Prachatai English

Constitutional Court rules in favour of amending abortion laws

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-02-20 23:30
Submitted on Thu, 20 Feb 2020 - 11:30 PMPrachatai

On Wednesday (19 February), the Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled that Section 301 of the Thai Criminal Code which criminalizes abortion, violates the current Constitution and must be amended. 

The request was filed by Srisamai Chueachart, an obstetrician who was previously arrested in 2018 for providing abortion at a clinic in Hua Hin. She asked the Court to rule whether Articles 301 and 305 of the Criminal Code violated the Constitution.

Article 301 states that any woman who terminates her own pregnancy or allow others to terminate her pregnancy may receive a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine of 60,000 baht or both. Article 305 states that a medical practitioner who performs an abortion in cases where it is necessary for the woman’s health or if the pregnancy is the result of a criminal offence, such as rape or seduction, or if the pregnant person is a girl under the age of 15, is not guilty.

The Constitutional Court ruled that Article 301 violates Sections 27 and 28 of the Constitution, while Article 305 does not violate the Constitution.  

Section 27 of the Constitution states that “all persons are equal before the law,” and that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights,” as well as prohibiting discrimination based on differences, while Section 28 states that “a person shall enjoy the right and liberty in his or her life and person.”

The Court also ruled that Articles 301 and 305 should be amended to be more suitable to the situation, and ordered the relevant agencies to make the amendments. The ruling also stated that the Court’s decision on Article 301 will take effect 360 days after the date the ruling was issued.

According to iLaw, this means that both sections are currently still in effect, but if there is no new legislation within 360 days, Article 301 will immediately become invalid and abortion will no longer be a criminal offence.

However, since the Constitutional Court ruling did not mention Article 302, which states that anyone who performs an abortion, with the exception of medical practitioners under the conditions specified in Article 305, “shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding five years or fined not exceeding ten thousand baht, or both,” and Article 303, which criminalizes causing an abortion without the pregnant person’s consent, it is likely that these sections will remain in effect and that abortion in these two cases will remain a criminal offence.

Constitutional Court judge Twekiat Menakanist also released his judicial opinion, which stated that Article 301, which punishes only the woman and denies her the right to choose, can be considered discrimination on the basis of sex and as denying the woman the right to make decisions over her own body, therefore violating Sections 27 and 28 of the Constitution.

Twekiat then stated that Article 301 should be amended to specify the gestational age during which a woman can legally terminate a pregnancy, and also that the laws should be changed to punish only those who perform abortions but are not medical practitioners. 

NewsabortionConstitutional courtgenderfeminismBodily autonomy2017 ConstitutionCriminal Codes
Categories: Prachatai English

Overseas Thai network issues statement against FFP’s possible dissolution

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-02-20 13:33
Submitted on Thu, 20 Feb 2020 - 01:33 PMPrachatai

The Association of Thai Democrats Without Borders, a network of overseas Thai people led by political refugee Jaran Ditapichai, issued a statement on Tuesday (18 February) against the possible dissolution of the Future Forward Party as the Constitutional Court prepares to rule on the case of the loan the party took from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit on Friday (21 February).

The statement states that the Association “strongly opposes the referral to the Court,” arguing that the Court’s acceptance of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)’s request is rushed and “against the decision of its subcommittee, raising questions as to its impartiality.”

It also accused the Constitutional Court of refusing to “respect the judicial procedure” by not opening the hearing, which, the Association perceives, “indicates political motives.”

The statement also spoke against the dissolution of political parties, since it “will destroy political pluralism in Thailand,” and because “the weakening of the opposition is a weakening of democracy for the benefit of the government of General Prayut Chan-o-cha.”

The statement also said that, currently, Thailand is not under a democratic government but is ruled by an authoritarian regime in which the ruling classes do not support democracy and “do not like political parties and oppose the exercise of freedom by the people,” noting that the Future Forward Party, with its “political programme” of army reform and decentralization, has become “the target of the ruling class and the government.”

The FFP has faced several lawsuits since the start of 2019. Its leader Thanathorn has been disqualified from parliament for owning shares in a media company, despite the company having ceased operations in 2017, while party members face several charges, including sedition and anti-monarchy allegations, of which the party and its leaders were acquitted in January 2020.

The statement also noted that the Constitutional Court “has a long history of dissolving political parties,” including the Thai Rak Thai Party, the People’s Power Party, and the Thai Raksa Chart Party. It also said that “most of the judges of this court are appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order.”

According to the statement, the Association believes that the FFP is likely to be dissolved on 21 February 21 and “calls upon the democratic people to reject the decision of the Constitutional Court.”

The leader of the Association of Thai Democrats Without Borders, Jaran Ditapichai, is a former Human Rights Commissioner and political activist who fled to France after the 2014 military coup.

The ruling on the loan case is scheduled to take place three days before the debate on the motion of no-confidence filed against 6 ministers, including Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, which is currently scheduled to open on 24 February.

NewsAssociation of Thai Democrats Without BordersJaran DitapichaiConstitutional courtFuture Forward Partyjudicial harassment
Categories: Prachatai English

I am not allowed to exist in your reality

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-02-19 12:17
Submitted on Wed, 19 Feb 2020 - 12:17 PMAmnesty International

6,500 is the number of urban refugees in Bangkok and metropolitan. While they exist among us, we are oblivious to their existence. It appears we live in two parallel worlds even though we might walk past each other unknowingly.

Jirawut Ueasungkomsate (Source: Amnesty International)

A filmmaker and video artist, Jirawut Ueasungkomsate questions the state of “oblivion” affixed to refugees. It has inspired him to organize the exhibition “I am not allowed to exist in your reality”. Through Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), he wants to take viewers into another world invisible to them. 

It all began with his interest in the issue of ‘prisoners of conscience’. Even though thoughts should be subject to variation and fluidity, attempts have been made to control thoughts and as a result, people are forced into exile. He has met people who got stuck in between, the ‘urban refugees’ who mostly want resettlement, but are stuck in Thailand and are even subject to detention on spurious charges and even though many of them are holders of refugee documents issued by the UNHCR.

Jirawut is intrigued by the humanity of the refugees. Obsessed with myths, Thai people fail to come to terms with the word ‘refugee’ and fail to wrap their head around the humanity of the people who have been forced to flee their home states. There are many reasons that prompt them to leave, including conflicts with state power, local politics, religion and tribal warfare. 

It started from his study on the rights and status of urban refugees followed by his interview with refugees from various countries during which time he found that a common aspiration among the refugees is ‘to live a human life.’

“No different from us, the refugees share the feeling of being a human being. They experience joy and sorrow. It was different from what I had anticipated. But their humanity, just like what other people have, has prompted me to further my work. We often think people that who are different from us must live a different life even though they are fellow human beings, too.”

Jirawut was exposed to the aspirations and feelings in the accounts he heard from each refugee. The Vietnamese live in exile here and work as menial labourers hoping they can return home and promote rights and freedoms in their home country. A former boxing champion from Pakistan is here while his wife is incarcerated for illegal entry. He cooks and brings food to her and even gives some food to other detainees as well. 

“In our impression, these people must be quite desperate and live from hand to mouth. But in reality, they also think about other people. No one should suffer such an experience. Still, they keep their heads up and move on, even though they are confined to such small spaces”.

(Source: Amnesty International)

Through Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), Jirawut wants to describe what is invisible to us. It should enable the viewers to experience what the urban refugees feel, something which is invisible to our naked eyes. 

“If problems exist, but we stay oblivious to them, they cannot be solved. It therefore has to start from making them visible to us. We need to realize their existence in order to discuss the problem. If after all, the refugees are not welcome here, what shall we do? Or if we agree to help support the refugees, what methods will we use? We live in a society that pretends the problems do not exist. We are ready to close one eye and live our normal life, even though what is invisible to us is not what does not exist.

“Even though the problems do not impact us directly, they are problems that are inflicted on another fellow human being, a human being who can feel like we do. What makes humans unique is our ability to feel the pains of other people even though we have never experienced such pain ourselves. This is what art, film and music can do to us. They help us to empathize with people who are subject to a similar predicament. Unfortunately, these refugees have fled from home, and now are made vulnerable by the hopeless and desperate situation here” said Jirawut.

Another collaborator in this exhibition is Sakda Kaewbuadee, an actor and a freelance advocate for urban refugees. He also puts on a theatrical performance to tell the stories of refugees. He insists that it is a “forced oblivion” which has made the public scarcely aware of the refugee issue. The issue can flare up from time to time, for example in the case of the Bahraini footballer. But his story is soon forgotten. 

By participating in this exhibition, Sakda can get exposed to other groups of refugees, apart from those he has been supporting and he gets to see the problems from different points of views. 

“It would be great if I could help all groups of refugees. But I cannot do so due to constraints. At present, very few refugees who have applied for resettlement have been granted this. Several families to whom I have brought food, and whom I have helped to resettle in a third country, account for a just a few in comparison to more than 6,000 urban refugees in Bangkok. It is like tackling only the symptoms of the problem. 

“To ensure they have full protection, the laws have to be changed. It is an uphill task considering the prevailing nationalism. I often get criticized for not prioritizing my poor compatriots. Why do I have to help foreigners? It is therefore dauntingly hard to expect any legal change under any government”.

What Sakda wants to get across to viewers is “open your mind”. 

“Most Thais assume refugees are here to cause us troubls. They are the reason for the rise of crime. But in fact, they are not here to commit crime or acts of terror. On the contrary, they are here to seek help since they can no longer live in their own countries. They fled here hoping to find a refuge. But here we are pushing them out without offering them help. I simply want to encourage people to treat refugees as human beings” said Sakda.

The exhibition “I am not allowed to exist in your reality” is made possible by collaboration among Amnesty International Thailand, WTF Gallery and Café, Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Information and Communication Technology and the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

It is open from 18 February-1 March 2020 at the lawn on the 1st floor of the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre from 10.00-21.00 and closed every Monday.

Jirawut Ueasungkomsate (b. 1986, Bangkok, Thailand) is a filmmaker and video artist with an MA degree in Experimental Film from Kingston University, United Kingdom. He obtained his BA in Archaeology and Anthropology from Silpakorn University in Thailand and also achieved a BTEC HNC in Fine Art from Kensington and Chelsea College. His work has been exhibited in solo and several group shows in galleries in the UK, Japan and Thailand including ‘This is not a Political Act’, WTF Bar and Gallery, 2016, BKK, Thailand; SEA ArtsFest 2013, London, UK; ‘Resonance’, Asia Network Beyond Design, Tokyo Polytechnic University, Japan. Jirawut is now a lecturer at the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology, Silpakorn University, teaching mainly Documentary and Media Production.

Pick to PostJirawut UeasungkomsateAmnesty InternationalRefugeeUrban refugeeSakda KaewbuadeeArt exhibition
Categories: Prachatai English

Constitutional Court to rule on FFP loan case ahead of no-confidence debate

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-02-18 23:56
Submitted on Tue, 18 Feb 2020 - 11:56 PMPrachatai

This Friday (21 February), the Constitutional Court of Thailand will rule on whether the Future Forward Party violated Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties by taking a loan from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The ruling is scheduled to take place only a few days ahead of the no-confidence debate, which is scheduled to open on 24 February.

Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties states that no political party or individuals holding office in a political party shall receive money, property, or other benefit if they know, or could be expected to know, that it was illegally acquired, or if they have reasonable cause to suspect that it was illegally acquired.

The Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) voted on 11 December 2019 to submit a request to the Court to rule whether the FFP taking a loan of 191,200,00 baht from party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is a violation of Article 72.  The penalties include dissolution of the party and barring the party’s executive members from running in elections for a number of years.

On 25 December 2019, ten days after the request was filed, the Court accepted the ECT’s request.

FFP Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said in a press conference this morning (18 February 2020) that a loan is a debt; it is not income or a donation, because a loan needs to be repaid. He also said that there is no law prohibiting political parties from taking out a loan, and that there are currently over 20 parties that have taken out loans.

Piyabutr also said that the party had to take a loan because when the party was registered in October 2018, they were informed by the ECT that they are not allowed to receive donations, and when the ECT finally allowed political parties to receive donations, it was too close to the election and they did not have enough time to raise the funds they needed.  

Meanwhile, historian Charnvit Kasetsiri started a campaign against the dissolution of FFP on 15 February, which has 150 signatures from well-known figures in various circles, including academics, writers, activists, film directors and actors, and now has over 30,000 signatures on Change.org.

The campaign states that “good politics should be a system which allows every side to compete fairly and be judged by the people, while trying to eradicate a particular political group will only create tension in society which is waiting to explode.[…] The best way out is to open up the political space as much as possible and to support the people’s political parties to become strong. Stop thinking that dissolving a political party or banning those who think differently is going to lead to peace.”

The Constitutional Court has previously ruled to dissolve a political party on three occasions: the Thai Rak Thai Party in 2008, the People’s Power Party in 2010, and the Thai Raksa Chart Party in 2019.

The loan case is yet another in a series of lawsuits thrown at the FFP since the start of 2019. On 21 November 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled to disqualify Thanathorn as an MP for holding shares in a media company, despite the company having ceased operations in 2017. Then on 21 January this year, the Court ruled to acquit the party and its leaders of anti-monarchy and sedition allegations, citing insufficient evidence.

The latest ruling is scheduled to take place three days before the debate on the motion of no-confidence filed against 6 ministers, including Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, which is currently scheduled to open on 24 February.

Other than Gen Prayut, the opposition has also filed a motion of no-confidence against deputy prime ministers Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Wissanu Krea-ngam, Minister of Interior Anupong Paochinda, Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai, and Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Thammanat Prompow.

With the exception of Don and Thammanat, the other four ministers all had roles in the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), which staged the military coup in 2014.

NewsFuture Forward PartyConstitutional court
Categories: Prachatai English

FFP deputy leader resigns over army housing scandal

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-02-18 18:26
Submitted on Tue, 18 Feb 2020 - 06:26 PMPrachatai

Future Forward Party (FFP) deputy leader Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo resigned from his position on Sunday night after it emerged that he was still living in a taxpayer-funded army housing after his retirement.

Lt Gen Pongsakorn posted a statement on his public Facebook profile that he apologize to the Thai public for not informing them that he was still living in an army residence, as he is still in the process of preparing to move out, and that he will move out of the residence by 31 March, in line with the timing of the annual military reshuffle.

He then announced his resignation from FFP’s board of executive and from any other position he has within the party, and that he was in the middle of an overseas trip and will formally inform the party executives of his decision when he returns to Thailand.

Pongsakorn had been a specialist at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters until his retirement in 2016. Lt Gen Apisit Nuchbusaba, directorate of join civil affairs at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, said that Lt Gen Pongsakorn has been allowed to continue staying in army residence because he contributed to the armed forces and does not own any property.

According to the financial declarations he filed with the National Anti-Corruption Commission, Lt Gen Pongsakorn also has around 21 million baht in debt.

Following the mass shooting in Nakhon Ratchasima, army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong announced that retired officers will have to vacate their military housings, since the motive of the shooting was believed to be linked to a shortage of army welfare houses caused by many retired officers not giving up their residence after retirement.

Pongsakorn’s retirement came after party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit called, at a rally on Saturday (15 February), for the army to disclose the names of retired officers still living in army residences, and details of the army’s business, such as its investment in golf courses, radios, and TV channels.

Thanathorn also called for the army to disclose its business management budget and to allow the public, the press, and politicians to scrutinize the army in order to take a step forward transparency and army reform.

NewsPongsakorn RodchompooArmy housingArmy reformFuture Forward Party
Categories: Prachatai English

Forest Department files complaint against PPRP MP for forest land encroachment

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-02-18 18:23
Submitted on Tue, 18 Feb 2020 - 06:23 PMPrachatai

The Royal Forest Department (RFD) has filed three more legal complaints against Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) MP Pareena Kraikupt, after it was found that Pareena’s Khao Son Poultry Farm encroaches on around 665 rai of protected forest land.

Pareena Kraikupt

The RFD filed their complaints with the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division last week, after the Office of the Council of State informed the RFD that 682 rai of Pareena’s land has yet to be declared reform land by the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO), and the RFD’s survey of the Khao Son Farm found that the farm encroaches on protected forest land.

Pareena was previously accused of encroaching on about 1700 rai of national park land in Ratchaburi, where she operates a poultry farm. Subsequent surveys showed that 682 rai of her land had been declared reform land by the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) and 46 rai was forest reserve land. As for the remaining 1000 rai, her father claimed the family never had that much land, and she later asked the NACC for permission to change her asset declaration to exclude the 1000 rai, claiming there was a misunderstanding.

The RFD also previously filed a legal complaint against Pareena for encroaching on 46 rai of protected forest land. The penalty for encroaching on forest land is 4 – 20 years in prison for plots over 25 rai and 1 – 10 years for smaller ones.

Pareena’s land scandal raised questions among the public when, in January 2020, she was formally appointed to the Parliament Standing Committee on Corruption and Misconduct.  Many asked whether there were double standards in the authorities’ handling of the accusations against Pareena, whether legal action will be taken against the rich and the powerful, and how a “corrupt” MP could be appointed to the Standing Committee on Corruption.

NewsPareena KraikuptRoyal Forest DepartmentAgricultural Land Reform OfficeNational forestland encroachment
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Army corruption

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-02-18 14:14
Submitted on Tue, 18 Feb 2020 - 02:14 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Army corruption

MultimediaStephffArmy corruptionArmy reform
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Ministry of Health

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-02-18 14:11
Submitted on Tue, 18 Feb 2020 - 02:11 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Ministry of Health

MultimediaStephffMinistry of HealthcoronavirusCOVID-19Anutin Charnvirakul
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Sinophobia is now a global health emergency.

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-02-18 14:08
Submitted on Tue, 18 Feb 2020 - 02:08 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Sinophobia is now a global health emergency.

MultimediaStephffcoronavirusCOVID-19Sinophobiaracism
Categories: Prachatai English

2019: Survey of the Thai Political Landscape in Transition

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-02-17 23:27
Submitted on Mon, 17 Feb 2020 - 11:27 PMPrachatai

2019 is counted as the year when the arc of Thai politics was most striking since it was a time of transition from the ‘dark era’ under almost 5 years of the NCPO to the ‘hazy era’ after the election (which had been postponed 6 times) under the 2017 Constitution whose complicated design locked politics into a multilayered parliamentary system, and the Future Forward Party emerged to strongly challenge the old system.

At the same time, a new reign saw many incidents which changed the way the democratic system worked and raised new political questions that few would talk about.  Prachatai has tried to collect its year’s work of recording, analyzing and criticizing important political issues as signposts in studying or understanding the new political landscape in Thailand.

Put concisely, the most important theme of 2019 is how the power of the monarchy and military in Thai politics persists or changes, together with how to manage the ‘threat of new groups’ with old tools such as the independent organizations and the constitutional court.

NCPO Government Mark II

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attends a group photo with his cabinet members at the government house in Bangkok Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (source: Government of Thailand)

In the election in March 2019, the Mixed Member Apportionment System (MMA) changed the constituencies, ballot papers and the calculation of votes for constituency MPs and party-list MPs. The Thai Raksa Chart Party was dissolved, wrecking the strategy of the Pheu Thai Party.  Palang Pracharath received the greatest number of votes (but in terms of the number of MPs came second) and became the core in the formation of the ‘Prayut 2’ government.  At the same time, a large number of votes fell to the Future Forward Party, which grew faster than expected and became the number 1 enemy of the government.

The search for a name for the government of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha after the election took some thought.  Many countries were relieved when “elections” happened in a country run by a military dictatorship, but in the details of the rules, from the drafting of the constitution, the content of the constitution, the referendum on the draft constitution up to the counting of the votes, there were so many problems that it was not possible to say that Thailand had become a democratic country.

Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Thammasat University, calls it the “Prayut system”, referring not specifically just to Gen Prayut alone but overall to components that co-operate.  Being in power for 5 years is long enough to completely change the Thai political structure.  Political scientists see that these people have just changed their clothes and continued in power through the election.  This “process” can be divided into six stages of buttoning up the political system.

First Button – Create a restricted political situation

The PDRC rallies was followed by the interlocking work of the independent agencies, such as voiding the 2 Feb 2014 elections, and the election boycott by parties allied to the PDRC.

Second Button – All sides weakened, only the military can manage.

The Bhumibol Consensus as defined by Prof Kasian Tejapira is changing form.  The old political rules no longer work and there is no centre that society can grasp as before.  The military therefore establishes itself as the political elite with strong bargaining power and takes charge.

Third Button: Administration without politics

After the NCPO takes power, there is severe suppression of the opposition.  In the past 5 years there have been thousands of prosecutions of political activity and expression. 

Fourth Button – Build alliances

Pull in different groups to support yourself in exchange for positions in the National Reform Council (NRC), the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and the Senate.  Freeze local elections and at the same time issue orders to remove government officials through Section 44.

Fifth Button – Change the structure of the Constitution and the voting system

- A 20-year National Strategy is drafted by an NCPO-appointed committee

- For the first 5-year period, the Prime Minister is appointed by a joint vote of MPs and Senators, where 244 members of the first Senate come from appointment by the NCPO and 6 members ex officio (the commanders of the armed forces and police and the Permanent Secretary of the  Ministry of Defence).  This Senate has a term of 5 years which will last as long as at least 2 governments. 

- The design of the MMA voting system does not allow any one political party to get enough seats to be able to form a single-party government (at present, Thailand is the only country in the world to use this system).  This system creates confusion and means that votes do not represent the intentions of the people.  There is a single ballot paper, but votes are counted twice, in both the constituency system and the party-list system.  The more constituency seats a party wins, the correspondingly fewer party-list seats it will get.
Sixth Button – Psychological warfare after the election

Formerly, the military were in a war against the communists.  Now they still have the characteristic of looking at a new group as the enemy.  Gen Apirak Kongsompong said in an interview that the country is now facing a hybrid war where the opposition uses “fake news” to deceive the new generation into turning against the military and the core institution.

An Appointed Senate that You Cannot Not Have

An important question that is being faced today is the appointed Senate.  This seems to have long been an important tool for military governments that staged coups.  If we look at history, we will see that all appointed senates come from constitutions written by coup juntas, be they the constitutions of 1947, 1949, 1968, 1974, 1991, or 2017.

The current Senate can not only join in voting for the Prime Minister, so enabling Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to become Prime Minister for a second time, but can also propose or join votes with MPs on laws related to “16 reforms”.  These 16 reforms can be interpreted so broadly as to cover almost any issue.  For example, Paiboon Nititawan, Deputy Leader of the Palang Pracharath Party, has proposed a way for the Senate to join deliberations on the budget bill by claiming that among all laws arising in the next 5 years, there is no law that does not concern national reform, and this includes the authority to approve new appointments to the independent agencies.

