The music video for Rap Against Dictatorship (RAD)’s latest song “Reform” has been blocked on YouTube’s Thai domain due to a “legal complaint from the government.”
The video’s page shows the message “this content is not available on this country domain due to a legal complaint from the government” when accessed in Thailand.
RAD posted on their Facebook page that the video can still be accessed if the location is set to another country, and that they have not received any explanation from YouTube or responsible government agencies of why the video was blocked and which part of the music video or the song broke the law.
The song was released in November 2020 and reached over 300,000 views on YouTube within 9 hours. It currently has over 9 million views.
The music video uses footage from recent pro-democracy protests, including the 16 October 2020 crackdown on the protest at the Pathumwan intersection and the 8 November 2020 protest at the Grand Palace, when water cannon were fired at protesters.
It also features singer-turned-activist Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, lead singer of the pop band The Bottom Blues, who has been openly supporting the pro-democracy movement and joining protests.
The song itself raises questions about state-linked information operations, legal prosecutions of protesters using sedition charges, media censorship, use of taxpayers’ money, and the demands of the pro-democracy movement.
At least two of RAD’s members, Dechathorn Bumrungmuang and Pratchayaa Surakamchonrot, are also facing charges for participating in the protest on 18 July 2020.
The group is also known for their previous work, “Prathet Ku Mi” (“Which is My Country”), which was released in November 2018 and quickly went viral. The song talks frankly of the political and social problems plaguing Thailand, and as a result, the NCPO regime threatened RAD with legal prosecution.NewsRap Against Dictatorship (RAD)YouTubecensorship
2020 began with the first wave of student-led protests following the dissolution of the Future Forward Party. In March, the country went into a State of Emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has yet to be lifted. The 18 July protest then brought o the second wave of student-led protests, which has swept through the country, calling for reform.
Let’s close the year by looking back at 2020 through 15 articles chosen by the Prachatai English editorial team.Thai political slang explained: ชั่ย or ‘yup’
Read the article here.
During the first wave of protest in February 2020, students began holding signs saying “ชั่ย” or “yup,” a deviant spelling of the word ‘ใช่’ (chai) or ‘yes.’ Thammachart Kri-aksorn explores the possible origins of the terms and how it reflects the nature of the student protests.
The ‘Thai Political Slang Explained” section is where we explain Thai political vocabularies to the international audience. The rest of the series can be found here.Songs, tales, tears: State violence in the periphery from past to present
Read the article here.
From the red barrel killings in the south to forced evacuations during the state’s war against the communists in the northeast, this is the story of state violence in remote and peripheral areas of Thailand and the persisting culture of impunity, told through songs and witness testimonies.It’s time for monks to support the people: a survey of the urban poor through almsgiving (online)
Read the article here.
In March 2020, Thailand went into a State of Emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has yet to be lifted even after the country came out of lockdown.
During the lockdown, many people lost their incomes and were unable to access the government’s aid scheme. They then turned to temples, which have opened their doors to give out food donations.
Read more about people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic:
- COVID-19 survivor tells story of recovery and social stigma
Read the article here.
In June, the Black Lives Matter movement sparked a discussion about police brutality and systemic racism not only in the United States but also in other countries, while protests erupted across the world to demand justice for George Floyd.
In Thailand, where representation of dark-skinned people in the media distorted people’s perception and set standards of beauty, African-American teachers say they are facing much more subtle forms of discrimination.
The revolution will be magical: Harry Potter-themed protest calls for monarchy reform
Read the article here.
On 3 August, during a Harry Potter-themed protest at the Democracy Monument, human rights lawyer Anon Nampa gave a speech calling for monarchy reform and open criticism of the crown.
Anon’s speech marked the first time during the current wave of youth-led protests that issues about the monarchy were publicly addressed, opening the door for subsequent protests to openly call for monarchy reform.
Read more about the protesters’ call for monarchy reform:
- Demonstration at Thammasat calling for reform on politics and monarchy
Read the article here.
In July - August, Thai social media began focussing on issues of gender equality and gender-based discrimination and violence, while some groups of netizens turned feminism, a movement for the equality of every gender, into a so-called matriarchy movement.
In this interview, five self-identified feminists who have experienced and witnessed gender-based violence and discrimination speak on the feminist movement in Thailand, misconceptions about feminism, and what it actually means to be a feminist.Deep fears within the media surface as people openly discuss the monarchy
Read the article here.
As protesters began publicly speaking about problems related to the monarchy and calling for reform, the Thai media were caught in a persisting systemic censorship which prevented the protesters’ messages from being broadcast, many fearing both legal and financial backlash. At the same time, the internet and social media made media censorship less effective.Civil society network petition Council of State to decriminalize abortion
Read the article here.
The movement for the decriminalization of abortion in Thailand has made progress this year. After the Constitutional Court ruled in February that Section 301 of the Criminal Code, which currently makes abortion a criminal offense, was unconstitutional, the civil society sector has been campaigning for the repeal of Section 301, and in September, they submitted their petition to the Council of State.
The latest development in the call for a new abortion law came in December, when parliament voted to accept the first reading of two bills proposing to amend Thailand’s abortion law.
Read more about the call for the decriminalization of abortion:
Read the article here.
In October, Twitter took down over 900 accounts from Thailand deemed to be part of a state-linked information operation targeting opposition parties and the pro-democracy movement, while the army spokesperson denied that such a network existed.
Earlier, in February 2020, Viroj Lakkana-adisorn, MP of the since dissolved FFP, also alleged that IO and cyber attacks were systematically supported and funded from state budgets by the Thai military.Family can be cruel: the price students have to pay for protesting
Read the article here.
2020 saw Thai high school students rising up to challenge authoritarianism in schools and outdated regulations, as well as calling out human rights abuses from school personnel. So far, they have held several rallies to demand education reform. As a result, many young people experienced backlash from their families for joining the protests, ranging from physical and verbal abuse to being disowned.
Read more about the high school student movement:
- “We have already seen the light”: student activists vow to fight on despite harassment
Read the article here.
As waves of student-led protests sweep through the country, calling for reform, young people are challenging old traditions. Many graduates began raising questions about the tradition of the graduation ceremony, a process which is often long and complicated, and has been made even more so by the pandemic. Meanwhile, for some groups of students, rejecting the ceremony became an act of civil disobedience.Call for constitutional amendments answered with tear gas, water cannon
Read the article here.
In 2020, the legal watchdog NGO iLaw and its partner organizations began a campaign to submit the draft of a bill to amend the Constitution to parliament. Now known as the “people’s draft,” iLaw’s draft was backed by 98,041 voters.
On 17 November, parliament met to discuss 7 proposed constitutional amendments drafts. Meanwhile, protesters gathering on Samsen Road, near the parliament compound, were met with water cannon blasts and tear gas in a clash which lasted around 6 hours.
The next day, parliament voted to reject iLaw’s draft, while accepting only 2 out of 7 drafts: the proposal by the government coalition and one of those from the opposition to amend Section 256 allowing the establishment of a Constitution Drafting Assembly.
Read more about the call for constitutional amendments:
Read the article here.
Supalak Ganjanakhundee explains the relationship between the monarchy and the military in the current reign in 2 parts: 1) royal government agencies which are directly under royal command; and 2) relations with the armed forces which the King has created through recently developed networks.Kaeng Krachan indigenous communities raise concerns over rights issues ahead of world heritage nomination
Read the article here.
The indigenous communities living near the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex came together to raise concerns about unresolved community rights issues, from land rights issues to citizenship and loss of traditional ways of life, ahead of the Thai government’s 4th attempt to nominate the forest for world heritage status at the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee, which is to take place in June - July 2021 in Fuzhou, China, calling for the government to resolve these issues before this.The visual preservation of an early anti-dam struggle
Read the article here.
In early 2020, Bangkok-based British photographer Luke Duggleby visited Rasi Salai, in Si Saket province, to see how the communities continue to be affected by the Rasi Salai dam. At the Wetland People’s Association, he was shown a collection of old films and colour negatives taken during the early part of the local communities’ struggle against the dam project in the 1990’s, taken over the years by four local amateur Thai photographers and community members, Sanun Chusakul, Pairor Sujinprum, Juthathip Damrongtrairat and Pranee Makhanun.
The photographs are a historical record of the people’s movement, documenting protests and activities of resistance, as well as ways of life that no longer exist.NewsEditors' pick
On 31 December, the volunteer protest guard group We Volunteer (WeVo) were organising a shrimp sale at Sanam Luang when they were surrounded by police officers, who arrested 12 members of the group, including group leader Piyarat “Toto” Chongtep.
The arrest took place shortly after a struggle between WeVo members and the police, who were trying to stop them from selling shrimp at Sanam Luang.
The shrimp being sold in front of the old Government Lottery Office later in the day after two clashes with police offcers.
The 12 WeVo members arrested at Sanam Luang were then brought to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani.
Piyarat said that the shrimp were brought from Nakhon Pathom and that they are organizing the shrimp sale to support farmers who are unable to sell their shrimp due to the new outbreak of Covid-19. It has been reported that they have brought at least 4 tonnes of shrimp to be sold.
The remaining WeVo members then moved to the 14 October 1973 Memorial on Ratchadamneon Road to continue their shrimp sale. At 14.00, around 300 - 500 crowd control police officers in full riot gear lined up at the Democracy Monument before pushing through the metal railings set up by the WeVo team and taking control of the area.
Crowd control police officers lining up on Ratchadamneon Road.
4 other people were arrested at the 14 October 1973 Memorial, bringing the total number of people arrested to 16. They were also taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), 2 people among those arrested are minors.
TLHR also reported that the 12 WeVo members arrested at Sanam Luang have been charged with violating the Emergency Decree and a ban on public gathering under an order issued by the the order of the chief official under the state of emergency, as well as the Communicable Disease Act, and the Sound Amplifier Act.
At 20.30, TLHR reported that the 4 people arrested at the 14 October 1973 Memorial were charged with violating the Emergency Decree and a ban on public gathering under an order issued by the the order of the chief official under the state of emergency, as well as the Communicable Disease Act.
