Saturday, October 02, 2010

Willam J. Klausner on Thai Troubled Politics (part 2)

Of prime importance in beginning the process towards achieving mutual trust and empathy is the need to decipher the underlying causes of the so-called rural-urban divide and to address them. As a son-in-law of the northeast, I will focus on isaan when commenting on rural society. The stereotype of villagers largely held by those in urban society must be challenged and overcome. Urban society is largely in the throes of a serious cultural lag as it still sees rural folk as uneducated and narrow minded provincials. Such a view no longer represents either the social or political reality. Rural society has undergone a cosmic change during the past half century which urban dwellers often simply refuse to recognize or accept. Rural society has evolved from a barter focused sustainable economy to a cash and consumer oriented society. Mutual help/reciprocal labor has given way to hired laborers who even follow service hours. Family labor has markedly decreased as the norm of five or six children has given the way to only one, two or three children at the most, and the younger generation is now pursuing higher education and careers beyond the village. The limit of a four year primary education has long since passed as many of the younger generation have completed high school and gone on to college and university.

Villagers’ understanding of the world beyond their rural confines has expanded significantly as mobility markedly increased beginning in the mid-sixties. Villagers have left to work in the provincial centers, in Bangkok and further abroad in Middle East, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan etc… In most villages today, off-farm income in greater than in-farm income. And advances in communication technologies and rural electrification have resulted in villagers no longer being dependent on the rural focused bamboo radio or rice harp. They have become connected and conversant with urban worlds via television, newspapers, radios, computers/internet, DVDs, mobile and land line phones.

Rural society more and more, has taken on the trappings of the city with increased gambling, drugs, debt, competition and consumerism etc… Villagers have, thus, become “cosmopolitan villagers”, and when found working in urban environment, they become “rural cosmopolitans”. One should remember former villagers working in Bangkok are generally in low paid jobs and identify themselves with the urban poor. One might go even further and say villagers have a better understanding of what it means to be a Thai citizen, in its fullest and most inclusive sense, as they understand both worlds unlike urban folk who have become provincial ensconced in their more narrow environment.

If those in urban areas are to fully understand and empathize with villagers, there must be a realization that villagers, besides being better educated and tuned into the world outside, have overcome their antipathy to confrontation and to a total reliance on karma as an explanation of their disadvantaged state. The villagers are increasingly ready to openly confront authority. While there have been several factors that have influenced such attitudinal changes, the fact they now have political cover to challenge and confront authority should be recognized.

However, the villagers’ main argument is with officialdom, persons of influence, including businessmen at the provincial level, who treat them with not so disguised disdain. The villagers no longer have to rely on the indirect weapons of the weak with dealing with authority, including songs and folk tales where those in positions of authority are bested by common folk. They are now ready to demand that they be respected and treated fairly ; that they be valued for their local wisdom ; that their dignity and worth be recognized. They want those they vote for to remain in power and to respond to their needs in terms of gaining a larger share of the material benefits pie. Though they have an increased level of social and political consciousness, this does not mean, at this stage, that they are committed to structural changes necessary to bring about liberal democratic governance.
If perceptions of rural society changes become more realistic, perhaps we will increasingly view the glass of the Thai body politic as half full, not half empty. I would be happy to define further important changes in village society over the past decades if time permits and it is deemed relevant to do so.

Lastly, one might profitably discuss the role play of the Sangha as a factor militating against resolution of conflicts and tensions in Thai society today. At the village level, the monks, with a few exception, no longer play a role as community leaders in the secular lives of the villagers. With the exception of meditation adepts and charismatic “development monks” engaged in community development programs, most of the rural Sangha confines itself to religious teachings and participation in rituals and ceremonies. Many northeastern temples have only a few elder monks in residence. This change in role play has been influenced by the intrusion of the State in areas previously the province of Sangha, increased educational opportunities for the youth and a cash and consumer oriented society. In Bangkok, resident monks from the northeast have become entangled in confrontational and divisive behavior as they openly participate in political protests. It would appear, to paraphrase an old saying, “you can take the monk out of the village, but you cannot take the village out of the monk”. As with their lay protestors, the monks have their own hidden agendas. As they join in protesting and confronting authority, they are indirectly protesting against an authoritarian gentocracy that administers the Sangha.

It maybe pointed out that a majority of the student body at the two Buddhist universities in Bangkok come from the northeast and many more live in Wats almost exclusively composed of northeast monks and temple boys, for example, Wat Sapathum, Wat Noranad, Wat Prasrimahatad, Wat Takian etc… Such political involvement of monks is in contradiction of the rules of discipline (vinai) and to a previously unwritten agreement on the part of the State authorities, lay Buddhist leaders and the Council of Elders that any political involvement was both inappropriate and forbidden. During recent political protests, monks from up-country, as well as Bangkok based monks, were actively involved and, yet, the Sangha authorities issued no statement cautioning monks to avoid such involvement. This does not bode well for the future of the Sangha, a traditional moral voice for moderation and conciliation, has become enmeshed in divisive, political conflicts.

I hope the above comments on the not so controlled chaos of the Thai body politic today will be taken in the constructive spirit intended.

Professor William J. Klausner
Senior Fellow, ISIS Thailand
30th September 2010

Friday, October 01, 2010

William J. Klausner on Thai Politics at ISIS (Chula U), Part One

I wish to thanks Ajahn Jay (Thitinan Pongsudhirak) for providing me with the opportunity to participate in this conference and to further a dialogue I have pursued with Paul (Wedel) and especially with Jim (Stent) who has been a favorite interlocutor over the past several decades.

As an aging absent minded professor who has lived in Thailand for fifty years and is now well into his anecdote age, the trajectory of the past weighs more heavily than that of the future.

However, that can be useful in interpreting Thailand’s troubles today. The past is very much a central part of the present conflicts and tensions in Thai society. Despite the dramatic transformation of Thai society in the past half century and the realization that “the future is not what is was”, the past, as William Faulkner noted, “is not dead. It’s not even past”. The traditional past was rooted in hierarchy, in both its values and institutions. Though there was a surface stability, social, economic, political and legal inequalities prevailed.

These hierarchical structures and values have a remarkable staying power and are ever present in traditional centers of power as they shape the behavior, attitudes and perspectives of bureaucracy, police, army, judiciary, medical profession etc… However they have come under increasing pressure and challenge from an opposing set of antithetical core values associated with globalization, civil society and liberal democracy that emphasize individualism, egalitarianism, rule of law, popular participation, good governance. In the long run, it will be the resolution of this conflict and the form it takes that will determine both the style of governance and the extent to which there will be a more just and equitable society. Given the accelerating pressures, including a rising political and social consciousness on the part of the rural electorate, reforms in all sectors of society will ultimately have to be undertaken, however long it takes and despite continuing opposition.

Such reforms will be necessary across the board in education, in the legal sphere, in economic and political structures and in the channeling outside input into policy formulation and implementation. There must be also the political will to undertake these reforms in an atmosphere of civil and rational discourse. As one of the characters of the Italian novel “The Guepard” cautioned an establishment elder : “If you want things to stay the same, things will have to change”.

At present, the above conflict between the two forces mentioned has been somewhat muted and under the radar. Civil society and third force centrist elements have found little social and political space to make their voices heard. Though there are those who are truly committed to liberal democratic values in all color co-ordinated camps, they do not represent a critical mass. There seems to be little effort to wean away these democratic elements and have them join together with civil society to forge a centrist political force to be reckoned with. Despite the banners extolling democracy held high by one and all, the struggle today seems to be rather one for power and authority with little expectation that there would be any significant change in the form of governance. Mutual trust and empathy, as well as readiness to conciliate, compromise and accommodate, are largely absent. Zero sum attitudes prevail.

Whether in the short or long term, one cannot proceed towards reconciliation resolution and productive synergy of opposing forces unless there is mutual trust and a deeper understanding of the fissures and divisions in all their complexities so prevalent in Thai society today. (to follow…).

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Interview with Khun Sombat Boongamanong, the man behind the Red sundays

Sombat Boongamanong has become one of the most active, well…, activist supporting the Red shirts in the aftermath of the 19th of may military crackdown on the demonstrators in Rajprasong. He has launched the creative and well attended “Red Sundays”, during which, every week end, Red supporters are gathering in one city and organizing various pacifist activities.
Last week end in Pattaya, the program sounded very attractive : female militants clad in Red bikinis were supposed to invade Jomtien beach by the hundreds and swim in the brown waters of Pattaya’s seashore. The reality was a bit more conform to the Thai cultural reserve and reap-royness. Charming Red ladies did bathe in the sea but in Tee Shirts, pants and skirts. Which was nice enough to watch at.
On the more political side, we had the opportunity to interview the organizer of the event, Khun Sombat Boongamanong about the meaning of Wan Athit See Daeng, and the information war between the militants and the State powers.

Question : What are the Red shirts aiming at with this kind of activities ? Why did you get yourself involved in the Red shirts movement ?

Khun Sombat : I am a citizen. Many of the Red shirts leaders have been arrested. And so, as citizens, our problem now is to know how we can get organized. I think that we have to become ourselves leaders, we have to organize our own activities and invite our citizens friends to join and do the same.

Question : The war within Thai society is not a war taking place in the streets, but it is a war on the communication battlefield, a war of information, propaganda and communication technology. In this war, the State powers seem to have difficulties to fight their opponents. They don’t seem to understand how to use efficiently the communication technology tools like twitter, facebook and so on. It looks like these State powers are loosing the battle. They don’t seem either to know how to win the support of journalists. What is your view ?

