‘Uncle SMS’ death inspires hypocrisy, indifference among politicians
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‘Uncle SMS’ death inspires hypocrisy, indifference among politicians

By Saksith Saiyasombut

The death of Ampon Tangnoppakul on Monday, known as “Ah Kong” (grandpa) or “Uncle SMS” and imprisoned under the lèse majesté law for allegedly sending inflammatory text messages against the monarchy, has sparked widespread outcry, condemnation and anger — domestic and international alike. However, one group of people that have been very silent on this matter were Thailand’s politicians – and if there were any statements from both sides, then they showed the hypocrisy, double standard and sheer cowardice in order to maintain an unstable status quo concerning Article 112 of the Criminal Code.

Among the first to respond when questioned about Ampon’s fate and the re-ignited discussion over the lèse majesté law, was Abhisit Vejjajiva of the opposition Democrat party, who said that the death of the 62-year old grandfather “must not be exploited for political gain.” He continued:

He said the government was duty-bound to explain what happened to Ampon as he was in the custodial care of the Corrections Department under the supervision of the government.

Reds told not to exploit Ampon’s death“, Bangkok Post, May 10, 2012

What Abhisit completely neglects to mention is that it was during his time as prime minister that Ampon was arrested and brought to trial. What he also fails to mention is that it was his own personal secretary Somkiat Klongwattanasak who received those messages and reported them to the police — a fact that Abhisit still denies to have noticed until today, as heard recently at a FCCT event. That almost overshadows that there were no mentions of condolences or anything similar expressed by him reported in the press.

Another public figure who did actually expressed his condolences was (slightly surprisingly) army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, but in the same breath also reminds the people of his idea(ls) of ‘being a Thai’:

“ประเด็นสำคัญคือ กองทัพเสียใจ ไม่ว่า ใครก็ตามก็ถือว่า เป็นคนไทย ขอให้ทุกคนสำนึกความเป็นคนไทยกันมากๆ ว่า ความเป็นคนไทยต้อง คือ ต้องเคารพกฎหมาย รักชาติ ศาสนา พระมหากษัตริย์”พล.อ.ประยุทธ์กล่าว

“The important thing is that we, the armed forces, are sorry. Whoever [he was], [he was] a Thai. I want everybody to be very aware of being a Thai. Being a Thai means to respect the law, to love the country, religion and the monarchy,” said General Prayuth.

“ประยุทธ์”เตือน อย่าดึงปม”อากง”โยงสถาบัน เผยกองทัพเสียใจ ชี้ให้มองความเป็นจริง“, Matichon, May 10, 2012

As the kingdom’s top soldier, he sees his duty to serve and protect the monarchy from all threats against it, no matter how constructed and perceived they are. Ever since his inception, the army chief has been consistently showing loyalty to the royal institution and vowing to crack down on lèse majesté offenders – because everything else to him is apparently not Thai.

However, it was most anticipated what (if at all) prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra would say about the death of ‘Uncle SMS’ – it took her five days to say this:

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday she has no plans to amend Section 112 – the lese majeste law – despite an outcry over the death of a 62-year-old man jailed for the offence. (…)

“I want to reaffirm that my government’s policy is to stay put,” Ms Yingluck said in response to questions about possible reform of the law. I have already told groups who push for amendment that the government’s urgent mission is to solve economic problems.”

PM adamant she will not reform lese majeste law“, Bangkok Post, May 12, 2012

This is almost a carbon copy of her statement she did in July last year shortly after her party won the elections:

Question: “Do you have any plan to change the 112 law?”

Answer:  ”No, for me, I don’t have any idea to change the 112. I would not reform it, because it is not my policy and also this is an issue which is quite sensitive so we have to leave it to the people who have expertise to comment on that. I don’t want to see the misuse of this law regarding his majesty.”

Will Yingluck amend Thailand’s lese majeste law?“, Siam Voices, July 8, 2011

During the months following their election victory, it became clear that the new Yingluck government will NOT push for a reform of Article 112. Even worse, both the MICT minister and deputy prime minister Chalerm have vowed to crackdown even harder on alleged offenders, hinting to be part of a deal with the military not to touch this issue in exchange for a non-intervention against the government and potentially also not intervening against a potential return by Thaksin.

Nevertheless Yingluck’s repeated refusal to touch the issue of lèse majesté is betraying a substantial part of her and the Pheu Thai Party’s supporter base – many of which were hoping for a reform since they were the most targeted group under this law. Their loyalty has been put on the test before and a recent visit by Yingluck with Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda, regarded by many among her supporters as a nemesis, has divided opinions among the red shirts.

It appears that all sides have decided to maintain the status quo for the sake of stability. However, this stability of upholding Article 112 is not sustainable, as with each victim the opposition to this law will grow and could result in a backlash against the current government. The prisoners bear the brunt of a political battle, in which all sides could ultimately lose all their supporters.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and on Facebook here.