Prachatai English

What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jakrapanth is also one of ‘us’. 

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

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

A rogue by any other name would smell as bad.

Alien ThoughtsAlien thoughtsHarrison GeorgeApirat KongsompongMass shootingNakhon Ratchasima
Categories: Prachatai English

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

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

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

The exhibition will run until March 15. 

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

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

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

Aline Deschamps demonstrates how to use Artivive at her exhibition

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

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

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

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

When You Belong Nowhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Participants’ Reactions

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

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

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

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

A Resolved Identity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People began gathering and leaving flowers before sundown. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

73rd Shan National Day at Loi Kaw Wan

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Yiamyut Sutthichaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thais demand responsibility from army after mass shooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criticism of government and army grows

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

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

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

Gen Apirat Kongsompong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NewsMass shootingNakhon RatchasimaTerminal 21
Categories: Prachatai English

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protection International launches exhibition of quilts by women human rights defenders

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

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

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

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

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

The quilt making process

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

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

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

Sarah Taylor, Ambassador of Canada to Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women human rights defenders in a pseudo-democracy

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

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

Pranom Somwong

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

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

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

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

Angkhana Neelapaijit

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

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

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

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

Anticha Sangchai

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

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

Katchakorn Thaweesri

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

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

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

Puttanee Kangkun and Somboon Khongkha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Thais from Wuhan remain in hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NewscoronavirusAnutin CharnvirakulSatit PitutechaMinistry of Public Health
Categories: Prachatai English

Mingkwan remains with opposition

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-02-03 20:52
Submitted on Mon, 3 Feb 2020 - 08:52 PMPrachatai

Mingkwan and his press release of April last year, saying that his party had never negotiated to join the government coalition.

Mingkwan Sangsuwan has announced that he will remain with the opposition after 5 MPs of his New Economics Party left to work as "independent faction".

"I would like to announce that I will no longer join the ideology of the New Economics Party. I would like to declare a definitive separation," said Mingkwan in front of the parliament building today.

He is now the only MP in the New Economics Party to side with the opposition. But the Constitution does not require a member to follow a party's resolutions, so he can still remain in the Party for now.

However, this cuts both ways. On 11 January, the 5 MPs of the New Economics Party voted in support of the budget bill against the opposition stance of abstention. Last Thursday, the party held a meeting and voted to leave the opposition bloc. Mingkwan said he did not receive any notice of the meeting.

He will not resign from the party yet because he said he still wants to participate in the no-confidence motion, which is expected to be held from 23-24 February. The motion will focus on 6 ministers, including Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Wissanu Krea-ngam, Anupong Paochinda, Don Pramudwinai, and Thammanat Prompow.

The New Economics Party, including Mingkwan, has been harshly criticized as 'cobras', a pejorative term for political defectors in Thailand. After his speech today, Mingkwan hoped to clear his name for good. "I hoped this is the last time I will be berated," said Mingkwan.

Mingkwan, the former head of an economic team in a pro-Thaksin cabinet, founded the New Economics Party in November 2018. The party ran an election campaign with anti-junta messages and proposed economic reform. Their policies included making Thailand the financial hub of Asia, reserving e-commerce for Thais, welcoming more tourists and supporting street food. They won 6 MPs with around 70,000 votes in the last election in March.

However, they have been frequently criticized with accusations that they were going to join the government coalition. The first sign of defection was shown when Mingkwan resigned as party leader in May last year. Last November, 5 MPs of the party also voted against the opposition motion to establish a committee to study the impacts of Section 44, prior to their support of the budget bill.

An "independent faction" is generally seen as a path to joining the government coalition. This would follow the example of Mongkolkit Suksintharanon and Pichet Sathirachawal, leaders of microparties who left the pro-junta camp to form an "independent faction" out of disappointment at not getting cabinet seats, only to re-join the government in January without any promise of a position.

NewsNew Economics PartyMingkwan Sangsuwan
Categories: Prachatai English

Opposition files motion of no confidence against 6 ministers

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-01-31 23:54
Submitted on Fri, 31 Jan 2020 - 11:54 PMPrachatai

Earlier today (31 January), the opposition filed a motion of no-confidence against 6 ministers, including prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, and plans to open the debate on 19 February.

Other than Gen Prayut, the remaining five ministers include deputy prime ministers Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Wissanu Krea-ngam, Minister of Interior Anupong Paochinda, Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai, and Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Thammanat Prompow.

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

House Speaker Chuan Leekpai told the National Assembly Radio and Television Broadcasting Station that the motion will be submitted to the Secretariat of the House of Representatives to check whether the documents are correct before the House debates the motion.

Chuan said that he will have to discuss with the government, the opposition, and the ministers listed in the motion before the debate can be scheduled. Meanwhile, opposition chief whip Suthin Klangsaeng said that after a discussion with government chief whip Wirat Rattanaset, they agreed that the debate should take place on 19 February. However, there are still disagreements over how long the debate will take. 

According to Section 151 of the 2017 Constitution, the process for a vote of no-confidence can be evoked if at least one-fifth of the members of the House of Representatives submit a motion for a general debate for the purpose of passing a vote of no confidence in an individual minister or the entire cabinet.

If more than half of the 500 MPs voted on a no confidence against a minister, the minister will have to resign. However, if they voted on a no confidence against the Prime Minister, not only that the Prime Minister will have to resign, the cabinet will also have to resign in its entirety. 

NewsParliamentvote of no confidence
Categories: Prachatai English

Thais in Wuhan still unable to return home

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-01-31 13:26
Submitted on Fri, 31 Jan 2020 - 01:26 PMPrachatai

Thapanee Eadsrichai, the correspondent of the Reporters, talking to Suriya Intanam, who remains stuck in his room in Wuhan as the coronavirus spread. Source: The Reporters

"Not infected, still starving to death," said a Thai chef in Wuhan who had supplies for only two days and half a bottle of water left. The Minister of Health reached him through a video call and promised to bring him back. The Thai Consulate in Chengdu has managed to deliver supplies to him. He is one of around 101 Thais still stuck in Wuhan as the government slowly tried to bring them home in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak.

