Prachatai English

Cambodia: ICC Prosecutor urged to prosecute land grabbing crimes

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-17 17:22
Submitted on Wed, 17 Mar 2021 - 05:22 PMInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

London, Paris, 16 March 2021 — A decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor concerning allegations of crimes against humanity stemming from the land grabbing frenzy is expected by June this year, FIDH, Global Witness, and Climate Counsel have learned.

A photo of Sinanoukville, Cambodia, taken from the sky.

In a letter sent today by FIDH, Global Witness, and Climate Counsel to ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, the three organizations expressed their support for pursuing an ICC examination into the situation in Cambodia. The letter has been endorsed by UN Expert bodies, civil society organizations and senior lawyers worldwide.

“Serious crimes caused by land grabbing have occurred with impunity for more than two decades in Cambodia. The International Criminal Court represents the best channel to deliver justice to the thousands of victims of these crimes,” said FIDH Vice-President Guissou Jahangiri.

“Land grabbing and the associated mass crimes lead to illegal resource exploitation, persecution of indigenous people, and environmental destruction. The Cambodia case is the best and last chance for this ICC Prosecutor to show that she is willing to play a role in fighting the climate and environmental emergency. Slamming the brakes on illegal land grabbing will force governments and businesses to reconsider their kleptocratic policies,” commented Richard J Rogers, Founding Partner of Global Diligence and Executive Director of Climate Counsel.

In October 2014 Richard J Rogers of Global Diligence LLP, with the support of FIDH and Global Witness, filed a communication to the ICC Prosecutor alleging that the widespread and systematic land grabbing perpetrated by the Cambodian ruling elite for over a decade amounted to a crime against humanity. In July 2015, a supplementary communication provided additional evidence and demonstrated how the land grabbing had a disproportionate impact on women.

Patrick Alley, Co-Founder of Global Witness, concluded: “Cambodia’s corrupt elite have grown rich by selling off the country’s natural heritage at a crippling cost to the people whose way of life depends on it, and to the natural environment. It is time the ICC ended the impunity that has enabled these crimes, and sets a marker that they are willing to play an important part in tackling the climate crisis.”

Pick to Postland rightsCambodiaInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)International Criminal Court (ICC)Source: https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/cambodia/cambodia-international-criminal-court-prosecutor-urged-to-prosecute
Categories: Prachatai English

The Sins of the Fathers: Tales of Japanese Inhumanity

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-17 17:04
Submitted on Wed, 17 Mar 2021 - 05:04 PMPongadisorn Jamerbsin

The samurai [6, p. 322] on the ¥10,000 bill—Fukuzawa Yukichi (1834-1901) [6, p. 15]—ran into a peasant shortly after the Meiji Restoration (1868 [6, p. 11]) [6, p.15]: Seeing him, the peasant immediately jumped off his horse. Fukuzawa insisted that nowadays anyone can keep on riding horses no matter who they ran into, that’s the law. The peasant bowed as if in great fear and apologized profusely, but was unable to mount his horse in front of a samurai [6, p. 15].

Japanese cotton picking peasants (Source: Flickr/ Okinawa Soba (Rob))

“If you don’t, I’ll beat you. [6, p. 15]”

For the 268 years of the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) [6, p. 3] the Japanese peasants—who made up 80 percent of the population [6, p. 6] [8, p. 113] [12, p. 62]—their sole purpose for existence was to work the land for the samurai. Historian Mikiso Hane observed: “… 6 percent of the population [8, p. 112] expropriates 50 percent of the land’s bounty, and leaves over 80 percent of the population to subsist on what remains… [6, p. 8]”

A Bakufu official in the 18th century: “Sesame seeds and peasants are very much alike, the more you squeeze them, the more you can extract from them. [6, p. 8]”

The Meiji Restoration made life worse—instead of rice the peasants now paid their land tax in money—making them vulnerable to rice’s changing price. They bore the brunt of Japan’s modernization: by 1892, 85.6 percent of government revenue was their tax. Many fell deeper and deeper into debt. Many lost their land [6, p. 17] [12, pp. 82-3].

“Hard labor without chains—to which one remained bound by necessity and from which only death could bring release.” [9, p. 14]

Theirs was a tortured existence of tyranny; poverty; disease; malnourishment; parasites; famines [12, pp. 62-3] [6, pp. 3, 34-6, 40-1, 44-8] [13, p. 358] [14, p. 11, 102-3, 133, 162] [15, pp. 13-4]. Close to half a million peasants died of starvation in the Tokugawa era during extreme famines. Some more died in severe famines [6, p. 7] [8, pp. 118-9]. In the modernized Meiji era (1868-1912) [11, p. xxxvi] of 1884-1885, the entire nation was gripped by severe famines. Poet Kitamura Toukoku (1868-1894) lamented that all the government did was say “… work harder…” Peasants lost their lands, swarmed the cities to beg and steal. Suicide rates skyrocketed. There might have been infanticide. Daughters were sent to cotton and silk factories, or sold to brothels in Japan and overseas [6, p. 27].

In the northern prefectures, famines were “… almost a commonplace occurrence.” They barely survive in normal years, and so are hit especially hard in bad times [6, p. 114] [14, p. 253] [10, p. 46]; from the Tokugawa era [6, p. 7] where bodies of those who starved to death blocked roads for miles along the Tsugaru Peninsula [6, pp. 7-8], to the Meiji era, to the Taishou era (1912-1926) [11, p. xxxvii], to even the early Shouwa era (1926-1989) [11, p. xxxvii] [6, p. 114]. During the famine of 1934, 70-80 percent of Aomori prefecture were living like animals. A village in Iwate prefecture had 50 percent infant mortality rate while half the population of 900,000 was on the brink of starvation. The region saw 4,521 girls sold to brothels, 2,196 to geisha houses, and 17,260 signed contracts for factories and mills [6, pp. 114-5]. A suicide note said “When I am reborn I will not come back as a farmer [6, p. 116]”.  

Of life as a prostitute, in the 1920s a woman wrote in a magazine: “My companions are writhing in the ugly sewer of life all over Japan… How do you think the brothel owner treats us? They are bloodsuckers who… drive many of us to death.” Another wrote in her diary: “I kept telling myself, ‘I must kill myself, I must kill myself,’ and wrote endless numbers of suicide notes. But I decided against suicide for it would do me no good… The only reality would be the heartbreak of my mother and younger sister [6, pp. 215-7]”.

 Of overseas brothels, it is estimated that in 1910 there were 22,000 so-called karayuki-san Japanese prostitutes abroad. Hane noted grimly: “The life story of practically every one of the karayuki is an unmitigated horror story [6, pp. 219-20].”

A representative sample of Japanese textile factory girls recalled: “I don’t know how many times I thought I would rather jump into Lake Suwa and drown [12, p. 82].”

I have only scratched the surface [6] [7].

I hear "itadakimasu" I see the starving peasants.

I hear "moushiwakegozaimasen" I see the peasant cowering in front of the samurai.

I hear "shouganai" I see a starving family selling their daughter to a brothel.

For what the ancients called "the sins of the fathers" we today call "intergenerational trauma. [16, p. 1101] [17, p. 745]"

For what the ancients called "sin" we today call "epigenetics. [18]"

History matters because it's not about the past, it's about us.

References

  1.  Bartlett, John. 1968 (1855). Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature. Fourteenth Edition Revised and Enlarged. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. <http://archive.org/details/familiarquotatio017007mbp>.
  2. Calder, William M., III. n.d. “MORGAN, Morris Hicky.” Database of Classical Scholars, Rutgers, School of Arts and Sciences. Accessed February 8, 2021. https://dbcs.rutgers.edu/all-scholars/8954-morgan-morris-hicky.
  3. ESC and Henry. 2003. “The Sins of the Fathers - Phrase Meaning and Origin.” The Phrase Finder. August 24, 2003. https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/23/messages/847.html.
  4. Milton, Michael A. 2020. “What Are ‘Sins of the Father’? Understanding Generational Consequences.” Crosswalk.Com. February 13, 2020. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/what-does-the-sins-of-the-father-mean-in-the-bible.html.
  5. Odell, Margaret. 2011. “Commentary on Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32.” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary. September 25, 2011. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-26/commentary-on-ezekiel-181-4-25-32-2.
  6. Hane, Mikiso. 2016. Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan. Updated 2nd ed. Asian Voices: An Asia/Pacific/Perspectives Series. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  7. Shimonaka, Kunihiko, ed. 1972. Nihon Zankoku Monogatari (Tales of Japanese Inhumanity). 5 vols. Tokyo: Heibonsha.
  8. Deal, William E. 2006. “Society and Economy.” In Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan, 107–30. New York, NY: FACTS ON FILE INC.
  9. Weber, Eugen. 1976. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  10. Partner, Simon. 2004. Toshie: A Story of Village Life in Twentieth-Century Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  11. Saaler, Sven, and Christopher W. A. Szpilman, eds. 2017. “Chronology.” In Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese History, xxxvi–xxxix. Routledge Handbooks. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
  12. Huffman, James L. 2010. Japan in World History. The New Oxford World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  13. Deal, William E. 2006. “Everyday Life.” In Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan, 340–60. New York, NY: FACTS ON FILE INC.
  14. Nishida, Yoshiaki and Waswo, Ann. 2003. Farmers and Village Life in Japan. Abingdon, Oxon: Taylor and Francis, Taylor & Francis Group. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203417720.
  15. Lone, Stewart. 2010. Provincial Life and the Military in Imperial Japan: The Phantom Samurai. Vol. 58. Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203872352.
  16. Isobel, S, Goodyear, M, Furness, T, Foster, K. Preventing intergenerational trauma transmission: A critical interpretive synthesis. J Clin Nurs. 2019; 28: 1100– 1113. https://doi-/10.1111/jocn.14735
  17. Sangalang, C.C., Vang, C. Intergenerational Trauma in Refugee Families: A Systematic Review. J Immigrant Minority Health 19, 745–754 (2017). https://doi-/10.1007/s10903-016-0499-7
  18. Curry, Andrew. 2019. “A Painful Legacy: Parents’ Emotional Trauma May Change Their Children’s Biology. Studies in Mice Show How.” Science | AAAS, July 18, 2019. doi:10.1126/science.aay7690.

 The Sins of the Fathers: “ The gods Visit the sins of the fathers upon the children.” —Phrixus, frag. 970, Euripides [1, p. 86] (485-406 B.C.) [1, p. 83], translated by Morris Hickey Morgan [1, p. 86] (1859-1910) [2]; see also: Exodus 20:5— “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” [1, p. 9]; “For the sins of your fathers you, though guiltless, must suffer.”—Horace [1, p. 86] (65-8 B.C.) [1, p. 120], Odes III, 6: I [1, p. 86]; “The sins of the fathers are to be laid upon the children.” —Shakespeare [1, p.86] (1564-1616) [1, p. 214], Merchant of Venice, III, v, I [1, p. 86]. See [3] [4] [5] for a list of where in the Bible this phrase came from and basic (albeit opinionated) knowledge of this concept.  

Nihon Zankoku Monogatari [日本残酷物語] (Tales of Japanese Inhumanity): This is the title of the 5-volume work in Japanese history [7] that formed the backbone for historian Mikiso Hane’s Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan [6]—cited at least a few times in every chapter [6, pp. 321-42] except the epilogue and the new chapter added in the second edition (Women Rebels) [6, pp. 341-2].   

“Hard labor without chains—to which one remained bound by necessity and from which only death could bring release.” : Simon Partner described most peasants in Japan in 1925 as such [10, p. xi] by quoting Eugen’https://www.flickr.com/photos/okinawa-soba/4625100538/s description of 1914 French peasants [10, p. 171].

OpinionPongadisorn JamerbsinBakufuJapanMeiji RestorationFukuzawa Yukichi
Categories: Prachatai English

Ministry to summon universities over 8 lecturers offering bail for students

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-17 11:33
Submitted on Wed, 17 Mar 2021 - 11:33 AMPrachatai

Jak Punchoopet, Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (MHESI) said on Tuesday that the Ministry is preparing to summon deans and chancellors of the universities of 8 lecturers who offered bail to 3 student activists detained while awaiting trial for royal defamation and other charges.

The Network submitting a petition to the MHESI representatives, Duangrit Benjathikul Chairungruang and Jak Punchoopet (Source: Facebook/ Center for People Protecting the Monarchy).

According to Matichon, the statement was made after the Vocational Students and People’s Network to Protect the Monarchy submitted a petition to Prof Anek Laothamatas, the MHESI Minister, urging him to investigate the lecturers’ ethics. The Network claims that their bail requests for Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Parit Chiwarak and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, students at Thammasat and Mahidol universities, constitute behaviour that infringes upon the monarchy.

The 8 lecturers submitted bail requests on 12 March, the first for Panusaya and Jatupat and the fifth for Parit. The court denied the requests, reiterating the reasons given for the previous denials, regarding the gravity of the charges, the severe penalties and the repeated commission of the same offence after previous temporary releases. 

The Network’s leading figure said the action of the 8 lecturers is unethical for teachers as they are protecting students who have clearly and publicly defamed and infringed upon the King, Queen and the Chakri dynasty, which the Network has denounced. If the 3 are found guilty, will the lecturers reflect on their actions and take responsibility by resigning or not?

Duangrit Benjathikul Chairungruang, the Ministry Spokesperson and Secretary to the Minister, said the Ministry has prepared to appoint a committee to review the issue and is ready to be fair to every side by upholding the country’s law.

Jak, who in the past, participated in the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) movement which led to the military coup in 2014, also said to the Network’s leader that the Minister is not sitting idly by at what has happened and confirmed that academic freedom must not infringe on the institution of the monarchy.

