On 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT), activists held a rally for LGBTQ rights and called for marriage equality by rewriting the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Thai marriage law.
Activists reading the rewritten ruling (Photo from iLaw)
On 17 November 2021, the Thai Constitutional Court ruled that Article 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code, which states that marriage can only be contracted between a man and a woman, does not violate Section27 of the Constitution, which states that all persons are equal, and equally protected, under the law.
The ruling sparked public outrage, as the full text was found to be archaic, sexist, and homophobic, such as when it defines marriage as “when a man and a woman are willing to live together, to build a husband and wife relationship to reproduce their offspring, under the morals, traditions, religion and the laws of each society” and that it is therefore reserved only for a man and a woman. The ruling also mention that LGBTQ people cannot reproduce and that LGBTQ marriage is against the natural order, and that they cannot form the same “delicate bond” as that of heterosexual families. It also said that legalizing LGBTQ marriage would place a greater “burden” on the government to provide welfare and benefit to LGBTQ couples. Another part of the ruling also compared LGBTQ people to animals with strange behaviour.
On 8 March, International Women’s Day, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and the activist group Feminist’s Liberation Front Thailand launched the “People’s Judgement” project with a panel discussion on marriage equality, during which panellists said that the Constitutional Court’s ruling shows a lack of understanding and connection with the people, as well as damages gender justice in the country.
Tyrell Haberkorn, Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said during the discussion that the project aims to provide an opportunity for the public to criticize the Constitutional Court’s ruling in order to imagine a more equal future by rewriting the ruling.
Haberkorn said that the project took inspiration from activists and feminist lawyers in other countries, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK, which uses this method to push for changes in the legal system. She noted that these countries are democratic countries where the courts try to be progessive, but the situation in Thailand is the opposite since there is still an attempt to protect conservative ideology.
In Canada, a group of feminist academics, activists, and lawyers formed the Women’s Court of Canada and rewrote a number of rulings made by the Supreme Court of Canada in gender equality-related cases to see what the rulings would have been like if equality as defined under Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms took priority in the decision-making process.
Haberkorn said that she was angry and found that the Constitutional Court’s ruling devalued LGBTQ people’s human dignity. She said that, as an academic who studies human rights and state violence, she has not studied LGBTQ rights even though she identifies as a woman who loves women, and wanted to rewrite the ruling to show the court how it should be done.
Meanwhile, TLHR lawyer Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, another panellist, said that Thai law has never defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but there is stipulation under Article 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code, which is being challenged on whether it is discriminatory, and she is not sure where the Constitutional Court got its definition of marriage from. She also said that the Constitutional Court said that Thai tradition is different from that of other countries and that a law would only be sustainable if it doesn’t go against the views of the people, and questioned how the judges could say what the public’s opinion is on any matter.
Poonsuk said that the Court only considered the two sexes, male and female, and the differences in how each sex is treated, but today, gender has gone beyond the male-female binary and reflects how the Constitutional Court is still stuck in the old framework. She also noted that the Constitutional Court should not have considered the idea that people would get married in order to benefit from state welfare, even though a marriage without the intention of living together would be annulled under the current law.
The TLHR lawyer said that the People’s Judgement project is an attempt to bring power back to the people. Since there can be no appeal against a Constitutional Court ruling, other courts are not able to comment on it in the way that would have been possible in other cases where appeals can be made to the Appeal Court or the Supreme Court. She said that rewriting the ruling would be a positive criticism of the Constitutional Court in that it would show the court how things should be.
Meanwhile, gender equality activist Chumaporn Tangkliang said during the panel discussion that the public has the right to write a ruling because everyone is human and equal. While judges have law degrees and a job, people in the LGBTQ community have to live with not being allowed to register their marriage, so they have the right to write their own ruling. Doing so would return to them their power and human dignity.
On 17 May, activists gathered on the Pathumwan Skywalk for an IDAHOT rally, during which they presented a rewritten version of the Constitutional Court ruling on marriage law, which was written by activists and members of the public who signed up to participate in the People’s Judgement project, which states that Article 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code violates Sections 4, 25, 26, and 27 of the Constitution, noting that even though Section 27 of the Constitution states that men and women have equal rights, it does not mean that anyone with a different gender identity or sexual orientation does not have equal rights. The ruling said that not discriminating on the basis of gender includes everyone regardless of their identity or orientation, and a law that is limited to sex as assigned at birth would lead to discrimination against a group of people in the society on the basis of gender, which would disrespect their human dignity.
The ruling stated that building a family is now not limited to a man and a woman, and that sharing one’s life with another person is about the intention to create a sustainable relationship. It stated that the family is held to be a fundamental institution of Thai society, and that the right to establish a family should not be denied to LGBTQ people. It notes that families do not exist solely for procreation, that reproductive technology now exists to assist those who wish to have children, and that the law must protect the rights of all individuals.
“Oppressing people who are different is not good morals, no matter how one defines good morals. Neither sexual nor gender bias should be a factor in deciding who can marry and nor should fears that extending the right to marry will increase the burden on the state or that people will exploit public benefits and impact state security. Equality in this country has never been a gift from the state but is a result of a long struggle,” said the ruling.
(Photo from iLaw)
Currently, two bills on marriage for LGBTQ couples are already waiting to go before parliament. One is the Civil Partnership bill proposed by the Ministry of Justice and approved by the Cabinet in June 2020. It has previously been criticized by NGOs and LGBTQ rights activists for not giving LGBTQ couples the same rights as heterosexual couples and for being unclear about whether certain rights are granted. Activists also questioned the need for separate legislation legalising LGBTQ marriages and raised concerns that the bill will deepen the stigma against the LGBTQ community in Thailand.
Another bill is proposes amendments to the sections on marriage and family in the Civil and Commercial Code, or the Marriage Equality bill, proposed by MPs from the Move Forward Party, which will change the terminology used in the law to “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife,” and “person” instead of “man” and “woman” and raise the age at which a person can legally marry from 17 to 18 years.
The bill went before parliament in February 2022 and was forwarded to the Cabinet for consideration. On 29 March, the Government House website reported the Cabinet voted to reject it and ordered the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to develop the Civil Partnership Bill using the results of a study conducted by Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University and to present a revised draft to the Cabinet as soon as possible so that it can be proposed to parliament.
Nevertheless, the Marriage Equality bill can still go before parliament. According to the 2019 Rules of Procedure of the House of Representatives, a bill proposed by an MP or by civil society can be forwarded to the Cabinet for a 60-day consideration period, and must be returned to parliament after the consideration period has lapsed. The House Speaker may also put it on the parliament agenda even though it has not been returned.
Meanwhile, another Marriage Equality Bill is in the process of collecting signatures so that it can be proposed to parliament. On 28 November 2021, during a protest at the Ratchaprasong intersection, the Rainbow Coalition for Marriage Equality, a network of over 40 civil society organizations and activist groups, launched a petition proposing amendments to the Civil and Commercial Code to allow marriage registration between two people of any gender.
The petition proposes to amend Article 1448 of the Civil Commercial Code, which governs marriage, so that marriage registration is allowed between two people of any gender, instead of only between a man and a woman. It also proposed to raise the age at which people can legally marry from 17 to 18 years old.
The petition also proposes to replace the terms “man” and “woman” in every article of the Civil and Commercial Code relating to marriage with “person,” as well as to replace “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” and “father” and “mother” with “parents.”
The amendments will grant LGBTQ couples the same rights, duties, and legal recognition as heterosexual couples, including the right to adopt a child together and be recognized as the child’s parents, the right to have the power of attorney to make medical decisions of behalf of one’s partner and to press charges on behalf of one’s partner, the right to use one’s partner’s last name, and the right to inherit property from each other without the need for a will.
Within 24 hours of its launch, the petition gained over 150,000 signatures, ten times the number legally required for a bill to be put before parliament. As of 20 May 2022, it has gained over 304,000 signatures.NewsIDAHOTInternational Day Against Homophobia Transphobia and Biphobiamarriage equalitymarriage lawLGBT rightsLGBTQDiscrimination against LGBT peoplePeople's JudgementPeople's CourtFeminist judgementConstitutional court
On 18 May, a Thailand appellate court today dismissed an appeal by Mitr Phol Company Limited to reject a complaint filed on behalf of Cambodian plaintiffs affected by forced evictions and land grabbing that took place in Cambodia a decade ago. The motion asked the court to review the plaintiff’s legal arguments.
A file photo of sugarcane field. (Source: Pixabay)
Sor. Rattanamanee Polkla and Tittasat Sudsan, lawyers for the plaintiffs, came to the Bangkok South Civil Court to hear the Mitr Phol appeal. The Court sustained an earlier decision to dismiss Mitr Phol’s appeal.
It also called for the trial to proceed and scheduled a hearing for 21 September 2022 at 09.00.
Tittasat Sudsan applauded the decision. The legal analysis under review pertained to statutes of limitations, three years under Cambodian law and one year under Thai regulations. The decision opens the way for the next step in the proceedings: gathering relevant evidence in the investigation and hearing testimony.
The case is something of a landmark - the first transboundary class action case heard in Thailand.
On July 31, 2020 a Thai Appeal Court ruled that 700 Cambodian families could move ahead with a class action lawsuit against Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol. The suit demands appropriate compensation and remediation from the company. Plaintiffs claim that their homes were burnt down and that the company appropriated community lands and forest.
The case arose in Oddar Meanchey Province of Cambodia, where Mitr Phol invested in sugar cane plantations. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit said that their homes and livelihoods were destroyed by the company.
Mitr Phol is a member of Bonsucro – a global platform that promotes sustainable sugarcane production, processing, and trading. As a member, Mitr Phol is obliged to uphold environmental and social sustainability standards across its supply chain. The lawsuit underscores the importance of industry best practices for supply chains and reminds us why companies like Mitr Phol that invest in sugar cane plantations and processing must comply with them.Pick to PostMitr Phol Sugar
On 17 May, the Ratchadaphisek Civil Court postponed hearings in the case against the Office of the Prime Minister and the Royal Thai Army (RTA) over compensation for their involvement in Information Operations (IO) targeting people and activists in the Deep South of Thailand where the military are conducting anti-insurgency operations.
Anchana and Angkhana (Second from the left and right) take a group photo with the lawyer team.
The case was brought by Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and now an expert in the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), and Anchana Heemmina, a human rights activist from the Duay Jai group, a rights organisation in the Deep South, who have been the target of defamation by Pulony.blogspot.com, a website that was found to have a connection with the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a quasi-military government agency conducting operations involving civilians.
Angkhana and Anchana filed a lawsuit against the Office of the Prime Minister, the entity that oversees ISOC, and the RTA, saying they were guilty of malfeasance for supporting the publication of defamatory accusations against them via the website.
The two plaintiffs and their team of lawyers presented themselves at the Court for what was scheduled to be the last hearing of witnesses for the plaintiffs, only to be informed that the hearing had been put off, on the grounds that a lawyer for the defendants had fallen ill.
As the trial was supposed to continue with defence witness hearings on 18-19 May, the postponement has affected that schedule. The next hearing is set for 26 August 2022.
Angkhana expressed regret over the postponement because she had prepared well for her testimony, hoping for a quick end to the case. She added that this case was not pursued for the benefit of Anchana and herself, but with the aim of setting a precedent for the protection of human rights defenders from the work of IOs that still persists and repeatedly makes victims of women human rights defenders (WHRDs).
Sanya Chongdeeiad, a member of the legal team, said the team has prepared two witnesses. One is Angkhana, who will address the scope of damage caused by harassment of women human rights defenders working in the Deep South. Another witness is an expert that has been monitoring the website’s attacks on human rights defenders, activists and citizens who rally for human rights protection.