Thamrongsak Petchlertanan, a historian at Rangsit University, believes that Thailand has no need of a senate because the reason for having a senate in the first place starts with its status as a nanny and as a screening process to help MPs.  This is a discourse that allows government officials to control the politics of the people in the election system.

“The security that comes from appointment and the security that comes from elections is a conflict that has gone on for almost 8 decades. The constitutional requirement that the Senate be elected was an on-going principle of the People’s Party from 1932 to 1946 that there be elections at all levels and a process of decentralization of power,” said Thamrongsak.

Research by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) of the US gives examples of countries that have changed from bicameral to unicameral systems, such as New Zealand, Peru and Morocco.  This should help with imagining other alternatives and important discussions about Thai society, especially now when talk is beginning of a ‘single chamber’ in the movement to amend the constitution, such as the proposal from Parit ‘Itim’ Wacharasindhu.

Constitutional Court: Outstanding Results all the Time 

Apart from the Senate, another important mechanism with a role in dominating the political landscape is the Constitutional Court.  If we count from the 2006 coup, decisions of the Constitutional Court caused 10 major political changes and many political parties have been destroyed.

In the draft 2020 Budget Act, the Constitutional Court is the only agency of the courts to receive a budget increase of 25.8%, while other agencies of the courts have an overall budget reduction of 10.5%.

The Constitutional Court was created in the 1997 Constitution along with other independent agencies with the aim of serving as checks and balances against an executive designed to be strong.  But it appears that today the Constitutional Court has travelled far from that goal and entirely distanced itself from its connections with the people, just like the Election Commission.

Under the 2007 Constitution, 9 judges were appointed to the Constitutional Court in the reign of King Rama IX, according to a proposal from the Senate, which at that time had 73 appointed members and 77 elected.  The judges had a term of office of 9 years.  Between 2013 and 2015, 4 judges left office, 3 by resignation, and 1 by retirement.  The remaining 5 judges remained in office until 2017.  But the NLA, which was appointed by the NCPO, extended the term of all these 5 judges until an elected government was able to appoint a new set of judges.  Also, another 4 judges who had been appointed between 2013 and 2015 were allowed to remain until they completed a 9-year term according to the 2007 Constitution (instead of the 7 years under the 2017 Constitution).

The NLA deliberated on the law governing the Constitutional Court by adding a provision on contempt of the Constitutional Court which had never before existed.  2 cases have been prosecuted against academics.  The case of Sarinee Achavanuntakul concerned an article she wrote in the Krung Thep Thurakit newspaper, ‘The Danger of Excessive Rule by Law (Revisited)’, about MPs holding shares in media companies (14 May 2019).  The case of Kowit Wongsurawat concerned a Twitter post saying “the Constitutional Court has received complaints about 32 MPs holding media shares but has not suspended them from duty.  This is beyond ‘shameless’.”  In the end both formally apologized to the court to close the cases.

In another even more eye-catching case, where the Constitutional Court will eventually decide whether to dissolve a party or not, it is claimed that the Future Forward Party received a loan of 191.2 million baht from the party leader and that the party executives are using their rights and freedoms to overthrow the democratic system of government with the King as head of state.

The first case is where the law is in dispute but the second case reflects something bigger, i.e. the ideological and belief system of Thai people which is embedded in every organ of society and which may not be suited to with the modern world.

Future Forward Party: New Enemy of the Elite

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit after he left the Pathumwan Police Station, where he has been summoned to answer a sedition charge on 6 April 2019. (Source: Prachatai)

If we look at the charge of ‘overthrowing of the system of government’, which is used as the basis of a charge to dissolve the party, we find that it comes from a number of things.  For example, a party regulation uses the words “the principle of democracy under the constitution” instead of “the democratic system of government with the King as head of state”; Thanathorn founded the left-leaning Same Sky magazine; Piyabutr is a member of the Enlightened Jurists group which has proposed amendment of Article 112; the Party has a policy to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which includes a provision that the Head of State is not immune from criminal prosecution, etc.

The problem of the role of the monarchy in Thai politics has been there since the change in the system of government in 1932 and in no era has it ever stood still.  So it is difficult to have a sincere debate on this issue in a social and legal atmosphere that creates no opportunity for a fact-based, rational discussion.  In this situation, all that can be done is to investigate certain aspects of history to try to get an understanding of the crux of current conflicts and show that these things are still being created and their meaning is still contested. 

The democratic system of government + with the King as head of state is the name of a system and many Thais do not know its origin.  Historical data tells us that this expression was an invention created in the 1949 Constitution after the 1947 coup d’état of Field Marshal Phibun and his conservatives, which is the moment which many historians believe was the permanent end of the power of the People’s Party.  The name of this system appears in Section 2 which also contains the phrases “the King … shall not be violated” and “no person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action” in Sections 5 and 6 respectively and also in the reconstruction of various royal ceremonies.  The 1949 Constitution also introduced an appointed senate and created the Privy Council.

The charge of overthrowing the system meshes with the ‘overthrow’ allegations that have sporadically been thrown at the Future Forward Party since its foundation.  This is a very old accusation from the time when the Thai state was fighting the communist threat and was used intensively during the protests of the People’s Alliance for Democracy to oust Thaksin Shinawatra.  This resulted in a large number of Article 112 court cases and a broad interpretation of that law, together with penalties that other countries reveal to be the heaviest in the world.

This charge was repeated during the dispersal of the red shirt protests in the form of a ‘plot to overthrow the monarchy’ which the military revealed to the public implicating people from all professions.  It still attracted attention when it was used once more against the Future Forward Party with its status as the voice of many in the middle class and the new generation.  How will this end up?  On another side, there are attempts to spark a ‘nation-hater’ trend with, as its core leaders, Suthep Thaugsuban and ‘Doctor Warong’ Dechgitvigrom.  It has reached the point of thinking about making a law against anti-patriotic beliefs where the target is the Future Forward Party movement.

The New Role of a New Reign

This year counts formally as the new reign of King Rama X, starting from the coronation in the middle in 2019.  This reign is different from those in past in many ways and there have been many important changes in the Thai political landscape.  But before considering this role, it must be said that in this reign, there have been important changes in the use of Article 112.  The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Centre reports that since 2018, there have been almost no new 112 cases brought before the courts, and many cases that had gone to the courts, especially the civilian courts, have been dismissed.  But at the same time it has been observed that officials seem to be trying to use other charges instead, such as the Computer Crime Act or the charge of “incitement” under Article 116 of the Criminal Code.  It is also found that more extrajudicial procedures are used against critics of the monarchy such as detention and forcing people to give information and sign MOUs.

The important political actions of the monarchy have been:

1. Amending the draft constitution that passed the referendum

The 2017 Constitution currently in force was passed in a referendum on 7 August 2016.  The following February, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha announced that the Bureau of the Royal Household had contacted him to say that the King had ‘bestowed royal advice’ on minor amendments to the draft constitution that had been passed in the referendum.

“So it was requested because it was a matter of the royal prerogative of His Majesty.  The Interim Constitution had to be amended because the new Constitution had already been passed in the referendum, so when these changes were made, we had to find a way to do it without the need for another referendum, because it did not concern the people but was merely bestowed by the royal prerogative of His Majesty,” said Gen Prayut in an interview on 11 Jan 2017.

At that time, the government did not explain which Sections would be amended, but it leaked out in the media that there would be amendments to 3 Sections, i.e. 5, 17 and 18.  Later it was found that amendments were made to 7 Sections, i.e. 5, 12, 15, 16, 17, 19 and 182.  

This had never happened during the reign of King Rama IX.  There had only been the occasional exercise of the royal veto to send back laws.  This is an important issue in law and in the practice of democracy.  But there were almost no opinions from academics in law or political science, from the mass media or relevant NGOs.

The content that was amended concerned powers in the event of ‘a political impasse’, the qualifications of Privy Councillors, the appointment of a Regent, and countersigning Royal Commands (see more here).

Section 5 most concerns the people.  This Section states that in the event of a political ‘blind alley’, a situation where it is not known which way to go, the Constitution specifies broadly that decisions and actions should be in accordance with “constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State”.  This provision appeared in Section 7 of the 1997 Constitution, which Sondhi Limthongkul interpreted to mean a ‘royally-appointed Prime Minister’ by King Rama IX.  In the draft constitution, the NCPO later clarified this ambiguity by putting the power to make a judgement into the hands of the President of the Constitutional Court, the President of the House of Representatives, the Opposition Leader in the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, the Prime Minister, the President of the Supreme Court, the President of the Supreme Administrative Court, the President of the Constitutional Court, and the Presidents of the Constitutional Organizations. However, the royally-bestowed advice which was used in amending the Constitution was to go back to the original provision.

Section 5:  The Constitution is the supreme law of the State. The provisions of any law, rule, or regulation, or any action which are contrary to or inconsistent with the Constitution shall be unenforceable.

Whenever no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be acted or decided in accordance with the constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State.

2. A Royal Command is issued: the case of the Thai Raksa Chart Party

On 8 February 2019, it emerged that the candidate for Prime Minister of the Thai Raksa Chart Party was Princess Ubolrat, something that caused a major panic, since members of the royal family had never condescended to play directly in the political arena like this.  The Thai Raksa Chart Party said that the reasons why the Princess was fully qualified were: 1) she had resigned from the rank of Princess in 1972, making her legal status that of a commoner; 2) the princess had accepted the nomination as required by the 2017 Constitution; 3) candidates for Prime Minister who have not exercised the right to vote are permitted.  In this case, EC Secretary-General Jarungvith Phumma confirmed on 7 Feb 2019 that not having exercised the right to vote was a disqualification according to past Constitutions but the current Constitution had repealed this disqualification.  All that was necessary was that voting rights had not been revoked.

Overnight, there were waves of both criticism and praise for the decision of the eldest daughter of King Rama IX and on the same night a Royal Command from King Rama X was broadcast on the TV pool on all channels.  One section said:

"Every Thai constitution, including the Constitution currently in force, contains a Section specifically on the King which upholds its special status of the monarchy according to the traditions of a democratic form of government with the King as head of state. The King is above politics, and in a position of revered worship. No one shall violate, accuse or prosecute the King in any way.  These provisions of the Constitution will naturally apply to the Queen, the Heir Apparent, and those members of the Royal Family close to the King, whom the King is pleased to designate as his representatives to perform royal duties with His Majesty or on his behalf. Hence, the Queen, the Heir Apparent, every member of the Royal Family is therefore within the principle of the King being above politics and being politically neutral and they cannot hold any political office because this would be in contradiction to the intention of the Constitution and the traditions of a democratic form of government with the King as head of state."

The EC then sent the matter for the Constitutional Court to decide, citing the Royal Command.

On 7 March 2019, the judges of the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously, 9 to 0, to dissolve the party, and by a majority of 6 to 3 to suspend for 10 years the rights of all 10 members of the Executive Committee to stand for election since this nomination was an action against the democratic system of government with the King as head of state.

“(The nomination) is likely to have an effect on the basic principles of the democratic system of government with the King as head of state in Thailand, which hold that the King reigns but does not rule and which are degraded by being eroded and undermined by implication. … If this is allowed, the monarchy will no longer be in the position of being the centre of the Thai people.  This is likely to lead to the democratic system of government with the King as head of state, which is the special characteristic of Thailand, being degraded, brought to an end, or ultimately vanishing.”

“Section 92, Paragraph 1 (2) of the Organic Act on Political Parties decrees clearly on the matter of “intent”, that the mere possibility of opposing [the democratic system of government with the King as head of state] must be prohibited.  It is not necessary for there to be the intention to wish for this result or to wait for severe damage to occur.  It is therefore necessary to prevent damage to the principle institution of the country by a policy of immediately putting out sparks and not allowing a small fire to take hold until it is a disaster which may not be controllable.”

The dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party raises many questions.  One is the status of a Royal Command.  Sawatree Suksri from the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, sees that the interpretation of this as a possible law must rest on the legal system of the country.  There is a legislative branch which issues acts, an executive branch which issues decrees and an administrative branch which issues various subsidiary laws.  Therefore the Royal Command that was issued is not a law because it has not passed any legislative process, and is merely a royal decision of the King’s.

Meanwhile Poonthep Sirinupong, a legal scholar, thinks that neutrality or a position above politics is a change that has always been creeping into modern political history for reasons peculiar to the context.  The actions of the Thai Raksa Chart Party are therefore only in the nature of being “appropriate” or “inappropriate”.  But the organs of the state instead take a royal command as having the status of a law determining what is “possible” or “impossible”.

“The tradition of governing Thailand under a democratic system with the King as head of state under ‘the principle of the King being above politics and being politically neutral’ is not something which is definite and constant nor has it continued without change since 1932.  It is a principle whose essence changed greatly in 1946 and became a principle without any legal regulation or enforcement in any way, holding the status of a principle according to a political method based on political responsibility only.”  Poonthep also summarizes the role of the Constitutional Court: “On every issue where the Constitutional Court has made a decision in the name of a defender of ‘the democratic system of government with the King as head of state’, including the verdict in the case of the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party, it has not been a ruling on a legal dispute, but has been a political verdict.

3. Royal power to appoint Supreme Patriarch 

On 7 February 2017, King Rama X appointed Amborn Ambaro, the abbot of Wat Ratchabophit, as the 20th Supreme Patriarch, more than 3 years after this important position became vacant and the NLA amended the law to change the way supreme patriarchs are appointed by removing the need for a resolution of the Sangha Supreme Council but instead putting it under the direct authority of the monarch.  The appointment does not have to go to the most senior monk as before.

Before this, the appointment of the Supreme Patriarch could be called extremely ‘chaotic’.

On 5 January 2016, the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC) called a special secret meeting and resolved that Somdej Chuang, as the most senior of the ranking monks, be appointed the 20th Supreme Patriarch.  Less than a week later, Buddha Isara, the abbot of Wat Onoi, submitted a petition with 300,000 signatures to Gen Prayut opposing the appointment, claiming as a reason unsuitable behaviour.  In February 2016, monks gathered at Phutthamonthon to support the SSC resolution proposing Somdej Chuang as Supreme Patriarch.  3 days later, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) stated that a vintage Mercedes Benz belonging to Somdej Chuang had evaded taxes through false documents. In March, the Ombudsman decided that the SSC had violated the procedure concerning the nomination of Somdej Chuang as the 20th Supreme Patriarch, which must originate with the Prime Minister.  But in July, the Office of the Council of State resolved that the procedure for appointing Somdej Chuang was correct.

Finally on 29 December 2016, the NLA passed a resolution to amend the Sangha Act, giving the power to appoint the Supreme Patriarch to the King, to be countersigned by the Prime Minister.  It is not necessary to get the prior approval of the Sangha Supreme Council and it is not necessary for the Supreme Patriarch to be the most senior ranking monk.

FeatureIn-DepthThai politicsconstitutional monarchy2017 Constitution2019 general electionConstitutionmonarchymilitaryFuture Forward PartyRoyal commandRoyal Power
Categories: Prachatai English

Post-Coup Overview on Exiles: ‘at least’ 6 disappeared, 2 dead, almost a hundred in flight

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-02-17 22:26
Submitted on Mon, 17 Feb 2020 - 10:26 PMPrachatai

After the 2016 coup d’état, data in a 2018 report compiled by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Centre showed that at least 86 political refugees left the country for coup-related reasons.  This includes those on lists of people summoned to report to the military, those summoned to answer Article 112 charges, and those involved in legal proceedings since the time of the UDD rallies, which were part of the conflict that continued up to the coup.  It also included those who did not report but were detained for 7 days under martial law.  After their release from military detention, these people felt that their lives were no longer safe and opted to leave the country.  Most of them went in neighbouring countries.  Some with higher social status or with more adequate resources may have gone as far as Europe or the U.S.

It was also found that at least 8 of these refugees have disappeared for no known reason, even though they were living in other countries.  These are: Ittipon Sukpaen aka DJ Sunho; Wuthipong Kachathamakul aka Ko Tee; Surachai Danwattananusorn aka Surachai Sae Dan, revolutionary and underground radio programme presenter; Chatchan Bubphawan aka Comrade Phuchana; Kraidej Luelert aka Comrade Kasalong; Chucheep Chivasut (Uncle Sanam Luang); Siam Theerawut; and Kritsana Tupthai.

In July 2016, Ittipon Sukpaen, aka DJ Beer or DJ Sunho, a political activist and radio broadcaster who had taken refuge in Lao PDR, disappeared. An NCPO spokesperson denied any involvement and the 36th Military Circle, Phetchabun Province, did not have him in detention.

In July 2017, Wuthipong Kachathamakul aka Ko Tee or Comrade Ma Noi, a political activist and radio broadcaster, for whom an arrest warrant had been issued under Article 112 and who was exiled in Lao PDR, disappeared.  Jom Petchpradab, an independent media person, stated that he had received confirmation from close associates of Ko Tee that he was abducted by about 10 armed men in black wearing woollen balaclavas over their faces at 9:45 on 29 July 2017.  Ko Tee has not been seen since and no one has made any statement about his fate, but his name still appeared for some time in the Thai media in reports by the security agencies that he or his networks were involved in political activities or arms.

In December 2018, Surachai Danwattananusorn, revolutionary and underground radio broadcaster, disappeared together with two other exiles, Chatchan Bubphawan aka Comrade Phuchana and Kraidej Luelert aka Comrade Kasalong.  The bodies of Comrade Phuchana and Comrade Kasalong were later found in the Mekhong River at the beginning of last year, while Surachai remains disappeared and is assumed by his wife, Pranee Danwattananusorn aka Pa Noi, to be dead and his body destroyed.

Pranee Danwattananusorn (right), Surachai's wife, went to a temple to make merit for him on 3 February 2019. Surachai remains missing, and Pranee assumes he is dead.

 

Chatchan aka Comrade Phuchana graduated from Srinakharinwirote University, Bang Saen, with a bachelor’s degree in electronics.  Before becoming a political activist and exile and an underground radio broadcaster, he was a contractor installing satellite dishes for the Red Shirt TV channel.  This may have been the start of his political career in the early part of the Red Shirt movement in 2008.  Chatchan became a candidate in local elections and a campaigner for several members of parliament in the northeast region.  After the coup, his name appeared on the list of those summoned to report to the military, which prompted him to decide to take refuge in a neighbouring country.

According to his son, Kuekkong, Chatchan liked to read, but did not take much interest in politics.  He was usually gentle and did not favour violence.
 “My father separated from my mother when I was still young, but he visited me and my mother all the time.  We were not angry with each other.  He was still friends with my mother.  We became more distant in 2010 because he was “too red”, but still communicated regularly by telephone or Line until he passed away,” his son said.

Even though it was reported that Chatchan was prosecuted for being involved in violence, Kuekkong insisted that he did not believe that his father would be involved in violence acts.

“Since I was young, my father always taught me a sense of shame and fear of committing sin.  He was a gentle man.  He liked to feed and shelter stray dogs.  I heard when he was in Lao, he also looked after stray dogs at his home.  He was not the kind of person to harm anyone.  He even helped free a turtle that was going to be eaten by a monitor lizard.”

After he fled the country, Chatchan was in contact with his family until 12 December.  He told his son on Line that he was going to be away for 3 days.  But after there was no further contact 3 days later, Kuekkong called his father on 23 December 2018, which was Chatchan’s birthday, and became alarmed when there was no answer.  Just before the New Year, Kuekkong heard the news that 2 bodies had been found floating in the Mekhong River in Nakhon Phanom Province and was contacted by the police responsible for the case to have his DNA checked, which confirmed that it really was his father.

Meanwhile the history of Comrade Kasalong has never been revealed as his family and friends remain so fearful and moved by the incident that no one has given an interview to the media.Surachai had a long history of political activism.  He started off as a TV repairman who somehow got involved in making speeches at a rally demanding that the Governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat Province give assistance to people affected by the serious floods in 1975.  When the Governor’s residence was set on fire while he was speaking, he was accused of giving an order for arson, so he fled into the jungle to join the Communist Party of Thailand in 1976.  He came out of the jungle as a CPT ‘peace envoy’ to negotiate with the government, and was arrested and imprisoned for 16 years before being released in 1996.  He was imprisoned for a second time from 22 February 2011 to 4 October 2013 on a charge of lèse majesté for speaking at a rally.

In May 2019, Chucheep Chivasut, a broadcaster on underground radio known as Uncle Sanam Luang, disappeared with two other exiles, Siam Theerawut and Kritsana Tupthai.  News reports said that Chucheep, Siam and Kritsana were arrested in Vietnam and were being deported to Thailand, but the Vietnamese authorities denied any record of this.  Until today, the efforts of Siam’s family to find all three have been fruitless.

Chucheep had a long history of political struggle.  He was known among ‘former comrades’ and among the anti-coup activists in 2006 as an enemy (in an ideological sense) of the Thai security forces.  In August 2008, the Criminal Court issued a warrant for Chucheep’s arrest on a charge of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code while making a speech.  It is believed he left the country at that time.  Chucheep announced the discontinuation of his radio programme in January 2019 after the disappearance of Surachai and the two other exiles.

Siam was an activist and underground radio broadcaster.  He graduated from Ramkhamhaeng University.  As a student he was active in the Prakai Fai group.  It was the play ‘The Wolf’s Bride’ staged by the group that led Siam and others involved in the play, like Pornthip Munkong and Patiwat Saraiyaem, to be investigated by the police for violations of Article 112.  When the Article 112 cases were revived after the 2014 coup, Siam left the country.

Kritsana’s story is still a riddle as reporters have not been able to contact his family or anyone who knew him.

Apart from these cases, there have been a number of disappearances that cannot yet be confirmed, such as Sangiam Samranrat, one of the core leaders of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD).  Another core leader, Jakrapob Penkair, was thought to have disappeared until he posted a message on Facebook on 8 October last year, commemorating 6 October 1976.

No body, no justice

Siam Theerawut at a 1932 revolution memorial day event at the memorial plaque, 24 June 2012

Siam's mother, Kanya Theerawut at the Embassy of Vietnam in Bangkok, where she went to file a letter requesting information on her son's alleged arrest and extradition, 12 May 2019

 

After the disappearance of Surachai, his 62-year-old wife, Auntie Noi, travelled to file a report with Pol Lt Col Suksawat Bua-in, Deputy Superintendent for Investigations of Tha Uthen District Police Station, because she believed that it was Surachai’s body which appeared at Tha Champa Village, Tha Champa Subdistrict, Tha Uthen District, Nakhon Phanom Province on 26 December 2018 and which was later said to have floated off and disappeared.  She asked the police on 26 February 2019 to investigate the facts, but there has been no progress until today.

Auntie Noi later petitioned the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the case of enforced disappearance and appealed to the police to investigate the abduction and killing of Surachai and his aides.  On 20 September 2019, Auntie Noi went to submit a petition to the Director-General of the Department of Rights and Liberty Protection as Member and Secretary of the Complaints Management Committee to monitor the cases of torture and enforced disappearance.  

