Prachatai English

Community based WHRD visited by police officer after publicly demanding Emergency Decree to be revoked

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-05-29 14:50
Submitted on Fri, 29 May 2020 - 02:50 PMProtection International

The woman human right defender of the anti-mining Rak Ban Haeng Group in Lampang received a visit and intimidation by the police on Thursday, after publicly reading statement echoing the calls of the People’s Movement of 5 Regions that demands the government to revoke Emergency Decree.

Sommai Harntecha (centre) reading the statement calling for the government to revoke the Emergency Decree (Source: Protection International)

Sommai Harntecha was one of dozens of members of the Rak Ban Haeng group seen in a video uploaded around 11am to Lampangmining Facebook page, which is used by Rak Ban Haeng group to share news and information regarding the campaign. The video saw her reading the public statement demanding the government to revoke Emergency Decree along with other members of the group.  Around 11.30, three police officers who did not identify their names and coming from Ngao District police station in Lampang, came to look for her in the village.

The police officers were inquiring Sommai about reasons for gathering and relating to the video, in which she replied that the it was to discuss the land issues. The police later told her that the group should not mention or do any public activities regarding the Emergency Decree, as it was “the issue of public matter.”

On Tuesday, the People’s Network of 5 Regions submits a letter, signed by  more than 390 entities, to the government and the Ombudsman to demand the government to revoke the Emergency Decree. The group pointed out that the Decree allows for blanket use of powers without required check and balance, causing worries about abuse of power unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic control. Earlier on Monday, the Commoner’s Party also submitted similar call to the whip of the opposition parties.

Today, 3 community-based, anti-mining W/HRDs groups in Lampang Province, Nongbualamphu Province and Chaiyaphum Province also echoes the demands of the Network, stating that the Emergency Decree is depriving rights and liberty of people, especially those who are opposing development projects but cannot exercise their freedom of assembly. The Emergency Decree should be revoked as there are other available laws to control the current pandemic situation, the groups said.

Protection International, Thailand deplores such actions as it violates the people’s rights to exercise their human rights, including their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The government must not exploit the pandemic situation to increase the sufferings of the people by intimidations and/or prosecutions of women/human rights defenders.

The government should not use the draconian Emergency Decree to quash dissent, control the population, or as a means to perpetuate their time in power, as also was a recommendation by UNOHCHR to governments on 27 April 2020. UNOHCHR also emphasized that undermining freedom expression “may do incalculable damage to the effort to contain COVID-19 and its pernicious socio-economic side-effects.”

Thailand must end harassment of human rights defenders and we called on the State not to use emergency declarations during the COVID-19 crisis to impose wholesale restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Governments and law enforcement agencies must act to prevent human rights abuses.

Pick to PostRak Ban Haeng GroupProtection InternationalSommai HarntechaHuman right defenderWoman human rights defendercommunity rightsenvironmentAnti-miningEmergency Decreefreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

MP urges Dept of  Marine and Coastal Resources to intervene sea wall construction

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-05-29 14:31
Submitted on Fri, 29 May 2020 - 02:31 PM

Move Forward MP Prasertpong Sornnuwat has submitted a letter to the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources calling for it to legally intervene in the construction of 4 seawalls in Songkhla Province. The Department said that it could not halt construction right away as no proof of damage was presented, although some of the beach has already been dug up. 

A seawall construction is being built at Muang Ngam beach (Source: Facebook/Beach for life)

The 28 May letter urges the DMCR to halt 4 projects, 2 of which are on Muang Ngam beach, one at Maharat beach and the other at Sai Kaeo beach. It claims that the construction will cause further erosion at the edge of the seawalls and dramatically affect the ecology and community livelihoods.

The letter cited Article 17 of the Marine and Coastal Resources Management Promotion Act which authorizes the DMCR Director-General to temporarily stop activities that critically destroy marine and coastal resources.

On the DMCR response, Prasertpong said via telephone that the Director-General, Deputy Director-General and Director in charge would be glad to communicate with the Department of Public Works, which is in charge of the construction.

However, Prasertpong said the DMCR claimed that this could not lead to a halt in construction as enforcement of Article 17 requires proof of environmental destruction. This part is subject to interpretation and might require a court verdict, but the Move Forward MP believes that damage has been done as the beach was dug up and concrete foundations laid.

In case of the Muang Ngam beach, Prasertpong said that construction was not passed by the provincial committee which oversees marine and coastal resources. This must later be proved in court as dereliction of duty. He plans to submit another letter to the Department of Public Works.

“I think the method that an MP or people can try is to submit a letter to the Department of the Public Works for Minister Anupong Paochinda to show courage as a general to be generous to people who are struggling,” said Prasertpong.

The Muang Ngam beach seawall is being constructed along 7.2 km of Muang Ngam beach, a public recreation space, tourist spot and fishing pier. The current phase of the project costs 87 million baht for 710 metres of a projected 2,625 metres.

The project claims to protect the beach from further erosion, which will affect seaside infrastructure. The project is scrutinized by many out of concern for its necessity, environmental impact and legitimacy. Local communities claim that the public hearings were not inclusive.

On 23 May, police in Songkhla Province turned down a request to hold an anti-seawall public gathering at Muang Ngam beach, claiming it would violate the Emergency Decree on Covid-19 control. 

Prasertpong disagrees with the police ban. He said that such an action breaches the basic right to freedom of expression in the Thai constitution and universal human rights.

“As the people bear no arms, and if they observe social distancing, you [authorities] cannot prohibit them.” said Prasertpong.

In December 2013, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning) removed seawalls from the category of constructions that require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Previously, any seawall longer than 200 metres was subject to the EIA process. Apisak Tassanee, from the beach conservation group ‘Beach for Life’, claimed that the seawall has a severe environmental impact and should require an EIA.

NewsenvironmentPrasertpong SornnuwatMove Forward partyPrasertpong SornnuwatseawallDepartment of Marine and Coastal ResourcesSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/05/87862
Categories: Prachatai English

Thailand's State of Emergency extension unjustified, says HRW

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-28 14:02
Submitted on Thu, 28 May 2020 - 02:02 PMHuman Rights Watch

The Thai government’s extension of its state of emergency is an apparent pretext for violating basic rights, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 26, 2020, the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha extended the draconian Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation until June 30. 

A sign on the metal fence in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre says "activities are prohibited according to the 2005 Emergency Decree." It had been placed there in anticipation of a commemoration event on the 6th anniversary of the 2014 military coup. (Source: Museum of the Commonners)

Since the state of emergency was declared on March 24 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has stifled dissenting voices and critical opinions. Thai authorities have shut down criticism from the media, healthcare workers, and the general public about their response to the pandemic, using both the Emergency Decree and the Computer-Related Crime Act’s “anti-fake news” provisions. The decree grants officials immunity from prosecution for any human rights violations they commit.

“The Emergency Decree provides Thai authorities unchecked powers to suppress fundamental freedoms with zero accountability,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.“There is no legitimate basis for extending this decree, which allows for the arbitrary and disproportionate restriction of rights guaranteed under international law and the Thai constitution.”

In March, the government issued a list of prohibitions under the state of emergency, including vague and overbroad restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom that could be enforced by prosecution: “Reporting or spreading of information regarding COVID-19 which is untrue and may cause public fear, as well as deliberate distortion of information which causes misunderstanding and hence affects peace and order, or good moral of people, are prohibited.”

International human rights law recognizes that in the context of a serious public health emergency, restrictions on some rights can be justified when they are strictly necessary, proportionate to achieve the objective, and are neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application. On March 16, a group of United Nations human rights experts said “Emergency declarations based on the Covid-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals. It should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health … and should not be used simply to quash dissent.”

In crisis situations, international law allows authorities to exceptionally limit speech that could endanger public health. However, access to information and freedom of expression are among the integral components of the right to health, especially during a global pandemic. Access to information includes the right to seek, receive, and share informationabout the health risks and the government’s response.

Thai authorities have brought retaliatory lawsuits and sought to intimidate whistleblowers in the public health sector and online journalists after they reported alleged corruption related to hoarding of surgical masks and other supplies and black-market profiteering. Thai authorities also threatened some medical staff with disciplinary action, including terminating employment contracts and revoking medical licenses, for speaking out about severe shortages of essential supplies needed to treat Covid-19 patients and prevent the spread of the disease in hospitals across the country.

Human Rights Watch also documented a number of incidents in which Thai officials selectively used public health justifications to suppress fundamental freedoms for politically motivated reasons, targeting anti-government activities.

On May 22, Bangkok police arrested prominent pro-democracy activists Anurak Jeantawanich and Tosaporn Serirak for violating the ban on public assembly – one of the emergency measures imposed to slow the spread of Covid-19. The arrest was triggered by a remembrance service they held earlier that day with supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship – known as the “Red Shirts” – to mark the 6th anniversary of the 2014 military coupThai authorities previously arrested Anurak on the same charges on May 13, when he held a remembrance service to demand justice for those killed and wounded by the military during the crackdown on the 2010 Red Shirts protests. Even though thermal scanners to detect fevers were provided at the events and participants wore face masks, the activists were accused of ignoring social distancing, acting in a way likely to spread the virus, and disobeying lawful orders in both cases. If found guilty, they face two years in prison and a 40,000 baht (US$1,250) fine.

In southern Thailand, local authorities in Songkhla province denied a request by villagers in Singha Nakhon district to hold a rally on May 24 in protest of the government’s plan to build beach walls and breakwaters on Muang Ngam Beach. Despite an assurance from the organizers to follow social distancing and other Covid-19 measures to keep people safe, officials prohibited the rally.  

“While the Thai government has a responsibility to adopt measures to protect people from the pandemic, the government has not offered evidence to justify the extension of its limitless state of emergency,” Adams said. “Extending the emergency will allow Thai authorities to continue to repress contrary views, arrest critics, and ban peaceful rallies for political and not public health reasons.”

Pick to PostHuman Rights WatchEmergency DecreeState of emergencyfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

State of emergency extended until the end of June

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-27 18:07
Submitted on Wed, 27 May 2020 - 06:07 PMPrachatai

The cabinet decided on Tuesday afternoon (26 May) to extend the State of Emergency to the end of June, while civil society organizations have called for the Emergency Decree to be lifted, raising concerns about abuse of power in situations unrelated to the pandemic.

Police officers at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) on 22 May, following the arrest of Anurak Jeantawanich and Dr Tossaporn Serirak, organisers of a commemoration event on the 6th anniversary of the 2014 military coup.

Narumon Pinyosinwat, spokesperson of the Office of the Prime Minister, said during a press conference following the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that, in order to effectively control the spread of Covid-19 and coordinate different agencies involved in combating the pandemic, the 2015 Communicable Diseases Act is not enough and therefore the Emergency Decree is necessary. Narumon also said that there is no political motive behind the cabinet’s decision.

The State of Emergency had previously been extended once at the end of April, and, without the latest extension, would have been lifted at the end of May. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has also extended its international flight ban until the end of June.

Meanwhile, prior to the cabinet’s decision, the People’s Network of 5 Regions, along with a network of other civil society organizations, submitted a letter on Tuesday (26 May) demanding that the government lift the Emergency Decree, as there are concerns about abuse of power in situations unrelated to the pandemic.

The letter stated that, since the number of new Covid-19 cases has reduced significantly and is close to zero, the situation no longer requires the Emergency Decree and the government can use other existing laws to control the situation. It also said that the Emergency Decree severely restricts people’s rights and freedoms, and the power under the Decree can be abused as the Decree itself does not have a check and balance system in place.

