The criminal court postponed the deposition hearing of the ‘Men in Black’ suspects, who are allegedly involved in the violence during the military crackdown on redshirts on 10 April 2010 due to the lack of evidences on terrorism charge and disagreement between the public prosecutor and the Department of Special Investigation, who is overseeing the investigation of the case.
The criminal court on Monday postponed the deposition hearing of ‘Men in Black’ suspects, the five alleged militants participating in the political violence on 10 April 2010 on Rajdamnoen avenue, Bangkok.
The prosecutors found that the evidence to file terrorism charges against the five is insufficient despite the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) case file, which presses charge on terrorism against the five.
The five earlier indicted the suspects with offences of possession of unauthorized and illegal weapons of war, such as M79 grenade launchers, M16s, HK33s and explosive devices. The DSI’s director will have an authority to finalise if the terrorism charge will still be filed against the five or not.
Four male 'Men in Black' suspects in Bangkok Remand Prison
The court scheduled the new deposition hearing on 23 March 2015.
The five suspects are:
- Kittisak Soomsri, 45, a Bangkok native
- Preecha Yooyen, 24, from northern Chiang Mai Province
- Ronnarit Suricha, 33, from northeastern Ubon Ratchathani Province
- Chamnan Pakeechai, 45, from Bangkok
- Punika Chusri, 39, from Bangkok
At the press conference on 11 September, a few days after their arrests, the five confessed that they were the ‘men in black’. However, roughly a month later, they recanted their confessions and alleged that they were tortured to confess while under detention by the military.
The five have remained under custody since September last year.
Winyat Chatmontree, a lawyer from Free Thai Legal Aid (FTLA) who represents the suspects, on Monday said that the bail requests of the five were not submitted because the suspects’ families did not find sufficient financial resources.
In December, the lawyer for the five also requested bail for, Punika Chusri, the only female suspect who was not involved in the case, but was merely accused of sitting in the same vehicle as the four other defendants during the incident. However, the court declined the bail request citing flight risk despite the fact that she was not arrested, but voluntarily reported to the police in early September.
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- Organizers of the assembly must “notify” the police about the planned rally, where it will take place and when it will start and end, at least 24 hours before the rally commences.If the assembly organizers want to extend the assembly, they must notify the authorities 24 hours in advance.
- Assemblies must not be held within a 150 metre radius of the residences of the King, Queen, Heir Apparent, princes or princesses, or royal visitors.
- Assemblies must not be held at Parliament, Government House and the courts, except where space is designated for assemblies.
- Assemblies must not obstruct the entrances and exits or disrupt the services and functions of state agencies, airports, harbours, railway stations, transportation stations, hospitals, schools, places of religion, embassies and international organizations.
- Amplifier microphones must not be used between midnight and 6 am. No moving assembly is allowed between 6 pm and 6 am.
- Microphone amplifiers used in a rally must use electric power under regulations issued by the Royal Thai Police.
- Protesters must not disguise themselves, except for traditional costumes.
- Protesters must not carry weapons in an assembly, and not trespass, cause damage to property, assault or threaten to assault others, or cause disturbances to others more than can be reasonably anticipated.
- Assembly organizers must take responsibility for the assembly being peaceful and weapon-free, to try to control the assembly so as not to affect others more than is appropriate, to inform the protesters of their responsibilities and conditions set out by the authorities, not to instigate violence, and to collaborate with the authorities.
- Any march or relocation of an assembly can take place if the authorities are notified in advance.
- If a protest is held within a 150 metre radius of palaces, international organizations, and residences of royal visitors, or block entrances and exits to public transportation stations, protesters face jail terms of up to six months.
- If an assembly is held without at least 24 hours’ notice to the authorities before the protest commences and the authorities do not relax this rule, or the protest does not end within the agreed period, or moves to another venue without notification to the authorities, the protesters face fines of up to 10,000 baht.
- If rally organizers do not cooperate with the authorities, incite violence, give speeches using microphone amplifiers after midnight and use microphones that are too loud, the rally organizers face jail terms of up to six months.
- If protesters carry weapons, trespass or damage property, cause harm, threaten others, obstruct the authorities, move the assembly after dark, they face jail terms of up to 10 years.
- If an assembly causes temporary or permanent disruption of communication systems, the production or the distribution of electricity, tap water, or other public utilities, the rally organizers face jail terms of up to 10 years.
- By defining an assembly as illegal, the police are given the right to order the protesters away, and any protester not leaving the venue is liable to punishment. This is even more unreasonable and disproportionate, said academic.