Auntie Noi had another subsequent problem. Surachai had an on-going court case pending at the Pattaya Court in which he was a defendant in a criminal case over the forced abandonment of the 2009 ASEAN Summit.  As there was no empirical evidence of Surachai’s death, the Court imposed a fine of 500,000 baht on the bail guarantor for Surachai’s absence in court on the appointed date.  The 50,000 baht deposit has been seized and the defendant still has to pay 450,000 baht.  Auntie Noi and the bail guarantor, who is Surachai’s nephew, have submitted a request for the fine to be paid in instalments of 3,000 baht per month as of February 2018.  The latest decision by the Court (27 December 2019) was to reject the petition to reduce the fine due to the lack of evidence of Surachai’s death.

Aunti Noi described the enormous burden that she and the bail guarantor have endured in finding the money.  She has been struggling to sell Surachai’s books, campaign caps and shirts in order to pay the monthly instalments that will continue for another 10 years.

At the same time, Siam’s mother submitted a request to the Crime Suppression Commissioner for information on Siam’s arrest.  The official receiving the request insisted that there has been no arrest or detention of Siam and the others.  She also contacted the Embassy of Viet Nam and the National Human Rights Commission to request investigations but there has been no progress.

“I miss him.  I haven’t met him for five years.  Earlier we were able to chat on Line and see each other’s face but we haven’t done that for many months already.  I don’t know what to do, but I haven’t given up.  He is my son.  How can I give up?  Whatever happens, I still want to see him to know where he is.  If he is dead, I would like to have his remains for a merit-making ceremony.”  (Interview with Prachatai, 12 June 2019.)

On 16 July 2019, Siam’s sister gave an interview to Prachatai, saying that the Thai Embassy in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, informed them through the Director of the Protection of Thai Nationals Abroad Division that internal enquiries with the relevant Vietnamese agencies concerning the entry of Siam and his friends into Vietnam had resulted in their being informed that there was no such record.

Siam’s sister also said that an official from the Ministry of Justice came to see her on 12 July to ask whether she had any evidence for her claim that Siam was really in Viet Nam.  She told the official that Siam chatted with her on Line and told her he was in Viet Nam, but she had deleted the conversation before his disappearance.  The official then said they would check with the boss to see if the conversation could be retrieved.  By 13 December 2019, there was still no contact from the official and no progress whatsoever.

Fai Yen escaping death to France; Pavin attacked at home; ‘Somsak Jeam’ returns

Amidst the concern for the safety of Thai political exiles in neighbouring countries after the deaths of Surachai’s close friends and the disappearance of Surachai, Chucheep and two others, there was a report on 12 July 2019 that members of the Fai Yen band had received death threats.  The sender of the message, who claimed to be a Special Forces officer, warned  the Fai Yen members to surrender or else they would be taken dead immediately as their address was known and they could easily be accessed by intelligence units on daily surveillance missions, and if they thought of fleeing, they would be killed immediately because they posed a danger to national security.  The reports however could not confirm who the sender was.

During the year, Fai Yen members had received 10 threats, not including other vitriolic abuse.  Most of those making threats claim to be government officials or related to the government.  Before these threats were received, the family of one Fai Yen member was contacted by a politician who asked for their help to bring the Fai Yen members to surrender to the Thai authorities.

BBC Thai reported that it had seen a document marked ‘secret’ which Fai Yen claimed to be a request sent by the Thai authorities to the Lao authorities for the deportation of the exiles.  It contained the names of the Fai Yen members, together with those who had disappeared including Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chucheep Chivasut and Siam Theerawut.

On other pages appeared the names of the Fai Yen members and copies of their ID cards and arrest warrants, including the location of their houses on satellite images complete with latitude and longitude coordinates.

BBC Thai has also listened to a sound recording of Romchalee Sombulrattanakul, a singer in the band, talking to an unknown fluent Thai speaker who called her a few days after the news broke of the disappearance of Surachai and his friends.  The man insisted that Surachai was dead even though there was as yet no news of the bodies being found, and he was also able to specify correctly their addresses.  This was one of the reasons why they had to move house no fewer than seven times in the previous few years.  BBC Thai could not authenticate either the document or the sound recording.

On 19 May 2019, the hashtags #SaveFaiyen and #อย่าฆ่าไฟเย็น [Don’tkillFaiyen] trended in social media.  Action for Democracy in Thailand (ACT4DEM) started a campaign on change.org to petition the UNHCR and the Lao and French governments.

The campaign claimed that the Fai Yen band, who had been in exile in Lao since the 2014 coup, had received information from a high-level source of their imminent enforced disappearance within the week.  The Fai Yen members and other exiles at risk of enforced disappearance themselves had, over the previous five months, been seeking assistance from the UNHCR at all levels and from the European Union, including the French government, for protection and their removal from an area of risk.

On 2 August 2019, members of Fai Yen were taken from Lao to begin new lives in France under the sponsorship of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) which arranged flights and air tickets.  Many people both in Thailand and other countries around the world mobilized funding and moral support for the group, who are now in the process of seeking asylum and studying the French language

Another incident occurred to Pavin

Chachavalpongpun, an academic at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, who has been in exile since the NCPO coup.  A black-clad masked man broke into his rooms in Kyoto.  Pavin said the man opened the door and approached the bedroom he shared with a friend.  He pulled off the blanket, sprayed both of them with chemicals and ran away despite their efforts to catch him.  

The Japanese police arrived later at the scene with forensic officers.  They seem to understand Pavin’s background and hypothesised that the incident may be related to Thai politics so the case was referred to the Transnational Anti-terrorism Unit.  The police also suggested that he should not return to his rooms and placed him instead in a safe house.

Meanwhile in June 2019, the Facebook page of Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a former history lecturer at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University, was reactivated with comments on the live-streaming of a seminar on “Col Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena: a democratic soldier in the People’s Party (Khama Ratsadon)” on the Textbooks Foundation page.

The 'Somsak Jeamteerasakul' Facebook page, had been inactive since 23 August 2018 due to Somsak’s illness and convalescence, but for several months in early 2019, his account had attended several online seminar streams.

On 22 November 2019, there was a report that at 14:30 Thai time, a live stream on the Somsak Jeamteerasakul account was viewed 110,000 times and shared 2,500 times.

Somsak said it was a trial broadcast on the occasion of the account’s fifth anniversary that gave him an opportunity to greet friends again.  He insisted that all the letters on the Facebook page were his own, after someone had made the observation that they may not have been.  He also said that he could not write fully because he was still slow and it took a long time, but everything that was written was what he intended to write as he can communicate better by writing than by other methods.  From now on, he would try to practice writing and transmitting ideas, which would take longer in comparison with before his illness.  But his thinking methods and systems have not been lost.

FeaturePolitical exileexileRefugeeThai refugeesThai politicsdissidentSurachai DanwattananusornSurachai Sae Dan
Categories: Prachatai English

Valentine 2020 : Bangkok's district office denied LGBTQ marriage registration

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-02-17 17:21
Submitted on Mon, 17 Feb 2020 - 05:21 PM

Valentine's Day remained a popular day for couples to get married in Thailand. This year, 2194 couples register their marriage on 14 February in Bangkok alone.

On this occasion, two LGTBQ couples went to the Bangkok Yai District Office to request marriage registration as part of their campaign for marriage equality.

MultimediaLGBTMarriage registrationValentine's day
Categories: Prachatai English

What’s in a name?

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-02-17 15:36
Submitted on Mon, 17 Feb 2020 - 03:36 PMHarrison George

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

The official responses to the tragic mass shooting in Nakhon Ratchasima were almost laughably contradictory, so the Bangkok Post could run the headline ‘Poor security worsened toll: PM’ while the Guardian had ‘Thai PM defends security at military base after soldier's killing spree’.  And neither was wrong. 

But scholars of what, for want of a better term, I will call military thinking might take a few moments to ponder one phrase by Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong:

‘The moment he pulled the trigger he became a criminal, not a soldier anymore.’

It is not really important to point out that the weepy-eyed General’s statement has the legal weight of a snowflake at Songkran.  For heaven’s sake, for 4 years the military junta was frog-marching everyone they didn’t like into their own courts so they could be dealt with by the travesty known as military justice.  But as soon as one of their own goes terminally ballistic, they suddenly don’t want to know. 

Nor should we dwell too long on the fact that, if the General’s definition is valid, there are lots of ‘criminal non-soldiers’ in the current ranks of the military who have been recorded pulling triggers on civilians, not least among them Gen Apirat himself. 

What is perhaps more revealing is the importance the military give to labelling people in line with their simple-minded classification of humankind.  This is at one with the ideology that sees a clear ‘good person/bad person’ dichotomy that reactionaries find so useful at election time. 

Apirat’s preferred definition of ‘soldier’ must run something along the lines of ‘warrior hero defending monarchy, religions and nation’ (with suitable martial music in the background, of course, but you’ll have to imagine that yourself).  Hard to reconcile this with the shooting spree en route to and inside Terminal 21 in Khorat. 

But the military establishment does not want to be seen as guilty by association with Jakrapanth’s actions, even as they are busily destroying all historical commemorations of those who did actually defend the country against the Boworadej Rebellion

But is it not a bit strange that Jakrapanth’s automatic self-disqualification from the military only stems from shooting?  What about the proximate cause of his bullet-riddled blowout, a shady business deal turned sour involving his commanding officer?

Business dealings, shady or otherwise, are not in the JD of any military rank, as far as I know.  But the boardrooms of Thai businesses are full of ‘people in uniform’ wearing suits as a disguise.  Apirat himself is on the board of TMB Bank and has been on the board of Bangchak Petroleum.  Pol Gen Somyot Poompunmuang, now retired and in his second term as the head of that pillar of financial probity, the Football Association of Thailand, once astounded even his own top brass by declaring that his responsibilities as Commissioner-General the Royal Thai Police were just a sideline from his day job of playing the stock exchange.

The soldiers’ definition is what constitutes proper soldier behaviour is obviously a very fluid concept.  What is much clearer to them is the need for a difference, a gap, a yawning chasm, between ‘us’ and ‘them’. 

Apirat’s summary dismissal of Jakrapanth from the Army is a classic example of ‘othering’, declaring someone to be not one of us, the ‘other’, one of the unwanted, the enemy.

In much the same way, my browsing of 100-year-old literature from and after World War 1 (hey, it’s all free on Project Gutenberg and lots of it) reveals some authors seemingly unable to bring themselves to use the word ‘German,’ which for lots of people at the time was associated with Beethoven, Goethe and Dürer. 

Instead they used ‘Hun’ or ‘Boche’ or ‘Kraut’.  That’s among the writers who mostly stayed away from the actual fighting, of course.  The first-hand accounts of the horror of trench warfare (and I strongly recommend Henri Barbusse) are far less interested in such infantile Trumpian name-calling.

Apirat’s insistence on creating opponents of anyone who doesn’t think like him (remember his hybrid warfare rant?) stands in stark contrast to what happened after another mass shooting. 

When an Australian white supremacist killed 51 people in attacks on 2 mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, almost a year ago, the opportunity for othering the victims was huge.  They belonged to a minority religion; many were not citizens.

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern immediately identified the victims with New Zealand.  They had come here to call this place their home, she said.  They had the same right as everyone else in the country to expect protection from violence.  They were not ‘them’; they were ‘us’.

Jakrapanth is also one of ‘us’. 

