Prachatai English

Activists revoke their own bail to demand release of political prisoners

Prachatai English - Mon, 2023-01-16 23:17
Submitted on Mon, 16 Jan 2023 - 11:17 PMPrachatai

To protest the denial of bail and detention of political prisoners, two activists have revoked their own bail and demanded that every political prisoner is released within 3 days.

Tantawan Tuatulanon (left) and Orawan Phuphong (right) arriving at the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court.

Activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong went to Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court today (16 January) to file for bail revocation for themselves, after the Court revoked bail for monarchy reform activists Sopon Surariddhidhamrong and Nutthanit Duangmusit last Monday (9 January) for joining an anti-government protest during the APEC summit in November 2022.

The two activists stood in front of the Court entrance and poured red paint on themselves, before announcing their demand that every activist and protester detained for their involvement in the pro-democracy protest must be released within 3 days. They will also not be filing for bail again until their demands are met, and if no response is made by 18 January, other activists, including those still detained, will be taking further actions.

They called for a reform of judicial system so that human rights and freedom of expression take priority, and so that courts are independent and protect people’s freedom, as well as for judges to make decisions without intervention from their own executives.

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

The two activists poured red paint on themselves after announcing their intention to revoke their own bail and their demands. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Tantawan emerged as a monarchy reform advocate in February 2022, when the monarchy reform activist group Thaluwang conducted a poll at Siam Paragon shopping mall on whether people think they face trouble from royal motorcades. She is now facing several royal defamation charges. One is for live-streaming herself at a royal motorcade in March 2022 and questioning the way the authorities cleared the road in preparation for the motorcade by moving away farmers protesting on the footpath along the route of the motorcade, for which she has been released on bail and has requested the court revoke her bail.

While Tantawan file her bail revocation request at the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court, Orawan travelled to the South Bangkok Criminal Court to ask it to revoke her bail for a royal defamation charge resulting from the royal motorcade poll at Siam Paragon.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that the two activists wrote in their request to the courts that the bail conditions they were given were unconstitutional, unlawful, and infringe on their constitutional rights and freedom. They therefore no longer wish to be released on bail ahead of their trials, and stated that it was their own will to have their bail revoked.

Both Tantawan and Orawan were given the conditions when they were granted bail that they must not do anything that damages the monarchy or repeat their offense. They must also wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and are not allowed to leave the country. Orawan is also prohibited from participating in activities that can cause public disorder or posting on social media inviting people to such activities.

A crowd gathered in front of the entrance to the Women’s Central Correctional Institution as Tantawan and Orawan were taken into detention.

Tantawan told Ratsadon News before filing her bail revocation request that Sopon and Nutthanit’s detention is only one of the factors that led to her decision to revoke her own bail. She said that there are others still detained for their political participation, while society and political parties are still not brave enough to speak out about repeal of the royal defamation law. She wanted to call on political parties to tackle the issue so that change can happen.

After the courts accepted their request, Tantawan and Orawan were taken to be detained at the Women’s Central Correctional Institution, bringing the number of activists and protesters held in detention pending trial or pending appeal to 15. Of this number, 7 are detained on royal defamation charges.

NewsTantawan TuatulanonOrawan PhuphongThaluwangright to bailMonarchy reform
Categories: Prachatai English

Cops not ready for Anti-torture bill, say Royal Thai Police

Prachatai English - Sat, 2023-01-14 14:16
Submitted on Sat, 14 Jan 2023 - 02:16 PMPrachatai

The Royal Thai Police have issued a letter to the Ministry of Justice, asking them to delay enforcement of Anti-Torture Act. It claims the police are not ready in terms of training and equipment.

The Act, the first law of its kind in the Kingdom, was announced in the Royal Gazette on 24 October 2022, with the provision that it would come into force after 120 days, i.e. on 22 February 2023.

iLaw, the Thai legal watchdog NGO, published the police letter issued on 6 January. Signed by Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas, the Royal Thai Police Chief, it lists the police’s difficulties in implementing the bill.

The law requires the police to make audio or video recordings from the moment of arrest through to release. This will require over 170,000 more cameras to attach to officers' uniforms and cars, and within facilities, costing around 3.4 billion THB, not to mention the Cloud system costs. This budget could be submitted for the 2023 fiscal year at the earliest.

The letter also underlined that the Royal Thai Police has surveyed police officers nationwide and found that they are still behind in dealing with recording technology and time is needed to train them.

Lastly, the police still find the law lacks concrete guidelines which are to be established after the Commission on the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, an entity to be set up under this law, convenes. The police and other law enforcement officers would then be less confused in interpreting the law.

In general, the law provides clear legal benchmarks to end the impunity that the authorities have enjoyed from the absence of any clear criminal punishment for torturing people to extract information or confessions, or for making people disappear.

It requires police to make audio or video recordings throughout its operations starting from the arrest to release. It also requires the police to maintain a comprehensive log of detentions, and to communicate this to administrative officers and prosecutors in the area where the detention occurs. These are what the letter describes as difficult to achieve.

Before the Act was passed, the draft underwent repeated amendments. The version that was passed can be considered a watered-down version of the optimum draft, due to objections from the junta-appointed senate. For example, it made the appointment of the Anti-Torture and Enforced Disappearance Commission was put into the hands of government officials as opposed to parliament; and the Commission was stripped of its authority to inspect detention sites; maximum jail terms were also reduced from 40 to 20 years.

Although Thailand became a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2007 and signed off on the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2012, the first attempt to pass implementing legislation did not come until 2014.

Newsanti-torture billtortureenforced disappearanceDamrongsak Kittiprapas
Categories: Prachatai English

Assets of Min Aung Hlaing’s children caught in Thai drug raid

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-01-12 19:26
Submitted on Thu, 12 Jan 2023 - 07:26 PMJustice for Myanmar

The title of a luxury Bangkok condo and two Siam Commercial Bank passbooks belonging to the children of junta head and war criminal Min Aung Hlaing were among items confiscated after the arrest of Myanmar crony arms broker Tun Min Latt, Justice For Myanmar has revealed in a report, based on the seizure record.  

Tun Min Latt (yellow tie) visits an arms exhibition in Bangkok in 2019 with Myanmar leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing (second from left) ,Credit: Senior General Min Aung Hlaing/Government of Myanmar 

Tun Min Latt and three of his associates were arrested in dawn raids in Bangkok on September 17 and were indicted on December 13 on drug trafficking, money laundering and transnational organised crime charges.  

Justice For Myanmar understands that Thai authorities have not seized the assets of Aung Pyae Sone and Khin Thiri Thet Mon, despite evidence linking them to Tun Min Latt’s alleged criminal activities.  

The title documents for a number of properties were confiscated belonging to Tun Min Latt and associates in his network.

Among them, a four-bedroom condo in Belle Rama 9 belonging to Aung Pyae Sone, Min Aung Hlaing’s son.

Comparable condos in Belle Rama 9 are being advertised for close to US$ 1 million.

The Siam Commercial Bank passbooks belong to Khin Thiri Thet Mon, Min Aung Hlaing’s daughter.

The condo title and passbooks were in the possession of Tun Min Latt at the time of his arrest.

Min Aung Hlaing and his two children are sanctioned by the US and Canada.

The revelations come as Min Aung Hlaing has maintained a close personal relationship with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who became Prime Minister after leading a military coup in 2014. Thailand provides substantial support to the illegal junta through the purchase of natural gas.  

Justice For Myanmar urges Thai authorities to seize the assets of Aung Pyae Sone and Khin Thiri Thet Mon and investigate whether they have benefited from the proceeds of crime, and to block junta members, their families and enablers from accessing Thai banks and purchasing assets in Thailand.

Justice Myanmar calls on Thai banks to close accounts held by junta members, cronies and their families sanctioned in other jurisdictions.

Justice For Myanmar further calls on governments to urgently sanction financial enablers of the junta to cut its access to funds and block opportunities for generals and their families to profit from the illegal coup attempt and steal public assets from the people of Myanmar.  

Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung says: “The fact that Min Aung Hlaing’s children’s assets were in the possession of an international criminal should be a wake-up call to the Thai government and international community.

“Justice For Myanmar urges Thai authorities to seize Aung Pyae Sone and Khin Thiri Thet Mon’s assets and investigate whether they have benefited from the proceeds of Tun Min Latt’s alleged money laundering and drug trafficking and to hold them accountable for any violations of Thai law.

“The Myanmar military junta is both a terrorist organisation and a transnational criminal enterprise, working in partnership with criminal enablers like Tun Min Latt, who co-own a military-owned casino and has brokered arms while committing his alleged criminal activities.

“While the junta continues waging its campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar, the families of junta members are hiding their stolen assets offshore, as they benefit from the military’s genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Thailand and other governments must urgently block the transfer of stolen assets from Myanmar and close access to the international financial system for junta members and their families, or risk complicity in the junta’s international crimes and corruption.”

Pick to PostMyanmarTun Min LattMin Aung HlaingMyanmar coupSource:
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Vandalism at Bangkok Art Biennale

Prachatai English - Wed, 2023-01-11 18:59
Submitted on Wed, 11 Jan 2023 - 06:59 PMStephff

Categories: Prachatai English

‘Royalist Marketplace’ geo-blocked in Thailand, unblocked an hour later

Prachatai English - Wed, 2023-01-11 18:03
Submitted on Wed, 11 Jan 2023 - 06:03 PMPrachatai

Royalist Marketplace, a Facebook group of 2.3 million members dedicated to frank discussions of the Thai monarchy, was rendered inaccessible in Thailand last night, according to the group founder.

Pavin's Facebook post announces the group being banned.

On 10 January, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic and monarchy critic in exile, posted that his site had been blocked in Thailand.

After reading the post, a Prachatai reporter in Thailand checked and found that the site was inaccessible.  Facebook issued a statement that access to the site in Thailand had been limited “in response to a legal request”.

The site was accessible again after about an hour. It is still up as of 13.30 of 11 January.

Royalist Marketplace, known in Thai as Talad Luang (Royal Market or Public Market), was established by Pavin in April 2020. Group members engage in daily satirical discussions of the monarchy. These activities have provoked online and offline retaliation from royalist Thais.

In August 2020, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) filed a complaint with the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to prosecute Pavin and the site administrator for uploading alleged illegal information.

