Posts from the ‘Justice System’ Category
UBON RATCHATHANI—For over two years, four Ubon Ratchathani Red Shirt members have remained imprisoned for their alleged role in the arson of the Ubon Ratchathani provincial hall following the April-May military crackdown on anti-government protests. But the bars of their prison have not been able to keep them completely locked up. Even from within their cells, they continue to fight for their freedom and democracy in Thailand through letters.
The prisoners have been writing to the RedFam Fund, started in 2011 by a group of academics and intellectuals in Ubon Ratchathani, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok in order to help alleviate the financial problems of the families of those charged and detained for the arson of the Ubon provincial hall. The group has now been utilizing social media, such as Facebook, to post the letters of the “Ubon four” in order to get their stories out to the public and to garner support for their freedom.
The RedFam Fund considers the four to be political prisoners, asserting they have been jailed due to their political beliefs and activism. This resonates within their letters, which hold sentiments not only about their struggle for their release, but also about the need for change in what they believe to be a broken justice system.
“I see how people like me have not been given fair treatment or democracy,” writes Somsak Prasansab, referring to low-income Thais. “Will I have a chance to see [democracy] in the future? I don’t even know. People like me may have to suffer a very long time. How many of us will die?”
Although initially upon their arrest the prisoners claimed innocence, after two years in jail, they are now asking for amnesty. They remain slightly reluctant to choose this path to freedom because they believe it would be admitting guilt, explains Dr. Saowanee Alexander, an academic from Ubon Ratchathani University who helped start the RedFam Fund.
The prisoners began writing in September of this year in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand’s report for reconciliation, which came out earlier that same month. The report, which aims to address the concerns of the country’s two main parties, has been critiqued by both sides as being too vague about the events that transpired in April and May of 2010. Pheu Thai members who are critical of the report, including Dr. Alexander, have claimed the ambiguous language of the report has not helped bring clarity to the provincial hall arson, but has rather allowed for the Ubon four to remain locked up with no hard evidence against them.
“The report is not faithful to the spirit of ‘truth-finding’. Rather, it focuses on ‘reconciliation’ although it is not clear what parties would reconcile as a result of this report,” writes Dr. Alexander in her critical analysis of the TRCT report.
As such, the four, who remain in Laksi prison, a special prison for political prisoners in Bangkok, have taken it into their own hands to provide details they believe are missing from the TRCT’s report, namely, the perspectives of those present at the event besides government officials and police officers.
The letters have a tone of both resilience and despair, but continue to assert the prisoners’ fight for their freedom and that of other political prisoners, whom they believe have been victims of an unfair system that imprisons dissenters.
“I miss home so much,” writes Teerawat Satsuwan. “But, in the fight, there must always be someone who sacrifices. I am not sad, professor, because I fight for our brothers and sisters. I fight for justice for Thai people. I don’t want anyone to step on the head of the poor, so I fight for democracy so that the poor can receive it.”
For Sanong Getsuwan, however, his letters evoke a deeper tone of despair at the loss of his freedom and the next 34 years of his life, “For me and my friends in jail, our lives are the same because we are stuck in the darkness of the jail in which no one can help us, in which we cannot find the way to see the light. I don’t know when I‘ll see my freedom. It feels like I have died, but I still have breath.”
Though the 2010 April-May conflict still remains a highly contentious issue, the letters seemingly highlight the disparities in the justice system in light of the murder charges brought against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for his involvement in the military crackdown. While Abhisit walks free for the time being, the Ubon four, in contrast, remain behind bars despite the evidence against them that has not been proven to be beyond reasonable doubt.
With help of the RedFam Fund, the prisoners have not yet given up hope, and they continue to write letters in the hopes of one day being released. Somsak Prasansab writes, “I will fight until the last of my breath.”
KHON KAEN – Cheers erupted the instant former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s face appeared on the projection screen, but they were not cheers of support for the former figurehead. The enraptured audience was instead hailing the speaker’s assertions accompanying the slide.