This does not mean condoning in any way what he did.  But he spent his adult life in one of the most unequal institutions in a grossly unequal society.  He seems to have subscribed to the military’s nod-and-a-wink code of conduct regarding extracurricular income-earning.  The Army agrees that he had a legitimate grievance and had been cheated in a way that gave him no means of recourse. 

But to cast him arbitrarily out of the tribe, labelling him a ‘rogue’ soldier, gets us nowhere.

A rogue by any other name would smell as bad.

Alien ThoughtsAlien thoughtsHarrison GeorgeApirat KongsompongMass shootingNakhon Ratchasima
Categories: Prachatai English

New exhibition raises questions about the meaning of ‘Thainess’ in an increasingly globalized world.

Prachatai English - Sun, 2020-02-16 16:03
Submitted on Sun, 16 Feb 2020 - 04:03 PMTara Abhasakun

On Friday (14 February), Thai-French artist Aline Deschamps opened her new art and research exhibition “Luk Khrueng Generation,” at Chandrphen restaurant on Rama 4 Road.

The exhibition will run until March 15. 

Artist Aline Deschamps discusses her exhibition “Luk Khrueng Generation.”

The exhibition features interviews with 13 different luk khruengs, or half Thai people. The word “luk khrueng” literally translates to “child half.” The interview subjects discussed their ethnic and national identities, and relationships to Thai identity, nationalism, and culture. 

“Luk Khrueng Generation” is an interractive exhibition through augmented reality (the combination of art and digital media), in which attendees used the app Artivive. Aline also screened her short documentary "Luk Khrueng Generation: On Being a ‘Half’ Thai.”

Aline Deschamps demonstrates how to use Artivive at her exhibition

Aline’s work is often linked to identity issues such as gender, migration, cultural mix and heritage. She said that the exhibition was intended to explore how Thailand’s ideas about mixed race people have changed over time.

Luk khruengs first became a known reality in Thailand during the Vietnam war era in the 1960s and 70s, during which American GIs often came to Thailand during their breaks, and formed temporary relationships with Thai prostitutes. The children created from these relationships were then known as children of prostitutes, creating a stigma against luk khruengs. 

As Thailand became more and more globalized, however, luk khruengs became increasingly common. Today, luk khruengs are often associated with Thailand’s entertainment industry. Luk khruengs of European descent in particular are often very successful in acting and modeling, due to Thailand’s beauty standards that value white skin and other Western features. Yet, stigma still exists, as luk khruengs are still often told that they are “not really Thai” and are often bullied in school.

Deschamp’s exhibition and documentary explore the experiences of luk khruengs living in modern-day Thailand. 

When You Belong Nowhere

All of the interview subjects expressed feeling as though they belonged neither in Thailand, nor their other country of origin. 

One subject, Veronica, 32, grew up in Italy. She said that in Italy, she was one of two half-Asian people in her school. She was called “Chinacena!” by people driving or walking by her. In Thailand, however, her own cousin called her “farang farang quinok,” or “foreigner foreigner bird’s poo.” Both these experiences, she said, were very alienating. 

Another subject, Panyavee Phongsithai, a Thai-French artist, also recalled namecalling against her when she was growing up. She was called “pale monkey,” due to her fair skin. Since she had red hair, her teacher told her “You have to die your hair back, you cannot have red hair like this.” She then had to show her teacher photos of her family members in order to prove that her red hair is natural.

One half French man who did not reveal his name, 34, said that his cousin was forbidden from hanging out with him because he was “too white.”

Many subjects then note that, later on, being a luk khrueng seemed to suddenly become trendy and hip. 

Odette Jacqumin, a Thai-French luk khrueng, said, “Out of the blue, people started pointing at luk khruengs [saying] ‘You are cute! You are pretty!’ No one really understands how it happened, but it exploded as a phenomenom.” This was in stark contrast to the bullying that Odette experienced as a child, when no one at school wanted to be her friend because she was a luk khrueng. 

For luk khruengs with darker skin, however, discrimination often continues into adulthood. Aaron Warner, who is half Thai half Carribean, and from London, said that his sister wanted an English teaching job in Thailand. She had an interview for one position, which went well. After the interview, however, the employer told her, “We’re sorry, but we prefer someone with a white face.”

 Other luk khruengs with dark skin, however, say that this attitude is also changing. One subject, Sukanya Sesenyat, who is half South African, and also has dark skin. Sukanya is a model. She said, “In terms of opportunities, Thailand opened up a lot recently. Especially for black people. So I get a lot more work opportunities because it’s rare to find black Thai models. Now there is much more diversity than before, the situation is improving.”

Sukanya (left) made an appearance at the opening night of the exhibition. Here, she and Aline (right) stand next to her portrait.

Participants’ Reactions

Many audience members were luk khruengs themselves, and said that they felt the interview subjects’ experiences resonated with them. 

One woman, Airin, 17, who is mixed Thai and Chinese, said that she experienced some teasing in school for being Chinese, however, that it was not very serious. 

Stefan Crucifix, 38, who is half French, said, “I can’t be in either place for too long. When I’m in France for too long, I need Thailand. When I’m in Thailand too long, I need France. I need both.”

Stefan Rustler, 31, who is half German, said, “I think what we all have in common is that journey that I myself am part of, in trying to find out who you are and where you belong. Of course I belong to Germany, but there are many things that are not German about me where I have some friction here and there, and maybe feel more comfortable in Thailand. Yet I’m also not a local to Thailand, so in a way I’m a foreigner everywhere. But I’m like, embracing this, that I don’t fully 100 percent belong anywhere, but I like that. I think many luk khruengs have this struggle, and, many have made peace with this, and have made this part of their identity, that there is this constant struggle, but it’s a beautiful struggle. It’s symbolic of our globalized world and I think we can be ambassadors of multiculturalism and building bridges between different cultures.”

A Resolved Identity?

In her description of the exhibition, Aline said that this project was a part of her own quest for identity. Prachatai English asked Aline if this had culminated in anything. Aline said, “Yes, looking for other people to tell their story definitely responded in that quest for identity, because I think identity is what you choose to make it. It’s not about genetics, it’s just the culture you’re playing with, and seeing that I’m not the only one to be alone in many ways, and so many people experience exactly the same things, helped me to actually be okay with both sides. And really feel it’s [being a luk khrueng] is something enriching, rather than something to be ashamed of or reject. As the world becomes more globalized, more mixed people are gonna come in the next generation. So I think everyone should embrace those two sides.”

NewsArt and cultureArt exhibitionAline DeschampsLuk Khrueng GenerationraceCultural identityMigrationMixed race
Categories: Prachatai English

Thais gather for candlelight vigil; demand army chief’s resignation

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-02-14 17:33
Submitted on Fri, 14 Feb 2020 - 05:33 PMPrachatai

Around a hundred people gathered in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) yesterday (13 February) for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims of the Nakhon Ratchasima mass shooting, which took place on Saturday night and Sunday morning (8-9February), and to demand that Gen Apirat Kongsompong take responsibility by resigning from his position as army chief.

Candles were lit at yesterday's vigil. The person in the back is holding a sign saying "Apirat get out"

The vigil was organized by the Democracy Restoration group (DRG) and the People’s Party for Freedom. Flowers and candles were placed in front of the BACC, along with a blank piece of cloth on which people wrote messages of condolence.

People began gathering and leaving flowers before sundown. 

The organizers asked the participants to stand in a minute of silence and to join them in lighting candles in memory of the victims.

The group also read out a statement, which called for the army to take responsibility for the attack and for Gen Apirat to resign.

“We express our deepest condolences for the families and friends of those who lost their lives, and we send our support to the injured. We also would like to acknowledge the work of medical personnel, security personnel, police officers, several news agencies, as well as others who are involved, who joined forces and tried their best to stop the attack and limit the losses,” said the statement.

“The atrocity that happened not only brought sadness to all Thai people, but also raised concerns, as we cannot tell whether a similar incident will happen again, and who will be the next victims, as the army, which is involved with the attack in many aspects, has not shown that it recognizes its structural issues and failures, especially in how they store high calibre weapons, and has not shown that it will make changes to prevent such problems and failures from happening again in the future.”

Messages of condolences were left on a piece of white clothes by those who took part in the vigil.

The statement then went onto say that the attack has its roots in the problem of businesses inside the military and the use of state land, as well as abuses of power by commanding officers. It also said that the attack shows that security at military bases and armouries is lacking, as the gunman was able to take several weapons from the armoury before going on his shooting spree.

“Even then, Gen Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief, the highest commanding officer in the army, still said that it was a personal problem that is unrelated to the army. This shows that this army chief not only lacks the ability to ensure there are no failings within the organization, but when such failings lead to a tragedy, he is also not capable to understand these issues from all aspects. We therefore demand that Gen Apirat Kongsompong resign from his position as the army chief to show his responsibility for the aforementioned failings.”

Nuttaa Mahattana (left) and Totsaporn Sereerak (right) lit candles at yesterday's vigil.

DRG, the People’s Party for Freedom, along with representatives from the Student Federation of Thailand, also went to parliament yesterday afternoon (13 February) to submit a request to the Standing Committee on the Armed Forces to investigate management issues within the army which has led to conflict of interest, abuse of power by commanding officers, and inefficiency in weapon storage.

 

 

NewsMass shootingNakhon RatchasimaApirat KongsompongNuttaa MahattanaTotsaporn SereerakDemocracy Restoration Group (DRG)People's Party for Freedommilitary reformArmy reform
Categories: Prachatai English

73rd Shan National Day at Loi Kaw Wan

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-02-14 01:57
Submitted on Fri, 14 Feb 2020 - 01:57 AM

On the 73rd Shan National Day on 7 February, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) organized a military parade and cultural performance at Loi Kaw Wan, the RCSS/SSA’s regional eastern base. 

The event was attended by the Shan community from both Shan State and Thailand. 

RCSS/SSA Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Korn Zuen said that the mission of the RCSS/SSA after the ceasefire is still peacekeeping and protecting the people. 

The RCSS/SSA signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Myanmar government in October 2015. However, the peace negotiations have not made any progress, and around the end of 2018, the Shan State Army withdrew from the formal negotiation process.

Photo: Yiamyut Sutthichaya

Lt. Col. Korn Zuen still expects the Myanmar government to be sincere in the negotiations in order to reach the goals of the peace talks. “Genuine peace means the rights for Shan State people to do what we want in our nation, in terms of education, economy, and politics. That is genuine peace,” he said.   

The 73rd Shan National Day commemoration was also held at Loi Tai Leng, the headquarters of the RCSS/SSA, government representatives and high-ranking Burma Army representatives have for the first time travelled to Loi Tai Leng to attend the anniversary, which fell on 7 February.

According to the Irrawaddy, Union Attorney-General U Tun Tun Oo and Defence Services Inspector-General Lieutenant General Aye Win were among the 11-member delegation that arrived at the RCSS/SSA headquarters.

The first Shan State National Day was held in February 1947, when Shan leaders, as well as the Shan saophas (the former ruling hereditary princes) and the public formed a united Shan State and agreed on a Shan national flag and anthem during the Panglong Conference from Feb. 3-12 that year.

The RCSS/SSA was founded in 1996 after the Mong Tai Army, a Shan insurgent group, surrendered to the Burmese military government. It is now a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and a leading organization in peace-building and political negotiations. 

NewsShan State ArmyLoi Kaw WanRCSS/SSApeace processMyanmarBurmaShan StateThai-Burma border
Categories: Prachatai English

Thais demand responsibility from army after mass shooting

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-02-13 16:21
Submitted on Thu, 13 Feb 2020 - 04:21 PMPrachatai

Criticisms of the army and government have been growing as Thais demand that the army take responsibility for the mass shooting on Saturday night (8 February) at the Terminal 21 shopping centre in Nakhon Ratchasima, which now has a death toll of 30.