In the same month, Thai authorities limited the access to the group, causing what was nicknamed “The Great Migration” as users relocated to a newly-established Royalist Marketplace group. The new group reached 1 million members within the space of its first week.

NewsRoyalist MarketplaceFacebookPavin Chachavalpongpunmonarchyinternet freedomSource:
Categories: Prachatai English

Man indicted for shouting at royal motorcade

Prachatai English - Wed, 2023-01-11 12:07
Submitted on Wed, 11 Jan 2023 - 12:07 PMPrachatai

A man who was arrested in October 2022 for refusing to sit down and shouting at King Vajiralongkorn's royal motorcade has been indicted for royal defamation and resisting arrest.

Atirut while he was detained at Lumpini Police Station (Photo from TLHR)

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported yesterday (10 January) that the public prosecutor had decided to indict Atirut (last name withheld), a 25-year-old programmer, on charges of royal defamation and resisting arrest. Atirut was charged for refusing to sit down and shouting “Going anywhere is a burden” as King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida’s royal motorcade passed a crowd gathered at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre (QSNCC) on 15 October 2022.

Eyewitness said that Atirut was immediately detained after the incident by a group of around 10 officers, who put him in a chokehold and carried him away, later putting him in handcuffs. An officer also put a hand over his mouth. He was then detained at Lumpini Police Station for two nights before being released on bail, and sustained minor injuries from the arrest, including scratches on his left ankle and both elbows and a torn nail on his right hand.

TLHR said that, while he was detained at the police station, Atirut had to undergo a urine test. Officers also searched his house in Pathum Thani Province, but did not find anything illegal.

Atirut told TLHR that he was not aware who his arresting officers were, because they were not wearing uniforms and did not identify themselves. He also said that before he was allowed to see a lawyer, he was taken to a psychiatric hospital for a mental health examination. At the hospital, his hands and feet were tied to a chair while a nurse went through a mental illness screening questionnaire, even though he told the nurse he is not mentally ill and would not harm anyone, after which the nurse tightened the restraints. A blood sample was also taken without his consent.

Atirut noted that some of the questions the nurse asked were not related to mental health and seemed to be more about his alleged offense, as he was also asked how he felt about the monarchy and whether he had previously gone to a protest.

On Monday (9 January), the public prosecutor decided to indict him, claiming that what he shouted at the royal motorcade was inappropriate and insulting. They also accused him of trying to make people think that the King and Queen’s visit caused problems and was a burden on the public, which can lead to hatred against the King and Queen as well as damaging their reputation.

The public prosecutor also accused Atirut of resisting arrest by kicking the arresting officers, causing two of them to sustain minor injuries to their arm and back.

He was later released on bail without requiring additional security. 

NewsAtirutroyal motorcadeSection 112lese majesteRoyal defamationarbitrary arrestMonarchy reform
Categories: Prachatai English

Indigenous community paid less than minimum wage at local craft centre

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-01-10 21:13
Submitted on Tue, 10 Jan 2023 - 09:13 PMPrachatai

Members of the Bang Kloi indigenous community employed as weavers in the local craft centre suffer poor working conditions and are paid less than the minimum wage, say activists from the Save Bang Kloi Coalition.

The craft centre at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village, which employ members of the community as weavers.

Activist and musician Anchalee Ismanyee said that community members are being paid around 120 – 160 baht per day to weave fabric at the village craft centre, much less than the official minimum wage in Phetchaburi Province, where the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village is located, which is 335 baht per day.

Anchalee said that the Save Bang Kloi Coalition contacted the centre to discuss the wage issue. They were told by an employee of the centre that each weaver is paid not only a daily wage but will also be paid a four-figure sum for each piece of fabric completed. However, Anchalee said that she has been told by the community that it takes between 6 – 8 months to complete a piece, and although they are paid 5000 – 6000 baht for each piece, they have to wait 2 months after completing their work before getting paid. Anchalee noted that community members are constantly in debt, and that their total income from the craft centre is still lower than the minimum wage.

Wages are also often not paid on time. The Coalition have found that the centre once did not pay its weavers for 4 months, before eventually paying them without giving a reason for why wages were not paid monthly and on time. 

Working conditions at the centre are also not up to standard. Anchalee said that there was not enough lighting in the building, causing eyesight problems for many workers.


Anchalee Ismanyee

Anchalee said that, according to data collected by the Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre and Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute, the craft centre employs around 50 people from the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village, most of whom are women who either have no land for farming or the land they have is not suitable for agriculture.

“There is an old couple who have no land at all, and working in the weaving centre is considered dishonourable for men. But this grandfather has to work at the weaving centre because of the land problem, so it’s a very clear reflection of how people who work there already have problems. Some people want to go back to Chai Phaen Din, because they can’t grow anything on their land,” said Anchalee.

The Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community was forcibly evicted from Chai Phaen Din, their ancestral homeland in the Kaeng Krachan forest, in 1996, and for a second time in 2011, when park officials burned down their houses and rice storage barns.

They were relocated to the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi Village, and each family was promised 7 rai of land by the authorities. However, they were not allocated the promised amount of land, and the land they were given is not suitable for agriculture. Some members of the community who were undergoing the process of proving their citizenship also did not have land allocated to them.

Karen community rights activist and a Bang Kloi community leader Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen also disappeared in April 2014, after being taken into custody by Kaeng Krachan National Park officials. Prior to his disappearance, Porlajee was working with other villagers and activists in the Kaeng Krachan area to challenge the human rights violations against his community and to seek redress for the forced evacuation and destruction of their village.

In September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) found charred bone fragments in an oil drum in the Kaeng Krachan Reservoir, which were confirmed to be Porlajee’s by DNA testing.

In late January 2021, 87 members of the community decided to return to Chai Phaen Din, after the Covid-19 pandemic caused many community members who left the village to work to lose their income. On 5 March 2021, they were forcibly removed from the forest and taken into detention. 29 people were then charged with encroaching on national park land.

The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, which includes the Kaeng Krachan National Park and three other conservation areas, was named a natural World Heritage site in July 2021, despite ongoing concerns about human rights violations against indigenous communities in the area. 

It is unclear who runs the craft centre at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village, although it has been previously reported that the Royal Initiative Discovery Foundation operates a development project in the village. Anchalee said that the centre’s manager refused to provide information for the activists.

National Human Rights Commissioner Preeda Kongpaen said that the National Human Rights Commission has been closely monitoring the wage issue at the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi craft centre. She said that the NHRC is looking into the matter, but the community may also file a direct complaint to the commission. They will then contact the relevant agencies for an explanation and investigate any possible right violations that may have occurred.

Meanwhile, Anchalee said that the community is considering filing a complaint with the Phetchaburi Province Damrongtham Justice Provision Centre and asking the provincial authorities to investigate whether the situation can be considered labour abuse.

NewsBang KloiKaeng KrachanKaeng Krachan National ParkIndigenous peoplesIndigenous rightscommunity rightslabour rightsminimum wage
Categories: Prachatai English

State Railway puts off controversial Grand Station name change construction

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-01-10 16:47
Submitted on Tue, 10 Jan 2023 - 04:47 PMPrachatai

After more than a week of criticism, the governor of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has issued a postponement of the 33 million THB deal given to a private company to build the Grand Station’s new signs.

According to reports from PPTV and the Manager, Nirut Maneephan, the SRT governor signed the postponement order on 9 January 2023. It is not immediately clear how long the project will be delayed.

SRT has been subject to a week of criticism from public figures, netizens, and the media after its deal with Unique Engineering and Construction Public Company Limited (UNIQ) was made public.

UNIQ signed a contract with SRT to replace the existing Bang Sue Grand Station name sign with a new one bearing the name Krung Thep Aphiwat, as bestowed by King Vajiralongkorn in September 2022.

What sparked public anger was the cost of the name-changing project - 33,169,726.39 million baht, or about 1 million USD - and the fact that UNIQ got the job without bidding taking place.

SRT insists that the costs were due to the construction method and the project was awarded following budget bureau procedures.

How State Railway under fire for costly train station name change sign

Transportation Minister Saksiam Chidchob told the media last week that an investigation has been ordered.  According to Thai Post, Saksiam stated on 10 January that the National Anti-corruption Commission (NACC) has requested further documents to probe into the investigation. The Ministry of Transportation also set up an internal investigation committee on 5 January and was ready to cooperate with NACC.

Commissioned in 2021, Bang Sue Grand Station was built to replace the centuries-old, iconic Krung Thep Grand Station at Hua Lamphong. Its 2,475 rai (about 3.96 million sq m) space surpasses Malaysia’s KL Sentral in size, making it the largest station in Thailand and ASEAN. 

As of last year, the station was ready to accept 136,000 passengers per day, a throughput that will increase to 624,000 per day in the next decade. Linked with transportation infrastructure, the station is a hub for trains, metro light rail, and airport commuter transport.

Newsthe State Railway of Thailand (SRT)Bang Sue Grand StationKrung Thep Aphiwat Grand StationSaksiam ChidchobNirut Maneephan
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Ex-junta leader morphs into political party member

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-01-10 12:00
Submitted on Tue, 10 Jan 2023 - 12:00 PMPrachatai

8 years after he toppled the elected government, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister, has officially joined the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (United Thai Nation Party), adding that he values the democratisation process.

Prayut, in the party's jersey, greets his overwhelming supporters as he walks to the main stage.

A Prachatai English reporter struggled to record the Prime Minister’s words as he pushed through a crown of media representatives to wave at his supporters gathered at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre on 9 January 2023.

"I stand here because I respect the democratisation process of Thailand, not because I want to stay longer. I am here to tell you that Thailand must go forward, on stable and secure ground, towards a prosperous future as fast as possible." said Prayut during his speech.

The Thai coup maker stated that this was the first time he had ever applied to become a member of a political party. He affirmed his commitment to uphold the nation, religion, and the monarchy, values that Thais have been taught in school, and informed by the media, to respect and uphold.

Influential figures who attended the event as spotted are Don Pramudwinai Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Asawin Kwanmuang, former Bangkok governor. Both of them were appointed to the post under Prayut's military regime.

Prior to Gen Prayut's appearance, Peerapan Saleerattawipak, a former Democrat Party lawmaker turned Ruam Thai Sang Chart chairperson, said the party aims to be an organisation that people can rely on to bring harmony and reconciliation back to Thailand.

