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Jakrapob Penkair, a former Thai Rak Thai MP and Red Shirt leader, has returned to Thailand after 15 years in exile.

 

Jakrapob served as government spokesperson in the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra between 2003 – 2005. Between 2007 – 2008, he served as a Minister to the Office of the Prime Minister in the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Following the 2006 military coup, he became a leader of anti-coup protests organized by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), a Red Shirt group which later became the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD).

Jakrapob left Thailand in April 2009. Following the May 2014 coup, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued a summons for him, and when he did not report to the junta, a Martial Court issued an arrest warrant for refusing to answer the summons and for allegedly being in possession of weapons. The Criminal Court issued a warrant for him in December 2017 for illegal possession of firearms and explosives and being a part of a secret society.

He was accused of royal defamation after a speech he gave to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 29 August 2007 on the patronage system in Thailand. The charges were filed by a serial accuser, Pol Lt Col Wattanasak Mugkandee from Bang Mod Police Station who also filed charges against the entire FCCT Board. The public prosecutor dismissed the charge in September 2011.

Jakrapob arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Thursday morning (28 March) and was immediately taken to the Crime Suppression Division. He was later released on bail.

He said he returned to Thailand to serve the country, noting that he is not leaving politics but does not want to change things or create disruption. He said, however, that no one in the government has asked him to work with them and that he is not planning on asking. He would be happy to take an offer, but will not take a position that would cause conflict.

He insisted that he has not made any deal to return to Thailand. Although he said that there have been discussions about compromises, he said that nothing wasexchanged for his return. He also said that he decided to come back to Thailand because politics overall has improved.

Jakrapob said he wants to help other exiles return to Thailand if they are willing, and that he would take the lessons he will be learning from going through the justice system to help others. He noted that several new laws have been enforced, including the anti-torture and enforced disappearance act, which requires police officers to wear body cameras while making an arrest. He said those living in exiles should be told that the situation has changed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said that he has not been following up on Jakrapob’s return, but anyone who comes back from exile must go through the justice system.

Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukura said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) was not informed of Jakrapob’s return, but noted that it was an issue of national security and the MFA is not directly responsible. He said that Thai exiles who wish to return home may be able to contact the MFA, but he has not received a report that anyone has reached out, since such cases are more likely to be handled by national security agencies and the Immigration Bureau. He also said that the MFA generally does not conduct surveillance on Thai exiles living overseas because they are legal immigrants in the countries they are living in, although the MFA is aware of the exiles’ activity through Thai embassies.

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