students

Debates rages over Thailand's lèse majesté law

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 4, 2013 After the verdict against veteran labor activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, discussions about lèse majesté have been reignited on many levels and also in many forms. Somyot was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison, 10 of them for publishing articles (which he didn't write himself) in a magazine that were deemed insulting to the monarchy - after being previously held in detention for 21 months and denied bail 12 times (read our report as it happened here).

We begin with more reactions condemning the decision by the Criminal Court, after the numerous statements by international NGOs e.g. Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch and including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying “the conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Somyot sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand. Also, the United States State Department issued a short statement during a press briefing last week, expressing "deep concern" and that "no one should be jailed for expressing peacefully their views".

One of the first foreign reactions came from the European Delegation in Thailand, that sees press freedom and freedom of expression "undermined" by the verdict. It was just a matter of time until the statement was met with very extreme (but unsurprising) responses:

In response to the EU, an anonymous message was sent out on Facebook that went on to be shared by a large number of Thai royalists’ online social networks. In the highly politicised context of the ongoing Red-Yellow paradigm, politicking remains a key dynamic of course, in almost any social-political equation.

Nevertheless, it read: “Preserving our beloved Monarchy is the right of the Thai people - not the business of the EU... we have our own distinct culture, much of which has evolved around our beloved monarchy…This may be difficult for Europeans to understand: It is our long-held tradition to pay the utmost respect to our King, with a type of respect that is unique to Asian cultures.”

"Is our debate over freedom forever in conflict with Thai culture", by Titipol Phakdeewanich, Prachatai, January 30, 2013

There was initially noticeable silence by Thai organizations such as the toothless National Human Rights Commission or similar domestic institutions. On Sunday, Prachatai reported on the reaction by the Thai Journalists' Association (TJA):

Chavarong Limpatthamapanee, President of the TJA, has been forced to admit that they do ‘support and protect freedom of expression of the media’.  But they then ring-fence this support and protection with as many caveats as they hope will protect them from the ultra-royalists. First they circumscribe the right to freedom of expression within Thai law. (...)

The TJA then decides that freedom of expression does not belong to everyone, but only ‘media’ and says there is a debate going on within the TJA over a definition of what does and does not constitute media.

Khun Chavarong offers a novel definition: “What we protect is media that reports objectively, but if any media tries to have a political agenda for certain political groups, then we cannot protect them.”

"To Be Media or Not To Be Media", Prachatai, February 3, 2013

On the heels of the verdict, the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand (FCCT) hosted a panel discussion on lèse majesté with Somyot's wife Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk, Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, prolific academic and lèse majesté expert Dr. David Streckfuss and Dr. Tul Sittisomwong, self-proclaimed leader of the ultra-royalist "multicolored-shirt group" and apparently the only one who is regularly willing to stand in a public debate to defend the draconian law (and also in English).

There's been some controversy that the FCCT did not issue a statement on the Somyot verdict - understandable, since the club board has been targeted with a lèse majesté complaint in the past that was utterly politically motivated. However, the club itself defended their decision on the night of the panel discussion by saying that the FCCT is a club and not a journalist's association. Furthermore, (and I am paraphrasing here) the club is there to foster a debate and argument about the issues in Thailand - preferably by Thais themselves and that evening's debate was a good example (as they have done that in the past many, many times).

Whether or not this is enough is another question (for some it is not, but then again never will be) - but it also begs the question that if a statement by the FCCT was made, it would be doubtful how effective it would have been, considering how ferocious hardcore proponents of lèse majesté reject and attack any criticism, especially from abroad (see above).

The debate itself did not bring anything revolutionary to the discourse, but that was not to be expected. However, it was important that debate still exists and also the incomprehensible mess by Dr. Tul was yet again exposed the weak arguments the proponents of LM have. (See a recap of my live-tweeting of the panel discussion here)

And finally, before a football match between the universities of Thammasat and Chulalongkorn on Saturday, students (including Somyot's son) from both sides were seen showing a large banner in the stands saying "FREE SOMYOT" and protesting around the stadium. The public protest happened in the opening ceremony - from which they were forbidden to participate - where giant paper-mache figures lampoon political figures, which was obviously this year prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

This is quite remarkable, since students (or young people in general) are not really publicly perceived as being politically interested and active (unlike in the past). And Thammasat University struggling with itself over their stance towards LM - leading to one of the most bizarre sights as journalism students (!) were protesting against the reform of the law.

