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Somsak gets warm support

Critic of the monarchy Somsak Jeamteerasakul was warmly cheered by a hundred supporters when summoned this morning to Nang Lerng Police Station to hear a lèse majesté charge regarding his response to Princess Chulabhorn’s comments.

Somsak's interview, partially in English


Photos by Prainn

Intellectuals and anti-Article 112 activists as well as Red Shirt members staged a short play mocking the military’s huge sweep of the Abhisit administration’s budget and the alleged government corruption over the palm oil price hike.

The supporters held placards “Free Thailand from Lèse Majesté” and “Somsak, Keep Fighting” while waiting for more than an hour in the police station compound.

After acknowledging the charge, Dr Somsak told reporters that he would return to the police station again in two weeks with a formal defence.

He said he was confident that the article was not relevant to finding him guilty as the party referred to, Princess Chulabhorn, was not covered by the lèse majesté law.

Prajin Tanangkorn, a debt activist, said his group turned up to “show support for a brave intellectual who was not afraid to speak the truth.”

Prajin’s younger brother, aka Suchart Nakbangsai, has also been imprisoned on lèse majesté charges concerning his internet messages. “Thailand is a democratic country, and we should be able to speak the truth, shouldn’t we?” asked the 57-year-old Prajin.

A member of Santi Asoke’s Nakhon Pathom community, Sumalee Sae Tiew, 80, also showed up to give a red rose to Somsak, who teaches history at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts.

“Thai society should move forward.  If there’s no reform or institutional adjustments, we will be in real trouble,” said Ms Sumalee, who has also been living in nearby Bangkhunprom.

She said she did not like double standards and that was why she as an “Asoke Commune” member has joined the “Saturday Group against the Coup” and now become a member of the Red Shirts.

A well-known October generation artist Jin Kammachon (Proletariat) has called for middle class intellectuals to realize the nature of democracy globalization.

 
Jin

Jin, whose real name is Kulasak Ruangkongkiat, led other supporters in singing songs for life in solidarity with Somsak.

“It’s quite disheartening that artists, media and academics have turned a deaf ear to the people’s voice. Worse, they are siding with the conservatives who disguise themselves in the name of reform and reconciliation just for the purpose of taming the people so they will not think differently but docilely,” said Jin, 56, now a pharmacist.

Squadron Leader Chanin Klaiklueng, 35, an engineer from the Air Force Directorate of Aeronautical Engineering who has been charged with lèse majesté, also showed up to lend his support to Associate Professor of history Somsak.    

Sqn Ldr Chanin, who was charged in a military court in November for posting libellous songs and video deemed undermining the monarchy, was suspended from military service on 12 April. He will be defending himself in a military court on 12 July.

“I did not criticize my boss, which is certainly a disciplinary offence. What I’ve done is to exercise my freedom of speech by criticizing the government,” said the squadron leader who faces lèse majesté charges filed by his ultimate superior, the Air Force Chief.

Throughout the past few weeks nearly a hundred scholars in Australia, the US, the UK, Hong Kong, Denmark, Singapore, South Korea and Canada signed an open letter calling for an end to the restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand.

Kevin Hewison, Director of the Carolina Asia Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said the accusation against Somsak challenged the Prime Minister who has said that academic criticism would be tolerated.

“How can he justify action against this well-known academic?” asked Dr Hewison in the statement.

“Why is the Army filing charges against a historian?," asked Craig Reynolds of the Australian National University. "While this is not the first time that the Army has filed charges against a civilian, every instance should be carefully scrutinized,” said Dr Reynolds.

The academics were not only concerned about Somsak but also several other instances of restrictions on freedom of expression, including the widespread coordinated raids on community radio stations and the arrest of Mr Somyos Prueksakasemsuk on charges of violating Article 112.

The current political climate of both legal charges and extralegal intimidation and threats would proliferate to restrict speech and silence dissent in Thailand, said Tyrell Haberkorn of the Australian National University.

This will have an increasingly negative effect on human rights and democracy in Thailand, Dr Haberkorn said.