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Dark Age - ‘Freedom of Speech’ next time!

A reportage from Thailand (1)

by Yu-Kyung Lee, Bangkok, 29 January 2009

On January 20th some dozens of cheering people were gathering at Pathumwan police stations in Bangkok, Thailand. Carrying banners or chanting slogans of ‘pro-freedom of speech’, people appeared to support Giles Ji Ungpakorn (55), the prominent leftist intellectual of Chulalongkorn University. Ji Ungpakorn was just summoned by the police as charged with the Lese Majeste law, for this book ‘Coup for the Rich’ that was published in January 2007.

Gile Ji Ungpakorn, the associate professor of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand came out from the Pathumwan police station, where he was summoned by the Police on 20th January. He was recently charged of Lese Majeste for his book 'Coup for the Rich', which was published in January 2007.
photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

“I feel honored. This is a real face of democracy in Thailand.” Ji said as he’s just met with police officers to be informed about details of his charge.

Among supporters was Jitra Kochadej, the labor activist who gave Ji big cheers. She herself was victimized by Lese Majeste charge, which has a history of being misused against dissidents or political enemy, although she’s not directly charged with the law.

Labor activist victimized

Jitra is a thirty six years old single mother and one of the two bread earners of nine family members. She has been twice elected as a president of union of Body Fashion (Thailand) Ltd, the branch company of Triumph International, which is a German-owned multi-national company headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland.

“If the Labor court judges against me, I will commit myself as a full time union worker”

Last October 24th, she told me in her union office in Samut Prakan, the neighboring province of Bangkok, Thailand. As of late January 2009, she is doing what she assured me then.

She was dismissed by the company on July 29th in 2008. To her appeal, the Labor Court has reviewed the case but judged in favor of the company last November 27th. The reason why she was dismissed doesn’t sound reasonable, as the Court did not even detail as to, what the company has argued, ‘losses’ caused by her campaign T-shirts. Instead some parts of verdict reads, “…Jitra doesn’t have Thai spirit to respect Monarchy…”

Jitra appeared on TV, wearing campaign T-shirt that has indicated her support of Chotisak  who was charged with Lese Majeste. It was the Manager website that has high lightened the vaguely seen- two words ‘crime’ and ‘criminal’,  to launch blame her for Lese Majeste.
photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

The absurd story was originated from her T-shirt, in which ‘Not standing is not a crime’ ‘To think differently is not a criminal’ were written. These phrases referred to the case of Chotisak Ooonsung, who was charged with the Lese Majeste law as he didn’t stand up during Royal Anthem in a cinema in September 2007. Jitra was wearing the ‘controversial’ T-shirt by accident when she appeared on National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (or NBT) debate program about “Women’s rights on abortion” as a panelist on April 24th 2008.

“I didn’t intend anything. I happened to wear it. It’s not unusual for me to wear campaign T-shirts” She laughed.

When I saw the captured TV screen, where she alone appeared in a full shot, it was not easy to read what was written in her T-shirt, because there’s a bigger logo of ‘NBT’ and phone number for the audiences. Even my Thai colleague barely reads only two words.

“It looked like …. Crime….criminal …or…criminal…crime…I don’t know which one is crime or criminal.”

It has become an issue, however, when the Manager Media group, which is owned by People’s Alliance Democracy (or PAD) leader Sonthi Limthongul, has highlighted it on its website by circling on the two words ‘crime’ and ‘criminal’, and then to launch condemnation against her for ‘insulting’ Monarchy since April 26th. The astonishing work by the Manager has dragged lots of abhorrent comments on its web board such as,

‘Jitra must be killed’, ‘Jitra must be expelled to Cambodia’, ‘Jitra must be fired by the company’ …

When Jitra wrote her comment with explanation, it was censored by the Manager. Not a single word was shown.

The Triumph International has taken opportunity to fire the union leader to use Lese Majeste charges, arguing that it has got losses from a boycott that was triggered by her T-shirt scandal. Yet nobody knows if there was any boycott taking place.

Absurd developments have not been stopped. A right wing professor named Dr. Puadon, who is a supporter of the fanatic PAD movement, has sent a ‘thanks letter’ to the company. The appointed senator Khamnoon Sittisamarnhas, who has guaranteed bail out for the PAD leader Sondghi’s Lese Majeste charges, brought her case to Parliament debate along with other Lese Majeste cases as well as NBT’s documentary on the Nepal’s collapsed Monarchy last April. Above all, the retired unionist and PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk, has blamed her at the PAD stage to woo middle class crowds. Somsak used to be a close comrade of Jitra.

Somsak Kosaisuk, the once well-known union activist but now PAD core leader has also joined condemnation on Jitra Kochadej, which was triggered by pro-PAD Manager media group.
photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

“We once have attended labor workshop together, where South Korean Labor activists have educated us how to go on a strike and how to fight in a street if police suppress violently and so on. I think Somsak has been using now those tactics in PAD protest”, she said.

As she lost her job, she’s now staying at the union office. She affords living cost from donation which varies between 5 baht to 10 baht (less than 20 euro cents) from her colleagues. One union colleague of her has pointedly said,

“In Thailand, the rich is more worthy than the poor. When we, workers go on protest peacefully it’s not reported in media. When PAD has done violence protest for long, it has become news almost every day. Thai society and media like violence and the rich people.”

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