Junya Yimprasert interviewed (Part I)
Thanks to the efforts of journalist Mark Teufel, PPT is able to present the English-language version of an interview he conducted with activist Junya Yimprasert (widely known as Lek) in Germany, on 9 September 2011.
Lek was one of the speakers of seminar, organized by the “Union for People’s Democracy”, in Dortmund, Germany, from 8 to 11 September. The topic of the Meeting was “The Law of Lèse Majèsté and People’ Uprising for Democracy”. Mark has made the English-language version available to PPT. The interview is presented in two posts. The second part will be posted early tomorrow:
MT: Thank you Lek for this interview and welcome to Germany. But maybe this is not your first visit?
JY: Happy to meet you finally too. Concerning Germany, I came several times to Germany since 1999. Mostly on invitation from different organizations. I have talked about the labour situation in Thailand, I was involved in the women movement, I participated in the Clean Clothes Campaign in order to force companies like Adidas and Puma to force their suppliers to stop hurting the worker rights. I was here a lot in 1999.
MT: So you already know Germany.
JY: A little bit, Germany is so big, and the society is very intense and diverse in many ways. You cannot really know Germany just staying two weeks here and there. And the language is so difficult.
MT: So we should talk more about the Thailand you know better. Lek, we know that you haven’t returned to Thailand since 2010. Is that because you already have information about a pending charge of lèse majèsté?
YT: I haven’t had any notice from the police. The message which reached me was that if I wanted to know what would happen to me, I would have to return to Thailand and see what happens at the airport! I do not know what level of monitoring they do and how much they follow my situation. But definitely the authorities are alert to me. Last year, when I was in Finland to participate in a big NGO event, I spoke about the situation in Thailand, because it was in May, shortly after the crackdown [on red shirt protesters]. I was asked what would happen if Thai people do not love the king. And I answered, that you could easily be put in jail for 15 years. And there were Thai people there and they informed the Embassy. Afterwards the organizers were contacted by the embassy and was threatening them, that I was Thai, and that I was under Thai law. So definitely I think I am being watched, they already organized people who watch me, but this is Europe and where there is respect for the freedom of association.
I was invited to come to Europe. I did not plan to stay in Europe. I was coming to visit Sweden, Finland and Poland in order to discuss the trafficking of hundreds of Thais. I did come with that mission. But the crackdown, from the 13th of May, made me immediately respond to it. I started a petition by [internet] chat in Thailand. There were 9,000 signatures in 2 days and then it was blocked by the [Abhisit Vejjajiva] government. And then I joined an organization that was doing an exhibition about the crackdown in Finland. And after that I wrote my “Why I don’t love the king.”
I try to say that I am not a political refugee, that I am in Europe by my choice. I am not married to anyone in Europe. I apply for a visa through the same process as anybody else. And that is sometimes quite difficult and stopped me from travelling until I got a visa as a resident and not as a refugee. The reason why I try to not identify myself as a lèse majèsté political refugee is because I insist, as a global citizen, to use my freedom of association and freedom of speech. They are key and guaranteed by the universal declaration of human rights and Thailand ratified it. I speak based on those rights and I refuse to accept that any lèse majèsté law could be used against me. No one should be a political prisoner for criticizing the institutions in Thailand, with good faith, as the country moves to a sustainable development where everyone is equal. That is the core of the human rights.
MT: Some observers say that the group “Union for People’s Democracy” is just a small intellectual splinter group with no real backing from the masses of average people in Thailand. What is your belief about the situation in Thailand? How many people do you believe secretly sympathize with the ideas of this group, as you have declared them recently?
JY: UPD is not academic. The complexity of the Thai population in Europe is not much different from the one in Thailand. They come from different professions, different backgrounds. Chiang Mai University just released a report about the diversity of the participants … of the red shirts. I think in Europe it is the same situation. I was recently meeting leaders of the red shirts of nine countries and most of them are not academic. Most of them had been coming to Europe for marriage or work and live here now for 20 or 30 years. And they were not aware of the situation in Thailand until the crackdown in 2009 and 2010. Some of the leaders participated in the uprising of 1973 and 1976, people who had to run away, but this is only a small percentage.
The red shirts in Europe and the UPD is not a small group at all. You will see the same kind of people as in Thailand, organizing, you will see people from different countries … They were meeting before for cultural activities. They were organizing Buddhist ceremonies for Songkhran and so on. So this kind of a social group is made up of people who knew each other already for quite some time.