At Khon Kaen University’s College of Local Administration last Saturday, a panel of speakers advocated for the role the International Criminal Court could play in bringing justice to the Thai court system by ending impunity for political figures.
Mr. Abhisit’s picture concluded the slide show of a handful of world leaders, including Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Charles Taylor of Liberia, who have been taken to the International Criminal Court for committing crimes against humanity. The former prime minister, the speakers said, should be next.
“People in power tell [the military] to kill the people, and this [practice] is still alive,” said Pheu Thai MP Ms. Jarupan Kuldiloke. “It hasn’t stopped yet.”
Thus was the thrust of the arguments included in the forum entitled “The Right of People to Protect Themselves with the International Criminal Court.” Local Red Shirt supporters packed COLA’s auditorium beyond capacity to hear Pheu Thai MP Mr. Sunai Chulponsatorn, Thammasat professors Mr. Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Ms. Sudsanguan Suteesorn, KKU professor Mr. Kittibodi Yaipool, and Ms. Jarupan present on the subject.
The Thai judicial system, the panelists asserted, has historically been biased towards people in power by granting impunity to those who have committed what the speakers believe to be crimes against humanity, most recently for those involved in the 2010 April and May military crackdown. Additionally, they said that the court has been biased against the rural poor, in the case of the 2010 crackdown on the overwhelmingly Isaan-based Red Shirt movement.
The event was doubly significant for Thais fighting for human rights as the date marked the 36th anniversary of the Thammasat University massacre, a tragedy that still resonates in the memories of many Thai people. Those behind the military orders that claimed the lives of at least 46 student activists and wounded countless more have never been brought before Thai court for what the panelists asserted were crimes against humanity. Consequently, the speakers used the October 1976 event to provide historical context for the pervasive injustice they believe still runs rampant within the Thai court system.
“The government has a duty to protect its people’s rights, but the government is abusing its power,” said Ms. Sudsanguan. Consequently, the ICC, she asserted, would be a mechanism to alleviate the inequalities of the Thai court and reinforce the political rights of all people, not just those in power.
In 1998, the United Nations created the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as a court of last resort. The court’s jurisdiction covers individuals who have committed genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression, but only under the condition that the country’s national justice system is unable or unwilling to do so itself. As it stands, however, Thailand has yet to ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC although it became a signatory 10 years ago.
“Basic democratic societies should be equal. Every human should be equal, but does Thai society really respect this?” Mr. Kittibodi posed to a captivated audience. “Isaan has many minerals and resources, but why are Isaan people still poor? Why are Isaan people not treated equally?”
Though speaking to an overwhelmingly Red Shirt audience, Mr. Piyabutr argued that utilizing the ICC would be a step forward for all Thais, not just for the Red Shirt movement. “If the ICC is successful in Thailand, it will be able to move the country forward. The ICC will be good for the Thai people because the power of the Thai soldiers will be restrained so that they will stop hurting [the] people as they have in the past,” he said, alluding to both the Thammasat massacre and the 2010 crackdown.
Mr. Piyabutr, a member of the controversial Nitirat group of law academics at Thammasat, spoke vehemently about the need to curtail impunity for political figures. In particular, he focused on Article 12 Paragraph 3 of the ICC which asserts that the ICC can exercise jurisdiction over states not yet part of the statute under certain conditions. This article, he asserted, is significant because former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban could be taken to the ICC under it, if Thailand fits the preconditions.
Not all the speakers advocated for the inclusion of the ICC, however. Mr. Kittibodi, although supportive of the ICC’s potential role in ending impunity for political figures, asserted that there should be a more stringent focus on fixing the current Thai judicial system to mitigate the need to take such cases to the ICC. “Other countries will laugh at Thailand because it can’t take care of itself and needs to go to the ICC [to solve its problems],” Ms. Sudsanguan said, in support of Mr. Kittibodi’s suggestion.