Arriving in Wuhan on 7 January, Suriya Intanam does not know exactly where his room is located in the city. When the coronavirus spread, he bought noodles. But as 10 days passed, his food was running out.

Talking to The Reporter via a video call, he said he risked going out to buy more supplies, but all nearby shops are closed and the roads are empty.  He lives 20 km away from the closed airport. But it is very far from the university area where other Thai students live and the shops are open.

He has joined a chat group created by a Thai consulate in China to follow updates. His request to return to Thailand has been approved by the government. But help with supplies had not yet arrived, and all Suriya could do was waiting for death. Fortunately, the news report reached the Thai Consulate-General in Chengdu and Thai Embassy in Beijing, and they had food delivered to his room a couple of hours later.

The Reporter has also linked him to Anutin Charnvirakul, the Minister of Health. Anutin said he is working to bring Suriya back as fast as he can. He said the airport in Wuhan is closed. The Chinese government is queuing foreign governments to get their citizens out. Earlier this week, he said the first Thai commercial airplane will arrive at Wuhan to bring Thais home on 4 February.

Meanwhile, 4 Thais in Chongqing who did not get payment from the Chinese employer amid the coronavirus outbreak has arrived at Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport. With help of Thai Consulate-General in Chengdu, they will return to Thailand by 6.30 pm today (31 Jan).

However, Thais at home are criticizing the government for the delayed response as other countries have taken their citizens home, including Japan, the United States, South Korea, France, and Singapore. According to Chatri Atjananan, Director-General of Department of Consular Affairs, there are 101 Thais in Wuhan, and another 60 in greater Hubei province. 59 of them are students in 11 universities who have just received masks and alchohol gel from the Thai Embassy in Beijing. The numbers are constantly updated as the Thai consulate is trying to reach more.

Another Thai who lived near to where the epidemic started is Yui. Living in Xiantao, 200 km from Wuhan, she is 2 months pregnant. Talking to Channel 3, she said her place is not many kilometres away from a home where an infected person was found. Big department stores are still open, but small shops nearby are closed. Masks are rarer and rarer. Her visa will expire on 31 January and she wants to return to Thailand as soon as possible.

"Thinking positively, all sides are trying to help. But I don't want to wait. Because it’s already getting close. And it is very fast. I feel like it will get to us soon. I don’t want to wait any longer," said Yui.

NewscoronavirusChinaAnutin Charnvirakul
Categories: Prachatai English

New generation of young activists lead fight against worsening repression in Asia

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-01-30 14:43
Submitted on Thu, 30 Jan 2020 - 02:43 PMAmnesty International

  • New report reviews human rights in 25 Asian and Pacific states and territories during 2019
  • Young protesters take to streets in response to increasing repression
  • Detentions, arrests and deaths as authorities clamp down on dissent with excessive force
  • But protests vital in helping secure landmark human rights wins

A wave of youth-led protests across Asia is defying escalating repression and a continent-wide crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said today (29 January) as it published its annual report on human rights in the region.

‘Human Rights in Asia-Pacific: A review of 2019’, which includes a detailed analysis of human rights developments in 25 countries and territories, describes how a new generation of activists are fighting back against brutal crackdowns on dissent, poisonous social media operations and widespread political censorship.

“2019 was a year of repression in Asia, but also of resistance. As governments across the continent attempt to uproot fundamental freedoms, people are fighting back – and young people are at the forefront of the struggle,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific.

“From students in Hong Kong leading a mass movement against growing Chinese encroachment, to students in India protesting against anti-Muslim policies; from Thailand’s young voters flocking to a new opposition party to Taiwan’s pro LGBTI-equality demonstrators. Online and offline, youth-led popular protests are challenging the established order.” 

Hong Kong’s defiance echoes across the world

China and India, Asia’s two largest powers, set the tone for repression across the region with their overt rejection of human rights. Beijing’s backing of an Extradition Bill for Hong Kong, giving the local government the power to extradite suspects to the mainland, ignited mass protests in the territory on an unprecedented scale.

Since June, Hong Kongers have regularly taken to the streets to demand accountability in the face of abusive policing tactics that have included the wanton use of tear gas, arbitrary arrests, physical assaults and abuses in detention. This struggle against the established order has been repeated all over the continent.

In India, millions decried a new law that discriminates against Muslims in a swell of peaceful demonstrations. In Indonesia, people rallied against parliament’s enactment of several laws that threatened public freedoms. In Afghanistan, marchers risked their safety to demand an end to the country’s long-running conflict. In Pakistan, the non-violent Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement defied state repression to mobilize against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

Dissent met with crackdown

Peaceful protests and dissent were frequently met with retribution by the authorities.

The authorities’ attempts to crush any form of criticism and suppress freedom of expression were as ruthless as they were predictable, with those daring to speak out against repressive governments often paying a high price. 

Biraj Patnaik, Regional Director for South Asia

Protesters faced arrest and jail in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand as repressive governments across South-East Asia took severe steps to silence their opponents and muzzle the media.

In Indonesia, several people were killed as police clamped down on protests with excessive force. Yet few steps were taken to hold anyone to account for the deaths; no police were arrested nor were any suspects identified. 

In Pakistan and Bangladesh, activists and journalists alike were targeted by draconian laws that restrict freedom of expression and punish dissent online.

And in Hong Kong, police deployed reckless and indiscriminate tactics to quell peaceful protests, including torture in detention. Demands for a proper investigation into the conduct of the security forces have yet to be met.

“The authorities’ attempts to crush any form of criticism and suppress freedom of expression were as ruthless as they were predictable, with those daring to speak out against repressive governments often paying a high price,”

said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director.

“Asians are told their aspirations for fairer societies are fantasies; that economic disparities can’t be addressed; that global warming is inexorable and natural catastrophes unavoidable. Most emphatically of all, they are told that challenging this narrative will not be tolerated,” said Biraj Patnaik.

