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Thailand and the Criminalization of Dissent

red-shirt-rally-bangkok052510.jpgOver the past two months, Thailand’s Abhisit regime has opened fire with live ammunition on the Red Shirt pro-democracy demonstration in Bangkok, killing at least 88 of its own citizens and injuring more than 1,800, including foreign journalists and onlookers. In a desperate bid to escape international condemnation for these unlawful killings, Abhisit is trying to paint the demonstrators as terrorists and enemies of the state.

Many around the world are not fooled. Writing in the Financial Times, David Piling said: “Attempts to portray the tens of thousands of mainly poor Thais who took to Bangkok’s streets as ‘terrorists’ or paid mercenaries of [former Prime Minister] Mr. Thaksin simply do not wash.” Only a few government soldiers were among the casualties. If the Red Shirts were terrorists, they’re quite lousy at it.

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The conduct of the Thai authorities is not that of a victim of terrorism, but rather the behavior of someone who has something to hide. The invention of new crimes to cover up other crimes is not acceptable in the contemporary context of international law, and this crass manipulation must be openly discouraged by outside parties. This kind of conduct drags Thailand down to the level of countries like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, where the criminalization of protest reigns supreme. The Red Shirts risked their lives and suffered considerable casualties because their democratic choices and popular will had been repeatedly disqualified and stolen. Until that central grievance is addressed, all other accusations are only distractions.

The international community must ask Thailand to uphold rule of law and basic procedural rights for citizens who have done nothing more than express their opposition to the ruling party. At a minimum, the Abhisit government has a duty to disclose the location of the prison camps and the conditions for the detained protesters, confirm their access to legal counsel and the basis of the charges against them, and grant access to international human rights monitors to ensure fair treatment of the detained Red Shirt leaders.

Full version of this article available at The Mark.

Photo:  On May 9, 2010, relatives of the victims of the April 10 massacre hold a memorial to commemorate the dead.  (Source and copyright:  http://redphanfa2day.wordpress.com/)