Last Friday, the House Committee on the proposed Amnesty bill decided to grant amnesty for all political offenders in the last 7 years (2006 – 2013). The news shocked many political observers: Red Shirts, Yellow Shirts, and non-partisans in the present political conflict. The decision clearly contrasted what the government of Pheu Thai party has kept telling society since it pushed this bill to parliament.
It is absolutely true that this society urgently needs amnesty for political prisoners whose past actions were inspired by political beliefs. It is also true that most legal cases against Thaksin Shinawatra since the 2006 coup were intentionally crafted by his oppositions to get rid of him. It is also true that the CRES and the government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban must be held responsible for the crackdown on Red Shirt demonstrators during April and May 2010. The question is: how to bring true justice on all the cases above?
Amnesty is just one solution to bring justice to the political prisoners. Amnesty ultimately means to let go and forgive. So who should be forgiven most in the past political conflicts? Regarding this question, people with normal minds will easily realize that the masses of both sides of conflict are to be ultimately forgiven. They were aroused, inspired, and led by the leaders to do what they did, although fully conscious of their actions. In large political movements, no individual can take action in anything without leadership and organized political goals. People with normal minds will realize that riots are normal during chaos, especially when the armed forces are used to crack down on the protesters. The violent reactions are to be expected. When there is violence causing injuries, losses and deaths, the leaders of both sides are clearly the most responsible.
Of course, if we take law and order seriously, those who committed crimes must be brought to justice. But in the case of a political conflict in which law and order is also part of the problem, political agenda must be more important than the question of law enforcement. When law and order mechanisms are in the hands of an undemocratic or illegitimate regime, how could one say that law and order is going to be carried out strictly according to the democratic rule of law principles? However, this does not mean that justice must be overlooked and that the leaders of the regime or the movement must get away with what they did. But it means that the victims of political conflicts are also the victims of the law and order system, and that all their actions, inspired by political beliefs, must be carefully dealt with by a special justice mechanism.
For those victims, amnesty is ultimately necessary, because the longer they are kept in prison, the more their political allies will feel there is injustice caused by the regime controlling law and order mechanisms. On the contrary, the longer the leaders of the regime and movements are still not brought to justice, the more their oppositions will feel there is injustice in the system. It is not my duty to point out here who is guilty or not guilty according to the law. As I wrote above, a special method must be applied to the victims and amnesty is the best way to go. However, it is most stupid to apply the method to the leaders of both sides of the conflict.
‘They’ led the army to the coup in 2006 that overthrew the democratically-elected government. ‘They’ led the masses on the streets in 2008 to take over the government house and airports that caused chaos and losses to the economy. In the same year, ‘they’ led their political factions in the parliament to take over the government undemocratically. A year later, ‘they’ led their masses on the street and failed to put in enough effort to avoid losses while they could. In the same year, ‘they’ led the military under their government to shoot the people’s heads. By saying ‘they’ I am mentioning the leaders on all sides who led their masses, mechanisms, and tools to particular actions that caused losses. They may be right or they may be wrong, I have no right to point it out ultimately. But I can point it out that they all must be brought to justice, much, much more than those whom they led to actions.
This is the most basic principle that people with normal minds will see. Thailand has gone through too many political losses in which the leaders went free and never held responsible for what they did. They have always been the first people granted amnesty. On the contrary, the masses in conflicts have always been the ones put into prison or killed. All they were given is an annual memorial events. If things are going to be changed, they should receive the opposite outcome -- justice.
It is all about the right principle, as much as about the right political strategy in achieving democracy. Granting amnesty to political prisoners, whom the oppositions have always called ‘terrorists’, will never draw sufficient force to overthrow the government. An attempt to bring Abhisit and Suthep to justice will never draw sufficient force to overthrow the government. An attempt to bring Thaksin home and to put him through a correct and legitimate judiciary process again will never draw sufficient force to overthrow the government. The government is safe and sound as long as these three problems are not being drawn together under one amnesty bill. To let political prisoners out will lift the spirit of the masses and lower the spirit of the opposition. The people will protect and do anything for the government that will bring justice to the regime that committed the massacre. While Thaksin is not included in the amnesty, the opposition will never be able to draw all its forces to overthrow the government. We can clearly see that by not mixing up all these matters in one bill, the opposition has hardly any agenda to mobilize on. It has been proven that their past attempts at Uruphong Street were a mere pathetic joke.
I should stress it here again: under these conditions, the government is completely safe and sound!
However, bringing all three cases above under the same amnesty bill will surely draw sufficient forces to overthrow the government. The Yellow Shirts will come out in big numbers. The Red Shirts will lose their faith in the government as this government leaves their killed brothers without holding anyone responsible. The oppositions will see this as an opportunity to put in every effort and tool they have to overthrow the government. This is ultimately the most stupid strategy any political movement could ever think about. The clear outcome is that now the opposition has an excuse to mobilize with hope again. The rally at Urupong Street became more crowded during the past nights.
Of course, I never think Abhisit and Suthep would ever be brought to justice as long as the ‘special power’ that has protected him is still there. And I never think justice will happen in the upcoming five or even ten years from now. However, if the democratic power sticks to the right principle to bring proper justice for all, we will have something to say in the history that they have attempted their best to bring changes to this country. Abhisit and Suthep may not be brought to justice in the very near future but we will not be blamed on that. The history will say that we have done our best and it is the undemocratic forces that are to blame. This will also strategically maintain the masses’ faith in the government and to maintain the only power capable of protecting the government at any cost.
I have seen too many Red Shirt who have already lost faith in this government since the news about the ‘Amnesty for All’ bill was out. I have seen some Red Shirts blindly and hopelessly protecting this bill and that makes them look pathetic. I also begin to lose hope that this government will bring proper justice for all, and that this government will protect the democratic principle at any cost. I worked so hard recently, as a reporter, to keep repeating the ‘facts’ that the amnesty bill will never included Abhisit, Suthep, and Thaksin. Now I felt a little guilty I played a part to repeat these lies.
If I were Mr.Thaksin, I would urgently call a halt on this ‘Amnesty for All’ bill and I would push it back to the right direction. If I were the UDD, I would urgently call on all members to pressure this government to push this bill back to the right position. Sadly, I still haven’t seen any reaction from those who I hoped for.
If the ‘Amnesty for All’ bill is passed, then consider the consequences that may come. What will our children say, if one day they also get killed in a future political conflict and they have to fight for the justice all over again by themselves? What will our children say, when they realize that we, their parents, could have done some big things to create the true justice in this land for them, but sadly we didn’t?
I felt too guilty to answer this question, although I know the answer very well.
So, please, my dear government I fought for, days and nights, in 2010 and even now. My dear government I voted for. My dear government I have always thought you are democratic. Please, push this bill back to the right position before everything is too late!
Anuthee Dejthevaporn was a General Secretary of the Student Federation of Thailand (SFT) during the Red Shirts crack down in 2010. He has bachelor's degree in Political Science from Thammasat University and Master of Asian Studies at Monash University, Australia. Now he works as a reporter at Voice TV, covering Thai politics.
*Off the Press is a new collective column where young journalists reporting on Thailand will take turns sharing their thoughts on current affairs.