Prachatai English

Extraordinary Cat Diversity in Thailand and Myanmar Need Urgent Protection

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-01-16 21:51
Submitted on Thu, 16 Jan 2020 - 09:51 PMWWF Thailand

Extraordinary Cat Diversity in Myanmar and Thailand Landscape Underscores Need for Urgent Protection, WWF “Land of Cats” Report Says.

Bangkok, January 14, 2020 -- A remarkable one fifth of the world’s 36 cat species are found in a single landscape straddling Thailand and Myanmar, but they are under increasing threat of extinction, according to a new report from WWF that outlines an eight-point action plan to save them. 
“Dawna Tenasserim: The Land of Cats” profiles the tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, Asiatic golden cats, marbled cats, jungle cats and leopard cats that roam the forests of this vast landscape. It also includes the elusive fishing cat, which may also live there. At 18 million hectares, the Dawna Tenasserim is the largest contiguous forested area in mainland Southeast Asia, with an incredible 82 percent still forested. Yet few people in Myanmar and Thailand are aware that they live next to one of the Planet’s great wilderness areas with so many amazing endangered cat species.
The seven, possibly eight cat species are holding on despite intense pressure from poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss due to land clearing for agriculture, unsustainable infrastructure and retaliation for killing livestock. And they are following a depressing trend of decline in large cats across Asia, such as the recent conclusion that the tiger and the leopard are now extinct in neighbouring Laos. 
“The cat diversity and the overall size and quality of the forest habitat in the Dawna Tenasserim are remarkable,” says Regan Pairojmahakij, Dawna Tenasserim Transboundary Landscape Manager. “But the cats’ days are numbered unless the countries, and the world in general, recognize the value of this cradle of biodiversity and quickly step up to address the threats to it.”
Highlights from the report include:
The Dawna Tenasserim has 180-220 tigers and a recent Myanmar survey of just eight percent of the country’s potential tiger habitat showed at least 22 tigers. Large parts of their potential range have no protection.
In 2019 a tiger was recorded in Thailand’s Kui Buri National Park for the first time in 7 years.
Leopards, most likely extinct in Laos, Viet Nam and nearly extinct in Cambodia, still exist in the Dawna Tenasserim but are declining. The Indochinese sub-species is now critically endangered.
The stunning Asiatic golden cat thrives in the Dawna Tenasserim and has even been camera trapped in pairs there. However, they are one of the species living close to a proposed road in Myanmar which could threaten their existence.
Given up as extinct in Thailand, the jungle cat re-emerged in the Dawna-Tenasserim on camera trap images in 2017. It is listed as critically endangered by Government of Thailand due to hunting pressure and habitat loss.
In contrast to the jungle cat, the leopard cat is abundant throughout the Dawna Tenasserim and is the most commonly captured species on camera traps in Myanmar.
Fishing cat have been recorded recently outside the landscape and claims of their presence inside it persist – only further surveys will tell!
Camera trap surveys in 2018-2019 captured six of the seven species in Myanmar and Thailand.
Threats to the cat species include infrastructure development, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade and expansion of agriculture and plantations. 
“It’s so rare to have such a rich diversity of cat species – and other large wildlife like elephants, gaur, banteng and two species of bears – within a single landscape in Southeast Asia .at present.  The wildlife have already been exterminated in the vast plains and squeezed into these narrow mountains, and  it would be a double tragedy if we lost them further to poachers’ snares and developers’ bulldozers,” says Yoganand Kandasamy, WWF-Greater Mekong Wildlife Lead.
The report highlights threats such as conversion of land for maize, rubber, cassava, oil palm, and betel nut. Land conversion and construction of roads accelerate the poaching threat by providing easier access to endangered species for poachers. Cheap, home-made snares can be set by the hundreds in these forests and they can kill or maim any creature that comes along. And the proposed Dawei-Htee Khee Road that will connect a deep sea port and Special Economic Zone in Dawei, Myanmar with Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia threatens to bisect elephant and tiger movement routes. Recent wildlife surveys highlight the fact that many wildlife exist along the proposed road. 
“The very reason so many cat species persist in the Dawna Tenasserim is because of a combination of Thailand’s effective protected area management, the strong conservation ethic of local communities in both countries, and long-standing inaccessibility of areas in Southern Myanmar resulting in little incursion into forest areas,” says Nick Cox, Interim Country Director, WWF-Myanmar. “If this road is built, it should include world-class wildlife passages and other sustainable infrastructure elements.” 

WWF’s 8-point action plan to save the Land of the Cats includes:
1) Greater investment in critical areas for feline populations; 2) increased feline biodiversity surveys and research on prey abundance and habitat needs; 3) identification and protection of wildlife corridors within and between countries; 4) strengthening of wildlife protection units on both sides of the border, increased law enforcement and community protection of wildlife and habitats; 5) increased engagement with local and indigenous communities; 6) high level recognition and protection of vital wildlife habitat in the Dawna Tenasserim; 7) a transboundary approach for monitoring and protection of larger, wide ranging species such as tigers; and 8) anticipating, tracking and working with national and regional infrastructure planning agencies to mitigate the negative impacts of major projects such as roads.

“The dedicated national park teams work day and night to protect these cats and recently got video footage of a healthy tiger in Thailand with a massive kill – a gaur – proving that with the right protection and habitat management, we can ensure the Dawna Tenasserim can provide healthy habitat for not only tigers but all endangered species,” says Arnold Sitompul, WWF Thailand Conservation Director. 

Pick to PostWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF)WildlifeSource: Network
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: PM 2.5 smog season is coming

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-01-16 20:34
Submitted on Thu, 16 Jan 2020 - 08:34 PMStephff

Categories: Prachatai English

Violation of labour rights impacts the US GSP suspension: Thai unions give warning

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-01-16 16:13
Submitted on Thu, 16 Jan 2020 - 04:13 PM

Thai state enterprise trade unions and the international labour movement have discussed solutions to the violations of workers’ rights which led to the US suspending GSP for Thailand. The unions also warned that the Thai government’s lack of understanding will affect trade opportunities with other countries

Last Wednesday (8 Jan 2020), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC), labour unions representing workers in Thai state enterprises, organised a forum to voice their concern that the violations of workers’ rights which led to the US GSP suspension will affect trade opportunities with other countries.

The forum was held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok. The discussants included Cathy Feingold, ITUC Deputy President and Director of the International Department of the American Federation of Labor-Council of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO), Sawit Kaewvarn, SERC General Secretary, and Chalee Loysoong, Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) Vice President, with Sakdina Chatrakul Na Ayudhya, an academic specializing in labour history, as moderator.

The forum provided the opportunity for Thai and international labour leaders to discuss, exchange, and suggest solutions to the problems of workers’ rights violations and anti-union practices which led to the USTR’s announcement to suspend Thai GSP on 25th October 2019, and to provide a channel for the press and concerned participants to ask questions and share opinions. 

Cathy Feingold, union leader and activist from the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO and 200 million-member ITUC, said that the American labour movement had advocated since the 1980’s enforced compliance with ILO core labour standards as a condition for GSP recipient countries, in order to prevent any country building a comparative advantage and reducing production costs by violating or restricting workers’ rights, which include the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Feingold also explained that the GSP suspension is not about the US government pressuring Thailand to give more rights to migrant workers, as the majority of the cases in the GSP petition dealt with violations against Thai workers, such as the cases of the State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT), Thai Airways International Labour Union (TG Union), and Mitsubishi Electric Labour Union.

