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05BANGKOK7317 COURT VICTORIES FOR RABBLE-ROUSING JOURNALIST SONDHI

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“46058”,”11/25/2005 10:15″,”05BANGKOK7317″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 007317

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/23/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, KPAO, PINS, PROP, TH, Media/Freedom of the Press

SUBJECT: COURT VICTORIES FOR RABBLE-ROUSING JOURNALIST

SONDHI

 

Classified By: Political Counselor Susan M. Sutton for Reasons 1.4 (d)

 

1. (U) SUMMARY. One week after Sondhi Limthongkul attracted

nearly 40,000 people to Bangkok\’s Lumpini Park with his

\”mobile talk show\”, the businessman-turned-media defender won

two significant legal victories, including a partial reprieve

from last week\’s gag order on him and his associates.

Meanwhile, the PM slapped Sondhi with a fifth lawsuit, this

time for criminal defamation. Popular monk Luangta Maha Bua

has offered to act as a mediator between Thaksin and Sondhi,

although Thaksin was reportedly too busy to show up at the

monk\’s suggested \”peace meeting.\” After initially accusing

Sondhi of being in cahoots with the opposition to \”topple the

government\”, spokesmen for TRT and the Armed Forces have

taken great care to deny the persistent coup rumors which

have been swirling about Bangkok, and which have cause the

stock market to take a noticeable dip. Tonight\’s rally,

Sondhi\’s tenth, is poised to be the biggest one yet. END

SUMMARY

 

TWO COURT VICTORIES

 

2. (U) Sondhi had asked for the support of the Thai public in

lifting the gag order which barred him and his colleagues

from directly criticizing the Prime Minister on five key

issues, On November 21, Sondhi filed an appeal against the

order. On November 24, the Thai Civil Court lifted many of

the most restrictive parts of the order, while others

remained in place. The court ruled that Sondhi and his

associates had the constitutional right to criticize and

report news about the Prime Minister, who is a public figure.

The court further stated that the defendants should be

allowed to criticize Thaksin over alleged acts of nepotism,

alleged conflicts of interest in business dealings and his

alleged misuse of state resources. The gag order would

continue to apply to events which occurred before Thaksin

became Prime Minister, including those which allegedly netted

him much of his satellite and mobile phone empire. The gag

order would also continue to bar distribution of video CDs of

three of Sondhi\’s nine mobile talk shows so far, since they

touched on issues which were still included in the gag order.

(NOTE: The original gag order had banned the distribution of

five shows. END NOTE)

 

3. (U) Sondhi also won a court victory in Yasothorn Province,

which is located in the so-called \”Thai heartland\” where

Thaksin draws much of his support. A provincial court refused

a request for an arrest warrant for Sondhi and his co-host

Sarocha Pornudomsak for the crime of lese majeste. The court

ruled that although Sondhi and Sarocha had referred to the

royal family and though this was \”improper\”, there was no

evidence that they had committed the crime of lese majeste.

Lt. Colonel Thammarak Atthajak, who made the original

request, vowed that his office would continue the

investigation and would bring the case back to court with

unspecified new evidence. A second case, which had been filed

in Nakhon Ratchasima, is still under investigation by the

Central Investigation Bureau.

 

4. (U) On November 22, Sondhi participated in a panel

discussion on royal powers and peaceful political reform at

Thammasat University. Sondhi outlined his ideas about

reforming the constitution in order to safeguard freedom of

speech and of the press, and to protect the civil liberties

of the Thai people. Among Sondhi\’s suggestions were (a)-

transferring organizations like the Royal Thai Police and the

anti-money laundering office (AMLO) from executive to

legislative control, (b)- a constitutional right to

information from the Government and (c)- a constitutionally

mandated mechanism to effectively guard the public interest

against crooked politicians. Sondhi also defended his right

to speak about the powers of the monarchy, as long as it was

not in a disrespectful way, and condemned the current

government for its relentless attempts to silence his voice.

