Tag Archives: Bangkok

Double legal standards jeopardize Thailand

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"We want to complain about a missing husband. He left home to join the Red Shirts and went missing." "He went missing on the day the army broke up the mob?" "No. On the day the police summoned him."

At a meeting of lawyers and jurists in Hong Kong this week a participant from Thailand identified the key issue for her country’s legal system as political control of the judiciary. Her statement was remarkable not because it revealed something that other participants didn’t already know, but because not long ago few professionals from Thailand willingly admitted that their laws and courts operate according to double standards. Now, few can deny it.

The double standards have been all too apparent this month. Following protests that forced leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and partner countries to flee from a summit venue in Pattaya, the incumbent prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, imposed a state of emergency as blockades and violence spread in Bangkok. The army deployed. A court promptly issued arrest warrants for the red-shirted demonstrators’ leaders. Some were quickly rounded up and detained, while others went into hiding.

By contrast, the yellow shirts that took over Government House and two international airports for an extended period last year were allowed to stay put until the government was forced out through a court ruling on a narrow question under the army-imposed 2007 Constitution. No soldiers came to eject them. The legal process took weeks to move against the organizers. When the new prime minister was questioned on the authorities’ inactivity he disingenuously said that it was a matter for the police, not him. The criminal inquiries have been repeatedly postponed and at no time have the yellow shirts’ leaders been held in custody. One of them, businessman Sondhi Limthongkul, last week survived a shooting attack on his car.

Although the ousted Thaksin Shinawatra regime undermined the work of the upper courts, it was the 2006 military coup that brought them back firmly and openly under executive control. The coup leaders shut down a senior court, appointed a tribunal in its stead, had it go after the former premier, declared themselves immune from prosecution and proclaimed all their orders lawful. After voters re-elected Thaksin allies to the lower house of parliament (top judges are now responsible for the upper), it took two absurd legal cases against successive prime ministers for the coup-makers to finally get a government after their own heart, rather than one that the electorate wanted. The judges responsible for the verdicts included men who owed their jobs to the generals.

The double legal standards in the handling of rival political camps have done nothing to diminish the likelihood of further bloodshed and uncertainty in the near future. On the contrary, the obvious differences in how the yellow shirts and red shirts have been treated will only encourage government opponents to resort to increasingly extralegal means to get their way. Both sides and their backers have the aptitude and means for violence. Thanks to the politicizing of Thailand’s courts, now they have more appetite for it too.

Source: Thai courts’ use of legal double standards encourages extralegal means by opposition

The first casualty

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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

Cyber-thought crime in Bangkok and Rangoon

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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

Prosecute the PAD

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[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

“Final battle” can only end in Phyrric victory

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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

Another troublemaker missing in Thailand

The authorities in Khon Kaen probably did not like Kamol Laosophaphant. His campaign to expose corrupt council dealings over state railway land, among other things, reportedly had a group of police ready to beat him up just last year.

The 49-year-old delivery contractor told his family that he was worried for his safety. In January he took out a life insurance policy but did not let up his fight against the neighborhood “people with influence.”

Kamol, as it happened, had cause for concern. On Feb. 7 he went to the Baan Phai station to lodge one of a dozen criminal complaints that he was preparing against local officials. He never came back to his house only a few hundred meters away.

Kamol’s wife (pictured above holding his photo) and brothers say that the family had contact with him until around 11pm. His wife missed a call from his phone shortly after. Then the line went dead.

They lodged a complaint with the station the next morning, but it was not taken seriously. The day after that, they made another to the Crime Suppression Division. Yet although his car mysteriously turned up outside a hospital some 20 kilometers to the north a few weeks later, four months on they still don’t know where he went. Continue reading

A dirty history

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(ประวัติศาสตร์สกปรกของไทย)

The new prime minister of Thailand has outraged many by refusing to admit that an infamous massacre ever occurred. In two separate interviews Samak Sundaravej claimed that only one person died on Oct. 6, 1976, when police and paramilitaries stormed Thammasat University, killing at least 46 and forcing thousands into hiding. He denied that he provoked the violence along with other rightists, saying that it is “a dirty history.”

He’s right about that. But there’s a lot more to this dirty history than a single day of bloodshed or the marginal role that the prime minister may have played in it. Violence on the scale of Oct. 6 does not erupt unexpectedly. It is the finale to a thousand other lesser events. It is the day-to-day writ large.

In a doctoral thesis submitted to Cornell University last year, Tyrell Haberkorn follows one of the trails of repeated, silent incidents that culminated in the mayhem of 1976: the unsolved murders of dozens of farmers’ leaders in the north of Thailand. Continue reading

“Tak Bai? Ohh… you have heard about that incident? Did you?”

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Interview with Samak Sundaravej, Prime Minister of Thailand

101 East, Al Jazeera, 9 February 2008

Part 2

Start: 3:41

Your predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, was criticised for a pretty brutal campaign against Muslim fighters in southern Thailand. Many people who were innocent were caught up in that violence. Do you support his policies in southern Thailand?

Actually, he doesn’t mention any policy. The wrong that he committed, somebody says that… ahh… he says that it… ahh… it’s not quite so important mandate, and that’s all. That is what he mentioned.

