Prachatai English

Where does the King’s property come from? The accumulation of royal wealth in the Rattanakosin era

Prachatai English - 1 ชั่วโมง 34 นาที ago
Submitted on Mon, 18 Jan 2021 - 01:18 PMPrachatai

Ever since the people came out to demand the resignation of General Prayut Chan-o-cha from the position of Prime Minister, the drafting of a new constitution and reform of the monarchy, the topic of the King’s assets has been a matter of interest and has become an topic of increasing discussion among the general public. Some groups of protestors have gone into detail on how to reform the monarchy: revoke the 2018 Crown Property Act and clearly divide the assets into the assets of the monarchy under the management of the Ministry of Finance and His Majesty’s personal assets; cut the national budget allocated to the monarchy to reflect the country’s economic status; and abolish all royal donations and charity projects so that the people can check the monarchy’s expenses, especially those that were allocated from the people’s taxes.

However, this suggestion was opposed by comments that all the King’s property already belonged to the King. The King’s property was restructured in the reign of King Rama X to repossess property that was stolen by “those hungry for power and money since 1932-” and was bit by bit being returned to its real owner, according to a Facebook post by Mom Chao Chulcherm Yugalain July 2017:

“After being stolen by those hungry for power and money since 1932 until now, the ‘city, palace, treasury, farm’ [the 4 ‘pillars’ or departments of traditional Thai government} have now bit by bit started to return to their real owner, no longer belonging to any one person who will come and seize them or seek benefits from them. Long live the king. Mom Chao Chulcherm Yugala”

To understand the discussion of the part of monarchy reform related to the King’s property, Prachatai invites you to find the answers through academic data – so, where do the king’s assets really come from? This account is taken from the Thai version of “The Rise and Decline of Thai Absolutism” (Rabop somburanyasitthirat : wiwatthanakan ratthai) translated by Kullada Kesboonchoo-Mead and “Phraphrom chuai amnuai hai chuencham setthakit kanmueang waduai sapsinsuanphramahakasatri lang 2475” (Brahma brings the refreshing rain; political economy through crown property after 1932) edited by Chaithawat Tulathon.

Initial era: trade monopoly

In the early Rattanakosin era, the royal court and the government were still not separated. The main agency in this era was the Royal Treasury, with its main duty of controlling trade with other countries. The people could not directly do business with other countries, but must take goods, especially rare goods such as sugar, sappanwood, ivory or forest goods and sell them to the Treasury. The Treasury would then sell these items to other countries through royal junks and bring back foreign goods to sell to the people.

Kings in the early Rattanakosin would use the income from selling these goods at their pleasure. Most was used to pay allowances to royal family members and the nobility. The expenses for infrastructure or national development came from duties, taxes, levies and fees collected from the people.

Era of tax farmers: income from taxes and trade

Early in his reign, King Rama III cancelled the monopoly of the Treasury and focused on earning national income through taxes. Private individuals had to tender for the rights to collect some forms of tax and became known as tax farmers. The taxes collected were, for example, export taxes, taxes on goods that were once monopolised by the Privy Purse and taxes on consumer goods.

In addition, tax farmers had a similar position to middlemen by monopolising goods that they collected taxes on and selling them to foreign countries. An important tax base in this era was Chinese migrants and farmers. This new tax system gave the state a more stable income and the King used this money to pay allowances to royal family members and nobles.

Even though the Treasury monopoly was cancelled, King Rama III continued the junk trade of the early Rattanakosin era but in the form of a private business. He also paid taxes like other merchants. Income from this trade went to the Privy Purse which His Majesty could use at his pleasure, creating a culture where the Privy Purse was money for the personal use of the King before later being separated from the Royal Treasury.

During King Rama IV’s reign, the Royal Treasury continued to receive income from tax collection fees paid by tax farmers. Nobles became the controllers of the nation’s income and were responsible for 5% of the income from tax collection which was sent to the Privy Purse.

Era of the Privy Purse Department: income from state finance and investments

During King Rama V’s reign, His Majesty centralised power to the King and established the Ministry of Finance to control tax collection and look after state money collected from the people, greatly improving the country’s financial status.

15% of public revenue collected each year had to be sent to the Privy Purse Department, which was considered to be a government agency, but directly under the King’s command. This, for the first time, shows a clear separation between the government’s money and the King’s personal money.

Other than this income of 15% of public revenue each year, the Privy Purse also made money from giving out loans to merchants, royal family members and aristocrats close to the king at an interest rate of 7.5% per year. Although there were many cases where the principal and interest were not repaid, the mortgaged land which was confiscated was worth more than the principal.

The Privy Purse also invested in public infrastructure, which expanded greatly in King Rama V’s reign, such as railways, maritime transportation and the Siam Commercial Bank.

Immovable property is another type of asset that brought a great amount of income to the Privy Purse. Land which belonged to the Privy Purse had 4 different origins: land titles claimed since the reign of King Rama IV and rented to the people for farming; foreclosed land; land bought in areas where a road was being built or land bought in advance of a road being ordered built through the property; and land transferred from the state to personal ownership, such as Chaophraya Bodindecha’s house, which had belonged to the Ministry of Finance, and was transferred to the Privy Purse Department in order to be given to HM Sukhumala Marasri. If the Ministry of Finance wanted to use land of the Privy Purse Department for government service, they would need to find another piece of land as compensation.

After 1932: separating crown property from the King’s private property

After the 1932 revolution, parliament passed the 1936 Crown Property Act to separate the “King’s private property”, “public property” and “crown property” and provided the following definitions:

The “King’s private property” meant property or rights attached to property that were in existence or created in any part of the kingdom if:

(a) that property or right belonged to the King before His Majesty’s ascension to the throne and the King has the right to dispose of it before ascending the throne;

(b) that property or right fell into the possession of the King during or after ascending the throne by any means from any predecessor or any person who is not the King of this kingdom.

(c) that property or right was acquired or bought with the King’s personal money.

“Public property” means property of the King which is used exclusively for the benefit of the State, e.g. palaces.

“Crown property” means property of the King other than the King’s private property and public property.

Originally, according to the 1936 Crown Property Act, the Ministry of Finance was responsible for crown property and would transfer income, after subtracting expenses, to His Majesty to spend as the monarch. Structuring the crown property by trying to transfer the Privy Purse’s property as crown property was an important cause in King Rama VII’s abdication and led to a lawsuit afterwards.

The Ministry of Finance during Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram’s term of office filed a lawsuit against King Rama VII and Queen Rambhai Barni, claiming that while the two were King and Queen, they had transferred assets under the crown to their own names without legal authority and with no countersignature on the Royal command as the constitution required. For example, deposits under the Privy Purse were transferred to his own name. The total damages including interest were more than 6 million baht; the court ruled the defendants guilty on 30 September 1941.

While the administration of the crown property in order to pass the assets on to King Rama VIII was very difficult, many of King Rama VII’s personal assets in England ended up with Prince Suprabhat Chirasakti, King Rama VII’s adopted child, who had to sell them in order to pay inheritance tax to the British government; they did not return to the monarchy.

After the 1947 coup: seeking benefits through the Crown Property Bureau

The 1947 coup is considered to be the end of the Khana Ratsadon (People’s Party). The 1936 Crown Property Act was amended in 1948. Crown property was removed from the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance, and the Crown Property Bureau was established as a legal entity, with the duty to maintain and manage crown property. The Minister of Finance was the Chair ex officio and the Board, comprising at least 4 members, was appointed by the King.

The main income of the Crown Property Bureau has been from investment and real estate; after subtracting expenses, it is for the King to use at the royal pleasure. The King’s private property, including assets conferred by the state, are maintained and managed at his discretion. The royal assets were administered under this structure throughout the reign of King Rama IX.

King Rama X’s reign: property management at the royal pleasure

The management of crown property was again restructured during King Rama X’s reign through the enactment of the 2017 Crown Property Act [this is the official name of the Act; a literal translation would be ‘Act on the Organization of Property on behalf of the Monarch’] which amalgamated public property into the crown property. The administration, maintenance, management, and operations related to the property are all to be subject to royal command. The result is that the Crown Property Bureau, which was originally responsible for maintenance and management, was demoted into an organisation that does only to what the King assigns.

The 2017 Crown Property Act was in effect for only about a year when the 2018 Crown Property Act [literally the ‘Act on the Organization of the Property of the Monarch’] was passed, revoking the 2017 Act. The key change was that all crown property was gathered under the same administration, with the result that the administration, maintenance, management, and operations concerning all property is now at the King’s discretion.

The King still receives money from the state budget for expenses. It has also been observed that land, immovable property and shares have started to be registered under the name of His Majesty himself instead of that of the Crown Property Bureau as in the reign of King Rama IX.

FeatureMonarchy reformCrown property
Categories: Prachatai English

Warrant withdrawn after ‘scapegoat protest’

Prachatai English - 3 ชั่วโมง 7 นาที ago
Submitted on Mon, 18 Jan 2021 - 11:45 AMPrachatai

On 15 January, the court accepted a request from the police to withdraw an erroneous arrest warrant against political activist Chayaphol ‘Dave’ Danothai after he went to Klong Luang Police Station for questioning with a goat.

The goat was covered in a red cloth with the number 112 in gold, signifying Section 112 of the Criminal Code (the lèse majesté law). Inthira ‘Sine’ Charoenpura, a pro-democracy celebrity, posted on Facebook that she was the one who sent goats to support Chayaphol. Their names are Sujira Anuchid and Songsit.

In front of the police station, Chayaphol said he saw his name on a search warrant as an accomplice riding a motorcycle and spraying protest messages “abolish 112” and “my taxes” on walls and King Vajiralongkorn’s portrait together with Sirichai Natueng, an activist who has been arrested twice for allegedly defaming the King.

According to the warrant, the police claimed the incident took place on 10 January, but Chayaphol brought evidence to show that from 29 December to 14 January he was in Hat Yai, Songkhla Province, and not with Sirichai.

Fearing that he could be arrested anytime as a scapegoat, he took goats with him to the police station for questioning. In front of the police station, Chayaphol asked the police to show him an arrest warrant and withdraw it if any existed.

Protest leader Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) were also at the police station to observe. TLHR said that the police later showed up and reassured Chayaphol that there was no warrant issued for him.

Chayaphol’s request was recorded in the police blotter in the afternoon. His lawyer said that Chayaphol’s appearance before the police means they will no longer be able to arrest him over this case since the warrant has been nullified.  

Matichon Online later reported that the police have requested the Court to withdraw the arrest warrant for Chayaphol, claiming lack of evidence. The court has accepted the request.

