Prachatai English

School sexual assault case a ‘wake-up call’ to strengthen child protection in school, says UNICEF

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-14 14:05
Submitted on Thu, 14 May 2020 - 02:05 PMUNICEF Thailand

UNICEF has issued a statement after the alleged sexual assault of two teenage girls at a Mukdahan school by their teachers and the school’s former students was reported in the media last week, raising concern about the lack of protection for children in schools and calling for the authorities involved to reinforce their efforts to ensure prevention of violence in schools and to ensure that the survivors are protected.

UNICEF has serious concerns about the alleged repeated rape of two girls, aged 14 and 16, allegedly with the involvement of their teachers and former students from a public school in Mukdahan Province.  This shocking alleged case represents a notable failure to protect children and is a strong wake-up call that more action must be taken to strengthen protection of children in schools.

No child should suffer from any form of violence, anywhere. Schools, in particular, must be safe havens for children. Every child deserves to be safe and secure in school so that they can learn, grow and develop the skills and confidence they need to lead healthy and prosperous lives.

One of the fundamental duties and core obligations of the education institutions, including school personnel, is to protect children who are in their care.  Teachers and other education personnel must play a frontline role in closely observing children, watching for signs of violence, abuse and neglect and reporting it when they have concerns. Teachers also have a critical role of preventing harm to children while in their care, including from school staff members. 

UNICEF commends the action by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Ministry of Justice and the Royal Thai Police in moving forward decisively on this case and trust that the process will follow its course with extremely strong response to such a grave assault on children. UNICEF will continue to monitor developments in this case.

The education sector has an important role to play in preventing such incidents as part of national coordinated systems for child protection. The Ministry of Education should consider a review of the effectiveness of its protection measures, monitoring mechanisms, and response protocols. The review, in partnership with professional bodies such as the Teachers’ Council of Thailand, can also help in strengthening the code of conduct for teachers and other education staff, further ensure these codes are effectively implemented, and appropriate sanctions applied in cases of violation.

Confidential reporting channels linked to action must be established and staff and students alike must know how to use them. Schools should have clear referral pathways to social welfare agencies and work with multidisciplinary teams to provide support to survivors of violence and abuse.

The Ministry of Education, teacher organizations, schools themselves, and teacher training colleges must reinforce their efforts to ensure prevention of violence in schools.  They should commit to creating schools as a place of hope and opportunity, where children are safe to learn. Teacher training curriculums and professional development opportunities should include regular and mandatory trainings about the causes of school-related violence and abuse, possible prevention activities, referral and response frameworks and ethical personal conduct.

Caring for the children 

As important as reforming the system is making sure that child survivors of abuse make their way back on the path to realize their full potential in a supportive environment.  Being a victim of violence in childhood can have lifelong negative impacts on education, health, and well-being. Exposure to violence negatively affects the cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of the child’s development and can lead to educational underachievement.  But with support, children can recover to lead normal lives.

Social workers, psychologists, and medical personnel play a key role in the children’s recovery. Thailand should invest further in expanding its social service workforce, including on child protection, so that victims of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect can be supported and cases are detected early before they become tragedies like the one in Mukdahan.

UNICEF calls on everyone concerned to ensure that children who are survivors of all forms of violence are protected, and that all action taken be in their best interests. 

The role of the media in protecting children 

The media must also protect children’s rights, their dignity and privacy. They must ensure that the news-making process and news reports are conducted in the best interest of the child and do not inflict further harm to the child.  UNICEF asks all media personnel not dig further into the specific personal circumstances of the girls but protect their identity and prevent creating social divide on the case. This type of attention could prove disastrous to the girls’ efforts to move on later and the media would bear a strong responsibility in such respects. UNICEF also asks the wider public to do the same and play its role in protecting the girls. 

UNICEF trusts that the justice system will do its part to shield these children from any negative consequences of proceeding with the case.  Fortunately, Thailand has strong measures to protect child victims and witnesses.

These very serious allegations remind us all that we must rush to establish robust child protection systems in schools, in social welfare, in the justice system, and within the community itself. 

UNICEF will continue supporting the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Public Health, among other agencies, to strengthen the child protection alert and response systems at all levels so that no more children fall victim of violence.

Pick to PostUNICEFSexual assaultsexual violencegender-based violenceeducationchildren rightsChild Protection
Categories: Prachatai English

Progressive Movement claim responsibility for crackdown commemoration messages

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-14 13:17
Submitted on Thu, 14 May 2020 - 01:17 PMPrachatai

The Progressive Movement, a group formed by former members of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party (FFP), claimed that they are behind the mysterious messages which appeared on Sunday night (10 May) at key locations of the May 2010 crackdown on the Red Shirt protests. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence is seeking legal action against those responsible.

The Democracy Monument with the hashtag projected onto the wing to the front left. (Source: Nutchanon Payakaphan)

On Monday night (11 May), the Progressive Movement posted a time-lapse video on their Facebook page. Shot from inside a van, the video appears to show the behind-the-scenes process of setting up the projection.

“May 1992|2010: The truth must come to light,” the post says. “How many times have unarmed citizens been killed in cold blood? How many times have the killers and those who ordered the killing not only escape punishment but rise in the corridors of power? Every time, the truth was erased, and justice never arrived.

“Enough with limitless power to murder hundreds of people with impunity. To those in power, you don’t have to tire yourselves out looking for who was shining the light to look for the truth. It’s just us, ‘the people’.”

Pannika Wanich, former FFP spokesperson and one of the leading members of the Progressive Movement, told BBC Thai that the messages were part of a campaign leading up to a series of activities the group has planned for 12 – 20 May.

“I don’t want to say “admit,” because we are not hiding it. No one owns this campaign, but it’s done by citizens who want to know the facts about an important event in Thai political history,” Pannika told BBC Thai. “We did the projection. You don’t have to look anywhere else, and we ask you not to threaten civilians who don’t have a voice.”

The Progressive Movement then launched the #FindingTruth campaign last night (13 May), announcing a schedule of activities commemorating the “Black May” protest crackdown in May 1992, as well as the May 2010 Red Shirt crackdown, which includes online screenings of the documentary “The Look of Silence” on 18 – 20 May and a Facebook live panel discussion on 19 May.

The group is led by former FFP executives who were banned from politics following the party’s dissolution in February, including Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul. Meanwhile, former FFP MPs who escaped the ban and remain in parliament joined a new party under the name Move Forward Party.  

Defence Ministry, police seek legal action against those responsible for the campaign

Khaosod English reported yesterday (12 May) that the Ministry of Defence is planning to take legal action against those responsible for the campaign.

Defence spokesperson Maj Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich said that the campaign was “politically motivated” and sought to create disunity in the country. He said that he “personally believe[s] it is inappropriate” and that it is “not beneficial to the current situation.”

“I see this as a politically-motivated act seeking to cause misunderstandings to institutions and organizations. Security officials are working to find the perpetrators, which should not be difficult for them,” said Maj Gen Kongcheep.

BBC Thai also reported that the Metropolitan Police Bureau is also investigating the campaign. However, Pol Maj Gen Methee Rakpan, Commander of the Metropolitan Police Bureau’s Division 6, said that he cannot tell whether the campaign has broken any law.

Pannika insisted that even though the team who did the projection went out at night, they did not break the 22.00 – 4.00 curfew, announced by the government as a Covid-19 prevention measure. She also said that none of the locations on which the messages were projected were damaged, since the projection does not affect the surface itself, and that their campaign did not cause any disturbance, as the light was not projected onto windows, there was no noise, and it did not cause any traffic jam.

She also said that the campaign does not aim to cause conflict in society, and that she thinks that unity can be created only when the truth is brought to light, and that forgetting will not lead to healing.

Meanwhile, Phayao Akhad, whose daughter Kamonked was among the 6 people killed at Wat Pathum Wanaram on 19 May 2010, told Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) that she received a phone call from a Special Branch police officer in the middle of the night on Monday (11 May).

Phayao said that she received the call at around 22.00, when she was already in bed, but since the caller repeatedly call her both through the application Line and through her phone number, she had to answer. She said that the officer was the same one who visited her last month, that he has her phone number and has been trying to add her on Line.

She said that the officer asked her whether she would be organizing any event on the anniversary of the crackdown and her daughter’s death, and pressed her to answer whether she will be going to the temple. Phayao told him that he will see if she is going to organize any event. The officer then hung up.

NewsProjection mapping19 May 2010 political violenceApril-May 2010 massacreApril-May 2010 political violencered shirtmilitary crackdown 2010state violenceProgressive MovementPannika Wanich
Categories: Prachatai English

Thais set up neighbourhood sharing pantries amidst Covid-19

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-14 12:57
Submitted on Thu, 14 May 2020 - 12:57 PMChatchai Mongkol

Starting with only five, Pantries of Sharing (ตู้ปันสุข) have reached all 77 provinces across Thailand with over 600 locations providing food and other necessities for those hit by COVID-19 pandemic.

A pantry location in Nakhon Ratchasima being re-stocked (Source: Khaosod English)

Thai business coach Supakit Kulchartvijit and his friends founded the Little Brick group (อิฐน้อย) and came up with the Pantry of Sharing campaign. The idea was to let people in need take what they need from the pantries, mostly filled with instant noodles, canned food, chips and household goods. The pantries are in community areas. People in the area are encouraged to stock the shelves with what they have left to share.

“Grab just what you need,” the sign in front of all pantries stated. “If you have something, put it in the pantry to share.”

Pantries of Sharing are inspired by the Little Free Pantry (LFP) campaign launched by Jessica McClard in the U.S. in May 2016. The LFP is “for neighbours helping neighbours.” It was launched mainly to help those who were experiencing food insecurity but were left out of the government programmes with the idea of not shaming people for needing donations.

“Food pantries operate as service providers, those who use them as clients. The LFP dissolves that professional boundary. Whether stocking or taking stock, everyone approaches the LFP the same way, mediating the shame that accompanies need,” says on the LFP’s website.

The campaign in Thailand by Little Bricks group started on 27 April with five shelves at four locations in Bangkok: Sukhumwit 71, Bang Korlam Market, Petchkasem 54 and Vipavadee 60; and one at Ban Lang in Rayong. The first five shelves were an experiment to see how Thais would react to the campaign.

Supakit posted on 29 April a video on his Facebook page, asking people’s opinions on what they thought would happen if there were public food pantries in Thailand. As the Little Brick group thought, most people doubted if campaign like this was possible in Thailand. The comments ranged from thinking that someone might take everything from a pantry to thinking that whole pantries would be carried off by someone to keep everything for themselves. However, two weeks after the shelves were installed, they received good feedback from the communities.

“The feedback was different for each of the five shelves depending on the circumstances where they were placed,” said the Pantry of Sharing Facebook page. “But the thing that was the same was that all five pantries were still there. None had disappeared. There were always people who came to put things in and some who took things. How much depended on the community. All five pantries had villagers from the area looking after them.”

The initiative by the Little Brick group has led to 618 food pantries in every province in the country as of 12 May. People who are interested in putting a pantry in their community are free to do so without consulting of the Little Brick group but must contact the owner of the property or the authorities where the pantry will be installed.

While the campaign was initially intended to create a sense of community sharing, it also created controversy on the internet. People questioned if this campaign was a good fit in Thailand as many videos have been shared online showing people taking everything from the pantries for themselves and local people demanding more.

A flight attendant and owner of one of the pantries Chatrudee Kopit, 45, told One31 News of her intention when she decided to put a pantry in front of her house and the frustration which led to the decision to take it away. Chatrudee said she decided to participate in the campaign after seeing Supakit’s video on Facebook as she has been volunteering with the airline she works for.

“They looked at everything and chose what they needed,” Chatrudee said. “They had no bag, they didn’t grab everything.”

What made Chatrudee want to keep going were notes from people in the area showing how grateful they were for what she did.