Khun Sombat : I agree. I don’t think it is a civil war. It is a war of understanding, but it is also a class war, but not to a point of violence as to be a civil war. We have to discuss with each other. In Thailand, there is a continuity in the political development of the country. I think we are now reaching the final phase, because almost all the social classes have fought or are fighting for democracy. There is only now the lower classes left to join the struggle for democracy.
And we, who belong to the middle classes, are supporting the struggle of the lower classes. But we want to use the power of explanation, the power of knowledge to transform our country. We do not want to wage an armed struggle or use violence. In any case, I think this country has to change. But we want this change to happen through pacific actions. And if we want to wage a pacific struggle, we have to wage it on the information field. If it does not work, then maybe we will have to use force. Nevertheless, I think that now we still have the choice between these two paths. We want to base our struggle on communication and knowledge.

Interview by Arnaud Dubus

Monday, September 06, 2010

Radio Program : Media and Politics in Thailand

Pour les francophones, un programme de 25 minutes sur Médias et Politique en Thaïlande pour l'Atelier des Médias pour Radio France Internationale.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Voice TV program on the killing of Fabio Polenghi

This is a program which has been broadcasted at the 7:00 pm news bulletin on 25th of August on Voice TV channel, received either through PSI satellite dish, or on internet.ย้อนรอยการตาย‘ฟาบิโอโพเลนกิ’ช่างภาพอิตาลี

Monday, August 23, 2010

Murders, Lies and Mischievousness in the Land of Multiple Standards

The dilemma when you are a government agency faced with a hugely embarrassing situation is to do or not to do a press conference. Both options have their advantages and drawbacks. Speaking to the medias breaks a choking silence, but then you have to provide some substantial details to feed the hunger of journalists. Not speaking to the media allow you to avoid compromising yourself, but then you look uncooperative.

The DSI, the “Thai FBI” as we say, chose to speak to the medias. The problem is that they had nothing to tell them on the topic announced : the circumstances of the deaths of 91 people during the April May Red shirts demonstrations, among them two foreign journalists, video reporter Hiroyuki Muramoto and Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi.
From the start, the elegant Naras announced that the “investigations on both foreigners deaths “were not yet complete” and that he could not provide any information. This investigation has begun more than four months ago for Hiroyuki and three months ago for Fabio. Fabio forensic report was written on 21th of May, two days after his death.
How is it possible that the DSI still does not have any details on the cases ? What have they done during these last months ? Well, they surely were busy chasing “terrorists” who have burnt to the ground Central World department store and arresting Red shirts demonstrators here and there. Fair enough, but what about the many families who lost some relatives in the massacre ? Are not they worth the DSI attention ?

Coming to Fabio Polenghi's case, Khun Naras gave actually a new piece of information : “we could not find the bullet who killed him in his body, and so we have no idea of the kind of caliber”, he said. Well, it surely makes everything simpler. No bullets, no identification of the possible shooter, no headache. “Lack of evidence” will be the final word, and don't count on the Italian embassy to push the case.

Actually, according to a reliable source, the DSI is not to be blamed. They are also “victims”, pressured between the medias, especially Foreign medias but also increasing Thai medias, and the military-led CRES who does not want to face the fact that their men shot at demonstrators and journalists. For them, the still mysterious “men in black” are responsible for most of the violence. To support this thesis, they, for instance, said that the Cable TV building on Rajdamri road, less than thirty meters from the spot where Fabio, hit by a bullet, collapsed at 11:58 am on the 19th of May, was on that day a stronghold of the Black shirts. We checked and it is simply not true, at least according to the building manager and his security staff who were occupying the building without any interruption on the 19th of May. “The soldiers came around 2.30 pm, forcing the doors to look for Red shirts and Black shirts. They could not find anyone”, he says. Nevertheless, according to a Foreign journalist accompanying the military on Rajdamri at this time of the day said that he saw a few men in black being arrested by the military a few meters from the building.

So we are left with this : the CRES is giving the tone and no government agency is authorized to give any information unless cleared by the CRES first. And the circumstances of the killing of both Hiroyuki Muramoto and Fabio Polenghi are apparently embarrassing enough for the army to launch a major cover up operation. The Thai army is far from being the only army in the world to shy away from its own misdeeds. Just remember Tyler, in Afghanisthan, whose death by “friendly fire”, was only accepted publicly by the US military after the press exposed the case.

This cover up strategy is bound to backfire, as the more the army is trying to create a smokescreen, the more suspicion within the country and in the international community will raise. The Thai military, formatted by a mindset frozen some forty of fifty years ago, have always had a hard time to comprehend their rapidly modernizing country. But this time, because of the explosion of social medias and the greater difficulty to control public opinion, the soldiers are definitely out in the cold.

Arnaud Dubus (in Bangkok)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who Killed Italian Photographer Fabio Polenghi ?

There is an interesting article on Fabio Polenghi on New Mandala website :

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Journaliste tué en Thaïlande : Omerta d'Etat

La mort du photographe indépendant italien Fabio Polenghi tué par balles à Bangkok sera-t-elle un jour élucidée? Fabio Polenghi a été tué le 19 mai juste avant onze heures alors qu’il courait, avec d’autres journalistes et des Chemises rouges(manifestants antigouvernementaux), pour échapper à des tirs.

Ce jour là, les militaires, chargés par le gouvernement d’Abhisit Vejjajiva de «nettoyer» le quartier commercial de Bangkok occupé depuis près de deux mois par les Rouges, progressent sur l’avenue en tirant sur les manifestants armés de lance pierres et de cocktails molotov. Pendant sa course, Fabio est touché par une balle et s’effondre. Transporté par des collègues et des manifestants, il décède de sa blessure à l’hôpital. Deux jours après la mort de l’Italien, l’Institut de médecine légale de la police effectue une autopsie. Le lendemain, le corps est incinéré, en présence de sa sœur Isabella, de ses amis et de ses collègues. Trois mois plus tard, la police refuse toujours de rendre publique l’autopsie.

«L’enquête n’est pas terminée», explique le colonel Naras Savestanan, le numéro deux du Département des Enquêtes Spéciales (DSI), le FBI thaïlandais, lequel se dit incapable de répondre à des questions aussi cruciales que le type de balles retrouvées dans le corps de Fabio, l’angle et le lieu d’origine du tir. D’autres questions concerne le positionnement des tireurs d’élite de l’armée qui ont abattu plusieurs manifestants ce jour-là et celui des mystérieuses Chemises noires, le bras armé des Rouges. Mais là aussi, pas de réponse ou alors très vagues.

Qui a donc tué Fabio Polenghi ? Une enquête menée par des collègues et des amis de Fabio donne quelques éléments de réponse. Fabio a été tué par balles dans une zone ou les Chemises noires utilisaient essentiellement des grenades M. 79, lesquelles ont tué au moins un militaire et grièvement blessé le journaliste canadien Chandler Vandergrift, et des M. 16.

Le 19 mai, ces Chemises noires occupaient la station de métro aérien Rajdamri, à environ 425mètres de l’endroit ou Fabio a été tué (un M16 devient imprécis à partir de 100 mètres, sauf s’il est équipé de lunettes de visée). De leur côté, le 19 mai, vers onze heures du matin, les centaines de militaires déployés pour l’opération de nettoyage progressaient dans la partie sud de l’avenue Rajdamri et au travers du parc urbain Lumphini, qui couvre le flanc sud-est de l’avenue.

Parallèlement, des tireurs d’élite de l’armée, postés sur des bâtiments environnant Rajdamri, faisaient également feu sur les manifestants Rouges et les dizaines de journalistes occupant l’avenue. /«Il est plus probable que le journaliste ait été touché par les soldats sécurisant, au niveau du sol, l’avenue Rajdamri. Je ne vois pas pourquoi des tireurs d’élite le prendraient particulièrement pour cible»,/ estime un journaliste, expert des affaires militaires qui se trouvait avec les soldats quand ceux-ci remontaient l’avenue.

S’il est révélé un jour, le calibre de la balle qui a tué Fabio Polenghi n’est pas l’élément déterminant, car les Chemises noires et les militaires peuvent avoir utilisé des armes similaires. En revanche, le point d’entrée de la balle, la configuration de la blessure, la distance et l’angle de tir, qui pourraient donner des précisions sur l’origine du tir, sont primordiaux. En l’absence de ces données, il n’y aura pas de certitudes sur l’identité de ceux qui ont tué le journaliste italien.

Le DSI, chargé du dossier, ne pipe mot. Pourquoi ce département, considéré par les Rouges et certains médias, comme proche du Parti démocrate du Premier ministre Abhisit Vejjajiva, semble-t-il aussi embarrassé par ce cas qui a attiré l’attention des médias internationaux et des organisations de défense des droits des journalistes ? Publier la vérité sur les circonstances de la mort du photographe serait, apparemment, gênante pour le gouvernement et pour les militaires qui contrôlent en sous-main le pays.

Le général Anupong Paochinda, issu du 21ème régiment d’infanterie (Corps des gardes de la reine), est chef de l’armée de terre depuis 2007. Il a été nommé peu après le coup d’Etat de septembre 2006 qui a évincé l’ex-Premier ministre Thaksin Shinawatra. Le 1er octobre prochain, le général Prayuth Chan-Ocha, frère d’armes d’Anupong et maître d’œuvre des opérations militaires du 10 avril et du 13 au 19 juin derniers – 90 morts dont les journalistes Hiroyuki Muramoto et Fabio Polenghi et au moins cinq militaires - prendra la succession de son mentor à la tête de l’armée de terre. Pendant sept ans, l’élite du Corps des gardes de la Reine aura donc le contrôle du poste le plus puissant des forces armées du pays. Du jamais vu dans l’histoire militaire du royaume et qui n’est pas sans exciter de féroces jalousies au sein du corps des officiers.

