As reported on Matichon, Khao Sod, and Thai E-News several days ago, Dr. Tul Sittisomwong (pictured) posted a status update on his public Facebook wall (you neither need to have a Facebook account or to be “friends” with him to see the page) threatening Professor Somsak Jeamteerasakul, member of the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Thammasat University, with violence.* More specifically, a rough translation (suggestions welcome – the finer points of violent threats and insults have not been part of my Thai-language education) of Dr. Tul’s precise words were “Somsak Jeamteerasakul, 112 can be abolished. Then you and your kind can meet with a .358, as you wish. I don’t want to hear any explanations from you anymore” [“สมศักดิ์ เจียมธีรสกุล เลิก 112 ให้ก็ได้ แล้วมึงกับพวกเอา .358 ไปก็แล้วกัน กูไม่อยากฟังคำอธิบายใดๆจากมึงอีกแล้ว”]. What one immediately notices is that Dr. Tul is specific in his threat. He does not simply suggest that Professor Somsak be shot, he also names the precise kind of gun, a .358, which is a high-caliber rifle designed to inflict mortal wounds.
Subsequently, again on his public Facebook wall, Dr. Tul noted that Professor Somsak does not need to worry about being shot, because he does not own a .358 rifle. He then suggests that what Professor Somsak should worry about is a different moral-physical cost for his dissident ideas. Citing the case of Ms. Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, currently serving a 15-year sentence following a conviction of three counts of violations of Article 112, Dr. Tul speculates that perhaps Professor Somsak will be struck by oral cancer. To be clear, the delays in treatment of Ms. Daranee’s progressive jaw disease have nothing to do with her karma, and everything to do with refusal of the Thai judicial and prison systems to act justly (let alone follow the U.N. Minimum Standards for Treatment of Prisoners). Despite Dr. Tul’s casual dismissal of his threat against Professor Somsak – via Facebook status update – it should be taken seriously. There is nothing casual about threatening violence against a person under any circumstances, ever. Like the threats against the Khana Nitirat posted on Manager in January 2012, it is important to document them and pay attention to how the social and political context in which they become possible.
There are two clear ways to critique Dr. Tul’s damaging and bizarre statements. First, Dr. Tul’s statement could be read as constituting a threat against Professor Somsak, which is criminalized in Article 392 of the Thai Criminal Code, which reads “Whoever causes a person fear or fright by threatening them shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one month, a fine not exceeding one thousand Baht, or both.” Why would Dr. Tul endanger his professional standing, or even invite the hassle of appearances at the police station and the courts into his life? Second, how could a physician – someone ostensibly dedicated to healing other people and preventing suffering – either threaten someone with being shot or wish cancer upon them?
These two explanations do not suffice, however. Dr. Tul is clearly not concerned about being charged with violating Article 392, or if he is charged, with the charges sticking. Similarly, he sees no contradiction between his profession as a physician and casually threatening violence and wishing suffering upon another person. Perhaps the beginning of understanding here can only come with the recognition that logic has no place in Dr. Tul’s thinking, only belief and power, or perhaps the heady combination of belief in access to power.
* A curious omission: Manager has not carried news of Dr. Tul’s threat.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald is an observer of Thai politics and history. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.