Following a Thomson Reuter exclusive report alleging the use of forced labour in a number of Thai prisons, Khon Kaen Fishing Net Ltd (KKF), a company that supports prisoner vocational rehabilitation programs, announced that they will terminate their contracts with any prisons involved in the abuse.
A letter signed by KKF managing director Chaiyot Sereeyothin noted that the company employs inmates to produce fishing nets in support of a Department of Corrections project “Create Work, Create Occupations.” The project aims to equip inmates with vocational skills prior to their release. In addition to KKF, a number of textile and furniture companies also take part in the project.
The letter noted that KKF was reassessing its commitment to the project out of concern that it violated the Anti-Human Trafficking Act and Department of Corrections regulations on inmates’ wages, working hours and work assignments. This included the termination of employment contracts in response to the illegal and “unrighteous acts in certain prison facilities.”
The company’s decision stems from Thomson Reuter’s exclusive coverage “Jails in Thailand force prisoners to make fishing nets under threat of violence.” In the report, former inmates state that they were forced to produce fishing nets for 30 baht a month, well below the kingdom’s minimum wage range of 313-336 baht per day. Beatings and threats of delayed release were reportedly also used to make inmates work harder and meet quotas.
The report noted that KKF, Thailand’s biggest net manufacturer, sold 2,364 tonnes of fishing nets worth some 12 million USD last year. It also stated that company asked at least one prison not to disclose information about its contract to Thomson Reuter’s reporters.
On 24 December, the Department of Correction issued a statement saying that the Thomson Reuter’s report “may not reflect the whole picture.”
In the statement, the Department’s deputy director Thawatchai Chaiwat explained that to rehabilitate inmates and help them to return to the society, prisons run various types of vocational training - including call centre services, baking, car care and dried fruit extraction - with wages ranging from 3,420-13,882 baht.
He added that forcing inmates to work was “unacceptable”, denied that the Department has been doing so, and asked the public to maintain trust in the rehabilitation project.Newsforced labourKhon Kaen Fishing Net (KKF)Thai prisonDepartment of CorrectionsSource: prachatai.com/journal/2021/12/96577
Activists and protesters gathered in front of the Bangkok Remand Prison on Sunday evening (26 December) to celebrate student activist Panupong Jadnok’s birthday, after he was denied bail along with 3 other activists last Friday (24 December).
Protesters gathering in front of the Bangkok Remand Prison
Panupong, along with activists Parit Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, were denied bail by the Criminal Court last Friday (24 December), on the grounds that they are likely to repeat their offences, although during their hearing on 17 December 2021 thye told the court that they are willing to not engage in any activities damaging to the monarchy, take part in protests causing public disorder, flee the country, or violate Court-mandated travel restrictions. They also said that they are willing to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and not leave their residences without court permission unless to attend class, take exams, seek medical treatment, or contact a court or police station.
Parit, Panupong, Anon, and Jatupat are being detained pending trial on royal defamation charges resulting from their participation in pro-democracy protests. Parit, Jatupat, and Anon have been imprisoned since 9 August 2021, while Panupong has been imprisoned since 23 September 20201.
At least 16 other people are also being detained pending trial on charges relating to their participation in pro-democracy protests and confrontations with the police over the past year.
On Sunday evening (26 December), the activist group Thalufah organized an event in front of the Bangkok Remand Prison to celebrate Panupong’s birthday. During the event, the gates to the prison were blocked with razor wire and metal barricades. The activists hung pictures of detained activists around the area and dispalyed a banner saying “Free our friends for New Year” on a traffic island.
A Thalufah activist gave a speech saying that they are holding a birthday party for Panupong because his detention means that he cannot celebrate with his family, and that even though freedom of assembly is enshrined in the constitution, protesters have faced violence and legal prosecution. They also said that there will be a demonstration on New Year’s Eve, from 17.00 on 31 December 2021 to 5.00 on 1 January 2022.
The event also featured musical performances and other speeches. At 19.40, Panupong’s mother Yupin Maneewong came onstage with Parit’s and Anon’s mothers to sing Happy Birthday for her son and blow out candles on a birthday cake.
NewsPanupong JadnokParit ChiwarakAnon NampaJatupat BoonpattararaksaPolitical prisoneractivistarbitrary detentionright to bailRoyal defamationlese majesteSection 112pro-democracy protests 2021freedom of expression
Thai sex workers remain excluded from government assistance schemes, after the government ordered the closure of entertainment businesses to prevent the spread of Covid-19, causing many to lose their jobs and income.
High heels on display in front of Government House
At a demonstration in front of Government House on 22 December 2021, representatives from the Empower Foundation and sex workers from several provinces, including Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket, displayed packages containing high-heels previously sent to the government as part of the Empower Foundation’s campaign for government assistance for sex workers.
Sex workers from across the country had mailed their high heels, which they see as tools of their trade, to Government House to call attention to their grievance. But none of the parcels were accepted and all were returned to the Empower Foundation.
The parcels were displayed in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) on 21 December 2021 and were opened in front of Government House on 22 December 2021 to display the messages written on the shoes, which included “When will I get to go to work?” and “When a mother loses her job, her kids also suffer.”
A parcel containing a child's school shoe and a white high heel with the message "When a mother loses her job, her kids also suffer.”
Empower Foundation’s Thanta Laowilawanyakul said that entertainment businesses have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. During this time, sex workers have been excluded from government assistance schemes, while the authorities paid no attention to their demands.
Thanta said that the Foundation first sent a letter to the government on 20 April 2021 to call on it to provide assistance for sex workers and other service sector workers at 5000 baht per month per person until entertainment and nightlife businesses can reopen and they are allowed to return to work. The payment must also cover those on temporary contracts or paid at piece rates, as well as indigenous and migrant workers who may not be documented. They also held a demonstration in front of Government House on 29 June to follow up on their demands.
But Thanta said that the authorities had still not provided any assistance for sex workers. She said that sex workers and other service sector workers received assistance for only 90 days during the first wave of Covid-19 in early 2020, when they received around 15,000 baht from the government’s “No one left behind” scheme. They have yet to receive any assistance for the second and third waves, because requirements such as membership in the social security scheme or certification by a trade organization prevented them from accessing other assistance.
Empower Foundation representatives submitting an open letter to government representative on 22 December 2021.
The Empower Foundation also issued a statement saying that since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, entertainment businesses have been closed for a total of over 400 days, during which time sex workers received very little assistance. Meanwhile, the economic decline during the pandemic led to the closure of small businesses and loss of employment. The government’s management of the pandemic has also been slow and inefficient, while its various assistance schemes are inaccessible to many, including workers in some of the service sector, at least 90% of whom are not part of the social security scheme and some of whom are migrant or indigenous workers.
