Growing Numbers of Thai Protesters Jailed

As many as 435 Red Shirt protesters remain in Thai jails and prisons in the wake of the May 19 breaking of the two-month siege of Bangkok by police and soldiers, with more being added every day, according to a list supplied to opposition figures and released to the press Wednesday.

A careful examination of the lists indicates that the authorities are predictably punishing the protesters while so far allegations of violence concerning government soldiers and royalists have been ignored. Considerable evidence exists indicating that soldiers and others deliberately targeted and killed not only protesters but members of the international press. Two foreign journalists were killed during the confrontations and seven foreign and domestic reporters were wounded, several of them seriously.

As Asia Sentinel reported on May 19, if the results of three previous revolts in 1972, 1976 and 1992 are considered, the defeated can expect little comfort. Thailand has experienced three major violent political upheavals in the 35 or so years before the present crisis began. There was little leniency shown to demonstrators in any of the three following the upheavals, despite the fact that in all three cases the authorities shared as much responsibility for the violence, if not considerably more, as the protesters.

Some 13 of the top leaders of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship – the Red Shirts – have been incarcerated at Narasuan Military Camp in Cha-Am, in Petchaburi Province, an unknown number charged with terrorism. Among them, according to local media, are Veera Musigkapong, Natthawut Saikua, Nisit Sinthuprai, Kwanchai Praiphana,Yosvarit chooklom or Jeng Dokjig, Weng Tochairakarn, Wiphuthalaeng Pattanaphuthai and Korkaew Pikulthong.

So far, according to the Red Shirt sources, another 417 of the prisoners detained as a result of the pro-democracy protests have been charged under various clauses in the Emergency Decree. More than 100 were charged with arson, apparently stemming from the torching of buildings as the protesters were being driven out of the center of Bangkok. More than 25 were charged with possession of weapons or explosives.

Other charges ranged from relatively minor ones like curfew violations to destruction of property to theft or possession of drugs. The protesters are being held in at least eight prisons from Ayudhaya to central Bangkok to Donburi.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on June 9 in a nationally publicized address introduced a five-point reconciliation program that he said seeks to address social and economic disparities. The plan also seeks to impose new controls on the news media, which largely hewed to a pro-government line throughout the two-month confrontation, during which 88 people died, most of them protesters although several soldiers were gunned down by mysterious "men in black" snipers believed to be connected to the Red Shirts, although nobody has been able to pin down just who they were.

The embattled prime minister also said his plan would discuss constitutional reform and "uphold the honor of the monarchy." Several commissions are to be appointed on June 17 to carry out the plan.

As the three past episodes have shown, in which dozens of leaders were jailed for long periods, the red leadership at all levels should expect to be targeted for judicial punishment and extra-judicial disposal. Given the numbers of people who have been jailed and the growing numbers who are expected to be jailed, it appears that will be the case in this episode as well. The elites of Bangkok believe they have won the skirmish and appear unlikely to cede any power to the protesters.

Although Abhisit had earlier agreed under pressure to hold national elections in November, there has been no indication since the protesters were driven out of Bangkok that elections – the Red Shirt protesters’ main goal – will be held any time soon.