Category Archives: crime

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

Cyber-thought crime in Bangkok and Rangoon

thoughtcrime1

A court in Rangoon on March 5 sentenced three men who didn’t know each other to a decade’s imprisonment for a crime that they never committed – or rather, for a crime so nebulous that if any of them had ever used a computer he wouldn’t know if he had committed it or not.

The three, Win Maw, Zaw Min and Aung Zaw Myo, were accused of sending news about the September 2007 protests in Burma through the Internet. All were already in jail for other purported crimes.

The next day, police in Bangkok came to one of Thailand’s few outspoken and credible media outlets, Prachatai, searched the premises and arrested its director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn. She is accused of having failed to patrol, censor and delete the comments that readers left on a news website.

The police have charged Chiranuch under the Computer Crime Act 2007, which is only an “act” to the extent that the assembly of handpicked military stooges that passed it could be considered a legislature. According to this law, the importing of “false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage” to a third party or the public or “is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” can land the accused a five-year jail term.

Now let’s compare that with Burma’s Electronic Transactions Law 2004, Continue reading

Five years…

thanai-somchai-1

Somchai Neelaphaijit. Still missing, still no one punished: March 12, 2004

We will not forget.

DOWNLOAD NEW BOOK: Reading between the lines, by Angkhana Neelaphaijit (Thai version available here)

Censorship and madness in Thailand

madness

Last month a campaign group in Thailand opposing Internet censorship released a list of 1,303 new website addresses that, it claims, are among those a government ministry has blocked.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand notes with concern that most of the pages on the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology blacklist are being kept under wraps with the aid of the courts and a new cybercrime law.

The list includes chat pages on the sites of local independent media agencies like Prachatai and Fah Diew Kan, which are both subject to constant monitoring and police harassment, and a couple from The Economist. But by far the largest number of pages is from YouTube and other video sharing sites.

What the banned addresses have in common is that, predominantly, their subject matter is the royal family. Continue reading

Prosecute the PAD

sondhi chamlong

[Die rechtliche Verfolgung der Taten der PAD]

According to news from Thailand this week [of December 18], police are set to lay charges against protestors responsible for blockading parliament after the leader of the main opposition party finally succeeded in becoming prime minister without having to win an election.

News reports said that police were compiling video footage and other evidence of demonstrators that threw rocks at vehicles, assaulted passerby, damaged public property and kept parliamentarians trapped within the legislature.

These are serious offences and if the police have the evidence they need, they should certainly try to prosecute. But the crimes of this group pale by comparison to the scale of criminality demonstrated by their opponents, those who occupied Government House for three months from August, and the two main airports for a week from the end of November.

In fact, the number of serious crimes committed under the banner of the group calling itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy is so large that it’s hard to imagine police officers even having time to investigate the melee outside parliament on Monday. Continue reading

Constitutional game-playing imperils Thailand

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The verdict to dissolve three parties in Thailand’s coalition government and ban the prime minister and his party executives from politics for five years is the latest in a series of increasingly surreal judgments that have brought the country’s senior judiciary to the center of its political mayhem. It follows a ruling by the Constitutional Court’s predecessor last May to terminate the party of the ousted Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, from which the newly-disbanded People’s Power Party was born. It also follows another unanimous ruling from the court this September to throw out the then-Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej, for cooking on TV.

Like the cooking show verdict, the judges this time ruled on a narrow legal question under section 237 of the 2007 Constitution. According to this clause, any member of parliament found to have committed or abetted an offense under the electoral act, or contrary to any order or announcement of the Election Commission, shall be deprived of voting rights. These offences could be minor, may change from time to time with new orders from the commission, and do not even constitute criminal acts. But anyhow, if it can be shown that the party leader or any executive member knew about the offense and failed to do anything about it, then it is mandatory that the party is dissolved and its executive banned.

Imaginary scenarios for how a similar law might apply to other professions don’t need to be stretched very far to realize the section’s absurdity. Continue reading

“Final battle” can only end in Phyrric victory

pad-guards

Organizers of the prolonged raid on the Bangkok international airport have insisted that they will bring down the government at any cost. In targeting the airport they have taken a dramatic strategic step and have also made a move of enormous symbolic importance.

Suvarnabhumi Airport represents modern Thailand. The new airport was a huge project aimed not only at cementing the country’s commercial place in Asia but also at demonstrating how far it has come by comparison to most of its immediate neighbors.

Under normal circumstances, legions of security personnel would have protected the terminal, accompanied by the dire warnings of senior officers about anyone thinking to damage national prestige with funny business that might upset foreign tourists and businesspeople. Under normal circumstances, the police would have quickly moved to prevent or end any seizure, just as they did when protests occurred on government premises against the interim military regime last year.

