วันเสาร์, เมษายน 30, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2011
A Statement by the
THAILAND: Threats to academic reflect continuous decline in enjoyment of, emboldened military
At a press conference in Thailand on 24 April 2011, Somsak Jeamteerasakul and several coalitions of academics, human rights activists, and journalists released statements calling for the protection of freedom of speech in . These statements were in response to a series of blatant threats made towards Somsak over comments that some people have considered amounted to criticism of the royalty. Somsak's statement at this event is available on the independent news website, Prachatai:http://prachatai.com/english/node/2441.
Among the threats, the most alarming is that from the current commander of the army, General Chan-ocha, who directly criticized and derided Somsak in an interview on April 7, describing him as "a mentally ill academic" who "is intent on overthrowing the institution" of the monarchy. In the current highly polarized political situation in Thailand, where ultra-conservative forces are using the symbolic power of the king and royal institutions to advance a new authoritarian project, these statements from the head of the army are not only inappropriate but also are extraordinarily dangerous.
While the police have not yet charged Somsak with any offence, according to various sources, some kind of investigation is underway against him. At the same time, he has been threatened extralegally. Unknown men have come on motorcycles to nearby his house, and he has been receiving harassing telephone calls, which in Thailand constitute early warning signals of impending violence if the target does not stop whatever he or she is doing.
In one of the statements released on April 24, the Santiprachatham Network wrote:
"We urge all parties involved to stop threatening the academic freedom of Somsak and other individuals who hold differing political views. Please be aware that the expression of differing views is not a problem. Instead, widespread violations of the rights and freedoms of the people which have occurred since the 2006 coup is the root cause of the crisis which Thai society now faces." (Full statement on Prachatai:http://prachatai.com/english/node/2439.)
The Asian Human Rights Commission endorses this statement, which reflects a position that it took on the 2006 coup from the day of the coup itself. It adds that it is especially concerned at the growing use of legal and extralegal measures in purported defence of the monarchy as a means to further deny fundamental rights in Thailand. These include, most recently, reports that the Crime Suppression Division of the national police force has identified the names of 54 people who posted comments on a website that has been targeted in the past for alleged anti-monarchical contents, Fa Diew Kan (Same Sky), and whom the CSD may put forward for prosecution under the provisions of article 112 in the Criminal Code.
The AHRC also has been following closely reports that in recent days, army personnel and staff of the Department of Special Investigation have raided anti-government community radio stations across the country in what is apparently a new coordinated effort to stamp out critical media aligned with, or part of, the "red shirt" movement. It would appear from these reports that the DSI, which was set up under the justice ministry with the intention that it would investigate crimes requiring specialized expertise of a non-police, non-military agency, has now been reduced to nothing more than another appendage of the new internal security state, and instead of investigating crime is instead hunting down political dissidents.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has for some time been warning the international human rightscommunity that Thailand has been steadily regressing towards a new type of anti-human rights and anti-rule of law system in which the values associated with these concepts are advertised widely at home and abroad but in which state institutions are not only emptied of those values, but in fact are inverted to serve precisely the opposite ends from what they purport to serve. It is by now clear that the project towards this anti-human rights and anti-rule of law system in Thailand is well underway.
The AHRC therefore calls on all concerned parties, in particular the on freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, to investigate reports of these recent cases and to intervene, first for the safety of the persons threatened, especially Somsak Jeamteerasakul; and second, for the sake of the people of Thailand as a whole. If the creeping entrenchment of military-backed authoritarian forces in Thailand is not soon addressed, then it will add many years to the amount of time that it will already take for the country to dig itself out of the hole into which the 2006 coup put it.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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Dr. Somsak Jeamteerasakul, associate professor at Thammasat University's Department of History, is counting days.
"Since April 10, it's been eleven – no, more – fourteen days," he tells me. Fourteen days since the Thai military began, he writes, "giving interviews and loudly demonstrating its might on a daily basis." Seventeen days have passed since the Thai Military's "Commander in Chief attacked a 'mentally ill academic' who is 'intent on overthrowing the institution'".
Upon hearing this, he says, he knew it, immediately. "Though it was not named, it must be me. I am the only one on the academic board who works on Facebook, works on websites, speaks openly about these things."