According to the 2020 Academic Freedom Index (AFi) published on 11 March 2021 by the non-profit think tank Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) and the Scholars At Risk network, Thailand was graded E, the lowest grade, with a score of 0.13 out of a maximum of 1.  Other countries with and E grade include China, North Korea, Cuba, Lao, Iran, Rwanda, and South Sudan. 

Among other ASEAN countries, Cambodia and Vietnam were graded D, Malaysia and Singapore C, and Indonesia B.

The report was published the first time this year. The publisher urges other ranking institutions to include academic freedom into their ranking rubric.

2021 seems to be the year where legal prosecutions have caught up with the pro-democracy movement which surged significantly after July 2020, demanding political and monarchy reform. Public discussions and speeches regarding the monarchy were more widespread than ever seen before in Thai society where Section 112 of the Criminal Code criminalizes defamation of the King, Queen, Heir and Regent and mandates 3-15 year prison sentences.  The Section has been used heavily since late last year.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that as of 15 March, at least 70 people have been charged under Section 112 in 60 cases. 26 cases were filed by ordinary citizens, 4 by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society and the rest by the police. 4 people who were charged are under the age of 18.

On 8 March, TLHR reported on Facebook that 18 people are now in detention pending trial regarding the pro-democracy protests and royal defamation charges, which international human rights organizations see as a violation of the presumption of innocence.

In March, Amnesty International released a statement claiming that the mass prosecutions, amounting to 382 protest leaders and demonstrators in 207 cases since 2020, were tantamount to systematic suppression of freedom. 

NewsDuangrit Benjathikul ChairungruangJak PunchoopetMinister of Higher EducationScienceResearch and InnovationMHESIacademic freedomVocational Students and People’s Network to Protect the MonarchyParit ChiwarakJatupat BoonpattararaksaPanusaya Sitthijirawattanakul
Categories: Prachatai English

Protest leaders fear for safety after prison guards tried to remove them from the cells at night

Prachatai English - Tue, 2021-03-16 19:25
Submitted on Tue, 16 Mar 2021 - 07:25 PMPrachatai

Prison guards attempted last night (15 March) to take activists Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattarasaksa and Panupong Jadnok out of the wing where they are being held, claiming that they needed to be tested for Covid-19, says human rights lawyer Anon Nampa in a petition filed with the Criminal Court.

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa (left) and Panupong Jadnok (right) during the "Walking Through the Sky" protest march

Anon’s petition said that the guards came into their cell at 21.30 to try to take Jatupat and Panupong away, but the others refused to let them be taken away, so the officers returned at 23.45 with more people and batons, and twice more at 00.15 and 2.30 on 16 March. During the last two attempts, guards in dark blue uniforms and with no name tags were also present.

Anon said that the guards claimed that Jatupat and Panupong had to undergo a Covid-19 test, but the others refused to let them be taken due to concerns about their safety. He also said that it is unusual to take inmates out of the wing in the middle of the night, and that he fears for their lives as there have been rumours that they would be harmed while in prison.

“I did not sleep all night because I was afraid we would be in danger. Please help save our lives,” said Anon’s petition.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Anon also wrote another petition for the lawyers to file with the chief of the Bangkok Remand Prison for an investigation into the identity of the officers involved and the agencies they belong to, as well as for CCTV camera footage of the incident to be released.

Anon’s petition also asked that the prison chief explain whether officers are allowed to take inmates out of the cells after midnight.

Jatupat and Panupong were previously held at the Thonburi Remand Prison, but they were moved to the Bangkok Remand Prison after their lawyer filed an inquiry request with the court on 11 March, as on 8 March the court ordered them to be detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison, but they were taken to the Thonburi Remand Prison instead.

NewsAnon NampaPanupong JadnokJatupat Boonpattararaksaactiviststudent movementYouth movementStudent protest 2020
Categories: Prachatai English

"But the truth is the truth": Parit Chiwarak's statement to the judges

Prachatai English - Tue, 2021-03-16 17:02
Submitted on Tue, 16 Mar 2021 - 05:02 PMPrachatai

Activist Parit Chiwarak read out a statement during a hearing questioning the court's decision to reject bail for those who were charged with the royal defamation law and declaring that he would be fasting as an act of protest against the decision. 

Parit Chiwarak (Courteasy of Banrasdr Photo)

The hearing was related to the 19 - 20 September 2020 protest, in which 9 people were charged with the royal defamation law and are being detained pending trial. Other 12 people were also charged in relation to the protest, but were granted bail. 

Despite the judge's refusal to hear Parit's statement, he stood on a chair and read it out loud, as others in the room surrounded him to prevent court police from removing him from the room. 

The statement reads: 

To all the honorable judges, 

Section 112 of Criminal Code is a law that is cruel, uncivilized, and backward. It is not accepted by the international community and it continues to bring disgrace to the nation and to the monarchy in the eyes of  the world community. This law stigmatizes criticism of the monarchy as an offense. Even if those criticisms can be proven to be the truth, they are still offenses and incur a severe punishment of a maximum 15-year jail sentence. It can be counted as a law that entirely contravenes natural law, raising the monarchy to a deity whose whatever actions are without fault while pressing the people into servitude, without rights, without a voice to fairly speak for themselves, as they see the deity draining the blood, taking away the flesh before their eyes, this inhumane crushing of thought and harrying the rights and liberties of Thai people. It is no different from a thumbscrew or squeezing of the temples which was the punishment for those who had different political views in the ancient times.

Section 112 of the criminal code remains an evil cancer that’s been masticating Thai democracy the entire time. In this past decade of political conflict, Section 112 has been used as a weapon countless times to stab those on the opposite side of the the political divide, especially after 2014, the year when the dictator Prayut Chan-o-cha, citing the reason of protecting the monarchy, carried out a coup that overthrew the democratic government. There were many hundreds of patriots who cherished democracy and who did not surrender to the power of dictatorship and who were imprisoned in the name of the monarchy. Their right to bail so they could fight their case were denied without having been convicted of any crime whatsoever.

I would like to ask the honorable judges, when the judiciary has the duty of allaying conflicts through facilitating justice to the people, for what reason have you created conflicts by joining with dictators to rob justice from the hands of the people? And when the criminal court is the place of truth, where the truth must be brought forward and proved, for what reason do you imprison truth, not allow truth to be allowed bail so that it can prove itself, or it is that you so loath and so fear the truth that you have to rush to imprison it and cause torment, and hoping that such suffering and torment will be able to crush the truth and shatter it?

But the truth is the truth, whether it’s in a prison, in a machine of torture, or it is at the pillar of execution. The truth is still the truth. No matter how much suffering your imprisoning me causes, that suffering cannot destroy the truth. I am happy to accept the sufferent that you impose and I will ask to bring even more suffering on myself. Therefore, from this day forward, I will ask to fast and sustain myself on only water, sweetened water, and milk until you return to your common sense by granting my right to bail and be able to fight my case for myself, along with all those charged with Section 112 and all those charged with political offenses, or until my life is no more.

I do not intend to take my own life but I ask for self-mortification so that the torment that happens to me is a testimony to the injustice that has occurred, a spark that pricks your conscience and serves as proof that the truth is not afraid of any suffering whatsoever. If I have to give up my life, I am glad to give it up so that one day our country will not have an Article 112, there will be no political prisoners, and the three demands will be fulfilled. Thailand will belong equally and entirely to all Thai people.

“Feudalism shall perish. Long live the people.” 

Parit Chiwarak

15 March 2021

The letter was originally translated and published at the Isaan Record on 16 March 2021.

NewsParit ChiwarakLèse-majestéSection 112Article 112freedom of expressionpro-democracy protest 2021
Categories: Prachatai English

Local media caught in the crossfire over reporting political activity

Prachatai English - Tue, 2021-03-16 15:59
Submitted on Tue, 16 Mar 2021 - 03:59 PMPrachatai

The Isaan Record, an online media organization based in Khon Kaen Province, is under surveillance by police officers. This is not the first time, and it occurs after they report on monarchy reform and anti-dictatorship activities which other media find distasteful.

A screenshot of the Isaan Record's coverage on the 8 March event at the statue of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat

On 10 March, Hathairat Phaholtap, the Isaan Record editor, told Prachatai English that police officers came to their office 4 times in one day. She was informed by vendors close to the office that police had asked them about the agency. The police did not approach staff directly.

This took place after the agency reported on an activity organized on 8 March by Femliberate, a feminist activist group, who shrouded the statue of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat with women’s sarongs with a banner reading “Justice died 8 March 2021,” a symbolic action against the oppression of women and the court decision to keep in detention Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul and Panupong Jadnok ,3 leading pro-democracy activists.

Prachatai English contacted Pol Col Chatchai Kengsarikit, Superintendent of Khon Kaen Police Station, but received no response. Pol Lt Col Wirot Nanongkham, the Deputy Superintendent (Investigation), said he was not informed about the police operation as he had just finished 4-month training in Bangkok.

“Them snooping around like this is harassing us. If they came in the normal way, then come along and have a coffee. If they come and ask what we do, come along. We are not afraid because we feel that we have not done anything wrong.

“We are not afraid that they will come to arrest us. If you come, then tell us what we’ve done wrong and give us the documents, don’t arrest us out of the blue or kidnap us. ... We know that we use our freedom, but we feel that we use freedom of the press,” said Hathairat.

In September 2020, Isaan Record interviewed Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer who is now in detention pending trial for royal defamation and other offences, about his ideas on monarchy reform. Later, Hathairat said an officer told her that officers from Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) came around looking for the office as well.

Targeted by pro-monarchy people and mainstream press

Manager Online, a well-known media agency, also reported the event at the monument on its local branch Facebook page MGR Online Isaan Ban Hao but in a different tone.

“A great number of Khon Kaen people and Thai people who have seen this photo, have put their hands on their chests, not thinking that they would dare to do anything like this. They also wrote obscene messages that civilized people cannot accept (C-U-N-T Wins)” stated in the post which referred directly to the Isaan Record’s coverage, using its photos. But the photo of the message was not taken by Isaan Record.

Hathairat believes the coverage is another reason for the police action as it originally referred to Isaan Record’s coverage. 

Out of concern for possible misunderstanding, she had to ask the Page administrator to remove the photo not taken by the agency. The admin deleted it, but also sent her a comment ‘If staying in the homeland causes you suffering, then go and stay in another country’.

The row did not stop there. On 13 March, Manager Online for the northeast region reported news with the headline “Don’t stand for it! Khon Kaen people love the institution [of the monarchy]. Attack KKU, ask its position on whether they want the monarchy or not after allowing gangs who want to abolish the monarchy to hang out there,”.

The news item reports that a pro-monarchy group blames the Progressive Movement, from the now-dissolved Future Forward Party, for being the mastermind behind the student movement in Khon Kaen in the past year. They also questioned Khon Kaen University for letting public figures who spoke about democracy and monarchy reform give lectures to the students.

The piece also mentioned the activity at the statue of Field Marshal Sarit on 8 March and used photos taken by Isaan Record. 

As pressure increases locally and countrywide, Hathairat said Isaan Record is planning to launch a series of reports about the lèse-majesté cases in northeast Thailand.

“When there are arrests of people for lèse-majesté, it will make people more afraid. But we think it is our freedom. The more the mass media is afraid, the more people dare to speak”, said Hathairat.

NewsHathairat PhaholtapThe Isaan Recordpress freedomField Marshal Sarit ThanaratKhon Kaen
Categories: Prachatai English

Mekong community network points out 7 demands in handling the changing ecosystem

Prachatai English - Mon, 2021-03-15 20:06
Submitted on Mon, 15 Mar 2021 - 08:06 PMNetwork of Community Organization Council of Seven Northeastern Provinces in Mekong Basin

On 11 March, 2021, the Network of Community Organization Council of Seven Northeastern Provinces in Mekong Basin (Loei, Nong Khai, Bueng Kan, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Amnat Charoen and Ubon Ratchathani), together with 3 members of the National Fisheries Policy Committee, joined in filing a request to the Prime Minister with 7 demands for the government to solve the problems of the people who are affected by ecosystem changes in the Mekong Basin.

The network marching to the Government House to submit the demands on 11 March. 

The negative impact of dam construction in China and Laos on the people’s way of life, their livelihoods and their traditions along the Mekong has never been corrected. The problems are increasing and becoming more serious.

Nevertheless, the Network acknowledges the past attempts of the working team to solve the problems of the ecosystem . This team includes the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture. The Network however sees the complex procedures to obtain approval from several departments and parties. We can no longer wait for normal government procedures, but demand that the government solve the problem urgently with seriousness and sincerity.

The troubling problems of the people along the Mekong river occurred after China built 10 dams, 6 of them already operational, containing about 40,787 million cubic meters of water (or about 2.3 times the Srinagarind Dam, which is the largest in Thailand). But after the dams started operations in 2010, the water level in the Mekong river has fluctuated wildly and continuously. Laos also has plans to build 10 dams in total on the Mekong river. 2 are now finished: Xayaburi and Don Sahong. The Xayaburi Dam started operations on 29 October 2019, and Don Sahong in January 2020.  Currently Laos is in the middle of building more dams at Pak Lay, Pak Beng and Luang Prabang.

From 1993 until 2018, all Chinese dams were managed for water relief, especially the furthest downstream dam, Jinghong which resulted in violent changes to the natural flow of the Mekong river, water quality and the river ecosystem, affecting the local way of life and economic systems of communities along the river.

