Thailand: Why aren’t the generals in jail?

Thai soldier during the September 19, 2006, coup sports the monarchy's colour, yellow.

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

[For more on Thailand and the Red Shirt movement, click HERE.]

September 19, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- On the fifth anniversary of the September  19, 2006, military coup in Thailand, General Sonti Boonyaratgalin should be facing charges for staging an illegal coup and tearing up a democratic constitution. General Prayut Junocha should also be facing charges for ordering the killings of nearly 90 unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators last year. But this is not happening because we do not have equality, freedom and justice in Thailand, and we do not have a government that respects the Red Shirts who voted for it in the first place.

The Pheu Thai Party may have won the election in July, but the repressive ruling class is still all powerful. The army continues to intervene in politics and society, the judiciary has not been reformed and the king still acts as the figurehead to give legitimacy to those opposing real democracy, with the draconian lèse majesté law as back-up. Pheu Thai is clearly in the process of reconciling its differences with the military.

The major forces behind the September 19 coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neoliberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy. The king maintained his long stance of failing to defend democracy by not criticising the coup. He allowed the soldiers to sport yellow royalist ribbons on their uniforms and he allowed the coup leaders to be photographed with him in order that the soldiers could claim that the coup had “royal approval”.

What all these pro-coup groups had in common was contempt and hatred for the poor. In their view, “too much democracy” gave “too much power” to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over spend” on welfare. This is a statement we hear today from the neoliberals in Europe who defend unpopular austerity policies in order to save the rich and the bankers.

It is the courage, tenacity and sacrifices of the Red Shirt movement in the face of barbaric military violence that has kept the culture of democracy alive in Thailand. It is this that gave Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party its overall majority in the July elections.

Yet on the fifth anniversary of the 2006 coup we see the Yingluck government treating the heroes of the Red Shirt movement with contempt. For her government, the Red Shirts are just “dust under their feet”. The prime minister has toured the flood-affected areas side by side with General Prayut, the butcher of Rajprasong. This act is part of rebuilding legitimacy for the military and spitting in the face of Red Shirts.

So instead of General Sonti Boonyaratgalin facing charges for staging an illegal coup and tearing up a democratic constitution, instead of General Prayut Junocha facing charges of ordering the killings of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators, we see the Pheu Thai government bowing down before the military. Added to this, we see government ministers pledging to increase the use of lèse majesté.

Progressive Red Shirts should realise that this is not a “Red Shirt” government. The only reason for voting Pheu Thai at the election was to slap the military and the Democrat Party in the face.

The time has come to organise independently of the royalist elites, the military and Pheu Thai, and wage an all-out battle for freedom, democracy and social equality.

[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. His website is at]


Yeah I agree on this "Progressive Red Shirts should realise that this is not a “Red Shirt” government. The only reason for voting Pheu Thai at the election was to slap the military and the Democrat Party in the face."


I can relate. As a foreigner who has lived most of his years since the 70s here in PH I too am witness to similar events. The coup that would finally topple the oppressive dictatorship of the Marcos regime. However it really didn't end there. For after a few years they came back - alas the strongman himself died due to health reasons - but his wife, sons, daughters and cronies all untouched... only to be elected into government positions themselves and still hold the ill-gotten wealth they took from the people.


What the Independent Commission for Truth and Reconciliation really said about Lèse majesté

Full document in Thai can be down-loaded from

คอป. มีความเห็นว่าแม้รัฐบาลมีหน้าที่ต้องดำเนินการอย่างจริงจังเพื่อคุ้มครอง สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์อันเป็นที่เคารพสักการะสูงสุดของปวงชน ชาวไทยไม่ให้ถูกจาบจ้วงล่วงละเมิดด้วยพฤติกรรมและการกระทำที่ไม่เหมาะสม....

The Commission believes that although the Government must firmly proceed in order to protect the respected Monarchy from insults and unsuitable behaviour….  (the way it proceeds must take into account Thailand’s image etc)

คอป. เห็นว่ารัฐบาลต้องดำเนินการทุกวิถีทาง  โดย คำนึงถึงเป้าหมายสุดท้าย คือการปกป้องเทิดทูนสถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์ให้อยู่ในสถานะที่ สามารถดำรงพระเกียรติยศได้อย่างสูงสุดเป็นสำคัญ โดยควรดำเนินการอย่างเด็ดขาดและเคร่งครัดต่อผู้ที่จาบจ้วงล่วงละเมิดที่มี เจตนาร้ายต่อสถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์อันเป็นที่เคารพสักการะและหวงแหนของปวงชน ชาวไทย

The Commission believes that the Government must use all means at its disposal, bearing in mind the ultimate aim of defending and honouring the Institution of the Monarchy as the top and most respected institution, to act decisively and with vigour against those who insult or abuse the highly respected a jealously guarded Institution of the Monarchy with bad intentions.

ประเด็นที่อัยการต้องพิจารณาคือแนวทางใด ระหว่างการสั่งฟ้องคดีหรือการสั่งไม่ฟ้องคดีจะเป็นผลประโยชน์สูงสุดในการปก ป้องและถวายพระเกียรติยศที่เหมาะสมแด่สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์เป็นสำคัญ

Prosecutors should use their judgment on whether to proceed with cases based on what will defend and honour the Institution of the Monarchy.

อันเป็นแนวทางที่ใช้กันอยู่ในประเทศที่มีสถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์ เช่น ประเทศเนเธอร์แลนด์ เป็นต้นThis is the method used in The Netherlands. (This is a lie)

The Commission says that defendants should normally receive bail while awaiting trial.

What the commission does not say

1. That Lèse majesté trials should never be heard in secret.

2. That true statements by any defendant about the Monarchy should not be deemed to be Lèse majesté as they are now.

3. That all Thai citizens should have the right to political opinions including advocating a republic.

4. That the ordinary libel law is enough to protect the Monarchy from malicious and untrue accusations and therefore the use of Lèse majesté should be scrapped in Thailand, like it has been in all European democracies with monarchies.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn