Thailand: Subversive slippers seller arrested

October 9, 2010
Amornwan Charoenkij (centre) was arrested for selling slippers that had Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva’s face printed on them.

Popular Thai newspaper Prachatai has reported that, a woman was arrested on October 3 at a freedom bike ride by United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship supporters (popularly known as the Red Shirts) in 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.

Amornwan Charoenkij was arrested under the regime’s ongoing state of emergency. It prohibits “any means of communication … 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 …”

But it is only some political merchandise that is considered subversive. Regime supporters are allowed to sell sandals, socks, doormats and even underwear printed with the face of military-deposed former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

Police confiscated about 40 of the offending slippers from Amornwan. A parliamentarian from the opposition Phue Thai Party posted bail Amornwan at her court hearing, though initially she intended to go to jail for her alleged crime.

Amornwan was quoted by Prachata as saying: “I wanted to be jailed. What a damn life! I don’t want to stay 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.”

Amnesty International has called for the lifting of the state of emergency still imposed on several big cities in Thailand more than four months after the military repression of the Red Shirt protest camp.

The Abhisit regime responded on October 6 by extending emergency rule for three more months in Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakarn and Bangkok.

Just hours after the announcement, there was a mysterious explosion residential complex in Nonthaburi Province. Four people were killed and nine injured in this explosion.

The regime promptly blamed the Red Shirts.

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

Thailand’s deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban argued the bomb blast justified extension of emergency rule in Bangkok and neighbouring provinces.

In an October 2 statement, Amnesty called on the Thai government to “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’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 grants immunity from prosecution to officials who violate human rights law in the course of their duties, Amnesty said.

“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”, said Amnesty.

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, Prayut said the military was “not involved in politics” and “I have never said I hate Red Shirts”.

He refused to rule out another military coup, but said that it “should not happen”.

Prayut 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.”

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