On 28 April, Sunthorn Duangnarong, a community rights activist from the Chaiyaphum-based Rak Bamnet Narong Group, was arrested and taken to the Hua Thale Police Station, where she was informed that she may be charged for violating the Public Assembly Act, the Emergency Decree, and the Communicable Diseases Act, after she joined about 20 other community members in reading out a statement calling on the government and private mining companies to put on hold any mining-related activities for as long as the Covid-19 restrictions are in place, which was recorded and posted on the group’s Facebook page.

“The government must not exploit the pandemic situation to increase the sufferings of the people by intimidation and/or prosecutions of human rights defenders,” said Protection International about Sunthorn’s arrest. “The government should not use the draconian Emergency Decree to quash dissent, control the population, or as a means to perpetuate their time in power, as was recommended by UNOHCHR to the government on 27 April 2020. UNOHCHR also emphasized that undermining freedom of expression may do incalculable damage to the effort to contain COVID-19 and its pernicious socio-economic side-effects.”

On 13 May, political activist Anurak Jeantawanich was arrested and taken to the Lumpini Police Station after he organized and participated in a commemoration event on the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol. The police report claimed that Anurak violated the Decree by organizing the gathering and posting an invitation on Facebook, and also because many of the participants were not maintaining a safe distance from each other and were not wearing face masks.

On 22 May, when many groups were organizing activities to mark the 6th anniversary of the May 2014 military coup, Anurak was arrested again alongside former MP Dr Tossaporn Serirak, after they organized an event in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC). They were taken to the Pathum Wan Police Station and charged with violating the Emergency Decree by organizing a public gathering that risked spreading infection.

The police in Songkhla also denied a request from a beach conservation network to hold an anti-seawall protest on Muang Ngam Beach last week, claiming that the protest would violate the Emergency Decree.

Between 3 – 19 May, 34,669 people have been arrested for charges under the Decree, such as gathering in a group or breaking curfew, including a number of homeless people who were arrested for breaking curfew.

Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement earlier today (27 May), stating that the decree has been used “to restrict movement, peaceful assembly, privacy and freedom of expression, with penalties of imprisonment and/or fines” and calling on the Thai authorities to “ensure all restrictions it imposes on the exercise of rights are proportionate and necessary” and to implement measures to protect the rights of marginalised groups who “are at heightened risk because they cannot effectively protect themselves during the pandemic; face obstacles in accessing information about the virus transmission and adequate healthcare and services; or lack the capacity to comply with the government’s existing measures.”

AI also called on the authorities to “lift charges it has imposed on individuals who are being penalized for exercising their right to freedom of expression; stop the arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants; and refrain from using restrictions to target critics with disproportionate punishments based on politically-motivated grounds.”

“While the right to freedom of peaceful assembly can be restricted where doing so is necessary and proportionate to protect public health, those facing charges for assembling in breach of physical distancing measures must never face prison sentences,” said AI.

NewsCOVID-19coronavirusEmergency DecreeState of emergencyarbitrary arrest
Categories: Prachatai English

Resistance goes online, Emergency Decree extended, what’s next?

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-27 16:30
Submitted on Wed, 27 May 2020 - 04:30 PMYiamyut Sutthichaya

Guerilla message projection and online sharing are being used as protest movements as the Covid-19 Emergency Decree is used to prosecute and prevent offline gatherings, foreshadowing many days which could trigger public discussions and gatherings.

In May, Thai politics has moved online as public events have been prohibited and eventually criminalized during the Covid-19 lockdown.

In Germany, a group called PixelHELPER has been projecting messages onto the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Bavaria and famous landmarks like the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

Their messages mainly criticize the Thai King and call for democracy. They are asking online for public donations to help them to keep on rallying.

Meanwhile in Thailand, where the lèse majesté law prohibits discussion of the monarchy, other issues are raised in a similar manner. On 10 May, the Progressive Movement, a group of former members of the dissolved Future Forward Party projected onto sites around Bangkok messages about the 2010 military crackdown on the red shirts. They relayed their message online with the hashtag #ตามหาความจริง (SeekingTruth).

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was army commander at the time of the crackdown said that now is not the time for protest as the Covid-19 outbreak is the main priority. The Metropolitan Police say that they are investigating the campaign. (Source: Thairath)

A student activist group from Bangkok University posted photos of projected laser messages on the university buildings. The messages demand that the University return tuition fees and call for a more inclusive safety net policy from the state during the Covid-19 crisis.

On 22 May, a group including students staged small demonstrations in several places in Bangkok to mark the 6th anniversary of the 2014 Coup. Not many people attended. In some cases, police officers outnumbered participants. They still gained a lot of traffic online.

Emergency Decree criminalizes protest

Offline activities were suppressed and harassed by the authorities using the Emergency Decree which prohibits public gatherings that could lead to infection. This provision in the Decree has been steadily subverted to criminalize public gatherings.

This month, 2 people have already been arrested and prosecuted at events marking the anniversaries of the red-shirt massacre and the 2014 coup. Another public gathering in Songkhla province was banned by police on 24 May. In all cases, the police cited potential violation of the Decree.

On the other hand, the online world has been used to mobilize so-called ‘mobs from home’. People express their opinions in unison via a hashtag. When combined with minor activities on the ground, the messages resonate across social media and are then picked up by news agencies and reach larger audiences.

The real impact is still questionable as this lacks the synergy of the old-school form of protest that created attention by massively disrupting a public sphere. However, this has become a new norm of social movement under the Thai government’s attempts to control Covid-19.

The cabinet decision on 26 May to extend the Emergency Decree to the end of June will overshadow many anniversaries that month:

  • The Tiananmen crackdown in China (4 June 1989)
  • The Siamese democratic revolution (14 June 1932)
  • The mysterious death of King Rama VIII (9 June 1946)
  • The unexplained disappearance of Tanong Po-arn, a prominent labour unionist (19 June 1991)
  • World Refugee Day (20 June)

Parliament is also resume after its regular break on 27 May. Debates will mainly be about the 1.9 trillion baht stimulus plan approved by the Cabinet. But other issues that could shake the government will be brought up by the opposition.

It is still unclear about where this online-dominated movement will take us. It is also unclear how the Covid-19 crisis will be dealt with. For better or worse, it is worth watching.

Round UpPixelHELPER#findinngtruthmilitary crackdown 20102014 coupCOVID-19Emergency Decree
Categories: Prachatai English

Songkhla Police ban protest, claiming it violates Covid-19 Emergency Decree

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-27 13:53
Submitted on Wed, 27 May 2020 - 01:53 PMPrachatai

Police in Songkhla Province have turned down a request to hold an anti-seawall public gathering at Muang Ngam beach, claiming it would violate the Emergency Decree on Covid-19 control. Many people still went to express their objections on the beach where the construction is taking place, while police took video recordings and photos.

Protesters were confronting with a provincial authority at Muang Ngam beach

On 23 May, Pol Col Somchai Noppasri, Muang Ngam Police Station Superintendent, turned down a request for a public gathering on Muang Ngam beach where a sea wall is under construction.

The letter was submitted on 23 May by Anuman Khananaem, a representative of a beach conservation network. The Public Assembly Act requires organizers to submit a request to the police for advance permission. 

Pol Col Somchai affirmed to Prachatai that he had refused the gathering because it would be held under the Emergency Decree and would enhance the risk of Covid-19 contagion. 

Anuman posted on his Facebook page his disagreement with the police objection. He invited people to express their objections to the seawall construction via social media instead.

Nevertheless, there were still people who went to express their views on the beach where dozens of police officers and officers from the Provincial Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC) Office were deployed.

“Today on the site, we met a force of officials all along the beach which we regard as a threat to the rights of the people. However, I wish to affirm to the public that the expression to protect the sand beach resource is a right under the constitution of the kingdom” said Anuman in his statement.

Somchai said that the authorities were there to ensure that people maintained social distancing and to prevent any third party from manipulating the gathering. The authorities have taken photos and videos of the people at the beach and further prosecution depends on his superiors. However, he believes that there will be no prosecutions.

The seawall is being constructed along the 7.2 km Muang Ngam beach, a public recreation space, tourist spot and fishing pier. The current phase of the project costs 87 million baht for 710 metres of a projected 2,625 metres.

Death of the beach? Conflict over Songkhla seawall construction

The project claims to protect the beach from further erosion, which will affect seaside infrastructure. The project is scrutinized by many out of concern for its necessity, environmental impact and legitimacy. They claim that the public hearings were not inclusive.

On 14 May, the anti-seawall group filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court calling for a halt to the project and removal of what has already been built. They claimed that the project lacked public participation during the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and required permission to modify the public landscape.

In December 2013, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) removed seawalls from the category of constructions that require an EIA. Previously, any seawall longer than 200 metres was subject to the EIA process. Apisak Tassanee, from the beach conservation group ‘Beach for Life’, claimed that the seawall has a severe environmental impact and should require an EIA.

NewsMuang Ngam beachseawallCOVID-19Emergency Decreefreedom of expressionfreedom of associationSongkhlaSource: prachatai.com/journal/2020/05/87818
Categories: Prachatai English

Peoples’ Movement Demand Government Revoke Emergency Decree That Can Result In Abuse of Power

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-27 00:35
Submitted on Wed, 27 May 2020 - 12:35 AMProtection International

People’s Network of 5 Regions submits a letter to demand the government to revoke the Emergency Decree as it allows for blanket use of powers without required check and balance, causing worries about abuse of power unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic control. The People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move), one of the Networks, says the urban poor have been severely affected, and are able to survive only on citizens’ donations rather than government support. Human Rights lawyers state that the Communicable Disease Act and Public Health laws are sufficient to control the pandemic, and that there is no need for the Emergency Decree. Actions by State Authorities using the Emergency Decree is worrying as it cannot be held accountable, even by the Administrative Court.

The People’s Network of 5 regions on Tuesday submits the letter at the government house to call on the government to stop the extension of the Emergency Decree for another month to control the COVID19 pandemic. The letter states that since the number of the newly infected case has significantly reduced and is almost zero now, the situation cannot be considered an Emergency anymore that requires the Emergency Degree. The government and related agencies can use other existing laws to control the situation such as the Communicable Disease Act, which already provides for comprehensive power to control pandemic. This law, together with strong public health measures and collaboration with the people, should be sufficient to control the situation. Furthermore, there are also other laws that can be used like the Immigration Act, Thailand Air Navigation Act, Commodities Hoarding Survey Act; and the Price of Goods and Services Act. Therefore, there is no need to use or extend the Emergency Decree.

The letter also states that the Emergency Decree is the law that severely restricts people’s rights and freedoms. The power under the Decree is too vague, and can be abused .What is happening in many communities now shows that the government, authorities and the security agencies are exploiting powers under Emergency Decree to restrict the people’s rights and freedom.

“The use of Emergency Decree also affects the people’s income and livelihood especially that of the working people. The big corporations are still pushing through with development projects seeking out natural resources amidst the people’s suffering. This phenomenon shows the stance adopted by the government  ignores the situation of inequality in this country,” the letter states.

The Urban Poor Severely Affected, Only Surviving from People’s Donations, None from Government

Chamnong Noophan, the President of the People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move), the nationwide network of community-based rights groups, and one of the representatives submitting the letter, said that the Emergency Decree should not be extended as the people has been collaborating with the government policies as they wanted to return to normal lives. The daily new cases now have been close to zero.

