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Expecting More from Thailand

<a href=””><img alt=”thailand-banner-1984″ src=”×200.jpg” width=”300″ height=”200″ /></a>The following op/ed article by Robert Amsterdam and Jakrapob Penkair was first published in the Diplomatic Courier:

Less than a month since Thailand’s military seized power by a coup d’etat, the junta has been quick in attempting to “normalise” their illegal power grab.

Seeking to shore up support, the junta has launched a charm offensive by sending a delegation to China, where they now claim to have support for their coup, and hosting visits of military leaders from neighboring states. This regional strategy could place extraordinary pressure on Washington to recognize the coup or risk watching a key ally drift into Chinese hands.

For anyone who remembers the 2006 coup, there may be a sense of déjà vu. At first, foreign governments made strong statements, followed by inaction, and later followed by resignation and acquiescence.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was firm in his initial comments, stating: “There is no justification for this military coup. (…) We are reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements, consistent with U.S. law.”

The law on this matter is clear—no U.S. aid can go to a government whose elected representative was deposed by a military coup. A large-scale joint exercise with the Thai military has already been cancelled, but still no sanctions have been tabled.

The European Union’s initial reaction was similar, but so far they have refused to suspend arms sales or discuss sanctions. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton urged the military to release the thousands of detained political prisoners and ease censorship, and said that they are following developments with “extreme caution.”

Unfortunately, more is needed.


Last time there was a coup in Thailand, Western nations failed to support the democratic will of the Thai people. The generals have clearly interpreted the message that a coup only poses short-term inconveniences instead of real consequences.

Before the May 2014 coup, Thailand had experienced 18 interruptions of it democracy by the military. It begs the question: if leading Western governments and trade partners with Thailand were less permissive and forgiving in response to military coups, would they continue to occur with such frequency? Have we lowered our expectations for Thailand?

There is no ambiguity about the repression taking place in Thailand today. The junta’s soldiers have arrested and held thousands of detainees at gunpoint and beyond the reach of their families (or lawyers) or weeks. Thai citizens can face arrest for almost anything, for example giving the “three-finger” anti-coup salute from the Hunger Games film, while the military is threatening to jail people based on “liking” social media content. The ugly spectre of lese majeste is flourishing, while even people outside of Thailand have been threatened by the coup leadership.

For generals such as Prayuth Chan-ocha, an architect of the massacre that murdered more than 90 unarmed protesters four years ago, the coup represents both an economic opportunity (military budgets have already been increased with zero transparency) as well as an engine of impunity—an obligatory exercise taking place once every decade or so to cover up responsibility for human rights crimes. There are unfortunately a class of citizens in Thailand who do not believe that their fellow countrymen enjoy equal rights to representation. This kind of tyranny poses a chilling image of what could happen next.

The coup began long before the Army’s declaration of martial law. It was forged under the so-called People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) of former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who had been charged with murder. Any other government would have arrested and convicted this man, Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration was stripped of its most basic powers typically endowed to an elected government.

If the international community wants to see Thailand successfully emerge from the coup, strong action is required, beginning with and not limited to actions such as a steadfast refusal to recognise the junta as a legitimate government of Thailand, halting of all arms sales and military cooperation, targeted sanctions against assets and travel privileges of coup leaders, sanctions and public boycotts of the main business conglomerates who financially sponsored Suthep’s overthrow of the elected government and demanding the immediate restoration of democratic governance.

A failure to respond to this coup in a much stronger way than the past will only perpetuate this destructive cycle. It is time to expect more from Thailand and stand behind democratic values. It may be our last opportunity to do so.

Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Partners LLP serves as international defence counsel to the United National Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), and prominent Red Shirt group in Thailand. Jakrapob Penkair is a founder of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and former Minister and Member of Thailand’s Parliament. He resigned from the government after criticisms of his 2007 comments against the nation’s patronage culture and left the country after a military crackdown on protesters against the 2008 judicial ouster of the government he had served. The views expressed are their own.


Notice to International Media in Thailand

LONDON – On behalf of UDD, we urge you not to use the language of legitimate trials in describing illegal and indeed criminal military tribunals that have absolutely no jurisdiction, no independence, no impartiality and no due process that are being used in a manner entirely divorced from law or reason to punish individuals who are political opponents of the military.