Minorities feel the weight of intolerant nationalism

In India and China, the mere risk of insubordination in nominally autonomous areas has been enough to trigger the full force of the state, with minorities conveniently deemed a threat to “national security.”

In the Chinese province of Xinjiang, up to a million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been forcibly detained in “de-radicalization” camps.  

Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, saw its special autonomous status revoked as authorities imposed a curfew, cut access to all communications and detained political leaders.

In Sri Lanka, where anti-Muslim violence erupted in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings, the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dimmed hopes of human rights progress. Another self-styled strongman, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, continued his murderous “war on drugs.”

Governments have tried to justify repression by demonizing their critics as pawns of “foreign forces” and to bolster that repression through sophisticated social media operations. Neither ASEAN nor SAARC, the two main regional bodies, tried to hold their members to account, even in the case of gross human rights violations.

It has been left to the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar military in Rakhine State against the Rohingya in 2017. The court is also looking into the thousands of killings carried out by police in the Philippines, and hearing an appeal on its decision not to authorize an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Australia’s egregious offshore detention policies left refugees and asylum-seekers languishing in deteriorating physical and mental condition on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus, Papua New Guinea.

Progress against the odds

People speaking out against these atrocities were routinely punished, but their standing up made a difference. There were many examples where efforts to achieve human rights progress in Asia paid off.

In Taiwan, same-sex marriage became legal following tireless campaigning by activists. In Sri Lanka, lawyers and activists successfully campaigned against the resumption of executions.

Brunei was forced to backtrack on enforcing laws to make adultery and sex between men punishable by stoning, while former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak took the stand on corruption charges for the first time.  

The Pakistani government pledged to tackle climate change and air pollution, and two women were appointed as judges on the Maldivian Supreme Court for the first time.

And in Hong Kong, the power of protest forced the government to withdraw the Extradition Bill. Yet, with no accountability for months of abuses against demonstrators, the fight goes on.

“Protesters across Asia in 2019 were bloodied, but not broken. They were stifled, but not silenced. And together, they sent a message of defiance to the governments who continue to violate human rights in pursuit of tightening their grip on power,” said Nicholas Bequelin.

Pick to PostAmnesty Internationalsocial movementhuman rightsAsia Pacific
Categories: Prachatai English

Two revolutionary leader statues gone missing

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-01-29 13:10
Submitted on Wed, 29 Jan 2020 - 01:10 PMPrachatai

Statues dedicated to Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram and Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena, military officers and leading members of the 1932 revolution which ended Thailand’s absolute monarchy, have gone missing as of last Sunday (26 January).

The former site of the Phraya Phahonphonpayuhasena statue at the Fort Phaholyothin Artillery Centre

Prachatai travelled to the Fort Phaholyothin Artillery Centre in Lopburi on Sunday and found that the statue of revolutionary leader and former prime minister Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena, which stood in front of the officers’ club building, has gone missing. According to an officer at the Artillery Centre, the statue was removed last week.

Born Phot Phahonyothin, Phraya Phahon was a military officer and leader of the People’s Party, the group behind the revolution of 1932, the revolution which ended the absolute monarchy in Thailand and marked the beginning of democracy. He also served as Thailand’s prime minister from 1933 to 1938.

Phaholyothin Road, one of Bangkok’s main roads running through the city and continuing through the country to end at the Thai-Myanmar border in Mae Sai, was named in his honour.

Above: Officers and graduates of the Artillery School take a group photo in front of the Phraya Phahon statue
Below: The location where the photo was taken as of 26 January

Last December, BBC Thai, citing Phraya Phahon’s son Phuttinat, reported that the Artillery Centre would be holding a ceremony to pay respect to the statue before moving it. The Centre later announced that the ceremony had been postponed, and it is currently unclear when the statue was moved and where it has been moved to.

Khaosod English also reported that the name “Fort Phaholyothin” has been removed from the gate of the Artillery Centre.

Another statue depicting Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, also a member of the military wing of the People’s Party and Thailand’s longest serving Prime Minister to date, has gone missing from the National Defence College of Thailand (NDC).

Left: the Plaek Phibunsongkhram statue at the National Defence College
Right: A picture taken on 26 January at the NDC showing the empty platform on which the statue used to stand

Commonly known as Phibun, the Field Marshal was one of the military commanders who suppressed the 1933 royalist revolt known as the Boworadet Rebellion. He was elected Prime Minister after Phraya Phahon’s resignation and was responsible for a modernization campaign, which included a series of cultural mandates aiming to ‘civilize’ Thai culture as well as declaring the change of the country’s name from “Siam” to “Thailand.” He also promoted Thai nationalism, Sinophobia, and allied the country with Japan during the Second World War. His first term in office lasted from 1938 to 1944.

He returned to power after a coup in 1947. During his second term, Phibun aligned Thailand with anti-communism in the Cold War, entered the Korean War, and attempted to transform Thailand into a liberal democracy. He was overthrown in 1957 and went into exile in Japan. To date, he is the longest serving Prime Minister of Thailand.

Prachatai went to the NDC twice, first on 23 January after a rumour emerged that the statue was removed and found that it still stood, and again on 26 January, when we found that the statue was now missing.

An NDC security guard insisted that the statue was removed to be restored while the space is being renovated and will be returned once the renovation is completed. However, the security guard refused to disclose information on when the statue was removed.

Uprooting Democracy: The War of Memory and the Lost Legacy of the People’s Party

Monuments dedicated to the 1932 revolution and other legacies of the People’s Party have been the targets in a ‘memory war’ aiming to erase the commemoration of the People’s Party, a process which art historian Chatri Prakitnonthakan says has been going on for decades. Thanavi Chotpradit, another art historian, suggests that there have been attempts to destroy the reputation of the People’s Party and its cultural legacy since the collapse of the government after the coup d’état of 1947. 

