Imprisoned red-shirts merely expendable pawns

It should not be surprising that the demand for amnesty for jailed red-shirt protesters has been given the cold shoulder by both the government and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, because the government's political stability is deemed more important than the plight of the prisoners.

  • Published: 1/02/2013 at 01:09 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

The imprisoned red-shirts, who were involved in the anti-government protests in April-May 2010, may not have heard what Kwanchai Praipana, a key red-shirt leader in Udon Thani, said about the rally organised on  Tuesday this week by the January 29 group, a small red-shirt faction, at the Royal Plaza to demand amnesty for "political prisoners".

“They (January 29 group) should not be too self-centred. Why can’t they wait until we have won the Bangkok governor election? Only then, they should submit their proposed amnesty plan,” Mr Kwanchai was quoted as saying one day after the group’s rally, which drew about 1,000 participants.

The January 29 for the Release of Political Prisoners group, led by Chulalongkorn University lecturer Suda Rankupan, gathers at the Royal Plaza from late morning to urge the government to consider an amnesty proposal by the Nitirat group. Photo by Patipat Janthong.

It is not only Mr Kwanchai who distanced himself from the rally and its demand the government accept the Nitirat group’s suggestions for constitutional amendment and granting of  amnesty to all protesters charged, detained or convicted for defying the emergency decree during the political protests. The government and other red-shirt leaders affiliated with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)  also gave it a cold reception, although they were more diplomatic in expressing their views than the blunt Mr Kwanchai.

Had the imprisoned red-shirts heard Mr Kwanchai’s remarks they might have retorted: “How much longer do we have to wait Mr Kwanchai? We have been in prison for more than two years. Do you think that we should be even more patient and that the governor’s election is more important than our plight?"

And finally they might have added: “Mr Kwanchai, join us in prison to experience life behind bars, so that you know how we feel. Then you might say differently."

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the government would consider all proposals  for amnesty, including the January 29 group's point of view. But it would have to be vetted by the Council of State for legal issues and then considered along with the other proposed amnesty bills, probably in April. 

Maybe. Again, a cold shoulder.

It should now be clear to the January 29 group, the imprisoned red-shirts and their relatives that the prisoners will have to spend more time behind bars as the government will not do anything about the amnesty issue before at least April.

And that does not mean that the issue can be resolved quickly. The process may take months even though, as a matter of principle, the opposition Democrats have no objection to it so long as the amnesty is limited only to people charged with defying the emergency decree, not people on criminal charges.

It is understandable that the government does not want to rock the boat on the amnesty issue because it could well provoke protests from hard-core yellow-shirt followers of the People's Alliance for Democracy, who are concerned that a limited amnesty may just be the starter that paves the way for more amnesties for more offences, including lese majeste and corruption, which would benefit former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and allow him to escape punishment.

But the government’s fear is overstated. If it really wants to help the imprisoned red-shirt protesters it should embrace the amnesty proposal, but not through constitutional amendment. It should be in the form of legislation, since the Democrat-led opposition has already made clear its support for such a bill, on the condition that it is limited only to breaches of the emergency decree.

Or the government could help bail out detainees who took part in protests in the belief they actually were just fighting for democracy.

 But, unfortunately, they are instead being treated as if they are low-value pawns on a political chess board, and therefore expendable.

About the author

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor

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