The case stems from evidence revealed during a 2020 parliamentary no-confidence debate in which MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn exposed an Information Operation (IO) to spread disinformation and smear the reputations of WHRDs using the website Pulony.blogspot.com. The alleged aim of the IO was to damage the reputations, dignity and mental health of WHRDs. The case was filed to hold those responsible for the IO accountable.
On 4 November 2020, lawyers representing Angkhana and Anchana, filed the case against the Office of the Prime Minister and the RTA, claiming damages of three million baht and two million baht respectively. The defendants are alleged to be responsible for the dissemination of disinformation on the Pulony.blogspot.com website to smear the two WHRDs.
In its February 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report, Facebook says it detected and removed 77 accounts, 72 pages, 18 groups and 18 Instagram accounts originating in Thailand, targeting audiences in the Southern provinces.
On 8 October 2020, Twitter revealed 1,594 accounts linked to state-run information operations (IO) in 5 countries: 104 from Iran, 33 from Saudi Arabia, 526 from Cuba, 5 from fake Russian news agencies and 926 from Thailand.
Twitter cooperated with the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) in the investigation and analysis which revealed that 926 accounts with 21,385 tweets linked to the Thai Royal Army supported the government and the Army and targeted opposition parties and their allies, especially the Future Forward Party (FFP) and the Move Forward Party (MFP).
The SIO’s country report “Cheerleading Without Fans: A Low-Impact Domestic Information Operation by the Royal Thai Army” categorized the RTA IO behaviour under 4 headings: RTA Cheerleading, neutralizing criticism during the Korat mass shooting, criticizing the FFP and MFP, and posting content related to Covid-19 including retweeting the PM’s tweets.NewsAngkhana NeelapaijitAnchana HeemminaInformation OperationOffice of the Prime MinisterRoyal Thai Army (RTA)
A talk with Thep Boontanondha, author of “The King’s Soldiers and the Fostering of Faith and Loyalty” in an attempt to see how the Thai armed forces have been imbued with monarchism. As the influence of the monarchy ebbs and flows, the practice lives on, affecting the political landscape even after the fall of the absolute monarchy.
- Kings in the past were regularly challenged by the military at times when nobles were able to conscript troops, reflecting the instability of the throne which was liable to be overthrown at any time.
- King Rama V’s military reform to make the monarch the only person to have an armed force was an important point in creating serving officers who were loyal to the king. Many traditions to create a royalist consciousness were taken from the west and applied to the Thai context, from the structural to the ceremonial.
- Loyalty to the king is a difficult thing to measure, since it depends on the individual and the power of each king’s prestige. The 1912 Palace Revolt and the change to a democratic form of government in 1932 are reflections of different views toward the monarchy.
- After the 1932 revolution, the king’s role in the army was reduced, but there still existed young shoots of royalism and conservatism which would come back with a greater role during the Cold War.
The secure relationship between the monarchy and the Thai military is one of the common understandings in this country and can be seen in slogans in military camps, the military’s role in royal ceremonies and providing security, to the annual budget where the military is allocated a budget every year to spend in missions related to the monarchy.
Putting aside the obvious, a more difficult question is, why did this secure relationship arise? When did it arise, how did it arise, and what are the things we should be concerned about in the socio-political context we are currently living in?
The King’s Soldiers and the Fostering of Faith and Loyalty (ทหารของพระราชา กับการสร้างสำนึกแห่งศรัทธาและภักดี), a book written by Thep Boontanondha and published in March 2022, and adapted from his doctorate dissertation when he was studying at Waseda University, Japan, presents findings that answer these difficult questions for the public. While the printing press is still warm, Prachatai talks to Thep about the origin, decline, and return of the Thai way of being “the King’s Soldiers.”The beginnings of the King’s Soldiers
“This work started from studying the process of creating a modern army. Once the modern army was created, western knowledge was brought in. Apart from strategy, military methods, battle formations, weapons and munitions, one thing that came together with the modern army that was imported from the west were military rituals and traditions.”
Thep answers questions related to the period of 1868 to 1957, an era starting when King Rama V began reform of the army by creating a national standing army, through the revolution in 1932 which was followed by a reduction in the king’s role and authority in the army, then to Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram’s return to power after the 1947 coup, when the power bases of Phin Choonhavan and Sarit Thanarat during the Cold War allowed the Thai King to revive his role in the army to fight against communism. The rituals or concepts of loyalty to the King after 1947 are similar, differing only in terms of scope and number.
The basic idea behind creating the King’s Soldiers can be traced back to the relationship between the military, the nobility and the king in the Ayutthaya era (1351-1767) until the military reforms of Rama V. Thep relates that when nobles and the king had their personal armed forces from conscripting commoners, the existence of the king and the succession to the throne was always tense.
Traces of the king’s efforts to foil attempts to seize the throne can be seen in customary laws which prohibited nobles from meeting in secret and specified penalties up to death for activities beyond the law, or if any noble did not attend the royal oath-taking ceremony, this was an offence carrying the death penalty for the entire family..
“Think of conditions in the time of Ayutthaya when coups occurred very often. Especially during the early Rattanakosin era, from King Rama I to King Rama V, no succession was carried out smoothly. There always had to be a prior incident. King Rama I seized the throne from King Taksin. After King Rama II succeeded to the throne there was the rebellion by Prince Kasatra (Chao Fa Men). In the reign of King Rama III there was the Krommaluang Rak Ronnaret rebellion before King Rama IV ascended the throne. During the succession of King Rama V, there was the issue of Somdet Chaophraya Borom Maha Sri Suriwongse being the person to choose by himself who will become king. We can see that the former military administrative system created challenges to the king all the time, since everyone could have their own soldiers.”
Attempts to use force to seize power were almost normal when changing reigns, especially at times when the king was weak and did not have the support of nobles with strong forces. In Thep’s book, there are mentions of attempts to seize power from King Rama I by Somdet Phra Bawornrajchao Maha Sura Singhanat, the Front Palace (heir to the crown). Although throughout King Rama I’s reign there were no large conflicts, before Maha Sura Singhanat passed away, he encouraged his heir to seize power from King Rama I.
During King Rama II’s reign, there were attempts to seize power by Prince Kasatra (Chao Fa Men) and by descendants of King Taksin. Both ended in failure and the instigators were executed. This shows that the power of the king could at all times be challenged by the power belonging to other nobles.
This continued until King Rama V, who ascended to the throne with the support of Somdet Phra Bawornrajchao Maha Sri Suriwongse, an important member of the Bunnag family. There were tensions between military forces with Phra Ong Chao Yodyingyot who was the Front Palace, also through the support of Somdet Phra Bawornrajchao Maha Sri Suriwongse. Conflicts occurred after King Rama V tried to centralise power which impacted other nobles as regards tax collection. This tension caused King Rama V to slow down the reforms, before starting to reform the army, by centralising military power to himself in 1887 or 2 years after Phra Ong Chao Yodyingyot passed away.Adapting ‘Soldiers of the King’ from the west
Thep says that King Rama V’s military administration reforms included the principle of not allowing nobles to have their personal military forces, restricting the authority to have an armed force to the king alone, under commanders who the king trusted. In practice, King Rama V went forward with his policy to abolish slavery and finished with the 1905 Military Conscription Act. In principle, it identifies the necessity for training in modern warfare and points out that the system of conscripting commoners for war was inappropriate for the times.
The Act specifies that 18-year-old able-bodied males must be conscripted for military service for a period of 2 years, after which they must serve as Level 1 reserves for another 5 years, then as Level 2 reserves for another 10 years, when their official duties were considered fulfilled. They were compensated with a salary, equipment and a tax exemption. Those who are released after being Level 2 reserves were exempt from taxes for life.
Elephants carrying artillery of conscripts from Phitsanulok en route to subjugate Yellow Flag Haw at Luang Prabang for the first time in 1875. Image from Wikipedia.
Military conscription brought civilians into the modern government system. And bringing them into the government system was also an opportunity to instil a feeling of loyalty toward the king as the one owner of an armed force. Thep relates that during periods when there was no war, the King demonstrated his military role. Kings from Rama V onwards created their military role through rituals and seeking opportunities to interact with soldiers.
The form of these rituals and practices was taken from western countries which the sons of the nobility had seen, such as England, Germany, Denmark and Russia, countries where at that time the king had a role in the army and politics as one part of building soldiers of the King.
Thep gives an example of the selection culture in the royal military academy, an educational institution for future commanders established in 1887. The academy later became a place for kings to have a relationship with all the soldiers. One of the historical clues that may indicate the concept of creating soldiers loyal to the King is the regulation which enables the children of high-ranking nobility to enter the academy without needing to take the entrance examination that was compulsory for commoners to be selected, due to the belief that nobility will be more loyal to the king than commoners.
“The state of the Thai elite was that when they saw something, they wanted to adapt it to Thai society, especially in the military. One important issue was the founding of the Royal Military Academy. At first, before Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, Prince of Bishnulok, became Commander of the Academy, there were no real limits on who had the right to study there. But during his command, the Academy started to specify which families could enter.
“Actually, this [concept] was taken from Russia. Russia also specified the families who could enter their military academy without an examination. This is an influence brought in by noble children who had gone to study overseas.”
In the days when the King no longer needed to lead the army into battle, displays which demonstrated the status of Soldiers of the King and the King of the Soldiers can be seen through various royal activities, whether visiting soldiers, paying attention to them, or observing their training.
This kind of relationship with the army became necessary for the king due to the security of the throne. Even King Rama VI who had quarrels with some military officers when he was Crown Prince still regularly went to watch the army’s training – and not just on one-day visits, but overnight stays. In addition, in the letters he wrote after training for the participating soldiers you see the term “my soldiers” all the time.
Thep said that the rituals were to impress on the soldiers the recognition of the king as their supreme commander, and that they should think of the king’s kindness in their being able to receive a salary or various opportunities, especially among officer cadets, in which the monarchy had more interest than in non-commissioned officers. There were many rituals targeted towards officer cadets, such as the graduation ceremony which in the reign of King Rama V was called an annual festival. Later, this ceremony in the reign of King Rama VII was called the Royal Sword Presentation Ceremony.
In the last Royal Sword Presentation Ceremony before the change in the system of government in 1932, King Rama VII, who had inklings of rumours of a coup, still gave guidance to cadets in the ceremony on 24 March 1931, stressing to the military not to dabble in politics because whenever they dabble in politics, it will create disorder like in China at that time.
“…that’s why the important duty of a soldier is to provide safety to the nation and the people. If our soldiers were to behave in the way of another profession and outside their own profession, that is wrong. If we were to behave as if we were in business, thinking only of increasing our income, then that undoubtedly cannot be done. It is wrong to our one true profession. Or another issue, we will get lost in thinking about political plans and the like. That is the duty of civilians. That is also wrong. Whichever the nation, they consider that regular soldiers have no duty to think or talk about politics. If soldiers meddle in politics, the results would undoubtedly be negative. For example, in China, different warlords gather soldiers into factions, fighting each other with no end in sight. That is why this is an important point. Soldiers must not be involved in politics. The duty of a soldier is to preserve peace…”
(Taken from the speech made at the Royal Sword Presentation Ceremony for military cadets on 24 March 1931)
“In King Rama V’s reign, the annual festival was held in both the morning and evening, that is, the ceremony took a very long time. In the morning was an official ceremony where certificates were given out. In the evening was a gala dinner, a party to congratulate the soldiers. This ceremony continued in King Rama VI’s reign. Since he had conflicts with the Army, he would attend sometimes, and sometimes not, sending a representative instead.
