Nearly every Sunday afternoon since March 2012, a dedicated group of Red Shirts have gathered in front of Ratchada Criminal Court under the banner “Declaration of Street Justice”. Organized by Dr Suda Rangkupan, a professor of linguistics at Chulalongkorn University, the “Friends of Thai Political Prisoners”, or the Street Justice movement, is committed to protecting the human rights of political prisoners in Thailand and 112 (lèse majesté) prisoners in particular.
The group advocates amnesty for political prisoners and strongly supports, not only an amendment to 112, but reform to all of Thailand’s defamation laws which they argue are in violation of Thailand’s international human rights obligations. At the very least, 112 prisoners should be recognized as political prisoners, they argue. Since the current judicial system does not recognize 112 prisoners as ‘political’, they are placed in the much harsher conditions of Bangkok Remand Prison and are almost always denied bail, yet another human rights violation.
The “Friends of Thai Political Prisoners” started as a support group for political prisoners in Laksi Prison and 112 prisoners in Bangkok Remand Prison. The group took to the streets at the beginning of 2012 to support a hunger strike against the prosecution of Surachai Danwattananusorn, the leader of the Red Shirt group Red Siam, who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for speeches he made in 2010. They continued to gather in front of Ratchada Court most Sundays to protest Thailand’s heavily politicized judiciary.
Dr Suda, also known as Dr Wan (Dr Sweet), said,
Normally protesters gather outside government houses or the parliament, giving the illusion that only politicians are to blame for Thailand’s problems. We gather here in front of the court because we recognize that the abuses of power extend to these institutions as well.
The frustration was echoed by those in attendance on Sunday. One protester pointed to the court building and said,
There are so many double standards in there.
And their message has been received, added Dr Suda,
The judges are very upset about our gatherings. The judiciary likes to think that they are the most trusted institution in the country.
She points to a CCTV camera they installed to monitor their gatherings with a sense of pride. Still, the dedicated activist admits that, while no legal action has been taken against them yet, the risks of being taken from the streets into the courts are real.
Of course we feel fear, but it hasn’t stopped us. Fear and intimidation are the classic weapons of the amaat.