Thailand: What Ever Happened To the “Seditious” PAD Thai Seven?

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Blowback? “Uncertainty clouds future of” Sondhi’s flagship Anglophone Asian “innovation journalism” title and “this is not a strategic content alliance” Times-Mirror business partner, August 2006.

… the Thai Journalists’ Broadcast Association (TJBA) said in October that television was no freer after the end of the Thaksin regime. “In the past, we suffered from self-censorship. Today, we cannot even investigate the activities of the junta (…) we are being stifled,” said one of the organizers of the TBJA, three weeks after the coup. —Fred Varcoe, Number 1 Shinbum, June 2007

Amazingly enough.

At the time, the TJBA called upon the junta to return the nation to democratic rule as soon as possible, supported the drafting of a new Constitution, but avoided condemning the coup d’etat.

Manager Online (Thailand), on the day it goes offline, notes the pending “treason” trial of the PAD Thai Seven. The story is dated August 31, 2007.

The Criminal Court will decide tomorrow whether to grant the Metropolitan Police warrants for the arrest of seven members or supporters of the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on charges of treason.

Whatever happened to that case? The Mass Party formed by the PAD “grassroots movement” reportedly — the report is unsourced — disbanded itself — or was disbanded — after the coup on September 19, 2006.

The Mass Party’s Wikipedia entry, because it does currently register the fact that the party has been disbanded, does not offer any information on the question: Who disbanded it? (If it disbanded.) And why?

David “Fear and Misinformation Abound” Sasaki-style fear and misinformation abound.

Wikipedia: The magic font of all practical wisdom.

The seven, including PAD founding member and spokesman Suriyasai Katasila, outgoing Senator Karun Saingam and Senator-elect Rosana Tositrakul, are accused by police of inciting public unrest after making several public speeches criticizing caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Police say their behavior violated national security.

And what was their behavior, anyway? What was the content of their speeches?

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Gratuitious argumentum ad Nazium (creative synergies with Buddhist visions of Hell): Anti-Thaksin rally, March 2006

The seven have consistently refused to comply with police summonses, contending that they had the legal right to express their political opinions freely under Article 44 of the Constitution. They also claim it is lawful to hold peaceful demonstrations against the government.

In this day and age of Global War on a Very Strong Emotion, if you blog, or otherwise manifest publicly, even jokingly or fictionally, about wanting to physically harm, literally or metaphorically — oh, let us say (fictionally), the leader of the Federal Republic of Freedonia, President Jehosephat “The Farmer” Shrubbery (played by Groucho Marx), you are likely to get a visit from the Freedonia Bureaucracy of Interrogatories.

PAD leader Sondhi was quoted by The Nation as saying the Army should line Thaksin up and shoot him:

On February 4 of last year, Thaksin said he would resign if His Majesty whispered in his ear. That evening, Sondhi thundered from his rally stage, “Where is the army? This talk is enough to bring [Thaksin] to the execution post.” The Nation (Bangkok)

Is that an accurate quote?

Any more classics of world freedom of expression along those lines from Sondhi and his supporters?

Rosana said the seven had sent two letters to Pol Maj-Gen Chatchawan Suksomjitr, the deputy commander of the Metropolitan Police, demanding an explanation for the summonses but that the police had failed to respond.

“We do not advocate overthrowing the democratic system.”

“All we are saying is, give us a chance” (to overthrow the elected government by undemocratic means)?

“PAD is not intending to topple the democratic system with His Majesty the King as Head of State,” Rosana said. “Our demonstrations were always within the legal framework that is protected by the Constitution. We want to express our political views. We demand scrutiny of the government because Thaksin refused scrutiny by Parliament of the 73.3 billion baht Shin Corp share sale.”

Aside from the Shin Corp sale, another focus of moral panic was the alleged hiring of American lobbyist or political consultants by “the corrupt media mogul” opposed by the (bankrupt media mogul, or moral-crusading journalist-activist?) Sondhi?

So what ever happened to the PAD Thai Seven?

Were they charged or not?