The filing of the GSP petition aimed to encourage respect for internationally recognized labour standards regardless of race or nationality. In the 2019 ITUC Global Rights Index, Thailand was given a rating of 5, or a country with no guaranteed rights. The suspension did not happen just because of one case but due to systemic violations of rights and the government’s failure to enforce labour standards. A union density of one percent is too low and affects workers’ bargaining power; accordingly, the international labour movement will continue to struggle for workers in Thailand to have their rights respected, and to have access to the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining in order to improve their lives. 

Feingold also commented Thai Government might not truly understand the real impact of the GSP suspension, judging from its comments that only a few Thai exports would be affected. The suspension in April would be one-third of the total benefits. The view of Minister of Labour that the problems could be resolved by relying on the advice of technical advisors, not trade union leaders who understand the issues, is also very concerning. All exchanges with the Thai government will be passed on to the US government. The EU and Swiss governments, who are looking to negotiate FTA deals with Thailand, will also have to hear about workers’ rights violations in Thailand, as compliance with internationally recognized labour standards is also a condition of their FTAs. 

Sawit Kaewvarn, SERC General Secretary, reported on the meeting between Feingold and Minister of Labour Chatumongkol Sonakul to discuss the window of opportunity to resolve the issues before GSP is suspended in April 2020. The current crisis is nothing new as Thailand has previously been under several boycott threats due to non-compliance with international human and workers’ rights.  It was previously listed as a Tier 3 country in a US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report and yellow-carded by the EU regarding Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU). Those crises eventually led to cooperation between the government, employers and trade unions which helped improve the situation. However, the first step to resolve the problems is to admit and to speak the truth, not deny that there is any violation. Sawit gave his case as an example, as he is one of the SRUT leaders who were dismissed and are currently being prosecuted in the Criminal Court. His wages are being garnished and he only has 300 baht left each month, in retaliation for the union’s campaign to demand train safety after a train derailment caused 7 fatalities.

Sawit further stressed that nowadays the conduct of business and compliance with human rights are inseparable. The Thai government has signed many human rights agreements such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), but rarely does it honour their provisions. Thailand has also been a long-time recipient of US GSP benefits but has also failed to comply with the condition that internationally recognized labour standards must be promoted and protected. In the future, there is a greater chance that countries failing to meet these standards will have their exports boycotted. Recently on 28 November 2019, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), with members all over Europe, co-signed a letter with the ITUC calling on the Thai government to resolve all labour rights violations as detailed in the GSP petition. The ETUC, which also works with the EU Parliament, will also ensure that all EU members and other European countries understand the issues in Thailand before proceeding with any trade negotiations, including FTAs, as prior compliance with ILO core standards is required in such trade deals.

Sawit also recounted how the TLSC and SERC have assisted migrant workers in Thailand so that now they enjoy some rights of association and the right to bargain with an employers’ association that has over 20 member companies. Despite the continuation of violations and the inability to register their own unions, migrant workers have come a long way from the past when they were completely denied all rights. Sawit said that he is now more concerned with Thai workers, as many sectors, including civil servants and public employees, do not have the right to organize and to join unions. Public employees nowadays fall under many types of employment, and most lack protection under the social security and labour protection acts, and receive less than the minimum wage paid to Thai and migrant workers in the private sector. Sawit also revealed that he and other union leaders have been called “traitors” for reporting violations in Thailand to the international community, where he insists that cooperation among labour movement must transcend borders. The American labour movement has disagreed with and opposed many of the US government’s policies, and so has the Thai labour movement. Workers’ organizations such as the ITUC or AFL-CIO are brothers and sisters to Thai workers and workers all over the world, as they aim to ensure that economic development happens concurrently in compliance with human rights, including workers’ rights, not just the numeric growth of GDP that leaves workers who make up the majority in the country to be exploited and violated. 

Chalee Loysoong, the TLSC Vice President, insisted that the violations detailed in the GSP petition mostly occurred against Thai workers. Thai labour laws have long failed to meet international standards as Thailand has not ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98, which are the core standards that promote the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining that would lead to other rights and protections. The Thai government almost ratified the two conventions during the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, but the process was delayed due to complicated parliamentary and legal requirements. Ratification then was pushed back after Abhisit dissolved parliament.

He recounted that he started working with the international labour movement about a decade ago as there were so many workers’ rights violations and anti-union practices. He collected over 10 cases in the first complaints sent in 2013, which included violations at Yum Restaurant, Electrolux, and the SRT. Chalee insisted that US government and the USTR had repeatedly sent their representatives for discussions and investigations with representatives of the Thai government and trade unions. The announcement of the GSP suspension has gone through a thorough process and not just happened overnight. 

Chalee added that many violations have occurred since the first report in 2013. One of the most serious examples was the case of Mitsubishi Electric, where discrimination and retaliation included the company’s ban on union leaders and some members from returning to work after the end of the dispute, forcing the workers to participate in de-programming activities including military-style training to make the workers feel guilty about invoking their bargaining rights, and making it a condition of reinstatement that workers must no longer engage with the union. 

Chalee also pointed out that he was fighting for subcontracted workers who received lower wages and benefits than permanent workers despite having the same job description. While the workers won a decision of the Supreme Court in 2012 that there must not be any discrimination in wages and benefits, the Ministry of Labour has refused to formulate ministerial regulations. This shows the failure of the Thai government to enforce labour protection in the country, as subcontracted workers suffering discrimination have to file their own complaints to the Labour Court, instead of having a ministerial regulation to automatically enforce equal wages and benefits. 

Chalee said that the situation still has not improved after the announcement of the GSP suspension as many cases of labour rights violations and anti-union practices have happened since. 

For example, Mizuno Precision in Ayutthaya dismissed the founders of the union one day after the first union congress; Pongpara Codan in Samut Sakhon shut down their plant with 1000 workers (700 of them union members) but re-opened at the same location under a new name and registration, asking the laid-off workers to re-apply with the wages and benefits reset; and Seishin in Chonburi shut down their plant without paying wages or severance pay. While the government believes that the GSP suspension would have a minimal effect on total exports, Chalee questions the reputation of the country, and if Thailand wants to be perceived as a country that develops by “suppressing the workers”. Chalee called for the government to have a clear direction and road map, with a timeframe to tackle the problems, to involve union leaders who understand the issues in the taskforce, and to improve cooperation among ministries such as the ministries of Labour, Commerce, and Foreign Affairs, in formulating a concrete plan to resolve all issues and raise international labour standards in the country.

After the forum, Sawit Kaewvarn, SERC General Secretary, read the joint statement of the ITUC and SERC demanding that the Thai government resolve labour issues by complying with international labour standards and principles that will be beneficial to both Thai and migrant workers in Thailand in promoting decent working conditions, which will result in having the US government review and possibly revoke the GSP suspension. 

SERC also recommend that the Thai government work intensively with legitimate Thai trade unions to promote decent working conditions as a guideline to solving labour problems sustainably. The union also stated that it always has a strong commitment to fully cooperating with the Thai government in resolving labour issues.

Newslabor rightsGSPInternational Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC)Source: Network
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: National Children's day in Thailand

Prachatai English - Sat, 2020-01-11 10:46
Submitted on Sat, 11 Jan 2020 - 10:46 AMStephff

Categories: Prachatai English

You Can “Run Against Dictatorship”: Basic Legal Recommendations before Staging a “Run Against Dictatorship” Event

Prachatai English - Sat, 2020-01-11 01:05
Submitted on Sat, 11 Jan 2020 - 01:05 AMThai Lawyers for Human Rights

On 12 January 2020, people in several Thai provinces and abroad will unite to “Run Against Dictatorship”. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has found that event organizers in Bangkok and other provinces have faced difficulty in obtaining permission to use some locations for the event, being threatened by officials when requesting permission to stage the event. The authorities claim that Run Against Dictatorship is considered as a public assembly and a political activity. To clarify and debunk such consideration, TLHR has the following legal recommendations.

