Toronto lawyer maintains criticisms despite Thai defamation complaint

Toronto lawyer Robert Amsterdam isn’t backing down from his criticisms of the Thai government despite a defamation complaint by the commander-in-chief of the country’s army.

According to a statement on Amsterdam’s web site, newspaper reports suggest Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has told Lt.-Col. Sayan Khhukhaji to report a defamation complaint against Amsterdam, who has been acting as legal counsel for former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the National United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship.

According to Amsterdam’s statement, the complaint is in reaction to a May 19 speech in Bangkok during which he denounced the Thai army “for its history of civilian massacres and then criticized the United States government for supplying the weapons and the training the Thai military routinely employs to murder its citizens.”

A story in the Bangkok Post, meanwhile, quoted a police source who alleged on May 19 Amsterdam told a gathering of Red Shirt supporters opposed to the government on that the army had bought weapons from the United States to kill Red Shirt protesters during the political violence of 2010.

Amsterdam, a co-founder of Amsterdam & Peroff LLP, which has offices in Toronto, London, England, and Washington, has made a name for himself as a defender of human rights in countries with spotty records on the subject.

He has clients in places like Uzbekistan and Nigeria, where he represented Nasir El-Rufai, a former cabinet minister facing jail time, and Mallam Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, another politician who claims he was the victim of electoral fraud.

In 2005, Amsterdam was arrested and expelled from Russia while working on the defence of former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who alleged there were political motivations behind his prosecution for fraud and tax evasion. The courts eventually found Khodorkovsky guilty and sentenced him to 14 years in jail.

In May 2010, Amsterdam unveiled his latest big-name client: Shinawatra and his supporters. At the time, they were occupying parts of Bangkok in protests against the government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Besides Amsterdam, the army commander’s defamation complaint also reportedly targets the Thai woman who translated his speech. In his statement, Amsterdam suggests the complaint comes as the army and Vejjajiva are threatening those involved in investigations of the 2010 crackdown and are lashing out at the press for asking questions about military actions.

“Mr. Amsterdam stands by his comments and remains committed to the effort to hold senior officials (including Mr. Prayuth and former prime minster Abhisit Vejjajiva) accountable for the crime against humanity committed during the unlawful suppression of the Red Shirt rallies in April and May 2010,” says the statement on Amsterdam's web site.

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