For example, in 2010, there was a sudden flood, but not much rain locally. In 2010, there was the worst drought in 60 years. After Jinghong dam was completed and started to store water, there was flooding in mid-December 2013, due to monsoon storms, and heavy rain in China. The flow of the Mekong river has a large impact on the ecosystem, including freshwater animal resources. It also effects agricultural production in the northeast part of Thailand, especially in the provinces along the Mekong river, and consequently on the livelihood of the people.

Mrs Ormbun Thipsuna, President and Committee Member of the Network, who has expertise in freshwater fishery, and who is on the National Fisheries Policy Committee, reveals the 7 demands:

1. To urge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to expedite bilateral talks between Thai and Laos on energy, water resources and the environment, in order to integrate the work towards cooperation and assistance in providing and managing water as well as information sharing. They must raise issues for consultation at the leaders’ level between Thailand and Laos by March 2021 and then expand the talks and negotiations with China, with the wide participation and voice of the people. This is for the maximum benefit of natural resources for the country, and to preserve them for generations to come.

2. To make the Thai government delay the purchase of electricity or any contracts for the purchase of electricity from any dams in Laos on the Mekong river, until we see clear resolution of the electricity supply requirements of Thailand, and the need to purchase electricity from dams on the Mekong river. In forecasting electricity purchases and usage, there should not be consideration only of the dimension of energy security, but also the impact on the country’s ecosystems and natural resources as a whole. A careful consultation procedure with interest parties and the people’s sector is needed. There is also an urgent need to set up compensation mechanisms for communities along the Mekong River affected by the problem.

3. The Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment must expedite amendments to the law in order to promote environmental quality. This will enable Thailand to analyse the environmental impact (EIA) of transborder projects. It will also enable us to protect Thailand’s interests in natural resources and the environment, as well as raise issues for further effective negotiation. In the present emergency situation, we wish to ask the Prime Minister to exercise his administrative power and order ONEP to conduct an analysis of transborder environmental impacts, as the government has previously ordered ONEP to do in the case of the dynamiting of islands in the Mekong.

4. There must be efficient data management and real-time warning systems for water level changes, from Chiang Rai Province to Ubon Ratchathani Province, allowing the people easy access to the information in every area along the Mekong river. This is to relieve the trouble of the people, so they can manage water level changes and utilize the water.

5. Compensation measures must be stipulated for communities along the Mekong river whose livelihoods and income have been negatively impacted, either in fisheries, agriculture or livestock.

6. The process for decentralizing power to local administrative organizations must be expedited with regard to natural resources and environmental management in a concrete manner, incorporating both mission and budget, as well as personnel issues. Consultations and discussions must be conducted with interested parties and the people’s sector. With regard to the need for local administrative organizations to have an expanded mission and duty, the National Decentralization Committee must use its power under Sections 16 and 17 of the Decentralization to Local Government Organizations Act.

7. The appointment of a sub-committee for solving problems of ecosystem changes along the Mekong river which impact freshwater animal resources must be expedited. This must be implemented under the National Fisheries Policy Committee chaired by Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Deputy PM, according to the Cabinet Resolution 1/2564 of 6 January 2021, and to be concluded by 12 March 2021. This is to solve the problem of eco-condition changes, affecting freshwater animal resources. The process follows the legal mechanism (the Fisheries Act) to be conducted by this sub-committee, which has to consult all sectors. They will prepare a plan and project to submit to the cabinet for approval, which all government sectors will consequently pursue.

Pick to PostNetwork of Community Organization Council of Seven Northeastern Provinces in Mekong BasinMekong Riverenvironment
Categories: Prachatai English

First three months of Thai politics in 2021

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-03-12 21:32
Submitted on Fri, 12 Mar 2021 - 09:32 PMPrachatai

The first three months of this year will be concluded soon, but Thai politics have not changed much. Crackdowns by the establishment are getting more violent.

Move Forward still the most progressive party

On 10 February, the Move Forward Party proposed comprehensive changes to 5 laws related to defamation offences. The laws include 2 amendments to the Criminal Code, and 3 to the Computer Crime Act, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Civil Procedure Code.  

The proposed changes to the Criminal Code include:

  • Abolish imprisonment as a penalty for defaming ordinary persons (Sections 326, 328, 393), government officials (Section 136) and court officials (Section 198).
  • Reduce the jail term for the offence of lèse majesté (Section 112). A clause is added to protect the right of citizens to make honest comments about the monarchy.
  • Abolish imprisonment as a penalty for defaming a sovereign, queen, consort, heirapparent or head of a foreign state (Sections 133 and 134).

The second proposed amendment to the Criminal Code is a new provision to imprison any official in the criminal justice system who uses legal means to cause people to fear using their freedom or who dishonestly acquits a person of criminal charges.

The proposed changes to the Computer Crime Act include:

  • Remove “damag[ing] the country’s security and caus[ing] a public panic” from the offences under Section 14.
  • Remove other clauses which overlap with existing offences under the Criminal Code such as those related to terrorism and pornography.
  • Abolish imprisonment as a penalty for online defamation of a third person.
  • Limit to 365 days a court order to suspend disseminated computer data. Any data deemed legal may be redisseminated.

The proposed changes to the Codes of Criminal Procedure and Civil Procedure include a provision to prevent Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) by government departments and corporates.

A definition of these lawsuits will be added to the Codes of Criminal Procedure and Civil Procedure. A defendant shall be able to file a petition with the court to rule whether a lawsuit against the defendant is a Lawsuit against Public Participation. The case shall be dropped if the court rules it as such.

So far, the Move Forward party is still the most progressive party when it comes to freedom of expression and monarchy reform. Thai Liberal Party’s leader Sereepisuth Temeeyaves expressed his personal comment in December that threatening the monarchy should be a separate matter from insulting the monarchy in the eyes of law. However, he did not think that any amendments to the lèse majesté law would pass the legislature.

The Move Forward party also revealed the elephant ticket, an illegal fast track mechanism for police promotion using personal ties with powerful members of the elite. Rangsiman Rome, a Move Forward party MP, showed a letter, which he was not allowed to read to the parliament in the no-confidence motion, which revealed that ACM Satitpong Sukvimol, the Lord Chamberlain, passed on a request from King Vajiralongkorn to give 16 police officers higher ranks and promote another 4 into new positions. 

Because of its uncompromising stance, some 4 MPs defected from the Move Forward party in hope of joining the Bhumjaithai party as they voted in favour of its leader and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Chanvirakul and Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob in the no-confidence motion.  These were Kharom Phonphornklang, Kwanlert Panichmat, Aekkaphop Pheanwiset, and Peeradech Khamsamut.

The Move Forward party responded not by kicking them out of the party, because that would give them what they want. According to the provision in the constitution designed to encourage defection, an MP who is kicked out of a party can join another political party within 30 days. MP status is only be revoked when the MP resigns from their political party. Once they were kicked out, the 4 MPs would join Bhumjaithai party.

Instead, the Move Forward party decided to keep them in the party but revoke their privileges as a party members until 2023. These include the right to participate in any parliamentary committees and to run in the next election as a member of the Move Forward party. The four were among 9 MPs who refused to sign the party’s motion to amend the lèse majesté law. The other 5 were Win Suteerachai, Kasemsan Meethip, Wanwari Talomsin, Tossaporn Thongsiri and Chirawat Aranyakanon. The party has not taken any action against these 5 MPs.

Pheu Thai to be more like Thai Rak Thai

 

Recently, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister in support of the Pheu Thai party, joined Clubhouse, a popular mobile application in Thailand, talking about the good old times under the Thai Rak Thai party and painting an inspiring economic vision. However, when asked by a participant about his past involvement in crackdowns in the Deep South during his premiership, he said he could not remember. When a young participant exchanged views about the importance of pushing forward monarchy reform, he also said he only cherished the monarchy.

After Thaksin’s talk on Clubhouse, several outlets publicized information on incidents which erupted from ethnic tensions in 2004 in the Deep South. In April, at Krue Se Mosque and other areas, clashes between violent insurrectionists and the authorities led to 109 deaths. In October, after a protest at Tak Bai police station, 85 peaceful protesters were killed, 7 disappeared, and 1,000 were injured. Even though the government led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra paid 1 billion baht to the relatives of the deceased in 2012, the authorities responsible still escaped legal prosecution with impunity.  

Thaksin’s stance on monarchy reform is consistent with the Pheu Thai party, which focuses only on economic reform. Pheu Thai underwent internal changes last year including the appointment of a new executive committee, the abolition of the party’s strategic committee and the establishment of a party politburo. However, nothing has changed when it comes to their political stance.

If anything, Thaksin’s close aides have more influence over Pheu Thai party.

Pheu Thai is preparing for the next election in 2023. According to a press conference in January, Pheu Thai Secretary-General Prasert Chanruangthong said that, unlike the last election in which candidates in the Thaksin camp ran under separate political parties, all candidates in Thaksin’s camp will run for the Pheu Thai party in the next election. The party has established 21 coordinating committees responsible for different blocks of 350 constituencies across Thailand to recruit staff and suitable candidates.

In February, the Pheu Thai party launched an initiative called Change Maker to recruit new blood into the party. The initiative is influenced by Creative Action for Revival & People Empowerment or CARE, a policy platform founded last year by Thaksin’s close aides who work as the project’s advisors including Prommin Lertsuridej, Surapong Suebwonglee and Phumtham Wechayachai. At the opening event, Prommin Lertsuridej said that an important mission is to revive the legacy of the Thai Rak Thai party.

“The Pheu Thai party is the real thing. It does not take the old success of Thai Rak Thai party to sell,” said Prommin. We will invent new things, but we let you know that we were able to do it, that is, with the people, think together and propose solutions. The strong point of the Thai Rak Thai party in the past was proposing solutions. It is all about proposing solutions. But they are not boastful solutions, but practical solutions and you see a real impact.”

According to Prachachat, the Election Commission of Thailand released information revealing that, just before the resignation of Sudarat Keyuraphan from the Pheu Thai party, millions of political donations started flowing from Thaksin’s close aides including Pongsak Raktapongpaisal, Pichai Naripthaphan, Puangpet Chunlaiad and Chutharat Menasawet, a close friend of Thaksin’s ex-wife Potjaman Damapong.

Internal conflict over cabinet seats

In the first quarter of 2021, the opposition parties’ focus has been on 2 issues: constitutional amendments and the no-confidence motion.

With regard to constitutional amendments, it was not unexpected that the government wanted to slow down the process as much as possible. In February, the government coalition and senate filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to rule whether parliament has the power to pass the two draft constitutional amendments. The Constitutional Court ruled on 11 March that the parliament has the power to rewrite the constitution if they proceed through the two referenda as planned. 

The no-confidence motion against 10 ministers also led to no changes even though important issues were raised in parliament. However, 6 Phalang Pracharat MPs from Bangkok constituencies led by Watanya Wongopasi abstained in the vote against Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob of the Bhumjaithai Party. Watanya posted on Facebook a defence of their action, saying that many opaque transport projects remained unanswered by Saksayam and an MP was free to abstain.

This led to harsh criticism by Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. A Phalang Pracharat committee has been established to investigate the matter. Matichon reported that a proposal is to be sent to the Phalang Pracharat executive committee to order the 6 MPs to make a public apology to Saksayam Chidchob and they may not take any positions on parliamentary committees for six months.

During the internal struggle over the Ministry of Transport, three ministers were unexpectedly removed from office by virtue of being sentenced to jail for leading the insurrection of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) in 2014. The three ministers were Nataphol Teepsuwan (Education), Puttipong Punnakanta (Digital Economy and Society), and Thaworn Senneam (Deputy Minister of Transport). Many observers commented that it was a successful attempt by the establishment to force a cabinet reshuffle. 

36 other PDRC leaders were given jail sentences including Suthep Thaugsuban, Suwit Thongprasert and Taya Teepsuwan, Nataphol’s wife, who has said she would run for governor of Bangkok against other government candidates. They were bailed out after only two days in prison. The same could not be said about human rights defenders whose bail petitions were repeatedly rejected. Also, it remains to be seen if the MP status of the three ministers will be suspended since the case is still not final.

Thai protests met with more violence

From December to February, democratic activists turned to the tactic of dispersed resistance. Protest signs could be seen across Thailand without many big public gatherings. To widen the democratic coalition, student activists in a group named UNME of Anarchy visited rural areas affected by government policies such as Bang Kloi and a coal mine in Loei Province to build relationships with the communities.

Anon Nampa said there would be no big protests for six months because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Pakorn Porncheewangkun said earlier this year that he was holding meetings to deal with internal conflicts among activists. However, right after the unelected Senate petitioned the Constitutional Court over the legitimacy of the constitutional amendments, protest leaders called for large protests to put pressure on the establishment.

The three main demands of the protesters were adjusted for the third time. When the protests emerged at the beginning of last year, these demands were the resignation of the prime minister, the constitutional amendments, and an end to threats against citizens. After the emergence of Khana Ratsadon in mid-2020, the demands changed to the resignation of the prime minister, the constitutional amendments, and monarchy reform.

In 2021, the main demands changed again as Free Youth called for limiting the power of the monarchy, kicking the military out of politics, and - to incorporate the leftist ideas promoted at the end of last year under the harshly criticized campaign Restart Thailand (now changed to Restart Democracy or REDEM) - reducing inequality by universal welfare. A long march from Nakhon Ratchasima to Bangkok was organized by UNME of Anarchy and the People Go Network.

Several large protests were met with violence as police used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets without warning. Protest leaders’ right to stay out of jail pending trial has been unfairly revoked as the Criminal Court repeatedly rejected any further requests for bail. The suppression led to escalating reactions from protesters as some of them held protests to burn photos of King Vajiralongkorn. The Ratsadon Facebook page called for people to wear black after protest leaders were denied bail.