Arnaud Dubus (à Bangkok)

Copyright Libération

ใครฆ่าฟาบีโอ โปเลนกิ นักข่าวชาวอิตาลี

ความตายของนายฟาบีโอ โปเลนกิ ช่างภาพอิสระจะนับเป็นกรณีหนึ่งหรือไม่ในบรรดาเหตุการณ์ประวัติศาสตร์ปัจจุบันของประเทศไทยที่ไม่มีข้ออธิบาย ฟาบีโอ โปเลนกิถูกยิงจนเสียชีวิตเมื่อวันที่ 19 พฤษภาคม ก่อนเวลา 11 นาฬิกาตรงเพียงครู่เดียว ทั้ง ๆ ที่เขาก็วิ่งกับนักข่าวคนอื่น ๆ และคนเสื้อแดง (ผู้ประท้วงต้านรัฐบาล) เพื่อหลบกระสุนจริง วันนั้น รัฐบาลนายอภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะสั่งให้ทหาร “เก็บกวาด” ย่านธุรกิจการค้ากรุงเทพฯ ที่ถูกคนเสื้อแดงใช้พื้นที่อยู่นานสองเดือน ทหารกระชับวงล้อมเข้ามาทีละน้อยด้วยการยิงกระสุนใส่ผู้ชุมนุมติดอาวุธหินและขวดระเบิดมือ ขณะที่ฟาบีโอกำลังวิ่ง ก็ถูกกระสุนเข้าลูกหนึ่ง แล้วล้มลง มีเพื่อน ๆ นักข่าวและคนเสื้อแดงหามและพาเขาไปโรงพยาบาล เขาเสียชีวิตจากการบาดเจ็บ
สองวันหลังจากการตายของชาวอิตาลีผู้นี้ สถาบันนิติเวชก็ทำการชันสูตรศพ วันรุ่งขึ้น ร่างของฟาบีโอก็ถูกเผาโดยมีพี่สาวอิซาแบล เพื่อนพ้องและเพื่อนนักข่าวมาร่วมงาน จากนั้นสามเดือนผ่านไป ตำรวจยังคงปฏิเสธที่จะเปิดเผยผลการชันสูตรศพ « การสอบสวนยังไม่เสร็จสิ้น » พล.ต.อ. ณรัชต์ เศวตนันท์ รองอธิบดีกรมสอบสวนคดีพิเศษ (ดีเอสไอ) เอฟบีไอแบบไทยก็ยังไม่สามารถให้คำตอบต่อคำถามโหดๆ อย่าง ประเภทของกระสุนที่พบในศพของฟาบีโอ วิถีกระสุน คำถามอื่น ๆ นั้นเกี่ยวกับตำแหน่งของนักแม่นปืนของกองกำลังที่ฆ่าผู้ชุมนุมไปหลายคนในวันเดียวกัน รวมถึงตำแหน่งของคนเสื้อดำผู้เป็นแขนติดอาวุธให้กับคนเสื้อแดง แต่นั้นก็อีก ไม่มีคำตอบใด ๆ หรือเป็นคำตอบเบลอ ๆ ไม่ชัด
กรมสอบสวนคดีพิเศษ (ดีเอสไอ) หรือ เอฟบีไอไทยนั้นผู้มีความรับผิดชอบต่อคดีกลับเงียบกริบ ทำไมกรมการนี้ผู้ที่ถูกมองจากคนเสื้อแดงและสื่อบางหน่วยว่ามีความใกล้ชิดกับพรรคประชาธิปัตย์ของนายอภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะจึงดึงดูดความสนใจจากสื่อต่างประเทศและองค์กรพิทักษ์สิทธิเสรีภาพของนักข่าว บางที อาจเป็นเพราะความจริงที่ปรากฏอาจสร้างความเสื่อมเสียแก่รัฐบาลและทหารที่คุมประเทศอยู่ในมือ พลเอกอนุพงษ์ เผ่าจินดา กรมทหารราบที่ 21 รักษาพระองค์ (ในสมเด็จพระนางเจ้าสิริกิติ์ พระบรมราชินีนาถ-ร.21 รอ.) เป็นหัวหน้ากองทัพทหารราบตั้งแต่ปี 2550 ขึ้นดำรงตำแหน่งหลังรัฐประหารเดือนกันยายน 2549 ที่ขับไล่อดีตนายกรัฐมนตรี พล.ต.ท. ทักษิณ ชินวัตร ผู้เป็นที่นิยมและเป็นประชานิยม (และทุจริต) กล่าวถึงพลเอกประยุทธ์ จันทร์โอชา เพื่อนกองทัพของพลเอกอนุพงษ์ และเป็นผู้กำกับการปฏิบัติการของทหารเมื่อวันที่ 10 เมษายน และระหว่างวันที่ 13-19 พฤษภาคมที่ผ่านมายังให้มีผู้เสียชีวิต 90 คนโดยมีนักข่าวฮิโรยูกิ มุระโมโต นายฟาบีโอ โปเลนกิ และทหารอย่างน้อยจำนวน 5 นาย เขาจะได้รับช่วงต่อจากหัวหน้าโป้ปดกรมทหารราบของตนในวันที่ ๑ ตุลาคมที่จะถึงนี้ นับไปอีก 7 ปีที่ยอดทหารรักษาพระองค์ในสมเด็จพระนางเจ้าสิริกิติ์พระบรมราชินีนาถผู้นี้ จะได้คุมตำแหน่งอำนาจสูงสุดของกองกำลังทหารไทย เป็นสิ่งที่ไม่เคยปรากฏในประวัติศาสตร์ทหารราชอาณาจักรไทย และยังสร้างความอิจฉาริษยาร้ายท่ามกลางเหล่าข้าราชการ
แล้วใครฆ่านายฟาบีโอ โปเลนกิ เพื่อนนักข่าวและเพื่อน ๆ ของเขาได้คำตอบบางประการจากการสืบเสาะ ฟาบีโอถูกยิงด้วยกระสุนในย่านที่คนเสื้อดำใช้อาวุธโดยเฉพาะเครื่องยิงระเบิดเอ็ม 16 ลูกระเบิดเอ็ม 79 ซึ่งระเบิดชนิดหลังได้ฆ่านายทหารไปหนึ่งนาย และทำให้นักข่าวชาวแคนาดา นายชองด์แลร์ วานแดร์กริฟท์ บาดเจ็บสาหัส วันที่ 19 พฤษภาคม คนเสื้อดำใช้พื้นที่สถานีรถไฟฟ้าราชดำริ ซึ่งห่างจากสถานที่ ๆ ฟาบีโอถูกฆ่า 425 เมตร ส่วนเวลาประมาณ 11 โมงเช้า ในวันที่ 19 พฤษภาคม มีกำลังทหารบางกลุ่มกระจายอยู่เพื่อปฏิบัติการกวาดล้างได้ก็รุกเรื่อยมายังด้านใต้ของถนนราชดำริ (ด้านที่จรดกับถนนพระราม 4 - ผู้แปล) และฝ่าสวนสาธารณะลุมพินี ซึ่งครอบคลุมด้านตะวันตกเฉียงใต้ของถนน
ในเวลาเดียวกัน นักแม่นปืนจำนวนหนึ่งของกองกำลังประจำอยู่บนอาคารย่านราชดำริยิงออกมาใส่ผู้ชุมนุมเสื้อแดง และนักข่าวที่อยู่บนถนน "เป็นไปได้ว่าฟาบีโอถูกกระสุนที่ยิงมาจากทหารราบที่อยู่ที่บนถนนราชดำริ ผมมองไม่ออกว่าทำไมนักแม่นปืนจะจำเพาะเจาะจงยิงเขา" นักข่าวผู้หนึ่งประเมินเหตุการณ์ หน่วยทหารรบพิเศษประจำพื้นที่ที่มีกลุ่มทหารราบซึ่งหันย้อนศรไปทางเหนือของถนนราชดำริอยู่แล้ว อาจเป็นที่ทราบกันในวันใดวันหนึ่งเกี่ยวกับขนาดเส้นผ่าศูนย์กลางของกระสุนที่สังหารนายฟาบีโอ โปเลนกิ แต่นั้นก็ไม่ใช่ปัจจัยสุดท้ายที่ให้คำตอบ เพราะคนเสื้อดำและทหารสามารถใช้อาวุธเดียวกัน สิ่งสำคัญกว่านั้นคือ จุดที่กระสุนถูกยิงมา ลักษณะที่เกิดของบาดแผลและวิถีกระสุน คือสิ่งที่ให้ความกระจ่างว่ากระสุนมาจากที่ใด ในเมื่อไม่มีรายละเอียดดังกล่าว ย่อมจะไม่อาจแน่ใจถึงที่มาที่ไปของผู้ที่ฆ่านักข่าวอิตาลี
หลังจากที่นายฟาบีโอถูกกระสุนเมื่อวันที่ 19 พฤษภาคมนั้น ชายชาวเอเชียผู้หนึ่ง รีบรุดเข้าไปเอากล้องถ่ายรูป Canon 5D จากมือของเขา แล้วร่วมกับคนอื่น ๆ พากันนำเขาออกไปจากจุดที่มีการยิง สิ่งหนึ่งที่สืบทราบโดยนักข่าวหลายคน และจากการสัมภาษณ์หน่วยทหารรบพิเศษบ่งชี้ว่า บุคคลดังกล่าวไม่ใช่นักข่าว และไม่ใช่เพียงผู้ที่ต้องการฉวยโอกาสจากสถานการณ์เพื่อขโมยกล้องที่มีราคาหลายพันยูโร

Pagmaa Demchig เขียน
สกุณา คำรักษ์ แปล

Photos by : Thilo Thielke (Der Spiegel), Ken Ishii et Wally Santana(Associated Press)

Maps : Courtesy of Filip Heringuez

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Al Jazeera TV Report on Motorcycle taxis and Politics

Aela's Callan Bangkok correspondent for Al Jazeera has produced an interesting program on Motorcyle taxis and politics in Thailand, figuring an interview with Harvard University's Phd candidate Claudio Sopranzetti.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I Love Thai Police (3). Never As Good As the Third Time.

