Saturday, November 8, 2008

An email circulated to airlines yesterday revealed that the UK government has revoked the visas of Thai ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife. Both have been convicted and sentenced to jail terms in Thailand. The email instructs airlines not to facilitate travel for the couple to return to the UK. Reports indicate that the deposed and convicted ex-PM is currently in China with plans to travel to the Philippines this weekend. The whereabouts of his wife are not currently known.

Thaksin and his wife, Potjaman Shinawatra, have spent much of the past two years living in exile in the UK after jumping bail on charges against them in Thailand. The visa revocation, issued by Immigration Liaison Manager Andy Gray of the UK embassy in Bangkok, will come as a harsh blow to Thaksin, who had expressed a strong interest in remaining in England as an exile, asserting that charges back home were politically motivated.

Lawyers involved in the successful prosecution of Thaksin were known to be in the process of drawing up extradition papers to submit to the UK’s Home Office; with his chosen country of refuge now in doubt it may become more difficult to have him returned to Thailand to serve his two year sentence for corruption. In an email to Wikinews the UK Home Office declined to comment on the extradition, specifying it was policy not to discuss individual cases.

Extradition would have been covered under a treaty drawn up in 1911 between the two countries and the onus would have been on Thailand to prove that the conviction ties up with similar UK laws. Claims by Thaksin that such a request would have been politically motivated would be considered by the court under the UK’s Extradition Act. The Home Office also confirmed that Thaksin’s diplomatic passport would not have exempted him from such proceedings.

Potjaman, Thaksin’s wife, escaped prosecution in the corruption case over a Bangkok land deal, however she already faces a three year sentence for tax evasion. Visas for the couple’s children were unaffected by the action, they remain free to travel to and from the UK.

Nobody can bring me back to Thailand, except royal kindness of HM the King or the power of the people

Despite his self-imposed exile, the ex-PM who was deposed by a bloodless coup in 2006 has remained in the news and public consciousness in Thailand. Several high-profile court cases alleging corruption and malfeasance during his time as premier and leader of the now-banned Thai Rak Thai (lit: Thais love Thais) political party remain outstanding.

Last Saturday, he gave a telephone address to pro-government protesters rallying at the country’s national stadium in Bangkok. Members of the current government, which is accused of being a proxy for Thaksin, managed to amass tens of thousands of red-shirted supporters to listen to the address. The rally has been condemned by the Law Society of Thailand as contempt of court, and their statement on the November 1 phone-in warned that media repeating its content could be added to the defendants in any legal proceedings.

During the phone-in Thaksin said, “Nobody can bring me back to Thailand, except royal kindness of HM the King or the power of the people”; this can be construed as an appeal for a royal pardon, or for his supporters to be more vocal.