According to Peerapan, party membership has grown quickly, increasing from 7,000 in August 2022 to 27,000 in January 2023. In addition to Prayut, the party’s other core members were also present at the event.

Prayut gives a speech, surrounded by party members.

On the same day, Prayut appointed Seksakol Atthawong, Chatchawal Kong-udom, and Chumpol Kanchana, the party's core members as advisors to the Prime Minister.

Seksakol had been a PM's aide until April 2022 when he issued his resignation after an alleged scandal of his involvement in lottery quota corruption. Chumpol is a former Surat Thani MP whose family is influential in the area.

On the other hand, Chatchawal is former Palang Thongtin Thai Party leader and a well-known figure for his influence in the underground casino in the past.

While the party was making a day of it inside the convention centre, Chuwit Kamolvisit, the renowned ex-entertainment massage tycoon, whistleblower, and ex-politician was waiting at the entrance.

Chuwit talks to the media with bananas in his hand.

He said he was hoping for the chance to ask Prayut about the PM’s progress in hunting down a local Chinese triad network, a “masterpiece” feature that he has been systematically exposing over the past few months.

On 8 January, he posted on Facebook, alleging Gen Prayut’s grandson, who worked at Contemporary Construction Co Ltd was linked financially to Du Hao, a Chinese-turned-Thai tycoon who was recently charged for running an illegal business.

In the post, Chuwit wrote that Prayut’s grandson acted “as something like a nominee” - ostensibly owning 50 buses that Du Hao rented to use in his tourism business. He also implied that Du Hao not been charged with money laundering because the Prime Minister’s grandson would necessarily have been summoned for interrogation.

To symbolise the alleged cronyism under Prayut’s administration, Chuwit set up a small shrine  with candles, incense, and bananas near the front of the convention centre. He also called upon Prayut to have his grandson address the allegations.

In the evening after the convention ended, Chuwit was invited to meet Prayut. Himalai Phiupan, an advisor to the House Committee on Police, escorted him from to the room where Prayut was resting.

Chuwit, escorted by Himalai (at Chuwit's left side) to meet Prayut.

Chuwit, with political rally props, greets the departing Ruam Thai Sang Chart supporters on his way to meet Prayut.

Thai Post reported that the two men talked for about 20 minutes. Afterwards, Prayut said “We’ve talked and have no issues.”

According to Chuwit, the PM pledged that he would solve the problem but stated that the process may take time. He reportedly also asked Chuwit to leave off publishing on the matter and hand over whatever evidence he had to the authorities.

NewspoliticsPrayut Chan-o-chaChuwit KamolvisitPeerapan SaleerattawipakRuam Thai Sang Chart PartyUnited Thai Nation PartyDu Hao
Categories: Prachatai English

Monarchy reform activists’ bail revoked

Prachatai English - Tue, 2023-01-10 11:08
Submitted on Tue, 10 Jan 2023 - 11:08 AMPrachatai

Two monarchy reform activists have had their bail revoked yesterday (9 January) after the Criminal Court ruled that they had violated their bail conditions by joining an anti-government protest during the APEC summit in November 2022.

From left: Sopon Surariddhidhamrong and Nutthanit Duangmusit arriving at court ahead of their bail hearing (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported this morning (9 January) that the Criminal Court has revoked bail for monarchy reform activists Sopon Surariddhidhamrong and Nutthanit “Baipor” Duangmusit on the grounds that they had broken their bail conditions by joining an anti-government protest on 17 November 2022 at the Asoke Intersection.

TLHR said that the defendants decided not to testify because the prosecution did not bring an eyewitness to court, and because they believed that the prosecution did not have enough evidence to prove that they violated their bail.

According to iLaw, the Court ruled that Sopon and Nutthanit violated their bail because protesters at the 17 November 2022 protest clashed with the police, and because the two activists allegedly led the protesters to the police headquarters to continue the protest. The court also said that, because they did not testify against prosecution witnesses or justify their reasoning in joining the protest, the court considers them as having broken their bail.

The order revoking bail for the two activists was signed by judge Parit Piyanaratorn, Deputy Chief Justice of the Criminal Court.

Sopon and Nutthanit’s lawyers posted bail for them again, proposing a security of 100,000-baht each. However, the Criminal Court rejected the request on the grounds that they have already broken their bail conditions and are therefore likely to repeat their offense or cause other danger.

Sopon was previously held in pre-trial detention on a royal defamation charge for a month before being granted bail on 31 May 2022. He has been prohibited from leaving his residence without court permission unless for educational or medical reasons.

Nutthanit, meanwhile, was held in pre-trial detention for 94 days on a royal defamation charge. To protest the denial of bail, Nutthanit and fellow activist Netiporn Sanesangkhom, who was detained at the same time, went on a hunger strike for 64 days. They were granted bail on 4 August 2022.

Tantawan, Sopon, and Nutthanit speaking to reporters ahead of their bail hearing. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Monarchy reform activist Tantawan Tuatulanon was also summoned to court today for a bail revocation hearing. However, the prosecution told the court that they are not aware of why Tantawan’s bail would be revoked and that the court called the hearing based on evidence found during investigation in another case instead of a request from the inquiry officer.

Tantawan’s lawyer also told the court that they were not informed of why the hearing was called and what Tantawan did that could go against her bail condition, and that they had only seen a document from the inquiry officer claiming that she violated her bail conditions in another case.

The lawyer asked the court why it called the hearing, since it should already have evidence that Tantawan broke her bail if it calls the hearing without a request and there would be no need for a hearing. The judge told them that the court called a hearing to give the defendant the chance to defend herself.

The court later ruled to postpone Tantawan’s hearing to 1 March 2023.

NewsTantawan TuatulanonSopon SurariddhidhamrongNutthanit DuangmusitBaiporMonarchy reformright to bailAPEC 2022
Categories: Prachatai English

Crowd boos when asked to stand up for royal anthem at Blackpink concert in Bangkok

Prachatai English - Mon, 2023-01-09 15:21
Submitted on Mon, 9 Jan 2023 - 03:21 PMPrachatai

Video clips released on social media show the crowd booing as the Thai royal anthem played on stage and the words "Please pay your respects to His Majesty the King" appeared on the screen before the Blackpink World Tour kicked off in Bangkok.

A photo shows that special seats were arranged for VIP attendees under a Thai-styled roof in the stadium. Princess Ubolratana's post on Instagram showed that she was at the concert at some point. It has not been confirmed if the free-spirited princess noticed loud noises from the crowd.

The elite K-Pop band's two-day concert began on 7 January in Bangkok as part of the 2023 World Tour. After the 'Born Pink' concert in Bangkok, Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa will also perform in Hong Kong, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Taiwan, Tokyo, and Singapore.

Apart from the issue with the royal anthem, the Supachalasai Stadium was packed with Blackpink fans aka "Blinks" as they enjoyed the concert. So far, there have been 1.65 million tweets about #BORNPINKinBangkok as the audience shared their memorable moments online.

Some complained about the cheap-looking four-hole blue plastic urinals at the concert. Some argued that the arrangement was not unusual for a crowded venue, but some said they deserved better considering the ticket price.

Thai royalists thank Lisa 

Lalisa "Lisa" Manobal, a Thai national, became a talking point among Thai royalists who published online posts thanking her for letting the royal anthem Sansoen Phra Barami be played before their performance. Some claimed that she would feel sad when the crowd jeered at the song. 

In 2020, Thai protesters criticised her for not speaking out about the political situation in her home country. Many in the pro-democracy movement had a more understanding stance, claiming that doing so could jeopardise her fanbase and that the protesters were going too far.

In 2017, she wore black and laid flowers to mourn the death of King Rama IX at the Royal Thai Embassy in Seoul. In 2018, she said that she was going to buy a King Rama XI pendant from a shop in Jeju. Both stories became talking points among right-wing commentators. 

Her 2021 single release, 'Lalisa,’ was praised by the government for promoting Thailand as she wore Thai-style costumes in small parts of the music video. Thai protesters slammed the move as a desperate attempt to steal credit from a rising star in the Korean entertainment industry.

Not standing for the royal anthem has increasingly become a source of discomfort for Thai royalists over the past several years. While threatening anyone to stand can result in a lawsuit, the refusal to stand for the royal anthem does not constitute lèse majesté.

Fading tradition

BBC Thai reported that there has been a transition from the "not standing up is no crime" campaign by activists in 2007 to the "it takes courage to stand up" speech by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in 2019 as participation in the tradition of standing for the royal anthem continues to fade. 

In Thai movie theatres, not standing for the royal anthem before a movie was a chosen form of dissent among Thai protesters in 2020–2021. The practice remains widespread as calls persist for abolition of the lèse majesté law (Section 112) and reform of the monarchy.

Before the spread of Covid-19, movie theatres began to receive criticism for persuading the audience to wait outside until the royal anthem finished if they did not want to stand up to pay respect to the king. 

In 2021, the royalist youth group Good Students launched an online campaign calling for moviegoers to stand for the anthem to express gratitude to the hard-working King, claiming that they would stand even though they were the only ones to do so. 

When moviegoers returned after COVID-19, Thai theatres saw even fewer people standing to pay respect to the King before the movie. Not standing may be less of an issue than in the past, but other forms of dissent can still lead to jail-term penalties under Thai law. 

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Categories: Prachatai English

Thai job seekers rescued from scam hell become criminals in their own country

Prachatai English - Mon, 2023-01-09 11:39
Submitted on Mon, 9 Jan 2023 - 11:39 AMYiamyut Sutthichaya

The luring of Thais to work for scam organizations in neighbouring countries has become a regular tragedy in the age of pandemic lockdowns. In the past two years, thousands have been rescued only to become victims of the judicial system, while the traffickers escape free through loopholes.

“I travelled from Sukhothai. The meeting point was at Aranyaprathet. When arrived, I stayed at the hotel, waiting to be picked up. The Chinese boses sent people to pick me up and take me from Aranyaprathet to Sihanoukville.

“They took me to a certain house. I started to doubt. At that time there was a transport van and a person was saying ‘be careful of being swindled’. But I was with the Chinese businessmen already so I could not return.”