1. Run Against Dictatorship is not a public assembly

According to the Public Assembly Act 2015, to be considered as a public assembly, such an event must bear all of the following three characteristics:

1) It must be a gathering of people in a public space;

2) It must be a gathering solicited to demand, support, oppose or express an opinion on any matter utilizing a public display;

3) Other people must be able to join the assembly.

Provided that a Run Against Dictatorship event is organized following these characteristics, for example: by holding the event in a private space; by holding the event without making any demands, or without expressing support for, opposition to, or opinion on a particular subject; by organizing an activity for a specific group of people and which anyone who has not previously registered cannot attend – these are not considered as characteristics of public assembly as defined by law.

Thus, there is a clear application registration process for the Run Against Dictatorship, so the general public cannot simply join in, just as with most running events. This means it should not come under the purview of the Public Assembly Act and there is no need to comply with this law.

2. Run Against Dictatorship is a sporting event and thus does not fall under the purview of the Public Assembly Act

Run Against Dictatorship is a sporting event just like any other race or fun run with a social message, such as runs with environmental campaigns, anti-drug campaigns, campaigns against domestic violence, or other running events. None of these are subjected to the Public Assembly Act, since Article 3(3) stipulates that the Act shall not be enforced on sports gatherings. Thus, the Run Against Dictatorship itself in this sense is a sporting activity that holds the social campaign as the subject of concern, just as with other running events. Per the wording of the Act, the event, therefore, shall not be subjected under the purview of the Public Assembly Act, and authorities cannot use such allegation as a claim to force organizers of the event to give prior notification, set event conditions, or prohibit activities entirely.

3. There is no law against political activities

Since the repeal of NCPO Order No. 3/2015 Article 12, which prohibited political gatherings, there is currently no law prohibiting people from gathering or engaging in political activities. Even if, as the authorities argue, Run Against Dictatorship events amount to political activities, people still enjoy the right to organize such activities per the Constitution.

4. The law requires the organizer to “notify of the assembly”, not to “request permission” to assemble.

Run Against Dictatorship is a legitimate expression approved by the Constitution. If the organizers of the event do want to arrange it in the form of rally or public assembly, they must notify the police. The police, however, have no power to prohibit the activity.

Section 44 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 2017 stipulates that “a person shall enjoy the liberty to assemble peacefully and without arms” and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized”. Consequently, if the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship event choose to hold it in the form of a public assembly, they can do so per the laws guaranteeing their rights and freedoms. Public officials do not have the power to prohibit such activity. They have no power to grant or disallow; the only legal requirement is that the officials be notified in advance of any public assembly.

Article 10 of the Public Assembly Act stipulates that the police must receive notification not less than 24 hours before the assembly is due to start. The police are then obliged to respond to the notifier within 24 hours of receiving notification and to send a summary of essential information concerning public assemblies. This has nothing to do with a request for permission; it is merely a “notification”. Officials have no legal authority to grant or disallow an assembly. Furthermore, should officials prohibit an assembly or similar activity, they will be in breach of the Constitution, the highest source of law in the country.

5. If there is no prior notification of an assembly, assembly participants are not guilty

If the Run Against Dictatorship event is staged as a public assembly without the legally required notification, only the event organizers may be found guilty. Section 28 of the Public Assembly Act imposes a fine of not more than 10,000 Baht. There is no jail sentence, however, for the cases in which TLHR has assisted, the court has ordered fines of 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 Baht, depending on the case.

Assembly participants (not organizers) who participate in the assembly, despite the lack of notification, will not be prosecuted as per Sections 4, 10 and 28 of the Public Assembly Act 2015.

6. There is no prison sentence for running on a road and obstructing traffic

Should the course of Run Against Dictatorship be on a public road and that the activities need to use such space, the organizers must obtain permission to use the road surface from traffic officers per the Road Traffic Act 1979.

The regulations on requesting the use of a road surface issued by the Traffic Police Division require that a request be submitted no less than 15 days before the intended march or procession (see the regulations here).

However, should the police traffic officers deny permission, participants in a march or procession which obstructs traffic may receive a fine not exceeding 500 Baht, with no imprisonment per Section 148.

7. No imprisonment for unauthorized use of an amplifier

In municipal areas, the mayor is the competent official.

Outside the municipality, the District Chief or Deputy District Chief is the competent official.
In Bangkok, this means the competent authority lies with the District Office for the area in which the amplifier will be used.

The use of an amplifier without permission imposes a fine of not more than 200 Baht, without imprisonment, per Article 9 of the Advertising Control Act.

8. If you have any issues related to this event, please call Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

If you are the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship event or members of the general public who face any issues related to the freedom of expression or freedom of assembly, you can contact TLHR for further information or request legal advice.

Phone: 096 7893173, 092 2713172
Facebook: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (English) and “ศูนย์ทนายความเพื่อสิทธิมนุษยชน” (Thai)
Twitter: @tlhr2014

Pick to PostRun against DictatorshipThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)Source: Network (TLHR)
Categories: Prachatai English

Bangkok hit with another spell of PM2.5 smog

Prachatai English - Sat, 2020-01-11 00:26
Submitted on Sat, 11 Jan 2020 - 12:26 AM

PM2.5 levels in Bangkok and surrounding provinces have reached a hazardous level for the third consecutive day on Friday (10 January), with the air quality measuring between 156 – 163 AQI (Air Quality Index), while the government has yet to issue any concrete long-term plan to tackle the issue.

AirVisual recorded 163 AQI on Friday afternoon, while the World Air Quality Index Project Team recorded 169 AQI, both unhealthy levels.

The Pollution Control Department’s website reported 204 AQI as of Friday (10 January), which is a potential health hazard. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)’s statistics, meanwhile, report lower PM2.5 levels than other monitoring units, ranging from 53 to 115 microgram per square metres.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a tweet on Friday morning that cars which release black smoke will be put on a watchlist and would be subject to tougher inspection when they renew their license. He also recommended that the public wear face masks and avoid outdoor activities.

From Saturday to next Thursday, government health officials will also send out mobile health clinics to Bangkok’s Phasi Charoen District, one of the districts with the worst air quality according to BMA statistics, with its PM2.5 level at 127 microgram per square metres.

However, the government does not seem to have any rational long-term plan to tackle the smog crisis, which appears to have worsened since the beginning of 2019. Government solutions typically involve spraying water into the air in affected areas and near air quality monitor stations, a solution already criticized for being ineffective against PM2.5 smog, and pledging tougher punishments for vehicles or buildings that contribute to pollution.

NewsPM2.5SmogAir pollutionenvironment
Categories: Prachatai English

Run Against Dictatorship blocked in three provinces

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-01-09 12:17
Submitted on Thu, 9 Jan 2020 - 12:17 PM

Authorities have been attempting to block spin-off Run Against Dictatorship events in at least three provinces, while the main Bangkok event has been forced to move from Thammasat University to Wachirabenchathat (Rot Fai) Park.

Yesterday (7 January), Khaosod reported that Acting Sub-Lt. Prasert Nguansuwan, President of the Phrae Democracy Lovers Network, and other organizers of the event met with the Superintendent of the Muang Phrae Police Station on Monday morning (6 January) to request permission to organize the Phrae Run Against Dictatorship event. The Superintendent said that he would check the documents before granting permission, but has yet to inform the organizers of his decision.

Meanwhile, iLaw said that the organizers of the Phrae Run Against Dictatorship have faced intimidation from the authorities. Prasert told iLaw he has been visited by plainclothes police officers on Saturday (4 January), and that they tried to convince him to cancel the event, claiming that it might violate the Public Assembly Act.

