Thaksin case leaves stain

Thaksin case leaves stain

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra waves to his supporters as he arrives at Don Mueang Airport on Aug 22, 2023. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra waves to his supporters as he arrives at Don Mueang Airport on Aug 22, 2023. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Finally, convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has never stayed even a night in jail since returning from self-imposed exile in August, is to gain his freedom when he is discharged on parole, probably today.

Shortly after his return from exile, Thaksin, who was to serve eight years for three counts of abuse of power and malfeasance, among other matters, was granted a royal pardon which cut short his term to one year.

According to the Corrections Department and the Justice Ministry, the ex-leader is now eligible for parole as he has since completed half of his one-year jail term.

Yet the convicted premier never set foot properly in jail but spent almost the whole time in hospital.

Thaksin, who is among 930 inmates to be released on parole, was admitted to the Police General Hospital on the night of Aug 22, about 13 hours after he was sent to prison, and has stayed there since.

Details of his illness were kept from the public following his admission. Authorities assured a sceptical public that he was seriously ill.

Is it too much of a coincidence that Thaksin, who was too weak to be transferred to an ordinary prison hospital over the past six months, is suddenly fit enough to leave the Police General Hospital on the day he gets his freedom?

His youngest daughter, Paetongtarn, the Pheu Thai Party's leader, said he would move to the family's Chan Song La residence in the Thon Buri area. The family has no plan to send him to another hospital.

The Srettha Thavisin government and justice authorities insisted officials did not extend special privileges to him or employ a double standard for the convicted leader. Yet the facts suggest otherwise, leaving the public dismayed with a perceived lack of fairness in the justice system.

First, they ask how he could be released on parole without ever serving actual prison time and recall his boast while away in exile that even if he returned, he would never set foot in jail.

Second, more recent reports suggest Thaksin will be spared the indignity of electronic monitoring (EM), too.

According to the Department of Corrections, convicts who are old and seriously ill are "often exempted" from electronic monitoring. The agency says there is little risk that they will re-offend while on parole.

Thaksin's critics tend to compare his case to that of Ah Gong, an inmate who was jailed for committing lese majeste, a charge he denied until the last days of his life in 2011.

The two cases stand in sharp contrast.

Ah Gong, or Ampol Tangnoppakul, known more colloquially as Uncle SMS, died in captivity in May 2012 from liver cancer. Despite the severity of his condition, he was treated at the Prison Remand Hospital rather than being sent to an outside hospital for treatment, an option available back then, too.

The old man was arrested after SMS text messages insulting the monarchy were detected on his cellphone. But he had little knowledge about how such phones work. Many believe the conviction was made wrongfully, perhaps the result of a cellphone technical error.

The Ah Gong case exposed loopholes in Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the so-called lese majeste law. Thaksin's case suggests not everyone is treated equally in prison, especially if they come from a background of power and wealth.

The Thaksin case has sadly stigmatised the justice system. On Sunday, as he walks away a free man, the justice system's credibility will sadly be in freefall.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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