NewsChayaphol ‘Dave’ DanothaiSection 112Inthira Charoenpuralèse majesté lawPanusaya SithijirawattanakulThai Lawyer for Human RightsSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2021/01/91218
Categories: Prachatai English

2021 budget: expenses related to the monarchy from all agencies total 37 billion baht

Prachatai English - 12 ชั่วโมง 50 นาที ago
Submitted on Mon, 18 Jan 2021 - 02:02 AM

In late August 2020 when the Budget Expenditures Bill 2021 passed to the committee stage, Prachatai released the report ‘Budget related to the monarchy in 2021 revealed: details according to the Budget Act’ which referenced data from the Bureau of the Budget’s website. This is the second year that Prachatai has opened all the budget documents to add up all the expenses related to the monarchy that were scattered among various agencies.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha attends a photo session with new cabinet ministers at the Government House in Bangkok on 16 July 2019 (source: File/Thaigov)

In summary, in 2021, various agencies allocated budget related to the monarchy, all of which total approximately 37.228 billion baht or 1.12% of all the national budget (3.3 trillion baht), divided into 20.653 billion baht in direct expenses and 16.575 billion baht in indirect expenses. It must be noted that many of the projects among the indirect expenses are for the public benefit. But referring to or claiming a connection to the monarchy may have a significance that the public can further analyse in many ways. For example, these projects may showcase the abilities of royal family members in various ways or it can be seen that these projects in an indirect way improve the public relations of the monarchy, or could lead to a project not being audited, etc.

In addition, the budget for the monarchy was previously rarely mentioned by politicians. In mid-December 2020, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, adviser to the Ad Hoc 2021 Budget Scrutiny Committee, questioned the budget for the Royal Offices (see here), thought to be the first time details of the expenses of these agencies were questioned since they were established during the NCPO government in 2017. Thanathorn questioned why every year the budget for this agency is higher than the estimate: it increased 67% in 6 years and in 2021 the budget is as high as 8.98 billion baht, an almost 17% increase from the previous year before (see here), while the budget draft document does not break down the details of expenses like it does for other agencies. Thanathorn emphasised that making the budget for this agency transparent will protect the honour of the monarchy.

Details of the budget expenses related to the monarchy are as follows:

For fiscal year 2021 the expenses allocated directly for the monarchy, such as security, construction within royal palace grounds, etc., are found to be not much different from the year before (2020) as appears in the following table:

 

Comparison of direct expenses (million baht)

2020

2021

Royal Offices

7,685

8,981

(Royal Thai Police) Strategic plan to reinforce security for the pillar institution of the nation

1,976

1,650

(Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning) Projects related to royal palace grounds

2,378

1,700

(Secretariat of the Cabinet) The King and royal family members receive the highest safety and convenience

5,528

5,184

(Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence) Support for security for the King and operations according to His Majesty’s intentions.

1,201

1,218

(Central Budget) Royal travel and receiving foreign royal guests

1,000

1,000

(Secretariat of the Cabinet) Efficient operations related to coordination with Royal Offices (related to royal decorations)

506

496

(ISOC) Reinforcement of security for the pillar institution of the nation

-

80

Total

20,274

20,309

 

Source: Bureau of the Budget website
 

A look at the details of each agency shows more interesting data, for example:

1. Royal Offices

Starting from 6,800 million in 2019 and continuing to increase until fiscal year 2024, it is estimated that the Royal Offices will receive more than 10,000 million baht.

Comparison of budget for 2019-2021 and budget estimates for 2022-2024 (unit: million baht)

2019

2020

2021

2022

2023

2024

6,800

7,685.2828

8,980.8896

9,519.7429

10,090.9274

10,696.3830

 

Details of expenses did not appear in the budget draft but this agency’s mission is to 1) conduct secretarial work for the King, both in governmental affairs and the personal affairs of the King and royal family members, including secretarial work for the Privy Council; 2) organise royal ceremonies, state ceremonies, ceremonies, and royal charity events, including royal travel; 3) coordinate between the monarch and the government, parliament, government agencies and various organisations both within and outside the country as well as the people; 4) conduct work related to requests for royal benevolence in various issues and respond to royal commands related to relieving the suffering of the people; 5) publicise royal duties, art and culture, and traditions for wide dissemination to the public both within and outside the country; 6) manage funds, projects and benefits of royal palace property under the management of the Bureau of the Royal Household, including temples under royal patronage as well as properties of royal family members at the king’s pleasure; and 7) any other duties at the king’s command.

 

2. Royal Thai Police

The Royal Thai Police is an agency directly under the Prime Minister. It receives a budget of more than ten billion baht. Interestingly, its mission is to 1) provide security to the King and royal family members, then followed by 2) enforce the law and facilitate justice and 3) protect the peace and order and security of the kingdom.

The Royal Thai Police have many missions and plans. One of these is the strategic plan to reinforce security of the pillar institution of the nation. Duration: 19 years (2019-2037) with a total budget of around 26,008 million baht. For the 2021 budget, the total is 1,649.8697 million baht:

Project to provide security for the monarchy and royal family members

Operating budget

Capital budget

Other expenses

Total

1,134.2239

255.4080

260.2378

1,649.8697

(unit: million baht)

The budget for providing security has two performance indicators:

Indicators

2020* (results)

2021

Providing security worthy of royal honour and according to the king’s wishes

100%

(100)

100%

Police training on providing royal safety

4,000 trainees

(873)

4,000 trainees

*results for fiscal year 2020 (6 months)

 

The numbers in “Police training to provide royal security” are what the media calls the “Infantry Police.” An order was issued some time ago to select commissioned and non-commissioned officers “of excellence” to be trained and transferred to the Royal Security Command in 2020, totalling 873 officers. This group had to undergo basic training for a period of 6 months (1 Oct 2019-31 Mar 2020). The selection criteria looked at appropriate characteristics, loyalty, good attitude, strong physique, overall readiness and a signed record to volunteer for duty. Even so, some unrest still occurred in the initial stages, as appeared in the columns of a leading newspaper. There was also a report that a number of police officers who did not report for duty were punished with at least 9 months of disciplinary training.

Details of the capital budget revealed one project to build the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King's Guard 904 Headquarters, Central Investigation Bureau, Lat Phrao. The total 2021 budget is 177,600,000 baht, but this is a multi-year budget. The total budget is 480,000,000 baht divided into:

Year 2020, budget of 96,000,000 baht
Year 2021, budget of 177,600,000 baht
Year 2022, committed budget of 206,400,000 baht

 

3. Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning

The Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning received a total budget of 29.84 billion baht, covering many plans, each plan containing many projects. One of these is the Strategic Plan to Reinforce the Security of the Monarchy with a budget of 1,700 million baht, all of which will be used in a “Special Royal Activities Support Project.”

The Special Royal Activities Support Project’s objective is to support the design, construction and maintenance of special royal activities within royal grounds. The duration is 15 years (2010-2024) with a total budget of 21,438,781,400 baht.

For 2021 the budget is set at 1,700 million baht. When looked at in detail, we see that this money is to aid construction within royal palace grounds. The table of goals and indicators shows that in 2020-2024 there will be construction at 6 places but it is not made clear what will be constructed or where. The qualitative goals are security, highest standards, beauty, fitness for royal honour, completed and compliance with the King’s wishes.

The budget is set as follows (unit: million baht):

2020

2021

2022

2023

2024

2,378

1,700

2,000

2,000

2,000

 

4. Secretariat of the Prime Minister

The Secretariat of the Prime Minister set the 2021 budget at 5,988,779,100 baht. Almost all is to be spent on basic security plans.

1. Government management of security. The objective is that the King and all royal family members receive the highest convenience and safety, as well as security, safety and peace and order in the country.

In detail, we see that more than 2,600 million is expenses in equipment, land and construction, and includes more than a few helicopters for royal use and planes for VIP use. The budget is divided into commitments over many years.

- 2 accompanying helicopters for royal travel, including other expenses: 967,335,100 baht
Total budget of 2,802,085,100 baht
Year 2019, a budget of 549,441,100 baht
Year 2020, a budget of 786,153,300 baht
Year 2021, a budget of 967,335,100 baht
Year 2022, a committed budget of 499,155,600 baht

 

- 3 helicopters for royal use, including other necessary expenses: 142,554,500 baht
Total budget of 2,970,932,600 baht
Year 2018, a budget of 662,746,000 baht
Year 2019, a budget of 1,275,400,000 baht
Year 2020, a budget of 890,232,100 baht
Year 2021, a budget of 142,554,500 baht

 

- 1 plane for VIP travel, including other necessary expenses: 325,068,300 baht
Total budget of 3,279,745,400 baht

Year 2018, a budget of 712,651,000 baht
Year 2019, a budget of 1,363,900,000 baht
Year 2020, a budget of 878,126,100 baht
Year 2021, a budget of 325,068,300 baht

- 3 planes for VIP travel, including other necessary expenses: 969,073,500 baht
Total budget of 2,703,688,500 baht
Year 2019, a budget of 529,420,000 baht
Year 2020, a budget of 555,760,000 baht
Year 2021, a budget of 969,073,500 baht
Year 2022, a committed budget of 649,435,000 baht

 

- Royal aircraft hangar 1, Dechochai 3 Royal Flight Unit: 76,931,499 baht
Total budget of 281,800,000 baht
Year 2019, a budget of 56,519,000 baht
Year 2020, a budget of 148,349,600 baht
Year 2021, a budget of 76,931,400 baht

 

- Royal aircraft hangar 2, Dechochai 3 Royal Flight Unit: 41,530,900 baht
Total budget of 187,500,000 baht
Year 2019, a budget of 38,121,200 baht
Year 2020, a budget of 107,847,900 baht
Year 2021, a budget of 41,530,900 baht

 

- Royal helicopter hangar, 201 Squadron, Wing 2, including facilities: 95,000,000 baht

5. Ministry of Defence

The basic security plan specifies that one product is support for the provision of security to the monarchy and operations according to the king’s wishes

Budget

Unit

2020

2021

2022

2023

2024

Operating

mTHB

 

 

 

 

 

Capital

mTHB

 

 

 

 

 

Subsidy

mTHB

1,210.15

1,218.46

1,304.72

1,024.80

1.022.02

Other expensess

mTHB

 

 

 

 

 

Off-budget

mTHB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Details of the expenses are divided into car rental and buildings without detailing what buildings and where.

Details

1. Subsidy: 1,218,466,000 baht

1.1 General subsidy: 1,015,886,300 baht
(1) Subsidy for security support expenses for the monarchy 1,015,868,300 baht

1.2 Special subsidy: 202,597,700 baht
(1) Car rental 2,784,000 baht
Year 2020, a budget of 3,120,000 baht
Year 2020, a budget of 1,288,000 baht
Year 2021, a budget of 2,784,000 baht
Year 2022, a committed budget of 2,784,000 baht
Year 2021, a committed budget of 2,784,000 baht 

 

(2) 1 item of construction costs: 194,092,400 baht
Total budget of 620,500,000 baht
Year 2019, a budget of 98,768,200 baht
Year 2020, a budget 54,960,700 baht
Year 2021, a committed budget of 194,092,400 baht
Year 2022, a committed budget of 272,678,700 baht 

 

(2) Consultant fees: 5,721,300 baht
Total budget ceiling of 21,700,000 baht
Year 2019, a budget of 2,174,000 baht
Year 2020, a budget 6,564,000 baht
Year 2021, a budget of 5,721,300 baht
Year 2022, a committed budget of 7,240,000 baht 

 

For 2021 indirect expenses, there is a great diversity. The projects are in line with the missions of each organisation, but if similar projects distributed among different agencies are categorised together, the results are as follows:
1. Royal Project Foundation/royal projects/projects related to the sufficiency economy: 11,434 baht
2. Pageantry projects fostering a consciousness revering the monarchy: - 1,261 million baht
3. TO BE NUMBER ONE project, 170 million baht
4. Plant genetic conservation/rare plants under the patronage of Princess Sirindhorn, total budget of 150 million baht
5. Other projects in various agencies, totalling 3,904 million baht

For further details see the Thai version

Featurefiscal budget2021 budgetthe Royal Thai GovernmentIn-Depth
Categories: Prachatai English

New, harsher police response at 16 January protests

Prachatai English - Sun, 2021-01-17 18:00
Submitted on Sun, 17 Jan 2021 - 06:00 PMPrachatai

Flash mobs at the Victory Monument, the Ministry of Education and close to Chulalongkorn University met harsh police responses with at least 8 people arrested and a journalist injured by a pipe bomb.