“But in King Rama VII’s reign, the ceremony was changed to the Royal Sword Presentation Ceremony because the budget was less, and there were economic problems. We can see that King Rama VII attended the ceremony every time, and every time would make a speech that clearly emphasised that the soldiers are soldiers with the duty to protect the nation and monarchy.”
The Royal Sword Presentation Ceremony has continued up to today. In King Rama IX’s reign, although he no longer attended commencement ceremonies in civilian universities to bestow diplomas, he still presented swords to military students up to when his health deteriorated near the end of his reign.Loyalty: difficult to grasp, but deeply pervasive
Displaying unity is not limited to what one needs to do, but also includes choosing what not to do. One thing that Thep discovered was that, in an era where mass media and print were limited to the elite, responses to the military or the speeches of King Rama VI and King Rama VII did not position anyone as the enemy to the military as an institution in a straightforward manner, even when the challenges to the existence of the throne were at their peak, i.e. before the revolution on 1932, such as the speech of King Rama VII in March 1932, or after the 1912 Palace Revolt. King Rama VI, who authored a royal article on “Seizing Power” (ฉวยอำนาจ), still chose to give as the reason for the rebellion that fact that the army listened to words of incitement from some of the nobility, but the truth was that the military was still loyal to the monarchy.
The Army’s Victory March, Paris, France, 14 July 1919. Image from Wikipedia
“[King Rama VI’s response in the newspaper] was aimed more at the elite. King Rama VI never insulted the military. He never insulted soldiers in the armed forces at all, but insulted the elite who were in the military.
“He didn’t criticise the military, the institution, the privates, but criticised the nobles or the upper class in the military. Military officers during the reigns of King Rama VI and King Rama VII were politicians; they were not just soldiers. In terms of politics, this group were politicians. There had to be some policy that was not the same as King Rama VI, so there had to be criticism And people in this group also criticised King Rama VI. But in terms of the armed forces, Thai kings never criticised the military, and never insulted them strongly. At most they gave warnings, but they didn’t insult the army, and would not make themselves the enemy of the military.
“If you start to criticise the army, the army will feel that you’re not on their side. As soon as you’re not on their side, then they will look for a new boss.” Thep said that the success in fostering loyalty towards the king in the army is a difficult thing to measure, since loyalty is a personal issue and each king had differences in merit and prestige. This means that their duties and attempts to keep the army and the king on the same side differed in each reign.
“The reigns of King Rama V and King Rama VI used the same methods, but soldiers had more loyalty to King Rama V, since a group in the army had been dissatisfied with Rama VI from before he ascended to the throne, when a royal page of Rama VI had been in an argument with a soldier. This continued until the Wild Tiger Corps was established, which made the military feel that King Rama VI gave more importance to other affairs than to the armed forces, which lead to the 1912 Palace Revolt.
Although we cannot measure the result, Thep observed that the relationship between the monarchy and the military was deep and became the line of defence against the movement to change the system of government, resulting in the monarchy and its components remaining in place in the new system, later giving rise to the Boworadet rebellion and the later return of the role of the monarchy.
“We will see someone like Phraya Si Sitthisongkhram – he was actually a close friend of Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena. He was on the conservative side. In 1932, from one point of view he didn’t betray his friend, but in another we can see that conservative soldiers and soldiers from the provinces are more likely to be loyal to the monarchy. We know that in actuality, the soldiers who joined the 1932 revolution were only a small group, not the whole country, and that a compromise between Khana Ratsadon and King Rama VII led to no civil war.
“Purachatra Jayakara clearly said that if they had to fight, they could, because soldiers from the provinces are likely to be loyal. We can see that most of the provincial soldiers were conservative, as they did not study overseas, and did not receive scholarships, so their path in the bureaucracy would be different from the Khana Ratsadon that had received scholarships and were soldiers with good educational achievements. When they came home to government service, the soldiers that were granted scholarships would be stationed in the centre, i.e. Bangkok, and the soldiers that didn’t get scholarships would go through the old-style Royal Military Academy, which is conservative.”
Thep thinks that the time when the armed forces displayed their loyalty to the king most was not during the absolute monarchy, but when a pro-monarchy group returned to take a political role after the 1947 coup. One point that clearly reflects this observation is one of the reasons given for the coup to seize power from the Thawan Thamrongnawasawat government, which was the need to protect and support the monarchy.
After that, there began to be seen displays of loyalty from an opposite angle. Before, the king expressed loyalty, but now it was the military expressing its loyalty instead. Moreover, the protection of and support for the monarchy is still one of the pretexts used for staging a coup up to the latest coup in 2014.
“In 1932 there were many conditions that cost the monarchy its power in terms of legitimacy, prestige and many problems that could not be solved. At the same time, the military did not need to stand with the monarchy to create legitimacy to do anything, especially after the 1932 revolution, when the army stood on the legitimacy of the birth of the constitution. But after 1947, a legitimate civilian government was overthrown, and there needed to be a pretext for the military to overthrow a government that was chosen through an election.
“The corruption issue is always used as a pretext, but one feature that was seen for the first time in 1947 and recurred later, is the claim that a coup protects the monarchy, and maintains it so that it does not fall any lower. A coup which uses this pretext, using the monarchy as a pretext … means the military has no other pretext to show to the people that they are loyal, because they use the monarchy as an important tool to take power.
“Various rituals went on, with ups and downs, until in 1947 when they started to settle down and became very fixed, and they became something important for the military to use for display, to show that things have changed. Rituals post-1947 were still balanced, but after 1957, rituals were held not so much because the king needed to emphasise that the military had to be loyal, or maybe partly so, but also more importantly because the military needed these rituals to confirm that they were soldiers loyal to the monarchy and to show this to the people.”The decline and revival of the king’s influence in the military
The regime change by Khana Ratsadon in 1932 was a turning point in taking military power out of the hands of the king, but Thep said that, while the creation of a national armed force under the constitution proceeded, there was also something that Somsak Jeamteerasakul calls the legacy of the absolute monarchy proceeding in parallel. Historical traces of this can be seen in military rituals.
“The format for performing the rituals remained unchanged, especially while Plaek Phibunsongkhram was in power. The rituals that Plaek Phibunsongkhram performed and had the military use, such as the parades, okay, maybe they shifted from in front of the Equestrian Statue of King Rama V as a strong symbol of conservatism to the Democracy Monument, or the Royal Sword Presentation ceremony was changed to a Sword Presentation ceremony, with Plaek Phibunsongkhram presiding over the ceremony instead.
“There are also other rituals where the King did not have a role and Plaek Phibunsongkhram, as the Army Commander-in-Chief, would be involved. These rituals on one hand retained the principle of giving importance to only one person instead of the position of head of a political institution, since the rituals that were held during the absolute monarchy were to instil in soldiers loyalty to the king, not towards an institution.”
Plaek Phibunsongkhram inspecting the line and greeting soldiers on the way to battle in the Indo-China war. Image from Wikipedia
“I think that he [Plaek Phibunsongkhram] knew that these rituals would cause the soldiers to be loyal to him, as the national leader, not a political institution or a political party or anything else. Although Phibunsongkhram said that the military must protect the constitution because it was an important matter, we must understand that Phibunsongkhram was also the one who gave this country a constitution and was an important member of the Khana Ratsadon. And Phibunsongkhram always used the constitution as a pretext to create legitimacy for himself in governing the nation. The constitution and he [Plaek] were what allowed this country to survive. It showed the might and the sovereignty of the nation.”
On the other hand, Thep said that it was also this very same Plaek Phibunsongkhram who revived the role of the king in politics and military affairs after he returned to power with the support of Phin Choonhavan and Sarit Thanarat after the 1947 coup, in the context of the Cold War, in which the US saw that one of the important variables in the fight against communism in Thailand was the monarchy.
Thep also said that the return of Phibunsongkhram after 1947 came with the military rituals and structures from the absolute monarchy era. For example the 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments were transformed into the King’s Close Bodyguard, a military unit for the king personally which had been abolished after the revolution; the 3rd Infantry Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, King’s Close Bodyguard was established to serve in various rituals from King Rama VIII’s cremation to King Rama IX’s coronation.
During King Rama IX’s reign, the king’s role with the military started to be seen more and more through attendance at different rituals or war games. Thep provided an example of when Rama IX once went to watch the war games of the navy in Chonburi. Originally it was a small ceremony, but the government turned it into a large-scale activity when King Rama IX decided to visit. Diplomats, ministers, MPs and politicians were invited to welcome the king. When King Rama IX arrived, he stayed a night and also went out to sea to watch the exercises.
Another new thing that was arose after the return of Phibunsongkhram was giving royal names to military camps. Originally, military camps were named according to their locations, but later, names were royally bestowed based on the names of members of the royal family that had served in the military or local heroes that had protected their hometown or displayed loyalty to the nation and the king.
For example, the camps of Phraya Phichai Dap Hak in Uttradit, Suranaree in Nakhon Ratchasima, Prem Tinsulanonda in Khon Kaen, and Phahonyothin in Lop Buri, were named by Rama IX. Later in March 2020, Fort Phahonyothin was given the name Bhumibol Adulyadej and Fort Phibunsongkhram located nearby was changed to Fort Sirikit after the Queen of the late King Rama IX.
Moreover, the emergence of the mass media technology of radio and television allowed the roles of the king and military to be widely known among the people. After 1987, when Rama IX’s prestige was at its highest peak, the Royal Parade and Oath-Taking Ceremony at the Equestrian Statue of King Rama V was shown live on the Television Pool of Thailand, fulfilling the wishes of Rama VII who wanted the ceremony to be seen by more people because at that time the people could only attend the Royal Parade along Ratchadamnoen Avenue which is quite small in space.
This kind of live broadcast reflected the importance of the ceremony and the importance of live broadcasts of the parade for the people to watch through the media. In this ceremony, there would be a royal address to the military, which is the only opportunity for a royal address to the military to be heard by the people and other soldiers not at the ceremony.Soldiers of the King and Soldiers of the People
Soldiers marching at the Oath-Taking Ceremony on the occasion of the Coronation Ceremony in 2019 and Royal Thai Armed Forces Day. Image from the Public Relations Committee for the Coronation of King Rama X
Thep finished off by saying that the power of regularly conducted rituals in the armed forces is directly related to the prestige of the king, but inculcating monarchism is often an individual matter. One concern for him is that once soldiers are inculcated to be loyal to the monarchy, they often forget that there is an organisation, the government, whose orders the military must obey.
A government that is not accepted by the military is something that is often seen, or a government that cannot really display or prove its loyalty will not be accepted or supported by the military in the same way as a dictatorship that always emphasises its loyalty towards the monarchy. A case where a civilian government is dependent on the people’s votes may make the military feel that they are not on the same side.
“Lastly, this book wants to show that ever since the military reform up until the era of democracy, soldiers in the Thai armed forces have never been instilled with or made aware of the idea that they have the duty to serve the people and the government. Instead, they have been schooled to obey the king, and dictators that have come from the military. Under these conditions, we may come to understand a specific phenomenon that occurs in Thai politics – why is it that a civilian government cannot control the military? In fact, they have to be constantly prepared to be overthrown by the military at any time, whenever they are seen as the opponents of the military and even the monarchy.
“However, on the other hand, a military dictatorship or civilian government which upholds and clearly displays loyalty to the king, will be able to maintain its political stability with the military doing its job of providing support. And so Thai politics is chaotic and keeps alternating between civilian governments that have received support from the people and military governments.”
Excerpt from The King’s Soldiers and the Fostering of Faith and Loyalty.
Thep Boontanondha, The King’s Soldiers and the Fostering of Faith and Loyalty, Bangkok: Matichon 2022InterviewThep BoontanondhaThai MilitaryThai Armed ForcesmonarchyKing's soldier
In a new surge of detentions, six people are in jail in connection with the royal defamation law – five of them denied bail to contest the charges outside prison. A human rights lawyer said the move illustrates the authorities’ obsession with smothering any public criticism of the monarchy.
Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon poses for a photo on 24 March 2022 during an interview with Prachatai.
BANGKOK — A 20-year-old activist currently in prison for trying to observe a royal motorcade pledged to continue her hunger strike to protest her pre-trial detention, one of her defense lawyers said.
Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, who began her hunger strike a day after she was sent to jail on 20 April, has already fainted at least once, her lawyer said. She’s one of six people who are imprisoned on allegations that they defamed the monarchy, a charge also known as lèse majeste. On Tuesday night, two more people were arrested on the same charge, though they were granted bail.
“She’s in a weak state right now,” Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, an attorney with Thai Lawyers for Human Rights who represents Tantawan, said by phone on Wednesday. “She insists she will continue her hunger strike indefinitely to demand her right to bail.”
Poonsuk added that Tantawan still drinks milk from time to time, while prison physicians recently performed a check-up on her and found that her blood sugar level is low.
Tantawan was charged with royal defamation under Section 112 of the Criminal Code after she attempted to livestream a royal motorcade in Bangkok on 5 March. Two days later, the court released her on bail with a set of controversial conditions that banned her from “committing any act that may damage or denigrate the monarchy” and from encouraging others to join political demonstrations. She was also ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device, or EM.
Police later asked the court to revoke her bail after she wrote online about her intention to be present at the route that King Vajiralongkorn was traveling on 17 March; investigators accused her of attempting to cause unrest. The court agreed and ruled on 20 April that Tantawan violated her bail conditions, sending her to a women’s prison as she awaits trial.
If found guilty, she faces up to 15 years in jail.
In a message relayed through her lawyers from inside the prison, Tantawan said she had no regrets.
“In this place, I have to adjust a lot,” Tantawan was quoted as saying. “Sometimes I feel down and discouraged, even though I already steeled myself to face this. At night, I can’t sleep. When I dream, I also dream of being in prison. But I certainly won’t give up. When I’m freed, I will carry on fighting, and if I could turn back time, I would do the same.”
Two activists were also arrested on the night of 10 May on royal defamation charges.
Kritsaphon Sirikittikul, or “Joseph,” and a woman identified only as “Mint” were accused of defaming the monarchy through speeches they made on Chakri Memorial Day, or 6 April, in which they discussed the death of King Taksin in 1782. King Taksin was overthrown in a putsch by King Rama I, the founder of Chakri Dynasty, and later executed on his orders.
The pair were granted bail on the next day, Poonsuk said.A surge in jailings
Tantawan is one of the 194 individuals who have been charged with royal defamation since the government launched a salvo of legal actions in response to the monarchy reform protests in November 2020.
A banner with a message "Abolish [Section] 112 = Exposing the truth" placed in a protest at Chiang Mai.
Just weeks ago, in early April, it seemed the sweeping crackdown was coming to a pause. Activists and monarchy critics who were previously imprisoned on royal defamation charges were all freed on bail – with the notable exception of ‘Anchan,’ a 63-year-old woman who has been behind bars for a lèse majesté conviction since January 2021.
But that has changed in recent days. Six people, Tantawan among them, are now in prison in connection with Section 112, Poonsuk said.
Others include Baipor Nattanich and Netiporn Sanesangkhom, the two women who staged repeated public surveys in central Bangkok asking passers-by their opinions about the monarchy, such as whether they believe traffic closures from royal motorcades caused frustrations in their lives.
Baipor and Netiporn were sent to prison on 3 May after the court revoked their bail, citing their actions as “causing unrest” and breaching bail conditions.
Speaking to reporters before the ruling, Baipor maintained she did nothing wrong, since she was merely posing questions to members of the public, who were encouraged to answer on their own terms.
“The public is free to participate in this activity,” Baipor said. “Organizing surveys is asking questions. It’s not just about the monarchy. Questions can be asked about other topics as well, like the government and other issues.”
Netiporn (left) and Baipor (right) give the media an interview.
Another dissident behind bars is Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, who was arrested on 1 May just as he was leaving a rally to mark International Labour Day. Police accused him of insulting Queen Suthida in a speech he gave at a protest on 22 April. He was subsequently denied bail.
Anti-government activist Weha Saenchonchanasuek was also denied bail and sent to prison after police arrested him on 10 March on the allegations that he made 2 Facebook posts that defamed the monarchy.
Former Redshirt volunteer guard commander Sombat Thongyoi, meanwhile, was sentenced to six years in prison by the Criminal Court on 28 April after finding him guilty of royal defamation. One of his offenses, the court said in its verdict, was reposting the 2020 quote by King Vajiralongkorn “Very brave, very good, thank you,” on social media in a sarcastic fashion.
“The defendant’s action is therefore considered a mockery of His Majesty the King, an unacceptable action that violates, defames and insults the monarch,” the court said.
Poonsuk, the attorney from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said all of the jailings except Sombat’s were pretrial detention, but even Sombat’s imprisonment was questionable because his case has yet to reach the final verdict by the Supreme Court.
Critics have repeatedly raised questions about the court’s practice of denying bail to individuals accused of royal defamation, even as suspects in far more serious cases like manslaughter and sexual assault are allowed to walk free.
When asked to comment on the new surge of activists being jailed, the lawyer said it is clear that the authorities are trying to silence anyone who comes out to criticize the monarchy in public.
“In fact, the people who were active prior to this are laying low for now,” Poonsuk said, referring to the activists who were freed in March and banned by the court from participating in protests.
“The new group that were arrested is the people that are still campaigning and they’re campaigning about sensitive issues like the monarchy,” she added. “So I don’t think it’s really a new surge. The officials are keeping their eyes open and watching this all the time. As soon as anyone does something, they’ll be arrested.”Round UpSection 112Article 112lèse majesté lawRoyal defamationTantawan TuatulanonSopon SurariddhidhamrongNetiporn SanesangkhomBaiporSombat Thongyoi
17 May 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of “Black May”, a popular uprising in 1992 that ended with a violent military crackdown and the fall of a military-led government. Plans to use the commemoration event to promote reconciliation are drawing more criticism than praise.
A file photo of graffiti behind the Black May memorial site at Ratchadamnoen Road.
In a statement issued on 5 May, Adul Khieoboriboon, the chair of a committee representing the relatives of individuals killed during the Black May violence, announced plans to invite Gen Pravit Wongsuwan, commander of the Royal Thai Army (RTA), Deputy Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former PM and Democrat Party head, Cholnan Srikaew, leader of the Pheu Thai Party, and a number of other individuals involved in the 1992 event to the commemoration.
According to Adul, the aim is to build upon reconciliation efforts that began five years ago when the committee first started inviting military leaders to the event.
Past commemoration events provided Black May survivors from different political camps with an opportunity to interact. Only recently have military leaders, and Gen Prawit, been invited to participate, however.
A representative from the Royal Thai Army (in the middle) attends the 25th commemoration event in 2017.
Metha Matkhao, secretary-general of the relatives’ committee, affirmed that organisers have invited figures from all shades of the political spectrum, from government and opposition party members to police and army officers. Chuan Leekpai, a Democrat Party politician and parliament spokesperson, has been asked to chair the commemoration and wreath-laying ceremonies.A reconciliation misplaced
Not everyone agrees that reconciliation is warranted. Thirty years ago, people took to the streets to protest against the military dictatorship of Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon. In the crackdown that followed, the official death toll was 52 people. Another 3,500 were arrested, many alleging that they were tortured in custody.
As a result of the violence, Gen Suchinda, and protest leader Maj Chamlong Srimuang were summoned on 20 May to meet with King Rama IX to find a way out of the conflict. Gen Suchinda later resigned on 24 May, paving the way for a return to civilian rule.
The military’s withdrawal from politics makes Black May a rare occurrence in Thailand, an episode comparable to the October 1973 protests which toppled the military government of the day. King Bhumibol’s effort to defuse tensions was also a moment when the king’s popularity reached a new peak.
Some argue that efforts to ‘forgive and forget’ are misplaced, that the commemoration should focus instead on honouring the victims of past political struggles.
Since 8 May, the People’s Network for Democracy (PNP), an ad-hoc gathering of civil society and academic groups, has been encouraging people to boycott the commemoration ceremonies. The reason cited is that attendees and scheduled speakers include leaders of anti-democratic movements and perpetrators of the deadly 2010 crackdown on red shirt protesters.
A group statement cited the examples of Gen Prawit, who participated in the 2010 crackdown and led the junta that ousted Yingluck Shinnawatra’s elected government in 2014; Abhisit Vejjajiva, an unelected Prime Minister who oversaw the military crackdown in 2010; Kasit Piromya a former Minister of Foreign Affairs who was a leading figure in the anti-democratic People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD aka Yellow Shirt, the ultra-right wing pro-royalists), and Piphob Dhongchai, another leader of the PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDR), a movement that set the stage for the 2014 coup.
“Without question, these individuals have effected a roll back of civil and human rights, imposing laws to undermine … democratic movements from 2006 right up to the present. Gen Prawit, in particular, has not only brought about the destruction of Thailand’s democracy but also emerged as a collaborator of the Min Aung Hlaing regime in Myanmar and fostered insecurity throughout much of ASEAN,” stated the statement.
On 9 May, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), a student activist group from Thammasat University (TU), posted a statement in which they strongly objected to the invitation of Abhisit, Prawit and others involved in the crackdown of the red shirt protesters.
The statement noted that by inviting people responsible for deaths of pro-democracy protesters, the organisers of the commemoration ceremony were undermining the legacy of the people who took to the streets in the Black May event.
“We denounced the organisers of the commemorative event for distorting the will of the heroes of May 1992. They lack an understanding of Thai political history and people who seek democracy. We urge those who love democracy and oppose dictatorship to not participate in the commemoration and to protest against the organising committee,” the statement declared.
Another open statement has been circulating on social media this past week. A petition, it also denounces the event committee for inviting Prawit and Abhisit to attend the commemoration ceremony, citing reasons similar to those listed by the UFTD. As of 9 May, the statement had received 229 signatures.
In 2010, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government dispersed protesters from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), violently ending a demonstration which had been going on for 3 months to secure the dissolution of parliament and a new election. The crackdown, which included the use of live ammunition, war weapons and tanks, caused 94 death - 84 civilians and 10 officials.
As of 2022, neither the military nor any officers responsible for the killing and the crackdown operations have been brought to justice.
In addition to the Thai circle, Thinzar Shunlei Yi, an activist from Myanmar has also withdrawn his participation as a speaker in the commemoration event, according to his post on Facebook.
“With all due respects to the activists, students, people killed by the Thai Army #BlackMay on May 17, 1992, I refuse to stand along with current Thai Deputy Prime Minister & former Military General Pravit,” stated in the post.NewsBlack May 1992Adul KhieoboriboonMetha MatkhaoPrawit WongsuwanAbhisit VejjajivaUnited Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD)People’s Network for Democracy (PNP)
An inquest by the Songkhla Provincial Court found that the cause of death of Abdullah Isomuso, who was found unconscious in his cell while in military custody and died after a month in intensive care, was oxygen deprivation but ruled that it was inconclusive whether he was assaulted.
On 20 July 2019, Abdullah was detained for suspected involvement in unknown insurgent activity and was taken to Ingkhayutthaborihan Military Camp in Pattani. His family was informed the next day that he had been found unconscious in his cell and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of Pattani Hospital.
On 22 July 2019, he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at Songklanagarind Hospital in Hat Yai, where he spent 35 days before dying on 25 August 2019.
On Monday (9 May), an inquest at Songkhla Provincial Court ruled that Abdullah’s cause of death was brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. However, the Court said there was not enough evidence to conclude if his death was due to the actions of any official.
