Thank you for the whitewash, Thailand
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Thank you for the whitewash, Thailand

By Dan Waites

Thank you, Thailand” was the headline on the front of yesterday’s edition of The Nation above an “exclusive interview” with Japanese ambassador to Thailand, Seiji Kojima. The story opened as follows:

The Japanese ambassador to Thailand has these special words for the Thai people: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

That the sentence was uttered in Thai further underlined the heartfelt gratitude Ambassador Seiji Kojima shared with his compatriots towards the Thai people in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and the subsequent devastating tsunami.

All very well. But on another timely issue Kojima has no reason to be thanking Thailand: the investigation into the shooting of Japanese Reuters journalist Hiroyuki Muramoto. Today is the first anniversary of Muramoto’s death. Shortly before 9pm on April 10, 2010, a day in which 26 people were shot dead in Bangkok, the 43-year-old cameraman was hit by a high-velocity bullet. He died of massive bleeding before he reached the hospital.

HiroMuramoto

A farewell service for late Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto held in Tokyo last year. Pic: AP.

We still don’t know who killed Muramoto. His family still don’t know who killed him. And given the highly suspect way the Department of Special Investigation is handling the probe into his death, it doesn’t look like we ever will.

Here was The Nation in December last year:

Documents supposedly leaked from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) appear to place the blame for most of the deaths in the April-May military crackdown firmly on the military.

The set of documents, purported to be investigation reports by the DSI, covered the deaths of 16 people killed in demonstrations between April and May. The reports conclude that the deaths of at least 13 of these victims were “likely caused by soldiers” deployed and acting on duty.

The reports, obtained by The Nation from a reliable source who asked not to be identified, were cross-checked and confirmed as being authentic by at least one witness, German photographer Nicolas Nostitz, who was interrogated by the DSI.

The 10 case reports covering 16 deaths include a DSI conclusion that the death of Japanese photographer Hiroyuki Muramoto of Reuters News Agency on April 10 “likely occurred from the actions of Army officer(s) acting on their duty”.

Given that Thai soldiers are believed to have fired as many as 117,923 bullets during the red-shirt protests, that conclusion wouldn’t be surprising. Another report from Reuters on the leaked DSI reports, had earlier said: “The report quoted a witness who said Muramoto collapsed as gunfire flashed from the direction of soldiers. Thailand’s government has not yet publicly released the report into his death despite intense diplomatic pressure from Japan.”

But there was intense pressure coming from other places, too. Three months later, here’s the Bangkok Post:

The army is breathing a sigh of relief after a Department of Special Investigation (DSI) report concluded troops were not responsible for the death of a Japanese cameraman during last year’s red shirt protests.

However, the relief may be short-lived, amid claims that the army chief of staff paid the DSI head a visit to complain about an initial department finding which claimed the opposite _ that soldiers should in fact be blamed for Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto’s death during the rally at Khok Wua intersection on April 10 last year.

The DSI is likely to face questions about why it changed its stance, though DSI director-general Tharit Pengdit yesterday stood by the latest report, saying it was based on scientific and forensic findings. He also denied meeting the army chief of staff.

The weapons report, which he did not release, found that the Reuters News Agency cameraman was shot dead with an AK-47 rifle while covering the clashes.

In that case, troops could not be blamed for the death, said the report, because they carried different weapons.

Mr Tharit said Muramoto’s body was found with AK-47 bullet wound patterns. Soldiers had not used the weapon, he said.

The sudden change of heart came after a police forensics expert, Amporn Jarujinda, examined photographs of Muramoto’s body, concluding that the wounds were from AK-47 bullets. “It took me an hour to figure it out,” he told a news conference. The DSI had been working on the case for six months when its preliminary findings implicating the Army were leaked. Six months of work, undone by the fresh insights of one man. And what convenient insights they were!

At least 90 people died during the 10-week red-shirt protests, the vast majority of them civilians. I’m not suggesting the Army was responsible for every single one of the deaths. But the preposterous idea now being peddled by the Army and the government is that the troops did not kill a single one of these people . Numerous eyewitness accounts suggest troops were firing deliberately at unarmed protesters (see this disturbing video, for example). Suthep Thaugsuban, Thailand’s deputy prime minister, has said that if anyone died, it was because they ran into [the bullets] (see Bangkok Pundit here and Saksith at Siam Voices here). You read that right.

Indeed, news recently surfaced that Suthep is planning to publish a book on the protests entitled “Our Thailand: Don’t let anybody burn it again” (“ประเทศไทยของเรา อย่าให้ใครเผาอีก”). The book will be based on Suthep’s speeches during last month’s censure debate, in which he defended the Army against the opposition’s accusations using information provided to him by a team of military officials. Krungthep Thurakij newspaper reported Suthep’s introduction to the book as follows (my translation):

This book has been composed from the record of a speech in Parliament to explain to the opposition about the rioting and terrorism that happened in Thailand between 2009 and 2010, particularly the violent events from April 10 to May 19 in 2010. Some groups of politicians are trying to distort the truth to incriminate the government and the army as the perpetrators. It will be released on April 6 at the Democrat Party.

People all over the world can see clearly for themselves which group brought damage to the country – from starting protracted protests, to damaging important economic areas, to invading and agitating the conditions of sick people in hospital, to planning to burn important places in Bangkok and other provinces. The idea was to create chaos only in order to seize political power and find a way to let a fugitive convict avoid punishment when he had done wrong, and to throw the crime onto the army and the government using shameless distortion.

Did somebody just say “shameless distortion”?

It’s funny that Suthep chooses to summon “people from all over the world” as witnesses to the dastardly deeds of the red shirts. This is the man who is refusing to allow foreign election observers at the next election, saying: “I don’t respect farangs. We don’t have to surrender to them.” Still, it will be interesting to see how Suthep’s masterwork deals with the question of who shot the people who died. Will he repeat his “running into bullets” claim? Or pin the deaths on the standard deus ex machina, the “men in black”?

Even the most blinkered cheerleader for the establishment can see that these investigations have turned into a sham. But the government has no choice other than to keep peddling its absurd version of events. The real power in this country the Royal Thai Army won’t have it any other way. It was heartening to see Thais show so much compassion for the Japanese this past month. Will the government demonstrate the same level of compassion for Muramoto’s family, by giving them justice? And will it, for that matter, show the same for the families of the Thais who were killed? The answer is becoming pretty clear.

Dan Waites can be contacted at jamesdanielwaites@gmail.com or followed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/danwaites.

ประเทศไทยของเรา อย่าให้ใครเผาอีก