The collaged photo of political activities at Victory Monument, Ministry of Education and a shopping mall in Nakhon Ratchasima.

By 22.24, 6 people had been taken to the Border Patrol Police (BPP) Region 1 headquarters, Pathum Thani Province: 2 from the Victory Monument protest and the rest from the Sam Yan protest close to Chulalongkorn University.

A heavy presence of crowd control police could be seen at every site. At around 11.30 at the Victory Monument, the police aggressively intervened and removed a '112 metre-long message to government'. 2 people were arrested and taken immediately to the BPP headquarters right away without being first processed at Phaya Thai Police Station, which is responsible for the area.

The 2 were charged under the Communicable Diseases Act and the Emergency Decree for staging a public gathering. The other cases are still under the investigation at the time of writing.

Another protest at the Ministry of Education held by ‘Bad Student’, a student activist group, to parody Teacher’s Day ceremonies that are held every 16 January, also faced police intervention. 5 people were taken to Metropolitan Police Division 1; 4 high school students and 1 freshman university student.

However, later-arriving students continued with the activity until 15.28 after the police at 15.20 demanded that they leave the area within 15 minutes.

At 15.30, a protest was staged at Sam Yan Mitr Town shopping mall. Despite a megaphone announcement asking people to return home and wait for a further announcement on the fate of those arrested earlier, people remained in the area.

At 17.45, several hundred crowd control police arrived at the scene and took control of Sam Yan intersection. The police also brought in many detention trucks.

17.54, a loud explosion was heard followed by white smoke. It was later identified as a pipe bomb. Tanakorn Wongpanya, a reporter from The Standard, received a minor injury from a fragment of the explosion. 4 police also suffered minor injuries.

Regarding the explosion, the police detained 4 suspects, 2 men and 2 women, according to Matichon. iLaw reported that their phones were seized and they were not informed where they would be taken.

The overwhelming police reaction involving the deployment of large numbers of officers, aggressive engagement, and the speedy arrest and despatch of suspects to Pathum Thani for interrogation is a shift in their modus operandi against pro-democracy activities.

This response was seen at the shrimp-selling activity staged by the WeVo group on 31 December, 2020, where around 500 police aggressively dispersed and arrested people who were trying to help struggling shrimp farmers sell shrimps.

No law currently allows the police to transfer arrestees for interrogation to the facility of their choosing. The severe state of emergency, which did enable them to do so, was withdrawn in October 2020. The Criminal Procedure Code authorizes police to detain and interrogate people only at the police station responsible for the area where the alleged offence occurred.

This change in procedure was implemented at around the same time as a series of people received summonses and arrest warrants for violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the law that criminalize defamation of the King, Queen, Heir and Regent.

United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, one of the pro-democracy protest organizers, published a statement denouncing the police’s harsh measures and those who gave them ‘green light’ to use force against the people. The statement demands the unconditional release of those who are arrested.

In the afternoon at a shopping mall in Nakhon Ratchasima, a banner was spotted with the message “The shooting was almost a year ago, where is military reform?”

The banner refers to the mass shooting on 8-9 February in Nakhon Ratchasima, when Sgt Jakrapanth Thomma killed at least 30 people, using military weapons he stole from his base. He was reportedly provoked by a conflict with his superior about housing. The case drew social attention to the ‘twilight zone’ within the military.

On 20.30 Saturday, People gathered at Khon Kaen Democracy Monument, Khon Kaen provine to express their disagreement with the police use of force at the Victory Monument. Khon Kaen police officers could be seen observing the activity.

20.30น. #ม็อบ16มกรา #อนุสาวรีย์ปชตขอนแก่น ปชช. จำนวนหนึ่งในขอนแก่น ออกมาแสดงกิจกรรมเชิงสัญลักษณ์ไม่เห็นด้วยกับการจับกุม #การ์ดปลดแอก ที่อนุสาวรีย์ชัยสมรภูมิบ่ายนี้ ปรากฎป้ายผ้าข้อความ ยกเลิกม.112 และหยุดคุกคามประชาชน โดยมีจนท. จาก สภ.เมืองขอนแก่นยืนสังเกตการณ์ในพื้นที่ pic.twitter.com/PdxjgDwMxO

— TLHR / ศูนย์ทนายความเพื่อสิทธิมนุษยชน (@TLHR2014) January 16, 2021

About 21.00, 2 banners with messages "天竜人を滅ぼせ! Abolish the celestial dragons" and "The will of D" were reportedly spotted at Kong Bin 41 Intersection, Chiang Mai province.

The messages refer to the narrative of the famous Manga One Piece when the celestial dragons are a group of dictating elites that perhaps would be cast in chaos by those who have the will of D.

NewsStudent protest 2020Thailand protest 2021Thai policeBad StudentSource: prachatai.com/journal/2021/01/91229
Categories: Prachatai English

Commenting on supporters of late King’s dog not illegal, says Court

Prachatai English - Sat, 2021-01-16 11:30
Submitted on Sat, 16 Jan 2021 - 11:30 AMPrachatai

On 13 January, Samutprakan Provincial Court acquitted "Thanakorn" of lèse-majesté and computer crime charges after the authorities prosecuted him in 2015 for posting a statement relating to a sarcastic comment against supporters of Thong Daeng, the favourite dog of the late King Bhumibol.

Court said that according to the plaintiff, Thanakorn (with surname withheld) took screenshots of two comments and posted them on his Facebook page with a caption saying that he “read the comments and felt so touched”.

The first comment was a statement without any disdain or hatred. The other was sarcastic towards ordinary people who appreciated Thong Daeng. However, neither constituted lèse majesté speech. So the Court ruled that his publication of the information and his comment on those statements did not constitute a lèse majesté crime.

He was also acquitted of the charge under the Computer Crime Act as his comment did not import or confirm any distorted information about the late King’s dog. His Facebook post only involved a question about whether people know Thong Daeng was the late King’s dog, a statement which is a well-known fact.

Thanakorn was also faced charges for two other Facebook posts which the Court also dismissed. The authorities claimed that he posted a diagram which pointed to potential corrupt activities in the construction of Rajabhakti Park by the Thai Royal Army and “liked” a Facebook page which has a photoshopped picture of the late King Bhumibol on the cover.

Maj Gen Burin Thongprapai, the legal representative of the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), claimed that posting the diagram was an act of sedition under Section 116 of the Criminal Code. However, the Court said that a call for transparency in the project was not an act of sedition. Some officers also admitted there was corruption in the project, including Gen Paiboon Khumchaya and Gen Udomdej Sitabutr. So the Court acquitted Thanakorn of the charge.

With regard to liking the problematic Facebook page, an act which put him under lèse-majesté and computer crime charges, the Court said that there was no “following button” on Facebook at the time, so a user had to click “like” to follow a Facebook page.

Clicking “like” to follow the news on a Facebook page in September 2015 was not the same as clicking “like” on an allegedly lèse majesté picture which was posted in December, so the Court acquitted him of the lèse majesté charge.

And since the defendant only followed the page, and did not share it, he did not spread any false information from the page. Facebook may have promoted any public post or pages randomly on anyone’s newsfeed, but it was not Thanakorn’s doing. So the Court also acquitted him of the computer crime charge.

Thanakorn’s court case was concluded after a trial of 5 years. Thanakorn was a factory worker. In 2015, he was arrested by plainclothes officers in Samut Prakan Province. He was not allowed to meet a lawyer or his relatives. Then he was kept in detention for one week in two military camps.

During the last two days of detention at the 11th Military Circle, he said he was hit on the back of the head with a glass bottle while being interrogated about his Facebook post on Rajabhakti Park. He said the glass bottle did not break but he was hurt and feared for his family members.

After his detention, he was transferred to Crime Suppression Division for further investigation by police. Even though the police record said that he “testified voluntarily”, he confirmed that he gave testimony out of fear that he may be detained in a military camp again.

Ilaw’s database says that Thanakorn was detained at the Bangkok Military Court and later given temporary release on bail. Thanakorn confirmed that he was loyal to the monarchy. After he was released from the military court in 2016, he went into the monkhood as an act of devotion to the late King Bhumibol. 

Thanakorn’s case was one of the cases tried in the military court under the NCPO’s Orders after its power seizure in 2014. Thanks to pressure from civil society calling for the putschists to hold an election, the NCPO loosened its grip in 2019 and Thanakorn’s case was transferred to a civilian court.

NewsMaj Gen Burin ThongprapaiNational Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)iLawThongdaengThanakornlèse majesté lawComputer Crime ActRajabhakti ParkSeditionSection 112Section 116King BhumibolSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2021/01/91179
Categories: Prachatai English

Basic freedoms stifled in Thailand amid youth-led democracy uprising, says HRW

Prachatai English - Sat, 2021-01-16 02:22
Submitted on Sat, 16 Jan 2021 - 02:22 AMHuman Rights Watch

Thailand’s government in 2020 escalated its repression of basic rights in the face of a growing, youth-led democracy movement demanding political and constitutional reforms, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday (13 January) in its World Report 2021.

A protester flashing the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute as riot police continue to fire tear gas at the protesters during the 6-hour clash on Samsen Road on 17 November 2020

Protests that started on July 18 soon spread across the country, calling for the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, an end to harassment by the authorities, and the drafting of a new constitution. Some protests included demands to curb the king’s powers. The government responded by cracking down on protest leaders, charging more than 100 of them with illegal assembly, violating Covid-19 related restrictions, and sedition.

“The Thai government has responded to peaceful demands from youth for sweeping political reforms by making Thailand’s human rights crisis go from bad to worse,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai authorities have prosecuted dissenters, violently dispersed peaceful protests, censored news and social media, and punished critical political speech.”

In the 761-page World Report 2021, its 31st edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth argues that the incoming United States administration should embed respect for human rights in its domestic and foreign policy, in a way that is more likely to survive future US administrations that might be less committed to human rights. Roth emphasizes that even as the Trump administration mostly abandoned the protection of human rights, other governments stepped forward to champion rights. The Biden administration should seek to join, not supplant, this new collective effort.

On October 15, riot police forcibly cleared protesters who had camped outside the Government House in Bangkok. In the ensuing days, police assaulted peaceful protesters using water cannons, mixed with dye and teargas chemicals, as well as teargas grenades. On November 17, at least 55 people were injured, most from inhaling teargas, and six pro-democracy protesters were wounded by gunfire during a clash with ultra-royalist groups after police withdrew. On November 18, the spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concerns about the Thai government’s use of force against peaceful protesters. 

The government intimidated and punished children and youths who participated in the pro-democracy campaigns. The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported in August a total of 103 harassment incidents against students across the country. At least four high school students were charged with illegal assembly.