Around 100 - 200 police officers then surrounded the 14 October 1973 Memorial area, forcing the group to move their vehicles and the shrimp to the old Government Lottery Office, opposite the Rattanakosin Hotel. At 15.00, the police moved out of the 14 October 1973 Memorial.
Former MP Dr Tossaporn Serirak, who was at the 14 October Memorial 1973 shrimp sale, said that he came to buy shrimp, but instead found that police officers have come in to arrest people, even though the organisers were trying to help shrimp farmers who are affected by the pandemic and cannot sell their shrimp and the officers could have helped facilitate the shrimp sale, which would benefit everyone. He also said that there is no evidence that Covid-19 can be transmitted through food and that it is safe as long as the food is fully cooked.
Student activist Sirin Mungcharoen also said that she came to the 14 October 1973 Memorial to buy shrimp, because she heard about the shrimp sale, but there were already many police officers around when she arrived. She said that the shrimp sale stand was very small and that the crowd was not causing any disturbance, so she doesn’t understand why there is a need for this many officers. She said that she would be staying around the area to see what she can do.
Crowd control officers seen near the Democracy Monument, before they surrounded the shrimp sale activity at the 14 October 1973 Memorial.
As of 15.30, the remaining We Volunteer team are selling shrimp at the old Government Lottery Office as people continue to line up to buy the shrimp. They said that they have negotiated with the police and will be here until they have sold all the shrimp.NewsWe VolunteerCOVID-19Emergency Decreearbitrary arreststudent movementYouth movement
Representatives of four high school student activist groups tell stories of the harassment and legal prosecution they now face after speaking out about human rights violations they face in school, reiterating that the right to freedom of expression is a constitutional right, while vowing to keep fighting nonetheless.
On 17 December 2020, Protection International, Law Long Beach, and the four student activist groups Bad Student, the People’s Revolution for Equality and Democracy (PRED), the Lanna Student Coalition, and the Maha Sarakham Students Alliance, organised a panel discussion “When Children Defend Human Rights: Thailand’s Response?” at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT).
On the panel was Laphonpat Wangpaisit from the Bad Student group, Tanatda Keawsuksri from the People’s Revolution for Equality and Democracy group (PRED), Napawn Somsak from the Coalition of Lanna Students, Itsara Wongtahan from the Mahasarakham Students Group, and Kunthida Rungruengkiat from the Progressive Movement. The panel was moderated by Pranom Somwong from Protection International.MultimediamultimediaBad Studentsstudent activistPREDProtection InternationalYouth movementstudent movementstate violencesurveillance
On the second day of its campaign about political deaths and exiles, the FreeArts Facebook page has posted a photo of a mock body bag with the name of Nuamthong Praiwan, a taxi driver who crashed his taxi into a military tank in opposition to the 2006 coup.
A mock body bag of Nuamthong Praiwan. (Source: Facebook/FreeArts)
From the photo, the mock body bag seems to have been placed at the “Uncle Nuamthong Pedestrian Bridge”, in front of the Thairath newspaper office on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, where he hanged himself on 31 December 2006, a day after he crashed his taxi into a tank.
His suicide note stated that he wanted to give the lie to a high-ranking army officer who said that no one would die for their ideology, referring to Col Akkara Thiproj, a deputy spokesperson for the military junta, who had said “no one would sacrifice their life for their ideology.”
Nuamthong’s mock body bag is not the first of the campaign. On 28 December, the FreeArts Facebook page published a photo of a mock body bag hanging at Asok intersection with the name tag 'DJ Sunho', the working name of Ittipon Sukpaen, a famous underground radio broadcaster who disappeared while in exile in 2016.
(Left) A mock body bag of DJ Sunho (Right).
The page also mentioned that Ittipon hosted a famous underground radio program ‘Arguing for the royals’ which brings back familiar memories for many people.
“Today, all that we can do is not to forget his story. Some day, we will reclaim justice, and bring back the truth for those that had to flee,” states the post from FreeArts.
In a post published on 27 December that went viral, another mock body bag was found hanging from Memorial Bridge at night. It bore the name tag ‘Surachai’, possibly referring to Surachai Danwattananusorn or Surachai Saedan, another exiled activist who disappeared in December 2018.
On 27 December, Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer and famous critic of the monarchy posted on Facebook “Next year will be the year of change. Setting our goal, we will bring back home our political refugee friends to celebrate the 2022 New Year together at Ratchadamnoen.”
Since 2016, at least 9 Thai activists have disappeared while living in self-exile in Southeast Asia. They were critics of the monarchy and the military government which staged a coup in 2014. Some of them had been charged under the lèse majesté law, Section 112 of the Criminal Code.
Ittipon Sukpaen and Wuthipong Kachathamkun, aka Ko Tee, 2 famous red shirt activists, disappeared in Lao PDR in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
On 12 December 2018, Surachai Danwattananusorn (Saedan), another famous self-exiled political activist, went missing in Vientiane along with other 2 activists, Kraidej Luelert, or Kasalong, and Chatchan Bupphawan, or Phuchana. Thai exiles recognized that they would have to lay low whenever the Thai and Lao authorities talked about cooperation. But Surachai did not.
Between 26 and 29 December 2018, 2 bodies were washed ashore on the Mekhong River. DNA tests identified them as Kraidej and Chatchan. The internal organs had been removed and replaced with cement and the faces were mutilated. Surachai’s whereabouts remain unknown until now.
On 8 May 2019 the Thai Alliance for Human Rights (TAHR) based in the United States reported that Siam Theerawut, Chucheep “Uncle Sanam Luang” Chiwasut and Kritsana Tupthai, 3 activists in exile, had been arrested and deported from Vietnam. The fate of all three remains unknown. Siam’s family is still looking for him.
On the evening of 4 June 2020, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai political activist in exile in Phnom Penh, was kidnapped from in front of his condominium. No clues have been found, but Wanchalearm’s family is still looking for him.NewsFreeArtsIttipon SukpaenNuamthong PraiwanEnforced Disappearances
On 25 December, the Criminal Court sentenced a student who threw paint at a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn to a 2,500 baht fine, 5,740 baht compensation, and 1 month in jail suspended for 1 year, says Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).
The student from the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture, and Graphic Arts, Silpakorn University, was sued by the Treasury Department and his own university for damaging (Section 358 of the Criminal Code) and dirtying (Section 389) others’ property.
The Court said that since the student’s action was in violation of many sections, the section with the strongest penalty was applied. The student also confessed, so the Court halved the fine (from 5,000 baht) and jail sentence (from 2 months). The Court said that the 1-year suspension does not require the defendant to report to the authorities.
The plaintiffs could have dropped the charges, said TLHR. The complaint was originally filed without the names of the plaintiffs.
The student was arrested on 22 November for throwing paint at the portrait of King Vajiralongkorn near to the sign in front of Silpakorn University and the wall of the Treasury Department in Nakhon Pathom Province. The student said that he threw paint at the King’s portraits to protest against the police crackdown on 17 November.
Plainclothes officers only showed the student the summons and asked him to “just come for a chat” at a police station in Nakhon Pathom. However, the student was detained for 1 day and 1 night in a police station in Ratchaburi Province without any official record, said TLHR. The officers told the student that the police station in Nakhon Pathom province was worse for staying overnight.
The student’s phone and tablet were confiscated. The officers claimed that they needed to check the electronic devices. The student’s room in Nakhon Pathom was also searched, and the student’s motorcycle was also confiscated. Police had no search warrant, detention order, or court order to inspect the student’s phone. At the first opportunity, the student went live on Instagram before midnight to let his friends and lawyers know where he was.
Throwing paint became common at Thai protests after Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, the lead singer of the Bottom Blues Band, threw paint at a police officer to protest against injustice, causing heated controversy. Protesters followed his example but less aggressively. In September, Jutatip Sirikhan, a student activist, threw paint over herself. In November, protesters threw paint at the Royal Thai Police headquarters to protest a police crackdown.
NewsThai Lawyers for Human RightsThrow paintKing's portraitSilpakorn UniversityTreasury Department
Two months after authorities in Thailand lifted severe emergency restrictions on peaceful protest, Amnesty International remains deeply concerned that Thai authorities are continuing to escalate and intensify their crackdown on peaceful protesters and those expressing support for them across the country.
Following Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s undertakings in late November 2020 to “enforce all laws” against protesters, officials have initiated numerous new cases against protest leaders, musicians, and activists in relation to the peaceful protests.
An estimated 220 individuals, including children, are facing criminal proceedings. At least 149 of them are being charged for alleged violations of the restrictions on public assembly under the Emergency Decree, and 53 are facing charges of sedition. There are 37 individuals who are now facing proceedings under the lèse majesté law (Article 112 of the Penal Code) which carries up to 15 years of imprisonment, in an alarming renewal of their use of the law. Authorities are also prosecuting a lawyer and an activist in Ubon Ratchathani province under the sedition law (Article 116 of the Penal Code) and the Computer Crime Act, in connection with speeches by student leaders in late August 2020.
Amnesty International is concerned that authorities are responding to ongoing protests in a way that has led not only to arbitrary detention and terms of imprisonment for those convicted but also to lengthy time and resource consuming criminal proceedings for anyone targeted. These have not only a punitive impact on individuals affected, but also a corrosive and chilling effect on the enjoyment of rights for society as a whole.
Amnesty International renews its calls on the Thai government to ensure that it upholds Thailand’s international human rights obligations with respect to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. No one should be harassed or face reprisals because of his or her presence or affiliation with a peaceful assembly.
The Thai government must recognize that peaceful assembly is a human right whose exercise is instrumental in the realization of a wide range of other rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights. The UN Human Rights Committee, the expert body that monitors compliance with and is the authoritative interpreter of the rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has said that States have a duty to not conduct any unwarranted interference with peaceful assemblies.
Amnesty International calls on authorities to drop all charges against all peaceful protesters and those expressing support for them. Thai authorities should desist from the enforcement of provisions of laws which limit the exercise of rights beyond restrictions that are permissible under international human rights law.BACKGROUND
Authorities are pursuing legal cases against individuals for the contents of speeches in previous demonstrations, and to file charges against protesters for comments or statements made online on social media in connection with demonstrations, or livestreaming protest speeches online.
