Tag Archives: Thaksin Shinawatra

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

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

Victory of the coup-makers

Two years to the month since the army in Thailand launched its latest takeover of government, the proof of its success is in the mayhem and madness on the streets of Bangkok and the utter farce to which politics there has again descended.

On the one side is a prime minister who is as much an accident of history as a denier of it, a dinosaur politician who should by now have been extinct from public life, let alone leading it; a man who at times can hardly form a coherent sentence, let alone a coherent government.

He and the gaggle of Thaksinites that gathered around him in a rebranded party for last year’s ballot were at the time cast as saviors of the masses, come to take democracy back from the generals. They may have won the vote, but the army, which quietly shelved plans for its own candidates, had in the meantime moved the playing field.

On the other side is an alliance of people united in their hatred of the ousted prime minister, and increasingly, of anybody else connected to him; an alliance motivated to oppose the elected government’s plans to amend a Constitution that a military junta forced down the country’s throat.

It is also an alliance whose foremost demand on behalf of democracy is that it wants less of it, and that too at a time that the country already has less of it than it did before the army had its way in September 2006. Half of the 150 seats in the Senate are now appointees, and how many people know who they are or how they got there, let alone what they do?

That the whole parliamentary process is at its lowest ebb since the early 1990s is exactly what the generals and their backers intended. Although the coup was aimed at removing that manager and manipulator of party politics, Thaksin Shinawatra, and dismantling his network, he was just the embodiment of the main target: the party political system itself. Continue reading

A casualty of “war”

A lot of talk in Thailand these days is about the prospects for a new “war on drugs,” following on from the state-sponsored murders of people supposedly buying and selling amphetamines in 2003.

Although only a few killings have so far been reported in the weeks following the current prime minister’s and interior minister’s announcements that the war would resume, their enthusiasm for its methods does not seem to have been dampened by its manifest lack of success.

There is persistent argument about the numbers of persons killed and circumstances under which they died last time around. As there were few criminal inquiries and the scale of earlier killings was far beyond the capacity of human rights groups and the media to document fully, it is difficult to speak with certainty about what happened nationwide.

Instead, a better way to understand the mechanics of the “war” is to recall specific cases. In the last week or so a newspaper in Bangkok has been doing just this, publishing accounts of the dead and their relatives, such as that of Somjit Kayandee, who was shot in front of her family after visiting the local police station, and that of six northern men killed together in a pickup truck on their way home from an anti-drug meeting.

Another story published is that of Saman Thongdee, in 2003 a 47-year-old living with his partner of over twenty years, Charuayporn, and their two children in the big northwestern town of Tak.

Seven years earlier, Saman had been accused of dealing in drugs while working as a schoolteacher. He was transferred to an office job and had been investigated but let off. He had kept working in the new post.

But at dusk on April 9 of that year, a black sedan pulled up outside Saman’s house. At least two of its occupants shot him dead with pistols before driving away. Continue reading

March 12, 2004

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It has been four years since Somchai Neelaphaijit disappeared; four long years of heartbreak for his family, four years of unanswered questions.

Somchai did not disappear by accident, but by force. Yet despite wide publicity and persistent efforts to hold the culprits to account, Thailand’s criminal justice system has utterly failed a person who in life had not failed it.

Somchai was a lawyer with a keen sense of justice, and a good one at that. He took on cases that others wouldn’t touch, cases that didn’t earn him any friends in high places. He successfully defended accused terrorists and separatists. He set up a free legal aid service and received a national award in acknowledgement of his work.

Prior to disappearing, Somchai met with five young men in police custody who said that they had been tortured. According to letters that he prepared on their behalf, they had been kicked, electrocuted and urinated upon. One had been hanged from the hook of a toilet door and hit on the head with a lump of wood.

On March 11, 2004 Somchai publicly accused the police of torture and said that he would take the case to the highest levels. Coming from him, this was no idle warning. Someone took it seriously. Continue reading

Regime of images

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“Several times over the past 15 months Thaksin has vowed that he has no future in politics. It is hard to take his undertakings seriously. As my colleague at the ANU, Peter Jackson, wrote a few years ago, Thai public life operates according to a ‘regime of images‘ whereby there is no necessary correspondence between public stances and private manoeuvres. What counts in public is that the right thing is said at the right time. As usual, Thaksin is working the public imagery cleverly. He can afford to bide his time and present himself as a loyal servant returning to his beloved homeland. Of course, when the time comes for Thaksin to take on a more formal political role there will be those that protest about his dishonesty given his previous promises of retirement. But their charges will have little traction in the court of public opinion. That’s how the ‘regime of images’ works.”

– Andrew Walker, The return of the king, New Mandala

“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

Strange fruit in Kalasin

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(ผลไม้ประหลาดในกาฬสินธุ์)

Officers of the Kalasin District Police Station in northeastern Thailand are alleged to have abducted and murdered dozens of people in the last few years. The actual number could exceed 100; many more bodies have been found, but were not properly examined and documented before being cremated.

