Thailand: Subversive sandals arrested!

Sandal vendor Amornwan with the banned sandals.

According to a report in Prachatai, a popular Thai newspaper, a woman was arrested at freedom bike ride by United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship supporters (popularly known as the Red Shirts) in Thailand’s historic city of Ayutthaya for selling slippers with Thailand’s military-installed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s face on them. The slippers were printed with the message, “People died at Ratchaprasong” – referring to the May 19 military massacre against the Red Shirts’ mass protest camp in Bangkok.

"On October 3, at about 5 pm, police arrested Amornwan Charoenkij, 42, for an offence under Section 9(3) of the Emergency Decree which prohibits ‘press releases and distribution or dissemination of letters, publications or any means of communication containing texts which may instigate fear amongst the people or is intended to distort information which leads to a misunderstanding of the emergency situation to the extent of affecting the security of the state or public order or the good morals of the people either in the area or locality where an emergency situation has been declared or the entire Kingdom.’ "

But while some political sandals are considered subversive others are apparently not. Regime supporters are allowed to sell sandals, socks, doormats and even underwear printed with the face of military-deposed former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife.

Subversive sandal seller Amornwan recounted how she challenged the police.

" ‘When asked by the police, I answered frankly that people did die there [at Ratchaprasong]. What else could I say? I had no problems selling these elsewhere. This is too much. These are not weapons.’ … in fact, local policemen had bought several pairs from her, and they probably showed them to others, resulting in her arrest."

Police confiscated some 40 of the offending sandals from her. A parliamentarian from the opposition Phue Thai Party bailed Amornwan at here court hearing, though initially she intended to go to jail for her alleged crime.

"‘I was ready to stay in jail, but the MP came and told me that I’d better get bailed and go home, and then come back to fight in court. I wanted to be jailed. What a damn life! I don’t want to stay [in the world] outside [prison] any more! It’s not livable. It’s hard to make ends meet. What’s so wrong with just selling slippers? I have to live with it. If you’re a red shirt, anything you do will be wrong,’ she said, adding that she had joined rallies since 3-4 years ago at Sanam Luang because she could not tolerate what is wrong, despite the fact that she was born in Trang and always voted for the Democrat Party."

In the face of calls from Amnesty International for the lifting of the State of Emergency still imposed on several major cities in Thailand more than four months after the military repression of the red shirt protest camp, the Abhisit regime extended Emergency rule three more months in Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakarn and Bangkok. This announcement, on October 6, was followed just hours later by a mysterious explosion residential complex in Nonthaburi Province which the regime promptly blamed on the red shirts. Four people were killed and nine injured in this explosion.

“It’s clear that the bombers are Red Shirt people,” Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon told AFP.

“It was definitely a bomb. We cannot say what type of bomb it is yet … But it was a massive bomb because it damaged a large area,” said national police spokesman Major General Prawut Tawornsiri.

The bomb blast justifies extension of emergency rule in Bangkok and neighbouring provinces, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban later argued.

Amnesty International had demanded in an October 2 statement that Thailand “cease invoking the Emergency Decree and the Internal Security Act, as they flout international human rights law and standards”.

“Invoking these laws has become almost routine for the government”, said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Thailand researcher.

“As a result, the extraordinary powers they grant to curtail human rights have often been abused to block the expression of peaceful dissenting views”.

Under the emergency laws public gatherings of more than five people are banned and the security forces have the power to detain suspects for 30 days without charge.

The Emergency Decree also facilitates censorship of news and information outlets, and expressly confers immunity from prosecution for officials who violate human rights law in the course of their duties, AI reported.

"According to the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation, created by the government and the military to coordinate and administer the Emergency Decree in response to the mass anti-government demonstrations earlier this year, at least 1,500 websites, radio and television stations, and print publications have been disabled or censored in Thailand since early April 2010."

On October 1 General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who had reportedly overseen the military assault on the red shirt protest camp in Bangkok, was appointed army chief.

The Melbourne Age reported that at a media conference on October 6, General Prayut said that the military was “not involved in politics” and “”I have never said I hate Red Shirts”. He refused to rule out another military coup while saying that it “should not happen”.

The general was quoted in a front-page article in the October 1 Bangkok Post saying: “If the nation has not returned to order, the military as a mechanism of the government must help build order first.”