The accused

King Rama VIII death trial: Thai ambassador versus British magazine

[A Thai translation of this blog post by Thai E-news is here]

A British Foreign Office report from August 1951 in the UK National Archives records a meeting with Suan Navarasth, the Thai ambassador in London whose honorific title was Phra Bahidda Nukara. The ambassador was not a happy man, and he wanted to complain about the British media.

On February 24, The New Statesman and Nation, a left-leaning British political news magazine, had printed a short item about the trial of three men for the murder of King Ananda Mahidol of Siam in June 1946. The brief article noted that the Thai regime that had seized power in a military coup in November 1947 was trying to falsely implicate former Senior Statesman Pridi Banomyong in the king’s death, and that no direct evidence had been presented to demonstrate the guilt of Pridi or of the three scapegoats standing trial. It added that the trial was being held “primarily for propaganda purposes”.

A copy of the article is below, annotated by ambassador Suan himself to highlight the passages he found most offensive:

The article had infuriated the Thai foreign ministry, which ordered the ambassador to speak to the magazine’s editor, Kingsley Martin.

Suan told Martin that the article was inaccurate and demanded a correction. Martin contested this and refused to issue a correction, but promised to publish a response from the ambassador if he wanted to provide one.

This response was duly printed in the June 23 edition of The New Statesman and Nation. Unfortunately for the Thai ambassador, his letter clumsily claimed that “investigation and evidence confirm the charges” against Pridi and the other accused, forgetting that a trial was currently under way that was supposed to determine whether or not the charges were true.

The magazine’s editor, Kingsley Martin, made this clear in his response to the ambassador’s letter, which was printed alongside it:

Never did a Government so completely give itself away. While the trial is still in progress the Thai ambassador states that “subsequent investigation and evidence confirm the charges” against the accused men and adds “there is no question of supposition”! In short, by his own admission, the accused have been selected as victims, the charges privately “confirmed”, and the trial is a farce which is to lead to their condemnation.

Martin also mentioned allegations of torture against the three accused who were on trial, and added that the claim that Pridi had anything to do with King Ananda’s death was “notoriously a piece of political warfare”:

This, of course, caused further outrage in Bangkok, and the hapless ambassador Suan was sent to the British Foreign Office to seek official help from the UK government to deal with the upstart editor who was refusing to buy the official claims about the death of King Ananda and the fairness of the trial.

British officials told the ambassador that there was nothing they could do: the United Kingdom allowed freedom of the press.

Rather pathetically, the Thai ambassador then requested an official letter from the British to say so, which he could show to his superiors in Bangkok as an excuse for his inability to resolve the matter: