Activist assaults go unpunished

Activist assaults go unpunished

In less than a month, political activist Sirawith Seritiwat has been assaulted twice by a group of unknown attackers. The most recent attack occurred in broad daylight, and the hand of the law has yet to reach any of the culprits. This is outrageous.

The latest attack took place on Friday about 11 am in the Ram Intra 69 area which was not far away from the activist's house in Klong Sam Wa district. A group of four men who put on a helmet to hide their identity arrived at the scene on a motorcycle with no licence plate, hit him with baseball bats before dispersing. There were several eyewitnesses and the brutal attack was recorded on CCTV.

The 27-year-old activist is still receiving treatment for multiple injuries in the intensive care unit of Navamin 1 Hospital. Well-wishers kicked off a donation campaign, encouraging the public to donate 247.5 baht to his family's bank account. The number which is to mimic 2,475 in the Thai calendar -- or 1932, the year when Thailand experienced a major political transformation-- shows the rise in confrontation between old and new powers.

Sirawith or "Ja New" is not new to intimidation, some carried out by state authorities, or violence, since entering the political scene as an anti-junta activist.

The failure of the state to provide security for activists like Mr Sirawith and others including Ekachai Hongkangwan has sparked public outcry. Critics are upset that despite repeated attacks on these activists who are known for their anti-junta stance, police and security officers have failed to catch most of the culprits. Mr Ekachai experienced nearly a dozen attacks but only one culprit has ever been arrested.

On June 2, Mr Sirawith posted a FB stream showing the bruises on his face and body following attacks which he said were carried out by several people the previous night on Ratchadaphisek Road in Din Daeng district. The assault came at a time when the activist was about to launch a campaign for junta-installed senators not to vote for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha -- who had been nominated by the Palang Pracharath Party as its prime ministerial candidate -- at the June 5 joint sitting of parliament.

The activist vowed he would file attempted murder charges against the culprits, who remain free from justice. In fact, the attacks on Mr Sirawith and others should leave Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, along with the police chief and the state security officers red-faced as they are a testament of their failure to maintain security while justice appears to go astray.

Right after the June 2 attack on Mr Sirawith, the DPM gave an assurance about the police investigation. The deputy prime minister who takes charge of security affairs told the media he had ordered the police to clear up the case and "follow closely any new developments". It is apparent that there have been no developments as police have not yet found the attackers as a new assault with intensified violence has occurred.

Gen Prawit said investigators were to review video footage from surveillance cameras near the scene of the attack and that they "were working hard" to bring the attackers to justice. If the police is serious about the case, or cases, they should be able to report some progress. The attacks are aiming to create a climate of fear by silencing those with different opinions. By any reckoning, this is a challenge to the country's justice system. Critics noted that the police appear not to show any interest in pursuing the attackers. A lack of action on the part of the state encourages new violence as in the case of the June 28 attack.

It is worrisome that the attacks on Mr Sirawith and other activists took place amid exchanges of hate speech as society is trapped in deep polarisation despite the military regime's goal to foster reconciliation when it staged a coup in 2014.

According to iLaw, an agency advocating social justice and democracy, there have been at least 15 attacks, with some causing heavy losses of assets, on activists since last year or 18 months prior to the March 24 election.

But Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy Gen Prawit should know they cannot allow this to go on. It's the duty of the state to eliminate such a climate of fear and ensure justice. No one, no matter what his or her stance on politics, should be subject to intimidation or physical assault such as what Mr Sirawith and the others have experienced time and time again.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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