It is getting clearer that the democracy movement is now divided into three connected groups. The first group is led by Ratsadon, UNME of Anarchy, United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, and the People Go Network. In this group, the political student activists are mainly based in the northeast and put an emphasis on rural communities affected by the current government. The second group is led by Free Youth whose members are mainly based in Bangkok and some of whom appeal to socialist ideas.

The third group is the red shirt movement which on one hand is the political base of the Pheu Thai party and on the other hand is more or less allied with the student movement. At the organizational level, the red shirt movement supports any democratic proposals except monarchy reform. At an individual level, some red shirt supporters calling themselves progressives have joined hands with the student movement on monarchy reform. While all three groups have complementary goals, they sometimes conflict. The major challenge of the democracy movement from now on is how to maintain unity in the face of threats by an increasingly authoritarian government.

Round UpMove Forward partyPheu Thai PartyPhalang Pracharatpro-democracy protest 2021
Categories: Prachatai English

Haze and forest fires in the northern region: Causes, myths and trial and error

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-03-12 19:51
Submitted on Fri, 12 Mar 2021 - 07:51 PMThe Glocal; Nuttakorn Vititanon, Kunnawut Boonreak and Wittayakorn Boonruang

The haze problem in Thailand is mostly situated in the upper northern region in 9 provinces: Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Phrae, Nan, Phayao, Mae Hong Son and Tak. It occurs from January to April of every year and is not a new problem for residents in the area. It is a consequence of an agricultural way of life which depends on burning to prepare land for farming in the rainy season. Burning deciduous dipterocarp and mixed deciduous forests which contain accumulated fallen branches and leaves as fuel, together with the topography of a basin surrounded by mountains makes the problem a bigger issue compared to other areas of the country. Haze from higher neighbouring countries called the government’s attention to the issue of air pollution from late 1997 to early 2007, before an air pollution crisis hit Bangkok and Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha had to announce that finding a solution to the haze situation was raised to the level of a national agenda item again in February 2019.

Many research projects in the past decade agree that haze is an air pollution issue caused by the accumulation of smoke and dust in the air. The proportion of chemical components varies depending on many factors, including the fuel, humidity, fire temperature, air pressure, and wind speed and direction. All this impacts people’s health, such as an increase in cases of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and the economy through such things as flight cancellations and decreased tourism.

“The dust itself contains a lot of chemical substances, whether it be different elements, heavy metals, or carcinogens – both organic and inorganic substances are mixed in there. That’s why when we ingest these substances into our body over the long term – we’re going to focus on the long term because short-term effects are often unclear – when taken over the long term, it should cause cancer, resulting in local people having shorter lifespans.” said Somporn Chantara, Head of the Environmental Science Research Centre, Faculty of Science, Chiang Mai University.

Haze in the northern region occurs in winter, just before summer begins. At that time of year there is air stagnation due to high air pressure, causing less vertical ventilation. This leads to fine particulate matter to be suspended and not get carried away into higher levels of the atmosphere. Air pollution then intensifies, the cause mainly being open-air combustion which can be divided into 3 causes: (1) forest fires (2) burning of weeds and agricultural materials from growing corn and (3) burning of weeds and agricultural materials from rotational farming.

Transborder haze is another issue that cannot be overlooked. The 2020 summary report on forest fire and haze from satellite data by the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Public Organisation) states that in Myanmar there are many hotspots in March and April every year, especially in areas bordering Thailand’s northern region, and the number is also twice that of the hotspots found in Thailand almost every year. Overall, the accumulated number of hotspots in Myanmar observed by the MODIS system between 1 January-21 May 2020, was 55,158, with the highest monthly figure in March at 27,994. Thailand had 26,308 hotspots with the highest monthly figure being in February at 8,434. The VIIR system showed 401,734 hotspots in Myanmar with the highest monthly figure being in March at 195,553. Thailand had 205,288 hotspots with the highest monthly figure also in March at 70,680. In Myanmar, there was an increase of 35,735 hotspots from 2019 while Thailand had a decrease.
Arisara Charoenpanyanet’s 2020 presentation “Transborder haze and climate conditions” states that Thai capitalists had moved a large contract farming business into Shan state which has about 8,440,800 rai (1 rai = 1,600 m2) of land available for corn farming. The number of hotspots in corn growing areas is around 30%, which is in line with statistics of imports crossing the border with neighbouring Myanmar in Thailand’s northern region; the number 1 import in the past 1-2 years has been corn for animal feed. 
The article “Unravelling the problem of transnational investment and transborder toxic haze” by Akkanut Wantanasombut [https://www.tcijthai.com/news/2017/26/scoop/6792] also suggests that in border areas, PM10 and PM2.5 levels are often clearly higher than in urban areas which are located deeper within the country. This means that even if we completely control combustion within the country, the haze issue will still remain as long as there is large-scale burning in neighbouring countries.

 

2020 haze crisis

Thailand started measuring PM2.5 values as an indicator of air quality in 2010. Initially, it was used within a limited circle. At that time there were only a few stations in Bangkok that were able to measure the level of PM2.5, even though PM2.5 can more clearly reflect the problem compared to PM10, as in 2013 with the values measured at the station at Yupparaj Wittayalai School in Chiang Mai. If PM10 is used as the indicator, there were 21 days where the value exceeded standards. If PM2.5 is used instead, the number is more than twice that – a total of 57 days, a difference of 36. The Pollution Control Department set the standard at an average within a 24-hour timeframe of no more than 50 µg/m³ (microgram per cubic metre), which is twice the standard set by the WHO.

Then came the important turning point in 2018, when Bangkok faced haze issues like never before beginning at the end of 2017. This resulted in PM2.5 becoming the measurement standard in all stations across the country and part of the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Thailand. For the northern region, it was only in 2019 that all 15 stations in 9 provinces were able to measure PM2.5 levels.

“Chiang Mai has had this problem for 10 years now, but the news was not too well-known. But when Bangkok faced the problem, it suddenly became a flashpoint for the country –it was a severe problem. It’s something that needs to be solved. Bangkokian’s voices are often louder than those living in other provinces. The issue happened in Bangkok and we also received the blessings. Chiang Mai has actually had this problem for far longer.” said Somporn from the Environmental Science Research Centre at Chiang Mai University.

Two myths created from the media’s emphasis caused misunderstandings among the people. One is that Chiang Mai faced the most severe problem, and the second is that this problem is likely to increase in severity every year. However, statistics over the past 24 years, ever since the establishment of the Chiang Mai and Lampang air quality monitoring stations in 1998, indicate otherwise.

Thai media often refer to the rankings in IQAir’s ‘AirVisual’ application. Headlines like “Chiang Mai haze ranked 1st worldwide” or “at 1st place nationally” were used, but in reality, this was based on real-time data from a point of time, not a 24-hour average as in the ‘Air4Thai’ application reported by the Pollution Control Department. It also only included less than 100 major cities in the world. For Thailand, only Chiang Mai and Bangkok were listed in the network.

From the 2019 World Air Quality Report by IQAir AirVisual [https://www.iqair.com/world-most-polluted-cities] which ranked the worst average air quality in the world and regions, Chiang Mai is not the city with the worst air quality in ASEAN (this is South Tangerang, Indonesia) or in Thailand (this is Nakhon Ratchasima). Chiang Mai was ranked 372nd in a total of 4,680 cities worldwide.

It can be said that Chiang Mai, and all of the upper north, has faced haze problems for a long time. Initially, the problem was even more severe than now, but what happened in the past is not too clear since there were few monitoring stations, leading to insufficient data, difficulty for people to access data, lack of internet, etc. More recently, the border areas with Myanmar have been facing more severe problems than Chiang Mai all along, such as Mueang District, Mae Hong Son Province; Mae Sot District, Tak Province and Mae Sai District, Chiang Rai Province. The situation in these areas is quite worrisome.

Looking at the big picture, if depicted in a graph, the line would be going up and down. There would be no trend at all toward becoming a severe problem where the graph continues to go up and up or toward a slow decrease. In some years, the graph is distinctly high in some months. This is related to the state measures enforced to deal with the problem, such as early burning or a complete ban on burning, which leads to changes in people’s burning behaviour. Area-specific factors also have great influence, because the severity in different provinces in each period of time does not completely correlate with each other. 
Data from the Pollution Control Department’s website [air4thai.pcd.go.th] for the 5 years between 2015-2018 show that for Chiang Mai, the year with the highest amount of PM2.5 was 2015 at 266 µg/m³ while the year with the highest number of days with PM2.5 values exceeding the standard was 2014 with a total of 86 days. Data is taken from the monitoring station at Yupparaj Wittayalai School, Si Phum Subdistrict, Mueang District. For 8 other provinces, the province with the highest annual figure and highest number of days with PM2.5 values exceeding the standard often varies each year; Mae Mo in Lampang Province in 2015, Huai Kon in Nan Province in 2016, Mae Sot in Tak province in 2017 and 2018 and Mae Sai in Chiang Rai province in 2019. The year with the highest annual figure and the highest number of days with PM2.5 values exceeding the standard was 2019 at 357 µg/m³ and 78 days, respectively, at Mae Sai District.

The most recent data in 2020 indicates that overall, the haze situation in the northern region is slightly worse than the year before, especially in Mae Sai, with the highest PM2.5 value as high as 398 µg/m³ with a total of 79 days with PM2.5 values exceeding the standard. Every day in March had values higher than the standard. In contrast, the situation in Chiang Mai has improved, with the highest PM2.5 value at 174 µg/m³ and a total of 67 days with PM2.5 values exceeding the standard.

 

2020 forest fire situation

The 2019 annual report by the Forest Fire Control Division of the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation suggests that the causes of forest fires are (1) natural, such as lightning, friction between dry branches and leaves and spontaneous combustion in living organisms, and (2) manmade, such as agricultural burning, gathering forest products and hunting. In the past it was found that in the northern region, most forest fires were intentionally set in order to collect forest products. The 2019 fiscal year data by the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation confirmed that 68% of forest fires are of this type, while the rest are related to hunting and burning to expand residential or farming land, as well as carelessness from agricultural burning which escalated into a forest fire that spread out of control.

The terrain of steep mountains makes it difficult for the authorities to put out fires, as was continuously seen on the news in 2020. In just 3 months (February-April), a total of 7 persons lost their lives on duty while putting out forest fires, including officials (Subdistrict Administrative Organisation members, Village Heads) and volunteers (members of ethnic groups, youths). The incidents occurred in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, which each had 3 deaths, and Chiang Rai.

As for the hotspot statistics, in the first 5 months of 2020, the Terra/Aqua satellite using the MODIS system showed a total of 8,600 hotspots in the 9 provinces of the upper north, while the VIIRS system showed a total of 88,855 hotspots. Even though Chiang Mai has the highest number of hotspots in the northern region, it does not match the actual burn scars. Mae Hong Son is the province with the most burn scars and has the highest ratio of burnt scars to area in all of the northern region and Thailand.

There is not much difference in the rankings of hotspots for each province in the two satellite systems, but there is a great difference in the values. The VIIRS is more detailed and can detect more than ten times the number of hotspots, with Chiang Mai being the province with the highest number of hotspots. The MODIS found 2,155 hotspots and the VIIRS found 21,658 hotspots, followed by Mae Hong Son Province with 1,497 hotspots and 16,607 hotspots, respectively, and third is Tak Province with 1,377 hotspots and 14,842 hotspots, respectively.

If analysed by land use, the highest number of hotspots are found in national forest reserves, then in conservation forests (the two areas combined amount to more than 90% of the hotspots), then Agricultural Land Reform areas, agricultural land, residential areas, and areas near highways.
The data clearly indicates that measures banning burning do not work. As many as 70% of all ignition points were found during the prohibition periods throughout the season. Although from the overview and provincially, there is likely to be a decreasing trend when compared to previous years’ statistics, there are increases in some provinces, especially in Chiang Mai where there was quite a large increase. 
2020 data on burn scars from the Landsat-8 satellite show that in the 9 provinces combined there was a total of 8.6 million rai of burnt land – an area even larger than many provinces. Compared to 2019, accumulated burn scars have increased to 1,403,953 rai, or 2.13%. Mae Hong Son has the highest amount at 1,786,194 rai or 22.36% of the total area of the province. It was also found that the figures increased for almost all provinces, except for Tak. However, Tak is still ranked second with total burn scars of 1,454,741 rai or 13.45% of the province. Chiang Mai is third with 1,384,078 rai or 10.05% of the province.

Another important condition that is often neglected is the socio-economic marginalization of the population in highlands since they do not have the right to own agricultural land. Since areas in the plains are limited, agricultural land expanded into forest areas in the highlands where monoculture commercial crops are often grown, such as corn, in response to market demand and state support. These are short-lived plants because there is no soil stability. This leads to the use of fire in agricultural land management, becoming one of the causes for forest fire-haze problems.

Dynamics of problem solving and social awareness

This is a complex problem with no single cause. Prior research points to forest fires and agricultural land burning (including agricultural land in forest areas) as the main causes, not to mention transborder haze which is sweeping in. It is clear that northern haze has completely different sources from Bangkok’s, which is mainly from vehicles. 
The severity of the issue depends on different factors each year. Past solutions have been by trial and error, correlating to different aspects of complex causes which changed according to the context in each area of physical environmental conditions, socio-economic conditions, state policies and measures in agricultural land use, land and forest resource use and haze management. 

When the state first started to become serious about this issue (2004-2013), it enforced a measure to control burning, which is to conduct “early burning.” While the power structure of related state operations followed top-to-bottom command lines all along, in 2013 there were measures to have no fires or a “burn ban,” with fixed times for banning fires in all upper north provinces until today. An area-based single command system was deployed, with the province/district as the core management. Authority was given to the provincial governor/district chief officer to be fully responsible for their areas of authority, from the original system of surveillance areas by different agencies, such as national parks controlled by officials from the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, forest reserves by Royal Forest Department officials, etc. In some years, some provinces were greatly successful. For example, the “Chiang Rai model” was able to decrease hotspots to only 19 in 2017. But it was not sustainable since the decreased burning led to more accumulated fuel in the forest, causing the following years to face even more severe forest fires that inflicted damage over enormous areas.

State agencies used the burning ban to declare absolutely no burning and used the number of hotspots as the indicator. Statistically, the numbers show that some provinces they were able to control the number of hotspots well, but the truth was that at the ground level there was still burning and more pollution than the standard, as was the case in Mae Hong Son Province. Hotspots alone cannot indicate the real problems since satellites are limited in capturing images over time.

In truth, when urban dwellers became aware of AQI ever since the AirVisual application started to become more popular than the Air4Thai application from around 2019 onwards, it led to interesting phenomena, whether it was the establishment of the Chiang Mai Breathe Council, the announcements to cancel classes at various educational institutions at all levels, giveaways of N95 masks by state and private organisations or campaigns by various groups such as those demanding that air quality be improved to international standards, etc. These social forces, in one aspect, pushed the state into significantly changing its stance. 

The 2021 measures, will it be more trial and error?
The 2021 Northern Region Haze Prevention and Solution Plan in essence continues to deploy the “4 area measures, 5 management measures” approach of 4 major areas: 1) national forest reserves and conservation forests, 2) agricultural land, 3) community and urban areas and 4) roadsides; and 5 management measures: 1) an Incident Command System, 2) awareness raising measures, 3) fuel reduction, 4) civil state volunteer measures and 5) law enforcement, which is an approach that has been deployed for many years. 

For Chiang Mai, 2021 is the first time for many years (since 2013) that the burning ban has been lifted . Instead, there is a request for collaboration from the people and the province is divided into north-south zones for fuel management. Operations will first start in the south zone in January and February, then the north zone in March and April, making a total of 4 months. This should be more flexible and appropriate than a policy set by the central government. There is also a fire-free village support project which deploys a rewards-based concept. It is an integrated project to reduce haze and develop participatory mechanisms in community management in order to prevent haze caused by burning in a sustainable manner.

“If we say that PM2.5 arises from many causes and everyone has a part in creating it, then everyone should help solve it together. In the past, when there was a myth, we all blamed each other, which made collaboration disappear. In the end, it’s the villagers who become both the culprits and the victims.” said Chatchawan Thongdeelert, Steering Committee Chair, Chiang Mai Breath Council 

These are the changes which will happen in 2021 in the upper north provinces, especially in Chiang Mai. Will this be successful or will it still be another year of trial and error? These are questions where we still have to wait for answers.

FeatureIn-DepthPM2.5Air pollutionpollutionChiang maiNorthern Thailand
Categories: Prachatai English

UN women joined force in condemning the violent crackdown in Myanmar

Prachatai English - Fri, 2021-03-12 18:42
Submitted on Fri, 12 Mar 2021 - 06:42 PMUN Women

UN Women aligns with the statements made by the UN Secretary-General in strongly condemning the violent crackdown and the use of lethal force against peaceful protestors over the past month in Myanmar and expresses its deep concern over the targeted and disproportionate violence against women being recorded in this situation.

Public Health officers joining the CDM movement in Mandalay (Source: Myanmar Now)

This repressive response has already taken the lives of six women and resulted in the arrest of close to 600 women, including young women, LGBTIQ+ and civil society activists. In addition, those in detention are also reportedly experiencing sexual harassment and violence.

Women have long played a celebrated and vital role in the history of Myanmar. They continue to do so and must not be attacked and punished for the peaceful expression of their views.  Myanmar is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,  which states, inter alia,  that “the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields” and guarantees “the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men”. The CEDAW committee has further clearly established that violence against women is a form of discrimination prohibited under the Convention.

We call upon Myanmar’s military and police to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and that demonstrators, including women, are not subjected to reprisals.  We further call on the military and police to respect the human rights of women who have been arrested and are currently being detained and reiterate the calls for the immediate release of all detainees.

Pick to PostMyanmar coupUN Women
Categories: Prachatai English

WWF commends closure of Thai zoo embroiled in illegal tiger trade allegations

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-03-11 20:35
Submitted on Thu, 11 Mar 2021 - 08:35 PMWorld Wildlife Fund

WWF Thailand commends the Department of National Parks, Plant and Wildlife Conservation (DNP) on their special law enforcement operation which will result in the closure of the Mukda Tiger Zoo and Farm and a permanent suspension of the zoo's operating permit. 

Source: DNP Thailand

WWF Thailand’s CEO, Pimpavadee Phaholyothin, applauded the DNP’s proactive, continuous efforts, including intensive investigation and enforcement actions, noting their contribution to the conservation of tigers, a species that has long been threatened by poaching and trade. 

“Tigers in the wild are threatened not only by habitat destruction and deforestation but also by the domestic and international illegal wildlife trade that drives hunting of tigers for their parts and products. Declining wild tiger populations and improved enforcement around protected areas have made sourcing tigers from the wild more difficult in Thailand, resulting in facilities breeding tigers to feed the illegal trade in tigers and their parts and products.”

During an initial investigation of the zoo in November 2020, the DNP impounded five tigers and, having conducted DNA tests, found that three cubs were genetically unrelated to any local captive tigers. Over the next 90 days, during which time the zoo was forced to suspend operations, the DNP conducted a secondary investigation and round of DNA tests of the tigers being held in the facility which found that additional claims filed by the zoo about the parentage and genetic relation of some tigers were falsified. 

These findings, in addition to being in offence of criminal codes about providing false information to the government, provide probable cause that the tigers in the facility had been smuggled from abroad or laundered from the wild, indicating a strong likelihood of illegal wildlife possession and trafficking in direct violation of the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act (WARPA). This second violation within 365 days of the first gives the DNP the authority to permanently revoke the

tiger zoo’s permit and charge the license holder with up to five years imprisonment for smuggling wildlife.

Jedsada Taweekan, WWF Thailand’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Program Manager, also applauded the government’s actions as being a strong first step in examining the transparency of tiger businesses in Thailand and in showcasing what conservation action is possible under the newly revised wildlife laws.

“By enforcing relevant articles of the WARPA to suspend and withdraw the zoo license for this illicit business, the DNP is setting a benchmark for what is possible, not only in Thailand, but for other countries that have similar tiger facilities to strongly show that tiger breeding for trade will not be tolerated. We are confident that the owner will be appropriately prosecuted to set a clear precedent for future cases.” 

WWF is working to stop the illegal wildlife trade and to protect the remaining 3,900 tigers in the wild, and has identified tiger facilities across Southeast Asia and China as a problematic channel through which criminals continue to exploit tigers and undermine wild tiger conservation. Since zoos are driven by profit, these businesses can seek to maximize benefits derived from the exploitation of tigers in captivity. Petting zoos rely on a steady stream of profitable cubs, frequently inbred and unhealthy because of rapid breeding, and when they mature to a less profitable age they are traded into the black market of live tigers and their parts and products. WWF is calling for the phase-out of tiger facilities that engage in these illegal activities as they can stimulate demand for tiger products and complicate law enforcement efforts, thereby increasing poaching pressure on wild tigers. 

“Breeding tigers in captivity that cannot be released to the wild serves no conservation benefit and is solely for the profit of commercial businesses,” added Taweekan. “There needs to be a strong and transparent database that provides a foundation for consistent monitoring and reviewing of non-compliance. WWF is committed to assisting the DNP in its ambitious goal to conduct DNA tests on the over 1500 tigers currently being held in 39 facilities across the country.”

Pick to PostWorld Wildlife FundMukda Tiger Zoo and FarmWWFenvironment
Categories: Prachatai English

Lethal arsenals and troops have been deployed for protest crackdown in Myanmar

Prachatai English - Thu, 2021-03-11 18:43
Submitted on Thu, 11 Mar 2021 - 06:43 PMAmnesty International

Vast arsenal and notorious troops deployed during nationwide ‘killing spree’ protest crackdown in Myanmar, a new research from Amnesty International claimed.

  • Analysis of more than 50 videos show systematic and premeditated killings amid extensive deployment of battlefield weaponry
  • Soldiers implicated in atrocity crimes against ethnic minorities now operating in Myanmar’s cities
  • Evidence of extrajudicial executions and killings on orders of commanders

The Myanmar military is using increasingly lethal tactics and weapons normally seen on the battlefield against peaceful protesters and bystanders across the country, new research by Amnesty International has revealed.

By verifying more than 50 videos from the ongoing crackdown, Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab can confirm that security forces appear to be implementing planned, systematic strategies including the ramped-up use of lethal force. Many of the killings documented amount to extrajudicial executions.

Protesters preparing to clash with police before the crackdown on 28 February. (Source: Tachiliek News Agency)

Footage clearly shows that Myanmar military troops - also known as the Tatmadaw - are increasingly armed with weapons that are only appropriate for the battlefield, not for policing actions. Officers are frequently seen engaging in reckless behavior, including the indiscriminate spraying of live ammunition in urban areas.

“These Myanmar military tactics are far from new, but their killing sprees have never before been livestreamed for the world to see,” said Joanne Mariner, Director of Crisis Response at Amnesty International.

“These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officers making poor decisions. These are unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity, deploying their troops and murderous methods in the open.

“For years, ethnic minorities - including the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Rakhine, Rohingya, Shan, Ta’ang and more - have borne the brunt of horrific violence meted out by the Tatmadaw. Along with other rights groups, we have called on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, and bring the Tatmadaw’s senior commanders, including Min Aung Hlaing, to justice. Instead the Security Council has done nothing, and today we see the same military units turn their fire on protestors.

“The military authorities must immediately cease their deadly onslaught, de-escalate the situation nationwide, and release all those arbitrarily detained.”

The 55 clips, filmed from 28 February to 8 March, were recorded by members of the public and local media in cities including Dawei, Mandalay, Mawlamyine, Monywa, Myeik, Myitkyina and Yangon.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the death toll from the protests as of 4 March stands at 61. This official estimate excludes additional known casualties in recent days.

Planned, premeditated and sanctioned use of lethal force

Amnesty International has verified multiple clips showing lethal force is being used in a planned, premeditated and coordinated manner.

In one video taken in Sanchaung township in Yangon on 2 March, a commander can be seen standing over an officer operating a sniper rifle. The commander appears to be giving him orders to direct fire towards specific protesters.

In a disturbing clip from 3 March in North Okkalapa township, Yangon, officers are seen leading a man towards a larger group of security forces. The man appears to be in the group’s custody and offers no visible resistance, when an officer beside him suddenly shoots him. He immediately drops to the ground and is left on the road, apparently lifeless, for several seconds before officers then walk back and drag him away.

Two people were killed and several more injured in Myitkyina, Kachin State, on 8 March. In one verified clip, a group of people can be seen running from a thick cloud of smoke as gunshots sound in the distance. Panicked voices can be heard saying, “It burns so much” and “One person has died,” amid screams of shock as a person with a serious head injury is being carried away. Several apparently injured people are then seen being dragged away, leaving significant amounts of blood on the ground.

In another verified clip dated 28 February, a member of the military in Dawei is seen apparently lending his rifle to a police officer deployed alongside him. The officer crouches, takes aim and shoots, before a group of officers standing with them celebrate.

“Not only does this incident show a reckless disregard for human life, making sport of shooting live rounds at protesters, it also reveals deliberate coordination among security forces,” said Joanne Mariner.

Extensive military arsenal deployed

On 5 March, state-run media quoted military authorities as denying any role in fatalities, claiming that “unscrupulous persons [might be] behind these cases”.

 However, Amnesty International has identified security forces armed with a variety of military firearms, including Chinese RPD light machine guns, as well as local MA-S sniper rifles, MA-1 semi-automatic rifles, Uzi-replica BA-93 and BA-94 submachine guns, and other arms manufactured in Myanmar. These weapons are completely inappropriate for use in policing protests. According to UN guidelines, security forces should refrain from the use of firearms unless there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and there is no suitable alternative available.

“The weaponry deployed by the Tatmadaw reveals a deliberate and dangerous escalation in tactics,” said Joanne Mariner.

“Not content with indiscriminately using less-lethal weapons, each new day shows an apparent order to deploy semi-automatic rifles, sniper rifles, and light machine guns in increasing numbers. Make no mistake, we are in a deadly new phase of the crisis.”

This deployment follows the excessive use of tear gas, water cannons, South Korean Dae Kwang DK-44 flashbang grenades and other contentious ‘crowd control’ methods, as well as incidents of egregious beatings at the hands of the security forces, such as in this verified clip filmed in Mandalay on 7 March.

Photos and videos also show that police have access to traditional less-lethal arms, including “pepperball” launchers, and shotguns loaded with rubber bullets manufactured by the Turkish company Zsr Patlayici Sanayi A.S., using cartridges from Franco-Italian company Cheddite.

Reckless and indiscriminate use of lethal weapons

Amnesty International has also verified footage of security forces using lethal weapons in ways that are reckless, indiscriminate, and very likely to cause fatal injuries.

