Monday, July 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Riots: Coverage of the UDD Protests at Prem's House

I didn't cover the riots at Prem's house, because everybody else, notably Bangkok Pundit, has been doing a good job commenting on them.

Today, however, two stories caught my eye.

In the Bangkok Post, we got a story called Police Image Improves which I thought would be an article about the police reform package. Actually, the story was about how professional the riot police behaved in the face of an UDD mob.

Last Sunday's riot has done for the police image what years of talking about police reform has failed to accomplish. It has earned the men in uniform respect, and without doubt sympathy, for being gentlemen when duty called. So much has been said, heard and reported about police themselves ending up on the wrong side of the law and standing accused of countless misdemeanors and felonies, from extorting money from motorists to masterminding brutal extra-judicial killings. And not all the accusations appear to be groundless.

Of course, the Bangkok Post is traditionally a right-wing conservative newspaper, so junta propaganda rather than the truth is to be expected from Thailand's English language newspaper of record.

What makes this article so surreal is that for some reason the author, Kamolwat Praprutitum, thinks that the police force's reaction during the Prem disturbances will actually erase the sins of 75 years worth of police corruption and miraculously give the Thai police respect that Kamolwat thinks it deserves.

Here is Kamolwat's logic at work:

Then there is the popular impression of abusive policemen succumbing to the temptation of 'easy gains' and living off the patronage of influential figures. There are decent law enforcement officers around but the bad eggs have given the rest a bad name.

The desperation for police reform is being addressed in a policy guideline drafted by a government committee. But the policy has run into fierce opposition from former police chiefs who argue the proposed restructuring, which intends to distribute more power to regional jurisdictions, will invite political interference. Change can prove unnerving for many people and the police reform plan, it seems, has gotten off on the wrong foot.

Despite the change of names and supervisors from the Police Department under the Interior Ministry to the Royal Thai Police Office under the Prime Minister's Office, the police force has for years continued in a downward spiral.

But the civil unrest witnessed on Sunday may well have made some people change their stereotypical view of the average Thai policeman.

Now, you tell me, what does one thing have to with the other?

Anyway, after the Bangkok Post in this editorial and The Nation in this editorial condemned the anti-junta group's violence, I thought, well, maybe these groups are out of control.

Then, today, I read this article in the Asia Sentinel. Here are a few excerpts:

The UDD set up a makeshift stage in front of Prem's house on Sunday afternoon and made speeches for five hours or so, according to witnesses and news reports. But in the evening, after the protesters vowed to permanently camp outside the residence, riot police attempted to break up the gathering and arrest the leaders, prompting demonstrators to hail rocks, chairs, sticks, water bottles and pieces of broken flower pots at the police, who eventually retreated.

Police, whose numbers had swelled to about 2,000, then made two more attempts to arrest the protest leaders, charging at demonstrators with clubs, pepper spray and tear gas. Each time the demonstrators fought back with fists, rocks, sticks, bottles and anything else they could find.

The melee eventually broke up after tear gas grenades pushed the crowds away. Unsurprisingly, both sides blamed the other for instigating the violence.

“A source in the army told us that in the fourth round the military would bring in soldiers with guns to shoot into the air, so that’s why we withdrew from the place,” Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, said in an interview. “We didn’t want anybody killed from this event.”

Police said that 200 officers and 70 protesters were hurt in the clashes, several seriously. Authorities confirmed that six protesters were arrested and charged with “causing chaos, obstructing the work of authorities, and damage to state property,” the Associated Press reported. Police were also seeking arrest warrants for eight or so other UDD leaders, including Weng.

It’s unclear why authorities attempted to break up the protest this time as many similar protests had occurred earlier without incident. Some observers said the army may have been spooked by UDD statements that the group would camp out in front of Prem’s house — an unacceptable scenario for generals who swear allegiance to the royal advisor.

Now, this doesn't sound to me that the police were totally blameless for what happened.

Of course, the always excellent Bangkok Pundit notes of the discrepencies in all the stories about the riots.


Anonymous said...

Thaksin is human rights abuser of the worst kind : Human Rights Watch

Fonzi what do you think? HRW thinks Thaksin should not be included among those distinguished ethically correct Premier League owners because Thaksin's human rights record during his Thai premiership was atrocious!

Personally I thought that Thaksin should be right at home among those English football owners . . . shady Russian billionaire and big-time gamblers among them.

Was Thaksin a 'human rights abuser of the worst kind'? 2,000 plus kills during Thaksin's extrajudicial rampage must surely count as impressive numbers don't you think so Fonzi?

I sincerely believe Fonzi that before you start proving your credentials as an outraged human rights adherent, you should at least devote one full condemnation of Thaksin's extrajudicial abuses, case of disappeareds, and executions of Muslim prisoners during his rule.

