BANGKOK — Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra met with a top official from the US State Department today to discuss the political situation in Thailand and her recent impeachment, a ruling she says was politically motivated and unjust.
Yingluck, who led the government toppled in the 22 May 2014 coup, met with US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Russel, and the US Charge d'Affaires to Thailand, W. Patrick Murphy, at the official residence of the US Ambassador in Bangkok today.
Former PM Yingluck Shinawatra with US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel at the official residence of the US Ambassador in Bangkok, 26 Jan 2015.
Yingluck was retroactively impeached last week by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly, who voted overwhelmingly to ban her from politics for five years for allegedly failing to stop corruption in her administration’s rice-pledging policy.
The impeachment was the latest in a series of legal punishments handed down to Yingluck and her government. In May 2014, she was ousted from her office by a court ruling, and a few weeks later, the remnants of her government were overthrown in a military coup led by Gen. Prayuth, who was army chief at the time.
On the morning that Yingluck was impeached, the Attorney-General also announced plans to pursue criminal charges, carrying a maximum 10 year sentence, against her in connection with the rice policy corruption.
In today's meeting with the US diplomats, Yingluck was accompanied by Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, who briefly led her administration after she was ousted, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Surapong Tovijakchaikul, and former Secretary of the Prime Minister Suranand Vejjajiva. The talk lasted for an hour and a half.
According to one of her close aides, Yingluck thanked the US representatives for the opportunity to speak about her impeachment, which she has described as a politicized move by the junta-appointed legislators, more than half of whom are active or former military officers.
"What she wants is justice and fairness," an aide who was present for the talks told Khaosod. "They must stop using the procedures to bully her. She said, if the impeachment or legal cases against her turn out this way, the same standards must be applied to other cases, too. Like the cases against the previous governments."
The aide was referring to the perpetually stalling lawsuits against former Democrat Party politicians who authorized a crackdown on Redshirt protesters in 2010 that left over 90 people dead. Critics point to the comparative swiftness with which courts have moved to prosecute Yingluck as evidence of a bias against her political faction.
Speaking to a crowd at Chulalongkorn University after his meeting with the former Prime Minister today, US State Department official Russel discussed the perception of bias that the impeachment proceedings have perpetuated.
"When an elected leader is removed from office, is deposed, and then impeached by authorities, the same authorities that conducted the coup, and then when a political leader is targeted with criminal charges at a time when the basic democratic processes and institutions in the country are interrupted, the international community is going to be left with the impression that these steps could in fact be politically driven," Russel said.
Russel stressed that the US would not be taking sides in Thailand’s domestic politics, but urged the junta to repeal martial law and all restrictions on freedom of expression.
"We are concerned about the significant restraints on freedoms since the coup," he said. "Ending martial law throughout the country and removing restrictions of speech and assembly – these would be important steps as part of genuinely inclusive reform process that reflects the broad diversity of views within the country."
The US official also met with former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the opposition Democrat Party who authorized the 2010 crackdown, and the current Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn. Russel refused to discuss the details of these meetings, citing standard diplomatic procedures, but said he felt he had been given a "serious hearing."
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