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Thailand: Freedom of speech is a severe danger to the ruling class

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

August 10, 2010 -- Tantawut Taweewarodomkun, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) USA's web designer, known as “Red Eagle”, who was arrested on April 1, 2010, on “computer crimes” and lese majeste charges, has been remanded in custody until February 2011, when the court has set a date to interrogate prosecution and defence witnesses. That means that Red Eagle will be detained in prison for at least 10 months BEFORE being tried in court. He has only just had access to his lawyer. Red Eagle has not been charged with any crime of violence or charged with committing any physical act. He is accused of looking after a website that has comments that the royalist elites do not like (see www.norporchorusa.com and www.norporchorusa2.com).

Da Torpedo, as Daranee Chancheangsilapakun is known, is in jail serving an 18-year sentence for lese majeste and has again been denied bail pending an appeal. The judge claimed that hers was a “very serious crime” and that she would escape if given bail. Her brother has started a fund to support her. Anyone interested in donating should read the article in Prachatai.

Once again, echoing the Cold War era of Thai dictatorships, Thai university authorities have sent out a letter saying that all student activities must be closely monitored, including plays. This is because they don't want any “political activities” on campus, except, of course, the constant attempts to promote the monarchy and the ruling elites ... which everyone knows are “not political”. Most Thai academics believe that the 2006 military coup was a “democratic coup” and that it is possible for the present junta to sponsor “political reform” under the guidance of a former unelected prime minister who served the military.

Earlier in 2008, fascist Peoples Alliance for Democracy leaders (who are backed by the army, the monarchy and the present government) were given immediate bail on charges of occupying Government House. During the occupation, the PAD used violence and destroyed public property. After being granted bail, the PAD leaders immediately returned to the occupation, but no one was punished. They then went on to cause violent incidents outside parliament. In December 2008 they then seized the two international airports, preventing all flights in and out of Thailand. More recently have been busy trying to cause a war with Cambodia. Their latest gathering, which breaks the government's emergency decree, was blessed by military-backed Prime Minister Abhisit.

The PAD leaders have used violence against other citizens, have damaged property and they have re-offended repeatedly. Yet they are all free.

There is also a great deal of evidence that millions of baht are being used in a corrupt manner to buy MPs and get them to change parties and join Pumjai Thai Party, which is in coalition with Abhisit’s so-called Democrat Party. These manoeuvres are designed to “fix” any future election because the Democrats and Pumjai Thai have never won a majority in a democratic election. Naturally, there are no charges being brought against Pumjai Thai, either for corruption or for electoral irregularities.

Queen Sirikit has once again violated the constitution and intervened in politics by praising a letter which criticises CNN's coverage of the Thai political crisis. Earlier Sirikit showed her blatant support for the PAD by attending the funeral of a PAD demonstrator. The PAD has made no secret of its aim to drastically reduce the democratic space in Thailand. Sirikit is celebrating her birthday in mid-August. She will be called “the Mother of the Thai Nation” by toadies of the royalist elites. Yet, her mothering skills are highly questionable if the crown prince is anything to go by. Sirikit may not be the Mother of All Thais, but she is the initiator of the “mother of all squandering of public money”. In 1980 she spent 100 million baht on a 67-day holiday in the USA.

King Pumipon has failed to carry out his duty as head of state by remaining silent when the military-backed government shot dead nearly 90 pro-democracy civilians between April and May 2010. In fact Pumipon has not done anything other than to support the ruling elites. Occasionally he preaches that the poor must be content with their poverty, while he, his family, and his cronies live in luxury.

But in Thailand, citizens are not allowed to speak these truths. This is because the monarchy has deliberately been built into a sacred institution above criticism. A false image of its power has been fostered so that the army generals and the conservative elites can do as they please and destroy democracy, all in the name of the king.

[Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a political commentator and dissident. In February 2009 he had to leave Thailand for exile in Britain because he was charged with lèse majesté for writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. He is a member of Left Turn Thailand, a socialist organisation. His latest book, Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy, will be of interest to activists, academics and journalists who have an interest in Thai politics, democratisation and NGOs.]

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