They have been politically activated because of the [government’s 2010] crackdown [on the red shirts]. The crackdown had a big impact in starting the discussion of politics among them. They were organized or associated for some time and were large enough. They are shop keepers, cleaners, bar owners, housewomen, doctors, nurses, and working in the gym. A wide variety of people. I do not think the group is small. We have maybe 200,000 Thais in Europe. And you can see that, in every country, when you organize something, you can gather 100 or 200, no matter for what political reason; if it is not for cultural activities. This is a beginning. If you look at the history of [the past] 20 years, the Thai people do not organize much of anything political. It is a very positive development that this is changing now. Maybe there is a chance that the mobilization can be expanded. But I do not think that all Thais overseas or in Europe can be organized.
MT: How strong is the republican sentiment [in the group]? I believe Giles Ji Ungpakorn was participating, and also Jakrapob Penkair was phoning in. How important is this republican feeling following the crackdown [on red shirts]?
JY: The political ideology within the Red Shirts is not yet very strong. They can talk about republic and revolution, but if you really get deep down into discussion, what they really want is the beginning of a democratic process. The[ir] development should be allowed without obstacles. I do not think the ambition is to really move the country to become a republic. Maybe they talk about it, because they now hear so much about it, but the main idea is that they want to have a European model of democracy. Either with the monarchy or a French model.… Everyone who lives in one country for so long a time, takes this model up. I do not think, they are really ready for revolution, in the term of a bloody revolution. Nobody favours that at all.
MT: There had been a strong change of the image of the monarchy and the feeling of the people since the coup of 2006. What do you think could be the role of the monarchy in the future?
JY: The monarchy is facing a real challenge. If they not adapt to the democratic system, they will be out of date. The question now is not what the people are going to do with the monarchy; the question is if the monarchy is smart enough to really understand the evolution of the awareness of the people. If they understand, if they want to survive, they have to immediately relax the protection of the monarchy, relax the very anachronistic customs of the palace, you know, and stop inhuman patterns of behavior. They have to adjust a lot to open the space for the public if they want to move with the public into the future of the country. That is the main question. And I think if the monarchy is not going to adjust, it will be like every other dynasty which could not adjust to a change. They will not survive by themselves.
This is not just based on Thailand. This is globalization, the increasing consciousness of the people. There will be an abolition of the different classes, of inhuman behavior, of the hegemonic powers. Slaves and king and so on. They have a lot to do and many of us do not feel so optimistic that they will be able to move and adjust themselves as, for example, the UK model or Norway model.
MT: A first change that may be needed is with Article 112. Usually in the past people confessed, got a reduced punishment and hoped for a pardon of the king afterwards. But recently people have declared themselves “not guilty” (for example Somyos Pruksakasemsuk) and they are fighting a political trial, or should we say a human rights trial. This is a similar development as at the beginning of the last century in Germany, when people started to fight against the [lese majeste] law. This resulted in an abolishing of the law by the German emperor. Do you think that this development could be the beginning of the end of this law in Thailand too?
YT: That is exactly why UPD was formed. We are in Europe and the law is protecting us in Europe. We have the right of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. So we among the nine countries feel that we have to bring this case into the open. [We do this] in order to open the space for the people in Thailand. And there are more and more people in Thailand stepping up and [asking] challenging questions about the monarchy. They never say we do not want the king, nevertheless in Europe you can say that. Most people who got arrested have nothing to do with insulting the king. Like Somyos. He was the editor of a magazine and may be one or two lines were dealing with the monarchy from one of the contributors to the publication. We feel that is too much. Lèse majèsté became ridiculous and insane. And as an international movement we have to help Thailand. We have may be half a million Thai people around the world. They are the ones who have more chance to be able to speak out and not being jailed because they have certain rights which protect them.
The monarchy is not only the king, it is about the elite, the bureaucrats, the government officials, the judges, many of the senior judges [who] are now privy councillors. In the [more than] 60 years, power has been accumulated and we need international pressure to help Thailand. Yes, the people have to stand up; they have to show this law ridiculous. Because Thailand is so much at the hub of international communications, there are UN offices in Bangkok, a lot of other international organizations. Many [aid] donors have offices [there]. Yet people are still arrested because of lèse majèsté under the Yingluck government. Last week I think three people had been arrested. And it is serious, this law. I think it is too much [of a burden] for the Thai people if the international community does not help. The international community should say: “We will back you if you say what you think” and they should make it understood that this is the right of the people.
