Political prisoners welcome Laksi move as recognition of their struggle

January 29, 2012
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Prisoner Pattama Moolmil says she is lonely but considers this a price worth paying to stand up for her beliefs. As the only female inmate in the first batch of 47 political prisoners arriving at a special prison in Bangkok’s Laksi district, she says she is a prisoner of conscience. “I know there are pros and cons for those who have been moved here. Personally, it’s a lonely place away from my mother and friends, but it’s soothing spiritually because I’m not considered a criminal now but a political prisoner,” says Pattama, 25.

She wants it to be known that she fought for the cause of democracy, not for a single politician. Pattama was one of four red shirt defendants in Ubon Ratchathani who were given life sentences for burning down the provincial hall in May 2010. Their terms were later reduced to 34 years. She was moved to the three-storey building of the police crowd control subdivision in Laksi on Jan 16. For her, the relocation means much more than a change of prison. She considers it recognition that her case is a result of her having a different political ideology rather than being a criminal.

The new prison’s premises once belonged to the Non-Commissioned College for the Metropolitan Police and is a historical place for many political activists detained there. The facility was last used to hold students after the brutal crackdown on Oct 6, 1976. Prior to that, it had been used to detain hundreds of people called the “Peace Rebels” who were mostly arrested in 1952. Most later went to trial because the government, headed by Field Marshal Plaek Pibunsongkhram, believed they had committed treason. Five years later, however, an amnesty law was enacted to free the rebels.

Law professor Komsan Pokong, from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, believes that putting the red shirt prisoners there poses a question of discrimination against other inmates. “It would be better if the government deals with the issue of prison overcrowding and respects the core principle that those facing a court trial should be housed in separate premises,” says Mr Komsan. “The authorities should think of building a new special prison for them or overhauling the prison facilities.” Mr Komsan also questioned the Correction Department’s selection of the red shirt inmates as political prisoners. “They are criminals whose acts were related to political incidents. The exception is perhaps those on terrorism charges, which is still debatable,” he says.

Chaiwat Trakanratsanti, who was detained at Laksi for two weeks after being moved from Chon Buri, says lese majeste defendants should also be moved to the facility, for their safety. The very existence of political prisoners shows that Thailand is still far from being a democratic nation, Mr Chaiwat says. Human Rights Watch country coordinator Sunai Phasuk says it is disappointing that the Yingluck Shinawatra administration chose to deal with red shirt prisoners differently than lese majeste defendants.

Source: Bangkok Post

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