Among the victims, Kietisak Thitboonkrong and Krischadol Pancha disappeared from the police station within days of each other in July 2004, shortly after the official close of the first “war on drugs” declared by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Kietisak was 17, Krischadol, 15. Both had been accused of robbery and brought to the police station. Both were granted bail and the grandmother of each had come to the station to collect the boy but was told that he had been released and to go and wait.

Neither ever came home. Kietisak was found in a neighboring province, tortured to death and strung up in a bad attempt at a simulated suicide. Krischadol was not found. Continue reading

Selective justice for drug-war killers

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ความยุติธรรมที่ถูกเลือกสำหรับมือสังหารในสงครามยาเสพติด

A high-level committee in Thailand is gearing up to recommend that people who enabled the killing of thousands in 2004 and thereafter be held criminally liable. It has in its sights former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other parties to his “war on drugs.”

The committee is waiting for a new government to be formed in 2008 before presenting its findings.

At a glance, the committee seems like a good idea. Lots of people were killed thanks to government policies at the time [like the victim shown above], yet no one has been prosecuted. The anti-drugs war has quickly become another yawning hole in the country’s modern history. Any efforts to do something about it should be welcomed.

But the question that it begs is why did the thousands of murders, and a government policy to encourage them, not rouse Thailand’s existing multifarious investigating agencies? Why must this committee, with no actual authority, do their work for them?

Continue reading

Thailand imperilled by masculinity, not pregnancy

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Thailand’s coup leader has uncovered a new and serious threat to national security. No, it’s not imminent bloodshed of the sort that was supposedly about to tear the country asunder last year, obliging him to play the part of reluctant gentleman usurper.

Nor is it yet another clique of the former prime minister’s tricky supporters, hoping to sneak back into government via the forthcoming general election. This time the threat has come not from within but from abroad.

Is it the military regime in neighboring Burma? Unlikely, given that the army general felt that it used “correct procedure” in handling recent mass protests, and he didn’t believe the photos anyhow.

How about religious zealots hoping to stoke the flames of unrest in the south? Uh-uh, too difficult, not them either. No, the latest astonishing problem that General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has uncovered is childbirth.

Continue reading

A first step towards ending torture in Thailand

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Thailand at the start of the month acceded to the U.N. Convention against Torture, after years of work by many persons, among them human rights advocates and personnel in its justice ministry; the latter having convinced those in other parts of government that agreeing to the treaty’s terms would not be against their interests.

Torture is widespread in Thailand, largely because it remains nigh impossible to hold police or soldiers legally accountable for their crimes. When over fifty years ago police general Phao Sriyanond, himself an army officer, said that, “There is nothing under the sun that the Thai police cannot do,” he did not mean that the police were indomitable but rather that they were untouchable. His legacy survives today. The former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pointedly quoted Phao when launching the deadly “war on drugs” in 2003.

Every year, rights defenders in Thailand document hundreds of cases of alleged torture while thousands more go unreported. Public campaigns are limited as victims are justifiably afraid and have few hopes for redress. Not a single accused has been brought before a court of law. Even in the most blatant cases, such as where people have been taken from police stations to hospitals with burns covering their genitalia, the perpetrators have remained beyond reach [see: here and here]. In the south, emergency regulations have placed the army so far outside of the justice system that the victims of its excesses do not even consider complaining to criminal investigators or the courts.

Given the prevalence and severity of torture in Thailand, and the impunity enjoyed by torturers, joining this treaty is an important step that must be backed by the legal and institutional changes needed to give it effect. They include the following.

Continue reading

Criticism is not contempt

18-the-upright-bench.jpgMany people have expressed genuine concern about the expanded role of the judiciary under Thailand’s new army-backed constitution, which was pushed through a referendum and passed into law this August.

Three top judges are now obliged to sit on panels that will select around half of the senate, as well as have more say on appointments to independent bodies: among them the commissions for elections, state audits and human rights. The Supreme Court has been given new powers to step into electoral disputes, and also to appoint interim members to the counter-corruption agency.

Around the world, judicial officers enjoy special defenses against attacks on their professional and institutional integrity. In Thailand, harsh penalties for contempt of court and criminal libel have helped to dampen public criticism not only of court rulings but of the work done by judges in general.

However, there have been times that widespread argument over big cases has spilled back into the courts. For instance, after three former election commissioners were jailed in 2006, eleven of their supporters were given suspended jail terms for contempt, and warned that they could face further charges if they did not shut up. The lawyer of the then-prime minister was also found guilty of contempt after giving a negative opinion of the verdict in an interview.

Such rulings have made latent critics justifiably afraid of openly confronting Thailand’s courts. Now that judges have an enlarged and increasingly prescribed political role on top of their judicial responsibilities, many wonder how far public debate on their work will be allowed and what the consequences may be, both for the country’s judiciary and for its degraded political system.

So let’s be clear on at least one thing. Without regard to other factors, the criticizing of judges is not only legitimate, but also necessary for a robust and responsive judiciary. Criticism of court is not synonymous with contempt of court.

Continue reading