In July 2006, The Nation had reported PAD statements about an alleged frame-up in the case:

“Some senior officers are trying to coerce witnesses to give statements accusing the PAD of posing a security threat by organising street protests,” said PAD spokesman Suriyasai Katasila, adding that these police officers had dropped hints about arresting witnesses and their relatives if they refused to cooperate.

The officers are not identified by name or contacted for a response to the accusation.

The list of witnesses includes social critic Sulak Sivarak, activist Pitaya Wongkul, labour leader Wilaiwan Sae Tia and student leader Kochawan Chaiyabutr.

Refusing to answer summons:

PAD leader Somkiart Pongpaiboon said he and four colleagues would not report to the police for questioning and reserved their right to testify in court.

“Suspiciously”:

Police are acting suspiciously in trying to charge PAD leaders with treason even though public prosecutors have refused to file such charges citing weak evidence, Somkiart said.

Did prosecutors refuse to file such charges?

Was Thaksin — who refers to himself formally with the title, “Lt. Col. of the Police” — able to, and did he, make political use of the Thai police and military?

If so, how come they overthrew the guy?

At a roundtable on the crisis held by the Australian National Thai Studies Center, Dr Craig Reynolds offered this assessment on Thaksin the police statesman:

Political scientists tend to explain Thaksin in one of two ways, either as a businessman or ex-policeman, or a little of both.

  1. The first explanation is in terms of Thaksin as a businessman. He has been quoted as saying that he wants to run Thailand like a company. He is also in favour of privatisation. Indeed, as a businessman he bears remarkable similarities to a leader of the PAD, Sondhi Limthongkul, who in many ways appears to be his double.
  2. Thaksin is also a policeman. He served as a policeman, and he made his fortune selling telecommunications equipment to the police. Consequently, he is comfortable with the security services, both the police and the military.

The State Department reported, in its 2006 human rights assessment of Thailand, that

Some members of the domestic NGO Assembly of the Poor reported that the government threatened to file charges of treason and otherwise intimated them because of their activities. The threat of arrest hindered their work.

Which members were those? What did the other members say?

According to its supporters (Source: ThaiNGO.org) …

… In 1995, a number of organisations and civic groups which were affected by many state projects organised themselves into the Forum of the Poor, which later became the Assembly of the Poor. Their goal was to have more negotiating power with the government. The Assembly of the Poor is not an NGO.

According to a Crime and Society (San Diego State) study of comparative criminology published in [undated?]:

Police and prosecutors continued to investigate a November 2000 incident in which villagers allegedly paid by the Government violently dispersed a protest by the NGO Assembly of the Poor at the Pak Mun dam, seriously injuring 4 protesters and burning more than 500 temporary shelters.

Amnesty International reported that

the Assembly of the Poor brings together development professionals, government representatives, human rights organizations and community representatives to discuss the impact of development interventions.

Does it get USAID assistance, I wonder?

I am unable to immediately substantiate the report that the AOP charged it was threatened with treason charges. The State Dept. statement to that effect cites no source for that statement.

When our government reports facts to us, it apparently observes the same standards and practices as a tabloid gossip magazine.

Maybe the Aussie press would be a good place to look for straight reporting on this issue. What ever did happen to the PAD Thai Seven?

After the coup, judging from a quick search of its online archives, The Nation never reported on the case of the PAD Thai Seven again.

Still reading. This Freedom House assessment of the crisis (PDF) is the most coherent, though not exactly rigorously sourced, narrative I have read on the subject so far. But consider the source carefully.

Writing in 2007, Diana Barahona had an alternative (more accurate) description of their board of trustees, which she said was “a Who’s Who of neoconservatives from government, business, academia, labor, and the press.”

The 2003 war on drugs, was, for example, “an apparently officially sanctioned policy of extrajudicial killing that involved some 2,500 deaths in its initial three months.”

“Apparently”?

The footnote cites HRW’s 2004 “Not Enough Graves” (PDF) report.