On Sunday (5 January), Prasert said that the police asked to see him again, so he went to meet three officers at a coffee shop. The officers, who told Prasert they are from the Phrae public security police, asked Prasert to cancel the event, claiming that it could affect national security. They also told Prasert that the authorities will not grant him permission to organize the event if he were to file a request, telling him that the event could be violating the Public Assembly Act and other legislation. However, Prasert insisted that he will not cancel the event.

Prasert also claimed that he has been followed by plainclothes officers while traveling around, and told iLaw that he was later told by a neighbour after he went to the Muang Phrae Police Station on Monday (6 January) that a police officer came to photograph his house. In addition, he said that plainclothes officers visited the Future Forward Party’s Phrae headquarters to meet the other organizers yesterday afternoon (7 January) to convince them to cancel the event and were asking whether the party is involved with the event.

Meanwhile, on Monday (6 January), Thai Lawyers For Human Rights (TLHR) reported that three students from the University of Phayao who were organizing a Run Against Dictatorship event in Phayao were summoned by the police to provide more information about the event, after the three students were questioned for over 5 hours on Sunday (5 January).

The superintendent of the Muang Phayao Police Station then sent the students a letter refusing them permission to organize the event on the grounds that the Muang Phayao Municipality Office has not granted them permission to use the space and that they have not been permitted by the traffic officer to use the road.

The letter also stated that if they continue to organize the event without filing a request for permission to hold a public assembly, they may be violating the Public Assembly Act.

TLHR also reported that police officers have been calling the students repeatedly over a period of three days to summon them in for questioning, even visiting their parents’ homes at night.

One of the students said that police officers went to his family’s home in Chiang Rai, and after learning that his mother has gone to the temple, they followed her there in order to question her whether her son is involved with the Run Against Dictatorship event in Phayao and whether she allowed him to get involved. They also questioned her about his personality and whether he has previously been involved in political activities. 

The three students said they will still be organizing an event, but possibly in a different format.

In Ubon Ratchathani, Matichon reported that the Acting Superintendent of the Muang Ubon Ratchanani Police Station withdrew his permission for a Run Against Dictatorship event, after a request to hold a public assembly was filed on 6 January.

The Superintendent claimed that the permission was previously granted because he thought it was a running event involving collecting trash along the street, but after the authorities reviewed the request, they withdrew the permission because the event has a political intention and may involve an anti-government demonstration.

Khaosod also reported that the police told the organizers that the event violates other people’s rights and so is not allowed.

Organizers of similar events were also visited by police officers. Pongsathon Tancharoen, a student at Mahasarakham University, told iLaw that police officers from the Muang Maha Sarakham Police Station visited him at his home in Kalasin during the New Year holiday to question him about the event.

Not only that, Pongsathon also received a phone call from one of the lecturers at Maha Sarakham University, telling him that national security authorities had contacted the University, and that the University’s administrators felt it was not appropriate for the event to be held on campus.

After it became clear that the University would not allow them to organize the event on campus, the organizers announced that they will be moving the venue inside the city. Pongsathon then received a phone call from one of the officers who visited him, claiming that his “boss” wants to know what Pongsathon’s parents do for a living, which he felt was an attempt at intimidation.

Walailak University also issued a statement on Tuesday (7 January) that it is not affiliated with the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship event in Nakhon Si Thammarat, and that it does not permit the event to use campus space. Its statement said that while it supports academic freedom of thought, it does not support political activism, and does not allow such activity to be held on campus.

Currently there are Run Against Dictatorship and similar events organized in at least 14 provinces and at least 6 places overseas, all of which are scheduled to take place on 12 January. The organizing committee of the main Run Against Dictatorship in Bangkok, which has been forced yet again to move to Wachirabenchatat Park after Thammasat University did not allow them to use their grounds, said that they are not involved with the events organized in other places, but organizers of other events may contact them for shirts and medals.

NewsRun against DictatorshipPublic Assembly Actfreedom of expressionfreedom of assemblyfreedom of associationpolice intimidation
Categories: Prachatai English

Constitutional Court rejects marriage law petition

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-01-08 12:27
Submitted on Wed, 8 Jan 2020 - 12:27 PMPrachatai

On 31 December 2019, the Constitutional Court of Thailand decided not to accept a petition made by two LGBT couples and the Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice (For-SOGI) on 22 November 2019, requesting the Court to rule whether the current Thai marriage law violates the 2017 Constitution.

The two couples with representatives from LGBT rights organizations in front of the Constitutional Court

The Court ruling stated that the submission of the petition was not in accordance with Articles 46, 47, and 48 of the 2018 Organic Law on the Rules and Procedures of the Constitutional Court.

The Organic Law states that an individual whose rights have been violated may petition the Court to rule on a case within 90 days after filing a petition with and receiving a ruling from the Ombudsman. However, Article 47 states that said violation of rights must not be an instance for which other legislation has specified the procedure, which has not been completed. The Court stated that the refusal of the Registrar at the Phasi Charoen District Office to register the marriage of the couples is an administrative act for which the Constitution has specified other procedures.

The Court also stated, as one of the reasons for its rejection, that the Rights and Liberties Protection Department of the Ministry of Justice is already in the process of proposing a Civil Partnership Bill. However, this bill has long faced criticism from NGOs and LGBT rights activists for not giving same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, and is seen as relegating the LGBT community to the position of second-class citizens.

The lack of marriage equality has meant that same-sex couples in Thailand face issues such as not having the power of attorney to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners. They are unable to adopt a child together or to have access to assisted reproductive technology. In cases where one partner dies, the other is not able to inherit or make legal decisions about their partner’s assets, and in cases where one partner is not a Thai national, they are not entitled to a marriage visa in order to take residence in Thailand with their partner.

Earlier this year, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, Thailand’s plan for a Civil Partnership Bill does not appear to be making any progress, but a group of LGBT rights organizations is now pursuing an amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code to have the definition of marriage changed from being between a man and a woman to between two persons.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Supreme Court of the Philippines also rejected a petition to legalize same-sex marriage. The petition was filed by radio show host and lawyer Jesus Falcis, who sought to challenge the definition of marriage as a “permanent union between a man and a woman” in the country’s Family Code and clauses declaring homosexuality as grounds for separation, and was once lauded as historic in the predominantly Catholic country. It was first rejected in September 2019 on the grounds that Falcis did not have a partner and was not seeking marriage, and therefore cannot claim to be a victim of existing laws. A motion for reconsideration was denied yesterday (6 January) “with finality,” on the grounds that no substantial argument was presented “to warrant the reversal of the questioned decision,” preventing further motions from being submitted in the case.

NewsDiscrimination against LGBTLGBT rightsmarriage equalitysame-sex marriagemarriage lawCivil and Commercial CodesConstitutional courtFor-SOGI
Categories: Prachatai English

When Thai Police Fail Abused Women

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-01-06 13:34
Submitted on Mon, 6 Jan 2020 - 01:34 PMTara Abhasakun

In 2018 Setthawut Poonsiriratanakul, 31, was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Sunicha Inchuay, 27, in 2011.

Setthawut stabbed Sunicha repeatedly and cut her throat.

Thailand passed the Domestic Violence Protection Act in 2007 in an attempt to punish and reform abusers. Still, A seminar in January this year reported that the number of deaths related to domestic violence in the first 2 weeks of this year was double that of the previous year.

Prachatai English spoke with lawyer, activist, and domestic abuse survivor Busayapa “Best” Srisompong, about how Thai police handle complaints of domestic violence.  [The interview was conducted in English and is recorded verbatim.]

Busayapa Srisompong (Source: SHero Project)

What did you say during your conversation with the police? How did they respond?

"The first time I walked in the station I asked to report ‘domestic violence’. The officers told me that it was not serious, suggested that I did not need to report because I am not seriously injured. I felt uncomfortable because the interview was not in a private space. I sat where everyone else can hear what is going on easily. It is the front desk area. They suggested that I should talk to my ex and we will be fine. I tried to tell the police that I do not feel safe. They told me to call them if it is happen again. The first attempt I just gave up and walked out.

"I went to a clinic at first then I was referred to the hospital. At the hospital I did body check. OSCC [One Stop Crisis Centre] had made record of my scars, bruises, my head was in pain as well after the attack but I have no brain injuries. I also have the bleeding like period bleeding but it was not internal injury, it occurred from stress. (I was kicked in the stomach as well.) I told them all of these, but for police officers it seems to be normal.

"Then I went back a second time after I spoke to many of my friends and had decided to should report, for safety and for justice. The second time was not easy but I push it and I also called my mentors who are gender specialist and domestic violence advocate. They speak to the police directly. It takes a lot of effort before police officer agree to start the case. Eventually, the officer did help me through the case. They tried convincing me to do mediation procedure with my ex from time to time, but I was firm that I do not want to mediate. I simply have nothing to compromise.

"Domestic violence is a crime. I do not want to be silenced anymore. He later got a year probation and pay a small amount of fine. That was all. I did not ask for compensation. I did not want it. I just want justice."

Do you know what percentage of abused women in Thailand report the abuse?

"It is difficult to identify the prevalence of GBV [gender-based violence] against women because most cases went under-reported, therefore there is no evidence to make statistics. I personally think that we should not narrate GBV story over numbers because GBV happen everywhere, any minutes. The numbers will not be precise and may generalize the wrong image towards certain community. We should look into the numbers of how many cases have achieve access to justice and public services, how many have not. There is no evaluation about satisfaction towards public services on GBV either, which is need to be done to improve the system."

Can you provide any statistics about how Thai police respond to abused women? Do you know how common it is for police to dismiss abused women?

"No statistics. From my professional experiences, all of my cases have difficulty receiving immediate responses from the police officers. All of them struggle to report the case. Struggles to reporting are:

  1. Police try not to open official case, instead, ask questions to the victims in the direction that its victims faults, and convince victims to settle the case at police level by mediation with the abuser.
  2. Telling them that it is not their jurisdiction, victim has to go to other police station, while police can assist the victim by take a record first not just saying no and tell them off.
  3. Victims are often told by police that they cannot report because there is no evidence, where it is their job to find evidence they can’t say no to the victims.

Most people don’t know what to do and give up reporting.

"It can also be a struggle to answer harsh questions at reporting stage, without being in private investigation space, officers asked several inappropriate questions until survivors lost their confidence."

Why do you think that Thai police don’t believe abused women? What are the social reasons behind this? Do you think that the issue of Thai police not believing women is connected to victim-blaming culture?

"Police institution has their organizational problem, lack of funding and human resources to the field offices, changing position of officers inappropriately. Therefore it is rare to find the officers who specialize in certain issues, overworked- overloaded of cases make them dismiss SGBV [Sexual and gender-based violence] cases – as SGBV are the most sensitive and difficult to find evidences. Police officers have to deal with emotions which they do not have (enough) training for it. Also, most domestic violence survivors tend to not complete the case after the officers had opened the case. That is one of the reason police don’t like DV [domestic violence]case (they told me). It can be because of survivors struggle to live relationship and did not have enough psychosocial support to go through the justice procedure.

"For sexual violence survivors, to go through insensitive process you can be triggered/retraumatised easily. So yes there are survivors who choose legal path, but most do not. And survivors who start the case and could not go through with it. The investigation procedure is not victim-friendly due to insensitive interrogation - victims have to repeat your assault incidents for 3-4 times until the trial. Rape cases, most survivors have ‘blackout’ ‘freeze’ or traumatise in the different way. They cannot tell the story the same way every times. Sadly, some law enforcers do not understand and have negative attitudes.

"Most of the time, evidence from rape survivor’s body has already gone because they did not go to hospital and report to the police right after the attack (most don’t come right away due to shock, and disgust feeling make them wash off themselves clear all physical evidence) so it is difficult for the police to proof. But instead of being supportive, officers sometimes hold it against the victims – tend to questions as if they are lying or blaming them for putting themselves at risks.

"However, there have been attempt for police training to deal with sexual assault cases. But changing attitude been interactive workshop and also fund to support work, office spaces, train specific officers to deal only with SGBV cases not mix with other case. I do not want to comment on the police unfairly. There are good police officers that want to help people and change this too. Most are new generation officers who want to create changes within the core of system but it is not easy.

"There are lack of attitude, skill and knowledge capacity in police systems to deal with SGBV cases effectively.

"In terms of deeper root cause, Thai gender stereotyping, norms, normalisation of violence against women have led to victim-blaming culture as a consequence. This is not just happen in police institution, it is everywhere. People internalize those ideas without realizing it, and socialize this idea among police informal forums that have a lot of victim-blaming attitudes and stigmatisation towards sexual violence survivors."

InterviewBusayapa Srisompongsexual violencegender-based violenceDomestic violence
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: India's controversial citizenship law

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-01-06 13:09
Submitted on Mon, 6 Jan 2020 - 01:09 PMStephff

Cartoon by Stephff: India's controversial citizenship law

MultimediaStephffIndiaCitizenship law
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Illuminati - Future Forward conspiracy

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-01-06 13:07
Submitted on Mon, 6 Jan 2020 - 01:07 PMStephff

Cartoon by Stephff on the recent complaint to the Constitutional Court linking the Future Forward Party to the Illuminati conspiracy

MultimediaStephffFuture Forward PartyConspiracy theorythe IlluminatiConstitutional court
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: use of defamation law against journalists

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-01-06 13:05
Submitted on Mon, 6 Jan 2020 - 01:05 PMStephff

On Tuesday (24 December), a court in Lop Buri sentenced former Voice TV reporter Suchanee Cloitre to two years to prison in a defamation lawsuit filed against her by the Thammakaset Company.

MultimediaStephffThammakaset CompanySuchanee CloitreDefamation Lawpress freedomfreedom of speechfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: historical amnesia in Thailand

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-01-06 13:03
Submitted on Mon, 6 Jan 2020 - 01:03 PMStephff

On 24 December, pictures of two men in Nazi uniforms at a New Year event at CentralWorld appeared, subsequently prompting a response from the Embassy of Israel in Thailand. A message from Meir Shlomo, the Israeli ambassador to Thailand, said that he is "disappointed to see the sad reoccurrence of incidents in which Nazi symbols are displayed on random occasions in Thailand."

Central Pattana Plc, the owner of CentralWorld, issued a statement insisting that neither it nor MasterCard, the event's co-organiser, has anything to do with the two men, and that the company has a policy not to support inappropriate activities that could cause offence.

MultimediaStephffNazi uniformhistorical amnesiaEmbassy of Israel
Categories: Prachatai English

Rafał Pankowski: Europe’s rightward turn

Prachatai English - Fri, 2019-12-27 15:35
Submitted on Fri, 27 Dec 2019 - 03:35 PMAnna Lawattanatrakul

Prachatai English interviews Polish political scientist Rafał Pankowski, Associate Professor at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw, head of the "Never Again" Association's East Europe Monitoring Centre, and Deputy Editor of Never Again's magazine.

Rafał Pankowski (Source: BALAC Programme, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University)

Pankowski has published several academic works on the rise of right-wing extremism and nationalism in Poland. In August, Pankowski visited the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University and delivered a lecturer “Right-wing extremism in Europe - a challenge for democracy.”

We sat down with him after the lecture to talk about the rise of right-wing extremism in Central and Eastern Europe, its effects on the human rights situation, the role of social media, and the common challenges of our time.

Europe turning right: The attraction of right-wing ideology

When asked why right-wing ideology has become so attractive in Europe despite the historical traumas experienced through the 20th Century, Pankowski said that the answer is to be found in the anxieties about identity.

“I think we have to look at the phenomenon of right-wing extremism in Europe today in the context of the crisis of values on different levels, that also includes the crisis of democratic values among young people, such as in some European countries,” said Pankowski, “Certainly in the context of Central and Eastern Europe, the crisis of democratic values is very real. Some people say it is directly influenced by the socio-economic issues, but I don't really agree with that. I think it is more complicated, because it is not just because socio-economic issues such as unemployment.

“Of course, those socio-economic issue are somewhere in the background of the phenomenon of right-wing extremism, but if you look at the case of Poland, for example, Poland was the only European country that did not have a recession during the times of the global economic crisis. This is not to say that Poland was not affected by the crisis in any way, but it was not affected as much as some other countries in Europe. But still, in the case of Poland, we see the growth of the popularity of some radical nationalist ideas, especially among younger people, so I think the answer has to be found in the field of culture, in values, identity and issues around national identity in particular, so a kind of anxiety involved in identity.”

Having noted in his lecture that a majority of far-right groups in parts of Europe is made up of young people, Pankowski explained that far-right groups now have a very successful strategy of influencing youth culture, making the ideology attractive to young people, a group which is often thought to be “naturally more progressive” than the older generation.

“I think this assumption about young people as naturally more progressive is very common, and historically, it was often very true,” he said, “but I think the situation in Central and Eastern Europe today shows us that that cannot be taken for granted and that you cannot take democratic values for granted if you don’t put an effort in it.

“I think in some ways the popularity of the right-wing nationalist ideas among the younger generation resulted from a certain deficiency of education, but by education I don't just mean the school system. Of course, the school system is important, the institutional framework of education is very important, but I am also thinking about other institutions which have an indirect role, for example the church or the family, or what I mentioned by the end of the lecture, the football club.

“There are different centres of influence on young people, and I believe those centres of influence did not do a good job in terms of democratic education, and those anti-democratic far-right nationalist groups enter into a kind of vacuum that is left -- the space that is open to them, but of course, they also influence the way young people think, the way young people experience reality.

“Those new far-right groups very rarely refer directly to the Nazi times or to Hitler, even if their ideology or their slogans are not so very different, but they use different symbols, so of course this rebranding of the far-right is a very important part of the phenomenon, but there is also something else.

“I mention the attractiveness of right-wing nationalism in the field of youth culture. I can give you an example of a very popular Polish rock singer, whose name is Paweł Kukiz. He was a popular performer, especially in the 90's in Polish rock music, and in 2015 he decided to become a politician, and he created a populist nationalist movement around them, and that was a very interesting the way he translated his name recognition and popularity as a musician, as a rock star, into political capital, as a political leader.

“What is interesting is that he, in contrast to the lyrics of his songs for many years, he also became influenced by the ideology of nationalism and many of his young followers who might come to know him because of his music, they were later influenced by his political ideology, which, in many ways, is very strongly influenced by right-wing nationalism. So I'd say this is just one of many examples how culture influences politics and of course how politics influences culture too.”

Constructing the enemy

As for the effects of the rise of right-wing extremism on the human rights situation in Europe, Pankowski said there are two examples of areas where the far-right has a big impact on the situation: the refugee crisis and migration policy, and discrimination against LGBTQ people.

“I think 2015 in particular was a very important point in time, when the so-called refugee crisis happened in the south of Europe in the Mediterranean, and I think in a way, again paradoxically, it was exploited by the far-right forces that demanded a more restricted migration policy.

“Paradoxically, that also applies to the countries in Central Europe that were not really directly affected by the refugee crisis, because very few of those refugees went to the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, but the refugee crisis was portrayed in the media and in political rhetoric in a very negative way: as a threat to national identity, and it was exploited politically by far right groups with success, so the creation, the construction of the enemy figure has been politically very successful in many countries in Europe, but also the far right has often been successful in changing or influencing the discourse on migration and human rights. That is one example.

“The second example, especially in countries of Central and Eastern Europe, is the ongoing campaign against the LGBT communities, especially in Poland in the last weeks, and again, I think the mechanism is a little similar here, so the far right tries to exploit a feeling of hostility against the minority group. They try to construct an enemy figure and they use it as a tool of political mobilisation, and again, it seems to be successful with a large part of Polish society that seems to easy manipulated by this kind of hateful propaganda against minorities.”

Nevertheless, Pankowski insists that not everyone in Poland is homophobic, noting that it was one of the first countries in Europe to decriminalize homosexuality, which it did in the early 1930’s, and that anti-LGBTQ campaigns as a political tool did not exist until the 21st Century. Such campaigns have been used as a political mobilisation tool by far-right groups within the last two decades, starting from the early 2000’s, but at the same time, he said that the LGBTQ rights movement has become more popular.

“I think what we can see in Poland at the moment is a degree of polarisation between people who are more open to the idea of LGBT equality on the one hand, and of course on the other hand, we have people who are violently opposed to any expression or recognition of LGBT equality,” he explained.

“It's also interesting to note one of the first openly gay politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, Robert Biedroń, is a very popular figure in Poland too. I think that is also an interesting fact to note. He is now the leader of a new political party under the name "Spring" and he is one of the most popular politicians in Poland. In 2011, Robert Biedroń was elected to the Polish parliament for the first time. There was also another MP who was elected, Anna Grodzka, who was the first transexual member of parliament in Poland, and she was also elected by the people in Krakow to the Polish parliament, so I am saying this to stress that not everybody in Poland is homophobic, but homophobia is, unfortunately, a very strong tendency in Polish society today, and I think it is especially in the Polish Catholic Church, which has a big influence on Polish public opinion. But maybe it's also important to stress that this strength of homophobia in the Polish Catholic Church is very much in contrast with the teaching of the Pope. Pope Francis has been quite outspoken in expressing tolerance and respect for LGBT people, but this is not the kind of message that is popular inside of the Church in Poland.

“This issue is one that is polarising Polish society very strongly, and we saw this recently in the case of several LGBT rights demonstrations in Polish cities, and many of those demonstrations were physically opposed and attacked by far-right groups. In Białystok, for example, there was one publicized case in July. The LGBT equality demonstration had about 1000 participants, and the opposition to this event was estimated at around 4000 participants, so in fact, the opposition was much stronger than the gay rights march itself, which may or may not be typical for the balance of forces in Polish society, but it certainly shows that this opposition to gay rights is also a very strong movement.”

The explanation for this phenomenon, Pankowski said, comes down to the anxiety around national identity and gender identity, especially male identity.

“If you look at the opponents of the gay rights march in Białystok, for example, you see mostly young men who are often aggressively opposed to LGBT emancipation,” he said. “Interestingly, many of those young men are recruited and mobilized through the network of the football hooligan culture, which is perhaps not obvious, but it was very clear that many of them came from the stadium of the local football club, so this relationship between youth culture and sports culture and politics and also physical violence against minorities, it was very well illustrated in that case.

“Football hooliganism is not a new phenomenon in Europe. Especially in the 1980's and especially in England, it was a big problem, which spread to other countries. I think, now, in England, that's much less of a problem, but football-related violence is a big issue in countries such as Poland or Russia, in Eastern Europe, or countries in the former Yugoslavia, but it often comes with a certain ideological background, which is often racist and homophobic, so some of the far right groups that we are talking about here, they are also actively recruiting members and supporters in the football stadiums in eastern Europe, and they are also promoting their ideology in the context of football culture and the football stadium.

“I can give you an example from Sarajevo, from Bosnia. In September, they were going to organize the first gay pride march in the history of the country. I was in Sarajevo in May, and I had a very interesting conversation with the organizers of this event. They told me about how the opposition was already mobilizing in the months before the gay pride march, and the centre of the opposition was the local football stadium. Interestingly and strangely, the football hooligans who express their homophobia in the football stadium in Sarajevo express it through waving the national flag of Brunei, because of the homophobic legislation in Brunei. I thought that was a really interesting case of a certain kind of globalization in a negative way. You can call it a negative globalization, or a globalization of homophobia, or a globalization of intolerance, that I thought was a really interesting example. 

“To cut a long story short, the football culture in the football stadium, I think it is an important site of socialization. It is where young people, in many cases especially young men, it is where they form their values, and unfortunately, in many cases, these are negative values, values of xenophobia, nationalism, and homophobia, but it does not have to be like that.”

“Our organization in Poland, the Never Again Association, has spent a lot of time and energy on researching the issue of intolerance in the football culture, but also promoting a positive version of football culture. Sports, football in particular, can also be a positive tool to promote a positive of respect for diversity and this is something that we did on a big scale around the European football championship in 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

“With the support of the European Football Federation, we had a very big educational campaign in football and around football under the title "respect diversity" and that was a very interesting experience, and of course, millions of people watched the European football championship, both in the stadium and especially on the television, and it was a fantastic opportunity for us as a civil society organization to promote respect for diversity through football, and I think it is really interesting now to hear about the plan for ASEAN to organize the World Cup in Southeast Asia.”

“I think it could be a very interesting opportunity for civil society in Southeast Asia to organize positive campaigns and if we can be useful, we would be very happy to exchange experiences. We actually exchange experiences quite a lot with Russian civil societies, because they had the football World Cup in Russia last year, and we were also very much involved in this process of sharing good practice on dealing with intolerance in football and through football.”

Pankowski's lecture at Chulalongkorn University (Source: BALAC Programme, Facutly of Arts, Chulalongkorn University)

Social media and the rise of extremism

“The internet is a wonderful invention, but I think when the internet started, many people had a naive view of this technology as a great way to connect people, a great way to communicate, but the differences of culture, nationality, religion, et cetera. Of course it can be a wonderful way to communicate, but what is very clear over the years is that the hate groups are very effective in using this new tool to promote exclusion and hatred, and to construct communities through the internet, social media in particular, based on exclusion and hatred, which is of course one of the big paradoxes about our times.

“Once again, I want to stress we don't just talk here about speech, because hate speech leads to hate crime and physical violence, and the terrorist attack such as Christchurch in New Zealand can be mention here, but of course there are many other cases where hate speech leads to violence, for example in Sri Lanka and in Myanmar, and of course we know that social media has been an important tool of inciting hatred, so I think this is one of the biggest challenges of our times. How can we stop the social media from becoming a tool of hatred, hate speech and incitement?

“Nobody has the perfect solution to it, but I can mention also our organization Never Again is a part of an international group called International Network Against Cyber Hate, and I think there is still a long way to go, but there are many activities, both educational and other activities, trying to stop the social media being used as a tool for the extreme racist and nationalist groups. But also I think some of the big social media companies are just beginning to understand their responsibilities. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter, they still have a long way to go, but I think after the pressure from the civil society, they are beginning to realise the challenge and their own responsibility in this field.”

The challenges of our time

While he said that it was not easy for him to comment on the situation in Southeast Asia, Pankowski said that there are common challenges experienced by people both in Central and Eastern Europe, such as in Poland and Hungary, and in other places, including extremism, authoritarianism, and populism. But for him, an important lesson and an important challenge of our time is that we can no longer take democracy for granted.

“I guess one important lesson that we have and one important challenge that is a common challenge is the fact that democracy cannot be taken for granted, or the democratic transformation, its result cannot be taken for granted. It is always an open question. It really depends on the people. It really depends on the citizens, but the outcome cannot be taken for granted. We cannot be certain about the outcome.

“I think in the 90's, it was a common assumption about democratic transformation as a kind of one-way street, as a kind of course that is irreversible. Today, unfortunately, we can see that this process is reversible, but the result is still open. It will always depend on the people and on the citizens what happens next.

“I think there is a role for everybody on every level,” Pankowski said when asked if there is a way of countering the turn towards extremism and politics of hatred. “I think it is very important for people to have civil courage. I think civil courage is important, and critical thinking is also very important, especially with the propaganda of hatred and the propaganda of nationalism.

“I believe what is very important nowadays, I think you can call it international solidarity. Solidarity on the level of civil societies is very important, but also on the level of individual people, and I think awareness is also very important. It is sometimes missing. I think all of us have a tendency just to look at our own problems in our own countries. In fact, many of those problems are common problems and the solutions can become common solutions. I think in this context, solidarity is the key issue. I know it is easier said than done, but I think it is a really important aspect of the challenge, but it's also an opportunity, and also technology provides us with the opportunities for expressing solidarity that maybe we don't have before but maybe we don't use it enough.”

InterviewRafał PankowskiInstitute of Sociology of Collegium Civitas in WarsawNever Again Associationright-wing extremismNationalismPolandCentral and Eastern EuropeSocial MediaFar-right group
Categories: Prachatai English

Constitutional Court to rule on sedition complaint against FFP; accepts ECT’s FFP loan case

Prachatai English - Fri, 2019-12-27 13:46
Submitted on Fri, 27 Dec 2019 - 01:46 PMPrachatai

On 25 December the Constitutional Court of Thailand accepted the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)’s request to rule on whether the Future Forward Party (FFP) violated Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties by taking a loan from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and whether the party will be dissolved.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit at the 14 December flashmob

Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties states that no political party or individuals holding office in a political party shall receive money, property, or other benefit if they know, or could be expected to know, that it was illegally acquired, or if they have reasonable cause to suspect that it was illegally acquired.

On 11 December, the ECT voted to submit a request to the Court to rule whether the FFP taking a loan of 191,200,00 baht from party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is a violation of Article 72.  The penalties include dissolution of the party and barring the party’s executive members from running in elections for a number of years.

The Court will also rule on a sedition complaint made against the FFP by lawyer and former advisor to the Chief Ombudsman Nuttaporn Toprayoon, who accused the party of attempting to overthrow the "democratic regime with the king as the head of state" according to Section 49 in the 2017 Constitution, and for being linked to the Illuminati, a fictitious secret organization believed by conspiracy theorists to be seeking world domination.

Nuttaporn’s complaint claims that FFP members are anti-monarchy and anti-religion, and that the party symbol points to its link to the Illuminati and the party’s hidden purpose. The complaint was filed on 18 June 2019 and the Court accepted it on 22 July.

The Court said in a statement that no hearing would be held as it already has enough evidence, and that it will be ruling on the case on 21 January 2020 at 11.30.

These two cases are part of a storm of lawsuits thrown at the FFP since the start of 2019. On 21 November, the Constitutional Court ruled to disqualify Thanathorn as an MP for holding shares in a media company, despite the company having stopped operating in 2017.

On 14 December, thousands of people came together in a ‘flash mob’ on the Pathumwan Sky Walk, between MBK Shopping Centre and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in Bangkok, as well as in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, and other provinces in northern and northeastern Thailand, following the ECT’s decision on 11 December, that it would recommend that the Constitutional Court order the FFP’s dissolution.

