Prachatai English

Youth-led rally against the government in Chonburi

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-24 17:22
Submitted on Fri, 24 Jul 2020 - 05:22 PM

Around 1,000 youth and members of the public gathered at Bang Saen beach in Chonburi to collect trash while demanding that the government dissolve parliament, rewrite the constitution, and stop harassing protesters and activists. If the demands are not met by the first of August, there will be a larger protest.

Protesters were chanting "Dictator shall fall. Long live democracy." at Chonburi. (Source: Facebook Live/ The Reporters)

At 17:00 on 22 July, Nolongerslavesth and Youth Against Dictatorship led a flash mob at Laem Tan pier, Chonburi, to show solidarity with protesters across the country, collect trash, and announce three demands which correspond to those made at Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Ubon protests: dissolve parliament, rewrite the constitution and stop harassment and prosecution of protesters and activists.

The hour-long demonstration was peaceful with about 100 police monitoring the event. Panupong Jadnok, a representative of the Young Leaders group of Rayong and a speaker at the Free Youth rally on July 18, also participated in the event. People expressed their opinions with signs stating “Dictatorship shall fall, democracy shall rise,” and “Chonburi people can take no more,” insisting that the country belongs to the people and no one can hold more power than people.

The protesters announced that they will no longer tolerate dictatorship or a government which is not subject to any check and balance.

During the event, the crowd also collected trash on the beach to reflect current social issues and bureaucracy’s corruption and inefficiency which cause people to suffer.

After the protest ended, police officers seized the protesters’ signs that criticized the government without giving reasons for their actions, which caused dissatisfaction among the students. The students then called on the police to do their duty by siding with the people and stop assisting the government’s oppression before ending the protest.

NewsChonburiNolongerslavesthYouth Against Dictatorshipstudent movementprotest
Categories: Prachatai English

“Lost Faith” shirt wearer released from hospital after 15 days in detention

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-24 10:45
Submitted on Fri, 24 Jul 2020 - 10:45 AMPrachatai

Tiwagorn Withiton, a Facebook user who posted an image of him wearing a shirt printed with “I lost faith in the monarchy”, was released from a psychiatric hospital after being detained under questionable circumstances on 9 July. Meanwhile, people are being pressured by security authorities for talking and posting about it.

Tiwagorn (green shirt) while being transported.

The Isaan Record reported that Tiwagorn was released from Khon Kaen Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital on 22 July. The Isaan Record went to Tiwagorn’s house where someone claiming to be a relative did not provide any information, saying they wanted to bring this issue to an end as the media had attracted too much attention.

Dr Nattakorn Jampathong, Director of Khon Kaen Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital, declined an interview with the Isaan Record, saying only “I do not wish to give any information related to this issue. Let the family be the ones to give information. The hospital is trying not to be involved.”

Tiwagorn, 47, was taken from his house to the hospital on 9 July. His hands were tied with a piece of cloth and he was given an injection in both arms. Tiwagorn’s mother said that after Tiwagorn was taken away in an ambulance, police officers searched the house and seized his computer, smartphone and the T-shirt. They also made his mother sign a document, the content of which is unknown.

Tiwagorn was prohibited from using his cell phone while he was detained.

Supporters harrassed

Tiwagorn’s Facebook post wearing the ‘lost faith’ T-shirt gained wide public attention until he was admitted to the hospital. #SaveTiwagorn (#saveทิวากร) trended on Twitter with more than 200,000 retweets. The words “Lost Faith” appeared in many recent protest signs as authorities put pressure on protesters who expressed their opinions about the monarchy.

On 20 July, a university student in Bangkok was visited at his house by 2 plainclothes police officers after he shared news about Tiwagorn and a Royal commemoration gate on his Facebook account.

The student said the police approached his father showing their police ID cards but no warrant. The police said their “boss” had ordered them to monitor the student. If any more monarchy-related news was shared, it may violate the Computer Crime Act.

The police made him sign a document which contains the promise that he will not post anything that criticizes or makes a negative reference to the monarchy again. He signed the document which was taken back by the police without allowing him to take photo of it or keep a copy. The police also took a photo of his ID card.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that similar incidents have happened in many places where police officers showed up at people’s house without warrants and made people sign MOUs.

Kriangkrai Singhon from Chiang Khan, Loei Province, used Tiwagorn’s photo of the T-shirt as his Facebook account cover photo. On the afternoon of 14 July, 5 official vehicles, carrying mostly plainclothes police with guns at their waists, surrounded his shop. They announced themselves without showing their ID cards or names. 

Kriangkrai was taken to a police station for interrogation as a witness. Kriangkrai said that he saw an officer with a photo of his ID card which he never gave them. The police said that they will submit the case to the Bureau of the Royal Household for their decision on further action. 

He asked the police about the reason of the arrest as others who posted the photo were not arrested like him. The police did not answer his question.

NewsTiwagorn WithitonI lost faith in the monarchyKhon Kaenfreedom of expressionThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)Source: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/07/88707
Categories: Prachatai English

Despite resistance from universities, student protests go on

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-07-23 19:17
Submitted on Thu, 23 Jul 2020 - 07:17 PM

Countrywide student protests have reached even greater heights despite interference from the state and university authorities. Anger and dissatisfaction directly confront the power structure created by 2014 junta, and university authorities.

The protest at Mahasarakham University on 22 July.

On 22 July, there were at least 4 student protests in Maha Sarakham, Chonburi, Phrae and Songkhla provinces. 

Matichon reported that at least 2,000 protesters assembled on the Mahasarakham University Octagon Field, more than previous protests at the beginning of this year. Speakers criticized the government, social injustice and the negative attitude of the university toward the students.

The protesters made 4 demands: 1) the government must dissolve parliament; 2) all 250 senators must resign to end the influence of the junta which appointed them; 3) a new election under the 1997 constitution which is fairer to the people; and 4) a new constitution that truly belongs to the people.

The university President at first approved of the student gathering but then vetoed it later. The university claimed that they were concerned about the risk of Covid-19 infection. This turnaround caused dissatisfaction among the protesters. They then declared that the protest was both anti-government and anti-university.

Protesters at Maha Sarakham raised a 3 finger gesture, an anti-government gesture.

The university also did not turn on the lights on the field for the protest despite repeated calls from protesters and organizers. The protest went on and concluded peacefully in the dark.

The Nation reported that the protest at Phrae was joined by about 200 people. The organizer, the Phrae Democracy-loving Network, declared 4 demands: 1) withdrawal of the Emergency Decree; 2) return power to the people by dissolving parliament; 3) an end to harassment of the people by state authorities; and 4) a more democratic constitution.

Thanawat Wongchai, a lead organizer of the ‘Run Against Dictatorship’, a large-scale quasi-protest in February 2020, posted on Facebook that the flash mobs on 20 July are like a “flash fire” that is emerging to challenge Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s legitimacy. The people must fight their way together to reach the finishing line.

On the same day, Niwat Keawpradub, President of Prince of Songkla University, refused to allow students to use university facilities for protests on any campus. Prince of Songkla University has campuses in Pattani, Phuket, Surat Thani, Trang and Songkhla provinces. His published letter refers to concern of the risk of Covid-19 contagion and the Emergency Decree.

The students responded that they will organize a protest at the Pattani campus on 23 July anyway. They also declared that it will be an anti-government and anti-president protest.

These latest protests follow the wave of anti-government protests springing up across the country since the mass protest on Saturday (18 July), which was the largest protest since the government declared a State of Emergency in March. 

At least 24 other rallies are planned in different provinces in the coming weeks.

NewsMaha SarakhamChonburiPhraeSongkhlaproteststudent movementPattaniSource: prachatai.com/journal/2020/07/88702
Categories: Prachatai English

Sirawith Seritiwat: Anti-dictatorship movement should be more inclusive, gain more support

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-07-23 17:55
Submitted on Thu, 23 Jul 2020 - 05:55 PMChatchai Mongkol

Student activists still cannot go beyond their own comfort zones to build a larger network to bring about changes in Thai society, says political activist Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat. Student movements will have no impact until they can inspire people to come out.

Sirawith Seritiwat

Sirawith is an anti-government activist who was attacked many times under the junta government, none were brought to justice. He was active long before political activism became mainstream.

On 14 July, Prachatai English interviewed Sirawith on his perspective on the student movement in the current political atmosphere. Sirawith pointed out the flaws of the student groups.

Big picture and shared mission are missing

As a former political activist, Sirawith said he believes that it is nearly impossible to see another event led by university students like 14 October 1973 in the near future. There are many active student groups that claim to be a union, a federation or a centre of all university students who share the same beliefs, but Sirawith said none of them have succeeded in creating a network that shares the same overall agenda.

In terms of quantity and quality, Sirawith said student groups that claimed to be unions of all students fail to bring out a large number of people to participate at events. When they claim to be big groups but the turnouts were small and the events had no impact, Sirawith said it is disappointing.

Each group seeks media coverage under their own names, not as a university student network as a whole because they have different agendas, Sirawith explained. He admitted that during his time he too was not able to gather a large group of students with a clear agenda and inspire the public to join.

The former activist said there are internal problems within each group that the public might not know of. Sirawith elaborated that each person does not want others to be outstanding; the outstanding ones would be pulled down. Sirawith believes ego plays a big part in this problem.

“At the end, in past events, we criticized the older groups but we sometimes can’t move forward,” Sirawith said.

Protestors turning on the flashlight on their phones (top) and holding their hands up in the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute (bottom) towards the Democracy Monument on 18 July.

When student activists said they are looking for shared political beliefs, Sirawith said they are actually focusing more on each other’s flaws.

Sirawith said politics is about compromise, building networks and finding common ground. He suggested student activists go beyond looking for each other’s flaws and start building a strong network in order to bring about change.

Back in February after the dissolution of the Future Forward Party, university students nationwide came out for weeks to protest it. But the protests only happened on-campus.

Sirawith said it was an impressive movement which he had not been able to achieve when he was an activist, but he said it should have expanded beyond just flash mobs within their own universities. When an outsider looked in, they would not see any clear purpose of the demonstrations as there had not been any advance in the demonstrations in two weeks. The advance he mentioned was, for example, students from every university coming out to protest at once outside their campuses.

Sirawith said it was like that because students were in their comfort zone of each university. He understood that one of the reasons might be because the Public Assembly Act is not enforced on university campuses, but he said that is as if the students have been cornered into spaces prepared by the other side so the authorities do not have to worry about them.

The big question student leaders had to answer after each event is “what’s next?”

Sirawith said on 21 July, after the anti-government protest on Saturday 18 July with thousands of people, that the protest was only a flash mob without a clear goal or plan to move forward.

He questioned if the turnout was because of students’ competence and their well-developed strategies or just because of short-term disappointment in the government during these times. If it is the second reason, he doubts if people will come out when there is less anger.

