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September 30, 2010


Thailand Approaches Iran’s Model of Repression

Suppose someone — a pollster, a teacher, or a friend — approaches you, asking whether, in your opinion, any of these two Asian countries qualifies as a good candidate for a strong alliance and solid economic partnership with the United States.

One country, let’s call it Iran, is a theocracy. It is ruled by clerics, pulling the strings from behind a fraudulent democratic facade. Certainly, the Iranian people elect their own legislators and their own president, but candidates are screened for ideological purity, while elections are rigged to ensure that only the candidates the clerics and the Revolutionary Guard endorse ever make it into office. After the government stole the latest presidential election, citizens came out in full force to demand that their voices be heard. The army repressed them brutally, killing dozens of people and imprisoning hundreds. The government controls all media and routinely censors the internet to prevent its citizens from sharing information the clerics do not want them to see. On September 29, blogger Hossein Derakhshan was sentenced to nineteen years in prison for “blasphemy” and for supposedly “collaborating with foreign powers” to undermine the Ayatollahs’ rule.

The other country, let’s call it Thailand, is what some call a “hybrid authoritarian” regime – one that looks increasingly like a military dictatorship. Generals, aristocrats, and business elites run the show, notwithstanding the country’s fading appearance of a democracy. As in Iran, the Thai people can elect their own representatives, who in turn select a Prime Minister. But the country’s highly politicized judiciary can be counted on to dissolve political parties if they challenge the authority of the generals and the aristocrats. In any event, the generals can use their tanks and their guns to overthrow an elected Prime Minister if all else fails. In the wake of a coup and the dissolution of two ruling parties elected by the people, citizens rose up against the generals and the aristocrats. At least ninety of them were killed by the army this year, while hundreds remain arbitrarily detained. As the disturbances were taking place, the government suspended constitutional liberties by declaring a state of emergency — a measure that has since been roundly criticized as an excuse to repress legitimate dissent.

In Thailand as in Iran, the government controls much of the media and has blocked over a hundred thousand websites to prevent the dissemination of information it does not like. Hundreds of people are being prosecuted for criticizing the monarchy in speeches and on line. A year ago, dissident Darunee Charnchoensilpakul (“Da Torpedo”) was sentenced to 18 years in prison over a single speech that criticized the ailing King. Shortly thereafter, two people were arrested for merely translating an article published by Bloomberg news on the subject of the King’s health. Meanwhile, the manager of Thailand’s premiere independent, progressive website, Chiranuch Premchaiporn (“Jiew”), faces 50 years in prison at the end of an ongoing judicial proceeding, where stands accused of ten counts of violating the Computer Crimes Act. Her so-called “crime” was failing to remove user comments critical of the monarchy. Just last week, she was arrested once again, upon returning to the country from an international conference on internet freedom, over an identical offense.

Should either of these countries be the beneficiary of a close military alliance, a warm diplomatic relationship, and strong economic ties with the United States government? In an ideal world, perhaps not. In a decidedly less than ideal world, however, while President Barack Obama would not be caught dead shaking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hand, he has no problem posing with Thailand’s Prime Minister for playful, merry photo-ops. For good measure, the U.S. sells most of the weaponry that Thailand’s regime uses to repress its citizens. Ever quick to condemn any human rights violation committed by the Iranian state, the American government has not said a word about the massacres, the arbitrary detentions, the cover-ups, the political prisoners, or the censorship in Thailand.

Sure enough, one could counter by saying that, unlike Thailand, Iran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and poses a threat to regional peace. One could also say that things in Thailand have not been quite as bad for quite as long as they have in Iran. It is also true, however, that Thailand has a Foreign Minister who famously threatened to use the blood of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to wash his feet, to say nothing of the support that the governing party has offered to an ultra-nationalist group — the so-called “People’s Alliance for Democracy” — that has repeatedly stirred up trouble with Cambodia. Besides, things in Thailand have been this bad before; indeed, they have been this bad every time the Thai people have decided they wanted a “real” democracy.

More to the point, perhaps, murdering demonstrators and covering up the ensuing investigations is deplorable whether or not a country has a nuclear program. Putting people in jail for twenty years for what they think, say, or write — whether the instance of thought crime goes by the name of “blasphemy” or ” lèse majesté ” — is appalling whether or not a country is run by Islamic clerics. And denying people democracy for the benefit of a small, entitled elite is contemptible whether or not those who refuse to relinquish their ill-gotten power are sympathetic to American interests.

In both Thailand and Iran, the United States government has a history of supporting military coups and propping up authoritarian regimes responsible for the most shocking abuses of their own people’s rights. If only because the Iranian government has turned on American interests after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the United States has long since changed its stance on democracy in Iran. It has transformed Iran into an international pariah and has supported Iranian dissidents seeking to free their country from the yoke of the Ayatollahs. What will it take for the American government to do the right thing in Thailand?