As Thais debate how to pave the road to national reconciliation, many stand divided on the potential support of an international court like the ICC. The reactions of the audience at the forum, however, indicate that support for the international court’s intervention continues to grow among Red Shirts of the Northeast.
KHON KAEN – The Campaign Committee to Amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code (CCAA 112), the first aggressive, nationwide campaign to reform the world’s harshest lèse-majesté law, made its way to Khon Kaen this past Sunday with a panel discussion and petition-signing held at Khon Kaen University (KKU). Over 100 signatories gathered in the Kwan Mor Hotel to endorse the amendment drafted by the small group of Thammasat Law lecturers know as the Nitirat group.
Both CCAA 112 and the Nitirat group have come under intense criticism since the search for 10,000 signatures began on January 15. For many Thais, the proposal to amend the lèse-majesté law has been construed as a direct attack on long-reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself, and in response, social media users and demonstrators have spared little vitriol for the movement.
Long considered the third rail of Thai politics, the lèse-majesté law has garnered increased media scrutiny and international attention in the past few years as the number of charges have grown by 1500%: from 33 charges in 2005 to 478 reported charges in 2010. Furthermore, the law’s minimum mandatory sentence is an exceptional three years long, with a maximum sentence of 15 years for a single count.
Though Sunday’s Khon Kaen discussion proceeded without incident, KKU’s academics were conspicuously absent, with much of the modest crowd composed of local Red Shirts, independent community members, and student activists.
Boonwat Chumpradit, a Khon Kaen Red Shirt villager in attendance, found the silence of KKU’s professors troubling. “Professors at the university should be the ones leadings us,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to be the ones leading them.”
Still, the campaign is so politically treacherous that even a professor from the Nitirat group declined to attend Khon Kaen’s meeting, telling the event’s organizer that it might endanger his relationship with his employer, Thammasat University. His fears seem to have been justified. The following day, Thammasat University rector Somkit Lertpaithoon announced on his Facebook page that Nitirat was banned from meeting on university property.
Complicating matters is the second campaign launched by Nitirat on January 22 that, among other things, seeks to nullify the legal effects of the 2006 military coup that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Critics, however, claim this is simply a veiled attempt to pardon Mr. Thaksin for his 2008 corruption conviction. As a result, the group is seen as unthinkably transgressive: both pro-Thaksin and anti-monarchy. Indeed, over 200 members of Khon Kaen Residents Who Love the King gathered at the city’s spirit house on Friday night to protest the group on these very grounds.
Sunday’s motley crew of attendees cut across social, if not political boundaries. There were out-and-proud Red Shirts (“I came because I’m a Red Shirt… everyone should be able to critique [the king] just like they can critique a movie star.”), adamantly color-less university technicians (“The movement to correct the constitution is different from the Red Shirt movement.”), closeted Marxists, Yingluck apologists (“In truth Yingluck wants to change the law, but there are many factions in Thailand and she doesn’t want to fight with all these groups.”), and the likes of Ms. Boonwat, who came dressed to the nines in a floppy-brimmed red hat and flowing red dress.
At times, this audience grew rowdy and vocal as they were stirred to applause and cheers by the seminar’s three speakers: Prawet Praphanukul, lawyer to the anti-112 poster-child, Da Torpedo, Wad Rawee from CCAA 112, and Phornchai Yuanyee, Secretary of the Thai Undergraduate Student Union. Together they addressed the history, contradictions, absurdities, and abuses surrounding the lèse-majesté law.
As Sunday afternoon’s seminar came to a close and the floor was opened up to audience members, one KKU student took the microphone and pleaded for more action. “After we sign the petitions, we need to get in touch with our Pheu Thai representatives,” he said. “We are the ones who elected these representatives and now we need to get in touch with them and get them to change this law.”
This outlook, however, is bleak. Late last week, numerous Pheu Thai representatives swore off making any changes to Article 112. “The government and the Pheu Thai Party will never change Section 112 of the Criminal Code,” Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said. “Even the thought of it can send us to hell.”