- Jantajira Iammayura pointed out that the failure to comply with petty legal conditions, such as the failure to give 24 hours’ notice, should only carry penalties for the organizers and not turn all protesters into offenders.
In January 2015, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) began drafting the new Thai constitution with the promise of significant changes to return true democracy to the country. Yet, as the drafting continues, there is growing concern that it will never deliver on its promise. Thailand’s clock will turn back at least two decades to the pre-1997 era, which was characterized by weak and chaotic government and by the unchecked power of unelected elites.
The major concern of the CDC is how to prevent parliamentary dictatorship. Before 1997, a series of coalition governments characterized Thailand, as the block vote electoral system ensured that no political party could secure an outright parliamentary majority. While this system guaranteed checks and balances within the cabinet, it generated a great deal of political instability. Fighting within the coalition often paralyzed or even brought down the government before it could begin its work. The 1997 ‘People’s Constitution’ reinstated the mixed electoral system, where 400 MPs were elected via the first-past-the-post system and another 100 via the party list system. This change drove small parties out of politics - leaving only the two biggest ones, Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party and its rival, Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democratic Party. As Thaksin’s extensive control had escalated into abuse of power during his mandate as prime minister between 2001-2006, the 2007 constitution reinstated the block vote system and divided the national party list into eight regional lists. Smaller parties then flourished again. As part of the ongoing constitutional reforms, the CDC proposed a mixed-member proportional representation system. With no party able to gain a majority, coalition government is inevitably coming back.
Initially, the proposals concerning the rules for selecting the prime minister focused on insulating the PM from the influence of parliament. One idea suggested that the PM and each cabinet member should be elected directly. Another proposed that a five-member council should hand-pick the prime minister. The latter approach would isolate the PM from legislative control, as well as the public, and weaken the cabinet itself. However, the CDC finally agreed to entrust the House of Representative with nominating whomever they see fit to be the prime minister. As a result, the prime minister would not have to be elected – nor would he need to be affiliated with any political party. Essentially, anyone could become prime minister provided he is hand-picked by the House of Representatives. The CDC justified this choice with the need for a ‘middleman’ prime minister who could intervene in time of a political deadlock. Especially since historically, the middlemen were from the army or the Privy Council.
To ensure transparency and level the political playing field, the CDC also proposes greater scrutiny. According to the Chairman of the CDC, Borwornsak Uwanno, election campaign rules would become stricter, as campaigns would require pre-authorization by the Election Commission. The campaign would need to involve a public debate and any “populist policies” are planned to be filtered out. The exact filtering methods are yet to be seen – and might be questionable from a freedom of speech perspective. For greater transparency, the candidates’ personal details would be disclosed in the ballots instead of their numbers and the Constitutional Court could be petitioned directly for a stay of a politician’s action or even for the dissolution of the party. The draft proposes the relaxation of impeachment rules, such that only a simple majority of parliamentary votes would be needed for a motion to pass. This would make it easier for Parliament to bring down the administration and would only increase the vulnerability of the already feeble government. Moreover, a politician could be impeached retroactively. If found guilty, his or her political rights could be suspended for five years. Even if (s)he survives the motion to impeach, his or her name would be put on a list to be voted by the public in the next general election that could result in a ban from politics for life. This radical idea was proposed by the People’s Democratic Reform Council, the extreme group that had shut down Bangkok for six months in 2014.
The CDC has vowed to create not only a ‘good system of government’ but also to find ‘good people’ to run it. The definition of a ‘good person’ is vague but generally refers to one who is ethical and free from political influence. In this vein, the draft constitution proposes to transfer the power to appoint and remove government officials from the cabinet to a new independent commission. Moreover, the newly-established ‘National Virtue Assembly’ would also conduct background checks and set moral standards for public officials. Given the lack of transparency of the CDC’s exact proposals, the details of the Assembly’s operation remain unclear. However, judging from the National Reform Council’s proposal, it would have competence to go beyond just checking the candidate’s criminal records and could potentially extend to screening candidates’ personal beliefs. As political discourse in Thailand has become extremely moralistic, the ‘National Virtue Assembly’ could potentially offer an excuse to eliminate political opponents, who diverge from a traditional and extremely conservative Buddhist ideology.
Another controversial provision of the draft constitution is section 7, which declares that if no constitutional provision is applicable to the case, it should be decided according to the constitutional convention of the democratic regime with the king as head of state. In the past, this clause had been interpreted as allowing the king to directly give a verdict according to his wishes. The CDC has clarified that the Constitutional Court has full power to interpret the constitutional convention in question. Although this helps keep the king out of political conflicts, it confers immense power on the judiciary.
