Tag Archives: Bangkok Post

Torture still a dirty secret in Thailand

torture 500


A little over a week ago, the Bangkok Post reported that a special inquiry unit under Thailand’s Justice Ministry had asked the public prosecutor to lodge charges against six police officers for allegedly torturing a man in their custody.

The police in Ayutthaya, near Bangkok, hooded Ekkawat Srimanta and beat him all over his body to force him to confess to a robbery that he did not commit. Then they repeatedly electrocuted his genitals and groin.

Unlike many victims of police torture in Thailand, Ekkawat survived. And unlike most, he was released shortly afterward and admitted to hospital. The next day, photographs of his damaged body were published in major dailies. Senior officers rushed to his bedside, pretended that they cared if he lived or died, and made phony promises to look into things.

All that was five years ago. What happened since demonstrates the utter failure not only of the government of Thailand but also of its society to come to terms with the blight of torture, or do anything much about it. Continue reading

The first casualty


As troops and antigovernment protestors clashed on Bangkok’s streets again this week, a furious battle also played out in the media over casualties. Government spokespersons and army officers insisted that bullets had not been fired into the crowds. Their opponents said the opposite.

Soldiers had at times pointed their weapons at people, and some of the red-shirted demonstrators had been shot, but there were few reliable details of who was hurt, how, where and why.

Staff at the prime minister’s office blamed Red Shirts on motorbikes for a melee with local residents that left two dead. Other sources were less certain about the identities of the protagonists, but doubtful voices were drowned out as local outlets obligingly reported the official version. Meanwhile, emailed narratives of battles around the city had it that the Red Shirts’ rivals were in some areas backing up the army, but there was no immediate evidence to support this claim either.

What all this goes to show is not which side is to blame for the street blockades and bloodshed of the last few days, but how difficult it has become to believe Thailand’s media. Since 2006, when domestic news agencies and many overseas ones fell over each other to enthuse about the army’s latest power grab, the biases of newspapers, magazines and broadcasters have become more pronounced, their coverage more partisan, and their opinion-makers seemingly more sure of themselves even as things get less certain.

In normal times, the impoverished domestic journalism which has become a hallmark of Bangkok has made following current affairs there difficult; with the city under siege and a state of emergency declared, it has made following them all but impossible. Continue reading

Censorship and madness in Thailand


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

Teachers do time while ASEAN toes the line


In most countries teachers with talent and commitment are valued; in Burma some are jailed.

U Aung Pe is one. Last month he walked out of the central prison, and kept going all the way back to his town 17 miles away. After three years he needed fresh air, he told a journalist by phone.

Aung Pe’s crime was to have taught underprivileged children without a license. In fact he had had one, but couldn’t get it renewed as he didn’t get along with the local education board. He says that its officials had kept asking for extra payments, which he refused, pointing out that he had rented a room at his own expense and was tutoring orphans and poor students for free.

He was arrested in February 2005, and charged under a 1984 law on tuition, which stipulates prison terms for offences such obtaining a permit improperly, unauthorized advertising, and holding private lessons inside school premises. He was convicted in August.

But the court’s verdict betrays the real reason that Aung Pe was put behind bars; a reason not covered by the tuition law at all. Continue reading

Dead pigs, dead Burmese, poverty & policing


หมูตาย พม่าตาย ความจน และระบบการทำงานของตำรวจ

A former senator this week decried the treatment of the 2 million or so migrant workers now in Thailand, most of whom have come from Burma. In a Bangkok Post article, Jon Ungphakorn offered up some instances of abuse in factories and on fishing boats to support his remark that “we don’t seem to see them as human beings.”

Well, here’s another instance.

A month ago, Ko Thet Lwin Oo was a healthy young man working in the fishing industry on southern Thailand’s western seaboard. He went there not to seek his fortune, but like most others, just to make ends meet by working hard for long hours. Yet even this modest goal proved too great. On Oct. 21 the 35-year-old reportedly died of injuries in the Ranong hospital.

The wounds were not caused by accident. Three days earlier, Thet Lwin Oo had gone to speak with a seafood wholesaler whose car had been damaged when neighborhood children threw rocks. He wanted to say that his five-year-old son had not been involved. But something went wrong. According to an eyewitness, the trader first punched him, then hit him with a piece of lumber on his leg and waist, and finally, on the head.

Thet Lwin Oo was hospitalized and his wife Ma Thanda Moe made a criminal complaint on the same day. But instead of investigating, the police began pressing her to take money and stay quiet. When her husband died, the pressure and money both increased. At first she refused, but after a couple of weeks she relented and accepted 100,000 baht (around US$3000).

Why did she change her mind? She explained over the phone.

Continue reading

Thailand’s real enemy is insincerity


The Constitutional Tribunal pulls democracy out of the fire… or drops it in? (Source: Matichon, 30 May 2007)

Beware of news editors who write about “stakeholders.” The word may be popular among the staff of international development agencies, producing clouded reports about projects that they have never seen, but it is usually avoided by journalists, who are expected to be more straightforward.

The fact that “stakeholders” appeared no less than four times in a single Bangkok Post feature last week (Now it is time to move on) should set alarm bells ringing about the condition of journalism in Thailand. The unidentified writer praised the special tribunal that had dissolved the overthrown Thai Rak Thai party and advised everyone that its verdict should be universally accepted, serve as a lesson for unscrupulous politicians that they must play by the rules, and that all stakeholders should just cooperate and move on.

The same person could have written the editorial in the country’s second English daily, The Nation. Although the stakeholders were gone, in a few hundred words the author managed to cram in reconciliation, good governance, public accountability, and, in a final mind-numbing paragraph, political ideology, socio-economic status, effective citizenship, genuine democracy based on the rule of law, and “a conducive environment for sustainable economic and social development.”

Such writing is offensive because it denies readers the opportunity to think and react. It has the opposite effect of real journalism, anaesthetizing rather than awakening society. “The great enemy of clear language,” George Orwell said in his seminal essay on politics and English usage, “is insincerity.” Insincere prose is unpleasant to read because while the truth may not be obvious, the struggle to obscure it with nonsense is all too apparent.

Continue reading