Following Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s statement to Parliament on 28 October 2020 that “the Thai government is watching over every social media users in Thailand and categorizing them for future investigations” and threats by the Ministry for Digital Economy and Society that they will take action against individuals for online expression that they vaguely categorize as “improper” or “playing a role in fuelling social conflicts”, the Ministry has asked the Royal Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division to take action against some 496 URLs it deems to have violated the Computer Crime Act and unspecified security laws between 13 October and early December 2020.
Authorities have accused peaceful protesters, including children, of breaching laws on lèse majesté and threatening the Queen’s liberty, and protecting the monarchy which carry maximum sentences of 15 years’ imprisonment or life, respectively; on sedition, allowing for a seven-year prison term; of public assembly and computer crimes, which allow for five years’ imprisonment and fines; and emergency restrictions on peaceful gatherings. Some 37 persons are facing charges of lèse majesté, more than 50 for sedition, some 149 for violations of emergency restrictions on protest, and others for infringements of laws requiring prior notification of authorities for peaceful protest. A number of protest leaders have multiple criminal proceedings against them under laws on both lèse majesté and sedition.Pick to PostAmnesty Internationaljudicial harassmentStudent protest 2020
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has said that he will discuss in the next cabinet meeting whether the government will offer temporary work permits to undocumented migrant workers to alleviate the spread of Covid-19. While some are concerned that the policy may attract even more illegal immigrants and potential spreaders, an NGO suggests a 14-day quarantine period for new migrants.
Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said on 24 December that the government may offer temporary work permits, also known as ‘pink cards’, to undocumented migrants currently working in Thailand. “Today there are a lot of activities. Is the previous registration enough? Today, all the businesses must say how much labour they want, so as to check and bring them into the system properly,” said Gen Prayut.
Gen Prayut softened his tone after facing criticism from the public over his earlier speech. On 22 December, he said on TV that “as regards the organized groups bringing illegal workers into the country, they must be prosecuted and utterly destroyed, whether they are state officials or other people involved, because in this outbreak, it was fund that most of those infected came from migrant workers.”
In the parliamentary session, Gen Prayut faced criticism from Viroj Lakkana-adisorn, a Move Forward MP, who said that such words may provoke employers to avoid prosecution by sending back undocumented workers. Without legal protection, health insurance, or social security for these workers, many are also concerned that a punitive approach may force migrant workers to evade deportation and become spreaders of Covid-19.
The ‘pink card’ initiative has come up in wake of the new Covid-19 outbreak, triggering concerns over the need to bring undocumented migrant workers into the system. On 19 December, 513 cases of infection were reported in Samut Sakhon, the majority of which are reportedly migrant workers. Three days later, the number of cases in the province was 1,063 out of the 5,716 cases nationwide.
However, some are concerned that the policy may bring even more illegal immigrants and Covid-19 spreaders into the country. Associate Professor Dr Kiriya Kulkolkarn from Thammasat University, in an interview with Thai PBS, said that while it is good to bring undocumented migrants into the system, the government should be tough on combating the organized groups who bring illegal workers into the country.
Cherdsak Wisutthikul, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Employment, also said that he agreed the government should bring back into the system the migrant workers who had been documented but lost their legal status due to mistakes and other factors. But other migrants who come here illegally may make use of the opportunity to get a work permit here. It may also attract potential Covid-19 spreaders from neighbouring countries to come to Thailand.
However, there is one NGO that says that strengthening borders does not mean more crackdowns, closures, and razor-wired barriers. Instead, the borders should remain open with 14-day state quarantine. This is according to the Migrant Working Group (MWG) in a seminar at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in mid-December. In order to do this, employers and the government should take care of expenses during quarantine.
“The real beneficiaries are the employers and the government. What we see is that the employee will benefit. I think they get only compensation. They get no profits, but people who make profits are the employers and the government. I would like to propose that the expenses during the 14-day quarantine period should be the responsibility of the employers and the government who should come to an agreement about who will pay and how much, so that we will have workers who come to support the economy safely,” said Chuwong Seangkong of the MWG.
According to an MWG estimate, there may be as many as 600,000 migrant workers in Thailand who were documented but lost their legal status due to businesses closing down and border shutdowns from August to October during the last outbreak. They may have been re-employed or remain unemployed.
NGOs have also been warning for years that there may be at least 2 million illegal migrant workers in Thailand due to the difficult registration procedure, leading to illegal border crossings, bribery, and human trafficking. According to the Labour Protection Network, less than 3 million out of the total 4-5 million migrant workers have been documented.NewsSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/12/90960
The Thai government have always maintained that the measures they have taken against pro-democracy protests follow international procedures. Prachatai has talked to the UN Special Rapporteur to find out what these standards actually are.
Protesters holding mats, bracing themselves against the water cannons during the 17 November protest near the parliament.
The rising tide of pro-democracy protests in Thailand has been met with attempts from the state to quell them, in the form of prosecutions, container barricades, threats, razor wire, and riot control weaponry.
Spokespersons for the police and government often state that their measures are in line with universal standards. Amidst increasing international scrutiny of state suppression of citizens’ freedoms, the question is: is this true?
Seeking answers, Prachatai interviewed Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, who has tweeted his concern over the crackdown at Pathumwan intersection on 16 October regarding best practice for facilitating the exercise of freedom of assembly, and the benefit of doing so.
An interview was taken on 4 December, 2020.
Prachatai: What is your opinion on the current protests in Thailand? Is there any observation about standards on the proportionality of the use of force or legal action?
Voule: As a Special Rapporteur, my role is to remind the government of the obligation to ensure that these fundamental freedoms are guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 21 and other relevant UN instruments as signed by the Thai government that these rights are enforced at the national level.
Clément Nyaletsossi Voule
My concern was mainly based on the fact that enjoying your right to peaceful assembly is not criminal. For me, it is important to remind the government that anyone that enjoys the right to peaceful assembly or to organize a peaceful assembly, or participate in a peaceful assembly does not deserve criminal charges.
From the information that I received, the youth and the protesters were around 2,000. Their main demands, and I know that there are a lot of issues raised and voices, but their demands are a new constitution, a new election and to end harassment against people or critics against the government, and actually this is legitimate to my mind. And this is exactly where the fundamental right should be useful for people to participate, for people to voice out their concerns, for people to protect their interests.
To me it was surprising to see that the exact demands can be met by the excessive use of force. The communication that I have sent to Thai government is now public. I also issued a press release reiterating my concern that it is important for any government to ensure that each citizen is able to use democratic means to express their grievances.
The protesters also demand monarchy reform, for which they later faced prosecution. What do you think about the charges under the lèse majesté law?
For me, these fundamental freedoms of association and peaceful protest are there for people to express their political view. It is there within the UN resolution, also under the ICCPR, but also in the new general comment that elaborates more, that people have the right to be able to express their political view through this democratic means which is peaceful protest.
A protester with a paper stating the protest 3 demands during the 21 October protest at the Victory Monument.
I think that political participation also means that people are able to give their opinion on which kind of society they want and how they want their society to be improved. I do not think that such a demand is a demand that contradicts what the ICCPR protects.
For me it is important to ensure that the sole expression of the opinion of people on their view, on how they want to see society does not cause or involve criminal charges.
If in society, we are not able to express our own view, I can understand that this issue can be controversial but this is also how any society democratically deals with it, is to go and confront the people and see what the people's opinion are and see how the Thai population and Thai citizens see this issue.
What is your idea on the Public Assembly Act that in some ways limits people from staging protests. What should the state do to enforce the law effectively?
I want to highlight that the rights to peaceful association should be facilitated and should be guaranteed by the states. And yes, there are limitations in a very narrow and specific limitation under the ICCPR and some of the limitations can be in the interests of public order, of other people's rights.
It is important also to ensure that these restrictions are not used to undermine these rights. The intention of the government should not be to use some of these limitations to prevent people from exercising their fundamental freedom. Those limitations are there to ensure that the government can protect the protest and also protect the public order.
Containers blocking Makawan Rangsan Bridge, which lead toward the Government House and Monarchy-related facilities. The police deployed them on 10 December where some activists vowed to submit the petition at the UN office building.
The government should ensure that there are fewer protected areas. In many countries, we see that many governments are using the protected areas or are flagging some areas as high security areas just to prevent people from gathering, or sometimes they privatize those areas to ensure that there is no gathering in front of the world.
When you protest, what is the meaning of the protest? You protest and you want to allow people in the community, the diplomatic community, citizens and other people to hear your concern. You can also protest to assure that the parliament understands what is going on. If you want to protest, if you want the parliament to hear you, what is the point to go and protest 10,000 miles away from the parliament?
Another set of barricade on 17 November, barring pro-democracy protesters from entering the parliament premises which are prohibited from protest according to the Public Gathering Act. However, the pro-government were allowed to gather in front of the parliament.
We raised many concerns about some of the government actions that protect certain areas that are not really high security areas, like a military camp. Sometimes, they are public areas where many governments feel like protests that have been there carry more visibility. We raise many concerns about this.
In the case of Thailand, what I can see is that, for me, the important part is the fact that the protests are happening in some of these areas. Even though they are protected areas, it doesn't mean that the government is allowed to use excessive force against the protesters. The action the government takes should be proportionate, necessary, and should be done in a way that protects the rights of people.
When I say the rights of people themselves, it is that, when you participate in the protest, you have the right to protest but also you have other types of rights: the right to life, the right to health, all other numerous rights, the right not to be tortured, to not be killed.
My concern always is that the government should not use the argument of protected areas to repress peaceful protest.
How should the universal standard of freedom of peaceful association be applied under controversial political circumstances in Thailand?
The objective of the guarantee of this fundamental right is to allow people to be able to ensure that their voices are heard, to be able to politically participate in the life of the country. I think it is important to say that, in a time of crisis, the exercise of these rights is important. Why? Because through the exercise of peaceful protest, people are also able to make sure that their opinions are heard. It is also at this time that the government needs to hear people.
Police officers managing the traffic after protesters suddenly occupied Asoke Intersection on 18 October.
If you look at history, protest has been an instrument for many people to free themselves from authoritarian regimes. It is the tool for people to build a better society because whenever society is going through a crisis, people are able to stand up through collective action, through collective expression to ensure that their opinion, or to ensure that they need change in the way of governance.
For me it is important to ensure that when people express this fundamental freedom, it seems to the government as a way for people to be part of the political discussion, political decisions and political consensus that would happen in the country.
That is why I always reiterate to the government that it is important to resolve the need for dialogue with peaceful protesters. Through the dialogue, you can ensure that you fulfil the legitimate demands of the protesters. You can also ensure that the government’s opinion and the way the government sees things also is heard by the protesters.
Usually we see that a peaceful protest is seen by the government as a threat against national security or threat against economic development. Under international law, it is clear that the freedom of peaceful protest should be guaranteed to all citizens. Government has the right in narrow circumstances to limit this right.
A worker setting up the sign stating "Royal court premises" in front of the Crown Property Bureau on 24 November after the pro-democracy protesters announced to protest there. The Royal court premises are not actually a protest-prohibited area according to the Public Gathering Act.
Any limitation passed by government should also be enforced by necessity, proportionality and legality because these limitations should be provided by law. Even in this case, any action the government should take to limit these rights should be enforced by the least means. If there are other means to ensure that people are not harmed, people’s rights are not undermined, we encourage the government to use those means.
It is clear that peaceful protest, the main objective of peaceful protest, is for people to ensure that they are allowed to participate in the life of society. In my experience, people do not go to the street to protest just because they have time or because they like it. In many cases, people are facing long term problems that are not solved and the only tool they still have to ensure that the government hears them is to go on the streets to express their views peacefully.
Regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, what should the government do both to control disease and ensure freedom of association?
Many governments are doing their best to control the pandemic and I really applaud that. I really appreciate that some governments are trying to take measures to control the pandemic and ensure that the fundamental freedoms are guaranteed.
But what we're seeing, is many governments are using Covid-19 as a pretext to limit the expression of this right. For example, many governments take decisions or decrees to prevent people from gathering but at the same time, many governments also allow supermarkets, markets, and other types of gathering to happen.
When it comes to political gatherings, we also notice that many governments said ‘No. We are facing the pandemic’. But we know also that it is still possible for people to protest while they are protecting themselves. We saw in many cases that using a mask during the protest is also a way for people to protect themselves.
I think the best thing is to standardize the protests on the need to protect themselves by using a mask, washing hands, rather than resorting to this kind of blanket limitation and say 'No. there shouldn’t be any protest' just because there is Covid-19. It is happening in many countries and there is no indication that because of a protest, the disease spread more. By the way, I think many of the scientists say that the spread of the disease happens mainly within families.
I emphasize to the government that any measure that is put in place to fight against Covid-19 should comply with international standards, respect fundamental freedoms and if there is a need to have certain limitations, those limitations must be proportionate, focused on fighting against disease, ensuring and protecting public health rather than using Covid-19 as a pretext to counter any political dissent or any political gathering.InterviewClément Nyaletsossi VouleUN Special Rapporteurhuman rightsStudent protest 2020freedom of assemblyPublic Assembly Act
On Wednesday (23 December), the Thai parliament voted to accept the first reading of two bills which amend Sections 301 – 305 of the Criminal Code, which currently criminalize abortion.
Protesters in front of the parliament compound on 23 December
One of the bills was proposed by the Cabinet and allows abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, while the other was proposed by MPs from the Move Forward Party (MFP) and allows abortion up to the 24th week.
The bill proposed by the MFP also changes the word used to refer to the pregnant person from “woman” to “person,” in order to reduce gender-based discrimination and stigmatization of women.
However, in both proposed bills, abortion outside the time limits still carries a criminal sentence, though the bill proposed by the cabinet reduces the maximum penalty from 3 years in prison to 6 months and the fine from 60,000 baht to 10,000 baht. The MFP bill keeps the same penalty as now.
An ad hoc committee has been formed to work on the amendments, with the Cabinet’s bill as the main proposal.
A protester holding a piece of paper saying "Not just women, transman, AFAB non-binary people, and intersex people can also get pregnant"
In February 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled that Section 301 of the Criminal Code, which states that any woman who terminates her own pregnancy or allow others to terminate her pregnancy may receive a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine of 60,000 baht or both, violates Sections 27 and 28 of the current Constitution and must be amended.
Section 27 of the Constitution states that “all persons are equal before the law,” and that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights,” as well as prohibiting discrimination based on differences, while Section 28 states that “a person shall enjoy the right and liberty in his or her life and person.”
The ruling also stated that the Court’s decision on Article 301 will take effect within 360 days after the ruling was issued, meaning that if there is no new legislation within 360 days, Article 301 will immediately become invalid and abortion will no longer be a criminal offence.
As parliament was in session on Wednesday morning (23 December), representatives from the Tamtang Group, Choices Network Thailand, the Four Regions Slum Network, and other civil society partner organisations gathered in front of the parliament compound to call for the repeal of Section 301, since both bills that are being discussed in parliament still punish people who get an abortion, even though the MFP bill, which allows abortion up to the 24th week, opens up a wider window of time for people to access safe abortion services. This wider window will be more effective in solving issues faced by people with unwanted pregnancies than the bill proposed by the cabinet, which only allows abortion up to the 12th week, because over 20% of people seeking abortion are more than 12 weeks pregnant.
The network also said that the people’s voices were not listened to during the process of drafting the bills, and that their protest calls for parliament to listen to the voices of those directly affected by the law and to amend the law to protect the people’s rights and to prevent more people from dying or being harmed as a result of unsafe abortion. They said that if abortion is still a crime, people will not really be able to access safe abortion services.
- CSO network petitions Dept. of Health to ensure access to safe abortion during Covid-19 pandemic
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- Women’s rights group campaigns for abortion rights at Democracy Monument protest
- Civil society network petition Council of State to decriminalize abortion
During the event, protesters also performed a Thai version of the Chilean feminist anthem "A Rapist In Your Path," with the lyrics modified to call for the decriminalisation of abortion as a symbolic act of protest.NewsabortionAbortion rightsTermination of pregnancyBodily autonomygender equalitywomen's rights
Representatives of four high school student activist groups tell stories of the harassment and legal prosecution they now face after speaking out about human rights violations they face in school, reiterating that the right to freedom of expression is a constitutional right, while vowing to keep fighting nonetheless.
From left: Kunthida Rungruengkiat, Tanatda Keawsuksri, Itsara Wongtahan, Napawn Somsak, and Laphonpat Wangpaisit
On 17 December 2020, Protection International, Law Long Beach, and the four student activist groups Bad Student, the People’s Revolution for Equality and Democracy (PRED), the Lanna Student Coalition, and the Maha Sarakham Students Alliance, organised a panel discussion “When Children Defend Human Rights: Thailand’s Response?” at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT).
On the panel was Laphonpat Wangpaisit from the Bad Student group, Tanatda Keawsuksri from the People’s Revolution for Equality and Democracy group (PRED), Napawn Somsak from the Coalition of Lanna Students, Itsara Wongtahan from the Mahasarakham Students Group, and Kunthida Rungruengkiat from the Progressive Movement. The panel was moderated by Pranom Somwong from Protection International.The price of speaking out
High school students are now leading campaigns challenging authoritarianism in schools, questioning mandatory uniform and haircut requirements, and protesting against harassment and sexual assault. Students have taken to the streets to call for the reform of the entire educational system. But their actions have instead been met with intimidation and harassment by both school personnel and state officials.
Pranom noted that at least five people aged under 18 have been charged with sedition and violating the Emergency Decree, while at least one is facing charges under Section 112, or the lèse majesté law. Other forms of abuse range from having police officers visit them at home to teachers giving their personal information to the police and being suspended from school.
Itsara said that student activists in the northeastern region have been threatened with legal prosecution, and that police officers often come into schools during demonstrations dressed in school uniforms and take pictures of students. Others have been disowned by their families or had their allowances cut for joining protests.
Itsara said that schools should be a safe space for students to express their opinions, and that they are speaking out because of the injustices they are facing, but the adults around them are refusing to listen and telling them to stop speaking as it would ruin the school’s reputation, even though the authorities only need to listen to the students for these events to not happen.
In the case of the Lanna Student Coalition, Napawn said that police officers took pictures of students during the first protest they organised, and that officers went to schools to ask for the students’ personal information, something which teachers then used to intimidate students without recognizing that it is within the students’ legal rights to protest for their rights and freedoms.
She said that her organization was informed that the police have obtained information on at least 17 people in the group, and that all 17 have had police and military officers visit them at home. Napawn herself has had officers visiting her mother at work, and many of her friends said they have been visited by police officers, who sometimes asked them to send pictures to confirm that they really are at school, which she said is a severe violation of the students’ privacy.
From left: Tanatda, Itsara, and Napawn
Both Itsara and Napawn also said that they face degrees of online sexual harassment as young women speaking out and joining protests. Napawn said that, as she becomes better known after she began leading protests, her picture has been posted on social media and that there have been comments which amounts to body shaming and sexual harassment, which she said is something that happens not only to protest leaders but to most public figures.
Itsara said that after she gave a speech on the legalization of sex work, her name and school were shared on Facebook groups. People were trying to find out who she is, and people on social media were putting sexual comments on her pictures, criticising her appearance and making her feel like she has been made into a sex object.
“Why is it that when you are a girl and a student, why is this the price we have to pay? People who were abusing me are people who look like moral people. They have pictures of themselves making merit on their Facebook pages, but on social media, you’re instead spread rumours about me using vulgar language, which I could even legally sue you for. So this is a contradiction that they do, a contradiction in itself, and they have never looked back at themselves whether the things they did were right, or whether it is something they should do to a young person who is not yet 18, who is still in a student uniform,” said Itsara.
“Some adults think that children are children, and so they must not be allowed to talk about sex, they must not be allowed to talk about sexuality or about anything that is not their business, even though we can be interested in anything, not just about education.”
