ARE there really at least 25 “terrorists” out there roaming freely, many of them appearing on television regularly? The city police have said so and have asked them to show up at the Police Club on July 16 to face multiple criminal charges. Until that day the police apparently do not regard these “terrorists” as a clear and present danger to the general public. They are acting cool and confident over the whole matter.
The 25 “terrorists” are among those who occupied the front area of Suvarnabhumi Airport – the passenger drop zone, to be precise – in early December. During that siege – complete with food and live music in an atmosphere of camaraderie – the police claimed the “terrorists” had posed a threat to security at the airport.
Most of those listed are key leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, as well as ASTV newscrew members and activists. The most prominent target for criminal charges – sought by red-shirt activists – is Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. Since Sunday he has been hounded by the opposition Pheu Thai Party, which is demanding he quit his post. PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has also been repeatedly asked how he will deal with the outspoken minister, who frequently appeared on the PAD stage to deliver anti-Thaksin tirades during the occupation of the Government House compound and at other sites.
The terrorism charge, which carries death as the maximum penalty, is deemed necessary by some senior police officers loyal to fugitive ex-PM Shinawatra Thaksin because it would get rid of the PAD leaders, his adversaries and critics.
Kasit has been regarded as an inherent threat to Thaksin, who has to dodge around in his leased jet to evade Interpol and extradition. That’s why the red shirts and Pheu Thai demand Kasit’s immediate resignation, despite the fact that the terrorism charge is as flimsy as a negligee. What’s more, the police have yet to substantiate their charge with solid evidence. It is also a long way from a court trial, even if this charge is ever accepted as a prima facie case.
It is odd that the police have decided to hurl the terrorism charge at these political demonstrators. Not that they were not aware of its possible backfiring; the necessity was dictated by selective and biased practices, as has been pointed out by the defence lawyers for the PAD.
Earlier, the city police slapped a charge of treason on some of these people, only for it to be dumped by the Criminal Court when the PAD leaders brought it to the attention of the bench. Red-faced but still motivated by politics and the coercive persuasion of Thaksin’s cronies, the city police must let this particular charge be decided by the public prosecutors and probably the Criminal Court.
The airport seizure was overshadowed and surpassed in terms of severity by the Songkran riots and acts of terror committed by red-shirted thugs. The present government had to impose a state of emergency and ordered troops to end the disturbances. Subsequently the red-shirt leaders faced criminal charges and several of them spent a brief period in confinement.
The so-called “terrorists” look pretty harmless. One of them, Somkiat Pongphaibul, is an MP and a PAD leader. It is weird that the red-shirt leaders and their comrades in arms in Pheu Thai are not demanding his resignation from the House. Why?
Quite simple: Two of the red-shirt leaders are also House members and are enjoying freedom of movement due to a bail agreement. If they want Somkiat out, it means they will have to leave the House and lose their princely salaries as well. So far the police have not charged them with terrorism despite their role as instigators of the red-shirt thugs who wreaked havoc on some parts of the city.
Should Kasit resign? Judging from the recent standards of practice of the city police and the erosion of public trust in their performance, it would be a futile exercise to yield to pressure from the opposition. There have been other acts of terrorism, such as the firing of grenades at the PAD rallies, which caused at least four deaths and many casualties. These incidents are ignored or overlooked by the police.
If the red shirts and the opposition want to stand on the moral high ground, and if they want to truly uphold law and order, they should ask their boss and patron, Thaksin, to return and serve his two-year jail term plus a longer period for absconding.
Oh yes! Thaksin also faces 17 pending criminal charges. His status is that of a fugitive criminal barred from civilised countries all over the world, travelling on a passport not issued by the country of his birth. But the police here are obviously not eager enough to get him back through the Interpol network.
By Sopon Onkgara
The Nation / Opinion
Published on July 7, 2009