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Laying Down the Law (and then trampling all over it)

It’s beginning to get on my wick.

Because of the BMA’s farcical idea of what constitutes a ‘cycle lane’, I have a choice. I can pedal along the gutter, prey to the insouciant homicidal tendencies of the average Bangkok motorist.  Or I can mount the footpath, use the ‘cycle lane’, and become myself predator, a danger to poor pedestrians.

My confidence in my own magnanimity (and total lack of confidence in that of Bangkok bus drivers), induces me to choose the footpath.  But I am not out of danger there. 

The illiteracy of Bangkok’s motorcyclists extends even to pictographs.  The skeletal image of a drop-handlebars bicycle means to them, it seems, anything on 2 wheels.  So while I’m busy trying not to bowl over anything on 2 legs, I have to watch out for being bowled over myself.

And the one who irritates me the most is the beat-up old Honda ridden by a police officer.  In uniform.  And with no crash helmet. 

I’ve watched again and again the move that Valentino Rossi pulled on Marc Marquez in the penultimate MotoGP in Malaysia.  Such a delicate but devastating wee nudge of the knee.  I’ve been sorely tempted.

Where does a police officer get off ignoring multiple rules of the road with impunity?

To be honest, he’s only following the examples of his superiors.

Back in July, then Metropolitan Police Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Sriwarah Rangsipramkul (whose outstanding contribution to law and order has since got him promoted to Deputy Police Commissioner General) was famously asked to blow in a breathalyser by some poor plod. 

Now let us make it clear that this took place at night, when the police set up numerous roadblocks to crack down on drunken driving, a proven scourge of Thailand’s traffic.  And Pol Gen Sriwarah was driving a private vehicle, was not on duty and was not wearing a uniform.

The General refused.  And was asked again.  And again.  Five times in all, accompanied by a crescendo of outrage by someone claiming he wasn’t pissed.  Just pissed off.

Now legally, refusing a breathalyser is the equivalent of driving under the influence and lesser mortals have gone to jail for it.  In this case, however, it was  the officer that got a bollocking and the personnel manning roadblocks were given lists to remember of the licence plates and names of Those Too Big to Blow (into a breathalyser, that is) (why, what were you thinking?).

Then just last week we had another avuncular tut-tutting from former Deputy Police Commissioner General Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunjorn over what he sees as US meddling in Thai royal affairs (Pol Gen Vasit was head of the palace police earlier in his career and is very sensitive to such things). 

The new US Ambassador to Thailand, Glyn Davies, in a speech at that hotbed of radicalized anti-monarchism, the FCCT, criticized not the monarchy (in fact quite the opposite), and not the lèse majesté law, but the application of the lèse majesté law.

This was the trigger for Buddha Isara, a monk routinely described as ‘nationalist’ or ‘royalist’ with or without ‘ultra’ tacked to the front, to assemble his followers in front of the US Embassy.  A protest that Pol Gen Vasit joined, though he says there were ‘several hundred’ protestors whereas most media reports put the crowd at ‘dozens’, so maybe he was at the wrong rally.

But his intent was clear.  To make a political protest against the actions of a representative of the US government.  This is his right under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Thailand is a state party.  But it is illegal in Thailand under NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which bans political gatherings of five or more persons.

Now I have searched diligently for some exclusionary clause that says the Order does not apply to retired police officers.  Or patriotic protestors.  And I have found none. (In fact the new law on Public Assembly bans protests that impede access to, or disrupt the normal functioning of embassies, so I hope they didn’t assemble in front of the gates.)

Like the non-blowing Pol Gen Sriwarah, retired Pol Gen Vasit seems to have got away with his apparent law-breaking, despite it being witnessed by numerous police officers.

The ruling junta keeps assuring us that if we have done nothing wrong, we have nothing to fear.

And for some of the more privileged among us, even if we have done something wrong.

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).


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