Internationally recognised legal standards are being flagrantly ignored in the treatment of political prisoners from the pro-democracy Red Shirt movement. The prisoners have been detained by the Abhisit Vejjajiva military government since the bloody crackdown against unarmed demonstrators in May.
According to reports by Prachatai, a web-based newspaper that the junta has repeatedly tried to close down, Red Shirt detainees in the north-east provinces of Ubon Rajatanee, Kon Kaen, Mahasarakarm, Mukdaharn and Udon Tanee have faced the following problems (and there is no reason to believe other Red Shirt detainees are any better off elsewhere):
• Police evidence used for arrest warrants is unclear and doesn't meet legal standards. People have been arrested and held under appalling conditions when there is a lack of clear evidence.
• Those issued with arrest warrants are sometimes unaware of the warrants. This means they could face further charges of “resisting or avoiding arrest”.
• Some of those who have been detained were assaulted by police while being arrested, despite not resisting arrest.
• Police use threats and coercion to obtain “confessions”. It is standard practice to tell defendants their punishment will be less severe if they confess, regardless of whether this is true and whether they are guilty.
• Many defendants are denied proper legal representation.
• Judges have decided to deny bail to Red Shirts, without using standard legal rules. The judges claim they will all try to escape court proceedings, despite having no evidence to prove this. The judges obviously see them as political prisoners who are already guilty.
• Prison conditions are brutal and prisons are overcrowded.
• Defendants' families are suffering financial consequences. There is no welfare state in Thailand and the fabulously wealthy conservative elites are fiercely opposed to state welfare for citizens.
• Those defendants who were shot or injured by security officers and those with long-term illnesses are denied proper medical treatment.
The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) believes defendants are guilty before being tried in a court of law.
Recently, the DSI website published the name and pictures of a person whom it accuses of lese majeste (insulting the monarchy). Beside the pictures the DSI wrote that “this person will rot in hell”. Clearly the DSI does not believe trials are necessary and considers that witch-hunts against government critics are “legal”. The DSI is even flouting the junta’s own constitution. All this meets with the military-backed government’s approval.
DSI head Tarit Pendit has issued so-called “terrorism” charges against 26 government opponents associated with the peaceful pro-democracy protests, without the slightest evidence that terrorist acts took place or that these people were involved.
hese charges are similar to “terrorism” charges issued by Hitler’s Nazis against the Free French and similar charges issued by the Israeli government to justify killing unarmed civilians on the relief ships to Palestine.
The DSI is not pursuing any terrorism charges against the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gangs who took over Bangkok’s international airports in late 2008. This put a stop to international flights for over a week.
The PAD also occupied and trashed Government House and caused a riot outside parliament that same year. No one has been punished or detained. The present Abhisit military junta has PAD members and supporters in the cabinet.
Nor is the DSI pursuing any murder charges against the junta's prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and the generals for ordering the cold-blooded shooting of innocent civilians this year.
The Abhisit junta has maintained a “state of emergency” in Bangkok and other provinces. Many Red Shirts have been detained for breaking the emergency law.
Yet when the royalist PAD recently came out to protest and whip up ultra-nationalism over a pointless border dispute with Cambodia, none of the PAD leaders or their supporters were arrested. Instead, Abhisit and his PAD foreign minister made a point of meeting the PAD protesters and agreeing with them.
The royalists hope to create a diversion by whipping up anti-Cambodian sentiment.
Innocent defendants awaiting trial are shackled in chains while going to court. This barbaric practice is designed to take away the humanity of detainees, not to prevent them escaping.
Many of the Red Shirt leaders, who are political prisoners, gave themselves up to the police voluntarily. Yet they are chained when attending court hearings.
This is yet another indication that the conservative elites regard Red Shirts and ordinary Thai citizens who want democracy as sub-human. Thai citizens are referred to as merely “dust beneath the feet of the King”.
The entire criminal justice system in Thailand is compromised and corrupt. There is no freedom and democracy, and basic standards of justice are not being met. Yet Abhisit’s junta claims to be setting up committees for “political reform” under former military junta prime minister Anan Panyarachun and conservative doctor Prawes Wasi. Academics are flocking to these committees like flies to shit.
There can be no serious “political reform” without freedom and democracy, without scrapping the lese majeste law, and without punishing the politicians and generals who gunned down innocent pro-democracy demonstrators.
Serious reform would need to look into reducing the size, wealth and power of the military, reducing or scrapping the monarchy, totally culling the judicial system and the police, and ending all censorship. Serious reform can only take place after genuine democratic elections for a new government.
But Abhisit’s junta shot dead more than 90 people in March, April and May to avoid such elections. All the so-called “reform process” can amount to is an expensive public relations exercise to try to whitewash the crimes of the present junta.
[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 lese majeste for writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. He is a member of Left Turn Thailand, a socialist organisation. His latest book is Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy.]