Abdulkohar Awaeputeh, the family’s lawyer, told Patani Notes that a doctor who testified to the Court said that the brain damage Abdullah suffered due to oxygen deprivation could have many causes, such as a pre-existing condition or stress, and he therefore could not definitely say that he had been assaulted, even though a doctor who physically examined Abdullah when he was taken into custody said that he was healthy.
The doctor also said that a scratch found on Abdullah’s leg was not related to the damage to his brain and that it was injury from before he was taken into custody. However, the scratch was not recorded in the notes on Abdullah’s physical examination.
Abdulkohar said that the Court ruled that there needs to be more evidence in order to conclude that Abdullah’s death was due to the actions of an official, and that the testimony of a family member who said Abdullah had previously been assaulted is circumstantial evidence and is not related to the case.
Abdulkohar also said that so little evidence was presented in the case because the lawyers were not able to access a large part of evidence due to the officers exercising their power under special laws, while pushing the burden of proof onto the family. He said that the Isomuso family was not able to access most of the information and did not even know which officers were directly involved in the case, and noted that the military officers should be the ones proving their own innocence.
The lawyer said that the result of the inquest is likely to damage the local community’s trust in the judicial process, and that he does not know how to explain it to the family.
“It’s like a cycle. I have been working here for a long time. In my status as a lawyer, I want to see change. I use trust in the judicial process. I use the state channels. I want to show that there is a way out,” Abdulkohar said. “I understand that it’s difficult because you have to fight the old system, but at this point, I don’t know how to explain it to the family so that they still believe. I think they want to know the cause.”
Meanwhile, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation, said that the justice system has not tried as much as it should to uncover the truth, and that they learned as much from the inquest as from the doctor the day Abdullah was admitted to hospital, which is that he suffered brain damage due to oxygen deprivation, but what the family and the public really want to know is whether someone caused Abdullah’s injury.
“The court’s inquest over the past two years did not give an answer to this. Where else does the family have to complain to, and who is going to take responsibility for the detention by the state which caused Abdullah’s death in a military camp?” she asked.NewsAbdullah IsomusoIngkhayutthaborihan Military CampPataniDeep SouthDeath in custodyMistreatment
Another activist has been arrested and charged with royal defamation for a speech given at the Chakri Memorial Day protest on 6 April 2022.
Mint leaving the court after she was granted bail (Photo by Ginger Cat)
Mint (pseudonym) was arrested on Tuesday evening (10 May). She said that she and other activists were eating at a restaurant on Chaeng Wattana after the protest at the US Embassy when around 10 police officers came to present an arrest warrant, leading her to speculate that the officers had been following her since the event at the Embassy.
She was taken to the Police Club on Vibhavadi Road, where she was detained overnight before being taken to court for a temporary detention request. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Mint was charged with royal defamation, violation of the Computer Crimes Act, and using a sound amplifier without permission.
TLHR also reported that, according to the inquiry officer from Buppharam Police Station, three people are being charged for speeches given during the Chakri Memorial Day protest: Mint, student activist Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, and Joseph (pseudonym).
Joseph was arrested on Tuesday morning (10 May) and charged with royal defamation. He was later granted bail on a 200,000-baht security and was given the same conditions later given to Mint. TLHR said that his speech did not mention the current king, and that, in his testimony, Joseph said that several writers and academics have discussed the execution of King Taksin, such as Sulak Sivaraksa, Nidhi Eoseewong, and Sujit Wongthes. He also mentioned a previous court ruling that the royal defamation law does not cover former kings.
Sopon is currently held in pre-trial detention on another royal defamation charge resulting from a speech he gave at a protest on 22 April 2022. He was arrested on 1 May and subsequently denied bail. TLHR said that the police will visit Sopon in prison next week to notify him of the charges.
The inquiry officer said that Mint was charged for her speech, in which she said that King Taksin was not beaten to death with a sandalwood club or allowed to enter monkhood as history books have it, but was beheaded on order from King Phutthayotfa Chulalok, who ascended the throne as the first monarch in the Chakri dynasty after he seized power in 1782. She also spoke about the creation of the Equestrian Statue of King Chulalongkorn.
On Wednesday (11 May), Mint was granted bail by the Thonburi Provincial Court on a 200,00-baht security. The Court gave her the conditions that she must not participate in activities which are damaging to the monarchy or cause public disorder, and prohibited her from leaving the country.
Mint, Joseph, and Sopon are among 194 people currently facing royal defamation charges for participating in pro-democracy protests in 209 cases. Of this number, 43 cases are related to speeches given at protests.NewsChakri Memorial DayRoyal defamationlese majesteSection 112pro-democracy protests 2022
65 human rights organizations published an open letter addressed to US President Joe Biden on the new non-profit organization (NPO) bill, saying that the bill threatens Thai civil society and calling on the US to press the Thai authorities to immediately withdraw the bill.
Protesters marching to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) on 24 March 2022 to protest against the NPO bill while holding a sign saying "This law controls organization of all citizens, not just NGOs".
The letter states that the NPO bill gives officials the authority to temporarily or permanently shut down any NPO seen as violating the bill's provisions, which are vaguely worded and can be widely interpreted. It could also prevent organizations from accessing the funding they need to do their work, and would threaten privacy and the right to freedom of association.
The letter also states that the undersigned organizations anticipate that many of them would face punitive action from the authorities and even closure if the bill becomes law.
The undersigned organizations asked the US President to call on Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and his delegates to withdraw the bill when they meet during the US-ASEAN special summit currently taking place in Washington DC.
The full letter reads:
May 12, 2022
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
The White House
Re: Thailand’s abusive draft law on not-for-profit organizations
Dear President Biden,
We, the undersigned non-profit organizations, are writing to express our serious concerns regarding Thailand’s Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations, which the Thai Cabinet approved in principle on January 4, 2022. Passage of this draft law would systematically violate the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression of non-profit groups, so we urge you to call on the Thai government to scrap this draft law when you meet with the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and his delegation at the upcoming US-ASEAN special summit at the White House on May 12-13, 2022.
The draft law would enable officials to unilaterally order the temporary or permanent shutdown of any non-profit organization (NPO) operating in Thailand if they conduct activities or make public representations that the Thai government considers adversely affects Thailand’s “relations between countries”; “affect the happy, normal existence of other persons”; affect “public interest, including public safety”; infringe on “public order,” or “people’s good morals;” or “cause divisions within society.” Non-profit organizations also are forbidden from doing anything that infringes on “the rights and liberties of other persons” or impacts the “government’s security, including the government’s economic security.” None of these terms are defined in any way, providing maximum discretion to officials, including the military and national security officials who are the originators of this draconian, rights-abusing legislation, to arbitrarily act against any organization.
If this bill becomes law, we anticipate that many of the organizations signing and supporting this letter to you will face punitive action, including intrusive investigations, public threats, and ultimately orders from government authorities to end operations.
As you may know, in addition to the laudable work done by Thai civil society organizations in supporting human rights, social welfare, civic activity, and humanitarian work in Thailand, there is also a regional dimension to civil society in Thailand, with important international humanitarian and human rights organizations operating in Thailand to assist refugees and displaced persons fleeing the crisis in Myanmar (Burma) and supporting the provision of assistance into Myanmar. These efforts will also be put at risk if the draft law passes, given the provision that prevents civil society from undertaking actions that ostensibly jeopardize Thailand’s friendly relations with its neighboring countries.
Similarly, Thailand has long served as a refuge for political and rights activists fleeing from repressive governments in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and non-profit organizations supporting these refugees would also face significant threats to be shut down if this bill is enacted.Protecting Thai civil society
To comply with relevant provisions of the Thai constitution, the Thai government, led by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, organized a public comment process between late January 2022 and the end of April 2022. In response to this rudimentary consultation process, a total of 1,867 non-profit organizations across Thailand released a joint statement and subsequently held a public rally to call for the Thai government to withdraw this bill.
The core message of our coalition is that we are civil society groups working on a wide range of issues. As organizations, we work across many sectors, and among other things, we strengthen democratic processes; safeguard the environment; reduce poverty; feed families; support children, people with disabilities, and older people; stop human trafficking; investigate business supply chains; protect human rights; support civil initiatives; expose government corruption and malfeasance; protect whistle blowers; and help people to access adequate health care and education.
Thai civil society and international supporters make Thailand a better, more inclusive democracy, and they should not face draconian restrictions of the sort that the current Thai government is proposing.Risks of the bill
The draft law threatens the important work of civil society, and the Thai government has provided no rationale for this law, except that other countries in the region have similar laws. The drafters openly espouse to follow the example of India, where government restrictions forced the closure of many international nongovernmental organizations. Thai government claims that they are aiming to create “transparency” in the non-profit sector have no basis, given that Thailand already has adequate laws and regulations to regulate non-profit organizations. Put simply, this draft law is a massive extension of government power over every aspect and every grouping of civil society in Thailand.
The specific language of the law states that: “‘Not-for-profit organization’ means a collective of private individuals who form themselves as any form of grouping to conduct activities in society without intending to seek profits to be shared. However, it shall not include a group of people gathering to implement a particular, one-time activity, or conduct an activity to serve only the interests of the group, or a political party.” Moreover, the law states that “Any NPOs which have been established by virtue of any specific law, in addition to having to act in compliance with that law, shall also be subject to the provisions of this Act.”
Given the broad definition of “non-profit” organization, the law will encompass everything from foreign chambers of commerce to farmer groups, organizations supporting vulnerable persons like people living with HIV/AIDS, migrant worker collectives, LGBTQ+ organizations, aggrieved villagers protesting land expropriation, forestry and environmental groups, community sports clubs and local foundations, human rights organizations, and community development groups. There are no apparent limits when it comes to the groups that will be adversely affected by this law.
Put simply, the Thai government appears to be hoping that the international community will be looking the other way while it severely restricts basic freedoms across Thailand. In a nation of nearly 70 million people with a government infused with military influence at top levels, it is clear provisions of this bill would be applied arbitrarily to severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and other human rights.A closer look at the bill
As mentioned above, the draft law’s language is very vague. The subjective language means that almost any action could qualify as violating the law’s provision. Below, non-profit organizations are asked to make sure they are not tainting people’s “good morals” or “disturbing the normal happy existence of persons”—or pay a daily fine of 10,000 baht (US$295).
Section 20: A Not-for-Profit Organization must not operate in the following manner:
(1) Affect the government’s security, including the government’s economic security, or relations between countries.
(2) Affect public order, or people’s good morals, or cause divisions within society.
(3) Affect public interest, including public safety.
(4) Act in violation of the law.
(5) Act to infringe on the rights and liberties of other persons, or affect the happy, normal existence of other persons.
Section 26: Any NPO which fails to stop its operations as ordered by the registrar under Section 20, paragraph 2 or Section 21 where Section 20 paragraph 2 applies, shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 500,000 baht and a daily fine of 10,000 baht throughout the period of the breach or until it is operating correctly.
The draft law will also effectively prevent organizations who are helping communities throughout Thailand from accessing the funding they need to do their crucial work. The restrictions and reporting requirements on funding support coming from outside Thailand are contrary to international law. They also inhibit a crucial source of funding for organizations that help people in Thailand every day.
Section 21: A Not-for-profit Organization which receives funding or donations from foreign sources is required to act as follows:
(1) Inform to the registrar the name of the foreign funding sources, the bank account receiving the funds, the amount received, and the purposes for the disbursement of the funds.
(2) Must receive foreign funding only through a bank account notified to the registrar.
(3) Must use the foreign funding only for the purposes notified to the registrar in article (1).
(4) Must not use foreign funding for any activity characteristic of pursuing state power, or to facilitate or help political parties.
