Thursday, January 15, 2009

Press Statement Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn Regarding Lese Majeste charges

I have previsouly blogged about professor Giles Ungpakorn's book 'A Coup for the Rich' which I wrote:

"His unprecedented questioning of the monarchy is nothing short of breath-taking.

In a climate of fear where any rational questioning of the monarchy has the very real possibility of leading to a prison term it is important to have an academic brave enough to raise important issues that are essential elements to resolving Thailand’s political quagmire."

Now, of course, Giles has come up against Thailand's draconian lese majesty laws.

Which you can read about here at the BKK Post:Giles faces lese majeste charge

And below is his press release.

It is easy to see that Giles is going to bring an enormous amount of publicity to this in which his book and his ideas on the monarchy will be further disseminated. This is, of course, shows just how futile it is trying to censor freedom of expression and just how shameless and antiquated lese majesty laws are.

From Giles:

As you know, I have been summonsed to Pathumwan police station for questioning at 10.00 am on Tuesday 20th January 2009. I have been accused of Lese Majeste. The charge arises from my book “A Coup for the Rich”, published in 2007. Those found guilty of Lese Majeste face a heavy prison sentence.

1. The Lese Majeste Law in Thailand does not allow the for the proper functioning of a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy, since it restricts freedom of speech and expression and does not allow for public accountability and transparency of the institution of the Monarchy. The Thai population are encouraged to believe that we live under an “ancient system of Monarchy”, a cross between a Sakdina, Absolute and Constitutional Monarchy system.

2. The use of the Lese Majeste Law in Thailand is an attempt to prevent any discussion about one of the most important institutions. It attempts to prevent critical thought and encourage a system of “learning by rote” among the population. For example, once the Monarch has given his blessing to the “Sufficiency Economy”, we are all supposed to accept it and praise it without question. Luckily, this type of brain-washing does not work very well in Thai society, for a society which cannot openly discuss economic and political policies will remain backward and under-developed.

3. The Military often claim that they are the “defenders of the Constitutional Monarchy”, yet the Thai Military has a long history of making un-constitutional coups. These are often “legitimised” by claiming to protect the Monarchy. The 19th September 2006 coup is a good example. Rather than defending the Monarchy as such, the military sought to legitimise themselves by referring to the Monarch. The Lese Majeste Law is thus used as a tool by the military, and other authoritarian elites, in order to protect their interests instead of preserving the Constitutional Monarchy. The promotion of an image that the Monarchy is all powerful (an un-constitutional image), is part of this self-legitimisation by the military and other forces.

4. Constitutional Monarchs in most democratic countries enjoy stability while being subjected to public scrutiny. Therefore we must conclude that the Thai Lese Majeste Laws are not in place in order to bring stability to the institution, but serve another purpose.

5. Those who charge me with Lese Majeste are doing so because I have shown a principled and unyielding opposition to military coups and dictatorships. Many other activists are facing similar charges for the same reason. We must not forget their plight. We must wage an international and national political campaign to defend democratic rights in Thailand and for the abolition of the Lese Majeste law.

My book “A Coup for the Rich”

I wrote and published this book a few months after the 19th September 2006 military coup. The book was an attempt to write an academic analysis of the Thai political crisis from a pro-democracy point of view. While constantly criticising the Thaksin government’s gross abuses of Human Rights, I argued that the coup was totally unjustified. I argued that those who supported the coup: the military, the PAD, disgruntled businessmen, neo-liberals and conservative civil servants, were united in their contempt for the poor. They have no faith in democracy because they believe that the poor do not deserve the right to vote. They also hate Thaksin’s party because it could win elections, while they could not.

Another important theme in my book is the questioning of the perceived “fact” that the crisis was a result of a dispute between the Monarchy and Thaksin. It is this argument of mine that may have enraged the military most of all, since they wished to use Royal legitimacy for their coup. I also attempted to stimulate a discussion about whether a Constitutional Monarchy should defend the Constitution and Democracy. In another section of the book I tried to paint an historical account of the Monarchy and to argue that it is now a modern institution, not a feudal one.

I have now sold all 1000 copies of “A Coup for the Rich”, but it is available to download from my blog and from the International Socialist Tendency website in the U.K. Just after publication, the book was withdrawn from sale by Chulalongkorn University bookshop and later by Thammasart University bookshop.

I reject totally the accusation that I have committed any crime by writing and publishing this book. I am prepared to fight any Lese Majeste charges in order to defend academic freedom, the freedom of expression and democracy in Thailand.

Since this accusation was filed by a Special Branch officer, the present Democrat Party Government should be questioned about its role in this and many other cases. The new Prime Minister has stated that he wants to see a firm crackdown on les majesty and many recent cases have been filed by the police.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

13 January 2009

What you can do

1. Write a letter of protest/concern to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Government House, Bangkok, Thailand. Fax number +66(0)29727751

2. Write a letter of protest/concern to the Ambassador, The Royal Thai Embassy, in your country.

3. Demand that Amnesty International take up all Les Majesty cases in Thailand.

4. Demand the abolition of the les majesty law.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

WAR! Oh no, my mistake...its just a holiday

The ghastly scene of about sixty dead bodies laid out in front of Santika nightclub in Bangkok has been front page news and, given that it was a direct result of Thailand's notoriously abysmal safety standards, it certainly deserves to be highlighted.

But if you look closer, one of the other stories is: '56 die on first day of holiday'.

Yes, it is holiday time and that means that accidental deaths and injuries - primarily on the roads but, as the pub fire shows, not exclusively - in the Kingdom during the next seven days will soar into the thousands.

To put this needless bloodshed in perspective, it might be good to look at the death toll from actual war.

The scale of Israel's current war on Gaza (six days long so far) from the BBC:

Palestinian medical sources say 391 people have been killed.

The total of deaths from the insurgency in Southern Thailand since 2004 according to wikipedia:

The death toll surpassed 3,000 in March 2008.

And the total of deaths from two days of holiday traffic in Thailand from the Nation:

The road accident death toll of the two first days of the seven dangerous New Year holidays stood at 143...On Wednesday alone, 87 people were killed and 960 injured on the road

And from a simple Google search of "road accidents statistics thailand' found a site called Global Road Safety Partnership which describes Thailand's road accidents in 2005:

According to official statistics (police), 12,858 people were killed in road crashes in 2005. However the real number might even be higher. According to documentation from the health sector, the real death toll could be 20,000 or more if victims who die after being removed from the crash scene are included.

The primary causes of road crashes are the dangerous mix of motorcyclists and larger vehicles, alcohol impaired driving, and excessive speed. Many road deaths happen during the two national holidays: New Year (6 days) December/January and Songkran (9 days) in April.

So what really might need to be highlighted in the news is not simply the negligence of one nightclub but the nation-wide negligence that allows holiday fatalities to be compared to the fatalities of war.