While the chances for an actual legal change of the lèse majesté law are still unlikely thanks to an unwilling government - despite their red shirt voter base - all these stories show that the public discourse over lèse majesté is very much still alive and ongoing.

As opposition against Thailand's lese majeste law continues, it claims another victim

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 16, 2011 Earlier this month, a 23-year old graduate from the Kasetsart University has been arrested for allegedly posting content on his blog that is deemed insulting to the monarchy - also known as lèse majesté. Prachatai and The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk (and unsurprisingly no one else) with the details:

The person who filed the charge was said to be a vice rector for students affairs, who reportedly said he was pressed to file the charge by the University Council and that the complaint was filed in a bid to protect the university's "reputation". (...)

The man made remarks on his blog that were allegedly offensive to the monarchy while he was a senior student at the university. These were apparently first spotted by fellow students, prachatai.com reported.

He faces charges both under the lese majeste law, which carries a maximum 15-year jail term, and the Computer Crimes Act, which has punishment of up to five years in jail.

"Student held for alleged lese majeste", The Nation, August 7, 2011

Meanwhile, Prachatai reports that he has been released on bail. This student, whose name and picture has been widely published, is another victim of Thailand's infamous Article 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as lèse majesté. In recent years, this law has been excessively abused, the number of such cases has skyrocketed from just a few cases in 2006 to almost 500 in 2010 and, in conjunction with the equally controversial 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA), thousands of websites have been shut down. On the other hand, due to the volatile political atmosphere in Thailand, it has enabled an excessive witch-hunt, as detailed here:

[Name of accused] was apparently 'witch hunted' by a Facebook group calling itself the Social Sanction (SS) group, according to his father. His name, photos, personal address and numbers were posted online, and he was heavily criticised by members of the SS group. (...)

Sawitree Suksri, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, described the SS group's method as "vicious" and "irrational" and a form of online violence that parallels the real-life violence in Thailand. She also noted in a signed article that the ongoing Social Sanction phenomenon appeared to have the support of the Thai authorities.

"THAILAND: Student blogger charged with lèse majesté", University World News, August 13, 2011

As charges for lèse majesté grow in numbers, so does the resistance against this law. We have previously reported about an open letter by a group of 100 young writers calling to amend this law and stop its excessive abuse. This group has now grown to 359 writers and they also have published a new open letter, key excerpt:

We hereby appeal to the Members of the Thai Parliament who are the representatives and law makers for the Thai people to take the lead in amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code. This is our call for courage to politicians, academicians, the media and intellectuals from all sectors of Thai society to awaken their conscience and to recognize that the suppression of freedom of speech and expression through the misuse of Article 112 by means of physical threats, pressing charges, lawsuits and intimidation by government officials in power or among members of the Thai public including the mass media, is a grave danger to the stability of our nation. This is of utmost national concern and in urgent need of reform.

A society will fail not as a result of diversity of opinions, nor lack of solidarity in political discourse, but a society will fail due to its inability to respect basic human rights, to allow opportunities for the public to voice their opinions, and to cherish and learn from the constructive exchange of different points of view. For our society to progress and prosper, it must develop a spirit of cooperation and cultivatean understanding of human rights, freedom and equality. The goal is for all Thais to live harmoniously under the constitutional monarchy rather than privilege those few who hold their view supreme, above and untouchable by common law and legal provisions or even the constitution which governs the nation.

"359 Thai Writers Manifesto", via Prachatai, July 25, 2011

The numerous cases show the problem about how this law is applied. In theory, anybody can file such a complaint at the police, who are obliged to investigate everyone of them, no matter how nonsensical they are. They can forward them to the prosecution and subsequently to the court which then has to decide on the very ambiguously worded law as well. Throw in the also very vague 2007 Computer Crimes Act (which was at one time planned to be replaced by an even worse new draft), then you are in a very (perhaps deliberately) unchartered legal territory - as the trail against Prachatai webmaster Chrianuch Premchaiporn has shown.