Chatrudee said everything was going well until 11 May, when it was raining, and Chatrudee decided to temporarily take the pantry back inside to keep it from getting wet but left the sign outside. While the pantry was inside, Chatrudee said people were still coming for what they needed. Some asked nicely but some demanded goods rudely. Chatrudee said one person said, “If you don’t have anything, why did you leave the sign out?” She took that as verbal harassment.

“I consider that we were threatened,” Chatrudee said. “I want to keep carry on, but I don’t want problems.”

That event led to Chatrudee’s decision to remove the pantry, as she was concerned for her and her family’s safety. Instead, she contributes by contributing to a nearby pantry.

On May 12, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha publicly criticized people who took everything for themselves. Prayut said this was unacceptable.

“I don’t want this to happen again in Thai society. We must be sympathetic to others,” Prayut said, “because if you keep doing this, there won’t be any people making donations and other people won’t get anything.”

Prayut also said on 13 May he has ordered Pantries of Sharing to be watched by guards and cameras to prevent such incidents.

Pantries of Sharing are not the first attempt to help people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before this campaign was launched, many people handled out donations in various locations in the country, but were issued warnings or charged with violations of the Emergency Decree.

Voice TV reported guideline from Hunger Free America for individuals who want to contribute to addressing food insecurity, donations are not the solution to starvation in the long-term; the solution needs government policies and structural changes.

NewsLittle Bricks groupPantry of SharingSupakit Kulchartvijitfood securityCOVID-19coronavirus
Categories: Prachatai English

Others saw Chula-Thammasat Online Markets as opportunity, I saw a success story of SOTUS

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-14 11:23
Submitted on Thu, 14 May 2020 - 11:23 AMBandhukavi Palakawong na Ayudhya

Cover photo from CU and TU Marketplace

Online Markets are flourishing during the COVID19 Pandemic. People from different backgrounds are coming together to create online markets and communities for the survival of their businesses. So many universities have decided to establish their own communities which now attract social network communities and national news.  

On 7 April, Thammasat Marketplace or Thammasat lae kan fak ran was launched by TU students as an online marketing solution during the lockdown. It was then followed by Chula Marketplace on 14 April. The Thammasat group now has around 162,909 members and Chulalongkorn has 218,045; members are alumni, employees, students and shoppers.

At first, both groups sold general goods found in digital markets like Shoppe or Lazada, but as the popularity of these groups grew, more extraordinary items could be seen such as famous or celebrity alumni, luxurious properties like condominiums, or even real estate, and exclusive promotions for Thammasat and Chula graduates. (See Sanook, PPTV)

Some products and posts are quite extraordinary, some are impossible to afford, and some are just for fun.

However, there are contentious debates about these sites: were they a sympathetic way of helping small traders, or rather for boasting and promoting elitism? This led us to think about what actually contributed to this phenomenon. I saw a direct but imperceptible link to  SOTUS. Others saw an opportunity, but I saw its brutal shadow – SOTUS, authoritarianism, and the root of Thai culture.

So what is the essence of the SOTUS system in Thailand? SOTUS is a concept that is presently embedded in Thai universities under a variety of names such as rap nong, bai si, and CheerRoom. SOTUS is the acronym (in English) of 5 concepts that represent the traditional Thai belief in harmony: Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity, and Spirit. It was first used when Chulalongkorn University was still the Civil Service Training School in the Vajiravudh period. The system was modified from elitist culture in England (where it is known as fagging) in order to cultivate good “matriculated” students (nisit) to serve the nation's needs, especially as royal pages or public servants.  At that time, it was benign; there was no sign of the ferocity of current day SOTUS practices, with the norms of seniority and respect being prominent in many written works. Later, Kasetsart, Maejo and other universities took over and modified this concept, which have deteriorated into today’s SOTUS, a form of hazing. (See: Khaosod English)

During the freshmen year, initiation activities will be held such as rap nong, where freshmen will spend their time being instructed by seniors, CheerRoom, where students will be encouraged to know the history of the university and sing the university songs, and FamilyCode or FamilyLine (sai rahat), where seniors will play a puzzle game, and at the end of the game, reveal the secret and make a commitment to care of their nong rahat (initiates) as part of their family. All these activities are a legacy to the next cohort in the future, or the “T” of tradition. After the activities, due to psychological-peer pressure which is the signature feature of the SOTUS structure, some students may really feel appreciated because of the SOTUS method; some will inherit the culture by in future years turning into a head of their cohort, threatening initiates, or even disguising themselves as phi nen (fake freshmen) to increase the pressure of SOTUS. But a small number may reject the system. In the news, SOTUS is recognized as a notorious activity where Thai society is starting to question its purpose and necessity, not only in terms of its harshness but also the designated and desirable outcome of SOTUS. (See: Khaosod English)

“I was there in the Political Science Faculty of Chula, and I perceived that the system of lions (sing), like the Black Lions (sing dam: Pol Sci CU) or Red Lions (sing daeng: Pol Sci TU) or even white, grey, or other colours of lion, is actually meaningful and counts for something in the ministries. But we all know that the dominant lions are always going to be sing dam and sing daeng. …

 “I want to add this to clarify to all of you how cruel SOTUS and Pol Sci CU are. Just a moment ago, Khun Phun gave the example of seniority and brotherhood of Pol Sci CU that if you graduated with a Master Degree at Pol Sci CU then Phun and I are a brotherhood.  The cruel thing is … they do not actually count you as a member of sing dam. This is true. In Pol Sci Chula or any programme in Chula, if you are from a graduate studies programme, you will be not recognized as one of “our” brotherhood systems, because you never passed the hardest admission exam of Thai universities with the highest score (Chulalongkorn University takes students with the highest scores in Thailand) and also you never were part of our 4-year matriculation culture.”

Statement by Pannika ‘Chor’ Wanich at an ANTI SOTUS Panel in 2018 (translated by the author). (See full video)

On the one hand, it actually demonstrates the success of the system by fulfilling the original purposes of SOTUS –harmony, benevolence, and (fraudulent) love. Through the process of initiation to graduation, students will involuntarily absorb the SOTUS concept. The sadistic SOTUS-related activities will be overlooked as they will be compensated for with greater benefits after exiting the prison of an educational system, as you will acquire easier jobs, better connections, and proper respect.

On the other hand, do we willingly succumb to these systems of manipulation, patronage and authoritarianism, and do we all now belong to the SOTUS system which has penetrated and become embedded in Thai culture?

As a result of SOTUS, students become bonded in loyalty to the identity of the institution. The “colour” culture is now apparent in Thai society. For instance, when a new graduate applies for a job, Human Resources departments will characteristically consider their educational background, and if the candidate graduated from an institution with the same organizational vision or biases of the recruiters, then it will be easier for that candidate to get the position through this patronage system.

In a sociology or cultural studies paradigm, this is cultural adaptation for group survival embedded into existing Thai culture. I would say that Thai culture and the harshness of human nature created the SOTUS system, and at the same time, SOTUS also shapes modern Thai culture. This process happens automatically, constantly, and eternally. If people are not aware of its existence it will soon turn Thailand’s development into a dystopia. Elitism cultures related to universities also occur in foreign countries such as the UK, where they have Oxbridge, the US Ivy League, and Korea’s SKY. This also can be explained in sociology as group identity, which emerges naturally in every society and network. But a more interesting characteristic in Thailand is the integration of SOTUS and the basis of Thai culture, which together drive Thai Society.

Today, SOTUS has become less influential among many top-tier universities like Chula, Thammasat, and Mahidol. (See Khaosod English) Even though weaker than in the past, the results and outcomes persist. Chula and Thammasat are considered to have the gentlest SOTUS in Thailand. Some of the traditional freshman activities were abolished by students themselves or forbidden by the university, such militaristic training, intensive cheerrooms, and shouted commands (wagger). This is especially the case in Thammasat, where egalitarian ideologies are valued. However, I do not say SOTUS is totally abolished at either Chula or Thammasat. The concept and implementation of SOTUS has just changed into a “positive” SOTUS rather than a “negative” SOTUS. (See how Chula students image SOTUS). Although, there is no violence related to the activities, and while “S” seniority and “O” order are de-emphasized, remember that “T” Tradition, “U” Unity, and “S” Spirit are still present. Even without bloodshed, SOTUS is still SOTUS. Some people argue that since only the last 3 letters are being used, it is not completely SOTUS. I would agree that without the 5 elements, it is not SOTUS. However, I say that  Seniority and Order, with or without a negative perception are just being soft-pedalled and are subtly persist.

Now let’s move to the Marketplace groups. If you want to post a deal in the Chula or Thammasat online communities, you first need to confirm that you are a genuine CU or TU student. An example posting: ‘Hey, I am “Fristoff” from Thammasat, Commerce and Accountancy, Code 44, Table Kho Khwai (the table system indicates that you were an undergrad, originally passed an entrance exam, and so are an indigenous Thammasat student), I am here to offer you … ’ During Covid-19, these two groups, as well as other universities’ online marketplaces, are proliferating. However, due to this rapid expansion, there are cases of con men who pretend to be a university member in order to make deals, or in other words, scam others. If the swindlers are caught, then trust me, they face a frightening prosecution by TU or CU alumni, especially if they picked wrong guy like a law graduate.

So, is SOTUS all negative?  I would say no, not all. There are both positive and negative reinforcements, purposes, and images. Nevertheless, SOTUS is SOTUS, a rose is a rose is a rose, “never a rose without the prick”, a dictator is a dictator; it will always be. If you look back, you will certainly see that a red rose is actually blood, and SOTUS is actually the gore of an artificial culture that older generations invented to confine us.

I admire the creators of the groups, vendors in the marketplace, and associated members, who are really witty, for accessing existing resources, the foundation of societies and cultures, and making precious profits. This opportunity for survival impresses me but at the same time, depresses me.

Do I suggest that we abolish the SOTUS system by ending support to elite institutions? No, I am not suggesting that as you cannot stop it, because you and I (yes, myself) are already part of the cultural system and structure. Banning the products of SOTUS will not result in anything better. It is good to subsidize people, groups, and networks that you care about and love. But I hope this will remind you how we created our own nation and destiny, and how societies and networks were corruptly constructed.

If you escape SOTUS like I did, you will end up without hope and will be relentlessly pursued by the nature of a system that follows you like a shadow; because it is you, and you belong to the system. It does not tell you to give up, but I am telling you to keep fighting, or if you cannot, just be aware of its existence; at least it will brighten the truth of society. But remember, if you do not run, it will run to you – the cruel truth.”

Bandhukavi Palakawong na Ayudhya or “Keng” is currently studying at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University (International Program). He is a former member and committee member of the ANTI SOTUS group, which is fighting against hazing, patronage, and the culture of dictatorship.

OpinionBandhukavi Palakawong na AyudhyaChula MarketplaceThammasat MarketplaceSOTUS
Categories: Prachatai English

Court to try artist over claim Suvarnabhumi Airport had no Covid-19 screening

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-14 09:32
Submitted on Thu, 14 May 2020 - 09:32 AM

The court has accepted a case under the Computer Crime Act against a 42-year-old artist from Phuket who posted that he underwent no Covid-19 screening process on arrival from Spain. The state prosecutor has called for a heavy sentence.

Suvarnabhumi airport (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

On 12 May, at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road, the state prosecutor filed a case against Danai Usama, an artist from Phuket, over his Facebook post in March, where he claimed that disease control regulations at Suvarnabhumi Airport were not properly enforced.

Danai posted on 17 March that he was not subjected to any health screening process after his arrival from Barcelona, Spain, a Covid-19 hotspot. However, the photo he uploaded to show no screening activity was taken in 2019. The prosecutor charges that he uploaded false data into cyberspace and violated the Computer Crime Act.

The prosecutor charges that the photo constitutes false information. The airport had deployed thermoscan machines and had officials in every area including the arrival hall. The false data might have misled the public and led to panic and loss of trust in the airport authorities.

The prosecutor also asked the court for a heavy sentence on the defendant because he committed the offence knowing that this false information on a popular social media platform like Facebook would lead to fast and widespread sharing. Posting such misleading information about an important national airport could cause widespread public confusion and panic.

Via video conference, the court accepted the case and arraigned the defendant. Danai confirmed his plea of not guilty. The court set 20 July 2020 for the hearing of evidence.

Danai’s case has attracted international interest as it represents the use of legal action to prohibit the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression to criticize state efficiency. The arraignment process on 12 March was observed by Trial Watch.

Danai, under his Facebook alias “Zen Wide”, posted a message on 16 March 2020 that upon his return from Barcelona, he encountered no Covid-19 screening at the Immigration checkpoint at Suvarnabhumi Airport, nor did 500-600 other passengers from the same flight and a couple of other flights.

Danai was arrested during his 14-day self-quarantine at his gallery in Phuket on 23 March and taken to the Phuket Provincial Police Station to process the charge. He was then taken by plane from Phuket at around 17.00 to the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) in Bangkok.

The police insisted on having him remanded in custody. By placing him among other suspects at Thung Song Hong Police Station and at the holding cell under the Criminal Court, the authorities made it possible for Danai to spread any infection he may have contracted from Spain to other suspects, which could have led to a widespread outbreak in the penitentiary system.

Source: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)

NewsDanai UsamaSuvarnabhumi AirportCOVID-19freedom of expressionSource: www.tlhr2014.com/?p=17703%E0%B8%AD%E0%B8%B1%E0%B8%A2%E0%B8%81%E0%B8%B2%E0%B8%A3%E0%B8%A2%E0%B8%B7%E0%B9%88%E0%B8%99%E0%B8%9F%E0%B9%89%E0%B8%AD%E0%B8%87&fbclid=IwAR0DSgtgKyGtWwzyLzEzUd_bd6LNGSmBcwhILveCy3-2QhJdvTV52OHlt28
Categories: Prachatai English

Cambodia's abusive “war on drugs”, rife with torture and corruption, must be overhauled, says AI

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-13 17:51
Submitted on Wed, 13 May 2020 - 05:51 PMAmnesty International

The Cambodian government’s three-year long “war on drugs” campaign has fuelled a rising tide of human rights abuses, dangerously overfilled detention facilities and led to an alarming public health situation – even more so as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds – while failing in its stated objective of curbing drug use, a new investigative report by Amnesty International published today (13 May) reveals.

The new 78-page report, Substance abuses: The human cost of Cambodia’s anti-drug campaign, documents how the authorities prey on poor and marginalized people, arbitrarily carry out arrests, routinely subject suspects to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and dispatch those who can’t buy their freedom to severely overcrowded prisons and pseudo “rehabilitation centres” in which detainees are denied healthcare and are subjected to severe abuse.

“Cambodia’s ‘war on drugs’ is an unmitigated disaster – it rests upon systematic human rights abuses and has created a bounty of opportunities for corrupt and poorly-paid officials in the justice system, while doing nothing for public health and safety”, said Nicholas Bequelin, Regional Director at Amnesty International.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, launched his anti-drugs campaign in January 2017, just weeks after a state visit by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, during which the two leaders pledged to cooperate in combatting drugs. According to government officials, the campaign aims to reduce drug use and related harms in Cambodia, including by arresting people who use drugs en masse. As recently as March 2020, Interior Minister Sar Kheng called for legal action against all “drug addicts and dealers in small-scale drug use and distribution cases.”

Yet, like the Philippines’ so-called “war on drugs”, this campaign is rife with egregious human rights violations that are disproportionately affecting poor and marginalized people – irrespective of whether or not they use drugs.

“Using abusive approaches to punish people who use drugs is not only wrong, it is utterly ineffective. It is high time that Cambodian authorities heed the widely available scientific evidence showing that all-punitive law enforcement campaigns simply exacerbate social harms”, Nicholas Bequelin. 

Two parallel systems, one devastating campaign and no due process    In the course of its investigation Amnesty International spoke to dozens of victims of Cambodia’s inhumane anti-drugs campaign. They described being subjected to two parallel systems of punishment: some were arbitrarily detained without charge in drug detention centres, while others were convicted through the criminal justice system and sent to prison.   Their testimonies reveal a remarkable consistency in violations of due process leading to people’s detention, and no coherent method in determining whether people are either criminally prosecuted or sent to drug detention centres. Individual police officers – who are sometimes influenced by bribes – have significant discretion to determine people’s fate.   The case of 38-year-old Sopheap shows the arbitrary nature of the campaign. She started using methamphetamine occasionally in early 2017. Six months later, in October 2017, she was arrested in a drugs raid along with her two 16- and 17-year old neighbours.   “There were no more drugs left when the police came, only a bottle, a lighter and other paraphernalia lying around,” she explained. “They said they would send us to a rehabilitation centre… but they actually sent us to the court, and then to the prison.”   Many people described how they were detained as a result of police raids on poor neighbourhoods or city “beautification” sweeps that leave people who are poor, homeless, and struggling with drug dependence especially at risk of arrest.   Sreyneang, a 30-year-old woman from Phnom Penh, told Amnesty International how she was tortured following her arbitrary arrest during a drugs raid in Phnom Penh: “They asked me how many times I sold drugs… The police officer said if I didn’t confess, he would use the taser on me again.”   Those subjected to criminal prosecution consistently described legal processes which made a mockery of fair trial rights, including convictions based on flimsy and inadequate evidence and summary trials conducted in the absence of defence lawyers. Many accused people had a very limited understanding of their rights, putting them at even greater risk of human rights violations.   One interviewee, Vuthy, was only 14 at the time of his arrest. After being arrested in a drugs raid, he was beaten by several police officers and charged with drug trafficking. He described his investigation and trial: “I didn’t understand the process and what the different court visits meant. The first time I understood what was happening was when they told me my prison sentence. Nobody ever asked me if I had a lawyer or gave me one.”  Inhumane detention conditions The campaign, which continues to this day, was initially presented as a six-month operation starting in January 2017. It is the leading cause in Cambodia’s current crisis of severe overcrowding in prisons and other detention facilities.   This overcrowding crisis is causing serious violations of the right to health of people deprived of their liberty. It often amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international human rights law.   By March 2020, the nationwide prison population had skyrocketed by 78% to over 38,990 people since the campaign’s start. Cambodia’s largest prison facility, Phnom Penh’s CC1, exceeded 9,500 prisoners – nearly five times its estimated capacity of 2,050.    This situation should have led the authorities to urgently ease extreme overcrowding in the country’s detention centres amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including by releasing all those held without an adequate legal basis – such as people held in drug detention centres – and by pursuing parole, early or conditional release, and other alternative non-custodial measures for prisoners, especially those most at risk of COVID-19.   Maly described how she and her one-year-old daughter were held in Phnom Penh’s CC2 prison: “It was so hard to raise my daughter inside. She wanted to move around, she wanted more space, she wanted to see the outside. She wanted freedom… She often got fever and flu. Because we had no space, my child normally slept on top of my body.”   While the total population in Cambodia’s drug detention centres is not publicized, all testimonies obtained by Amnesty International suggest that overcrowding inside these centres is just as severe as inside prisons.   All detention facilities are at high risk of major outbreaks of COVID-19, and many detainees have pre-existing conditions such as HIV and tuberculosis that put them at increased risk. Long, a former CC1 inmate, told Amnesty International: “If one person got a respiratory infection, within a few days everyone in the cell got it. It was a breeding ground for illness.”   Exclusive video footage from inside a Cambodian prison, published by Amnesty International last month, showed extreme overcrowding and inhumane conditions of detention. In response, a spokesman for the prisons department conceded that “every day is like a ticking time bomb” for a COVID-19 outbreak in detention facilities.   Yet, to date, the Cambodian authorities have failed to take any action to reduce the prison population, even as regional neighbours including Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia have released tens of thousands of people in detention who are at risk, including people held on drug-related charges.   Torture in drug detention centres 

Although drug detention centres claim to provide treatment for people with drug dependence, in practice they operate as sites of abuse. Every individual interviewed by Amnesty International provided detailed accounts of physical abuse amounting to torture or other ill-treatment committed by centre staff or so-called “room leaders” – inmates entrusted by staff to enforce discipline.

Thyda, who was held in the Orkas Khnom drug detention centre in Phnom Penh during 2019, told Amnesty International: “This [violence] happened to everyone and it was normal. Violence like this was part of the daily routine; part of their programme.”

Another, Sarath, described his first day in a drug detention centre, where he was sent at the age of 17: “As soon as the guard left, the room leader started to beat me. I was knocked unconscious so I can’t remember what happened after that.” 

Drug detention centres have also been dogged by reports of sexual violence and deaths in custody. Amnesty International’s investigation uncovered multiple new allegations of such deaths. Phanith, a former room leader, told Amnesty International how he witnessed an inmate “chained by the hands and the feet so that he could not move around. And the building leader beat him like that until he died.”

Time to end punitive approaches to people who use drugs

The Cambodian authorities’ hard-line approach to people who use drugs has failed in its primary aim of reducing drug use and related harms, and instead created a catastrophic public health and human rights crisis for the country’s poorest and most at-risk populations.

Yet there are clear, evidence-based alternatives. International drug policy has shifted in recent years and led to sweeping reforms in favour of evidence-based alternatives that better protect public health and human rights, including the decriminalization of use and possession of drugs for personal use. The Cambodian Ministry of Health has recently taken some tentative steps in the right direction by increasing the availability of evidence-based treatment in community settings.

However, it is essential that all compulsory drug detention centres be shut down promptly and permanently. People detained there must be released immediately with sufficient provisions of health and social services made available to them.

Moreover, the Cambodian authorities should move without delay towards implementing the measures they committed to at the UN Human Rights Council in 2019, in order to put in place a new drug policy that shifts away from prohibition and fully protects the rights of people who use drugs and other affected communities.

“In Cambodia, and across the world, the so-called war on drugs has failed. But there are clear alternatives based on scientific evidence that better protect human rights. The Cambodian authorities must consign the abusive policies of arbitrary detention and criminalization to history and embrace a compassionate and effective new era of drug policy”, said Nicholas Bequelin.

Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalCambodiaDrugtortureInhumane treatmentAbusedetentionCOVID-19
Categories: Prachatai English

Songkhla fishing communities demand authorities halt public hearings on an industrial zone megaproject

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-13 16:41
Submitted on Wed, 13 May 2020 - 04:41 PMProtection International

Villagers residing in various districts of Songkhla province under the name of Chana Rak Thin Network (Chana Love Homeland Network) submitted the letter to the Prime Minister through the provincial governor of Songkhla on Tuesday, 12 May 2020, demanding the authorities to halt a series of public hearings of a mega project that would turn over 16,000 rai of seaside land into an industrial zone.

Kaireeya Ramanyah, the Network's youth representative, sitting in front of the Songkhla provincial hall. (Source: Protection International)

The public hearing, set to take place in 3 subdistricts of Chana district, Songkhla Province from 14-20 May 2020, is problematic for the locals to have a meaningful public participation as the country is currently under COVID19 pandemic with Emergency Decree restrictions in place, as well as it is during the fasting month  of Ramadan. Current circumstances prevent the people from being able to travel and participate in public activity, the Network said.

The project, of which the investment is estimated to worth 18,680 million baht, was conceived on 7 May 2019 through  a cabinet resolution. On 21 January 2020, the follow up cabinet resolution spelled out details of the project and that it would be implemented mainly by the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SPBAC) as part of peace and economic development in the southern border provinces. The mega project titled ‘Chana, the Industrial Model City of the Future’, would turn the seaside 16,753 rai of land into industrial zone built for light and heavy industry such as biomass power plants, petrochemical production, biochemical plants, as well as deep sea ports.