MT: But my question was about the fact that people do not plead guilty any more. Might this be the beginning of the end of the law?
JY: I think this law is dying. I have no doubt. The growing anger [and] the feeling of injustice caused by this law, is too much. I have no doubt that this law somehow will be challenged. But the question is, before its gone, how much damage it will cause to the Thai people? What we try to do now is to help so that the transition is not causing too much suffering for the Thai people.
To be continued….
Junya Yimprasert interviewed (Part II)
PPT presents the second part of the interview of Junya Yimprasert. The first part of Mark Teufel’s interview is posted here.
MT: So for you the question of the monarchy is only a [kind of] sub-question in a transition to democracy. It is not the core problem. Some people say it’s the core problem, and without destroying the monarchy, and they mean the Ammart, not [only] the monarchy, there will not be any transition to democracy. But we saw in other countries like in South Africa, where there was also a system that suppressed the majority, that a bloodless transition to democracy was possible. From what you said I understand, that you have the opinion, that this could be possible in Thailand too.
JY: But if I look into the history of Thailand from 2006, after the coup, I can clearly see that there had always been violence. If the Thai people do not learn from the international community that aggression, that violence by the government is not the right way, and if they do not change that practice, and if they hide behind the economy growth … for me that is more dangerous.
What Thailand needs to learn about universal rights. People really need to know the principles of universal rights. That is something that is not so much empathized in Thailand. I have been answering a lot of questions from Europeans. They asked, what is the Thailand Agenda? What is the long term vision of the future. I haven’t seen it. And that is the reason why the UPD has set up its political agenda. There is a lot in Thailand to be fixed. The psychology of the ruling class had been to rule with blood. Every change of the dynasties for so many hundreds of years has been a story of killing someone. Killing the [royal] brother, killing the king. So it became the normal practice for any government of Thailand; even Thaksin used violence. And the people think that it is acceptable to use violence, to kill people when running a country. That needs to be changed.
MT: I have been reading an article about the speech of Craig J. Reynolds in Prachatai recently and it shocked me because one could more or less understand that he believes that the people of South East Asia like autocratic rule. What do you think about that?
JY: Yes this is stupid, we cannot let them use Thainess and Asian values [to explain] autocratic rule. That was also what Thaksin was [doing/saying]. He was authoritarian. He was not democratic. Even people from his party tell me that he is not democratic. It is ridiculous that we allow Thailand to use Thainess as an excuse not to discuss ecology, democracy. Or because of China; because the world compromises with China, it accepts “Asian rules” or “Asian Values”.
People want freedom, people do not like autocratic rule. We know that people have been protesting in Malaysia. In Singapore dissidents had been put in jail for how many years? Because they tried to demand equality. It is not the people’s will or that they are happy about it. It’s the rulers who want and who like autocratic rule. They control by guns or by cutting every opposition into pieces.
MT: Coming back to Thaksin, who you said is also tending to favour autocratic rule, he came under strong criticism because of that. Maybe without the coup he might not have played such an important role now. But what he did not know was that he opened a Pandora’s box with the politics and the backing of the red shirts. The people felt that they could do something, that they could change something. One day in early 2008, Nick Nostitz said that one former Thai Rak Thai politician had told him that he was aware that the coming of the Red shirts marked the beginning of the end of the old-style money and relationship politics, and that the TRT, by co-operating with the red shirts, was going to lose its power and influence in the long run.
JY: I feel by nature everyone is struggling to liberate him or herself. When you really look back into the uprisings in the modern history of the Chakri Dynasty, there is a lot of bloodshed. We have the Lampoon uprising, Lanna Thai – Chiangmai, Lampang, then Ubon, Roi Et uprising under Rama V. King Rama I to Rama V sent many troops to rule over Pattani, they even burned the whole city down and Pattani’s golden age was lost. The spirit of the uprisings, the feeling of independence had been present throughout the whole Chakri Dynasty. What makes the Red Shirts special is maybe there is also a political party fighting. In the past they cut the head off the political parties, Kana Ratsadorn after 15 years [post-1932] had been totally smashed, killing, ministers had been assassinated, they killed the leaders and the party totally collapsed. But Pheu Thai Party, because they have such a huge number of member of parliaments, even though the [regime] got rid of Thaksin, and two to three level of leaders, they still have many people. And that it what makes the difference. The people have been always struggling, but struggle with the support of political parties is much more powerful. We have to give credit to Pheu Thai for having enough people for standing up, after the leader had been switched out.
