Monday, April 20, 2009

Government cover-up of deaths in Bangkok?

2 updates

As reported here, a tightening of censorship measures by the Myanmar junta followed the September 2007 crackdown in that country. The regime evidently did not want the whole story about the crackdown -- which may have been far more deadly than initial reports suggested -- to spread.

How to account for the hastily-implemented censorship of dozens of websites following the army crackdown in Thailand? What are we to make of claims that casualties in Bangkok were higher than has been officially acknowledged? Might the answers to both questions be connected? Is this déjà vu?

The Thai government claims there were no fatalities during the army crackdown against the Red Shirt protesters last week. For the most part, the Thai news media has not questioned the government's assertion.

However, Australian blogger John Le Fevre of Photo Journ recently interviewed a Thai monk who claimed to have firsthand knowledge that the Thai government's version of the story is incorrect (hat-tip Fonzi). Sajja, his actual name and face concealed, described only as the "head monk of a city temple," told Le Fevre that he went to "the Din Daeng area around 6.00am on April 13 after hearing reports of clashes earlier that morning between the Thai army and red shirt protesters." Sajja said:

“I was standing about 200 meters away and the soldiers started shooting at people who were on the street. They were not wearing red shirts and there was no protesting happening at the time.

“I saw people falling down when the army was shooting at them and others run away. One of those who fell down was a monk and there was also some children there. I don’t know which temple the monk was from. I saw the soldiers pick about 10 people up off the ground and load them into a large pale-blue, almost white coloured van and then they hosed the blood off the road,” he said.

Le Fevre says the monk told him that the people who were loaded into the truck made no sound that he could here.

Blogger Fonzi of Thailand Jumped the Shark has long been skeptical of the Thai government's account of the crackdown. Fonzi has pointed to the Thai government's decision to censor dozens of websites associated with the Red Shirts movement which he listed here (via Prachatai). Concerning this list Bangkok Pundit observed, "They are .... the same sites which have been providing video and pictures alleging government wrongdoing." Also odd, notes Fonzi, was this report in the Bangkok Post:

Security agencies are keeping a close watch on a group they suspect of feeding lies to international media outlets on the recent red shirt riots.

Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said members of the group had left the country in recent days to disseminate a "different version of events and accounts" to the international media.

"What are they afraid of?" asks Fonzi.

To return to the monk's allegations, Le Fevre knows of three video reports (here, here, and here) that were taken by Thai TV networks around Din Daeng in Bangkok. The first one, according to Le Fevre, "appears to substantiate claims of people being at least injured at Din Daeng by the Thai military." Concerning the question of unreported killings, Bangkok Pundit suspects that media silence on fatalities could be due to the relative absence of reporters present "during the initial crackdown before 5am." Referring to the video Le Fevre described, BP blogged: "There is at least one instance on video of the military taking away people during that crackdown who did not appear to be moving (see at 1:40 onwards in this YouTube video)." Watching the video over on a large screen, BP is not convinced the people are motionless and therefore likely dead. Might one of the trucks in the video be the "large pale-blue, almost white coloured van" described by the monk? Here is the video:

BP also points to a Bangkok Post report that stated that police were "investigating claims that two men whose bodies were found gagged and bound in the Chao Phraya river were red-shirt protesters." Many Thai police had been quite sympathetic to the Red Shirt protesters, whereas the army tends to be most supportive of the government, and was responsible for the crackdown.

The truth tends to get out. If protesters had been shot and killed, it would seem to be in the government's interest to come clean about what happened. Thailand surely does not want to be mistaken for Myanmar.

Update 1:
IPS (h/t BP) reports that a senior television journalist in Thailand told IPS on the condition of anonymity: "My boss was told by a powerful person not to run pictures damaging to the military or to the government."

