The big issue: Unbelievable protest

The big issue: Unbelievable protest

Anger in Yangon: Thai authorities were surprised at the extent of the protests in Myamar last week after the guilty verdict against Zaw Lin and Zaw Htun. (Reuters photo)
Anger in Yangon: Thai authorities were surprised at the extent of the protests in Myamar last week after the guilty verdict against Zaw Lin and Zaw Htun. (Reuters photo)

The Christmas Eve verdict to convict and condemn two Myanmar men for the unspeakable Koh Tao beach murders touched off quite a firestorm of its own. There were protests, but really, quelle surprise, right?

The astonishing part were the Five Stages of Disbelief by senior government figures, who for some reason thought there would be no public displays over the most publicly disputatious court case in the nation’s history.

First Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon went on for some days about how anti-Thailand protests in Myanmar, Kuala Lumpur, Sri Lanka and other places must, had to be, could only be “instigated”. The instigators, who he named predictably without actually mentioning their names (much as this column does about Lord Voldemort na Dubai and every female ex-premier in Thai history), could not possibly be interested in the trial and verdict. The instigators only meant to make the government look bad, which by his statements seemed rather an easy task.

“I want to know who instigated people to protest,” he stated.

Well, come on down Mr Chief Instigator, one of the regime’s A-list foreign friends and a member of their own brotherhood. The very first “foreign dignitary” to bless and approve the May 14, 2014, coup turned on them.

It wasn’t the Myanmar government. President Thein Sein either didn’t care about the Samui court’s death sentences and the anti-Thai protests, or he pretended he didn’t. Election winner and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi punted politely, just as she did in refusing to stand up against mistreatment of the Rohingya last year, and the Muslim killings before that.

Instead, the Myanmar person and institution speaking loudest and most forcefully against the Koh Tao verdict — the instigator in chief — was the country’s supreme military commander. Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing had three words for the military leader of Thailand: “Review the evidence.”

It was closer to a betrayal than a shocker, in the eyes of the junta.

And the regime made a tactical error. In retrospect, they should have assigned post-verdict activities to the National Statistics Office. The NSO proved more Thais trust their leaders than North Koreans — 99-plus per cent to less than 95% for Kim Jong-un. They could easily have shown that at least 99.23% of people in Myanmar agreed with and respected the verdict in the Koh Tao murder case.

In the event, the only people who could possibly be shocked and awed by the post-trial protests weren’t paying attention between Sept 17, 2014, (two days after the tourists’ battered bodies were found) and Dec 23, the day before the verdict. Protests never stopped during this period, mostly but not exclusively via social and mainstream media.

The Dec 24 verdict from the Samui Criminal Court just unified and amplified them.

There were 463 days of protests up to Verdict Day. Protests were against police procedures, the decision to stop upsetting a prominent Koh Tao family, the lack of control over the crime scene and the ferry passengers. Contrarians noted the handling of key evidence such as the suspected murder weapons (a hoe in particular), the victims’ possessions (an iPhone in particular), the possibly illegal, certainly careless DNA collection from hundreds of Myanmar workers.

Anyone shocked at the post-Christmas protests missed the loud dissent when migrants Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin were arrested.

There was one person in the junta who appeared unshocked by the protests. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was admittedly the most angry of all the commenters, lashing out at critics with, “They can still appeal, can’t they?” But the prime minister was vividly aware of the 463 days of protest, and had seen it up close in his very earliest days of becoming a travelled diplomat.

When he went to Milan for the Asia-

Europe Meeting in mid-October, 2014, the general prime minister was cornered by a polite but outraged British counterpart David Cameron. He was forced — forced — to approach Prime Minister Prayut face-to-face and lobby him to accept a British police team on Thai soil to run their own (still sotto voce) investigation of the beach killings. (More than 100,000 British dissenters had petitioned for Mr Cameron to get directly involved.)

The surprise last week wasn’t the protests that forced the Thai embassy in Yangon to close for the duration of the year. The surprise wasn’t the loud demonstrations at Tachileik, Three Pagodas Pass and other border points. The surprise was not the remarkable assault on police and the government via social media.

The surprise was rather that anyone at all was surprised.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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