Instead of “trial,” please use the term “process” or “hearing.” Please refrain from using the term “judgment” which implies some form of neutral consideration. Please refrain from using the term “detention”, when in fact the individuals detained are in reality hostages.

We underscore that this junta has no legitimacy under international law. Their determination to use military courts and bogus charges only serves to underscore the insecurity of a group of individuals who have lied, deceived the Thai people, and stand themselves accused of violating not only international law but also destroying the very future hopes and aspirations of the Thai people.

Robert Amsterdam
Counsel to the United National Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)


ABC Radio Interview on Thailand

Listen to Robert Amsterdam’s interview with Australia’s ABC Radio (RN Breakfast) about the illegal junta in Thailand, the consideration of the government in exile, and the situation for detainees.


Statement: Thai Junta’s Threats Will Not Silence Critics

According to reports published in the Thai media, the military junta administration is considering “action” against me in retaliation for public statements, and may seek to “block” communications by shutting down access to websites, among other measures to be pursued via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

These threats come at the same time that many others, including journalists, activists, and civil society leaders, are being called before the junta for interrogations, while hundreds remain detained without rights.

We should ask ourselves what this kind of conduct means. What does this say about the Thai junta that they so fear what people might say, and have to resort to fear and threats to shore up their support? This determination to control information is the defining characteristic of dictatorship, and stands as the clearest evidence why the coup must be dissolved and democratic civilian authority must be restored.

The military coup overseen by Gen. Prayuth has no constitutional authority and no legitimacy to issue these sorts of accusations. They have behaved in a criminal manner by illegally seizing power, and these efforts to chill free speech show a fundamental lack of confidence in their own status.

I reject any suggestion that my public statements have any bearing on “incitement.” The Thai people have the right to question the unlawful actions of an unelected military dictatorship, and they have the right to peacefully oppose the theft of their country by the military. If the act of voicing opposition to the coup and calling for the immediate restoration of civilian rule represents an offence, the junta would also have to pursue action against a wide range of diplomatic figures.

Given the majority of our communications take place on Facebook and Twitter, for the junta to shut down complete access to these websites would place it among the world’s most repressive, criminal governments. It would also confirm the total bankruptcy of their legitimacy among the people of Thailand.

Most importantly, these threats will not work. We will not be silenced, and we will not go away. Instead we have to find ways to work together to achieve peaceful resolution and a return to democracy.

It is for this reason we are committed to providing counsel and support to the legitimate government in exile, in order to ensure that one day peace and democracy are restored to Thailand.


Open letter to Red Shirts, UDD Supporters and Those Committed to a Democratic Thailand

Dear Friends,

It would be an understatement to say the last few days have been very difficult for you. After enduring several months of attacks on the democracy you value so highly, the Thai Army finally showed their hand and decided to join with those opposed to a Thailand based on civil and political equality.

There is no doubt that the Army’s actions have been both illegal and criminal. Their seizure of power, their taking your leaders and their family members hostage and their suppression of any dissenting voices only reveals them as little more than gangsters attempting to strong-arm an entire nation.

UDD Leader Jatuporn Prompan

In the days before the Army embarked on their illegal course of action, UDD leader Jatuporn Prompan asked me to act on his behalf should he be seized by the Thai Army. In light of that, and as we write this letter, steps are now being undertaken to re-form a coherent UDD and Red Shirt leadership outside of Thailand. In the interim we will begin the process of seeking legal, international sanctions against the leaders of the Thai Army’s illegal putsch. General Prayuth and his mafia cabal are hereby put on notice – you will be held to account.

We will also do all we can to find out how those already taken hostage by the Army are being treated. Unconfirmed sources are already alleging mistreatment of your leaders and we demand that the Army allow legal representation and the Red Cross access to their prison camps.

We would also ask you to take photographs and video and prepare testimonies and accounts of any Thai Army activity and send them to Such evidence could prove essential in building our case against the Thai Army – all sources will, of course, remain anonymous.