The next anti-112 event to be held in Khon Kaen is tentatively scheduled for February 27.
[Correction February 28, 2012: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that there was a 1500% growth in lèse-majesté "cases" between 2005 and 2010. However, the 1500% increase was actually in lèse-majesté charges issued in that time frame, oftentimes with several charges filed in a single case. The article has been amended to reflect this change.]
KHON KAEN – Three Red Shirt prisoners were released on bail from Khon Kaen Central Prison yesterday evening, a little over one week since four newly-elected Pheu Thai government representatives offered their parliamentary status as surety for their release. All three suspects had been detained on charges related to last year’s May 19 arson and violence in Khon Kaen city.
Mr. Jiratrakul Sumaha, Mr. Adisay Wibulsek, and Mr. Udom Khammul were met at the prison’s front gates by several hundred Red Shirt supporters, relatives and three Members of Parliament – all of them there to celebrate the release.
A fourth prisoner, Mr. Sutas Singuakhaw was denied bail, though his lawyers assured the assembled crowd that Mr. Sutas would most certainly be bailed out in September.
The prisoners’ release came on the same day that a Mahasarakham judge denied the bail requests of nine detained Red Shirt prisoners and just one day after an Ubon Ratchathani court sentenced four Red Shirt protesters to 34 years in prison for their part in the destruction of Ubon’s provincial hall.
When asked how the Ubon court’s decision bodes for those released today in Khon Kaen, Party List MP and Isaan Red Shirt leader Dr. Cherdchai Tantirin said, “We never know what’s going to happen. Whatever is happening behind the scenes can change.”
Khon Kaen’s Red Shirt prisoners are just four of around 100 Red Shirt suspects still awaiting trial for charges related to last year’s bloody protests in Bangkok and the provinces. But after nine Pheu Thai representatives secured bail for 22 Red Shirt prisoners in Udon Thani on August 16, their success ignited a nationwide initiative to release untried Red Shirts still detained on charges from last summer’s violent Red Shirt protests.
“It’s just not fair for them to be in there for too long, it’s too much,” said Pheu Thai representative Pongsakorn Amnopporn as he came to bolster his fellow MPs’ bail request last Thursday. “The representatives are supposed to help their people.”
According to Dr. Cherdchai, before the July 3 election secured a Pheu Thai majority in Parliament and voted Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra in as Prime Minister, Red Shirts had little opportunity for mobility. “Now, the time has come when the government lets the representatives be free and do what they want to do – to do their jobs,” he said.
Dr. Cherdchai’s job, however, has involved a bit more work than was at first expected. Over the course of the last eight days, there have been three separate meetings at Khon Kaen’s provincial court in which the required number of MPs to assure the prisoners’ release fluctuated from four to six and then back again to four. In the end, Pheu Thai Party List MPs Dr. Cherdchai, Dr. Yaowanit Piengket, Thanik Masripitak and Khon Kaen Constituency MP Mukda Phonsombat offered their positions as surety. Additionally, 500,000 baht was provided by local business woman (and niece of Ms. Mukda) Pu Warada for each of the prisoner’s release.
Dr. Cherdchai said that Ms. Pu would be reimbursed by the Pheu Thai party by this coming Tuesday.
As dusk fell across the city, an impromptu Red Shirt caravan made its way from the provincial prison to the municipality’s Spirit House so that the recently released prisoners could perform a merit making ritual.
“I am extremely happy – the most happy I have ever been in my life,” Mr. Jiratakul said upon emerging from the temple. “I am so impressed with the Red Shirt brothers and sisters that have always been by my side.”
The suspects’ trials are expected to begin in early 2012.
KHON KAEN – Most days Prasatiphon Sumaha comes alone. She drives in from Mahasarakham to see her brother, to tell him about their niece and how things are at home. He complains about his asthma (it has been getting worse in recent days) and asks about his case.