The 904 Royal Volunteers and Terminal 21 employees cleaning up the shopping centre following the attack (Source: Terminal21 Korat Shopping Mall) 

The gunman has been identified as Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth Thomma, a soldier from a nearby military base, who shot and killed his commanding officer before stealing guns from the armoury at the Surathampitak Military Camp and going on a shooting spree at various locations around the city, including a Buddhist temple. He finally arrived at the Terminal 21 Shopping Centre, where he opened fire indiscriminately at people inside and outside the shopping centre. Dozens of shoppers were trapped inside the shopping centre for hours while police and military officers attempt to gain control of the building.

Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth used social media heavily, and was posting updates on Facebook during the attack, including a video of himself holding a rifle inside the mall. Facebook took down his post and profile around 19.30 on Saturday, and released a statement saying “our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the community affected by this tragedy in Thailand.”

“There is no place on Facebook for people who commit this kind of atrocity,” said the statement, “nor do we allow people to praise or support this attack.”

The BBC reported that people trapped inside the shopping centre were hiding in bathroom cubicles. Another BBC report said that one of the survivors, 33-year-old Chanathip Somsakul, barricaded himself and dozens of others inside the women’s toilets on the fourth floor of the shopping centre. They were trying to find information using their mobile devices, but he said there was so much information and no one knew what to believe.

The BBC report also quoted Chanathip telling AFP news agency that “a friend who works at the mall” was talking to someone in the CCTV control room who was giving them updates on the location of the gunman. However, it was a Channel 7 reporter’s drone that helped the police locate the gunman after several police drones and CCTV cameras were shot down.

At one point, the police brought in the gunman’s mother in the hope that she can persuade him to surrender, but this attempt was not successful.

The standoff lasted around 17 hours, ending on Sunday morning (9 February) when the gunman was killed.

The attack left 30 people dead, including the gunman, and 57 injured, with around 20 people still in hospital. Several international media outlets, including Al Jazeera and the New York Times, have named it the worst mass shooting in Thailand’s modern history.

The gunman was reportedly in a financial dispute with his commanding officer, and the officer’s mother-in-law, both of whom were his first victims. There are reports that he believed they cheated him in a land deal, but it is not clear why this prompted him to attack civilians at random.

The New York Times reported that the commanding officer, Col. Anantharot Krasae, operated a business selling homes and helping soldiers borrow money from a military lending programme, often at an amount above the value of the property they were buying. Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth reportedly arranged a loan with the colonel and expected to receive a significant amount of cash back from the loan, but never received the money.

Surviving members of Col. Anantharot’s family defended their business. The colonel’s widow insisted that her mother and her husband had nothing to do with the money owed to Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth, claiming that it was a “discount” from the house he bought from them. She also claimed that her husband “had never bullied or oppressed” the sergeant major. 

Mourners light candles in memory of the victims (Source: Khaosod English)

In response to the attack, on Sunday, people began leaving flowers and messages of support outside Terminal 21. A candlelight vigil was then held on Sunday night in front of the statue of local heroine Lady Thao Suranari in the centre of Nakhon Ratchasima. A Buddhist ceremony was also held in which 40 monks prayed for the souls of the dead.

The Department of Mental Health (DMH) has also sent in Mental Health Crisis Assessment and Treatment Teams (MCATTs) to support the victims of the attack and those who lost relatives. The Department said they have set up a headquarters for the MCATT teams at the Nakhon Ratchasima Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital to offer mental health services to the victims and their families.  

The Department found that out of the 280 people who came in for mental health assessments who have either been injured or have relatives who were killed or injured in the attack, 108 had high stress levels and are at risk of long-term mental health issues. Meanwhile, of 269 people who witnessed the attack, were among those trapped in the shopping centre, or were personnel who were on duty in the attack and who came in for mental health assessment, 38 were found to have high stress levels and need consistent mental health monitoring.

The DMH also said that those experiencing stress, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, or flashbacks may contact their 24-hour mental health hotline at 1323. Those who live in the Nakhon Ratchasima area may also contact the Nakhon Ratchasima Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital at 044-233-999.

Amnesty International Thailand issued a statement on Sunday offering “our deepest condolences to the victims and their friends and families.”

“AIT are deeply saddened by the tragedy and urge the Thai government to ensure all families of the victims and injured persons promptly receive support and remedy,” said Amnesty International Thailand director Piyanut Kotsan. “More measures should be put in place to ensure public safety and security of everyone. No one should receive any harm simply for travelling on the road or shopping in a mall. In addition, an effort should be made to restore the morale of the public and concerned officials in order that they can live normal lives as soon as possible.”

Thailand “has high rates of gun ownership,” and such mass shootings are rare outside of the Deep South, an article in The Guardian observed. However, the incident in Nakhon Ratchasima came just a month after another mall shooting in Lopburi, in which a gunman killed three people and injured four others while robbing a jewelry store. The suspect, a school director who was arrested two weeks later, reportedly confessed and claimed that he did not mean to shoot anyone. 

Criticism of government and army grows

Following the attack, the Thai public began raising questions about how the army should take responsibility for the crime, with many questioning the security around military base armories and how the gunman was able to steal the weapons he used during the attack.    

On Tuesday (11 February), political activists Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Chokchai Paibulratchata went to army headquarters to file a petition, signed by around 1000 people, demanding that Gen. Apirat Kongsompong take responsibility for the attack by resigning from his position as army chief.

Ekkachai said that Gen Apirat should take responsibility as it was army personnel who failed to stop the gunman inside the military base, allowing him to attack civilians, and that the army has neglected issues of commanding officers bullying their troops.

Gen Apirat Kongsompong

At a press conference on the same day, Gen Apirat apologized on behalf of the gunman, while also saying that “the moment [the gunman] he pulled the trigger on other people, he was a criminal and no longer a soldier,” a sentence which has been criticized by the Thai public as a way of shirking responsibility. 

Gen. Apirat said that they will be investigating the land dispute which allegedly led to the mass shooting, and that the army will be setting up new communication channel to allow soldiers to file anonymous complaints if they feel they are being taken advantage of by their superiors. He promised that the army will take care of the victims’ families, but rejected the demand that he resigns.  

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha is being criticized for the tone of his speech at a press conference on Sunday after he visited the wounded in hospital. He took selfies, waved to the crowd, and made “mini-heart” gestures, behaviour that many thought was an inappropriate response to the situation.

Netizens took to social media to condemn him for his response to the attack, with many commenting that he should take some cues from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose response to the Christchurch terrorist attack is once again being circulated around Thai social media, alongside a photograph of former U.S. President Barack Obama drafting his speech following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

On Wednesday (12 February), the opposition raised a question in parliament on the mass shooting, questioning the way the situation was handled and the security lapses in the way weapons are stored in military bases.

Answering a question from Palang Pracharath MP Tawirat Rattanaseth on the possibility of copycat shootings, Deputy Minister of Defence Gen Chaichan Changmongkol, on behalf of the Prime Minister, said that since the gunman liked to play video games, it is important that families keep a close eye on gamers in their family.

Future Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn then responded by saying that nothing can be accomplished by blaming video games, since the gunman’s conflict with his commanding officer was over a land dispute. Wiroj asked whether it was true that army officers are selling off state land, and what measures the government would take to compensate those affected by the attack. He also raised questions over recent reports that victims are being compensated from public donations, even though the compensation should come from government budget.

Gen Chaichan insisted that the land over which the gunman and his commanding officer were in dispute was not state land, and that the conflict was a personal issue between two people. He also said that the army is in the process of compensating the victims.

Future Forward MP Piyabutr Saengkanokkul also argued that army reform is severely needed in order to prevent such incidents, that there is especially a need for transparency and for the army to be kept under checks and balances by parliament.

Piyabutr also criticized Gen Prayut for his inappropriate response to the attack, saying that he did not show “good leadership” in the face of tragedy. He asked that some space be opened to speak of and mourn those who died in the attack, before reading out the names of some of the dead, their age, and the manner in which they died.  

Terminal 21 reopened today (13 February) with a Buddhist ceremony. Meanwhile, a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims will be held today in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre at 18.00.

NewsMass shootingNakhon RatchasimaTerminal 21
Categories: Prachatai English

Stop using ‘fake news’ laws in battle against coronavirus disinformation, MPs say

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-02-12 14:58
Submitted on Wed, 12 Feb 2020 - 02:58 PMASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Regional lawmakers have today called on authorities in Southeast Asia to stop using broadly worded anti-fake news laws to prosecute those accused of spreading disinformation about the coronavirus health emergency, and instead invest in public messaging campaigns to ensure their citizens are reliably informed about the issue. 

In recent weeks, misleading information - so-called “fake news” - has been heavily shared across the region online regarding novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December. There have been more than 1,000 confirmed deaths from the virus - the majority in China - and infections have been reported in dozens of countries, including many in Southeast Asia.

“While it is important for authorities to prevent the spread of disinformation, and ensure accurate information about the coronavirus, across the region we are seeing a worrying trend of ambiguously-worded laws being used to prosecute citizens,” said Teddy Baguilat, a former Philippines parliamentarian, and Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “Laws that rely on vague prohibitions, such as punishing so-called ‘fake news’, excessively restrict the right to freedom of expression and should be abolished.” 

In Thailand, authorities have used an “Anti-Fake News Centre” to identify and charge two people under the Computer Crime Act for sharing false information about the virus, and the pair each face a potential five-year jail term. A Malaysian journalist could also be given a similar sentence, after she was accused of causing “public mischief” under the country’s Penal Code for a series of social media posts on the issue. Despite calls for the reporter’s release from civil society groups, Malaysian officials have hardened their stance, and said they will speed up cases if more people are found guilty of breaking the law. 

Meanwhile, in Indonesia two people have been arrested and face a potential five-year jail term for allegedly spreading disinformation, and Vietnam has issued a decree that allows for heavy fines for those found guilty of sharing fake news. 

“It’s absurd, and wholly disproportionate, that people are facing a potential five-year jail term just for sharing false information online,” said Teddy Baguilat. “And think about the chilling impact such measures have on freedom of expression. Keep this up, and people will be too scared to share their opinion about anything.” 

Chinese officials have been accused of censoring criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus, including by shutting down social media accounts used by citizens to share information, which experts say could have contributed to the illness spreading as quickly as it has, and contributed to the spread of disinformation. 

NewscoronavirusCorona virus 2019ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
Categories: Prachatai English

Protection International launches exhibition of quilts by women human rights defenders

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-02-05 23:59
Submitted on Wed, 5 Feb 2020 - 11:59 PMPrachatai

On 4 February, Protection International (PI) launched the “Art for Resistance: Quilt of Women Human Rights Defenders” exhibition of 54 quilts by 52 women and 2 men human rights defenders from all over Thailand, at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC).

At the exhibition, photographs of the women are shown next to the quilt they made. 

PI representative Pranom Somwong said that quilting is often seen as a craft and as women’s work rather than as art, and in artistic spaces, women are often the subject who is being gazed upon by the artist, but here, women are using a craft to tell their own story and their battle to defend human rights.

The quilt project began with 20 women human rights defenders in 2017, the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and was inspired by the South American arpilleras quilts, which have been used by women to tell the story of their hardships. In Chile, for example, groups of women, sometimes known as the arpilleristas, used this quilting technique to tell the story of the suffering, oppression, and violence they faced under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile from December 1974 to March 1990.