Many have laid their expectations on the new government to change something about this. But hopes for a quick solution to the problem were quickly dashed when the new prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that she has no intention to amend Article 112, but does not want see this law misused. Any administration even thinking publicly about reforming or changing this problem will have to face attacks by royalists who will brand them anti-monarchist, a severe accusation which is a killer argument that prevents any rational discussion about possible political and societal reforms.

Even worse, the new Minister for Communication and Technology (MICT) Captain Anudith Nakornthap of the Pheu Thai Party has gone on record declaring this:

(...) นับจากนี้ไป จะมีการกำชับให้ข้าราชการ และเจ้าหน้าที่ของกระทรวง ในทุกระดับ มีการเข้มงวดมากยิ่งขึ้น ในการกำกับดูแลปราบปรามการกระทำผิด พ.ร.บ.เกี่ยวกับคอมพิวเตอร์ และการหมิ่นสถาบันผ่านเว็บไซต์ต่างๆ โดยจะดำเนินการบังคับใช้กฎหมายอย่างเด็ดขาด

(...) from now on, the ministry's officials and staff members of every level have been urged to be more stringent in the pursuing of violations against the Computer Crimes Act and lèse majesté on websites, by enforcing the law to the fullest.

"รมว.ไอซีทีประกาศปราบเว็บหมิ่น ก่อนประเด็นลามถึงในเฟซบุ๊ก เจ้าตัวย้ำจะบังคับใช้กม.อย่างเป็นธรรม", Matichon, August 13, 2011

The new MICT minister made clear that nothing will change about the status quo, which means a continuation of the online witch-hunt, with support from a state-sponsored volunteer 'cyber-scout' network of denunciators and like-minded people who act on anticipatory obedience (see this link again for the aforementioned Social Sanction group and how students feel intimidated to speak their mind). All that in an atmosphere of when the army feels the urge to overemphasize their loyalty to the royal institution and openly threatens to crackdown on lèse majesté offenders. It sets a dangerous precedent of a black-and-white dichotomy against the Thai people, who think out of the norm.

It will be a long process until those who claim to protect the institution see that they are doing more harm than good in the long-run. One of the country's most outspoken social activist Sulak Sivaraksa was recently quoted in an foreign newspaper interview that "loyalty demands dissent. Without dissent you cannot be a free man, you see." Ironically, due to the same legal reasons as discussed here, I cannot provide a link to the source of that quote...!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Exclusive: ‘This is not the last straw for Thai democracy’ – Suranand Vejjajiva

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 15, 2011 This is part two of Siam Voices' exclusive interview with Suranand Vejjajiva, former Cabinet Minister under Thaksin Shinawatra, now a politicial columnist for the Bangkok Post and host of "The Commentator" on VoiceTV.

In this second installment, Suranand talks to Saksith Saiyasombut about a wide range of topics, including the fate of the red shirts, the future of the Democrat Party, our education crisis, the state of the media and Thaksin. For part one, click here.

Saksith Saiyasombut: Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, has been blamed to be partly responsible that Thailand has been downgraded by several media freedom watchdogs as for it‘s decreasing freedom of speech. Do you think a Pheu Thai government is capable to improve on this?

Suranand Vejjajiva: Oh yes, if they‘re willing to. The Democrat Party could have done it, too. The enforcement of that law, that it leaves to individual judgement, is problematic. A policeman can interpret the law differently. What the outgoing government has done is to string this law together with the Computer Crimes Act (CCA), all for political purposes. I don‘t agree with this development at all - let everyone speak their mind! To answer your question: Pheu Thai would definitely get into trouble, there‘ll be people attacking them...

...if they would tweak Article 122 or its application. But there are also other aspects they could improve on...

...they could improve the Computer Crimes Act. A lot of groups have been proposing for a change.

Exactly, even though the MICT has proposed a new draft of the CCA, which was even worse - which hasn‘t materialized yet...

...luckily...

Let‘s talk about the red shirt movement, what will happen to them now?