The government routinely enforced censorship, including on social media platforms, blocking and punishing opinions the authorities deemed critical of the monarchy. In November, Prime Minister Prayuth brought back lèse-majesté prosecutions after a three-year hiatus. As of December, at least 35 people, including a 16-year-old boy, were charged under article 112 of the penal code (insulting the monarchy) for demanding reform of the monarchy, or saying or writing or doing anything the authorities considered offensive to the monarchy. Critics of the monarchy were also prosecuted under sedition, cybercrime, and other legal provisions.

Thai dissidents who have fled Thailand to escape political persecution face grave threats to their lives. On June 4, an exiled democracy activist, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, was abducted in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and remains missing. Since 2016, at least nine Thai political activists have been forcibly disappeared in neighboring countries. Two of them were found killed.

“Thailand’s foreign friends should stop ignoring the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country,” Adams said. “It’s not possible to return to business as usual without securing Thai government commitments to respect democratic principles and rights for all.”

Pick to PostHuman Rights Watchstudent movementYouth movementStudent protest 2020freedom of expressionfreedom of assemblyHuman right violationstate violenceprotest
Categories: Prachatai English

Indigenous peoples network to propose new bill to protect indigenous rights

Prachatai English - Sat, 2021-01-16 02:06
Submitted on Sat, 16 Jan 2021 - 02:06 AMPrachatai

The Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (NIPT) is calling for voters to back their Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand bill, which proposes to set up a formal indigenous peoples’ council to give Thailand’s indigenous population the opportunity to resolve community rights issues in ways that are suitable to their way of life.

Members of the Karen indigenous community in the Kaeng Krachan area lighting candles in a traditional ceremony before an event on community rights issues held on 16 December 2020

The Indigenous Media Network (IMN) reported in late December 2020 that the NIPT has published the full draft of the bill and is calling for Thai citizens over 18 years old to help back the bill in order to propose it to parliament.

According to IMN, Thailand’s indigenous peoples are facing many human rights issues, from land rights, access to basic welfare, and citizenship to the loss of their cultural identity, while the younger generation continues to leave their communities to find work elsewhere. These problems are a result of the way the government’s policies and legislation relating to indigenous communities do not take their traditional way of life into consideration, as well as going against the intentions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which Thailand is a signatory, along with 143 other countries.

A number of indigenous rights are enshrined in the UNDRIP, including but not limited to:

  • the right to be free from discrimination based on their indigenous origin or identity;
  • the right to self-determination and the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs;
  • the right to a nationality, land, and other fundamental human rights;
  • the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons;
  • the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions; and
  • the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

The UNDRIP also states that governments must provide effective preventative mechanisms and redress for any action which has the aim or effect of depriving indigenous peoples of their integrity as distinct peoples or of their cultural identities, dispossessing them of their lands, territories, or resources, forced population transfer, forced assimilation or integration, or any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

The issues facing indigenous peoples in Thailand led to the drafting of the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand bill, in order to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly their rights to self-determination, according to Thailand’s international commitments, including those stated in the UNDRIP, and to create a mechanism for solving human rights issues in ways that take indigenous ways of life into consideration and in which indigenous communities themselves can participate.

The bill proposes to found a formal indigenous peoples’ council whose members are made of representatives of each ethnic group, chosen by the communities themselves. The bill also states the council’s responsibilities, which include the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, the recovery and strengthening of indigenous cultures, the protection of spiritual grounds and the right to land, and collaborating with relevant agencies in organizing projects to strengthen indigenous communities.

Thailand has over 30 ethnic minority groups, none of whom are recognized as indigenous by the Thai state. While the current Constitution mentions the right of “ethnic groups” to live according to their cultural traditions peacefully and without interference, no legislation uses the term “indigenous people.”

Apinan Thammasena, a researcher from the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (SAC), said that the Thai state does not recognize any ethnic group as indigenous because it is concerned about having to follow the international agreements it is party to, such as the UNDRIP. Apinan said that many international agreements use the term “indigenous,” because it refers to a specific group of people facing a specific set of issues.

Apinan explained that the Thai state has argued that, because Thailand has never been colonized, it does not have an indigenous population. He also said that Thailand’s national security agencies are often concerned that, if the state recognizes that there is an indigenous population, it would have to give them the right to autonomy.

Meanwhile, Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri, the current chairperson of the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, an indigenous rights NGO based in Chiang Mai, said that the indigenous communities do not refer to themselves as “ethnic groups,” but use the more specific term “indigenous people.” He also insists that, while the government argues that Thailand has no indigenous population, many ethnic groups have been in this territory for hundreds of years, but the Thai government refuses to recognize them as indigenous to avoid having to follow international agreements.

There have, however, been previous attempts at creating a policy guideline to resolve issues facing indigenous communities in Thailand. In 2010, the cabinet at the time issued two cabinet resolutions, one on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life and one on the sea nomad communities.

Both cabinet resolutions contain guidelines for short- and long-term measures for solving the issues faced by each community, such as the lack of citizenship, land rights, the lack of resources, and how to support their traditional ways of life. The cabinet resolution on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life also states that conservation zones which overlap with locations of Karen communities that have lived in that area before the area became a conservation zone should be revoked.

However, there have been problems with putting both cabinet resolutions into practice. Kittisak said that local officials often do not acknowledge the cabinet resolutions and argue that the Forest Act is a higher-ranking law and therefore they do not have to follow the resolutions. Because of this, legislation to protect indigenous people’s rights has become necessary.

Kittisak said that the Council of Indigenous Peoples bill will allow for the protection of indigenous rights in every aspect, from economic rights to cultural. He said that these rights are not new, but are what the indigenous communities once had and would like to have enshrined in law.

“We would like there to be policies and exclusive plans that are suitable for addressing our issues, because from what we have seen from the lessons in the past, most policies issued by the government sector are very centrist and very grey, and when they are applied in practice, they don’t really solve people’s issues. Even for the Council of Indigenous Peoples itself, we would like an exclusive plan that actually fits with our needs, and we would like to live according to the traditional way that we want to live. It’s like being able to determine the fate of our own lives,” said Kittisak.

In addition to the Council of Indigenous Peoples bill, Kittisak said that two other pieces of legislation are being drafted to protect the indigenous way of life. One is the Protection and Strengthening of Ethnic Way of Life bill, which the SAC is working on, and  similar legislation is being drafted by the Standing Committee on children, young people, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and ethnic groups.

Kittisak said that, in addition to legislation, communicating with the public about the protection of indigenous culture is also important. He said that the public often has a bias against indigenous peoples, as in the past, the education system depicted indigenous communities in a negative light, with such claims as that the hill tribes destroy the forest or are drug traffickers. These biases still exist even though the curriculum has been changed, and that time and serious campaigning effort will be needed to undo them.

“It’s like arranging flowers in a vase. If there are a hundred kinds of flowers, then it’s beautiful, but if there is only one kind, it would be a bit plain. If we are to make them see the dimension of beauty, the dimension of benefits, values, I think that the educational system is important. Campaigning is important,” said Kittisak.

Newsindigenous peopleIndigenous rightsNetwork of Indigenous People in Thailand (NIPT)
Categories: Prachatai English

Doctor sacked for comments on late King

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-01-15 12:41
Submitted on Fri, 15 Jan 2021 - 12:41 PMPrachatai

Jomtien Hospital and Bangkok Hospital Rayong have announced the dismissal of Dr Saravin Thongrong for “inappropriate behaviour against the rules of the company” after his comments on the late King Bhumibol surfaced on the internet. Right-wing activists have called for his license to be revoked and for him to be prosecuted under the lèse-majesté law.  

On 6 January, Jomtien Hospital released an announcement on Facebook dismissing Dr Saravin, effective from the day of the announcement. Bangkok Hospital Rayong also announced his dismissal on the same day. Both hospitals used the same wording, saying that he had committed “inappropriate behaviour” which was “against the rules of the company” and the hospitals “apologized for the occurrence.”

Dr Saravin had worked at Jomtien Hospital as a full-time employee and at Bangkok Hospital Rayong part-time. His dismissal was announced after Dr Saravin’s comments on Facebook went viral.

The Facebook page of Bangkok Hospital Rayong advertised its readiness to respond to the spread of the Covid-19. The post led to a debate between Dr Saravin and other Facebook users about the role of Siam Bioscience Co Ltd, which was founded on the initiative of the late King Bhumibol, whom Dr Saravin referred to using rude language.

Screenshots of Dr Saravin’s comments were found on the Facebook pages of conservative supporters and outlets. However, the Facebook page of Bangkok Hospital Rayong where the original comments were posted is no longer available at the time of this report.

With the Crown Property Bureau as the sole shareholder of the company, Bangkok Biz News reports that Siam Bioscience will produce the anti-Covid vaccine to be available for Thais in May at a cost price of 5 US dollars per dose. Under the current law, the Crown Property Bureau is the personal possession of King Vajiralongkorn.  

Dr Saravin was also found commenting about the late King Bhumibol as a member of the Royalist Marketplace (Talad Luang), a Facebook group which now has 2.2 million members and is critical of the monarchy. A 6 January report says that the Royalist Marketplace was the 15th largest Facebook group in the world in 2021.

As Dr Saravin was fired, right-wing activists pledged to take further action. Despite the announcement from the two hospitals, Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna, the founder of the ultraroyalist Rubbish Collection Organisation, posted on Facebook that he would wage social measures against Jomtien Hospital and Bangkok Hospital Rayong unless they sack Dr Saravin. Rienthong also claimed that Dr Saravin graduated from Khon Kaen University, calling Khon Kaen Hospital to check whether they hired him as an employee.

On 8 January, Srisuwan Janya, an activist known as “the complainer in chief”, also requested the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to prosecute Dr Saravin, and a Facebook user named “Watcharin” who posted similar comments, under Section 112 of the Criminal Code and the Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act. Srisuwan also said he will request the Medical Council of Thailand to revoke the medical license of Dr Saravin. 

The lèse-majesté law (Section 112) says that “whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” It is not clear if former monarchs, like the late King Bhumibol, are protected under this law.

For 2 years the law was in abeyance, and the Prime Minister claimed that King Vajiralongkorn had prohibited the authorities from using it out of mercy. But in the last few weeks as many as 40 lèse majesté cases have been filed against Thai activists in the wake of pro-democracy protests last year which called for monarchy reform.

Before the return of the lèse majesté law late last year, Section 14 of Computer Crime Act had been used together with Section 116 of the Criminal Code, the law on sedition, as a substitute. Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act says that whoever imports into a computer system data which is deemed as a likely threat to national security shall be punished by up to five years in jail and/or a fine of not more than 100,000 baht.

 

NewsSrisuwan JanyaRienthong NannaRubbish Collection Organisation (RCO)Section 112Article 14 of Computer Crime Act
Categories: Prachatai English

Anon Nampa awarded the 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-01-14 16:27
Submitted on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 - 04:27 PMPrachatai

The South korean-based prize given to activists globally, this year, goes to Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer from his legal contribution, anti-dictatorship activisms and his call for monarchy reform.

Anon, in a duck outfit, giving a speech at the 25 November protest.