The government has extended the closure of entertainment businesses to 16 January 2022, and workers who were hoping to return to work now have to continue to suffer the effects. Many are in debt and no longer have any savings, while new jobs are increasingly hard to find.
The Foundation calls on the government to act on their previous demands and to come up with a concrete remedies as soon as possible.
The parcels were displayed in front of the BACC on 21 December 2021.
Meanwhile, former human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit said that the government does not see sex work as work but as shameful and criminal, ensuring that sex workers cannot access state welfare, such as the social security scheme and assistance in cases of unemployment, illness, or being unable to work for a living.
Angkhana said that the closure of entertainment businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic lost sex workers their income and, despite their demands, they have not received the same assistance as other sectors. She said that the government must keep its promise to leave no one behind, and everyone has the right to equal assistance and welfare from the government no matter who they are. The government should also follow the recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights in order to protect sex workers from exploitation and guarantee that they are able to live in dignity and equality.NewsSex workerSex worker rightslabour rightsCOVID-19PandemicCovid-19 pandemicEmpower Foundation
Amnesty International raised concerns that the new NGO bill could be used to control civil society groups and called on the Thai government to withdraw the bill.
Members of civil society organizations gathered at Government House in opposition to the bill (Picture from Amnesty International)
Ahead of a Thai Cabinet meeting on 28 December, Amnesty International urges the government to immediately withdraw the proposed Operation of Not-for-Profit Organizations Act, after reviewing a copy of the latest draft.
“In its current form the excessively restrictive law could easily be misused to obstruct the work of or even shut down a wide range of grassroots, national and international civil society groups in Thailand, threatening its status as a regional hub for local and international NGOs,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director.
“The list of prohibitions in the draft law are so broad, numerous and open to abuse that they could significantly impact the day-to-day operations of civil society.”
“Of the many problematic sections of the latest draft, one forbids not-for-profits from affecting ‘public order,’ ‘good morals’ or the ‘happy normal existence of other persons.’ All of these vague terms leave organizations at risk from authorities’ unchecked, discretionary power. In a country of 70 million people, any of these provisions could easily be applied arbitrarily to severely restrict freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and other human rights.”
“Amnesty International would like to stress the importance of a transparent and meaningfully inclusive consultative process and urge Thai authorities to seek more input from the public, not-for-profit organizations and their partners so that this law is in line with international human rights standards.”
“We call on the Thai government to withdraw the Draft Act immediately and reaffirm its constitutional and international human rights obligations.”Background
The latest draft act of the Operation of Non-for-Profit Organizations is dated 21 December 2021. This follows previous versions from 13 December and earlier this year.
At this point, it is unclear whether there will be additional public consultation before it is reviewed by Thailand’s Cabinet and Parliament.
A more detailed analysis of the latest draft can be found in the joint open letter to Thailand’s Cabinet signed by over 40 Thai and international civil society organizations, including Amnesty International.Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalNGO lawcivil societyfreedom of assemblyfreedom of expressionpublic participation
The Save Na Bon Group, which has been protesting against the construction of 2 power plants in their community, ended their hunger strike, packed their bags and left Bangkok after a government representative confirmed that their 4 demands will be met.
Na Bon villagers establish their protest site close by the Government House. (Source: Krongkaokaeng)
Green News Agency reports that the group, consisting of 15 villagers from the Na Bon District in Nakhon Si Thammarat, returned home on buses arranged by the Office of the Prime Minister on the evening of 24 December.
Prior to their departure, the villagers received confirmation that proposals they discussed with authorities on 22 December have been agreed to. According to Rieng Seekaew, the group’s advisor, the Prime Minister said that a committee will be set up to analyse the impact of the project on the community. He also agreed to have the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) halt project construction until the analysis is complete.
An officer from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will head the committee which will also have representatives from the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) and a village representative as co-secretary.
The committee will conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and review local interest in the power plants. If locals do not want to the project, construction will be abandoned. If most are receptive, a stricter Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be done in order to assure the regulation of dangerous plant emission like sulfur dioxide, lead and nitrous oxide. The ERC and local authorities will also adjust compensation for the 13 households that have already been affected by past construction.
Rieng said that the committee will be formed in January or February of next year and that the SEA will take a year to complete. Although optimistic about the outcome, he also added that villagers need to remain vigilant for the time being.
The EnLaw Foundation, an NGO working on environmental justice issues, affirmed Rieng’s statement, posting an official letter from the PM’s office to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, which states that the PM has agreed to the villagers’ four demands: to establish a committee, temporarily halt construction, conduct SEA and EIA analyses and reconsider the provision of compensation.
The power plants are the projects of the Absolute Clean Energy Company Limited (ACE), a Thai electric power distributor that lists Pol Gen Wirachai Songmetta, a deputy commander of the Royal Thai Police, as its largest shareholder (22.43%), as of 23 December.
Group members are concerned that the power plants will have a severe impact on their communities and surrounding environment. They also allege that the company which acquired land for the site misled villagers by telling them that it would be used to build a market.News#saveนาบอนSave Na BonAbsolute Clean EnergySiam Commercial Bank (SCB)Source: prachatai.com/journal/2021/12/96551
Saw Lin Htet, an ethnic Karen student from Myanmar currently studying at Mahidol University, has been sentenced by a court in Kayin State to 2 years in prison with hard labour after he was arrested in Myanmar in March 2021.
Saw Lin Htet during an anti-coup protest
Saw Lin Htet is a student in the Human Rights and Democratisation master’s degree programme at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), Mahidol University. He previously returned to Myanmar to conduct research for his thesis. While there, he also joined anti-coup protests after the 1 February 2021 military coup.
On 23 March 2021, he was arrested while driving home in Hpa-An, the capital city of Karen State, with his 4-year-old daughter. He was stopped by military officers, who searched his car without presenting a warrant and arrested him after they found anti-government material.
He was charged with inciting violence against the state under Section 505 of Myanmar’s Criminal Code, which carries a prison sentence of up to 3 years, and was later charged with possessing an unregistered vehicle.
His arrest raised concerns as his family and friends were unable to contact him and were not told where he was being held. His classmates at Mahidol University then set up the “Free Saw Lin” campaign to raise concerns about his wellbeing and call attention to his arrest.
According to the campaign’s Facebook page, it has been difficult to get information about Saw Lin Htet’s trial due to the limited access to information from Myanmar. The page said he stood trial on 18 May 2021 on the charge of inciting violence.
In late November 2021, the Hpa-An Court sentenced him to 2 years in prison with hard labour on this charge. He was also previously sentenced to 2 months in prison for possession of an unregistered vehicle.
