Bangkok shrine bombing

Thailand must ensure investigation into Bangkok bombing is fair and transparent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 August, 2015, 1:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 August, 2015, 1:50am

Hongkongers Vivian Chan Wing-yan and Arcadia Pang Wan-chee and the other tourists killed or injured in Bangkok could never have guessed that they would be caught up in a bombing. Extremist attacks are not unusual in Thailand, but never before have they been staged in the capital with such callous disregard for life. The location and time - the popular Erawan Hindu Shrine in the symbolic heart of the city in the evening rush hour - revealed the aim was to cause as many deaths as possible. We feel the pain of the victims and the sorrow of the relatives of those whose lives were so senselessly taken.

Extremism today knows no bounds. The nature of communications means that radical thoughts and actions can spread widely and rapidly. What was once sacrosanct can no longer be considered untouchable; it is only as safe as policing and security makes it. The red alert that Hong Kong's government has issued for travel to Bangkok should not be taken as a warning of an imminent attack, but nor can it be disregarded. There has so far been no claim of responsibility for the bombing. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army general who led the coup that overthrew democratically elected Yingluck Shinawatra in May last year, has suggested the ousted leader's supporters may be involved. He made the same claim after a blast on the holiday island of Koh Samui in April. But it would be wrong to so quickly reach such a conclusion before an investigation has been carried out; it is one thing for radicals to protest against the junta with small-scale attacks, but quite another to carry out a mass-casualty bombing at a religious site near shopping malls, a train station and hotels.

There are no shortage of suspects. Beyond anti-government factions, there are Muslim separatists in the south, extremists like the Islamic State and Chinese media have suggested Uygurs angered by Thailand's recent deportation of compatriots. But what is certain is that harm has been done to Thailand's tourism sector and investors have been further scared off. Prayuth promised stability when the military seized power, but on his watch the capital's worst attack has taken place. There will be a temptation to round up opponents and crack down on Muslims, but that will only further damage relations with his government. The investigation has to be exhaustive and transparent; the victims, their families, Thais and those with connections to the country demand it.