Prachatai English

When the coup chases you into a corner: the life of a Burmese refugee in Thailand

Prachatai English - Sat, 2023-03-11 22:58
Submitted on Sat, 11 Mar 2023 - 10:58 PMWanna Taemthong

The use of violence by the Myanmar government after the 2021 coup in suppressing the people has resulted in a great number of Burmese people running for their lives to Thailand. Some came in legally with valid visas, some are undocumented. Although this group of people do not have a clear status as refugees like those living in temporary camps, living among ordinary people in the city makes them no different from urban refugees.

Information from The Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons which summarises the refugee situation in Thailand in 2021 – 2022 indicates that there are around 5,155 urban refugees in Thailand. This number includes refugees of other nationalities, while urban refugees from Myanmar may even be higher than the estimate, since after the 2021 coup, many Burmese people who cannot be detected fled to Thailand. Some areas have Burmese who themselves have arranged safehouses or refuges.

Life in a safehouse is not safe

The anti-Burmese government signs read

“The Spring Revolution started from the CDM (Civil Disobedience Movement).
The Spring Revolution was born from protests and demands.
The Spring Revolution can continue forward because of the PDF (People’s Defence Force)”

An elderly man wearing a Burmese sarong sits in front of a row of buildings. Behind this Ah Ko (a term in Burmese referring to an older man) is a large, eye-catching piece of cloth. The terms “CDM” and “PDF” in the slogans would tell people who knows of the Myanmar coup that these buildings may have some connection to the anti-coup protests in Myanmar.

The 64-year-old Ah Ko looks after the 3-storey row of buildings. A total of 27 people live inside, using it as a safehouse for Burmese who disagree with the coup led by the Burmese army. The people living in this safehouse are both elderly and young people.

Inside the safehouse

A bedroom on the safehouse's rooftop

On the first floor, the front of the building is used to accept guests, the back is for cooking and in part of the middle are beds covered with green and pink mosquito nets. Since the number of people living here exceeds the number of bedrooms, each bedroom has 5-6 people sleeping together. Some who don’t want to squeeze in among the others sleep on the rooftop. This safehouse is considered to be a waiting area (a temporary place to live) for any Burmese who have just arrived in Thailand while they are trying to find a new place to live or for those waiting to migrate to a third country.

The Ah Ko told us that this safehouse has helped Burmese from many areas. “The ordinary people who no longer have anywhere to live, who can no longer live in Myanmar, and leading members that fought against Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s coup. Some are PDF, some are politicians. Most aren’t always here. People are always coming and going. All expenses are supported by a Burmese network in America. They raise money and send it to us.”

The Ah Ko

In truth, the Ah Ko is someone who could easily move to a third country, since his family moved from Myanmar and settled down in America during the “Saffron Revolution” in 2007. Then in 2016, he chose to return to Myanmar after Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won the election in 2015 and took more than half of the parliament and senate seats, giving these that had gone far away from home hope for the country of their birth. He chose to return and open a tourist business in Myanmar by himself, while the rest of his family members remained in America. Then another coup occurred in 2021.

“I’ve already been to a third country, why would I need to go again? When I lived there, I’d already survived. I can eat, I can live, but our brothers and sisters, our people, are still living in difficulty like this. Will I close my eyes and leave? So I decided to not go to a third country. I will stay and help as much as one human can, so I decided to continue to stay here (Thailand) and help raise money to help our brothers and sisters,” the Ah Ko said.

He views the 2021 coup as different from the 1988 protest against General Ne Win (also known as the 8888 Uprising on 8/8/1988) when people still had no internet access and did not know of the protests. But in 2021, every child has the internet and can contact each other, and the CDM and PDF were formed.

“If in 1988 the military shot 10 people, another 100 people would go quiet. No one would’ve been brave enough to fight. But in 2021, the military shot down 100 people, and there would be 100 people, 1,000 people, 10,000 more. In 2021, all the kids have their eyes and ears open wide. They are able to find out everything that is happening and show it to the whole world,” the Ah Ko said.

Entering Thailand quietly without getting any official recognition of status from the Thai government, from the Ah Ko’s point of view:

“If I can, I would like to ask the Thai government to accept us and set up a centre for war refugees. The people who come here aren’t evil people. The coup soldiers abused their powers to shoot the people, kill the people, destroy the people’s things. People that have nowhere to live have to escape here. Coming here is a secret business. If we are caught, we have to pay. If sent back to Myanmar, the risk is the same as sending them to die. If possible, I would like the Thai government to solve this problem directly. Accept us openly. Open a centre for war refugees. If the situation in their country improves, have them go back," the Ah Ko said.

From ‘journalist’ to ‘refugee’

Thu showing us an MV he edited for a Burmese artist

Thu (alias) is one of the people living in Ah Ko’s safehouse. In Myanmar, he worked as a journalist. Originally, he was a cameraman and video editor, but since he worked in a small news agency when there was a lack of resources, he moved in front of the camera and carried out field reporting during the anti-coup protests in Myanmar. Thu said that he did not agree with the coup.

“I don’t agree. In the past, in our country, everyone was able to communicate everything according to our rights. After the coup the military claimed that there was fraud in the elections but had no evidence to show to the people. Two people that disagreed with the coup were shot. I thought, no country uses weapons or guns to threaten the people,” Thu said.

When he was still in Myanmar, Thu was part of a team of journalists who reported on the protests. “The soldiers ordered us to stop, we were not allowed to shoot videos there. Some people didn’t listen and kept taking photos and videos, and they were arrested.” The reporting which caused Thu’s news agency to be shut down was during the COVID-19 situation. The hospitals did not have enough oxygen tanks, but the military had given oxygen tanks to people who supported the military first while those opposing the coup did not get any. After the news was published “the soldiers hunted us down, we couldn’t stay and had to escape here.”

“The risk for journalists in Myanmar right now is very high because most journalists are in prison. The military controls all the news,” Thu said.

Thu plays a video of him interviewing an anti-coup protestor during a field report

Before entering Thailand, Thu had to stay with friends or acquaintances and change houses every 3-4 days before he contacted the Ah Ko and sold his personal camera for money to cross the border with his girlfriend. After entering the safehouse, Thu had to stay silent and live quietly so as to not get arrested, since he had entered the country without papers. He has already successfully submitted a request to go to a third country, which is currently the only hope for him and his girlfriend as they can no longer return to their home country in the current situation.

Thu and his girlfriend’s matching rings

While waiting to move to another country, living in Thailand requires money. But since he has no documents, it is difficult for him to move around in Thailand. Just like when he walks out of the safehouse to buy groceries – if he comes across a policeman on a motorcycle passing by, he would already be scared of getting arrested. Thu has been in Thailand for 4 months, and his outward appearance has clearly changed. He is a lot skinnier compared to the photo he took when he was in Myanmar. “I know well how much I changed. At home I had my mum to prepare me food, but after coming here (Thailand), life is not comfortable. We don’t have any papers, we can’t live happily, we always have to be careful. Sometimes I regret it and think of many things. I try to think that I have to survive, because one day our country will go back to what it was before.”

When we asked him if he could make one wish what would it be, Thu answered, “If I can, I only wish for democracy to be returned to us.”

How should the lives of “urban refugees” be managed?

Throughout the 2 years since the Myanmar coup, the Thai government, as a neighbouring nation, has not had any screening system in place for Burmese refugees. Sirada Khemanitthathai, of the Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University, an expert on Myanmar, views the 2-year-old Myanmar coup in terms of its relation to Thailand. Currently, the Burmese people living in Thailand are not just labourers. After the coup, people from a diverse range of groups, classes and skills entered the country, since Thailand is safer for them compared to Myanmar. The Thai government should therefore respond to the current situation and protect the lives of the Myanmar people.

Sirada also said that after the coup, many middle class Burmese migrated into Thailand, allowing us to see Burmese people buy condominiums in the centre of Bangkok. They also send their children to attend international schools, and many CDMs are studying in both state and private Thai universities. Economic capital also followed them into the country. If we view this in terms of human resources, those that migrate into Thailand have skills, education and capital. Thailand can benefit from this rather than just letting them live in hiding.

Sirada suggested that a good approach to taking care of Burmese urban refugees is for the Thai state to issue a policy which supports refugee status for Burmese people who fled due to the political situation (forced migration). For example, this group of people could be allowed to register legally and receive protection under Thai law, to prevent any corruption by state officials that urban refugees may encounter.

“What we want is to have policies which open channels for people displaced because of persecution to register for protection under Thai law, so that they can avoid receiving protection through unofficial channels by local-level Thai authorities. The Thai government may think that if we have a policy that is too good, it may attract more people to come. This is the thinking of the security agencies, but actually, with Myanmar’s current situation, they would still leave anyway. The push factors from the political situation are very strong,” Sirada said.

Political factors in Myanmar force a large number of their people to escape to Thailand as political refugees. Since the people need to leave, they may choose to bribe Thai state officials or the police in order to survive and provide themselves with some sort of protection in their lives.

Sirada said that some educated people, despite having skills, would disguise themselves as labourers in order to survive in Thailand, since they cannot return to their country of origin. If the Thai state sees the potential here rather than worry about security issues, it would help Burmese refugees in Thailand to live more normally and not have their rights violated again and again.

FeatureMyanmarMyanmar coupBurmese refugeesRefugeeUrban refugee
Categories: Prachatai English

Unplugged: Music in Crisis

Prachatai English - Sat, 2023-03-11 01:32
Submitted on Sat, 11 Mar 2023 - 01:32 AM

When Covid-19 hits, they were the first to be out of a job, and when the lockdown ended, they were the last to get back to work.

During the pandemic, Thai musicians and workers in the music industry faced unemployment as bars and entertainment venues were ordered to close. Many had to sell their instruments to keep themselves afloat, or make a living doing whatever else they could, while some left the industry altogether.

The pandemic also revealed problems the industry have always been facing, from job insecurity and lack of welfare to limited performance space and a consumer culture which does not help the industry grow.

In "Unplugged: Music in Crisis," Thai musicians talk about their lives during and after the pandemic, and the future of creative economy in Thailand.

MultimediadocumentaryCOVID-19Covid-19 pandemicCreative economyMusic industrynightlifeEntertainment business
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Crackdown on rubber ducks

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-03-10 13:51
Submitted on Fri, 10 Mar 2023 - 01:51 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Crackdown on rubber ducks

MultimediaStephffSection 112Royal defamationlese majesteRubber duck
Categories: Prachatai English

Twitter user gets jail time over tweets about monarchy

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-03-10 12:18
Submitted on Fri, 10 Mar 2023 - 12:18 PMPrachatai

A 22-year-old Twitter user has been found guilty of violating the Computer Crimes Act over 8 tweets about the monarchy and sentenced to 4 years in prison, suspended for 3 years, during which time he is prohibited from socializing with anyone who may lead him to repeat his offense.

Niranam at the Pattaya Provincial Court on 4 June 2020

“Niranam,” (pseudonym), now 22, was arrested in February 2020 and charged with “entering into a computer system, computer data which is an offence related to national security of the Kingdom of Thailand or related to terrorism under the Criminal Code” under Section 14 Clause 3 of the 2017 Computer Crimes Act for a tweet about King Vajiralongkorn.

Niranam’s family said that he was taken by 10 plainclothes and uniformed police officers at around 10:30 am on 19 February 2020. The officers confiscated 2 mobile phones and took Niranam and his parents to Pattaya Police Station, but they did not have an arrest warrant.

Niranam’s family posted bail with a 100,000-baht security, but the Pattaya Provincial Court denied their request on the grounds that he had committed a serious offence and might try to flee. His family and lawyer posted bail for him again, but was again denied. They then filed a complaint with the Court of Appeal Region 2, and Niranam was granted bail, as the Court of Appeal said that charges under the Computer Crimes Act only carry a prison sentence of less than 5 years or a fine of less than 100,000 baht, therefore it was not a major crime, and that he is not likely to flee –directly contradicting the verdict of the Pattaya Provincial Court.

His arrest and detention sparked an online campaign calling for his release. The hashtags #Saveนิรนาม and #Freeนิรนาม trended on Twitter while he was detained. A Facebook page ‘Nai Nam Khwam Sa-ngop Riaproi’ (In the Name of Peace and Order) raised 1.5 million baht online for his bail, which was set at 200,000 baht. The page administrator said that the remaining 1,472,695.16 baht has been spent on Niranam’s legal expenses.

In June 2020, he was charged again with 7 more counts under the Computer Crimes Act over 7 tweets about King Bhumibol and King Vajiralongkorn, the death of King Ananda Mahidol, the October 1976 massacre and the 2006 coup d’état.

On Wednesday (8 March), the Pattaya Provincial Court found Niranam guilty of all 8 counts under the Computer Crimes Act and sentenced him to a total of 8 years in prison and a fine of 160,000 baht. Because he confessed during witness examination, the court reduced his sentence to 4 years in prison and a fine of 80,000 baht.

It also suspended his prison sentence for 3 years, during which he must report to a probation officer 4 times per year for 2 years, perform 36 hours of community service, and must not socialize with anyone who can lead him to repeat his offence.

NewsNiranam_NiranamComputer Crimes Actonline freedomtwitterMonarchy reformStudent protest 2020
Categories: Prachatai English

Annual report paints bleak picture of Thai prison conditions

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-03-09 21:42
Submitted on Thu, 9 Mar 2023 - 09:42 PMInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Prison conditions in Thailand remained well below international standards in 2022, FIDH and the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) said in their annual prison report released today (9 March). 

(Photo from FIDH)

The 65-page report covers developments, trends, facts, and figures related to the Thai prison system from 1 January to 31 December 2022. The findings of the report show that in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Thai prison system in 2021, the authorities made little progress in implementing lessons learned from the pandemic to improve detention conditions and guarantee the well-being of inmates in 2022.

“Former prisoners described inhuman and degrading treatment to which no inmate should be subjected. While authorities have taken some positive steps to address some blatantly abusive situations, the overall picture of prison conditions remain bleak. The Thai government must increase its efforts to make prison conditions consistent with international standards and the country’s human rights obligations,” said FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan.

Areas where prisoners faced ongoing challenges included: crowded and inadequate conditions of accommodation; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment; unsanitary conditions; extremely poor quality of food and drinking water; inadequate access to healthcare; exploitative work; limited contacts with the outside world; lack of recreational and rehabilitative activities; and ineffective complaint procedures. In addition, independent human rights organizations’ access to prisons to monitor conditions continued to be unduly restricted.

Among the few positive developments in 2022, authorities pledged to adopt measures to eradicate abusive labor practices in prisons across the country. For example, the Department of Corrections (DoC) ordered an end to the contracts for the use of prison labor for the production of fishing nets.

Another positive development was the decrease of the total prison population by 6%, which was part of a downward trend that started in 2019. However, overcrowding continued to plague prisons, with 106 of Thailand’s 143 facilities operating above their official capacity. The overwhelming majority (almost 80%) of prisoners remained incarcerated for drug-related offenses. Individuals held in pre-trial detention continued to account for a significant share (nearly 20%) of prisoners. In addition, the number of prisoners under death sentence increased by 14%, reversing a three-year downward trend.

As the COVID-19 situation eased across prisons nationwide, many measures that had been introduced to prevent the spread of the virus were relaxed or discontinued. Regrettably, among the discontinued measures were several early release schemes aimed at reducing the number of prisoners.

Now in its second edition, FIDH’s and UCL’s annual prison report is the only independent and comprehensive assessment of prison conditions in Thailand. The report makes numerous practical recommendations for the improvement of prison conditions in accordance with relevant international standards.

Pick to PostInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)prisonprison conditionInmate
Categories: Prachatai English

Electronic Monitoring Devices: Online Shackles

Prachatai English - Wed, 2023-03-08 17:38
Submitted on Wed, 8 Mar 2023 - 05:38 PM

“It’s not an opportunity. It is a tool that binds people. It is a tool that confine people’s freedom. It is a tool that oppresses people and prevent them from being free, from living the life they wanted. Another thing is it’s a tool preventing us from joining protests and exercising our rights,” said Panadda “Tong” Sirimasakul, an activist from the Thalufah group. 

Panadda was charged for joining a protest during the State of Emergency in 2021 and detained for a time. After being granted bail, she was required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. In February 2023, the court finally allowed many activists to have their bracelet removed. 

In “Electronic Monitoring Devices: Online Shackles,” young activists talk about their lives after being charged for joining protests and being ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device while waiting for trial.

MultimediaElectronic monitoring braceletPolitical prisonerPro-democracy movementmultimedia
Categories: Prachatai English

Rubber duck calendar seller found guilty of royal defamation

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-03-07 19:51
Submitted on Tue, 7 Mar 2023 - 07:51 PMPrachatai

A 26-year-old man has been found guilty and sentenced to 2 years in prison on a royal defamation charge for selling a rubber duck calendar, after the Taling Chan Criminal Court ruled that the depiction of the rubber duck was a mockery of the King. 

Giant inflatable rubber ducks were brought to the 17 November 2020 protest at the parliament complex. The yellow duck became a resistance symbol after protesters use them to block water cannon blasts.

Tonmai (pseudonym), 26, was arrested on 31 December 2020 and charged with royal defamation for selling a calendar depicting yellow inflatable rubber ducks. The police conducted a sting operation, posing as a potential buyer and ordering a calendar on Facebook and asking to have it delivered by a Grab rider. Officers then tracked the location until they located Tonmai’s residence and requested a search warrant. After searching his house and confiscating the calendar, the police arrested him and charged him with royal defamation on the grounds that the content of the calendar mocks King Vajiralongkorn.

The yellow inflatable rubber duck emerged as a symbol of the pro-democracy movement following a protest on 17 November 2020, during which protesters were met with tear gas and water cannon. Protesters gathering at the Kiak Kai intersection used inflatable paddling pools in the form of yellow rubber ducks, initially brought in as a mockery of the government and nicknamed “the navy,” as shields against water cannon blasts. The yellow rubber duck then became a symbol of resistance, appearing in several subsequent protests in 2020, and was given pseudo-royal titles by protesters.

During the witness examination hearing, which took place in October – November 2022, the defendant testified that the yellow duck is a character named Krommaluang Kiakkai Ratsadonborirak (Prince/Princess Kiakkai, the People’s Protector), which is a name given to the duck by some netizens, and the calendar did not mention the King or other members of the royal family. Tonmai also testified that he did not produce the calendar and only delivered them.

Sawatree Suksri, lecturer at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law, also testified that parody does not constitute an offense under the royal defamation law, since the law specifically refers to defamation and threat.

Activist Sombat Boonngamanong testified that the yellow duck is seen as a symbol of protection for the protesters, and does not refer to the King. Although the language used in the calendar is the same as that used for royalty, Sombat said that it has also been used in fiction where appropriate for a character’s status.

An officer from the Metropolitan Police who investigated the case testified as a prosecution witness and said under cross-examination that he was aware that rubber ducks were a symbol of the protesters after they were used as shields during the 17 November 2020 protest, and that the duck does not represent the King.

Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, also testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. He said that he saw the duck as representing the King and that the calendar is meant to show that the King uses taxpayer money for his own sexual gain, that he controls the military, and is above executive, legislative, and judicial powers.

When shown a picture from the March calendar, Chaiyan said he saw the duck with a condom on top of its head as meaning that the King is obsessed with sex or that he is promoting the use of condoms, but because he has never seen the King participating in any such campaign, he believes that the image is intending to mock the King as being sex-obsessed.

Under cross-examination, Chaiyan noted that he is aware that a yellow rubber duck is a common item and that many images of the duck in the calendar represent crowd control police. He also agreed that the ducks were represented in many roles, and that the image of the duck flying a plane with the message “Super VIP” cannot be taken to refer to the King unless it is interpreted together with the March calendar.

On Tuesday (7 March), the Taling Chan Criminal Court found Tonmai guilty of royal defamation on the grounds that it believes the duck represented the King and is intended as mockery. It sentenced him to 3 years in prison, but reduced his sentence to 2 years because he gave useful testimony. He was later granted bail to appeal the case.

NewsRoyal defamationlese majesteSection 112Rubber duckChaiyan ChaiyapornKrommaluang Kiakkai Ratsadonborirak
Categories: Prachatai English

‘Art reflects politics.’ Take a look at Khana Ratsadon’s concept of ‘equality’ through Lopburi’s architecture

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-03-07 18:50
Submitted on Tue, 7 Mar 2023 - 06:50 PMPrachatai

From the demolition of the Constitution Defence Monument and removal of the Khana Ratsadon plaque in Bangkok to the demolition of the Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena statue and the change of name of the Lopburi Artillery Centre in 2020, all were criticised as attempts to erase the history of Khana Ratsadon, the group that reformed Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a democracy.

Prachatai, together with Sarunyou Thepsongkraow and Sitthard Srikotr, two history experts from Kasetsart University (Bang Khen), explores the remaining architectural footprints of Khana Ratsadon that still remain in this city – and finds an answer as to why Khana Ratsadon during Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram's term considered Lopburi an important city, as well as the reason they chose Art Deco as a representation of their concept of ‘equality’.

From the City of Narai the Great to the City of Khana Ratsadon

The location of Lopburi has been important from Dvaravati times to the Ayutthaya Kingdom, especially during King Narai the Great’s reign, due to its geographical and communications significance, before becoming an important city once again in the early part of the Khana Ratsadon period.

The development of the new Lopburi was one of Khana Ratsadon’s projects. An important turning point was after the defeat of the Boworadet Rebellion at Bang Khen in 1933. In 1936, the government lead by Phraya Phahon, one of Khana Ratsadon’s core leaders, issued a Royal Decree on land expropriation in the east of Lopburi (all of the old city area to Khok Kathiam subdistrict) to use the area for military purposes.

Statesman Monument, Sa Kaeo Roundabout, taken in 2022, one of the important roundabouts in the Khana Ratsadon era, located in Lopburi’s new city zone

Phibun, then a major and Minister of Defence, planned to benefit from the area by developing the land into a new city and turning it into a military zone. Many military units were relocated from Bangkok to Lopburi.

The construction of the Lopburi new city started in 1937. Then on 24 Jun 1940, Thailand’s national day, then-Prime Minister Phibun himself presided over the Lopburi new city opening ceremony, which was also the same day as the opening of the Democracy Monument. He attended the Monument opening ceremony in the morning, then drove to attend the Lopburi new city opening ceremony in the evening.

2 factors why Khana Ratsadon chose Lopburi

Chatri Prakitnonthakan, lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture, Silpakorn University, has analysed two important reasons why Field Marshal Phibun chose to develop this City of King Narai. First is the personal bond between two Khana Ratsadon leaders and Lopburi, since both Phraya Phahon and Phibun  were stationed at the Lopburi Artillery Centre before going to study abroad. They returned to lead the revolution in 1932.

The other reason is military strategy. Sitthard added that during the Khana Ratsadon era, Lopburi’s importance was levelled up a notch. Field Marshal Phibun wanted it to be a military city or the centre of the military community to protect the area and deal with enemies during World War II.

In addition, in 1937 Field Marshal Phibun  had planned to move the capital from Bangkok to Lopburi, but the plan was shelved and Phetchabun was considered instead for reasons of military geography, since Phetchabun can be better protected from invasion by infantry.

Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram Monument at Sa Kaeo roundabout

However, in 1944 the ‘Chicken Symbol[1] Field Marshal’ had to step down from the position of the nation’s leader before his dream of changing the capital came to fruition, after he lost the parliamentary vote on the Phetchabun Government Management Bill and Phutthaburi Province Construction Bill on 20 and 22 Sep 1944. As a result, the idea of turning Lopburi into a military city disappeared along with the authority of Field Marshal Phibun.

Although Field Marshal Phibun no longer had power, the idea of developing a new Lopburi city during the Khana Ratsadon era had plastered the city with the aura of the-era’s architectural style known as Art Deco, chosen by Khana Ratsadon to represent their political ideology– of equality.

“In 1937, Field Marshal Phibun proposed to move the capital from Bangkok to Lopburi and develop it into a new city; new art was introduced, resulting in Lopburi becoming one of the cities with the most Khana Ratsadon art in Thailand, compared to other provinces,” Sarunyou said.

Get to know Art Deco, the art representing Khana Ratsadon

History lecturer Sitthard Srikotr said that Art Deco architecture developed after WWI. Its features are a rejection of the earlier focus on building decoration, and an attempt to make art serve humans ‘honestly’. It was also known in France as ‘Art Nouveau’ or in Germany as ‘Jugendstil’.

“Buildings shouldn’t be that elegant or dandified. When fancy decoration became too much, at that time they tried to say that decoration should focus on simplicity, by returning back to geometry,” Sitthard said, and added that this art entered Thailand during the reigns of Rama V and VI, but at that time the elite were not yet that much into art.

One piece of evidence which reflects this well is the planned Art Nouveau-style Hua Lamphong Station which was not built. The plan still allowed for decoration but mostly in geometric shapes, perhaps almost 80%. In the end, the Thai elite chose the design of Mario Tamagno, an Italian architect, which looked more elegant and ornamental.

The announcement of a new political system reflecting ‘equality’

After the Siam revolution in 1932, Art Deco was brought back to Siam by Khana Ratsadon. Sarunyou revealed that primary sources indicated that Khana Ratsadon called these buildings ‘Modern Buildings’. The Art Deco buildings are designed with smooth geometrical lines, density and many apertures for light.

Such features can be found in, for example, the buildings along Ratchadamnoen Avenue, Bang Rak Central Post Office, the Court of Justice building, as well as buildings in Lopburi such as Pibulwitthayalai School, Ananda Mahidol Hospital, Thepsatri Rajabhat University, the Royal Thai Army Cinema, etc. These buildings used reinforced concrete which allows quick and easy construction.

Art Deco architecture originally started in 1920-1930. The main objective was to design schools or factories, for example, focusing mainly on their uses. So they were built as easy squares with open channels for light to flow in to allow people to work or hold activities. Roofs are straight cut and flat with no decorations, giving a feeling of stability, but smooth strength.

Pibulwitthayalai School built in 1937-1938. Its distinctive features are the large awnings over the windows which show the builder’s skills.

This architecture was popular in many countries; each nation chose Art Deco to display the political ideologies of the elite in various forms. Japan, Italy and Germany, for example, used Art Deco to represent fascism while the Soviet Union used Art Deco to promote class consciousness in communism.

For Thailand, Khana Ratsadon chose Art Deco to support the ideology of ‘equality’ while Sitthard added that Khana Ratsadon may have chosen it partly because of the worldwide trend toward Art Deco architecture.

“Other than being the architectural choice of Khana Ratsadon, Art Deco was the trend of architecture during that era as well. … The significance is that the people of that era viewed it as the architecture of a modern world. If you say ‘I’m a new system, I’m not the old world, old system, the absolute monarchy’, then this kind of art, this kind of building, was chosen to be the architectural representation of what was Khana Ratsadon’s mega project,” Sitthard said.

There was previously an interpretation that Khana Ratsadon chose this architectural style since they wanted the people to feel stable during times of instability, since they were in the middle of World War II, but Sitthard said that it is uncertain whether Khana Ratsadon had intended for it to be used in this way or not.

Dentistry building or submarine building, Ananda Mahidol Hospital. Its distinctive features are the many transparent glass windows on the second floor.

Sarunyou added that sculptures by Khana Ratsason are no less distinctive than their architecture. The sculptures of that time focused on a clear muscular and realistic anatomy, different from the effeminate art, far from reality, during the traditional era.

An important example of Khana Ratsadon’s sculpture in Lopburi is the gajasimha around the Sa Kaeo roundabout, the sculpture of a dancer near the Phibun Monument in front of the Army Cinema or the crouching tiger sculpture in front of the Lopburi Zoo.

“With strong muscles, the gajasiha (symbol of the Ministry of Defence) is a lion, not delicate like gajasihas in the Himmapan (Himavanta) Forest, with elephants’ trunks,” Sarunyou said.

Gajasiha sculptures at the Sa Kaeo roundabout in 2022

By comparison, the gajasiha in front of the Ministry of Defence (Source: Facebook Fanpage  Defence Hall Museum)

Another culture born during the time of Khana Ratsadon is the practice of erecting flagpoles for the national flag in front of government buildings. Sitthard revealed that there were some previously, but it was not compulsory for all government buildings to have one. After the revolution, especially during nationalistic periods, Field Marshal Phibun tried to turn the flagpoles into city landmarks as symbols glorifying nationhood.

“The flagpoles weren’t flagpoles where they simply erected a wooden or metal pole, ran up a flag, done. The bases had patterns in Art Deco style,” Sitthard said.

The same history lecturer from Kasetsart University provided as an example the flagpole at Thepsatri Rajabhat University. If we examine the base of the pole, we will see patterns in Art Deco style with the use of straight lines cut with curved lines so that it appears soft and delicate, not hard, creating a visual dimension and promoting modernity.

Thepsatri Rajabhat University’s flagpole

Applied Khana Ratsadon art, returning the roof

Sarunyou said that many Khana Ratsadon buildings have straight-cut flat roofs. In actuality, they aren’t rooftops, but the walls were built to hide the roof, so it looks flat. These buildings can be found on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. This is partly because there was a law during the Khana Ratsadon era stipulating that roadside commercial buildings had to raise their walls to hide their roofs. This reflected the ‘new spirit’ which they wanted to make more public.

Sitthard said that the issue was the roof because it is a distinctive feature of ancient Thai traditional architecture, a symbol of inequality in architecture. At first Khana Ratsadon was going to accept the full Art Deco style, but contradictions arose when we entered the era of Field Marshal Phibun who was a fascist. In 1942, people asked, if we accept everything international, then where is being ourselves? When they thought like that, they started to return to roofs at an acceptable level.

“Art Deco is international, but if we are going to use it, our own identity can add to what is international, so gable roofs and Art Deco forms of gable edges returned,” Sitthard said.

Example of Art Deco corbels at Wat Phra Phutthabat, Saraburi. Chatri says that this design came from the book ‘Buddhist Architectural Art, Part One.’ In the picture are corbels which support protruding parts of the roof. The one on the right is traditional but the one on the left was built from reinforced concrete in Art Deco style – there is less ornamentation, and a cleaner, more geometric form.

(Source: YouTube คณะราษฎรกับวัดพระพุทธบาท สระบุรี : เสวนา ดินแดนในจินตนาการ - นครหลวงสระบุรีและพุทธบุรีมณฑล ช่อง คนหระรี)

Khana Ratsadon’s legacy which disappeared from the Lopburi Artillery Centre

Another location which hides many Khana Ratsadon legacies is the Artillery Centre, Lopburi, whether it is the Chateau Building or the Nam Chon Mountain Command Building, the residences of Phraya Phahon Phonphayuhasena and Phibun, and both of their monuments.

BBC Thai interviewed Chatri who said that actually, Field Marshal Phibun’s monuments, which are found across Thailand, are not connected to Khana Ratsadon, but more to the Chicken Symbol Field Marshal as a soldier of the army and former Prime Minister, who brought prosperity to the nation.

The Centre was built during the Absolute Monarchy in the course of Prince Boworadet’s term as Deputy Minister. The Ministry of Defence established the Lopburi Artillery Centre in Khok Kathiam Subdistrict in about 1914, and it continued to develop until the time of Khana Ratsadon, especially under Field Marshal Phibun when it received more attention since the Field Marshal wanted to develop artillery units to prevent enemies from invading the new capital city, which in this case was Phetchabun.

However, during King Rama X’s reign in 2019, the legacies of Khana Ratsadon inside the Artillery Centre slowly started to disappear. Starting in 2020, the Royal Government Gazette website published a change of name of the Artillery Centre in Khao Phra Gnam Subdistrict, Mueang District, Lopburi Province from ‘Fort Phaholyothin’ into ‘Fort Bhumibol’, while the Artillery Brigade Camp originally named ‘Fort Phibunsongkhram’ located at Tha Khae Subdistrict, Mueang District, Lopburi, was changed to ‘Fort Sirikit’.

In addition, the monuments to Phraya Phahon and Phibun at the gates of the original Fort Phaholyothin were removed in 2020. The Phraya Phahon monument was replaced with a monument of King Rama IX. An inauguration ceremony for the monument was carried out in 2022.

King Rama IX Monument at the Artillery Centre, Lopburi

A 2022 survey of the Artillery Centre found that the residences of Phraya Phahon and Phibun and the Chateau Building were still in existence.

However, our journalist’s survey in 2022 found Chateau Building in a dilapidated condition, especially the left side which has broken down, showing the inner structure built from reinforced concrete and stone, materials commonly used for building construction during Khana Ratsadon times.

‘Erasing’ does not help to forget, but may help to ‘remember’

No one knows the reasons behind the change of names of the military camps or the removal of the monuments to the two Khana Ratsadon leaders. Chatri observed that it may be because from 2006 onwards, academics, students, historians and political activists all used symbols, locations or legacies of Khana Ratsadon as part of their political movements.

At the same time, in the new generation’s political protests from 2020 onwards - which were started by REDEM – the Democracy Monument, another of Khana Ratsadon’s legacies, was used for political protests so frequently it almost became a norm.

In addition, the new generation created cultural copies related to Khana Ratsadon. For example, a symbolic installation ceremony was held on the morning of 20 Sep 2020 for a replica Khana Ratsadon plaque at Sanam Luang during the #19Sep protest, calling for the people’s authority to be returned. The protest then spread to Chiang Mai and Nakhon Ratchasima. Various souvenirs were created, such as Khana Ratsadon plaque cookies, Khana Ratsadon plaque keyrings, etc. These examples show how the new generation values Khana Ratsadon as the group that paved the way for democracy in Thailand.

The gate of Artillery Centre, Lopburi, demolished

When we asked Ajarn Sarunyou about the attempts to erase the memory of Khana Ratsadon over the past 3 years, the expert on Khana Ratsadon history views that erasing may only be possible for a certain time, but history cannot be changed, and it may instead result in many people trying to do more to record and remember this history .

“It may make people forget for a time, but it cannot change the past. There is a lot of evidence that cannot be removed. … One fine day they are removed, and it makes people want to look again, and go back and remember it again,” Sarunyou said.

[1][Translator’s note] The chicken or rooster was the symbol of Phibunsongkhram Province, an area which was temporarily annexed by Field Marshal Phibun during World War 2 from French-occupied Cambodia.  The area was returned to the French colonial authorities after the end of the war.

FeatureKhana RatsadonPeople's PartyLopburiIconoclasmArchitectureMemory politics
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Prayut admitted to hospital

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-03-07 17:38
Submitted on Tue, 7 Mar 2023 - 05:38 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Prayut admitted to hospital

MultimediaStephffPrayut Chan-o-cha
Categories: Prachatai English

Court backs petition site blocking, claims that it contains distortion of fact

Prachatai English - Sat, 2023-03-04 15:57
Submitted on Sat, 4 Mar 2023 - 03:57 PMPrachatai

The Criminal Court has refused to repeal an order blocking an online petition for the repeal of the royal defamation law, claiming that the website contains a phrase that is a distortion of fact.

A banner at the 31 October 2021 protest at the Ratchaprasong Intersection inviting people to sign the petition calling for the repeal of the royal defamation law.

The petition, launched on 5 November 2021 at, calls for the repeal of the royal defamation law, or Section 112. Within 24 hours, it received over 100,000 signatures, ten times the number legally required for a bill to be put before parliament by the public.

In February 2022, it was reported that the website became inaccessible, and that many who tried to access the website to sign the petition were directed to a page saying that the website had been blocked by court order.

In August 2022, the activist network Citizens for the Abolition of 112 filed a complaint with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES). They later learned that the MDES filed a request with the court to have the site blocked, and the court did not summon the site’s administrators for a hearing. Human rights lawyer Anon Nampa then appointed a lawyer to file an opposition to the court order. An inquiry then took place on 27 February 2023.

iLaw reported on Wednesday (1 March) that the Criminal Court ruled that although the public is allowed to propose amendments to laws, the logic behind the amendment has to be truthful and fair. It ruled that the phrase “the monarchy is a political institution” used on the website is a distortion of the truth and the law, because the monarchy is one of the country’s core institutions and is not involved in politics.

The court therefore ruled that the phrase violates public peace and order, and that it will not repeal the order blocking the website. This means that the site will remains inaccessible for the time being, but the lawyer responsible for filing the opposition to the court order said they will file an appeal.

NewsSection 112Royal defamationlese majesteCitizens for the Abolition of 112Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES)online freedomMonarchy reformAnon Nampa
Categories: Prachatai English

Hunger striking activists admitted to hospital

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-03-03 23:30
Submitted on Fri, 3 Mar 2023 - 11:30 PMPrachatai

Activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong have once again been admitted to Thammasat University Hospital as their condition has worsened following 44 days of hunger strike.

Tantawan being transferred from the tent in front of the Supreme Court into an ambulance before being taken to Thammasat University Hospital (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Tantawan and Orawan have been on a hunger strike for the past 44 days to demand the release of all political prisoners, reform of the judicial system, and for political parties to back the repeal of the royal defamation and sedition law. They first began dry fasting on 18 January after their demands were not met within three days after they revoked their own bail. They were initially admitted to the Department of Corrections Hospital but were transferred to Thammasat University Hospital on 24 January.

At the request of doctors, they began taking a small amount of water each day since 30 January and later agreed to receive IV fluids after two weeks of dry fasting. On 7 February, they were granted bail, following a request from the director of Thammasat University Hospital, although both activists said they did not know about the request and did not consent to it.

They left the hospital on 25 February and have been continuing their hunger strike in a tent in front of the Supreme Court. On Thursday (2 March), they resumed dry fasting, refusing fluids and medication, after 25-year-old protester Thattaphong Khieaokhao was been denied bail after he was indicted for being in possession of an explosive. 

Orawan being transferred from the tent in front of the Supreme Court into an ambulance before being taken to Thammasat University Hospital (Photo by Ginger Cat)

On Friday evening (3 March), their families and lawyer decided to have them taken to Thammasat University Hospital, as their lives were reported to be in danger. 

Lawyer Kritsadang Nutcharus told reporters gathering in front of the Supreme Court that he and the activists' parents decided that they must be taken to a hospital because their condition has gotten worse than when they were previously hospitalised, and doctors were concerned that their internal organs could be permanently damaged or they might lose their lives.

Kritsadang said that Tantawan and Orawan initially did not want to be hospitalised and insisted on waiting until every political prisoner is granted bail. However, he said that the families consulted a doctor, and judging from the results of their blood tests, they decided the pair needed to be transferred to a hospital as their lives are in danger.

Kritsadang (left) with a doctor from Police Hospital (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Kritsadang noted that Tantawan and Orawan spent most of the past 3 - 4 days asleep, and that they would ask if everyone has been released whenever they wake up. He also said that they did not say what they would do from here on, only that they would continue to fight.

"We have used our right as their parents and lawyer to ask them to go to Thammasat University Hospital. They were worried about having to be hospitalised again. They wanted to stay here," Kritsadang said. 

"We have been monitoring them with a doctor during the past 3 - 4 days. We saw what we think could be a danger to their lives. This is why we've made this decision. I actually don't want to interfere with what they are fighting for, because it is not the job of a lawyer, but since they've tasked us with making a decision, this is now we decided."

Tantawan and Orawan were taken to the emergency room at Thammasat University Hospital via ambulance from the Police Hospital, assisted by Police Hospital nurses and officers from Chanasongkhram Police Station. They arrived at Thammasat University Hospital at around 19.00. 

NewsTantawan TuatulanonOrawan PhuphongKritsadang Nutcharushunger strikeDry fastingright to bailPre-trial detentionpolitical prisonersThammasat University HospitalSupreme Court
Categories: Prachatai English

Mekong River Pollution: the Growing Impact of Microplastics

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-03-03 21:29
Submitted on Fri, 3 Mar 2023 - 09:29 PMThe Glocal
  • The Mekong River is an important Southeast Asian waterway. Its basin is home to an estimated 65 million people.  All are now confronted by the problems of plastic waste and microplastic contamination.
  • Waste in the Mekong is largely due to poor waste management by riverine communities. Although it includes plastic materials from China, this material may well have been discarded locally. Chinese products are popular in Laos and Myanmar.  There are also an abundance of discarded containers from Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar.
  • Microplastic contamination can now be found along the entire length of the river.  Reaching the Mekong Delta, it enters the ocean.  Bordering countries are increasingly aware of the problem.


Amidst a global plastic waste crisis that is polluting our planet’s oceans, there is a widespread perception that superpowers such as China are exacerbating the problem by producing massive amounts of consumer products that are either made from, or packaged in, plastic.

Given the number of major Chinese rivers that flow into the ocean, it is also easy to assume that a high volume of plastic waste from the country is causing marine pollution.

This in-depth report examines the matter by exploring various aspects of the waste problem along the Mekong River, a 4,000 km waterway that originates in China and passes through 5 South East Asian countries: Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Plastic Problems in the ‘Mekong River’

Plastic waste in the Mekong at Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, in Sep 2022 | Source: The Glocal

‘The Mekong River’ is one of the world’s large rivers with a length of 4,909 km.  It passes through 6 countries including China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Its basin covers a total of 759,000 square kilometres. It is estimated that the Mekong River Basin has a population of 65 million.  Right now, people living in the region are facing problems from plastic waste. 

The United Nations Environmental Programme’s (UNEP) CounterMEASURE Project, the first comprehensive study of plastic waste in the Mekong River, found microplastic contamination in water samples taken from 30 out of 33 survey locations.

The level of contamination was higher in the river’s lower reaches.  In samples collected near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, microplastic contamination was as high as 2.13 pieces/m3. Contamination was higher still at Can Tho, Vietnam, on the river delta.

In Thailand, the river’s deteriorating water quality has been frequently discussed, sometimes in response to developments.  In August 2015 a kilometer-long waste patch was found floating near the Chiang Khong and Chiang Saen Districts in Chiang Rai.  A dark red mud-like substance mixed with the debris caused nearby fish to die in large numbers.  Another event occurred in August of 2022 when a 15-meter waste patch killed fish reared in floating baskets and clogged a water pump raft belonging to villagers near Chiang Khan, Loei.

According to CounterMEASURE, Thailand’s stretch of the river also has microplastic contamination, mostly polypropylene (PP), which comes from food containers.  Moreover, it gets worse as one moves downstream.  Survey samples from Chiang Rai contain about 0.23 piece/m3.  Samples from Ubon Ratchathani are higher at about 0.38 piece/m3.  
The issue is not just water quality.  Recent studies of microplastic ingestion by local freshwater fish in the Chi River by Pattira Kasamesiri and Wipavee Thaimuangphol published in the International Journal of GEOMATE in Mar 2020 show how microplastic pollution contaminates our food chain as well.


River waste collected during a tourism sector research project

A participative plastic waste reduction programme, conducted as a part of a Mekong River tourism sector research project, collected samples from 5 locations in the Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong Districts in Chiang Rai.  In this upper reach of the river, they found polyethylene (PE), high density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyvinylchloride (PVC) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), microplastics derived from deteriorating plastic bottles, plastic lids, bags, foam and other containers floating in the Mekong River.


Survey points and examples of microplastics in the Mekong Source: Pirika

The findings are in line with microplastic contamination data obtained by Pirika Inc, an environmental services company which surveyed water quality at six sites along the river.

Plastic waste in the Mekong near Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai in Sep 2022.  Source: The Glocal


During field research near Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai in Sep 2022, the Glocal found garbage patches of various sizes clustered around pontoons and piers.   Most of the waste was plastic - bottles, bags, and other items.

Local waste management of critical importance

Assistant Professor Panate Manomaivibool, PhD, from the research group, Circular Economy for Waste-Free Thailand (CEWT), Mae Fa Luang University | Source: The Glocal

To better understand plastic waste pollution in the Mekong, the Glocal interviewed Assistant Professor Panate Manomaivibool, PhD.   Prof. Panate is with the Circular Economy for Waste-Free Thailand (CEWT) research group at Mae Fa Luang University.  He is also the research head for a Mekong River participative plastic waste reduction programme.  Part of a tourism sector research project, the programme is supported by the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT).

Prof. Panate began by explaining the CounterMEASURE study that was conducted by the UNEP with funding from the Japanese government.  It established 6 measurement points along the river at: Chiang Rai; Ubon Ratchathani; Vientiane; Tonlé Sap in Cambodia; Phnom Penh; and Can Tho at the river mouth in Vietnam). The cleanest location was in the upper reach of the river at Chiang Rai.  It had the lowest amount of waste, in part because of local waste management efforts.
According to Prof. Panate, Thailand’s waste management system is the best of all 6 riparian countries and its usage of river resources is also comparatively light.  Acknowledging that Chiang Rai and Ubon Ratchathani are not small cities, he pointed out that Vientiane and Phnom Penh are major population centres which necessarily made greater use of river resources.  As for the people of Tonlé Sap, he noted that they are largely water-based: living on rafts with no waste management system there is only one place for the waste to go - the river.

The survey also indicated that at least some of the waste found in Chiang Rai, Vientiane and Ubon Ratchathani originated in other countries whereas the waste in Phnom Penh, Tonle Sap and Can Tho was almost entirely domestic.

Prof. Panate believes that local management is of critical importance in addressing the problem.  He added that in Thailand, management was currently much better than that found in Myanmar and Laos.

“Even in larger cities like Lao’s Vientiane or Myanmar’s Tachileik, there’s a collection system but no decent post-collection disposal system. Sometimes they throw waste right into the river. That’s why the waste we find near Lao cities or Myanmar cities is often in black garbage bags.  In Thailand, it’s mostly smaller pieces thrown into the river by thoughtless people. As for Laos and Myanmar … we’re not sure if people throw the garbage bags into the river themselves or garbage collectors do.”

Asked whether the river carried Chinese waste into the region, Prof. Panate  replied that it depends upon what one meant by “waste from China” - waste that floated here from there or waste resulting from Chinese products imported into the region. Noting that without a tracking system, there is no way to ascertain the origins of river-borne waste, he further explained that labels indicating that products were made in China were also of no help as people in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand commonly consume Chinese products.

Acknowledging that Chinese waste might float into the Golden Triangle, he said that the plastic waste … most often found are plastic bottles from Myanmar. An indication of inadequate local management, their waste now contributes to trans-border pollution.
Thailand’s does too.  Data from one research project found lots of plastic waste with Thai labels in the Golden Triangle region, where Thai products are also commonly consumed.

‘Microplastic’ a small but worrisome type of international trash

Examples of microplastics found in the Mekong River Source: Pirika

Prof. Panate explained that in addition macroplastics, waste we can see with our naked eyes, there is the far more disturbing issue of microplastic contamination in the Mekong as it enters our food chain through fish in the river. Indeed, microplastic contamination ultimately spreads into the ocean.

“As for macroplastic, the Mekong River has dams in various points, so the chances of large pieces of garbage reaching Can Tho in Vietnam and entering the sea are small. But there is a good chance that microplastics will pass barriers and borders. [This type of pollution] enters the food chain; it turns up inside fishes. This is the real issue, but it’s more difficult to see.”

Riverine microplastic contamination is now found around the world. According to a Pirika researcher, this extends to countries known for strict environmental regulation like Japan.  In a survey of 100 waterways around the country, only two were found to be free of microplastics.  Both were high in the mountains.

“With respect to microplastics, even countries with adequate waste management have contamination issues. Sometimes it comes from types of waste we don’t normally consider like synthetic turfs. Some countries use a lot of fake grass.  After a time it gets worn down.  Where does it disappear to? Into the water. 

The problem is growing.  In 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a report on microplastics in streams, rivers, seas, and oceans. The study indicated an increase in microplastics of 0.8 – 2.5 million tonnes/year, 98% of which came from households and construction. The UNEP found that in New York alone, microplastics in local water resources were increasing by as much as 19 tonnes/year.

In a recent publication, Thailand’s National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards noted that microplastics in natural water sources may be the start of long-term ecosystem problems. One study found that microplastics sucked into mussels, filter-feeders, remained in the animal’s tissue for up to 48 days. Worse, the microplastics caused tissue damage. Another study found that microplastic decomposition produced toxins harmful to sea animals, such as PAHs, PCBs and PBDEs.  These substances can be passed through the food chain, eventually reaching humans. Mussels at a farm surveyed in Germany had up to 0.36 pieces/gram of microplastic contamination per consumable part of each mussel.  The result?  Eating 250 grams of mussel meat could result in over 90 bits of microplastic entering your body.  Given annual per capita consumption figures, this could amount to a total of 11,000 pieces per year.
Were this not bad enough, microplastics also hide unexpected dangers, acting as a medium for the transfer and accumulation of poisons such as DDT and other chemicals.  Due to their water holding capacity, microplastics absorb contaminated substances which they later spread to various water sources. 

Reducing plastic waste before it reaches the water
In an essay published in Scientific American in 2018, Christian Schmidt, a hydrogeologist at Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, observed that rivers not only carry trash over long distances but also connect nearly all land surfaces with the oceans.  Because of this, rivers are fast becoming a major battleground in the fight against sea pollution.

“Better waste collection and management practices in the most polluted regions would help stem the tide,” Schmidt wrote, “but raising public awareness is also crucial.”

Taking stock of the huge number of rivers that flow into the ocean, the editorial team at Our World in Data in 2021 points out that focusing on just a few big rivers to stop plastic pollution is not enough. They recommend a global approach to manage and reduce waste so that it does not leak into the natural environment.

Many countries have started to push forward policies to solve plastic waste issues at their source. In January 2021, the European Union (EU) prohibited the export of unseparated plastic waste and non-recyclable plastic to non-OECD countries. The policy aims to place the burden of clean up on those who created the mess. It also encourages people everywhere to treat and reuse plastic waste.
The prohibition followed an earlier July 2019 EU directive to reduce single-use plastics.  It specifically targeted products that frequently turned up as trash on European beaches. The list included cotton buds, plastic plates, straws and stirrers, balloons and sticks for balloons, food containers, cups for beverages, beverage containers, cigarette butts, plastic bags, packets and wrappers, wet wipes and sanitary items.

Similar measures are being adopted elsewhere. In late 2017, China prohibited the import of plastic waste.  In early 2021, it also prohibited the use of single-use plastic straws and bags. Australia is looking to optimise recovery and recycling of packaging while Canada is promoting sustainable packaging in a bid to eliminate plastic waste by 2023.  Meanwhile in India, regulations have been imposed to promote the use of recyclable materials and raise awareness about separating garbage.
The danger posed by microplastics to the ecosystem has caused many countries to draft regulations to reduce and stop their use. The USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the EU have all taken steps to limit their production and use. This includes constraints on the import and retailing of cosmetics and health products containing ‘micro-beads’ - a microplastic that does not readily breakdown.  Related industries have been obliged to find replacement materials like polylactic acid, which does decompose.

In Thailand, local government agencies and companies play a critical role in reducing plastic waste. Communities along the Mekong River are aware of the issue and have started to properly manage waste.  The Tha Sadet community in Nong Khai Province serves as a good example.  The focus of a waste management case study in 2019 (see Thawatchai Phengphinit et al, ‘Mekong River Community waste management model, case study: Tha Sadet community, Nong Khai Province’, Suan Dusit University, 2019), Tha Sadet was found to have a total of 1,148 households and 275 shops which collectively produced an average of 5-8 tonnes of waste per day. In the past, household waste was left unseparated, there were no public garbage bins for tourists, and public littering was common. 

To improve waste management, the community began with households - the primary waste source. Together, community members agreed that all households would separate their garbage into saleable and non-saleable waste. Studies indicate that separation alone can reduce the amount of waste by as much as 60%. It also provided municipal workers with increased income. The cooperation of waste makers and collectors reduced the cost for waste collection.

Tha Sadet shops were also required to have rubbish containers for customers and visitors. As these were small, parking lots also had to have 2 larger garbage bins - one for dry waste and one for wet.  With support coordinated by the Tha Sadet municipal committee, the community now has an effective waste management system.

Another case study comes from the ‘participative plastic waste reduction in the Mekong River tourism sector research project’ mentioned earlier.  Its immediate aim was to make tourist attractions in Chiang Rai cleaner.  It also hoped to serve as a model for neighbouring countries pursuing sustainable tourism development on behalf of businesses, tourists, local communities and the environment.

Carried out in collaboration with the local government and local tourism businesses, the project involved the installation of plastic waste collection equipment on the Thai bank of the Mekong.  Local staff and fishermen were trained in its use and random samplings of large-sized plastic waste were conducted each month.  To improve public awareness, seminars were organised to discuss plastic waste issues and the tourism industry.

A number of activities were also organised to reduce the volume of waste produced by tourism-related business.  These included: collecting plastic use data; analysing plastic waste; discussing  strategies for reducing plastic waste and related costs and building customer satisfaction. Businesses in the tourism sector such as Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort cooperated by sending personnel as volunteers to collect waste from the riverbanks.  They also provided space to install waste tracking equipment.

Despite improvements, Prof. Panate notes that river waste problems remain an ongoing issue for tourist attractions. Encouraging tourist-related businesses to reduce waste and use environmentally friendly products is hindered by the fact most are small-sized enterprises which lack access to available solutions.

“The view from the tourism sector is that they have to do business first. It is not easy to encourage them to reduce the use of plastic just because it may end up in the water.  Replacement materials are hard to find and the price is not attractive.  The government wants to solve the problem by having shops change materials and stop using some items.

But what can small-sized businesses like coffee shops do when we ask them to cooperate? … It’s difficult for small stores to order products themselves. The public sector doesn’t promote environment-friendly products that fit the needs of small businesses. It’s like when we encouraged people to stop using plastic bags.  Only the larger businesses, about 30%, participated.  The remaining 60-70% are all smaller firms. Everyone tried but then COVID-19 came, and their efforts ended.  The measures we have adopted so far don’t work for their businesses,” Prof. Panate said.

FeatureMekong RiverMicroplasticpollutionIn-DepthGreater Mekong Subregion (GMS)environmentPlastic waste
Categories: Prachatai English

Alleged mastermind of assault on Thai political refugees in Paris gets 4 years in prison

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-03-03 15:27
Submitted on Fri, 3 Mar 2023 - 03:27 PMPrachatai

Petr Donatek, a 46-year-old Czech man alleged to have hired two martial artists to attack Thai political refugees in Paris in 2019, has been sentenced to 4 years in prison for complicity in aggravated violence. 

Petr Donatek

Donatek was intially convicted in absentia of hiring two Czecn henchmen, Jakub Hosek and Daniel Vokal, to attack Thai political refugees Aum Neko (Sarun Chuichai) and Jom Faiyen (Nithiwat Wannasiri) in Paris on 17 November 2019. 

Hosek and Vokal were arrested, found guilty and sentenced to 26 months in jail on 23 November 2021, and have already been released. Donatek, meanwhile, was sentenced in absentia to 30 months in jail. 

“I didn’t plan any of this,” says alleged mastermind of assault on Thai political refugees in Paris

During his February trial, Donatek denied involvement in the attack and appealed the verdict. Although he admitted that he travelled together with Hosek and Vokal, he claimed he went back to his hotel before the assault took place, and although he was seen taking pictures in video footage which includes the first few seconds of the attack, he claimed he was taking a selfe and pictures of lamp posts in the street and was not recording the attack. His lawyer also said that he might be framed, or that Hosek named him to get a shorter jail time.

The public prosecutor, meanwhile, said during the trial that there is evidence that the attack was planned, including that Donatek sent pictures of the victims to his two accomplices, who were asked to monitor them and wait until night to attack them. The prosecutor also requested that he is given 5 years in jail.

The trial was also postponed twice due to difficulties in securing an interpreter.

Aum Neko at the Paris Court on 2 March (Photo by Martin Balucha)

Yesterday (2 March), the court in Paris sentenced him to 4 years in prison, a higher sentence than what he was given during the first trial. 

In addition to his prison sentence, Donatek also has to pay 1000€ to Aum Neko and is also permanently forbidden from coming back to France.


NewsAum NekoNithiwat WannasiriJom FaiyenParisPetr DonatekDaniel VokalJakub Hosekpolitical refugee
Categories: Prachatai English

Monarchy supporters get 2 months in jail for assaulting photojournalist

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-03-03 14:10
Submitted on Fri, 3 Mar 2023 - 02:10 PMPrachatai

Two supporters of the monarchy charged with assaulting independent photojournalist Natthaphon Phanphongsanon have been sentenced to 2 months in jail and a fine of 5000 baht.

The CCTV footage of the attack

At around 21.35 on 22 April 2022, Natthaphon was attacked by a group of men near the Democracy Monument as he was leaving on his motorcycle after photographing a protest earlier in the afternoon.

Natthaphon said that he had been sitting in the nearby McDonald’s and was approached by the men as he was about to leave. They asked him if he was a reporter and to see the pictures on his mobile phone, but he refused and was subsequently attacked. He then ran back inside the McDonald’s.

The Thai Media for Democracy Alliance (DemAll) was able to access the CCTV footage from the McDonald’s. The footage shows a man approaching Natthapon and another two men who then surrounded him shortly before the attack took place.

Nattaphon sustained injuries on his shoulder and arm, but his head was not injured as he was wearing a safety helmet.

He filed a complaint with Chana Songkhram Police Station later that night. However, as he was trying to access the CCTV footage at the McDonald’s, two men in private clothes armed with pistols and claiming to be police officers approached him, asking him not to collect the footage and instead go to see a doctor.

The two left the scene as Natthaphon’s friend made a phone call to the police station responsible for the area to ask whether they had dispatched officers or not, and the answer was no.

Two days later, on 24 April 2022, the pro-monarchy group Vocational Students Protecting the Institution went live on Facebook. Benyaphakon ‘Ben’ Wikhabamphoeng, a member of the group, said on the live video, which is no longer accessible, that he attacked Natthaphon, but claimed that he did not believe Nattaphon was a journalist as he refused to present a press ID or show his mobile phone. He also claimed that he was defending himself because Natthaphon was taunting and was calling friends over to attack him.

CCTV footage, however, shows that Benyaphakon started punching Nattaphon as he stepped down from his motorcycle and walked away.

On Wednesday (1 March), the Dusit District Court found Benyaphakon and Pairat Witoonjit guilty of assault and sentenced them to 4 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht. Because they confessed, the court reduced their sentence to 2 months in prison and a fine of 5000 baht.

The court suspended Benyaphakon’s sentence for 2 years, putting him on probation and requiring him to report to the court every 4 months. Meanwhile, Pairat is facing 10 other assault charges, so the court did not suspend his sentence. He was later granted bail to appeal the charge.

Nattaphon said after the verdict was read that, while he did not expect the sentence to be severe, he was surprised to learn that the sentence is so light given the intention of his attackers. He also said he found it questionable that the court granted bail to the second defendant in the case, who is facing a total of 11 assault charges, while activists who conducted public polls about political and social issues have been denied bail and held for several months in pre-trial detention.

NewsNatthaphon PhanphongsanonVocational Students Protecting the Institutionpress freedomViolence against journalistassaultroyalistPro-monarchy
Categories: Prachatai English

Protester denied bail, activists to resume dry fasting

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-03-02 23:36
Submitted on Thu, 2 Mar 2023 - 11:36 PMPrachatai

Hunger strike activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong has resume dry fasting, after a 25-year-old protester was denied bail on Wednesday (1 March).

Thattaphong Khieaokhao (Photo from TLHR)

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported on Wednesday (1 March) that Thattaphong Khieaokhao, 25, has been denied bail after he was indicted for being in possession of an explosive. He was previously arrested on 16 November 2022 at a police checkpoint during the APEC summit and held in pre-trial detention before he was released on 8 February.

The Criminal Court denied him bail on the grounds that his offence was serious and carries a high penalty, and that the explosive he was allegedly carrying could be a threat to the public. It also claimed he was a flight risk.

Tantawan leaving Thammasat University Hospital on 25 February. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Tantawan and Orawan announced at around 1.00 on Thursday morning (2 March) via Tantawan’s Facebook page that Thattaphong’s detention shows that the court has never listened to their demands, and so they will resume dry fasting and will no longer take fluids or medication.

“None of us is safe if the court still doesn’t follow the law,” they wrote.

The pair have been on a hunger strike for 43 days to demand the release of all political prisoners, reform of the judicial system, and for political parties to back the repeal of the royal defamation and sedition law. They first began dry fasting on 18 January after their demands were not met within three days after they revoked their own bail. They were initially admitted to the Department of Corrections Hospital but were transferred to Thammasat University Hospital on 24 January.

At the request of doctors, they began taking a small amount of water each day since 30 January and later agreed to receive IV fluids after two weeks of dry fasting. On 7 February, they were granted bail, following a request from the director of Thammasat University Hospital, although both activists said they did not know about the request and did not consent to it.

They left the hospital on 25 February and have been continuing their hunger strike in a tent in front of the Supreme Court.

Other than Thattaphong, three other protesters remain in detention: Thiranai, Khathathon, and Chaiyaporn.

Orawan leaving Thammasat University Hospital on 25 February. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

According to a statement from their lawyer released on Tantawan’s Facebook page on Thursday evening (2 March), both activists are still conscious and alert. Tantawan has some muscle pain, fatigue, and faint when changing positions. She is also suffering from menstrual cramps but refused painkillers or medication to delay her cycle. Meanwhile, Orawan is fatigued and suffered from tightness in her chest.

The statement noted that Tantawan and Orawan are worried about the court’s actions, and that they have not decided what to do in case of an emergency. They also found it unreasonable for the court to deny Thattaphong bail, as he has been cooperative and show no intention to flee because he attended his court appointment when he was indicted. They also said that, if being indicted for a serious charge is a cause for bail denial, it would be very easy for many people to be deny bail.

Tantawan and Orawan also said they learned that the Criminal Court has receive the behaviour report for Khathathon, another detained protester, but that court officials told his guarantor to come to court on 7 March to hear the result of the bail request. They said that they don’t know what their condition will be like on that date, but they told their lawyer that they will wait for everyone to be granted bail and hope that the court will think about its action.

NewsTantawan TuatulanonOrawan PhuphongThattaphong Khieaokhaopolitical prisonersright to bailPre-trial detention
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Anti-torture Act

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-02-28 10:59
Submitted on Tue, 28 Feb 2023 - 10:59 AMStephff

MultimediaStephffAnti-torture Act
Categories: Prachatai English

Military-style (in)justice: the legacy of cases of political violence from the NCPO era

Prachatai English - Mon, 2023-02-27 18:39
Submitted on Mon, 27 Feb 2023 - 06:39 PMSorawut Wongsaranon

With the approach of new elections in the first half of 2023, there remain vestiges of the military government still led by coup-leader Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, who remains as Prime Minister. Prayuth’s lengthy prime ministership has given rise to disputes about his term of office under the constitution that the military junta wrote themselves.

Many of the ways the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has used its power since eight years ago are still with us today and were never checked at the time by either the independent organizations or even the judiciary. This has led to questions about the acceptability of these agencies serving as tools for the coup-makers to exercise extra-legal power. For instance, the Court of Justice acknowledged the NCPO as having sovereign power, even though its power came through undemocratic means, and refused to accept a petition of insurrection, filed by the people themselves, into the court docket. 

Given the free use of its power by the NCPO in an arbitrary way, when a group of not well-known people were arrested and detained by the security agencies, whether military or police, for “attitude adjustment”, their experience was unlike that activists or politicians whose names appeared on the TV Pool. They faced coercion and threats to make them confess in cases involving serious charges, such as premeditated murder or possession of weapons, in relation to violent political events, in some cases going back many years before the NCPO seized power. Many of these cases were eventually dismissed by the court. 

In the cases where the courts’ ruled to dismiss the charges, the recurring reason was that the evidence which the security agencies believed could be used to convict the defendants had been obtained by problematic methods, including the use of statements from witnesses who were made to bargain in exchange for non-prosecution, and witnesses who gave conflicting statements in different trials even though they were state officials. Many cases relied solely on hearsay or circumstantial evidence. 

This report has received support from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), who have been providing legal aid to those prosecuted for political cases since the NCPO era. TLHR has shared data of cases under the military government, when security forces brought cases related to violent political incidents dating back to 2010 using special laws, like Martial Law, announcements and orders issued on the authority of constitutions written by the military government themselves. People were arrested and interrogated in military camps before being transferred to both military courts and the courts of justice for prosecution.


Lengthy cases that seem to never end

If there is any problem that is demonstrated today by the cases related to political violence that began in the era of the NCPO, it is their duration. Some cases reached judgement only in 2022. 

A number of cases in this group began in the military courts, as NCPO Order No. 57/2557 required putting security-related cases, including the use or possession of weapons (also applicable to drug cases where the defendants were in possession of weapons), royal defamation and sedition, under the jurisdiction of the military courts.

A case of a bomb thrown in front of the Criminal Court in March 2015, for example, initially began in a military court, before it was transferred to a criminal court for witness examination, after the NCPO issued an Order in 2019 revoking the use of military courts for civilian cases. The criminal court only passed a verdict on this case on 17 June 2022. 
The cases that began in military courts were delayed for two main reasons.

First, hearings are not held continuously as in the courts of justice, where dates for witness examination are scheduled continuously over the course of a whole week. But in the military courts, dates for witness examination are scheduled after each session. In some weeks, there may be only one date scheduled for witness examination, before the next hearing is scheduled for the next week, the next two weeks, or even the next month at the latest. The court often claimed that the caseload exceeded the human and courtroom capacity (the Bangkok Military Court, for example, has five rooms), which is a problem civilian cases are transferred to military courts which normally are used to hear only cases related to military discipline. 

Second, military prosecutors, the plaintiffs in these cases, were themselves unable to summon witnesses to testify before the court, which delayed hearings. This often occurred. with military or police witnesses responsible for the arrest and investigation claiming they were occupied with other official business or transferred to another unit, causing the witness summonses having to be re-sent. Civilian witnesses also claimed to be sick or occupied with business. The prosecutors did not change the order of witnesses, even though again and again, the original order of witnesses could not be used.  Examples are police witnesses in the case of the bombing in front of the Criminal Court or the case of two Uyghurs accused of setting off explosives at the Ratchaprasong intersection. which had a problem of not being able to find an interpreter, causing delays in the examination of witnesses. The military court was able the hear only 23 out of 400 witnesses. Witness examination hearings are now still proceeding in the Bangkok South Criminal Court.

Adem Karadag (in prison uniform, front) and Yusufu Mieraili (in prison uniform, behind) during their trial at the Bangkok Military Court. Photo archive.


The statistics on postponement of witness examination hearings compiled by TLHR show that the case related to political violence with the highest number of postponements while such cases were heard in the military court was the bomb-throwing case in front of the Criminal Court, where 12 out of 42 scheduled hearings were postponed. It is followed by a related case (some defendants were in the first case as well), of hiring another person to throw a bomb at the court (10 out of 35 appointments postponed) and the case of RGD5 bomb possession (10 out of 25 appointments postponed).

On top of the frequent postponements, the total case number of days postponed can amount to years. The case of hiring another person to throw a bomb totaled 611 days (over 1 year and 8 months), the bomb-throwing case 502 days (over 1 year and 4 months), and the RGD5 case 480 days (over 1 year and 3 months).

Those two factors combined (as well as other minor factors, such as testimony being recorded by hand in the first hearings in the military courts) mean that almost no case of political violence involving a large number of witnesses could finish hearing witnesses before the next elections until  when the NCPO issued an order in 2019 revoking prosecutions in the military courts and transferring the outstanding civilian cases to the courts of justice. In some cases, the public prosecutors in the civilian courts had to repeat the indictment process, postponing witness hearings to as late as 2020.

When Covid-19 broke out, the courts imposed measures which further delayed the trials in the courts of justice.

However, the problem of delays did not occur only in cases related to political violence that had large numbers of witnesses, but also cases of political rallies and online expression, such as Section 112 (royal defamation) cases and Section 116 (sedition) cases, which were also tried by military courts at that time. 

Forensics officers examining the scene at the parking lot of the Ratchada Criminal Court on 7 March 2015.

The majority of these cases involved incidents before NCPO Order No. 57/2557 was announced, meaning that the accused had been indicted in the court of justice (even though the arrests were carried out under the NCPO’s authority), apart from the case of bombing in front of the Criminal Court. There were some cases where the incident happened before this Order but were tried in the military courts, as the accused were alleged to have weapons in their possession , which extended to the period after the announcement of this Order, which put them in the military courts. This included the case of bombing on Banthad Thong Road in which Charoen Phromchat and Nattaphan Lumbangla were accused of possession of 20 RGD5s.

The extended duration also resulted from additional cases being gradually added, such as the men in black case, where the same defendants were accused in another case with some of the same witnesses and evidence, or cases from other violent events, where the police or public prosecutors initiated a new case after one case was already being heard in the courts or where the court had just delivered a verdict. As a result, defendants were obliged to attend never-ending court appointments.


One Arrest, Multiple Cases

Kittisak Soomsri, aka Uan, one of the defendants in the men in black case, was accused in as many as seven cases related to the violence in 2010. He was not granted bail ever since his arrest in September 2014, until he was finally released temporarily in his 7th case at the end of November 2022. By then, he had spent eight years and two months in jail. His five previous cases had been dismissed by the court, and the first one, where he was accused of involvement with explosives found in an apartment in Raminthra, reached a final verdict as early as September 2017, with bail always refused by the court.


Kittisak Soomsri (sitting, far left) and other detainees in the men in black case.

In Kittisak’s cases, apart from the length of each case, he was also prosecuted in multiple cases. Some cases that came after the men in black case was filed and after other cases were being heard or had reached a verdict.

This happened not only to Kittisak, but to almost all cases related to political violence. The defendants involved were arrested for interrogation in a military camp and questioned about their links to many incidents of political violence. Then they were transferred to the police to create a case file for forwarding to the public prosecutor to bring charges in court. After that, while one case was being heard or when the court had issued a verdict, another prosecution would follow suit.

  • Defendants in the case of an M79 fired at a PDRC protest on Ratchadamri were also accused of firing an M79 five times at a Chaeng Wattana rally. The Court divided the case into two.
  • One of the defendants in the case of shooting at a PDRC protest in Trat was also separately accused of possessing the weapons used in this case.
  • Four of the 14 defendants in the case of bombing in front of the Criminal Court were separately accused, along with two other defendants, of hiring another person to throw a bomb. One of the six defendants in this case was also charged with lèse majesté.
  • The defendant in the case of throwing a bomb on Banthat Thong Road was also accused in a case of throwing bombs at the PDRC stage at the Victory Monument. Nattaphan Lumbangla, one of the defendants, was accused of possessing RGD5 grenades twice, once four grenades and at another time 20 grenades, and was tried in a military court. 
  • Kittisak Soomsri was additionally accused in two more men in black cases (the first had five defendants including Kittisak himself), and four other cases: one of possessing explosives (car bombs), and three of planting explosives in three locations in Bangkok (the Court merged all three into one trial).


The cases that followed on from core cases like these were usually dismissed by the court, including two cases related to the use of weapons of war at PDRC protests in various provinces and Chaeng Wattana, the case of the PDRC protest in Trat, the case of bombing the Criminal Court on 7 March 2015 where the court acquitted almost all defendants (12 out of 14), the case of commissioning a third person to throw a bomb, and the case of the bombing at the Victory Monument.

Photo from the case of shooting at a PDRC protest in Trat by Matichon

The reasons for the courts’ acquittals in these cases were of the same kind, that the prosecution did not have enough weight for a conviction and only relied on the defendants’ confession without other supporting evidence. Furthermore, there were cases where the investigating officers sometimes induced witnesses, such as in the case of the PDRC rally on Chaeng Wattana, to implicate others in exchange for not prosecuting them or getting defendants to incriminate themselves as in the case of the shooting at the PDRC stage in Trat. As a result, the witnesses and evidence used in these trials were inadequate to prove that the defendants were the actual perpetrators. That said, in these sequences of trials, apart from the problem of the evidence having no weight, another important problem has to do with the law itself, i.e. repeated prosecutions. 

Repeated prosecution is prosecution for the same offence for which the court has already given a final judgment. Section 39 of the Criminal Procedure Code prohibits this kind of prosecution, but there is no check  that the prosecution involves the same set of defendants and evidence and when the prosecution has sent the case to the court, the court accepts it for judgement. Even though the eventual result is that court may judge to dismiss the case because of legal problems, the defendants have already lost their supposed rights in the judicial process, whether the right to bail or the right to not be prosecuted twice for the same offence. 

This can be seen in the men in black case, where a case on the charge of the possession of weapons and carrying weapons into an urban area was used first, and a prosecution for assaulting military officers on the night of 10 April 2010 then followed after the first case ended with the Supreme Court dismissing the cases because a military officer gave conflicting eye-witness testimony in the two cases. In the case of bomb-throwing at the Criminal Court, the court acquitted the four defendants who were also prosecuted in the case of commissioning a third person to throw a bomb on the grounds that it was a repeated prosecution.

In addition, the prosecution of defendants in one case after another did not only concern charges related to political violence, but also lèse majesté or royal defamation charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code. 

Nattathida Meewangpla being escorted out of the military court. Image: the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. 

One such case of that of Nattathida Meewangpla, aka Waen, a volunteer nurse and one of the six defendants in the case of commissioning a third party to throw bombs. As soon as she had been granted bail in this case, the police went to the prison to seize her on a charge of lèse majesté, even though this charge had already been investigated since her detention in a military camp, when no charges were pressed.

Nattathida gave an account of her lèse majesté case after she got bail in both cases. She said the military officer that interrogated her not only forced her to confess and threatened to harm her loved ones, but he also threatened her with a lèse majesté charge if she refused to withdraw as a witness in the case of the shooting and killing of six civilians at Pathum Wanaram Temple during the crackdown on the UDD protest on 19 May 2010.

However, Nattathida’s lèse majesté case only had screenshot images from the LINE application as evidence, which eventually led it to be dismissed by the court since the court believed that the origin of this evidence could not be proved. The alleged images were not found on her mobile phone that had been confiscated. Moreover, the witness in the case testified that he had not known her before and had not written the text. 


Guilty as Charged

Nevertheless, some cases have led to conviction, such as two of the 14 defendants in the bombing case at the Criminal Court on 7 March 2015, since the two were arrested at the scene. But the Criminal Court found them guilty only of possession of explosives and attempted murder by throwing explosives and dismissed the charge of attempting to kill officials by shooting due to insufficient evidence and the only evidence was the statement of one soldier in the arresting unit, while the other witness, also a soldier, said that he was in hiding and only heard gun shots without knowing the direction. 

There are some cases where the court gave a guilty verdict. The case of firing M79 grenades at Big C Ratchadamri in 2014 is one where the defendant was convicted by the Bangkok South Criminal Court and sentenced to death, later reduced to life imprisonment due to a confession at the inquiry stage. The court’s reason for reducing the sentence was that there was another pick-up truck similar to one belonging to the defendant in this case crossing the bridge over Pratunam intersection, which was the site of the firing, and the witnesses who were investigating officers at the military camp were all credible and had no reason to incriminate the defendants. Overlooking the arrest procedure and interrogation at a military camp, and the lack of rights to due process, the court instead chose to focus on the possibility of filing a complaint of forced confession against the investigating officers, when the military brought the defendant in front of the police and the press for a reenactment of the crime.

In other cases charges were dismissed which were related to causing trouble, but the defendants were sentenced for possessing weapons. An example is the case of Nattaphan Lumbangwa and Apichart Puangpetch accused of throwing a bomb on Banthat Thong Road. The Bangkok South Criminal Court dismissed the charge of causing an explosion due to the lack of eyewitnesses and the reliance on only hearsay evidence by the military officer conducting the inquiry. Instead, the court passed sentence on the charge of possessing explosives. The court instead believed that the defendants, while detained by the military, were able to lead officials to the site where the explosives were discarded.

In the case where the two defendants were charged with throwing a bomb at a PDRC protest at the Victory Monument, the Ratchada Criminal Court dismissed the charges of jointly committing murder and possessing explosives. In this case, the court also considered the accusation of torture since the prosecution and officials had not submitted a video of the interrogation in question as evidence and had no witnesses mentioned in the case file to testify. There was only the testimony of the accused. Also, the prosecution had only the witnesses and DNA evidence linked to Kritsada Chaikae, who was accused as the sole perpetrator, but was unable to prove that the two defendants were related to Kritsada. The court also believed that the charge of possession of explosives overlapped with the case at Banthat Thong Road. 

Nattaphan was accused along with Charoen Phromchat in two other cases in a military court. In the first, the military court sentenced them to a jail term of 10 years on the charge of possession of four explosives. In the other case, where Natthaphan and Charoen were accused of possessing 20 explosives, after the case was transferred to a civilian court, the Ratchada Criminal Court acquitted them because of insufficient evidence in the case of Charoen and in the case of Nattaphan the prosecution overlapped with the Banthat Thong explosives case.