The only part of the constitution that would remain the same is that defining the rights and liberties of Thais. The 1997 constitution had extensively covered civil, political, economic and cultural rights. All subsequent charters followed the trend by expanding them. However, almost two decades after the adoption of the ‘People’s Constitution’, many of these rights remain unfulfilled. Human rights violations are widespread and government agencies are rarely held liable. Moreover, the CDC proposed to merge two independent agencies, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Ombudsman into a new body - a move that triggered domestic objections and international criticism, also mindful of the different roles the agencies play in Thai rights protection. While both the NHRC and the Ombudsman are condemned for political bias, these agencies are the main rights protectors that have always been overwhelmed with complaints. Their merger in effect leaves Thais with fewer channels to redress wrongful state actions.
Meanwhile, current Thai politics remains a battleground between the poorer masses and the traditional elite, led by bureaucrats. The new constitution would help the elite fulfill its aspiration of total control over the country. As the fear of parliamentary dictatorship reaches hysterical levels, the CDC’s proposed solution is an electoral system that would only ensure a fragmented parliament and a coalition government. The distrust in the majority’s wisdom has led to micromanagement. As a result, the draft constitution goes into tedious details on how the government should operate and proposes harsh punishments for opponents. Thai politics is at risk of traveling back to the pre-1997 era when the PM was too busy with constantly reshuffling his cabinet to please its political alliance, while the administrative branch slowly consolidated its power to become the de factofourth branch of power. The government is so fragile that one disgruntled individual could sabotage its operation by filing a case to the Constitutional Court. Even though the constitutional court justices are appointed by an ad-hoc commission that is meant to be independent, in the past two years it has handed down a number of controversial decisions criticizing Thai politicians that have played a role in ousting at least four governments.
The CDC’s proposals provoke concerns that the new constitution would bring about a chaotic cabinet with limited power that is unable to implement any significant policies. At the same time, the elite could manipulate the government through these newly established bodies, the appointment of an unelected prime minister and screenings based on the ‘right moral standard’.
Meanwhile, the public remains uninterested in the CDC’s work. This is in contrast with the drafting of the 1997 and the 2007 constitutions that saw lively debates. The indifference is due to scant information as the draft is not publicly available. Fear is also a factor. The junta continues to detain dissenters on a daily basis and the CDC shows no interest in listening to public opinion. It even benefits from the silence since it means less resistance to its draft. The public’s exclusion from the process raises ownership and legitimacy questions that will impact the constitution’s smooth operation.
But the public will not remain silent forever. The two decades since the enactment of the 1997 constitution have not been in vain. The ‘People’s Constitution’ had wakened the majority to realize that democracy matters. People have been fighting for the future, for a more stable and functional government that is responsive and accountable.
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This week, Patiwat S. was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for lèse majesté because of his role in the play, “The Wolf Bride.” Patiwat is the most recent student to have been imprisoned under the law, and has been an advocate for Isaan peoples’ rights and democracy for years.
On Monday, the criminal court sentenced Khon Kaen University student Patiwat S. and activist Pornthip M. to five years in jail for their involvement in a satirical play that was deemed “damaging to the monarchy.” The court reduced the sentence by half for their admission of guilt.
Since last year’s military coup, the number of lese majeste prisoners may have reached a historic high, according to iLaw, a Bangkok-based human rights advocacy group. Patiwat is the first student known to be convicted since the 1980s.
Patiwat was arrested last August for acting in the play, “The Wolf Bride,” that was performed at Thammasat University in October 2013. The play was set in a fictional kingdom in which Patiwat starred as the Brahmin advisor to the king. The production was part of a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 student protests.
Patiwat, who goes by “Bank,” is a twenty-three-year old student at Khon Kaen University’s Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts. His peers and teachers describe him as a devoted advocate of democracy, a talented performer, a one-of-a-kind character with a wild wit.
Bank grew up in Sakon Nakhon, in a village not far from the Phu Phan mountain range, an area that once served as the central base of Thailand’s Communist Party during the sixties and seventies. His uncle joined the communist movement when he was young, and it was his political views that sparked Bank’s early interest in social welfare.
“I learned from my family and my community about the people’s movement in Isaan and their struggle for citizens’ rights,” Bank said in an interview with The Isaan Record in May 2014.