But these are not normal circumstances. Crowds have already spent months occupying Government House, defying court orders to vacate, as well as one attempt to forcibly dislodge them. Now they are seemingly also at liberty to camp out in Thailand’s showpiece airport, with the expectancy that another military putsch will bump both them and the incumbent government out.

All these events speak to the complex interests that are at work behind and through the cynically named People’s Alliance for Democracy. Continue reading

Who isn’t bombing Rangoon

When news spread that in the early hours of Oct. 13 a passenger vehicle had exploded in suburban Rangoon killing seven, the first response of some people was that it must have been another in the latest series of bombings to rock the former capital.

It turned out that the blast was the result of a natural gas cylinder crammed between the driver and tray in the manner of most fuel-converted trucks and vans in Burma, to the dismay of those squeezed in alongside.

But it was not long before the bombs started again. On Saturday, a small one went off at a football ground in Yankin, causing minor damage. On Sunday, another in Shwepyithar killed a man who, according to the state media, was building the device.

These followed a number of other incidents in September that left at least seven persons wounded. Bombs also earlier exploded at the main railway station, and near the high-class Traders Hotel and the town hall.

There is a lot of talk going around about who might be behind this new campaign. Some exiled opponents of the regime suggest, as in previous years, that it could be elements of the security forces. Others suspect renegade activists who have lost patience with both nonviolent resistance and the jungle-based insurgencies of old.

One person who wasn’t involved is U Myint Aye. That’s because he’s in jail accused of planting a bomb at the branch office of a government organizing body in July. It’s an odd turn of events for the 57-year-old chairman of Burma’s only out-and-out domestic rights group, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters. Continue reading

A 15-year trial is not a fair trial

This week the criminal court in Southern Bangkok sentenced four men to lengthy jail terms for their alleged roles in a plot to kill the former president of Thailand’s Supreme Court. The judges convicted the two organizers of the purported crime to 25 years each; the gunmen, from whom the police obtained confessions, to more than 16.

The court’s verdict is wrong. It is wrong not because the facts of the case favor the defendants, but because it took over 90 judges more than 15 years to reach this point. Continue reading

Rangoon rent-a-witness

Win Maw (above) was always running a risk by sending news from the protests in Rangoon to an overseas radio station last year. But when the police caught up with him in November, they had a problem. He hadn’t actually done anything illegal.

As it is not an offense for someone in Burma to contact a foreign broadcaster, the investigating officer in Win Maw’s case had to stretch the law quite some distance to come up with an alleged crime. In the end, he chose a highly malleable section of the criminal code on upsetting public tranquility, one that has been used against many people in Burma since last year and one that can be stretched very far indeed.

But this decision should have introduced some new problems. The section on public tranquility requires the police to show that the accused either intended to or did in fact upset public tranquility through his behavior. It is not enough for them to merely prove that Win Maw was sending news abroad. They have to demonstrate that he did so with a specific intent or desired result.

In March, the Special Branch officer handling the case, Police Major Ye Nyunt, submitted his complaint to the court. In it, he claimed that Win Maw had upset public tranquility specifically by sending false news overseas that would alarm the public. So it follows that this is what would need to be proven in court, through evidence revealing the contents of what he sent and its conceivable consequences.

Or so it would be if Burma had a sane legal system. That it does not is apparent from what was brought to the court in lieu of the requisite proof. Continue reading

Asia needs a new rule-of-law debate

(Der Rechtsstaat in Thailand)

The rule of law has been getting talked up in Thailand a lot since the former prime minister’s wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, lost a criminal case before a special bench of the Supreme Court, and her husband skipped both town and bail prior to a hearing against him too.

Amid the many editorials and headlines (Krungthep Turakit above: Thaksin, Pojaman flee), academic Michael Connors suggested that the verdict against Pojaman could bode well for a more robust rule of law. Newspaper columnist Chang Noi was effusive, declaring the verdict “a manifesto on behalf of the law.”

Thaksin even got in on the act himself, describing those pursuing his family through the courts as having “no concern for the legal system … or the universal rule of law” and claiming that he and his family are victims of “continuous injustice.”

While the former policeman’s complaints jar with his track record of getting things done any which way, the cases against him and his family do raise issues about how the rule of law needs to be understood and debated in Asia.

One of the main problems besetting talk about rule of law in the region is that it continues to be dominated by writers and thinkers living elsewhere in the world, where courts, police and administrative offices work more or less as expected.

These persons usually take separated powers, constitutionalism and representative government for granted. Some publish commentaries on high-profile cases that are in fact relevant to the society as a whole, because their law and bureaucracy are relatively coherent and systematic.

Others go into the finer points of whether or not it is possible for judges to consistently and impartially apply law, and whether the rule of law should be governed by morals or procedures.

But little if any of this is relevant to people in most parts of Asia. Continue reading