Donnerstag, 8. Mai 2014

Sad Times


In the last four weeks, since my last post, I didn't write anything about the political situation here in Thailand as there was not much to report except rumours. Not a day goes by without someone claiming to know what will happen in the near future (always relating to mysterious but well-informed sources). But the next day all these “facts” turned out just as gossip once again. Nowadays it is almost impossible to provide reliable information. However, three events in the last four weeks made me as well as very sad and very angry. 

Update of May 7 and 8: Yingluck and nine other cabinet members were found guilty of abuse of power and were removed from office by the Constitutional Court. They were accused of illegally  transferring Thawil Pliensri, head of national security, in 2011 (but several legal experts doubted the alleged illegitimacy of that move , they also questioned the courts authority to issue a verdict in this matter). On May 8 the NACC (National Anti-Corruption Commission) voted to indict Yingluck over a controversal rice pledging scheme.

Elisabetta Polenghi

On 29 April 2014 we received the news of Elisabetta Polenghis death. She was the sister of the Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi who was hit by a bullet during the crackdown on the red-shirt protests by the military on 19 May 2010. He died on the way to the hospital .
Nearly four years Isa fought for justice and tried to uncover the real circumstances of Fabio's death - and she also fought against a judiciary which was not really interested in a complete clarification of the events.

Learn more about this and about Elisabetta's last press conference at the FCCT ( May 29, 2013) at this link:

Elisabetta at the FCCT in May 2013.

On the passing of Elisabetta Polenghi (by Jeanne Hallacy)

Dear All,

I was deeply affected by this sad news and equally moved and unsurprised that Isa's battle with cancer was not known.
I had the honour to work closely with Isa over the years from the first day she arrived to Thailand and brought her to the place where Fabio was killed with photojournalist Masaru Goto who was with him when he was shot and took a risk to carry his body to the side of the road.

When Isa arrived to the spot where he fell, she ran her hands across the blackened blood stain on the road. No one spoke.
She then began a rapid fire of questions --hungry for every minute detail of the moments leading up to his death which Masaru recounted. Masaru spoke of how they lifted him on to the back of a motorbike when his helmet and camera fell to the ground. He was under fire at the time and did not pick up the camera. It disappeared. And was never seen again.

Isa questioned the origin of the shots, the position of high buildings, the direction he faced, the angle of the sun. What he shouted to Masaru as they ran down the street.

A group of young Thais were watching and asked why she was there. When they learned it was Fabio's sister, they asked her to wait there.

They walked up the silent, barricaded road to find motorbike taxis. Twenty minutes later, they came back with bundles of jasmine garlands and orchids. They requested translation to give Isa a garland and encircled the place where he had fallen and prayed.

Only at that moment, Isa silently wept. One of the young women took her hand and pressed it as she continued to pray.

Isa's foremost quest was to find Fabio's camera. We distributed flyers in Thai and posted online offering a reward with no questions asked for the return only of the memory card with his last images. Masaru and I brought her to police stations and arranged meetings with the hospital where he was taken, Kraisak Choonhavan and the investigative body charged with the report on the events.

Isa was determined to get the memory card. She said preserving his final photos was paramount above all else-that was his role for being there -and the most precious contribution of his life.
Days later, Masaru's apartment was ransacked; his laptop and cameras were stolen. His home was turned upside down.

Isa believed those responsible for the vandalism were ordered by powerful people who would go to any lengths to ensure the memory card would remain buried in a tomb of unearthed truth.

The pursuit of that truth became Isa's quest.

She used her every waking moment to meet with government officials, off the record behind the scenes, civil society groups, journalists who covered the events, diplomats -and brought his case to the attention of international organizations including the CPB.

Dozens of journalists, photographers and friends attended Fabio's funeral.
From her first visit, Isa requested a meeting with PM Abhisit. It would become a repeated request over the many visits -and one that never took place.

She gave several press briefings at the FCCT during her visit. We organized a tribute exhibition of his work with a portrait of Fabio hung at the entrance to the Club. Masaru Goto gave the opening remarks and broke down while paying tribute to his colleague and friend.