On 14 January, the May 18 Memorial Foundation, the South Korean-based foundation established to remember the spirit of democratic struggle and solidarity of the May 18 1980 officially announced Anon Nampa as the winner of its annual prize given to the human rights-related activists around the world.

The Jury has also selected the Watchdoc Documentary Maker of Indonesia as the Special Prize winner of the 2021 Gwangju Prize for
Human Rights from their contribution to human rights promotion via their film works.

Beside Anon, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa or 'Pai Daodin', human rights, political and environmental activist and Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former member of the Thai Human Rights Commission was awarded the prize in 2017 and 2006 respectively.

Below is the announcement letter:

2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

Winner Announced The 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights (GPHR) Jury has announced this year’s winners. The winner of the 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights is Mr. Anon Nampa, an activist and a human rights lawyer in Thailand (Thai Lawyers for Human Rights/TLHR).

Since 2008, when he started his legal profession, he has offered free legal assistance to human rights and democracy activists. After the 2014 military coup d’etat , he has especially defended people who were indicted under Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code, which has been abused in order to oppress freedom of speech, punish human right activists and political critics, and also defended those who have been indicted by the military court for their struggles for freedom of assembly, association, and speech.

In 2014, he co-founded a prodemocracy activist group, Resistant Citizen, to empower people to challenge the undemocratic, authoritarian regime and to raise public awareness about human rights. He was also one of leading figures of the movement We Want an Election in 2018.

Also, he has struggled to promote people’s awareness about human rights violations caused by martial law and military rule. His speech on demanding restructuring the Thai monarchy system and establishing a greater democracy that was delivered at a massive pro-democracy rally of  Thai youth added fuel to the ongoing democratization movement.

As a result of his unrelenting activism, he has been arrested and indicted many times on charges of criminal offences, such as sedition, but he was released on bail. In spite of facing risks of being reincarcerated if he does not stop his activities, he continues his fight for justice and human rights.

The Jury has also selected the Watchdoc Documentary Maker of Indonesia as the Special Prize winner of the 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. It is a documentary film making group that was established by Indonesian journalists Andhy Panca Kurniawan and Dandhy Dwi Laksono. Since then it has produced over 200 documentary series and more than 700 TV series on the themes of human rights, democracy, rule of law, environment, women, minority groups, and history. Its productions are viewed freely by public and have been used for campaigns and education by many human rights organizations and schools, making a great contribution to human rights promotion.

Assuming the trailblazer’s role in promoting human rights through culture and arts, works of the Watchdoc Documentary Maker were awarded by many international film festivals, such as CinemAsia Film Festival in Amsterdam and International Anti-Corruption East Asia Documentary Film Festival in Brazil.

The 2021 GPHR Selection Committee believed that the May 18 Spirit is realized through the actions of Mr. Anon Nampa and the Watchdoc Documentary Maker. It highly appreciates the actions of Mr. Anon Nampa who has relentlessly fought against dictatorial governments regardless of physical threats and the activities of the Watchdoc Documentary Maker that has inspired world citizens with their film making.

The May 18 Memorial Foundation believes that today’s decisions will serve as a momentum to secure the solidarity between world citizens towards the development of democracy and the expansion of human rights.

January 14, 2021

2020 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Jury Members (In alphabetical order)

Chief: Moon, Kyoo-hyun (Chair / People for Peace and Reunification)

Members: Kang, Seong-gu (Vice Chairman / Korea Democracy Foundation)

Kim, Jeong-ho (Lawyer / IUS Law Firm)

Song, Soh-yon (Secretary-General / NHRC of Korea)

Oh, Heung Sook (Representative / Busan Lifeline)

Youn, Yeong-duk (Lawmaker / The Democratic Party)

Lee, Cheol-woo (Chairman / The May 18 Memorial Foundation)

NewsGwangju PrizeThe May 18 Memorial FoundationAnon Nampa
Categories: Prachatai English

Loei anti-mine villagers, activists threatened by gunfire

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-01-14 12:21
Submitted on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 - 12:21 PMPrachatai

After repeated threats and assaults, villagers and activists protesting the impact of a  gold mine have been shot at by a local government employee as they were trying to prevent ore from being smuggled out of the mine.

Middle: Thanakrit Anthara while being held after a confrontation with students at the mine, when he later fired his pistol.

The gunshot incident took place on 12 January, the day after the Khon Rak Ban Koed group (KRBK - ‘People Who Love Their Home’) submitted a petition to the the Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police via the Wang Saphung District Police Superintendent, demanding safety measures to protect human rights defenders from potential threats.

KRBK members are from 6 villages in Wang Saphung District whose livelihoods have been affected by chemical contamination since the gold mine started operations in 2006.

After the petition was submitted, Wang Saphung District Police set up a complaint box at the mine entrance in Na Nong Bong village and dispatched additional officers to the area. Around 17.15, Thanakrit Anthara, a temporary employee of the district security division drove his car to the mine entrance where he quarrelled with the villagers and students who were keeping watch.

A footage of the shooting and the interview after Thanakrit left.

According to video footage and witnesses, Thanakrit, who seemed drunk, was wearing a jacket with the district logo and a side-arm. After a village guard successfully moved him away, he shot his pistol as he drove his car away from the scene, terrifying the people around.

A moment when Thanakrit confront with the villagers as the guard trying to take him away.

At 20.12, Thanakrit turned himself in at the District Police Station. District Chief Prayoon Arunroot stated that Thanakrit is a temporary employee on a monthly contract. He was not assigned to the site and his action will result in him being fired. Further prosecution will be the task of the police.

Thanakrit will be held at the police station for up to 48 hours. Villagers opposed bail in fear of their safety. It was found that Thanakrit carries 2 guns. A police investigation into the firearms is underway.

As of 13 January, Thanakrit was allowed bail with 20,000 insurance money. He gave interviewed that he was ordered by his chief "Chantip" to go observe the "mobs" around the mine. He denied that he shot the gun in order to threaten the people there.

Pranom Somwong, a representative from Protection International (PI), an international human rights NGO which has been monitoring the Loei mine case was surprised by the court's decision.

Pranom said that the investigation officer has denied the bail before passing this case to the court. The villagers also concern over the court letting Thanakrit walk free as his action shows the intention of threat.

PI representative urged the related authority to provide safety measure to the villagers around the mine, stating that it is a dangerous place as the remaining mineral in the mine attracts attention from those who want it, despite the dug leftover mine was sold via auction in December 2020.

The gold mine became controversial when the villagers in surrounding areas felt they were affected by chemical contamination in streams, disturbance caused by from mine explosions and ore transportation, air pollution and internal conflicts that erupted within the villages. Villagers formed KRBK in 2007 to raise awareness over the mine's negative impact.

In 2012, the court declared Thung Kham Co Ltd bankrupt, leading to a halt in operations in mid-2013. Attempts by the company to retrieve leftover ore and renew its mining concession emerged from time to time. Villagers set up a team to watch that the remaining ore was not smuggled away.

Villagers fight thugs on the night of 15 May 2014  Only two men were charged and have been released on bail. Photo courtesy of Loei Ore Mine's Facebook

The villagers have faced threats because of their campaigns. Tension reached a peak in September 2013 when the villagers barricaded the mine entrance, blocking trucks, each of which normally carries 15 tons of cyanide waste, from passing through their villages. They then had to live in fear of judicial harassment, thugs, gunmen and death threats.

On the night of 15 May 2014, about 200 armed men dressed in black stormed a villagers’ checkpoint leading to the gold mine in an attempt to transport mineral ore from the mine. The unidentified men assaulted the villagers, used guns to intimidate them and held some of them hostage.

According to Post Today, at least 50 million baht is demanded in the overall litigation brought by the company and the local authorities against the villagers, mainstream media and citizen journalists.

The threats remain until now. On the morning of 12 January when the petition was submitted, a man with a uniform devoid of identification took close-up photos of each villager.  It was later found out that he was an undercover police officer after students surrounded him and pressured him to confess.

In December 2020, unidentified men with a military appearance claiming to be company officials, appeared in 6 villages around the mine, causing fear among villagers.

In December 2020, the remaining 190 sacks of ore were finally sold at auction with a 8,240,000 baht winning bid. The departure of the ore marks a good time for the villagers to start restoring the natural environment.

NewsLoei Ore MineKhon Rak Ban Koed (KRBK)Protection International (PI)Source: prachatai.com/journal/2021/01/91172
Categories: Prachatai English

Student arrested in the middle of the night on a Section 112 charge

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-01-14 11:56
Submitted on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 - 11:56 AMPrachatai

Sirichai (last name withheld), a 1st year student at the Puey Ungphakorn School of Development Studies, Thammasat University, and a member of the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, was arrested during Wednesday night (13 January) on a royal defamation charge under Section 112.

Sirichai (left) being held on a police car

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported at 23.00 on Wednesday (13 January) that Sirichai was arrested by police officers from the Khlong Luang Police Station on a royal defamation charge under Section 112.

The police later claimed that Sirichai had been taken to the Border Patrol Police (BPP) Region 1 headquarters. However, at around midnight, student activists Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, along with a group of other students, went to the BPP Region 1 headquarters, but were prevented from entering the premises. Officers stationed in front of the headquarters claimed that Sirichai had yet to arrive.

Around 15 minutes later, the students went inside the headquarters to look for Sirichai, after which Pol Maj Gen Pongpich Wongsawat, Commander of the BPP Region 1, came to tell them that Sirichai was not being held there and asked the students to send in one representative while others waited outside as the headquarters is off-limits to members of the public.

At 00.50, the students went to the detention room inside the headquarters, but did not find Sirichai. Parit and Panusaya then tried to contact Pathum Thani police chief Pol Maj Gen Chayut Marayat via phone and were eventually told that Sirichai was being held at Khlong Luang Police Station.

Parit also said that Pol Maj Gen Chayut led the team of officers that arrested Sirichai, and that he told Parit when the students first went to Khlong Luang Police Station that Sirichai had been taken to the BPP Region 1 headquarters.

However, a TLHR lawyer went to the Khlong Luang Police Station at around 1.20 and was told that Sirichai was not at the station.

    At 1.36, The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration went live on Facebook after Sirichai was found at his student hall. He was being held in a police car after the police took him to the hall for them to search his room. The students surrounded the police car and demanded that they wait for a lawyer to arrive before they removed Sirichai elsewhere. They also demanded that the officers present an arrest warrant and a search warrant, but the officers did not comply.

    A TLHR lawyer arrived about 10 minutes later and was told by Sirichai that he was arrested under a Section 112 charge. The officers also presented an arrest warrant, as well as a search warrant issued by the Thanyaburi Provincial Court

    At 2.20, Sirichai was taken back to Khlong Luang Police Station, where he was informed of the charges. A group of students and members of the public also gathered in front of the police station to show their support, while police officers blocked the front doors to the station building. His friends were also prevented from accompanying him inside the station.

    According to Move Forward Party MP Bencha Saengchantra, who also went to Khlong Luang Police Station, Sirichai faces charges under Section 112 for spraying paint on a portrait of the King.

    Bencha also tweeted a picture of a note Sirichai wrote asking his friends not to worry about him and to keep fighting until there is equality.

    Sirichai's note

    Sirichai was taken to the Thanyaburi Provincial Court on Thursday morning (14 January) for a temporary detention request. The court then ruled to allow him to be temporarily detained for 12 days. His lawyer is now requesting bail using a Thammasat University lecturer’s position as security.