The official documents by the SPBAC assess that the project would result in large-scale industrial pollution in forms of chemical waste and toxic waste that would pollute air and water in the nearby area. It states that there would regulation of such pollution according to the law but does not mention other compensation or reparation measures to the affected communities.

The villagers, who are mostly fisherfolks and dependent on the sea for their livelihood, point out that since the project was pushed ahead in May 2019, the authorities failed to provide comprehensive information about  the impacts to the communities who would be directly affected. The past public forums organized by the SPBAC were only used to hear about the concerns of the villagers but the detailed information about the project was never given, according to the Network.

Kaireeyah Ramanyah, a young woman human rights defender and youth representative of the Network, has  sat in front of the provincial hall since the group submitted the letter on the morning of 12 May to the provincial governor. On the personal letter that she wrote to ‘grandpa Prayuth’ which is published publicly, she said that she would not leave until the written order stating that the public hearings be cancelled.  

As “daughter of the sea”, she said that the livelihood of her family and communities are all derive from the sea. She grows up seeing the communities living and caring for the sea which sustained each other.

“The SBPAC is going ahead with the public hearing without informing the people. Those who live outside the 3 districts also could not participate but they are also affected. This is a project worth over 10,000 million baht yet we are not fully informed about it,” she wrote. “I asked grandpa Prayuth to rethink about the project especially when the processes are unfair.”

At night, close to 10pm of 12 May, the deputy provincial governor of Songkhla reportedly asked Kaireeyah to go home. She and some members of the network are still sitting at the provincial hall waiting for the answers.

In July and August last year, the Network has already submitted the letters to the Songkhla Provincial Governor demanding the government to provide the comprehensive information about the project and the impacts on the community as well as the plans to address to the concerns, yet the answers were not satisfactorily provided.

EnLaw Foundation, the environment lawyer’s human rights group, points out that the public hearing processes fail short of accommodating a truly meaningful public participation. The announcement regarding the public hearing was announced on 28 April 2020 and posted at various public offices including the Songkhla Provincial Hall, and 3 subdistrict offices, which are the area not frequented by the locals during the time of pandemic and Emergency Decree. The SPBAC website which posted 113-page information regarding the project is realistically also not a common way to reach out to the local people.

EnLaw also points out that the short window of the public hearing contradicts the government’s own measure under Emergency Decree and pandemic situation which enforces social distancing, banning of public gathering and public commute. It also violates the people’s rights to participate in maintaining and managing their natural resources sustainably, as stipulated in the 2017 Thailand’s Constitution Section 43 (2) and 57 (2). The hearing done in such manner also violates the rights and freedom to receive information, freedom of expression, and public assembly, the group stated in their legal opinion published on 12 May 2020. Latest news at the time of writing, indicates that the public hearing may be postponed.

Protection International, Thailand call for States to ensure that women/human rights defenders are able to operate in a safe and enabling environment, free from restrictions and attacks.

The government must not exploit the pandemic situation to increase the sufferings of the people by intimidations and/or prosecutions of human rights defenders and  must stop the mega development project that have enormous  impacts on the livelihood of the community .

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

We demands that restrictions to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic be also enforced on all development -related activities. People’s rights and freedom must never be violated. The government must protect those who speak up about these contentious development projects that will impact communities, and ensure non-suppression of HRDs who play a very important role in continuing to care for their livelihood, communities, society, and the environment.

Pick to PostChana Rak Thin NetworkSongkhlaChanaChana industrial zonePublic forumPublic hearingcommunity rightEnvironmental issueKaireeyah Ramanyahpublic participationcurfewEmergency DecreeEnLaw FoundationProtection International
Categories: Prachatai English

Woman arrested again over 2010 protests despite acquittal on similar charge

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-13 13:29
Submitted on Wed, 13 May 2020 - 01:29 PM

The Department of Special Investigation have arrested a 46-year-old food vendor, alleging that she was part of an unknown armed group which attacked soldiers in the 2010 red-shirt protests, despite a similar charge being dismissed twice.

(Left to right: Punika Choosri and her food donation project sign said "Giving away food for free, 1 box/person, 50 boxes a day")

On 4 May, Winyat Chatmontree, a lawyer from the United Lawyers for Rights and Liberty, posted on Facebook that Punika Choosri, a 46-year-old food vendor, was arrested by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) for murder.

The DSI allege that Punika was involved in shooting and injuring soldiers during the protests by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or Red Shirts on 10 April 2010. Winyat said that the arrest warrant was requested on 7 January 2020.

Punika was arrested, detained and put on trial for murder once before in September 2014, based on allegations that she was among the ‘men in black’, an unknown group blamed by the state for several acts of violence during the UDD protests in 2009-2010. She was acquitted by the lower court in January 2017 and the appeal court in February 2020. She was detained in prison during the appeal.

The current charge claims that she was involved in an assault on Tanao Road where a soldier was shot in the buttocks. However, Winyat said that there is no evidence that Punika was there when the violence broke out. She was selling food at Ratchaprasong, another protest venue 6 km away. 

Before her latest arrest, Punika and her friends were supporting people in need in Bangkok because of the Covid-19 outbreak by donating 50 boxes of food a day .

The UDD’s main demand in 2009-2010 was the dissolution of the unelected Abhisit government, which had ruled the country since 2008 after a Constitutional Court decision had dissolved the People’s Power Party (PPP) led by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. 

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

Many doubts about the May 2010 crackdown remain. On the night of 10 May, mysterious messages were projected onto key locations crackdown. One of the messages, “#SeekingtheTruth” (“#ตามหาความจริง”), later trended on Twitter. 

NewsPunika ChoosriWinyat Chatmontreered shirtsUnited Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)2010 men in blackSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/05/87498
Categories: Prachatai English

CSOs call for an end to online sexual harassment against women activists

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-05-12 21:11
Submitted on Tue, 12 May 2020 - 09:11 PMPrachatai

A network of civil society organizations issued a statement on 29 April calling for an end to online sexual harassment against activists after student activist Sirin Mungcharoen faced a storm of social media attacks, the majority of which can be considered sexual harassment.

Sirin was one of the organizers of the “CU Assemble” student protest at Chulalongkorn University in late February. She has been outspoken about issues of gender equality and has posted content about feminism and gender equality on her social media accounts.

Recently, Sirin’s picture was posted in a public Facebook group and received comments which are sexual in nature and amount to bullying and sexual harassment, later escalating to her personal information being shared on social media.

“This group of people uses the principle of free speech to support expressions which are considered sexual harassment and online bullying, even though freedom of speech does not cover actions which support sexual violence, sexual harassment, incite hate, or any other action which leads to the incitement of crime and creates unsafe spaces in society,” says the statement.

“Such incidents have happened several times to activists who speak about gender equality, such as the case of online bullying against Sirisak Chaited, whose picture was shared on Facebook and who received comments which amount to sexual harassment, sexuality shaming, and threats, or the Buku sexuality classroom, which faced similar attacks.”

The statement says that such attacks create fear and reduce the space in which activists can safely speak about gender equality through attacking the person, shaming them and making them feel threatened. The statement also notes that many activists attacked in this way are women and LGBTQ people, and that issues of sexual harassment both online and offline are often overlooked.

The statement calls for an immediate end to sexual harassment and online bullying which can lead to hatred and threats towards activists. It then calls for human rights activists and organizations, the government sector, the media, and the general public to be aware of online sexual harassment, to not overlook the issue, and to join together to find a way of protecting activists working on issues of gender and gender-based violence. 

It also calls for the creation of spaces both online and offline in which people can discuss issues of gender equality with respect for others’ human dignity, and ask that said spaces do not support the reproduction of gender-based violence and condone personal attacks and violations of privacy on the ground of free speech.

The statement was first published on the Facebook page thaiconsent, inviting people to sign the statement. So far, it has over 200 signatures.

According to the 2019 Amnesty International report “Challenging Power, Fighting Discrimination: A Call to Action to Recognize and Protect Women Human Rights Defenders,” while human rights defenders across the world continue to face verbal and physical attacks, among other threats, women human rights defenders face gender-specific challenges because of “who they are as women or gender non-conforming people, and/or because the rights they defend are connected to women’s rights, gender equality and sexuality, which are structurally repressed in patriarchal societies.”

Women human rights defenders are working “in a context of discrimination, inequality, violence (or threat of violence) against them as individuals” and “against patriarchal structures, institutions, and practices that resist change,” says the Amnesty report, which also noted that they are more at risk of “certain forms of violence” including sexual violence and shaming or smear campaigns based on gender norms.

Women human rights defenders also face frequent online gender-based attacks, which the Amnesty report says are “part of a continuum of violence and structural discrimination women and gender-diverse people experience.” These attacks often target not only women human rights defenders but also women journalists and politicians, and often led to self-censorship. Forms of online attacks against women human rights defenders include “harassment and attacks on reputation and credibility through social media, cyberstalking, violations of their privacy, unlawful surveillance, censorship, hacking of e-mail accounts, devices and platforms; as well as online threats of sexual violence, verbal abuse, sexuality baiting, doxing […] and public shaming on social media.”

The 2020 CEDAW progress report card on Thailand’s compliance with the 2017 Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), complied by Protection International, also noted the increase in online sexual threats and harassment against women human rights defenders, which “seems not to be taken seriously by authorities,” in addition to judicial harassment, violence, and intimidation from state authorities as well as business enterprises. The report cited the case of activist Nuttaa Mahattana, who received online rape threats, and former human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit, who was also harassed online. 

The report also noted that no known action has been taken by the Thai authorities regarding this issue. 

Not only that, as activist Anticha Saengchai noted in the panel discussion “Women human rights defenders in a pseudo-democracy,” organized by Protection International in February, women activists also face sexual harassment from within their own organizations. Anticha also noted that some human rights defenders still lack an understanding of gender issues and that civil society organizations need to have a policy on gender as well as on physical and mental health, since the health issues facing activists combined with the stress of legal prosecution will undermine the movement.

NewsthaiconsentSirin Mungcharoensexual violencesexual harassmentOnline bullyingDoxxinggender-based violencestudent activistWoman activistWoman human rights defendergender equalityfeminismgender-based discrimination
Categories: Prachatai English

Death of the beach? Conflict over Songkhla seawall construction

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-05-12 20:23
Submitted on Tue, 12 May 2020 - 08:23 PMYiamyut Sutthichaya

A seawall construction project is in its first phase at Muang Ngam beach in Songkhla Province. The authorities and some local people disagree over the necessity and legitimacy of the project, but it seems that an amendment to the law on Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) has played an important role in provoking the confrontation.

Muang Ngam beach at dusk (Source: Chonrada Noothammachot)

Muang Ngam beach, Singhanakhon District, Songkhla Province, has featured online since the end of April, with the hashtag #SAVEหาดม่วงงาม (Save Hat Muang Ngam) used to register objections to the ongoing construction of 710-metre-long seawall, supposedly to protect the shore from erosion.

On many beaches, seawalls have resulted in the disappearance of the sand. A lot of information was published from both sides as the wall’s foundations were laid in the sand. A change in the law to exempt seawalls from EIA requirements is fueling the local conflict.

What is a seawall?

A seawall or revetment is a coastal construction to prevent wave currents from eroding the shore. It can be built by from stone, wooden logs, sand bags, etc. The materials and the slope of the revetment determine its efficiency and cost.

An example of seawall created by stones (Source: Facebook/Department of Marine and Coastal Resources)

The benefits of a seawall lie in good force absorption, cheap maintenance and easy local management. 

On the bad side, the force of the current will sweep sand away, causing the beach to disappear, construction costs are expensive and they are prone to subsidence over the long term. They also reportedly cause an ‘end-wall effect’, a wave diffraction at each end of the wall which results in erosion in the area nearby.