Over the years, Isa made numerous trips to Thailand -several a year -and stayed in regular touch with on Skype and email.

She was an accomplished photographer herself and described her bond with her brother as a deep friendship, mutual respect and as a "comrade" beyond being family. She said that the road that led to her investigating Fabio's death could be the only path she could take as it was the very one he would have taken had it happened to her or someone close to him. She talked about his passion for social justice issues expressed through his talent as a photographer and his deep kindness towards those in need.

The FCCT hosted many press briefings where Isa spoke. With every event, the scope of her mission expanded: she was no longer demanding an answer about her brother's death -she was drawing on this life changing experience to speak out for the protection of journalists around the world. To state in an increasingly clear, present and remarkably compassionate voice that Press Freedom and the protection of media was not a negotiable issue -it was a fundamental right that every society must uphold without compromise.

She transformed into a global advocate for journalists: extolling the tremendous risks, sacrifice and drive that lead them to do their job to speak truth to power through their documentation.

I emceed the final press conference the FCCT hosted with Isa when the long-awaited court ruling on Fabio's death was announced. The day before, she called to share the news that after years of asking --through countless channels --Abhisit requested a private meeting. She said she decided she would not go to meet him but would instead, invite him to the FCCT where she would meet him with Fabio's colleagues -or not at all.

Her mother accompanied her for the verdict. Isa said her mother told her she could never set foot on the land again where her son was slain. The anguish at the lack of clarity and culpability was too much to bear.

The court ruling did not illuminate the truth. Despite this, Isa was at her most eloquent. She talked about the fact that the ruling was no longer of primary importance. But that the journey she had been set upon because of Fabio's death deepened her commitment to stand for truth and for those whose professions are in the pursuit of some form of truth in the face of injustice.
The room was transfixed. She spoke without notes. From the gut. From the heart.
Isa had the rare gift of being a true humanitarian.
Her voice will continue to resonate with every stance taken to defend the protection of journalists and press freedom anywhere in the world.
She was a luchadora -- a fighter wielding integrity, conviction and compassion on one arm and a camera on the other.

Jeanne Hallacy

Third anniversary of the imprisonment of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk

Somyot before the reading of the courts verdict on 23 January 2013.

April 30th marked the third anniversary of the detention (30 April 2011) of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison on 23 January 2013 for for violating Thailand's draconian lese majeste law.
Since then his family and his friends continue to fight for his release on bail and for a retrial. Despite Somyot's serious health problems all requests for bail have been rejected by the Criminal Court.
Nevertheless, the protests against his detention and conviction continue unabated, even at international level. On 1 May 2014 for example Korean unionists demonstrated in front of the Thai Embassy in South Korea.

Additional links and information about Somyot:

Statement von Amnesty International:

The assassination of Kamol Duangphasuk

"Molding the violent passion"
Oh this great capital city, great yet so empty, so hollow
A capital within a kingdom that could be of deity or devil

Accused terrorists, our penalty almost certain death
Why keep this, this city of so called angels and imaginary heavens
Our passion will break the chains of the poor and grant them freedom
This is our final struggle
We shall fight wholeheartedly and we shall win.
(Excerpts from a poem written by Mainueng in April 2010 shortly before the massacre began. Originally translated by our friend Suda Rangkupan.)

Mainueng Kor Kunthee (center - plaid shirt) at a memorial service (April 2013) marking the third anniversary of the attempted crackdown on the Red Shirt protests by the military on April 10, 2010.

On Wednesday, 23 April 2014, the poet and political activist Kamol Duangphasuk, better known by his stage name Mainueng Kor Kunthee, was murdered at 2 pm in broad daylight. He was only 45 years old, leaving behind his wife and two children. 
I met him several times on commemorative events and protests. Ajarn Suda, a scholar, political activist, declared opponent of Section 112 ( law against lese majeste ) and close friend of Kor Kunthee had introduced us during one of these events.

Kamol was a well known supporter of the Red Shirt movement. Among others things he joined the protests against the Abhisit-Vejjajiva-government in 2010. He also was a staunch opponent of Section 112.
Even if the background and the motives for the attack are still unknown, it is most likely that the murder of Kor Kunthee is probably related to his battle against paragraph 112.