The draft law moves Thailand further down the slippery slope to a loss of privacy and the right to freedom of association.
Section 19: To ensure transparency and to keep the public informed about the operations of NPOs, an NPO is required to disclose information regarding its name, founding objectives, implementation methods, sources of funding, and names of persons involved with its operations to ensure such information is easily accessible to government agencies and the public.
Civil society organizations, the individuals who work for them, and the communities who benefit from these groups have the right to come together, express their opinions, and contribute to their communities. Those core civil and political rights are enshrined in international law, notably the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand is a state party to and is obligated to uphold.Recommendations
We respectfully call on you and your administration to press the Thai government to immediately withdraw the Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations and to ensure any other laws and regulations that Thailand proposes pertaining to non-profit organizations strictly adhere to international human rights law and standards.
- Amnesty International
- Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFOD)
- Asia Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
- Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)
- Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN)
- Article 19
- Asia Democracy Network (AND)
- Be Slavery Free
- Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR)
- Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD)
- CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
- Community Resource Center (CRC)
- Cross Cultural Rights Foundation (CrCF)
- CSO Coalition for Ethical and Sustainable Seafood (CSO Coalition)
- Democracy Restoration Group (DRG)
- Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF)
- Equal Asia Foundation
- Fortify Rights
- Forum Asia (Asian Forum for Rights and Development)
- Freedom Fund
- Freedom United
- Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Foundation
- Glom Duayjai
- Green America
- Greenpeace Thailand
- Greenpeace USA
- Human Rights Watch
- Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)
- Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA)
- Humanity United Action
- ILGA Asia (Asian Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association)
- Inter Mountain People's Education and Culture in Thailand Association
- International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
- International Justice Mission (Thailand)
- Jaringan Mangsa Dari Undang–Undang Darurat (JASAD)
- Justice for Peace Foundation
- Kru Kor Sorn
- Labour Protection Network (LPN)
- Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
- Manushya Foundation
- MAP Foundation (Migrant Assistance Program)
- NGOs for the People
- Patani Human Rights Organization (HAP)
- Peace and Human Rights Resource Center (PHRC)
- Protection International
- SEA Junction
- SHero Thailand
- Solidarity Center
- Stop Drink Network Thailand (SDN)
- Thai Action Coalition for Democracy in Burma (TACDB)
- Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
- Thai Teachers for Child Rights Association (TTCR)
- Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA)
- Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
- United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration
- Workers’ Union (Thailand)
- Young Pride Club (YPC)
cc: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State
Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State, U.S. Department of StatePick to PostHuman Rights Watch (HRW)NPO lawNGO lawNPO billfreedom of association
As leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meet in the United States for a two-day summit, Amnesty International urges them to spotlight the violence and human rights violations in Myanmar.
Migrant workers from Myanmar joined the Labour Day march in Bangkok on 1 May 2022 to protest the Myanmar military dictatorship
“The Five-Point Consensus is a failure and did not stop the Myanmar military from perpetrating more human rights violations against the Myanmar people following the 2021 military coup,” Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research, said.
“The ASEAN must concede that the human rights violations in Myanmar have now become a regional concern. The Myanmar military’s violence against its own people has not only made people feel unsafe but it has also led to the deterioration of the country’s economy. Right now, thousands of people are fleeing or attempting to flee to neighboring countries like Thailand and Malaysia not only to seek safety, but also to find work and feed their families.
“ASEAN Member States should formulate a more detailed blueprint to hold Myanmar’s military accountable for human rights violations and address urgent needs, including committing to non-refoulement of refugees fleeing violence, facilitating desperately needed humanitarian assistance, and adding their voices to calls for a global arms embargo. ASEAN Member States should also act bilaterally to achieve these goals if consensus within the bloc cannot be reached.
“As host of the summit, the Biden administration should center discussions on the ongoing human rights violations in Myanmar and in the region more broadly. The regional trends we’ve seen in recent years – escalating repression, constraints on civil society, and intolerance for political dissent – are antithetical to the free and open Indo-Pacific to which the US government is purportedly committed to supporting and will never be realized if human rights are ignored.”Background:
Almost all leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are expected to attend the 12-13 May summit in Washington, which will mark 45 years of US-ASEAN relations.
Myanmar’s Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power in the 1 February, 2021 coup, was not invited as part of efforts to distance the bloc from the senior general, who has not implemented the Five-Point Consensus he agreed to in April 2021.
The Consensus was mainly aimed at stopping the violence against protesters, supplying humanitarian aid, and increasing dialogue. Since it was adopted, the situation in Myanmar has further spiraled out of control. Since the start of this coup, Myanmar’s military has killed more than 1,800 people, according to one monitoring group, and detained more than 10,000.
Armed resistance groups have also sprung up in response to the bloody crackdown, while peaceful protests, though much smaller than at the beginning of the coup, have continued despite grave risks.
Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was ousted in the pre-dawn hours of the coup, has been hit with an array of bogus charges and convictions, as have many of her allies.Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalMyanmarMyanmar coupHuman right crisis
The activist network Citizens for the Abolition of 112 submitted a petition to the US Embassy yesterday (10 May) calling for the US to pressure the Thai authorities to release detained activists and repeal the royal defamation law.
The network, led by activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, went to the US Embassy at around 13.00 yesterday afternoon (10 May) to submit a petition addressed to US President Joe Biden, ahead of an ASEAN-US Special Summit which will take place on 12 – 13 May in Washington DC and which Thai Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha will be attending.
The petition states that it is regrettable and shameful that the US president must attend a meeting with Gen Prayut, whose government has a record of human right violations, including the use of violence against pro-democracy protesters, using the royal defamation law to prosecute monarchy reform activists, and blocking online petitions. The government under Gen Prayut also did not protect the rights of migrant workers, prevented them from forming a union, and prosecuted those who speak out about their exploitation.
The petition calls on the US government to pressure the Thai government to end these human rights abuses by releasing the 11 activists currently detained, repealing the royal defamation law, and protecting migrant workers and ending human trafficking.
“It can be seen that Thailand is facing a human right crisis under Gen Prayut’s government, which causes difficulties, death, detention, obstruction of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. It uses the law to block the truth and uses the justice system to detain people and cause hardship for a wide range of people. We would like to call on the US government, as a country which has said that it supports democracy and human rights, to stand by its principles by pushing the ASEAN community to stand by democracy and human rights to bring about sustainable development and future good relationships between the US and ASEAN,” said the petition.
The petition was received by Kevin M. McCown, the Embassy’s Political Secretary.
After the petition was submitted, the activists burned a model of the Criminal Court as a symbolic act of protest against the justice system which violates people’s freedoms. They also burned pictures of Gen Prayut.NewsCitizens for the Abolition of 112US EmbassySection 112Royal defamationlese majestepolitical prisonersright to bail
An activist was arrested yesterday (10 May) and charged with royal defamation for a speech given at the Chakri Memorial Day protest on 6 April 2022.
Joseph speaking at the Chakri Memorial Day protest
Joseph (pseudonym) was arrested around 10.00 today (10 May) while leaving his house to join the activists submitting a petition to the US Embassy calling for the release of detained activists and the repeal of the royal defamation law. The police officers who arrested him presented an arrest warrant on a royal defamation charge resulting from a speech he gave at the protest at the King Taksin the Great Monument at Wongwian Yai on Chakri Memorial Day (6 April).
During his speech, Joseph talked about the history of how the ruling class in Southeast Asia come to power, especially in the ancient kingdoms located in the area currently known as Thailand, and how the Chakri dynasty came to rule Siam.
Activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk from the activist network Citizens for the Abolition of 112 said that Joseph was a member of the network and that he came up with the idea that the network should petition embassies to demand the release of political prisoners.
Somyot said that Joseph’s speech was about the history of Chakri Memorial Day, noting that previous court rulings stated that speaking about history does not constitute an offense under the royal defamation law, leading him to speculate that Joseph was arrested to prevent yesterday’s protest at the US Embassy.
“We’ll keep going, and we will let the world know about this, especially the US, which is a country from which we will campaign the use of social sanctions against the judges, the police, or anyone related to the justice system,” Somyot said.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that after his arrest, Joseph was taken to the Police Club on Vibhavadi Road, even though the charge against him is under the jurisdiction of Buppharam Police Station in Thonburi. He was then taken to the Thonburi Criminal Court for a temporary detention request and was later granted bail on a 200,000-baht security.
The Court also set the conditions that he must not participate in activities which damage the monarchy or cause public disorder, and must not leave the country.
Joseph was previously charged with royal defamation and sedition for reading out a statement during the 26 October 2020 protest in front of the German Embassy.NewsJosephChakri Memorial DaySection 112Royal defamationlese majestepro-democracy protest 2022
Plans for the upcoming Southeast Asia Games (SEA Games), scheduled to be held in Vietnam on 12-23 May after 4 months of delays, offer insight into how Southeast Asian nations will find their way back to normal after years of struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic.
A decoration for SEA Games 31 in Vietnam (Photo: VNA via www.seagames2021.com)
This will be the second time that Hanoi has hosted the SEA Games, a biennial sporting event organised by the Southeast Asian Games Federation on behalf of participants from the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Timor-leste.
The event, which will include 40 sport competitions staged in Hanoi and 12 other venues, is expected to draw some 10,000 participants and 2,000 reporters, a gathering the likes of which has seldom been seen in Southeast Asia since Sars-Cov2 made its first appearance here in early 2020.
The crowds may exceed the expectations. The opening ceremony will be held on 12 May at the Mỹ Đình National Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 40,192. In anticipation of a large audience, the men's football finals are slated to be held in a venue that can seat tens of thousands.
Under the theme ”For a Stronger Southeast Asia”, Vietnamese planners have been preparing facilities, supplies, and infrastructure with an eye on public health. The goal is not just to control infection but to serve as a regional vanguard demonstrating how Southeast Asian peoples can safely coexist with Covid-19.Measuring up to public health needs
To reduce the risk of infection, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health (MoH) has published a set of guidelines, instructing districts hosting events to prepare additional test kits and medical staff. Area hospitals and hotels have also been made ready to cope with infected participants.
Take Hanoi for, an example. The city’s Health Department has prepared 42 medical teams, half from district medical centres and the other half from local hospitals. Some 5-10 beds in every hospital have been set aside for Covid-19 patients. Spaces have also been designated in 35 other medical facilities.
In addition to stocking up on Covid-19 test kits, Bach Ninh province has also appointed 10 teams to oversee disease control measures and provide sanitation in stadiums, athlete accommodations and staff housing.
Public health measures during the games will be enforced without exception. Participants will be expected to show negative RT-PCR test results 72 hours before their arrival and negative rapid test results 24 hours before their respective competitions. Those infected will not be allowed to compete. Patient symptoms will be used to determine treatment - self-isolation or hospitalization.
Spectator attendance at ceremonies and events will be limited. When not competing, athletes will be required to wear masks - at awards ceremonies, at press conferences and when giving interviews.
These measures will be imposed, despite the country’s recent lifting of mandatory health declarations for overseas visitors and despite the fact that better than 80 percent of all Vietnamese are fully vaccinated. Clearly, the government is taking a prudent approach to controlling the spread of a virus responsible for 10.7 million infections, the highest among Southeast Asia nations, and some 43,000 deaths, second highest in the region after Indonesia.Living with the virus?
Looked at in another way, the proposed health measures offer a glimpse of what Southeast Asian countries will be doing in the near term to facilitate the return of human mobility and economic flows while living under the continued threat of Covid-19.
Measures to prevent deaths and infections have come at a great economic cost. Countrywide lockdowns, business closures, and border controls have caused Vietnam, which saw its per capita GDP better than treble between 2002 and 2021, to experience far slower growth, a mere 2.58 percent in 2021. This was still better than many countries in the world; only two countries in ASEAN (as of 2nd Q of 2020) maintained GDP growth during the pandemic.