“Events can happen, but events for an ongoing long-term movement and with a goal in view, how will they do that? This is an important question,” Sirawith said.

Most students are not struggling

Sirawith said change brought about by students has not happened yet and this might be because most of them are not the ones who are struggling with this political system so they will not fully understand what marginalized people are facing.

He explained that most of the younger generations grew up when Thailand was developing so they did not have to struggle much.

The government has given the people negative rights, which include rights over their own bodies and the right to work at a job. Sirawith said most people are satisfied with those rights — they can travel, they can live and they can eat — they might not feel the need for other political rights.

However, he said that those are not real rights, but they are something the government created to make the people feel like they have freedom.

Marginalized people who are struggling do not have time to come out because they are busy trying to get by.

“Most people who are struggling might not be well-informed, but when people who are well-informed come out, they never been through any hardship,” Sirawith said.

He questioned if students fully understand the problems, or if they only want to voice their opinions more than getting the other side out of power.

“At this time, students are talking from the perspective of bringing back their future. There might be some people who are always making demands, but most students may not have seen that this is a serious issue,” Sirawith said. “If we see that this is a serious issue, there must already be an uprising to do something to stop them from being in power for a long time and destroying the future of people throughout the country. Do we see this as a big enough issue?”

Bring out more people to create impact

Sirawith suggested student activist groups, all of which he believes have many different missions, join together to set shared short-term goals and focus on achieving those goals.

After they can mobilize younger groups, Sirawith said they should begin to think about how to encourage the public of other ages to join their movements, which is another challenging thing to figure out. He explained that Thai people were not brought up to gather to make demands for what they want and the majority of the people know what the problems are but nothing is done other than complaining.

The former activist suggested that to get the public to join, they must look into the roots of Thai culture, find out what they believe, find out what appeals to them and then adapt these things into their movements.

The key to fighting dictatorship is a large assembly, Sirawith said.

Interview by Chatchai Mongkol and Potsawat Saekoo

InterviewSirawith Seritiwatstudent movementprotest
Categories: Prachatai English

CCSA proposes to extend state of emergency without banning protests

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-07-23 14:12
Submitted on Thu, 23 Jul 2020 - 02:12 PMPrachatai

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has proposed to extend the State of Emergency for yet another month, even though there has not been a case of local transmission of Covid-19 in the past two months, but will no longer ban public gatherings.

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

CCSA spokesperson Taweesin Visanuyothin said that the CCSA, led by prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, approved the proposal of the National Security Council (NSA) to extend the State of Emergency until the end of August. The extension still has to be proposed to and approved by the cabinet in its meeting next week.

NSA Secretary-General Gen Somsak Rungsita said that the Emergency Decree is “the only tool that guarantees economic measures can be balanced against public health concerns” and therefore must extended.

Gen Somsak also said that public assemblies will no longer be banned during the State of Emergency to show that the sole intention behind using the Decree is to control the spread of Covid-19. However, he said that demonstrators will still have to follow other public assembly laws.

Since the Thai government declared a state of emergency on 3 April 2020 in order to control the spread of Covid-19, the authorities have used the Decree to restrict freedom of expression. Several activists have been arrested and charged for violation of the Decree, including Anurak Jeantawanich, Tossapon Serirak, and members of the Student Union of Thailand holding a demonstration to call for justice for missing activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit. Others have faced intimidation from the authorities, such as community rights activist Sunthorn Duangnarong.

The government’s past decisions to extend the state of emergency has been criticized by several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and ARTICLE 19, as unjustified and a violation of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Section 17 of the Decree also grants state officials impunity from “civil, criminal, or disciplinary liabilities” while performing their duties.

Meanwhile, Taweesin said that the extension is necessary for controlling travel in and out of the country, tracking down people for quarantine, implementing “surveillance of suspicious persons,” and preventing outbreaks of the virus, as well as being “an important tool in our preparation to transition into the New Normal.”

Taweesin also said that during the next phrase of Covid-19 measures, some foreigners will be allowed to enter the country, including foreign business representatives and trade fair exhibitors, workers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia; foreign film crews; and medical and wellness tourists. All of these groups must still undergo a 14-day quarantine period. 

Thailand has not found any local case of Covid-19 transmission outside of state quarantine facilities for almost two months. 7207 people in Rayong also tested negative for the virus after an infected Egyptian pilot was allowed to leave quarantine and visit public places in early July, causing concerns of a second wave of infection and outrage among the public.

NewsEmergency DecreeState of emergencyCOVID-19coronavirus
Categories: Prachatai English

More students join wave of anti-government protests

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-07-22 19:43
Submitted on Wed, 22 Jul 2020 - 07:43 PMPrachatai

Students at Walailak University organized a flashmob on Tuesday 21 July in support of the Free Youth Movement, while a group of students organized a ‘garden viewing’ event at the Democracy Monument. 

Students with their protest signs. The one in the center states the three damands made by Free Youth Movement, while the one on the right says "this country belongs to the people," and the one on the left says "royalist marketplace," the name of a Facebook group where people share their criticism of the current government and the monarchy. 

At noon on 21 July, the Walailak University branch of the Student Union of Thailand (SUT) organized a flashmob in a university canteen to show their support for protestors across the country and to rally behind the Free Youth Movement’s demands for the dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment against those who exercise freedom of expression, and a new constitution.

Participants in the flashmob held signs with messages such as “This country belongs to the people” as well as the ‘missing person’ posters of victims of enforced disappearance, which were also seen at the mass protest on 18 July.

The event took place during the lunch break. The organisers did not give speeches, but invited those in the canteen at the time to join them in shouting “dictatorship shall fall, democracy shall prosper.” Their request was answered by the around 100 people in the canteen at the time. Participants also flashed the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute, a well-recognised symbol of resistance in Thailand. 

Suchat Sinnarong, one of the organisers, said that the event was to show support for anti-dictatorship protestors, as well as for the Free Youth Movement’s demands. Suchat said that there has been no harassment from the university or from state authorities, and that he and his friends are not very concerned and that they will continue their activity even if they are harassed.

“If there are threats from the university, it is normal for them to try to stop us. We feel used to it, and we still insist that we will keep fighting, because if we don’t keep fighting, we will keep being threatened like this and nothing will change, and what we are doing today, we are fighting for democracy, so that the country can move forward, and not sink because of this government’s failure. We want dictatorship to end in our generation,” Suchat said.

A banner saying "we don't want reform, we want a revolution" which was put up in a Walailak University canteen on 18 July before disppearing the next morning.

The group had put up a banner saying “We don’t want reform, we want a revolution” in the university canteen during the night of 18 July, but the banner had disappeared by the next morning.

Siraphop Phummphuengphut live-broadcasting the 'garden viewing' event while police officers stand in front of the crowd.

Meanwhile, at 20.00 on the same day in Bangkok, a group of students gathered for a “garden viewing” activity at the Democracy Monument. The garden was set up by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) hours before the mass protest on Saturday (18 July) and filled the area around the Democracy Monument.

Prior to the start of the event, police officers blocked the footpath in front of McDonald’s with metal fences and ordered the participants to stay on the footpath and not move onto the street. Around 20 – 30 police officers, both uniformed and plainclothes, were present in the area.

Siraphop Phummphuengphut, a student at the Srinakharinwirot University who organized the event, said that the garden is a waste of taxpayer money and is used to obstruct gatherings of people who are calling for democracy, when the money should be used for other purposes which have more benefits.

Phumwat Raengkasiwat, representative of the New Life Network (Nawachiwin) currently staging a hunger strike in front of Government House, also joined the event.

Before the conclusion of the event, Siraphop asked the participants to join him in chanting “the garden is so beautiful” and “dissolve the parliament”.

The two events are the latest in the wave of anti-government protests springing up across the country since the mass protest on Saturday (18 July), which was the largest protest since the government declared a State of Emergency in March. Two other protests took place in Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Mai on Sunday (19 July) in support of the Free Youth Movement, who organized Saturday’s protest, with at least 24 other rallies planned to take place in different provinces in the coming weeks. 

Newsstudent movementYouth movementWalailak UniversitySuchat SinnarongSiraphop PhummphuengphutSrinakharinwirot UniversityDemocracy MonumentStudent Union of Thailand (SUT)
Categories: Prachatai English

Hunger striker: ‘If you can’t do it, get out.’

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-07-22 11:46
Submitted on Wed, 22 Jul 2020 - 11:46 AMPrachatai

A student staging a hunger strike in front of Government House since July 20 are demanding social welfare and solutions for unemployment and economic problems.

Phumwat Raengkasiwit while having a hunger strike on 20 July.

The protest by the student-led group New Life Network (Nawachiwin) started at 14:00. Phumwat Raengkasiwit, the Network representative, announced that he will take 1 meal a day for the first 4 days, then liquid only until the end of the week, after which they will take neither food nor drink.

The Network has 3 demands: 1) The government must solve the people’s welfare and economic issues immediately. 2) The state must provide assistance for the unemployed. 3) The current administration’s policies must be reviewed with participation from the opposition and anti-government side.

On 21 July, after a night on the street, Phumwat negotiated with the authorities a move to in front of the Ministry of Education on Luk Luang Road, about 350 metres away from Government House .

On the night of 20 July, Phumwat was fined 200 baht for violating the Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country Act 1992.

The New Life Network identifies itself as a people’s sector network of political communications organizations with a platform for civil society comprising the people’s sector and students from many institutions. Their goals are a welfare state, freedom in all dimensions and a constitution drafted by the people.

NewsPhumwat Raengkasiwithunger stikeCOVID-19Government HouseNew Life NetworkSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/07/88677
Categories: Prachatai English

Anti-dictatorship protesters show hope, determination

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-07-22 11:16
Submitted on Wed, 22 Jul 2020 - 11:16 AMChatchai Mongkol and Wijitra Rakwong

Thai people came out to protest against dictatorship because they have been through enough with the problems and injustices that occurred under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration.

People gathered to protest at the Democracy Monument on 18 July.

Prachatai spoke to five protesters on 18 July at the protest organized by the Free Youth Movement and its networks. Protesters demanded that the government dissolve parliament, put an end to state harassment of its citizens, and draft a new constitution.

The interviewees are an independent actor, a journalism student, a design student, a Thammasat University student and a citizen. They explained their reasons for joining the activity, their concerns and their hope moving forward.

The government is good at framing protesters as criminals

This is not the first political protest the independent actor has attended, but in the past it was as a member of the press. He said he did not plan to join this one as he thought it was enough to watch it live on social media but when he was watching it live, he felt the need to come out to experience it.

He said his greatest concern was how the other side would handle the situation, as they have full power to control us because the protesters obviously violated the rules that the authorities wrote.

“They are so good at framing us as criminals,” he said.

The actor said he expects that people will not take this as an event just for its symbolism but he understood that it is not only up to him.