What is going on at Muang Ngam beach?

Children were playing sand in front of the ongoing seawall construction at Muang Ngam beach (Source: Facebook/Beach for Life)

  • Muang Ngam beach is 7.2 km long, located at Muang Ngam Subdistrict, Singhanakhon District, Songkhla. The beach has a fishing pier and is used as a public recreation space and tourist spot.
  • The seawall construction project at Mu 7 was initiated by the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning.
  • On 27 April, a group calling themselves the ‘Muang Ngam Beach Conservation People’s Network’ filed a petition with the Songkhla Provincial Governor, calling for a halt to the project, and expressing doubts about its necessity, environmental impact and legitimacy.
  • On 1 May, Narit Mongkolsri Vice Governor of Songkhla, went to the beach to observe the project. He referred to a study report that erosion at the beach would be worse without the seawall and said that the project had already passed the required legal process.
  • On 11 May, with construction still going on, 100-200 people gathered at the beach to express their concern over the beach’s disappearance.

Apisak Tassanee, from the beach conservation group ‘Beach for Life’, said that the seawall project began in 2013. 3 public hearings, which many alleged were not inclusive, took place. The seawall project consists of 2 phases: 710 metres and 1,995 metres.

He claims that seawall construction is widely recognized as the ‘death of the beach’

Facts differ

A Beach for Life report questions the necessity for the Muang Ngam seawall. It says that the erosion rate at the beach is 0.5-1.49 metres per year, according to the seawall project study. This rate is low when compared to the erosion rate index of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR). 

The aerial photography shown in the report claims that significant erosion takes place behind the fishing pier, which disrupts the natural sand flow from south to north. As a result, significant erosion occurs on one side and filling on the other.

Aerial photography of the beach shows that the upper part is eroded while the lower part is filled. (Source:Beach for life)

Another cause of erosion is the existing seawall built along the beach to protect the road. The seawall is damaged to some extent which causes the force of the current to reach the road and destroy it.

The report refers to many Thai beaches where end-wall effects require expansion at the 2 ends of the wall. Eventually, the seawall entirely replaces the sandy beach. The cases mentioned are beaches at Pran Buri, Ao Noi and Sai Kaeo.

Apisak says that the erosion at Muang Ngam beach can be solved by restoring the natural sand flow by demolishing the fishing pier if it is not used, and deploying a sand bypass system to transfer the sand. The sea will naturally bring the sand back ashore in the monsoon season.

To prevent erosion, he suggests putting wooden logs on the beach to reduce the wave power. This method has already been implemented there.

Beach for Life’s conclusions go along with suggestions from Sakanan Plathong, a DMCR consultant. After re-surveying, he found that Muang Ngam beach is not prone to heavy erosion. The shape of the beach is subject to seasonal change. The fishing pier also contributes a little to reduced sand flow. 

Padungdech Luepiyapanich of the Songkhla Provincial Public Works and Town and Country Planning Office says that the construction project is a controversial issue, but was initiated in response to a plea from the community as erosion affected their daily lives.

The ongoing construction of the Muang Ngam beach seawall (Source: Facebook/Beach for life)

“The villagers are suffering. People who do not live in the area don’t know it. Villagers are suffering, the road is disappearing. So how will people on the shore get out by the road living here every day? If you go and look, they build a pile of stones to fight the waves every year. The local administration fought, the community fought until they are exhausted, so they asked the central authorities to come and do it.” 

“Restoration, where is anything restored? The earth is warmer, how much has the sea risen since 10-20 years ago? We do nothing, it erodes,” said Padungdetch.

Law causes controversy

An amendment to a national level law is partly responsible for the local confrontation. In December 2013, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) removed seawalls from the category of constructions that require an EIA. Previously, any seawall longer than 200 metres was subject to the EIA process.

Beach for Life and TCIJ report a significant increase in the number of seawall projects after the requirement was lifted. In 2014-2019, 74 seawall projects with total length of 34.88 km were undertaken with an overall budget estimated at 6.9 billion baht. In 2008-2018, the cost per kilometre increased to 117 million baht. 

FeatureMuang Ngam beachseawallenvironmentBeach for lifeSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/05/87560
Categories: Prachatai English

Indigenous woman human rights defender visited by military officer after protest against the alleged violence by forest authorities.

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-05-12 12:57
Submitted on Tue, 12 May 2020 - 12:57 PMProtection InternationalKatima Leeja, a 35-year-old year old Lisu woman human rights defenders from Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai Province, was visited by a plainclothes military officer on Saturday evening around 4pm of 9 May 2020.   Katima Leeja (Source: Protection International)   The plainclothes officer, who was from the 4th Cavalry Regiment in Chiang Mai, said that he was told by his higher up to inquire information about Katima. The incident took place a week after eight Wildlife Sanctuary Inspector Officer got involved in land disputes with 3 villagers and allegedly hit a 55-year old Lisu man in the head during confrontation in Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary zone on 2 May 2020.  

Later, Katima as a coordinator of the Lisu Network of Thailand, was seen in a video uploaded on Facebook on Tuesday, 5 May, where she was reading out a statement by the Network, criticizing such action by the authority and demanding it to be investigated by a committee. On Thursday, 7 May, she and about 30 villagers submitted a letter to Chiang Dao Chief District Officer at Chiang Dao District Office, demanding that the investigation committee be set up to look into the incident, and that the authorities conduct proper survey of the land to clarify the land use area to avoid further conflict.

During the house visit, the plainclothes military officer told Katima there was no specific reason for the inquiry, but said that he was asked by his supervisor to inquire information about Katima. He said that the supervisor earlier called her but she did not pick up the phone, therefore he had to pay her a visit.

He asked how Katima came to be involved in human rights work relating to land rights and indigenous people’s rights. The officer also asked Katima information about her birthday, marital status, phone number, members residing in the house, her parents and siblings’ name, and their occupation. The visit lasted about 30 minutes.

Katima said that the visit was the first time she ever received obvious threatening act from the authorities. After the visit, she and her family members feel concerned about her safety as she is ethnic minority group. In recent years, there has been various cases of enforced disappearance or extrajudicial killing against vocal indigenous human rights defenders, such as the case of Billy Rakchongcharoen, a prominent Karen HRD who disappeared in 2014 and later whose body was found in 2019.

“I feel quite concerned and so are my family members to receive such visit. It feels strange that he asked me a lot of questions. Now it made me think twice if I have to go anywhere by myself. Of course, I don’t want to be the second Billy,” said Katima

The military officer, who refused to identify his name, explained to PI on the phone that the visit was supposed to be only “casual” and “friendly” and not meant to be threatening in anyway. He said he was not aware that the inquiry has anything to do with the Katima’s action protesting the forest authorities, and that he only followed his higher up’s order to get the information. Such visit is common for the soldiers who go and talk to the villagers on regular basis, which is meant to be for friendly exchanges, he said.

Katima, who received a recognition and award from the National Human Rights Commission as the outstanding women human rights defender in 2017, started her human rights defenders work as her father, a Lisu community leader, was shot to death in 2012 in the case relating to land disputes and discrimination against the indigenous people.

Protection International, Thailand would like to emphasize that States have a responsibility to pledge protection to WHRDs at risk and should be held accountable for fulfilling this responsibility.

We also would like to highlight the necessity to progress an included concept of security that goes beyond just the physical protection of the individual.

Such a notion of security would encourage the expansion of prevention measures and take into account the need to feel safe at home, at community and in public, as well as integrating the physical and psychological well-being of WHRDs, families and their groups.

Correspondingly, we echoed the need for protection methods and platforms to take into account the economic, historical, cultural, political, and social contexts in which WHRDs live and address their specific needs and realities.

Pick to PostKatima Leejaindigenous peopleWoman human rights defenderHuman right defenderintimidationstate violenceProtection InternationalLisu Network of ThailandChiang Dao Wildlife SanctuaryIndigenous rightscommunity rightsland rights
Categories: Prachatai English

Mysterious message appears at key May 2010 crackdown sites ahead of anniversary

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-05-11 20:48
Submitted on Mon, 11 May 2020 - 08:48 PMPrachatai

Thai netizens have been posting pictures of mysterious messages projected onto key locations of the May 2010 crackdown on the Red Shirt protests. The messages appeared during Sunday night (10 May), while the hashtag “#FindingTruth” (“#ตามหาความจริง”) trended on Twitter.

(Source: Nutchanon Payakaphan)

The locations where the hashtag has been seen include Wat Pathum Wanaram, Soi Rangnam, the Ministry of Defence, and the Democracy Monument.

Other than the hashtag, messages such as “May 1992, 2010: killing fields in the city” and “Facts about May 2010: (1) the military forced all Red Shirts out of CTW (2) The military took control of the CTW area (3) The fire happened when the military took control of CTW (4) The military wouldn’t let fire trucks in to put out of the fire” were also seen.

The hashtag projected onto the Ministry of Defence building. (Source: Nutchanon Payakaphan)

The identity of the person or group who projected these messages is currently unknown, but Khaosod reported that the police are now trying to find the person or people responsible, although they are not sure whether this action violates any law.

Meanwhile, the hashtag has been trending on Thai Twitter, as netizens used it not only to share pictures of the messages but also of the protest and information about the crackdowns.

The Democracy Monument with the hashtag projected onto the wing to the front left. (Source: Nutchanon Payakaphan)

The hashtag #FindingTruth projected onto the wall of Wat Pathumwanaram (Source: Nutchanon Payakaphan)

The projections appear only a week before the 10th anniversary of the May 2020 crackdown on Red Shirt protestors on 19 May. During the crackdowns in April and May 2010, 94 people were killed and around 2000 were injured. More than half of those who died were killed between 13 – 19 May.

Justice delayed is justice denied: remembering the 19 May 2010 killing of ‘red shirt’ protestors

10th anniversary of the Red Shirt crackdown; justice still delayed, denied

The casualties of the April-May 2010 crackdowns included unarmed protestors, volunteer medics, reporters, photographers, and bystanders. While the Abhisit government claimed that the protestors were ‘terrorists,’ news reports, pictures, and video footage show that none of the victims were armed, and until now, no trace of gunpowder has been found on any protestors’ hands. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2011 report, the excessive and unnecessary force used by the military caused the high number of death and injuries, including the enforcement of “live fire zones” around the protest sites in which sharpshooters and snipers were deployed. No officials responsible for the crackdowns have so far been held accountable for these casualties.

NewsProjection mapping19 May 2010 political violenceApril-May 2010 massacreApril-May 2010 political violencered shirtmilitary crackdown 2010
Categories: Prachatai English

Major Philippines TV Network threatened by authorities should be allowed to air, says AI

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-05-11 14:00
Submitted on Mon, 11 May 2020 - 02:00 PMAmnesty International

Amnesty International responds to the cease-and-desist order issued by the Philippines' National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), effectively stopping operations of ABS-CBN, one of the country's largest broadcast media companies, after repeated attacks on the network by President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Responding to news that the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease-and-desist order effectively stopping the operations of ABS-CBN, one of the country’s largest broadcast media companies, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano said:
“Ordering ABS-CBN to stop its operations is an outrageous attack on media freedom. It is especially reckless as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filipino people need accurate information from independent sources. The government must act immediately to keep ABS-CBN on air and cease all attempts to curtail media freedom.

“This latest move against ABS-CBN occurs after repeated attacks in the past against the network by President Duterte himself. It is yet another attack on freedom of expression in recent weeks, following the authorities’ legal threats against people who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic.

“This is a dark day for media freedom in the Philippines, reminiscent of martial law when the dictatorship seized control over news agencies. The lessons of history should be a reminder to the government not to go down this path, press freedom must be upheld and this attack on ABS-CBN should be vigorously opposed by all who care about free speech.”