IHRP lecturer Bencharat Sae Chua said that she was told by other students from Myanmar that it depends on the authorities what labour he would be required to do, but that it could be anything from housekeeping to agriculture or building railways. However, Bencharat said she was told that if he is sent to prison in Mandalay, he would be required to work in a marble processing factory.NewsSaw Lin HtetMyanmarMyanmar couparbitrary arrestarbitrary detentionfreedom of expressionfreedom of assembly
Protest leaders Parit Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa were again denied bail, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). The four have already spent 3-4 months in jail pending trial.
A judge uniform burned to protest the bail rejection.
A bail request was submitted to the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court on 17 December. The court considered the matter on the same day. On the 24th, it ruled to leave its former order unchanged out of concern that the four, if released, would commit the same offences again.
Protesters who marched from the Lat Phrao Intersection to the Court in support of the bail request expressed disappointment over the ruling. Thatchapong Kaedam, another prominent figure in the protest movement, said that next year, the people will continue to call for change and the intensity of the demonstrations will escalate.
The protesters then burned a judge uniform and the Criminal Code textbook and sprayed paint all over the Court entrance area.
During the bail hearing last week, the four detainees affirmed that, if released, they would abide by previous Court conditions to not engage in any activities damaging to the monarchy, take part in protests causing public disorder, flee the country, or violate Court-mandated travel restrictions.
According to the TLHR database, Parit and Anon have been issued with 10 detention requests stemming from 10 charges, 9 of which involve alleged lese majeste violations. The two have been in jail since 9 August 2021. Jatupat, who was also jailed on 9 August, is facing 4 detention requests based on 4 charges, 1 an alleged lese majeste violation. Panupong was imprisoned on 23 September and is facing 4 detention requests based on 4 charges, 3 of which involve allegations of lese majeste.
In addition the four, at least 16 more people are being detained pending trial or police investigation of their participation in political protests and confrontations with the police over the past year.NewsParit ChiwarakAnon NampaPanupong JadnokJatupat Boonpattararaksapro-democracy protest 2021
On 23 December, the ‘Save Na Bon’ group’, 15 villagers from the Na Bon District in Nakhon Si Thammarat who began a hunger strike in front of Government House to end the construction of 2 biomass power plants in their community, announced new developments in their negotiations with a ‘policy body’ about the project .
Protesters from Na Bon sleep at the front of the Government House. (File Photo)
According to the group, the policy body have agreed to temporarily halt construction in order to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). This will be undertaken by a committee comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) as well as villagers and academics.
The development is a step forward. On 22 December, Rieng Seekaew , the group’s advisor, announced that the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) had earlier rejected a proposal to review power plant locations and provide compensation for the 13 families affected by the construction. In response, the group marched to the cabinet to set up a protest camp and the next morning, declared a hunger strike.
Group members are concerned that the power plants will have a severe impact on their communities and surrounding environment. They also allege that the company which acquired land for the site misled villagers by telling them that it would be used to build a market.
After the announcement, the group moved from Government House to the nearby Prince of Chumphon Shrine, to await formal confirmation of the negotiation agreement. They expect to receive it on 24 December.
As of 24 December 11.30, there has still been no reports of the formal agreement being handed out.
The power plants are the projects of the Absolute Clean Energy Company Limited (ACE), a Thai electric power distributor that lists Pol Gen Wirachai Songmetta, a deputy commander of the Royal Thai Police, as its largest shareholder (22.43%), as of 23 December.
This is not the first time the group has staged a demonstration in Bangkok. In July 2021, they held a protest in front of the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) headquarters. SCB is also one of ACE’s shareholders.News#saveนาบอนSave Na BonAbsolute Clean EnergySiam Commercial Bank (SCB)
20 protesters and activists have been charged with violation of the Emergency Decree for participating in the 28 November 2021 rally at the Ratchaprasong intersection to call for marriage equality.
Activists and protesters facing charges reporting to Lumpini Police Station
In addition to the Emergency Decree charge, they were also charged with obstructing traffic under Section 385 of the Criminal Code.
12 of those charged reported to the police at Lumpini Police Station on Tuesday (21 December). Before going to hear their charges, the activists read out a statement by the Rainbow Coalition for Marriage Equality saying that the rally was an exercise of their legal rights and freedoms, and that the charges against them amount to a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP.
The statement said that the activists are reporting to the police and are willing to fight the charges to show that they are free to think and are protected by the civil rights enshrined in the Constitution. They are also considering filing complaints against the officers who file charges against them.
Move Forward party (MFP) MP Nateepat Kulsetthasith gave a speech at the rally and is among those summoned to hear their charges. However, under Section 125 of the Constitution, MPs and senators cannot be arrested, detained, or summoned by the police on a criminal charge while parliament is in session unless permission has been granted by the House Speaker.
Nateepat said that he is referring the issue to the relevant standing committees in parliament for an investigation and to summon responsible officers to explain why they issued the summons without regard to the law, commenting that he does not know if the summons was issued because the officers were careless or unaware of the law, or whether it was intentional.
Nada Chaiyajit, LGBTQ rights activist, Manushya Foundation’s campaign advisor and a member of the Thai Sang Thai party’s working group on LGBTQ rights, is also among those charged. Nada said that the rally was an exercise of their constitutional rights, and the organisers asked police officers from Lumpini Police Station to help facilitate the rally, but instead they filed charges against the organizers, speakers, and even participants, which she sees as a violation of the people’s rights and freedoms.
Meanwhile, Chanan Yodhong, who is currently responsible for Pheu Thai party’s LGBTQ rights policy and is charged for giving a speech at the protest, said that the charges against them are an attempt by the state to limit the movement for human rights, and that it is clear that the state not only denies that every citizen is equal regardless of their identity but also sees that demanding marriage equality is a danger to national security.
Chanan said that such an attitude is dangerous for the state itself, because it erodes the state’s honour and is dangerous to the people, since the state sees the people as an enemy instead of those who hold power in the country and tries to silence them.
“Actually in the world, the pandemic is the new threat to national security that states have to be aware of, but the Thai state instead is using the pandemic as a tool to build security. You can see it from how they use the pandemic to obstruct popular political activities, including movement about identity and diversity,” Chanan said. “The state is stuck in old ideas about security, which see diversity, freedom, and rights as threats that needs to be suppressed. I want to support the organisers and every activist who is still fighting for what is right in a state like this.”
The rally was organized by the Rainbow Coalition for Marriage Equality, a network of around 40 civil society organizations and activist groups, during which a petition proposing amendments to the Civil Commercial Code to allow marriage between LGBTQ couples was launched.
