Somyot trial: Human rights commissioner last witness-Prachatai
May 5, 2012
Verdict for Somyot expected from late Sept onward
Prachatai: May 5, 2012
On 3 May, National Human Rights Commissioner Dr Niran Phithakwatchara testified as the last defence witness in the lèse majesté trial of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk. The Criminal Court set 19 Sept for the prosecution and defence to hear its decision on when the verdict would be delivered, as the defence team had sought a ruling from the Constitution Court on the constitutionality of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lèse majesté law.
After the trial, Somyot said that he was satisfied with all the hearings of both sides. He thanked everybody who had come to give him moral support, including the witnesses who had testified with facts. He considered that the testimony of several witnesses would also benefit other similar cases. He hopes that everybody will keep on fighting together.
Niran, NHRC member and former senator for Ubon Ratchathani, testified that the National Human Rights Commission was an independent body, whose main objective was to protect the rights and freedoms of the people according to the Constitution. The body is free from interference from the executive branch. In the past, it scrutinized the ‘Thaksin regime’ on its ‘policy corruption’, and probed the drugs-related extra-judicial killings and the solving of the unrest in the southern border provinces under the Thaksin government.
Protection of the rights of criminal suspects is also included in the NHRC mandate. The accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They must not be treated as criminals, and during trial they must be granted bail, Niran said.
The NHRC has received a number of complaints about Section 112 of the Criminal Code being used as a political tool to destroy people with differing views. In his view, lèse majesté accusations have the same characteristics as the accusations during the 6 Oct 1976 period that the students were communists.
He considers that the King is above politics, and does not want anybody to pull him down. Criticism, however, is another issue, and can be made because this is a right according to democratic rule.
The penalty under Section 112 is too harsh, compared to similar offences [against ordinary people]. And anyone can file lèse majesté complaints. So many academics have been alert on this issue, as they consider that enforcement of the law does not go in line with human rights, he said.
Regarding pictures published in Voice of Taksin magazine, he said that the people in the pictures were bureaucrats, politicians and the ammat, so that should have nothing to do with the monarchy. One of the two articles, entitled ‘Bloody Plan’, was about the seizure of Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets and a plot to kill Thaksin, which was political and was not related to the monarchy. He found that the two articles, including the other one entitled ‘6 Oct of 2010’, did not damage the King’s reputation, and he personally did not believe that the King was behind any violence.
This kind of writing is to slander without facts, or tell tales. He understands that the key person who, according to the red shirts, pulls the institution down is Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, as they consider Prem to be acting as the boss of the ammat. They speak like this because they do not want the military to intervene. However, in his opinion, to drag Prem into it causes social divisions because neither the monarchy nor the privy council should ever be dragged into politics.
Regarding the King’s birthday address on 4 Dec 2005 which said he could be criticized, Niran said that he had always adopted this as a guidance in his work, and he saw that it was related to the principle that ‘the King can do no wrong’. He understands that the King wanted to teach the people indirectly about the interpretation and enforcement of the law.
The monarchy is considered the country’s main institution, but the placement of Section 112 in the chapter on national security is not appropriate. State power often corrupts. So the monarchy should never get involved in politics and national security, but has to be maintained as Head of State, he said.
On 2 May, in the afternoon, Asst Prof Dr Suthachai Yimprasert from Chulalongkorn University testified as a defence witness, after Thammasat lecturers Dr Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Assoc Prof Sudsa-nguan Sutheesorn in the morning.
Asked by the defence about the study of history, Suthachai, as a history lecturer, said that a piece of evidence can be interpreted in different ways, and people on different sides interpret it differently. The saying that history is written by winners is true, but not always. For example, the winners at the 6 Oct 1976 incident have become the losers in history, he said.
As for the Thai historical record at the time of the change of reign from King Taksin to the Chakri Dynasty, he said that the conventional history had explained that King Taksin had ‘run out of merit’, and therefore others who had accumulated sufficient ‘merit and moral authority’ ascended in his place. King Taksin and King Rama I had been comrades in arms against the Burmese. Usurpation of the throne is considered commonplace in history. In the past, ‘merit and moral authority’ was partly measured by might, and [usurpation of the throne] was a normal political mechanism in those days. In the Ayutthaya period, there were many such incidents. Those who were proved to be competent could claim the throne. So to mention the usurpation of the throne in history is not considered defamatory, he said.
The defence lawyer asked him about a ‘red bag’ mentioned in the ‘Bloody Plan’ article in which the writer ‘Jitr Pollachan’ talked about someone who had overthrown his own boss by stuffing him into a red bag and having him killed. Suthachai explained that the red bag was a thing which had been used for killing royals, in most cases, in order to prevent their blood from touching the ground. However, as King Taksin was not descended from a royal, a red bag was not used in his execution. He was instead beheaded, according to the Thonburi chronicle, which has been widely available, he said.
He said that he had known Somyot as a trade unionist, one of Thailand’s key advocates for labour rights, who had come out against the 2006 coup and the junta-influenced 2007 Constitution.
After the People’s Party’s overthrow of the Absolute Monarchy in 1932, a group of royalists was formed who did not accept democratic rule and were opposed to the People’s Party. Currently, the most obvious head of the ammat in the eyes of the red shirts seems to be Gen Prem, as a result of his role of bringing the 2006 coup makers to meet with the King right after the coup, he said.
He himself contributed to Voice of Taksin magazine as a columnist, using his real name. He saw that democracy advocates had to have literary work as a weapon, and he thought that the name ‘Voice of Taksin’ was marketable, due to the popularity of Thaksin Shinawatra. At the time when he was contributing to the magazine, he did not know who ‘Jitr Pollachan’ was.
He said that the article ‘6 Oct of 2010’ attacked the ammat who were behind a bloody plot similar to the 6 Oct 1976 massacre. ‘Luang Narueban’ in the article is a fictitious character in an old Thai drama called ‘Ghostly Hotel’, one of the protagonists. He thought that this character represented the ammat, not the King, and this article did not have any reference to the King. The accusation in connection with the article is an exaggerated interpretation. The article’s reference to those behind Field Marshals Thanom, Prapas and Sarit is, he supposed, meant to be royalists like MR Kukrit Pramoj, Khuang Abhaiwong, Gen Samran Patthayakul, Prince Thani, etc.
Regarding the ‘Bloody Plan’ article, Suthachai said that the reference of someone killing his own boss in a red bag could mean anyone, including several Ayutthayan kings, who had been nobles before claiming the throne.
As for the article’s mention of ‘a plan knocked off from Phraram 9 hospital’, he said that he did not know of any person at the hospital, and did not know where the hospital was. He considered that this article was poorly written, as it was hard to understand, unlike other articles by the same writer, which were better. And he did not understand why such an article had become evidence to punish people.
As for the ‘1948 Personal Asset Bureau’ mentioned in the article, which the prosecutor claimed to mean the Crown Property Bureau, Suthachai said that he disagreed, because the law which involved the CPB had been in place since 1936.