Jakrapob Penkair: Red-shirt founder on mission to repatriate Thailand’s political exiles

File photo : Jakrapob Penkair

Jakrapob Penkair, a former Prime Minister’s Office minister and red-shirt leader, is back in Thailand after 15 years in self-imposed exile under the shadow of lese majeste and other accusations following coups in 2006 and 2014.

Jakrapob also served as spokesman in the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned from exile last year after the Pheu Thai Party returned to power. Thaksin is regarded as Pheu Thai’s patriarch.

Analysts say Jakrapob’s homecoming could trigger an influx of political exiles allied with Thaksin later this year. Jakrapob told reporters shortly after returning on March 28 that he would help arrange the repatriation of these “political refugees” so they could fight the criminal charges against them.

Jakrapob, 56, was arrested upon return and handed over to the Crime Suppression Division to be notified of his remaining arrest warrant for alleged involvement in an illegal group and possession of unregistered firearms and ammunition. He denied all charges and was released on a bail guarantee of 400,000 baht, according to his lawyer.

In exile since 2009

Jakrapob was summoned by coup-makers following the May 2014 power seizure that ousted the government led by Thaksin’s proxy Pheu Thai. He failed to answer the summons, having already fled the country in 2009 after being accused of lèse-majesté. A military court duly issued a warrant for his arrest.

In 2017, the junta accused Jakrapob of storing firearms and ammunition as part of an alleged plot to incite violence in the capital. The Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest to answer charges of possessing illegal weapons and involvement in an illegal group.

Upon landing back in Thailand, Jakrapob told reporters he decided to return after “several positive changes” in his homeland, with the “democratic camp” back in power and the political role of “democracy’s destroyers” reduced.

He said he had phoned Thaksin before making the decision to return.

Thaksin flew home last August after 15 years of self-imposed exile, spending six months of a one-year reduced prison term in a hospital before being released on parole in February.

Living in 5 countries

Jakrapob said both his parents had died during his exile, but he could not return despite “missing Thailand every day” in the five foreign countries where he stayed. He declined to name the countries, but his fellow former red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said Jakrapob had stayed mostly in Cambodia but had flown back to Thailand from Dubai.

Born on October 21, 1967, Jakrapob obtained a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science followed by master’s and doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in the US.

He first rose to fame as a television talk-show host and political commentator before entering politics. His articulate personality and strong communication skills caught the attention of Thaksin, who made him his government’s spokesman in 2003.

Jakrapob contested general elections in 2005 and 2006 under Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party but failed to win a seat. However, he was appointed deputy secretary-general to the prime minister after Thaksin returned to power.

Red-shirt founder

After Thaksin was ousted in the 2006 military coup and his party was dissolved, Jakrapob co-founded the People Television satellite TV station, which served as a mouthpiece for anti-coup activists loyal to Thaksin. He was also a founding member of the red-shirt movement before it transformed into the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. He led several protests against the post-coup government of General Surayud Chulanont.

In 2007-2008, Jakrapob served as the Prime Minister’s Office minister in the administration led by Thaksin’s proxy, Samak Sundaravej.

During his tenure, Jakrapob initiated reform that transformed the state-run TV Channel 11 into the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT).

After 15 months in office, he was forced to resign in May 2008 when he was accused of slandering the monarchy in his talk on “Democracy and Thailand’s Patronage System” at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in August 2007.

He reportedly left the country in 2009 after a lèse-majesté lawsuit was filed against him, and did not return even after public prosecutors decided to not to indict him in 2011.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk


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