    TLHR said that Sirichai’s case is the first time since Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s announcement on 19 November 2020 that every law will be used against the pro-democracy protesters that a court issue an arrest warrant for a Section 112 charge.

    Around 40 people involved with the pro-democracy movement are now facing charges under Section 112, at least 2 of whom are minors. Several protest leaders are also facing several counts of the charge. 

    NewsSection 112Article 112freedom of expressionMonarchy reformUnited Front of Thammasat and Demonstration
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Foreign correspondents’ circle concern over Vietnam’s jailing of 3 journalists

    Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-01-13 20:09
    Submitted on Wed, 13 Jan 2021 - 08:09 PMThe foreign correspondents' clubs and associations

    The foreign correspondents' clubs and associations of Thailand, Japan, Jakarta, the Philippines, South Asia and Taiwan are deeply concerned by the convictions and harsh prison sentences handed down by a Vietnamese court on January 5 to three Vietnamese journalists, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, for “spreading anti-state propaganda,” and call for their immediate release.

    (Standing) Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan. (Source: Facebook/ Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand - FCCT)

    The three, all members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), were convicted of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the state” at a one-day trial in the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court.

    The court's verdict, cited by state-run media, said the three "had regularly been in contact with regime opponents." Government officials were quoted by Western media saying the journalists had intended to "distort and defame the people's administration, and infringe the interests of the Communist Party of Vietnam and state."

    One of the convicted journalists, Pham Chi Dung, 54, previously worked for the government’s Department of Internal Affairs and Security but had quit his position in 2013, saying the "Communist Party no longer serves and represents the interests of the majority of the people."

    Dung, who received a 15-year jail sentence, founded the IJAVN in 2014 to advocate for press freedom but the state has since declared it a criminal organization. Fellow IJAVN members, Thuy, 69, and younger member Tuan, were each given 11-year prison terms. All three were ordered to serve an additional three years under house arrest after their release.

    The convictions reflect a widening crackdown on dissent and independent media ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s five-yearly congress which starts on January 25. They also highlight the growing contradiction between Vietnam’s efforts to portray itself as a modern state and friend of the West, and the reality of censorship and repression under one-party rule.

    The US Department of State described the sentences as “harsh” and “the latest in a worrisome trend.” Amnesty International said they underscored Hanoi’s contempt for a free press.

    In its annual World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 175 of 180 states. In 2020, Vietnam imprisoned 28 journalists, making it the fourth worst country for jailing journalists behind China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt respectively.

    At least 15 Vietnamese journalists were in prison as of December 1 2020, including Dung, Thuy and Tuan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

    Signed by:

    Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand

    Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan

    Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines

    Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club

    South Asia Foreign Correspondents’ Club

    Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club

    Pick to Postpress freedomVietnamForeign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT)Pham Chi DungNguyen Tuong ThuyLe Huu Minh TuanSource: https://www.facebook.com/FCCThailand/photos/a.266558006762490/3661807937237463/
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Senators, generals, academics dominate political reconciliation committee lineup

    Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-01-13 12:32
    Submitted on Wed, 13 Jan 2021 - 12:32 PMPrachatai

    Proposed by the parliament speaker, Chuan Leekpai, the reconciliation committee, aimed to find a way out of political turmoil, is packed with senators, academics, military officers and government coalition MPs. No opposition MPs or pro-democracy protesters are included.

    Chuan Leekpai

    According to Matichon, the committee consists of 11 members whose names list were published on 11 January:

    1. Gen Chaicharn Changmongkol, Deputy Minister of Defence
    2. Assoc Prof Viroj Limkaisang, President of Rajamangala University of Technology Isan
    3. Assoc Prof Nirut Thuengnak, President of Rajabhat Mahasarakham University
    4. Dr Somsak Rungroong, President of Southeast Bangkok College
    5. Prof Md Wanchai Wattanasap, former President of Khon Kaen University
    6. Prof Surichai Wun'gaeo, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University
    7. Dr Chaweerat Kasetsoontorn, Senator, former Deputy Minister of Culture
    8. Wallop Tangkananurak, Senator
    9. Sora-at Klinpratoom, Bhumjaithai party list MP
    10. Nirote Sunthornleka, Palang Pracharat MP for Nakhon Sawan
    11. Thoedpong Chaiyanan, Democrat party list MP

    Kunnavuti Tuntrakul, Deputy Secretary General of Parliament, as secretary to the committee, stated that the first meeting will be held on 18 January at 13.30. The committee will address recruiting 4 more experts in reconciliation to join the committee. The media will be allowed to observe the meeting.

    No opposition coalition MP is on the list.

    The composition of the reconciliation committee was proposed by Chuan in order to have all sides engage in dialogue to find a solution to the political tension in 2020 when pro-democracy protesters’ repeated demands for political and monarchy reform were met with a forceful and violence response from the security forces and anti-protester groups.

    According to the Bangkok Post, the pro-democracy protesters declared in November 2020 that they will not accept or join the committee formed by the government, stating that the government led by Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha is a major obstacle in resolving the country’s political, economic and social problems.

    Originally, 21 members were to consist of 2 government representatives, 2 government coalition MPs, 2 opposition MPs, 2 senators, 2 representatives of protesters who agree with the government, 2 representatives of protesters who disagree with the government, and 9 experts (3 from the Council of University Presidents of Thailand, 1 from the Council of Rajabhat Universities, 1 from the Council of Rajamangala Universities of Technology and 4 with expertise in reconciliation).

    The protesters and some opposition MPs view that the committee structure is not designed to address the demands of the protesters as the number on the government side is overwhelming.

    Previously, former prime ministers Anand Panyarachun, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh hinted they may be willing to join the committee. They have not yet done so.

    NewspoliticsChuan LeekpaiStudent protest 2020reconciliation committee
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Cartoon by Stephff: Thai national children's day

    Prachatai English - Mon, 2021-01-11 12:57
    Submitted on Mon, 11 Jan 2021 - 12:57 PMStephff

    MultimediaStephffChildren's day
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Meme Explainer: Thais compare Trump with Suthep

    Prachatai English - Sun, 2021-01-10 03:15
    Submitted on Sun, 10 Jan 2021 - 03:15 AMPrachatai

    As his supporters stormed the US Capitol, Thai netizens have been busy photoshopping President Trump into the familiar shirt and whistle of Suthep Thaugsuban, a key figure behind the protests which led to the military coup in Thailand in 2014.

    Thanks to photoshop, Suthep’s head was replaced with Trump’s. The Thai-flagged logos on Suthep’s shirt and wristbands were replaced with the American-flag logos. Some meme makers were seemingly in rush since the whistle on Trump’s neck is still on a Thai-flagged strap.

    Caption: Trump in Suthep’s shirt with karaoke text of a song which the PDRC frequently used

    Source: Basement Karaoke

    After the Trump supporters invaded the US Capitol to obstruct the Congress from certifying the election result, meme photos of Trump in Suthep’s shirt were posted on many famous pages including Kai Meaw, Basement Karaoke and the Thai Move Backward Institute, a meme page which mocks the right-wing Thai Move Institute.

    Caption: Trump in Suthep’s shirt

    Source: Thai Move Backward Institute

    In a photo's caption, Thai Move Backward Institute said in a parody that "300,000 votes in Texas have more quality than 77 million votes of Joe Biden." The statement was adapted from a speech of a right-wing activist Dr. Seri Wongmontha in 2013 who said that 300,000 votes in Bangkok have more quality than 15 votes which chose the government.

    In contemporary Thai anti-autocracy sentiment, Trump and his supporters are compared to the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former minister from Surat Thani, which held protests to shut down Bangkok in January 2014 and obstruct the election the following month.

    With the Thai Constitutional Court’s nullification of the election and the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the PDRC successfully created a political vacuum which led to the military coup in May 2014.

    The Trump supporters have used many tactics similar to the PDRC, including seizing government buildings, obstructing and intimidating voters, and accusing the political opponents of election fraud. There are reports revealing that some government officials saw the insurrection coming but looked away. However, the US Supreme Court and other courts rejected all complaints about election fraud in the latest election.

    Caption:  Pro-Trump protesters and PDRC protesters compared

    Source: Basement Karaoke

    There have been other interpretations of the event by Thai netizens. For example, Thai conservatives comment with joy that it is time for the US to “taste their own medicine” since they were allegedly behind pro-democracy protests in Thailand. In September last year, the US Embassy in Thailand released a “Statement Refuting Disinformation” saying that the US government did not fund or support any of the protests.

    Thai conservatives also called on human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the National Endowment for Democracy and Amnesty International, to take a stance in defending pro-Trump protesters in the same way that they have defended pro-democracy protesters in Thailand.

    Caption: Trump getting help from Suthep during an exam.
    Source: Kai Meaw X 

    However, Amnesty International USA released a statement in condemnation of Trump’s action. Claiming that the President’s “refusal to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power has put human rights, public safety and the rule of law” and that his “embrace of white supremacist groups and extremists has further fanned the flames of the chaos and violence we witnessed today, putting human rights and the rule of law at grave risk in the United States”, they asked that “all U.S. officials must respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, including the right to be free from violence, intimidation, and racism.“

    After the riot which ultimately led to 5 deaths, the US Congress reconvened to successfully certify the election result despite objections from pro-Trump Republicans. Some of the participants in the insurrection have been arrested. 

    The President-elect Joe Biden will take office on 20 January. Trump announced that he would not participate in the inauguration ceremony. In response, Biden said that "one of the few things he and I have ever agreed on, it's a good thing, him not showing up."

     

    NewsTrumpSuthep ThaugsubanPDRCSource: Thammachart
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Twilight zone: signs of judicial resistance in Thailand?

    Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-01-07 20:18
    Submitted on Thu, 7 Jan 2021 - 08:18 PMPrachatai

    At 5 pm on 7 December 2020, King Vajiralongkorn presided over the opening ceremony of the new Supreme Court building along with Queen Suthida. The event looked just like other royal ceremonies in Thailand. The king lit candles, knelt before a statue of the Buddha, then pressed an electronic button to open a ceremonial curtain in front of the building. The King and the Queen were received by 120 officials and deputies of the Supreme Court.

    Notable among them was Methinee Chalothorn, the new President of the Supreme Court, who in September last year became the first woman ever to be appointed to this position. She made a donation of money to the King. King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida then entered the renovated building. Now in a black judicial gown, the King gave a speech to the judicial officials. It was televised on every channel in Thailand at 8.00 pm. In his speech, the King asked the judges to do their job well so that people have faith in the system. The ceremony in itself might have been another superficiality. But the renovation of the building was another example of royal consolidation under new reign.

    The original Supreme Court building was constructed by Khana Ratsadon in 1939 to celebrate the end of extraterritoriality. It had a modern look. Six pillars at the front of the building symbolized the six values of the politico-bureaucrat group which overthrew the absolute monarchy in 1932 - one of which was independence. To eradicate the largely already forgotten Khana Ratsadon’s legacy of the time, a legacy now revived thanks to the protesters, the renovation which began in 2013 superimposed a Thai-style gable on the building.