It‘s a good sign that the red shirt leaders are running for office and they should perform their duties as such. But the red shirts as a movement is a political phenomenon that should be studied and they should keep it up, they should improve and reform - make it a mature political movement and they will be an important political force, if they believe in protecting democracy. They have to prove themselves, too. A lot of people are accusing them for being just a vehicle for Thaksin to come back to power. Now, if they prove themselves to be just that and forget the people, then they will suffer. I don‘t wish to see that - the same can be said even for the yellow shirts! If they would have developed into a real political movement - fine!

Is it - for the lack of a better word - 'appropriate' if any of the red leaders-now-elected-MPs would get a cabinet post?

 

It‘s all political negotiation. For me personally, I don‘t mind because they would have to prove themselves and as long as they do not use their new power to intervene with their own cases, that‘s fine.

What about the new opposition, the Democrat Party...

...the new opposition with the old leaders? (laughs)

Well, will there be the old leaders or will there be new faces taking over, since Abhisit is now a burnt commodity?

It‘s quite a shame, but at the same Abhisit would be a liability to the Democrats for now. He‘s still very young and there‘re still ways to vindicate him - but with the 91 deaths hanging over his government, it‘s going to be hard. It‘s going to be a liability if he is still the opposition leader. The Democrats probably need a new face. But if they can‘t find one - Abhisit is still one of the strongest candidate on this side of the aisle, he has been protecting the conservatives and the establishment.

So if it‘s not going to be Abhisit, he thinks it should be someone from his fraction like (outgoing finance minister) Korn Chatikavanij or (former Bangkok governor) Apirak Kosayodhin - they have to work it out among themselves.

So it would be best to have a fresh new start with new faces?

Looking from Pheu Thai‘s point of view, it would be good if Abhisit stays! (laughs)

Speaking of new faces, how do you explain that Chuwit Kalomvisit‘s Rak Prathet Thai Party could get four seats? Was this a protest movement?

Yes, you have to give him credit. He is very energetic, he could get his message across - even though he looks crazy sometimes. And his message is easy and direct. But at the same time, a lot of people were thinking to „Vote No“, but once the PAD took that position, many people were thinking ,What am I going to do with my protest vote?‘ - they gave it to Chuwit.

Especially a lot of young people...

...especially a lot of young people who are bored of politics! Which happens in a lot of countries!

But at least in other countries there‘s a vocal part of the youth who are standing up against wrongdoings...

...and they are more organized...

...but here in Thailand, they are virtually invisible!

It‘ because of our weak education. The political consciousness and democratic principles need to be taught in school. Thai schools are still very authoritative and not bold enough to open up to let their students talk and speak [their mind]. It‘s not like the Western schools, it‘s a cultural thing that you have to develop. It hurts in a way, it makes the institutions weak, bad politicians can still remain in office - people basically don‘t really care!

Despite the fact the outgoing government has thrown more money at the problem, there are now more and more international reports indicating that the Thai education system is producing not very skilled labors and also in English proficiency we are falling behind. And then comes Pheu Thai and their most memorable education policy is „Free tablet PCs for all“...

In my opinion, giving out free tablet PCs is still better than just giving out free uniforms. Because at least the tablet PC can - if done right - open up access to information for the students, and it would also solve other problems, like printing frauds. But I agree with you, it‘s deeper than that!

It doesn‘t take gadgets to solve this problem, which are more fundamental...

...it‘s the fundamental attitude of the Ministry of Education towards education!

I‘m not very convinced there will be much change by the next government.

No, which will hurt us even more. It‘ll take a decade, it would take two or three generations to change the education system, but you have to begin somewhere. And I agree with you, if they don‘t do it now...

...we will have another lost generation?

Yes.

A weak society needs a strong media to at least uphold the pillars of society, but we don't have that as well.

We don‘t! As seen in many foreign countries, a strong public television system really helps a society to develop - we don‘t have it here. We tried to do it a lot of times, but that was no real public service television.

What I‘m trying to say is, I see a direct correlation between weak education and weak media. So there's less of a sense to challenge, criticize and openly question things that are needed to be addressed.

Well, we were just talking about the campaign. If we were in the United States or Germany, a good 90 per cent of the Thai campaign policies would have been shot down by the press, because they would been well researched with reports, graphics; arguing wether this is feasible - but you don‘t see that in Thai press, they would just ask that academic, then this academic and that‘s it! Just soundbites!