NewsFuture Forward PartyThanathorn JuangroongruangkitConstitutional courtElection Commission of Thailand (ECT)judicial harassment
Categories: Prachatai English

Amnesty calls for Thai govt. to drop charges against opposition members and activists holding flash mobs

Prachatai English - Thu, 2019-12-26 14:47
Submitted on Thu, 26 Dec 2019 - 02:47 PMAmnesty International

Amnesty International calls for an end to judicial harassment of the political opposition, human rights defenders and activists in Thailand, as authorities began new criminal proceedings against members of the Future Forward Party and activists because of their recent peaceful protests.

The charges came after tens of thousands of Thais took to the streets on the evening of 14 December for a one-hour flashmob protest in Bangkok, as well as in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, and other provinces in northern and northeastern Thailand. These peaceful protests followed the Election Commission’s announcement, on 11 December, that it would recommend that the Constitutional Court order the Future Forward Party’s dissolution.

The Thai authorities have filed a series of unwarranted charges against senior leaders of the Future Forward Party, including its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. A new opposition party, the Future Forward Party won 81 seats in the 2019 general elections. Both prior and subsequent to the elections, the authorities initiated measures to dissolve the Future Forward Party and disqualify Thanathorn as a member of parliament.

On the day of the protest, police charged party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and others with unlawful gathering in public and unlawful use of speakers under the Public Assembly Law.

On Monday, 16 December, Sonthiya Sawasdee, an MP for the majority Palang Pracharath Party, filed a lawsuit against four Future Forward members – leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, spokesperson Pannika Wanich, secretary Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and MP Pita Limjaroenrat. The suit accused the defendants of failing to notify authorities of the gathering, organizing a gathering within a 150 metre of the Royal Court and blocking access to public places; sedition under national security-related Section 116 of the Criminal Code; and violation of the royal institution under Article 6 of the Thai Constitution. If convicted, the party members would face a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment.

In Chiang Mai, the administrator of the Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy Facebook page – a separate group promoting the protest – was also charged with failure to submit a protest notice to authorities 24 hours prior to the event. This provision under the Public Assembly Law carries a maximum fine of THB 10,000 (approx. USD 3,300) and has been repeatedly used by the authorities to intervene and suppress gatherings throughout Thailand since its enactment under the military government in 2015.

Amnesty International calls on the authorities to stop using the provisions of the Public Assembly Act that excessively restrict the right to peaceful assembly, and Article 116 – Thailand’s sedition law – which is extensively used to stifle peaceful dissent of activists, human rights defenders, journalist and lawyer. These provisions should be repealed or amended to be in line with Thailand’s international human rights obligations and commitments. The authorities must fully respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalFuture Forward Partyjudicial harassmentfreedom of assemblyfreedom of associationfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai reporter sentenced to jail in Thammakaset libel case

Prachatai English - Wed, 2019-12-25 15:58
Submitted on Wed, 25 Dec 2019 - 03:58 PMPrachatai

Yesterday (24 December), the Lop Buri Provincial Court sentenced former Voice TV reporter Suchanee Cloitre to two years in prison in a libel case filed against her by the Thammakaset Company.

Suchanee Cloitre (Source: National Union of Journalists Thailand)

The company, a supplier of poultry to the agribusiness company Betagro, launched the libel lawsuit against Suchanee after she posted a tweet about the defamation case that the company filed against immigrant workers who had filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC), claiming mistreatment by the company.

The workers’ complaint said that they had been forced to work up to 20 hours per day without a day off for 40 or more consecutive days, that they had been paid less than the minimum wage, were not paid for overtime, and that they had their freedom of movement restricted and their identity documents confiscated.

Starting in 2016, the Thammakaset Company sued them for defamation, claiming that their complaint damaged the company’s interests. 

In September 2017, Suchanee retweeted a message from former Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN) advisor Andy Hall, adding a comment which said that the court ordered the Lop Buri chicken farm owner to pay compensation for the 14 immigrant workers “for using slave labour.”

Yesterday’s ruling said that Suchanee’s post is considered defamation, as the phrase “slave labour” did not appear in Hall’s post and the court ruling he attached to his post. It is therefore considered damaging to the company.  Because the court believed that Suchanee posted her tweet without considering the damage it could cause to the company, and that she had not checked whether her message was accurate, the court considered Suchanee’s action not in good faith. She was therefore sentenced to two years in prison according to Section 328 of the Criminal Code. 

Suchanee has been released on a 75,000-baht bail. Her lawyer, Waraporn Uthairangsee, said that they will be filing an appeal.  

From 2016 to May 2019, the Thammakaset Company filed complaints with the police, the Criminal Court, and the Civil Court against at least 22 individuals in 14 cases, including defamation complaints against human rights defender and former Thailand human rights specialist with Fortify Rights Sutharee Wannasiri, Mahidol University lecturer Ngamsuk Rattanasatien, and former National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit.

Criminal defamation carries a maximum sentence of one year’s imprisonment, a fine of up to 20,000 baht, or both, under Section 326 of the Thai Criminal Code. Defamation “by means of publication” is criminalized under Section 328 and carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,00 baht.

A 2018 report by the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises raised concerns over the increase in attacks on those who speak up against corporate impact on human rights and shrinking civic space, and called for businesses to not use criminal and defamation laws and to avoid strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPPs”) to silence human rights defenders.

A team of UN experts from the Working Group on Business and Human Rights also visited Thailand in April 2018, and at the end of their 10-day visit presented their preliminary observations on steps that should be taken by the Royal Thai Government and businesses to improve corporate respect for human rights and to strengthen access to effective remedies. 

“One critical challenge for Thailand will be to end recurring attacks, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, union leaders and community representatives who speak out against business-related human rights abuse,” the experts said. “More must be done to protect civic space, including protecting human rights defenders against civil and criminal defamation law suits filed by companies to silence those who stand up for the victims of abuse."

NewsSuchanee CloitreThammakaset CompanyLabour violationcriminal defamationStrategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP)
Categories: Prachatai English

ICJ raises concerns over anti-torture bill delays

Prachatai English - Mon, 2019-12-23 14:21
Submitted on Mon, 23 Dec 2019 - 02:21 PMInternational Commission of JuristsOn 20 December 2019, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) submitted recommendations to the Ministry of Justice on the Draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearances Act, scheduled for public consultation between 4 and 31 December 2019.     The ICJ also expressed concern at the recurrent delays in the amendment and enactment of this important legislation which will be critical for ensuring accountability and justice for future victims of torture and enforced disappearance. In October, the Ministry of Justice withdrew the draft Act from the Cabinet "for further revision", an act which has served to further delayed the passage of essential legislation criminalizing torture and enforced disappearances.    The ICJ also regretted that the latest Draft Act, after several rounds of revisions and public hearings, still has not addressed many of the principal shortcomings which the ICJ and other stakeholders and experts have indicated need necessarily be amended in order to bring the law into line with Thailand’s international human rights obligations, particularly under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“UNCAT”) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”). As it stands, it is also inconsistent with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (“ICPPED”), which Thailand has signed and committed itself to ratify.  

The key concerns include:

  • Definitions of the crimes of torture and enforced disappearance, as well as of other key terms, that are incomplete or otherwise discordant with international law;
  • The absence of provisions concerning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT/P);
  • The inadequacy of provisions on the inadmissibility of statements and other information obtained by torture, CIDT/P and enforced disappearances as evidence in legal proceedings;
  • The inadequacy of provisions relating to modes of liability for crimes described in the Draft Act;
  • The inadequacy of provisions concerning safeguards against torture, CIDT/P and enforced disappearances; and
  • The absence of provisions concerning the continuous nature of the crime of enforced disappearance and statute of limitations for torture and enforced disappearance crimes.
Pick to PostInternational Commission of Jurists (ICJ)anti-torture billenforced disappearancetortureill-treatment
Categories: Prachatai English


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