PM says issue 'not deadly' and NHRC official seeks answers over arrest
THE prime minister and many senior government officials said the disappearance of a historic plaque was no big deal – yet well-known lawyer and activist Srisuwan Janya was arrested yesterday as he urged the PM to conduct an investigation into the matter.
“This issue is nothing deadly,” Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday. “I understand the sentiments. But shouldn’t we look ahead to the future instead?
“Arguing over history won’t do any good. It’s up to everyone’s intention on how they will move the country forward,” he said.
Prayut was expected to clarify doubts after authorities – from the police to the Government spokesperson’s team, Dusit district administration and the Fine Arts Department – had yet to clearly answer or take responsibility to work on the case of the missing historic plaque.
Last Friday, it was discovered that the 81-year-old plaque fixed at the Royal Plaza to commemorate the 1932 Revolution was replaced by a new one that has messages glorifying faith in Buddhism, the monarch and one’s own family.
The plaque, known in Thai as Mud Khana Ratsadon, was fixed at the site where People’s Party leader Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena stood to read a statement to announce the end of the country’s absolute monarchy.
However, the marker – hailed by red-shirts as the site where Thai democracy started – was also deemed by royalists as a black mark on Thai history, given the nation’s turbulent political record.
Security personnel apprehended Srisuwan, secretary-general of the Association to Protect the Thai Constitution, yesterday while he was waiting to submit a petition to the premier urging him to investigate the missing plaque.
Srisuwan and two of his followers were reportedly taken in a van from a building opposite Government House to the military’s First Division of the King’s Guard, which is nearby. As of press time, he was still under detention.
Srisuwan is not the first person to call for action on the matter. Students lodged a complaint with police on Sunday asking authorities to investigate, as they deemed the plaque an item of state property.
However, deputy national police chief Srivala Rangsibrahmanakul said police would not take up the matter unless a complaint was filed by owners of the plaque or their heirs.
“The plaque wasn’t owned by anyone,” Srivala said. “The government agencies denied ownership, meaning that it does not belong to the government. It’s also not an antiquity,” he said.
“We don’t even know whom it belongs to. So, how could it be counted as theft?”
Given that a wrongdoing had yet to occur, police were not authorised to proceed or investigate the case, he said. “Anyone wanting to make this political will be considered based on the evidence available.”
A group of activists, who also plan to file another complaint to police, went to inspect the new plaque at the Royal Plaza yesterday. They then went to Bangkok City Hall to file a petition so they can watch footage recorded by security cameras around the compound.
Questions forwarded to Prayut yesterday included: Why was the original plaque replaced? Was it considered the government’s inheritance? Would his government hunt for the missing plaque? What is going to happen with the new one? Will people be allowed to perform an activity calling for a return of the old plaque?
But Prayut cut reporters short on whether he would assign security forces to look into the matter, saying people should no longer call for the return of the original plaque.
“It won’t be of any purpose. I don’t want conflicts to happen. I don’t want our country to be in trouble anymore,” he said.
In response to a potential activist movement, Prayut said: “I’m not threatening, but whatever they are doing, they should consider security laws and Article 116 [on sedition of the Criminal Code].”
Deputy PM and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan also denied any knowledge on the affair. “I don’t know anything. I don’t follow this issue because it is nothing important. It’s not about people’s well-being,” he said. “I will let officers proceed on it. But who and how to proceed, I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit called yesterday for the officers concerned to explain why Srisuwan, the pro-democracy activist, was detained.