Update 2
New Mandala blog has just posted The crushing of the red shirts by Nick Nostitz. Essentially, it is a war correspondent's eyewitness, blow-by-blow account of violent clashes and protests on the streets of Bangkok during late March and early April. Here is what Nick had to say regarding the question as to whether the army killed some Red Shirt protesters:
Red Shirts are convinced that a number of their members have been killed (and I have strong suspicions that they are not too wrong in this assessment, but have no evidence or proof whatsoever). The government has to organise an official and neutral inquiry. And it has to stop lying that only fake bullets were used, and only fired into the air. I have photos of bullet holes, where I have seen soldiers firing. The bullet that passed a few meters above my head in the leaves of a tree under which I was hiding in the early hours at Din Daeng was not a fake bullet or sprung out of my imagination, and given the distance and angle of the shooter from the military lines, the difference of the elevation of the muzzle was not more than a few centimeters. This was clearly a shot fired in the direction of the crowd and not into the sky. I have seen soldiers refilling their magazines with copperhead bullets. They were not fake bullets.
Also of interest were some of the things Nick heard about on the street; his observation about the strong animosity that developed between Thai journalists and the Red Shirts, and how he thinks the tension got out of hand.

I produced a summary of some insights I gleaned from reading Nick's extraordinary story here. This list will surely make you want to go to New Mandala to read the whole post.


  1. Hi Jot

    I read John's postings, somewhere it says "don't know where the monk comes from"...

    You and I know well the Burma tricks, we know the USDA infiltrated the lines of monks the day of the Saf/Rev... fake monks... this makes me be careful with the witnesses' stories...

    Now the videos, are good as long as they have not been massaged.

    But, why until now "no reports on missing people gone to the protests or around the areas"... why nobody is screaming about the dear beloved losses.

    While in Burma we had people asking for their dearest, here in Thai we hear nothing, only the investigations from the journalists' reports...

    Thailand also needs a bit on UNITY... I hope they find it soon as Bali was my hope to move there to complete my elderly years... now that dream is gone... where else can I go?

    Take care of you...

  2. Hi Jeg,

    Was Le Fevre able to verify that Sajja is actually a head monk of a city temple? I assume he knows this. It's possible the monk could also not have seen what he thought he saw, etc.

    somewhere it says "don't know where the monk comes from"...This is what the interviewed monk, Sajja, said about another monk he saw fall down. Since there are many monks in BKK, it's not surprising if Sajja doesn't recognize him.

    Now the videos, are good as long as they have not been massaged.The videos seem to be news reports that have been posted on YouTube, and they don't show anything clearly enough to make me think anyone would have gone to the trouble to fake them.

    But, why until now "no reports on missing people gone to the protests or around the areas"... why nobody is screaming about the dear beloved losses.It's still early to draw conclusions one way or another about this. We don't know if missing person reports have been submitted but not publicized.

    Protester group websites have been censored, and some Thai media seem to self-censor.

    Government censorship in the wake of a crackdown is a fact. Following the Yellow Shirt protests of November, there was no similar censorship. Yet those protests were at least as disruptive.

    How can the government justify censorship in this instance, but not following the previous demonstrations? Are they trying to hide something? And if so, what? These questions deserve to be asked, and allegations of killings investigated, as Human Rights Watch has called for.

  3. @Jeg

    why until now "no reports on missing people gone to the protests or around the areas"...
    why nobody is screaming about the dear beloved losses.
    oh, they DO ! watch this video (at 0:45) :

    as you can see, this old woman does cry about her husband who is missing ! and pay attention to what she said !

    it is just their voices are silenced by MICT's "holy crusade" of TOTAL INFORMATNION BLACKOUT !

    therefore people do NOT trust Thai reporters anymore - because they know that they LIE and self-censor their news ! more than that - they DEMONIZE Reds, and even attack them!

    Thai media shamelessly distort the facts, even make up their own (as Thai Rath about Red-shirt woman who was dragged by HAIR by a REPORTER ! Thai newspaper had no shame to Edit the photo - erase his camera and bag - and post it on their front page saying that this was some of "local residents" who are pissed of with Reds !)