Verified footage from 1 March in Mawlamyine in Mon State shows security forces riding pick-up trucks while apparently indiscriminately firing live ammunition in multiple directions, including into people’s homes.

In a clip from Yangon’s Hledan township published on 28 February, the man recording the footage is peering over a balcony and describing the scene below, where armed forces personnel appear to be shooting teargas and ammunition directly at people in the street. Huddled with others on the balcony he continues to record the scene, when a group of officers at street level seem to spot him filming. A single shot can be heard before people on the balcony say “[someone has been] hit! Get inside [the apartment]!”. A woman on the balcony can then be seen lying with a head injury.

“As the death toll surges, the UN Security Council and the international community must move beyond words of concern and immediately act to halt violations and hold perpetrators accountable,” said Joanne Mariner.

Notorious military divisions deployed

Further analysis of photos and videos show that the military units involved in this lethal repression include the Yangon Command, Northwestern Command, and the 33rd, 77th and 101st Light Infantry Divisions (LID), often operating alongside – and sometimes lending their weapons to – police officers.

According to footage examined by Amnesty International, the 33rd LID is currently deployed in Mandalay, the 77th in Yangon, and the 101st in Monywa. All three cities have seen extreme instances of excessive force, including killings, by security forces in recent days.

Some of these military divisions are notorious for atrocities and serious human rights violations committed in Rakhine, Kachin, and northern Shan States. Amnesty International has implicated soldiers from the 33rd LID in war crimes in northern Shan State in 2016 and 2017, and in crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017.

Pick to PostMyanmar coupAmnesty International
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: International Women's Day

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-10 21:16
Submitted on Wed, 10 Mar 2021 - 09:16 PMStephff

MultimediaInternational Women’s DayStephff
Categories: Prachatai English

Bizarre treatment of pro-democracy protesters raises concerns

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-10 20:38
Submitted on Wed, 10 Mar 2021 - 08:38 PMYiamyut Sutthichaya

The court’s rejection of bail for 4 pro-democracy activists on 8 March is raising questions about procedural irregularities as 3 of them were taken from court before they were allowed the opportunity to complete bail requests, while another was sent to a prison other than the one designated by the court.

Artwork portraits of those who are under detention and imprisonment due to participating in the protests and lèse-majesté case.

Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Jatupat Boonbattararaksa and Panupong Jadnok, leading figures in the pro-democracy protests, who face sedition, royal defamation and other charges were quickly sent to prison pending trial without a chance to bid farewell to relatives and supporters as is the usual practice.

On the same day, Piyarat Chongtep, leader of the We Volunteer protest guard group, was detained on a charge of criminal organization and denied bail. The court ordered him to be detained at Bangkok Remand Prison but somehow this was changed to Thon Buri Remand Prison instead, causing public concerns over his whereabouts. 

Right: Piyarat Chongtep (Source: Banrasdr Photo)

The change was not announced and was only made public when the Human Rights Lawyers Alliance, a network of lawyers working on the protesters' legal cases, confirmed that its team successfully visited Piyarat on 9 March. Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, a pop singer, was also detained at Thon Buri Remand Prison instead of Bangkok Remand Prison as assigned in the court order.

According to a Bangkok Post report on 9 March, Corrections Department Director-General Ayut Sinthoppan said that Panupong, Jatupat and Piyarat were transferred from Bangkok Remand Prison to Thon Buri Remand Prison in order to “ease overcrowding”.

From the bizarre to concerns over legal process

The quick removal from court raised concerns over the court’s intention and suspicions that the court had somehow assumed that bail would not be granted. 

A Code of Criminal Procedure book attached to the court entrance gate as an expression of dissatisfaction during the March 9 protest.

Kritsadang Nutcharat, a lawyer overseeing the cases of 18 protesters on 8 March said such a quick transfer was new even to him and he has worked as a lawyer for over 40 years. He raised concern that this was “irregular” in his media statement on 8 March as it was so quick that he was not able to complete the bail request. 

He was invited to discuss his statement with a court executive officer on 9 March.

After the meeting, he told Prachatai that the court confirmed that the court had no presumption that bail would be rejected. The transfer was made quickly as there were parallel bail requests for Panusaya, Jatupat and Panupong made at about 13.00. The court denied these bail requests at about 15.30-15.40. The 3 were sent from the court at 15.45.

Kritsadang believes the transfer may have been done quickly for the sake of convenience or just an error. However, what is more important is the legal process in lèse majesté cases, which involve at least 58 people in 44 cases since the surge in pro-democracy protests demanding political and monarchy reform.

“I am afraid. I think it will be more difficult, because in this case, the court has said itself that it is a serious offence. Also, there are many measures to be used such as not allowing bail. A second is secret trials, meaning that when they [the courts] see that it is about this issue, when they examine witnesses, they will prohibit people from attending,” said Kritsadang.

“According to standards for hearing trials, a trial must be heard in open court. Unrelated people can attend. It is a principle guaranteeing the justice of the trial. It is written in legal principles and the Thai constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Thailand is a state party and which Thailand has ratified.  Everyone must have a speedy, open and fair trial.”

The Human Rights Lawyers Alliance has posted on its Facebook page that the change in Piyarat’s place of detention from the one in the court order violates Section 89 of the Code of Criminal Procedure commanding the officer to fulfil a court detention or imprisonment order exactly as the court rules. The attempt to cover up Piyarat’s whereabouts is also a serious violation of human rights which amounts to enforced disappearance.

The Alliance demands that the authorities act according to law and abide by the rule of law to create the people’s sense of trust in the justice system.

Noraseth Nanongtoom, a lawyer for the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who oversees Piyarat's legal process on 7 March posted on his Facebook that the court will summon Piyarat, Jatupat, Panusaya and Panupong to hear about the misplacement of their detention place on 11 March.

Dubious modus operandi

The measures taken by law enforcement officers and the courts have increased in intensity and seriousness after Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha gave a clear green light to take heavy measures against pro-democracy protesters on 19 November 2020, a message repeated by Police Commissioner-General Pol Gen Suwat Chaengyodsuk on 16 January 2021.

Protesters hold mats, bracing themselves against the water cannons during the 17 November protest near parliament.

These signals have been followed by rejection of bail and disproportionate and unorthodox police operations to the point that their legality is being questioned, such as the, disproportionate degree of force used to disperse protests on 31 December and 10 January when the riot police outnumbered the protesters and forcefully dispersed the protests after a short period of time.

Other examples are not letting anyone immediately know of the fate or whereabouts of those who have been arrested, such as the case of Sirichai Natueng on 13 January, when police switched the place of detention while misinforming his friends, or the case of Thotsathep, a volunteer guard who was mysteriously arrested in 15 January and two days later found in detention at Bang Kaew Police Station. Thotsathep was being held incommunicado until he was found.

Detention outside the area of arrest is also a serious issue. Many protesters have been taken from protest sites for detention and investigation at the Border Patrol Police (BPP) Region 1 headquarters in Pathum Thani, about an hour’s drive from central Bangkok. There is no legal provision allowing the police to do this since the withdrawal of the severe state of emergency which was in force from 15 to 21 October 2020.

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, investigation must be conducted at the police station that oversees the location the alleged offence. The use of BPP Region 1 has caused protesters, their relatives and lawyers unnecessary difficulties in reaching them.

Yaowalak Anuphan, Director of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a group of human rights lawyers whose staff and volunteer lawyers have been travelling to BPP Region 1 to provide legal assistance, said in January that the police have no legal provision allowing them to investigate people anywhere outside the police station which oversees the location of the incident.

The brighter side is that, since February, police at BPP Region 1 have reportedly refrained from seizing lawyers’ mobile phones, an act which lawyers find violating. Further changes in the rules cannot be predicted.

Round UpPanusaya SitthijirawattanakulJatupat BoonbattararaksaPanupong JadnokPiyarat ChongtepKritsadang Nutcharatlèse majesté law
Categories: Prachatai English

Thailand: Mass prosecutions tantamount to systematic suppression of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and opinion

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-10 13:15
Submitted on Wed, 10 Mar 2021 - 01:15 PMAmnesty International

The denial of bail for four protest leaders on Monday (8 March) is "tantamount to a systematic suppression of freedom of expression and freedom of opinion" in Thailand, says Amnesty International, who calls on the government to end legal prosecution against dissenting voices. 

A funeral wreath with a placard saying "there is no more justice" was placed in front of the Criminal Court on Ratchadapisek Road yesterday (9 March) during a protest after the court denied bail for 4 other protest leaders. 

In pursuance to the prosecution of as many of 382 protest leaders and demonstrators in 207 cases since 2020, and the previous denial of bail for the four protest leaders, in additional with today’s the indictment of another 18 individuals, the denial of bail application of   Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Panuphong Jadnok, and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa related to the #19SeptRestoringPeoplePower demonstration as well as Piyarat Chongthep related to 6 March demonstration, this is tantamount to a systematic suppression of freedom of expression and freedom of opinion.

Piyanut Kotsan, Director of Amnesty International Thailand has this to say;

“It is profoundly worrying that the Thai authorities are systematically prosecuting a large number of protest leaders and demonstrators. In certain cases, the suspects may face up to 15 years of imprisonment.  This is a severe and disproportionate punishment. Given the normally protracted period of trial, the prosecution of dissenters or critics of the government is being weaponized to silence and retaliate against those who dare to challenge the state power.”

“Mass prosecutions and denial of bail demonstrate how the justice process is being used as a tool to brazenly attack the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. People are entitled to legitimate rights to express themselves and participate in activities concerning social issues. 

“The Thai authorities must stop treating critics as if they are criminals or a threat to national security. They must be released and the charges against them must be immediately dropped in the condition where there is an insufficient evidence under international criminal standard.” 

Background

#19SeptRestoringPeoplePower: The prosecutions have resulted from the demonstration at Thammasat University’s Tha Pra Chan Campus and the adjacent Sanam Luang during 19 – 20 September 2020. The demonstrators have spoken and asserted their demands to rewrite the Constitution as proposed by the people, to have the government resign from office, and to reform the monarchy.

Updates of the cases and the suspects as of 8 March 2021 can be described as follows; 

1. #19SeptRestoringPeoplePower 7 are charged for violating the Penal Code’s Section 112 including Parit  Chiwarak, Anon Nampha, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Patiwat Saraiyaem who have been remanded in custody pending the trial at the Bangkok Remand Prison since 9 February 2021. 14 are charged for violating the Penal Code’s Sections 116 and 215 (illegal assembly of ten persons and upward). All of the alleged offenders have previously reported themselves to the public prosecutors to hear the decision at the Office of Attorney General on 17 February at 10am, but the public prosecutors postponed the announcement to 8 March 2021. 

2. On 8 March 2021, the remaining 18 alleged offenders have gone to the public prosecutors again to hear the decision on their indictment. The public prosecutors decided to indict 18 individuals including Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Panupong  Jadnok, and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa on the Penal Code’s Sections 112 and 116 and other criminal offences. The other 15 alleged offenders have been indicted on the offence against the Penal Code’s Section 116 and other criminal offences. All of them have been brought to the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court for remand hearings as the public prosecutors proposed a remand in custody of all the 18 individuals. 

3. The Ratchadapisek Criminal Court granted the public prosecutors’ request to have all 18 remanded in custody and denied bail applications for Panusaya, Panupong and Jatupat. While Panusaya has been taken to her custody at the Central Women's Correctional Institution, Panupong and Jatupat which should be taken to the Bangkok Remand Prison, but finally found at they are being detained at Thanyaburi District Prison. The rest have been granted bail at 35,000 baht each. The next appointment is scheduled on March 15, 2021 at 9:00 am.

4. In addition, 18 We Volunteer guards were arrested on Saturday, March 6, 2021 and detained at the Border Patrol Police Division 1. Allegations violated the prohibition of public assembly under the Emergency Decree Act, on Public Administration in Emergency Situation B.E. 2548, the Communicable Disease Act 2015 section 209 and Section 210 (the offense of secret society and criminal association) under the Criminal Code. Two children under 18 years old were released on bail by placing 5,000 baht (approximately 162 USD) to the Juvenile and Family Court) while another arrestee were previously released. Thus, 14 of them were eventually released on bail by placing 45,000 baht (approximately 1,461 USD) to the court, only Piyarat Jongthep was denied of bail and finally found that he was transferred to Thanyaburi District Prison instead of the Bangkok Remand Prison

 

Pick to PostAmnesty Internationaljudicial harassmentfreedom of expressionStudent protest 2020student movementYouth movement
Categories: Prachatai English

A virtual afternoon with Arundhati Roy in Bangkok: “The Pandemic, (Necro) Politics and Literature”

Prachatai English - Wed, 2021-03-10 10:39
Submitted on Wed, 10 Mar 2021 - 10:39 AMFathima Mallick

A spectre is haunting growing nations - the spectre of intolerance to the old order of things. All the powers of the old order have formed a holy alliance of hatred, hidden fascism, and effacing (if needed) to exorcise this spectre. The mythical words of Karl Marx still linger in a new age of pandemics and digital realities. The halt bought by the pandemic has become a time for self improvement and spiritual meditation for the rich while the literate middle classes suffer from collective guilt succumbing to the injustices taking place in their homes or elsewhere.

As for the poor, well, you know how that story goes - or you might not because… The point being, a pandemic has always been a part of our reality. The type of pandemic I am implying is a more dangerous sickness.  A sickness of the mind. A pandemic seeping through minds, congealing ideas of conformity, passiveness and sheer selfishness exploited by higher powers to do as they please. Yet, there are rare breeds who dare to shrug off the damp blanket of political fear to ask the unquestionable questions.

