Update: Deputy House Speaker Supachai Phosu apologized on Thursday for his remark.
BANGKOK — A house speaker caused an uproar on Wednesday when he warned of a similar fate for a politician who demanded justice for an activist assaulted by masked men last week.
The spat between Deputy House Speaker Supachai Phosu and Pheu Thai MP Jirayu Huangsup broke out during a parliament session when Jirayu urged the authorities to swiftly find the perpetrators behind an attack that left pro-democracy activist Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat in critical condition.
“This incident, it happened in the same soi that you live in, right?” Supachai interrupted Jirayu as he was haranguing parliament. The MP confirmed this was the case.
“Then you should watch yourself, Mr. Jirayu,” the deputy speaker said with a smile. “I’m worried for you.”
His remark immediately prompted a murmur of anger from the Pheu Thai bench, while Jirayu accused Supachai of making a threat against him.
“Mr. Speaker, if you say things like this, if the House Speaker says things like this, I think we can no longer live in Thailand,” the politician shot back.
“No, no, I only said I’m worried for you,” Supachai said.
Jirayu was among opposition lawmakers who called upon the authorities to investigate last week’s assault on Sirawith, who is still recovering in hospital with facial injuries. Jirayu faulted the police for failing to identify a suspect despite footage from multiple security cameras.
“Even though the constitution is already in place, activists are still intimidated,” the Pheu Thai MP said. “The people want to know how the government will safeguard their safety.”
In response to the criticism, Assistant Defense Minister Charnchai Changmongkol said the authorities are doing their utmost to track down and arrest the assailants. Gen. Charnchai also said pro-democracy campaigners can request police escorts to guarantee their safety whenever they go outside.
But an activist has expressed skepticism over whether such measures would really help, given that Sirawith was attacked while under police monitoring.
“As activists, we all know how closely the Special Branch Police trail Ja New,” Ratthapol Supasopon, who currently faces a charge of sedition in court, wrote online. “They were close to him like leeches on his legs, yet this incident still happened. What confidence can you give us?”
Bangkok police chief Sutthipong Wongpin also told reporters that investigators have ruled out robbery as the motive behind the attack, but said they have yet to pinpoint a cause.
มื้อเย็นของ Sirawith Seritiwat กับการชมการถ่ายทอสดการตั้งกระทู้ถามสดในสภา เรื่องมาตรการในการป้องกันเหตุและติดตามจับกุมดำเนินคดีผู้ที่ทำร้ายนักกิจกรรมทางการเมือง
Sirawith Seritiwat watches a parliament debate about his assault from his hospital bed on July 3, 2019.