    THIS IS THAI MEDIA - shameless liars or spineless cowards, prostitutes for the government and rich)

    that's why Marwan already wrote that :

    "With Censorship, Thais Turn to Websites and Foreign Media"Jeg, as I see you're Thai. yesterday on NBT channel there was a program in which they taken interviews of several reporters who were at Din Daeng on Mon Apr 13th.. guess what? ALL of those interviewd reporters said silly things like "we were far from the main action and could not see clearly".

    the actual reason though, I'm sure - and Marwan mentioned it already - that these reporters CHOOSE to keep silent and self-censor what they say !

    only some of foreign reporters speak up. like Nick or John. most of Western MSM also mainly report the "Official truths"

    so, from now on, Thai people ONLY speak to Foreign reporters, and may be also to Pue Thai party - who collect the evidences and said they'll present them this week in Parlament .

    the TRUTH will prevail ! Abhisit government and MICT can not stop the truth ! the more they deny the facts - the less credibility they have.

    because now more and more people will know :

    "Never believe anything until it is officially denied"

  4. Thanks Guys...

    I just finished breakfast reading John's narration... good one too... 1.41am now
    Dear Antipasto...

    Do I give up after I hear the first NO...? no way Jose... I keep trying and that is what the reds, the pinks, and the tuticoloured Thais should do.

    Unbiased media? then blog out and use the international journos... Jot is good... :) Send letters to the relatives and/or friends abroad with all the goodies and spread the gospel...

    Now, I do not check Utube, I just joined Twitter for Burma's reasons otherwise I skip those socials.

    One single contact with the international media and keep consistently feeding the information they need it will bring results... meanwhile bloggers are still crawling hoping to attract more readers ...

    So I leave you to your creativity to develop a nice global tool for our fight,,,, I'm Reading how Poland won democracy...

    first thing was to enact Honest Laws to combat corruption...

    Corruption is the vehicle in Thailand and it needs to be crushed ... if there were an accountable government there won't be need to wear the rainbow nor we would need Thaksin Clowns.

    Antipadshist, I hate to dissappoint you, me no Thai .... Peruvian Inka born madeout Aussie now. Thanks for your response I appreciate it... chau4now

  5. Jeg,

    One side says the main problem is corruption, other side says it's about representation. Without representation, how to keep governments accountable?

  6. The bottom part of the entry asserts the argument that the government would not cover up the deaths of any red shirt protesters because sooner or later someone would find out, and the government would not want to be in such an embarrassing situation.

    But it is arguable that the government would not care and will cover up because they could always easily argue that the "red shirts" antagonized the government (rationalizing deaths).

    The citizens of Thailand would be more than willing to accept this, especially when the media is already controlled by the yellow shirts (remember the censorship of over 60 websites and D-Station?), so the people are likely to be influenced by yellow shirt propaganda and take it as truth.

    Some may be saying that Thai government could not be so crass as to do something like that.

    In that case, I think that such a position is naive, especially if you consider the nature of government and its players where the people are usually its pawn!

    --J.G. Sawada

  7. J.G. Sawada,

    Short term, by asserting that nobody was killed, certainly the PM is not facing questions about how and why the conflict got so out of hand on the streets. But this will likely come at a longer term political cost.

    I suppose it depends how you look at the larger conflict. If you believe the Red Shirts do not have significant support across the country, and represent only a small faction --like the communists in the 70s -- then the government's tactic of cover-up might well "work."

    However, the Red Shirts likely continue to enjoy widespread support in the countryside, esp. the north and northeast.

    The government probably won some sympathy when some Red Shirts rioted, but that sympathy will dissipate if allegations of cover-up don't go away.

    You wrote:

    The citizens of Thailand would be more than willing to accept this, especially when the media is already controlled by the yellow shirts (remember the censorship of over 60 websites and D-Station?), so the people are likely to be influenced by yellow shirt propaganda ...

    I think we should keep in mindThaksin created a brilliant political machine which the PPP then Puea Thai inherited, and there is no reason to think that this new meme will not travel.

  8. J.G. Sawada,

    I just came across a post that relates to the issue you raised here.

    John Le Fevre has been visiting with Red Shirts. Check out this post:

    ...many are now returning each night to exchange news, gossip about the military action, or to talk about people missing following the battle for Bangkok last Monday (April 13, 2009).

    Ignoring the emergency decree these red shirt supporters gather in groups of up to 50 people....

    Photos, flyers and CDs are exchanged quietly in the shadows, while video of events from April 13 captured on mobile phones is transferred from one handset to another....

    Flyers showing compilations of photos from the events of April 13 are shown or given away, as well as photographs showing people allegedly killed or injured in the red shirts clash with the Thai military...


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