The decision not to step back brought Nop (pseudonym) and his relative to Sihanoukville, a city in southwestern Cambodia famous as the destination for massive Chinese investment but also as a base for online scam operations.

“What I did was to dupe people into stock trading, using beautiful women as profile photos to trick people. Our work was monitored all the time. There were CCTVs, and Thai and Chinese supervisors checking my chats all the time.”

Once he realised that the job was entirely different from the “Online Marketing Officer” posted in the job ads, Nop asked the boss if he could return to Thailand, only to find that he had to pay over a hundred thousand baht to buy himself out. Seeking help is no easier; a Vietnamese got caught doing that and was brutally beaten and sold to other scammers.

Despite this example, Nop decided to take the cashless route and asked for help. He was not so lucky. The bosses somehow found out that a distress call for help had been made to the outside world. Nop was the suspect and shared the same fate as his colleague.

“I was given an electric shock in the back. I got hit and slapped on the face and body. They were Chinese and Thai. About ten of them.” After the beating, he was sold to work as a scammer in another hotel in the same city.

This account was given by Nop who appeared with his identity concealed in a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in September 2022. It is only one of thousands of stories of victims who shared similar fates as people looked for jobs outside economically-stricken Thailand during the pandemic.

What has not been revealed is that rescues are becoming more difficult, traffickers still enjoy the freedom to operate, and victims have become criminals in their home country.

Let’s go digging for gold

From 2018 to 2022, the estimated amount of remittances from abroad was about 970 billion baht, according to the Overseas Employment Administration Division. This total has been on an upward trend since the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2019.

And if you are looking for job opportunities in foreign countries in 2022, you can find many on social media.

For instance, the #นักล่าเงินวอน hashtag on TikTok shows you Thais telling stories about their lives working in South Korea, job vacancies, and their homesickness. 

For Cambodia, a post in the “Seeking Job Poipet Hotline” Facebook group advertises for an admin officers at the Holiday Poipet Hotel. The job involves customer service and replying to chats. The salary starts at 13,000 baht and rises to 15,000 baht after probation.

Another post in the same group looks for an admin officer to work on online sales and trans-border e-commerce. Applicants are required to have typing and computer skills. The post also looks for team leaders with 25,000-30,000 baht salaries.

A post in the “Find job Poipet (safe)” Facebook group, looks for Chinese speakers to work in Myawaddy, a city on the Myanmar border with Thailand. The salary is 50,000 baht with free lodging and 4 meals per day.

A post from “Find job Poipet, Sihanouk, Phnom Penh '' looks for admin officers with 19,000-30,000 baht salaries, free accommodation, food, and monthly and birthday bonuses.

It is no secret that cities in Myanmar and Cambodia bordering Thailand are home to many entertainment complexes and casinos. When the borders were closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, their once robust economies became a place for online gambling and scam businesses.

Exclusive: Thais lured into Cambodia for illegal businesses as border closed

Scam operations have swindled people into sending their money into thin air and lured people into jobs with the promise of good pay and welfare. From interviews with some victims in 2021, we found that some were paid, and some were not. There were also people who were not assigned the work as described in the job ads

Victim to one, criminal to another

Nop was rescued, but was later charged by the police for conspiring in embezzlement in a transnational criminal manner, a serious offense similar to the one facing big shots like Tun Min Latt or triad gangs running “grey businesses” that have been recently exposed.

Nop is not the only one to be charged. Jaruwat Jinmonca, Vice President of the Immanuel Foundation, a NGO that works on rescuing and supporting scam victims, said he knew of 24 others who have shared Nop’s fate, and there may be more than a thousand that he doesn’t know about. 

Jaruwat said the Foundation has been using many means to rescue people from scamming jobs, in both public and covert operations. It also provides legal and psychological support later on.

After being rescued, victims are subjected to a classification process based on the situation they have faced. They are interviewed and processed by government officers and civil society representatives before the interviewers make a collective decision to see if they really are victims or not.

According to Jaruwat, evidence that can be used to affirm their status as victims are indications that they were lured to work there such as job ads or invitation chats.

This process, however, is not enough to prove their innocence before the law.

Prawit Roikaew, Deputy Chief Prosecutor on human trafficking cases, said that most evidence gained in online scam victim cases comes from the victims. Some victims had to destroy the little evidence that they had to avoid being caught by their bosses. This, plus other factors, makes it hard to prosecute the traffickers due to the weakness of the evidence.

“Aside from oral testimony, we don’t have any other kind of evidence because it seems that we don’t get much cooperation from the country of origin. They give us cooperation in helping get our people back, but in terms of collecting evidence, there is nothing concrete,” said Prawit.

Since 2008, Thailand has criminalised human trafficking and forced labour through passing the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act. Section 41 exempts victims from specific types of wrongdoing. But scamming people is not included in the exemption, which is why police officers have no choice but to charge them, leaving it up to the courts to decide their innocence.

Hard to rescue the victims, even harder to punish the organizers

Jaruwat said the pleas for help still came mainly from Cambodia. What is different is that the base of operations has shifted away from the Thai-Cambodia border. However, some Indians rescued from scammers in ethnic-controlled zones in Myanmar told him that there were Thai people working there as well.

Pol Capt Kritsana Eiamsa-ard of the Sa Kaeo police, who has been actively working on rescuing scam victims from Cambodia, explained that the scammer bases have moved to Bavet, a Cambodian town bordering Vietnam, in order to evade the activities of the Thai authorities in Sihanoukville and Poipet. The trend has been underway since March-April 2022.

The Sa Kaeo police said that although Bavet is only about 160 kilometres from Phnom Penh, the change of location has forced the police to rework all details needed to conduct rescue operations such as the layout of the city and its facilities.

Since online scamming has become a public problem, the Royal Thai Police has shown a serious commitment to suppressing networks inside Thailand. However, a systematic way to deal with what seem to be transnational networks is still in question.

Pol Gen Surachate ‘Big Joke’ Hakparn, Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police, speaking on the same panel as Nop, said that despite the rescue of over a thousand victims and heavy crackdowns, the scamming did not seem to decrease.

He recalled a time in 2021 when he collaborated in a rescue mission in Sihanoukville. After investigations were able to pinpoint the places where 3,000 Thais were working, he planned with Royal Thai Police Commissioner, Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas to bring the Navy ship HTMS Chakri Naruebet to rescue them.

However, after the plan and location of the raid were shared with the Cambodian authorities, the scammers somehow found out and relocated the workers somewhere else, leaving only 30 to be found. The police spy was also badly beaten and thrown beside a lake.

As Surachate tried to bring the remaining victims back to Thailand, a Chinese man asked him for 50,000 baht per person in exchange, but later allowed them to return for free after receiving a phone call from a certain big shot.

From this experience, the deputy police chief concluded that one important part of the problem was a lack of serious will.

On the victim’s side, Jaruwat said it was not easy to have everyone cooperate with the investigators. The reason is economic.

“For someone to come to file a complaint and testify to the investigators, they have to take time to travel and have high travel costs for roundtrip tickets, accommodation and food. Actually our Foundation supported people as well as possible, but most of the victims think they applied for a job and could not leave it.

“Some people think it’s all over and want to start their lives again. They want to work because everyone who came back has economic problems. They went to Cambodia because they wanted money,” said Jaruwat.

Systematic problem needs systematic solution

Prawit thinks that Section 41 of the anti-human trafficking law should be improved to allow more flexibility to exempt wrongdoing. He also sees that international cooperation to tackle the crime should be more concrete.

In January 2023, Prawit and other Thai authorities working on human trafficking will visit Cambodia and Myanmar to discuss a more concrete operational framework. After that, they will conduct an online meeting with the Chinese authorities to do the same thing.

“We may have to have more discussions with our neighbouring countries on how, if cases like this occur, will we work together, how will we investigate and collect evidence together.”

“Because today, it is like we are doing it alone while our neighbours, in the matter of suppression, have not given us much collaboration. … It looks like we can only help people but cannot suppress the ones who are running these scams, the ones who really benefit,” said Prawit.

Kritsana, who gets intensive collaboration, believes there should be activities to foster better relationships among officers in each country in order to make collaboration easier.

Jaruwat finds that a similar attitude is needed to solve a problem - seeing that job seekers turned online scammers is a form of human trafficking…Most people see them as criminals who cause people trouble.”

“Everyone has to look at it in the same way, that the scammers in Cambodia are part of human trafficking and understand that this is human trafficking. There are Chinese people who are human traffickers.

“Our fellow Thais were lured to work in Cambodia, were tricked by the Chinese into going there with the real intention to work. … I am not afraid to say that they didn’t know. They really went there to make money, to do honest work that was claimed to be legal.”

Kritsana wants job seekers to be aware of ‘too good to be true’ job opportunities. There has to be very thorough research before jumping on board, precautions have to be taken on the grounds that it is related to forced labour.

“In every case, their father, mother, relatives warned them, but they were stubborn about coming. Some were invited by friends, some wanted to take the risk. They wanted to work because they were told they would get high salaries. … Everyone saw the news, but never thought it would happen to them.”

For Thais facing trouble in Thailand, a hotline contact for Consular Affairs is +6625728442. FAQs are also available here.

FeaturedepthIn-Depthonline scamcall center scamSihanoukvilleCambodiaBavetImmanuel FoundationJaruwat JinmancaSurachate HakparnKritsana Eiamsa-ardPrawit Roikaewhuman traffickingforced labourSource:
Categories: Prachatai English

Princess still unconscious, hospitalized

Prachatai English - Sun, 2023-01-08 12:22
Submitted on Sun, 8 Jan 2023 - 12:22 PMPrachatai

According to a statement from the Bureau of the Royal Household released last night (7 January), Princess Bajrakitiyabha, King Vajiralongkorn's oldest child, remains unconscious after she was hospitalized on 14 December 2021.

Princess Bajrakitiyabha presides over a royal donation of medical equipment to a prison in Phitsanulok province in March 2020

Princess Bajrakitiyabha, 44, was reported to have collapsed from a heart condition while training her dogs for the 2022 Thailand Working Dog Championship of the Royal Thai Army at the Military Dog Battalion in Pak Chong District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province. She was taken to the Pak Chong Nana Hospital before being transferred via helicopter to Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok where she remains hospitalized.