Within days, he says, the first in a series of 'unusual occurrences' began taking place. First, a number of suspicious individuals were spotted on motorbikes, surveying and loitering about his property. Anonymous phone calls were received: his wife took many of them. Then, early last week, "a caller claimed that a certain security department has ordered a large number of its officials to closely monitor my movements round the clock and to be ready to arrest me immediately upon receiving the order."
Just how many days until his arrest takes place, however, remains to be seen. "At the moment, it's kind of unofficial," he tells me. "Even the arrest warrant has been confirmed by some high-placed government officials. But they haven't acted upon it officially, but I'm quite sure. I've been told by high-placed government sources that there is already a warrant for my arrest."
As a noted academic and historian whose specialization pertains to the ever-sensitive questions of the Thai monarchy as a political institution, Somsak has, in the past, faced any number of threats. Usually, these are received via Facebook and online forums, to which he is a keen and observant contributor. "I just don't reply to them," he says. But threats like these? "Never, at this level. I have written about the monarchy for about ten years or so now… The atmosphere at the moment has changed. For ten days straight, they (have) come out and talked about this anti-monarchy element in Thai society. It is very threatening."
Somsak believes he will be charged under Thailand's draconian lese-majeste laws. Under the Thai Criminal Code, article 112 states that "whoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years."
In a recent press statement, Somsak suggests that his presentation of an eight-point proposal for reform of the monarchy early last year may well have sparked the interest of authorities. So too, a controversial talk he gave on December 10, 2010, on the subject. "The talk I gave… and any statement or writing I have produced since then, have all been within the framework of these eight concrete, legally justifiable proposals concerning reforming the monarchy."
Despite this, however, "I am so surprised… Since I have never talked about overthrowing the system; only changing the system to reflect a changing world. Open discourse about the role of the monarchy is necessary… We should have a debate on the role of the monarchy, using reason and evidence… To royalists, I ask: "What will you do with the millions of different views?"
"There are those who want to maintain the status quo, although the reality is something different."
Somsak himself has closely followed the recent spate of lèse majesté arrests, and remains concerned that the law is increasingly being used to satisfy arbitrary political ends. In a rather prescient comment last year on New Mandala, he wrote:
If I, or better still, my organization, do something, from my and fellow members of the organization making speeches to all kinds of activities, and people cannot say anything critical of what we do, least they would be put in jail for a long time. What should this be called? Is this not power? It is, definitely. Does any of the organizations and/or structures that make up the current Thai state have this same kind of power (as the monarchy)? No, nothing comes even close.
A growing number of academics and journalists have in recent days signed an open letter calling on the state to "immediately end the threats against Dr. Somsak and an end to the broader practices of constriction of speech." Counting this case amongst those of "Dr. Suthachai, Mr. Giles, Ms. Chiranuch… as well as countless ordinary citizens," they argue that this case will be seen as "symptomatic of a broader set of practices which gravely threaten the exercise of rights and the future of democracy in Thailand."
"Those in power must realize that discussion and criticism – not blind loyalty – are necessary in a functioning democracy," they write.
When asked, as a historian, what he feels will be remembered in decades to come of this period of Thai history, Somsak says: "I always think about this kind of question, myself. This is not my original idea, but I think it will be looked back as a transition period. A period where people try to, the country as a whole, cope with the changes, all the changes in the economy, in politics.
There has never (before) been a political movement with mass support, like we have witnessed in the case of Mr. Thaksin, for instance.
Even the monarchy itself, which in the past had been a sacred institution, that people looked at as something remote. But in the past few years, it has become a kind of 'mass monarchy'. There is a feeling amongst the educated middle-class that they are very close to the monarchy. For the first time the monarchy also witnessed a kind of spontaneous mass support…
All the events that happened in Thailand in the '60s, '70s and '80s have kind of come together, in a big conflict. It is a conflict between power – the power of the monarchy, which is based on tradition – and the power of the political parties.
Both have mass support. People genuinely believe in the institution of the monarchy. People genuinely believe in their political leaders. And the problem is we haven't found a way to arrange or manage all these changes, so all the conflict… is a reflection of our inability in Thai society to cope with all these problems."
What comes next, remains to be seen. "I've had discussions with my friends, if they will kill me," he said. "I am not Superman. I ask myself if it's worth it, since I'm not so brave. What I'm facing is scary," he says. "It's good my mother still doesn't know about it."