Meanwhile, Tanatda said that the south is a very conservative region, making activism difficult. She said that she herself has had officers visiting her family home, even though she currently does not live there, and even visiting her school.
Tanatda said that there are at least 50 recorded recent cases of activists being harassed in the south, and that there are likely many more that cannot be recorded because the victims are too scared to speak out. She also said that in the 3 deep south provinces, which are still under martial law and a state of emergency, young people face many restrictions to their activism, and that they face stronger pressure from the state and from their schools to stop speaking out than anywhere else.
She said that she is just a student who wants change, but no one is helping her when she faces harassment, and questions why students who are facing harassment don’t go to state agencies or other organizations like UNICEF, but instead come to organizations like PRED.
Similarly, Laphonpat said that the Bad Student group receives over 10 complaints of harassment a day, and that they have recorded over 1000 cases so far. He himself faces charges for violating the Emergency Decree after he joined the protest at the ratchaprasong intersection on 15 October, which took place during a ban on political gatherings under the severe state of emergency declared in Bangkok in the early morning of 15 October before the crackdown on the protest at Government House. At the time the summons was issued, he was not yet 18 years old.
He said that, when the group first started, they brought these issues to state agencies, but found that these agencies cannot solve the issues, so they had to organize protests and found that efforts to resolve these issues started only after they held protests. He said that the Bad Student group have filed several complaints with the Ministry of Education , but their demands were not taken seriously, as the Education Minister tends to thinks that the students’ protests are backed by someone else, or that the students are not capable of organizing such large protests themselves.
Laphonpat said that the Ministry has set up a committee to handle the students’ demands, but it has changed nothing as those who sit on the committee still vote to keep things the same way. Not only that, students also did not get to participate in these meetings, which directly affect them, and they were only invited to join the meetings when it was reported that the MOE did not have student representatives on the committee. The MOE also refused to broadcast the meetings as the group requested, or to open up the meetings for any student who would like to join.Students’ rights must be protected
A box was place in front of the room during the panel discussion for suggestions from attendees of what UNICEF should do to protect young human rights defenders.
In 1992, Thailand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which states that children have the right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Pranom said that this begs the question whether either the Thai government or organisations like UNICEF, which has the obligation to protect children’s rights, have complied with their international human rights obligations.
She said that, until now, UNICEF has only issued a press release, and called on the organization to seriously uphold the rights of the child and demand that a state party like Thailand stop such harassment immediately.
Meanwhile, Kunthida said that she herself and the Progressive Movement have received complaints from students who faced disciplinary actions for expressing themselves or organizing activities, such as wearing white ribbons to school.
Forms of punishment included not being allowed to take examinations, having their test scores reduced, or being deprived of rights in schools, and these punishments are not allowed by the Ministry of Education (MOE). She also said that schools have been allowing outsiders, such as police officers, to come onto campus and harass students, taking their photos, or visiting them at home.
She said that the Ministry once issued a circular notice telling schools that students are allowed to express their opinion, but did not issue any further concrete measures while students continue to be harassed by both teachers and state officials.
“What is happening to these young people, to these students right now, it can be said that the Ministry of Education has not done its job well enough. It is clear that using just a circular is not enough to protect the rights of the students under their responsibility,” said Kunthida.
Kunthida called for the authorities to effectively enforce the Child Protection Act since the Constitution clearly upholds the right of the child to freedom of expression. She said that actions like holding up blank pieces of paper or wearing white ribbons are not illegal but are acts of peaceful assembly, and no one should face disciplinary action for participating in such activities.
She said that the MOE has no mechanism in place to take and track complaints from students, and so they are unable to report the number of cases of harassment, and since the students on the panel have said that they do not trust the MOE to solve their issues, the MOE needs to show accountability as an organization directly responsible for students and educational personnel to regain their trust.
Kunthida proposed that students should try to come together to draft their own national education bill, since previous national education acts have been drafted by groups of other people which did not include students. She said that she would like there to be a national education bill that is drafted with the students’ contribution, as they are directly affected by this law.“We have already seen that light”
The panel reads one of the suggestions from the box
Despite facing harassment and other obstacles, the students said that they will still continue fighting.
Tanatda said that, even though they are young and have not been fighting for that long, she believes everyone already knows what the problems are and is ready to keep going. She sees the threats they are facing as motivation to keep going and as lessons teaching them how to move forward carefully and efficiently.
“We see the light at the end of the tunnel that is getting brighter. Even though we are still in the tunnel or in a dark room, we have already seen that light, and we will make every effort to try to climb up to seek that light,” said Tanatda.
Napawn, who is facing intimidation and police surveillance herself, said she is very angry and that she doesn’t understand why police officers are harassing students. However, she said that they are going to keep fighting even though the fight might not end in their generation.
“I see that if they’re not stopping, then we’re not stopping either,” Napawn said. “Right now, there are many student organisations which have been formed. On this stage, we have four organizations from every region. I think that, in the future, we might not be as active sometimes, but I believe that there are many other students, many other generations of young people who are ready to fight, and if they don’t stop, we don’t stop. I believe that time will be on our side.”
Laphonpat said that he is prepared for any errors, and that failure can happen every day. He said that what they can do as citizens to keep speaking out about the problems they are facing, but whether they are successful or not also depends on whether the state will act on their demands. However, he said that he believes they will be successful someday, as he believes there are future generations who will continue their fight.
“Even if it’s not successful today, tomorrow, or this year or next year or whenever, I believe that one day it has to be successful, because we have already seen that every day, we have many high school students who are fighting, so in the future, I would probably get to see high school students rising up and fight as well. So even if we don’t win this fight, there will probably be the next generation who are going to fight until one day we are successful, because there probably isn’t anyone who can tolerate being in the authoritarian system that has oppressed us this long,” said Laphonpat.Featurestudent movementYouth movementStudent protest 2020Education reformhuman rights defendersstate violencesurveillanceProtection International
On Christmas day, the Criminal Court dismissed all charges against 9 activists who called for an election in front of the MBK department store in January 2018.
The 9 activists include Veera Somkwamkid, Rangsiman Rome, Sirawith Seritiwat, Nuttaa Mahattana, Anon Nampa, Ekkachai Hongkangwan, Sukrit Piansuwan, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, and Sombat Boonngamanong.
On 27 January 2018, the defendants held a protest on the BTS Skywalk in front of the MBK department store calling for an election after the military junta had delayed it for the 5th time until February 2019. The 39 participants who faced police charges were also known as MBK39, a parody of the name of the famous girl band BNK48.
Col (now Maj Gen) Burin Thongprapai, the legal officer of the military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), charged the 9 with violating the sedition law (Section 116). He also claimed that the activists held a political gathering of more than 5 people in violation of an NCPO order, and held a protest within 150 metres of a royal area in violation of the 2015 Public Assembly Law,.
The Court ruled that calling for an election is a constitutional right and does not constitute sedition. The Court also said that the activists were not informed that they were holding a protest within the designated distance of Sra Pathum Palace. The police measured the distance only after the protesters ended the demonstration.
Ahead of the 2019 election, the military government lifted the NCPO order prohibiting a political gathering of more than 5 people in December 2018, so the Court disposed of that charge. Thus, the activists were acquitted of all charges.
The MBK protest was one of many protests calling for the junta to hold a repeatedly promised election. In February 2018, Thai activists in Pinocchio masks gathered at Thammasat University criticizing the Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as a “liar”. Protests calling for an election were also held in Chiang Mai and Chonburi, where participants also faced similar charges.
Even then, the military government delayed the election for a 6th time, claiming that the election day would conflict with the coronation ceremony. Thanks to pressure from civil society, a questionable election was eventually held in March 2019. It was won by NCPO-allied parties who voted for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to continue as Prime Minister.NewsMBK39Veera SomkwamkidRangsiman RomeSirawith SeritiwatNuttaa MahattanaAnon NampaEkkachai HongkangwanSukrit PiansuwanNetiwit ChotiphatphaisalSombat BoonngamanongNCPOPublic Assembly ActNCPO orderSeditionSection 116
The recent spike in coronavirus (Covid-19) infections recorded in and around Samut Sakhon is alarming to the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) on multiple levels. We are particularly concerned about the potential negative impact of Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha’s remark that this latest flare up is primarily due to “illegal immigrants” who “have brought much grief to the country”. This follows the earlier comment by the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul that “the source is likely migrant workers”.
Officers from Raks Thai Foundation and government authorities tested the migrant workers at the Covid-19 hotspot site in Samut Sakhon province on 19 December. (Source: Facebook/Raks Thai Foundation)
Rather than seeking a scapegoat, the current outbreak, centred on Samut Sakhon’s Central Shrimp Market, brings into sharp focus the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having on the livelihood and health of Thailand’s much maligned migrant workers. The seafood industry in Samut Sakhon, like elsewhere in Thailand, is hugely dependent on the low paid labour of migrants from Myanmar and Cambodia who live and work in conditions where physical distancing and recommended hygiene measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are largely absent. In recent research conducted by MMN member, The Raks Thai Foundation, which included respondents from Samut Sakhon’s seafood industry, migrants reported that very few employers imposed social distancing rules, provided PPE, checked temperatures before work, or used a rota system to limit the number of staff in the workplace at any one time.
The current outbreak is a product of the heightened risks faced by migrants due to their precarious working conditions and marginalisation from wider Thai society. MMN takes the view that Covid-19 preventative measures will only be successful if all of Thailand’s diverse migrant communities are engaged in the response, and are treated fairly without discrimination. It is counterproductive to point the finger at migrants or scapegoat them as the “source” of the outbreak, since the current public health emergency requires collective action that is only possible when no one is left behind. Migrants are also fearful of being locked down or quarantined in cramped, overcrowded conditions.
It should be noted that many of the current difficulties containing the outbreak within the migrant community are rooted in a lack of coherence in policies that impact the lives of migrants. Although many Thai policies in the field of social protection are relatively progressive in their treatment of migrants, implementation is often hamstrung by restrictive immigration policies that treat migrants as temporary workers. This in the face of the reality that a great many migrant workers have lived for years, if not decades, in Thailand and consider it their permanent home.
To tackle the current outbreak in Samut Sakhon, public health must be prioritised, and migrants must be assured that test, trace, and treatment for Covid-19 will be carried out at arms’ length from the immigration authorities. Without a firewall between immigration enforcement and the Covid-19 response, migrants will be fearful of any contact with the authorities.
Such an outcome will have serious implications for the Ministry of Public Health’s ability to control the outbreak. We commend the words of Samut Sakhon Vice Governor Surasak Phonyangsong in remarking that "Myanmar migrant workers are also human beings who deserve to be treated with humanity regardless of their immigration status”. (Source: Jor Sor 100)
In light of the above challenges, MMN calls on the relevant authorities to implement the following recommendations as a matter of urgency:
- For the Ministry of Health to publicly announce and put in place measures to ensure that all migrants in Thailand, regardless of their immigration status, can access free public healthcare in relation to the diagnosis and treatment of Covid-19.
- For the relevant Thai authorities to publicly announce that a person’s immigration status will not be checked when they approach healthcare service providers for a test or treatment for Covid-19 and that all personal data will be treated in the strictest of confidence with an undertaking that immigration enforcement action will not be pursued against those who come forward.
- For the Ministry of Public Health to ensure that all migrants in Thailand are accommodated, free of charge, in appropriate quarantine facilities where such action is deemed necessary.
- For the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour, and Ministry of Public Health to urgently work towards a cohesive social protection package that catches all migrants, regardless of their immigration status, before they fall into destitution as a result of the health and economic impact of the pandemic.
- For the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour to pass special measures to facilitate the extension of visas and work permits, and provide amnesty to those who have fallen out of the system.
- For the Ministry of Labour to strictly enforce Covid-19 safety measures in all workplaces, and that employers provide their employees with protective equipment such as masks and alco gels for free.
- For the Ministry of Labour to ensure that all employees, including migrant workers, receive paid sick leave during any quarantine and/or treatment period.
- For the relevant authorities in Thailand and countries of origin to mount a far-reaching coordinated public information campaign aimed at migrants to inform them of important matters relating to the Covid-19 pandemic in appropriate migrant languages. Such information must include: preventative measures to stop the spread of Covid-19; what to do and how to contact the health authorities in the event of falling ill; immigration updates, including information on border closures; how to social distance and self-isolate; quarantine requirements; and relief measures available for migrants in case of sudden loss of income.
- For the relevant authorities in Thailand and countries of origin to work together towards a public health and humanitarian response for border crossers, with efforts geared towards encouraging regular migration channels by providing affordable quarantine and health check measures at border entry points.
- For the relevant authorities in Thailand and countries of origin to provide accurate information about the pandemic to the general public, and take a clear stance against any stigmatisation and discrimination against migrant communities.
For all the above, MMN urges the governments of countries of origin to actively reach out to their nationals, and closely coordinate with the relevant Thai authorities as well as NGOs to ensure that timely support is provided to all those who are in urgent need.
Moreover, we reiterate our repeated calls for the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN, to work in unity and provide a coordinate response regarding the movement of people in ways that will reduce the potential of virus spreading events while maintaining the dignity and rights of migrants. We emphasize once again the urgent need for portability of social protection in the region.
About the Mekong Migration Network
Founded in 2003, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations and research institutes working towards the protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and their families in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. MMN’s areas of joint action include collaborative research, advocacy, capacity building and networking. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination, have unique expertise in the field, and are in close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. For more information on MMN, please visit MMN’s webpage at: www.mekongmigration.orgPick to PostMekong Migration Network (MMN)migrant workerCOVID-19
The Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) held a press conference on 22 December to announce that only 62 percent of eligible voters had participated in the provincial elections, falling short of the target of 80 percent.
ECT Secretary-General Pol Col Charungwit Phumma told the press that 29,016,536 of 46,610,759 eligible voters cast their votes on 20 December. He still cannot confirm whether the sparse voter turnout was due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, Charungwit said that the provincial elections were held between a long weekend and the upcoming New Year holidays. Voters might have travelled or returned home to visit their families, which might have affected the decision to vote.
In September, the cabinet announced holidays on 19-22 November and 10-13 December to compensate for the cancellation of the Songkran festival due to the spread of Covid-19. The provincial elections were held on Sunday (20 December) without any provision for early voting or voting-by-mail.
Ahead of the provincial elections, the ECT announced that eligible voters who could not go to vote on election day must submit documents by 27 December to explain their inability to vote. Otherwise, they will lose the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in local elections for 2 years.
Charungwit said that a lot of people used the 1444 hotline to enquire about the procedure for document submission. He is still waiting for the final number of document submissions to see why voter turnout did not meet the target.
The ECT has not released the official returns yet, claiming that they are still verifying the results. However, Charungwit said that the ECT has observed 149 complaints and 7 allegedly illegal acts. They have accepted 68 out of the 156 for investigation.
All ECT commissioners were appointed in 2018 by the King on the advice of the 250 unelected senators handpicked by the military junta before they launched a questionable election in 2019. The ECT’s seven-year term will expire in 2025.NewsProvincial ElectionElection Commission of Thailand (ECT)
The veteran politician Chaturon Chaisang has finally been acquitted of sedition after a legal fight that lasted 6 years, 6 months and 26 days.
He was charged under Section 116 of the Criminal Code and Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act after holding a press conference in English in defiance of the military coup in May 2014 at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok.
Invoking the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Thailand is a party, the Court said that Chaturon, like all other citizens, has the right to hold a press conference and to freedom of verbal expression.
The Court also said that after his speech calling for people to express their views peacefully and for the junta to hold an election, there were no clear cases of people going out to cause chaos and social unrest. So he was found not guilty under Section 116.
The Court also said his electronic devices had been taken by the military and he was in detention at the time the authorities claimed that he posted a seditious statement on Facebook. He was therefore also found not guilty under the Computer Crime Act.
Chaturon Chaisang is a former Pheu Thai Party MP, a former Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and was the strategic head of the dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party. He was the first civilian to be tried in a military court for defying the putschists in 2014. However, after political pressure from various groups to hold an election, the junta loosened its grip and transferred the case to the civilian courts.
Chaturon posted on Facebook asking that the authorities “stop using the law as a tool to harass and silence the people.” After the court verdict, there are two things he wants to do.
First, he will ask the Office of the Attorney General not to appeal the case to the Court of Appeal and to come up with guidelines for cases transferred from the military courts.
Second, Chaturon will also request the legislature to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure so that the authorities can no longer use the security laws arbitrarily to suppress people’s rights.
In 2017, iLaw reported that 26 cases had been brought against 66 individuals under Section 116 after the military coup in 2014.
During the recent pro-democracy protests in Thailand, from 18 July to 7 December, the authorities reportedly filed at least 220 charges against protesters using the sedition law (Section 116), the Computer Crime Act, and the lèse-majesté law (Section 112).NewsChaturon Chaisangsedition lawSection 116Source: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/12/90927, https://prachatai.com/journal/2017/08/72996, https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/12/90741
On 22 December, the Criminal Court found Patnaree Chankij, the mother of pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat, not guilty of charges under the lèse majesté law and the Computer Crime Act after she responded in a chat with her son’s friend with ‘cha’ (yes).
Patnaree Chankij (File Photo)
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the court found that the word ‘cha’ used in reply to a statement by Burin Intin, her son’s friend who was charged and found guilty of the same charges, was an attempt to end the conversation.
Patnaree’s case was brought in May 2016 by the legal team of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the junta that overthrew the elected government in 2014. It came after Burin was arrested and secretly interrogated in a military camp, a method commonly used after the coup to quell criticism and opposition. Later, the military somehow gained access to Burin’s chats including one where Patnaree is involved.
After the chat was exposed, she was accused under Section 112 for replying to a Facebook message from Burin that was deemed to be lèse majesté by texting ‘cha’. Human Rights Watch translated this word as a non-committal, colloquial ‘yes’. The authorities alleged that it shows that she accepted or agreed with the message and failed to report Burin to the authorities.
The police at first refused to prosecute under Section 112. The Military Courts, which at that time had jurisdiction in national security-related cases including lèse majesté cases, indicted her anyway. After she was detained for two days, she was released on 8 May 2016 on 500,000 baht bail on condition that she did not go abroad or participate in any political activity.
The arrest of Patnaree triggered outrage from many anti-junta activists and international human rights advocates, who promptly condemned the Thai authorities and accused them of having a political motivation in relation to her son's series of anti-junta rallies.
Patnaree’s trial took place in a closed hearing, allowing only Patnaree and her defence lawyer to be in the courtroom without any observers, on the pretext that the case involved the lèse majesté law. She denied the allegations against her and vowed to fight the case.
According to TLHR, trials in Military Courts proceed slowly. It took more than 3 years to hear the testimony of 6 out of 17 witnesses, when the case was transferred to a civilian court which she finally saw the end of her case. However, the long trial and stigma cost her a lot.
“Every time I hear the news that someone is charged under [Section] 112, it is not only a legal prosecution. I feel that we will be defendants against society. We will be bad people on the other side of a society that does not understand. Or the ones that love the institution [monarchy], they sure do not listen that I texted only one word ‘cha’. There have been insults, threats of hate and threats of assault. It’s like besides having to be stressed over the case, I have to be stressed over society. Will there be people coming to hurt me? Will mad people come and knock me about?”
“Since I was prosecuted under 112, jobs that used to hire me for cleaning, jobs that used to make appointments for fortune telling, or jobs where I used to be able to sell stuff, those people are the groups that broke off relations with me. 50% of my work has disappeared ,” said Patnaree.
Section 112 of the Criminal Code prohibits people from defaming or expressing hostility to the king, queen, heir-apparent and regent. Those who are found guilty face 3-15 years in jail. The law and the way it has been used have attracted scrutiny because of problems with the wide range of interpretation and the proportionality of the punishment.