The petition proposes to amend Article 1448 of the Civil Commercial Code, which governs marriage, so that marriage registration is allowed between two people of any gender, instead of only between a man and a woman. It also proposed to raise the age at which people can legally marry from 17 to 18 years old.
The petition also proposes to replace the terms “man” and “woman” in every article of the Civil and Commercial Code relating to marriage with “person,” as well as to replace “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” and “father” and “mother” with “parents.”
The amendments will grant LGBTQ couples the same rights, duties, and legal recognition as heterosexual couples, including the right to adopt a child together and be recognized as the child’s parents, the right to have the power of attorney to make medical decisions of behalf of one’s partner and to press charges on behalf of one’s partner, the right to use one’s partner’s last name, and the right to inherit property from each other without the need for a will.
The petition, which gained over 100,000 overnight, now has over 270,000 signatures.
Currently, two bills on marriage for LGBTQ couples are already waiting to go before parliament, one of which is a bill proposing amendments to the sections on marriage and family in the Civil and Commercial Code proposed by MFP MP Tunyawat Kamolwongwat. Nateepat said that they are aiming for the bill to go before parliament before the end of the session early next year, but it will depend on every MP whether they are able to follow the agenda, but if the bill does not go before parliament before the end of this session, he is sure it will in the next session.
Nateepat said that it is possible for the bill to pass its first reading, as there are other parties who agree with it, such as the Pheu Thai party, and if the government parties allow their MPs to vote freely, the bill is likely to gain enough votes.
Meanwhile, Nada said that she thinks it is unlikely that the government parties will allow a free vote for their MPs, since they have never allowed a free vote on a bill proposed by the opposition.
Nada also said that the Constitutional Court’s 17 November 2021 ruling that the current Thai marriage law, which states that marriage can only be contracted between a man and a woman, does not violate the Constitution is likely to push parliament in the direction of drafting a Civil Partnership bill to legalise LGBTQ marriage.
Nada believes that it will be more likely for a bill amending the Civil and Commercial Code to pass if the current opposition parties become the government in the next election, since each party, especially those in the opposition, has already seen that they will be judged by the people if they do not do what they propose to do during their election campaign.Newsmarriage equalityLGBTQLGBT rightsDiscrimination against LGBTEmergency DecreeState of emergencyfreedom of assembly
UNHCR advocates for efforts to assist newly arrived Myanmar refugees in Thailand and emphasizes humanitarian and protection needs.
People from Myanmar arrested at Kanchanaburi Province. (File photo, the PR Department News Agency)
On 22 December, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency emphasized the need for urgent protection and assistance for refugees who have fled intensified fighting in and near Lay Kay Kaw, Kayin State, Myanmar, and who have crossed into Thailand. UNHCR, together with partners, reiterates to the Royal Thai Government its readiness to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance and protection support to the new arrivals.
According to the Royal Thai Government, some 3,900 Myanmar nationals have fled across the border since 16 December. They are currently being hosted in several locations in Mae Sot district. It is also reported that some individuals who fled Myanmar in the past several days have since returned.
Fighting and shelling continue across Myanmar, including in the areas from which the newly arrived refugees fled. UNHCR is concerned for the welfare of these civilians and has approached the Thai authorities with offers of assistance, including the provision of emergency relief items. To further support the ongoing humanitarian response, UNHCR and NGOs have requested urgent access to the refugees to ascertain and deliver to them the necessary humanitarian and protection assistance .
Thailand has a decades-long tradition and experience in providing international protection and assistance to fleeing persons seeking asylum, including those from Myanmar. UNHCR reiterates its welcome of the previous assurances provided by the Thai Prime Minister on Thailand’s preparedness for a possible influx of refugees, including his assurance that those seeking refuge would not be forcibly returned.
UNHCR continues to advocate in accordance with international law that persons seeking international protection and fleeing conflict, generalized violence or persecution be allowed to cross borders in search of safety, and that they may not be forcibly sent back to a place where their lives and freedom could be in danger.Pick to PostUNHCRMyanmar coupRefugeeSource: https://www.unhcr.org/th/en/31705-unhcr-advocates-for-efforts-to-assist-newly-arrived-myanmar-refugees-in-thailand-and-emphasizes-humanitarian-and-protection-needs.html
Sitanun Satsaksit, sister of missing activist-in-exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit, has sent letters to three Thai government agencies asking for updates on their investigation into her brother’s enforced disappearance, but has yet to receive a reply.
Sitanun Satsaksit during a memorial event for her brother in June 2021.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reports that Sitanun sent a letter on 18 December 2021 to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) asking for an update on the investigation into her brother’s disappearance, whether DSI has accepted Wanchalearm’s case, and when they will be indicting the perpetrators.
She also sent a letter to the Office of the Attorney General asking whether they have the authority to investigate a criminal case taking place overseas and where they currently are in the process.
Another letter was sent to the Department of Consular Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, following up on where they are in the investigation and whether they have received any communication from the Cambodian authorities after Sitanun went to Cambodia in December 2020 to testify to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wanchalearm’s disappearance.
Wanchalerm is an activist and political campaigner who had lived in self-exile in Cambodia since 2014. He was reportedly abducted outside the Mekong Garden Condominium by a group of armed men on 4 June 2020. His fate and whereabouts are still unknown.
All three letters stated that Sitanun has submitted testimony and the same set of evidence confirming that Wanchalearm was living in Cambodia before he disappeared to the three agencies, which were the same evidence Sitanun submitted to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The letters said that she submitted the file to the DSI on 25 March 2021 and to the Office of the Attorney-General on 19 March 2021, and that she previously filed a request for information with the Department of Consular Affairs on 17 August 2021.
Meanwhile, TLHR said that Sitanun’s Cambodian lawyer informed her on 9 December 2021 that the Cambodian court has yet to indict anyone for Wanchalearm’s disappearance. The court also ruled that a video clip from the CCTV cameras near the scene cannot be used as evidence as it has expired, while a security personnel at Wanchalearm’s condominium who was summoned as a witness did not provide information that would lead to the identification of a perpetrator.
Nevertheless, the judge responsible for Wanchalearm’s case in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court insisted that the court’s investigation into Wanchalearm’s disappearance is still ongoing and that it is currently investigating the vehicle suspected to have been used in his abduction.
Participants in the 4 June 2021 memorial event light candles for victims of enforced disappearance
While there is no progress in the investigation into Wanchalearn’s disappearance and no reply from the Thai authorities, Sitanun and other activists campaigning for justice for Wanchalearm are facing charges for their activism. Sitanun herself was charged with violation of the Emergency Decree for giving a speech on torture and enforced disappearance at a protest on 5 September 2021 at the Asoke intersection and called for people to support the anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill.
