Sunday, September 9, 2007

Prachatai: More on the Incarceration of Sombat Boon-ngam-anong

Prachatai really has been doing an excellent job of covering the incarceration of Sombat Boon-ngam-anong. Of course, the mainstream media will ignore him or paint him as a stooge of Thaksin.

I have already blogged his letter to Lt. Gen Saprang.

Khun Sombat is a political prisoner, as the 19 Sept. Anti- Coup Network and the Asian Human Rights Commision have noted here and here.

As the 19 Sept Anti-Coup Network has pointed in its appeal, the charges against Khun Sombat are without merit and his actions were constitutional.

In pursuance to this case, the 19 Sept Network would like make known the following:

1. We maintain that Lt. Gen. Saprang and his cronies under the name of the "Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy" have falsely claimed legitimacy from the monarchy to commit the coup on 19 September 2006. This action is a blatant offence under Section 113 of the Penal Code which states that;

"Whoever commits an act of violence or threatens to commit an act of violence in order to:

(1) overthrow or change the Constitution

(2) overthrow a legislative power, the executive power or the judicial power of the Constitution, or nullify such power; or

(3) separate the Kingdom or seize power of administration in any part of the Kingdom

is said to commit insurrection, and shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life"

Therefore, the act of civil disobedience committed by Mr. Sombat Boon-ngam-anong against an illegitimate action is not only legal, but also a justified exercise of constitutional rights provided for by both Section 65 of the 1997 Constitution and Section 69 of the 2007 Constitution, which states that "A person shall have the right to resist peacefully any act committed for the acquisition of the power to rule the country by a means which is not in accordance with the modes provided in this Constitution."

2. We deem that the detention order by the Criminal Court shows that the Thai justice system has been all along founded on the principle of "power is righteousness, but righteousness is power". As a result, the police simply become an apparatus for the powers that be to use legal loopholes to abet the violation of people's rights. Meanwhile, the court is similarly used to legitimize the illegal actions.

Last but not least, we maintain that the case is not a personal libel between Lt. Gen. Saprang Kalayanamitr vs. Mr. Sombat Boon-ngam-anong, but a battle between the blatant offence of the coup versus the civil right to oppose coups and to freedom of expression. A judgment that endorses the victory of the coup makers will simply show that the courts have become part of the efforts to legitimize illegal actions.

The AHRC has also protested this action as a violation of Khun Sombat's political and human rights:

05 September 2007
Pick to Post

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that anti-coup activist Sombat Boon-ngam-anong is detained with pending charges of criminal defamation after he expressed opinions against the coup leaders. The AHRC calls for your immediate action to urge the case to be withdrawn.


Sombat is the leader of the Citizens against the Coup Group organised after the September military takeover last year. He organised a mock dart game with General Saprang Kalayanamitr and General Sonthi Boonyaratglin as targets in an anti-coup demonstration from 24 June to 3 July in Sanam Luang, a public area in Central Bangkok. Two criminal libel cases were then filed against him by the two generals, who claimed that Sombat's action was an insult to their honour and dignity.

Sombat was informed by Chanasongkram Police that an arrest warrant was issued against him on 31 August. He went to the police station on the same day and is now detained in Special Bangkok Prison, Klongprem, Ladyao after the Criminal Court granted a 12-day detention order. Sombat did not apply for bail, as he believes that there are no rights and freedom for him in Thailand even outside the prison.


Criminal defamation is punished under section 328 of the Penal Code and the offence is punishable for a fine up to 200,000 Thai Baht (approx. 6,000 USD) and two years' imprisonment. It contravenes with the freedom of expression which is protected under the 2007 Constitution and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Thailand is a state party. The AHRC has for some years called for the criminal defamation law in Thailand to be scrapped altogether: see for instance, AS-038-2005; AS-032-2004.

One can also read an interview with Khun Sombat in Prachatai:

Prachatai - How did the darts game that resulted in the libel suit come about?

Sombat - We had this activity during the rally of UDD at Sanam Luang and I started to organize the Sanam Luang volunteer group. Among us, we realized that the atmosphere of the rally had become too bland; there were just speeches, and the audience had nothing to do but listen. We just wanted to make it more colourful. So we started to put on an exhibition to educate people and some volunteers proposed games such as "dunking the maiden" and a darts game, and I agreed with them.

We had cartoons of the coup ringleaders as the targets for people to throw darts at. Most people who joined us came from grassroots communities and they enjoyed the game, it made them feel relaxed. We had cartoons of four figures including Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, Sondhi Limthongkul, Saprang Kalayanamitr, and Pah (General Prem Tinsulanond), but it was Saprang who sued me (later General Sondhi asked to be co-plaintiff in the case as well -- Prachatai).

I could not imagine this could have made a case. But I am not terrified by this. Since I learned about this (lawsuit), I did not take it seriously. But an incident that happened to one of our female volunteers, Bussaba, who looked after the darts game, made me concerned. She had been followed for three days from Sanam Luang to her home. And on the fourth day, she was grabbed by the arms by two men who told that "you shall not go to Sanam Luang or Rattanakosin Hotel (where we had a war room) again. Otherwise, you will be killed". And then she was punched hard in stomach and fell unconscious. After two days in hospital, she regained consciousness. The incident can be confirmed from the hospital records.