The Bureau of the Royal Household issued a second statement on 19 December saying that the Princess is stable and that her heart, lungs, and kidneys are being treated with medication and medical equipment.

The Bureau released another statement last night (7 December), stating that Princess Bajrakitiyabha collapsed due to severe cardiac arrhythmia relating to a mycoplasma infection. She is unconscious and is being given antibiotics, while her heart, lungs, and kidneys continue to be treated with medication and medical equipment.

Princess Bajrakitiyabha is the oldest of King Vajiralongkorn’s 7 children and the only child born to his first wife, Princess Soamsawali. She is also his only child whose parents still retain their royal titles. Although the King has not appointed an heir, Princess Bajrakitiyabha has been viewed by many as a likely successor to the throne due to her public standing and family background.

She previously worked in the Thai Permanent Mission to the UN and the Office of the Attorney General in Bangkok. In February 2021, she was transferred to the Royal Security Command, the military unit responsible for the security of the King and his family, and given the rank of General.

NewsPrincess Bajrakitiyabharoyal familyBureau of the Royal Household
Categories: Prachatai English

Persons of the Year 2022: the Will of the People Fund

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-01-06 17:27
Submitted on Fri, 6 Jan 2023 - 05:27 PMPrachatai

Interview by Kritsada Subpawanthanakun
Article by Anna Lawattanatrakul
Cover illustration by Kittiya On-in

For the past three years since student-led protests broke out in 2020, over 1800 people have been prosecuted for taking part in the protests. Several have been denied bail and held in pre-trial detention, while many have needed a large amount of money to post bail. For support, they have turned to the Will of the People Fund, a bail fund for pro-democracy activists and protesters, where donations flow into the Fund from supporters of the movement, many of whom may not be able to take to the street themselves.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), at least 1,888 people have been charged in 1,165 cases in relation to their participation in the pro-democracy movement between 18 July 2020 – 27 December 2022. Of these cases, at least 875 are still ongoing, with 443 now in court.

11 people are also currently detained pending trial or pending appeal on charges relating to political expression, three of whom are detained on royal defamation charges.

For their role in supporting activists and protesters prosecuted for participating in the pro-democracy movement and in fighting for their right to bail, Prachatai has named the Will of the People Fund and its supporters our 2022 Persons of the Year.

The will of the people

“I am sure that most donors are not rich people,” said editor and translator Ida Aroonwong. Following the 2014 military coup, when civilians were being tried in military courts for protesting against the junta, Ida and sociology lecturer Chalita Bundhuwong launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover their bail, which became the Will of the People Fund.

Ida said that it was difficult to say who has donated to the Fund. Although she recognized some of the names, some of whom were writers and middle-class intellectuals, the majority of donors were ordinary people who find donating to the Fund a way to make a stand. Ida said she noticed that most transfers to the Fund’s bank account were made in small amounts from ten to several hundred baht, and that it was very rare for anything more than 4 figures to come in at once.

Ida Aroonwong

Nevertheless, Ida felt the pride that comes with each donation, as donors often send transfer slips to the Fund’s Facebook page, telling them that the money is to help the young activists facing legal charges and possible jail time. She said that the donors may see the activists as their representatives and give money to the fund as a way of expressing their political stand and their discontent at the regime.

In February 2022, when activists Parit Chiwarak and Anon Nampa were granted bail after spending 6 months and 7 months respectively in prison, other activists put out a call for donations to the Will of the People Fund when they learned that the Fund did not have enough money to cover their bail, having just posted bail for another protester. Within less than 4 hours, it raised around 10 million baht, more than enough to cover bail for Parit and Anon and still have funding left to post bail for other protesters.

“This is not just the money. It’s power, so later we started using the word ‘will.’ It’s not just a pretty word we came up with, but it’s something that really happened. When we go to get our account book updated and see the transfers that come in, what is important is the many small transfers. We call it political power, an expression of political will. It’s not tax money that people are forced to pay, but they choose to pay it,” Ida said.

“Sometimes, I even feel that it’s beyond that, that it has a sanctity within itself. It’s not just a fund supporting bail for the accused in political cases. It’s more than that. It’s an expression of the people’s voice.”

A crowd standing along a street in the Siam Square shopping district during a protest calling for the release of political prisoners in July 2022

Several donors have said that they donated to the Fund because they wanted to support people who face injustice at the hands of the state. Many are also unable to join the protests due to the circumstances of their lives, from their jobs and possible consequences to the distance they have to travel to get to a protest. Regularly publishing a record of when and how the money has been used on Facebook also means that donors can be sure their donations are being used for the intended purposes.

“It’s one of the most trustworthy ways for people behind the lines to support [the movement,] especially if the goal is to help people who face injustice from the actions of the state,” said a donor.

Another donor said that donating to the Fund is a way of participating in the movement and to take a stand when one can’t do so openly. They said that although donating is taking the easy route, it is still a good way to show support, as money has been used as an obstacle to the pro-democracy movement.

And despite investigation attempts from the authorities and concerns from family members, the owner of the River Art Hotel Chiang Mai continues to openly donate to the Fund, both personally and as a business via campaigns where they donate part of their income from rooms.

“This Fund supports human rights and it is something this country should have, and I’m not sure whether I will also [get charged] one day,” said the owner.

“I know what is happening to this country, so people know that there are people who support, or that there are businesses who support this Fund, not just ordinary people.”

Sureerat Chiwarak (centre, black shirt) hugging her son Parit when he was released from prison on 24 February 2022 after spending 6 months in pre-trial detention on several royal defamation charges.

Meanwhile, Sureerat Chiwarak is giving back to the Fund in a different way. The 52-year-old accountant is the mother of activist Parit Chiwarak, who emerged as a monarchy reform advocate in the student-led protests of 2020. Facing a number of charges relating to his activism, including at least 23 counts of royal defamation, Parit has had to spend months in pre-trial detention while his mother and lawyers fight for bail.

The Will of the People Fund covered Parit’s bail, and now Sureerat is volunteering as an accountant for the Fund.

“If it’s just normal accounting, then it’s money in and money out, but by chance when I was setting up the system, I thought that we should make it so that it also collects data and so we can autonomically pull out data, such as if we want to know which case the bail money is being used and in which court,” she explained.

“I didn’t buy any software. I just use the ordinary local software, but I used my experience to help me adapt it. My son also one of those using money from the Fund, so I know how the system should be set up and which data should be collected.”

Sureerat said this was how she can give back to the Fund. She also wanted to show non-profit organizations that they need strong accounting systems to ensure transparency and make easier for the work to be continued by future generations.

“Without this Fund, the kids would still be in jail. They would have to close the entire prison to hold our children. If they didn’t have money for bail, then the kids have to go to jail. Their future would be ruined,” Sureerat said.

For Ida, the name of the Fund is not just a name but an indication that the Fund is more than money but is a way for people to express their will.

“When we named it the Will of the People Fund, it was our way of marking that this is what it really means,” Ida said.

“It’s not just a bail fund for political defendants. It’s the Will of the People Fund. It’s what they want, their will. It’s how the people make their voice heard,”

“The most primeval kind of bureaucracy”

Despite the support, it has not been smooth sailing for the Will of the People Fund. Ida and her team have to manage the money so that they always have enough to cover bail and put out calls for donations if it seems like they won’t have enough, as well as making sure that the bail money that is returned at the end of a case comes back to the Fund. They also have to navigate the complicated bureaucratic system of the court, which Ida said is “the most primeval kind of bureaucracy” that has refused to change to keep up with the times.

All the red tape slows down their work, as they have to learn to deal with the required paperwork, which can be different from court to court, while also having to be very careful, knowing that they can be probed by the authorities if they slip up.

“I know that we can be the target of political games through mechanisms like the Revenue Department at any time because we deal with political cases, so we can’t make mistakes. We have to be very cautious, and that forces us to become bureaucratic and be as nit-picking as the bureaucrats, so they can’t pick on us. And another reason is that it’s money donated by the people. We are always conscious of this, which reminds us that we must be responsible with the people’s money,” Ida said.

Meanwhile, the courts can be inconsistent when it comes to how much money they require for bail. Often, it is up to the judges to set the amount and other conditions, and even whether to grant bail or not. Ida said that judges often don’t explain their reasoning when setting the amount of bail money, and she would prefer it if there were a set standard for how much money is needed for bail rather than leaving it up to the discretion of the judge, which is subjective and can be biased based on a set of moral norms that for her is nothing but personal preference.

“I feel that bail is not a matter of principles. Not granting bail should be the exception. You have to grant them bail first, because the case has not ended. The trial hasn’t even started. What right do you have to lock them up?” Ida said.

Ida has also seen some defendants who have  been held in pre-trial detention until the charges against them have been dismissed or who have spent more time in jail than their sentence. She questioned if these examples would make the court realise that it should begin by granting bail, especially in political cases, and said that it would not be possible for defendants facing political charges to tamper with evidence when the prosecution witnesses are often government officials. 

And if the charges against someone detained pending trial is dismissed, the court may or may not pay damages for the time they spend in prison. Ida said the court often refuses to pay damages if the charges are dismissed because the prosecution cannot prove they are guilty and the court rule to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt, but the court does not consider them innocent.

During a protest march in August 2022, activists wore chains as a symbolic act of protest against being required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet as part of their bail condition.

The courts have also been setting more bail conditions in addition to requiring money. Activists and protesters being prosecuted are often required not to repeat the offences they were accused of, or they will be breaking the conditions of their bail, which means that they can have their bail revoked.

However, the court has lately been setting the condition that the bail money will be confiscated if the accused break their bail conditions. This makes Ida, who has acted as volunteer guarantor for many activists, question if it was possible for judges to set their own conditions in addition to the contract which says that the defendants will not flee and will go through the judicial process.

“I’m a straightforward person. I still feel that a bail contract and what the bail money means is agreeing to enter a process. It has nothing to do with any other condition the court sets, especially if those conditions are not related to fighting the case. It’s conditions like not repeating offenses, where they have not been found guilty of what they are accused of,” she said.  