Chamnong also said that the urban poor, who have already been affected badly economically even before COVID19, are only surviving on people’s donations. He said that the 5,000-baht aid scheme is inaccessible to the urban poor as they do not have mobile phones. After the government opens for appeal on the scheme from 16-29 May, it will still remain inaccessible especially for those who return home to places like Phuket and three southernmost provinces as they would be quarantine for 14 days, and  by the time they could go the bank, the deadline for appeal would have past. It remains to be seen if the government would provide another extension for appeals.

Chamnong said that the extension of Emergency Decree seems to have hidden political agenda, and it may not be about pandemic control. It is obvious that the people receive no support from the government on health measures. They people now have to do their own screening and care for each other by themselves. Earlier, the government had sent only 1 mask to use per family, which consists usually of about five people. When this was criticized, they sent us 10 masks. There is no standard of operations on the pandemic measures, he said.

“Everyone is worried about the second wave of the pandemic, of course. That’s why, everyone is careful and vigilant, and this shows that together we can control it. I wonder why we still need the Emergency Decree because people are starving to death. If they want to see how it feels, then the government should stop paying their employees for 3 months and let’s see if anyone will survive.

“I insist that the Emergency Decree should be revoked. Other laws such as the Communicable Disease Act is already sufficient. Everyone is afraid of COVID19 but they are also afraid of starving,” he said. 

Human rights lawyer: The Government’s Behavior Is Not To Control The Pandemic But To Curb The Rights Of People

Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, lawyer and the coordinator of the Community Resource Center, who also joins the Network in submitting the letter, said that while the pandemic situation has improved, the peoples’ situation has not. During the pandemic, there are development projects still proceeding that will affect the communities and people’s livelihoods. For example, the public hearing organized by the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SPBAC) on the industrial zone in Chana District, Songkhla Province. They originally planned to go ahead with it in May despite the Emergency Decree is in place. It’s ironic that it was the State agencies’ idea to do it.

“At the same time, the locals could not come out and protest. They can only go to submit the letter, which sometimes doesn’t capture the peoples’ power who are demanding for changes. The case of project in Chana is now cancelled due to a girl who was staging a sit-in protest in front of the Provincial Hall all night. The SPBAC postponed the hearing citing the Emergency Decree and the pandemic, but earlier they were the one who organized it,” said Sor Rattanamanee.

She also said that when community human rights defenders came out to do local activities to halt mining process, such as those in Bamnejnarong District, Chaiyaphum Province, they were summoned to the police station. This is despite them wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Another case in point is the local opposition against the sea wall project in Muang Ngarm beach, Songkhla Province. The locals were never informed about the project, and next thing they knew is there is already construction ongoing.

The locals wanted to organized an activity to oppose it, and informed the police about it with the social distancing and masks wearing in place. However, the authorities rejected it citing the Emergency Decree. The following day, hundreds of police officers showed up at the beach and surveilling on the locals, she explained.

“This is not about pandemic control, but it is about controlling the rights and freedom of the people. We’re not saying that Thailand is free from COVID19, but we have other laws in place that gives the power to authorities to handle the situation. It is the state’s duty to protect the people anyway. The Emergency Decree is not necessary and should not be renewed in June, otherwise the situation will deteriorate.

“The Emergency Decree not only gives the power to use curfew, but it grants the power to the administrative officers to have similar use of power as that of police. For example, in arresting and being exempted from the being accountable even to the administrative court. This is problematic and proven unnecessary. However, we still view that the use of Communicable Disease Act is necessary,” said the human rights lawyer.

She said that there are other laws that can control COVID19 without restricting rights and freedom outside the scope of pandemic control. Even the curfew needs review whether it is still even necessary under pandemic situation. If the curfew prevents people from travelling, perhaps we should control certain activities like tourism and entertainment, like insisting on social distancing, use of mask and sanitizer, etc  rather than shutting them down completely.

“Similar to shutting down malls, we have to recognize that the impact not only befalls business owners but also the workers, especially the daily waged workers who are the most affected. As for the salaried workers, it is also challenging for business owners to pay their staff if they do not have income for several months. It is hard for any business owners to survive, whether big or small. This is not only about communities under tension but also about workers.”

Protection International Thailand, an organization working to protect human rights defenders, states that in handling pandemic situation, human rights and dignity according to the international convention on economic, social and cultural rights must be upheld and respected. The basic human rights in other international conventions must be first and foremost be respected. Under such crisis, where the people are suffering, especially the most marginalized groups, there must be remedy without exception. They must be able to access effective justice and legal reparations systems, which is fundamental to protect everyone’s economic, social and cultural rights in society.

There are 390 names who signed on the letter calling to revoke the Emergency Decree, including the Campaign For Public Policy On Mineral Resources (PPM), EnLAW Foundation, The Community Women Human Rights Defender Collective in Thailand, Rak Had Muang Ngarm People’s Network in Singhanakorn District, Songkhla Province, People’s Network Who Own Mineral Resources, EEC Watch, FTA Watch, The Mekong Butterfly, We Fair Network, Four Region Slums Network, Young People for Change Network, and Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand.

Pick to PostProtection InternationalEmergency DecreeState of emergency
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai exchange students share frustrations from the Covid-19 pandemic

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-05-26 23:16
Submitted on Tue, 26 May 2020 - 11:16 PMChatchai Mongkol

High school clubs, Easter, proms and graduation are some things Thai exchange students in America would look forward to under normal circumstances, but this year, these were curtailed amidst uncertainties and government restrictions.

Nattha, Kornklaow Kijjanont and Nawaporn Poomtanapaisarn participated in high school exchange programmes in the United States. Before their academic year ended, Covid-19 reached the States, and there were consequences.

Nattha: “There were many people who didn’t know the whole truth, but brought it up.”

18-year-old Nattha, from Nakhon Pathom, went on her exchange year to La Feria High School in La Feria, Texas. She got on a flight back to Thailand on 1 April and arrived on 3 April with 157 other passengers after the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) put out an announcement that all arriving passengers would be subjected to a 14-day state quarantine. The announcement also stated that the restriction would include those who departed the country of origin before it was imposed.

The spread of Covid-19 had reached her host town of Harlingen, Texas, at the beginning of February and got worse during her spring break in mid-March, though Nattha said people did not take it seriously, as they thought it was only a type of flu.

“My host dad and mom kept telling me that I don’t have to wear [a mask], those who are wearing one are just those who are already infected,” Nattha said.

Nattha said her agency in Thailand asked her if she wanted to come back but left it up to her to decide because it anticipated the possibility of staying since her town was small and houses were already distanced. After Nattha’s school closed and moved classes online, she decided to travel back home as her family was worried about her.

“Everything happened very quickly,” Nattha said. “I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to each of my friends at all.”

As the CAAT restrictions required Thai citizens to obtain a Fit-to-Fly Health Certificate and a certifying letter from a Thai Embassy in the country of departure, Nattha had to spend almost $200 to get the required documents without any help from her insurance company.

When Nattha arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport on 3 April along with 157 other passengers, she said all passengers had their passports taken away by the authorities without being told anything and had to wait in the disease control area for about two hours. Then, they were called to get their passports back, proceed through immigration and take their luggage.

It was a process of transferring every passenger to Sattahip for a mandatory 14-day state quarantine, but Nattha wasn’t aware of that, since she was on the plane when the restriction was put in place, until an official announced that there were buses ready to transit them to the quarantine facility.

“I felt like I didn’t know anything. In my mind, I only thought that at that moment I wanted to see my mom and my aunt,” Nattha said. “But when they told that we must go into quarantine, I was like, what? I wouldn’t meet them again for two weeks. I was a bit sad.”

Another concern Nattha had was that she heard they would put many people in a room during quarantine, so she was scared she would get infected by living with those who were already infected but were not showing symptoms.

The passengers then started to question the authorities on why they were not informed about it. Nattha said the adults started to negotiate until an officer released all the passengers and told them to self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

The situation became an incident as many news outlets reported that the passengers had refused and escaped the mandatory state quarantine. It was later reported that they didn’t escape but had been allowed to leave after a video was posted by a passenger on social media of a high-ranking military officer releasing them.

“He released us row by row,” Nattha said. “I didn’t escape.”

On 4 April, the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) called 152 of the passengers (the other six had agreed to state quarantine on 3 April) to report back to the airport to go into state quarantine by 18:00 that day with threats of heavy punishment, citing the Emergency Decree.

Nattha said she was treated by society as if she had done something wrong even though she believed she did not. The worst thing that hit Nattha, she said, was when her and the other 157 passengers’ personal information, including their names, ages, passport numbers, flight numbers and addresses, were released and shared on social media. Nation Weekend reported this on 4 April but later took it down. However, the full list remains on the internet.

Nattha said she and her 16-year-old exchange student friend received a lot of abusive comments like “Why did you come back? You’re a burden on society” and threats like “I’m going to bomb your house” after their personal details were released. Some used their names to look for their social media accounts and attacked them online.

“Back then, I was scared and became depressed for a while,” Nattha said. “But it wasn’t that [bad] for me. There is, I think, another exchange student. She was only 16 years old, I think. She used to be a cheerful person but since she was attacked in the news, and some people insulted her on Facebook and Instagram, she became depressed for weeks.”

Nattha said it was a tough week for her, she felt like she was experiencing depression. She had to shut her phone off for a while just to avoid reading the abusive comments and news.

Despite the abuse Nattha had to face, she and her family were complying with the restrictions. Nattha said a group of police officers came to tell her to report to the airport, but she was then visited by another group of officers who told her not to do so.

One of the police officers who came to Nattha's house (Photo from Nattha)

“They said it was an order from the governor of my province. They said that it’s risky to go, that they will take care of it and that for now I should go into quarantine at a hospital, and then they took me there in a police car. My dad drove after them. They gave me 5 minutes to pack for the hospital,” Nattha said.

Nattha ended up spending 14 days in quarantine at Bang Len Hospital.

The officers who came to Nattha's house. She was told that they were from a local health centre. (Photo from Nattha)

Kornklaow: “I was under a lot of pressure from many sides; it was like I was in the middle of the decision making process.”

While Nattha was on the first flight after the state quarantine restriction was imposed, 17-year-old Kornklaow, from Pathum Thani, was on the last flight before it.

“On the flight I took here, there was no one with symptoms, and it was the last flight where we weren’t sent into quarantine at Sattahip,” Kornklaow said. “I was very lucky.”

Kornklaow spent her exchange year at Scotus Central Catholic High School in Columbus, Nebraska. Kornklaow’s host organization in the U.S. forced her to come back on 28 Feb but her trip was not scheduled until late March. Kornklaow said her trip was cancelled and rescheduled twice.

“At that moment, I started to feel like I wanted to go home because I didn’t want to get cancelled again and again,” Kornklaow said. “I had already accepted it for a while, but the uncertainty confused me as well.”

Originally, Kornklaow was scheduled to depart on 20 March, but this was changed to 28 March due to the cancellation of one of her flights. Then it was again rescheduled to 31 March due to the suspension of an airline by the State of Nebraska.

With her year cut short, Kornklaow said she regretted many things she was looking forward to but did not get a chance to do. Kornklaow did not get a chance to physically hang out with her best friend before she left, as well as a chance to say goodbye to her favourite teacher.

“There was one teacher who changed me from a person who didn’t like math at all to someone who really liked studying it with her. She had to leave before school’s spring break because he had to go to Mexico with her family,” Kornklaow said. “Back then, I hoped that we would get to meet again after spring break, but the situation made me think that we wouldn’t meet again.”

Kornklaow had been told to travel back on 28 Feb but her first trip was not scheduled until 20 March as she asked her agency for an extension because she wanted to spend her spring break with her friends. Also, Kornklaow said the situation was still at an acceptable level. What Kornklaow did during the time was rehearse a play for her school’s drama club, which was something she regretted the most.

“Acting in a play was something I’ve been really wanting to do since the beginning, but the season before I wasn’t available ,” Kornklaow said

The play was almost ready to put on. Kornklaow spent a lot of time memorizing her lines, but it was cancelled following the closure of her school.

Looking back on what happened, Kornklaow said she learned about the uncertainty of life, the importance of decision-making skills, the importance of being safe and doing what is wanted so there would be no regret afterward.

Nawaporn: “I felt like I couldn’t plan anything. I just had to wait and didn’t know how long.”

When Thailand issued a temporary ban on 3 April to suspend all international flights into the country, 17-year-old Nawaporn, at St. Joseph High School in Victoria, Texas, was one of the Thais who couldn’t travel back until she got on one of the repatriation flights arranged by the Thai Embassy in the US on 14 May.

Nawaporn said she was disappointed as she could only stay at home during her time in Texas instead of getting new experience as she had expected.

The Royal Thai Embassy in Washington DC had been providing updates on its efforts to help people who couldn’t travel back on commercial flights. On 7 April, the Embassy announced on its Facebook page that CAAT allowed flights to Thailand but only with a limited number of passengers. The Embassy also asked Thais who wanted to travel back to complete a survey and emergency registration in order to provide information to the authorities in Thailand to prepare for their arrival.

On April 17-19, the Embassy, together with three Thai Consulates in the US, repatriated over 400 Thais, including exchange students. However, Nawaporn was not on the list of Thais who were sent back.

“It depended on each person. You had to register with the embassy first. Then, it depended on them who they would call,” Nawaporn said. “They began by calling children under 18 and those who needed to go back first”

Nawaporn couldn’t do anything but wait.

A student checking in before boarding a repatriation flight (Source: Royal Thai Embassy, Washington DC)

After more than 2,700 people completed the emergency registration requesting to travel back, the Embassy announced on its Facebook page on 29 April that 580 would be allowed to go back between 10-19 May on four repatriation flights: 80 people would arrive in Bangkok on 10 May, 150 on 12 May, 200 on 16 May and 150 on 19 May. The announcement also noted that the number of people allowed to travel was limited by the total quota of 200 people per day from all over the world and the needs of each individual in terms of health, living conditions and visa expiry situation.

Nawaporn got on a repatriation flight on 14 May and arrived in Bangkok on 16 May. She said she was glad she got to come back although she was scared of getting infected during the trip. All passengers had to pay for the flights out of their own pocket, with fares ranging between $1,800-$2,900 depending on route, according to the announcement from the Embassy.

FeatureCOVID-19coronavirusExchange studentTravel ban
Categories: Prachatai English

Rak Ban Haeng Group reiterates importance of Judicial Review of EIA report, and appeals to Administrative Court to review the mining approval process

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-05-26 13:27
Submitted on Tue, 26 May 2020 - 01:27 PMProtection International

Community based W/HRDs and their anti-mining collective, Rak Ban Haeng Group, submitted an appeal to the Chiang Mai Administrative Court on Friday, 22 May 2020 through their lawyer from Community Resource Centre ( CRC), requesting the court to review additional pending issues in the recent judgement which ruled the actions by Industry Minister and other public officials unconstitutional in granting of concession license to a mining company. The group is represented by lawyers from the Community Resource Centre Foundation.

The group, based in Lampang Province, northern Thailand, and have been organizing their community against lignite mining project for the past ten years, won this recent court case where the court revoked the concession license granted to a mining company. The court views that the processes to grant the concession license is not constitutional as it lack due processes.

The court deemed that since the license to use conservation forest by the mining company was already revoked in a separate case in February 2020, the concession license would also be revoked. However, in the judgement, the court did not decide on other pending issues, including the plaintiff’s request to review the legality of the Environmental Impact Assessment report (EIA report), which was done with a lack of consultation  with the locals, according to the group.

Rak Ban Haeng Group views that it is crucial for the Administrative Court to give a ruling on the EIA report, as this step is crucial to set standards and fairness, in providing community the right to determine on matters concerning their natural resources. Rak Ban Haeng Group in an opinion that the EIA Reports did not meet the necessary requirements, for example the lack of genuine public participation in EIA report.

If the EIA report is not reviewed and struck down, it can still be used by the mining company to submit for other concession licenses for other plots which are still in the midst of consideration for approval .

In the past 10 years of the group’s struggle against mining operations in their villages, various forms of intimidation, including close physical surveillance by unidentified men, harassment from military officers, threats of death and enforced disappearance have been made against Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in Rak Ban Haeng Group.

Protection International, Thailand calls on the state to protect the communities’ rights to defend and care for their livelihood and natural resources. The State must ensure that Corporations especially in extractive industries and public officials are held accountable for their activities and impacts on the people, the communities and the environment. They must also ensure that W/HRDs can defend their human rights without fear of repercussions for their activities.

Pick to PostRak Ban Haeng Groupcommunity rightenvironmentChiang Mai Administrative CourtCommunity Resource Centre Foundation (CRC)Protection InternationalLampangmining
Categories: Prachatai English

Myanmar must comply with ICJ order and end restrictions on Rohingya, MPs say

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-05-25 15:06
Submitted on Mon, 25 May 2020 - 03:06 PMASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Ahead of the deadline imposed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) tomorrow for Myanmar to submit its first report in the case alleging genocide against the Rohingya, regional parliamentarians are calling on Myanmar to take immediate steps to end the discriminatory restrictions against the minority group. Authorities must also protect all civilians in the ongoing war in Rakhine and Chin states, said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

“We have still not seen any credible evidence of Myanmar improving the situation for the Rohingya at all. Those inside Myanmar are still living in apartheid conditions and subject to the same - if not worse - restrictions they have lived under for years now, including those on their freedom of movement, access to health, education, and livelihoods. After all the pressure Myanmar has faced on this issue, how are we still at this point?” said Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament in Malaysia and APHR chair.  

In the preliminary ruling of the Gambia v. Myanmar case on 23 January, the ICJ ruled that there is a serious risk of genocide against the Rohingya. The court ordered Myanmar to implement provisional measures to prevent all acts of genocide including “killing members of the group,” “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,” “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” or “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”. It also requires Myanmar to preserve evidence of crimes that could amount to genocide. These provisional measures are legally binding and require Myanmar to provide a report on their progress by 23 May, and a follow-up every six months thereafter.

On 8 April, Myanmar issued two presidential directives in response to the provisional measures. President Directive No. 1/2020 orders “all Ministries and all Regions and States Governments” to ensure that its staff, military or security forces and others under its control “do not commit” acts defined in the Genocide Convention, while Directive No. 2/2020 prohibits “all Ministries and the Rakhine State government” from destroying or removing any evidence of genocidal acts. 

"The Myanmar government’s directives, while a positive start, mean nothing if there are no concrete measures being implemented on the ground to dismantle the system of apartheid and discrimination against the Rohingya. If Myanmar is serious about complying with the ICJ, an absolute start point must be lifting the government-imposed internet blackout in Rakhine and Chin states,”  Santiago said.

All civilians living in Rakhine State are caught in the midst of the intensifying conflict between the Tatmadaw and Arakan Army, in which hundreds have been killed and wounded, and more than 157,000 people displaced. Amid a telecommunications blackout in Rakhine, the Tatmadaw excluded Rakhine State from their recently announced four-month unilateral ceasefire aimed at tackling the COVID-19 virus.  

APHRR calls on ASEAN to urge Myanmar to protect civilians in the conflict, and tackle the root causes of the crisis by taking a rights-based approach that is in line with international standards. To achieve this, the recommendations from the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State should be implemented, and ASEAN must urge Myanmar to cooperate with international accountability mechanisms to ensure justice for the Rohingya.

"We're talking about the most severe crimes under international law. After decades of oppression, violence and restrictions on the rights of the Rohingya, the international community cannot continue to watch the Myanmar authorities act with impunity. It may be years before the ICJ comes up with a final judgment, so in the meantime, ASEAN leaders must urge Myanmar to implement genuine reform,” said Chamnan Chanruang, an APHR member and former Thai MP. 

Pick to PostASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)RohingyaMyanmar
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: going down and going up

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-05-25 14:49
Submitted on Mon, 25 May 2020 - 02:49 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: going down and going up

MultimediaStephffCOVID-19coronaviruspoverty
Categories: Prachatai English

Rampant human rights violations continue despite the end of the NCPO regime, says TLHR

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-05-25 14:46
Submitted on Mon, 25 May 2020 - 02:46 PMPrachatai

On the occasion of the 6th anniversary of the 22 May 2014 military coup, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) launched a new report on Thailand’s human rights situation As if the NCPO Never Left: Six Years after the Coup and the Persistence of Human Rights Violations, highlighting ongoing violations of freedom of expression and freedom of association which have persisted since the end of the NCPO regime.

According to the report, “the network of powerful political actors established under the NCPO regime has remained intact as they underwent a successful power inheritance,” as the Constitution as well as legal and political mechanisms designed by the NCPO “ensure it remains its tight grip on power and maintains the army’s pervasive political influence.”

TLHR says that one of the important and long-lasting legacies of the NCPO is the institutionalization and systematization of human rights violations, as its five-year rule was “particularly characterized by widespread human rights abuses, especially by weaponizing the law,” which continues even after the elected government took office in 2019, albeit in slightly changed forms.

The report notes that, in the year after the official end of the NCPO regime, activists and opposition politicians continue to be harassed and visited at home by the authorities – a tactic used by government officials against activists and opposition politicians and “one of the most dominant forms of human rights violations … during the NCPO regime.” TLHR recorded at least 191 cases of people receiving such visits or threats from officials, including student activists who were involved with the wave of anti-government protests at the beginning of 2020. TLHR recorded at least 22 cases of students involved with the series of demonstrations in universities across the country in late February 2020 being threatened by the authorities. 

TLHR also observed that “local police officers are increasingly taking a dominant role in conducting the home visits”, replacing military officers, and that the intensity of surveillance and house visits increases before important social events, such as the 2019 ASEAN Summit meeting in Bangkok and the Royal Coronation ceremonies in May and December 2019. 

“TLHR, therefore, regards these operations as a state-led campaign of intimidation and harassment, which violates the people's rights to freedom of expression. Since the coup d'état, this kind of harassment has been occurring so often that it has become normalized,” says the report.

TLHR notes the significant decline of cases filed and prosecuted under Article 112, Thailand’s lèse majesté law, since the beginning of King Vajiralongkorn’s reign. However, it also found that critics of the monarchy are now subjected to intimidation and legal prosecution under other laws, including the Computer Crimes Act and the sedition law, or Article 116 of the Criminal Code, and that charges of lèse majesté are increasingly being dismissed, with defendants being convicted instead on other charges. Public prosecutors and judges also “tend to avoid pressing charges or prosecuting any person under the lèse-majesté law.”

TLHR recorded that at least 124 people, mostly protest leaders and critics of the NCPO, have been charged with sedition during the NCPO regime, while 21 people have been charged with sedition in 12 cases after the end of the NCPO regime, with many of these cases being filed against citizens who wore black t-shirts in public on 5 December 2018 and who were accused of being affiliated with an organization known as the Thai Federation.

TLHR also notes that, from July 2019 to April 2020, at least 42 people have been charged under the Computer Crimes Act “for expressing their opinions or publishing certain information online,” 37 of whom were accused of sharing “fake news” and 28 allegedly sharing misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic. In many Computer Crime cases directed against critics of the NCPO, the public prosecutor ordered a non-indictment, and these cases “demonstrate how the NCPO and the army are using the Computer Crimes Act as a weapon to target influential public figures who vocally criticize their abusive exercise of power.”

Other than the threat of legal prosecutions, critics of the monarchy have also been subjected to “arbitrary detention and intimidation and harassment by state officials,” including many social media users who post about the monarchy.

Niranam, a 20-year-old Twitter user, was charged under the Computer Crimes Act for posting about King Vajiralongkorn, while another Twitter user under the handle @99CEREAL was taken from their university to the Klong Luang Police Station in Pathum Thani without a warrant or summons, with no lawyer present, interrogated and forced to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) requiring them to stop expressing their opinion about the monarchy on Twitter again before being released.

There are also reports of the authorities surveilling movie theatres and targeting those who refuse to stand for the royal anthem before a movie, taking down people’s personal information and pictures of their ID cards. Some media channels have also been exposing the personal information of people who expressed opinions about the monarchy, leading to cases of doxing and witch-hunts. A participant at a protest in December 2019 was attacked online and fired from her job at the television channel MONO29 after her picture and profile was posted on the Facebook page of the right-wing media site TNews, because a picture of her holding a protest sign with a painting of King Bhumibol on the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre building in the background was circulated on the internet.

TLHR also noted that the law and the justice system have been weaponized and used to silence dissidents and political opponents, a tactic which “has been widely used to violate human rights from the beginning of the NCPO regime to the present.”

From 2019 – 2020, opposition politicians became the main target of judicial harassment, especially the Future Forward Party (FFP). Many FFP executives face criminal charges for exercising their freedom of expression, while the party itself was eventually dissolved in February 2020.

Using the law to suppress criticism has also become a common practice for the army, independent organizations, private companies, courts, and foundations, often using the laws on criminal defamation. The courts also often used contempt of court charges against critics, while companies like Thammakaset have filed dozens of lawsuits against their critics.

“This manner of weaponizing the law can be considered a strategic lawsuit against public participation or SLAPP. It affects the rights and liberties of the people to criticize, present alternative information, and investigate the government's exercise of power. Should this kind of human rights violation continue, it would discourage people from speaking out in the public interest,” says the report.

Meanwhile, the government continues to use the Public Assembly Act to infringe on freedom of association. Although the restrictions were slightly relaxed, public assemblies are still subjected to “stringent legal requirements,” including having to notify the authorities at least 24 hours before a protest, and to “the state’s abusive supervision.”

TLHR observed that, from 17 September 2019 – 30 April 2020, government officials intervened in at least 42 public assemblies, resulting in the cancellation of 14 events, while at least 28 protest organizers have been charged under the Public Assembly Act. Authorities also intervened in academic and cultural activities in order to “discourage public dialogue that might be critical of the regime,” not only using the Public Assembly Act but also by pressuring the organizers, forcing them to change the venue, guest speakers, or formats, and subjecting them to surveillance throughout the activity. From 17 September 2019 to 30 April 2020, there were at least 55 reports of state attempts to shut down or intervene in public activities.

And while court cases are being transferred from military courts to civilian courts, TLHR says that the current government is still putting civilians in military prisons, making it difficult to lawyers to reach their clients. Lawyers are also subjected to strict screening procedures which limit the right to a fair trial and the right to defend oneself in court to full capacity. Many prisoners also reported that they have been tortured and put in solitary confinement while in military prison.

Many of the orders and announcements issued by the NCPO are also still in effect and continue to be used to restrict people’s rights and liberties under the new government, including the Head of NCPO Order No. 23/2558, which allows military officers to “arrest and detain a drug offender for preliminary interrogation for up to three days,” and the Head of NCPO Orders No. 3/2558 and No. 13/2559, which “grant military officers sweeping and unchecked powers to interrogate, arrest, and detain a person in an unofficial detention facility for up to seven days.”

Among the NCPO’s important legacies is also the large number of people who remain political prisoners, and those who fled overseas and are still unable to return to Thailand. According to TLHR, at least 28 political prisoners remain imprisoned, while 104 are still living in “self-imposed exile after fleeing the persecution of the NCPO and its orders.” There are also at least 6 reported cases of potential enforced disappearance among the political refugees living overseas.

“Almost one year has passed since the NCPO's regime ended. Nevertheless, human rights violations through the exercise of state powers persists [sic] in Thai society,” says TLHR, who made the following recommendations for addressing the NCPO’s legacy:

1. Limit the power of the army and reform the security sector

2. Reform the justice system and guarantee access to justice

3. Provide remedies for the damages inflicted on people affected by the 2014 coup d’état

4. Revoke all NCPO orders and announcements, laws passed by the NLA, and verdicts endorsing the NCPO's legitimacy.

“TLHR believes that these issues must be pushed further to end the legal and political structure that supports the culture of impunity for those who staged the coup. We must create a new system that prevents abuses of state power, restores democracy, and establishes the rule of law in Thailand,” the report concludes.

NewsThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)human rights violationNational Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
Categories: Prachatai English

Protests sprout, many harassed on 6th anniversary of coup

Prachatai English - Sun, 2020-05-24 12:12
Submitted on Sun, 24 May 2020 - 12:12 PMPrachatai

Protests have been staged in Bangkok and other provinces to mark the 6th anniversary of the 2014 coup d’état. Students were fined for breaking traffic laws as they drove around displaying banners. A red shirt activist and former MP were arrested and charged with violating the Emergency Decree for organizing a contagion-risk activity.

A group of student activists protested in commemoration of the 2014 coup.

On 22 May, many groups gathered to mark the 6th anniversary of the 2014 coup d’état which ousted an elected civilian government.

In the morning a group affiliated to the student activist groups the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) and the Popular Student Network for Democracy (PSND), went to Parliament, the Army Headquarters, the Cabinet Office and the Democracy Monument. They raised banners and demanded cuts in the army’s budget to re-allocate to Covid-19 relief.

The group placed a wreath with the number '2191' in front of the Democracy Monument, representing the number of days under dictatorship.

Police officers, some in plainclothes, were present at every site. They took photos and questioned students about the event and their personal information.

The group later published a statement condemning the junta, many members of which still hold important positions in the government, of corruption, cronyism and a thirst to prolong their political power. This is democratically unacceptable and the military should stay out of politics.

The statement calls for 1) unnecessary items in the military’s budget to be cut and re-allocated to Covid-19 relief; 2) abolition of the Senate that was hand-picked by the junta as it is one of the junta’s mechanisms for holding on to political power; and 3) amendments to the 2017 constitution or a civilian-elected constitutional drafting committee.

A Student Union of Thailand drove a car with a banner of Gen Prayuth in Bangkok.

On the same day, the Student Union of Thailand held a separate event to mark the coup. They drove a car around crowded places like Hua Lamphong, Victory Monument and Ratchaprasong, with a banner saying ‘It’s 6 years already, you beasts’ with a portrait of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader.

They ended at the Democracy Monument where they attached a banner with the message ‘2020 dictators rule the country’ to the monument gate. Not long after, the police came to remove the banner. The police explained to the students about the Emergency Decree, the Cleanliness Act and the Land Traffic Act.

At 5.30 pm, the activists were fined for driving without a license, obstructing traffic and exhaust pipe modification.

Dr.Tossaporn lid candles which arranged into the word 'Coup'.

In the afternoon in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), another gathering marked the 2014 coup. The authorities had put up fences to prevent people using the forecourt, but people still gathered in the remaining space.

At 5.45 pm, the police arrested Anurak Jeantawanich, a red shirt political activist and Dr. Tossaporn Serirak, a former MP, who were demonstrating there. They were taken to Pathum Wan Police Station and charged with violating the Emergency decree by organizing a public gathering that risked spreading infection. Both of them denied the charges.

The arrest record stated that Anurak posted an invitation to the gathering on his Facebook page while Tossaporn exhibited portraits, gave a speech and asked for donations for people who suffered from Covid-19.

Tossaporn was granted bail of 30,000 baht. Anurak spent the night in the police station jail until he was bailed in the next morning. (Source:Matichon)

In Nakhon Si Thammarat, a student group, MWL Free, from Walailak University, attached a banner ‘6 years, damn Playut (a pun on Gen Prayut’s name)’ in front of the administration building. They dispersed when security officers came for them.

What happened in and after the 2014 Coup?

The NCPO, led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, ousted the Pheu Thai-led government in 2014 amidst mass anti-government demonstrations by the yellow-shirt People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

Leading PDRC figures who continue to benefit from the military government include Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the PDRC, who set up his own political party whose leader, M.R. Chatu Mongol Sonakul, is now the Minister of Labour, and former PDRC leaders Puttipong Punnakanta, who is now Minister of Digital Economy and Society and formerly government spokesperson, and Nataphol Teepsuwan, now the Minister of Education.

The junta dissolved the cabinet and parliament, and wrote itself an interim constitution which allowed the junta leader to become Prime Minister and to issue any order deemed necessary, whether executive, judicial or legislative.

It also gave the military total immunity for staging the coup and for any action taken under its constitution. It was at that time that the term ‘attitude adjustment’ was invented to describe the military’s practice of arresting and detaining people for up to 7 days without charge. More than one thousand people were subjected to the attitude adjustment.

Round Up2014 coupGen Prayuth Chan-o-chaPeople’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
Categories: Prachatai English

Thais question government’s online learning experiment

Prachatai English - Sat, 2020-05-23 21:10
Submitted on Sat, 23 May 2020 - 09:10 PMPrachatai

Source: The Ministry of Education

On 18 May, the Ministry of Education launched a large-scale online learning experiment to be put into full use in the upcoming semester, but Thais have questioned the quality of an English course and problems of equal access, as 10% of students nationwide still rely on schools. 

The online videos from Wang Klai Kang Won School have been broadcast to all Thai students via 6 channels: channels 37-51 of Digital TV, channels 186-200 of KU-Band’s TV, channels 337-351 of C-Band’s TV, and DLTV platforms including YouTube, apps, and a website. Wang Klai Kang Won School was under the Royal Patronage of His Late Majesty the King and has been a pioneer in distance learning since 1995.  

The online learning experiment was a response to the Covid-19 outbreak which forced the Ministry of Education to close schools as of 18 March. According to the Ministry, while students watch videos online, teachers will send learning materials, exercises, and tests to students at home and follow up using online applications. 

The online experiment is a part of preparation for courses in the new semester starting on 1 July. If schools can open by then, the Ministry of Education will give health guidelines to students and parents. Otherwise, the students will have to take courses which will be 80% online. Nataphol Teepsuwan, the Minister of Education, said that the first group to take online courses will be the senior high school students.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is also considering categorizing schools based on the risk of infection. Some may require online learning all the time. Some may require online learning only sometimes. Some schools will require no online learning at all. Prayoon Rattanasenee, Director-General of the Department of Local Administration, is collecting data to categorize areas based on the level of risk. The data will be used to see to what extent each school requires online learning.    

On the first day of experiment, however, the hashtag #เรียนออนไลน์ (#online learning) topped Twitter in Thailand as students reported all kinds of problems from no learning materials and no exercises, to an inability to access videos. According to the Ministry of Education, around 10% of all students cannot access online learning due to a lack of equipment, including tablets, phones, TVs, set-top boxes, and internet connections. In these cases, the Ministry will allow students to attend class in schools but with no more than 20 students per classroom. 

But Thai netizens also criticized the Thai education system in general as the teaching videos went online. Twitter users criticized the teaching of pronunciation, grammar and usage in an English class. While some of them targeted the teacher in the video clip for incompetence, others concentrated their criticism on bad education policies. Some defended the teacher in the video clip for working hard and argued that a bad accent is not the same as incorrect pronunciation.  