Presumably the hate speeches and the inhuman polemics of PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban and former Major-General Rientong Nan-nah, head of the so-called "Rubbish Collection Organization", an ultra-royalist-movement which was recently founded before the assassination, stirred up the political climate to that extend, that one or more fanatics apparently now believed to have the right to assassinate politically dissidents.

The aim of this " Rubbish Collection organization" is (according to translations from other sources), the "elimination" of all those who criticize the monarchy. Any "decent" citizens will be asked to search for this garbage (critics or opponents of the monarchy ), especially on the Internet, reporting these people to the police and to publish their images, names and place of residence. In an interview with the Australian network ABC, Rientong compares free speech with terrorism, when this freedom (in his opinion) is abused to attack or insult the monarchy, and he is convinced that the capitalists are behind it (this kind of terrorism) , without naming them specifically.

An excerpt (rough translation by Khaosod News English) from the speech of Suthep Thaugsuban of 5 April 2014:

..."We will immediately march on that day!" Mr. Suthep, "We will occupy Thailand so the sovereign power shall truly belong to the people"
Mr. Suthep elaborated further that he would then install himself as the "Sovereign Body" who will wield absolute power via numerous "Revolutionary Decrees" and the adoption of a single charter provision as a legislative blank cheque - in the same manner of military dictators in 1960s, such as the notorious Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.
"We will have something like Article 17 [of 1959 Administrative Charter] as the highest law," Mr. Suthep said, referring to the charter article which allowed Field Marshal Sarit to fight suspected Communist threats by all means, "[I] will be able to order anyone to be executed by firing squad, but I will only freeze assets"....

A little later Suthep already backtracked - obviously after massive pressure from all sides, including the military and even his own followers.(

The murder of Kor Kunthee shocked not only his supporters among the red shirts, intellectuals and free thinkers in Thailand, but also many artists and protesters who publicly supported the PDRC.
The Bangkok Post wrote: ...Forget the messages of hatred from online fools, because there’s light after Mainueng’s death. Poets of all colours have written hymns for the shocking loss, notably Surachai “Nga” Chantimatorn, a song-for-life-statesman who’s appeared on Suthep Thaugsuban’s stage. Surachai’s heartfelt ode — A poet was shot dead/I mourn for his life/Heart sinks/Who put a price on his head — is too real and too elegant for me to translate its full flavour. What’s important is its spirit: Ideology should never trump humanity, because when that happens, you start counting only the deaths on your own side and laugh at the others.

Death is death. Even if Mainueng’s murder has nothing to do with politics, the gravity of the loss remains huge, especially to his family. But if it has, as everyone suspects, the chill running down our our spines becomes chillier.

The poet is dead, let’s hope he’s the last one.

A little poem by Kor Kunthee in contrast to the hate speeches of Suthep and Rientong:

When your head gets dusty, you must dust it off 
Because we are human not animals - we have rights. 

Fight for freedom with our voice, words and thoughts. 
Fight with all your heart and stand in defiance of injustice.

Kor Kunthee on the commemoration ceremony of the first anniversary of Khun Ah-Kong death, 5 May 2013, in front of the Criminal Court in Bangkok.

Cremation ceremony for Mainueng Kor Kunthee

Friend and political activist ajarn Tum.

In honor of the dead the Musician wore T-shirts with his likeness (usually they don't do this).

Friends and supporters from around the world sent wreaths to the cremation (among others from Japan, Australia, Korea, ...).

Kunthee's coffin.

Friends and supporters bid farewell at the coffin of Kor Kunthee.

The two men left are unknown to me, right next to them sat Dr. Weng (center), Jaran Ditapichai and Worachai Hema (right).

Ajarn Suda
(ajarn means teacher/scholar)

Monks circumambulate three times the crematorium pulling the coffin of Khun Duang (it's only symbolic,  in reality the coffin is pulled and pushed by the friends and supporters of Kor Kunthee).

The mourners sang protest songs during the procession.

A large number of policemen were on hand to protect the mourning ceremony from attacks. Previously bomb squads had scanned the area for bombs.


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