In June 2020, 10 activists who participated in the 8 June 2020 demonstration in front of the Cambodian Embassy to call for the authorities to address Wanchalearm’s disappearance were charged with violation of the Emergency Decree. The public prosecutor ruled in June 2021 not to indict them on the grounds that they were not gathering in a closed space and were not trying to incite unrest in society, and that their activity lasted only around an hour.
Charges under the Cleanliness Act were also filed against students from the Student Union of Thailand (SUT) after they attempted to tie white ribbons at various locations around Bangkok in June 2020 to call for justice for Wanchalearm. They received a fine of 2000 baht each.
The SUT also staged a protest at the Pathumwan Skywalk, near the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on 5 June 2020 to call for justice for Wanchalearm as well as other victims of enforced disappearance. Student activists Parit Chiwarak, Jutatip Sirikhan, and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul were charged with violation of the Emergency Decree. The public prosecutor decided in June 2021 to indict them on the charge. The case is now with the Pathumwan District Court, and evidence examination hearings have been scheduled for 11 – 12 May 2022 and 1 – 2 June 2022.
Student activist Panupong Jadnok has also been indicted for a violation of the Emergency Decree for participating in the 14 June 2020 “Who Ordered the Abduction of Wanchalearm?” rally at Si Muang Park, Rayong. An evidence examination hearing has been scheduled at the Rayong Provincial Court on 21 February 2021.
Participants in a panel discussion held during a candlelight vigil for victims of enforced disappearance on 4 June 2021 have also been charged with violations of the Cleanliness Act, for obstructing traffic, and for using a sound amplifier without permission. The 6 people charged were Phattaranit Yaodam, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at Amnesty International Thailand; activist Phromsorn Weerathamjaree; Labour rights advisor Worachat Aharntarig; Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation; and activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Thanapat Kapeng.
Phattaranit, Phromsorn, Tantawan, and Thanapat confessed and received fines of 700 baht each, while Pornpen and Worachat said they are going to fight the charges. They have to report to the public prosecutor in March 2022 to see whether they will be indicted.NewsSitanun SatsaksitWanchalearm Satsaksitenforced disappearanceabductionpolitical refugee
Thanapol Eawsakul, a co-founder of Same Sky, a book publisher well known for producing titles about Thai political history and the monarchy has been sued by Gulf Energy Development Public Company Limited (GULF) over a Facebook post shared from an MP who has also been sued by the company.
Thanapol at a book warehouse.
According to Thanapol’s post on 21 December, the lawsuit stems from a post by Rangsiman Rome that he shared on 7 November. Rangsiman, an MP from the Move Forward Party (MFP), said that the company had sued him and the party for a no-confidence motion questioning the influence of Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Minister of Digital Economy and Society (MDES), in the energy company’s dramatic growth.
In the post, Thanapong added the comment “Before Sarath Ratanavadi (GULF CEO) and the GULF company take over Thailand, they must eliminate the Move Forward Party from the pages of Thai politics.”
The company demanded that Thanapol pay 50 million baht compensation with 5 percent interest, publish the full version of the court’s ruling in 15 newspapers, both online and offline, delete the post and pay court costs.
According to its website, GULF is a holding company that invests in power generation, gas, renewable energy, hydropower and infrastructure and utilities businesses. It is also the kingdom’s largest private gas-fired and renewable power producer for the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand or (EGAT) and private clients.
Prior to Thanapol’s case, GULF sued Rangsiman and the MFP over the no-confidence motion by Rangsiman on 3 September, against the MDES Minister who was a former GULF Assistant Managing Director, over the company’s success in becoming the majority shareholder of Intouch Holdings which has become the major shareholder of Thaicom, a Thai-based satellite operator that operates Thaicom satellites.
In the MFP’s case, the company filed criminal defamation charges for publishing the content of the motion. Rangsiman was sued for defamation for publishing the content of the motion, and asked to pay 100 million baht compensation.
Same Sky Books (fa diao kan) is a publishing house which produces content-heavy books of criticism, especially on Thai political history and the monarchy.
The publishing house mainly produced journals before it started publishing academic books. Its first journal was launched in 2003. The founders were Thanapol Eawsakul, Chaithawat Tulathon and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who formed a partnership to realise their dream of giving society a journal similar to the Social Science Review.
Beside publishing books, Same Sky operated a web board that was well known as a place to exchange ideas about the monarchy in the 2000s.NewsThanapol EawsakulSame Sky magazineSarath RatanavadiGulf Energy Development Public Company LimitedGULF
The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), a local human rights organisation, reports that a draft bill criminalising torture and enforced disappearance is nearing completion. Last September, a preliminary draft passed a first reading in parliament. According to CrCF, which has been involved in revising the draft for a 2nd reading, it will be finalised by 22 December.
A rally poster held by the anti-torture bill supporter. (File photo)
Over the course of 27 meetings, the draft committee has determined that the new law will have 15 important provisions, as follows:
- The criminalisation of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices including enforced disappearance, in keeping with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED)
- A stipulation that the law cannot be revoked for any reason including war, domestic political instability, or a declared state emergency
- A recognition that injured parties include parents, offspring, and spouses, de jure and de facto, allowing them to file legal proceedings on behalf of victims
- No statute of limitations for acts criminalised under the law
- A provision granting prosecutors and administrative officers investigative powers
- A provision dictating that prosecutors, Department of Special Investigation officers and administrative personnel have the duty to inform victims of their rights, including the right to seek compensation
- A stipulation that cases be investigated to the fullest possible extent to ascertain the fate of victims, the details of the crime, and the identities of the individuals who perpetrated it
- A stipulation granting the Court of Justice jurisdiction in all cases including those involving military officers who might otherwise be tried by military tribunals
- A clause forbidding the forcible deportation of foreign nationals if there is cause to believe that deportation will place them at risk of torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
- The establishment of an anti-torture and enforced disappearance committee consisting of 7 government officers and 7 experts with power to check detention centres and submit situation report and comments on policy to the cabinet and parliament
- A clause stipulating that video and photo records be produced for all detentions and that arresting officers immediately notify local prosecutors and administrative officers
- A stipulation that those responsible for detaining a suspect make an arrest record that includes the identity of the person being held, the date and time of the arrest and release, and the details of the official who issued the detention order
- A provision guaranteeing marital partners, parents, offspring and their lawyers access to information about the victim’s fate and detention location. In the event those responsible for the detention refuse to share the information, the courts will have the authority to order them to do so.
- A provision granting marital partners, parents, offspring, prosecutors, administrative personnel, and investigation officers the right to petition the court to obtain information, end violations of the law, change detention arrangements, and request the release of a detainee to meet with relatives, lawyers and specialists who can ascertain their physical and mental condition
- A provision prohibiting the use of evidence derived through torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments in courtroom proceedings.
The draft will make it illegal for the authorities to secretly detain and torture people, mandating prison sentences for guilty officials and their commanding officers. It will also allow victims’ relatives to file complaints as injured parties to seek compensation for victims and their families.
If passed, the law will provide clear legal benchmarks to end the impunity that the authorities have heretofore enjoyed, there being no clear prohibition on torturing people to extract information or confessions and for making people disappear.
Public pressure to pass the law rises whenever enforced disappearance and torture cases hit the news. Last August, interest surged after former Pol Col Thitisant Utthanaphon or ‘Joe Ferrari’, a high-profile police officer, was videoed covering the head of an alleged drug dealer with 6 plastic bags, leading to his suffocation and death.
Since the 2014 coup, nine activists have been forcibly disappeared while living in self-imposed exile. Two were later found dead. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances 2020 report notes 75 outstanding cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand.Newsanti-torture billCross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)enforced disappearance
The Constitutional Court has denied a request to copy several documents used as evidence in the ruling that protesters’ calls for monarchy reform is treasonous, claiming national security, says Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).
Protesters burned a model of the Democracy Monument in front of the Constitutional Court following the 10 November ruling.
After the 10 November 2021 ruling that the calls for monarchy reform and monarchy-related activities organized by Anon Nampa, Panussaya Sitthijirawattanakul and Panupong Jadnok are treasonous, the activists’ lawyer requested to see the case file and copy every document related to the case. However, the Court refused to allow copies to be made of several documents used in the case.
TLHR said that the lawyer went to receive the copies of the documents on 15 December. They then found that most of the documents the Court allowed them to copy were documents that they already have, such as the complaint filed against the activists by lawyer Natthaporn Toprayoon, the activists’ defence and court declarations, the recordings of each hearing, the Court’s final ruling, and each judge’s opinions, most of which have already been made public.
However, they were not allowed to make copies of documents the Court requested from various government agencies, such as the Royal Thai Police, the National Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, Thammasat University, and Khlong Luang Police Station. The Court claimed that these documents were confidential and related to national security, and the lawyer is not allowed to check or even record the titles of the documents.
TLHR noted that these documents were the main evidence the Court used to back its ruling that the three activists’ actions can be considered as an attempt to ‘overthrow’ the democratic form of government with the King as Head of State. However, the defendants have never been allowed to see or copy these documents in order to prepare their defence.
On the day of the hearing, despite the lawyer’s request, the Court did not allow Anon, Panusaya and Panupong to be summoned to testify along with several other witnesses, claiming that it has enough evidence to rule on the case and that it has already sent all related documents to the defendants.
The activists also requested that several academics be summoned as witnesses, including historians Nithi Eoseewong and Charnvit Kasetsiri, legal scholar Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang, and writer Sulak Sivarak. However, none of these witnesses were given a chance to testify.
Realizing that they were not being given a fair chance to defend themselves and bring their own witnesses to the stand, the three activists and their legal team walked out of the courtroom as an act of protest. The ruling was then made without them being present.NewsConstitutional courtThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)Right to a fair trialFreedom of informationMonarchy reform
A protester has been sentenced to 2 months in prison on a contempt of court charge for cutting his arm in court to protest the denial of bail for detained activists.
Joseph (pseudonym) cut his arm in front of the judge as an act of protest during an evidence hearing on 11 October 2021 to protest the denial of bail for activists Anon Nampa and Benja Apan, both of whom are detained pending trial on royal defamation charges.
Joseph is one of the 13 protesters facing royal defamation and sedition charges under Section 112 and 116 of the Thai Criminal Code, as well as using a sound amplifier without permission under the Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act for either reading a statement or giving speeches during the protest in front of the German Embassy in Bangkok on 26 October 2020, in which they submitted a petition calling for the German authorities to investigate King Vajiralongkorn’s use of power during his time in Germany. Joseph is facing charges for reading out a statement in English.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Joseph was charged with contempt of court for his action, and that the South Bangkok Criminal Court on Friday (17 December) sentenced him to 2 months in prison. He also received a 500-baht fine.
However, since he confessed and said to the court that his action was symbolic and that he has no intention of hurting anyone, the court reduced his sentence to 1 month in prison and a 250-baht fine. His sentence is also suspended for 6 months.
Several activists have previously been charged with contempt of court for demanding the right to bail for detained activists. TLHR said that 26 people have been charged with contempt of court in 16 cases since July 2020. Of these cases, 14 resulted from protests demanding the right to bail for detained activists.
On 22 November, activists Parit Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok, Sam Samat, Thanapat Kapeng, Panadda Sirimaskul, Thatchapong or Chatchai Kaedam, Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, Sirichai Natueng and Nutchanon Pairoj were found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 10 days in jail by the Thanyaburi Provincial Court.
Parit, Panupong, and Sam are already being detained pending trial for other charges, while the remaining 6 individuals were released on 10,000-baht bail.
On 2 December 2021, Nutchanon was sentenced to 2 months in prison on another contempt of court change relating to a protest in front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court on 30 April 2021 to demand the release of detained student activist Parit Chiwarak. He was released on 50,000-baht bail.
Nutchanon and Benja were previously sentenced to prison on another contempt of court charge stemming from a protest at the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court on 29 April 2021 to demand the release of detained activists. Benja was sentenced to 6 months in prison – the highest possible sentence for the charge – while Nutchanon was sentenced to 4 months, but was released on bail using a 50,000-baht security.
Other than Benja and Nutchanon, 4 other activists are facing contempt of court charges for participating in the 29 April 2021 protest: Pattarapong Noipang, Shinnawat Chankrajang, Elia Fofi, and Pisitkul Kuantalaeng.Newscontempt of courtright to bailfreedom of expression
A new report published by Scholars at Risk (SAR) found that students in Thailand who criticize the monarchy and demand democratic reforms face legal prosecution and state violence, while academic research regarding the monarchy is met with lawsuits and investigations, eroding academic freedom in the country.
A protester holding a picture of student activist Benja Apan, currently detained pending trial on royal defamation charges, during a daily "Stand agaisnt Detention" event in October 2021
The report “Free to Think 2021,” published by the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project on 9 December 2021, found that while the Covid-19 pandemic disrupts education, keeping institutions in remote operation and suspending travel, scholars and students continued to raise questions, concerns, and criticisms about state responses to the pandemic, government accountability, and societal inequities both in the classroom and in public, leading to attempts by opposing parties to silence them.