After she was discharged from hospital, she told no one about this. Later she spotted the guys again on the other side of the street pointing at her, so she just had to run away in a cab. That happened about the middle of last month, around the time that Chakrapob's driver, Ole, was beaten up.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Here are a couple money quotes:

From the point of view of those who accept the coup, it is better now than under Thaksin?

But can I have the rights to oppose now? Just say it out loud that you really endorse the coup. Just speak up. I have not seen any NGO that has enough courage to come out to speak up. They all take the line that "well, we do not accept it, but...". No one says it clearly (that they endorse the coup). But we do declare our opposition to the coup. But we don't have any space to say this, do we? You may not trust the politicians, the PTV folks who come out to rally, but you cannot doubt people like Dr. Weng (Tochirakarn). It's not like that. You simply try to find justification to destroy the persons who you know do not work for Thaksin. It's like a gunman who looks for a justification for shooting somebody. But if you look into people's eyes you will see humanity.

I think NGOs are cruel. Those who speak about respects for human dignity, even among prisoners, those who used to fight for human rights for everyone, those fighting to ban capital punishment, etc., what is this all about, after all? Now you can see how cruel all these senior people and the big intellectuals can be. I never thought that they can be this cruel. Their interviews shocked me. There we go, our very respectable senior figures who are our spiritual leaders, and even though they are very compassionate persons, but in certain moments, I could feel their cruelty. I try to come to terms with this. And my explanation is it does not matter how intellectual you are, but when your hearts are filled with vengeance, your wisdom disappears. But this does not always happen, not that often though.

But people often say those are the enlightened ones, but we are people who are starved of wisdom and are not shrewd enough to read the game.

It's impossible. It's a different set of explanations. I would be happy to hear their explanation. In the beginning, I also wondered and kept asking myself. Is there anything that I am not aware of which would be reasons that prevent the respectable ones from agreeing with me and standing with me? Why is their interpretation of the event totally different from mine? Is there anything more complicated that I cannot come to terms with? Are there any pieces of information that I lack? I try to review this all the time. I find nothing there. Nevertheless, it does not mean I do not understand the reasons that put them opposite me. I try my best to find the best explanation that helps me understand why they make such a stand. Luckily, Dr. Weng keeps reminding me to work with joy. But I have no idea if he is really joyful (laugh). In the beginning, he enjoyed it a lot, but I was very stressed. Later, he became very stressful, after changing from People's United Front Against Coup (PFAC) to UDD. The situation became very tense.

Many moons ago when I was studying for my B.A. in politics, I was forced to read the text, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King Jr. I haven't read it since, but after reading the interview, it made me think about it again, and was inspired to re-read it.

Here is the link to the letter.

Money quote from MLK on breaking the law(abridged version):

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may won ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there fire two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the Brat to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all"

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal .law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I understand that the condition of the Black Americans in the fifties in the US and the Thai condition in 2007 are not the same thing. However, I do think there are parts of the Birmingham Letter, as political theory, which do shed light on the Thai condition, especially regarding Khun Sombat's evident but polite disgust with the activities of progressive elements in Thailand who compromised their principles and accepted the illegality of the coup without protest in order to get Thaksin out.


Del said...

That is a big jump of faith Fonzi to try to find parallels between Martin Luther King's civil rights (minority) aspirations and Thailand's military coup that helped deposed a disgraced and criminally-inclined Thaksin Shinawatra! It was also ridiculous.

And your lament of the " elements in Thailand who compromised their principles and accepted the illegality of the coup without protest in order to get Thaksin out" could easily be explained.

Those progressive elements were just using deductive logic. Thaksin's criminally corrupt (and extrajudicially killing) democracy was dangerous and visibly splitting the country apart. Because Thaksin was intent to rule for as long as needed to protect his criminal legacy and ill-gotten wealth from future public and judicial scrutiny, the political dead-lock could only be resolved extra-constitutionally; e.g., by a military coup to restore normalcy to Thailand. That coup could be pro-Thaksin . . .Thaksin took dozens of cash stuffed luggages in his last flight from Thailand just in case his pro-Thaksin coup did not fan out well. Thaksin's instincts skedaddling with billions-stuffed luggages was good because his pro-Thaksin coup was pre-empted by General Sonthi's coup (heaven be praised!) we now know.

So those 'progressive' elements knew deductively that it was just a choice between a pro-Thaksin or an anti-Thaksin coup. So the progressives of course were acting rationally when they acknowledged and did not resist General Sonthi's coup.

(BTW, could Thaksin be referring to those same billions-stuffed luggages he could have deposited to his numbered Swiss accounts that Thaksin now complains are being frozen by the Swiss banks?)

sammy boy said...

Sadly, SVL, you have a sorry misunderstanding of the term "deductive logic". Do try to do some justice to poor old Aristotle and look up what the concept actually means ... shouldn't be too hard with google out there eh.

So now we have Sonthi saving the kingdom from a planned coup by Thaksin via a countercoup -- fine Orwellian justification, that. Get off the hallucinogenic substances you're using, get some rest and think things over.