Monday, 3 September 2007, 10:30 am
Column: Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand — Jakrapob Penkair, a leading enemy of Thailand’s ruling junta, wants the military officers who staged last year’s bloodless coup to be put on trial and jailed for life, and face possible execution.
“In my opinion, coup-making should be punished by death,” Mr. Jakrapob said in an interview on Wednesday (Aug. 29).
“We would be proposing a death sentence for coup-making. And we may start with this bunch,” he said, referring to top military officers who seized power on Sept. 19, 2006 and currently rule this Buddhist-majority, Southeast Asian country.
Mr. Jakrapob, an exuberant, talkative, attention-seeking man, was formerly a spokesman for billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister toppled by the coup.
Mr. Thaksin and his family were recently charged in court, under the junta, for corruption.
Mr. Thaksin is self-exiled in England, dodging Thai arrest warrants and denying allegations of wrongdoing.
The former prime minister is also under investigation for his “war on drugs” in which 2,500 Thais were killed.
“The narcotic suppression campaign of the previous [Thaksin] government had led to a large number of extra-judicial killings, approximately 2,500 deaths,” the junta said in an official “factual account” of their coup, published in April.
“Such action not only caused grave losses to the families of those who died, but also constituted a serious violation of human rights, of a scale unprecedented in a Buddhist society like Thailand,” the junta’s report, titled, “Restoring Democracy in Thailand,” said.
“I support Mr. Thaksin. I don’t get paid by him. I am not on his salary in any fashion,” Mr. Jakrapob said.
“I separated myself from the party completely,” he said, referring to Mr. Thaksin’s disbanded Thai Rak Thai (“Thais Love Thais”) party which won three national elections.
“I was working with him right until the coup, and during the coup.” Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin and other junta officials said their coup was necessary, because elections could not remove Mr. Thaksin after the prime minister crippled institutions designed to protect Thais.
Mr. Jakrapob said “I never discussed” with Mr. Thaksin the idea putting the coup leaders on trial, but vowed to push for it in public. “It is not a light issue, to be proposed by just a few individuals. It has to be brought into a public hearing, a real public hearing, in which the people would be participating,” he said. Asked about Gen. Sonthi and other coup leaders, Mr. Jakrapob replied: “I personally want them to get, at least, life imprisonment.” Gen. Sonthi and his collaborators tore up Thailand’s 1997 constitution and oversaw the writing of a new charter, awarding themselves amnesty against prosecution.
With half the country under martial law, the regime held a nationwide referendum on Aug. 19, telling citizens to vote “yes” for the new constitution, which included changes to Thailand’s political system.
Approximately 58 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, including about 57 percent who approved the new constitution, and 41 percent who voted “no.”
“Articles in the constitution of 1997 would convict them,” Mr. Jakrapob said, apparently referring to a now-void Article 63. “There is an article in the constitution of 1997 that bars a coup. They tore that constitution, and replaced it with this new one. We have to return and restore that constitution of 1997, basically because it was widely written by the people’s representatives. “That one would be giving the legal authority to the people involved, to convict these people. But there are no details in the law, of how high the penalties should go. That would be up to the public trial,” he said.
“I perceive the coup as a crime. And people who commit a crime have to be convinced that it doesn’t pay.”
Mr. Jakrapob is currently a top leader in a Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship — also known as the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship — which has held anti-coup rallies.
He was recently jailed for several days because of a rowdy July rally, and that case is still pending.
The Crime Suppression Division meanwhile started proceedings against Mr. Jakrapob for broadcasting, at a May rally, a recording of an allegedly wiretapped telephone conversation.
Mr. Jakrapob denied the recording was unauthorized, and said it contained coup-related information.
Mr. Jakrapob may face up to five years in prison if convicted for alleged wiretapping.
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