In the meanwhile we would ask that all pro-democracy activists, Red Shirts and those committed to returning Thailand to civilian and legally mandated rule remain peaceful. The Army may attempt to unleash a “strategy of tension” in the days to come – something which could include terrorist actions – and Red Shirts must do their utmost to stay disciplined, calm and focused.

Yours in solidarity and fraternity

Robert Amsterdam

UDD Counsel


Statement: Legal Counsel Denied Access to Detainees of Thai Military Coup

24 MAY 2014 – LONDON – More than 150 Thai citizens who have been arrested by the military are unable to communicate with their lawyers, representing a violation of international human rights law, says Red Shirt legal counsel Robert Amsterdam.

“We don’t know where they are being held, we don’t know if they are being mistreated, and we haven’t been allowed to communicate with them,” Amsterdam said on behalf of a group of lawyers representing detained Red Shirt leaders. “After almost 72 hours, the fact that Gen. Prayuth’s coup is holding people hostage without rights beyond the reach of their lawyers is a clear gesture of intimidation. This represents a violation of both Thai and international law.”

There have also been incidences of harassment of lawyers representing those detained, including Mr. Titippong Srisaen, who was held for five hours before being released. Other members of parliament of the elected government have also been arrested, while today the coup leaders moved to dissolve Senate, taking over all powers of the state.

Amsterdam said the legal team is working in close contact with all relevant UN and international bodies in Thailand to try to protect both citizens and detainees. The Army’s ongoing conduct, which has included nighttime raids on private homes and hounding of people previously pardoned from lese majeste charges, has created a climate of fear among Thai society, Amsterdam says.

“Given the velocity of this crackdown, Prayuth appears to have no interest in maintaining peace, but instead is following the playbook of Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat,” said Amsterdam. “His tenuous support is rapidly eroding, and we are deeply concerned regarding public safety.”

This week Amsterdam announced that the elected leadership of Thailand may consider the establishment of a government in exile. Efforts are underway to document the actions of coup participants to be held accountable when rule of law is restored.



Statement: Consideration Given to Formation of Thai Government in Exile

LONDON, 23 May 2014 – Following the declaration of an illegal military coup by the Army of Thailand on Thursday, Robert Amsterdam, counsel to former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the pro-democracy ‘Red Shirt’ movement, stated that active consideration is being given to the formation of a government in exile in the wake of the illegal seizure of power staged in Thailand by General Prayuth Chan-Ocha on May 22, 2014. Mr. Amsterdam reiterates that the actions of Thai military junta lack all legitimacy and constitute flagrant violations of both Thai and international law. The only organization in Thailand with a popular and legal mandate to govern remains the Pheu Thai Party, on the strength of its clear victory in the last full general election of July 3, 2011.

“The military coup carried out by the Army of Thailand does not have any legitimacy nor does the Army of Thailand have a mandate from the people of Thailand to govern the country. Those who have the mandate of the people of Thailand, secured through free and fair elections, are now considering the formation of a government in exile,” said Mr.Amsterdam.

Mr. Amsterdam also raised the question of the unlawful detentions of pro-democracy activists currently being rounded up by the junta stating that “I denounce the illegal detention of all political leaders in Thailand. Given the Thai Army of Thailand’s human rights record, we are extremely concerned for the safety of the political detainees, and we urge the international community to remain on high alert.”

Mr Amsterdam also stated that a number of foreign governments have already expressed their willingness to host such a government in exile under internationally established rules and practice. He emphasised that the Army of Thailand has no legal authority to govern and has acted in violation of both local and international law.

“Make no mistake, this is an illegitimate military coup that must be penalized with the full strength of sanctions and diplomatic measures to ensure the safety and security of the Thai people,” said Amsterdam

Robert Amsterdam serves as international counsel to the United National Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) of Thailand. More information can be read at



Statement: Thai Army Demanded to Show Proof of Safety of Detained Red Shirts


Red Shirt Legal Counsel Robert Amsterdam Calls for International Action in Response to Illegal Military Coup

LONDON, 22 May 2014 – Following the declaration of an illegal military coup by the Royal Army of Thailand on Thursday, legal counsel representing the pro-government Red Shirt movement has demanded evidence that activists who had been arrested were safe and not subject to torture or inhumane prison conditions.