In the rise of the pro-democracy movement since July 2020, calling for the government’s resignation, constitutional amendments and monarchy reform, criticism of the monarchy has become a topic of public discussion as never before. Section 112 has recently again been widely used against protesters with a wide range of interpretation after an informal moratorium that began in 2018.
At least 35 protesters have been charged as of 22 December over speeches, social media posts and cosplay.
Patnaree's son, Sirawith, faced several charges over his activities. He was also brutally assaulted in daylight on a main road, an attack which left one of his eyes heavily damaged and he has still not fully recovered. Because of the treatment to his injury, a scholarship to India that he had been granted was cancelled. The culprits were never found and brought to justice.
Burin Intin was not allowed bail. He was put on trial while he was in temporary detention in the remand prison. He later confessed, and his 22 years and 8 months sentence was reduced by half. He remains in Bangkok Remand Prison as of 22 December 2020.Newshuman rightsPatnaree ChankijSirawith SeritiwatBurin Intinlese majesteArticle 112Section 112
In 1992, an environmental struggle between local communities and the government began in Si Saket province of Northeast Thailand, when the government built the 17-meter-high Rasi Salai Irrigation Dam with little transparency or discussion with local villagers. Blocking the flow of the Mun River flooded a vast area of land that the villagers had utilised for generations.
The struggle over Rasi Salai is less known than that over the Pak Mun Dam, its larger, older sibling in neighbouring Ubon Ratchathani Province. Both sit on the Mun River, but Rasi Salai has received much less coverage over the years despite still impacting local people 30 years on.
The area submerged was a unique wetland ecosystem, one of the largest and most important in Thailand. This wetland, which naturally flooded during the rainy season, created a fertile environment that supported local communities by providing food, resources and a place to graze their cattle. Once submerged, villagers lost land and access to vital sources of income that ultimately lead to a decline in their social and cultural identity.
With gates to the wetland now closed for eight months of the year, often more, the dam has caused the ruin of thousands of villagers. The reservoir has not alleviated irrigation problems in the arid plains around the Mun River and instead has caused ongoing land conflicts that have ended a traditional model of self-sufficiency that was the pride of the local people.
Since then, affected communities involving thousands of villagers have been fighting for monetary compensation for the loss of land and income, as well as also ecological rehabilitation of the remaining area.
In early 2020, Bangkok-based British photographer Luke Duggleby visited Rasi Salai to see how the communities continue to be affected by the dam. Fascinated by Thai social movements and environmental struggles, particularly those related to the Assembly of the Poor, he had researched a lot about the issue. “When you talk about Thai community struggles related to dams most people will have heard about Pak Mun. Whilst smaller in size, Rasi Salai received much less attention despite also having severely impacted local communities for decades,” explains Luke.
On that first trip, he visited the Wetland People’s Association, a stone’s throw from the dam itself and part of the Assembly of the Poor’s Rasi Salai chapter. There they showed him a collection of old film and colour negatives taken during the early days of the struggle. As a photographer who had started his career using film, Luke was fascinated by the collection.
“In one of the buildings, in an old metal filing cabinet sat thousands of colour negatives slowly fading away in the humidity. Having worked with film in the past, I knew that eventually the chemicals would slowly degrade to a point where there would be no image left,” said Luke.
These images were taken over the years by four local amateur Thai photographers and community members, Sanun Chusakul, Pairor Sujinprum, Juthathip Damrongtrairat and Pranee Makhanun. They document an important part of this community struggle, showing protests and activities of resistance, as well as ways of life that now no longer exist. “The historical importance of these images was something I couldn’t just let disappear,” said Luke.
Pranee Makhanun, who works at the Wetland People’s Association and contributed to the collection herself, explained why she wanted to keep the old photographs rather than throw them away.
“They are indispensable memories of the Pak Mun people. They show the history of the people’s movement and will tell the next generation that ‘Dad and Mom fought so hard to protect natural resources for the next generation.’ This was a fight between the authorities and the people. The people are not fools. The photos tell us, ‘We can gain nothing without struggle. Rallying and taking the street are our legitimate rights as citizens.’ These old pictures can tell the truth when time has gone by.”
Luke returned to Bangkok and, along with French journalist Laure Siegel, was able to secure a grant from the Earth Journalism Network (https://earthjournalism.net/) to returning to Rasi Salai and produce a story about the community today and the wider issue of dams in the region. The funding also allowed the community to build a light box and buy a scanner, which the journalists taught the community how to use.
Over the next few months, they scanned almost 2,000 images that are now safely secured as digital images, a small selection of which is shown below. The scans aren’t perfect, as the chemicals in many of the negatives had already started to degrade. But having the images saved, whether the colours are true or not, is enough.
The first generation of villagers who began this fight for justice are now old, most in their seventies and eighties, and many have passed away. But with a visual record now digitally preserved, this small social struggle, an intrinsic and controversial part of local history, will live on for future generations to see.
Chronology of Rasi Salai (Timeline by Yingpong Munsub)
Photo taken in 2000 at a fundraiser to help 11 charged villagers.
Villagers deliver a speech in front of Sisaket provincial hall on 19 October 1995. Rasi Salai dam had preserved water to a height of 119m, flooding rice fields. Some villagers had to harvest at night or dive into water to harvest their crops. They called for de-leveling of the water and an emergency committee to resolve the disaster.
Rice that was harvested after flooding caused by the Rasi Salai dam in 1995.
The Natural March for Mun River in 1999 marching into a paddy field.
Women members of the Assembly of the Poor gathering for a leaders’ meeting at Rasi Salai in 1996.
Assembly of the Poor members from Hua Na dam and Rasi Salao dam gather in front of Sisaket provincial hall from 25 to 27 April 2000. They are waiting to negotiate with Pornthep Techapaibul, deputy minister of sciences. They call for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and a halt to construction until the EIA.
Villagers stand in flooded land in 1999. They call for the dam to be opened and a survey of the land.
Women villagers at Ban Tha Ngam village in Roi Et province trapping fish during dry season.
Mae Moon Man Yuen village under flooded water caused by Pak Mun dam in 2000. The village was flooded after the dam’s drain was closed to obstruct the protest.
Rally for Mun River crossing downtown Sisaket in 1999.
The Assembly of the Poor rallies in front of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)'s office.
Villagers gather to protest in 2000.
Traditional fish traps at Ponsai district in Roi Et.
Traditional fish traps which can no longer function due to the deep water levels at the dam.
A meeting of the Kud Peng community forest committee which was formed to protect the remaining forest areas that survived flooding.FeatureRasi SalaiPak Mun Damsocial movementSisaketAssembly of the PoorIn-Depth
1,063 new cases of Covid-19 were discovered in Samut Sakhon as of Tuesday (22 December), while the province has been put under lockdown effective until 3 January.
Health officials screening a group of migrant workers in at-risk area on 19 December (Photo from Raks Thai Foundation)
New cases were first reported last Thursday (18 December), after family members of a seafood vendor who tested positive for Covid-19 were also found to have the virus.
The number then continued to rise over the weekend as over 500 cases were confirmed on Saturday (19 December), and over 100 were confirmed on Sunday (20 December) and Monday (21 December). 242 additional cases were then confirmed on Tuesday morning (22 December).
As of Tuesday, 1,063 cases have been confirmed.
Wichan Pawan, Director of the Institute for Urban Disease Prevention and Control, said that, of these cases, 33 people were found through hospital testing and tracking those who came into contact with previous patients and 788 were found during mobile testing in the communities. He also said that some people who tested positive were people who came to the market and left the province, and that these cases have been found in Samut Prakan, Saraburi, Bangkok, and Nakhon Pathom. He also said that cases are expected to rise as active testing continues both in Samut Sakhon and in other at-risk areas.
Officials have also said that 6,156 people have been tested so far, of whom 3,808 have received their results.
Wichan said that 4,688 people have been tested in Samut Sakhon, of whom 1,861 have received their results. He also said that cases are expected to rise as active testing continues both in Samut Sakhon and in other at-risk areas.
Khaosod English reported that access to the Central Shrimp Market, one of Thailand’s largest seafood markets and the epicenter of the new outbreak, and its associated housing has been blocked with razor wire and police officers. It also reported that, according to health officials, most of those infected are migrant workers from Myanmar, who live close to the market in crowded accommodations.
Opas Karnkawinpong, Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, said that around 90% of the new cases either show very mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, and that most of the cases are migrant workers. However, he said that he is confident the relevant agencies will be able to handle the situation, as the cases are still being found in a limited area, and there has been no severe case. He also said that, while it is likely more cases will be found in crowded migrant worker communities around the shrimp market, they are low-risk groups as most people are working age and healthy.
Meanwhile, Samut Sakhon Governor Weerasak Wijitsaengsri has declared a provincial lockdown effective until 3 January. The Central Shrimp Market and the Sri Muang dormitory have also been declared off-limits while disease control operations are carried out.
People in the province are asked not to travel to other provinces, and those who have visited the Central Shrimp Market since 1 December are asked to observe their own symptoms of the next 14 days, and to self-isolate and wear face masks at all times.
Entertainment venues, sport stadiums, boxing stadiums, schools and other educational institutions, tutorial schools, shopping malls, cinemas, and spas in the Samut Sakhon area are to close between 19 December – 3 January. Meanwhile, restaurants and other places selling food are allowed to sell only takeaway, and convenience stores are to close between 22.00 – 5.00.
The Department of Rail Transport has also announced that trains travelling across provincial borders will not stop at any station in Samut Sakhon, and that no train will run between 22.00 – 5.00 in the province. Passengers traveling to or from Samut Sakhon will also have to fill out travel information forms for disease-tracking purposes. Identification documents will also be checked to prevent migrant workers from leaving or entering the province.
The local elections on Sunday (20 December), however, went ahead as planned, along with local elections in other provinces across the country.
The cases found as part of the new outbreak are the first cases of local transmission to be found in Thailand since May. However, the country remains under the nationwide State of Emergency declared in March, which has been repeatedly extended even during the time when no local cases were found and is now in effect until 15 January 2021. Civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19, have said that the measures adopted under the Emergency Decree to combat the pandemic have instead been used against peaceful protesters and critics of the government, at least 73 of whom are facing charges under the Decree for participating in pro-democracy protests.NewsCOVID-19coronavirusSamut SakhonEmergency DecreeState of emergency
The leader of the Progressive Movement has held a press conference via Facebook Live saying that none of his candidates won election to Chief Executive of any Provincial Administrative Organization (PAO).