Persuasion, Intimidation, and Assault

“The military brought me to be detained under martial law. I do not know for sure where I was detained because I was blindfolded the entire time. … During detention under martial law, I was asked about the bombing at the Criminal Court many times. On the way to interrogation and during the interrogation itself, I was blindfolded and handcuffed the entire time. During the interrogation on around 10 – 11 March 2015, the authorities threatened me and physically abused me to force me to confess that I was involved in this incident. But I refused. They punched me in the abdomen and chest area around the pit of the stomach and rib cage as well as stomping on my body, and punching and slapping me on the head and chest dozens of times, causing me pain in the chest and rib cage area. I was also forced to remove my pants and received more than 30 electric shocks on the outer part of my right thigh.”


Wounds on Sansern Sriounreun

Sansern Sriounreun, another defendant in the case of the bombing of the Criminal Court, gave the above account in an appeal written in prison for submission to the investigating officer, so that he could compile evidence related to torture that occurred during military detention after he showed the bruises and cigarette burns on his body to the lawyer who was monitoring his case in the military court, on the day the investigating officer received Sansern from the military in order to seek his detention in the military court.

Sansern’s case is the clearest picture of the investigation process in military bases, as he was one of the few accused whom lawyers could access before marks of injury disappeared. In addition to Sansern, other defendants in this case have also complained that they were physically abused and threatened during the interrogation. These defendants had been arrested merely because the authorities spread the charges by claiming information that they were in the same LINE group as the two defendants who threw the bomb.
The problem that all of them shared is that they were in a vacuum, with no contact with family or friends, making it difficult to track where they were detained. Also, the state did not count the interrogations in military bases as a part of the procedure under the Code of Criminal Procedure (though the evidence collected was admitted in court). The detainees were denied their right to having a lawyer present during the interrogation. All of these factors increase the risk of forced confessions through threats and/or physical abuse.
Pawinee Chumsri, a TLHR lawyer, has spoken on the problems related to the evidence used by the state, saying that the state merely relies on the information provided by the officials in monitoring, arresting and prosecuting cases. However, when asked to identify who was the source of the information or what agency they were in, official witnesses refused to reveal the identity of the sources or even the method used to obtain the evidence for an arrest, which makes it difficult to check what evidence the officials are using consisted of and whether it was sufficient to make an arrest and prosecute a case.

In addition, the authorities relied solely on information obtained from questioning one detainee first to make more arrests. The same method was also used by officials to compile additional evidence to implicate the detainee himself. The authorities claimed that the accused had confessed, but it could equally be said that he had testified against himself too, as the interrogation that produced such information took place in a military base with no right to contact a lawyer.

Persuading witnesses to incriminate the accused in the cases already mentioned occurred in the case of bombing the PDRC stage on Chaeng Wattana. One of the key witnesses summoned by the authorities to testify was Yongyuth Boondee (aka Daeng Chin Jung), a red shirt who had been a political activist since 2010. He was arrested by the military under martial law in July 2014 while working as a construction worker at Chiang Mai University and detained at the 11th Military Police Battalion. He was prosecuted in three cases based on a confession made during his detention at the military base. So far, the court has already dismissed one case due to insufficient evidence, passed an prison sentence in another case based on the confession without the opportunity to mount a defense, while the third case of bombing the NACC and the Government Lottery Office, has gone quiet. 

But in the case of the Chaeng Wattana bombing, he was treated as an eyewitness who joined in the crime with the other defendants with five counts altogether, which were filed in two separate cases. the Ratchada Criminal Court dismissed all charges, reasoning that his testimony was not credible as he was “persuaded” to confess. He also testified in the examination process that he was an accomplice himself, but became only a witness in both cases. Therefore, it was believed that he had really been persuaded to do so in exchange for not being prosecuted and when he testified as a prosecution witness, he still said that he had been physically abused by military officers while in detention. 
However, not long after the court had given its verdict for both cases of bombing a PDRC stage on Chaeng Wattana, Yongyuth was quickly prosecuted for the bombing of the NACC and the Government Lottery Office. Even though he had been given bail while waiting for the public prosecutor’s order and had attended all appointments with the public prosecutor, a few days before New Year 2021, he was again arrested by commandos from the Crime Suppression Division on the charge of bombing of PDRC stage on Chaeng Wattana .

At a press conference, the police also said that Yongyuth had arrest warrants waiting for him in six other cases.

Why did this occur to these people over and over again? It was as if the justice system had no checking system on their own operations to prevent repeated prosecutions. In some cases the courts acquitted the defendants, in some cases they passed sentences even though the testimony of the defendants was the same, such as confiscated weapons, and even though the military personnel used as witnesses gave conflicting testimony to the court in the two cases.


Accountability but no accountability

“The witnesses that were soldiers, especially Gen. Wicharn Jodtaeng, at that time clearly testified to the court. You claimed that you exercised power under martial law, meaning that such power has been exempted from the Constitution and the Criminal Procedural Code, correct? This has not been ruled on by the court. But in your testimony, you said plainly claim you had looked into martial law, which allowed you to detain these groups. There is no need to appoint a lawyer or question them. If you want to question them, you question; if you want to interrogate them, you interrogate. And in the process, before you went to interrogate them, you tied them up with cable ties, you covered their heads with a black cloth or bag. All of this happened in every case that was reported to us in our legal work. I don’t understand either why they need to blindfold them or cover their head. They sometimes even physically abused the detainees while their head was covered”.

Winyat Chartmontree, one of the lawyers from the United Lawyers for Rights & Liberty, talked about the legal problems faced while providing legal aid to the defendants in the men in black case as well as other cases related to political violence in 2014 – 2015, including the case of throwing a bomb at the Criminal Court. He explained that it has never been scrutinized in court proceedings from the beginning up to the Supreme Court, whether the evidence used in these cases had been obtained lawfully or not.

“When compared to the arrest records in criminal cases, are they equal or inferior or superior, and to what extent? They have become documents outside the law and process. So are the methods outside the law too? The court has never ruled on this”.

Winyat points out that this problem has a law that governs the use of such evidence which says that even though Section 226/3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure specifies that the court must not allow oral evidence, Paragraph (1) and 2 provides exceptions if the status or source of such evidence can be proved, and Paragraph (2) specifies “necessity”. This justifies the admission of the interrogation records obtained during military detention as evidence in court.

The lawyer in the men in black case also sees that this problem could even open an avenue for torture or forced confession. The process from the stage of police investigation had always recognized evidence derived from procedures under special laws, such as martial law, which arose before the cases were transferred to the procedures under the Code of Criminal Procedure, with a lack of overnight by personnel in the justice system, like the police, public prosecutors, and courts.

Pawinee, a lawyer in the case of throwing a bomb at the Criminal Court, which started in a military court and ended in a civilian court also points out the long-standing problems arising from the transfer of case files from the military courts to the civilian courts, after civilian cases were removed from the military courts. 

The TLHR lawyer finds that the Courts of Justice have never examined the processes since the arrest up to trial in a military court. It simply accepted the case files and just proceeded with the parts over which they had authority. When the announcements or orders of the NCPO which ordered the transfer of cases did not allow for scrutiny, it was held that what had been done was finished without going back to review the procedures in the military courts. For instance, the military courts prohibited making photocopies of documents, even though this is a legal right, and they were needed by the defense lawyers to fight the cases. But the Court of Justice merely issued a new order permitting it.

“Actually, there should have been a retroactive examination to what extent the procedures of the military courts were fair. That is my opinion since we urged them to stop using the military courts. We proposed that the cases in the military courts should be looked at to see which cases were not necessary and should be dropped altogether. For the cases that were criminal cases, we must look whether the procedures were legitimate or not. Should we start over or if the procedure had already been legitimate, carry on? But when the cases were transferred, it seems everything was transferred,” said Pawinee.


Oversight Mechanisms that in fact are Unusable

There are two ways to investigate detention and torture in Thailand. The first is to file a petition to the court requesting it to examine alleged unlawful detention under Section 90 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Section 90 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is there to allow investigation of an unlawful detention. This Section allows the detainee him/herself, a public prosecutor, an investigating officer, a corrections official, as well as the detainee’s family to file a petition to the court to begin an ‘urgent’ investigation procedure. If the court thinks the petition has merit, the court shall summon the detaining agency to testify before the court about the detention and to bring the detainee to appear before the court. If the court deems that the detention is unlawful, the court has the authority to order the detainee to be released.
However, using this procedure has proven to be difficult. In practice, detainees do not usually know their where they are or to which unit the officials belong. They have only a rough idea that the officials are from a military unit under the command of the NCPO. 

The TLHR lawyer said that in the past this procedure has never been utilized in the cases related to political violence because it was usually a while before the detention became known only when the accused were handed over to the investigating officer, but there have been similar experiences in cases of political expression Pawinee said that in using Section 90, when the petition is submitted to the court, the court does not immediately convene an examination of the petition. So many times, the officials have already released the detainees or transferred them to the police. The court therefore cancels the examination, so arrests and detentions that have already occurred are not examined. In the case of the eight admins of the satirical Facebook page “We Love Gen Prayuth”, who the military detained in a military camp, when the petition was submitted to the court, the military handed them over to the police. So at that time, there was no order or judgment to be used as a norm for making the power of the state accountable, even though according to the procedure, the court should have summoned the detainees to appear before the court in order to see the conditions of detention. 


A Justice System that Only Creates More Victims

All cases of political violence have victims. Some have been injured, some have even been killed. Property has been lost. But many cases have been dismissed because of problems caused by the evidence presented by the state in support of the charges. Some cases where the court passed sentence are dubious. In some cases it is clear that the defendants have become victims. This has raised the questions: will they all receive justice? is there still a solution to this problem?

“I think it may be possible, but it must come from a genuinely democratic government, which truly represents the people that have voted for it. I also think that there are efforts by political representatives and representatives of people in society to propose ideas on how to arrange or deliver justice over things that happened during the NCPO era or even before. However, this cannot happen under this regime. For this to happen, state mechanisms must work together. And in order for them to work and think together, the policy of the executive must point in that direction. But the executive will not see it as a problem while we still have the same government. But if we have a government that is a people’s democracy, I think they will definitely deal with the NCPO legacy. The symbol of the NCPO legacy is the affected people who have been injured or killed or prosecuted unfairly. I think it can happen in the future,” Pawinee, TLHR lawyer, expressed her hopes for the future.

Nevertheless, TLHR believes what is likely to happen is that there will be example cases. But it is still difficult to charge all state officials because in some cases, we have clear evidence of rights abuses by state officials which can be used to prosecute the officials who were directly involved or trace those who gave the orders, but in others, the evidence is not as clear or the officials who committed the crimes have already passed away.

Pawinee suggests that to compensate the victims of violence, the state still has the obligation to prosecute and punish the perpetrators using a human rights-based approach. But it must be clear that the state’s use of shortcut judicial processes, such as using martial law or military rule, instead of providing justice to the victims, has created even more victims or people who have not received justice. And there is no end to the problem because the defendants see the courts as unfair. Until they are acquitted, they still have spent several years in jail or appearing in court. The victims of violence ask who are the real criminals.

“What the state has done, to put it simply, shows that there is no sincerity in giving justice to the victims. So at the end of the day, it comes back to the fact that we need to create a truly efficient justice system. There is no shortcut. It must truly follow the evidence. Is it adequate or not? I think that way, the victims and other people will see more sincerity about solving the problems”.

FeatureIn-Depth2014 military coupcriminal courtNCPOThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)Section 112Source: Sorawut (Depth)
Categories: Prachatai English

Energy, Money, and Security: for whom?

Prachatai English - Mon, 2023-02-27 18:08
Submitted on Mon, 27 Feb 2023 - 06:08 PMVisual Rebellion

The Andaman Sea, southern Myanmar, 60 kilometers offshore south of Myanmar lies Yadana, the main natural gas field of the country. Natural gas sources have become a hotspot of geopolitical involvement in the ongoing political upheaval inside Myanmar as oil and gas rank as the top profit-making businesses for the coup-making military junta. 

Map of Yadana project and other offshore gas fields in Myanmar. (Photo: TotalEnergies)

Investment in natural gas provides significant revenue for Myanmar. According to the latest government budget, Myanmar’s oil and gas sector brought in 2,018 trillion kyats (US$1.5 billion) in the 2019/2020 fiscal year, with about 80 percent of that coming from offshore gas. These offshore projects are led by foreign investors and a conglomerate linked to the Burmese military, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). 

On January 21st, 2022, TotalEnergies withdrew from the Yadana project citing “the deterioration of human rights” after the coup d’Etat in February 2021. The action was welcomed by the NGOs, but the human rights situation in Myanmar hasn’t improved in any way. One year on, the people continue to be suppressed and now the Burmese military regime has gained more shares in this international collaboration joint venture.

In 1995, the French giant Total won the bid opened by the Burmese military regime and three years later began operating the main natural gas field “Yadana” (meaning ‘Treasure’) in the Gulf of Motamma, southeast Myanmar. The project produces about 770 million cubic meters of natural gas per day (MMSCFD), 65% of which is converted into electricity and exported via a 346 km underground pipeline through the Tanintharyi region, to gas separation plants in western Thailand. The rest is used to supply Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, which still suffers from regular power cuts, which have worsened since the coup to the point of despair.

