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

Community clinics left in limbo after new regulations restrict HIV prevention services

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-02-23 22:35
Submitted on Thu, 23 Feb 2023 - 10:35 PMAnna Lawattanatrakul and Sicha Rungrojtanakul

Story by Anna Lawattanatrakul and Sicha Rungrojtanakul
Cover illustration by Kittiya On-in

New orders issued by the Ministry of Public Health restricting the HIV prevention budget and requiring community-based clinics to be supervised by a government medical facility have drawn criticism from civil society due to concerns that the new regulations would limit their ability to provide HIV testing and preventative medication to at-risk groups.

Just before the New Year, the National Health Security Office (NHSO) announced its 2023 National Health Security Budget Plan. Due to questions raised by legal advisors for Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, the plan allows that only budget allocated to health promotion and disease prevention can be used to provide services for those covered by the Universal Care , or “Gold Card,” Scheme.

Meanwhile, another regulation issued by the Department of Health Service Support, Ministry of Public Health, requires sexual health clinics run by civil society organizations to be supervised by a government-run medical facility and to submit blood test results to a doctor so that medication can be prescribed. In the wake of the new regulation, several clinics in Bangkok suspended their HIV prevention service out of the fear that it would be illegal to continue.

These new regulations have drawn criticism from community clinics, who have been providing HIV testing and preventative medication for everyone, regardless of their healthcare scheme, due to concern that their HIV prevention work will be restricted and that it will lead to the shrinking of safe spaces for people seeking counselling about their sexual health without the fear of facing prejudice. They also expressed concern that these restrictions would increase the risk of HIV infection in Thailand due to the reduced access to blood tests and anti-viral medication.

All in the reading of the law

Yupadee Sirisinsuk (Photo from the NHSO)

Yupadee Sirisinsuk, Assistant Secretary-General of the NHSO, said that the budget problem is because the NHSO and the Ministry of Public Health have interpreted legislation differently. In the past, she said, the NHSO has been providing health promotion and disease prevention services for everyone on the principle that they should be available to every citizen, and have been requesting a budget on behalf of the Social Security Fund and the government employee benefit programme.

Questions were recently raised by Anutin’s legal advisor whether the NHSO is allowed to do this, but it is nothing new. Yupadee said that, in 2003, the NHSO sought a ruling from the Office of the Council of State on a similar issue and were told that, because of a section in the National Health Security Act stating that everyone has the right to healthcare that is efficient and up to standard, the NHSO is allowed to use its budget to provide healthcare for everyone. 

Yupadee also cited another section in the Act stating that the NHSO is authorized to perform any duties assigned by the Cabinet, and said that the NHSO has been interpreting that to mean that it is authorized to distribute its budget once it has been allocated the money, which has to be approved by parliament.

However, the Act also requires the NHSO to come up with a mutual agreement with the Social Security Fund or any agency responsible for the government employee benefit programme before it provides any service for people covered by the two other schemes. The agreement must also be published in the Royal Gazette to be valid.

Because no such agreement has been announced, questions was raised whether the NHSO will be breaking the law if it continues to use its health promotion and disease prevention budget for everyone regardless of their healthcare scheme. Yupadee said that after several discussions with the National Health Commission and a long delay in announcing its budget plan, usually declared before the start of the fiscal year on 1 October, the NHSO decided to announce its budget plan covering just patients in the Universal Care scheme while it seeks clarification on what it can do for everyone else.

However, this meant that HIV prevention, previously covered by the health promotion and disease prevention budget along with birth control and abortion, is now covered by the NHSO only for those in the Universal Care scheme. Anyone covered by other schemes must go to the hospital or clinic they are registered at if they want to get tested for HIV or get prescriptions for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), both of which are medications taken to prevent HIV infection either before or after exposure to the virus. Medical facilities will also not be reimbursed for services given to those outside the Universal Care scheme for the time being.

Meanwhile, the regulation issued by the Department of Health Service Support led to the suspension of services at clinics operated by the Service Workers in Group (SWING) Foundation and the Rainbow Association of Thailand. Both organizations announced that they would no longer be prescribing PrEP and PEP as they previously worked in a network with a private clinic and were concerned that it would be illegal for them to continue.

Inthira Suya, Thailand representative for FHI 360’s EpiC programme

“The new Ministry regulation will affect the clinics, especially clinics in Bangkok,” said Inthira Suya.

Inthira is the Thailand representative for FHI 360’s EpiC programme, which works to reduce HIV infection in key populations, including men who have sex with men, transgender women, and sex workers, through providing prevention services, such as through the Key Population-Led Health Services Model in partnership with civil society organizations like the Institute of HIV Research and Innovation (IHRI), SWING Foundation, MPlus Foundation, and Caremat Foundation.

She noted that PrEP is available at private hospitals, but is expensive and can be unaffordable for many people.

She said that if PrEP is not accessible at a price they can afford, people may decide not to take the medication to protect themselves, which can lead to a rise in HIV infections.

Meanwhile, a network of civil society organizations led by TestBKK and APCOM launched a campaign on calling for the Ministry of Public Health to allow civil society organizations and clinics to continue to provide PrEP and PEP and to provide financial support to ensure access to these services to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. As of 23 February, the campaign had over 6,660 signatures.

Representatives of civil society organizations working on HIV prevention also filed a petition with the Senate Standing Committee on Public Health on 16 January, stating that requiring people not covered by the Universal Care Scheme to obtain HIV prevention services from their registered hospital makes it harder for them to access the means to protect themselves. Requiring community clinics to work under the supervision of a government agency also will result in several clinics suspending their services, leading to an increased risk of HIV infection. The organizations therefore called on the committee to have the regulations revised to ensure equal access to HIV prevention for everyone.

Yupadee said that the NHSO is now trying to find solutions and will not let services be disrupted. The NHSO has requested the assistance of other government agencies, asking them to step in to provide these services, and promised that it will reimburse every service provider once there is a plan for how it can use its budget for people outside of the Universal Care Scheme.

The NHSO is also pairing community-based clinics with public hospitals and has requested support from the Department of Disease Control to provide the necessary medication.

“Every side sees the importance, and it’s very clear, especially when it comes to PrEP and PEP that civil society organizations are the main service providers, because people can’t access government services, and people who are at risk do not want to go [to a government facility] because they want confidentiality and things like that, so they won’t go,” Yupadee said.

On 24 January, SWING announced that its clinics are now back in operation, while Rainbow Sky’s clinics announced their return on 26 January. They are now working with the Bang Rak Medical Centre and the Department of Disease Control’s AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Division.

To fix the issue at its cause, Yupadee said the NHSO is now in the process of discussing with the Social Security Fund and the government employee benefit programme and will be announcing a mutual agreement as required by the National Health Security Act. Although she said that there is no predicting when this process will be completed, Yupadee thinks that there should be no obstacle, as every involved agency believes that the people will benefit from it and the budget has already been allocated. She also said that they should have no problem getting clarification from the Cabinet even if the Cabinet’s term ends or if parliament is dissolved.

Left in Limbo

A sign attached to a utility pole in an alleyway pointing the way to the Caremat Clinic

Due to the new regulations, community-based clinics are now facing uncertainty about whether they could continue to provide HIV testing and prevention for anyone regardless of their healthcare scheme, and if or when they would be compensated for the services they gave.

Satayu Sittikarn, Director of the Caremat Foundation, said that the Caremat Clinic has been working with priority populations since 1993. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) via the EpiC Progamme, Caremat operates a clinic in Chiang Mai city providing sexual health counselling, voluntary HIV testing, and medication like PrEP and PEP. They also refer anyone testing positive for HIV to a hospital so they can be prescribed anti-viral medication, follow up on them to make sure they are taking medication continuously and correctly, as well as provide mental support.

Satayu said that some people may not be able to go to a government facility, either because of their working hours or because they do not feel comfortable disclosing details about their sexual lives to an employee in a government facility. He said that the Caremat Clinic welcomes anyone regardless of their healthcare scheme or citizenship status, as the clinic prioritizes the person’s risk level over these factors.

“We don’t know if condoms would always keep them safe. If their sexual life is still risky, we will offer them PrEP. We don’t care what scheme they’re under. We only care about how much risk this individual is facing of contracting HIV,” Satayu said.

Due to the current uncertainty over how the NHSO can use its health promotion and disease prevention budget, clinics like the Caremat Clinic cannot be reimbursed for services given to people covered by healthcare schemes other than the Universal Care scheme, such as the Social Security Scheme or government employee benefits, and now have to carry the cost themselves.

Even though Caremat is part of a network of community clinics supported by a local public hospital, they have been asked to prioritise those covered by the Gold Card Scheme and those who are registered at the hospital under the Social Security Scheme, since the hospital itself also cannot be reimbursed for services given to people outside of these two groups.

Although it has been announced that anyone seeking HIV testing or preventative medication prescription can go to the facility they are registered at, community clinic workers are concerned that at risk groups may not want to go to a public hospital. Satayu said that some people cannot afford testing fees and may not know what services are available to them under their healthcare scheme. Meanwhile, the social stigma regarding HIV means that some may avoid getting tested, and community clinics cannot be sure that they will go to the hospital if they are told to or if hospital personnel would understand the conditions of their lives.

Satayu Sittikarn

Satayu also said that facilities like the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority’s public health centres or social security hospitals may not be prepared to provide these services. For example, they may not be able to prescribe PrEP and may not have the medication in stock. He said that if the NHSO will only cover HIV prevention for people in the Gold Card scheme, it should make preparations so that people outside of the scheme can get their medication elsewhere, since the cost of treatment is higher than that of prevention, and HIV infection rates may rise without access to preventative medication.

“We do this every day because we are doing it for the country. We’re not doing it for ourselves. … We are determined to end the problems of AIDS, but at the same time, our service is facing obstacles like these,” Satayu said, explaining that the clinic is finding solutions for the short term.

Despite the obstacles, it is still business as usual at the Caremat Clinic, and Satayu said that it is still their policy to never turn anyone away.

“Because they come to us with the hope that we can help them, if we refuse them, how would they feel?” Satayu said. “We think that we have to help them. We’re not a government service provider with many conditions and restrictions. We see people as equal.”

Surang Chanyaem at the 10 January press conference

Meanwhile, SWING Foundation’s Director Surang Chanyaem said during a press conference on 10 January that the Ministry of Public Health’s new regulation requiring community clinics to submit blood test results to a government medical facility for a doctor to prescribe medication will limit people’s ability to protect themselves and may put people now using PrEP more at risk of HIV. She also said that it is a violation of the fundamental right to healthcare. 

Surang said that SWING and other civil society organizations working to prevent HIV call on the NHSO to revise its budget plan so that the money can be used to cover the cost of HIV prevention for everyone, and for the Ministry of Public Health to combine the Universal Care scheme, the Social Security Scheme, and government employee benefit into one healthcare scheme to ensure that HIV prevention is accessible to everyone.

They also call for the Ministry of Public Health to revise its regulations to allow civil society volunteers to work under the supervision of medical professionals at both public and private medical facilities, as well as to stock PrEP on their premises. They should also be allowed to operate a Telemedicine service with a medical professional.

Meanwhile, Yupadee said that requiring community clinics to pair up with a government facility is not about working with an institution but about having the input of a medical professional, such as a doctor or a pharmacist. She believes that the new regulation should be expanded to allow clinics to form networks with private medical facilities to increase access to healthcare.

“We want to end AIDS, right? So it’s all the more reason for us to make sure there is service that is easily accessible, especially because a government agency is not available 24 7, right? The issue here is that, if possible, that announcement or regulation should allow civil society to pair up with a private organization that has doctors and pharmacists,” Yupadee said.

A vanishing safe space?

The Caremat Clinic in Chiang Mai

According to information collected by SWING Clinic, around 60% of people who are using PrEP in the country get their medication from community-based clinics.

Not only do community clinics provide blood tests and give out medication, they also function as safe spaces for people to seek advice about their sexual health without stigmatization or prejudice. The civil society is therefore concerned that, if they are no longer able to provide services to those outside the Universal Care scheme, there will be less safe space for people who are uncomfortable going to a government hospital but need advice, lowering access to HIV-related healthcare.

Satayu said that even though a public hospital has a standard of care and employs medical professionals, many people may not go because they feel uncomfortable disclosing details about their sexual lives to a government employee, such as sex workers or those whose sexual activity involves drug use, who may be concerned that they will be prosecuted if they have to disclose this information to a government-run medical facility. LGBTQ+ people may also face stigmatization and prejudice from hospital personnel. For example, a trans woman who is still addressed as “Mr” by hospital employees might feel uncomfortable seeking treatment.

Meanwhile, the opening hours at most public hospitals make it difficult for some people to see a doctor, while community clinics tend to open at more accessible hours. The Caremat Clinic, for example, is open from 13.00 – 19.00 on weekdays and until 17.00 on Saturdays.

“Our clinics do not open according to official hours. They also close late. It’s more convenient to come here and it takes less time,” said Inthira. She noted that community-run clinics are led by members of key population groups, and therefore have a better understanding of the daily lives of their target group and so their space and counselling process are more friendly.

“They feel more comfortable talking and asking for advice about their problems. It’s like if I have to do a pelvic exam. I’d feel more comfortable with a woman doctor too,” Inthira said.

Meanwhile, Satayu said that the opening hours at community clinics make it so that people do not need to take time off work to see a counsellor or get tested, such as during the weekend. He questioned whether people would seek these services if they have to half a day or a full day off work to go to a hospital and have to worry about being stigmatized or treated with prejudice.

He also noted that public hospitals are already seeing so many patients each day, and to reduce the workload, mild cases can be dealt with by community hospitals or clinics run by civil society organizations to give doctors a chance to treat serious cases. The Caremat Clinic, he said, is part of a model where community clinics work with local hospitals to send information to a doctor who will prescribe medication and follow up on how people are taking their medications. For Satayu, this model should be used elsewhere in the Thai healthcare system to reduce the workload of public hospitals.

Satayu said that 82% of people who are on PrEP in Chiang Mai get their medication from Caremat, which shows that the clinic has the capacity to care for everyone regardless of their healthcare scheme. He pointed out that even migrant workers or indigenous people without Thai citizenship will not be turned away if they come to the clinic.

“They are also Thai, but they are not covered by the NHSO, like ethnic people. There are a lot of ethnic minorities in Chiang Mai. They move from their communities and come to work in the city and they are at risk, but we will give them services. We don’t refuse them because they’re covered by a healthcare scheme that don’t have these services, because we think that if we want to end AIDS, the main population should know their blood test result and have access to treatment,” Satayu said.

Chanan Yodhong

Meanwhile, Chanan Yodhong, who oversees the Pheu Thai Party’s gender diversity policy, pointed out that not only is it more convenient to go to a community clinic than a hospital, the confidentiality provided by these clinics also make people more comfortable because discussing sexual health is sensitive and personal.

“The confidential way they store information makes people receiving the services feel more comfortable going to a facility run by civil society. This is a very sensitive issue,” Chanan said.

Towards ending AIDS

30 years ago, AIDS was seen as a death sentence, but with current medical technology, people can live with HIV as long as they take their anti-viral medication and keep their viral load in check. Infection is also preventable with PrEP or PEP.

Satayu said that it has always been the goal for civil society organizations to work proactively to provide treatment and prevention for at-risk groups, which he thinks is something the civil society is better at. For him, people who test positive for HIV will not develop AIDS and will not die from it if they know that they have the virus and have access to anti-viral medication to keep their viral load down.

Inthira also said that having more community clinics is part of how to meet the goal of ending AIDS by 2030. She noted that, in Australia and the UK, PrEP are mostly provided by community clinics, which makes the medication more accessible and reduces the workload in the healthcare system.

“Because HIV is no longer the biggest problem for the Thai healthcare system like in the past. Now, we have medication that both cures and prevents, and especially if we can quickly identify at-risk groups and have them take preventative medication, then we can end AIDS,” Inthira said.

Meanwhile, Chanan said that centralizing the system so that people can get medication only from hospitals will mean that treatment becomes less accessible. To make healthcare more easily accessible, especially sexual health services like PEP, which must be taken within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV and the sooner one can get the medication the better it will be at preventing infection, he said resources should be distributed to communities and to have a common standard for everyone to follow. He believes that resource distribution is not difficult, and centralization would increase the workload for medical professionals.

“You have to do whatever you can to make it easier for people to access medication and distribute resources so they reach more people,” Chanan said.

In the long run, the NHSO is also planning on increasing the number of community clinics that provide PrEP. Yupadee said that the NHSO is planning to register more organizations, a process she said can be difficult as it needs approval from the National Health Commission, but she noted that the number of community-based organizations working on HIV prevention and treatment is now on the rise.

The NHSO is also planning to work with the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS to found continuum care centres in hospitals to care for HIV-positive people, including follow-up on whether they are taking their anti-viral medication properly and continuously and by working with couples in which one partner is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative to decrease the risk of infection.

Such centres would also work with the communities to raise awareness that AIDS is no different from other chronic health conditions that can be managed with medication, and work to provide treatment for other conditions that often co-exist with HIV, such as Hepatitis C, which Yupadee noted is now curable.

“Right now, the understanding is that HIV is caused partially by stigmatization. The stigma means that people are not open about it. They feel that it’s an illness that’s not okay. If the society stops stigmatizing people, it would be a reason for them to be prepared to enter the system to get tested and get medication,” said Yupadee, who noted that the NHSO also wants to work to end the stigmatization of HIV positive people, and that it may fund civil society organizations using budget from its National Health Security Local Fund to run projects working to prevent illness and decrease the stigma.

“I think, right now, we have to get past this. The community and society have to get past it. They are a member of the society. It’s not like in the past where we stigmatised them or were afraid of infection,” said Yupadee. 

But to ensure that everyone has equal access to healthcare, Thailand may need to combine all of its healthcare schemes into one or facilitate collaboration between the schemes. Chanan said that having several healthcare schemes means there are some overlaps between what is available under the Social Security Scheme, the Universal Care Scheme, and government employee benefits, which is regulated by different legislation and organizations, while they should be collaborating to make healthcare more accessible.

Satayu agrees that there should be one scheme for all, instead of having different systems that can be unequal.

“I think that the Gold Card budget should belong to every Thai person, instead of saying that this is your right and this is my right, that you can’t use my right. No. That’s not how it should be,” Satayu said.

FeaturePrEPPEPHIV/AIDSSexual healthCommunity clinicService Workers In Group (SWING)Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand (RSAT)CarematNational Health Security Office (NHSO)Ministry of Public Healthpublic healthhealthcareInthira SuyaSatayu SittikarnChanan YodhongYupadee SirisinsukFHI 360EpiC
Categories: Prachatai English

UN experts call for VOD reinstatement, say free media critical ahead of elections

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-02-21 18:41
Submitted on Tue, 21 Feb 2023 - 06:41 PMOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Cambodian authorities must reinstate Voice of Democracy, UN experts said on 20 February, after the independent radio station was stripped of its licence to broadcast in English and Khmer last week.

The flag of Cambodia

“We are alarmed by the revocation of Voice of Democracy’s licence without due process, and with immediate effect in the run up to crucial national elections due in July this year,” the experts said.

“The revocation leaves virtually no free media outlets operating in the country,” they said.

Voice of Democracy was one of Cambodia’s last remaining independent media outlets, based in the capital Phnom Penh. The outlet, run by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, published radio and online reports human rights issues, environmental crime and corruption.

The experts called on Cambodian authorities to review the revocation with immediate effect.

“The world is watching Cambodia ahead of the July elections,” the UN experts said.

“Cambodia needs a vibrant civil society and independent media at this critical juncture, including media outlets that critically report on government policies. We strongly urge authorities to reverse the decision,” they said.

The experts: Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; and  Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Pick to PostCambodiaVoice of Democracy (VOD)Vitit Muntarbhornpress freedom
Categories: Prachatai English

3 more political dissidents allowed bail

Prachatai English - Mon, 2023-02-20 22:44
Submitted on Mon, 20 Feb 2023 - 10:44 PMPrachatai

In parallel with ongoing dry fasts and no-sleep protests of activists demanding bail rights, the Court has granted bail to 3 detainees whose charges relate to political protests, leaving 3 still detained.

A file photo of portraits of detained activists, both sentenced and awaiting trial. Displayed in a protest in Los Angeles.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported on 20 February that Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court granted a request from their lawyers to temporarily release Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, Nutthanit Duangmusit, and Pornpot Jaengkrajang.

They are three among six people for whom bail has been requested. The remaining three are Thiranai, Khathathon, and Chaiyaporn (surnames withheld in all cases).

In Thiranai and Chaiyaporn’s case, the Court has passed the request to the Court of Appeal for consideration. In Khathathon’s case, Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court asked for further information. All cases would take a few days before a decision is made.

With three released, the remaining three are the last being detained pending trials for actions related to the pro-democracy protests.

However, there are other 6 people who have been sentenced to prison terms for crimes related to expression about the monarchy and actions related to the protest. The longest serving is Anchan, who has been sentenced to 43 years and six months for violating Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code (lèse majesté).

Bail came after a month of a dry fast started by Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong, two activists known for their monarchy reform activism. Their demands are the release of political prisoners and reform of the judicial system so that human rights and freedom of expression take priority, and so that courts are independent and protect people’s freedom, as well as for judges to make decisions without intervention from their own executives.

They also called for all charges to be dropped against those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and for every political party to guarantee people’s rights, freedoms, and political participation by backing the repeal of the royal defamation law and sedition law.

As their health deteriorated, they were initially admitted to the Department of Corrections Hospital but were transferred to Thammasat University Hospital on 24 January where they remain at the time of writing (20 February). 

Their protests were joined by other detainees: Sitthichok Sethasavet, who staged a hunger strike before being released in mid-February, and Mongkhon Thirakot, who was temporarily released on appeal after being sentenced to 28 years in prison for royal defamation. At the time of writing, Mongkhon remains on a hunger strike in front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court.

Sopon, who was just allowed bail, had been refusing to sleep for 14 days.

As their hunger strike enters its 33rd day, Thaluwang (Pierce the Palace), a monarchy reform group to which Tantawan and Orawan are affiliated, posted that the two would leave Thammasat hospital and continue to protest in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday if all the bail requests are not promptly granted.

Newsbail rightsSopon SurariddhidhamrongNutthanit DuangmusitPornpot Jaengkrajang
Categories: Prachatai English

Senator sues MP for defamation over censure debate speech

Prachatai English - Sun, 2023-02-19 17:12
Submitted on Sun, 19 Feb 2023 - 05:12 PMPrachatai

Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun has sued Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome for defamation, after Rangsiman gave a speech during last week's censure debate on Upakit’s business links to Tun Min Latt, a Myanmar tycoon with close ties to coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hliang.

Rangsiman Rome speaking during the censure debate

During last week’s censure debate, which took place over two days, Rangsiman mentioned in his speech Upakit’s alleged involvement with Allure P&E, a company used for money laundering by Tun Min Latt. 

Rangsiman said that Upakit was not only the founder and former major shareholder of the Thailand-based Allure Group (P&E) Co Ltd but also a co-founder of Myanmar Allure along with Tun Min Latt, while his son-in-law Dean Young Gultula was allegedly a former shareholder and board member of both companies.

In Thailand, a court case is currently proceeding against Tun Min Latt, Dean, and two other individuals, for using the Allure Group (P&E) to launder drug-related money through electricity purchases. The four are currently detained in a Thai prison.

Rangsiman also presented a court order from 3 October 2022 overturning a Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Upakit. He also claimed that the arrest warrant was retracted because Upakit was an “important person” who should be summoned but not arrested.

Prachatai and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) also found in October 2022 that Upakit was wanted for arrest in connection with an alleged drug trafficking and money laundering ring operating out of a casino in the Golden Triangle, but the warrant was quickly retracted. A Thai news programme, meanwhile, reported that it never existed, while another outlet took down a story about the warrant without explanation.

Rangsiman noted in his speech that Upakit also owns a plot of land in Bangkok’s Soi Ari 5 and that the land is now the site of the headquarters for the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, a recently established political party that Gen Prayut recently joined.

On Friday (17 February), a day after Rangsiman’s parliament speech, Upakit’s lawyer filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Rangsiman over the content of the speech, as well as a civil lawsuit demanding 100 million baht in damages.

Rangsiman responded in a Facebook post that a defamation lawsuit is not new to him, since he has been sued several times for speeches given during censure debates. He was sued when he gave a speech about Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s involvement with the Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation, claiming that Gen Prawit used his charity to foster connections with the private sector.

Rangsiman and fellow Move Forward Party MP Bencha Saengchantra were also sued for defamation by the electricity company Gulf Energy Development, after Rangsiman spoke during a censure debate about a satellite concession and after Bencha spoke about the government’s energy policy.

Rangsiman said that his speech is part of his duty as an MP, which involves inquiring whether the government made mistakes, is involved with corruption, or has violated its ethical standards. He said that these inquiries often need to involve people outside of the government, as the government was often involved with them, but that they target the government above all. For him, retaliating with a lawsuit infringes upon an MP’s ability to act as a check and balance to the government.

Rangsiman insisted that he will fight the charges, and said that he believes he will win. He also called on Upakit, as a Senator who is paid from taxpayers’ money, to provide an explanation to the public, because even though Upakit has spoken out after Tun Min Latt was arrested, Rangsiman said he found several pieces of information contradicting what Upakit has said.

Move Forward Party leader and MP Pita Limjaroenrat said that the party will protect its MP and that its legal team will be assisting Rangsiman in fighting the charges. He also said that Rangsiman has told him he will use the court proceeding as an opportunity to request documents he did not have access to when preparing for the censure debate. 

Meanwhile, Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, President of the Senate, said that the Senate currently has no plan to launch an investigation of Upakit, claiming that they do not have the information and no complaint has been filed.

Pornpetch also said that since Upakit filed a lawsuit against Rangsiman, the Senate cannot get involved.

NewsRangsiman RomeUpakit PachariyangkunTun Min Lattmoney launderingdrug traffickingcriminal defamationStrategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP)Censure debateMove Forward partysenate
Categories: Prachatai English

Netiwit may sit as Amnesty Board member, says Court.

Prachatai English - Sun, 2023-02-19 13:32
Submitted on Sun, 19 Feb 2023 - 01:32 PMPrachatai

Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal may sit as a member of Amnesty International Thailand's Board of Directors, three years after his term expired, as the justifications given by the authorities to prevent him from doing so were invalid, the Administrative Court has ruled.

The Court's ruling on 17 February said that the refusal to register Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal as a member of the Amnesty's Board of Directors back in 2018 was unlawful. The authorities must now review the application for registration in compliance with the law.

The Department of Provincial Administration (DPA) and the Minister of Interior, who are responsible for the registration of associations in Bangkok, cited Netiwit's improper conduct and multiple criminal charges as reasons why he was not suitable for serving on Amnesty's Board of Directors.

However, the Court said that Netiwit's supposedly improper conduct could not justify their rejection. Despite the fact that he faced criminal charges, the principle of presumption of innocence must also be observed according to the Constitution.  

The criminal charges against Netiwit turned out to be spurious, as two of them were dropped by the prosecutors and the other two were automatically nullified after the revocation of the Order of National Council for Peace and Order under which they had been brought. The military junta unilaterally issued many Orders after the coup in 2014 which observers claim were used as instruments of political repression.

Netiwit, who has now ordained as a Buddhist monk, was elected member of the Amnesty's Board of Directors and became its first Youth Board Member in July 2018, as the organisation changed its rules in 2017 to promote youth participation in its decision-making process.

The application to register him as a Board Member was rejected by the registrar together with the other three new Board Members elected at the same time. After an appeal, the authorities changed their mind about the other three, but not Netiwit. They also claimed that Amnesty's Board was inquorate, an allegation which turned out to be false.  

Although the actions of the DPA and Minister of Interior caused significant disruption to the work of the Amnesty Board and affected the personal reputation of Netiwit, the ruling imposes no penalty on those responsible for the illegal decisions.

However, Piyanut Kotsan, the Director of Amnesty International Thailand, called the case "another major success to create legal precedence to uphold the right to freedom of association in Thailand" in her letter to Amnesty's members.  

Netiwit's 2-year term expired in 2020. According to Amnesty's charter, he can still become a board member for a second term if elected by Amnesty's members. However, he can no longer return as Youth Board Member as he is now 27 years old, two years above the qualification for the position.

NewsAmnesty International (AI)Netiwit ChotiphatphaisalNational Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
Categories: Prachatai English

Four protesters released after over 200 days in detention

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-02-17 16:54
Submitted on Fri, 17 Feb 2023 - 04:54 PMPrachatai

Four protesters detained pending trial on charges relating to the burning of a police truck during a protest on 11 June 2022 have been granted bail after spending over 240 days in prison.

Firework being lit at Din Daeng Intersection during a protest (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Watcharaphon, Palaphon, Jatuphon, and Natthaphon were accused of setting fire to a police car during a protest on 11 June 2022. After the march from the Democracy Monument to the Victory Monument, some protesters went to the Din Daeng intersection and attempted to march to the 1st Infantry Regiment, where Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha lives. They clashed with riot police during the march, during which a police truck parked near a traffic tunnel was set alight.

The four have been detained since June 2022. Lawyers have requested bail for them 18 times – the most of all political prisoners in 2022, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). 

After the Criminal Court ordered probation officers to produce a report on their behaviour and their education and employment history, they were granted bail yesterday (16 February) on a security of 70,000 baht each. They are also required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and will be released today (17 February) after they have had a bracelet placed on them.

To demand the right to bail, Jatupon and Natthaphon have been depriving themselves of sleep for about a week before they were granted bail, but stopped to take care of detained activist Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, who is still refusing to sleep and has been doing so for the past 8 days.

With their release, four people remain in pre-trial detention on charges relating to various protests: Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, Nutthanit Duangmusit, Khathathon (last name withheld), and Pornpot Jaengkrajang.

NewsThalugazDin Daeng Intersectionright to bailpolitical prisonersPre-trial detention
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai senator's deep involvement with Myanmar junta crony exposed

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-02-17 16:39
Submitted on Fri, 17 Feb 2023 - 04:39 PMPrachatai

After his repeated public denials, Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun’s business links to Tun Min Latt, a Myanmar tycoon close to coup-maker, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, were revealed in a recent parliamentary debate.

Rangsiman Rome while giving a parliamentary speech.

The matter was raised by Rangsiman Rome, a Move Forward Party (MFP) lawmaker, during the parliamentary session on 15  February 2023. In his speech, he accused Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha of mingling with corrupt figures and overlooking his pledge to systematically address drug-related issues.

Rangsiman noted that Upakit was not only the founder and former major shareholder of the Thailand-based Allure Group (P&E) Co Ltd but also a co-founder of Myanmar Allure along with Tun Min Latt. Upakit’s son-in-law Dean Young Gultula was said to be a former shareholder and board member of both companies.

In Thailand, a court case is currently proceeding against Tun, Dean, and two other individuals, referred to as “P” and “N”, for using the Allure Group (P&E) to launder drug money through electricity purchases. 

The four are currently being held in a Thai prison.

Rangsiman showed what he said were leaked online chats between the senator and people related to the case. Among other things, the chat revealed that Upakit ordered “P” to register Allure P&E. Another chat shows that P later sent him the company’s financial report along with information on his share of the income.

In her messages to Upakit, P addressed the senator as “boss.”  Leaked chats also showed that the senator was involved in issues ranging from the design of the company’s logo through to the location of its offices. 

According to Rangsiman, P told the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) that she held shares in the company as a nominee for other individuals.

Another leak indicates that Tun requested that Upakit make  “N”, another defendant in the case, a company board member. Tun also sent Upakit bank slips for purchasing electric current, using his nickname ‘Ou’ in the correspondence.

Chats Rangsiman said belong to Upakit and Tun Min Latt. (Image: Facebook/Rangsiman Rome)

In addition, Rangsiman revealed that Upakit asked Tun to forge the signature of another Allure Group major stakeholder who has yet to be apprehended, Pannarong Khunpitak, an online gambling kingpin. Upakit apparently attached a copy of Pannarong’s passport in the chat as well.

Rangsiman notes that the chats all took place in 2020-2021, at a time when Upakit was already a senator. His claim is a challenge to the Corporate’s record showing Upakit’s leave before he took up a senate seat in 2019.

In addition to the chats, Rangsiman presented a court order of 3 October 2022 which overturned a Criminal Court decision to issue an arrest warrant for Upakit.  Tun and the other defendants in the case were arrested in September.

The warrant was reportedly issued in the morning only to be retracted in the afternoon. The reason, according to Rangsiman, was that Upakit was an “important person” who should be summoned but not arrested. 

The statement reaffirmed the October 2022 findings of Prachatai and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) that Upakit’s arrest warrant had been quickly retracted.

Continuing his speech, Rangsiman cited a Justice for Myanmar report that in 1999, Tun’s father helped Upakit to construct an Allure Resort near the Myanmar border town of Tachiliek. The resort allegedly housed a casino and entertainment venue. 6 percent of its income was distributed directly to the Myanmar military.  In essence, Upakit’s business activities profited the Tatmadaw.

After revealing Upakit’s shady business dealings, the MFP lawmaker moved on to discuss a plot of land on Bangkok’s robust Ari soi 5 which belongs to the senator.   He noted that it is now the site of the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party office, a newly established organisation that Gen Prayut has officially joined.

A graphic of the land and office in Ari Soi 5 Rangsiman said belongs to Upakit, now used as an office for Ruam Thai Sang Chart party. (Image: Facebook/Rangsiman Rome)

Rangsiman questioned whether Gen Prayut, or the senate selection committee led by his brother-in-arms Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, had bothered to investigate Upakit’s activities.  He also speculated that they were not only aware of Upakit’s business but had given him a role in national politics so that he could help them cling to the power.

“The coincidental appearance of so many irregularities sends a clear signal that any effort to bring charges against this “big shot” senator will stopped. Such coordination suggests …manipulation behind the scenes… The one who has long benefitted from Senator ‘Ou’, the man who wants to continue making use of him is Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.” 

“Clearly, then, Gen Prayut’s appointment of Upakit as a senator is the correct decision. Not only will it help with the vote for his nomination as Prime Minister, but it will also help to build the new party. This said, I would like Gen Prayut to explain if the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party has contracted to rent the land and the building or not? If so, for how much? Or is it an act of generosity, a free lease?” Rangsiman asked.

NewsTun Min LattMyanmar coupUpakit PachariyangkunDean Young GuntulaRangsiman RomeMove Forward party
Categories: Prachatai English

Parliament approves petition campaign to expand lèse majesté law

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-02-17 12:16
Submitted on Fri, 17 Feb 2023 - 12:16 PMPrachatai

Leader of the far-right Thai Pakdee Party Warong Dechgitvigrom has displayed an official letter from parliament on his Facebook page, announcing that his request to collect signatures to propose an amendment to Section 112 of the Criminal Code has been authorized.

Warong and his associates submitted the request on 18 January and it was approved on 7 February. According to the current constitution, a petition must carry at least 10,000 signatures before it may be considered in the House of Representatives.

The Thai Pakdee Party thinks that Section 112 should cover not only "the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent", but also "former Thai kings of the current Chakri Dynasty and princes and princesses with the rank of Pra Ong Chao or above" and also the word "monarchy" itself.

Warong also pledged that if his party’s MP candidates get elected to the next parliament, they will amend the Code of Conduct for MPs to prevent them from using their position as security when requesting bail for political activists.

The parliament said that eligible voters and campaigners can also request the Secretariat of the House of Representatives to receive documents directly from the signatories. However, Warong asked his supporters to submit documents to the Thai Pakdee Party's office.

While parliament supports ultraroyalist efforts to broaden Section 112, opposition party MPs regularly encounter barriers when trying to debate the law, while a number of political activists engage in prolonged hunger strikes and sleep deprivation to demand the right to bail.

On 1 Feb, Amarat Chokepamitkul, a Move Forward Party MP, protested to Chuan Leekpai, the Speaker of the House, for omitting her party's motion to diminish the scope of Section 112 from the parliamentary agenda since February last year.

When she was arguing that the lèse-majesté law, like any other laws, can be discussed, amended or ultimately abolished, Chuan turned off her microphone, saying that "let me warn you, with good intentions, to be careful not to violate the monarchy."

In mid-February, Thanalop, a 14-year-old girl, became the youngest person ever charged with royal defamation in Thailand following repeated police harassment and a complaint against her by a royalist activist.

The opposition parties remain divided on the subject. The largest opposition party, Pheu Thai, argues that the problem is more with the implementation of the law and it would be easier to solve by an order from the executive branch if they win a "landslide" victory in the next general election.

On the other hand, the Move Forward Party has suggested an amendment that will reduce penalties and restrict who may file charges. However, none of these meet the activists' demand for abolition of the law.

Who loves monarchy the most?

On Valentine's Day, Prachatai reported in its Thai section who, besides the authorities, files the most complaints under the lèse-majesté law. Anon Klinkaew, who is enamoured with the monarchy and who filed the charge against 14-year-old Thanalop, barely made joint fourth place.

The analysis was based on a database of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). Thailand has seen 135 royal defamation charges brought by the authorities and 114 brought by ordinary civilians since the use of lèse majesté law was reinstated in the aftermath of pro-democracy protests in 2020.

Anon, head of the People’s Centre to Protect the Monarchy (PCPM), tied with Uraporn Sunthorapoj, a citizen from Samut Prakan who also filed five charges. These two were surpassed by Siwapan Manitkul (9), Pasit Chanhuatone and Apiwat Khanthong (each with 8), and Nopadol Prompasit (7).

Nangnoi Atsawakittikorn, a former leader of Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims (THCV) and a former MP candidate for the right-wing Action Coalition for Thailand Party, came in fifth place, filing four charges, the same as Kanbongkot Mekhapraphatsakun from PCPM.

In joint sixth place with 3 charges each are Warissanan Sribowornthanakit (THCV), Raphiphong Chaiyarat and Piyakul Wongsing (both PCPM), Sub-Lt Narin Sakcharoenchaikun from the Thai Pakdee party, and serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya.

NewsWarong DechgitvigromThai PakdeeSection 112Parliament
Categories: Prachatai English

Tearing down the wall: Panel finds a way forward over censorship in Thailand

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-02-16 17:44
Submitted on Thu, 16 Feb 2023 - 05:44 PMTara Abhasakun

A group of filmmakers and an activist came together in Bangkok to discuss their experiences with film censorship in Thailand, and the ways they have learned to get around it.

From left to right: Martin Barshai, Pasakorn ‘PK’ Vanasirikul, Anucha Boonyawatana, Ploy, and Stefan Rustler.

On February 2, an event was hosted in Bangkok to provide a space to discuss censorship in the Thai cinema. “Tearing down the wall - controversy and censorship in the Thai cinema,” was hosted at Smalls bar.

The organizers were 34-year-old Thai-German analytics consultant Stefan Rustler, and 29-year-old Thai-American film director Martin Barshai. 

Rustler and Barshai said they wanted to host an event that would encourage people to discuss in a constructive way how the Thai film industry could be a powerful tool in tackling censorship. 

“We wanted to create a feeling of empowerment, and make people feel like there’s a way forward. And the way forward is not just blaming censorship and the government altogether. We need to work with all actors involved, and we want to explore different pathways to improving the situation,” said Rustler.

Along with Barshai, a group of directors and an activist joined the panel to speak about navigating Thailand’s censorship laws while making their films. The group included documentary director Naruemon Chaingam, political activist Pasakorn ‘PK’ Vanasirikul, and Anucha Boonyawatana, President of the Thai Film Director Association. Rustler moderated the discussion. 

The panellists shed light on several topics that are often difficult for filmmakers to include in their films in Thailand. They discussed how legal issues and societal taboos worked to censor filmmakers.

Anucha focused on LGBTQ issues in Thai films. She discussed how difficult the situation was about 15 years ago, with an example being the film Love of Siam. Anucha explained how the filmmakers worked around Thailand’s societal taboos at the time toward gay relationships. 

“Back when it was released in around 2005, the film kind of had to disguise itself as a romantic teenage love story, but conceal the LGBT relationship part. When they did promotions they didn’t say this was a gay movie or show the audience a man kissing a man. After that it was really controversial and created a lot of hot discussions.”

However, Anucha said this eventually caused people to become more open-minded. She pointed out how now, Thai society is much more open to LGBTQ movies than it was before. 

Anucha said that about 15 years ago, she still heard the way Thai opinion saw LGBTQ as something “in the closet.” She said that people still didn’t understand the concept of a man with another man, and everything was “very binary.” Anucha says that today, “everything is kind of open for LGBTQ.”

Another panellist, Ploy, discussed finding a way to make documentary films “outside the Thai system” by collaborating on projects with international film crews. Her films have touched upon subjects including slavery in Thailand’s fishing industry, and Yingluck Shinawatra’s rice scheme. 

Ploy said that foreign executive producers “don’t have to go through censorship or ask for permission sometimes.” Ploy noted, however, that foreign executive producers sometimes had to send scripts to be reviewed. She added that any filmmakers that want their films to be screened in Thailand must go through the censorship or rating system, no matter where they’re coming from. She said that normal films will be rated or partly censored, while films with political or difficult subjects can be banned.

When it came time for audience questions, Anucha explained the process that Thai films must undergo before they can appear in cinemas.

“If you want to show your film in the cinema, you need to send the film to the censor committee. It consists of five or six people selected by the Ministry of Culture. Maybe some people who work in cinema, some people from religious groups, maybe police, maybe politicians. Then they will screen the film and give the rating. When we changed the system maybe 20 years ago, the decision was made by the police. The police would say ‘cut this cut this cut this, blur this.’” 

Anucha said the topics that are most commonly banned are those relating to religion and the monarchy. Anucha said that due to the power of protests, it is not easy for authorities to simply ban films, so they will sometimes summon film makers if they have a problem with their films. Anucha said authorities will then ask the filmmakers, “can you cut this, can you cut this shot out, can you change this a bit?”

FeaturecensorshipThai filmsThai Film Director Association (TFDA)culture
Categories: Prachatai English

Abortion access remains difficult two years after legalization

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-02-16 13:19
Submitted on Thu, 16 Feb 2023 - 01:19 PMAnna Lawattanatrakul

Two years after Thailand passed an amendment to the Criminal Code legalising abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, access to services remains difficult due to lack of information and facility and prejudice from medical personnel, while the Ministry of Public Health has refused to cover abortion fees for people not covered by the “Gold Card” universal healthcare scheme.

Activists gathering at the Ministry of Public Health on 7 February holding placards calling for access to safe abortion performed by medical professionals

In 2021, the Thai parliament passed an amendment to Sections 301 – 305 of the Criminal Code to allow abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy as long as the pregnant person wishes to terminate the pregnancy.

Abortion is also allowed under certain circumstances, such as for the sake of the pregnant person’s health, if the foetus is at risk of severe disability once born, or if the pregnancy is a result of sexual assault. Anyone seeking an abortion after the 12th week but before the 20th week of pregnancy are also required to go through an examination and counselling process before they can terminate the pregnancy.

However, the new law does not completely decriminalize abortion, as abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy and outside of the outlined circumstances still carries a prison sentence of up to 6 months or a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or both, despite demands from civil society for the repeal of Section 301 in order for abortion to no longer be a criminal offense.  

Activists gathering at the Ministry of Public Health on 7 February perform a Buddhist merit-making ceremony in memory of those who died from unsafe abortions.

On 7 February, the 2nd anniversary of the new law’s implementation, abortion right activists and civil society workers, including members of the Tamtang Group and Choices Network Thailand, gathered at the Ministry of Public Health to demand that the authorities ensure access to safe abortion.

They also performed a Buddhist merit-making ceremony in memory of those who died from unsafe abortions, and another symbolic ceremony in which water is poured on the ground to cut ties with Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and condemn him to never having a successful political career after he signed an order preventing the National Health Security Office (NHSO) from covering abortion fees for people not under the NHSO’s Universal Healthcare Scheme, or “Gold Card,” such as those covered by the Social Security Scheme or by government employee benefits.

Sulaiporn Chonvilai, a Tamtang Group researcher, said that it has been two years since the Criminal Code was amended to allow abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, but many people still don’t know that abortion is now legal or where to go if they need one.

Sulaiporn said that the Ministry of Public Health has yet to release a list of medical facilities providing safe and legal abortion, especially public hospitals. Meanwhile, the number of abortion facilities remains the same, even though there should be more so that people can access services without needing to travel.

“The law has actually been amended. It looks like there is progress, but in practice, that is not the case,” Sulaiporn said.

Sulaiporn Chonvilai

Sulaiporn said that abortion can now be done safely and no one should die from an unsafe abortion, but because the service remains largely inaccessible even after the law has been amended, many resort to buying illegal abortion pills, leading to injuries and death.

When asked if there is information on how many people have died from botched abortions, Sulaiporn said that there are no statistics on how many people have had an abortion in Thailand and how many have died from seeking illegal abortions. She said that only one survey has ever been conducted on the number of abortions in the country and that was done in 1999. The authorities now collect information from one hospital per each health provider region, which does not cover all cases.

Sulaiporn also noted that it is difficult to collect information on deaths from illegal abortions, as families tend not to want to disclose that their relative died from a botched abortion, while the authorities are not collecting the information. However, she said that abortion can now be done so safely that the number of deaths should be decreasing, and that according to information from the NHSO, the number of people who died from an abortion is in the single digits.

Sulaiporn noted that, since the NHSO began covering abortion fees in registered medical facilities, of which there are around a hundred in the country, the number of deaths has continuously decreased, and in the three years before the law was changed, no deaths were recorded at all.

The NHSO has been covering these fees using part of its Health Promotion and Disease Prevention budget, which has also been used to provide birth control and HIV prevention regardless of one’s healthcare scheme. However, a recent order signed by the Public Health Minister means that the NHSO can no longer use this part of its budget to provide services to people covered under other healthcare schemes, such as the Social Security Scheme or those covered by government employee benefits.

As a symbol of cutting ties with Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, activists poured water on the ground and turned over the bowls in a traditional ritual symbolising breaking off a relationship.

Tamtang Group coordinator Supeecha Baotip explained that, in the past, anyone seeking abortion at a public medical facility would not have to pay regardless of their healthcare scheme, since the NHSO would cover it. However, questions have been raised about whether the NHSO’s budget can be used for people not under the Gold Card scheme, which is the NHSO’s responsibility. Government employees and those covered by the Social Security Scheme will be excluded, which Supeecha said will affect full-time workers, most of whom are covered by the Social Security Scheme.

“Right now, hospitals that provide these services are trying to keep going, but after this, if the problem is not solved, they may have to stop, and this will mean that people will have to go back to private facilities or the government will have to start charging people,” said Supeecha, who explained that an abortion at a private facility before the 12th week of pregnancy can cost at least 5000 baht. The fee will also go up if the pregnancy is more advanced.

Supeecha Baotip (right) handing the open letter to an officer from the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health

During the gathering, the activists also read out an open letter addressed to the Public Health Minister, which they submitted to the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health.

The letter states that the Tamtang Group, Choices Network Thailand, and their partner organizations call on the Ministry of Public Health to act on the new abortion law, since they found that safe abortion remains mostly inaccessible.

The letter says that the public and government personnel are still unaware that abortion is now legal in Thailand before the 12th week of pregnancy and after the 12th week in some circumstances, and so while people are becoming more aware that they have the right to these services, medical personnel are still not aware that they need to provide legal termination of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health has not made available a list of abortion or consultation facilities., This has led to many people going to hospitals seeking an abortion to be refused and stigmatized as the medical facility did not want to provide such services.

The letter noted that, even though the law does not require facilities to provide abortion services if they are not willing, regulations about abortion issued by the Ministry of Public Health and the Medical Council of Thailand require facilities to refer patients to other facilities without delay.

However, many medical personnel are not following these regulations due to lack of up-to-date information and negative attitudes towards abortion. Not only are they refusing to provide abortion services, they are also not referring patients to other facilities and are not training their personnel in counselling methods.

As most medical facilities do not want to perform abortions, there are few legal abortion facilities, and only 37 – 38 provinces out of 77 have one. The letter says that, because of this, people have to travel to other provinces to seek an abortion, and so have to cover the cost of the trip, which is unnecessary. The number of facilities is also not increasing even though the Ministry has said that, within 5 years, there will be a legal abortion facility in every province.

Information from civil society organizations providing consultation for unplanned pregnancies like the Tamtang Group and the 1663 unplanned pregnancy hotline found that most of those seeking consultation and safe abortion are from Bangkok, but Bangkok does not have any registered abortion facility that is supported by the NHSO.

A sign carried by an activist during the protest tells the story of a woman found dead from a botched abortion attempt in an apartment in Chiang Mai. According to the landlord, she initially moved in to live with a friend, who subsequently moved out. The landlord found her dead after smelling an odour from her room and deciding to open the door to check on her.

The Tamtang Group, Choices Network Thailand, and their partner organizations call on the Ministry of Public Health to release a list of medical facilities providing safe abortion services and unplanned pregnancy consultation, and to ensure that there is at least one facility in each province. The Ministry must also increase the number of abortion facilities by 5 – 10 each year.

The Ministry must also require public medical facilities that do not want to perform abortions to refer patients to other facilities and must provide clear guidelines on how to do so, including counselling, referral, evaluation, and providing medical care in cases of complications to ensure the safety of the person seeking abortion.

The Ministry must also educate medical personnel on safe abortion as a basic medical service that will reduce the number of injuries and deaths from unsafe abortions, and to ensure its personnel understand that access to abortion is a human right.

NewsTamtang GroupChoices Network ThailandAbortion rightsabortionReproductive rightsReproductive healthhealthcareMinistry of Public Health
Categories: Prachatai English

PE receives Amnesty International award for coverage of bail rights campaign

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-02-16 11:24
Submitted on Thu, 16 Feb 2023 - 11:24 AMPrachatai

A series of investigative reports on the struggle for bail rights featured in Prachatai English were recognised by Amnesty International Thailand during its 14 February 2023 Human Rights Media Awards 2022 ceremony at the Sukosol Hotel.

A group photo of the awardees and event participants.

“The Price of Freedom” series was written by Teeranai Charuvastra, a Prachatai English feature writer. The reports tell the story of activists who were detained and prosecuted for expressing ideas about monarchy reform during recent street protests. In contrast to other alleged offenders, many found it difficult - and costly - to obtain a temporary release in advance of court proceedings.

The reports raised questions about Court rulings affecting the freedom of individuals who had still not been proven guilty of criminal wrong-doing.

Categories for outstanding reports on human rights included awards for print journalism, online features, broadcast features, television news, online video clips, and photographs.  The latter included a “Protect the Protest” category for media content and a “Hope” award for pictures produced by members of the public.

In his opening remarks, Thitirat Thipsamritkul, Chair of the Amnesty Thailand board, compared the media to a candle which illuminates human rights issues, not only enhancing visibility but also promoting understanding and encouraging people to take action. This, he noted, is why it is important to recognise the efforts of media workers who disseminate news promoting and protecting human rights.

He added that the Media for Human Rights Award Ceremony was organised to raise awareness of the media’s leading role in the discussion of human rights issues.  The aim was to show solidarity with the media so that they stand strong in their fight to uphold and promote human rights. He also stated that Amnesty International Thailand has been calling on all sectors to respect the role of media and to ensure they receive protection and are free from intimidation and harassment.

In closing remarks, Piyanut Kotsan, Director of Amnesty International Thailand, also recognised the importance of media workers in promoting public understanding and thanked them for helping to mobilise opinion in support of the struggle to protect human rights.

The award recipients, which were selected by a panel of mass media and human rights experts, are as follows:

Honourable mentions in the category of Online News and Feature Stories including 6 awards;

  • “Reclaiming Justice, Warit Somnoi must not Die for Free” from Decode
  • “A Long Journey of 1,079 Kilometres to Reclaim Mackerel Chili Paste Dip” from HaRDstories
  • “ ‘We Always Have Hope Of Returning Home’, said a Voice from the Moei River. The Undecided Fate of Karen Refugees” from The 101.World
  • “Young Yoghurt Milk Sellers at Red Light Cross’, Piteous or Business Channel?” from The Isaander
  • “This Is Not the First Time of Enforced Disappearance and Torture, But We Hope That It Will Be the Last Time in the Southern Border” from The Momentum
  • “The Price of Freedom” from Prachatai English

Outstanding media in the category of Broadcast News and Feature Stories (Under 20 minutes) including 1 award;

  • “28 years, Dong Mafai Mine, Blood and Tear Stains” from one31

Honourable mention in the category of Broadcast News and Feature Stories (Under 20 minutes) including 3 awards;

  • “Expanding the Outcomes of the Rohingya Human Trafficking Case from the Case of Pol Maj-General Paween Pongsirin” from PPTV HD 36
  • “Reclaiming Justice to Restore the Forest” from Thai PBS
  • “Extraordinary Siege and Extrajudicial Killing, Peace Beneath the Faint” from Nation TV

Outstanding media in the category of Television News and Feature Stories (Under 60 minutes) including 1 award;

  • “The Yuam River Diversion Project (Not) to End Drought” from Thai PBS

Honourable mention in the category of Television News and Feature Stories (Under 60 minutes) including 2 awards;

  • “Waste...Scrap from the Industry” from Thai PBS
  • “Melayu Patani” from PPTV HD 36

Outstanding media in the category of Online Video Clip News and Features including 2 awards;

  • “Sunset With Benja” from iLaw
  • “From Trojan Horse to Pegasus: When the Big Brother is watching you” from The 101.World

Honourable mention in the category of Online Video Clip News and Features including 5 awards;

  • “95/1 Abandoned Buildings Community, many lives on the concrete ruins” from The 101.World
  • “ ‘Malay Aesthetics’ where Dreams and Beliefs are aligned” from The Momentum
  • “Darkened Eyes, Dimmed Life: Talks with Boonsom Pinsuwan, a blind transgender with HIV” from SPECTRUM
  • “Demons in Society: October 6th of the Right-Wing Politics and Change” from WAY Magazine
  • “ ‘Let us talk to God about our Sins’ Listen to the Voice of LGBTQ Islamists” from The MATTER

Outstanding award on “Protect the Protest” photo contest from media, including 1 award;

  • By Matichai Teawna from The 101.World

Honourable mention on “Protect the Protest” photo contest from media, including 4 awards;

  • By Chumnanwut Sukumvanit from Thai News Agency
  • By Nattapol Lovakij from SPACEBAR
  • By Nattaphon Phanphongsanon from SPACEBAR
  • By Patipat Janthong from Voice Online

Popular vote on “Protect the Protest” photo contest from media, including 1 award;

  • By Nattaphon Phanphongsanon from SPACEBAR

Outstanding award on “Hope” photo contest for general public, including 1 award;

  • By Supasan Kannarong

Honorable mention on “Hope” photo contest for general public, including 4 awards;

  • By Wihan Kwandee
  • By Siripong Patumaukkarin
  • By Chanakarn Laosarakham
  • By Chattapat Suwanyuha

Popular vote on “Hope” photo contest for general public, including 1 award;

  • By Supasan Kannarong
NewsAmnesty International (AI)Teeranai CharuvastraHuman Rights Media Awardsbail rights
Categories: Prachatai English

Cabinet postpones enforcement of Anti-Torture Act

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-02-16 01:23
Submitted on Thu, 16 Feb 2023 - 01:23 AMPrachatai

The Cabinet has decided to postpone the enforcement of several sections in the new Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act requiring police officers to make audio and video recordings from the moment of arrest through to release, claiming the need for training and equipment.

A rally placard toward ending enforced disappearance. (File photo)

Ratchada Thanadirek, Deputy Spokesperson to the Office of the Prime Minister, said on Tuesday (14 February) that the Cabinet has issued an Emergency Decree postponing the enforcement of Sections 22 – 25 in the new Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act until 1 October.

These sections require police officers to make continuous video and audio recordings of an arrest from the moment of arrest through to release or until the detainee is handed over to an inquiry officer. They must also record information about the detainee, including personal information and the manner of their arrest, and must allow family members, lawyers, or official commissions to access the information unless releasing the information would violate the person’s privacy, cause them harm, or obstruct a criminal investigation.

If officers refuse to release information about a detainee, the person asking for access may file for a court order for the release of information on the grounds that they suspect torture, inhuman treatment, or enforced disappearance has occurred.

Ratchada said that the Cabinet decided to postpone the Act’s enforcement because relevant government agencies, such as the police headquarters, the Department of Land Transport, the Department of Special Investigation and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board, are still working on fulfilling the requirements. The Cabinet ruled that the enforcement of these sections should be postponed to allow officers to prepare to fulfil the requirements and prevent them from being accused of unlawful arrest.

She said that they are still in the process of purchasing police body and vehicle cameras, detention room cameras, and setting up an online system for storing data. They also need time to train officers to use the recording equipment.

The Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act was passed in August 2022. It was implemented on 24 October 2022 when it was published in the Royal Gazette with the provision that it would be enforced after 120 days, or on 22 February 2023.

The police have previously sought to delay the enforcement of the Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act, claiming that they were not ready. In January 2023, a letter to the Ministry of Justice signed by police chief Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas was released claiming that the police have yet to purchase the equipment needed to fulfil the act’s recording requirements, including body and vehicle cameras, and that they need time to train officers to use the equipment.

The letter also said that the police found the law lacks concrete guidelines, which are to be established after the formation of the Commission on the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, an entity to be set up under this law.

Ahead of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, the Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) published an open letter opposing the delay of the Act’s enforcement, raising concerns about the police’s attempt to delay the enforcement of a key piece of legislation protecting people from serious human rights violations at the hand of the authorities. It also said that the CrCF finds the police’s excuses to be “unfounded and unreasonable” and “far from urgent” as they have had time to prepare its personnel and equipment since 2021.

The CrCF also said that the attempt to seek the Act’s deferral shows that the government is unwilling to comply with Thailand’s international obligations and that the government is going against the public’s demand for a law eliminating torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and enforced disappearance.

CrCF representatives and other activists also went to parliament on Tuesday morning to submit the open letter. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, CrCF director, told The Reporters that there is no justification for the Cabinet to rush to issue an Emergency Decree postponing the enforcement of legislation that was to be enforced in around 10 days. She said that the Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act would protect people and prevent unlawful treatment by officers, and raised the concern that the act will never be enforced if parliament is dissolved.

Pornpen believes that the reason for the postponement was not budgeting or the need to train personnel, but because of a provision in the act that commanders of any offending agency will be punished for any act of torture or enforced disappearance.

Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin told The Reporters that the Emergency Decree has to first be approved by the King and then published in the Royal Gazette for it to be effective. The police will then have 7 months to purchase equipment and train officers. 

Newsanti-torture billAnti-torture ActPrevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance ActtortureInhuman treatmentenforced disappearancestate violence
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Can of worms made in Thailand

Prachatai English - Wed, 2023-02-15 16:31
Submitted on Wed, 15 Feb 2023 - 04:31 PMStephff

Categories: Prachatai English

14-year-old summoned on royal defamation charge

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-02-14 23:50
Submitted on Tue, 14 Feb 2023 - 11:50 PMPrachatai

A 14-year-old girl became the youngest person to be charged with royal defamation after she received a police summons following a complaint filed against her by a royalist activist.

A portrait of Thanalop by the artist Kaimaew

Thanalop (last name withheld), 14, was summoned by Samranrat Police Station to report on 15 February after she was accused of royal defamation by royalist activist Anon Klinkaew, head of the ultra-royalist People’s Centre to Protect the Monarchy.

The summons does not say why Thanalop is charged, but states that the cause of the complaint was an incident that occurred around the Giant Swing in Bangkok’s old town on 13 October 2022.

Thanalop, who calls herself “Comrade Sleepless” (สหายนอนน้อย), said that she initially received a summons dated 23 January, but certain details in it were wrong, so the family sent it back to the police for correction. She then received another summons last Tuesday (7 February).

The 14-year-old said that she is not concerned about being charged, but is more worried about her education, so she will ask the police to postpone her meeting. She said that her family is worried, but is going to let her decide what to do for herself.

