to be presumed innocent (Article 14) and “separate treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons” (Article 10(2)(a)); points out that Mr. Prompan’s disqualification also appears to run counter to the spirit of Article 102(4) of the Thai Constitution, which stipulates that only those convicted, not those accused, of a crime lose their right to stand for election once a candidacy has been submitted;
5. Remains likewise concerned that Mr. Jatuporn’s political party membership was terminated at a time when it had not been established that he had committed any wrongdoing and on account of a speech that appeared to fall within the exercise of his right to freedom of expression; remains also concerned that the courts can rule on the question of party membership when this is first and foremost a private matter between Mr. Jatuporn and his party and there was no dispute between them on the question;
6. Sincerely hopes that, in the light of the above, the competent Thai authorities will do everything possible to reconsider Mr. Jatuporn’s disqualification and ensure that all current legal provisions are in line with the relevant international human rights standards; wishes to be kept informed of the consequences of the constitutional amendment process is in this regard;
7. Remains concerned about the alleged legal basis for and facts adduced to substantiate the charges pending against Mr. Jatuporn and about the possibility that the court may order his return to preventive detention; wishes to receive a copy of the charge sheet; considers that, in the light of the concerns in the case, it would be useful to send a trial observer to the proceedings, and requests the Secretary General to make the necessary arrangements;
8. Remains concerned that Mr. Jatuporn was prosecuted, sentenced and convicted on charges of defamation; concurs in this regard with the recommendation made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur that defamation should not be considered an offence under criminal law; wishes to ascertain, therefore, whether the Thai authorities are contemplating reviewing the existing legislation with this in mind; wishes to receive a copy of the first-instance rulings and to be kept informed of the appeal proceedings;
9. Considers that the present case has ramifications that go well beyond the situation of Mr. Jatuporn alone and concerns the constitutional and institutional relationship between the House of Representatives and the courts; requests the Secretary General to visit Thailand with a view to raising this matter with the competent parliamentary, executive and judicial authorities and exploring the possibility of IPU assistance in this
10. Requests the Secretary General to convey this resolution to the competent authorities and to the source;
11. Requests the Committee to continue examining this case and to report back to it in due course.
Political conflict inevitably produces political prisoners. In this respect Thailand is no different. Those incarcerated in Thailand’s prisons for acts connected to their political beliefs are as much victims of upheaval as the grieving relatives of the dead of April/May 2010.
Another inevitability for those seeking to settle political conflict is the release of such rank and file political prisoners. An amnesty granted to similar who are awaiting trial or who are on the run must also be established. Yet, at this stage in Thailand’s ongoing process of political settlement and stabilisation, the release of these prisoners hasn’t taken on the significance it should. For anyone committed to a full restoration of ordinary Thais’ democratic rights this is simply unacceptable. It is my firm belief that the release of the rank and file Red Shirts and the lese majeste prisoners must be a priority for the government. To ignore this pressing issue will only alienate a key element of the Pheu Thai leadership’s support.