Your blogsite, along with Bangkok Pundit and that academic Andrew Walker of New Mandala are always eerily but predictably very muted about Thaksin on the extrajudicials . . . not one article or mention of the Thaksin human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings.

anon said...

The following is a video recording of the protest in front of Prem's house.

Google Video link

The human rights abuses of the police and military are just disgusting. Matty, you can bitch all you want about Thaksin's anti-drug campaign 4 years ago, but how long will you wait until you start complaining about the injustices being perpetrated in the here and now?

hobby said...

Patiwat: That video should be watched with Jakrapob's other 20 min video, which shows the lead up to the violence.
(best to just ignore Jakrapob's over the top comments/hype)

I don't condone violence, but IMO the police/military were surprisingly restrained in the circumstances, and I have seen much worse police behavior in western democracies.

I have no problem with the police behavior in trying to clear the area and protect the Privy Councillor (King's representative).

Most sensible people should be able to see through Jakrapob's video beat ups, but even so, I am not completely comfortable with the ongoing arrests.
Apart from the obvious human rights aspect, I also think the arrests could backfire by playing into Jakrapob's hands and allowing him to keep up his whining.
I would have preferred if they were arrested and released, given strict bail conditions including no protests apart from at a designated area (Sanam Luang).

The UDD strategy is obvious - keep up the pressure in the hope that the junta over reacts.

Fonzi said...

Thanks Patiwat. I am going to download the videos, then upload to YouTube, then post them here.

Fonzi said...


To your question, what human rights abuses committed Thaksin?

Everything you refer to as Thaksin's abuses were committed by the police and military figures who are running the country now.

Anonymous said...

"Everything you refer to as Thaksin's abuses were committed by the police and military figures who are running the country now." - Fonzi the Ponzi

Now Fonzi you are reverting to your Ponzi scamming ways again.

You and I, and that corruption-trickle-down-to-the-poor-Thaksin-is-OK-nobody-is-perfect-everybody-is-corrupt
Patiwat know that HRW groups are right when they remind the world of Thaksin Shinawatra and his extrajudicial rampage of 2001-2004 that resulted, according to HRW, in approximately 3,500 deaths of the innocents.

I don't how many more kills Thaksin has to direct, order or mastermind before Ponzi and Patiwat will get impressed. But the world is horrified Ponzi and Patiwat that you two still stick your heads under the sand, your hip pockets protruding of course for Thaksin refills, while Thaksin stays unpunished and unrepentant for those extrajudicial mass murders during Thaksin's anti-drugs madness during his rule.

fall said...

That video should be watched with Jakrapob's other 20 min video

Even if Jakrapob condemn Prem daughter to prostitute and STD, the riot police are expected to stand down. That's what they get paid for (and what they did with PAD).

I have no problem with the police behavior in trying to clear the area and protect the Privy Councillor

I do. Privy council is an occupation. The status of Prem is still ordinary citizen, not royalty or military.
Now on what ground does the police have in arresting the ring leader and beating the protester. Because if it's gathering of more than 10 people, then no protest are allow. If it's infringe on royalty, Prem sure as hell is no royal blood.
So that leave one thing, the occupation of Privy Council. And that's the worst answer. What system is it call when there is that normal people and those people with occupation who are entitle to more right than other?

hobby said...

Fall - Who chooses the Privy Council ?

IMO, Prem's supposed role in the coup is way overstated - If anything, I would prefer it if he was criticized for his non productive role in attempts at resolving the southern insurgency.

fall said...

Who chooses the Privy Council?

I would agree that the king choose privy council(and that significantly different from endorsing other position, such as PM). But do you really believe that being a Privy Council equivalent to receive a golden-royal-forgiveness-plate like in some B-grade chinese series? Privy council position only suggest people should not, not could not, protest at them.
Also, you do realize that there are more than one privy council, right? And that Surayud also is one? Hence, by logic, police also allow to beat up any Surayud protester?
Even the king said that he himself should be open to criticism (reasonably).

Do you think people would still respect the king if (assume) there are protester and police beat'em up like that?

Prem's supposed role in the coup is way overstated

Surayud also is a privy council, but he take the whole cabinet to apoligize. All the key military generals also went. And there still are not enough sign?
The landmark ruling of constitutional court on TRT based on evidence less than this.

hobby said...

Fall, you seem to be falling for Jakrapob's propaganda.
All this talk of people being beaten up, you would think with the prevalence of digital & phone camera's there would be much more evidence than those crappy UDD videos.

Anyway, from what I have seen it looks like more police were injured than protesters, so I still think the police & military were very restrained in the circumstances.
(Normally I would have expected things to get much more uglier under such provocation, and therefore the authorities should be commended for not falling into the UDD trap)

Surayud also is a privy council, but he take the whole cabinet to apologize. All the key military generals also went. And there still are not enough sign?

Come off it - That's not evidence!

At best all it shows is that they respect him, and were concerned that he might have been offended.