Since the 2006 coup, this ‘memory war’ has become more intense, and several legacies of the People’s Party have already been destroyed, including the old Supreme Court complex, the People’s Party Plaque, and the Constitution Defence Monument at Laksi. Until now, there is still no information on where the plaque and the Constitution Defence Monument have disappeared to.

NewsPeople's Party1932 revolutionArchitectureArt historyIconoclasmMemory politicsPlaek PhibunsongkhramPhraya PhahonphonphayuhasenaPhot PhaholyothinNational Defence CollegeFort Phaholyothin Artillery Centre
Categories: Prachatai English

Thailand ranks 101 on corruption perception index

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-01-27 13:43
Submitted on Mon, 27 Jan 2020 - 01:43 PMPrachatai

Thailand has been ranked 101st of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), dropping from 99 in 2018 and 96 in 2017.

Its score remained 36 out of 100 for a second year, a fall from the 2017 score of 37.

Thailand shares its ranking with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Panama, and Peru, while Denmark and New Zealand share first place, with a score of 87. Somalia ranks last at 180, with a score of 9.

In the Asia Pacific region, New Zealand ranks first, while Afghanistan ranks last with a score of 16. The regional average score is 45.

The 2019 report found that, “despite the presence of high performers” such as New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan, there has not been substantial progress in the region’s anti-corruption effort. It noted that the region “performs only marginally better than the global average” and that “governments across the region…continue to restrict participation in public affairs, silence dissenting voices, and keep decision-making out of public scrutiny.”

The CPI ranks 180 countries “by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean,” said the report, which found that more than two-thirds of the surveyed countries score below 50, with an average score of 43 and that “despite some progress, a majority of countries are still failing to tackle public sector corruption effectively.”

“To have any chance of ending corruption and improving people’s lives, we must tackle the relationship between politics and big money. All citizens must be represented in decision-making,” said Patricia Moreira, Transparency International’s Managing Director.

The report, which observed that 137 out of 180 countries have made little to no progress in their anti-corruption efforts, stated that “to have any chance of curbing corruption, governments must strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of big money in politics and ensure broad input in political decision-making. Public policies and resources should not be determined by economic power or political influence, but by fair consultation and impartial budget allocation.”

NewsTransparency Internationalcorruptioncorruption perception index
Categories: Prachatai English

Father of "cobra" passes away.

Prachatai English - Sat, 2020-01-25 12:43
Submitted on Sat, 25 Jan 2020 - 12:43 PMPrachatai

Chai Chidchob

Chai Chidchob has passed away at the age of 92. "Poo” (or Grandpa) Chai may have been respected for his seniority and experience, but he was best known as the father of Newin Chidchob, who in 2008 led his faction of MPs out of the Thaksin camp to enable Abhisit Vejjajiva to form a government without winning an election.

Born on 5 April 1928 in Surin Province, 4 years before the democratic revolution, he finished high school at Surawittayakarn School. He started a profitable rock-quarrying, milling and gravel-hauling business and a political career as 'kamnan’ (sub-district headman) in Buriram, the province which later became his political stronghold.

He joined the Democrat party to run for MP in 1957 but lost the election. He won an MP seat when running again as an independent in 1969. Since then, he won 9 elections as a member of lower and upper houses for 7 different political parties.

When the 1997 Constitution instituted the requirement that in order to become an MP, you needed a bachelor degree, he got two: one in political science at Ramkhamhaeng University, and one in agriculture at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University. He also got a master’s in political science at Ramkhamhaeng.

He was House Speaker from 2008 to 2012 during the killings of the 92 Red Shirt protesters under the Abhisit government. He was known for his sense of humour, which he put to good use when tensions rose in parliamentary meetings.

He stayed away from politics for a while after the military coup in 2014. In May last year, Chai came back again as a party-list MP and presided over the first parliament meeting in 5 years as the interim House Speaker, based on his seniority.

Married to La-ong Chidchob, Chai was the father of 5 sons and 1 daughter. The most prominent is Newin Chidchob, at one time the right hand of Thaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand from 2001-2006. However, after the military coup in 2006 and the dissolution of the People’s Power party in 2008, Newin led his ‘Friends of Newin’ faction, which included Chai, out of the Thaksin camp to form the Bhumjaithai Party which promptly joined a coalition government with the Democrat Party under leadership of Abhisit Vejjajiva. This brazen switch of loyalties earned Newin the nickname 'cobra.' 

Chai in fact had given him the name ‘Newin’ because of his admiration for Ne Win, the military dictator of what was then Burma from 1962 to 1988, a revealing insight into his political philosophy. Moshe Dayan, the Israeli war hero and politician, is also Chai’s favorite – he liked him so much that he nicknamed himself “Chai Moshe.”  

Chai is also the father of Saksayam Chidchob, the current Minister of Transport.

NewsBhumjaithai PartyChai ChidchobNewin Chidchob
Categories: Prachatai English

World court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-01-24 16:23
Submitted on Fri, 24 Jan 2020 - 04:23 PMAmnesty International

In response to today’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Myanmar to take “provisional measures” to prevent genocidal acts against the Rohingya community, Amnesty International’s Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, said:
 
“Today’s decision sends a message to Myanmar’s senior officials: the world will not tolerate their atrocities, and will not blindly accept their empty rhetoric on the reality in Rakhine State today. An estimated 600,000 Rohingya who remain there are routinely and systematically
denied their most basic rights. They face a real risk of further atrocities.
 
“Myanmar must comply with the ICJ’s ruling and take immediate action to cease ongoing violations against the community and to prevent the destruction of evidence.
 
“The decision comes just days after Myanmar published a summary report of the findings of the government-established ‘Independent Commission of Enquiry’. The Commission was neither independent nor impartial and cannot be considered a credible effort to investigate
these crimes against the Rohingya. Meanwhile, there have been no efforts to investigate the serious and wide-ranging violations against other ethnic minorities or elsewhere in the country. 
 
“Until all those responsible for serious violations – including those with command responsibility – are held to account, these atrocity crimes will remain rampant. The UN Security Council must urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal
Court.”

Background

 
On 11 November 2019, the Gambia filed a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of breaching its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The complaint included an urgent request for the Court to order “provisional measures” to
prevent all acts that may amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide against the Rohingya and protect the community from further harm while the case is being adjudicated.
 
Public hearings on provisional measures were held in the Hague on 10-12 December 2019. Myanmar’s delegation, headed by State Counsellor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, rejected accusations of genocide, and urged the court to reject the case and refuse the request for provisional measures.
 
On Monday 20 January 2020, the Myanmar government -established Independent Commission of Enquiry submitted its final report to the President of Myanmar. The Commission concluded that while the Myanmar security forces may have been responsible for war crimes and “disproportionate use of force”, it found no evidence of genocidal intent. The full report has yet to be made public.

Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalInternational Court of Justice (ICJ)RohingyaMyanmarAung San Suu Kyi
Categories: Prachatai English

Four people jailed for suspected involvement in Thai Federation movement

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-01-24 16:11
Submitted on Fri, 24 Jan 2020 - 04:11 PMPrachatai

Four defendants in the Thai Federation case have been sentenced to between 2 and 3 years in prison for suspected involvement in the Thai Federation movement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said on Tuesday (21 January).

The case was filed on 24 October 2019. The public prosecutor filed charges against the four defendants, along with Wutthipong “Ko Tee” Kotthammakun, Chucheep “Uncle Sanam Luang” Cheewasut, Siam Theerawut, Kritsana Tupthai, and Wat Wanlayangkoon, for their alleged involvement in the republican Thai Federation movement.

The Criminal Court ruled that the four defendants are guilty of sedition according to Article 116 and of being members of a secret society according to Article 209 of the Criminal Codes, but since two of the defendants confessed during the investigation stage, the Court reduced their sentence to 2 years imprisonment.

Three of the four defendants were released on bail at 16.30 on Tuesday (21 January), while the fourth defendant is still in custody as no relative came to file a bail request.

NewsThai FederationThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)freedom of speechfreedom of associationfreedom of assemblyCriminal CodesSecret societySedition
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Future Forward escapes dissolution. For now.

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-01-23 13:12
Submitted on Thu, 23 Jan 2020 - 01:12 PMThammachart Kri-aksorn

The Constitutional Court has acquitted the Future Forward Party (FFP) of absurd claims, probably only so that it can disband it later on more tortuous and sophisticated grounds: corruption in the form of illegal loans.

FFP supporters celebrated at their party headquarters, as the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled to acquit the party of allegations of being anti-monarchy. However, this might be the last time they can celebrate as the "Future Forward Party."

The acquittal of the FFP has surprised many people, but it was impossible for the Constitutional Court to disband it on the basis of Nattaporn Toprayoon's absurd allegations, in what became known as "the Illuminati case". The lawyer and "concerned citizen” (as the court called him) claimed that the party abused its liberty to overthrow "democracy with the monarch as head of state."

He claimed the party shared a triangular symbol with the Illuminati and said the party rulebook states a commitment to the principle of democracy and the constitution, without mentioning "with the monarch as head of state." The defendants included party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, and other party board members whom Nattaporn accused of being obsessed with Western philosophy and anti-royalist ideas.

This is one of dozens of outrageous lawsuits the FFP is facing. And their 6 million voters are angry. When the Court stripped their beloved party leader Thanathorn of his MP status, thereby kicking him out of parliament, supporters expressed their anger by gathering in the largest flash mob in the last 5-6 years.

Thai people in general are becoming more courageous about expressing themselves than before as shown by the numbers that joined the recent "Run against Dictatorship". The Court cannot risk disbanding the third largest political party in the country on outrageous claims only to provoke larger protests. To help the establishment rid itself of the FFP, it needs a more substantial claim, good enough to make the apolitical section of society feel uncomfortable about joining the anti-junta cause.

That's where the loan case comes in. The FFP has been charged with accepting a 191 million baht loan from party leader and billionaire Thanathorn. The Court has agreed to rule on the dissolution of the party based on the Election Commission's claim that it is illegal for a political party to borrow such money.

Conservatives tried to file a complaint based on the claim that it is illegal to receive a donation of more than 10 million baht from one individual. But a loan is not a donation, and other pro-junta parties have taken loans. So the Election Commission instead refined the claim to exploit a different technicality - invoking Section 72 to dissolve the party for obtaining money by illegal means rather than Section 66 which limits the amount of individual donations.

The Court will be far more comfortable ruling on a corruption claim than an anti-monarchy claim. A sharp decline in cases based on anti-monarchy allegations, including lèse majesté, shows a growing consensus among inner circles of the establishment that in the reign of King Rama X, anti-monarchy allegations can only be used as the last resort.

Still, the Constitutional Court is a powerful political actor in Thailand. In the last 15 years, it has removed 3 elected Prime Ministers, nullified 2 elections, and dissolved 6 political parties. It is more likely than ever that the FFP with its 6 million voters will be the 7th party to be disbanded by the 9 judges who have had their terms of office prolonged by the junta.

“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,” wrote Antonio Gramsci, whose thought heavily influenced the formation of the FFP. With this in mind, the party leaders have prepared for the worst. Recently, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit signalled that they have a substitute political party registered. In the event of a dissolution, all their MPs have to do is to move to the new party.

But the party will surely be weakened with the party's board members gone and possible defections of MPs during the transition. It will at least take time to recover. The party has grown so much and so rapidly that the recruitment process has been rudimentary with difficulties in identifying who can be trusted.

There is a precedent for defections.  When the Court dissolved the anti-junta Thai Rak Thai Party in 2008, some of their MPs were persuaded to desert the cause and join what became a coalition partner in the Abhisit government instead of the newly registered pro-Thaksin replacement party, the People's Power Party. Then in 2010, the Court dissolved the People's Power Party, but this time their MPs moved en bloc to yet another successor party, the present Pheu Thai Party. Political parties come and go, but political ideas stick.

