Tag Archives: Ko Tao

Thai-style Kangaroo Court Injustice

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

According to the daily newspaper Khao Sod, the Appeals Court recently announced its decision to uphold the death sentences for two migrant Burmese workers convicted of a brutal rape and double homicide on island of Ko Tao. [See http://bit.ly/2mKOdFo ]

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, migrant workers on the island, were convicted of the September 2014 murders of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge largely on the basis of DNA traces police claimed were recovered from the crime scene and Ms Witheridge’s body. No other physical evidence or witness testimony directly linked them to the crime. The crime scene was allowed to be hopelessly contaminated by the incompetent Thai police. The police are also suspected of being involved with the circulation of inappropriate naked photos of Ms Witheridge’s corpse on social media.

The defence was never allowed to independently test the DNA evidence on its own, and many have cast doubt on the integrity of the police investigation and the Thai justice system. The trial came after an investigation widely criticized for unprofessional bungling, and accusations that desperate investigators arrested two men on the margins of society for use as scapegoats. Burmese migrants are continually being scape-goated in Thailand.

The two were being held at the Bang Kwang Central Prison in Bangkok and were not allowed in court. No witnesses were called during the appeals process and defence lawyers were not informed. The Appeals Court simply endorsed evidence and testimony already entered into the record during the initial trial.

There has long been a lack of justice in the Thai court system with the rich and powerful always escaping punishment while ordinary working people are assumed guilty before trial and treated with contempt. Migrant workers receive even worse treatment. All this is due to a number of factors; a lack of democracy, a judicial system under the control of the corrupt elites, the weakness of trade unions and socialist parties who could act as tribunes of the oppressed, and the elite-driven racism which permeates society.

Of course the presence of a ruling military junta only makes matters worse. Generalissimo Prayut initially remarked about the Ko Tao murders that women should not wear bikinis on the beach. He and his ilk always like to create an image of “brutal efficiency” in dealing with problems. Thus the need to quickly find scape goats to “clear up” cases. Prayut has also gone on the rampage, using his “because I say so” article 44 to order the occupation of Dammakeye temple and hundreds of sackings and appointments of state officials. [See http://bit.ly/1RM69fv ]

Since the 2014 military coup, many opponents of the military have been hauled in for “attitude changing sessions”, often in secret locations. Many have faced military courts. Recently the head of the military courts, General Tanin Tuntusawat, explained that the courts cared not a jot about human rights and merely followed the diktats of the junta.

If the junta gets what it wants, no change is on the horizon. Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krua-ngarm warned people that even when Generalissimo Prayut was no longer Prime Minister, nothing would change. This is because he would be head of the National Strategic Committee and the military constitution states clearly that for 20 years after the first elections, governments will have to conform to the military’s National Strategic Plan.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/1WjMcfF

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Laura Witheridge makes some serious points about the Thai justice system

 

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Any decent person must sympathise with the anger expressed by Laura Witheridge about how the Thai authorities handled the investigation of the murder and rape of her sister Hannah on Ko Tao. Hannah’s boyfriend David Miller was also brutally murdered there.

Laura Witheridge cuts through the myth about Thailand being “The Land of Smiles” and the image of beach paradises which attract holiday makers from abroad. Thailand is not a country of only warm gentle people who are constantly smiling. The murder rate is shockingly high and many political activists are gunned down in cold blood in the streets. The murderers, often state officials or people with powerful connections, go unpunished. The so-called “beach paradises” are often controlled by money-grabbing mafia types who viciously exploit migrant workers from neighbouring countries in order to provide services to holiday makers.

For many years now I have felt a mixture of sadness and disgust at the way holiday makers from Europe and other countries come to Thailand and stay in a complete bubble, showing little interest in what is happening in Thailand. The idea that I would go on holiday to a place without taking an interest in its politics and society is perplexing to me.

Ms Witheridge is 100% correct when she lambasts the Thai police for being both corrupt and incompetent. Most ordinary Thais, including myself, have experienced this first hand for all of their lives and are genuinely fed-up with the situation. Many people are angry and fed-up with the arrogance and callousness of government officials when communicating with the public. This is also something mentioned by Ms Witheridge and it all sounds convincing.

The reaction of the police to the Ko Tao murders reminds me of the words of the Chief of Police in the film “Casablanca”. “Round up the usual suspects!” he barks at his underlings. In Thailand the “usual suspects” are Burmese migrant workers.

Ms Witheridge also makes an important point about the racism of many Thais and how they despise foreigners including Western tourists. In previous posts on this site I have criticised the racism in Thai society. See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY and http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj

I can easily forgive Laura Witheridge for making angry sweeping statements about Thais and the society in which we live. What happened to her sister is appalling and the pictures of her sister which I witnessed being posted on Facebook showed an unbelievable callousness. (http://bit.ly/1n4bged)

But we must never forget that most Thai people, like most Britons or most ordinary French people, Syrians or Iraqis, are not vicious nor callous.