    The renovation is part of a wider process of expunging the memory of the 1932 revolution. In 2017, the plaque embedded in the road in front of King Chulalongkorn’s statue marking the People’s Party takeover of power disappeared in unexplained circumstances. The statues of Khana Ratsadon members Plaek Phibunsongkhram and Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena (Phot Phaholyothin) were removed last January, when Fort Phibulsonggram was renamed Fort Sirikit, and Fort Phaholyothin was renamed Fort Bhumibol Camp in March. On 24th June last year, when the Thai democratic opposition held events to commemorate the 1932 democratic revolution, Gen Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief at the time, held a ceremony to celebrate the Boworadet rebellion, a failed royalist attempt to overthrow the People’s Party and return Thailand to the absolute monarchy.  

    Left: The Old Supreme Court Building
    Right: The New Supreme Court Building

    The timing of the Supreme Court event was interesting. The renovation of the building was finished in January 2019. Then President of the Supreme Court Slaikate Wattanapan had held an opening ceremony before the judges moved in. The royal opening ceremony may have been delayed because King Vajiralongkorn spent most of his time in Germany before he returned to Thailand in October. But the royal ceremony might also have been timely in light of potential dissatisfaction with the establishment growing within the judicial branch.

    Resistance within the judiciary, unlike other institutions, is difficult to detect. Sometimes, it is disguised by extreme formality, but sometimes it is explosive. Thais often called the judiciary “daen sonthaya” or “twilight zone”, hinting that something mysterious, complicated and unpleasant is going on. But Thais cannot be very vocal against the judiciary without risking prosecution for contempt of court. A series of military coups has come and gone, but the Thai judiciary has been largely left untouched. Most of the time, the putschists would simply ask the judicial branch to continue as before while they took over the executive and legislative branches.

    In October 2019, the judiciary came under the spotlight after judge Khanakorn Pianchana shot himself in protest against interference in his court’s decision from his superiors in favour of military officers in the south of Thailand. In a 25-page verdict, he also mentioned the work environment and job insecurity of judges and meddling in court decisions, a practice which was enabled by the 2017 Constitution. After he recovered from his wounds, he was prosecuted for violating the gun law. He shot himself again, this time fatally, in March 2020 to protest against the establishment. Seminars and vigils were held to call for judicial reform along with other political issues.

    Meanwhile, dissatisfaction with the government was growing due to the questionable election in 2019, the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in early 2020, and corruption scandals throughout 2020. As the protesters started gathering on the streets in June, the judiciary became part of the frontline institutions in dealing with the protesters. Signs of the judicial resistance could be seen here and there.

    In August, the Criminal Court ordered the unconditional release of 9 activists. Anon Nampa, a human rights activist, said that court criticized the police for their excessive behaviour against the protesters. In October, the courts dismissed the government’s request to close media outlets covering the protests including Voice TV, the Reporter, the Standard and Prachatai. In a separate Facebook post in December, Anon said that he had received words of encouragement from many judges behind the scenes in the past 3-4 months.

    Throughout 2020, we also saw the dismissal of many court cases against anti-coup politicians and activists from 2014-2019. The cases against Worachet Pakeerut for not reporting to the authorities after the military coup were dismissed when the Constitutional Court deemed the junta’s order unconstitutional. Chaturon Chaisang was acquitted of sedition charges after speaking out against the military putsch in 2014. Nine activists who called for elections were also acquitted of sedition charges.

    These cases might be seen as the calm before the storm as the courts clear up old cases to prepare for the upcoming lèse majesté cases. It could also be seen as a compromise to minimize public criticism or internal conflict in the judiciary.

    Another possible point of conflict is Methinee Chalothorn. After she was appointed President of the Supreme Court in September last year, pictures circulated on the internet showing her at a PDRC protest which led to the military coup in 2014. The ultraroyalist group now has many of its members in the cabinet or organizing yellow shirt protests.

    In the opening ceremony of the Supreme Court building, Methinee donated money to the King (a practice which pro-democracy protesters want to abolish). A group claiming to be “anonymous judges” spread the information with the assistance of Jaran Ditapichai, a political activist in exile and former National Human Rights Commissioner, accusing Methinee of ordering courts to deny bails for the pro-democracy protesters and collecting money from courts which she could donate to appease the King in the hope of getting a seat on the Privy Council.

    Left: An official portrait of Methinee Chalothorn
    Right: Methinee Chalothorn at a PDRC protest
    Source: Bright TV

    The anonymous judges group also claimed that Sitisak Vanachakij, Presiding Justice of the Supreme Court, gave a lecture in November for new judges coming to work in the Supreme Court, the content of which was mostly criticism of protesters for being manipulated by democratic politicians. Several judges walked out in protest. Sitisak denied the accusation, saying that the lecture dealt only with guidelines for treating protesters with dignity and respect, including avoidance of unnecessary detention orders.

    Prachatai tried to contact Jaran Ditapichai for a possible interview with one of the judges for more information but received no response.

    During the protests in 2020, the courageous individuals within conservative institutions have spoken out against unjust orders. In June, Sgt Narongchai Intharakawi exposed fraud in the military regarding allowance payments. In October, the Washington Post reported that police were increasingly reluctant to crack down on protesters. In the same month, a group of dissatisfied civil servants opened a Facebook page under the name “Free Thai Civil Servant” to expose unpleasant practices within the Thai bureaucracy. The page now has more than 18,000 subscribers. In November, a retired ambassador also opened the Facebook page “the Alternative Ambassador” to express criticism of the current government. The page now has more than 110,000 subscribers.

    While resistance in some institutions is clearly visible, the same cannot be said of the judiciary. The “twilight zone” remains as mysterious as ever, but Thais cannot help but ask whether something surreptitious is going on in there.

    Round Up
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Silences, Histories, and the Future: On Thongchai Winichakul’s Moments of Silence

    Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-01-06 13:23
    Submitted on Wed, 6 Jan 2021 - 01:23 PMSurat Surankhu

    Silences, Histories, and the Future: On Thongchai Winichakul’s Moments of Silence: The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkok

    Note: This is a translation of a paper that was presented as part of the Council on Thai Studies (COTS) conference organized by Northern Illinois University on 13-15 November 2020. The paper was part of a book launch for Thongchai Winichakul’s recent book, Moments of Silence: The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkok; each of the panelists considered the meaning of the book in comparative contexts across time and space, and within the context of the present-day youth movement in Thailand.

    The meaning of the 6 October 1976 massacre has changed within the context of the transformed politics of the present. But “unforgetting,” which is a word that Thongchai purposefully uses in the title of this book (as well as in the title of his related Thai-language book, 6 October:, Unforgettable, Unrememberable [6 ตุลา ลืมไม่ได้ จำไม่ลง]), demands consideration of matters that are difficult to forget even though one wishes to do so. As I read this book, I was unable to forget. We can find incidences of wrongdoing committed with impunity from the traces of the facts that remain. Perpetrators then and now remain the same. They take pleasure in letting people honor them without any shame for their involvement in violence, whether then or in the present.  Those who hold different opinions or think differently are those who are guilty, guilty to the degree that their lives must be sacrificed. This is an inhumane form of cruelty that includes the killing of exiles in neighboring countries, the disappearance of Wanchalearm [Satsaksit], the arrest of students and activists, and other threats and violations of human rights. One way to comprehend it is that the perpetrators have never learned any lessons from the past or adapted themselves to exist in the society that has changed over the past 44 years. The demands and struggle for democracy continue, and the right-wing that we think has gone silent has not actually gone anywhere. There are still voices within the silence. But if it is a voice that we hear from those surrounding us that they are ready to hire people to attack those who think differently from them, the people’s screams will not be heard. On 23 October 2020, the King said “very brave, very smart, thank you,” to a person who held up an image of Rama 9. Then, on 27 October 2020, he said, “Thank you very much. We must go forward with close-knit love for the nation.” Some have interpreted this as a signal [in response to the current protests] that hints that those who hold power will do not accept any changes.

    However, what is different about the movement in the present in comparison to that of 44 years ago is that secondary school students, in addition to university students, have a direct role and have become key leaders of the struggle for democracy. It can be said that this is the first time that the youth, the future of the nation, have a true democratic consciousness and are the foundation of the struggle for democratic ideals. They want a future that is not the chronically gloomy one of the past. The students are not only questioning the textbooks of the Ministry of Education, but they are questioning the teaching ability of the teachers and challenging the educational culture that dominates and constrains them.

    Nonetheless, the demands for social justice on 6 October 1976 were not the first time, and the movement of secondary school and university studies in the present will not be the last time that people come out before we achieve the goal of constitutional democracy. Let me offer my respect to Rung [Panusaya Sithijirawatthanakul], Penguin [Parit Chiwarak], Lawyer Anon [Nampa], Oua [Juthatip Sirikhan], James [Panumas Singprom], Prasit [Karutarote], Pai Dao Din [Jatupat Boonpattararaksa], Mind [Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon], Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree , and others who are involved. The 6 October 1976 massacre does not belong only to the Octobrists anymore, but is everyone’s history.

    Violent incidents that are “unforgettable, unrememberable,” such as the assassinations in the period of authoritarian military dictatorships of Phao Sriyanond-Sarit Thanarat, the Tak Bai massacre, the crackdown on the red shirts in 2010, or other incidents, as well as the logic of violence and its subsequent impacts.

    Every violent incident that I have mentioned is “unforgettable, unrememberable.” The majority involve people dying at the hands of state officials. But if we examine the reasons or sources of the use of violence, will find that it arises when the people are making demands on power. This is a normal occurrence in a democratic society, or in a modern society, that permits the people to think differently from the state. One important characteristic of modern society is that we are unable to think identically to one another. The problem is that Thai society, especially the state, does not want to let the people think differently from the state. When people think differently, they are viewed as dangers to state security. This broad framework of thinking was constructed during the bureaucratic reform during the reign of Rama V, which brought in a framework of thinking similar to monotheistic religion, or that there is only one true god. Significantly, this framework was linked with the idea of the nation-state. Therefore, another reason behind the use of violence is to protect that one true god.

    The question of what forms of writing history, and what kinds of historiography, will aid Thai society in redressing past violence is a fascinating and important one for historians. This is because incidences of past violence that are “unforgettable, unrememberable” often end with wounds visited upon victims from injustice. Mainstream official Thai historiography written by the state neglects these issues, and further, sometimes views those on the margins as being enemies of the institution of the monarchy. However, there are many kinds of historiography. Microhistory, or the history of ordinary, common people or those on the margins of society, is one way of writing history from below that gives importance to the marginalized by making them the subjects of study. The historical evidence used to write microhistory tends not to be government documents, but includes fables, legends, myths, or oral history. Thongchai’s book can be considered a historical study that attempts a microhistory of the violent past. In addition, there is also the method of Subaltern Studies, which is a set of theories about how to write histories of those who appear voiceless. In truth, the aforementioned historical methods are not enough to fight the official historiography that dominates and presses upon students through the mechanisms of the Ministry of Education.

