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Thai Minister Criticizes Diplomats who Met with Opposition Party Chief

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2019-04-09
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Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit shakes hands with supporters as he stands next to the first secretary of the French Embassy in Thailand, Christophe Carlucci (left), and German Embassy counsellor Alexander Nowak (right), at the Pathumwan police station in Bangkok, April 6, 2019.
Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit shakes hands with supporters as he stands next to the first secretary of the French Embassy in Thailand, Christophe Carlucci (left), and German Embassy counsellor Alexander Nowak (right), at the Pathumwan police station in Bangkok, April 6, 2019.
AP

Thailand’s foreign minister on Tuesday warned diplomats from other countries to not interfere with the judicial system after representatives from several embassies showed up at a police station as an opposition leader responded to a summons.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai questioned the diplomats’ presence at the Pathumwan police station in Bangkok on Saturday to observe the case of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party (FFP), who was charged then with sedition and other alleged offenses.

Don called it a breach of diplomatic protocol and interference with the Thai judiciary.

“This thing cannot happen in their countries, but it happened in our country. We need to ask them and seek cooperation to not let this happen again because it is wrong under diplomatic protocol,” Don told reporters in Bangkok.

He said he planned to send letters to or summon representatives to express the Thai government’s displeasure over their actions.

“An embassy can get involved in the judiciary only if its citizens have trouble in our country, which is the international norm,” he said. “If not, no country allows it. Simply put, no one does that, [it is] interference [with] the judiciary.”

Thanathorn, 40, the scion of a Thai auto parts company, served as the FFP’s candidate for prime minister in last month’s general election. The party was among seven that formed a pro-democracy alliance in the aftermath of the March 24 polls, whose final outcome has yet to be resolved officially. The election was the first in Thailand since the military seized power in a coup in May 2014.

Representatives of several nations including the United States, along with the European Union (E.U.) and U.N. human rights officials, met Thanathorn outside the police station Saturday, according to press reports and Thanathorn’s supporters. Pictures of the gathering circulated widely on social media and in local and international media.

On Tuesday, the U.S. embassy and the E.U. office in Thailand did not immediately reply to BenarNews requests for comment. In addition, representatives from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain, who were at the police station, according to media reports, have not commented on social media sites or elsewhere.

A spokeswoman for FFP questioned the foreign minister’s statement.

“Mr. Don’s remark is of concern because it is impossible for diplomats to not know the protocol or about being discrete,” Pannika Wanich said. “It is of concern given that he is a foreign minister.”

She said the diplomats who showed up at the police station had a good relationship with FFP and had sought the party’s permission to observe the case.

Charges

Thanathorn was charged on Saturday with sedition, aiding criminals and taking part in a political gathering of at least 10 people four years ago.

The charges stemmed from a rally at Pathumwan police station on June 24, 2015, Col. Burin Thongprapai, legal adviser for the government, told Thai media last week. On that day, eight students who had been involved in anti-junta activities a month earlier were scheduled to report to police but they and supporters surrounded the station instead.

Burin said Thanathorn used his mother’s van to help the activists escape.

At the time of the incident, the military government, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, had outlawed political gatherings of 10 or more people. Prayuth, who was appointed prime minister after leading a military overthrow of Yingluck Shinawatra’s civilian government in 2014 and is himself a candidate for prime minister, lifted the restriction prior to last month’s election.

Thanathorn likely will stand trial in a military court because the incident occurred during the time when the government allowed military courts to hear security-related cases, according to the police. He said he planned to submit his response to the summons by May 15.

On Tuesday, Thanathorn’s lawyer said the case was not affecting his client’s short-term political efforts.

“As far as I know, the case would not take effect until after the election results are final,” attorney Krisadang Nuchjarus told BenarNews by phone.

FFP won 30 of 350 parliamentary seats contested in the March 24 election and could receive another 50 to 58 of the 150 party-list seats awarded using a mathematical formula tied to the total vote count, according to observers.

Prayuth, meanwhile, said he was not sure that the people who gathered at the police station on Saturday were envoys or other representatives from those countries.

“But I have told the foreign ministry to contact the respective embassies,” Prayuth told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

“I don’t want this issue to cause conflict because we live on the same globe,” he said while pointing out the need to follow the law. “Most of all, we follow Thai constitution and Thai laws.”

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