He also pointed out that there is no one who has not been affected by this government.

The event could be bigger with more impact

The journalism student said this event did not have enough impact to gain worldwide attention compared to the Black Lives Matter movement. She suggested that everyone keep the momentum going because she believes just this single event could not lead to any change.

However, she said the protest was a good beginning.

She said she does not want to see only people from Bangkok protesting but also people from other provinces. But as this protest was prepared in a hurry, she believes it was not convenient for people from other provinces to join.

While she wants to see more people come out, she said people who stayed at home, for different reasons, are not useless because they can also show support and spread news about the protest online.

Despite having different political views from her parents, she came out to protest because she saw that this issue is very serious and she thought people have been through enough.

The online movement became more concrete in reality

The design student from a university in Bangkok said this protest shows that there are many people who are not okay with what is going on in the country.

“At first, we only see [the movement] in social media, but now we see a number of people which I think is more concrete, more than before,” she said.

The student said the online movement is important as it can spread information to gain worldwide attention and support, but she still encourages people on social media to show up in the real world to prove wrong the other side’s insults that they are only “internet trolls”. She pointed out that it is all about numbers.

Previous events were only flash mobs, and she said she wanted to see this event as the beginning of even more advanced nationwide protests.

Messy issues left by a few adults for the younger generation solve

Eff, the student from Thammasat University who has led protests at his university, said all the bad events that the Thai people are living with happened because of the failure of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration, both in terms of politics and the economy. He said there have been many people who died and were forcibly disappeared. He said he saw no hope for his future and he felt the need to fight for it.

“As a person who must be the future of the country, as a member of the new generation who will have to inherit living in this country, I needed to come out to solve problems in this country that a few adults and a few groups created,” Eff said.

Eff does not know if the protest will be taken into the next level, but he believes that this event is a small contest that might be small today but will become larger in the future.

“I’m not worried, because if it’s assumed that I am worried, our future will be gone,” Eff said.

One of the protesters said she is unhappy with Gen Prayut’s administration and she would not be patient anymore. She wants to see real democracy in Thailand. She said she is ready to move forward with the student leaders.

FeatureDemocracy MonumentFree Youth Movementpoliticsfreedom of expressionSource: prachatai.com/journal/2020/07/88666
Categories: Prachatai English

People protest in front of the Army HQ after ex-spokesperson belittles democracy movement

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-07-21 14:25
Submitted on Tue, 21 Jul 2020 - 02:25 PMPrachatai

A protest at the Royal Thai Army (RTA) Headquarters at Phan Fa Bridge criticized military procurement and a personal comment by Col Nusra Vorapatratorn, a former RTA spokesperson, who called the large protest at the Democracy Monument on 18 July a ‘cute little mob’.

Piyarat Chongthep, an activist while giving a speech in front of the RTA HQs.

Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, said that the gathering on 20 July would not have taken place without Nusra’s Facebook post calling the 18 July protest “mung-ming” (cute, sweet). The RTA did not disagree with her post, reflecting how the RTA belittles protests by framing them as being manipulated.

Nusra’s post, now deleted, dismisses the protesters’ 3 demands as senseless and a sign that they are being manipulated by someone. She also urged the protesters to find jobs to earn income such as local guides, food delivery riders, online store workers or farmers.  The post said:

  1. ‘Must dissolve parliament’. Little brothers and sisters, in 2 and a half more years we have to have a new election. Covid-19 will have a vaccine yet, we don’t know.
  2. ‘There must be constitutional change’. This is very confused. Even the reason for the Emergency Decree, which was issued to control the spread of the disease, you young ones still don’t get it at all. At the time of public hearings and the constitutional referendum, what were you little ones doing? You have to make it a bit clear what sections have to change. Make it clear. Do it. Is it about the signs about the institution [monarchy]?
  3. ‘Must stop threatening people’.  Hmm. Little brothers and sisters, if people don’t break the law, nobody can do anything. These days, some people lie, make up fake news, and curse the King and everyone below him. We still use measures from light to heavy. It also begins to make officials fed up, finding abusive posts every day.  But I will say most are avatars. Or the people who are arrested mostly end up not knowing what’s going on, with a psychiatric history.

Anon said that the idea that you are safe if you abide by the law is illogical. The escalation of measures referred to by Nusra is not used even if people break the law. Also, people who were physically assaulted after they tried to check military scandals did not even receive justice. 

The human rights lawyer also criticized the army procurement of a Gulfstream G500 airplane.

The RTA stated that the airplane is a replacement for an old Beechcraft 1900yf which has been in service for about 30 years. The procurement was in the 2020 budget but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed procurement to 2021.

The airplane costs 1,348.5 million baht. It will be used to transport commanders and VIPs.

Pharit Chiwarak, an activist from the Student Union of Thailand (SUT), tore up a poster of Gen Apirat Kongsompong, the RTA Commander. 2 years to the next election is too slow. 1 day under an incompetent leader is too much already. The students these days failed in the 2016 referendum as they were either below voting age or were arrested for campaigning for a ‘no’ vote.

“Although today we may not be many, we come here to protect the dignity of the people. Today, people are telling the warriors to respect the honour of the people. And we cannot let pass by the dishonourable incident of the former spokesperson.” said Pharit. 

The sign “Why does the military exist?” was raised. The protesters also chanted “Dictatorship shall fall, long live democracy” and dispersed at around 19:30. They also picked up trash to keep the protest venue clean.

Officers from Nang Lerng Police Station were deployed in the area. They warned people that the gathering may risk violating of the Emergency Decree and related laws.