As says the song, it is never as good as the third time, especially if you get it three times. The fine, I mean. After months of frustrations and failure to get fined for traffic rule breaking, I have been fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams on Thursday, 19th.
I was with my wife, Noo, on the road to Sisaket, in order to investigate the assassination of a local Red shirts leader. This was a long way and because of the excitement of the mission, I was driving fast. Then somewhere after Saraburi, the famed tamruat thanon luang, with their nice brown and yellow cars and their black beret, caught me.
I had already warned my wife. I won’t speak anything to the policemen. I will play the mute, as when I said I am a journalist they released me or even when I just argue in Thai they let me go (see previous episodes). So, complete silence this time, only smiles and gestures.
I pulled off the road and smiled at a slightly overweight black beret. Things were smooth. With no verbal reaction from me, they wrote the form and said “124 km/h”. Not bad. I duly paid the 200 bahts fine, and we hit the road again. Noo immortalized the event with the digital camera.
Then, barely 40 minutes later, another squad of black berets caught me again. “128 km/h”, said a policeman. I could not really hid my joy and he noticed it. I paid again the 200 bahts due and had my picture taken with my new friend, the highway policeman.
That was not the end of it, as, having arrived in Surin and visited the market there, I was surprised to find a white paper on the front windshield. “Wrong parking”, said the paper. Actually I could not really understand as I was correctly parked, and many cars around my Peugeot 406 had escaped the wrath of Surin’s keepers of the law. But in Surin, indeed, we don’t joke with the rule of law. And that was a third 200 bahts fine. But it had now become routine. I throw the paper in the back of the car and decided not to pay, and we fled speedily toward our Sisaket destination.

Arnaud Dubus

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Claudio Sopranzetti : Moto taxis and Politics

Interesting article on the Politics of Motorcycle Taxis in Thailand on New Mandala website :

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Strange Case of Benny Moafi

From his mid-eastern origine, Benny Moafi has kept an inextinguable energy and deep blue, dreamy eyes. The man, with a passion for languages and for photocopies, is a Swedish Iranian businessman who lives in Thailand since 1994. And against all odds, he is still living in the country. This is despite having been arrested in 2000 on what he says were trumped accusations of holding a fake passport and robbery. Sentenced to 22 years in jail, he spent the next 10 years of his life behind bars of various Thai prison.
But this strong willed man decided not to be broken by Thai jail despite the harsh conditions and the beatings he endured. In his cell, he began to learn speaking, reading and writing proper Thai until becoming totally fluent. Then, he registered by letter at Sukhotai Thammatirat university and passed a bachelor degree in Thai law. Then, he simply became a lawyer for himself and his fellow prisonners. To this day, he has filed 206 cases against the police, the Department of Corrections and various government agencies. And he won several cases : his jailers were forced to take off the heavy chains he had permanently tied to his legs. In another case won, the Department of Corrections was forced to take off these chains from all prisonners on death row.
On Tuesday 13th of July, a few months after having been released after having spent the last ten years in jail, Benny Moafi got chained again. But this time, he did it to himself : he locked the chain attached to his legs to the gate of Government House. The scene was astounding. When Mr Moafi arrived, dressed in a prisoner outfit, the intelligence agents of the government (mixed admist Thai journalists) and the police of the control post watched passively. They seem totally overwhelmed by the speed of the events and unable to understand what was going on.
Brandishing a sign board “Double Standards of Justice” and with “Guilty of Innocence” written on his back, Mr Moafi began distributing documents on his case and giving interviews to Thais and Foreign journalists. It was very hot, and Mr Moafi, after an hour, open the lock to chain himself again to the gate in the shade of a tree. The police again was unable to react.
The substance of the discourse of Mr Moafi is that he has been a victim of the Double Standards of the Thai Justice system. According to him, he was wrongly accused and sentenced because of the nexus of collusion linking some policemen, some prosecutors and some judges. And what he is asking for is a re-trial by the Appeal court so that his reputation is cleared and justice is done. And he wanted to deliver a letter to Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to explain his case. He was not able to deliver this letter to the Prime minister.
He considers his situation to be a small example of the issue of Double standards of Justice in Thailand, a topic emphasized by the recent Red shirts protest from March to May – protests who ended after a government ordered military crackdown. During the demonstrations, at least 90 people were killed according to the official figure : five military, two foreign journalists and 83 demonstrators.
So what will do Mr Moafi next ? In mid afternoon on that mid july tuesday, still sitting near the gate of Government House but without chains (the police had managed to cut them after a few hours of strenuous efforts), he said that he would bring his campaign to the United Nations. But Mr Moafi is a busy man. He has become an expert lawyer to help Foreign prisonners who are in difficult legal situations and his mobile phone is ringing every five minutes. With a wide smile and a spark in his eyes, he says “I have a job to do”.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

No rule of law for Thai Police, However Hard You Try

Cette fois ci, j'étais bien décidé à tout faire pour avoir une contravention. Pas question de dire que je suis journaliste, ce qui, inévitablement entrainerait les policiers du poste de contrôle à me laisser partir sans sanction. Sur Rama IV, j'aperçois le barrage à environ 200 mètres, et, gêné par des voitures en stationnement illégal sur la voie de gauche, je m'engage, au guidon de ma Platinum 150 cc (nouveau carburateur et lumières de cylindre élargies), sur la voie du milieu. Tout va bien : un policier, masque anti-pollution sur le visage et vêtu de ces étonnants costumes caca d'oie cintrés qui leur moulent le thorax et les fesses, me fait signe de me ranger.
Je suis nerveux, je sais que cette fois ci il faudra aller plus loin que la fois précédente pour atteindre mon objectif, lequel n'est d'ailleurs pas très clair dans ma tête. Mes mains tremblent légèrement. "Permis !", me lance le policier. Je fais face et rétorque : "Nom, prénom, unité !". L'agent de l'Etat ne comprend pas. Il répéte "License, license", comme s'il me prenait pour un demeuré. Je lis son nom sur son badge que je saisis de la main. "Pas question de donner mon permis, agent Prasong Jampapeeng. Je veux connaître le nom de votre unité d'abord". Puis je dis, me dévoilant sans doute un peu trop tôt : "et je vous colle un procès au tribunal administratif". La notion de juridiction admnistrative semble planer très au dessus de l'agent Prasong, qui répéte : "ton permis !". De fureur, je jette mon casque dans la petite haie de troënne jaune vert qui borde Rama IV.
Il refuse de me donner le nom de son unité. Un officier vient à sa rescousse mais ne parvient pas à débloquer la situation. "Je ne donnerais pas mon permis tant que je n'aurais pas le nom de votre unité. J'en ai besoin pour vous intenter un procès", je persiste. Finalement, le second officier m'emméne voir son supérieur. Celui-ci, penché sur une table de camping établie sur le trottoir, note conscieusement sur un carnet les recettes de la journée. Avec le respect du à l'autorité, je lui dis : "Mr l'officier. Vos collègues m'ont arrêté car j'étais sur la voie du milieu. Mais je ne pouvais pas être sur la voie de gauche, car des voitures étaient en stationnement illégal". L'officier lance un regard perspicace. Il sent qu'il y a anguille sous roche. Il lâche tout de même : "la voie du milieu, c'est une infraction". Je triomphe. "Oui, je dis, c'est une infraction. Je suis parfaitement d'accord avec vous et je veux payer la contravention. Mais je veux le nom de votre unité, pour vous intenter un procès au tribunal administratif". Je me tourne vers l'agent Prasong : "De quoi as tu peur ? Pourquoi tu ne veux pas donner le nom de ton unité ? T'as honte ou quoi ?". Prasong est ngong. Dépassé. Ses capacités d'analyse saturées. Le processeur ne tourne pas assez vite.
L'officier supérieur calme le jeu. "Nous sommes de la police de la circulation, quartier central, Rama IV. Montrez votre permis". Je le montre et, comme je le craignais, il me dit : "c'est en régle, vous pouvez y aller". Cette fois je suis décidé à me battre pour avoir ma contravention. "Non, pas question. J'ai fait une infraction, vous devez me sanctionner. C'est votre devoir. Si la police ne fait pas son travail, que va-t-il advenir de la Nation ?". Je sens que l'affaire est perdue. L'officier commence à sourire. "Allez y. Je voulais juste contrôler votre permis. Tout est en règle". Je me bats avec l'énergie du désespoir. "Mr l'officier. S'il y a un gouvernement chemise rouge, tout le monde fera des infractions et, si la police ne fait pas son travail, ce sera la catastrophe. Le Premier ministre l'a dit : il faut suivre la loi. Strictement". C'est foutu. Mon jeu est définitivement dévoilé. Je suis le farang qui en sait trop. Je pars. L'agent Prasong est vexé, mais ne sait pas comment réagir. Je sers la main de l'officier, qui est maintenant très cordial. "Merci, je dis. C'était juste pour m'amuser".

