The Hyperreality of Thai Propaganda: A Response to the Nation

abhisit_watches_tv.jpgAn editorial published today in the government-controlled Thai newspaper The Nation makes reference to my work and that of my colleague, lawyer Geert-Jan Alexander Knoops. Apart from the usual attacks, untruths, and libel that accompany intense political cases, the article aims to preemptively disqualify the results of our investigations into human rights abuses and war crimes committed by the Thai authorities in its handling of the April and May violence. I wouldn’t usually point to these items, which seem to be a willful distraction from the important topics that actually matter, but the issue does bear consideration for foreign audiences as an illustration of the ways in which this government is conducting itself. The spin of the article is clear for everyone to see (they even use the word “evil”), but in substance it is entirely evasive on the point of arbitrary detentions, summary executions, and indiscriminate use of force in the April and May violence. This is a country that has just witnessed 88 people freshly slaughtered on the streets of its capital by the military, and newspaper editors have chosen to dedicate their time to personally attacking lawyers and manufacturing excuses – the rest of their time appears to be dedicated to attacking CNN without reason. A sadder illustration of the nature of this junta could not be expressed more clearly.

Before publishing such an editorial, many reporters and editors might have considered contacting the source in question, but I received no such outreach. Had Knoops or I had the opportunity to give a comment to The Nation, it could have been made clear that the intention of our investigation is to represent the basic rights of UDD protesters and compile facts and evidence that are currently being suppressed. Watchdog groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also commented on the human rights abuses, and our claims are very similar. We fully support the calls for an independent investigation by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and would applaud the implementation of such an investigation.However, we hold legitimate reservations as to whether or not the Abhisit regime will allow a genuinely independent investigation. When the junta rejected the UDD’s offer of negotiations without conditions to put an end to the standoff, and when they brushed back offers of mediation by international third parties, it was clear that this was a government behaving like they have something to hide. I stood witness to these exchanges from inside the red shirt encampment in the final days.The question that occurs to us upon seeing this strident mendacity in the state media: what are they so afraid that we will find? If there is as much uncertainty over these events as some moderate voices in the debate claim, then there should be no fear over an independent investigation. Instead, we see this hysteria resulting from the extraordinary discomfort this government experiences anytime its swelling narrative is punctured by painful facts. They simply cannot stand the idea of free and open public debate – everything must be tightly controlled, from the most marginal voices to the lawyers and professionals who are simply doing their jobs.But luckily everyone is free to read the full text of this editorial, because no draconian government has ordered for it to be blocked. Luckily everyone can hear about the innocence of the smiling military and the Oxford-educated unelected Prime Minister because no one is sending regular death threats to his lawyers and publishing their addresses to hate groups. Having worked in Russia, Nigeria, and Venezuela, I’ve never seen more thuggish incivility.The problem, however, with the Thai junta’s extraordinary control over its media and repressive apparatus, is that the Bangkok elites actually begin to lose the ability to distinguish between reality and their invented hyperreality. We saw this on display in parliament this week when Korn Chatikavanij, the same person who proposed ditching Western democratic standards, saidThere have been certain incidents in which the paramilitary arm of the red-shirt movement were quite willing to shoot their own to place the blame on the government.” In other words, we being asked to believe that the red shirts murdered themselves.If the military-elite compact actually believes in these kinds of lies, they will be very ill-prepared to defend their conduct before a truly independent investigation, let alone retain their credibility as the evidence of their conduct is gathered.