Background

On 5 May 2020, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease-and-desist against broadcast media company ABS-CBN, ordering the company to stop operating its TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “due to the expiration of its congressional franchise” on 4 May 2020. The NTC cited Republic Act 3846, or the Radio Control Law, in its order, which also gives the network 10 days to explain why the broadcast frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled.

ABS-CBN has produced numerous investigative reports highlighting extrajudicial executions committed as part of the government’s so-called “war on drugs.” Similarly, news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa, who have also been critical of the anti-drug campaign in their reporting, are facing a string of lawsuits, including charges of tax evasion, cyber libel and foreign ownership.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly attacked ABS-CBN for allegedly failing to run his paid political advertisements during the 2016 elections, which he won. In a speech in December 2019, Duterte advised the network’s executives to sell the company as a way out.

Today’s order came after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the commission that they may be prosecuted if they issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN without a franchise from Congress. In February 2020, Calida filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court, asking it to revoke the existing franchise of ABS-CBN for allowing foreign investors despite constitutional prohibitions and launching a subscription service without the required government approval. The Supreme Court has yet to decide on the issue, following the suspension of the court’s operations in light of the community quarantine in effect in Metro Manila in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several bills are currently pending before the Philippine Congress for the renewal of the network’s franchise, but these have not been taken up since the current Congress began its term in July 2019.

In recent weeks, the National Bureau of Investigation has summoned individuals suspected of spreading fake news related to COVID-19, but human rights groups said these included those who were merely airing their grievances online. A Cebu City-based artist was also arrested without warrant in April 2020 over a Facebook post that police considered as "fake news". The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which grants President Duterte special powers to address the pandemic, includes a provision that punishes “creating, perpetuating or spreading false information” with up to two months in prison, up to P1 million in fines, or both.

Pick to Postpress freedomThe PhilippinesABS-CBN
Categories: Prachatai English

Freedom of expression online: society cannot move forward when the government monopolizes the 'truth'

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-05-11 13:48
Submitted on Mon, 11 May 2020 - 01:48 PMAmnesty International

Ever since the 2014 coup d'état by the NCPO, there have been relentless efforts to silence critics. Human rights defenders, activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and online users have faced ‘lawfare’ where the government brought criminal charges against them to stop criticism. 

From left: Yingcheep Atchanont, Sarinee Achavanuntakul, and Winyu Wongsurawat

Despite a return to democracy in the form of the general election in 2019, limitations on freedom of expression for the Thai people is still strong, and when the COVID-19 pandemic arose, the Thai government announced an Emergency Decree that gives their officials the authority to censor ‘false’ or any other information that might incite panic in the general population, while also emphasizing that they will file charges against ‘misuse of social media’, a threat that many are concerned will instead be used against the government’s critics.

Amnesty International, therefore, has issued a new report “They are always watching”: Restricting freedom of expression online in Thailand. This report shows the restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand, along with the concerns of organizations related to Thailand’s international obligations on this topic. A live talk show on Facebook, in collaboration with the programme The Topics, featured Sarinee Achavanuntakul, writer, translator, researcher, and freelance academic on finance, and Yingcheep Atchanont, manager of Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), and was moderated by Winyu Wongsurawat, The Topics show host.

Computer Crime Act, the right law used wrongly

The Amnesty International report shows that the tendency to greater restrictions on freedom of expression online is continuing.

Sarinee Achavanuntakul stated that Thailand had a score of 35 out of 100 in the 2019 Freedom House report , which is unfortunate, considering that in the past, Thailand was praised for the freedom of its media, the clear progress in the people’s sector, the media reform movement, and the efforts to develop freedom.

Sarinee has monitored restrictions on the right to freedom of expression since the Computer Crime Act was enacted in 2007 to combat computer crimes such as hacking, phishing, and financial scams. Instead, the law was increasingly used to control online messages.

Since then the Computer Crime Act was misused. Statistics for the first 5 years show that the Act was used against non-computer crimes, such as defamation.

“The act was then amended so it couldn’t be used for defamation. But on the former offence of information that is false, distorted or provoking or inciting damage to the public, the law opens the opportunity for interpretation, such as in the case where Prof Charnvit Kasetsiri posted a criticism of the PM’s wife’s handbag. If the law makes expressing an opinion into a crime, it makes people unsure of whether what they have said is wrong. This shows that the law has problems.

“In principle, the Computer Crime Act or the Personal Data Protection Act are necessary. The amended Computer Crime Act has improvements such as dealing with spam, bringing criminal charges against platforms as intermediaries, and where it wasn’t used together with the defamation laws, it makes the situation somewhat better. But it had many times more bad things because it creates ambiguity, and allows more interpretation, although there are people who argue that the law can be amended by clearly specifying that the information that is within the scope of this law is information that can be read by a computer, not information that a human can read.”

Yingcheep Atchanont points out that many people tend to ask him how to post things legally, and that shows how unsafe people feel online. Thailand has so many laws it confuses Thai people, and because the police cannot arrest everyone who criticizes the government, they cause fear by arresting famous people. Sometimes they even arrest the users who post vague messages so people become scared of making comments.

Government should not monopolize the ‘truth’

One of the global issues today is the spread of ‘fake news’, and the Thai government seems to take this issue seriously.

Yingcheep, however, states that ‘fake news’ has been used not only to describe websites that intend to spread false information; expressions of disagreement, or incorrect interpretations, and bias have been labelled fake news.

“If we want someone to check fake news, I think the facts should be divided according to each agency’s specialization, such as having the FDA check information on medicines, because creating one central agency to say if any fact is true, no one agency could know everything," Yingcheep said.

Sarinee believes that it is the nature of online discussion that no one can know every truth and lie, so online users have to use the internet responsibly. If they know what is wrong, they have to make it right. It is the nature of the internet to fact check itself. Everyone has their own media in their hands, so if someone knows what is wrong, they can go online to dispute it.

“The best way to correct fake news is to fight with the facts, and there are already people with this responsibility, i.e. the media. But how can the professional media at this time do a better job?  Some news we believe to be true until later new facts emerge. This is the nature of information and opinion. What is bad is to bring in the law to make it a criminal charge.

“What the Amnesty report has shown us is that once an Anti Fake News Centre is established, online freedom tends to go down. People get arrested, the interpretation of the law get broader, and the things that the authorities say is fake news or not have problems,” Sarinee said.

Sarinee recommends that the government should cancel the Anti Fake News Centre and use their budget for various news agencies that regularly check their facts, or fund media organizations, as they, along with the public sector, have much more credit than the government when it comes to fact checking.

Yingcheep sees the Anti Fake News Centre as another effort by the government to control Thai citizens.

“New tools of the state sector will always be produced. Like when the Anti Fake News Centre is criticized to the point it loses all credibility, there will be a new tool in its place. Now we are under their new tool: the Emergency Decree. While they have not arrested anyone yet, as long as it is still in effect, this will be one of the tools that the state could choose to use, and the insecurity around the people’s rights and freedoms will increase.

“The state shouldn’t be the only one to indicate what is right or wrong. Everyone who uses the internet must try to upgrade themselves. Don’t firmly believe something too much, or if you find any opinions don’t share them right away. We must help to protect ourselves from lawsuits, and give our social media friends a world that has quality," Yingcheep said.

Emergency Decree concerns: power to control freedom of expression

In regards to concerns over the use of the Emergency Decree to control the Covid-19 pandemic but which is being extended to control citizen’s opinions, Yingcheep explains that these laws give the authority to limit media coverage by banning the publication of information that could cause confusion or worsen the situation, which is what everyone is worried about. While there have been no arrests, it is also not known whether the government has used it to threaten anyone yet. If the government is truly honest about using the Emergency Decree to control the disease than there is no need to use this law.

What Sarinee worries about is that under the Emergency Decree, citizens cannot file a complaint or lawsuit against officials. The government’s interpretation of fake news is also concerning. The more government restricts expression, the more fear people have for speaking their minds, making them practice self-censorship.

“The fact that people express opinions critical of the government is making the government accountable. Many times it helps the government improve and perform better. Gagging people affects not only the people, but has an effect on the government too, when there are no opinions to help improve its work,” Sarinee states.

Assisting those who have been violated by the law is not a crime

One of the issues that is repeatedly raised whenever Amnesty or anyone else comes out and asks for justice for the accused, is that we are ‘helping the criminal’.

Sarinee believes that this issue comes from the mindset that every law is sacred. Every NCPO order is considered a law without question, and anyone who breaks what the government considers to be the law is a criminal. So when someone comes out asking for justice for the accused, they are considered to be assisting criminals. In the report it is clear that Amnesty only asks the Thai government to follow the international obligations on human rights that Thailand has committed to. Amnesty only checks whether or not Thai law enforcement is in accordance with the agreements Thailand has made with other nations.

“Human rights are the basic rights that have become a global morality. Even the private sector is called on to help protect human rights. Also, it is not the case that human rights do not allow cultural differences in each country. The UN declaration on the limits of human rights does not say that freedoms are limitless. A state can limit rights but must have conditions. For example, limits must be by laws that are necessary and proportionate, there must be fairness, and it must be clearly shown how limiting rights helps protect against danger. But the use of the Computer Crime Act or Article 116 doesn’t meet these conditions,” Sarinee said.

Yingcheep also explains that based on his working experience, there is no one is this world who does not want to protect the rights of the innocent against criminals, but we don’t know when crime will happen. What we know is that as soon as we read a law we know it will be used politically. We see the possibility of the innocent being arrested for exercising their freedom of expression. How can they stand still against it? This is the protection of the innocent against government abuse, so they have to resist the law.

For society to move on, freedom of expression must be confirmed

Protecting freedom of expression is not just for the benefit of the individual, but also to protect the benefit of society as a whole, by not leaving anyone behind.

Yingcheep believes that freedom of expression will ensure our chance for the best or almost the best thing we can have, and if we are wrong, we can state our opinion to fix it.

“When we see something unusual in society, we can alert others to it. When we see that the government has made a wrong decision, someone can tell them that they should fix it. If people listen to opinions, we might be able to change for the better. It is only freedom of expression that can ensure that everyone can speak to gather the ideas to find the best thing and accept each other more,” Yingcheep said.

Meanwhile, Sarinee sees that freedom of expression is important for economic development.

“Today we say that the economy has to be digital, but if we don’t let people express themselves, innovation will be difficult. Innovation cannot come from people having the same idea, but it comes from building on each other. The more conceptually open it is, the more freedom people have, the more it facilitates economic development.

“It’s human nature to think differently, so how will we develop the economy thoroughly? Especially in the COVID-19 situation, we will see that countries with great inequality will become exhausted because a lot of people will be left behind. How can you tell people who are already struggling to work from home? This shows the necessity of having social welfare and reducing inequality. Economically, if we don’t emphasize developing the broad base that reaches everyone, it will be even riskier. If we depend so much on tourism, how can we develop this base if we don’t protect freedom of expression, so that people can come out and tell us what they want to do?” Sarinee concludes.

Pick to Postfreedom of expressionfreedom of speechonline freedomComputer Crime ActSarinee AchavanuntakulYingcheep AtchanontWinyu Wongsurawat
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Emergency decree is not the solution

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-05-11 11:28
Submitted on Mon, 11 May 2020 - 11:28 AMCartoon by Stephff: Emergency decree is not the solution

MultimediaStephffEmergency Decree
Categories: Prachatai English

Rohingya Refugees in Risky Covid-19 Quarantine

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-05-08 14:26
Submitted on Fri, 8 May 2020 - 02:26 PMHuman Rights Watch

Bangladesh authorities have quarantined 29 Rohingya refugees without adequate access to aid on an unstable silt island in the Bay of Bengal, Human Rights Watch said today (5 May). The authorities said that they are holding the refugees, including 15 women and 5 children, who had been adrift at sea for over two months, on Bhasan Char to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak in the camps.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told the media on May 2, 2020, that the new arrivals were ethnic Rohingya who fled Myanmar to try to reach Malaysia. However, Human Rights Watch interviews with families found that at least seven of those detained are registered refugees from the camps in Bangladesh. Momen said that all future arrivals will be transferred to Bhasan Char, which experts have warned may not be fit for habitation and contains no access to humanitarian services provided by the United Nations or aid agencies.

