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The Bangkok Post and the Patellar Reflex (aka the knee-jerk reaction)

After the first flush of pro-coup triumphalism, the Bangkok Post op-ed pages over the past two or three weeks have seen an insidious infiltration of exactly the kind of namby-pamby, woolly-minded, do-gooder insinuations that made the coup such a welcome necessity in the first place.

So it is with some relief that we find a new writer, Sirinya Wattanasukchai, who can bravely give vent to the proper prejudices that deserve to be heard in post-coup Thailand.  She, like just about all her colleagues, decided to write about the rape and murder of a 13-year-old on a sleeper train from the south. 

And while she shares their revulsion at the crime, she sensibly steers clear of the ‘do we cut it off before or after the public disembowelling’ debate and focuses instead on instilling a ‘culture of responsibility’ among Thai public institutions.  She calls for the exemplary resignation of then State Railway of Thailand Governor Prapat Chongsanguan.  So well-argued is her case that within hours of her column appearing in print, the military junta obliged and sacked him.

Her first beef against the former Governor is his initial claim, quickly corrected, that the suspect (who is currently receiving YouTubed pats on the head from police interrogators down in Prachuab, presumably to praise him for confessing) worked for a subcontractor not the SRT.  This despicable reaction is, as Khun Sirinya points out, ‘beyond words’, whereas describing the rape and murder is well within her vocabulary; she chooses the word ‘horrible’.

Governor Prapat, who had been in the job for about 6 months, is also rightly taken to task over the recruitment process.  How could someone be hired with a criminal record of drug abuse, which according to reports, was either deliberately ignored or expunged from the SRT database by someone known to the accused?  How could the Governor not know that this employee (among ten thousand) had a criminal record, and/or that someone had covered it up? 

Then there is the fact, as yet unsupported by any evidence, that the accused had previously raped two co-workers who did not report this to the authorities.  How could the Governor claim ignorance of something that no one but the alleged victims and perpetrator knew about?

But one earlier case was reported, resulting in a prosecution and conviction.  It was 13 years ago, and amazingly, it also occurred on the southern line.  Governor Prapat claims he had been told nothing about this earlier case (a likely story) but whatever the reason, Khun Sirinya concludes that ‘he did nothing to correct the SRT's flawed approach towards rape cases’, this rampant epidemic of 2 cases in 13 years. 

The suspect has reportedly confessed to drinking beer and taking ya ba before committing the crime and Khun Sirinya rightly wants to know how the Governor could let this happen because she is ‘sure this is not the first time’.  Indeed.  Drinking beer on duty is already forbidden by SRT rules and ya ba is an illegal substance under any circumstances, but the Governor should have known that rules and laws are not enough and should have done, er, something.

The Governor did react to the case with 2 concrete ‘somethings’: CCTV cameras and women-only carriages.  Ha!  As if CCTV cameras would deter murders and rapes and beer-drinking and illegal drugs!  And women-only carriages would only create a sort of ‘harem’ of vulnerable victims who would be unprotected against the legions of murderer-rapists that the SRT and its erstwhile Governor have insisted on hiring.  As Khun Sirinya correctly notes, these are ‘nothing but knee-jerk reactions after the damage was already done’.

Well done, Khun Sirinya!  And congratulations on marshalling such compelling arguments that the Governor was properly sacked.

Now I wonder if Khun Sirinya would be interested in another alleged rape case on government property?  This emerged two years ago in a video clip from a year or two earlier that showed 6 men with army haircuts having sex with a woman while someone wearing military fatigues videoed the incident.  One of those involved was later identified as a member of an army unit based in Phetchabun Province and did face ‘disciplinary action’.

But the question is what happened to the person in a position of responsibility equivalent to that of Governor Prapat.

This official’s initial response was to claim that the woman involved was autistic.  This error was later corrected.  He never said ‘autistic’.  But he then said the woman ‘might want it all to be fun, wanted to take a photo, wanted to have activities with soldiers… I don’t know’.  He also wondered if the video was intended to discredit the Army and ordered a legal unit to look into prosecuting whoever posted it on the internet.

The name of the person who was in charge of the army at the time escapes me just for the moment, but I am sure that with a little research Khun Sirinya could find this out.  And I look forward to a second article about the ‘culture of responsibility’ among Thai public institutions. 

Unless, of course, the Bangkok Post wants to prove its op-ed writers are better at jerking their knees than using their heads.


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).