According to the EF English Proficiency Index 2019, Thailand ranked ‘very low’ at 74th out of a total of 100 countries, the third lowest in Southeast Asia in terms of English proficiency behind Vietnam and Indonesia. 

Newsonline learningbasic educationMinistry of EducationEducation reform
Categories: Prachatai English

The IWMF Announces 2020 Courage in Journalism Award Winners

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-05-22 14:33
Submitted on Fri, 22 May 2020 - 02:33 PMInternational Women's Media Foundation

The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) today announced the recipients of its 30th annual Courage in Journalism Awards. Marking 30 years of exceptional courage in reporting, this year’s winners include Jessikka Aro of Finland’s Yle; imprisoned Egyptian multimedia journalist Solafa Magdy; Yakeen Bido, a freelance broadcast journalist in Syria; and, Uighur journalist of Radio Free Asia, Gulchehra Hoja.

From left: Jessikka Aro, Yakeen Bido, Gulchehra Hoja, and Solafa Magdy (Source: IWMF)

“Right now, the pursuit of truth, and the need for diverse journalism, is at a critical high,” said the IWMF’s Executive Director Elisa Lees Muñoz. “This year’s Courage in Journalism Award winners remind us that those who tell the world’s most vital stories, whatever the risk may be, are our true heroes. We congratulate Jessikka, Solafa, Yakeen and Gulchehra for your spectacular work and uncommon bravery.”

Jessikka Aro reports from the frontlines of Russian information warfare, conducting courageous investigations inside troll factories while enduring incessant attacks and sexual harassment. Committed to stories of human rights and social unrest, Solafa Magdy was arrested in Cairo in November 2019 for her reporting and is still imprisoned under deteriorating conditions. Yakeen Bido broadcasts from one of the most dangerous environments on earth – Idleb – and is the first woman to appear on-camera from the city to document the price of war on the vulnerable. Having lost everything except for her life, Gulchehra Hoja reports on Uighur detention camps in China. Her entire family faces constant government surveillance, harassment and have endured numerous detentions.

“I am extremely honored to receive the Courage in Journalism Award,” says Hoja. “I hope this recognition will encourage fellow journalists and many others to stand up for justice and truth.” Bido adds, “This award is a symbol of courage not only for me, but for all women working in the press.” She continues, “It is an honor to have my name among the other winners – women who sacrifice their personal freedom in order to face social injustice.”

Advocate for Solafa Magdy

Awardee Solafa Magdy has been jailed in pre-trial detention since November 2019, when she was abducted and detained following a raid of independent news outlets in Cairo. She has not been heard from directly since her arrest.

On Wednesday, May 20, Amnesty International delivered the IWMF's press release announcing her award, as well as a list of more than 20,000 signatures urging Solafa's release, to the Egyptian Embassy in Brussels. Along with a multitude of press freedom organizations, we continue to demand her freedom.

The IWMF Courage in Journalism Award

The Courage in Journalism Awards show people that female journalists are not going to step aside, cannot be silenced, and deserve to be recognized for their strength in the face of adversity. It honors the brave journalists who report on taboo topics, work in environments hostile to women, and share difficult truths. 

The IWMF also recognizes the pioneers who kicked down barriers to make it possible for women all over the world to find their voices and make them heard. Lifetime Achievement Award winners persevered, opening doors for future generations to make a difference. These women demonstrate a commitment to press freedom and extraordinary strength of character, overcoming unjust conditions to become leaders in their industry.

The IWMF has so far awarded the Courage in Journalism award to more than 100 journalists in 56 countries, including former Prachatai director Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who received the award in 2011. 

Pick to PostInternational Women’s Media FoundationJessikka AroSolafa MagdyYakeen BidoGulchehra HojaCourage in Journalism awardWomen in journalisminvestigative journalism
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai authorities should let UN refugee screen Rohingya, says HRW

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-05-22 13:54
Submitted on Fri, 22 May 2020 - 01:54 PMHuman Rights Watch

Thai authorities should allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) unhindered access to Rohingya from Myanmar to determine whether they qualify for refugee status, Human Rights Watch said today (21 May). The government’s inhumane policy of holding Rohingya arriving in Thailand in indefinite detention should be immediately repealed.

The latest group of Rohingya arrived in Thailand by land, crossing from Myanmar into Mae Sot district of Tak province on May 20, 2020. Thai authorities arrested at least 12 Rohingya and sent them to the Mae Sot immigration detention facility. Approximately 200 Rohingya are being held in immigration detention and other facilities across Thailand.

“The Thai government should scrap its policy of summarily locking up Rohingya and throwing away the key, condemning them to indefinite detention in cramped and unhygienic detention centers now susceptible to a Covid-19 outbreak,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Rohingya have been brutally persecuted in Myanmar. Thailand should permit the UN refugee agency to screen all Rohingya arriving in Thailand to identify and assist those seeking refugee status.”

Refugee screening is crucial for protecting Rohingya asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. The Myanmar government and military have long persecuted the Rohingya, members of a Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar’s Rakhine State for generations. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, who have been effectively denied citizenship in Myanmar, have fled repression and dire poverty. Human trafficking gangs have abused and exploited many of those who eluded death during their dangerous journey.

The situation has significantly worsened since August 2017, when the Myanmar military committed ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, driving as many as 740,000 into exile in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Responsibility for the security of the Rohingya rests primarily with the Myanmar government, but extends to the countries where they seek refuge, Human Rights Watch said. Like its predecessors, the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has treated Rohingya arriving at the border as illegal immigrants, subject to detention in squalid immigration lockups. The government has not permitted UNHCR to conduct refugee status determinations for them. Thailand also discriminates against Rohingya by refusing to allow them to register as legally documented migrant workers, unlike other people coming from Myanmar.

Thai authorities have for years said they do not want to treat Rohingya as asylum seekers. However, under international law, Thailand cannot summarily disregard the claims of asylum seekers who arrive at its borders. Thailand is obligated to allow them to enter the country and seek protection.

The Thai government should ensure that its laws, policies, and practices recognize the protection needs of Rohingya asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. UNHCR has the technical expertise to screen for refugee status and the international mandate to protect refugees and stateless people. Effective UNHCR screening of all Rohingya arrivals would help the Thai government determine who is entitled to refugee status.

Under international law, everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution. Immigration detention should be an exceptional measure of last resort, for the shortest period, and only if justified by a legitimate purpose. Detention imposed automatically or otherwise not pursued for a legitimate purpose is considered arbitrary.

“Thailand should help the oppressed Rohingya from Myanmar, not worsen their suffering,” Adams said. “The Thai government should recognize the plight of Rohingya and allow them access to desperately needed protection.”

Pick to PostHuman Rights WatchRohingyaRefugeeUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Categories: Prachatai English

The red shirts commemorate 2010 military crackdown: no officers held accountable

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-21 14:22
Submitted on Thu, 21 May 2020 - 02:22 PMPrachatai

Red shirts and their relatives have commemorated the 10th anniversary of the military crackdown which left 98 dead and thousands injured. No officers have ever been brought to justice for the killings even though many inquests found that the military were responsible.

The red shirts raised 3-fingers salute, an anti-government gesture.

On 19 May, the 10th anniversary of the 2010 military crackdown against the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), or red shirts, was commemorated.

Around 30-40 people, mostly red shirts, gathered at Ratchaprasong intersection, a protest site that in 2010 was surrounded and attacked by the military. They came to remember and to underscore the fact that the officials involved in the killing have still not been brought to justice.

Police officers monitoring the red shirt commemoration on the skywalk.

At the scene, around 30-40 police officers were also present, as well as nurses providing temperature screening and hand sanitiser. The attendees sang a song, lit candles, raised 3-finger salutes - the anti-dictatorship gesture - and left the venue at around 7pm.

Another commemoration was held simultaneously in front of Wat Pathum Wanaram temple, where 6 people were killed on 19 May 2010, including volunteer nurse Kamonked Akhad, whose mother, Phayao, attended the event.

Phayao Akhad attended her daughter commemoration, Kamonked (in a portrait)

The ceremony was held in front of the temple gate as the temple announced its closure on 18-20 May for disinfection due to the outbreak of Covid-19. These dates coincide with the dates of the crackdown commemorations.

Phayao said that there always is difficulty with the temple when she wants to hold a commemoration. The 10-year attempt to bring her daughter’s killer to justice is still far from its goal. 

“It cannot change history. People died here. My daughter died in this temple, in the sanctuary. After we have fought for 10 years, is this a sanctuary or killing field?” asked Phayao.

During the crackdown, Wat Pathum Wanaram was proposed by peace intermediaries as a sanctuary, a space free from hostile action by either side. Violence reached the protesters and volunteers who took shelter in the temple nevertheless.

An inquest found that Kamonked was killed by a .223 bullet from the 3rd Special Assault Team that was stationed on the BTS railway tracks overlooking the temple. The post-mortem forensics did not find any evidence that the 6 dead had fired any weapons.

Phayao filed a murder complaint against the soldiers who were stationed on the BTS railway tracks. However, a military court threw out the charges against 8 accused soldiers. The prosecution said that there was no evidence of them committing murder. She then filed another complaint with the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) but this also yielded no progress.

 

The crackdown on the red shirts resulted in at least 98 deaths and more than 2,000 injured. The DSI issued a finding in September 2012 indicating that the military was culpable in 36 deaths.

Until now, no officers who were responsible for the crackdown have been held to account for the killing. The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) have called on the Thai government to re-activate its investigation into the crackdown, and ensure transparent proceedings and due process for all involved.

“Ten years on, none of the operating soldiers, commanding officers or government officials who authorised the lethal military operations have been convicted of criminal charges. The massacre and the impunity with which it was allowed to happen, continues to mar the country’s image and creates a legacy of fear.

“Those criminally responsible need to be held accountable, regardless of position or political affiliation. Without this accountability, the right to fundamental freedoms, and the ability of the public to trust its Government remains compromised,” reads the statement.

The commemorations saw fewer attendees than usual due to the Covid-19 outbreak and red shirt leaders attended separate events.

In Chiang Mai, the local UDD held a Buddhist merit-making ceremony to pay tribute to the dead protesters. 30 people, including several local red shirt leaders, attended the event.

The red shirt’s basic demand was the dissolution of the unelected Abhisit-led government, which had ruled the country since 2008 after a Constitutional Court decision had dissolved the Phalang Prachachon Party (PPP) led by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. 

The PPP was mainly composed of former members of the Thai Rak Thai Party that was itself dissolved after the 2006 coup d’état which ousted its leader, Thaksin Shinawatra. PPP voters’ dissatisfaction was stoked by many media reports that the military had played a large role in influencing some Thai Rak Thai MPs to join the opposition to take over parliament. This dissatisfaction led to mass protests in 2009, which were suppressed by the military.

Newsred shirtsUnited Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)Source: prachatai.com/journal/2020/05/87726
Categories: Prachatai English

It’s time for monks to support the people: a survey of the urban poor through almsgiving (online)

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-20 16:27
Submitted on Wed, 20 May 2020 - 04:27 PMMutita Chuachang

Story: Mutita Chuachang
Cover photo: Kittiya On-in

The temple is scheduled to give out food at 6 pm.

People line up even before 4 pm.

At 5 pm, there are three to four lines several hundred metres long.

500 boxes of food ran out at 5.30 pm.

Some who came at 6 pm had to go back empty handed.

Line for free food, Wat Lat Pla Khao (20 April 2020)

Luckily, Wat Lat Pla Khao has chairs for people to sit and wait, while many other temples do not. People have to find somewhere with shade to rest or stand in the heat but the one thing that happens at every temple is that the lines continue to get longer and longer.