 

5. (U) On November 23, Thaksin filed a fifth lawsuit against

both Sondhi and Sarocha for criminal defamation. The latest

suit makes the same allegations as last week\’s civil lawsuit,

which resulted in the gag order. The suit alleges that Sondhi

and Sarocha made slanderous remarks about the PM by saying

that Thaksin had dishonestly secured state concessions for

his satellite and mobile-phone empire.

 

6. (U) Luangta Maha Bua, a controversial and popular monk,

has offered to act as a mediator between the two men in order

to prevent the conflict from destabilizing the country. It

was a sermon made by Luangta in September that sparked the

first lawsuit against Sondhi. \”The Manager\” newspaper, which

is owned by Sondhi, published a scathingly critical sermon

made by Luangta in which the monk compared Thaksin to an

ancient mythological monster. The PM elected to sue to

Sondhi, but purposefully left Luangta out of the lawsuit

saying the monk, a former supporter, had been kind to him in

the past. Luangta dispatched several hundred monks to offer

moral support to Sondhi on November 21. That same day he

invited both men to come to a \”peace meeting\” at his

monastery in Udon Thani in order to resolve their

differences. Sondhi showed up but the Prime Minister took a

rain check, saying he had matters of state to attend to, but

that he would be happy to meet with the monk, but not

necessarily Sondhi, \”when time permits.\”

 

COUP RUMORS SWIRL AROUND BANGKOK

 

7. (SBU) In a throwback to an earlier age, coup rumors have

been swirling around the capital ever since Supreme Commander

General Ruengroj Mahasaranond warned that the army might lose

patience if Sondhi continued to refer to the monarchy in his

rallies. This was followed by statement by several members of

the ruling TRT party that Sondhi and the opposition were

working together to \”topple the government\”. Sutin Klungsang,

a deputy spokesman for TRT went so far as to say that the

party had \”a piece of in-depth intelligence that a group of

people was plotting to overthrow the government.\” Phumtham

Wechayachai, a Deputy Minister, claimed Sondhi\’s rallies were

a practice run for staging a coup. The persistent rumors have

become serious enough to have a negative effect on the Thai

stock market and have reportedly hurt short-term investor

confidence. Government spokesmen have now gone out of the way

to assure the public that there is no imminent coup with the

Defense Minister and the Prime Minister\’s Office Minister

assuring people that the democratic system was too firmly

embedded into Thai society for a coup d\’etat to take place in

2005. Even the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Sondhi

Bunyaratgalin, felt the need to step into the fray, saying

that \”You can rest assured that there will be no coup as long

as I serve as the Army chief.\” It is possible that coup

rumors were an attempt by the TRT to taint the opposition

with a reputation for treasonous tendencies.

 

TONIGHT\’S SHOW

 

8. (U) As Sondhi continues to reveal more and more of the

government\’s alleged indiscretions, Sondhi\’s rally has

morphed into a \”one-part talk show, one-part national soap

opera\” national media event. Organizers say they are bracing

for \”at least 100,000\” spectators for Sondhi\’s tenth show, to

be held November 25 in Lumpini Park, although this number is

surely wildly exaggerated. Bangkok police have announced they

will be employing over 1,000 officers to maintain security at

the rally, which has so far not been a problem. With much

better weather than last week\’s dreary drizzle, Sondhi

appears poised to top last week\’s show.

 

9. (C) Thaksin and the RTG appear to have realized that the

more they hit back publicly against Sondhi, the more popular

(and the more press coverage) Sondhi gets. The PM appears to

be experimenting with a quieter approach to his Sondhi

problem. Despite last Friday\’s extremely provocative show,

which accused the PM and his younger sister of corruption,

Thaksin has refrained from making any of the angry,

foot-in-mouth statements that have so often made the front

pages here. Sondhi has not been arrested, and no draconian

measures have been taken against him or his program this

week. Sondhi is now under pressure to make each show bigger

and better than the last. It may be that Thaksin is waiting

for the general public to lose interest, or for Sondhi to go

overboard by saying something that crosses the line, either

about the monarchy or about a scandal he cannot prove.

Considering Sondhi\’s growing number of listeners in the rest

of the country who tune in via radio, the Internet and

satellite TV, waiting for the public to get bored might be a

dangerous strategy.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Confidential, Sonthi

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