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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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Progressives submit Open Letter to Thai Judges

The following is an open letter to all judges in Thailand signed by the Red Shirt group the 24th of June for Democracy, the progressive academic group Nitirat, and other activist groups. The letter calls on judges to critically examine the role of the judiciary in Thailand’s political conflict and the future of Thai democracy.

An open letter to judges in Thailand

March 17th 2013

Dear Sirs,

            In the aftermath of the undemocratic and illegitimate usurpation of power operated through the 19 September 2006 coup d’état, the Thai judiciary—be it the Constitutional Court, the Court of Justice or the Administrative Court—has faced significant and growing questions from the general public over its interpretation and application of law in a number of cases. Specifically, there has been a growing chorus of scepticism over whether or not the decisions of these judicial branches have been made in full conformity with democratic principles and in support of fundamental rights and freedoms—themselves the very basis of the rule of law. (more…)

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Amnesty is Long Overdue – Red Shirt Activist

Throughout the past few months, Thai Red Shirts (TRS) has had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Red Shirt activists who are at the front line of the struggle for justice and equality in Thailand. Tui is well known among activists as one of the first to engage with political prisoners and highlight their cause. Her story mirrors both the frustration that many Red Shirts feel towards the political situation and their dedication to propelling positive change.

TRS: When did you first come to Bangkok?

I came to Bangkok from Isaan about 30 years ago. Like so many others, I was looking for job and business opportunities in the capital.

TRS: When did you start to become involved in the Red Shirt movement?

I first joined the Red Shirts after the military coup in 2006. I voted for Thaksin Shinawatra’s government and was very upset by the coup which removed democracy from our country.

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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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Red Shirts Fight For and Against Political Systems, Not Individuals

On Saturday the UDD held a political school in Korat, the latest in a series of political education initiatives that the UDD has set up in its commitment to promote democratic participation.

Throughout the day, UDD co-leaders engaged with 2,000 local grassroots activists on the core beliefs and principles of the Red Shirt movement. While the day’s most pressing issues of amnesty for political prisoners and amending the constitution were discussed, the school focused on the movement’s long term goal of overcoming the amaat power structure that continues to undermine democracy in Thailand.

The amaat system is based on an old elite network of patronage  that survived the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932. It comprises Thailand’s old moneyed elites, military generals, and high-ranking civil servants.

UDD leader Tida Tawornseth explains,

The amaat system depends on military and economic power to protect the interests of the few. The system holds back economic and technological developments, and hinders social mobility. The amaat are stuck in the past.

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Somyot’s Sentence Exposes the Dark Heart of Thailand

On the 23rd of January, a Criminal Court judge sentenced Red Shirt activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk to 10 years imprisonment for publishing two articles that violated Thailand’s notorious lèse majesté law, enshrined in article 112 of the Thai criminal code. Somyot’s arrest, detention, and verdict betrays Thailand’s disregard for the fundamental human rights that should be at the basis of any true democracy.

Detained for 21 months and denied bail 12 times, Somyot has had his human rights violated by the Thai judicial system from day one. Somyot, his wife Sukanya Prueksakasemsuk, and many in the Red Shirt and anti-112 camp, firmly believe that his arrest in April 2011, under the Abhisit administration, was politically motivated. Not only was Somyot a prominent Red Shirt with a long history of activism on labour issues, he was organizing a petition to challenge, and potentially abolish, article 112. 

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A Call for Amnesty

Below is the English translation of the UDD’s statement that was released together with the draft amnesty decree.

January 15 2013

UDD Statement: A Call for Amnesty

The coup d’état of September 19th 2006 executed by the Council of Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM), later renamed the Council of National Security (CNS), has provoked political turmoil and has caused a great divide in Thailand. This split is manifested most clearly in the form of political movements which disagree on the legitimacy of the actions of the coup-makers.

One faction advocated for the overthrow of a democratically-elected government and continues to defend the military coup. They do so on the grounds that the deposed government was led by “crony capitalists” and won elections by deception, vote-bribery, and the ignorance of the electorate. People adhering to this faction demanded that the military overthrow the government despite the fact that it had been elected by a majority of voters.

Another group has emerged in opposition to the 2006 coup d’état. The group grew into a political movement that defied those who prepared, executed, and supported the coup. The movement identified the coup d’état and the post-coup intrusions on Thailand’s democracy as the acts of an aristocratic network. For more than 5 years it has fought against the repercussions of the coup d’état which included the tearing up of the 1997 Constitution and the appointment of a puppet government. The aristocratic network also formed a committee to write a new constitution in order to control state apparatuses to suit its beliefs and interests.

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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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