The quilt making process

The project was then expanded to include 34 other human rights defenders to increase visibility and to open up space for expression for women human rights defenders who work on issues such as land rights, refugees, disability rights, and poverty issues, among others.

“We hope that from this exhibition, we will get to see and be encouraged by the women in Thailand who are contributing to protecting everyone’s human rights,” said Pranom. “We should be inspired by the women who are upholding justice, or by the things they seek and fight for, which are the fundamental rights that we all value, be they land rights, the right to migration, to peaceful expression, or the right to choice in a multicultural society, or to gender diversity, as well as the battle of women with disability who are removing obstacles to access for women with disability, or resisting unjust power.”

The project was funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), and the exhibition will be on the L floor of the BACC, in front of the library, until Friday (7 February).

Sarah Taylor, Ambassador of Canada to Thailand

Sarah Taylor, the Ambassador of Canada to Thailand, said in her opening remarks to the exhibition that the Embassy’s support for PI’s project is “very much in the spirit of solidarity and humility.”

“For us in Canada, human rights and women’s rights are extremely important as well, and we recognize that we have our own shortcomings and our own problems,” said Taylor, “so this is about being able to share experiences and work together about something we all believe is a very important value.”

Taylor emphasized the important role of human rights defenders in building “inclusive societies,” and that, from a Canadian perspective, “inclusion is about creating a society where diverse views are not just respected but also empowered.” She also stressed that diversity allows organizations, governments, and society perform better. 

“I want to thank all the women and men human rights defenders who are exhibited here and of course participating here for the very courageous work that you are doing to advance human rights,” said Taylor, “and also to thank my diplomatic colleagues and other advocates for their support for the work of human rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders, here in Thailand and to bring you our best wishes, in the spirit of solidarity, from Canadian human rights defenders as well.”

Pranom stressed that these stories are those of ordinary women in Thailand who are fighting to protect our fundamental rights and freedom, which resonate with million of women in this region or in the world.

“It is hoped that these stories will help trigger social reverberation through the use of artwork to speak truth to power, to shed light against uncivilized power,” said Pranom. “Women human rights defenders also want to encourage people to stick to their dream and imagination for a better society to ensure Thailand will have a future, have a dream and an imagination.”

Women human rights defenders in a pseudo-democracy

The launch also included a round table discussion on the situation of women human rights defenders in a pseudo-democracy, highlighting the obstacles facing women rights defenders since the 2014 coup and up to today, almost a year since the 2019 general election, including intimidation from state officials, SLAPP lawsuits, and lack of access to the Ministry of Justice’s Justice Fund.

The panel consisted of representatives from PI and from the women human rights defenders who participated in the project. They were joined by Angkhana Neelapaijit, former National Human Rights Commissioner and recipient of the Magsaysay Award.

Pranom Somwong

Pranom said that PI found that within the first three years after the 2014 military coup, 179 women human rights defenders have faced judicial harassment. Despite a call from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) for the Thai government to put an end to judicial harassment against women human rights defenders, the number of women human rights defenders facing legal prosecution have not decreased but instead risen.

PI found that, since 2014, at least 440 women human rights defenders now face legal prosecution, with 235 in the Bangkok Metropolitan region, 129 in the northeast, 44 in the north, and 32 in the south. The charges these women face include trespassing, defamation, destruction of property, sedition, as well as charges under the Computer Crimes Act and the Public Assembly Act, and eviction lawsuits.

Pranom also stressed that women human rights defenders are not only facing legal prosecution but are also facing violence. Only a few days ago, on 1 February, Kannika Wongsiri, a local subdistrict chief in Pha Tang, Nong Khai, was murdered in her own home. The police suspect that the motive for her murder is related to a local land rights dispute, since Kannika was representing local residents in negotiations with a land owner who blocked off a route community members had been using for a long time, causing them difficulties.

Meanwhile, PI’s research found that only 25 women human rights defenders have access to the Ministry of Justice’s Justice Fund. Angkhana said that this is because the Fund’s committee does not see human rights defenders as innocent, since they are often resisting state power. As a result, their funding requests are often denied. 

Angkhana Neelapaijit

Pranom said that state welfare is necessary, and that this will facilitate social movements as it will help support those who have the responsibilities of caring for their family. She also said that the state must stop harassing human rights defenders and to acknowledge their complaints and recommendations.

Meanwhile, Angkhana said that women’s participation in the political and social life is still limited, and that women often do not have the opportunity to take part in the decision-making process, while important state policies still lack a gender lens. She also said that the creation of an atmosphere of intimidation by both the private and government sector affects social movements, and that the authorities must stop seeing human rights defenders as enemies.

Anticha Sangchai, an activist from Pattani and founder of the Buku Bookstore and the Buku Football Club, said that during the last six years, the situation in the Southern border provinces has worsened. The undemocratic atmosphere has made it difficult for activists to work, and social movements are often seen as a national security issue. Women human rights defenders are also often “visited” by state officials, causing strain on their physical and mental health, and making it difficult for them to participate in social movements, and that there is a systematic effort to use information operations to attack their reputation.

Anticha also said that, in the cultural context of the deep south, it is difficult for women to take part in public participation. She also noted that women are socialized into caring for others, and women activists often face mental health issues as they feel that they are not allowed to take the time to care for themselves. They also face the double pressure of having to care for their families as well as the stress of the situation and their role in the movement.

Anticha Sangchai

Anticha highlighted the issues women human rights defenders face within their own movement, as they are often pushed into the background. Some women activists face sexual harassment from people within their own organization, while some human rights defenders still lack an understanding of gender issues. She said that civil society organizations need to have a policy on gender as well as on physical and mental health, since the health issues facing activists combined with the stress of legal prosecution will undermine the movement.

Chiang Mai disability rights activist Katchakorn Thaweesri said that women with disabilities face a unique set of issues. She noted that while disability rights activists are not being prosecuted, they are invisible to the society. Disability rights issues are often not talked about, since a person with disability is seen as their family’s embarrassment and a burden.

Katchakorn Thaweesri

Katchakorn said that people with disabilities are often denied access to formal education. Around 45,000 people with disability in Thailand receive no education, and only around 3,000 have a Bachelor’s degree.

She also stressed that accessibility issued made it difficult for people with disability to take part in social movements. Katchakorn herself uses a wheelchair, and said that she has difficulties traveling to and participating in demonstrations and similar events, and that her family does not support her participation in activism because of her disability. She also said that the intersectional aspect of disability rights issues, such as LGBT people with disability, people from ethnic minorities, or migrant workers, is often ignored.

Puttanee Kangkun, Fortify Rights’ Senior Human Rights Specialist, reflect on the situation of women refugees in Thailand, who are a highly vulnerable group in their day-to-day life. Puttanee stressed that she is speaking on their behalf, as many refugees cannot participate in public events due to their fragile legal status. She said that there are around 5,000 refugees in Bangkok, many are illegal migrants, and while some have received official refugee status from the UNHCR, it does not mean that they can stay in Thailand with dignity.

Puttanee Kangkun and Somboon Khongkha

Puttanee said that the Thai government has signed an MOU promising that they will not detain refugee children and their mothers. However, for the women to be released, they need to post bail of 50,000 baht, and since refugees cannot work, they are unable to find such a large amount of money. Puttanee also said that, since the men are not released under this agreement, the burden falls to the women to work to make a living and also care for their children. They are also not allowed to see their husbands.

She noted that, last year, new legislation transferred the responsibility of screening refugees from the UNHCR to the Thai police, which caused a concern, since the police lack the necessary knowledge to help refugees and that there is a problem with their tendency to see refugees as a threat. She also said that in many countries, there is evidence that, once the state authorities screen refugees themselves, more people are likely to be disqualified.

Puttanee said that many refugees have potential. Many were doctors and teachers before they had to flee their countries, and that they have the potential to become an asset to Thai society. She also said that the state has an attitude issue in that authorities often see refugees as a threat to national security, even though, according to the statistics, refugees are unlikely to commit crime.

Participants of the project with members of diplomatic missions and representatives from PI

Somboon Khongkha, President of the Four Regions Slum Network (FSRN), which works on the issue of urban poverty, said that even after the election, their complaints are still going unacknowledged by the authorities. Many members of the network, most of whom are women, are also facing legal prosecution.

She said that the network places emphasis on issues of living spaces, and calls for the authorities to allocate land for the poor to live in the city rather than selling it to private companies. She also said that the state should revise the qualifications for access to state housing, as currently a pay slip and a bank statement is required, something which those who work on a day to day basis and have no bank account cannot supply, meaning that they are constantly trespassing on both private and public land to find a place to live.

Newshuman rights defendersWomen human rights defendersWomen in activismWoman activistsocial movementProtection InternationalEmbassy of CanadaCanada Fund for Local Initiativesfreedom of expressionBangkok Art and Culture CentreQuiltArt and cultureCraftArt for resistance
Categories: Prachatai English

4 Thais from Wuhan remain in hospital

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-02-05 19:51
Submitted on Wed, 5 Feb 2020 - 07:51 PMPrachatai

Satit Pitutecha, the Deputy Minister of Public Health, at the press conference saying that four Thais from Wuhan remain in a hospital. Source: Thai Rath Online

Satit Pitutecha, the Deputy Minister of Public Health, has held a press conference today saying that four Thais from Wuhan remain under care of Queen Sirikit Hospital. Three of them must take a chest x-ray, and one still has a diarrhoea. They are among 6 Thai evacuees who had high fever last night when they arrived Thailand.

Satit has confirmed that the four Thais show no signs of coronavirus infection, but they will be re-checked. Meanwhile, the other two have left the hospital to join other 132 Thais. They will be quarantined for 14 days at Sattahip Naval Base in Chonburi before they can go home. They will be met with psychiatrist to ensure their mental health.

Satit asked the media to call these evacuees “Thais who returned home.” On Tuesday at 8.30 pm., a flight of 138 Thais from Wuhan arrived at U-Tapao Airport, Rayong. All expenses were covered by Air Asia, the only airline that provides a Bangkok-Wuhan service. The evacuation team which arrived in Wuhan included 15 doctors, nurses and other officials.

Anutin Charnvirakul, the Minister of Public Health, did not join the flight because he said his presence might obstruct the work of the evacuation team. The actual number of passengers on board was supposed to be 141, but two could not return due to high fever and another had overstayed their visa, according to the Chinese authorities. Anutin insisted the two Thais were not ill, but said he had to respect the decision of the Chinese authorities.

Don Pramudwinai, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who will soon be the target of a no-confidence motion, said before the operation that the number was not certain because of difficulties in coordinating a meeting of the Thais in Wuhan before the flight. However, he received a report saying that 144 Thais had asked to return to Thailand. Others said they wanted to stay in China or planned to return by themselves.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health has revealed six more cases of coronavirus in Thailand. So far there have been 25 cases in total. The first case of local transmission was identified in a taxi driver. Eight of them have been cured, and no fatalities have been reported.

On Monday, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister of Thailand (also a target of the no-confidence motion), asked for the Thai people not to panic as the level of alertness is only at 1-2 and the situation is under control. He also warned that fake news and hate speech are also diseases and people who spread them will be prosecuted.

Recently, the government rejected a proposal by Anutin to suspend visas on arrival for Chinese tourists in the hope of halting the spread of the coronavirus.  According to official data, 10.9 million tourists from mainland China last year accounted for at least 426 billion baht in tourism revenue. 

NewscoronavirusAnutin CharnvirakulSatit PitutechaMinistry of Public Health
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