US and UK governments and lese majeste-PPT

June 1, 2012

Political Prisoners in Thailand: May 28, 2012


It has long been known that the Government of the United States couldn’t care less about lese majeste in Thailand.

Not even when one of their own – Joe Gordon – is incarcerated for totally legal actions in the Unites States does the government get off its lazy, politicized and collective posterior and do or say anything principled.

PPT has posted on the recently published but hopelessly, probably deliberately, deceitful U.S. “human rights” report for Thailand in 2011. If it wasn’t deliberately deceitful, then we imagine that everyone on the Thailand desk at the Department of State and in the Embassy in Bangkok has been lobotomized to the extent that they are deaf, dumb and blind on lese majeste and other political prisoners in Thailand.

A reader points out a useful story at IPS News reflecting on the hopelessly unprincipled and contradictory approach to human rights by the U.S. The rport coincides with the release of the annual human rights reports.

The report quotes the head of Amnesty International’s Washington office who criticizes the U.S. for “selectively champion[ing] freedom and human rights when convenient…”. PPT entirely agrees.

Of course, we also wonder what AI does about its own selectivity on lese majeste in Thailand. What they criticize for the U.S. government has long been characteristic of AI Thailand’s selectivity and Benjamin Zawacki’s unprincipled position on lese majeste.

As the IPS story makes plain, the State Department has explained its unprincipled actions in terms of President Barack Obama’s “theory” of “principled engagement”, where human rights are contingent, limited and inconsistently prioritized.

All of that says quite a lot about lese majeste and political prisoners in Thailand. They are ignored because other interests – economic, military, ideological – hold sway.

But what about the Government of the U.K.? Readers may recall that a week or so ago, we briefly mentioned questions posed regarding lese majeste and political prisoners by the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kerry McCarthy Labour MP. The responses are instructive. Here they are:

Q. 1: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Government of Thailand on the imprisonment and death of Ampon Tangnoppakul.

A. 1, by Jeremy Browne (Minister of State for South East Asia/Far East, Caribbean, Central/South America, Australasia and Pacific, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat):  In November 2011, following the sentencing of Ampon Tangnoppakul, the UK issued a statement jointly with our European Union partners to express concern about the court decision to convict and imprison Ampon for 20 years. The statement reiterated the importance attached by the EU to the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights. The EU also urged the Thai authorities to ensure that the rule of law was applied in a non-discriminatory and proportional manner consistent with upholding basic human rights, including freedom of expression.

PPT: This is essentially a non-response, and completely ignores the question related to Ampol’s death in custody. As weak as this is, at least “concern” has been expressed.

Q. 2: … what recent assessment his Department has made of access to health care for prisoners in Thailand.

A. 2: Conditions in Thai prisons are generally poor. Prisons are old and often have run down infrastructure. However, basic medical treatment is available in all prisons in Thailand and prisoners may be transferred to a local hospital for more complex medical treatment.

As part of our consular responsibilities, embassy staff in Thailand visit British detainees every eight weeks. These visits are carried out by trained consular staff, who check the welfare of detainees. Any issues of concern can be then brought to the attention of the prison authorities, including any medical or dental problems a detainee might have.

PPT: This is essentially a non-response. At least conditions are described as “poor,” but then any visitor to a prison recognizes this within seconds, so not great insight. There seems no idea of how many prisoners die while incarcerated or of the actual availability of medical care to prisoners. The rampant corruption of prisons is not mentioned. Lese majeste detainee Darunee Charnchoensilpakul has been waiting some 4 years for proper dental treatment. Ampol died while in a prison “hospital.”

Q. 3: … what assessment his Department has made of the treatment of people (a) arrested and (b) convicted under lèse majesté laws in Thailand.

A. 3: The UK attaches great importance to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of every human being. We are closely following the development of freedom of expression in Thailand and are concerned by the significant increase of lese-majeste cases in the country and the application of the laws and length of sentences in recent cases.

With our European Union partners, the UK expressed concern last year at the conviction and imprisonment for 20 years of Ampon Tangnoppakul for violating the lese-majeste laws.

Our embassy in Bangkok continues to monitor the ongoing trials of high profile lese-majeste and freedom of expression on the internet cases. We have urged the Thai Government to ensure that the rule of law is applied in a non-discriminatory and proportionate manner consistent with upholding basic human rights, and will continue to take appropriate opportunities to do so.

During my visit to Thailand in 2010, I raised the issue of conditions for detainees in Thailand, referring specifically to the importance of access to exercise, proper food and medical facilities.

PPT: This is more like a real answer. Yes, the trite human rights response is repeated, but Browne indicates that there is concern for the development of freedom of expression in Thailand, about the large increase of lese majeste cases and the length of sentences. That the Embassy monitors trials is presumably useful. His representations on the conditions of detainees apparently had no impact at all.

Q. 4: … what assessment his [Browne’s] Department has made of the compliance of lèse majesté laws in Thailand with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and what representations he has made to the government of Thailand on freedom of expression and the lèse majesté laws.

A. 4: We understand the particular reverence the people of Thailand have for the monarchy. The Government attaches importance to the respect of fundamental human rights in line with the universal declaration of human rights. Specifically on article 19 which covers freedom of opinion and expression, the UK thinks that it should be possible to discuss constitutional reform without fear of coming under the purvue of laws that were designed for non political purposes. In October 2011 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the human rights situation in Thailand was reviewed as part of the Universal Periodic Review process. The UK played an active role, including raising our concerns about freedom of expression and specifically recommending that the Thai Government seek to review its lese-majeste laws. The report of this session can be found online at the following link:

Our ambassador in Bangkok has raised the issue of freedom of expression with the Thai authorities. I also raised the issue when I visited Thailand in September 2011. We will continue to take appropriate opportunities to do so.

PPT: A reasonable answer suggestive of the U.K. Government being concerned about the suppression of discussion of constitutional matters, including the position and role of the monarchy.

While the answers do sound like the usual parliamentary careful responses, if they are compared with the pathetic U.S. human rights report “there are no political prisoners” nonsense, then the U.K. response is downright explosive.

PPT can’t help thinking that readers can bring pressure on their local and national politicians to ask more questions of Thailand’s government and embassies about these issues. We have some links that readers might find useful here.

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