Meanwhile, the FFP's real hard work is to build a mass movement to increase its bargaining power. But at the same time, they have to make sure that this do not become a pretext for another military crackdown. As Thais are more ready to protest than ever, precautions have to be made to ensure that history, like the killings of 92 Red Shirts in 2010, will not repeat itself. Of course, crackdowns are more a response to anxieties among the establishment than anything else, but this makes nuance in democratic opposition more important than ever. 

Round UpRound-upFuture Forward PartyConstitution CourtThanathorn JuangroongruangkitPiyabutr Saengkanokkulthe Illuminati
Categories: Prachatai English

Plastic industries ask for relief measures after single-use bag ban

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-01-22 17:55
Submitted on Wed, 22 Jan 2020 - 05:55 PMPrachatai

On 7 January, companies in the Thai Plastic Industries Association have asked for relief measures to allow recyclable plastic bags and improve the recycling system. They met with government officials after suffering 24,308 million baht damage from the plastic ban.

Trash in Pataya Beach taken in 2016
Source: Department of Disaster Prevention

The government officials included Jatuporn Buruspat, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and representatives from the Pollution Control Department. Representatives of the Federation of Thai Industries also attended.

As 86 companies in the Thai Plastic Industries Association and 47 plastic bag manufacturers have suffered millions of baht in lost business, they recommend 4 relief measures, including allowing the use of recyclable plastic bags thicker than 40 microns and improvements in the recycling system.

Four recommendations by the Thai Plastic Industries Association

1. Allow the use of recyclable plastic bags thicker than 40 microns. The Thai Plastic Industries Association will buy used bags at the rate of 10 baht per kilogram for recycling.

2. Categorize plastic bags by colour: green for biodegradable bags, and yellow for recyclable bags. Yellow bags should be kept separate from organic waste, so that they can be recycled more easily.

3. Create a Thai Industrial Standard Certificate for industries producing yellow and green plastic bags.

4. The Thai Plastic Industries Association will set up drop points where recyclable plastic bags can be bought and sold.

Jatuporn said that he will report the discussion to Varawut Silpa-archa, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, to find a solution which is best for everyone. Since the beginning of this year, the Ministry has worked with 75 private companies to ban single-use plastic bags and also censored images of single-use plastic bags from television.

Too little, too late?

The ban on single-use plastic bag came a bit earlier than expected. The government announced a ban on single-use plastic bags by 2022 and other plastic materials by 2025. But the change is already felt by customers as they have to bring their own bags when shopping in major department stores.

One of the reasons might be because of Thailand's bad reputation with regard to plastic waste. The Pollution Control Department's roadmap indicates that in the last decade, Thailand produced 2 million tons of plastic waste every year and 1.5 million tons of it comes from single-use plastic materials.

To deal with this, Thailand has 2,490 solid waste treatment sites, but only 466 use correct methods.

Thailand has also seen a shocking increase in the import of plastic waste, from 69,487 tons in 2016 to 481,381 tons in 2019 (according to Green Peace), making it the the second largest plastic waste importer in ASEAN after Malaysia.

This results in huge amount of waste released into Thai seas, including into the stomach of Marium, a young dugong whose death saddened the nation in August last year.  Thai seas ranked 10th in the world last year with regard to amount of plastic waste.

Although the government’s measures are seen as too strict by the plastic industry, many have questioned if they are enough. Talking to The Standard, Phichamon Rakrot, the head of Greenpeace's campaign against plastic pollution in Thailand, said there are still 400,000-500,000 shops outside the agreement who offer single-use plastic bags.

Other plastic materials are also still there in the market, including cap seals, bottles, and single-use utensils. For a comprehensive solution, the government has to enforce legal measures and suppliers have to change how they package their products, said Phichamon.

Newsplastic bag
Categories: Prachatai English

EEC: Hear the voice of the local people when the state-capital 'legally' grabs land

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-01-21 19:34
Submitted on Tue, 21 Jan 2020 - 07:34 PMKritsada Subpawanthanakun

Over 30 years ago, [then Prime Minister] Gen Prem Tinsulanonda pushed the Eastern Seaboard Development programme to success, putting Thailand into the limelight amongst Southeast Asian nations. 32 new industrial estates were established, with almost 5,000 factories and over 50 billion dollars’ worth of investment.

This project came with many costs, because at that time, community rights, the environment, and the scramble for resources were not yet big issues.
Three decades later came the Eastern Seaboard Part 2, or the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project. This time, a military government concentrated its power and handed responsibility to the Eastern Economic Corridor Policy Committee (read the first part here) We will take you to hear the voices of some villagers in the areas targeted by the EEC project.

Land grabs

Yothaka villagers received a notice from the Chachoengsao Treasury Department Office in July 2014 that they had to turn the land back over to the Royal Thai Navy

"Here it affected about 3,200 rai (5.12 sq.km.) or four villages. The entire Village 11 disappeared from the population census. Our parents were here before. We are the third and fourth generation, currently 166 households of 635 people," Saithong Kengkana, of Village 11, Yothaka Subdistrict, Bang Nam Priao District, Chachoengsao Province told us about the situation he is experiencing.

The villagers received a notice from the Chachoengsao Treasury Department Office on 31 July 2014 that their land lease agreements had to be cancelled to turn the land back over to the Royal Thai Navy. The Navy claimed it would use the land for military purposes, but the villagers stayed and farmed. In September 2017, they received another notice from the Navy to hand the land over within seven days, otherwise, they will be prosecuted. They filed complaints to various organisations.

At the beginning of 2018, the Director-General of the Treasury Department gave an interview that the Department had procured over 11,000 rai (17.6 sq.km.) of state land for the EEC project in Chonburi, Chachoengsao, and Rayong. In Chachoengsao, the Royal Thai Navy handed back about 4,000 rai of land in Yothaka Subdistrict, Bang Nam Priao District, Chachoengsao to the Treasury Department, and the Treasury Department has already transferred it to the EEC programme.