Arnaud Dubus

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Interview with Marwaan Macan-Markar, Thailand based correspondent for the IPS news agency and chairman of the FCCT

Question : There is a debate going on in Thailand about the coverage by the Foreign press of the political events. Parts of the Thai elite is accusing the Foreign press, especially the big international TV channels, of being “irresponsible” in their coverage and of being on the side of the Reds. What do you think of this debate ?

Maarwan Macan-Markar :
First of all, what i find interesting is that they only focus on the Anglo-saxon medias. The two mains broadcast outlet that they have been critical of is CNN and the BBC. In a way, it tells us that there are the kind of medias that the Thai elite watches, where they get their news from : the english language medias like the BBC and CNN, and even some english language newspapers published in Britain : Times, The Economist and others....
When you talk about foreign medias coverage in Thailand, i think it is much more broader and much more complex than that. You are from France, there are German journalists, there are Japanese journalists, I am from Sri Lanka... So I think it is dangerous to assume that all foreign journalists follow a certain line. And it is not true.

Question : Do you think that this kind of issue is also in other countries. Yourself, you are from Sri Lanka. Did it happen in Sri Lanka that, at some points, the Foreign press was accused of being on the Tamil Tigers side or on the Cinghalese side ?

Maarwan Macan-Markar : It did happen in fact. I am familiar with this kind of criticisms levelled off by certain segments of a country towards international press coverage. And Sri Lanka certainly has seen a thread that has run the course of a 25 years conflict. It came to a head last year during the final month of the government troops on the Tamil Tigers, so much so that a lot of international medias were accused of being pro-LTTE. I, myself, when I was in Sri Lanka, wrote for a newspaper called The Sunday Leader, which has been a strong voice of dissent and disagreement.
My former boss was killed last year just outside the newspaper office. So, Sri Lankan journalists have paid a heavy price for offering an alternative narrative to the government narrative.
What you see in Thailand is much more interesting. In other words, very few Thai journalists have been accused of being voices of dissent. It seems like the government is targetting the international media and how the international medias reported the anti-government Red shirts demonstrations in Thailand.

Question : There seems to be anger and bitterness from parts of the Thai upper class vis à vis the Foreign medias. Where do you think this feeling is coming from ?

Marwaan Macan-Markar :
I think, partly, it is just the problem in Thai reportage. This recent phase of the Red shirts demonstrations started gathering momentum in January this year, when there were a lot of activities happening in the North-Eastern part of Thailand, which is the heartland of the Red shirts. I, myself, made many visits to the North East since February chronicling the growing momentum of Red shirts political sentiment, following some of their meetings, doing a story on the opening of Red shirts schools.
So when it all came to a head in March when tenths of thousands of Red shirts protesters arrived in a caravan of Red to Bangkok, which was an historic occasion, I was not surprised by this. What happened is the Thai medias refused to cover the story. The Thai medias were more interested in the Bangkok view, the metropolitan view of things. There was very little coverage by Thai medias of reporters going to the provinces to understand why people are angry. I think the basic job of a journalist is to demonstrate a level of curiosity.
And if you hear that a segment of your country is expressing some anger and resentment, it is only important that you go to those places and try to understand the anger. You do not have to take sides. Understand and explain the anger. And that is what a number of Foreign journalists have been doing.
So we had followed the story coming up to March. And then, of course, since it was all in Bangkok from March to mid-May, we had a better understanding of what happened. So partly, the anger stems probably from being shocked at what was happening in their country. That was the elite's reaction.
Now, had they been exposed to the realities happening in the provinces, I think the anger would not have been as stark as what we are seing right now.

Question :
Do you think that among the Thai medias, there is a problem of self-censorship and a problem of censorship by the management ?

Maarwan Macan-Markar :
Well, I am aware that the broadcasting channels were under some pressure to toe the government line. In fact, some of the mainstream Thai TV stations, not the cable channels, admitted so. The print medias is very free in this country. I think it is very free, very vibrant. Thais can be very proud of the space for freedom of expression and it is reflected in the print medias.
But if that is the case, the question need to be asked of why one did not see the kind of vibrant coverage, critical coverage that one woud expect at such time. For instance, Thai Rath, which is the largest circulation Thai language newspaper, was very progressive, very informative, was doing a lot of stories that cut accross the Thai political spectrum, from articles that were sympathetic to the Red shirts to those that were sympathetic to the government.
There were other newspapers less so. But the general impression created in this country, leading up to this, is that there was a level of self censorship, there was a level of disguise them (i.e. demonstratrors) as nuisances or disguise as trouble makers or sometimes dismissing them as buffaloes and stupid, which is very derogatory. I think that metropolitan biases did come out.

Question : The english language daily The Nation had played a very important role in May 1992, because, when the Bangkok Post was self censoring itself, The Nation stood firm and reported the news and played an important role against the pro-military government of general Suchinda Kraprayoon. Then, after 1992, a new TV channel, ITV, was created because there was an awareness that there was a problem with the coverage by the Thai TV channels which were reporting too much the government line. Now The Nation is completely one-sided. It is tied by its ownership. And Thai PBS channel, the former ITV, is not doing a very balanced reporting. How can we explain this change from progressive standing in 1992 to conservative standing in 2010 ?

Marwaan Macan-Markar : I think it is a bit more complex than that. The Thai medias who are critical of the Red shirts and not critical enough of the government also reflects a certain animosity towards Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime minister. The Nation openly admits that they suffered a lot during the five-and-a-half years term of Mr Thaksin. They felt they were persecuted. And I think the anger that emerged at the time, the hostility towards Mr Thaksin in a way shapes their coverage. Because they feel that the Red shirts are pro-Thaksin supporters and therefore they don't want to give any leeway for Mr Thaksin to come back.
About Thai PBS, it is interesting that the Red shirts demonstrators i spoke to, during the protests, gave the impression that, of the Thai broadcast medias, the one that was most fair to them was Thai PBS. At least, this channel gives their voice, their stories.
But i think, if we look at whatever bias there is in the Thai media coverage, most of it is shaped by this hostility towards Mr Thaksin, because he was no friend of free expression, he was no friend of Thailand independent press ; he applied a lot of pressure and crackdown and crushed some of these independent voices. And that resentment still bubbles under the surface. And i think that shaped the way in which the news agenda was set in covering the recent protests.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thaïlande : derrière la normalité, la répression

Par Arnaud Dubus, Bangkok

Officiellement, le calme et l’ordre sont rétablis après les manifestations des «chemises rouges» réprimées dans le sang il y a un mois. La Thaïlande a presque retrouvé son sourire. L’homme du moment est le colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, un beau gosse qui remplit les fonctions de porte-parole du CRES, l’organe militaro-civil qui dirige la Thaïlande sous l’égide du décret d’état d’urgence. Dans les centres commerciaux de la capitale, qui ont survécu à la vague rouge, les minettes de la bourgeoisie bangkokoise se font prendre en photo aux côtés de cet officier au visage poupon, lequel sert de porte-voix au régime du premier ministre Abhisit et de Suthep Taungsuban, le sulfureux vice-ministre en charge de la sécurité.
Des assassinats Sansern, qui affiche un sourire béat en permanence, sauf quand il lit, sérieux comme un pape, les communiqués du CRES, a vu exploser son fan-club sur Facebook. Les Bangkokoises apprennent avec
ravissement qu’il taquine la guitare. Mais derrière cette Thaïlande du sourire retrouvé et du retour à la «normale», une campagne sourde de répression est en train de se dérouler dans les provinces rurales. Une campagne qui n’est pratiquement pas rapportée par les télés ou la presse, tout occupées à s’apitoyer sur les débris fumants du Central World, l’immense mall luxueux incendié, et les menaces que fait peser la crise sur l’économie.
Les «chemises rouges», revenues dans leurs provinces après l’assaut des militaires contre leur camp retranché dans le quartier commercial huppé de Bangkok le 19 mai, ont peur. Bien que la presse se montre discrète, sauf
le courageux site internet d’informations Prachatai* constamment bloqué par les autorités, les informations sur des assassinats commis contre les «chemises rouges» en province commencent à filtrer. Un garde du corps
d’un leader rouge a été abattu la semaine dernière de quatre balles dans la ville de Nakhon Ratchasima (nord- est). Un cuisinier a connu le même jour le même sort à Sisaket (nord-est). Un autre «garde rouge» a été abattu à Chonburi (à 100 km à l’est de Bangkok). «Guantanamo thaïlandais»
Confronté aux critiques des organisations internationales de défense des droits de l’homme, le gouvernement a réagi en faisant publier la liste des 417 personnes arrêtées depuis le 19 mai, avec leur lieu de détention et l’inculpation dont ils ont fait ou vont faire l’objet. «Le gouvernement donne l’impression de fournir des informations, mais en fait il ne vise pas la bonne cible. Notre inquiétude concerne les personnes détenues sous l’égide du décret d’état d’urgence, lequel n’exige pas qu’une personne arrêtée soit inculpée», dit Sunai Pasuk, chercheur pour Human Rights Watch.
Cette organisation et Amnesty International lancent un cri d’alarme sur le sort des personnes détenues secrètement dans des camps militaires. «Nous ne voulons pas d’un Guantanamo thaïlandais», dit l’universitaire Vishnu Varunyou. Hormis 21 leaders et militants rouges détenus sous l’égide du décret d’urgence dans les camps militaires de Petchaburi, de Saraburi et dans le camp de la police des frontières à Pathum Thani, près de Bangkok, on ignore l’identité et le nombre des personnes détenues dans des camps. De surcroît, la Fondation Miroir, une ONG thaïlandaise, a reçu 77 plaintes pour disparition: un fils, une mère ou une grand-mère qui n’ont pas été revus après l’assaut du 19 mai contre le fortin rouge de Rajaprasong. Une autre organisation, Union for Civil Liberties, n’a recensé que cinq disparitions.
«La Thaïlande commence à prendre des airs d’Indonésie sous Suharto», analyse le blogueur britannique Yvan Cohen**, expert de la politique thaïlandaise. Il évoque la répression sourde qui a frappé les militants
démocratiques indonésiens de 1966 à 1998 et la notion de «liberté dans la responsabilité» prônée par le régime suhartiste, qui n’est, ni plus ni moins, qu’une manière élégante d’habiller les contraintes imposées par un régime autocratique. La presse, dans sa majorité, est aux ordres, sauf le site Prachatai, le quotidien de référence Matichon et le brûlot populiste Thai Rath, ce dernier étant acquis aux «rouges». Des journalistes étrangers sont convoqués par le CRES pour livrer leurs informations et montrer leurs vidéos au gouvernement. «J’en ai marre d’être appelée par des officiels du gouvernement», lâche une journaliste indépendante. Certains vétérans, qui ont vécu la répression qui a suivi le massacre des étudiants de l’université Thammasart, le 6 octobre 1976, disent avoir l’impression de revivre cette époque noire.
Face à cette dérive inquiétante, le premier ministre Abhisit Vejjajiva garde son sourire de jeune premier et parle de «réconciliation». «Le gouvernement ne parle que de réconciliation, mais tout ce qu’il fait va dans la direction
opposée», assène l’ancien sénateur Jon Ungphakorn.