She also said that she was harassed by police officers three times before she received an official summons. On 20 October 2022, an officer visited her house and told her family that she should be taken to see a psychiatrist.

Another officer came to visit the family again on 7 November 2022. Thanalop said that the officer spoke to her father, telling him that charges would be pressed against her. She also said that the officer spoke badly to her father, telling him that it would be better to commit suicide than to have a child like her.

On the same day, an officer tried to visit her at school, but Thanalop said the school refused to let them see her.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), at least 18 people under the age of 18 have been charged with royal defamation since 2020.

Thanalop said that, for her, the royal defamation law is problematic in that it carries a disproportionately severe penalty, while anyone can file a complaint against anyone else. She sees it as a law to silence people and violate people’s freedom.

She calls on political parties to back the repeal of the royal defamation law rather than proposing amendments to it. She said she is concerned that, if the law is not repealed, it can later be amended again and the penalty may become more severe, and said that it would be most benefit to the people to repeal it.

“Amending [the royal defamation law] is not the best for the people, but repealing it would be best for the people. If any political party gets elected to parliament, I want the parties to be clear about repealing Section 112,” she said.

The 14-year-old also said that she would like to back the call for the release of political prisoners and the demands for judicial reform issued by monarchy reform activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong and the activist group Thaluwang. She said that there is not enough attention paid to the issue after members of parliament spoke about it during a parliamentary debate and wanted to call attention to it.

NewsThanalopComrade SleeplessChildren's rightsfreedom of expressionSection 112Royal defamationlese majeste
Categories: Prachatai English

Who Made My Flower?

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-02-14 14:11
Submitted on Tue, 14 Feb 2023 - 02:11 PMHuman Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)

A new short film by the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) explores challenges and abuses faced by migrant workers working on rose plantations in Thailand, including difficult working conditions and unfair wages.

The HRDF calls for access to labour rights and welfare for migrant workers, including reasonable working hours and minimum wage, and for employers to provide workers with safe accommodation and working condition. It also calls on consumers to buy flowers from producers that treat their workers fairly.

Produced by HRDF with support from ASEAN-ACT


Pick to PostHuman Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)Labour rightmigrant workerlabour abuseLabour exploitation
Categories: Prachatai English

6 political dissidents released as dry fasting protest enters third week

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-02-10 19:55
Submitted on Fri, 10 Feb 2023 - 07:55 PMPrachatai

As more people join the protest on bail rights, three more detainees were allowed bail after being in jail for months for taking part in political protests. 

Sitthichok Sethasavet (Photo from iLaw)

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported on 10 February that Sitthichok Sethasavet, a detained food rider, was allowed bail by the Supreme Court, a final feat after the Court of Appeal denied the temporary release during an ongoing appeal. 

Found guilty for royal defamation and arson after burning a decorative arch with the King’s photo on it during a protest, he has been imprisoned since 17 January. The Court decided that he had no intention of fleeing and allowed him to be released with 130,000 baht security bond. 

His lawyer is now processing the documents necessary for his release.

Sitthichok, another detainee, has been released during an ongoing dry fasting protest staged by Tantawan 'Tawan' Tuatulanon and Orawan 'Bam' Phuphong. The two activists have refused bail to protest in prison since mid-January. Despite being granted bail earlier this week, their protest continues until all detainees are to be released.

A day before Sitthichok’s bail being granted, Sombat Thongyoi, a protest guard, and Kongpet (surname withheld), another political detainee, were allowed bail

Sombat Thongyoi

Sombat has been in prison for 9 months after being found guilty under royal defamation law for a post using the words “Very good. Very brave. Thank you,” an expression earlier spoken by King Vajiralongkorn. He was allowed to post a 70,000 baht security by the Court of Appeals while the case is on appeal.

Kongpet was arrested and charged in 2022 with possession of an explosive device and assaulting officers. He is accused of throwing home-made explosive objects into the 1st Infantry Regiment. Katatorn, another defendant in the case, has not been allowed bail. 

Another convicts related to explosive device possession, Tatphong Khieukhao, was also released from his temporary detention on 8 February. He was arrested on 21 November 2022 after participating in a protest during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting hosted by Thailand.

Excluding the released and soon-to-be released detainees, 8 people are still under detention for participating in political protests that call for political and monarchy reforms. All are being detained pending trial.

Tantawan and Orawan began their fast to demand the release of political prisoners and the reform of the judicial system to guarantee human rights and freedom of expression.  They want the courts to be independent and protect people’s freedom. They call on judges to make decisions without intervention from their superiors.

They have also called for charges to be dropped against those doing little more than exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. They demand that every political party move to guarantee people’s rights, freedoms, and political participation by backing the repeal of the royal defamation land sedition laws.

Their demands have met a favourable response both inside and outside the prison. Protests have been held in many major cities. Inside the prison, political detainees have also staged acts of civil disobedience.

On 7 February, Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, a monarchy reform activist detained while pending trial, and two other prisoners announced they would refuse food and sleep to support the fasters’ demands. 

Before his release, Sitthichok joined the hunger strike with Tantawan and Orawan. He was transferred to Thammasat hospital. 

Mongkhon Thirakot, who was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for royal defamation for a number of Facebook posts, has been on a hunger strike, sitting in front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court in solidarity with Tantawan and Orawan.

Newsbail rightsTantawan TuatulanonOrawan Phuphongroyal defamation lawSitthichok SethasavetSombat ThongyoiMongkhon Thirakot
Categories: Prachatai English

ASEAN MPs urge the Thai government to listen to hunger strikers, amend the lèse-majesté Law

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-02-10 15:40
Submitted on Fri, 10 Feb 2023 - 03:40 PMASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Parliamentarians from all over Southeast Asia are urging the Thai government to listen to the demands of two young activists on hunger strike, and do everything they can to save their lives. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) also would like to invite Members of the Thai Parliament and relevant authorities to open a debate on amending the draconian lèse-majesté Law, with which both activists have been charged.

Activists Tantawan Tuatulanon (left) and Orawan Phuphong (right) revoked their own bail on 16 January to protest the detention of political prisoners and subsequently went on a hunger strike to demand the right to bail and judicial reform.

Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan “Bam” Phupong, 21 and 23 years old respectively, started their hunger strike on 18 January to demand reforms in the Thai justice system, the release of political prisoners and the abolition, or reform, of some of the laws used against dissidents, including the lèse-majesté law. According to media reports, the two activists are extremely weak, and there is concern for their lives.

The two activists face charges of lèse-majeste for publicly holding a sign asking whether the motorcades of members of the royal family, that often entail road closures in Bangkok, create inconveniences for the public. Tantawan also faces a second charge for the contents of a livestream she conducted on Facebook.

“It is tragic that these two young women feel that they have to put their lives at risk to fight for their beliefs. Whatever one may think of their ideas, they should be allowed to express them freely, as it would happen in a truly democratic country, and not amidst a climate of repression that leads to such extreme ways to voice dissent. Right now, the first priority should be to save their lives, but it is also crucial to initiate a candid debate on their demands,” said Kasit Piromya, former Thai Foreign Minister, and APHR Board Member.

Article 112 of Thailand’s Penal Code states that, “whoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The Thai law of lèse-majesté, designed to defend and protect the revered monarchy, is one of the strictest in the world. It is often interpreted in a very loose manner and has been used widely in recent years as a weapon against political rivals. The main reason for this is that any Thai citizen can bring charges against anybody for allegedly violating Article 112.

A series of student protests broke the taboo on the monarchy in Thailand in 2020, demanding reforms on the institution, but they largely faded out in 2021, when the authorities began to crack down on protestors with accusations of lèse-majeste, as well as other offenses.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 215 people in 234 cases were prosecuted under Article 112 between November 2020 and June 2022, including 17 minors. Of these lawsuits, at least 108 were filed by regular citizens, while the rest were filed by different Thai state institutions.

“There must be a law that protects the honor and safety of the Head of State, but it should comply with human rights standards. Article 112 prescribes an excessive punishment, and has been used all too often in a malicious way as a political weapon. Lawmakers in Thailand should look to reform the law. The penalties should be reduced, without a minimum sentence, and ordinary Thais should not be able to bring such charges; that only fosters witch-hunts. Only the Bureau of the Royal Household and the Public Prosecutor should be entitled to bring charges against those deemed to have defamed the king. A thorough revision of the lèse-majesté law will help to democratize Thailand, but will also benefit the monarchy itself, as an open debate of its role in modern Thailand is more necessary than ever,” said Kasit Piromya.

Pick to PostASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)Tantawan TuatulanonOrawan Phuphonghunger strikeright to bailpolitical prisonerslese majesteRoyal defamationSection 112
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