Pornchai Yuanyee, Sinburi Saenkla, and Micky were released from Bangkok Remand Prison on Tuesday night (22 November) after they were granted bail. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Recently, judges have also been refusing to allow activists to use money from the Will of the People Fund to post bail and require family members to post bail themselves instead of giving the task to a volunteer. When activists Pornchai Yuanyee, Sinburi Saenkla, and Micky (full name withheld) were granted bail after being detained pending trial on charges relating to the burning of a royal ceremonial arch in front of Ratchawinit School, the Criminal Court required their family members, who were appointed their supervisors, to post bail for the activists with their own money. They were released on the condition that the bail money would be confiscated and their supervisors held responsible if they broke their bail conditions.

Activist Nawapol Tonngam was also denied bail in November 2022 and detained for one night at Bangkok Remand Prison following his indictment, as the Criminal Court refused to allow a volunteer guarantor to post bail for him. He was only released when a family member come to post bail for him and agreed to be made his supervisor. The Court also required the guarantor to agree that they would be held responsible if Nawapol broke his bail conditions.

Ida said she is still trying to understand why the court would make things more complicated than they should be.

“There should be no discrimination. Why do you think this accused person would do it? What about the hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of accused people in the country who use the same contract and the same official bail contract form? Why can they do it?” Ida asked.

“This is not a shocking case. This is a case from exercising one’s right to freedom of expression. The court can say that it’s proportional or appropriate or reasonable if it wants, but to distort a process that should be straightforward and make it more complicated for freedom of expression cases, I think it’s excessive.” 

The fund that shouldn’t exist

Activists and academics standing in front of the Supreme Court in Bangkok during one of the daily Stand Against Detention protests in July 2022

Over the past three years, the Will of the People Fund has raised a total of around 50 million baht, 40 million of which is now held by various courts as bail money, which will be returned after the relevant cases are decided. The rest has gone into covering travel costs, fines, and used to support detainees.

Ida said the money they have is enough, as long as it is well-managed, but the Fund needs to make itself more sustainable so the work can continue if needed. Because of this, the Will of the People Fund has registered itself as the Siddhi Issara Foundation, not only to ensure transparency when managing donations but also to make it an organization with full-time workers to keep the Fund going.

On New Year's Eve (31 December 2022), activists in Chiang Mai stood near Tha Phae gates, a popular tourist landmark in the city, during a countdown event to protest the detention of political prisoners (Photo by Natchalee Singsaohae)

But above all, Ida still wants the Fund ultimately to be disbanded, since it should not have existed to begin with. The defendants supported by the Fund are charged over their political activity, and Ida said it was wrong to require such a high amount of money to post bail for them.

She noted that many young activists and protesters are from low-income backgrounds and are not able to find their own bail money, and said that government funds like the Justice Fund under the Ministry of Justice should help people without discriminating against defendants facing charges like sedition or royal defamation.

“If you call it the law, you must let them fight within the boundary of the law with dignity, as much as the law allows. Being granted bail makes it a fair fight, so I feel that even the government’s fund itself can help. You’re not supporting crime,” Ida said.

“As long as the official mechanisms do not allow something like this, the people will use us as an avenue of political expression. If we can raise a lot [of money], it’s more like a slap in the face. I don’t want to do anything like that. I want the normal function to keep going.”

FeaturePerson of the yearWill of the People FundRatsadon Prasong Fundright to bailfreedom of expressionPro-democracy movement
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Reward for Wirathu

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-01-06 14:05
Submitted on Fri, 6 Jan 2023 - 02:05 PMStephff

MultimediaStephffAshin Wirathu
Categories: Prachatai English

I was like a slave: Hmong women use TikTok to reveal married exploitation

Prachatai English - Fri, 2023-01-06 11:17
Submitted on Fri, 6 Jan 2023 - 11:17 AMPimkamon Pichitsiri, Kulrawee Sukeemok

Young Hmong wives are using TikTok to expose the slave-like conditions they have to ensure with their husbands’ families. Despite the bonds of kinship, their lives of unpaid labour and denied freedoms are seen by experts as crossing a red line under anti-human trafficking law.

@mivni39 ชีวิตจริงของลูกผู้หญิง ม้ง ตอนนี้ยังเป็นลูกสาวอยู่ขอให้ใช้ชีวิตให้คุ้มค่าที่สุดก่อน #ม้ง#ชีวิตผู้หญิงม้ง #สาวม้ง #ชีวิตบนดอย #พี่สะใภ้ #หมีนึง #หมีนิ#เหม่านิเป๋า#mivni ♬ เสียงต้นฉบับ - NooNa - นา สูง158 หนัก44 ค่ะ

A TikTok post from @mivni39 shows women cooking in an old-fashioned kitchen. The caption says "Hmong woman is the toughest one. Tell me who's tougher."

“We barely have any free time. Working in the fields every day. … So the videos we made are just about going to the fields every day, because we are just in the fields, we have no time to do anything else.”

“Because there is work to do on the scallions every day - picking the scallion flowers, and then having to weed, and then having to add fertiliser, we do this time after time for the whole year. … We have no time to rest.”

These are the words of Pakkhom, 20, a young Hmong wife whose TikTok account has over 470,000 followers. She is one among many Hmong TikTokers who have been using the platform to tell the public of the burden they have to shoulder each day. Their hardship can be found by the hashtags #ลูกสะใภ้ม้ง #สะใภ้ม้ง (Hmong daughter-in law) and #สาวม้ง (Hmong woman). 

By monitoring TikTok and interviewing 8 Hmong women, we found many Hmong women of 15-16 years of age were involved in forced and arranged marriages in line with their ethnic culture.

They moved into the husband’s home where they were subjected to long hours of work in the family’s business, such as running a resort, store or farm, and in housework. In return for working over 12 hours per day for 1 to 3 years, they were paid 500 to 30,000 Baht, about 15 to 873 US Dollars. They later decided to part ways with their husbands.

Some legal experts see their fate as constituting forced labour as defined under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act B.E. 2551 (2008).

“It is conceivable that this may be modern slavery, because daughters-in-law have no negotiating power. … They don’t get wages, they work hard from dawn till dusk, and they receive no welfare because it is seen as family work, so according to the law, they do not count as part of the workforce,” said Suchart Trakoonhuthip, coordinator of the MAP Foundation, a civil society organization that addresses ethnic labour issues.

Modern slavery is a term that includes human trafficking, forced labour, child labour, slavery, prostitution, and forced marriage.

Work hard, earn nothing

A TikToker shows how Hmong women live. @adipa19

Pakkhom said she has to get up at four or five in the morning to do the housework and get breakfast. Then she goes to the scallion field to gather the flowers, add fertiliser, and weed. She is in the field until dusk before returning home to cook and do house chores, sleep, and repeat the schedule without a day off. Free time was spent planting vegetables at home, gathering firewood, and making Hmong garments to wear.

Another post on Hmong women daily live by @adipa19. The caption says "While others live their young lives fully."

“When men actually take us as wife, we have no freedom. It’s just like slavery. Hmong daughters-in-law will be involved in farming, gardening, and housework, everything. No matter where we want to go, we have to get permission from our mother-in-law,” said Pakkhom.

At least 3 Hmong women said in interviews that they had to work hard because the Hmong believe that when women are married, their bodies and souls move into their husband’s families and that the women’s guardian spirits will also be replaced by those of the husbands’ families.

This belief makes divorce difficult, not to mention the stigma when the community in some areas believe that widows bring disaster to the family.

Tawan (pseudonym), 20, another Hmong woman, said with a feeling of unease that she had to work at her husband’s resort and Chinese cabbage field in Phetchabun Province. But when all the hard work is done, her husband is the one who handles all the income.

“At that time, I was clearly like a slave, a menial. … Everyone else was employed at tens of thousands [of baht] a month. They just had to do the cleaning. They did not have to cook at night. … [The employees] only worked from 8 to 5, and then they could go home and rest,” said Tawan.

Limits to Freedom

Many Hmong interviewees said they had to receive permission to go out or spend money, depriving them of the freedom to enjoy personal lives or travel back to see their own families.

Waew (pseudonym), 26, another Hmong woman, said her parents-in-law forbade her to wear a skirt or associate with friends at any social gathering. Her mother-in-law usually picked on her, damaging her self-confidence. And when she wanted to talk about her opinion or stress, they brushed it aside, seeing it as nothing of importance.

“I felt really worthless. Sometimes I wanted to cry and go back home to see my mother. I never cooked for my mother, so why does she still praise me as a good, capable and hard-working person? But now I’m with them, whatever I do, they are not pleased,” said Waew in tears.

Domestic violence, forced labour

Three legal experts said the way the Hmong women were made to work may constitute a violation of Section 6/1 of the anti-human trafficking law as constituting forced labour or forced service. Offenders can be given a 6-month prison term or 50,000 baht fine. If the forced labour victim dies, the offender may also face the death penalty.

Papop Siamhan, an independent lawyer, said the cases mentioned may count as forced labour when checked against the International Labour Organization’s Key Indicators of Forced Labour in that the women were made subject their husband’s families’ orders via labour exploitation with no payment and with deprivation of their freedoms.

“They are overlapping issues … a dimension of law enforcement and a dimension of tradition. … If we enforce the law directly, many Hmong will be face charges with serious criminal punishments.

“Creating an understanding of human rights among the Hmong community may create more sustainability,” said Papop.

Raporn Pongpanitanon , an expert from the Office of Women's Affairs and Family Development, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, said what the Hmong women had been through counts as domestic violence and that the offenders could be charged under the Victims of Domestic Violence Victim Protection Act, B.E.2550 (2007).

Raporn, however, said the details have to be looked into in order to proceed with charges, and that the law has usually been used in business cases rather than family disputes.


Waew recounted the day she moved into her husband’s house in Mae Hong Son Province. She was made to replace three employees who were hired at 250 baht a day. Working in place of three people meant that she had to work 14 hours a day but without any payment. Her husband's family were the ones who got all the money.

“I was pregnant, but they still had no pity. They still used me to lift heavy things… I lifted it till my stomach went hard. It hurt. I went to lie down for a moment, and they called me back to work,” said Waew.

After this, she decided to part ways with her husband in 2019 to live her own life.

“I’ve made a mistake once. The big one in my life. I won’t do it again. I was once married, but it turned out worthless. But today I see my own value. I have the right to choose. I listen to my own heart as best I can, and move forward,” said Waew.