Bank moved to Khon Kaen in 2010 to enroll in Khon Kaen University’s Folk Music and Performance Program — a decision he made against his family’s wishes. He wanted nothing more than to be a performer of mo lam, an eclectic style of folk music native to Laos and Northeastern Thailand.
During university holidays, he would not go home like other students, but stayed on campus instead. In his village, people ridiculed him for wanting to become a mo lam performer, to them a sure path into poverty.
Bank poses in one of his mo lam stage costumes. His flamboyant stage costumes are notorious around campus.
“He has great passion and talent,” said his mo lam teacher, who asked not be named. “From the day I met him, I had a feeling that his ancestors might have been mo lam artists,” she said, as she played recordings of Bank’s songs.
Bank quickly made his mark at Khon Kaen University as both the class star and class clown. He threw all his energy into perfecting his stage skills and mastering various Isaan instruments, including the khaen, a mouth reed organ that usually accompanies mo lam performances. However, according to his teacher, his real forte is singing and songwriting. Like most mo lam songs, Bank’s lyrics revolve around stories of romance and unrequited love, but also political issues—especially the rights of the people of Isaan—all flavored with a wry sense of humor.
On stage, Bank calls himself, “bak nuat ngoen lan,” which roughly translates to ‘The Million-Baht Mustache Man,” an ironic reference to his well-groomed facial hair and a career choice that is unlikely to fill his pockets.
Bank showed pride in his Isaan roots, despite widespread prejudice experienced by people from the Northeast. While his peers salivated over denim, he opted out of the mandatory student uniform for traditional Northeastern garb, insisting on a new faculty uniform.
Bank with a pa kha ma, a Thai traditional cloth for males, which he remembers his
grandfather always wore when Bank was young.
The hardship of the people in the Northeast motivated Bank to become a social activist. “Isaan has been historically suppressed and exploited by the powers of the central region,” Bank said last May, in a thick Isaan accent.
But the crackdown on red shirt protesters in Bangkok in May 2010 fully cemented his commitment to fight for social justice and democracy.
“The violence in Bangkok really got to him. He couldn’t bear that so many people were killed only because they asked for democracy,” said a fellow activist, who asked not to be identified. The killings of the protesters, many of them from the Northeast, drove Bank to engage more with national activist groups and he began skipping class to perform at red shirt protests around the country.
This didn’t keep him from working with the student activist community at Khon Kaen University. He was elected as the secretary general of the Student Federation of the Northeast in 2010, and; he was a member of the Student Council in 2011 and a committee member of the Student Union in 2013.
In September 2010, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security gave Bank the National Outstanding Youth Award. It was Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn who personally handed the award to Bank.
Any minute Bank could spare he devoted to the small student activist group Sum Kieow Dao, or Harvesting the Stars, one of the few politically engaged student clubs at the university. The group worked with progressive NGOs in the Northeast and garnered student support for pressing social and political issues, work that Bank found shamefully absent from the university curriculum.
“Students nowadays don’t care for politics and they don’t think for themselves — they just eat, sleep and shit — excuse my language,” Bank exclaimed, exploding into laughter. He added that he believes that universities should teach students how to be critical thinkers in order to help build a democratic society. For Bank, students across the country have been misled by an education system that stifles any critical voice that going against the status quo.
In early 2011, after the controversial arrest of Amphon “Akong” Tangnoppakul for defaming the monarchy, Sum Kieow Dao organized a protest campaign against Thailand’s lese majeste law, or article 112 of the Criminal Code—the very law that has now put Bank behind bars.
According to a friend, Bank understood that his involvement with the play could land him into trouble, but he didn’t expect that anyone would interpret the performance as defaming the monarchy.
Bank playing a fictional advisor to a fictional king in the fictional play “The Wolf Bride,” in 2013. His performance was deemed offensive to the monarchy and he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Only a few months before his arrest, Bank expressed his concerns about the burgeoning number of lese majeste arrests. “I am afraid of the witch hunters going after red shirt activists,” Bank said, referring to the Rubbish Collection Organization, an ultra-royalist group based in Bangkok. “If you dare to think differently, you are already guilty,” he warned.
In the late morning of February 23, Bank stood to hear the judge read the verdict on his case at the Ratchada Criminal Court in Bangkok. After the judge ruled against Bank and Pornthip, a group of activist supporters chanted protest songs for the two outside the courthouse.
”Even though the skies turn dark for months, the stars are still shining,” they sang, as a silver van led the two prisoners off to serve their sentences.
First published on The Isaan Record
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