For further information see Thairath, Khaosod, Matichon

NewsRoyal Thai ArmyPharit ChiwarakAnon NampaNusra VorapatratornApirat KongsompongGulfstream G500Source: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/07/88679
Categories: Prachatai English

Young and Fear(less): Becoming a brave citizen in a culture of fear

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-07-20 23:40
Submitted on Mon, 20 Jul 2020 - 11:40 PMWirada Saelim

“Last sentence perhaps a bit too activistic for an academic paper.”

I laughed at this comment from my thesis supervisor at the University of Amsterdam. It might be bad for my grade (which surprisingly turned out ‘not bad’), but it is exactly what this thesis was intended to be. Well, maybe a little bit less obvious.

Let’s see if you would agree with the comment. Here is that last sentence my supervisor was talking about:

“…Because in the contemporary politics of the Democratic Regime of Government with the King as Head of the State, young citizens have utilized social media to express that the sovereignty of the country should belong to the people, not the monarchy.”

The end of my thesis was supposed to circle back to its introduction:

“In Thailand, one important question has remained unanswered. Under the Democratic Regime of Government with the King as Head of the State, who does sovereignty belong to? The king or the people? This ambiguity is argued to be at “the heart of the Thai political malaise” (Tejapira, 2016, p. 228) that has never been directly discussed in the public sphere: Due to the lèse majesté law, known as Article 112 of Thailand's criminal code, the royal family is protected from criticism. It is considered the strictest lèse majesté law in the world with a harsh jail term of from three to fifteen years (BBC, 2017). The prosecution of this law is supported by the notion of “defending the monarchy, the center of Thai people’s hearts,” which has been embedded in Thai culture and identity by past and present military dictatorships (Farrelly, 2016).”

Method and Empirical Background: Hope, pain, bravery, and fear

My thesis is about the Twitter Thailand phenomenon. That’s how I would begin when asked by people at the university.

My thesis is about hope and pain, bravery and fear of the young generation in Thailand. That’s how I’m personally telling you. Although hope, pain, bravery, and fear can be seen and felt when scrolling through tweets of young users, I was required to find them through an academic approach. Therefore, I used qualitative content analysis method to study five datasets selected from top-trending hashtags over a one-year period.

Now, allow me to walk you through the ‘Empirical Background’ part of the thesis.

The first hashtag of my study is #โตแล้วเลือกเองได้ (#WeGrownUpsCanVoteForOurselves). It was trending on the eve of the national election in March 2019 after the release of the royal announcement about supporting “good people” to rule Thailand. The second hashtag, #ขบวนเสด็จ or ‘Royal Motorcade,’ was trending on Twitter Thailand from October 2019 and sometimes popped up again throughout January 2020. Many tweets expressed how daily routines are affected by the way the motorcades are organized. This hashtag was also used to engage in many topics related to the monarchy.

The third hashtag was created in response to the arrest of ‘Niranam’, a 20-year-old Twitter user with an anonymous account who tweeted controversial information about the Thai monarchy. On 19 February 2020, he was identified and arrested by the police. Instead of the lèse majesté law, he was charged with violating Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act, which bans importing information that threatens “national security”.  Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the non-profit organization who followed the case and helped Niranam, reported that the police printed tweets from his account and asked him to verify account ownership. After that, he was forced to give the account password to the officers. This is the first time that an ordinary citizen, using an anonymous account on Twitter, was charged for tweeting about the monarchy. Subsequently, #saveนิรนาม (#saveNiranam) was trending. Only 27 hours after the arrest was publicized on social media, Thai netizens (both on Facebook and Twitter) raised two million baht for the family to have him released on bail.

Just two days after this arrest of ‘Niranam’, Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolved the Future Forward Party. This incident led to flash mobs organized by students from at least 36 universities throughout the country. Twitter was actively and used as the main platform for people who were at the scene and for those who wanted to virtually follow the situation. Each of the 36 demonstrations had its own hashtag name. I explored two of these hashtags (#เสาหลักจะไม่หักอีกต่อไป and #ธรรมศาสตร์และการชุมนุม), which were trending on Twitter in that period of time. The last hashtag examined in this study is #กษัตริย์มีไว้ทำไม (#WhyDoWeNeedaKing?) created during the Covid-19 crisis by the prominent Thai monarchy critic and scholar who has been in exile since being charged under the lèse majesté law, Somsak Jeamteerasakul. After a year of active engagement on royal issues, the name of this hashtag has been the most explicit ever ranked as top trend on Twitter Thailand.

Beyond a research question

Every thesis needs a good research question. I don’t know how good mine is, but it has given me some significant findings. Within a bigger picture of the country’s democratizing struggle, my thesis asks: In what ways have young Thai citizens utilized Twitter to engage in the issues related to the monarchy?

But to tell you the truth, there is another question that I care more about. As part of the young generation who want to live in a society where thinking differently, engaging in politics, and standing up for human rights are not a crime, I ask myself: What can I do?  

As you may see how desperate it is. There is this Thai person pursuing her Master’s degree abroad who saw her thesis assignment as an opportunity to do what can’t be done in her country. To express, to discuss, to ask, to exercise a right, something so normal in democratic societies where freedom of expression exists. There is one part in my thesis explaining how Twitter is a space where young citizens can share and discuss controversial information about the monarchy that Thai mainstream media don’t report and Thai teachers don’t teach. Knowing that the main audience of my paper are living in democratic countries, I have to literally write:

“These practices might be seemingly normal in a democratic society when people generally use online platforms to share political content. In Thailand however, such activities of sharing alternative information about the monarchy put users at risk considering the fact that there was an activist charged with lèse majesté for just sharing a BBC news article written about the bibliography of the king.”