TotalEnergies (France) held the majority stake (31.2%) alongside the three other shareholders, Chevron (United States), PTTEP (Thailand) and MOGE. After the coup d’etat in 2021, Burmese activists and international organizations have been pressuring the investors to take action up to their commitments in running business in line with human rights standards. A year later, TotalEnergies announced its withdrawal five years earlier before the end of its 30-year contract.

The conditions of this decision were condemned by Burmese activists as the redistribution of Total’s shares allows the military to rake in even more money. The Earth Rights International NGO estimates that MOGE has received $2.1 billion in 2021/2022, after a 65% increase in the price per unit paid by Thailand to Myanmar.

Under the contract, the French company’s shares were divided between the remaining joint venture partners for free. Chevron took the majority share and now holds 41.1%, while PTTEP becomes a 37.08% shareholder. MOGE now holds 21.8%, up from 15% previously.

“Because TotalEnergies left and gave up their shares, MOGE now has more money. We never ask the foreign companies to pull out from Myanmar but we are asking them not to pay money to the junta.” condemned Aung Aung, representative of the Blood Money Campaign (BMC). BMC aims to close the tap on the flow of money in the energy sector, the main source of income for the military.

They quit in a very irresponsible way. No one knows what they negotiated with the military

Historically, TotalEnergies is no stranger to controversies over the Yadana gas project. In 2005, the company was sued in Belgium by four Burmese refugees who accused it of complicity in forced labor and abuse by the Burmese military during the construction of the pipeline. But the lawsuit was dismissed.

During the previous era of military rule in the 1990’s, anti-dictatorship advocacy groups didn’t collectively focused on this main source of revenue for the generals and cronies running the country, according to Aung Aung. He believes that a shifting of this tactic would be a gamechanger in the current revolution.

In 2019, TotalEnergies paid $229.6 million to Myanmar, including $178.6 million to MOGE for gas produced and sold and $51 million in taxes to the Ministry of Finance, according to Reuters Factbox.

The campaign is calling on companies to stop paying MOGE and redirect these revenues to an escrow account, an alternative account that the junta-controlled company could not use and that would be protected until an elected civilian government takes power. Total’s decision to leave Myanmar allowed the Yadana project to operate in the same way, with revenues continuing to flow into MOGE’s pocket.

The announcement of Total’s withdrawal in late January was followed by European Union sanctions against MOGE a few weeks afterwards. These sanctions include asset freezes – blocking bank accounts – and visa bans for people connected to the company but did not attempt to divert payment to an escrow account following BMC’s recommendations. 

Still, the markets have taken note. The Dow Jones Sustainability World Index announced that reinstated TotalEnergies was brought back to the list after excluding it in 2021. Instead, the same index recently cut out Yadana’s new operator, PTTEP. 

Burmese people called on the PTT group. (Source: Blood Money Campaign)

The company is a subsidiary of PTT group, Thailand’s state-owned oil and gas conglomerate which runs an all-in-one petroleum business. This model is also implemented in the Yadana project, where PTT subsidiaries manage the entire chain, from exploration and extraction of oil and gas deposits in Myanmar to their refining and supplying in various forms in power plants in Thailand. 

The geopolitical game linked to natural gas investment has now shifted the focus from Western to Asian countries which brings more complicated conflicts of interests.  Many Myanmar neighbors who import natural gas for their electricity needs, can be considered as “military-inclined”. 

Since the 2021 coup, Thailand has not taken a concrete stance to condemn the military’s actions in Myanmar. Members of the Thai military government, themselves in place since a 2014 coup in Bangkok, meet regularly with the Burmese junta’s leadership. Although Thailand became the first country in Asia to adopt a national action plan on business and human rights in line with UN guidelines, the country is still failing to implement it.

This is not only happening in the case of Thailand but also with China which runs the double oil and gas pipeline from Rakhine to Shan states at the Myanmar-China border. 

In addition to its role as an investor in gas field projects in Myanmar, the Thai PTT Group is also the sole buyer of Myanmar’s gas, which it sells to power plants in Thailand to generate electricity. Natural gas is the main fuel for generating electricity in the neighboring country, and 10% of that fuel is imported from the Yadana field.

The Burmese protesters called for a stop of revenue sources in the oil and gas sector to the Burmese junta. (Source: Blood Money Campaign)

Together with Thai civil groups, the Blood Money Campaign is pointing to the remaining shareholders in the gas project, particularly the PTT group. They call for a boycott on all related businesses including the franchise coffee shop and the gas stations owned by the Thai conglomerate. But PTTEP’s dual role as a provider of a necessary public service but an accomplice to a criminal regime complicates public sentiments about the boycott campaign against the Thai oil and gas giant. 

Closing the Myanmar tab, the cheapest source of natural gas for Thailand, could double the electricity price in the country as the price of natural gas from the Gulf of Thailand has higher operating costs. The price of liquefied natural gas (LNG), an alternative source, is rising since Russia invaded Ukraine.

“But it is possible to work it out if the Thai government takes a political stand, decides not to go into Myanmar anymore and organizes to endorse the price increase. Thailand has the capacity to replace this fuel with other sources. The technological transition would take some time. But it is not too difficult,” Witoon Permpongsacharoen, an energy expert and founder of the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE-NET), told Visual Rebellion. 

According to him, the issue of Myanmar natural gas is the tip of the iceberg made of heavily centralized energy sectors both in Thailand and Myanmar. Globally, the environmental movement has encouraged the transition from natural gas, an extractive fossil fuel, to other renewable energy sources such as locally-run solar power and small-scale hydropowers. But successive governments in the two countries have long been delaying such schemes and still heavily rely on natural gas. 

It’s all about politics and business

Myanmar military regimes especially have been using natural gas as a high-profit commodity scheme thanks to obscure deals with foreign investors. 

TotalEnergies’s public statements about their decision to quit the Yadana project may show some political and humanitarian concern. But many experts have suspected that this move is more linked from the fact that Yadana gas stock is depleting and will be dry in the next couple of years. 

Today, the only remaining Western investor in Yadana is Chevron. The American multinational has announced that it will follow the French company in its withdrawal from the country. Yet there has still been no concrete action and the Biden administration has not imposed sanctions on MOGE in the Burma Act enacted by the U.S. Senate in December 2022. The Burma Act aims to authorize humanitarian assistance and support for civil society, promote democracy and human rights, and impose targeted sanctions regarding human rights violations in Burma. 

So far, the Thai PTT group doesn’t show any attempt to quit Myanmar and it has been reported that it would also take over the Chevron shares, in case the American company finally chose to seize its operations in the Southeast Asian country. 

A September 2022 exhibition in Bangkok about the links between electricity consumption in Thailand and the on-going situation in Myanmar. (Source: Visual Rebellion)

PTTEP did not respond to our reporter’s interview request on why the company is pursuing its operations of the Yadana gas field in light of international sanctions. It has published though some answers to the public opinion, which is deeply concerned by the horrendous human rights violations perpetrated by the military junta in Myanmar. However, it also claimed that maintaining their projects is important for long-term energy security in both Thailand and Myanmar. 

PTT never disclosed transparent information about their payment to MOGE. Reuters has calculated that based on figures disclosed by Total and PTTEP’s shares in Yadana, PTTEP payments could have amounted to close to $500 million between 2015 and 2019. 

The company hasn’t publicly addressed the proposal from BMC to redirect the payments to MOGE to an escrow account, an alternative account that the junta-controlled company could not use and that would be protected until an elected civilian government takes power.

Recently, the Burmese local media has reported that Myanmar’s Ministry of Defense has been invited to a military meeting and exercise in February 2023 co-hosted by the United States and Thailand. 

“Successfully applying public pressure on the giant companies is very difficult,” said Aung Aung “But the most powerful power in this world remains people’s power and I believe in it.”

You can read a version of this story focused on Total in our French partner publication Mediapart.

You can also read our academic report on the shifting power dynamics around the pipelines in Myanmar to China and Thailand on Researchers’ Republic. 

Note: The article is originally published in Visual Rebellion on 21 January 2023. CLICK to see the original content here.

Pick to PostMyanmarYadana oil fieldMyanmar coupPTT Public Co. Ltd.Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE)TotalEnergiesChevronPTTEPSource:
Categories: Prachatai English

Hunger strikers to continue protest despite being threatened

Prachatai English - Mon, 2023-02-27 17:30
Submitted on Mon, 27 Feb 2023 - 05:30 PMPrachatai

Photos: Ginger Cat

On 26 February, Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong, two activists who spent the previous evening protesting in front of the Supreme Court, declared they would continue staging their hunger strike there.

Krisadang Nutcharas (middle)

Their message was delivered by Krisadang Nutcharas, Tantawan and Orawan’s lawyer. The two left Thammasat hospital after being treated for almost a month while conducting a fast to demand bail rights for political prisoners and reform of the judicial system.

Krisadang said that as the two have been on hunger strike for over 30 days, they risk infection by protesting on the street. Despite doctors advising them to remain in a well-equipped hospital, they insist on continuing.

Sunday was Tantawan and Orawan’s third day protesting outside the confines of prison and the hospital.  They withdrew their bail requests late last January and shortly after, announced that they would go on a month-long fast.

Demonstrators with banners calling for release of political dissidents and questioning the royal defamation law.

Their three nights out have not been easy. Krisadang said the two received threatening phone calls, were photographed by plainclothes police, and were disturbed by motorcycle riders wearing outfits of a group that opposed them. Their request for a public toilet vehicle was also refused on the grounds that the demonstration area is within 150 metres of the palace - a no-protest zone.

The lawyer said Tantawan and Orawan would seek approval from the Court, via the head of the Supreme Court, to continue protesting within the Court’s fenced domain. The request was to be filed on Monday morning.

To show solidarity with Tantawan and Orawan, a number of other demonstrators also gathered front of the Court. Among them were Bencha Saengchantra, a lawmaker from Move Forward Party (MFP), and Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, an activist who was recently allowed bail after his no-sleep protest streak, which resulted in lingering damage to his nervous system.

As of 26 February, three political dissidents remain in detention pending trial - Thiranai, Khathathon, and Chaiyaporn (surnames withheld in all cases). Their release was among the immediate demands of Tantawan and Orawan. At the same day, the Court once again stood on refusing bail for Thiranai and Chaiyaporn on 26 Sunday, fearing them escaping the trial.

Their other demands include reform of the judicial system to guarantee human rights and freedom of expression. They also demand that every political party move to guarantee people’s rights, freedoms, and political participation by backing the repeal of the royal defamation and sedition laws.

NewsTantawan TuatulanonOrawan PhuphongKrisadang Nutcharus
Categories: Prachatai English

Activists leave hospital, continue dry fast at Supreme Court

Prachatai English - Sat, 2023-02-25 16:28
Submitted on Sat, 25 Feb 2023 - 04:28 PMPrachatai

Images: Ginger Cat

On 24 February, activists Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon, and Orawan ‘Bam’ Phuphong, left Thammasat Hospital to continue their dry fast in front of the Supreme Court. They have fasted for 37 days demanding bail rights and justice reform.

Tantawan Tuatulanon lies on bed as she leaves Thammasat hospital.

Due to the long fast, their appearance has apparently deteriorated even though some small amounts of water and liquids are provided from time to time to avoid the risk of death.

Orawan Phuphong leaves the hospital at the same time as Tantawan.

In the afternoon, people could be seen building a shelter on the footpath in front of the Court. One section of it surrounded by plastic wraps is meant for the two to stay in while continuing their campaign.

On Facebook, Tantawan and Orawan posted a letter to Thammasat Hospital insisting on leaving, as well as fully acknowledging the risk to their lives from doing so.

As the two arrived at the Court entrance, they were transferred into the prepared space. Demonstrators also expressed solidarity with them by demanding the release of political detainees.

Orawan arrives at the prepared space in front of Supreme Court.

Ever since the surge of mass protests in 2020 calling for political and monarchy reform, people have been charged, jailed, or detained pending trial for involvement in the movement. Questions have been asked in public and parliament over the use of the law to detain individuals for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression to the point where it may violate the presumption of innocence.

A demonstrator flashes a three-finger salute at the front of Supreme Court.

At the time Tantawan and Orawan began their refusal to drink and eat, there were 16 people, including them, who were being held in detention pending trial or appeal on charges related to their participation in the pro-democracy movement, 8 of them on royal defamation charges.

As of 25 February, three political dissidents remain in detention pending trial - Thiranai, Khathathon, and Chaiyaporn (surnames withheld in all cases). Their bail applications are awaiting the courts’ decision. Their release was among the immediate demands of Tantawan and Orawan.

Their other demands include reform of the judicial system to guarantee human rights and freedom of expression. They also demand that every political party move to guarantee people’s rights, freedoms, and political participation by backing the repeal of the royal defamation and sedition laws.

NewsTantawan TuatulanonOrawan PhuphongTawanBamrights to bailbail rights
Categories: Prachatai English


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