With its population now mostly vaccinated, Vietnam is looking forward to a resurgence and hoping that the 31st SEA Games will spotlight its performance - in event management and in other sectors from retailing and tourism to the provision of services.
In addition to sporting events, the 31st SEA Games official website is promoting tourist spots, encouraging foreign visitors to spend time in the country, and creating opportunities for local businesses to gain thousands of new customers. The hope is that businesses linked to event venues, particularly service sector firms, will be able to profit and make a good impression on visitors.
If everything goes according to plan - if local businesses benefit, tourist attractions fill up and the Covid infection rate remains low - other Southeast Asian countries will probably follow suit and open up as well. The converse is also true, however.
After a lengthy period of imposing disease control measures at the expense of economic growth and social interaction, Vietnam has a chance to set a good example of how a country can move beyond the pandemic, connecting people once again with tourism and sportsmanship.
With regard to the games, I personally wish that the competition contributes to a regional harmony and pride that transcends nationalism, showing the world the resilience of Southeast Asia.
As the spotlight shines on Vietnam, we must also remember the many who have died over the past few years - not just from Covid and ill-conceived state health policies but also from violent political conflicts in Thailand, Myanmar, and elsewhere in the region. Such matters will probably not be mentioned during the Games. Still, understanding the hardships experienced by people in the region can help to pave the way for meaningful regionalism, one where inclusiveness is valued as much as national security.
In this 31st SEA Games, let us remember the difficulties we have faced over the past 2 years, keeping those who have passed away from the pandemic and political conflicts in our memories. Let us also commit ourselves anew to building a more inclusive ASEAN in the future.OpinionVietnam31st SEA GamesASEANregionalism
The online shopping app LAZADA has become the target of a boycott by the Thai authorities and netizens in protest against their online sales campaign that has been seen as mocking the disabled, with royalists also angry that it somehow defames the monarchy.
Examples of the two ads can be seen in the first minute of the video made by a far-right news agency, TOP News.
The online video advertisement made its first appearance on 4 May, aiming to promote Lazada’s 5 May sales known as “Lazada 5.5”. It portrayed Aniwat “Nara Crepe Katoey” Prathumthin fooling around with Thidarat “Nurat” Chaokuwiang, a hearing-impaired influencer who sits in a wheelchair.
The video was posted on Aniwat’s social media channel. Prior to the post, Aniwat also posted a video ad displaying the two sitting alongside Kittikoon Thammakitirad, the owner of “Mom Dew Diary”, wearing a costume that can be seen as similar to those worn by royalty.
Reactions to the posts took many forms. While positive cheering stayed in social media, anger and dissatisfaction with Lazada found its way offline .‘Unintentional’ damage
Netizens who found the ads in bad taste have a problem with how the content seems to make fun of disability.
In response, Intersect Design Factory, the media agency who was assigned to coordinate the video production and promotion, issued an apology on 5 May for the improper content, insisting that it had no intention to mock the disabled or connect the characters in the ads to other persons or incidents.
Lazada followed suit on the morning of 6 May, saying that they well understood that the content had affected society emotionally and undermined human values. They had removed the posts as soon as they learned of the content.
The statement also expressed their apology and said that they would take responsibility for what happened to society, clients, sellers, and partners. Lazada is ready to improve their working process to prevent the same thing from reoccurring.
On the afternoon of 6 May, a dozen people under the banner of the People’s Network Protecting the Monarchy, a coalition of various pro-monarchy groups, went to Bhiraj Tower on Sukhumvit Road where the platform’s office is located, demanding an explanation from company executives over the ads that “affect the hearts of Thais countrywide”.
A protester tears an open letter aimed to deliver to LAZADA executives.
The group’s open letter stated their dissatisfaction with the way the advertisement mocked the costumes of those who the Thai people respect and made fun of the disabled, claiming that the campaign has a “hidden political agenda” in wanting to make fun of the institution that Thai people respect.
In the morning before the gathering, the group also started an online campaign urging people to stop using Lazada under the hashtag #BanLAZADA. Other similar hashtags seen are #banlazada and #แบนLazada. People have posted criticisms and declared that they have either deleted the app or stopped using it.
Activist Srisuwan Janya also filed a complaint against the two companies and Aniwat under the Computer Crimes Act and the lèse majesté law.Enemy of the state
Lazada is a subsidiary of Alibaba, a Chinese conglomerate. In Southeast Asia, it operates in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
This is not the first time that a company has suffered negative popular feedback over a campaign like this. Recently, a failed April Fool’s Day prank shook Thai Vietjet Airline after they posted a joke promotion of a new route from Nan Province to Munich starting at 1,010 baht, which some royalists found offensive to the monarchy.
But what is different this time is that it is not only netizens who are seen expressing anger at the company, but official agencies and companies related to the royal family are also abandoning Lazada.
On 9 May, a ‘most urgent’ order was sent from Royal Thai Army (RTA) Chief of Staff Gen Santipong Thampiya to all RTA units countrywide, completely banning personnel and the businesses related to them from using Lazada. Commanders will be held accountable for any violations.
The order states that action was taken due to the improper content in the company’s campaign that affects the hearts of Thais and undermines humanity.
The order was reported to be issued on the day after RTA Commander-in-Chief Gen Narongpan Jitkaewthae ordered personnel not to allow Lazada deliveries to RTA premises.
The Royal Thai Navy commander and Royal Thai Air Force spokesperson also urged Thai not to tolerate what LAZADA has done, saying the ad was not creative as they make fun of a person's disabilities. The two did not order a ban on LAZADA like the RTA did.
On 7 May, Wansook Shop, a retail outlet of the Department of Corrections that sells products made by prison inmates, also announced a temporary closure of their store on Lazada. They urged their customers to see them on Shopee, another shopping app, Facebook and LINE.
WANSOOK Shop announcement on a temporary closure
On 6 May, Doi Tung, an organic product store of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage, also announced the temporary closure of their shop on Lazada while they review the situation.
Doitung announcement on a temporary closure
In the same day, Doikham, a juice producer originating from one of the royal projects initiated to combat communism during the Cold War period, and the Royal Chitralada Project also announced the temporary closure of their shops on Lazada.
Doikham announcement on a temporary closure
The Royal Chitrlada Project announcement on a temporary closure
The announcements by Wansook, Doikham, and the Royal Chitralada Project are similar in format. There has been no official statement about this as of 9 May.From witch-hunting to cancel culture
As of 9 May, no reports from either companies or government agencies have identified which member of the royal family was the intended target of what pro-monarchists see as a parody.
From the Vietjet Air and LAZADA incident, it can be seen that the violence and intensity of the royalists over issues they deem as infringements upon the monarchy have decreased in comparison to 2016 when the popular late King Rama IX passed away.
At that time, there were public displays of vigilantism against those who did not comply with the countrywide mourning practice of dressing in black. Posting messages about the monarchy other than extolling it invited reprisal.
Public concern over vigilantism spiked in the aftermath of mass protests in front of the homes of people accused of lèse majesté. The first such incident occurred in the southern province of Phuket, followed by others in Phang Nga and Surat Thani, before spreading to other regions. The goals of the mobs were generally to arrest the victim, expel them from the area or force them to kneel and apologise in front of the late King’s portrait.
A man, later accused of lèse majesté is beaten and forced to kneel before the late King's portrait as he posted on Facebook 5 days after the late King Rama IX's death, saying he wanted to sell coins that have his portrait on it. (Photo from Facebook)
With the broader debate about the monarchy after the surge of mass protests in 2020 calling for political and monarchy reform, the fate of Lazada and the possible financial damage are still unclear.
Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer famous for his ground-breaking speech on monarchy reform, said on Facebook that the world has changed. Whatever happens to Lazada will not affect them much as it is just a case of a “dog barking to cheer up its master”.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic in exile, known for his criticism of the monarchy, posted on Facebook questions about the royal defamation complaint against Aniwat as the law only protects the King, the Queen, the Heir apparent and the Regent. Even if it was alleged that the ad aimed to mock Princess Chulabhorn, the Princess is not protected by this law.
Pavin also noted on Facebook the Thai military's role in joining the Lazada boycott, questioning if this is a proper role for the military.
Despite shifting public attitudes regarding the monarchy, Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lèse majesté law, carrying a 3-15 year jail sentence is still being enforced, jailing people for expressing their opinions about the monarchy.
After it was brought back into use in November 2020, 191 people have been charged under this law in 205 cases, 106 of which have gone to trial, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
As of 9 May 2022, 7 people are in prison on lèse majesté charges. Two have been found guilty; one of them, Anchan, was given 42 years in jail by the Supreme Court in January 2021. The remaining five are detained pending trial with their bail revoked due to their activism and social media posting.Round UpLAZADAAniwat “Nara Crepe Katoey” PrathumthinThidarat “Nurat” ChaokuwiangKittikoon ThammakitiradmonarchyRoyal Thai ArmyRoyal Thai Air ForceRoyal Thai NavyIntersect Design Factorywitch-huntinghyper-royalismDoitungDoikhamRoyal Chitrlada ProjectWANSOOK Shop
To celebrate Labour Day last Sunday (1 May), the Workers’ Union marched from Ratchaprasong Intersection to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre to call for labour rights and fair treatment for workers in every sector.
The march passing through Rama 1 Road on their way to BACC
During the march, protesters place red flowers in front of Pathumwanaram Temple in memory of Red Shirt protesters killed there during the 2010 crackdowns, while participants stood for 53 seconds of silence.
A group of musicians also performed in front of the Lido Connect shopping mall, after giving a speech about the lack of public space for artistic expression in Thailand.
Red flowers placed in front of Pathumwanaram Temple in memory of Red Shirt protesters killed there during the 2010 crackdowns
Nat, 22, is a member of the Workers’ Union and an organizer of the march. She said that she joined the Workers’ Union because she wanted to join the fight against mistreatment and exploitation of workers in the country.
For Nat, raising the minimum wage is very important and would give hope to every worker, but she is not sure if it would be possible. In respond to a comment made by Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin that raising the minimum wage must take into account what both employers and employees can survive on, Nat said that the minimum wage has not been raised for several years while living costs are rising. She noted that daily goods, food, and gas are getting more expensive, and many workers who are not getting pay raises and are not paid for overtime are having to save up more.
She has no hope that the current government can solve any issue, and said that issues relating to welfare and quality of life are more likely to be solved with a new government.
Other participants in the march also called for better treatment for workers. Zin, a 22-year-old technician, said he came to the march because he wanted to learn more about labour rights, because he does not know much about them or welfare, which he said might be because these topics were not taught in schools.
Zin said that if people were taught about labour laws and rights, people would be less likely to be exploited. He said that, before he became a technician, he worked in a restaurant, and his employer took advantage of him by forcing him not to take holidays and deducting his pay as a guarantee against resignation, which he later learned were illegal. He also said that the authorities should educate workers of all nationalities to make sure that people know their rights, and media should be in several languages so migrant workers have access to information.
Wat works for a private company, and said that there are still labour rights and mistreatment issues in Thailand, such as how the law states that workers may work 6 days a week and get a day off when it should be a 5-day work week and a 2-day weekend.
He said that the minimum wage should be increased. “A good minimum wage is a wage that allows people to have a good quality of life. The government should see whether the current cost of living and wages are in balance,” he said.
He also wants the government to improve workers’ freedom of assembly and their right to negotiate with employers, since the law is stopping workers from forming unions and should be amended to allow such organizations for both formal and informal workers.
