Unwanted news, Rangoon electricity & irrationality

rangoon electricity

Burma’s government claims to welcome complaints about malpractice, inefficiency and corruption against those in public service. But a recent case of a man imprisoned for repeatedly complaining about electricity problems speaks to how easy it is in an irrational system for the complainant, not the government officials, to wind up in trouble.

In early August, U Khin Maung Kyi called the electric supply corporation in his suburb of Rangoon a number of times to complain about a surge in power at his house. It was not the first time that he had called to make a complaint, and the township supply director had already lodged a criminal case with a local court, alleging that the 45-year-old’s repeated calls were obstructing his staff from performing their duties.

This time, Khin Maung Kyi argued with the duty officer, who refused to give his name or let him speak with his superior. Khin Maung Kyi then threatened to make a complaint to higher levels. Later, when asked about this in court, the official admitted that the caller had not used offensive language or made unlawful threats, but testified that his manner was impolite and that his calls were an inconvenience.

The director might have thought that, by lodging a case in court, he would put Khin Maung Kyi off making more calls. In any event, after this latest incident, he put the local state apparatus into movement against the annoying resident. Continue reading

Thai lottery not child’s play in Burma

April Htun-Thuza Khaing1

The Supreme Court of Thailand on Wednesday found that a former deputy minister and two ex-officials had failed to comply with a number of laws when they set up a scheme to legalize two- and three-digit lotteries.

The politically motivated case has attracted a lot of media interest and online commentary. By contrast, the judgment this August of a court in Burma – also in a two-digit lottery case against three people who should never have been brought to trial – has not had any coverage at all.

The defendants in the latter case were not Bangkok bigwigs, but rural teenage girls. And unlike the group of accused who are in the news, they were not given suspended sentences but were immediately sent to prison for a period of one year with hard labor. Continue reading

Pinning hope on a hopeless constitution

constitution

Last year, amid the death and debris in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, Burma got a new Constitution. Now people inside and outside the country are readying themselves for a general election of some sort, followed by the opening of a new Parliament, which is when the charter will take effect.

The ballot is expected in 2010, although so far no details have emerged of how it will be run. The regime could yet give any number of excuses to postpone it if Senior General Than Shwe or his astrologers decide the time is not right.

Some analysts – including former diplomats and others who move in their circles – see hope for change in the 2008 Constitution and the anticipated elections. Their argument is that even though the parliamentary system will be under military control, it will still provide space for people that have not had a chance to participate in government for the last few decades.

One way or another, they say, power will be more diffused and that will create opportunities. And like it or not, they figure, the junta’s electoral circus is the only one in town.

But, in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council this month, the Asian Legal Resource Center has given a starkly different opinion. The Hong Kong-based group has argued that in its current form the 2008 charter cannot be called a constitution at all, let alone one that will permit people in Burma to shape their future. Continue reading

Thailand’s “unsubstantiated” police abuses

red faces

Thailand’s representatives to the United Nations still cling to the outdated idea that if they turn up at a big get-together and make nice comments about how they cherish human rights, then everyone will think things are fine in the land of smiles.

Not surprisingly, they are unhappy when other people tell a different story. So last March, when the Asian Legal Resource Centre addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council concerning Thailand, they weren’t at all pleased.

The Hong Kong-based group told the council that the police are the top abusers of human rights in Thailand, for which they enjoy impunity. The center did not make this statement frivolously. It has for years worked closely with people in the country on dozens of cases that speak to this fact, and it is aware of and has documented hundreds more. Many cases it cannot publicize because to do so would put lives at risk.

Notwithstanding, the government representative, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, claimed that the center’s remarks were “unsubstantiated.” Although his defense of his country’s record was not in itself surprising, the vehemence of his response was remarkable given the piles of evidence to the contrary which groups have accumulated and presented to international bodies over the last decade.

This week the center had a chance to rebut his claim. Continue reading

Bangkok court shoots self in foot, again

da torpedo

A court in Thailand inched closer to its counterparts in neighboring Burma last week when it sentenced an anti-coup protestor to 18 years in prison. The Bangkok criminal court convicted Daranee Chanchoengsilapakul on three counts of lese majesty arising from statements she made in a rally to support the ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. In the speech, she connected the 2006 military takeover to the palace, and drew parallels between events in her country and the fate of the monarchy in Nepal, which was abolished in 2008 after a popular uprising.

The charges were brought against Darunee following a complaint from Sondhi Limthongkul, the leader of the army-sponsored anti-Thaksin movement that occupied the prime minister’s offices for three months and the national airport for about a week last year. Neither he nor any of his cohorts have been brought to justice over those events, despite the massive criminality involved, including assaults and alleged murders, wanton vandalism, and theft of public and private property. While targeting opponents for alleged crimes of thought and speech, Sondhi and allies continue to spread their own vitriol through a variety of broadcast and Internet media.

The judges made little pretense of conducting the trial fairly. Continue reading

Thai police put crime report before medical help

nuch

A television station in Thailand broadcast an interview early last month with Nuch Phosri (above), a mother who is raising two sons alone on a meager income. Nuch is having an especially hard time because one of her sons is paralyzed. But he wasn’t born that way. He was shot.

Nuch’s boy, Virjit Sriraksa, was riding home from his job as a guard at an air force facility in Phitsanulok on June 24 last year, when some teenagers came up to him on another motorcycle. They goaded the 19-year-old, perhaps because of his uniform.

Then there was an exploding sound. Virjit thought it was a firecracker. Stunned by the sound he kept riding until he fell from the bike. Blood was seeping from holes in his neck and shoulder where 17 shotgun pellets had penetrated.

So far it is a distressing story of a senseless gang attack. Then the police arrived. They took Virjit to a hospital, as would be expected. Then, Nuch says, despite a doctor’s request that the young man be admitted, the police insisted on taking him back to do a crime scene report. Continue reading

Sound and fury after Suu Kyi verdict

ASSK verdict

The verdict handed down against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her co-accused in Burma this week surprised no one. The trial was throughout political, not legal in character. The only real question has been what, if anything, anyone else will do about it.

A chorus of angry statements from across the world quickly followed the end of the trial. Most of these were probably prepared weeks before, given that the final date for the judgment was delayed several times. In those weeks of angry statements smouldering on desks, waiting for the final details to be inserted, nobody did anything. Now that the trial is over, there is little evidence that they will either. The matter is being put to the UN Security Council, and it will most likely end there. A few countries may tinker with ineffectual trade embargoes and leave it at that. The sound and fury will go on for a while and then fade away, like it did following the protests of 2007 and the cyclone of the year after. Detailed reports of groups like the Asian Legal Resource Centre on the farcical cases against detained demonstrators, much like that launched against Suu Kyi, have not made news. Agencies involved in the cyclone recovery effort are having trouble to raise even a quarter of the money that they have sought to continue their work in the next two or three years, although the amount is miniscule in comparison to what was given for the Indian Ocean tsunami recovery effort over three years before.

Some commentators have pointed to noises coming from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a cause for hope, but that body consists of people who are experts at discharging smokescreens to confuse and demoralize others. Continue reading