Clarifying 'Doi Suthep' editorial
In expressing our opinion on the housing project for judicial staff in Chiang Mai, the Bangkok Post Sunday editorial on Jan 20, entitled "Judiciary should accept its loss", may have caused misunderstandings among members of the public about the Office of the Judiciary.
The editorial may also have left a misleading impression and perception about the role of the judiciary in a public dispute about the project.
Last year, the housing project drew public debate and opposition, especially among locals, about two months before it was due to be completed in June. The bone of contention was the project's location.
The compound, which comprises 45 houses and nine buildings for judicial officials of the Region 5 Appeal Court, is located on an 89-rai plot of land that belonged to the Treasury Department.
Given that it sits in an area once covered with heavy forest at the foot of Doi Suthep mountain in this northern city, local activists rallied in opposition against it through the media and with public demonstrations.
Since late last year, the Office of the Judiciary has taken legal action against certain leaders of the movement.
However, the reference in the Bangkok Post Sunday editorial to the legal actions undertaken was technically incomplete and imprecise. It stated that the Office of the Judiciary "has filed defamation suits against two activists who led a campaign to reclaim the forested area".
In fact, the Office of the Judiciary has filed complaints with the police for further investigation, not lawsuits (a further legal step).
Our editorial also suggests the lawsuits were intended to "muzzle activists and civic groups" who opposed the project. This statement solely reflects our interpretation of the event. However, it does not further elaborate on the rationale given by the Office of the Judiciary for taking such a step.
According to media reports, the Office of the Judiciary last month said its decision to proceed with filing the police complaints against certain leaders of the movement was because of the threatening nature of their actions. They allegedly displayed leaflets featuring the names and pictures of the judges assigned to work in the area.
Given that the leaflets were displayed in public areas, the Office of the Judiciary has explained that such an act violated the rights of the judges and could have compromised their personal safety and affected them psychologically. It insists it is duty-bound to ensure the judges won't be forced to work amid a climate of fear and social pressure.
In addition, our editorial refers to the government's intervention to resolve the conflicts by relocating the project to Chiang Rai as a "defeat" for the judiciary. Such a conclusion, however, may not precisely depict the involvement of the Office of the Judiciary in the dispute.
The Office of the Judiciary has distanced itself from the conflicts and has agreed with the government's relocation plan. It has not engaged in a battle with the public over the project, which had been initiated by previous governments, and thus our depiction of the Office of the Judiciary as a party to the conflict may have been misleading.
Our opinion that the Office of the Judiciary has ignored public sentiment could also have been misguided.
While we have advocated for meaningful and sufficient public participation in state projects, we believe the actions and decisions of state agencies should be made based on legitimate and logical rationales, laws, the rule of law, and transparency, not public sentiment.
The editorial's claim that the judiciary maintains the project is legal but "forgets [its] legitimacy" is also misleading given that the project is legal because it is not located in a forest reserve.
Notwithstanding some incomplete and imprecise explanation and background in the editorial, our intention was to highlight the legal actions against the activists and express our support for freedom of expression and public participation in all government processes.
We will, however, continue to share our honest, objective and thought-provoking views and stances on public issues, no matter how sensitive or controversial they may be, in order to give our readers and the public a full understanding of what can at times be quite complex issues.
The editorial board
of the Bangkok Post.
This represents the Bangkok Post newspaper as a whole.