“We demand immediate proof from the current junta that Red Shirt leaders and others who were detained remain safe and unharmed,” said Robert Amsterdam, who serves as legal counsel to the Red Shirts, warning that violations of human rights by the coup leaders would be held accountable.

Following the formal declaration of the military coup, which comes only days after the Thai Army announced martial law, soldiers have moved swiftly to detain both Red Shirt activists as well as government officials. Currently there are reports that so far the Army has detained Red Shirt activists Jatuporn Prompan, Nattawut Saikua, Thida Thavornseth, Weerakarn Satitniramai, Weerakarn Musikapong, Korkaew Pikulthong, and Weng Tojirakarn (unconfirmed).

The Army is also reported to have arrested the Minister of Justice Chaikasem Nitisir, Warathep Ratanakorn (Prime Minister’s Office), Deputy Minister of Education Sermsak Pongpanich, Minister of Transportation Chatchart Sithipan, and Deputy Minister of Finance Tanusak Lekuthai. Members of the Pheu Thai party have also been illegally detained by the coup leaders, including Pol. Lt. Gen. Wiroj Pao-in, Poomtham Wejchayachai, Choosak Sirinuin, Wan Mohamad Noor Matha, and Prompong Nopparit.

Amsterdam emphasizes that the Army has no legal authority to govern and has acted in violation of both local and international law.

“Make no mistake, this is an illegitimate military coup that must be penalized with the full strength of sanctions and diplomatic measures to ensure the safety and security of the Thai people,” said Amsterdam. “Given the Thai Army’s human rights record, we are extremely concerned for the safety of the political prisoners, and we urge the international community to remain on high alert.”

Robert Amsterdam serves as international counsel to the United National Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) of Thailand. More information can be read at



Statement on Thai Army’s Declaration of Martial Law

LONDON, 21 May 2014 – The international community should be extremely concerned by the Thai Army’s declaration of martial law, which represents a clear step toward an outright military coup, says Robert Amsterdam, an international lawyer acting on behalf of the pro-democracy Red Shirt movement.

Amsterdam said that the Red Shirts have tasked his law firm with making sure that every available international avenue is taken to ensure that there are effective and specific consequences against individuals involved in this illegal overthrow of civilian democratic governance.

“Thailand is in the midst of a coup by stages. Thai Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha is not seeking to prevent violence, but rather to prevent elections,” said Amsterdam. “We are deeply concerned for the human rights and safety of millions of Thai citizens in the face of an unlawful seizure of power by the same individuals who perpetrated the Bangkok massacre of 2010.”

The declaration of martial law, which grants the Army expansive powers to detain without charges, ban public meetings, and shut down media, was made early Tuesday morning when soldiers took over a number of television stations. Gen. Prayuth has told the media the Army intends to be a “mediator” between Red Shirts and the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), however he declined to answer questions about a coup or whether or not the elected government still exists.

According to a representative of the Electoral Commission as quoted by the newspaper Matichon, Prayuth told the body that “if an election can’t be held, then there should not be an election. If an election will lead to bloodshed, then it must not be held.”

The Thai Army leader has also made chilling statements, threatening to arrest and prosecute anyone who publishes information on social media that would “stir up the situation.”

Gen. Prayuth has a known history of partisan activity. In 2011, he brought a lese majeste complaint against Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan for giving a speech about the 2010 massacre of more than 90 unarmed protesters. On the other side of the negotiating table are the Former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, both of whom have been charged with murder for their roles in the deaths of protesters.

“The declaration of martial law represents a gross abuse of power that is disproportionate to any threat that Thailand may be facing. The world has woken up to these games, and it’s time to end impunity for the Thai elites,” said Amsterdam. “Nobody voted for the Army; they should return to the barracks where they belong. They must be made to understand that there will be significant consequences if democracy is overthrown yet again in Thailand.”

Robert Amsterdam serves as international counsel to the United National Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) of Thailand. More information can be read at



Video: Robert Amsterdam on CNBC Squawk Box

Lawyer Robert Amsterdam appears on CNBC to speak about the political crisis in Thailand, where he says that the elites have manipulated the constitutional court and electoral commission in an attempt to impose an unelected authoritarian government.