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy was introduced to me by my mother who is an extraordinary simple woman from Cuddalore. I was six years old when I took “The God of Small Things” (1997) from my mother’s bookshelf, like any child I was looking for pictures and only found one of the writer herself. Needless to say, I was surely disappointed but the memory of recognising myself in her photo is painted on my heart with permanent ink. My family comes from the margins of India, my grandmother was a poor fisherman’s daughter, married at fourteen, divorced by eighteen, a Muslim woman with four children in the remote town of Cuddalore. Consequently my mother could only afford an eighth grade education and the village did not understand my uncle’s odd behaviour of dressing up like a girl, resulting in his suicide. They emigrated to Bangkok to seek better opportunities which they received. Yet, their stories of struggle as women, as Muslim women, as poor women in Cuddalore has been an integral part of my upbringing. Reading “The God of Small Things” (1997) for the first time, was like living and breathing the stories of my family. It felt like I had gone home. The butterfly effect suggests that every decision we have made has resulted in us being exactly where we are. Even a minuscule difference could have altered our present.

As of now, I am a 24-year-old woman, reader of postmodernism, a researcher of violence and ultimately an aspiring writer. The memories of reaching for her book as a six year old and reading the book has been pivotal moments sealing my fate in the decisions I have taken. I doubt I would have been interested in literature, liberal arts or let alone writing if I had not encountered Roy’s work, such a magical presence is Arundhati Roy, writer of novels considered as masterpieces like “The God of Small Things” (1997) and “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” (2017).  She is a modern political shaker devoting her life to themes of injustice, destructive ideologies and violence against marginal communities. Her political essays such as “My Seditious Heart” (2019) cannot be praised by my words, I can only stubbornly encourage you to read them. Simply said, she is a writer who addresses the spectres of our contemporary society and with an impeccable timing she finally arrived in Bangkok. Thanks to the Department of English, Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University!

The online event “The Pandemic, (Necro) Politics and Literature” was moderated by Associate Professor Dr Verita Sriratana and joined by guest panellists Chalita Setthachayanon, Pattanun Arunpreechawat, Palin Ansusinha, and Judha Su. Within minutes of starting, Professor Verita vividly explained the urgency of this event during a pandemic. The political powers’ treatment of the pandemic infects us deeply and the Greek prefix necro- (meaning death) emphasises the viciousness of deciding who dies and who does not. This ties in with much of Arundhati’s oeuvre, with a ubiquitous exploration of how ‘big things’ effect ‘small things’ in a manner she uniquely does so well.

Roy sat in a warm room with jumbled towers of books on each corner, and discussed a range of controversial topics, encouraging the panellists to chip in for an organic discussion. She touched on some current issues such as the farmers’ protests in India and the vilification of Rihanna and Greta Thunberg’s toolkit for making the protest even more conspicuous. She addressed her own privilege of speaking out without fear of consequences, as opposed to the students or farmers who are thrown into jail with no valid charge, although she has faced her own share of court cases, police threats and jail sentences for expressing her resentment towards the leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This event was one of the many occasions where she called India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “street goon” as he hails from the organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The extreme RSS ideology infiltrates the deep state, thriving on violence against Muslims and castes and ultimately declaring India as an absolute Hindu nation.

Beginning by sharing her experience of speaking at the Elgaar Parishad, sharing the disturbing toll that the pandemic has taken on migrant workers, and criticising modern day Bollywood films as spoofs with no grit, compared to the 70’s films starring Amitabh Bachchan, revolving around small town crises and solving minuscule structural problems of a nation such as railroads. As a listener, the diverse range of topics discussed went everywhere and home.

The panellists exceptionally used this platform to address the spectres of modern day Thailand, shedding particular light on what has been happening here, whether it was the topic of gender and queer bodies, the failure of leftist politics in dealing with gender and caste, pro-democracy protests, cherry picking the digital public from those ones who do not have the means during the pandemic in the guise of great help. There was a sense of shared solidarity between Roy and the panellists. Although from different countries, Roy proposed there are “chilling similarities” between these nations. The learning was reciprocated as both ends offered something new to take away. 

It was a gathering of hearts despite the serious topics discussed and to be a mere fly on the wall was a privilege. For me, this was another one of those pivotal moments I secretly share with this writer, bringing me closer than ever to her and leaving me eternally indebted. The experience of listening to Roy can only be summarised best by her own words from her novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” (2017), “I’m a mehfil, I’m a gathering. Of everybody and nobody, of everything and nothing. Is there anyone else you would like to invite? Everyone’s invited.”

Arundhati Roy Defends Democratic Space for Discussion and Dissent

Watch the entire event:  https://fb.watch/3UzQbHDad3/

Fathima Mallick is an alumna of the BALAC program at Chulalongkorn University. Currently she is working as a content writer while independently researching the deconstruction of violence in various novels such as Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” (2015) and Arundhati Roy’s “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” (2017) and in pursuit of writing “that one good story”. She can be reached via her email address: fathimamallick@gmail.com
 

OpinionArundhati RoyIndialiteratureCOVID-19Necropolitics
Categories: Prachatai English

4 more protesters leading figures detained, 18 people in total

Prachatai English - Tue, 2021-03-09 13:08
Submitted on Tue, 9 Mar 2021 - 01:08 PMPrachatai

On 8 March, the criminal court ordered the detention pending trial of Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Jatupat Boonbattararaksa and Panupong Jadnok, leading figures in the pro-democracy protests, on sedition, royal defamation and several other charges. Piyarat Chongtep, leader of the We Volunteer protest guard group also detained for criminal organization.

At the front, from right to left: Panupong Jadnok and Jatupat Boonbattararaksa.

The first 3 reported along with another 14 people as scheduled on 8 March morning to be charged over the 19-20 September 2020 protests at Thammasat University and Sanam Luang. In total, they were charged with sedition, organizing more than 10 people to cause disorder, unlawful procession, emergency decree, vandalism and destroying antiquity site. Only the 3 had additional charge on royal defamation. 14 were allowed bail.

There were actually 15 people summoned to the court in this set of lawsuit. Only 14 were able to made to the court as the another one, Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan has already been detained in prison.

Piyarat was arrested along with another 47 We Volunteer (WeVo) members by a SWAT police team who used force and did not produce an arrest warrant on 6 March prior to the protest at the judicial court complex. All but Piyarat were allowed bail. The WeVo case process is still in the police stage.

Movement supporters expressed disappointment and anger after bail was again refused by gathering at the Victory Monument on the evening of 8 March to protest. They asked people to dress in black as a symbolic show of resistance before dispersing at around 21.00.

Amnesty International released a statement claming that the mass prosecutions, amount to 382 protest leaders and demonstrators in 207 cases since 2020, tantamount to systematic suppression of freedom.  

“It is profoundly worrying that the Thai authorities are systematically prosecuting a large number of protest leaders and demonstrators. In certain cases, the suspects may face up to 15 years of imprisonment. This is a severe and disproportionate punishment. Given the normally protracted period of trial, the prosecution of dissenters or critics of the government is being weaponized to silence and retaliate against those who dare to challenge the state power.” said Piyanut Kotsan, Director of Amnesty International.

“Mass prosecutions and denial of bail demonstrate how the justice process is being used as a tool to brazenly attack the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. People are entitled to legitimate rights to express themselves and participate in activities concerning social issues.

“The Thai authorities must stop treating critics as if they are criminals or a threat to national security. They must be released and the charges against them must be immediately dropped in the condition where there is an insufficient evidence under international criminal standard.” said Piyanut.

The detentions increase the number of pro-democracy protesters detained pending trial over demonstrations since the beginning of 2020 demanding the resignation of the prime minister and his cronies, constitutional amendments and monarchy reform.

As of 8 March, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that 18 people are now detained pending trial:

  • 7 leading figures of Ratsadorn, one of the protest organizing groups: Anon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak, Patiwat Saraiyaem, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Jatupat Boonbattararaksa and Panupong Jadnok. The first 4 have been detained since 9 February.
  • 5 people who have been charged with damage to police vehicles in October 2020: Nathanon Chaimahabut, Thawat Sukprasoet, Sakchai Tangchitsadudi, Somkhit Tosoi and Chaluai Ekasak. They have been detained since 24 February.
  • Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, lead singer of the The Bottom Blues band, detained for allegedly burning a portrait of King Rama X in front of Klong Prem Central Prison.
  • Parinya ‘Port’ Cheewinkulpathom, a member of the self-exiled band ‘Faiyen’, charged under the lèse majesté law over his Facebook post in 2016 and detained since 6 March.
  • 3 people detained since 29 January for allegedly throwing a homemade ‘pingpong’ bomb at the protest at Samyan Mitrtown on 10 January. .
  • Piyarat Chongtep, arrested on 6 March and detained 2 days later.

TLHR also reported that 5 people have been sentenced to prison after being found guilty of lèse majesté:

  • Anchan, sentenced on 19 January 2021 to 43 years.
  • Wichai, sentenced on 24 December 2015 to 30 years and 60 months by a military court.
  • Burin, sentenced on 30 April 2016 to 10 years and 16 months by a military court.
  • Pratin, sentenced on 23 November 2015 to 8 years and 4 months.
  • Prapan, sentenced on 11 May 2021 to 2 years.
NewsPanusaya SitthijirawattanakulJatupat BoonbattararaksaPanupong JadnokPiyarat Chongteppro-democracy protest 2021Student protest 2020Source: prachatai.com/journal/2021/03/92027
Categories: Prachatai English

Phetchaburi Court releases 22 Bang Kloi villagers

Prachatai English - Tue, 2021-03-09 01:06
Submitted on Tue, 9 Mar 2021 - 01:06 AMPrachatai

22 members of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community who were detained on Friday (5 March) were granted temporarily release by the Phetchaburi Provincial Court on Sunday (7 March).

Members of the Save Bang Kloi Coalition holding a banner saying "#SAVEBangKloi. Human = human" during the "Walk Through the Sky" protest march on Sunday (7 March). 

The Human Rights Lawyer Association (HRLA) planned to request bail for the 22 community members today (8 March). However, they were suddenly granted temporary release on Sunday (7 March). The court did not require any security, but set the condition that they do not return to the area in which they were arrested or enter other national park areas without permission.

HRLA lawyer Waraporn Utairungsee told Transborder News that she was unsure who requested bail for the group. However, some of the community members told her that the officers brought them documents to sign, but they do not know what the documents are for.  

No-ae Meemi, son of the community’s late spiritual leader Ko-i Meemi, also told Transborder News after he was released from prison that the land at Chai Phaen Din is their ancestral land, and that he would like the authorities to help them return to live on that land. He also said that he is not currently sure how he would live from now on.

87 community members, who travelled back to the location of their former village in the Kaeng Krachan forest, were forcibly taken out of the forest on Friday (5 March) and charged with encroaching on national park land. Of this number, 36 are minors against whom the authorities did not press charges. 29 others were arrested and received a fine, while 22 were detained at Khao Kling Prison.

Meanwhile, the Save Bangkloi Coalition and the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move) have been gathering at the Chamai Maruchet Bridge in front of Government House since Sunday (7 March) to call for justice for the Bang Kloi community and said they will stay indefinitely, until there is a concrete solution to the human rights violations against the community.

NewsIndigenous rightsindigenous peopleKarenKaeng KrachanBang KloiChai Phaen Dinstate violence
Categories: Prachatai English

It is time to revise our definition of ‘the labour movement’ in Thailand

Prachatai English - Mon, 2021-03-08 11:47
Submitted on Mon, 8 Mar 2021 - 11:47 AMSakdina Chatrakul Na Ayudhya

Translate Thai to English by Dr. Andrew Brown

‘The Labour Movement’ means what?

In the past, the labour movement referred to the organising of workers, employed across a diverse range of occupations, to build a collective power to negotiate and fight for labour’s shared interests. The labour movement encompassed a diversity of workers and its aims were not simply limited to improving wages, welfare or working conditions. Rather, those aims extended into the political arena as well. General strikes or political strikes were important tools once used by labour movements. Organised labour’s politically directed efforts meant that alliances were forged with political parties. In some countries, labour movements established their own political parties or gained significant influence inside those parties chosen to represent their political interests.

Nowadays, ‘the labour movement’ is generally equated with the ‘trade union movement’ the operations of which are limited to representing those workers who enjoy formal legal coverage. Huge numbers of workers are prevented from becoming members of trade unions. This more restrictive understanding of ‘the labour movement’ is one reason why labour movements in a number of countries are often small and have limited reach. This view of the meaning of ‘labour movements’ is one which excludes the vast majority of workers. In turn, this has a negative impact on labour’s representation and diminishes workers’ bargaining power. State and capital have successfully split and channelled workers into different categories and so fostered a sense of difference among labour and a feeling among some workers that they are not part of the working class. This has been achieved through the development of different forms of production and employment, for example, supply chains, outsourcing and platform employment. It has also been achieved through the introduction of laws which divide workers into formal and informal sectors. All of this combines to cultivate views, beliefs and understandings that split and separate workers from each other.

As a result, shared consciousness of class has been radically attacked and undermined. Workers lack unity and strength. The Thai labour movement is weak and small in terms of numbers of trade union members. Indeed, it is one of the weakest in the world. In a workforce of 39 million, only 614,312 or just 1.6% are members of a trade union. Moreover, the Thai trade union movement is divided into 1,465 small house unions. At a national level, there are 15 different labour councils (data from Ministry of Labour, November 2020). All of this reflects a lack of unity and limited bargaining power.

In the attempt to re-establish and re-build strong labour movements, workers in different countries around the world aim to tear down the walls that restrict their freedom to organise collectively. This has included efforts to revisit previous understandings of labour movements that will reach out and represent workers from all economic sectors. The establishment of National or General Unions is the subject of serious discussion and debate. Campaigns under the banner ‘We are all workers’ seek to build consciousness of class and collectively organise all workers and so construct labour movements that are strong and powerful.

What do workers hope for from efforts to collectively organise?

When we speak of workers’ interests which labour movements aim to advance, we speak of economic stability, social protections, and political bargaining power. Workers organise collectively to achieve stability in employment, and to have some guarantee that they will not lose their jobs or be unfairly dismissed. They expect that labour movements will ensure that they receive a fair wage for their work, that workplaces are safe, and they are protected against workplace illnesses and injuries. Workers need to participate in the decisions that affect them, the quality of their lives and the lives of their families. Workers expect that by collectively organising, their workplace appeals and grievances will be fairly listened to by employers and the state. They do not expect that everything will be solely determined by employers and the state—a condition that means they would have no guarantee to be treated justly. Workers organise to ensure that they are properly acknowledged by employers as well as society. Often workers are seen as second-class citizens. However, when workers organise, they are empowered and able to ensure that others treat them fairly and equally. Workers are the majority in society. Labour movements aim to ensure that workers are able to participate in shaping the fate and directions of their country. In many countries, workers have their own political parties and seek to ensure that their government represent the majority in society—the working class.

When Trade Unionists speak of ‘labour’ what do they mean?

Forms of employment have changed dramatically and become much more complex over the past 20 or 30 years. New types of employment have proliferated and employment conditions vary widely. Post-Fordist production systems that rely on of supply-chains have led to the enormous growth of Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Large number of workers are employed outside factory walls and now labour in what is called the ‘informal sector’. Despite their enormous numbers, these workers are often ignored and overlooked. The growth of digital economies has created new forms of employment, with millions of workers now employed via social platforms.

Today, when we speak of labour or labour movements, we are likely to be referring to workers employed in factories or workers in the informal sector who have a single employer. In Thailand, this understanding is the product of the 1975 Labour Relations Act, as well as the practices of the labour movement from half a century ago, practices linked to the experiences of organising of workers in the manufacturing sector. However, if we look beyond the factory gates, it is clear that there are millions of other workers of many different types and employed in many different ways. Such workers now form the majority our total labour force. Over the recent past, the Thai labour movement has tended to ignore these workers and because of this it can no longer lay claim to be a true representative of the interests of all workers. 

Photo: Rickshaw Pullers’ Protest, August 1932 (Photo from the Thai National Archives)

In the light of all these changes, it is necessary to rethink and redefine what we mean by ‘labour’ so as to ensure that all those workers who have been ignored for so long can also be incorporated into the labour movement. In the Philippines, for example, the progressive wing of the labour movement has endeavoured to provide a new definition of labour as referring to ‘…those who do not own the capital or the machinery required to produce goods or services solely by themselves…this includes those independent owners of firms who possess some capital and tools or machinery but are unable to employ the numbers of workers found in larger enterprises. That is, those people who occupy places on the fringe or margins when compared to the majority of employers or owners of enterprises.

In truth, the claim ‘We are all workers’ means we are part of the 99% who are subject to the 1%—the billionaires who control the vast majority of our country’s wealth and resources.

Looking at the past to find changing meanings of the ‘labour movement’ in Thailand.

It is clear that the meaning of the phrase the ‘Thai labour movement’ has never had a fixed definition. Across different historical periods, ‘the Thai labour movement’ has been defined in contrasting ways. When capitalism first emerged during the Rattanakosin period, the majority of wage workers were Chinese immigrants. They brought their own cultural types of organisation to Siam. Their organisations assumed different forms, an important one being the ‘Angyi’ or ‘Secret Society’ which maintained their own sets of rules and collected fees from members. Some have suggested that they actually represented the first form of ‘trade unionism’ in Thailand. Though not all members were wage workers, Secret Societies did lead many strikes on behalf of Chinese workers. In 1897 the Thai government promulgated a law, known as the ‘Angyi’ or Secret Society law, that forced organisations to register their activities. Nonetheless, throughout the period of the absolute monarchy not one single labour organisation was permitted to officially register. As a result, during that early period, the Thai labour movement needs to be understood as encompassing those struggles by Chinese workers—struggle that assumed different forms, sometimes conducted openly and sometimes conducted underground.

Photo: Banner of the Siam Tramways Association, 1932.

As the wage labour market expanded, especially during the period just prior to the 1932 change in government, the meaning of the labour movement also expanded to encompass a movement of intellectuals led by Thawat Rittidet, Wat Sunthoracam, Sun Kitcamnong and their comrades. Together they formed the “Labour Group’ and established the Kammakon (Labour) newspaper. They organised in the form of an association (samakhom) which was granted official registration once the absolute monarchy ended following the 1932 change in regime. The Thai Tramways Association of Siam, registered in August 1932, was the first labour organisation to be accorded legal recognition by the Thai state.

Photo: Thawat Rittidet, an intellectual who established the Labour Group and the Labour Newspaper during the reign of Rama 6 (1910-1925). Source: Sangsit Phiriyarangsan (1986), ‘History of the Struggle of Thai Labour’.

Following the 1932 change in government, the labour movement was defined by myriad forms of struggle by different types of workers. These struggles did not only include factory workers but also the unemployed, rickshaw pullers, Chinese coolies, intellectuals, as well as the self-employed. Thawat Rittidet established the ‘Labour Benevolent Association’, a national level labour organisation, that aimed to represent workers across all sectors of the economy. Thawat and his group supported Pridi Phanomyong’s economic plan, a stance which led them into open opposition to the views of King Prajadiphok (Rama 7). The labour movement also supported the People’s Party government and opposed the 1933 coup attempt led by Prince Bowaradet.

Photo: Thianthai Apichatbut, 1940. Following WWII, President of the Association of United Workers and Secretary of the Cooperative (Sahachip) Party. Source: Sangsit Phiriyarangsan (1986), ‘History of the Struggle of Thai Labour’.

During WWII, one wing of the labour movement operated underground and joined the movement for national salvation that opposed the Phibun government and the Japanese occupation. At the end of the war, the underground labour movement began to operate publicly as the ‘Association of United Workers’ (AUW), an organisation open to workers from all economic sectors. The AUW had a large membership and established its own political party, named the Cooperative Party. Thianthai Apichatbut was president of the AUW—renamed the Association of United Workers of Thailand—and secretary of the Cooperative Party. The Cooperative Party began as part of the governing coalition led by Pridi Phanomyong. The meaning of the ‘labour movement’ once again widened. Despite the 1947 coup, the labour movement led by the Association of Thai Workers (ATW) through the 1950s and, in the latter stages of that decade, under the leadership of the 16 Labour Units organisation, attracted large numbers of different groups of workers. The movement was able to press for the passing of the first Labour Act in 1956.

Photo: Supachai Srisati, Secretary of the 16 Labour Units. He was executed by Sarit Thanarat under Section 17 of the Anti-Communist Act.

The coup led by Sarit Thanarat on 20 October 1958 effectively outlawed the labour movement. Many trade unionists were arrested and imprisoned. Suphachai Srisati, an important intellectual of the labour movement, was executed under Section 17 of the Anti-Communist Act. He was denied the right to trial and just legal process. During the Sarit-Thanom period, and under the auspices of the United States, Thailand moved increasingly toward free market capitalism. A series of economic plans and various other measures were adopted to promote private capital investment. Labour rights were curtailed so as to create a favourable climate for US and Japanese investors. These investors brought with them labour relations practices that emphasised enterprise level negotiations and workplace bargaining. When workers were allowed to organise once again in 1972 following the issuing of Revolutionary Announcement 103, and as democratic rights and guarantees were reinstated after the events of 14 October 1973, the labour movement was able to once again re-form. The progressive wing of the movement held the view that the labour movement should not be limited to include only those employed in factories.

Photo: Struggle of women workers employed by Standard Garments, 1975. Source: Thai Labour Museum.

Photo: Strike by women workers employed by Standard Garments, 1975. Source: Metropolitan Electricity Trade Union.

At that time, the labour movement worked with employees across all economic sectors. It also contributed to the formation of the ‘Triple Alliance’, a cooperative movement involving workers, farmers and students. This empowered the labour movement at a time when state and capital were trying to impose restrictions on the movement by winnowing out some workers and various other groups. The 1975 Labour Relations Act (LRA) established a narrow set of parameters within which the labour movement could operate. After the events of October 6 1976, the LRA was vigorously enforced and the labour movement was effectively redefined solely as a trade union movement of permanently employed formal sector workers. Other workers were gradually excluded. Bit by bit legislation was passed that prohibited large numbers of workers from accessing rights to organise. This included school teachers, university academics, employees of public agencies and other government corporations. When the National Peacekeeping Council (NPKC) seized power in February 1991, they attempted to separate state enterprise employees from the labour movement. NPKC Order 54 imposed other restrictions, limiting the capacity of outsiders to offer advice to trade unions during processes of collective bargaining. Union advisors had to first be granted formal registration by the Director of the Department of Labour.

For almost 50 years, the Thai labour movement has been effectively restricted to operating within a framework that narrows its meaning and reach. The result is a movement that is small, unable to grow its membership base, and is basically confined to bargaining over bread-and-butter issues. It is unable to effectively protect the interests of workers or solve their problems. It lacks strength and has lost its power to exercise a political voice. The fixing of public policies, regulations and laws now rests exclusively in the hands of those who represents the interests of capital.

Can Trade Unions still be the answer for workers today?

The situation today sees large numbers of workers, not only those in Thailand, turning their backs on trade unions. Trade unions no longer exercise the prestige or the same kind of spell that, during their heyday, attracted workers. Unions, once viewed globally as the ultimate weapon of the working class, are now facing questions as to whether they hold any power or authority at all. Trade unions once represented the power of the working masses and were effective negotiating tools. Can the retreat of labour movements be arrested? If so, what is going to best galvanise trade unionists into action?

In the history of progressive wings of labour movements, two main streams of thought have continually exercised influence. The first of these holds that the role of labour movements is to serve as tools of the proletariat to change society by overthrowing the capitalist system—the source of workers’ exploitation. A second position asserts that labour movements are tools which workers can use to reform capitalism, and ensure that workers are treated fairly and not exploited by their employers. This view, which accepts the continued existence of capitalism, exercised major influence over the majority of labour movements within capitalist societies during the course of the twentieth century. It is a position that is sometimes called ‘reformist trade unionism’ or ‘business trade unionism’.

Within this framework, the labour movement is viewed as partnering with capital. It is split into various organisations that pursue different activities at, for example, enterprise or industrial levels. Capital recognises the role of labour movements as they do not challenge the system as a whole. However, after the victory of neoliberal globalisation alongside the disintegration of communist and socialist systems during the 1980s, labour movements have been in retreat everywhere. Even those reformists movements which have been willing to work with capital are now rejected. Capital has endeavoured to further limit their role.

In Europe, reformist labour movements developed considerable strength and were accepted by capital. Today, employers now refuse to meet them at the negotiating table. Union membership has dwindled. European labour movements still believe they can revitalise themselves and resurrect their role as protectors of workers’ interests. However, as social environments have changed, this will not be easy. Some hope to be able to establish labour or social democratic parties to serve as the voice of workers, capable of winning elections and becoming part of government, and able to change laws and so ensure that capital once again accepts trade unions as negotiating partners. Some European labour movements have employed a strategy of amalgamation in the belief that larger bodies will strengthen their hand. However, in many places the labour movement remains weak, and amalgamation has created unwieldly and increasingly bureaucratic organisations.

However, in other places, European labour movements have abandoned business unionism and been organising groups of marginal workers not previously targeted by trade unions. These have included migrant workers, the unemployed and those employed in informal economic sectors. Even though labour movements have become smaller, and their work has become increasingly difficult, many still see them as the best tool for protecting the interests of the working masses. However, they must adjust to changed circumstances. Labour movements are still an answer for workers and the building of just societies.

Bold New Steps for the Thai Labour Movement

The retreat of labour movements globally, as in Thailand, stems partly from the changing meanings of the ‘labour movement’. Workers have to establish movements that are inclusive of all, and cultivate a consciousness that ’we are all workers’. They must think of new ways to ensure that labour movements are able to work effectively and have sufficient power to protect the interests of all their comrades. Some have suggested the formation of ‘National Unions’, a general union to which workers from all sectors of the economy may affiliate. Others have argued for ‘Social Movement Unionism’ which some claim has achieved success in many countries.

We need to recover the vision that the labour movement once had of societies being split into two classes—the classes of capital and labour which possess conflicting interests. All workers belong to the same class and share interests. We should not distinguish workers by different forms of employment, income, or levels of education. Workers have a shared fate by virtue of the classed nature of society. Social movements consist of people or groups of people who share objectives they want to accomplish together. They share an ideology, they fight, work and join together in protesting, rallying, marching, striking or using media. On the basis of these criteria, the labour movement is a social movement.

These perspectives argue that trade unions should not stand apart from communities and society. Rather, they suggest that trade unions pursue social movement unionism. As a basic principle, trade unions should expand their demands to protect the interests of workers who are currently prevented from becoming members as well as other social groups. Trade unions must also join with other society-based movements in their political and social campaigns.

OpinionSakdina Chatrakul Na Ayudhyalaborlabor rightsLabor movementThawat RittidetThianthai ApichatbutSupachai SrisatiWat SunthoracamSun KitcamnongSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2021/01/91115
Categories: Prachatai English

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