SAR reported 332 attacks on members of higher education communities between September 2020 – August 2021 in 65 countries. According to the report, 110 scholars and students have been killed, attacked, or abducted while 101 have been imprisoned. 34 are facing legal prosecution, 34 lost their positions, while 6 faced legal travel restrictions. 47 other attacks were not classified but typically included military raids and occupations, legislation or administrative actions which limit institutional autonomy, and harassment intending to undermine academic freedom.
In Thailand, SAR reported that students expressing criticism of the monarchy and demanding democratic reforms were faced with arrest and legal prosecution. Scholars and intellectuals experience pressures over their work about the monarchy, while the royal defamation law, or Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, remains a threat to academic freedom and other fundamental rights.
SAR reported that, since July 2020, students have been arrested and prosecuted for joining peaceful protests, as well as for online expression and artistic expression. Student protest leaders have been arrested and face several charges, including violation of the Emergency Decree, sedition, and royal defamation, with many of them denied bail and detained pending trial amid the Covid-19 pandemic, raising concerns among rights groups.
SAR also reported two attacks on pro-democracy student protests. During a protest at Ramkhamhaeng University on 21 October 2020, a royalist counter-protester threw a large speaker at Thitima Butdee, leader of the student activist group Ramkhamhaeng Network for Democracy, during a clash between the two groups. Several days earlier, on 16 October 2020, police deployed water cannons against students and civilians protesting at the Pathumwan intersection. The water was stained with blue dye to identify protesters and laced with chemical irritants.
Meanwhile, research on the monarchy has become the subject of lawsuits and investigation by university authorities. In March 2021, a lawsuit was filed against historian Nattapol Chaiching, his publisher Same Sky Books, and its editor-in-chief, the editors of each volume, and his PhD thesis supervisor, former Faculty of Political Science lecturer Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead, for two books based on Nattapol’s PhD thesis about Thai politics during the Cold War period.
The lawsuit was filed by Mom Rajawongse Priyanandana Rangsit, a granddaughter of Rangsit Prayurasakdi, Prince of Chai Nat, who claimed that Nattapol’s books contain misleading information about her grandfather, damaging his reputation. She is seeking 50 million baht in compensation.
Arrests and prosecutions of peaceful student protesters “undermine academic freedom and the role universities play in functioning democracies,” says the report, which notes that students and academics must be free to voice dissent, ask questions, and conduct research without fear of legal prosecution for education and the society to flourish.
SAR then called on the Thai authorities to release and drop charges against student activists, repeal Section 112, amend the sedition law, and draft legislation to ensure protection of academic freedom. It also calls on the international community to pressure the Thai authorities to take these actions and to support Thai students and scholars.NewsScholars at Risk (SAR)student activistfreedom of expressionacademic freedom
Following the demonstration by refugees in Mae La camp in Tak Province on 14 December, Move Forward Party (MFP) MPs and representatives and NGOs urged a fair investigation that also addresses the root causes that turned a peaceful protest violent in one night.
Refugees gather in Mae La camp on 14 December. (Source: Facebook/ Mae La Information Team)
On 15 December, Kris Panniam, MFP’s Tak MP candidate, said that according to the MFP media team, the camp has been brimming with discontent over its operations on the ground.
Kris said that the camp has allowed some refugees to find jobs outside the camp, while the refugees and camp authorities have also been cooperating in buying and selling goods, some, according to rumour, even including donated materials.
An influential group of officials and refugees had emerged, which oppressed the other camp residents, causing difficulties when the camp was trying to make important arrangements like a quarantine procedure in the camp to control Covid-19 infections.
He demanded the Thai government investigate the matter as soon as possible and punish those who are behind the incident.
Pratchaya Punhakit, another MFP candidate MP in Tak also said that according to his sources the protest was triggered by the authorities kicking a refugee for not wearing a face mask as they were riding a vehicle home. The refugee’s friends who went to help were also harassed.
Pratchaya underlined the issue of the influential group of officials and refugees who, he has heard, have stolen good quality donations while leaving a small remainder for the majority of refugees. One officer was also alleged to have allowed sexual harassment of refugees.
“These issues that were being talked about, whatever the degree of truth, both the UN and the Thai government, who have oversight of the refugee camp, must investigate the issues of influence, extortion and rights violations that have taken place, including the case of physical assault that happened recently,” said Pratchaya.What happened on the night of 14 December?
On the night of 14 December, Mae La camp, Thailand’s largest refugee camp housing over 43,700 refugees, saw a demonstration by over 30,000 Karen refugees. According to BBC Thai, the demonstration was a protest against the camp authorities for detaining and beating 4 refugees after they came back from work outside the camp.
A volunteer official at the camp, however, stated that the refugees gathered to show their discontent with the camp’s policies of restricting entrance to the camp and face-mask regulations.
The protest was at first peaceful with refugees seen banging bamboo and their properties to express dissatisfaction. But the authorities' belongings, including vehicles, were later set on fire. 7 checkpoints and merchandise stalls were also razed, causing 200 officials, including the Assistant District Officer, to flee for safety.
The protest died down after several hours.
Damaged car and facilities after the protest. (Source: Facebook/ Mae La Information Team)
Pornsuk Kerdsawang from Friends Without Borders, a civil society organization working on refugee issues, said that the discontent between the refugees and camp officials has been aggravated during the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown policy in all camps that limited the daily flow of people and goods in and out had affected the refugees' livelihoods and economic conditions.
Pornsuk also urged the responsible government authorities to investigate the situation thoroughly and without bias. The investigation should also look into the issue of discontent within the camp and the cause of it.
She also urged the authorities to review the camp lockdown policy that does not actually solve the infection problem, but worsens residents’ livelihoods instead.
“Under lockdown, villagers cannot go out to work. Although Thai law does not allow refugees to go out to work, before Covid-19, each camp usually used some kind of compromise, because in reality, it is impossible not to let people out and there is the issue of outside assistance decreasing every year. The food in the camp is not enough.”
“But now all exit is banned, which means the villagers cannot go out for work. The refugees were grumbling about having no money, some kids had to quit school because their parents had no money for it. Meanwhile, living costs in the camp increased, but they can’t go to work. It must be considered how the refugees would live. And they say that lockdowns can’t prevent Covid-19 because there have been reports from inside the camps all the time that, despite the lockdowns, infections spread inside the camp anyway,” said Pornsuk.
Manop Keereepuwadol, an MFP MP who is a Karen-Thai citizen, also said that the protest on Tuesday was the result of the decades of discontent over corruption and restrictions within the camp. He also urged a thorough investigation into the matter.