British academic Duncan McCargo wrote a book about the Thai press ("Politics & the Press in Thailand: Media Machinations"), which is 10 years old, his research is 15 years old...

...and it‘s still valid - unfortunately!

He says, among many other things, that the Thai media mostly lacks a „sense of duty to explain the political process“. Can there be change as well, even in these very solid, top-down structures?

I hope so, there are a lot of good publishing houses and newspapers. But you don‘t see any quality papers á la New York Times or you don‘t see an investigative television show. I hope the young generation will be able to use the internet more wisely. But we don‘t have a strong enough education system to create an opportunity for them to question the information they are getting, then they will be fooled like everyone else.

Getting back to politics: will this transition of power be smooth?

For the sake of the country, I‘d like to see that. Whether Pheu Thai is good or bad - give them a chance to run the country, at best for four years. If they have done well, re-elect them; if not, throw them out of the office! That‘s the simple democratic principle.

But to answer your question: I doubt it, there‘ll be a lot of challenges. Now, if the challenges come within the parliamentary system, fine. But if it‘s not, then there will be trouble.

Is this one of the reasons why there‘ll be an intervention from an undemocratic force or is it still too early to say?

It‘s too early to say! The advantage for us right now is, after the recent events in the world, like the Arab Spring, are cautionary tales for people who try to exercise power outside the framework of democracy. But I also think that Pheu Thai‘s action in government will be important: appoint good and capable cabinet ministers, prove themselves that they are fair and transparent, no corruption cases - this would help. But if they come in and do the same thing - what I‘m scared of is that people will lose faith in democracy.

Haven‘t many people already lost their faith in the current democratic system, especially the youth?

Yes, even some of the rural people - there was a whole village that didn‘t come out to vote at all! But at the same time I think it‘s not the last straw! But if the next government does the same mistakes the Democrats did and disappoint the people, then the military would see this as an excuse to say: "Let‘s get in!" But that‘s not the solution!

Of course there‘s a dark, shadowy figure looming around this whole political crisis, it‘s of course Thaksin. Do you think Thaksin should have kept his mouth shut in the last few months?

I don‘t mind. If he feels he‘s been treated unfairly, let him say so. People talk a lot in this country. But whatever he says, he has to live with the consequences, like everyone else.

But nevertheless Yingluck got a big boost, because she‘s Thaksin‘s sister.

 

Yes! Thaksin is both an asset and a liability. He‘s certainly an asset - his vision, his connections, his networks, his charisma...

...his ego...

...I mean, he has the drive, to put it that way. But on the other hand he is a liability because he has so many political enemies.

The question many are asking is if Yingluck can stand on her own as a PM.

That is going to be important for the country. Yes, she is Thaksin‘s sister, she can‘t deny that. And in reality Thaksin is helping out a lot. But in a short period of time, she has been a successful campaigner. Now she has to prove, in an even shorter period time, that she can run the country. We have to give her that chance.

Will this government, and the red shirt movement as well, be capable and willing to move beyond Thaksin?

This is what they have to sit down and talk about.

Is this country able to?

Oh yes, definitely! There will be a day, where Thaksin is too old and you have to move on.

Will he come back?

I think so. He should come home, but to power? That‘s going to be another problem.

Khun Suranand, thank you very much!

Bangkok youth still pessimistic about current state of poltics

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 6, 2011 Last year, we blogged about a survey that found out that 60 per cent of the Bangkok youth did care little to nothing for politics, most of them irked and weary because of conflicts, untrustworthy politicians and generally headache-inducing complex issues. So much so that 90 per cent said that there's no way under the current circumstances they'd enter politics.

The Nation picked up on the story about the country's (a)political youth (on a much smaller scale) and has done a straw poll among a few university students. Unlike the previous survey, the opinions are more diverse this time:

"Thailand's colour-coded politics is far from over and will remain so even after the election," said Wiripone Artitraungroj, 19, from the Faculty of Science at Kasetsart University. (...)

Kasetsart University's Na-Bhattara Ongwaranon and Montree Somjai said they often discussed politics and the election among close friends, but steered away from talking with others whose political views they did not know.