But if we refer to Tak Bai, the Tak Bai incident, when many young Muslim men were beaten and rounded up and their bodies were stacked into trucks, many of them suffocated and died…

Where?

At Tak Bai.

Tak Bai? Ohh… You have heard about that incident? Did you? Continue reading

Protest a more serious crime in Thailand than killing

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Hundreds of people blockaded the National Assembly in Bangkok on Dec. 12, where the unelected legislature, consisting largely of serving and former military officers and bureaucrats, was set to pass a flurry of highly regressive bills before stepping down next year. The protestors called on them to wait for an elected government so the proposed laws could be debated.

Afterwards, police officers said they would consider prosecuting people who climbed the building’s fences and went inside. They accused some of kicking and punching government officials and said that they could be charged with trespass, coercion, upsetting the peace, confinement and damaging public property, among other things.

This sounds familiar. The same bundle of offences is pulled out every time demonstrators and police collide in Thailand.

Continue reading

The pretence of legality

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On July 17 the government of Thailand renewed a state of emergency over the southern border provinces for the ninth time since it was introduced two years ago. That the bloodshed in the south has only worsened in these years should not be a surprise to anybody. The weakening of already limited safeguards on the activities of police, soldiers and paramilitaries there was certain to encourage more violence.

The emergency decree not only permits but also obliges extraordinary detention of suspects, by providing that “Competent officials shall be empowered to arrest and detain suspects for a period not exceeding seven days…in a designated place which is not a police station, detention center, penal institution or prison.” The effect of this clause — together with other parts of the decree — is to all but guarantee the use of torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing, for which state officers need not fear consequences as they are anyhow exempt from prosecution if they have acted in “good faith”. As the decree is so vague that anything could be construed as good faith, as victims are unwilling to complain, as police won’t investigate and as judges are unlikely to hear any cases, this amounts to a blanket impunity clause.

Meanwhile, the junta that took power in Bangkok last September has proposed a national security law that owes much of its contents to the decree. The draft bill permits the army commander to curtail undefined security threats without requiring the approval of the prime minister. It grants him powers to shut roads and stop vehicles, close public gatherings, keep someone under house arrest, order employers to report on employees, oblige the police and civilian officials to cooperate with the army wherever and however necessary, issue preventive arrest orders, summon anyone to appear before a designated official on any grounds, search persons or vehicles or premises at will, seize anything, and “conduct suppressive operations against a person or group of persons or organization which gives rise to actions threatening internal security.”

Continue reading

Pakistan’s judiciary sets an example for Thailand

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Dramatic events in both Pakistan and Thailand during the past year have brought their respective judiciaries to the centre of national politics. Judges and lawyers in Pakistan have played a heroic role in challenging the authority of the army, while those in Thailand have done nothing to address the country’s military leadership and its objectives.

On May 29, Pakistan’s top judge lodged an unprecedented complaint about his attempted dismissal, before his own court. In the historic affidavit, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry described how on March 9 he was called to meet General Pervez Musharraf and in the presence of other army officers and officials, the general-cum-president asked him to resign over some unsubstantiated allegations. When he refused, he was detained for five hours while another judge was appointed in his stead. As he attempted to go back to court, his car was stopped and he was forced to return to his residence where he found police and other authorities cutting off his telephone, television, and Internet connections. His official vehicles were also trucked off.

In subsequent days Chief Justice Chaudhry found that his chambers had been entered and files removed, his office and house staff detained and questioned, his colleagues and peers prevented from meeting him, and his home apparently bugged. However, he refused to succumb and was able to mount a defense against his dismissal. However, he was not alone as most of the country’s senior judges and thousands of lawyers came to his support. They not only protested against the treatment meted to him but also demanded his reappointment (see photo above). His petition against the president has been accepted, and a full court case is now set to ensue, where many other details of the military’s attempts to dominate the judiciary could be revealed.

Continue reading

A generals’ charter in judges’ clothing

Bring back the 1997 Constitution

Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that, where powers of the government are properly separated, the judiciary poses the least threat to constitutional rights and has no physical force of its own. Though written in 1787, it still holds true that effective judgments rely on the police, corrections officers, and bureaucrats. Although liberty has nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, he warned that it has everything to fear from its union with other parts of government and a truly independent judiciary is a safeguard; a non-independent one is a grave threat.

Decades after Hamilton and his peers successfully advocated their draft constitution, a French aristocrat observed that the great strength of America’s political system lay in its courts. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at judges’ authority invoked at every turn yet granted them no overt political powers by the constitution. Constitutional rights were guarded through strict interpretation of law and adherence to judicial practice. In this way, he concluded, the courts formed the strongest barrier against tyranny.

Courts in Thailand by contrast, have never been an obstacle to tyrants. The notion of judicial review of government actions, which briefly captured public attention before the 2006 coup, has never caught up thereafter in Thailand. Nor has its senior judiciary ever ruled against a military takeover. On the contrary, it has at each instance affirmed that, might is right and has rewritten the law accordingly, even where, in the words of a professor in Bangkok, this has been “against morality and people’s common sense.”

Continue reading