Fallout from Ja New attack hurts govt

Fallout from Ja New attack hurts govt

Sirawith Seritiwat is seen seriously hurt after being beaten by four men with blackjack batons on Friday. PHOTO COURTESY OF ROMSAI RESCUE FOUNDATION
Sirawith Seritiwat is seen seriously hurt after being beaten by four men with blackjack batons on Friday. PHOTO COURTESY OF ROMSAI RESCUE FOUNDATION

Fingers are pointing at the government with accusations about its indifference to, or ignorance of, political violence; or even complicity in the violence itself over the brutal attack on anti-junta political activist Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat by four unidentified perpetrators in Klong Sam Wa district in Bangkok on Friday.

The daring attack in broad daylight, which was captured by CCTV cameras around the scene, took place before noon on a busy road and was witnessed by many motorists and passers-by. But the assailants who covered their faces with full-face crash helmets appeared unperturbed as if they were convinced they would never get caught.

Clearly, the perpetrators wanted to inflict severe or fatal injuries on their victim considering their use of weapons, believed to be blackjack batons, and the specific body parts namely the head and face where they aimed their strikes.

Mr Sirawith suffered a broken nose, wounds to the head and optic nerve system injuries which left him unable to see. Whether he will suffer permanent blindness on one of his eyes is yet to be known.

The unprovoked violence deserves condemnation in the strongest terms. But there has not been a word from any other incumbent ministers except Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who was quoted on Saturday by Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich as saying he had ordered police to act swiftly to bring the perpetrators to justice and security forces to better protect people.

Given Gen Prawit and other government figures have remained silent towards a previous assault against Mr Sirawith and other attacks on anti-coup activists in the past 18 months. This time he should have responded immediately and his message should have been stronger.

Their silence seems to have fuelled the suspicions of possible complicity by some rogue elements in the government in the violence.

The attack on Mr Sirawith was politically motivated. There is little doubt about it. A suggestion the violence might stem from his informal debt to some loan sharks who might want to teach him a lesson for missing debt payments seems far-fetched.

But why him on this occasion and not two other activists, Ekachai Hongkangwan, who was assaulted seven times and had his car partially torched, or Anurak Jeantawanich, alias Ford Senthang See Daeng, who was assaulted a couple of times and had his car torched and smashed by unknown attackers?

Mr Sirawith's political activities which included his calls for an election and his attempt to expose alleged corruption in the construction of the Ratchapakdi Park in Hua Hin by the army are by no means a threat to national security or government's stability, but maybe represent a nuisance to the government.

Interestingly, the attack on Mr Sirawith which occurred while Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was attending the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan should also be taken into consideration in the context of who will make political gains or losses from this seemingly calculated incident.

The immediate uproar from politicians of opposing camps, human rights advocacy groups and pro-democracy activists, and their criticism of the government's history of inaction towards political violence is a clear indication the real loser from this incident is the government.

At least, immediate statements of condemnation of the perpetrators and an assurances to investigate in earnest from the government spokesman and national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda should have eased the public uproar and put the government in a less negative light. Unfortunately though, the government seems to have underestimated the public mood over the matter.

Political violence is not a problem confined to this government. As a matter of fact, Thailand has a long history of political violence under military dictatorship or democratic rule. During former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's government, Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit was abducted by men believed to be police in Bangkok's Hua Mark area in 2004 (he has not been seen since) and Kornthep Viriya, alias Shipping Moo, who reportedly gave information about Shin Satellite's alleged tax evasion to then Democrat MP Sirichoke Sopa for use in a censure debate, was shot dead in Chiang Rai in 2003.

And whistle-blower Ekkayuth Anchanbutr went missing without trace in 2013 during the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

During the regime of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram in 1949, four former ministers namely Thawil Udol, Thong-in Puripat, Chamlong Daoruang and Thongplaew Cholapoom were escorted out of their prisons by police to Bang Khen district police station on March 3. They never reached the station and were all shot dead in what their police escorts claimed to be an ambush by Malayu bandits from the deep South while all the 20-plus police escaped unscratched. No one believed their story then and nor do we today.

It was reported their massacre was part of a purge ordered by the government to eliminate those associated with former prime minister Pridi Banomyong who tried to stage a putsch with the help of the navy against the field marshal to restore democracy to Thailand.

During the past five years under the junta's rule, police, obviously, have failed miserably in solving most cases of political violence against activists. In the case of Ekachai Hongkangwan who was assaulted seven times, only one suspect was caught and his case is still pending. Hence, it came as no surprise that theories about the government's complicity in political violence or indifference to it are raised every time a political activist is attacked.

To clear the doubt, the government must show by its deeds that it is serious about curbing political violence no matter which side of the political divide is responsible, or the police will just carry on dragging their feet.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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