Scandalous Human Rights Abuse by Thai Govt

From: Obersturmbanfuhrer Olly
Subject: Thai government is ROTTEN TO THE CORE
When Dissent Is Criminalized
First published May 26, 2010

Over the past two months, Thailand’s Abhisit regime has opened fire
with live ammunition on the Red Shirt pro-democracy demonstration in
Bangkok, killing at least 88 of its own citizens and injuring more
than 1,800, including foreign journalists and onlookers. In a
desperate bid to escape international condemnation for these unlawful
killings, Abhisit is trying to paint the demonstrators as terrorists
and enemies of the state.

Many around the world are not fooled. Writing in the Financial Times,
David Piling said, “Attempts to portray the tens of thousands of
mainly poor Thais who took to Bangkok’s streets as ‘terrorists’ or
paid mercenaries of [former Prime Minister] Mr. Thaksin simply do not

The world saw for itself that the vast majority of pro-democracy
demonstrators were peaceful men and women of all ages camped around
the central stage area, while those fighting at the barricades were
mostly armed with primitive weapons. Journalists around the world have
been firm in setting the record straight, noting the lopsided nature
of the clash. “The Red Shirts were massively outgunned,” reported Bill
Schiller in the Toronto Star, noting that most of what was seen were
slingshots, fireworks, Molotov cocktails, rocks, and a few small arms.

However that doesn’t mean the government still isn’t pushing hard to
sell the terrorist narrative as a justification for possible human
rights abuses. This past weekend diplomatic delegations were
dispatched to key allies bearing photographs and slick multimedia
presentations of an alleged arms cache that they claimed to have
discovered days after clearing out the protest camp – a time during
which no third parties were allowed to enter this zone to confirm the
discovery. They’ve also issued a warrant for the arrest on terrorism
allegations of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they
claim is the mastermind of the Red Shirts (disclosure: I represent Mr.
Shinawatra as legal counsel).

Many factors undermine the Abhisit regime’s terrorism claims: the
government has consistently resisted international mediation requests
from the protestors, which would in theory corroborate such claims;
they have obstructed the work of journalists (one correspondent for
the Times of London was detained at his hotel, while many others were
seemingly targeted during the siege, including two seriously wounded
Canadians – Nelson Rand and Chandler Vandergrift); they’ve shut down
hundreds of websites and media sympathetic to the Red Shirts while
launching charges against student leaders and academics associated
with the movement; and lastly, no one is able to explain how so many
local and foreign correspondents inside the Red Shirt camps for weeks
failed to record the presence of serious war weapons.

Some observers point to the parallels between this attack on the Red
Shirts and the massacre of 46 student protestors at Thammasat
University in 1976. As happened then, the government is portraying the
protesters as evil criminals and enemies of the state, while their
control over the media allows for the stirring up of hate and public
tolerance for violence against fellow Thais. In the aftermath of
Thammasat, it was later discovered that the Thai military had planted
a big weapons cache on the students after the fact to justify their

The criminalization of Red Shirt protestors as terrorists is even more
dangerous than a simple excuse for violence – it is a focused measure
aimed at reducing their basic rights to defence, attorneys, and
trials. Of the more than 40 protest leaders who have been arrested,
the government has refused to disclose their location of detention,
the charges against them, or their health status. The government has
declared a state of emergency since April 7, allowing them to arrest
whomever they choose without charges and hold them in non-conventional
facilities – which raises concerns, alluded to by Human Rights Watch,
over possible torture or mistreatment. The authorities say that
thousands of Red Shirts have been provided with transportation back to
their homes, but so far no one has been able to verify who was taken

These accusations of terrorism against the protesters have been made
easier by the existence of real crimes on the fringes of the
demonstration. The so-called “Black Shirts,” who have no relation to
the peaceful spirit and stated principles of the United Front for
Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), have likely been involved in
illegal activity and should be arrested and prosecuted before a court
for their crimes. Those responsible for the terrible acts of arson
that affected more than 20 buildings in Bangkok, including massive
damage to the Central World shopping mall, must be investigated and
prosecuted for their crimes.

But these isolated activities on the lawless fringes represent the
outrage and frustration of misled individuals, and have nothing to do
with the non-violent political change espoused by the UDD, much less
any conventional definition of terrorism.

There is also a perception on behalf of the Red Shirts that the legal
system is unfairly biased against them. When activists of the pro-
government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) illegally occupied
and shut down Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport in 2008,
not one of these protestors was ever investigated, charged,
prosecuted, or jailed for this crime, and in fact the current foreign
minister was personally involved.

The conduct of the Thai authorities is not that of a victim of
terrorism, but rather the behavior of someone who has something to
hide. The invention of new crimes to cover up older ones is not
acceptable in the contemporary context of international law, and this
crass manipulation must be openly discouraged by outside parties. The
Red Shirts risked their lives and suffered considerable casualties
because their democratic choices and popular will had been repeatedly
disqualified and stolen. Until that central grievance is addressed,
all other accusations are only distractions.

The international community must ask Thailand to uphold the rule of
law and basic procedural rights for citizens who have done nothing
more than express their opposition to the ruling party. At a minimum,
the Abhisit government has a duty to disclose the location of the
prison camps and the conditions for the detained protesters, confirm
their access to legal counsel and the basis of the charges against
them, and grant access to international human rights monitors to
ensure fair treatment of the detained Red Shirt leaders.

Robert Amsterdam is international lawyer to former Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra and advisor to the human rights defence team of the

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