Mid-September 2018, there was news that the Treasury Department had leased this 4,000 rai to the Charoen Pokphand Group or CP. This unsettled the Office of the EEC Policy Committee into issuing an explanation, that the Office had no plan to utilise the land and had never requested the transfer of the land from the Treasury Department. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department clarified that the 4,000 rai plot in question had not been declared as a Special Economic Zone, but if the Office thought that it must use this land to establish a new town under the EEC project, it had to obtain the consent of the Navy and propose it to the EEC committee for approval.

EEC: Megaproject ‘exempt’ from investigation of basic principles – No coup, no project, 20 Jan 2020

When the NCPO used its power to manage urban planning

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), under Section 44, issued Order No. 72/2557 on 19 June 2014 appointing a Special Economic Zone Policy Committee. Over a month later, the Yothaka villagers received the notice to hand the land back to the Navy. This shows that the EEC project began since 2014.

In 2016, the NCPO issued Order No. 3/2559 on exempting Special Economic Zones from enforcement of laws on urban planning and building control, and Order No. 4/2559 on exempting certain kinds of activities from urban planning laws.

On 17 January 2017, the NCPO issued Oder No. 2/2560 on the development of Eastern Economic Corridor. This Order later transitioned into the permanent 2018 Eastern Economic Corridor Act. But before the Act came into force, the NCPO issued Order No. 47/2560 on Land Use Regulations in the Eastern Economic Corridor. As a result, EEC plans are exempt from the use of urban planning, and new land use plans are allowed which do not have to follow urban planning laws.

Land management powers concentrated in the EEC Committee

"The first time we heard of the ICD (Inland Container Depot) was on 24 November 2018. The OTP (Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning, Ministry of Transport) and its representative called the first meeting on 26 November 2018. They explained they were going to hold a public hearing, but it appeared in the third round; they claimed the first and second rounds were already approved. None of us had any idea about it. We attended the meeting at the health station completely unprepared. We did not even know what an ICD was. Once we learned that they would bring containers and stack them up in the area, we raised our hands against it. In the end, they informed the EEC Office that 80% of the people agreed, with photos and signatures," Naengnoi Rueangkoed, a villager of Nong Tin Nok Subdistrict, Ban Pho District, Chachoengsao Province, recalled.

The villagers filed a complaint with the Damrongtham Centre of Ban Pho District in December 2018. They called for a meeting with the OTP officials to talk before the next public hearing, because that land serves as a water storage zone during a crisis, holding water before it flows onto the Bang Pakong River. If the project is carried out, all canals would be filled in.

A provision in the 2018 Eastern Economic Corridor Act also empowers the EEC Policy Committee to propose to the cabinet amendments of laws, rules, regulations, announcements, or orders that create inconvenience or delay, or the enactment of new laws. Ownership of land by foreigners is allowed in a Special Economic Zone, as well as the use of land in land reform areas without having to revoke the land reform status. Moreover, state property can be utilised for leasing and subleasing, with the authority of the Treasury Department passing to the EEC Office. But if the state property is in the possession of another state agency, that agency's prior consent is needed. The income derived from the use of that land must be shared with the agency or the Treasury Department, and it is not necessary to apply the criteria, procedures or conditions as prescribed by the laws on state property.

It is apparent that the EEC committee has the authority to suspend many laws and manage urban planning and land use in the three provinces by itself.

Former urban plans cancelled

Proposed Laem Chabang Port Phase 3 at Bang Lamung Bay 

"Once the state decided there would be the EEC, the Navy adopted a Navy Strategy in 2017. It consists of 13 issues, one of which is Samae San land management. It saw that this island is situated between U-Tapao Airport and Juk Samed Pier, as if blocking the way. If you look at the law, you find it gives them the advantage to take the land back with no repercussion, no compensation required at all, no loss of opportunity. They used the method of putting pressure onto each group," recalled Nophadon Phonboribun, a Samae San villager of Sattahip District, Chonburi Province.

"We moved away when they constructed phase 1 of the pier. We shared the land between the state and the people. In 1997, phase 2 was constructed, this time taking half of Bang Lamung Bay. We could still accept that. We had the remaining half of the bay, but we had to restore the marine life that had disappeared. When phase 3 construction started in 2009, I did not accept any more. It took more than five years and no little investment before we could revive the sea. Phase 3 will completely close off the bay. I do not understand why the EEC must help investors, both local and international, to the point that development oppresses the local people too much," said Rangsan Sombun, Head of the Bang Lamung Model Fishery Group, and Vice-President of the Fisher Folk Association of Chonburi.

NCPO Head Order No. 47/2560 and the 2018 Eastern Economic Corridor Act stipulate that overall land use planning must comply with EEC policy. As a result, the previous plan, which underwent a public participation process, was cancelled. The new EEC plan was drafted by the Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning. The EEC Policy Committee Office claimed that over 40 public hearings were held.

Meanwhile, the people’s sector countered that they had not participated in the urban planning process in any way. Even worse, there was a change in the colour of the agricultural zone for capitalist groups to establish industrial estates and mega infrastructure projects, by ignoring the principles of urban planning.

The EEC Watch group came out to call on the EEC Committee to halt the announcement of the EEC urban plan, and on the government to order a review of the urban planning process from the start by letting people who will be affected by the project have a meaningful participation.

However, the EEC Policy Committee approved the draft EEC land use plan and infrastructure and public utility development plan as a 20-year development plan from 2017-2037, covering 8,291,250 rai [13,266 sq.km.] in three provinces.

Industrial Estates ready to skim profits from the EEC

Orapin Sermpraphasilp, President of the Federation of Thai Industries EAST, has told the media that the EEC urban plan should increase the industrial zone, especially in Chachoengsao Province which is almost all green. Of the 11 districts of Chachoengsao, 3-4 of them should be industrial zones.

