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 and

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.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 08/13/2010 - 14:04


Far from Bangkok, rebel Red Shirts prepare for a comeback

Wed, Aug 11, 2010

Despite claims of restored order, Thailand remains bitterly divided between rich and poor, writes DAVID McNEILL in Lamphun Thailand

IN NORTHERN Thailand, the world has been turned upside down. Men branded terrorists are heroes, the police are the enemy and children wear T-shirts hailing anti-government rebels. Driven from power, branded a criminal and hounded by prosecutors, exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is venerated here, his smiling features emblazoned on cups, flags and dolls at a mass rally of his supporters in this provincial town. One of the world’s most famous fugitives, polls taken in this district put his support at more than 70 per cent.

Three months ago, Thaksin’s Red Shirt supporters – many from this area – were violently cleared from the Bangkok streets after occupying the city centre for nine weeks. When the smoke had lifted, at least 90 people were dead, 2,000 injured and the centre of one of Asia’s most laidback cities resembled a war zone. Police have since arrested many of the leaders and sent thousands scattering to the wind. But here in Lamphun, 670km and a political world away from the capital, the protesters are preparing for their comeback.

“I am one million per cent certain that the Red Shirts will return,” says Sriwan Janhong, one of the movement’s local leaders. “When you push people down, they come back violently,” he warns. At the rally in a vast warehouse here last week, thousands of supporters pledged to fight back. “The struggle won’t end until the government allows free elections and listens to us,” said one, who identified herself as Dao. “We’re showing today that we’ll still alive.”

Despite government claims to have restored order, Thailand remains more bitterly divided than ever between these mostly poor people and the country’s conservative, military and royalist elite. Eventually, most believe the colour-coded political struggle between the Red Shirts and their yellow pro-monarchist rivals that has convulsed the country since Thaksin was dumped from power in a bloodless 2006 coup will detonate again.

Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has effectively declared war on the reds since the Bangkok siege ended, drawing up draconian laws and reshuffling the government and military to strengthen the anti-rebel ranks. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, a key figure in the 2006 coup, is set to take over as army chief.

The authorities have been given a mostly free hand to round up the rebels and their supporters – 40,000 websites have been shut down, according to the Bangkok Post; website users, operators and service providers have been arrested. The Red Shirts say some people have simply been disappeared. “It’s a witch hunt,” says Dao, who works as a foreign tour guide.

Dao and her colleagues are driven by anger at what they see a political system stacked hopelessly against them. It was people like her who turned out five years ago in record numbers to vote Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party into power. A year after the 2006 coup, they elected his party again, despite the military government’s attempts to move the constitutional goalposts. The army and royalists then used the courts to dissolve the party and backed a new government led by Abhisit’s ironically named Democrats. Few doubt that were Thaksin to return from exile in Montenegro, he would win again.

“They feel that they are not being fairly treated by the government, and that is fuelling their resentment,” said Surapong Tovichakchaikul, a lawmaker in nearby Chiang Mai province who attended the rally as an observer. He rejects government claims that the Red Shirts who took over Bangkok were terrorists or that their campaign is orchestrated from abroad by Thaksin. “Terrorists have bombs and guns – where are these weapons? The government never seized any. They’re just using that excuse to ban them.”

Around the nearby small town of San Kamphaeng in Chiang Mai Province, where Thaksin and his family ran a silk business, his portrait can be found on public walls and in local restaurants. This is the political heartland of the businessman turned politician, who made over a billion dollars when he sold his stake in his giant telecom conglomerate Shin Corporation. There is little support here for the government’s claims that he was kicked out for tax evasion, selling off national assets and insulting the king. “He’s a politician so we wasn’t perfect but he did a lot for ordinary people,” said one shopkeeper. “That’s why they got rid of him. It has nothing to do with corruption or defending the monarchy.” Thai radio presenters debate if fascism is creeping into the country, recalling how it arose in Europe as an elite reaction to the growing clout of the rural and urban poor. The reds say conservatives are using Thailand’s arcane lese majeste laws to stifle protest and throttle debate. Few are safe from increasingly wild accusations of insulting the king – rural peasants, foreign reporters, even the political establishment. Lese majeste is punishable with up to 15 years in jail.

The world’s longest-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol (82) is in fragile health. Criticism of him, and discussion about his health or his eventual demise are muted in the media. Some believe his death could be the trigger for the long awaited showdown between reds and yellows. “When the king goes it will be absolutely terrible,” warns Sriwan. “Nobody can predict what will happen after that.” One of the few places in Thailand where the king’s portrait cannot be found is at Red Shirt rallies. Instead, stalls in Lamphun sell DVDs celebrating the Battle of Bangkok and T-shirts bearing the picture of martyred Khattiya Sawasdipol, the renegade Thai general who joined the red side in Bangkok and was shot – probably by army snipers. Inside the hall, spectators line up in front of gruesome photographs of dead protesters, wounds gaping on the Bangkok streets.

On the stage, one of the Red Shirts’ national leaders, Jutaporn Prompan, is speaking. A veteran democracy activist and a member of the Thai parliament, Jutaporn is one of the few leaders not under lock and key. In Bangkok he surrendered to the police in a bid to stop the bloodshed and was subsequently bailed – probably saved by his status. “Our fight will go on,” he tells the crowd. “Death will not stop us.”

© 2010 The Irish Times