There are many Thais who show warmth, compassion and solidarity. There are many who are upset by rape and vicious murders and many who wish to see the police and the criminal justice system subjected to root and branch reforms. While some Thais are conservative and supportive of authoritarianism, others fight for freedom, justice and democracy. Thai society has two faces.

That Thai society has two faces is hardly surprising. It is after all a class society. This helps to explain much of what Ms Witheridge is criticising.

At the best of times, Thailand has been ruled by a hierarchical ruling class which is selfish and brutal. That is why wages for ordinary working people are pitifully low. That is why most working Thais and migrant workers are viewed with contempt. There is not justice for most citizens. Vicious laws, like the lèse-majesté law, are there to try to enforce loyalty to the monarchy, the elites and the military. On top of this steaming heap of dung, we now have a military dictatorship which acts with impunity.

The Thai ruling class uses the extreme ideologies of Monarchy and Nationalism to support their brutal rule and these things are socialised so that they are instilled in most people from an early age. Apart from this being an explanation for the outward and false appearance that everyone loves the monarchy and is proud of being Thai, it explains the racism in society.

Viewed in this wider manner, what Ms Witheridge describes about Thailand is what most Thais experience. It is a symptom of authoritarian rule in all its complex forms. Apart from the urgent business of overthrowing the dictatorship and building a more just and socialist society, there is a very urgent task concerning the Ko Tao murders. We must fight to save the lives of two innocent Burmese men who have become the junta’s scapegoats. These men must be regarded as “innocent” until proven guilty and the so-called evidence concocted against them by the Thai police is contradictory and highly suspect. The police have also used torture to obtain so-called confessions, a practice widely used by both the police and military.

Tragically nothing is going to bring back the lives of Hannah Witheridge or David Miller. But the lives of two other people can still be saved. We must do all we can for Zaw Lin and Win Htun.

What the Rohingya slave labour and Ko Tao scandals reveal

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Both the Rohingya slave labour scandal, exposed by the Guardian newspaper and other media, and the police handling of the brutal murders of two British tourists on Ko Tao, reveal a very nasty side of Thai society.

While large numbers of decent Thai people would condemn the human trafficking, systematic rapes, imprisonment on large cargo ships and the eventual enslavement in the fishing industry, of hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Burma, much more needs to be done. Thai organisations and political groups should be mobilising and campaigning over this issue and trade unions should be making a stand against the shocking labour conditions in the fishing industry.

There might be sympathy in Thai society for those at the sharp end of human trafficking, when it is exposed in the media, but deep-rooted racism and nationalism, which infects most Thais, means that when the issue of welcoming the refugees and re-settling them in normal Thai society is raised, there is widespread hostility. This spills over into the blatant disregard for the plight of migrant workers from neighbouring countries. When not being trafficked, they are abused, beaten and robbed of their wages by employers and members of the security forces. Government posters reinforce derogatory views about migrants, accusing them of crimes and of carrying diseases. Ordinary Thais routinely use racist terms like “Kak”, “Yuan”, “Farang”, “Aye-Meud” (Darky) etc. to refer to people of other ethnicities.

This poisonous racism is responsible for the continuing miscarriage of justice over the Ko Tao murders. The two Burmese migrant workers, who are in court facing serious charges, are the “usual scape-goats”. There is also an appalling attitude among many Thais towards European women and the wearing of normal swimwear on the beach, as though it was an indication of “loose morals”.

Yet just look at the lack of morals in Thai society. We have a thriving sex industry where young people are exploited and trafficked. Thais are the predominant clients and beneficiaries of this industry. The country’s rulers, past and present, including Prayut, Abhisit and Taksin, are usually mass murderers who will never face trial for human rights abuses. Corruption and exploitation by the rich and powerful is the order of the day.

The root cause of this appalling situation is that there is far too little opposition to authoritarianism in all its forms. This is a vicious circle because when individual people are brave enough to speak out, they are subject to repression. The left is weak, the trade unions are disorganised or mainly apolitical and the pro-democracy Red Shirts have been demobilised by the UDD and Taksin. The National Human Rights Commission is staffed by members of the security forces, fanatical royalists and reactionaries. The NGOs are either with the military or are only interested in campaigning for fragmented single issues.

Fundamentally it is the weakness of the left and organised labour which accounts for a lack of strong opposition. Not only is the opposition to authoritarianism too weak, but there is almost no opposition to nationalism and racism in society. In such circumstances, ordinary Thai working people are tied to the mainstream ideology of the ruling class. Karl Marx once commented that British workers would never be able to liberate themselves until they got rid of racist ideas about the Irish. We could say similarly that ordinary working Thais will not be able to liberate themselves until they reject nationalism and racism. Throughout Europe today in an era of austerity, nationalism and racism are used to weaken movements opposed to neoliberalism and the impoverishment of workers. It is socialists and left-wing organisations which form the core of opposition to racism and nationalism in Europe.

In Thailand we desperately need to revive the left in a struggle for democracy and against national chauvinism.