In this version of events, Thaksin is sort of a tropical Asian Hugo Chávez:

… the new constitution ushered in the premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra, a wealthy telecommunications magnate backed by a large catch-all political party, Thai Rak Thai (TRT: Thais Love Thais). Without amending a word of the 1997 constitution, Thaksin proceeded systematically to subvert it. He bragged publicly that his landslide election victories in January 2001 and February 2005 gave him an unprecedented mandate, a legitimacy that trumped that of the Constitutional Court and other bodies. Thaksin actively re-politicized the military, installing his old friends, classmates, and relatives in key positions.

Apparently he did not re-politicize it successfully.

It overthrew him. (Perhaps, ironically, his repoliticization was what led to this repoliticization?)

I could use some footnotes substantiating this “bragging” on the part of Thaksin. Characterizing people’s words is not quite as informative as quoting them.

Not that I don’t trust James Woolsey, mind you, but

Woolsey was the first person on national television on September 11, 2001 to allege the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda without disclosing on these shows his legal relationship representing Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. (Steven C. Clemons, Washington Note)

Is that true? May 29, 2004, New York Times:

Last Saturday, several of these Chalabi supporters said, a small delegation of them marched into the West Wing office of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, to complain about the administration’s abrupt change of heart about Mr. Chalabi and to register their concerns about the course of the war in Iraq. The group included Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of a Pentagon advisory group, and R. James Woolsey, director of central intelligence under President Bill Clinton. Members of the group, who had requested the meeting, told Ms. Rice that they were incensed at what they view as the vilification of Mr. Chalabi, a favorite of conservatives who is now central to an F.B.I. investigation into who in the American government might have given him highly classified information that he is suspected of turning over to Iran.

How did that investigation turn out, anyway?

Richard Perle blames Jerry “I’m Like Ike” Bremer:

”There is a smear campaign under way, and it is being perpetrated by the C.I.A. and the D.I.A. and a gaggle of former intelligence officers who have succeeded in planting these stories, which are accepted with hardly any scrutiny,” Mr. Perle, a leading conservative, said in an interview. Mr. Perle, referring to both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the campaign against Mr. Chalabi was ”an outrageous abuse of power” by United States government officials in Washington and Baghdad. ”I’m talking about Jerry Bremer, for one,” Mr. Perle said, referring to L. Paul Bremer III, the top American administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in charge of the occupation of Iraq. ”I don’t know who gave these orders, but there is no question that the C.P.A. was involved.”

Ahmad Chalabi, whose every word was transcribed faithfully (without sourcing them) in the pages of the New York Times, is the victim of a leak-to-the-media gabbling ratfink campaign.

“I a rubber, and you are glue …”

Our great Republic is now run by small children in the bodies of silver-haired policy pundits.

In the meantime, we can assess the Chalabi question from a journalistic point of view in light of the Judy Miller principle: “You are only as good as your sources.”

Leaked internal email traffic disclosed Miller’s self-confessed reliance on Ahmad Chalabi, a leading Iraqi exile with every motive to produce imaginative defectors eager to testify about Saddam’s biowar, chemical and nuclear arsenal. … the conflicts of interest put the New York Times in a terrible light. Here was Miller, with a contract to write a new book on the post-invasion search for “weapons of mass destruction”, lodged in the Army unit charged with that search, fiercely insisting that the unit prolong its futile hunt, while simultaneously working hand in glove with Chalabi. Journalists have to do some complex dance steps to get good stories, but a few red flags should have gone up on that one.

Alexander Cockburn, co-author, Death of the Fourth Estate.

Should have. Would have. Could have.

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I sometimes wonder whether the death (news of which, we hope, has been greatly exaggerated) of democratic, reality-based journalism is not more a matter of the press taking that metaphor — “The Fourth Estate” — a little too literally.

These people started subscribing to the Marinho-Civita-Lacerda-Berlusconi school of thought, according to which the media really is a co-equal (at least) branch of government, rather than a humble waterer of the garden of popular sovereignty with solid, copious, reliable information, conveyed with words of two syllables at most, whenever possible.

At some point it seems to have decided it could get better results (better for whom?) by fertilizing public opinion with toxic sludge-laced bullshit.

But fertilizer can sometimes blow up in your face — especially when mixed with fuel oil.

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