"Politics is really a boring topic for youth," said Noppadon Sroything of Dhurakij Pundit University's Political Science Faculty. "But [taking part in] the election, I think, is better than street protests." (...)

Wattanapol Charoenpongteera, 21, from Srinakarinwirot University said people of his generation should pay more attention to politics and, if possible, have a role in it.

"Students believe July 3 election won't end political conflict", The Nation, June 6, 2011

When asked about a favorite who they'd give their vote to, the almost unanimous result is somehow surprising:

Many students said they liked Chuwit because of his extreme, colourful, straight and funny campaign.

"Personally, I think Chuwit campaigns colourfully while other parties are simply boring," said Wiripone.

Other political parties have simple campaigns of visiting and greeting people, but Chuwit's is interesting, said Watthanavut. "It is easy to recognise and remember Chuwit's posters while others are all the same," he said.

"Chuwit is interesting as he has a clear stance and looks sincere, not pretentious," said Boonporn.

"Students believe July 3 election won't end political conflict", The Nation, June 6, 2011

Yes, you read that right - Chuwit Kamolwisit, the outspoken and highly entertaining former massage parlor tycoon seems to be a favorite among the young Bangkokians, very likely for his straight-talking, no-holds-barred, in-your-face campaign posters and his announcement to be an opposition watchdog.

Even though these are just a few voices, they seem to draw a different, more diverse picture of opinions on the current state of affairs. Nevertheless, if the title is to be trusted, most are all realistic enough to see that elections alone cannot solve the deep political problems (with education being one of the more severe issues). But it is still no reason not to vote - especially if it's your first time!

Thai Corruption Survey Results Make Grim Reading

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 8, 2010 Matichon Online had a story on Sunday on the most recent ABAC poll on people's view on corruption in the government. This survey has been conducted among 1,349 households in 17 provinces nationwide and the results are compared to a similar poll done in February 2005. And the results are extremely worrying.

All questions have recorded a more negative attitude among the participants, whether it is on the notion that vote buying exists (2005: 66.3 percent, 2010: 75.1 percent) or that politicians only benefit for themselves (73.9 percent to 77.6 percent).

A smacking 90.1 percent in the survey believe that government officials continue to maintain corruption, whereas in 2005 'only' 84.9 percent agreed with this notion. Furthermore, the amount of people having no trust in the justice system to solve corruption cases has nearly tripled from 12.1 percent to 32.1 percent.

The most striking and disturbing figure of the survey showed that 76.1 percent accept corruption on government level for the sake of the prosperity and welfare of the country! In other words, three thirds of the questioned are okay with corruption and cheating if they benefit from it as well! ("โกงไม่เป็นไรขอให้ตัวเองได้ผลประโยชน์ด้วย") That's an increase of 13 percent from 63.2 percent compared to 2005. Also worrying is the percentage among different occupation groups regarding the same question, most students (67.1 percent), employers (79.3  percent), civil servants (65.1 percent) and employees (70.4 percent) also accept corruption if there are perks for them as well.

While the results are not surprising, especially the youth's disenchantment with politics, it is a worrying trend and probably also a sign of resignation that corruption is part of the daily political business in Thailand at the moment. If the most recent political scandals with leaked videos and disqualified MPs are any indication, then things will not change anytime soon. And there's nothing more to add to the irony that Thailand will host the International Anti-Corruption Conference this week.

The only upside of the poll is that 78.5 percent still believe that a committed democratic system is the best way out of the crisis. The question is though: Which Thai democratic system has ever been and will be committed enough to solve these problems?

Thai Statistic of the Day: Young People Don't Care About Politics!

Originally published on Siam Voices on September 18, 2010 Note: The following post contains satire!

Here are some numbers for you as seen in the Bangkok Post...

An opinion survey by Bangkok Poll at Bangkok University found that more than 60 per cent of young people pay little or no attention to politics.

The pollsters surveyed 1,159 people in Bangkok aged 15 to 25 years from Sept 10 to 12 asking them about politics, to mark National Youth Day on Sept 20.

Asked about their interest in politics, 30.5 per cent of the respondents said they had some interest and 7.4 per cent of them had a strong interest , Bangkok Poll reported on Thursday. But 54.0 per cent said they paid little attention to politics and 8.1 per cent said they gave it no attention at all.

