Coup anniversary reveals two faces of Thailand

PAD organised a demonstration on September 19 to attack Cambodian villagers at the ancient Kao Prawiharn [Preah Vihear] temple inside Cambodia. Here a knife-weilding Thai chauvinist attempts to attack the villagers while riot cops look on. Photo: AP.

[See also ``Thailand: The September 19 coup, three years on''.]

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

September 21, 2009 -- On the September 19, 2009, the third anniversary of the military coup that wrecked Thai democracy, two demonstrations took place. They sum up the two faces of Thailand.

One demonstration, by tens of thousands of ``Red Shirts'' in Bangkok, was organised in order to continue the demand full democracy. It was a peaceful and friendly demonstration. Yet the military-backed Democrat Party government, headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva, declared a state of emergency and lined up thousands of police and soldiers to deal with the demonstrators. Previously, in April, Abhisit had urged soldiers to fire on the Red Shirts. Two people were subsequently killed and 70 injured by government soldiers.

The other demonstration was organised by fascist thugs of the People's Alliance for Democracy. The PAD are the ``Yellow Shirt'' royalists. The aim of this demonstration was to attack Cambodian villagers living and working at the ancient Kao Prawiharn [Preah Vihear] temple inside Cambodia. Since last year, the PAD have been trying to cause a war with Cambodia by whipping up extreme nationalism. The temple was built by the ancient Khmers and clearly belongs to Cambodia, both from a legal and historical point of view. On September 19, the PAD went to the border armed, as usual, with guns, bombs and clubs. They attacked police and then attacked a group of local villagers who were opposed to them. Local villagers on both sides of the border have traditionally held joint religious ceremonies at the temple on this day. This has not happened since the PAD forced the closure of the temple last year.

Teptai Senpong, personal spokesperson for Prime Minister Abhisit, earlier stated that there was no reason to declare a state of emergency in the border area “as the PAD were defending Thai national interests”. The present foreign minister is a PAD supporter who took part in the illegal occupation of the international airports last December. He is famed for being rude about the Cambodian government. Suriyasai Takasila, PAD spokesperson, said that the PAD leadership would not turn its back on Wira Somkwamkit, the PAD leader who headed the violent raid on the border. Naturally, the PAD riot and its extreme nationalism was supported by [pro-government TV station] ASTV. The government will not prosecute the PAD and its leaders for their illegal violence. They never have. At the same time numerous Red Shirts are in jail or face prosecution.

Just like when the PAD took over the airports, it cares little for the impact on local people’s employment and livelihoods. It cares little if the sons of poor farmers, conscripted into the Thai army, die in a pointless shoot-out with their brothers in the Cambodian army.

The progressive, peaceful and democratic face of Thai society is the Red Shirts. The violent, fascist and authoritarian face is the Yellow Shirt conservative royalists who control the state, the army, the monarchy, the government and the media. The one thing they do not control is the hearts and minds of most Thai citizens.

Most Thais are waiting for the king to die. But that in itself will solve nothing, despite the fact that his son his universally hated and held in contempt. No real democracy can be built without dismissing the generals, the judges, the Privy Council, the royal family and the corrupt politicians.

Will the Red Shirts be up to this people’s revolution? Can it be an overwhelming movement of citizens in order to minimise bloodshed? These are the issues on many Thai people's minds today.

[Giles Ji Ungpakorn worked in the faculty of political science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. He was forced to leave Thailand after being charged under Thailand's anti-democratic les majeste laws. He is an activist with the socialist Turn Left Thailand group. Visit and]


Amnesty International in Thailand supports the coup, extra constitutional powers for the King and will therefore not act publically on lèse majesté

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

September 22, 2009

Democracy and freedom of expression in Thailand have suffered greatly since the September 2006 military coup. Opponents of the government and the military are being charged with lèse majesté (insulting the King). Some are in jail for long periods, just for making statements. Many human rights activists have questioned why Amnesty International refuses to adopt lese majeste prisoners of conscience.

Annegret Meiners, the Laos/Thailand Coordinator for AI, has stated that those who are concerned with lese majeste are all supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. According to Ms Meiners, any demands for the abolition of lese majeste and that the Thai King have the same constitutional status as the British or Japanese Monarchs, would pave the way for a return of Thaksin. Ms Meiners is therefore saying that AI supports extra constitutional powers for the Thai King and military coups.

Benjamin Zawacki, South-east Asia researcher for Amnesty International, told IPS News that the Thai Monarchy has played an important role in the protection of human rights and therefore needs to be protected. There is absolutely no evidence that the King has ever protected human rights. His support for the blood bath on the 6th October 1976 is an example. He also supported Thaksin’s war on drugs, which killed 3000 people. The Amnesty International office in Thailand is closely associated with Yellow Shirts who have used systematic violence in order to destroy democracy.

Do ordinary members and the Head Office of Amnesty International know and support what is being done in their name?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

22 September 2009

Below is a (rough) translation of Ms Meiners’ e-mail to a concerned German.

The original, in German, is posted on the blog


Amnesty International is swamped right now with letters from Germans who express themselves on the topic of lese Majesté in Thailand. Due to the abundance of letters, please allow me a short reply.

Amnesty International has evolved over the years and has long evolved beyond the prisoner aid organization that it once was. It has become a human rights organization, which deals with various kinds of human rights violations, including the use of political prisoners as well, but not always exclusively. Since it is impossible to deal with all human rights violations of this world, Amnesty International can only set strategic priorities that are determined afresh each year, unless a sudden issue is so explosive that must be immediately dealt with.

In Thailand, Amnesty International is concerned at present mainly with the Lao Hmong refugees in the north and the unrest in the south. If Amnesty International is now beset by a number of web pages and letters that are against lese Majesté in Thailand, and they are exclusively Thaksin and UDD supporters, demanding that this law be abolished, the presumption must be that this is an attempt to pressurise Amnesty International in order that these people can have the right to insult the King . The king is the strongest opponent and the biggest obstacle to a return of Thaksin to Thailand. Denigration of the King and demands that the Monarchy bee turned into a constitutional monarchy in the same model as England and Japan - as is demanded again and again - would likely allow a return of Thaksin.

During the reign of Thaksin, Amnesty International recorded the most serious human rights violations in Thailand. About 2500 dead were caused solely by Thaksin’s “war on terror” (“drugs”, surely?) A return by Thaksin would be a major human rights disaster.

Amnesty International acknowledges that the lese Majesté law is against freedom of expression and prison sentence is justified under any circumstances (maybe she meant “unjustified”?). But the organization also knows there are other ways to achieve a goal. It does not always have to be public. Above all, Amnesty International can not be orchestrated and used as a tool of those who want to push through a political opinion.


Annegret Meiners
Laos / Thailand Coordination
Amnesty International