Beside Waew, Tawan also took her 2-year-old child out of her husband’s house and moved to a strawberry farm in Udon Thani. However, many Hmong women still have different reasons to not follow suit and stay with their husbands.

This article was written as part of media training by Thomson Reuters Foundation. The authors are responsible for all the original published content.

The article was translated by Yiamyut Sutthichaya.

FeatureHmongTikTokforced labourhuman traffickingPapop Siamhanmodern slaverySuchart TrakoonhuthipRaporn PongpanitanonSource:
Categories: Prachatai English

Police top brass snub parliament inquiry into APEC crackdown 

Prachatai English - Thu, 2023-01-05 09:36
Submitted on Thu, 5 Jan 2023 - 09:36 AMTeeranai Charuvastra

A parliamentary hearing into a police crackdown on an anti-government protest in November that left dozens wounded was adjourned without any progress on Wednesday because police commanders failed to show up. 

A policeman with a firearm observes a protest taking place close to Democracy Monument in Bangkok on 18 November 2022. 

Some lawmakers in the House Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Human Rights were left visibly frustrated upon hearing that senior police officials did not respond to their summons, citing scheduling conflict. Despite calls for clarity from various watchdog groups, the police continued to remain silent about the  18 November operation, in which four media workers were also injured. 

House committee member Rangsiman Rome said it’s the third time their summons were snubbed by the police commanders, including the chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau. A correspondent for Prachatai English was also present to observe the session. 

“We have been trying to understand and coexist with the authorities. We know that they have a lot of duties,” Rangsiman, an MP for the Move Forward Party, said. “But this is already the third time that this has happened.” 

He added that the committee was hoping to give the police officers in charge of the crackdown a chance to explain themselves.  

“We want to hear from every side. We respect the facts given by every side,” Rangsiman said. 

The house committee launched a probe into police actions on 18 November after protest organisers lodged complaints of excessive violence by the riot police. The activists attempted to march to the venue where leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, were gathering, but officers blocked the march and moved in to arrest multiple people, wielding batons and rubber-tipped bullets. 

More than 20 demonstrators were wounded in the clashes, activists said; the most serious injury belonged to a man blinded by a police baton round. Four media professionals were also injured while covering the protest. They include a reporter beaten by a group of riot police and a photographer who was struck in her face by a glass bottle thrown from the police lines. Police said 14 officers were wounded. 

Too busy 

Police officials summoned by the house committee to testify at today’s hearing include chief of the Bangkok police force; commander of the Metropolitan Bureau’s Division 1; commander of the Crowd Control Division; and superintendent of Samranrat Police Station, the precinct overseeing the protest area.

Only the crowd control unit chief, Maj Gen Tanantorn Rattanasittipak, showed up. The rest dispatched other officers on their behalf, as in two previous hearings. They said their bosses could not come to the parliament because they were needed elsewhere; Metropolitan Bureau chief Thiti Sawang, for instance, was having an audience with an unspecified member of the Royal Family, his aide said.

Rangsiman and some other lawmakers argued that the hearing cannot proceed properly without the participation of the commanders in charge, not their junior stand-ins. They also questioned why the police appeared to insist on obfuscating the fact-finding mission. 

“It is notable that they declined to come here many times already,” Democrat Party Suthat Ngernmuen commented at the hearing.  

Police also maintained radio silence in the face of a complaint from media associations which urged the police on 21 December to investigate the violence against journalists and photographers during the crackdown. 

At the time, police spokesperson Archayon Kraithong said that an internal investigation was ongoing and would be concluded “soon.” The police have yet to offer any follow-up to the public since. 

Following the complaint, the Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police and other high ranking officials were scheduled to hold a discussion with the Thai Journalists Association and its allied organizations on 12 January.

But hopes of getting any answers are now dashed. That meeting was postponed to 18 January – a day after police officials are due to testify to the Civil Court in connection with a lawsuit filed against the national police force over its use of force against field reporters. 

At today’s hearing, house committee member Supachai Jaisamut said that a letter will be sent to PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is technically in charge of the police force, informing him of failures by police officials to respond to the summons. 

“So we’ll let the Prime Minister know what happened,” said Supachai, an MP for the Bhum Jai Thai Party. “And once we come back after the next election as MPs, we’ll take the matter from there. The House will be dissolved in a few days anyway.”

NewsAPEC 2022Citizens Stop APEC 2022 Coalitionpress freedomRangsiman RomeSuthat NgernmuenArchayon KraithongSupachai Jaisamut
Categories: Prachatai English

How State Railway under fire for costly train station name change sign

Prachatai English - Wed, 2023-01-04 19:07
Submitted on Wed, 4 Jan 2023 - 07:07 PMPrachatai

The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) faces public outrage for commissioning a private company to build a 10 million USD sign to change the name of its central station. An investigation is underway and suspicious dealings have been questioned.

The Grand Station from Google Map

On 29 December 2022, the last day before Thailand entered a year-end holiday, Unique Engineering and Construction Public Company Limited (UNIQ) issued a circular letter to the director and manager of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET).

Among other things, it stated that the company signed a contract with SRT to replace the existing Bang Sue Grand Station name sign with a new one bearing the name Krung Thep Aphiwat, as bestowed by King Vajiralongkorn in September 2022.

What sparked public anger was the cost of the name-changing project - 33,169,726.39 million baht, or about 10 million USD, arguably too high a price for a country still suffering the economic costs of the pandemic.

In response to growing criticism from netizens and public figures, Transportation Minister Saksiam Chidchob told the media that an investigation has been ordered. It is expected to be concluded in one week.

With the investigation still underway, whistleblowers and critics have already pointed out some suspicious aspects of the deal.

Grandiose labelling

Commisioned in 2021, Bang Sue Grand Station was built to replace the centuries-old, iconic Krung Thep Grand Station at Hua Lamphong. Its 2,475 rai (about 3.96 million sq m) space surpasses Malaysia’s KL Sentral in size, making it the largest station in Thailand and ASEAN. 

Krung Thep Grand Station, also known as Hua Lamphong.

As of last year, the station was ready to accept 136,000 passengers per day, a throughput that will increase to 624,000 per day in the next decade.  Linked with transportation infrastructure, the station is a hub for trains, metro light rail, and airport commuter transport.

Measuring 180 m in width and 520 m in length, the station is gigantic. On its front dome, a huge “BANG SUE GRAND STATION” sign can be seen. This is where the controversial replacement sign is to be installed.

The Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), a renowned civil society watchdog, posted the SRT concession document on its Facebook page stating that UNIQ had been given a concession for a sign-replacement construction deal with “specific” concession terms.

Under the TOR, the company will set up new SRT logos along with the station’s new name in Thai and English on the east and west sides of the dome. MCOT’s Inside Thailand news show made public a document allegedly issued by the concession committee, listing project expenditure as follows:

  • engineering structure for 6,228,521 THB,
  • architecture process for 24,394,841.39 THB,
  • design process, for 918,700.89 THB 
  • the station's glass walls’ replacement during the construction for 1,627,662 THB.

In Thailand, when the government sector hands out a concession to the private sector, bidding is required in order to assure competition to obtain the cheapest cost and highest quality. In some cases, the state can specify the number of bidders or designate a particular company as the concessionaire. 

In this “specific” case, SRT gave UNIQ the contract without any bidding taking place. This is the core problem that later led to public criticism.

On 3 January 2023, SRT posted on its public relation Facebook page, explaining in detail why the construction costs were so high. It noted that the construction included creating 48 Thai letters, 62 English letters, and 2 SRT logos, as well as a new base for the letters to rest on and a new illumination system.

The SRT also emphasised that construction process was a difficult job requiring special safety measures because workers had to lift a structure as heavy as 7 tonnes and hang it 28 metres above the ground.

As for why there was no bidding, SRT justified the use of the specific concession method by stating that the construction has to be done as fast as possible. 

SRT ended by affirming that the project was being done “for the benefit of the state and the people … entirely in accordance with public sector procurement procedures.”

Tip of the iceberg

On Tuesday (3 January), Sarawut Saranwong, president of the State Railway Worker’s Union of Thailand (SRUT) submitted a letter to the SRT governor demanding that a probe to take place for the sake of transparency.

Sarawut found that there was no immediate need for the name-changing project that would justify skipping the bidding process. He also questioned whether UNIQ’s joint venture with Italian-Thai Development PLC in the Red Line train construction project was a sufficient reason for it to receive the concession.

On Inside Thailand the next morning, Sarawut, who works under SRT and knew about the deal before it was made public, said that he still does not understand how the concession went the way it did.

Prapas Chongsa-nguan, former SRT governor said in Voice TV's Wake Up Thailand news show that the specific concession has to be made on the ground that the project has to be initiated within one week. It is still questionable why SRT struck the deal in December 2022, two months after receiving the bestowed name.

Surachate Pravinvongvuth, a Move Forward Party (MFP) lawmaker known for his scrutiny of many transportation-related mega-projects, reminded the public that the SRT deal is but a tiny portion of the deals pending over the next couple of months.

He said the Ministry of Transport plans to push through another 9 mega-projects at a cost of hundreds of billions of baht in January-February cabinet meetings. The timeline comes just before the current administration’s term ends in late March.

The MFP lawmaker noted that the Ministry has been rushing projects this way since the 2014 coup.  He added that the rapid push for projects without paying heed to cost efficiency could be a burden to state budgets in a long term.

Transport Minister, Saksiam is an MP from Bhumjaithai Party, a major partner in the government coalition,  It has been absorbing MPs from other parties and gaining influence. Anutin Charnvirakul, the Public Health Minister, is the party’s leader.

Newsthe State Railway of Thailand (SRT)Krung Thep Aphiwat Grand StationBang Sue Grand StationThailand trainUnique Engineering and Construction Public Company Limited (UNIQ)Sarawut SaranwongPrapas Chongsa-nguanSurachate Pravinvongvuthcorruption
Categories: Prachatai English

Nowhere is safe: LGBTQ migrant workers still face discrimination in Thailand

Prachatai English - Wed, 2023-01-04 13:23
Submitted on Wed, 4 Jan 2023 - 01:23 PMSicha Rungrojtanakul

Thailand is a common destination for large numbers of migrant workers, especially from neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. Among them are many LGBTQ who came to Thailand to escape harassment and prosecution in their own country, but found themselves faced with gender-based discrimination and unsafe work environments in Thaioand. No policies have been implemented for their protection.