"Most young people ignore politics", Bangkok Post, September 16, 2010

Well, that happens in the best democracies (*cough*) that young people have other things to worry about such as school, studies, fashion, video games, etc. But why would the Thai youth think so?

Asked about the current political outlook, 47.6 per cent said full of conflict and finding mistakes made by political rivals, 26.7 per cent said it gave them a headache, 11.5 per cent said it’s not democratic, 6.5 per cent said full of violence, 4.3 per cent saw a start of reconciliation, 1.2 per cent thought the situation has returned to normal, and 2.2 per cent said it was just a mirage.

"Most young people ignore politics", Bangkok Post, September 16, 2010

Ok, the current situation isn't really good at the moment and we haven't made much progress on reconciliation so far. But with the right people we can achieve something, right?

Asked about the attitudes of Thai politicians, 44.0 per cent of them said they thought only about their own self-interest, 16.2 per cent said politicians would do anything to hold power, 12.2 per cent said they were corrupted, 10.8 per said they good only for talking, 6.5 per cent said they had more privileges than ordinary people. Only 4.6 per cent said they were competent and suitable to be people’s representatives, 4.3 per cent thought politicians think of the country’s best interests, 0.6 per cent said they were honest, and 0.8 per cent had no opinion.

"Most young people ignore politics", Bangkok Post, September 16, 2010

Alright, our MPs are not the youngest bunch and admittedly many of them could be out of touch with the young, hip demographic. But they will soon retire and soon a new generation of politicians will sweep in. And isn't this the right opportunity to encourage young people to finally stand up and take a fresh approach in order for some changes in politics as politicians?

Asked whether they wanted to become a politician, 90.6 per cent said no, 9.4 per cent said yes.

"Most young people ignore politics", Bangkok Post, September 16, 2010

Nope!

Student Leaders Summoned to CRES

Students in front of 11th Infantry Regiment after being summoned (picture from UDD on Facebook)

On Saturday I was alerted to a tweet by a former colleague of mine and at the same time to an article by New Manadala, saying that...

(...) นายอนุธีร์ เดชเทวพร เลขาธิการสหพันธ์นิสิตนักศึกษาแห่งประเทศไทย (สนนท.) และเพื่อนนักศึกษา ได้รับหมายเรียกจากศูนย์อำนวยการแก้ไขสถานการณ์ฉุกเฉิน (ศอฉ.) ให้ไปรายงานตัวที่กรมทหารราบที่ 11 รักษาพระองค์ (ราบ 11) ในวันอาิทิตย์ที่ 2 พฤษภาคม เวลา 10.00 น.
ทั้งนี้ ในเว็บไซต์เฟซบุ๊ค (...) ได้มีการเชิญชวนให้เดินทางไปให้กำลังใจเพื่อนนักศึกษา (...) เนื่องจากเกรงว่าอาจสุ่มเสี่ยงต่อการใช้อำนาจไม่เป็นธรรม หากสังคมมิได้จับตามอง เพราะตามพระราชกำหนดการบริหารราชการในสถานการณ์ฉุกเฉินได้ให้อำนาจเต็มที่แก่เจ้าหน้าที่ทหาร

(...) Mr. Anuthee Dejthewaporn, Secretary-General of the Students Federation of Thailand (SFT), and two other students have been summoned to the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) at 11th Infrantry Regiment on Sunday, May 2 at 10.00h.

On Facebook there were calls and posts urging people to go to the 11th Inf. Reg. to show their support for the students. (...) [They are] worried about a potential misuse of power that the people might miss, because the CRES is giving full powers to the military.

"ศอฉ. เรียก เลขาฯ สนนท. รายงานตัว 10 โมงเช้า วันนี้ (2 พ.ค.)", Prachatai, May 2, 2010

The summons were hand-delivered by a group of 6 policemen and also "They also took her photo and some photos of her apartment." Prachatai then reports today that...

The students were met by Lt Col Wiboon Sricharoensukying, Deputy Commander of the 11th Infantry Battalion. They were denied the right to bring in their lawyers to hear the interrogation, and were told not to worry as it was just for talks with police and there was no need for lawyers.