Looking back to the period between October 2018 and March 2019, 1,339 rai [2.14 sq.km.] of industrial estates were sold or rented, with an investment amounting to 8,593 million baht. Of this area, 1,328 rai [2.12 sq.km.] are industrial estates in the EEC zone. In the meantime, three more industrial estates in the EEC zone are under development: the 843-rai [1.35 sq.km.] Rojana Industrial Park in Laem Chabang, Chonburi, the 3,068-rai [4.91 sq.km.] CPGC Industrial Estate, Rayong, and the 1,524-rai [2.44 sq.km.] Cosmic Industrial Estate, Rayong.

The existing industrial estates also benefit from the EEC. The Amata City Phase 2 Industrial Estate in Rayong, for instance, was 6,000 rai [9.6 sq.km.] shifted from agriculture green to industry purple. The EEC Policy Committee Office claimed that it was reinstating a former right, as before the previous urban plan was specified, Amata had been granted permission to establish an industrial estate, but due to 'an error', the area was declared green.

Analysts of SCB Securities Co., Ltd. predict that the profits of the industrial estate sector in 2019 will go up by 37% compared to the previous year as a result of a 33% increase in property transfers.

Land Hoarding

The EEC has not just changed urban planning and land utilisation. Another important impact is the increase in land prices in the three provinces. Data from to Colliers International Thailand, show land prices in the EEC were adjusted upwards by an average of 30-50%. In Chonburi, the land price was adjusted even before the announcement of the EEC. Roadside land in Sriracha District went up to 80-100 million baht per rai. Seaside land averaged 100 million baht per rai. Non-roadside properties near Sriracha Tiger Zoo increased from 2-3 million per rai to 5 million in the past 2-3 years. Land prices in Sattahip District also increased , a result of the development of U-Tapao Airport into the third commercial airport. In Chachoengsao, the price of plots of less than ten rai along the Bang Pakong-Chachoengsao Road rose to 13-15 million baht per rai from less than 10 million baht. In Rayong, the price of land on Highway 36 jumped from 5 million baht per rai before the announcement of the EEC to 20 million baht. Whenever the High-Speed Train linking the 3 airports is finished, it will open up many areas around the train stations, and the trend of land prices will rise much higher than today.

On the other hand, people who rent property have to live with uncertainty about when the landowners will raise the rent or sell the land. Some households have already faced many rent increases.

December 2019: EEC urban plan goes into force

On 9 December 2019, the EEC Policy Committee announced the land use plan and infrastructure and public utility development plan in the Eastern Economic Corridor. The plan is in line with the 20-year National Strategy, as it lays down overall land use until 2037 covering over 8.291 million rai or 13,266 sq.km., consisting of 5,331 sq.km. in Chachoengsao, 4,363 sq.km. in Chonburi, and 3,552 sq.km. in Rayong. The plan determines four groups and 11 types of land use as follows:

1. Urban Development Zones: special economic promotional zones to support the development of new and existing cities in the river basin and along the coast. Red are commercial zones. Orange are residential communities. Light orange with white dots is for urban development. Brown are the special economic promotional zones for special businesses.

2. Agricultural Development Zones: areas with suitable capacity for agriculture. Most of these areas are in Chachoengsao, extending from the east side of Chonburi and the coast in lower Rayong. Light yellow areas are rural communities, light green are agricultural promotional zones, and yellow-green diagonal strips are land reform areas.

3. Industrial Development Zones: extending throughout Chonburi and Rayong. Purple areas are special economic promotional zones for industrial activity; purple with white dots are industrial development zones.

4. Natural Resource and Environment Conservation Zones: green and light blue diagonal stripes are open areas for environmental conservation, and light green and white diagonal stripes are forest conservation zones.

EEC plan covers wide area; provincial and district plans to follow

Sophon Pornchokchai, a real estate expert, criticised the EEC land use plan because its three main objectives are to increase industrial zones by 2%, expand residential zones by 3%, and reduce agricultural zones by 8% or 70,000,000 rai [112,000 sq.km.]. An increase of the industrial zones of 2% may seem small, but the fact is that the area of the three provinces is 8.29 million rai [13,264 sq.km.], and 2% equals ,1,600,000 rai [2,560 sq.km.], and when we combine that number with the 2,600,000 rai [4,160 sq.km.] of the existing industrial zones, the three provinces will have altogether 4,200,000 rai [6,720 sq.km.]. or an increase from the previous urban plan of 64%.

Sophon added that the announced plan is more regional than urban. Such extensive coverage naturally cannot go into detail, and errors and gaps may possibly be numerous. He also was not sure that this urban plan has really gone undergone public hearings.

Somnuek Jongmeewasin, an independent researcher and environmentalist who closely monitors EEC issues, said that this plan is a very rough regional plan, and this zoning is dangerous to various areas.

"They will grant authority to the provincial administration to create provincial and district plans, but the provincial and district plans cannot depart from the EEC framework because the EEC plan is compulsory. The state effectively ignored the principles of urban planning processes by promoting the ECC planning process," Somnuek expressed his concern.

Neo-colony?

'Good governance on Land in the Border Special Economic Zones and the Eastern Economic Corridor,' a report by Land Watch Thai, concluded that the exercise of special power by the NCPO and the EEC committee has resulted in a large amount of land changing hands. This led to large-scale inappropriate changes in land use in the Eastern region, such as in the fertile agricultural land of the Bang Pakong River watershed.

The EEC Act allows the state to access land for different projects of the EEC , be it state property or land under Agricultural Land Reform Office, since the laws concerning both kinds of land have been suspended. The Act has also caused land prices to skyrocket. Industrial estates which hoarded a lot of land are the beneficiaries of selling and leasing out lands to foreign investors. They had bought lots of plots previously, but could not expand the estates due to the agricultural zoning The EEC has unlocked this. In conclusion, EEC development in the NCPO era can be compared to a systematic and legal land grab between the state and capital. It is changing land use in the three provinces without any public participation. Through the power accumulated in the hands of the EEC Committee, a Dual State has emerged and created a neo-colony where foreign investors can lease land for up to 99 years.

FeatureIn-DepthEECEastern Economic Corridor (EEC)Eastern ThailandLaem Chabang Port
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