© 2009 Le Temps SA et Libération SA

Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview of Aela Callan, Thailand-based independent journalist working for Al Jazeera

Question : Parts of the Thai elite have accused the foreign medias, particularly the big international TV channels to be on the Red side. What is your comment on this ?

Aela Callan : A lot of Thai medias, and as you say particularly the elite, have levelled a lot of anger against possibly CNN and BBC the most in the wake of the Red shirts crackdown. I think that the accusations that both channels are biased in favour of the Red shirts are somewhat unfounded. When you have a look at the coverage that we spread, not only accross that week of the crackdown but also in the many months leading up to, i think both sides were represented in coverage. I think perhaps the difference is that time which was devoted to the topic : Al Jazeera, for one thing, has a lot more time devote their coverage to, because of the way that our broadcasts are set up. In every bulletin, for instance, you would see a government spokesperson and a Red shirts spokeperson.
Then coverage from our correspondents out in the field, what was happening on the ground, and then analysis from reporters and various experts as well.
Perhaps, the international broadcasts of CNN and the BBC did not have as much time to devote to the Red shirts topic. Our bulletins tend to go around the world, depending by regions, so from the Middle-East, Asia, America and Europe. So in Asian bulletins, particularly, we devoted rolling coverage and we had pretty much hours and hours of coverage on the day of the crackdown.
And before that we did comprehensive coverage what the issues were. And perhaps that is the reason why Al Jazeera has not received such intense criticism.
I also tend to think that Al Jazeera has not been tarred with the brush of the western medias. Thai are very defensive about western medias interfering or western attitudes interfering. We saw when there were suggestions that maybe the United Nations should broker some sorts of peace talks between the government and the Red shirts. That was vehemently rejected by the Thai government and, in not so many words, they were saying : we can handle our own issues. In Thailand, there is very much the sense that Westerners don't understand their issues. They don't understand the way the conflit is unfolding.
I don't buy that argument. I think western journalists, in particular those that have worked here for many years, have a very solid understanding of what the issues are. Thailand does not have a free and fair medias. Most of the television stations are state owned. And therefore, you have a situation where the Yellow shirts supporters watch Yellow shirts TV, ASTV, and the Red shirts supporters watch the Red shirts TV, P-TV. And then, you have the state run broadcasters and the military run broadcasters, such as Channel 11.
So, if they don't like the view that is being portrayed on one of those stations, they just don't watch it. To have western medias coming and present views that are perhaps different to their own, they have no concept really that this is reporting without fear or favour. These are just the facts that journalists are seeing on the ground. Then they feel that they have no recourse perhaps to complain about this. And it is not something they are necessarily used to seeing. They are used to an environment where the government can interfere in what is being broadcasted. They are used to an environment in which people just won't watch the other side's point of view.
So I think that has been something that Thailand has grappled with during this crisis, but also in previous crisis. We saw in the Songkhran riots, twelve months prior, that the same accusations of bias were levelled against various sections of the medias.
This is not to say that the medias is above criticism in any way whatsoever. We welcome that. That is part of a functioning democracy... is the role of the medias. And if anyone says your coverage is biased, they are entitled to do that.
What I think has been very destructive in the way Thailand has responded to the international medias is the singling out of certain journalists. And the Thai medias allowing letters to the editor for example to be published that say : “this journalist or that journalist should be kicked out of the country. If you see them in the street, harm them”. I think that it is incredibly dangerous, and that is something that i would hope the Thai government and the ministry of Foreign affairs are keeping a very close watch on, because not only is that damaging to those reporters involved, but that makes the situation unsafe for them here in Thailand.

Question : Did you yourself experience pressures or intimidations or strong advice about the way you should report from one or the other side ?

Aela Callan : Absolutely not. We were never contacted by any government official or Red shirts offical saying : this is how you should cover the story. What I did experience, particularly in the wake of some of the pictures we have shown of Red shirts, was a backlash, and not necessarily against myself or other correspondents, but mostly against the cameraman, which to me seems to be a very interesting reaction that the Red shirts, when they did not like what we were broadcasting in terms of showing armed members of the movement... You know, when we heard about these Black shirts, we had not necessarily seen a lot of photos or videos of them. And when we got videos of them, we broadcast it as did the other stations. And one of the accusations that has been levelled against CNN is that they did not actually aired that footage. Well, they did.
I think the reaction of them trying to hunt out the cameraman who had taken that video was, for me, quite disturbing. A because our crew works on the ground under very difficult circonstances. They, unlike the correspondents, are the ones who have their face visible to the public. So that was a concerning situation for me. I am not sure why they wanted to actually target the cameraman, but that indicated a trend towards a sort of anti-medias sentiment.
Then, on the governement's side, we also tended to experience these broad brush accusations that we have got it wrong. For example, after the crackdown, we went to a government press conference in which we were handed a dossier entitled : “misconceptions of the foreign medias” - which from the outset tends to indicate that the government did not agree with what was being said. And they wanted to point out to us what we got wrong. If this would happen in a western country such as France, or England, Australia, anywhere, there would be widespread outrage. You would have seen the medias get up and leave the press conference.
But here in Thailand, it was very much viewed that this was quite normal behavior, that is was OK for the government to tell the medias what they should have been saying. Certainly from the government's side, since then there have been a lot of moves made not to try to influence our coverage, but certainly to gain an idea of what...before something is released. A lot of PR spin is going on. And it is hardly surprising because both sides, in the wake of this conflict, are very much trying to win the hearts and minds of the Thai public. This has now become as much as a media war as it was a war being fought on the street.

Question : Do you think that the role of the foreign has been particularly important in this political crisis, because the Thai medias either censored themselves or were censored by their editor-in-chief ?

Aela Callan : Absolutely. To a huge degree, self censorship goes on in Thailand. Particularly, the role of the medias, in terms of either being a government mouthpiece or a mouthpiece of the Red shirts, depending on which station you watch... So the foreign medias, while I think we did not get it right at every instant, have been crucial in demystifying what is a very complex political situation. But also to make it accessible to the masses. In fact, given the fact that a lot of criticism have been levelled at the international medias, it does indicate one thing : Thais are looking to the international medias more for their news. And that is hardly surprising, given that when we saw the uprising on April 10th, when we saw the crackdown on May 19th, a lot of the Thai television stations in particular resorted to playing soap operas and music video clips. Anything but what was actually happening out on the streets and the killing that was unfolding.
Therefore, a lot of Thais did go particularly to the internet, to new medias forms – twitter, facebook -, but also the foreign TV stations to find out what was going on.
Also, interestingly, in Thailand, because of the strong lèse majesté laws, the fact that you are not allowed to speak openly about the monarchy, a lot of Thais, when they would meet you on the streets as you are covering this, would say : what is the real story ? What is going on that you know that we don't. So there is very much the perception that Thais know they are being censored. (...). But there is also very much the perception that the international medias should still be painting Thailand in a positive light. The Land of Smiles has a reputation to uphold. And many Thais don't like it when you are broadcasting images of the battles that are going on on the streets.
In Thailand, I never felt out on the streets that this is a situation of danger, I certainly felt hostility. And I certainly encountered people who would like to tell you their version of events. And, you know, the country just remains deeply divided. It is deeply fractured. And that is not going to heal itself quickly. Thais know this. So they know foreign media is going to be around, although because Bangkok's geography attracts a lot of free-lance journalists. A lot of people from all over the world come here. And the story is accessible. It is colorfull. It looks good on TV. It looks good on Front page of the newspapers. And, so it is going always to attract a lot of attention. Because you have the great irony that the Land of Smiles has resorted to warfare on the streets. So, it is always going to receive a lot of attention. Some of it will be good. Some of it will be bad. But I hope the way we continue to report it is balanced. And i would argue, we tried to put both sides over, we tried to simplify it for international audiences to be able to digest. Some people are not going to like that, but, you know, we will cope with that.

Interview of Pravit Rojanaphruk on the “coverage controversy” of the Thai crisis

Pravit Rojanaphruk is a political reporter for The Nation daily.

Question : Some people in the elite accuse these medias, these TV channels of being pro-Red. What do you think ? Do you think it is a fair accusation ?