“Bangladesh faces the tremendous challenge of assisting Rohingya boat people while preventing the spread of Covid-19, but sending them to a dangerously flood-prone island without adequate health care is hardly the solution,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Any quarantines need to ensure aid agency access and safety from storms, and a prompt return to their families on the mainland.”

Several trawlers, each packed with several hundred Rohingya, set out for Malaysia in March, but at least two were intercepted and turned away with a fresh supply of food and water. On April 15, the Bangladesh coast guard received one boat with nearly 400 people, who said that as many as 100 may have died on board before the rescue. At least two other boats remain stranded at sea with an estimated 700 refugees.

Early in the morning of May 2, at least 50 Rohingya from one of the trawlers were transferred to smaller boats by smugglers after families paid ransom, and landed on the Bangladesh coast. Many of the Rohingya were able to disappear into the camps, but the authorities captured 29.

Additional Rohingya refugees are soon expected to arrive in Bangladesh. Families told Human Rights Watch that they had paid the smugglers between 35,000 and 60,000 taka (US$400 to $700) on top of the amounts they paid for the initial journey, to ensure that their relatives returned safely ashore.

A Rohingya refugee from the Kutupalong camp said that after he paid the smugglers, his two daughters were brought from the trawler to the Bangladesh coast on May 2, but both now have been sent to Bhasan Char. “I’m worried about my daughters who have been taken to that island,” he said. “They informed me that they’re afraid they may not be able to return. It’s really painful.” He said that the Bangladesh authorities did not contact him before sending them to Bhasan Char: “My daughter told me that some government officer in Bhasan Char said, ‘your parents will be brought here to Bhasan Char.’ We did not care how much we had to pay to get our daughters back, but now there is uncertainty about whether they will return from Bhasan Char, or whether we will also be forced to relocate there by Bangladesh authorities.”

Another refugee said that the smugglers brought his sister back 54 days after she left the camp, but when he went to meet her at the police station, he was told she “had already been sent to Bhasan Char.”

Bangladesh authorities claim they do not want to “pollute” the Rohingya camps during the pandemic, but failed to provide the refugees with access to UN and other international agencies before sending them to Bhasan Char. A representative from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, told Human Rights Watch that they are prepared “to ensure the safe quarantine of any refugees arriving by boat to Cox’s Bazar,” near where the refugee camps are located.

Cox’s Bazar has facilities that include testing and quarantine centers established by agreement with the Bangladesh government. In April humanitarian agencies helped to organize the quarantine of about 400 refugees rescued from a boat. After completing the quarantine and testing negative for Covid-19, they returned to their families.

Bangladesh should not quarantine refugees at Bhasan Char until they coordinate with the UN and other agencies to ensure that proper medical and food assistance are provided, Human Rights Watch said. Once the quarantine period is over, they should immediately be taken back to reunite with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps.

Over 900,000 Rohingya refugees are living in refugee camps in southern Bangladesh after fleeing mass atrocities in neighboring Myanmar. Myanmar authorities have not created conditions for the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of Rohingya refugees despite entreaties from the UN and governments around the world.

Bangladesh says it cannot accept any more Rohingya refugees. Foreign Minister Momen said that the navy and coast guard are on alert to prevent any additional boats with Rohingya from entering Bangladesh. Such pronouncements contravene Bangladesh’s international legal obligations to respond to boats in distress, coordinate rescue operations, and not push back asylum seekers whose lives are at risk at sea.

Countries should ensure that there are adequate search and rescue services in their coastal waters to respond to boats in distress. Regional governments should ensure effective and coordinated search and rescue zones to save lives when they learn of boats in distress. There are heightened concerns for refugees stranded at sea ahead of a strong cyclone that is currently forming in Bay of Bengal.

“Myanmar’s culpability for the plight of the Rohingya does not give Bangladesh free rein to send people to an island where their lives could be in danger,” Adams said. “Support from international donors can help Bangladesh protect the refugee population from the pandemic while upholding the rights and safety of newly arriving boat people.”

Pick to PostHuman Rights WatchRohingyaBangladeshRefugeeQuarantineCOVID-19coronavirus
Categories: Prachatai English

Emergency decree is not the answer to controlling the pandemic

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-05-08 13:30
Submitted on Fri, 8 May 2020 - 01:30 PMTaweesak Kerdpoka

Interviews with an academic, a political party leader, a civil society leader and an entrepreneur in search of whether the Emergency Decree really helps fight Covid-19 cast doubt on its epidemiological effect while concerns mount over the abuse of power of arrest.

A Covid-19 checkpoint at Nong Khai province. (File Photo)

The Emergency Decree in Thailand has been extended for another month as the government claims that it is an important tool in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the lifting of some lockdown measures, the curfew is still in place.

Thailand has experienced many ups and downs in the past month under the Decree. The million dollar question is: Do we really need the Emergency Decree?

Prachatai conducted interviews to review the Emergency Decree and give suggestions for dealing with people’s livelihoods and state authority.

Yingcheep Atchanont, the manager of iLaw, a civil society organization working on legal issues, said that the Emergency Decree poses problems of transparency and complexity. Its role as a positive factor in overall disease control is not at all clear. Thus, the kingdom-wide implementation of the Decree should be questioned as provinces face different contexts.

He said that the Communicable Disease Act already authorizes the state to prohibit public gatherings and shut down sites with a risk of contagion. The existing security laws also sanction curfews and empower the PM to make decisions. What is different is that the emergency decree gives officials immunity from accountability and from the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court.

“The most important problem with the Emergency Decree is the difficulty with accountability. Like the cases a few days ago where we saw the arrest of homeless people in Chiang Mai on charges of curfew violation or prohibiting and prosecuting people who distribute food to the homeless or those who are in need.

“Are these powers being used correctly? It may be correct. The officials are perhaps keeping rigidly to the law, or it may be illegitimate and the people with power should be held accountable. If there was no Emergency Decree, this kind of action will be held to account.” Yingcheep said.

On curfew arrests, the iLaw manager said that they go against the main purpose of controlling the outbreak. In principle, the curfew was declared to keep people at home. If people are caught violating the curfew, they should not be lumped together in jail overnight, waiting to be sent to court. This goes against the social distancing policy and increases the chance of infection.

“In the case of France, the law is clear. If people violate the curfew, the first time they will be fined, the second time they will get a bigger fine, and if you do it a third time the penalty is imprisonment and an even bigger fine. But in Thai law, no matter how many times you offend, regardless of the reason for offending, you will be punished in the same way.” said Yingcheep.

Lertsak Kamkongsak, the Chair of the Commoners Party, said that existing laws are already sufficient to cope up with the pandemic. The Emergency Decree and curfew, on the other hand, oppress people’s rights and freedoms.

“I do not agree with the Emergency Decree because of the part it plays in excessively restricting the rights and freedoms of the people. The power is used in a ridiculous way, for example, setting up road blocks, prohibiting the distribution of goods to people by citing the Emergency Decree. … Villagers who are fighting on environmental or land rights issues are blocked from expressing their opinion in the name of Covid-19 control. Villagers cannot gather together to submit a complaint or oppose government agencies.”

Lertsak suggests the government should do its best to let people live a normal life as much as possible. During March and April, Thai people suffered enough loss of income. The kind of workplace that cannot apply social distancing may still be selectively barred from reopening.

Phit Cheewasakorn, owner of Beef b4 u die, a steak delivery business, said that his business is not affected by the strict state measures. He said that the government should relax its strict outbreak control policy to let people go back to work and earn income. Amidst the outbreak, many businesses in the same sector have experienced transformations.

“From what I have seen, shabu (sukiyaki-like buffet) has gone from having to sit and eat in the restaurant and now has had to change into a delivery service. But delivery alone is not enough. If they order a shabu set, the restaurant gives a shabu pot too. Many businesses have to adapt their model. On the one hand, I think in some cases the situation will lead to overturning the form of businesses to expand into another channel.”

Assoc Prof Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat University said that the Emergency Decree should be used when there is no potential mechanism in place to solve the problem. When the situation improves, the Decree should be lifted as it will not be necessary.

“Today we can see that when the Emergency Decree is used, it is not just a matter of managing a problem in epidemiology alone, but in many places the Decree is used to deal with the moral issues like arresting gamblers or drug users. Those are things where there are already regular laws for dealing with offenders.”

Yuttaporn says that the problem in Thailand is not about the implementation of ‘special laws’ but the bureaucratic-dominated state mechanisms. Such mechanisms respond to a situation slowly and give local officials a great deal of discretion on interpreting the orders from the centre. This circumstance can lead to negative consequences in the long-term control of the outbreak.

The political science lecturer added that the need to stabilize and centralize the government via the Emergency Decree is the result of power structure in the 2017 Constitution that gives parliament a weak multiparty coalition. This leads to more negotiations and deals among the stakeholders involved. This was shown in the conflicts among the coalition over face masks during the early phase of the pandemic.

FeatureCOVID-19Lertsak KamkongsakPhit CheewasakornYuttaporn IssarachaiYingcheep AtchanontEmergency DecreeSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87394
Categories: Prachatai English

Political activist Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul dies at 62

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-07 22:40
Submitted on Thu, 7 May 2020 - 10:40 PMPrachatai

Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, or “Da Torpedo,” a former reporter and political activist once convicted for lèse majesté, passed away this morning (7 May) at Siriraj Hospital, where she was admitted for cancer treatment.

Daranee was formerly a reporter for Phim Thai Newspaper and the Thai Sky News cable network. After the 2006 coup, she became involved with the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), a group which later expanded into the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), and protested against the coup. She was known for her fiery speeches at various rallies at Sanam Luang which earned her the nickname “Da Torpedo.”

In 2008, she was arrested and accused of insulting the monarchy during public speeches given at political rallies in June and July of that year.

According to iLaw, Daranee was denied bail several times and was held in custody throughout her trials. In December 2009, the Criminal Court found her guilty of lèse majesté on three different counts and sentenced her to 15 years in prison. Daranee appealed, but the Court of Appeal ruled in June 2013 to affirm the original verdict. Metta Wongwat noted in an article in 2014 that Daranee was one of the first people to be imprisoned under Article 112.

She was released in August 2016, following the 2016 Royal Pardon Decree, having already served more than 8 years in prison.

A friend of Daranee wrote in a call for donations to fund her cancer treatment that her imprisonment contributed to the worsening of her condition, as a malignant tumour found during the last years of her imprisonment was left undiagnosed until the symptoms of cancer became apparent three years later.

Daranee had a Bachelor’s Degree from Ramkhamhaeng University. She started a Master’s Degree at Thammasat University, but due to a disagreement with a professor, she left the programme and continued her graduate study at Krirk University. Her older brother said in a 2014 interview that she was an avid reader who had to rent two rooms, one for living in and another for her books. Daranee herself told Metta that she “like to buy and read books,” and that she liked to read academic books, “about politics, history, sociology.” In the period before she started giving speeches at rallies, she was reading the works of Supot Dantrakul.

In the Women’s Prison, where inmates are not permitted to watch the news and access to books and magazines was limited, Daranee was once denied visiting times with her relatives for a week because she tried to find a news channel on the prison television. She was at one point appointed the librarian of a small library in the prison’s receiving zone.

Daranee’s funeral will be held at Thewasunthon Temple in Chatuchak from 7 – 9 May, and the cremation will be held on 10 May at 15:00.

