Guns, Courts and Dirty Politics Puts Thailand Back on Edge

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Guns, Courts and Dirty Politics Puts Thailand Back on Edge

The killing of an activist adds to tensions in a country that some believe is sliding towards civil war.

The killing of a well known poet and Red Shirt activist in Thailand has outraged human rights activists and prompted speculation that the country is again on the verge of civil war, with supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra warning the government is facing a “judicial coup.”

Kamol Duangphasuk, 45, died in hospital after being shot twice in the chest by unidentified gunmen in broad daylight while sitting in his parked car outside a restaurant in Bangkok.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the killing as brutal and outrageous, which “can only worsen the already tense political situation in Thailand.”

Known by his penname “Mai Nueng Kor Kunthee,” Komal was prominent at rallies organized by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), more commonly known as Red Shirts. Hereferred to himself as their poet.

“He strongly opposed the 2006 military coup and the subsequent crackdown on critics of the monarchy,” Adams said “After the government’s violent crackdown on the UDD in 2010, he helped organize a gathering outside the Bangkok criminal court every Sunday to talk about the plight of those prosecuted on lese majeste charges and push for amnesty for political prisoners.”

Critics of lese majeste have argued the laws have been complicated by succession issues, the well-heeled and royally connected who use the laws to silence dissent and journalists under the guise of protecting the revered monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej from criticism. This is despite the monarch’s own insistence that he, along with all public officials, were not above criticism.

New York-based HRW was equally critical of the arrest of Australian journalist Alan Morison and his Thai partner Chutima Sidasathian. They face libel charges over an article they wrote, which  included excerpts from a Reuters story that would earn the news agency a Pulitzer Prize.

Morison is the editor of Phuket Wan, an online news service which published a story alleging the Thai military was involved in trafficking refugees from Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority to Malaysia.

The Reuters report had alleged Thai naval forces along with local police were cooperating with human traffickers in sending Muslim Rohingya to camps until their families paid a ransom. Legal action has also been launched against Reuters.

Both stories have provided unwanted headlines for a country that is again tearing itself apart as Thailand’s Constitutional Court gave Yingluck until May 2 to gather evidence and defend herself against charges of abuse of power.

Yingluck could be forced to resign as leader of her caretaker government if convicted. She would also face a five-year ban from politics and still has to fend off further charges negligence derived from her government’s disastrous rice subsidy scheme.

Her supporters have warned that her removal – in a coup-prone country – could tip the country into civil war, pitting forces loyal to her family, largely from the north, against an urban elite whose wealth has been largely accumulated through years of steady leadership under the kingdom’s aging monarch.

If that scenario proves accurate the ramifications for Southeast Asia, in particular the formation of a single market and production base through the ASEAN Economic Community  (AEC) slated for launch next year, could be as disastrous as they are unfathomable.

Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt