Thai Prison Officials Again Defend Treatment of Jailed Former PM

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Thai Prison Officials Again Defend Treatment of Jailed Former PM

Amid claims of preferential treatment, the Department of Corrections says that its refusal to refer to Thaksin Shinawatra as an “inmate” is standard practice.

Thai Prison Officials Again Defend Treatment of Jailed Former PM

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra waves as he arrives at Don Muang airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

Thailand’s Department of Corrections has asked people not to refer to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an “inmate,” even though he is serving a prison sentence, as it comes under fire for allegedly according to the former leader preferential treatment.

In a statement yesterday, the department said that it referred to offenders as inmates only when they were actually in prison, the Bangkok Post reported. It said that using the word “inmate” when inmates’ names were mentioned outside prison “could affect their return to society and also infringe on their human rights,” the statement said, in the Post’s paraphrase. It added that this practice was in compliance with Thailand’s Corrections Act.

As The Associated Press explained, the Department has felt it necessary to respond to critics who charge that Thaksin, the spiritual leader of the Pheu Thai Party, which returned to power last year, is being given special treatment. In particular, critics complain about the lack of transparency around the decision to allow the 74-year-old to serve his one-year prison sentence in a private room in a state hospital instead of in a prison cell.

Thaksin was formerly feared and hated by Thailand’s conservative elite; he was removed from power in a military coup in 2006 and forced into exile in 2008 after being charged with abuses of power. But he has undergone a partial political rehabilitation since Pheu Thai joined hands with a coalition of conservatives to form a government after last May’s general election, which saw the Pheu Thai eclipsed by the Move Forward Party, a more progressive and threatening alternative. The partnership, which emerged after military-appointed senators blocked the MFP from forming a government, laid the groundwork for the former leader’s return from 15 years of self-imposed exile in August.

After touching down in Bangkok, Thaksin was immediately transferred to custody to serve the eight-year prison sentence stemming from his time in power. Nearly immediately, he was transferred to Police General Hospital after complaining of chest tightness and high blood pressure. The following month, his sentence was subsequently reduced to one year by a royal pardon, and he will become eligible for parole next month.

The rapidity with which Thaksin’s sentence has been diluted, now that his persecution is no longer politically necessary, has become a subject of considerable controversy.

The Department of Corrections claimed that doctors recommended he be transferred to avoid life-threatening risks. It repeated the claim last week, when it said that Thaksin needs care that cannot be provided at a prison hospital. Officials have said that the former leader has undergone surgery twice since returning to Thailand, but have refused to divulge the exact nature of his health problems, citing privacy.

Critics have reasonably questioned whether such rights would be defended so assiduously in the case of a more progressive political figure, let alone an ordinary citizen. Late last week, a student protest group said that it would begin collecting signatures in a drive to persuade the Supreme Court to look into the delay by the national anti-corruption agency in investigating Thaksin’s extended hospital stay.

“The group does not believe Thaksin is seriously ill as claimed by those officials and if they still fail to provide a clarification about Thaksin’s treatment, the group will consider stepping up its rally,” the Bangkok Post quoted Phichit Chaimongkol, leader of the Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand, as saying.