Those who wished to contribute to the cost of organizing the funeral may transfer their donations to the Siam Commercial Bank account 0-16-45875-46. In accordance with Daranee’s will, the donations will be used to cover the cost of her funeral. Any remaining amount will be given to her relatives.

NewsobituaryDaranee Charnchoengsilpakulda torpedopolitical prisonerslese majeste
Categories: Prachatai English

AI calls for governments to protect Rohingya people

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-05-07 16:43
Submitted on Thu, 7 May 2020 - 04:43 PMAmnesty International

Amnesty International released an open letter on 5 May to the governments of Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam, calling for them to meet their responsibilities according to international standards and regional commitments and take immediate actions to protect the Rohingya people whose lives are at risk at sea, and to adopt measures to address the root causes of the current situation.

Source: Amnesty International

OPEN LETTER: ROHINGYA PEOPLE’S LIVES AT RISK AT SEA

To the Governments of: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam

Several fishing trawlers carrying hundreds of women, men and children – believed to be Rohingya – are currently stranded at sea, after being pushed away by governments invoking COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions to deny them permission to disembark. Amnesty International urges governments in the region to work together and take immediate action to protect people whose lives are at risk. Any national and regional measures must meet governments’ responsibilities under international law and respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers. Governments must also adopt measures to address the root causes of the current situation.

In this regard, Amnesty International is calling on governments to meet their responsibilities according to international standards and regional commitments.

ASEAN Member States must abide by the Charter of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN Charter), in particular Article 1, which lists among the ASEAN “Principles and Purposes” the duty “to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Article 1(7)).

Governments must also uphold commitments made under regional declarations, including the 2010 ASEAN Declaration on search and rescue operations at sea, the 2016 Bali Declaration, and the outcome of the February 2020 meeting of the Taskforce on the Bali Process, which “emphasized the primacy of saving lives at sea and not endangering the life and safety of persons in responding to irregular maritime migration.”

Governments should ensure that public health measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are proportionate, non-discriminatory and based on available scientific evidence. The COVID-19 pandemic cannot justify states’ refusal to allow Rohingya to disembark. Forcing refugees to remain on boats also poses risks to their right to health and potentially their right to life.

SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATIONS

According to information obtained by Amnesty International, as many as 800 refugees and migrants are still believed to be at sea. Two weeks ago, dozens of lives were lost on a boat the Malaysian authorities turned away. The survivors, allowed to disembark in Bangladesh, were severely malnourished and dehydrated. With hundreds more lives at risk, Amnesty International reminds regional governments of their specific obligations under the law of the sea, which are applicable to situations of refugees or migrants found or intercepted at sea.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea include obligations to provide assistance to those in distress at sea. In addition, the duty of coastal states to render assistance to persons found at sea in danger of being lost, and people in distress, is a rule of customary international law binding on all states.

The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, which serves as an expression of international standards, states that survivors of distress should be provided with assistance, regardless of their nationality or immigration status or the circumstances in which they are found. In addition, states must ensure that all operations and procedures, such as screening and status assessment of rescued persons that go beyond rendering assistance to persons in distress are carried out after disembarkation to a place of safety.

As emphasised by UNHCR, the rescue of persons in distress at sea is not only an international obligation, but also a humanitarian necessity, regardless of who these persons are or their reasons for moving. Persons with international protection needs should be guaranteed safety and access to a durable solution. In light of the 2015 Andaman sea crisis when an untold number of Rohingya people were not rescued and hundreds lost their lives, there is now an urgent need to limit loss of life and suffering at sea to avoid further tragedy.

PUSH-BACK POLICIES AND DISEMBARKATION

In recent days, while initially accepting boats at sea, Malaysia and Bangladesh are now refusing to offer assistance to refugees and migrants in need of rescue. Moreover, coastguards have pushed back these vessels. Other countries have not responded.

Any failure to examine the individual circumstances of people claiming to have a well-founded fear of persecution, before removing them from a state’s territory, would constitute a violation of the principle of non-refoulement. The principle states that no one should be returned to a country where they would face irreparable harm. It should be applied to all refugees and asylum-seekers including the Rohingya, whose lives and well-being are at serious risk.

States are bound by the duty to carry out search and rescue under the law of the sea framework. Push-back policies are also in contravention of the commitment made by governments in the 2010 ASEAN Declaration on cooperation on search and rescue operations, and the 2016 Bali Declaration, in which states publicly pledged to cooperate on the search and rescue of people, including irregular migrants.

In a March 2016 meeting, Ministers in the Bali Process committed governments in the region to a comprehensive regional approach to irregular migration, based on burden-sharing and collective responsibility. The declaration from the meeting pledged that governments would collaborate on the establishment of disembarkation options and cooperate on search and rescue efforts. Governments also agreed to address root causes of irregular migration by resolving the problem of statelessness and ensuring that refugees and migrants had safe routes by which to seek safety and avoid dangerous travel by sea.

All governments must collectively bear this responsibility. Action plans need to converge on common elements of search and rescue and disembarkation. Otherwise, push-backs by one country leaves rescue and disembarkation to another.

ADDRESSING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN

A key component of a durable regional solution to the current crisis is to address human rights violations in countries of origin. Amnesty International urges governments to address the root causes of irregular migration as well as the immediate protection needs of refugees and migrants.

The majority of those recently rescued and those who remain at sea appear to be Rohingya, fleeing crimes against humanity and systemic discrimination and persecution in Myanmar. They are not recognized as an official ethnic group there and continue to be denied equal access to citizenship rights and freedom of movement, which has had serious repercussions on their livelihoods, health, and food security.

Since August 2017, more than 740,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State after security forces unleashed a brutal campaign of violence against them. The UN Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar reported that these crimes may constitute genocide. The Myanmar authorities are maintaining an apartheid regime targeting the Rohingya in Rakhine State and it is still not safe for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya women, men and children who fled during 2017 and in previous waves of violence to return to Myanmar. Access to Rakhine State, where an estimated 600,000 Rohingya people remain, continues to be severely restricted for humanitarian workers and independent journalists.

CONCLUSION

Many countries in the region have admirably hosted persons fleeing discrimination and persecution for decades, but the current situation, in which hundreds of lives are again at risk, has demonstrated the absence of a coordinated response. This moment offers the opportunity for governments in the region to come together to implement a strong regional protection framework for refugees and migrants, consistent with the ASEAN Charter that respects international human rights law.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Amnesty International urges governments within the South and South East Asia regions to:

  • Co-ordinate search and rescue operations to locate and assist boats in distress, in line with regional declarations and international law;
  • Allow all boats carrying refugees and migrants to land safely in the nearest country and not push them away, threaten or otherwise intimidate them;
  • Provide or ensure the provision of the immediate humanitarian needs of refugees and migrants including adequate food, water, shelter and health care;
  • Ensure that people claiming asylum are able to access fair refugee status determination procedures;
  • Respect the principle of non-refoulement, by ensuring people are not transferred to any place, including their country of origin, where their lives are at risk, or where they may be tortured or persecuted;
  • Ensure that individuals are not criminalized, detained or otherwise punished solely for their method of arrival in the country;
  • Develop emergency mechanisms to respond to future boat movements in the region;
  • Ratify the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol and the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and implement these instruments in law, policy and practice;
  • Work closely with UNHCR, the agency with the mandate to protect refugees and stateless people and the technical expertise on refugee status determination.

Amnesty International makes the following recommendations to specific governments:

  • Viet Nam, in its capacity as ASEAN Chair, should convene an emergency meeting to deal with the situation, in accordance with the ASEAN Charter (which states “The ASEAN Summit shall... address emergency situations affecting ASEAN by taking appropriate actions”);
  • Myanmar must put an end to systemic discrimination and violence against the Rohingya people; and also ensure free and unimpeded access to Rakhine State by humanitarian actors, international human rights organizations and journalists, in addition to other key stakeholders.

Amnesty International makes the following recommendations to all states:

  • Increase humanitarian intake of refugees in the spirit of shared responsibility;
  • Provide international cooperation and technical and financial assistance to countries in the South and South East Asia region for search and rescue operations and for the provision of immediate and longer-term needs of refugees and migrants in the region.

Yours sincerely,

Clare Algar,

Senior Director of Research, Advocacy and Policy Amnesty International

Pick to PostAmnesty InternationRohingyaASEANRefugeehuman rights
Categories: Prachatai English

Waste pickers line up for support as lockdown affects recycling business

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-05-06 11:17
Submitted on Wed, 6 May 2020 - 11:17 AM

As around 500 waste picker households gather to receive money and food from charities, the head of the Re-users and Recyclers Trade Association says an influx of imported waste and the lockdown measures have heavily impacted the recycling business. Despite a state policy to secure prices, waste pickers still find it hard to get by.

A waste picker received a bag of supply at the venue.

On 3 May, the waste pickers from the Suea Yai community in Bangkok, where most people work as scavengers, and nearby areas gathered at Chandrakasem Rajabhat University to receive cash and food handouts.

The event was held under the to lom hai jai saleng (breath of life for recyclers) programme, mostly sponsored by the recycling business association. This is an attempt at short-term assistance for waste pickers who are directly affected by the Covid-19 control measures.

Chaiyut Phonsen, President of the Re-users and Recyclers Trade Association, said the recycling business experienced dire difficulties in 2019 from international and domestic causes. Although the Ministry of Finance has implemented a relief policy, the Emergency Decree and nationwide lockdown caused by the Covid-19 outbreak has reduced overall economic activity and the money that can be made from waste.

Jurin Laksanawisit, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, presided at the ceremony. The Ministry contributed 6,000 cans of food to the programme. The Deputy Prime Minister said that he will ask the government to ensure that waste pickers were eligible for the monthly 5,000 baht ad-hoc state support.

The industry came under threat in 2018 when China started to reject imports of waste from rich countries, a lot of which was diverted to Thailand.  The situation intensified with the US-China trade war. This resulted in a drop in prices for recycled waste. Paper and plastic experienced huge price falls. In case of paper, the price dropped from 4-7 baht per kilogram to 0.50 baht. 

A report from the Ministry of Finance shows that the Ministry summoned stakeholders to sort out the issue. It ended up increasing the floor price for paper to 2 baht per kg.

Thongdi Yotthap, 56, has been driving a tricycle picking waste for 2 decades and said that the 2 baht floor price is still very low. 

Laemthong Dithiang, a 73-year-old tricycle driver, said that scrap prices are falling across the board. She nowadays makes a daily profit of around 100-400 baht.

Panya Phuttan, around 50 years old, works as a messenger by day, and drives a tricycle at night but stopped collecting waste when the government declared the nationwide 10 pm – 4 am curfew. His daily income was thus reduced to 200-300 baht. The ad-hoc 5,000 baht state support has already been spent on rent and monthly payments.

On the ability of waste pickers to work during the curfew, Jurin said that staying at home is a common guideline that everybody has to abide by.

Participants waiting in social-distancing manner.

Waste management plays a significant role in the Thai economy as in many poor countries. Data from the Association shows that the amount of waste retrieved for recycling is 3,600 tonnes per day, or 1.3 million tonnes per year. 

Waste is bought, collected and processed by waste pickers from homes, streets or landfill sites. It is then sold to larger recycling companies, who process it and resell it to larger buyers until it reaches the recycling factories.

A 2019 Heinrich Boell Stiftung report “Plastic Atlas” on the world of synthetic polymers shows that 65 percent of 763 waste picker respondents from Asia, Africa and Latin America said that picking and selling waste is their main source of income.

However, market mechanisms contribute to recycling only to a certain extent as demand and processing costs vary across the globe. In some parts of Thailand, coloured PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and milk boxes are not accepted by recycling shops as they require a more extensive collection procedure or major buyers are so far away that they are not worth processing. A similar thing happens with some types of plastic in Brazil, according to the report.

Newsenvironmentrecyclecircular economySource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/05/87481
Categories: Prachatai English

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