The case of Khun “Pla” (ปลา), a freelance media writer, arrested by police handing out information on 112 at the UDD rally on Saturday needs to be highlighted, not for the case itself (though that is important) but the manner in which she was arrested. Depressingly, she was handed over to the police by seven rude UDD guards (three were actually police hired as UDD guards) who then took her to the police station between 6-7 hours until after the demonstration finished and then released.
Worawut Wichaidit (UDD Acting Spokesperson) announced on stage whoever is distributing any materials should be arrested. This was not a smart move on the part of Worawut for many reasons, not least because of the ambiguity related to interpretations of lèse-majesté – who is to decide whether it is or is not lèse-majesté! Naturally there was no case against her. Indeed, had the UDD guards read the material she was distributing paid out of her own pocket, as she insisted, and used their brains, then the dilemma would have been avoided. UDD need to be reminded that it is a thin line between neo-fascist behaviour of mass control and sensible crowd management while allowing democratic freedoms for protestors – which of course UDD claim to be the main protagonists.
UDD should also remember that most red shirts have little sympathy for certain summit matters in any case and feeble platitudes to certain powers are not going down well among the masses (in fact 82.4% after a recent internet freedom poll). Therefore, asking the masses to “dob-in” (from the Australian slang “dobber-in”; an informant or traitor) one of their compatriots on this matter is foolhardy and self-destructive for the social movement. Neither would it go down well among the more progressives among the red shirts. Nuttawut Saikua, who in fact gave a passionate speech on stage 12 March, tried bravely to fix the “error” after the arrest, but he and other UDD leaders need to make sure that mistakes like this never happen again. It does not take much, as we saw in the Middle East recently, for people to become inflamed.
When lawyers arrived at police station they told the coppers that they cannot hold people for more than 6 hours without charge, which is why the police released her and told the police that there was nothing in this material as a ground to lay charges in any case. Most police in fact act on this matter because they were told to by their boss, such as Deputy Commander of the Metropolitan Police, Major General Umnuay Nimmanai (อำนวย นิ่มมะโน) who is ever keen to work in the dirty laundry of the amaat.
In issuing directives threatening people on matters of lèse-majesté, telling them that they would be arrested if they disseminate any content considered negative relating to the monarchy UDD are trying to make a case on 112 from directions above. The state has instilled a form of fear among citizens and mass organisations with what anthropologists call “structural violence”. This term dates back to 1969, first used by Norwegian sociologist and peace activist Johan Galtung. It implies violence exerted systematically (and indirectly) by those who belong to a certain social order. Therefore, there is uneasiness that these ideas provoke in a moral economy still oriented to fixing acclaim or fault on individual actors. Essentially, the notion of structural violence is intended to inform the study of the social machinery of oppression. Domination and repression is a consequence of many factors, not the least of which is located in consciousness. People can be made to feel fearful by what they don’t do (or should do in structural violence, such as standing up in the cinema), as much as what they actually do, which of course risks certain punishment.
UPDATE: Article (March 14) “Reds back from the maquis?”
Readers may like to know that Daruni Kritbunyalai and Arisman Pongruangrong both declared now that they are not surrendering! Bravo!
Dr Jim Taylor
Discipline of Anthropology,
The University of Adelaide