The latest issue of article 2, published by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) in conjunction with Human Rights SOLIDARITY, a publication of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), is now available. The issue includes a series of articles on “Thailand’s struggle for constitutional survival.” And the issue also includes a “Transcript of conversation between Supreme Court Judge Pairote Navanuch, Supreme Court Secretary Virat Chinvinijkul and a senior government official on the eve of the 2006 Election Commission dismissal.” The editors make the following comments on this fascinating transcript:
As this edition of article 2 was going to print, a remarkable recording was released that if true exposes the extent to which Thailand’s senior judiciary is compromised and controlled by outsiders. The recording, made public by Jakrapob Penakir, a spokesperson of the former civilian regime and opponent of the military junta, is purportedly of a telephone conversation in mid-2006 between a top government official nicknamed “Phi Phed” and the then-secretary of the Supreme Court, Virat Chinvinijkul, together with Pairote Navanuch, a judge of the court. The parties discuss the problem of getting the members of the Election Commission to resign their posts over various serious allegations in connection with the former government, to pave the way for fresh elections (which were never held due to the military coup).
In the recording, the secretary and senior official share ideas on ways to get the commissioners to resign. The latter requests advice on how the government should proceed and is advised that if the commissioners do resign then the Supreme Court will appoint its own people in their stead (under section 138 of the 1997 Constitution). Then the government officer wonders what can be done about the fact that there are cases pending against the election commissioners in the Criminal Court and Administrative Court. Virat reassures him that, “I can say that the resigning of the Election Commission would have a good effect on the case(s) under prosecution…”
Further on, before Judge Pairote is brought into the conversation, the court secretary refers to him as having a “link” with the president of the Privy Council, the former unelected prime minister, General Prem Tinsulanonda. This link daily goes to the latter’s house before the Supreme Court meets, whereafter the general puts in a call to the president of the court. Subsequently, Judge Pairote speaks directly with the senior official and agrees that the members of the Election Commission must be forced to resign and again guarantees that the criminal cases pending against them will be closed thereafter. The officer says that he will go and speak to the head of the commission personally, to which Judge Pairote replies, “You must tell him, or else it won’t be safe for him.” Of course, the commissioners refused to resign, forcing the judiciary’s hand despite their attempts to avoid having to act on the case.
The recording is remarkable not only because it brings out the full truth of the extent to which the senior judiciary in Thailand has been subordinated to other parts of government but also because it shows how far removed it has been throughout the entire political and constitutional crisis from basic notions of legality. At no point does the upholding of justice, rather than political expediency, appear to have seriously entered the minds of its most senior persons. Rather, the contents of the recording boil down to this: a top judge and court official together with a top government officer make a deal to get some people to quit their jobs, in exchange for which the courts will dispense with criminal procedure and justice and instead just let them off the hook. There is no thought of law here, just horse trading. The court is anyway subject to daily interference by outsiders. And that was before the September 19 coup: the May 30 special tribunal verdict against the former ruling party is an indication of how much worse things have become since, and how much worse they are yet to become.
Despite its contents, the recording–the veracity of which has not been denied–barely attracted any attention in the domestic media, and nor any details made known to the public, speaking to the very real fear and heightened control in Thailand under the military regime today. Thus, for the sake of public debate and simple openness, an edited version of the transcript is contained as an appendix to this report.