Pravit : I should say they are more sympathetic to the Red shirts than the majority of the Thai medias. And this partly has to do with the fact that majority of the Thai medias were against Red shirts from the very beginning. The majority of the Thai medias supported the 2006 coup d'Etat which ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, who is one leaders of the Red shirts movement. So from this regard, we could see why the foreign medias cover this crisis differently from the medias. I would not blame the foreign medias for being more accomodating, more sympathetic, or at least more understanding of the Red shirts.
As much as we wanted to criticize foreign medias, we should also ask what is the standing or the position, political stand of the Thai mainstream medias. And it must be admitted that an overwhelming majority of the mainstream Thai medias are anti-Red shirts and pro-government and pro-Yellow shirts.

Question : Why is that so ? Because of censorship by the government or is it an inclination because many of the journalists were born in Bangkok and they feel more sympathetic to the Yellow shirts ?

Pravit : I think it is the later, more than the former. Virtually all Thai medias are based in Bangkok. No important newspapers are based elsewhere. No national television is based outside Bangkok. So we have to start to understand that the situation is very Bangkok-centred. What we are seeing is that a lot of the staff who are working for the mainstream medias are very Bangkok-centric. Not just by the sheer fact that they are based in Bangkok, a majority work here and are born here, and if they are not born here, they grew up here and came for university here. And so their views tend to be Bangkok-centric again. And what is the problem about being Bangkok-centric ? I think this is one of the story not much touched by the mainstream Thai medias if at all. The fact that Bangkok is more than two times larger than the second largest city, which is, i believe, Chiang Mai, says a lot. All the elite universities, except for one or two, are all based in Bangkok.
So we have this very huge disparity, not just in terms of economics and social opportunities, but also political between Bangkok and the rest of the country. What we have been seeing is that a number of foreign journalists, so called foreign correspondents, have actually ventured out of Bangkok to interview Red shirts and in the North or the North-Eastern region of Thailand, while the majority of Thai medias are really concentrating their story on Bangkok and whatever voices they allow for rural people to speak is very limited.

Question : There seems to be an hyper-sensitivity of parts of the Thai elite to any foreign overview, foreign judgement on the situation in Thailand. Why is that so ? Where do you think it comes from ?

Pravit : Because they feel as if they have the control or the ownership of what Thailand is supposed to look like in the eyes of the international community. And of course, what happened leading up to May 19th is that the foreign medias were mostly very critical of the Thai government. And I think they were very unhappy, because they are part of the elite who is on the other side of the Red shirts movement. So while they tought they could control much of the Thai mainstream medias, they realized they could not control the foreign medias. And so they wanted to argue that what the foreign medias presented actually is not true.
I would not go that far. I think there is no one in Thailand who could on behalf of the whole country. And this is because Thai society is much more complex and diverse. Bangkok is not everything that Thailand is. And so a lot of this elite, who are strangely enough mostly foreign-educated, now claim to be able to speak on behalf of all Thai. And I think this is a fallacy, it is inacurate.
And so I think what they wanted to say is that actually the foreign correspondents portrayal of Thailand is not reflective of what the Thai elite think, again what the Thai elite think - and not even all the Thai elite, I would just say the majority of the Thai elite. Because there are some elite who are also sympathetic and understanding of the Red shirts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jon Unphakorn on the Thai Press coverage and Prachatai

Jon Ungphakorn, former senator and Magsaysay award, speaks about freedom of the Press in Thailand and about Prachatai website.

Jon Unphakorn is the founder of the Prachatai information website. He is now no more directly involved with the website.

Question : What kind of troubles and annoyances Prachatai is getting from Abhisit Vejjajiva's government ?

Jon Ungphakorn : Prachatai has had many problems, not just during the present Abhisit's government, but ever since the military coup d'Etat in 2006. After that there has been several cases where the police asked Prachatai for information about people who posted on the web board of Prachathai.
At present, the manager of Prachatai, Jiranuth Premchaiporn, is being charged and the case has been sent to court under the computer crimes act. She is charged with allowing content on the web board which endangers national security or causes undue alarm or is libelous material. This is because she was in charge of screening the postings on the web board, but there were so many postings that the one she is charged with, she did not noticed. It was on the web board only a few days, then it was removed. But she has been charged for having that material on the web board of Prachatai.
More recently, there is another case where the police in the provinces in the North-East are investigating an article which appeared in Prachatai whether it contains materials which is lèse majesté ; a complain against this Prachatai's article.
So Prachatai is having problems regarding freedom of expression ever since the 2006 coup. But it has never before being officially blocked. But during the recent events in Thailand with the demonstrations of the Red shirts and using the emergency decree that the government announced, Prachatai was listed as one of the website that had to be blocked.
This is despite the fact that Prachatai does not belong to any political group and is an independent media which published all kinds of opinions. It does not censor people people according to their opinion.
It was blocked together with a number of medias that belong to the Red shirts side, the UDD medias. So it was an independent media which is, of course, critical of many governments ; its role is to act as a watchdog on medias freedom and a watch dog on human rights and so on. It has always been critical of any government. But for the first time, it has been blocked by the Abhisit's government.

Question : We know that Thai TV channels are controlled by the government or the military, but concerning the written thai press, i would like to get your opinion about the quality of coverage by the Thai newspapers and magazines ?

Jon Ungphakorn : Most of the mainstream medias are owned by people who would be against the Red side. So most of the mainstream medias tend to be more pro-government than to be pro-Red. And many of the medias are so anti-Thaksin and anti-Red that they do not question the government use of the emergency or even the role of the government in the large number of deaths among the demonstrators during the recent violence.
The one newspaper group that i think is doing quite a good job of questionning the government, showing videos that give a different perspective from that of the government is the Matichon Group. They are starting to uncover many facts that the government does not like. And they have been criticized by the Democrat Party's spokesman for being biased.
On the other hand there are some newspapers like Thai Post which is very anti-Thaksin, which have been even trying to persuade the government to take a very hard line against the Reds all the time, almost inciting the government to use violence against the Red side or at least to get rid of the demonstrations as soon as possible.
On the whole i would say that the mainstream medias sympathize more with the government, but that the Matichon Group is showing some independence in this respect.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Interview with Michaël H. Nelson on the media coverage of the Thai political Crisis (Part two)

Question : What would you say about the Thai newspapers. The Thai TV channels are closely controlled by the government or the army, but the Thai newspapers are supposed to be more free and supposed to deliver a higher quality of news. What do you think about their coverage ? Is there any newspaper which has been quite balanced about the events ?

Michael H. Nelson : First, about the newspapers, yes they are formally much freer than the TV stations. However, newspapers also have certain background and certains owners, and, in the case of The Nation newspaper for example, I was told that the owning journalist has talked about his stance towards Thaksin at an earlier stage. I was told that this Nation's executive put the alternative in the following way : he said at that point of time we have a choice between free journalists or of hating Thaksin and we have chosen to hate Thaksin. And this choice would determine how they would report in the following years.
So they simply have chosen not to follow their professional ethics but to take a political stand and become a political mouthpiece.
The Bangkok Post has always been quite conservative, they have now moved into the staunchly conservative or even right wing position. They are owned by the Central Department Store group, which is very close to the Palace ; it is an establishment newspaper. They have been extremely one-sided in their reporting. But we must also not forget... I have just mentioned these two English language newspapers, but both of them have also their Thai language newspaper. The Nation has Krungthep Turakit, a business paper, and Kom Chat Leuk, a paper for the masses ; and the Bangkok Post has Post Today newspaper, which is even more right wing than the Bangkok Post actually is. So you will not read anything nice, of course, in the Bangkok Post or The Nation about the Reds. When the Reds were on their way to come to Bangkok in March, the Bangkok Post called them “rural hordes”.
The Thai newspapers are a mixed bag : the Thai language newspapers which are not owned by an English language paper are a different lot. Many of them are on government line. Others, you mentioned Matichon... Matichon is comparatively open in its reporting, although in 2009 they also had some challenges and they lost ; they kicked out two of their journalists who had kept writing positive things about Thaksin and the Reds. So that was clearly in breach of their purported professional and neutral position towards reporting.
But since i buy Matichon everyday, i can fairly say that this is the only paper i can relatively trust, because they report fairly widely, they have a broad range of columnists, from very right wing to left wing to people in the middle. So you do get quite a lot of news and interpretations. But one must also say Matichon is an intellectual newspaper with a very limited circulation. People in Thailand take their news from TVs. Very few people read newspapers. That is the reason why the government domination and propagation of their stance by their own TVs and radios is so important. That is, as soon as people only watch ASTV of the Yellow shirts or they watch only government's channels, they have a very distorted view of the political world.
The I said Matichon is far too small in circulation, its mass-based sister publication Khao Sod has a bigger circulation, but of course it is a mass-based paper stand and they have less news about politics and more about crime and entertainment. There is one mass-circulation Thai Rath which is also more in the Red shirts political direction, which is important because Thai Rath is by far the biggest mass-circulation paper in Thailand. They react to their readership and their readership take news from what the journalists write. But as i said it is also a mass-circulation, so you would not have that much news and it is rather more limited.
But it was quite interesting, if i can say this, on the day after the 10th of April – the first crackdown of the government in Khok Wua intersection, there was a very strong contrast, an indicative contrast about reporting. The Bangkok Post had the entire front page covered by a group of soldiers carrying a wounded soldiers. So the 10th of April was only about soldiers being attacked. While Thai Rath newspaper had a front page that, at the top, had a huge picture of the turmoil. What could not see as a reader what really happened, one could only see there was chaos and turmoil, which was the situation. And beneath that picture, they had four smaller pictures ; two pictures on the left hand side showing Red shirts victims and two more pictures showing military victims. So this was a very balanced front page which was in very stark contrast to the Bangkok Post.
One more indication. Yesterday, I bought a special publication of the Nation Group's Kom Chad Leuk, the mass circulation, about the events about Rajaprasong intersection. And this is an utterly disgusting and unbelievable piece of distortion. Because in that issue, they basically have a lot of pictures about soldiers and about injured soldiers and dead soldiers. You have, as far as i can remember only one picture of injured or dead Red Shirt, one of those in the temple. You have nothing but the soldiers who are under attack, who are trying to go on the offensive. And you have a lot of pictures showing Red shirts violent or rioting. But you don't see the Red shirts as victims of the soldiers or anybody else. So, in the German context, that would be a rather neo nazi approach to propaganda. But here in Thailand, in the present circumstances, this is quite ordinary.
And this is the direction in which these publications are going. A previous publication by Naew Na newspaper, a mass-circulation as well, was titled “Red terrorists burn Bangkok”. So we can see how these events are framed in the mind of Bangkok people. The demonstrations, the protests, the political issues, completely disappear behind the violence, the rioting, etc... It is always only the Reds who are at fault.