Over 50 people gathered in front of the 11th Infantry HQ to give moral support to the three students.

When they came out at about 4 pm, the students were met with over 20 supporters remaining.

"Students not allowed lawyers when interrogated by CRES", Prachatai, May 3, 2010

The question is what have they actually done to be summoned and interrogated by the CRES?

First there was (supposed to be) a statement by the SFT from March 16, 2010, in which they showed their sympathy with the red shirt protesters, so far I have not found it on a neutral platform (the SFT doesn't seem to have an own website), just on the UDD's Facebook page, but it can also be read here.

Secondly, this incident might also have caught the attention by some.

กลุ่มสมาพันธ์นิสิตนักศึกษาแห่งประเทศไทย (สนนท.) และกลุ่ม "ประชาธิปไตยก้าวหน้า" ได้จำลองเหตุการณ์วันที่ 10 เม.ย.ที่ทหารใช้ปืนยิงประชาชน บริเวณหน้าห้างสรรพสินค้าสยามพารากอน เพื่อให้รัฐบาลยุติการฆ่าประชาชน หรือยุติการใช้ความรุนแรงทุกรูปแบบ ที่อาจจะเกิดขึ้นซ้ำสอง พร้อมกันนี้ยังได้เรียกร้องให้รัฐบาลยกเลิกการประกาศใช้พ.ร.ก.ฉุกเฉิน และศอฉ.โดยทันที

The Student Federation of Thailand (SFT) and the Group for Democracy Progress have reenacted the violent clashes of April 10, where soldiers have fired on citizens, at the Siam Paragon Department Store, calling the government to stop killing or using any kind of force against the people in a possible second escalation of violence. They have also called the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation to dissolve the state of emergency immediately.

"สนนท.จำลองเหตุการณ์ 10 เม.ย. ร้องรัฐยุติการใช้ความรุนแรง", Thai Rath, April 18, 2010 [Note: The article is behind a paywall]

Also, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a professor at the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Thammasat University, has written in a Thai forum what (might) has happen with the students at the CRES. He also has written his account in English in the comments at New Mandala.

in the end, there’re 3 students summonded yesterday, the Students Federation’s secretary, a female 4th year student of Faculty of Letters, Chula and a male student at a vocational school. (...) They entered (...) around 11 am and came out only about 4-5 p.m. The reason of so many hours was there were so many people summoned including motorcycle riders, hire caravan operators, etc.

While there are certain ‘rationale’ for summoning the Students Federation secretary, the other two that were summoned are definitely the result of very bad government intelligence! The female student was accused of belonging to the Red Siam group, she’s NEVER was. (In fact, hardly anyone who’s still in the country can belong to this group!). The other male student was accused of being leader of a group called ‘Seri Panyachon’ (Free Intellectuals), he isn’t either!

There were 3 ’rounds’ of interview that everyone summoned had to pass through, including these three students. Altogether all the interviews lasted about one-and a half to two hours. The first round was the police interview. It’s the same kind of interrogation anyone would face if going to or is called to any police station. There were questions and answered, typed into official interrogation form (as in any police station). Then there was a kind of ‘talk’, in which military intelligence personals would ‘chat’ about the political situation, the views of those summoned. The atmosphere this round was ‘informal’ and a bit ‘relaxed’. There’s no typing into official form, but there appeared to be tape recording, and one of the two officers present, would take some notes. Finally, there was a kind of ‘psychological advice’ to those summoned. The person conducted this round of interview appeared to be a ‘psychologist’ (female นักจิตวิทยา). She would ‘lecture’ those summoned on ‘correct’ political, social attitudes, etc.

Comment by Somsak Jeamteerasakul on "Student leaders summoned" at New Mandala, May 3, 2010

This is both very dubious and very concerning. While I do get the idea to interrogate motorbikers, caravan hirers and any other person that might be linked to the logistics of the red shirt protests, I don't get why they would interrogate students other than to intimidate them for expressing some opinions that the CRES probably does not agree on. And what would that psychologist lady 'lecture' the interrogated? Behave, do as we say or you might have to come back again...?

The Student Federation of Thailand played an important historical role of political involvement several times in the past. Be sure to read this blog post by Bangkok Pundit from last year.

h/t to @isAMare