MT: The Pheu Thai has many different fractions. They have old-style money politicians, and young progressives, old fighters for democracy and pragmatic bureaucrats. This coalition is brought together by the pressure from the military, or let’s say the Ammart. Do you think this party could fall apart?
JY: I would see that [as potentially] positive. If you look at democratic countries, you need three [or] more parties. You now have the monarchy and elite, and on the other side a part of the capitalist elite. A majority of Pheu Thai is part of the capitalist elite. Thailand needs a [true] green party, needs a real grassroots party. And the split of the PT would be important, because it would make the people understand that they will have to find their own group in order to voice their concerns in the parliament, without any compromising. The red shirts are very diverse, the Pheu Thai is very diverse, and more political parties need to emerge to challenge and to negotiate on [the basis of] political ideology. Now you have to chose between Abhisit and Yingluck, no, we have to have more parties.
MT: Do you think there had been made an agreement between Yingluck and the Ammart, allowing Yingluck to govern, as long as she does not touch the military and the question of lèse majèsté?
JY: Many people will believe that this is true. Because this is the type of policy we know. But if it is true, and Yingluck is falling into that trap, she might not face the problem with the Ammart, but she will face problems from the red shirts. The red shirts are now demanding justice. If she ignores them, thinking they are only a small group of people, and believing she could control the majority of the red shirts, I think she will make a very big mistake.
Let me say a word about Germany. Because I think Germany can play a very important role. The way Germany is granting [freedom] of speech is important. A very important example for Thailand. And the way the courts handled the case of the [impounded] airplane of the crown prince is admirable because it demonstrated how independent German courts are. And [it showed] that justice has very strong roots in Germany. That opens up the behavior of other countries, which had compromised earlier, to discuss the question of the Thai monarchy.
On the 19th of September, one of the key documents that will be presented is a compilation of the political assassinations during the last 60 years of the Ammart. The list of the Thai people, who had been killed, assassinated, executed, since 1947 under the current king, may surprise. These are official figures, so they are the minimum. There are 11,000 people. So I want to question Europe. What is the reason you are so silent about the political crisis in Thailand? Maybe because the body count is so small [in 2010]? But if you look at the 60 years, you learn about 11,000 political assassinations, which are officially recognized, while the real figure will be much higher than that. In protecting the monarchy, the war against communism, and for the peace of the country, may be 30,000 people had been killed during this period, with just 11,000 officially recognized. And we will present this to every government we can reach.
I think now is the moment that the international community should address the question of human rights violations to Thailand. In the Thaksin Period we found 6,000 people [killed]. It was the war on drugs and the war in the South. This ideology, which can be seen under all governments, that violence can be used to solve local crisis, must be changed.
MT: Many Thai I know just do not want to know anything about politics. They feel depressed and sad and often ashamed about what is going on in their country and they do not want to get involved or discuss politics. And they tell me that Thailand never will change. What are you telling these people?
JY: I am told this every day. I am facing a lot of questions from the UPD [about] how to do that [bring change]. UPD has been formed from very diverse groups. Today we were talking to some Thai from France who were saying that democracy has nothing to do with human rights. In our agenda we have the holistic picture and we touch a lot on human rights. “We want to go straight to [the] struggle for democracy”. They think this is a step further along. I always say that there is a moment now. Thailand can be changed for good. The power of the people is now like a car in fourth gear. It cannot be stopped any more. There are enough people in Thailand who know, what democracy is, and who want the country to be developed. To be a real people’s democracy. Of the people, for the people, by the people. If we look at the history of Burma, it’s now some 20 years that they have been fighting. Thailand had been proving, for 5 years now, that they [the people] are struggling constantly for change. The seriousness is there. The world should not ignore it.
Thailand has produced [goods and commodities] for the world, has been contributing to the world, it is now on the way to change. The world should give us something back, not just take it easy. And the world should take Thai people who struggle for a change more seriously.