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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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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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UDD submits letter to Constitutional Court, announces plans to observe Bangkok governor election

Yesterday the UDD submitted a letter to the Constitutional Court, with the intention of clarifying issues surrounding the government’s current attempts to amend the constitution.

In a Constitutional ruling in July 2012, in which the Court ruled that amending the constitution does not pose a threat to the monarchy, the Court also suggested that the government hold a referendum regarding the amendments. This suggestion, which was separate from the ruling, has been a tense point for the Pheu Thai government, and has led it to consider holding a referendum before the third reading of the constitutional amendments. However, UDD co-leaders have urged the government to hold a reading of the constitution in Parliament instead.

In the letter from the UDD, the following questions were posed to the Court:

1. Does the suggestion from the Court that the government hold a referendum regarding constitutional amendments constitute advice or an order? What law or article of the Constitution was consulted by the Court in this decision?

2. Does the Court disagree with a parliamentary vote on the Constitutional amendments? If so, what law or article of the Constitution was consulted by the Court in this decision?

The UDD also announced plans to observe the governor election that will be held in Bangkok in March. UDD co-leader Tida said the Red Shirts are not concerned with the outcome of the election, rather they want to ensure that the elections are fair and transparent.

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UDD Outlines Four Tier Strategy for 2013

At a press conference on Friday, the UDD leadership outlined their four tier strategy for 2013. Each tier means to challenge a different consequence of the 2006 coup and its aftermath.

First of all, the UDD will prioritize its ongoing struggle for amnesty for political prisoners. UDD leader Tida Tawornseth called on the government to issue an amnesty decree within the next two months. The death of Red Shirt prisoner Wanchai Raksanguansilp on December 27th, 2012, has fueled the anger and frustration among Red Shirts who expected more action from the Pheu Thai administration.

The second tier is the fight for justice and an end to state violence  in Thailand. The murder charges brought against Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban for their lethal and illegal response to the Red Shirt protests in 2010 are a positive development and the UDD will monitor the process closely. Nevertheless, the UDD believes that granting the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction to open a preliminary investigation would help ensure a fair process for all.

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Red Shirts Ask “Where is the Rule of Law?”

At a press conference on Friday, UDD co-leaders expressed their outrage over former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s ability to circumvent the rule of law by walking out of the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) without signing and agreeing to the terms of his release after hearing his charges yesterday. The Red Shirt leaders were equally appalled by his continuing lack of respect for the victims of the military crackdown in 2010.

Abhisit and his former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban presented themselves at DSI offices on Thursday to deny the murder charges against them in regards to the death of taxi driver Pan Kamkong who was killed by CRES soldiers on May 15th 2010. However, they refused to sign a document accepting the conditions for their bail, which prohibit them from: leaving the country without the approval of the DSI; tampering with evidence; and obstructing the investigation. Despite this outright rejection of the legal process, they were free to go.

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UDD to Democrat Party- “Let the Courts Establish the Truth”

At the weekly press conference on Friday, the UDD leadership responded to allegations made by the Democrat Party during its ‘men in black’ misinformation rally last Saturday.

UDD chairwoman Tida especially challenged Abhisit’s statement  rally that no lives would have been lost had it not been for the ‘men in black’,

The ‘men in black’ continue to star in the Democrat Party’s fantasy story in which 60,000 heavily armed troops in central Bangkok had little to do with the escalation in violence that killed 99 people. We must let the courts establish the truth.

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