But today is a bit different. Inspired by the local Red Radio station to show their support, 40 some odd Red Shirts are milling about, chatting with reporters, and watching battleship-gray school buses maneuver through the chainlink and steel at the prison’s entrance.
Ms. Prasatiphon’s brother, 51 year old Jiratrakul Sumaha, is just one of 19 UDD-members awaiting trial or serving time in Khon Kaen Central Prison for the violence that erupted throughout the city last May 19. Thirteen people were wounded, seven buildings were burned or seriously damaged, and one man was killed, shot at close range with a shotgun.
For the last eleven months, Ms. Prasatiphon hasn’t had much good news to report. On July 1, her brother was arrested and charged with terrorism, arson, and conspiracy for the destruction of Khon Kaen’s provincial hall. He has been held without bail ever since. After months of denied appeals and disappointments, Ms. Prasatiphon remains emphatically pessimistic. “ We don’t want to hope because we don’t want to be let down again,” she told reporters.
May 9 of this year, however, offered the most hope the family has seen in close to a year. Much to the surprise of Ms. Prasatiphon, the prosecution chose to drop the terrorism charges against Mr. Jiratrakul and his two co-defendants, opening up the possibility for all three men to make bail. Their next court appearance is set for July 25.
Suwijak Mongkolsaowin, the head prosecutor in the case, declined to comment for this article.
Bureaucratic delays and judicial feet-dragging are par for the course in a country that appears to be as certain about the path to national reconciliation as it is capable of assembling an open-and-shut case from the 2010 unrest.
The convictions in the May 19 vandalism of three Bangkok Bank branches in Khon Kaen city, however, are about as close as the province has come to swift justice in the last year. Security-camera feeds provided prosecutors with enough damning evidence to strike plea bargains with eight different UDD demonstrators on April 1. Now, all eight men are serving between six and eighteen months in prison and they owe anywhere from 1.8 to 8.3 million baht in mandatory recompense for their crimes.
Udom Khammul, the sole defendant in the May 19 torching of the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand’s Khon Kaen affiliate, has encountered many of the same delays as Mr. Jiratrakul. Terrorism charges were also dropped against Mr. Udom on May 9 and he, too, is awaiting a July 25 court date in order to have his bail request reconsidered.
Then there are the multiple unresolved cases surrounding the attempted invasion by Red Shirt demonstrators onto MP Prajak Klaewklaharn’s property on the evening of May 19. Mr. Prajak is a member of the Bhumjaithai party and currently in the thirteenth position on its party list for the July 3 election.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, demonstrators had started to force open the property’s front gate when Sanya Hakhamdaeng, a personal aide to Mr. Prajak, opened fire with a shotgun. Thirteen demonstrators were wounded and Khon Kaen native Songsak Srinongbua, 33, was killed. Subsequently, ten Red Shirts were arrested and charged with trespassing, arson, destruction of private property, and violation of the Emergency Decree and Mr. Sanya was charged with murder.
Though Mr. Sanya’s case is currently in appeals, a Khon Kaen lawyer familiar with the case reports that Mr. Sanya was sentenced to 6 years and 4 months in prison and ordered to pay a 500,000 baht fine. The fate of the ten Red Shirts arrested in the case has not yet been decided. Although earlier this year the trespassing, arson and destruction of private property charges were dropped for lack of evidence, all of the ten accused were convicted for illegal assembly under the Emergency Decree and are awaiting sentencing.
The results of all of these cases are cast into further doubt by Yingluck Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai party’s continued pussyfooting around last month’s amnesty proposal for those, “who committed offenses after the Sept 19, 2006 coup d’état.”
Amnesty is more than just a newspaper headline to Ms. Prasatiphon. “If Pheu Thai is elected, they will look into [Jiratrakul's case] more,” she said as she waited to see her brother. “But what we really want is proper justice because we believe in his innocence.”
If it is justice that Ms. Prasatiphon wants, then as it stands now, Pheu Thai’s proposal for amnesty alone will not do the trick.