Question : You have been studying thoroughly the Red publications, the newspapers, the magazines... I know this is a study in progress and you are very cautious to make any comments about it, but I would be interested to know what kind of historical references, either from the Thai history or the Asian history or the Western history, are these publications using.

Michael H. Nelson : You are right, i have to be very cautious because i don't know that much. I have been collecting these publications for quite some time and i have a huge pile up in my room. These journals include many three sources. One is “The Voice of Thaksin”, the second is “Truth Today” and the third is “Tbai Red News”.
Your question is a little bit academic, i would say. Simply because these publications are not directed at academics. They are directed at a mass audience who are protesters of the Red shirts movement. These people are not interested about academic debates about Asian or Thai or Western history, these people are interested in political views by their leaders. So you have their main leaders, like Veera Musikapong, Jatuporn, Nathawut, Weng, Jida, writing their columns in these papers which mostly consist of attacks against the government. You had a long serie running about the monarchy in Burma which was finally deposed. So i am not sure whether this was the hint to what might happen if the conditions would be right in Thailand.
You had at one point one publication that was “Truth Today” having the front page headline : “The New Thai State”. So i thought to compare the New Thai State to the New Politics of the Yellow shirts. And I was utterly disappointed because this article, which was on two large pages, had a very thin content. So the New Thai State that the establishment so much fears has basically two elements . First : we think that the Thai parliamentary system works ; the Yellow shirts and to a large extent the establishment say : the Thai parliamentary system does not work and therefore we don't have to accept the outcome of elections. The Red shirts say : there might be problems, but the parliamentary system essentially works and therefore everyone has to accept the outcome of elections. So that is the main difference.
The second difference is about the role of the Thai monarchy. The Red shirts, in some of the references, they have dared touching upon the monarchy, which is a daring and dangerous thing because we have lèse majesté laws in Thailand that threaten high jail sentences to everybody who, even remotely, criticized the monarchy and especially the royal family. So what they did was... they said : we are in favour of the Democracy with the King as Head of State – this is the formula used in the constitution and by the establishment as well. But then they continued by saying that they want a monarchy that is modelled along the lines of the United Kingdom or Japan. In other words, they want to reduce the monarchy to a symbolic role. Because they assume that the monarchy and the Privy Council had an important role in the coup d'Etat of 2006. So that event brought many people brought many people in upcountry area up against the monarchy, so they would like to make sure that the monarchy will not any longer, from that perspective, a political player in Thai politics. Thus the reduction to a symbolic role.
But this is precisely what the establishment can never, ever accept. Because, as one writer in this tradition said : if the Thai monarchy is ever reduced to a symbolic role, it means it has been abolished. So this is a very strong statement. And this is partly what led to accusations of the Red shirts wanting to abolish the monarchy. Mainly or partly because from the perspective of the establishment, the monarchy is an essential part of Thai identity altogether. Reducing the monarchy is a traitorous activity because it means that the nation is in great danger of disappearing altogether. The monarchy is the central piece of the Thai soul and the Thai nation from that perspective. So trying to reduce the role of the monarchy to something like what we have in the UK or Japan or other European countries, to the proponents of the traditional Thai monarchistic ideology, this is a crime, a serious crime.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

“The soldiers might have acted just out of an emotional impulse”

Michaël Nelson, a sociologist from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies of Passau university in Germany has been an acute observer of the Thai political scene for several decades. He is currently a visiting researcher at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science. Among others, he is the author of Central Authority and Local Democratization in Thailand, a landmark study on the bureaucratic polity in the countryside and the evolution of the relationships between the centre and the periphery at the time of political reform and decentralization (Studies in Contemporary Thailand N°6, White Lotus Press, Bangkok, 1998). Dr Michaël anwers our questions on the medias coverage of the Thai Political Crisis. Interview by Arnaud Dubus.

Question : There has been a big debate in Thailand on the coverage of the Red Shirts demonstrations by the Foreign press. Many Thais in Bangkok find the Foreign Press “totally irresponsible” in their coverage. Yet, if we look at the reports, some are of course dramatized and exaggerated, but the basic facts are there – even if in a simplistic manner – and the voice of the Reds is taken into account by these foreign medias. So why such an anger by the Thais against the foreign medias coverage, especially the coverage by the big international TV channels ?

Michaël H. Nelson : Maybe the crux of the matter is what you have just mentionned, that they have given a voice to the Reds, while the mass-medias in Thailand have tried very hard to cut off the voice of the Reds and to replace it by the voice of the governement.
So these people that are so much against BBC or CNN might merely think that these medias do not present a view of the governement, of the elite, and therefore they are wrong. And it is not only the view of the Thai elite and some Thais right wing commentators and middle class people, it is also the view of many foreign observers, because we must not forget that one of the most nasty article against CNN was written by Andrew Biggs who happen to have been working as an Australian at the Nation newspaper, a right wing paper, for many years.
An the other hand, there are also Thai observers who are grateful for having those such as BBC and CNN, because they fell oppressed by the facts the Thai mass medias, in particular the TV channels who are mostly in governement's hands, have been turned from State governement TVs into propaganda tools of the governement.

Question : Do you think that there is also an element of cultural behavior in the sense that there seems to be a sort of preconception among parts of the Thai elite that Westerners are not fully able to understand the behavior of Thai people and the Thai culture. And so there should not be any interference, because anyway, there are not Thai and they can not understand ?

Michaël H. Nelson : Well, they are quite ambivalent about this, i think. That is, if a totally ignorant foreigner says something nice about Thailand, they will be very happy about this. They know he is ignorant, they know he knows nothing, but since he speaks nicely about Thailand or nicely about this governement, they accept it and they will give him front page coverage, they will give him place for interviews, etc... So never mind if he is ignorant, since he gives a positive voice to Thailand, he is accepted.
Then in those cases where they know they are confronted with a person who knows something that does not share their opinions, they reject it. It takes often quite strange forms. For example, you have this general reaction that there is an article published in a foreign newspaper or by some foreign TV crews, and then the commentator will say : see, these people from far away, perhaps even not having been in Thailand, write something about us. How can they understand us, since they are so far away and since they are foreigner ? How can they write anything good about us ?
But they will never dare saying anything if they know that that person, who has said something critical about their country and their politics, has been here for 15, 20 or 30 years. Normally they don't quite know what to say any longer because they can not say that this person does not know anything, that even after 20 years he is totally ignorant about Thailand, how can that be ? Maybe that person knows even more about Thailand than themselves. Because if that person happens to be, for example, a political scientist who have been studying Thai politics empirically and theoritically for decades, this person surely knows a lot more about Thai politics than most of his critics.
But of course, it is a different kind of knowledge, because that person was not born in Thailand. So, as a Thai you have a different connection to what your society is. But precise, concrete, accurate knowledge about how politics works... all that, a foreigner who has studied about Thai politics might know much better than those Thais who criticize him.

Question : But would you say that the kind of “rational logical” analytical framework that we are using in the West is not always completely suited to analyze Thailand, in the way that we give rational motivations to the Thai people. For instance, when i discuss the Pathum Wanaram Temple's incident, some foreigners tell me “But why would the soldiers have shot the people in the temple, because they had not interest to do that ?”. My point is that often the behavior or the actions of Thai people won't have rational motivations. And so it is a bit difficult to analyze them in rational terms.

Michaël H. Nelson : I am really not sure about this, because i happen to be a sociologist and sociologists talk much about motivations of people rationality and all this. We would normally differentiate between rational behavior, emotional behavior, routinized behavior.
One point in this context is rationality is directed towards a goal. So you can have very different goals and you might look at behavior in a way that it appears non rational because you use your own goals in interpreting this behavior. But if you use other goals, that is the goals of the Thai actors, then that behavior might be completely rational in the sense that this behavior is a mean to achieve their goals. It is only that we don't understand their goals.
As for your example with the soldiers. I have not talked to any of those soldiers. One might say that the soldiers were in a specific situation. Many of them were probably quite stressed. Many of them were widely emotional against the Red shirts. They might have acted just out of an emotion impulse. They might have seen all these protesters as bad, people whom they must fight. One observer has quoted them as having shouted from the BTS station : “you are all bad, we will all kill you”.
So they have a goal. They say “Reds are all bad”. And they want to relieve their emotion. By pulling the trigger and shooting bullets into people, they relieve their emotional anger, they relieve their political anger, etc... So this would still be an emotionally rational behavior in that sense.

(to follow...)