There are 452 temples in Bangkok. Most of them are surrounded by poor urban communities. The monks in the temples we randomly visited explained that the people around the temple are often people who “live from hand to mouth”, selling odds and ends or taking odd jobs. When they have no work in the capital, no farm back home, and they cannot access state relief, another centre of resources, like the temple, becomes the place to rely on.

In late March, the Supreme Patriarch made an announcement for all temples with the capacity to help the people according to their powers. Most temples complied through the easiest means – by giving away food, whether fresh or dried. Even so, we found that many places had started earlier, while a large number of other temples (that look capable) have not held such activities yet.

Uraiwan and Kan, husband and wife, carried their 3 young children to line up for free food at Wat Lat Pla Khao. Uraiwan used to work cleaning in a condominium, earning 300 baht per day. She used to work every day, but now she can only work 1 day per week. She was also transferred to somewhere far away. When the transportation costs were not worth the pay, she stopped working. Kan used to hire a taxi to drive. Now there are no customers, he is delivering food instead.

“It’s terrible. Now, I get money from driving, we need all of it just to pay the rent, the children’s milk, and diapers. Luckily, school hasn’t opened yet,” Kan said.

Their family has to be extremely frugal by trying not to buy food, by going to any place that gives out alms and then trying to divide the food up into as many meals as possible. Any money received from taxi driving, other than for the children’s necessities, also went to buy instant noodles and canned food.

We had great difficulty talking to him, because he was not really interested in answering our questions as much as asking us about the 5,000 baht in the Rao Mai Thing Kan (No One Left Behind) Project. “Why did my wife and I not get any? We’re both workers.” “They say they will look at it again. Is it going to take long? When will we know the results?” “Why don’t they come and check how we’re living? Look at how small our room is.” “I really need it for the kid’s diapers and milk.” “Why did our neighbour, who has a pick-up truck, register as a joke but get the money?” “What is the system like?” etc.

He wore a pink shirt that stood out, carrying his youngest child who is less than 1 year old while waiting in line, his face sweating and tanned because the sun was sizzling hot. His eyes were red, likely due to lack of sleep.

When asked about any work opportunities in other provinces, Kan said that if the worst comes to the worst, they will have to go back home. But even if they return, they will not have any work to do. His parents back home are in debt with the cooperative they were working at, so they are already in quite a difficult spot already.

“Maybe I’ll look to borrow some money. I don’t know yet,” Kan said.

Prasan Kunsombat, a taxi driver, is another who had lined up since 4 pm. He told us that the whole day today he only earned 200 baht from driving customers around. He had been depending on the temple for food for many days now. “I’m not embarrassed. At this point, we’ve got to survive.” Prasan is from Ubon Ratchathani and has been a taxi driver for more than 10 years. He had only bought the car around 2 years ago, paying in instalments at 21,000 baht per month. Luckily, he was able to negotiate with the finance company because he had paid a lot of the instalments already. They agreed to halving it to 10,500 baht for 3 months, then after that they will need to negotiate again to see how much they can allow, and see if he will be able to keep the car or not.

“There aren’t many passengers. At around 4-5 pm people have already gone home. I rely on listening to the news, going anywhere they’re giving out free food. If I’m passing by and see them giving out food, I’ll stop. There’s one at Hua Chiew today but I didn’t make it in time. At least it helps me to survive one more meal. Normally one meal is already 40-50 baht,” Prasan said.

Prasan is another person who did not receive the government’s 5,000 baht. “They say it’s in progress.” Another taxi driver who was also in line nearby heard and told us, “I didn’t get any either. They said I was a farmer. I did farming 10 years ago, and never registered for anything anywhere.”

When we asked Prasan if he has any work opportunities back in Warin Chamrap District or not, he told us that at home they have a small piece of land used for farming, but it is part of military land. They don’t know when they will be chased out, so the provinces do not seem like an easy way out like many tend to think.

Wat Lat Pla Kao is considered a ‘hi-tech’ temple in terms of DIY ‘disinfection screens’ with a good system, setting out chairs for the people with spaces between each seat, a screening process, providing hand sanitizers and giving out masks to those that don’t have any.

Phra Maha Khemanan, the abbot, comes down to oversee the almsgiving by himself every day. At first, the temple used its own funds, hiring the temple cook to make food and having the monks pack food, set tables, organise the people and give out 100 boxes of food each day. Now, it has become 600 boxes per day, but the temple does not have to use their own funds anymore because some of the more well-off citizens as well as local politicians have donated, both cash or 200-300 boxes of food. It can be said that the temple is the centre of administration. This all started on 26 March and will probably continue into late May.

Abbot of Wat Lat Pla Khao

“We’re thinking of expanding by taking food boxes to distribute in the communities. Right now, we’re doing it in 2 communities in the Lat Phrao District by giving out 200 food boxes to each community leader who manages it because they know who’s going through difficult times. We’re planning to keep on expanding,” the abbot said.

Let’s move on to Wat Lat Phrao, located on the border of Huai Khwang and Lat Phrao districts. There are many slums. Phra Khru Palatnikhom, the abbot, said that they started the almsgiving on 29 March and will likely continue as well. They first started with 100-200 boxes. Now, they are at about 500-600 boxes.

“At first, the ones who came for the food were members of the communities around the temple, all the ‘hand-to-mouth’ workers around here. But lately there are people from other places as well,” the abbot said. It is similar to other places, once the temple started, people also contributed by giving out food every evening, and sometimes also in the morning as well.

A group of 6-7 girls aged around 8-12 years old sat waiting for food in front of the building. They look like ‘big shots’ in the area. The girls told us that they have been here since 3 pm because there are lot of people who come to wait in line.

Getting free food is not an easy thing. The numbers keep on increasing, and you have to wait for a long time in the hot weather. The food is limited. Wat Lat Phrao has not provided chairs for the people to sit yet, so the people have to think of ways to line up themselves. The monks had painted spots along the ground to set spaces between people who are waiting in line. Those who come earlier place shoes on the spots as reservations then find somewhere with shade to wait until they start giving food out, and avoid moving around since the concrete is hot.

“Once you put your shoe down you have to keep watch nearby. Otherwise others come and kick your shoe away. Some like to cut in line. I have to talk loudly for the monks to hear that someone is already queuing up here, so they can come and deal with it. I’m not telling on anyone, I’m just talking loudly.” This is the strategy of an 11-year-old girl.

The girls look clean and are wearing clean clothes. Their homes are close to the temple and they are not so dirt poor as if they are about to die, but they are also going through difficult times. Some of their parents still have jobs but have less work, so they allow their daughters to get free food to help lessen food expenses.

“We take the food and eat until we’re full, so they don’t have to worry and find food for us,” another girl said.

At Wat Taphan in the Ratchaprarop area near the Victory Monument, there are concentrated slums with more homeless people than other districts. There are also foreign labourers. Phra Maha Aphichat, assistant abbot, said that the temple started to give out rice and dried food 2 days a week but they could not announce it and have people come to collect the food at the temple because a lot of people would appear and the temple would not be able to manage it. To have community leaders give them out would be difficult, because the communities around the temple are not registered and are true slums. And so the temple relied on people who know the community well to help distribute the goods. At first, the temple set aside some funds for the almsgiving, but after they started and spread the word on their page, some people have pitched in with donations and now the account contains several tens of thousands of baht. 

“Some of the goods we distribute ourselves. Because the goods are limited, we want the ones who are really in trouble to have them first. I once followed one child who came to get handout to look at their home, which is in a slum just near the temple. I’ve been here a long time but didn’t even know that there are people living in that tiny space,” the assistant abbot said.

“Now we’ve expanded and started to give out coupons. We would give them out to people in Soi Mo Reng, where thousands of people live. We only have 200 sets so we rely on local people to distribute the coupons out to troubled people in their alleys. They would know who is really most difficulty and have them come to get the goods from the temple. In this wat, it won’t get too crowded.”

“The people help the temple, the temple helps the people. We rely on each other. If the people are in trouble, then don’t hope that the monks will be okay,” Phra Maha Aphichat said.

At Wat Sikan in Don Mueang, Phra Khru Phothisutakon, assistant abbot, said that the inspiration for the almsgiving came from the people who brought food to distribute from the back of their pick-up trucks in front of the temple. Phra Khru thought that the temple should also do it, in addition to what the Supreme Patriarch had said. The temple then set up a proper almsgiving project. The number of food boxes increased from 200 to 1000, which they give out every Wednesday and Saturday, 9.00-11.00 am. Recently some people have also donated food and money to the temple, like at other temples.

“In times of happiness, the people can rely on the temple in terms of dhamma. In times of suffering, we cheer them up and make them calm. If we can do more than that, then we should do it. Monks should have some engagement, not ordain as monks then escape from the world aiming only to achieve nirvana and become arahants, but should be part of the world, part of society,” the assistant abbot said.

The highest in terms of numbers would seem to be Chiang Mai’s Wat Chedi Luang. Phra Khru Kittiwimon said that since 26 March they have been giving out around 2000-2500 boxes every evening. They give them out to the people who come to line up, about 100 from the forest firefighting teams, personnel from the hospitals who request them, etc. Initially the smaller temples nearby also gave out some in the mornings but they have stopped, although it is uncertain why. It could be because they had run out of money or it could be due to the official announcement forbidding them to give out goods unless they request permission in writing. But Wat Chedi Luang has not been prohibited from giving out goods yet, so the temple continues. They have spent around 1 million baht already. The abbot said that if they continue on this scale, they will only be able to continue to the end of May, then the rest will have to depend on donations.

Picture by Phonphit Phakmai

Chiang Mai is especially interesting. Phonphit Phakmai, a social activist who has been there for a long time, said that at present she makes sweets to help fundraise with the Ban Toem Fan organization, which gives out food to the homeless in Chiang Mai city. “Someone who works there said they used to look after 50-60 people, but now there are 120-130 people who are sleeping rough,” Phonphit said.

Ponphit said that in Chiang Mai there are many migrant workers who are general labourers. Some rent rooms and live there alone. After the lockdown, there were many cases of “dorm abandonment”. Some may have places to go to, some live off the temples and sleep in public places in order to survive past April and hope to find work again afterwards.

“Some dorms have already decreased their rent by half, but people still can’t afford it and had to just leave,” Ponphit said.

For the originally homeless, there is an NGO that brings them food and snacks. The side benefit is that they can live and do not need to struggle by moving out and the people do not need to worry about their sanitation.

Ban Toem Fan website

“Showers are very important. Men don’t really have a problem, but women have difficulty. The homeless include women. They sometimes use bathrooms in petrol stations, but they get chased out if they go too often. These days I see people using the Ping River. The project to find them a bathroom hasn’t succeeded yet. The temples have already closed off the shower rooms, leaving only the toilets because the temples can’t deal with this either. Even so, the toilets can only be used until 6 pm. After they finish giving out the food, they close the doors,” Phonphit said.

Temples are not like 7-11s – they have opening and closing times, and 7-11s do not have bathrooms. Petrol stations can be used for time to time, but they have to keep changing from place to place. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security announced a relief policy, but people working on the ground have not yet seen any officials coming down to solve these problems. People who tried to give out food have been barred from doing so and arrested because the authorities are afraid of the virus spreading but are not afraid of people dying from starvation. The situation is still uncertain. Will help flow into temples more? It is still an unanswered question.

But even if various temples have started to help the people, there is still the issue of accessibility and sustainability, not to mention human dignity.  