“I want the root cause of the problem to be seen. All those that are living here have fled the heat to seek the cold. If it wasn’t more than they could take, if there was no cause, they would not stand up and fight. There are causes that make people who are oppressed rise up. … For them to rise up and fight like this must come from something that’s gone wrong in the administration inside the camp as a major reason,” said Manop
Following the fall of Manerplaw in 1995, the headquarters of the Karen National Union (KNU) and the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF), the armed groups that oppose the Myanmar military government, hundreds of thousands refugees, mainly Karen, fled across the border to Thailand.
In the 30 years since, camps have been set up in the border provinces to house the refugees temporarily. Tens of thousands had moved on to third countries while an insignificant number returned to Myanmar.NewsMae La refugee campFriends Without BordersKarenMyanmarThailandTakMove Forward partyKris PanniamPratchaya PunhakitPornsuk KerdsawangManop KeereepuwadolSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2021/12/96412
Members of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community went to Government House on Tuesday (14 December) to file a petition demanding that Varawut Silpa-archa, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, be removed from the government committee working on issues facing the community, while the community’s land rights and food security issues remained unsolved.
Community members and other activists marching to Government House
Varawut was appointed chair of the committee on solving land rights issues for the Bang Kloi community on 3 December 2021. The petition says that the community cannot accept this appointment, as his attitude towards the community is discriminatory and shows a lack of understanding, as well as a denial of cultural diversity and the existence of indigenous communities in Thailand. He is also considered one of the parties in conflict with the community and it would not be fair to have him head the committee.
The community therefore demanded that a new committee be formed, the members of which must be independent and not related to agencies which can obstruct the process of solving the issues.
Pongsak Tonnamphet, a community representative, said that he is concerned that Varavut’s appointment would further delay the process of resolving the community’s land rights issues. He said that although Varavut visited the community, he has never spoken to community members, but told the public that the community faces no issues and is living a good life, which is not true.
Pongsak handing the community's petition to Prime Minister's Office Minister Anucha Nakasai
The Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community now lives at the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village in Kaeng Krachan National Park, where they were forcibly relocated in 1997, and once again in 2011, when park and military officials raided the Bang Kloi Bon and Chai Phaen Din (meaning “heart of the land”) villages, which are located deep in the Kaeng Krachan forest, and burned down their houses and rice barns.
For the past 25 years, the community has constantly faced unresolved community rights issues. They were not allocated land for agriculture as the authorities promised them, and the land they did receive was not suitable for growing crops, while they are not able to practice their traditional rotational farming method. Many members of the community are also still in the process of getting Thai citizenship, and missed out on land allocation and welfare. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the issues, as many of those employed outside the village began to lose income.
In mid-January 2021, it was reported that around 70 members of the Bang Kloi community decided to leave their relocated village and returned to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional way of life. Community members and activists occupied the Chamai Maruchet Bridge, opposite Government House, for five days in early February 2021 to demand protection for the community members who returned to Chai Phaen Din.
An MOU stating that the authorities would stop intimidating the community and allow them to be transported to Chai Phaen Din, and that the community must be allowed to return to their ancestral home, was signed by then-Agriculture and Cooperatives Deputy Minister Thammanat Prompao, Varavut, and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.
Nevertheless, the community members who returned to Chai Phaen Din were forcibly taken out of the forest and arrested by park officials, police, and military officers in early March 2021. of the 87 people arrested, 36 were minors and the authorities did not press charges against them. The rest were charged with trespassing on national park land. 29 people received a fine, while 22 were temporarily detained at the Khao Kling Prison before being released after two nights.
Almost a year later, the community still faces various issues. Chan Tonnamphet, another community representative who came to file the petition, said that the community is currently suffering from food scarcity and has to rely on donations, while those who are able to farm can only grow bananas and the money they earn from selling their produce is barely enough to cover food costs. She said that one disabled community member died from malnutrition while the community representatives were traveling to Bangkok.
“Why are they stopping us from farming, from going back to where we used to live, until people in the village have to suffer malnutrition? This situation made me very sad,” Chan said.
Chan also said that the community is currently facing an epidemic of malaria and dengue fever. However, visiting a hospital is difficult for many community members. Chan said that they can visit a hospital in the Kaeng Krachan district, but many cannot afford the travel cost, while the route from their village is difficult and takes a long time. If a relative is admitted to hospital, there are additional costs. For these reasons, many community members chose to stay home unless their illness is severe.
On 26 July 2021, the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex was named a natural World Heritage site despite ongoing concerns about human rights violations against indigenous communities in the forest area and recommendations from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, who pointed to human rights violations against indigenous Karen communities in the Kaeng Krachan forest, from forced evacuations and lack of proper remedy, to arrest and legal prosecution, as well as the resulting food insecurity.
Chan said that her community’s situation has not improved, and instead worsened after the forest became a World Heritage site. She said that while they were told that the forest’s World Heritage status would mean that the outside world would be aware of their issues, members of the press are not allowed to visit the village. Meanwhile, a team of volunteer doctors who has been traveling to the Bang Kloi village to provide medical treatment for the community, must request permission from park authorities to visit the village and, in most cases, are not allowed to stay overnight.
“They said that if [the Kaeng Krachan forest] got the World Heritage status, the outside world will know about our problems. Everyone around the world will know about them, but in fact, once [the Kaeng Krachan forest] became a World Heritage site, things got even worse. The media were not even allowed to visit. Medical teams who come to treat the sick villagers can’t visit, so what does it mean when they said that the world will know?” Chan asked.
The performers' network RasaDrums leading the march to Government House
The community members travelled to Bangkok on Monday (13 December) to support the protestors from Chana District, Songkhla, who were occupying Chamai Maruchet bridge next to Government House to protest against the Chana industrial zone project. On Tuesday (14 December), the Bang Kloi community members and the activist network Save Bang Kloi Coalition marched from Chamai Maruchet bridge to Government House to submit their petition, which was received by Anucha Nakasai, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Pongsak said that the community members came to Bangkok not only to submit their petition but also to show support for the Chana community, whose livelihood is also affected by government policy and whose issues are not being solved.
“I want to say that our brothers and sisters from Chana, I believe that they wouldn’t come here if it was not really unbearable, but from what I’ve heard them say, it is too much, and it is where they were born. It is their home. It is where they live, and if there is any project or industry, it would definitely affect the Chana community,” Pongsak said.
“Those of us from Bang Kloi, other networks, and the public are ready to fight alongside the Chana community. Don’t worry that you will be alone. You will not be alone. We will fight with you.”NewsBang KloiChai Phaen DinKarenindigenous peopleIndigenous rightsKaeng KrachanKaeng Krachan National Parkcommunity rightfood security