Justice or impunity, amnesty or licence to kill, reconciliation or oblivion, the numb comfort of forgetting or the sour, endless curse of remembering. Take your pick, for the parliamentary push for the "blanket" amnesty bill that could cleanse the legal sins of everyone from the military to snipers to protesters to ex-PMs - Thaksin Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva - has raised the political temperature and confirmed the social cracks we still have to brave.
To recap: Thaksin, pushing the bill that would help him return to Charan Sanitwong, said the country needs to be reset. The anti-Thaksin camp is fuming that the bill would constitutionally absolve the Dubai resident and even pave a tricky path for other corrupters to escape punishment.
The relatives of red-shirt casualties oppose the bill on the grounds that the big boys who gave the orders during the May 2010 crackdown - meaning Mr Abhisit and Suthep Thuagsuban - would get off scot-free. Alleged murderers shouldn't be granted that kind of impunity, they say.
Meanwhile, the anti-red shirt faction clamours that arsonists and troublemakers embedded in the demonstration shouldn't be let off the hook, either. It seems the only common ground all sides in the conflict agree upon is that jailed protesters should be pardoned and set free.
Amid all the noise about who should walk and who should be punished, yesterday marked the ninth anniversary of the Tak Bai incident in Narathiwat.
To recap: On Oct 25, 2004, protesters gathered at Tak Bai police station to demand the release of six men arrested on dubious charges. The police asked for military backup as the demonstrators grew restless. They threw stones, and the soldiers responded with tear gas and physical violence.
More than a hundred men were arrested, their hands tied behind their backs. They were piled up in stacks of four to five in military trucks. By the time the trucks arrived at the barracks in Pattani, 78 men had died of suffocation.
The relatives of the dead took the case to court. In 2009, the army was not charged with any wrongdoing since "they were performing their duty". As recently as this past August, the Supreme Court refused to hear the petition of 34 relatives of the 78 victims to review the findings of the initial inquest.
Justice or impunity, amnesty or licence to kill, reconciliation or oblivion, the numb comfort of forgetting or the sour, endless curse of remembering. Take your pick, though I'm sure it won't be so easy for the relatives of the Tak Bai victims to engage in this discourse, this rhetoric, just as it's never been easy for the relatives of the casualties in the 2010 crackdown.
There are contextual differences between the two incidents. But there are similarities, too, more than we have liked to note in recent years. In both cases, civilians died, and the circumstances clearly involved the over-reaction of authorities. In both cases, protesters took to the street out of political and social bitterness, even though their demands were different. In both cases, troublemakers mixed with peaceful demonstrators, and yet death was a cruel fate regardless of their intention.
Most importantly, in both cases the deaths largely remain unresolved (in fact, the Tak Bai incident was worse, since court rulings in certain red-shirt killings have at least incriminated the army).
Perpertrators shouldn't be let off the hook. This should apply to all incidents of state-backed violence, and yet with the ninth anniversary of Tak Bai, news outlets remain fixated on the amnesty bill that only covers Bangkok-based political (and criminal) headlines, and on who'll get to walk, to be stuck in jail, to get his truckloads of cash back, to get the upper hand in the power play.
The only story from the South is how security was beefed up prior to yesterday's anniversary to prevent insurgent attacks; back in August, the report of the Supreme Court's rejection of Tak Bai relatives' petition to re-open the case only made it, if at all, to a sidebar.
October is the month that reminds us of state-backed violence - in fact, the photographs of that October day in Tak Bai, with men being forced to lie face-down while the soldiers pushed them to the ground with rifle butts, scarily resemble those taken during the student uprising of Oct 14, 1973.
At least some people still get to fight against the amnesty bill, to air their opposition, to disagree with its essence. For others, like the Tak Bai relatives, they have watched impunity handed to the perpertrators almost automatically. We can't do anything about it. But we can remember.
Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.
Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.
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