“Getting food from the temple feels better, I think. Because the temple is a public place. It belongs to everyone. When we have, we give to the temple. When we don’t, we rely on the temple. Getting food from elsewhere feels like we owe each other something,” Phonphit commented.

One model that may destroy various limitations could be online almsgiving.

Phra Maha Phraiwan is a famous monk on social media – many may have already forgotten which temple he is from, but people do not need to visit him. They can send their troubles to him directly, in real-time, through social media. That is why he has received a great number of messages asking for different kinds of help, such as people asking him to support their products or even asking to pawn their hand planes.

Image from the Phra Maha Praiwan’s Facebook page. The sign says "Online almsgiving. Phra Maha Praiwan Worawanno. Free garlic chicken rice and cap cakes. FB: Cheap, delicious cupcakes."

At first, Phra Maha Phraiwan accepted donations to buy dry goods and distribute them, but there were limits to what could be done, and after the government stepped up their measures, the ‘online almsgiving’ was born.

All transactions occur online. Phra Maha Phraiwan accepts donations from people who have the money and the heart, then selects people in trouble who have sent him messages. They are mostly small-time vendors selling food and other goods. Then Phra Maha Phraiwan allocates an appropriate budget to bulk buy food and snacks from these people, asking them to give out the food to nearby communities in difficulty.

In other words, he bulk buys food from troubled vendors but on condition that they give it out in return. The vendors then take photos of their activities and send them to him.

This model can be spread far and wide very quickly, and can be done by both monks and non-monks. Other monks and laypeople have started to apply this model in many other areas.  

“Poverty is complex. Monks or life coaches often like to say that the poor are weak, they don’t fight, and don’t have any ideas. Going into the field and meeting them allowed me to know what hardship is really like. Actually, they are really strong. I met a woman who drives a motorcycle taxi, looking after all her children and parents, which adds up to 7 people, by herself alone. She earns 70 baht per day. I went to give out some rice and she told me her motorcycle has a puncture. Then she laughed. She can still laugh about it,” Phra Maha Phraiwan said.

All of this is hardship at the surface level of some poor people in Thailand, as well as the efforts of monks in various areas that can just about help them out day by day, meal by meal, amidst the especially large number of major issues that are waiting in the future.

 

FeatureMutita Chuachangalmsgivingonline almsgivingtempletemple cultureBuddhismCOVID-19coronavirus
Categories: Prachatai English

Ensure accountability for Thailand’s 2010 political massacre

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-20 00:09
Submitted on Wed, 20 May 2020 - 12:09 AMFORUM-ASIA

A decade after Thailand’s deadly crackdown against anti-government protesters, accountability for the political massacre remains elusive, said rights organisations on its tenth anniversary.

People in red shirts gathered at Ratchaprasong Intersection for a commemoration event for the 10th anniversary of the May 2010 military crackdown on the red shirt protests. 

In a joint statement today, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) call on the Government of Thailand to re-activate its investigation into the crackdown, and ensure transparent proceedings and due process for all involved.

‘The Government must ensure that activists fighting for justice for victims of this massacre are protected from reprisals. The Government should take genuine and impartial steps towards ensuring justice for all if it is to gain the trust of its people,’ the groups urged.

On 12 March 2010, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the Red Shirts, launched an anti-government march calling for the dissolution of Parliament and the holding of new elections.  They were protesting against political turmoil in the country exacerbated by a biased and prejudiced political system.  The demonstration intensified and spread to Bangkok’s business districts.

On 10 April 2010, the Royal Thai army fired ‘live’ ammunition against protesters to reclaim UDD areas, where protestors had set up camp, claiming its first casualties. The Government used the heavily armed ‘Black Shirt’ militants, who were responsible for deadly attacks on the army, as justification to intensify its ‘live fire zones’ around protesters.

By 19 May 2010, the excessive use of force, including the use of snipers and assault rifles, had resulted in more than 90 deaths and thousands of injuries. The casualties comprised mostly of unarmed civilian protesters, bystanders, volunteer medics, media reporters and state officials.

Post-mortem inquests of 33 individuals concluded that at least 18 were killed by bullets fired by the army. These included Kamolkate Akhad, a volunteer medic who was among six victims killed in Pathum Wanaram temple, despite it having been declared a ‘safe zone’. Akhad was shot inside the medic tent despite wearing a Red Cross uniform.

On 4 May 2019, Phayao Akhad, the mother of victim Kamonked Akhad, was informed that the charges against eight military officers accused of killing her daughter were withdrawn due to the lack of evidence.

A picture of Kamonked Akhad and the red cross vest she was wearing when she was killed has been placed at the front gate of Wat Pathum Wanaram alongside roses and red candles at today's vigil (19 May 2020). 

Efforts to hold state perpetrators accountable within the past decade have not led to any results. The Supreme Court in 2017 dismissed the cases against two top government officials responsible for the crackdown, citing a lack of jurisdiction. The Thai authorities have yet to issue post-mortem examinations for the more than 50 deaths in the massacre.

Advocates for victims from the crackdown face repercussion for demanding justice. Phayao Akhad has faced threats for speaking up and calling for justice on her daughter’s death.

On 10 May 2020, a group of people were threatened with legal repercussions after they used laser projectors to display the message ‘Searching for Truth’ on to the walls of downtown buildings connected to the 2010 crackdown in Bangkok. Three days later, prominent Red Shirt activist Anurak Jeantawanich (aka Ford Anurak), was arrested after an event commemorating the 2010 crackdown. Police accused him of holding a gathering which violated the social distancing policies under the Emergency Decree. He was later released on bail.

Ten years on, none of the operating soldiers, commanding officers or government officials who authorised the lethal military operations have been convicted of criminal charges. The massacre and the impunity with which it was allowed to happen, continues to mar the country’s image and creates a legacy of fear.

The rights groups are calling on the Government of Thailand to carry out a reliable and transparent investigation to assure its people that such forms of violence would never recur, and to ensure the protection of advocates pushing for accountability.

Those criminally responsible need to be held accountable, regardless of position or political affiliation. Without this accountability, the right to fundamental freedoms, and the ability of the public to trust its Government remains compromised.

Pick to PostFORUM-ASIA19 May 2010 political violenceApril-May 2010 massacreApril-May 2010 political violenceMilitary crackdownstate violence
Categories: Prachatai English

A decade later - Mother/WHRD still demanding truth and justice for daughter killed in military crackdown on 2010 Red Shirt protest

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-05-19 23:58
Submitted on Tue, 19 May 2020 - 11:58 PMProtection International

As the military crackdown on the ‘Red Shirt’ protests, which killed at least 94 persons and injured at least 2,000 people, sees its 10th year anniversary on 19 May 2020, Phayao Akhad, a Woman Human Rights Defender, the mother of a nurse who was brutally killed by the military in 2020, is still tirelessly seeking for justice despite facing threats, intimidation and legal reprisals by reason of her struggle for justice.  

Phayao Akhad at the vigil for her daughter and other victims of the 19 May 2010 crackdown at Wat Pathum Wanaram on 19 May 2020. 

Phayao Akhad was recognized as Outstanding Women Human Right Defender by the National Human Rights Commission in 2019, is a mother whose 25-year-old daughter, Kamonked Akhad, was shot repeatedly while working as a nurse and providing medical aid to the protesters in Wat Pathumwanaram during this Red Shirt protests, which had occupied central Bangkok from April-May 2010. The protesters were demanding then for Abhisit Vejjajiva, the then Prime Minister, to resign and dissolve Parliament which would result in a General Election.

The Inquest found that Kamonked was killed by being shot with multiple bullets by 8 military officers, who were stationed on the BTS rails which overlooked Wat Pathumwanaram. She was shot repeatedly even though she was wearing the white nurse’s uniform with a Red Cross sign, indicating that she was a health worker, whose lives must be protected on humanitarian grounds - never to be targeted, let alone killed, under any circumstances.

In 2010, Department of Special Investigation (DSI) took her case up to investigate further and forward it to the military prosecutor, who in May 2019 stated that they would dismiss the case as they claimed that there was no sufficient evidence and/or witnesses to proceed with the case. Phayao insisted that there were enough evidence such as the video recordings, photos, bullet cases, and even the testimonies of military officers, who did admit during the inquest hearing that they were on the BTS rails on that day.

Earlier, on 8 May 2020, Phayao, along with Pansak Srithep, the father of a 15-year-old boy, who was also shot dead by the military on 15 May 2010, went to submit the letter as a follow up to find out the progress of the investigation from DSI.

They also made the point that this case should not end up in the military court, who will also have a military prosecutor. The said that this case should be forwarded to the civilian court as the case involved higher ranking authorities in the civilian government, according to a lawyer familiar with the case. They also noted that so far that there has not been any summons to military officers to give testimonies as a part of the investigation.

Today, 19 May 2020, Phayao had requested to meet with the Justice Minister, being the Minister responsible for the DSI. However, the Minister was not available, so the meeting had to be postponed.

Annually, the families and relatives of those killed on 19 May 2010, would organize vigils at Wat Pathumwanaram at 17.00 to remember their loved ones who were killed.

This year, Phayao received word from the temple authorities that they could not use Wat Pathumwanaram  as it would be closed for cleaning. As of the noon today, the temple gates still remained closed, and a number of police officers are seen stationed in front of the temple. Phayao also have reportedly received a number of calls from the police officers inquiring of her activities.

When asked about her feelings about her struggle to seek justice 10 years on, she said that the Thai government is trying to forget the case, hoping that it will fade away from memory with time.

“I only want truth. It needs to be uncovered so it can enter the justice system. This way truth can be opened to the public because right now we are still divided. This is the only way to get back dignity of those who were killed. They are only normal people without any weapons but they were killed brutally.” She said, “Ked is a nurse in the so-called sanctuary zone, why was her life not spared?”

Phayao, who was a flower vendor, said that before her daughter’s death, she was politically inactive, but since the incident, she has been at the forefront demanding justice for those who died during the 2010 military crackdown. Since then, she has faced countless intimidation such as calls from the police and intelligence officers, visits from plainclothes officers, and other reprisals for her activities defending human rights.

Recently, after the laser projection of the #FindingTruth all over Bangkok, she received repeated calls from the authorities on 11 May 2020 to inquire whether she was a part of it and whether she has plans to organize any protest for the commemoration.

Earlier, on 10 December 2018 on International Human Rights Day, she participated in a mime with other activists in the streets in Bangkok, where she dressed up in her daughter’s nurse uniform. The message communicated to the public was that justice has not been achieved yet. Thereafter, she was charged for violating the Public Assembly Act, and later in July 2019, she was fined 1,000 Baht for failing to inform the authorities 24 hours in advance before the event according to the Public Assembly Act.

Protection International Thailand calls on the Thai government to provide protection mechanisms to Women/Human Rights Defenders (W/HRDs) who have been demanding justice for their families and relatives who were killed during the military crackdown in 2010. They must have the right to demand answers and accountability from the state without fear of reprisals. All perpetrators must be held accountable.

We are concerned that the prevailing impunity negatively affects W/HR Defenders, by amongst others, preventing them access to justice. It also has a hostile impact on movements they are affiliated with and on society as a whole, as it obstructs access to truth and seems to protect the wrongdoer. Such attitude will not prevent the recurrence of similar events of injustices. The use of State Impunity to deter and silence others from defending human rights is unacceptable and shameful.

The government must never obstruct justice and must ensure that all perpetrators be held accountable for their crimes in order to halt the culture of impunity in Thailand.

Pick to PostProtection InternationalPhayao AkhadKamonked AkhadMilitary crackdown19 May 2010 political violenceApril-May 2010 political violenceApril-May 2010 massacrestate violence
Categories: Prachatai English

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