Giving such supporting detail in an academic paper, I thought of my friend.

Pai Jatupat spent more than two years of his youth in jail for sharing the BBC Thai article. I was there at the court in Khon Kaen when the verdict was given. I saw Pai in a prison uniform, crying. I remembered grabbing his mother’s hands. I have carried one question with me from that day, what can I do? The same question young people on Twitter who used #SaveNiranam asked each other when trying to help a 20-year-old friend whom they feel related to without having met before.

“Should we create #SaveNiranam?” one user suggested.

This tweet was one of my research samples. It didn’t take them long to collaboratively interact with each other before #SaveNiranam soared as the No.1 trending hashtag. Within a day, almost two million baht was fundraised, enough to help release Niranam on bail without mainstream media reporting.

What can I do? One tweeted to give away free books (1984, Animal Farm) for those who retweeted the information of how to help Niranam.

What can I do? Another user offered a free picture of her breast for those who donated.

What can I do? One mentioned all prominent international media outlets in a tweet asking “Can you pay attention to this issue?” “Can you help…” because our mainstream media don’t.

What can I do? Many joined flash mobs (where they finally got to really sing “Do You Hear the People Sing” out loud – from my content analysis – it was a huge thing to them) full of uniformed and un-uniformed guards patrolling.

What can I do? Many who couldn’t go to the protests took a picture of their three-finger salute and tweeted it to show solidarity.

What can I do? Many fought over their own fear and tweet their honest thoughts.

What can I do? Many shared information while mainstream media self-censored.

What can I do? Many retweeted to advocate human rights and democracy.

What can I do? We ask ourselves and ‘do something’ to answer.

Findings: Young and fear(less) seeking freedom

Twitter Thailand is an active community of like-minded-but-anonymous friends, using anonymous accounts to tweet real thoughts. It is a loose network that is capable of achieving some civic and political goals. It is full of inexplicit expressions in the form of in-group codes, sarcasm, and jokes. Through dark humour, they support and inform each other. Through funny memes, they advocate human rights and freedom of expression. Through ‘just a movie review’, they ask serious questions that challenge the status quo.

While the mainstream media are self-censored, the young Thais use Twitter to collaboratively share the censored information and stories. Trending hashtags are the people’s agenda set by an active engagement of friend-like strangers that share the same frustration, trying to make their voice heard under state repression. Tweeting from their beds late at night, they are always informed and passionately engaged in politics. They share hope and pain by expressing them. They have built a collective identity while negotiating their individual bravery and fear. Together they have created a public sphere that is unthinkable in an offline society.

“The digital sphere is, so far, the space that offers autonomy and security for young dissidents to push Thailand towards democratization.”

That was in my Findings and Discussion part.

One the same day I just submitted my thesis, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a pro-democracy activist living in exile in Cambodia, was abducted. One day after receiving my thesis grade, Rangsiman Rome, a representative from Move Forward party addressed #Cancel112 that was trending following #SaveWanchalearm.

I watched the live stream when Rome responded to the military-led government:

“If you said this issue is not important, can you explain to me why it is No.1 trending on Twitter? This is an important matter that citizens are paying attention to. There is a lot of evidence that shows how Section 112 is problematic in the Thai judicial process. Although people who are charged under it are not a majority of this country, they are affected by the judicial process and human rights violations.”

Today as I am writing this article, #SaveRome is trending on Twitter Thailand.

I’m certain that many of us out there have just asked ourselves once again, what can I do?

Young and fear(less), as a Thai citizen, we seek and fight for freedom of expression through whatever way we can from tweeting with anonymous accounts, writing a school thesis, organizing political events (despite being threatened and sued by the state), to speaking in the House of Representatives. In this culture of fear, we are working on shaking the fear away. We are working on being brave. We are making ourselves committed to our duties and rights as citizens who long for democracy.

And if you are still afraid, you are not alone.

Let me soothe you with the most popular joke on Twitter Thailand (which I call the ‘jail joke’ in my thesis). The young generation of Thailand comfort and show solidarity with each other by using dark humour that I find very deep and the best reflection of the hope, pain, bravery and fear they have experienced living in the country. They say:

“Don’t you worry, jail is not big enough to fit us all.”

References from the thesis:

Farrelly, N. (2016). Being Thai: A Narrow Identity in a Wide World. Southeast Asian Affairs, 331–343. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/627466

Tejapira, Kasian. (2016). The Irony of Democratization and the Decline of Royal Hegemony in Thailand. Southeast Asian Studies, 5(2), 219–237.

OpinionWirada SaelimtwitterInternet culturefreedom of expressionNiranamWanchalearm SatsaksitYouth movementroyal motorcadeFuture Forward Partystudent movement
Categories: Prachatai English

Student protests in Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Mai echo Free Youth’s demands

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-07-20 21:52
Submitted on Mon, 20 Jul 2020 - 09:52 PMPrachatai

Following the mass protest at the Democracy Monument on Saturday (18 July), two more student protests took place in Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Mai on Sunday (19 July), also demanding the dissolution of parliament, constitutional reform, and for the authorities to stop harassing those who exercise their freedom of expression.

