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Democracy Update 24.4.13

UntitledDuring the UDD’s weekly press conference last Wednesday, co-leaders discussed the role of the judiciary in the development of Thailand’s fragile democracy.

The ongoing attempts by the Pheu Thai government to reform the post-coup Constitution, in order to align it with modern democratic practices, have attracted condemnation from pro-coup forces. 

A group of Red Shirts are currently staging a protest outside of the Constitutional Court in response to its decision to consider a petition regarding the constitutionality of the constitutional amendments that have been proposed by the government. The group is arguing that by considering the petition, the Court is impeding the powers of the legislative branch. The UDD has also previously pointed out that the judiciary in Thailand has a biased agenda and hinders the democratic process.

Co-leader Tida said,

If the court ignores the power of the legislative branch, it ignores the power of the people. In a true democracy, all the power should be with the people.

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Democracy Update 3/4/13

IMG_2149During Wednesday’s press conference, UDD co-leaders discussed obstacles to the ongoing efforts to amend the post-coup Constitution of 2007 as well as a recent ruling by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) regarding Jatuporn Prompan’s disqualification from parliament in 2011. They also announced a commemorative rally that is being held in Bangkok on April 10th in honor of those who died during the brutal and illegal military crackdown of Red Shirt protests in 2010.

The UDD supports the Pheu Thai government’s efforts to amend the post-coup Constitution, but pro-coup forces have continuously tried, and often succeeded, to thwart the amendment process. In one such recent effort, opposition Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn has petitioned the Constitutional Court to issue an injunction against the parliamentary proceedings and dissolve the Pheu Thai party.

While the Court rejected Senator Somchai’s appeal for an injunction, it has accepted his petition to consider the constitutionality of the proposed constitutional amendments, in particular alterations to Sections 68 and 237. The UDD co-leaders expressed frustration that the amendment process is facing obstacles every step of the way.

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Academics Call for Judicial Reform

An academic panel hosted by the progressive Nitirat law group last Sunday at Thammasat University debated the role of the courts in the pursuit of justice in Thailand. Special attention was paid to article 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lèse majéste law, which states that  “whoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The panel, which consisted of academics and activists, argued for reform of the Thai judiciary in order to adapt it to a democratic state.

The panel members raised several concerns regarding the lack of legal basis for the actions of judges in lèse majesté cases. According to Thai law, in order for the court to find a defendant guilty of a crime, his/her guilt must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Ms Sawatree Suksri, a member of Nitirat and lecturer of law at Thammasat University, argued that Thai courts often betray this fundamental principle,

In Akong’s [Ampon Tangnoppakul] case, the courts were satisfied with a lack of evidence of his guilt, citing instead his presumed guilt. This is a clear violation of the “burden of proof” principle that underlies criminal law.

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Red Shirt Grassroots Speak Out

Thai Red Shirts (TRS) traveled to the province of Nonthaburi to hear from grassroots Red Shirt activists. The following is a summary of a discussion with more than 50 Red Shirts on the past, present, and future of their political activism.

TRS: Why did you first get involved in the Red Shirt movement?

Something went terribly wrong in this country in 2006. The injustice that we have suffered since the coup d’état compelled us to mobilize and organize.

TRS: Who among you voted for Thaksin Shinawatra?

[Everybody raises their hands]

TRS: Why did you vote for him?

He implemented policies that had an extremely positive impact on our lives. The 30 baht health care scheme in particular greatly improved our quality of living, allowing many of us to get the medical care we could not afford previously. 

The Village Development Fund also helped us build our community’s economy and infrastructure. The money was managed locally and collectively. Many of us work in agriculture so a loan system was developed to help people develop their crops.

Most importantly, Thaksin gave us faith in the democratic process and proved that politicians could respond to the needs of voters.

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Somyot’s Plea for Justice

Convicted Red Shirt prisoner Somyot Prueksakasemsuk recently petitioned the Director of the Criminal Court Mr. Tawee Prajuablab to investigate the facts surrounding his arrest at the Thai-Cambodian border on the 30th of April 2011 and reevaluate his request for bail.

Somyot has been denied bail 13 times on the basis that he was attempting to flee the country when he was intercepted by border officials who have since allegedly opposed granting him bail. In a letter addressed to Mr. Tawee, Somyot explains that such allegations conflict with the facts as well as witness testimony.

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Democracy Update

During the UDD’s weekly press conference on Wednesday, co-leaders discussed the ongoing push for amnesty, efforts to observe the upcoming gubernatorial elections, and plans to expand political education initiatives across the country.

The UDD continues to push for the Amnesty Decree to be passed by the cabinet as an emergency resolution for political prisoners on both sides of the conflicts. Other groups have proposed alternative pathways for amnesty, such as Nitirat’s plan to add an amnesty chapter to the Constitution. While the UDD welcomes amnesty for political prisoners by any means possible, the co-leaders argue that an Amnesty Decree would offer the quickest solution.

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Red Shirts Pressure Government to Grant Amnesty

An estimated 4,000 Red Shirts marched from the Royal Plaza to the Government House on Tuesday to demand amnesty for Thailand’s political prisoners.

Organized by the Red Shirt group called the Declaration of Street Justice, recently renamed the January 29 For the Release of Political Prisoners group, the protesters called on the government to recognize an amnesty proposal that was drafted by the Nitirat Law group of Thammasat University. The proposal would achieve amnesty through constitutional reform, which in itself continues to be a pressing issue for the government. The protesters demanded a response by 6pm, after which the government replied that it would consider all amnesty proposals carefully.

UDD leader Tida Tawornseth expressed her gratitude to Tuesday’s protesters, she said,

We thank everybody who came out yesterday to show the government that Thailand needs amnesty for the people. Regardless of what method is proposed and ultimately implemented, we share the common goal of freeing political prisoners.

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UDD Reacts to Constitutional Court’s Silence

At a press conference on Friday, Red Shirt  leaders reacted to the Constitutional Court’s response to a letter submitted by the UDD which sought clarifications on the Court’s 2012 decision on amending the constitution. The UDD also reiterated its calls for the government to act on amnesty for political prisoners as well as for granting jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Earlier in January, the UDD had submitted a letter to the Constitutional Court seeking clarification on the appropriate procedure for a constitutional amendment. The Court had proposed a referendum should be held prior to the third reading of a bill which would open the door to comprehensive charter reform. In response to the UDD’s inquiry, the Court stated that

The ruling is clear. It is not necessary to explain further.

UDD leader Tida reacted,

The Court’s response reveals its negative attitude. The questions were posed in all sincerity as they are important for the country.

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