24-year-old Vee is an engineer and said he joined the protest because he wanted to learn more about labour rights. He said that when he goees out with friends, they often talk about their experience at work and labour rights issues, which makes him believe that young people do care about workers’ rights.
For him, most labour rights problems experienced by engineers are related to welfare, but the most significant is healthcare. He also said that the current factory safety regulations are not enough, and that many factories do not have sufficient safety measures for engineers who work with dangerous machinery.
Vee also wants the government to provide equal healthcare for all. “No matter what you do or which position you have, everyone should at least be able to access the same standard of healthcare,” he said.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old student Da said she has seen workers being exploited and paid less than the cost of living while working, and called on the government to provide welfare for workers in every sector, not just civil servants.
Da said that young people are paying more attention to labour rights, since they saw what their parents went through and are concerned because they know they have to go into the workforce one day.
“I want the government to see everyone as equal,” Da said. “I feel like most rights that are convenient or are OK are probably for the elite or government officials. People who do not have opportunities or do not have a lot of money are having a hard time.”
Migrant workers from Myanmar at the Labour Day march while holding a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi
The protesters were joined by migrant workers from Myanmar, who protested the military dictatorship in Myanmar and mistreatment of migrant workers.
Veera Sangtong, a migrant worker from Myanmar, also joined the march. He said that migrant workers are being mistreated by their employers, but they are not able to leave their jobs because they are worried about not earning money to send home.
He said that he would like the Thai authorities to issue worker identification for migrant workers and to make sure their employers enrol them in the social security scheme. He said that some workers he knows have been in Thailand for 10 years, and while part of their salary is deducted to pay for social security, their employers did not contribute, causing them to miss out on social security benefits and other labour rights.
“I want the whole world and the Thai government to know what rights we’re not getting, even though those rights have been ours since the beginning. We pay taxes too, and it was our nation who built the Thai nation. Those skyscrapers were all our handiwork. Thai people don’t do it. Only Burmese workers do it, but in the end, we are not being cared for by the government as well as we should be,” Veera said.
Veera added that workers are happy living in Thailand, but would like equal rights to Thai workers, and that he would like the Thai government not to support the junta in Myanmar. He said that the workers who joined the march wanted the world to know that people from Myanmar do not support the dictatorship, and that the situation in Myanmar has worsened as people are either dying or fleeing to the borders every day.NewsLabour DayWorkers' Unionlabour rightsWorkers rights
"It’s like I already have one foot in jail. If I stop now, it’s not too late, but there is no reason that I have to stop, because whenever I stop, then it will be like I’ve given up."
Tantawan Tuatulanon, 20, is a monarchy reform activist currently facing 2 royal defamation charges for conducting a poll on whether people are affected by royal motorcades and for livestreaming from Ratchadamneon Road and saying that an upcoming royal motorcade forced a nearby farmers' protest to move. She is currently detained at the Women's Central Correctional Institution.
We meet Tantawan (meaning "sunflower" in Thai) to talk about her life after she started to campaign for monarchy reform, her determination to keep going despite prosecution and harassment, and the life she would like to live if the society is already good.MultimediadocumentaryinterviewTantawan Tuatulanonstudent activistMonarchy reformarbitrary detentionright to bail
On 3 May 2022, video footage filmed from the Myanmar side of the border and obtained by Fortify Rights shows uniformed Thai soldiers destroying a footbridge over the Wa Le (also known as the Waw Lay) River, a tributary of the Moei River, which forms part of the border between Thailand and Myanmar. New evidence also implicates Thai authorities in arbitrarily arresting and allegedly extorting refugees in the border town of Mae Sot.
“The Thai authorities should ensure any investigation into the situation on the border is aimed at protecting refugee rights, not further violating them,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director at Fortify Rights. “Arbitrary arrests and the destruction of this footbridge demand urgent attention.”
Video footage taken from the Myanmar side of the Thailand-Myanmar border, obtained and released today by Fortify Rights, shows two uniformed Thai soldiers destroying a small bamboo footbridge over the Wa Le River while another Thai soldier watches them. The footbridge connects Thailand’s Tak Province with Myanmar’s war-torn Karen State, where the Myanmar military has attacked and killed civilians, including children, in recent weeks and months.
In the more than 16-minute-long video, on file with Fortify Rights, one Thai soldier hacks the bridge with a machete, and then another soldier assists him in systematically dismantling the bridge, discarding pieces of it into the river flowing beneath. People speaking a Karen language and a crying infant child can be overheard off-camera.
One Thai soldier uses obscene language and issues a death threat in the Thai language to people located off-camera on the Myanmar side of the border, saying: “What are you filming, fucker? You want to die?” By the end of the video, the soldiers entirely dismantled the bridge.
Fortify Rights confirmed the video footage was filmed in March 2022. The exact date and time are on file with Fortify Rights.
Other video footage obtained by Fortify Rights and filmed on January 25, 2022, before the Thai soldiers destroyed the bridge, shows at least 45 people including women, men, and children using the footbridge or lining up to use it in the span of just one minute and 36 seconds.
In that video, people from Myanmar, including many children, are moving with careful urgency and carrying sacks, presumably containing personal belongings and provisions. Sources familiar with the bridge and the area told Fortify Rights that Myanmar refugees, especially children and older people, used the bridge to flee violence and persecution and that informal humanitarian workers used it to transport lifesaving aid from Thailand to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar.
On February 3, 2022, Fortify Rights spoke with a Thai soldier posted to the banks of the Moei River on the Thailand-Myanmar border. The soldier confirmed that he was part of the Royal Thai Army’s Naresuan Force—a special unit designated to “protect” the Thai border—and told Fortify Rights that he had orders to prevent Myanmar refugees from crossing the river into Thai territory.
In March 2021, during the Myanmar junta’s initial post-coup attack on the civilian population, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha instructed government agencies to prevent “illegal immigration” from Myanmar—a euphemism for blocking refugees. In line with this order, Thai authorities have forced thousands of refugees back to Myanmar.
Since February 2022, Fortify Rights interviewed 15 Myanmar refugees on the Thailand-Myanmar border, including seven women, as well as three U.N. officials and four humanitarian aid workers in Thailand. In addition to the video released today, firsthand testimonies collected by Fortify Rights reveal how Thai authorities have arbitrarily arrested, detained, and allegedly extorted money from Myanmar refugees within the last year.
On April 8, the Associated Press exposed the issuance of so-called “police cards” to refugees from Myanmar through middlemen for an average monthly cost of 350 Thai Baht (US$10). Refugees purchased these unofficial documents in Mae Sot on the premise the cards would help them avoid arrest.
Speaking to the Associated Press, the Thai government “categorically denied” extorting refugees; however, the Royal Thai Police subsequently announced they would investigate the scheme and hold officers responsible. Deputy police spokesperson Krisana Pattanacharoen reportedly said that any police officers “found guilty of such wrongdoing will face criminal charges and be subject to disciplinary punishment.”
Several refugees in Mae Sot described the police card scheme to Fortify Rights. For example, one Myanmar refugee told Fortify Rights: “The police cards we use do not buy us assurance or safety here. We just do it because other people are using the police cards, and we heard that if we show the cards, we will not be arrested.”
Another Myanmar refugee in Mae Sot expressed similar concerns to Fortify Rights, saying: “Even if we have a police card, we are not sure if we will get arrested or not. We never showed the card to anyone. I just paid the money. We are not sure about our security. This is the only document we have.”
Refugees showed Fortify Rights their police cards, which appear to be pieces of paper or small cards of various sizes with hand-written numbers, letters, or symbols on one side. One refugee explained to Fortify Rights, “We have to give two passport-sized photos . . . There’s no official seal or sign.”
Refugees can allegedly renew their “police card” monthly by paying additional money.
“The Thai government should create a formal nationwide system to issue identification cards to refugees that provide genuine protection,” said Amy Smith. “Without such a system in place, refugees in Thailand hope to find protection through the police card scheme. It’s in the government’s interest to facilitate a process in line with international standards to identify and recognize refugees within their borders. Such a process would help prevent extortion and other abuses and provide critical information on new arrivals to Thailand.”
Myanmar refugees also described facing arrest and detention by Thai authorities due to their lack of legal status in Thailand. For example, Thai authorities arrested “Kyaw Aung,” not his real name, and his friend in Mae Sot, ten days after Kyaw Aung fled to Thailand in December 2021 to escape persecution by the junta. Kyaw Aung was a student in Yangon who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)—a nationwide campaign to oppose the Myanmar military junta—following the coup.
Kyaw Aung explained to Fortify Rights how the Thai military arrested him and his friend in Mae Sot. He said: “[The] military came with guns. They asked how we crossed the border. At that moment, we were afraid.”
The Thai military transferred Kyaw Aung and his friend into the custody of Thai immigration officials. He told Fortify Rights: “[Thai immigration officers] took our fingerprints, just like a criminal. At the immigration office, they threatened us by saying that they would deport us to Burma [Myanmar]. Then, they took us to the border.”
Thai lawyers working with an organization to support refugees intervened to secure the release of Kyaw Aung and his friend.
Fortify Rights also documented how Thai police arrested “Thu Le,” not his real name, along with his friend in January 2022 at a checkpoint in Mae Sot. Thu Le told Fortify Rights:
[The police] asked me [when I got arrested], “Where do you come from? What are you doing?” ... They also requested all information ... They took a photo of us. They checked my phone, location history, or something like that ... If you are an activist, then they request more money for that. It’s normal. I’m scared that I will be sent back to Myanmar.
Thu Le and his friend spent several hours in detention until a resident of Mae Sot—a friend of Thu Le—intervened with the police to negotiate a payment of 8,000 Thai Baht (US$240) to secure their release.
Another refugee, who worked as a journalist in Myanmar and fled to Thailand in December 2021, told Fortify Rights he paid Thai police 6,000 Thai Baht (US$180) in December 2021 to secure the release of two fellow journalists from Myanmar arrested in Mae Sot after entering Thailand. “It was very fortunate that we only had to pay 3,000 [Thai] Baht (US$90) per person,” he told Fortify Rights. “Normally, they ask for 10,000 or 20,000 [Thai Baht] (US$300 or US$600) per person.”
Thailand lacks a legal framework to recognize and protect refugees. In December 2019, the Thai government enacted a regulation to establish a National Screening Mechanism to “identify people in need of protection and to grant them legal status and access to the necessary public services.” However, the implementation of this mechanism has been slow, and it is uncertain if it will comply with international human rights standards.
Without legal status in Thailand, refugees face criminal penalties under Thailand’s 1979 Immigration Act, which prohibits unauthorized entry or stay in Thailand. As a result, refugees in Thailand are subject to arrest, detention, and forced return or refoulement.
The international law principle of non–refoulement prohibits the “rejection at the frontier, interception and indirect refoulement” of individuals at risk of persecution. It protects refugees and others from forced returns, including by effective refusal of entry at the border. Although Thailand has not ratified the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol, the principle of non–refoulement is part of customary international law. Therefore, it is binding on all states, including Thailand. Under this principle, all countries must protect people from being returned to where they face danger or persecution.
Thailand should ratify the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention and its Protocol without delay and, in the meantime, offer official registration and temporary protective status to Myanmar refugees, said Fortify Rights.
Since February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee the country. A 193-page report by Fortify Rights and the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School, published on March 24, 2022, documents how the Myanmar junta murdered, tortured, imprisoned, disappeared, forcibly displaced, and persecuted civilians in acts that amount to crimes against humanity.
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of April 19, 2022, there are more than 912,700 IDPs in Myanmar, including 566,100 newly displaced persons since the military’s attempted coup.Pick to PostFortify RightsMyanmar coupRefugeeSource: https://www.fortifyrights.org/tha-inv-2022-05-03/