    The phenomenon of reading critical history books is one of the fascinating aspects of the youth political movement. They hold up critical history books that are not part of the curriculum as symbols. At first, I thought it was a type of symbolic expression of revolt against what they learned in school.  But it turned out to be the opposite.  The students are reading to question what they have studied. The most recent Book Week offers an index of the desire to read critical history books. The press that printed these books [Fa Diew Kan] was even later searched by the police. A senior professor once told me a long time ago “When society begins to search for its history, it means that the society is falling into further decay.” I agree and see the phenomenon myself with cloudless eyes. The students ask questions about the books they read, with the most frequent question being “Why wasn’t this incident included in the curriculum I studied?” Many of the critical history books that are circulating are those usually read at the level of undergraduate or graduate study. Sometimes when secondary students exchange ideas with teachers in school, the teachers themselves cannot answer, because they did not know beforehand.

    Opinion6 October 1976Surat SurankhuThongchai WinichakulStudent protest 2020
    Categories: Prachatai English

    3 more people charged under Section 112

    Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-01-06 12:51
    Submitted on Wed, 6 Jan 2021 - 12:51 PMPrachatai

    3 more people have been charged with royal defamation under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, bringing the number of people facing Section 112 charges to 40.

    Jiratita (Photo by TLHR) 

    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that Nat (pseudonym), one of the admins for the Facebook page “Khana Ratsadon,” was arrested on 31 December, after the police searched their house and confiscated their phones, yellow duck calendars, and commemorative medals.

    Nat was taken to Nongkhaem Police Station and charged with royal defamation. The police claimed that the calendars contain images and messages which insult the monarchy.

    TLHR also said that, during the arrest, the officers did not present an arrest warrant or inform Nat of their rights.

    The police denied bail to Nat at the inquiry level, who was therefore held at Nongkhaem Police Station over the New Year holiday while the court was closed.

    Nat was taken to Taling Chan Criminal Court on 2 January 2021 for a temporary detention request. Their lawyer objected to the request on the ground that the arrest was unlawful, as the officers did not present an arrest warrant and the arrest was not due to a flagrant offence.

    The Court accepted the temporary request. However, Nat was later granted bail using Move Forward Party’s Amarat Chokepamitkul’s MP position as security and was released.

    On 3 January, Thanakon (last name withheld), 17, also received a summons on a Section 112 charge issued by Buppharam Police Station. TLHR said that the charge is likely to be related to a demonstration on 6 December 2020 at Wongwian Yai. 

    Jiratita (last name withheld), 23, was also charged with royal defamation for a speech given at the protest on 2 December 2020 at the Lad Phrao intersection. Anon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak, Shinawat Chankrachang and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul also face Section 112 charges for their involvement in the same protest.

    TLHR noted that the charges against those involved in the 2 December protest were filed by a member of the public, which shows the problem of anyone being able to file a complaint under this law, therefore allowing it to be used by various political factions against each other.

    Meanwhile, several protest leaders have received further charges under Section 112. Parit is now facing 12 counts, Anon is facing 8 counts, Panusaya is facing 6 counts, while Panupong is facing 5 counts.

    NewsArticle 112Section 112lese majestefreedom of expressionstudent movementYouth movementStudent protest 2020
    Categories: Prachatai English

    Youth Activists’ struggle with mental health in the ongoing protests in Thailand

    Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-01-06 11:46
    Submitted on Wed, 6 Jan 2021 - 11:46 AMBamaejuri Sohkhlet

    The ongoing protests in Thailand are having a negative impact on the mental health of young activists as many protesters face legal charges for the work they are doing. For those struggling with mental health issues, there is very little assistance being provided to them.

    A small stuffed panda is left on the street under the Siam BTS Station in a pool of water from the water cannon, which also hit many protesters. 

    Kay, a young student activist, initially attended every protest and rally. But since the beginning of October, she has been taking a break from both attending the protests and posting about it on social media because her mental health was deteriorating.

    Chonticha Jaeng-rew, a political activist, first addressed the issue of mental health among activists back in 2014. Her reason for bringing attention to the topic was because of her own battle with mental health issues. She received many death threats and was harassed both online and offline. After being arrested in 2015, she said she suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

    “Right now it’s getting better, but I still have problems with migraine. We work too hard right now, we don’t have time to sleep, we don’t have time for ourselves, we don’t have time for our family,” said Chonticha.

    In Thailand, the social stigma connected to admitting mental health problems and attitudes toward meddling in political issues have made it hard for pro-democracy protesters to seek help on mental health issues. These factors inevitably lead to mental health problems for people who are merely exercising their legal right to freedom of expression.

    Shortage of welfare, lack of understanding

    Backyard Politics is a group that works with a number of women and feminist organizations to create more interconnected movements. This group strives to challenge gender biases and shed light on forms of violence that are not immediately recognized. They provide a safe space for individuals to confront these biases and offer them different forms of help and therapy.

    Sattara Hattirat, from the organization Backyard Politics, explained that there is this misconception that mental illness is not real and that people can snap out of it at any time, but this is not true. This belief can make people feel bad about themselves and can have serious consequences for a person’s mental health.

    “I think largely people stigmatize mental health conditions. And they would perceive people who have mental health conditions as being crazy or mad,” said Sattara.

    Sattara said that many activists suffer from mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. When they go to the doctor to get help, they will usually test out a number of drugs on them before finding a suitable one. It is a painful, long and costly process to go through when the chances of getting better are not always guaranteed.

    It is very difficult for activists to find doctors who can understand the work that they do, who are safe and who would not expose them.

    A protester passing on umbrella during the protest on 18 October.

    “Those who do seek help sometimes get told by the doctors that they should not care so much about social change, for example, which doesn’t work for activists,” said Sattara.

    Backyard Politics works together with a list of therapists or healers. They would also welcome doctors but they have been unable to find any who fit the requirements needed to help activists. Their three requirements include; doctors who understand activists’ work, who are gender sensitive and who are aware of social problems and marginalized groups.

    Therapists that work in this organization incorporate different kinds of approaches like art therapy, bio therapy, sound healing and counselling. They also work with visuals or pictures, hold workshops and training with groups of activists so that they can design their own well-being strategy and their own self-care techniques.

    Sattara explains that many activists are not aware that working on social problems and being front-line defenders requires more mental health and physical care than people who are not in this line of work.

    The 2008 Mental Health Act offers guidelines of how mental health patients should be treated. Under the Act, mental health is defined as any symptom of mental disorder expressed through behaviour, mood, thought, memory, intelligence, neuro-perception or perception of time, place or person, including any symptom of mental disorder resulting from alcohol or other psychotropic substances.

    The Act states what the patients’ rights are, the kind of treatment and rehabilitation they should receive and what action government officials and professionals need to take in the case where patients pose a threat to the people around them.

    However, the 2015 Thailand Health System Review revealed that “the National Policy does not include service strategy development or patients’ human rights protection.” Access to mental health facilities is uneven across the country with people living in cities getting more benefits compared to people living in rural areas.

    There are no day-care treatment facilities or residential facilities in Thailand that can help people learn self-care methods and techniques as the majority of funds are directed to mental hospitals.

    In schools, education about mental health is being promoted in order to create more awareness and to support children and adolescents with mental health issues. However, most of the time this psychological support is not being provided by professionals but by general teachers.

    As kids fall prey to parents, both fall preys to culture

    Recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Kay said that the protests further exacerbated her mental health issues. She said that her parents are trying their best to understand her mental health issues but they do not completely agree with what the doctors say.

    “To some extent, they’re supportive but I don’t think they’re aware that the way they’re trying to support me sometimes makes my moods even worse,” said Kay.

    Many parents are not comfortable with their children participating in the protests. Those whose children are leading actors in the protests are especially hesitant in supporting them and their cause. Being aware of this, Sattara explained that both the parents and the children feel the pressure from Thai culture itself.

    Parents feel pressure to protect the family’s dignity because they are the ones who society blames when their children are not obedient. For the children, the pressure stems from the idea that the children should show gratitude towards their parents.

    “Youth activists who come out to voice out against the social structure and the government, they are at odds with what is really powerful and what can protect them at this moment is the family,” said Sattara.

    There are also many superstitions attached to mental health. A lot of people believe that it is one’s own karma that leads to mental health issues, explaining that their current mental state results from having committed unforgivable acts in their past lives. This kind of thinking has limited people’s understanding of mental health and has prevented them from accepting someone with mental health issues.

    Sattara added that youths who are at the victims of any kind of violence involving their families need to understand that it is never the children’s fault. She said that people who perpetrate violence always have the choice of not committing violence in the first place. When parents or family members are violent towards their children, they are not taking the role of protectors or parents.

    When asked how they deal with the stress they are going through, Kay explained that she is trying to balance her sleeping schedule, spending more time with her family and not so much time on social media. She adds that she has been taking medication for her bipolar disorder which does help with her mood swings.

    When asked how she copes with these kinds of situations, Chonticha said it is really hard to deal with such incidents, especially when activists like her are simultaneously dealing with a conflict situation. The main thing she does is focus on her work, her beliefs, her values and try to move on.

    She advises young activists who are struggling with their mental health to take a break, but to also keep reminding themselves all the time that what they are doing is important for the Thai people.

    “Don’t try to look down on yourself, don’t try to look down on your work or your movement. If you are tired, just take a break and you can come back again. And come back when you are ready,” said Chonticha.

    Impact of social media on activists’ mental health

    Another concern involves social media, according to Sattara, in the constant intake of news from different social media platforms. This can become overwhelming and exhausting and this exhaustion can affect people’s mental health in different ways.

    A part of 17 October protest recorded via a smartphone.

    Even when people do not attend the protests, they watch and absorb the news online and this can also have significant effects on their mental health. Sattara said that  people who witness these protests or learn about them can also suffer from what is called second-hand violence.

    Pin, an MUIC student, said she has not been attending the protests but instead she has been keeping up with the news on social media every day. The impact of seeing her friends getting arrested has caused her stress and several breakdowns. It has also affected her physically with a condition called TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder) which is affected by stress.

    Pin adds that she has been staying away from social media for a while now because some of the news and comments about the protests and her friends are very upsetting.

    Kay said that she has been off social media as well, especially Twitter, because of the content that is being tweeted and spread around the internet regarding the protests. She explained that she reacts too personally to the messages but she is trying not to get affected by them too much.

    Kay also said that seeing someone related to her getting arrested is one of the main challenges she has been facing. It also affects her deeply when she sees them being talked about in the media.

    Another concern of online activism is the cyber bullying that activists receive. According to Chonticha, cyber bullying has a huge effect on activists, particularly on female human rights activists. She gave an example of a pro-royalist who sent a naked photo of himself to her as a form of sexual harassment.

    Currently, there are no concrete laws in Thailand to tackle cyberbullying directly. However, different sectors have come together to fight cyberbullying and harassment. The DQ Institute has developed a programme called Digital Intelligence (DQ) designed to help teachers and parents prepare young children to become digital citizens. These skills would include exercising digital intelligence and critical thinking when engaged online. 

    AIS (Advanced Info Service), one of Thailand’s mobile phone operators, has collaborated with the DQ Institute to introduce an 8-hour e-learning course. The course aims to help parents and teachers teach children to interact safely and productively on digital platforms. Young children will be educated on eight topics including Cyberbullying Management, Digital Footprint and Critical Thinking.

    Sattara explained that when people rarely debate online and only engage in hostile arguments, it can be harmful for activists who try to create online conversations to educate others.

    Bamaejuri is a Prachatai English intern from Mahidol University International College (MUIC)

    Featuremental healthStudent protest 2020cyber bullying
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