  1. Alan
    Sep 30 2010

    The business of America is business. Spreading democracy is not its highest priority. This probably could be said of any western democratic country.

  2. henk beekers
    Oct 2 2010

    I have never read such a nonsense like this

  3. Samantha Owen
    Oct 2 2010

    Are you insane, Robert? Are you insane to believe everthing those strange and abnormal guys, like Jakkaphan? Why’re you degraded by those guys? I’m very disappionted that you’re not the same as Robert Amsterdam, one of the most intelligents lawyer in the US. Shameful.

  4. R. Tingnongnoy
    Oct 2 2010

    henk, i’m agreed with you that this article is nonsense ever i read. it’s silly and very funny.

  5. Marcus Collins
    Oct 6 2010

    The article is only funny when you are not a victim of repression by the regime. Being it Harry Nicolaides, whose book I happen to find in the Thai National Library or Da Torpedo.
    The article may be far fetched but it is certain that regimes that kill people in the street in full view of the entire world will have no trouble rigging (future) elections.

  6. ppkktt
    Oct 11 2010

    Just for your business Robert.

    I’m Thai, I know well what’s going on in Thailand. Do not make any confusion to others, stop it!

  7. Sean
    Oct 11 2010

    Ah….nonsense….how could we believe in this lawyer when everything he does is to serve the person who pays him. First of all, the article is cited from Human Rights, Thai Democracy, a press that directly supported by the former PM of Thailand, quoted, one of the bad exes listed by Washington Post. Well, I don’t really care what people would think because they all have the freedom they want, but I hope they are sophisticated enough to find out the truth from both side of the story before they judge about my country. Well, good luck Mr. Amsterdam. Hope you enjoy the money. Thank you for deceiving the world about how bad my country is.

  8. Boon Sae Lim
    Oct 12 2010

    Well Mr. Amster damaged,now you know (in your heart) money can turn wrong to right
    Read this article.

    2. Indonesia (??) 8.03

    Not only on Asia’s top 10 list, Indonesia has also been categorized as the number 5 of the 96 most corrupt nations in the world. In the past two years, Indonesia has lost more than $2bn due to corruption.

    Former president Suharto, as the most corrupt political leader in the world in the past 20 years, has ruled this country with an iron fist for more than three decades. All the leading candidates have made fighting corruption a central theme of their campaigns but none have been clear on how they will solve the problem.

    3. Thailand (??) 8.03

    The Problem of corruption has been around for a long time in Thailand and its roots are deep in the culture – While huge amounts of money will be lost during the implementation of projects due to corruption, more will be lost while trying to fight against it and stop it.

    Thailand’s ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has used very rough methods to control the media, which should be one of the most powerful watchdogs against corruption.

  9. Boon Sae Lim
    Oct 12 2010

    Mr.Amster dammaged,you need more money from Taksin for another fight with Washington Post. Read this….
    Thaksin makes ‘bad exes’ list

    * Published: 11/10/2010 at 12:00 AM
    * Newspaper section: News

    US magazine Foreign Policy has listed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra among a group of “Bad Exes” – former government leaders known internationally for scandals ranging from policy blunders to corruption.

    Thaksin has been placed in the same league as former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, Nigeria’s ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and former Philippine leader Joseph Estrada.

    “Most ex-presidents and former prime ministers devote their lives to making a positive difference in the world, or at least fade away into obscurity. Here are five former leaders who have done neither,” wrote Joshua EKeating, the author of the piece, which is on the magazine’s website.

    “Since being deposed in a 2006 coup amid allegations of graft and human rights abuses, Thaksin has lived a peripatetic existence. The former billionaire businessman has served as a ‘special ambassador’ for Nicaragua and an economic adviser in Cambodia, and was briefly owner of the Manchester City soccer club.

    “Thaksin reportedly lived under a false name in Germany for more than a year and has used illegally received passports from a number of other countries as well. He now makes his home in Dubai,” Mr Keating wrote.

    The article also cited Thaksin’s links to the anti-government protest in Bangkok earlier this year when supporters of the former prime minister occupied the central area of the capital in an effort to force the government to step down.

    Ninety-two people were killed in the ensuing clashes between protesters and security forces during the violence. Most of those killed were protesters.

    Although Thaksin was vocally supportive of the red shirts, he has denied funding the movement.

    The article pointed out, however, that he had once called a rally and promised “to make all Thais rich” if his proxies regained political power.

    Since the red shirts’ dispersal, Thaksin has cut back on his media appearances and political activities. In August, he gave up his position with the Cambodian government, helping ease relations between the two countries, according to the article.

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