“Although there were many other factors, the most important factor which prevented us from winning the PAO position in any province at all was because we still did not work hard enough, and our work was still not effective enough,” said Thanathorn.
“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the brothers and sisters who supported us in the election on 20 December.”
However, he said that 55 of his candidates won election as PAO Council members in 18 provinces. The Progressive Movement later updated that they won 2 more seats in Nan and Rayong. So, in total, they won 57 seats in 20 provinces.
PAOs have separate executive and legislative bodies responsible for local development plans, local annual budgets and regulations.
The provincial elections were held on Sunday (20 December) without any provision for early voting. They were the first provincial elections in 6 years after the military junta banned them after they came into power and it was the first time that young voters aged from 18 to 26 cast their vote.
It was also the first time that provincials election in 76 provinces all happened on the same day and the first time that provincial elections became a part of national politics as big political parties officially sent candidates to compete for power.
The PAOs are part of Thailand’s decentralization policy that has gradually evolved since the democratic revolution in 1932 from the earlier Provincial Councils.Thanathorn’s plan for next year
In this election, Thanathorn fielded candidates in 42 provinces. Out of the total 15,730,841 votes, the Progressive Movement won 2,670,798 votes, or 17 percent.
He compared the provincial election results with the last general national election, and was heartened that his supporter base is actually growing. In 2019, the Future Forward Party won 16.2 percent out of the total 19,629,451 votes.
Thanathorn said that the Progressive Movement will continue to run for positions in Subdistrict Administrative Organization. And while waiting for the next election, they will push forward constitutional amendments, military reform and monarchy reform.
“Don’t lose hope or determination. Building Thailand needs a lot more time. We must move forward together. And lastly, thanks to everyone for helping by being the power for the Progressive Movement. I ask everyone to continue this journey together.”
In 2019, the majority of MPs of the dissolved Future Forward Party came from the party-list system. They won 30 seats from constituency elections and 57 from the party-list system.
However, after Constitutional Court verdicts and MP defections to government parties, the Move Forward party, the successor party, has only 53 seats in the opposition.
Thanathorn and his Progressive Movement may also have to face criminal charges for running for the provincial elections without being a political party.
The Election Commission, appointed by the military junta, has ruled to investigate the matter, warning that, if convicted, they could be punishable up to 3 years in jail, a 60,000 baht fine, and loss of voting rights for 5 years.
The PAOs’ term is four years until 2024 and Parliament’s term will expire in 2023.NewsThanathorn JuangroongruangkitProgressive MovementProvincial Election
Kaeng Krachan indigenous communities raise concerns over rights issues ahead of world heritage nomination
Members of the indigenous Karen communities living near the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex have raised concerns over unresolved community rights issues ahead of the Thai government’s 4th nomination of the forest for world heritage status in 2021.
Members of the communities holding a traditional ceremony to inform the spirits that the event is being held
On 16 December 2020, an event was held at the hot spring centre in Nong Ya Plong District, Phetchaburi, where members of the indigenous Karen communities living in the areas surrounding the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex came to speak about unresolved community rights issues, including issues of land rights, citizenship, and loss of their traditional way of life.
The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex covers 482,225 hectares of forest in Phetchaburi, Ratchaburi, and Prachuap Kiri Khan, and includes four conservation areas in Thailand’s western region: the Kaeng Krachan National Park, the Kui Buri National Park, the Chaloem Phrakiat Thai Prachan National Park, and the Maenam Pachi Wildlife Sanctuary.
The forest complex area also includes several villages, both in the conservation zone and in the nearby area, which contain over 5000 households. Ban Tha Salao village in Nong Ya Plong District, near the Kaeng Krachan National Park, is one of these. Many of its community members have faced and are still facing legal prosecution as the authorities claim they have encroached on forest land.
Wansao Phungam, one of the villagers, said she has been affected by the National Council for Peace and Order’s forest reclamation policy. In August 2018, she was arrested for encroaching on national park land, even though she insisted that she inherited her plot of land from her parents and that she is not encroaching.
She said that other plots of land around hers have a Certificate of Utilization, but her parents had never obtained the document, as they have 7 children and her father was sick, so her mother was not able to travel into town to get the certificate. She also said that the other owners have not faced legal prosecution.
The court of first instance sentenced Wansao to 3 years and 8 months in prison and a fine of over 2 million baht. She filed an appeal, and the Appeal Court dismissed the case. She is still waiting to see whether park officials will take the case to the Supreme Court.
Wansao said that she and her community have gone to many government agencies, but no one has paid attention to their complaint. She said that they have gone to parliament to file a petition, but they were dismissed and forced out of the premises. She said that she would like the authorities to resolve the issues facing the communities before nominating the forest complex as a world heritage site.
“Maybe they think we don’t matter or something, I don’t know. I don’t understand,” Wansao said, “but I think it’s too much of a violation of our rights and discriminating against us and our ethnic group. Whatever happens, I am still happy to be Karen, but they can’t discriminate against us. They can’t come and violate our rights. We have rights just like everyone else. We are Thai too.”
Wijitra from the Ban Huai Sarika community said that most of the land in her community has now been seized as people face legal charges, and they are not able to make a living on the land. The requirement that they have to constantly use a plot of land also means that they are not able to grow crops according to their rotational farming tradition. Because of this situation, she would like the authorities to arrange for them to hold the right to the land together as a community.
A sign at the event says "indigenous communities have been here before the national park. Arresting people is not the solution to the problem."
Pongsak Tonnamphet from the Bang Kloi village said that his community once had a secure life, but they are now living in poverty, and lack land on which to make a living. He said that each time the authorities went to conduct a survey, their land got smaller and smaller, and he asked how his community will be able to continue to live and farm on this land.
He said that the community does not object to the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex being declared a world heritage site, but he has heard about the protected cultural zone declared at the Phu Men community in Uthai Thani, and hopes they could do the same at Chai Phaen Din, a village deeper in the Kaeng Krachan forest from where the Bang Kloi community has been evicted.
A representative from the Karen Network for Culture and Environment, Tanaosri region, along with members of the Karen indigenous communities living in the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex area read out a statement following the panel, which stated that there has been no sincere and fair effort to resolve the land rights issues faced by the communities. Not only that, they are also being denied civil rights and are facing racial discrimination, with many community members still unable to get Thai citizenship and denied access to basic welfare, while community rights defenders face harassment and legal prosecution. The statement also mentioned the case of community rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who disappeared in 2014 and whose bones were found in May 2019, in which no progress has been made. Legislation also led to violations of human rights and the destruction of the indigenous way of life.
The statement called for the network and the communities to be able to participate in the process of resolving issues, and said that, as community rights issues have not been resolved but instead made worse, they would like to object to the Thai government’s nomination of the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex as a world heritage site.
Community members from the Bang Kloi Village also issued an open letter the World Heritage Committee saying that, after they were evicted from their ancestral land at Chai Phaen Din, deep in the Kaeng Krachan forest, they still face health issues, poverty, livelihoods issues, and land rights issues.
The letter stated that, in 1996, when the director of the Kaeng Krachan National Park had them relocated to Pong Luk village, 7 rai (around 2.76 acres) of land was promised to each family. However, the promise was not kept, and the land was not fertile, so the villagers moved back to their original land.
In May 2011, park officers forcibly evicted the villagers from their land and burned around 100 houses and rice barns, once again forcing them out of their land. In 2012, Ko-i Meemi, the community’s spiritual leader who later passed away in October 2018 at the age of 107, along with 6 other community members then filed a complaint with the Administrative Court against the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for malfeasance. In 2018, the Supreme Administrative Court ordered the two agencies to pay compensation to the community members.
However, the letter said, the community has still not been allocated land, forcing people out of their community as they have to go find work in cities to support their families. The situation is also made worse after the Covid-19 pandemic caused many people to lose their jobs. Meanwhile, Billy, who was from Bang Kloi and a community rights defender, became a victim of enforced disappearance and even though the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) found crucial evidence, no progress has been made in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Read more about Billy's disappearance:
The letter stated that, while the community does not object to the Thai government’s nomination of the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex as a world heritage site, they would like the decision-making process to be transparent and based on facts. On 6 November 2020, the Thai authorities invited diplomats from 8 state members of the World Heritage Committee to visit Kaeng Krachan, but even though community representatives were invited to observe the visit, they were not able to contribute information. Moreover, the visit was mainly conducted in English, in which most community members cannot communicate.
The community called on the authorities to resolve land rights issues before the world heritage nomination. In addition, they would like to be able to continue their tradition of rotational farming, and to be allowed to return to Chai Phaen Din. They also asked that their rights as an indigenous community whose way of life is tied to the forest be respected.
Park official representatives, including the Director of the Maenam Pachi Wildlife Sanctuary and the Assistant Director of the Thai Prachan National Park, were at the event but declined to join the discussion as the topic being discussed is at policy level and is beyond the scope of their responsibility.
Community members gathering on the stage before the statement was read.
The Thai government previously nominated the Kang Krachan Forest Complex as a natural world heritage site three times: in 2015, 2016, and 2019. All three times, the World Heritage Committee referred the nomination back to the Thai government in order to allow it to resolve the rights and livelihoods concerns relating to the Karen communities in the area and to reach a consensus of support for the nomination. At the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in 2019, the Committee also encourages the Thai government to “work in partnership” with Myanmar “on future biological connectivity and collaborative efforts on conservation between the nominated property and the proposed protected area in Myanmar.”
The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee was previously scheduled for 29 June - 9 July 2020, but was postponed to June – July 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is to take place at Fuzhou, China. The Thai government will once again be nominating the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex as a world heritage site during this session.FeatureKaeng Krachan National ParkKarenindigenous peopleIndigenous rightsUNESCOWorld heritage