A neighbourhood in Samut Sakhon where many workers from Myanmar live

Research by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that LGBTQ migrant workers, especially trans women, tend to move from employer to employer because of frequent harassment over their identity. Many also work in unsafe environments and may face violence from their employers, especially in small businesses or in domestic work, which often do not pay well and require them to live in their employers’ houses.

Prachatai speaks to three LGBTQ workers from Myanmar and migrant worker rights experts about the experience of LGBTQ workers in Thailand and the lack of protection for them.

A heaven for LGBTQ people?

“Someone who worked in the factory once touched my breasts and my bottom. I was embarrassed because someone else saw it. I was also angry because why did they have to touch me?” said 32-year-old Joy (pseudonym) who works in Samut Sakhon.

Joy is one of the over 2.5 million workers from Myanmar who have come to Thailand seeking higher pay, as they cannot make enough money in their home country to cover the cost of living. As a trans woman, Joy also came to Thailand believing that it is more accepting of LGBTQ people, but not only did she struggle to find a job, she is also discriminated against for being trans.

Growing up in Dawei, Joy said she knew since she was young that she identified as a woman and presented herself as a woman as much as she could, but she was not accepted by her family and community. Throughout our conversation, Joy called herself a woman and showed us photos.

“When I was living in Myanmar, I had long hair and wore makeup, but I couldn’t dress fully as a woman, because I didn’t want to upset my parents,” Joy said.

Joy said she was bullied when she was living in Myanmar, which she did not like, but she could not tell her parents because she was embarrassed and did not want to cause problems. When she was 18, a man from her village attacked her.

“When I was living in Myanmar, a man that lives in the same village insulted me for being a kathoei. He insulted my parents, and then he pulled my hair and punched my face,” Joy said.

Joy told her parents, who responded: “You were born a man. Why aren’t you a man?” She said that even though her parents knew she didn’t start fights with other people, they did not like who she was, which further drove her desire to move to Thailand.

Joy, a 32-year-old worker from Dawei

However, life in Thailand is not what she hoped it would be. Joy previously worked in a canning factory. She said that while her Thai colleagues were understanding, she was often bullied by other workers from Myanmar and has faced both verbal and physical harassment, of which she did not want to tell her partner because she was concerned that she would be seen as a problem-maker if her partner started fights.

Joy has not had a full-time job for the past 3 years. She has health issues, and looking for a factory job has cost her up to 10,000 baht. She had to leave her apartment and now lives with an acquaintance while earning some money from working in a beauty salon. Her partner works on a fishing boat and often brings her money and fish.

“Before, when I lived in Thailand, and faced problems, I wanted to go home to Myanmar, but right now I really don’t want to go back, because it’s worse at home. The politicians are bad. Even if I wanted to go home, I have to stay here. The money I make has to be sent to my parents,” Joy said.

Joy is not alone in her experience. Nan (pseudonym), another worker from Dawei, said she used to work in a factory where she was bullied. Nevertheless, Nan said things are better, since being trans is not accepted in Myanmar.

“When I worked in a factory, some people bullied me, touching my breasts or my bottom, like they wanted to see if this person has breasts. But it’s a lot better than in Myanmar. Being a kathoei in Myanmar is something that society doesn’t accept at all,” Nan said.

Nan works at beauty salon in Samut Sakhon

Nan now works full-time in a beauty salon in Samut Sakhon – a job she said makes more money than working in a factory and allows her more freedom. She said she started out working in a factory like most workers from Myanmar, but the pay was low and she was bullied for being trans, so she taught herself how to do hair and makeup before leaving her factory job. She says not only does she make more money working in the salon, she is also more comfortable in a workplace where most employees are women.

“My parents didn’t like the way I am, but when I started working and sending money home, they got better,” Nan said. She said she was not expecting to move to Thailand, but she could not find a job in Myanmar and could not be herself, so she decided to move to Thailand with a relative. Nan also said she only stayed at school until Mathayom 2 (Year 8) as she did not enjoy school because society does not accept her identity and she was made to wear a boy’s uniform to school.

“After my father died, I got more freedom. I got top surgery last year in Thailand. If he was still alive, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Nan said.

Lek (right) and his partner

Meanwhile, 42-year-old Lek said he used to work in a factory making a Thai dessert, where most employees were men and this made him question whether he would be safe there.

Lek comes from Hpa-An in Myanmar’s Kayin State and now works at a garment factory in Nakhon Pathom. He said that his parents were conservative and did not want a trans son, so Lek came to Thailand in 1995.

“In my heart, I have been a boy since I was young, but my parents wanted me to be a girl,” Lek said.

When Lek was 13, he heard that there were jobs in Mae Sot, so he told his parents that he did not want to stay in school and that he wanted to work to support himself. However, Lek’s parents were not supportive and preferred that he continue studying. Lek said that his parents were not confident he could take care of himself because he is trans.

“I came on my own. I didn’t say anything to my parents. I just ran away from home,” Lek said. He has had many jobs over the years, including making jewelry, cleaning, and making bua loi dessert, before coming to work at the garment factory, where Lek said he feels most comfortable.

Lek said that when he was working at the dessert factory, he was not paid much and the work environment made him felt unsafe, which was why he later left. He said that the factory was a small family business. Employees would live at the factory, and since almost all the employees were men, there was only one bathroom. When taking a shower, Lek had to take turns with other employees.

“Even if I’m a trans man, my body is still female, so I have to be careful. The longer I stayed there, I didn’t know if I would be safe,” Lek said.

The other employees also teased him. “I’m a trans man, right? Other people know that I don’t like being called ‘sister,’ so they would call me ‘brother,” Lek said. “Some people just look at me and know what they should call me, but some people don’t. It’s not that they don’t know. They were bullying me.”

Photos from Lek's wedding day is placed on a cabinet at his house. He married his partner in Thailand as their relationship would be a crime in Myanmar.

Nevertheless, Lek said that this would not contribute to his decision to leave the job, as long as he could still do his job well and his employer had no issue with him, but he said he might leave if it’s something he doesn’t want to hear.

Lek said that employers are not choosing only cisgender men and women and rejecting LGBTQ applicants, because most employers only care about whether one can work, but in reality, trans men do not want to work on a construction site, where most workers are men and the accommodation is not very safe, so LGBTQ workers tend to have more limited employment options.

“But if there is really no other job, then I have to do it,” Lek said. “I have to eat. I have to live. If I don’t work, then I won’t have money.”

Lek said he wanted to form a network with other trans men workers from Myanmar so they can support each other when needed, but he found that other workers live in fear and did not want to reveal themselves. After spending over 20 years in Thailand, Lek said he still felt unsafe in public. When asked why he felt that way, Lek said he doesn’t know.

A gap in the policy

LGBTQ migrant workers remain unprotected by Thai policies, partially because it is difficult to collect information about their experience. Jaray Singhakowinta, a lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration’s Graduate School of Social Development and Management Strategy, said that LGBTQ migrant workers are often isolated from each other, while most do not feel safe enough to express themselves, which makes it difficult to conduct research to design policies to protect them.

“Even gathering in public at night, especially for trans people, particularly trans men and trans women, since their gender identity is very visible and because they are non-conformative, makes them likely to become victims of sexual harassment,” Jaray said.

Jaray noted that being homosexual is still a crime in Myanmar, and workers tend to stay in the closet when among others from the same country. He observed that Myanmar and Thailand are similar in that both societies are predominantly Buddhist, where it is believed that being trans or gay is a result of bad karma for committing adultery in a past life. He also observed that ethnic communities tend to be conservative.

Jaray Singhakowinta

However, Jaray noted that Thailand does not criminalise same-sex relationships, while LGBTQ people are often seen in the Thai media. He speculated that these are the reasons why Thai people are more familiar with LGBTQ people than in Myanmar, even though they may not be entirely accepting.

“Our country is quite up-to-date and has been quite open for a long time. LGBTQ people in Thailand are active in the media, even if they’re not everywhere, but in Myanmar, there’s nothing,” Jaray said.

Meanwhile, researcher Patnarin Wongkad said that LGBTQ workers become more accepted by their family once they become financially independent and are able to support their family.

“In many families, their parents were unaccepting at first, but when they come to work and send back money, which is to say that they have more economic power, their parents stop saying that they want them to get married or stop [being LGBTQ],” Patnarin said.

Patnarin Wongkad

Patnarin also noted that in some sectors, such as in sex work, LGBTQ workers are more comfortable among other members of their community, as they not only have friends but also a support network which helps them access various services that they might have difficulties getting due to lack of information or the language barrier. The workers Patnarin interviewed, most of whom were Shan workers in Chiang Mai and Burman workers in Samut Sakhon, also said that they do not feel safe enough to be themselves and so are often isolated from others.

“It depends on the person’s identity. If they express themselves clearly or if other people know, they might get teased, or their colleagues might gossip about them, especially among people from the same community or country. It happens less with Thai people. It also depends on the type of work,” Patnarin said.

Deepa Bharathi

Deepa Bharathi, Chief Technical Advisor from the ILO’s Safe and Fair Programme, also said that LGBTQ workers often feel the need to prove themselves more than cisgender and heterosexual people due to discrimination from their families. Research conducted by ILO found that 72% of LGBTQ migrant workers who participated in the survey said that they chose their destination country based on how much money they might make. The research also found that there is little correlation between a worker’s gender identity and sexuality and the type of work they choose to do, and that while some LGBTQ workers work in the entertainment sector, they also work in other sectors.

Deepa said that most LGBTQ workers who participated in the survey said they earn enough money in their destination country not only for savings but also to support their families in their home countries. Many are also able to save enough money to start a business or buy land for a home.

She noted that LGBTQ workers who visibly express their identities are the most likely to face violence, as well as those who work in entertainment businesses or in closed spaces, such as domestic workers or those working on fishing boats, or those who share living quarters with other workers.

Featuremigrant workersInternational Labour Organisation (ILO)labour rightsLGBTQLGBT rightsDiscrimination against LGBTgender-based discrimination
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Jurassic meritocracy

Prachatai English - Thu, 2022-12-29 18:06
Submitted on Thu, 29 Dec 2022 - 06:06 PMStephff

Categories: Prachatai English


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