Protestors doing the three-finger salute at the Ubon Ratchathani City Pillar Shrine protest

At the Ubon Ratchathani City Pillar Shrine at 17.00 on Sunday, a group of students and citizens held an anti-government protest, during which they read out a statement and sang the rap song “Which is My Country,” as well as holding their hands up in the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute, a well-recognised resistance symbol in Thailand.

The protestors also held up the yellow ‘missing person’ posters with the names and pictures of victims of enforced disappearance while shouting “government get out!” The yellow posters are made by the student group Spring Movement, which distributed the pdf files for the posters on their Facebook page, and were also handed out at the protest on Saturday.

A number of police officers were present on the scene. They read out the Emergency Decree and asked that the protestors follow the Decree.

Protestors at Tha Pae Gate (Source: Democratic Club CMU)

At the same time in Chiang Mai, a group of over 1000 students and citizens gather for a protest at Tha Pae Gate.

Chiang Mai University student Prasit Kharutharot read out the group’s demands and asked the protestors to join him in giving the three-finger salute before announcing the protest’s conclusion at 18.30. Prasit also announced that they will be holding more activities in the future but the date has not been set.

During the protest, police officers announced through a loudspeaker three times that the group was violating the Emergency Decree. They also ordered the protestors to keep a distance from each other to prevent the spread of Covid-19, as well as to end the gathering as the Emergency Decree is still in effect.

Both groups echoed the three demands made by the student group Free Youth Movement at Saturday’s protest and called for the dissolution of parliament, a new constitution, and for the authorities to stop harassing people who are exercising their freedom of expression.

Newsproteststudent movementYouth movementanti-governmentChiang maiUbon RatchathaniPrasit KharutharotSpring Movementfreedom of expressionfreedom of assemblyConstitutional amendment
Categories: Prachatai English

Students lead mass protest against dictatorship at Democracy Monument

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-07-20 00:06
Submitted on Mon, 20 Jul 2020 - 12:06 AMPrachatai

The student group Free Youth Movement organized a public demonstration at the Democracy Monument on the evening of Saturday (18 July) to protest against the government and call for the dissolution of parliament and constitutional amendments, and for the authorities to stop harassing citizens exercising freedom of expression.

Protestors began gathering at the Democracy Monument around 17.00 

The protest began at 17.00. Before the start of the protest, more potted plants were added to the decorative garden surrounding the Democracy Monument, filling the space on the footpath. A row of uniformed police officers also stood behind the fence surrounding the monument. 

Bangkok Metropolitan Administration personnel were seen adding plants to the garden around the Democracy Monument earlier in the day. 

A police crowd control unit was seen near the monument at around 18.30. A Prachatai reporter also spotted a water cannon truck heading towards the protest site at around 19.00.

A large number of officers were deployed around the area, as well as stationed inside Satriwithaya School. At one point during the evening, protestors also shouted out that they saw officers on the upper floors of a school building.

Uniformed officers stood behind the fence around the Monument.

Officers clashed with protestors early on in the evening as the group tried to remove the metal fencing placed around the protest area.

At 21.20, plainclothes officers attempted to take away two protestors, claiming that content of their banner is an offense against the monarchy, but other protestors stopped them and forced the officers from the scene.

A police crowd control unit (top) and a water cannon truck (bottom) were spotted near the protest.

During the protest, student representatives took turns giving speeches, including Student Union of Thailand (SUT) President Juthatip Sirikhan, student activist Parit Chiwarak, and student activist Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattaraksa, as well as a student from King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, who said that the 2014 coup reflected that the lack of people’s representation has damaged the rule of law and national prosperity, and who also criticized a person, who he did not identify, who spends taxpayer money to fly in and out of Thailand without having to undergo the required 14-day quarantine.

Panupong Jadnok, one of the activists from the Eastern Youth Leadership group who protested in front of the the DVaree Diva Central Rayong Hotel during Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit on 15 July also joined the protest.

Panupong Jadnok giving his speech.

“Another summons was delivered to my house today,” he said during his speech. “If you think that you can use these summonses to stop me, you think wrong. People like me are born only once and die only once. I was just holding up a sign saying ‘“Don’t let your guard down, dad’ and you can’t take it. If you can’t take it, then you shouldn’t be prime minister and should just resign.”

Human rights lawyer Anon Nampa also gave a speech, leading protestors in a chant in support of political refugees either dead or alive, prisoners convicted under the lèse-majesté law, and Tiwagorn Withiton, the Facebook users who posted a picture of himself wearing the viral “I lost faith in the monarchy” t-shirt and who was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital last week.

“We are calling for the dissolution of parliament because this government came from an unfair election. After the election, the Future Forward Party was dissolved. We are calling for state officials to stop threatening citizens, to not be a slave to dictatorship, and to draft a new constitution, because no constitution anywhere gives a dictator the power to appoint 250 senators to vote for himself to be prime minister. That is shameless,” said Anon.

Anon Nampa on stage at the protest

Rap Against Dictatorship and the Commoner Band also performed during the protest.

Rap Against Dictatorship performing at the protest

At 19.00, the organisers asked the protestors to turn on the flashlights on their phones and hold them towards the Democracy Monument. According to the organisers, this activity lasted 112 seconds.

Protestors turning on the flashlight on their phones (top) and holding their hands up in the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute (bottom) towards the Democracy Monument.

At 20.45, representatives of the Free Youth Movement read out a statement, in which they make the following three demands:

  1. The dissolution of the Palang Pracharat-led parliament which has failed to handle the Covid-19 situation;
  2. An end to harassment by the authorities of people who are exercising their freedom of expression;
  3. The replacement of the current constitution, which favours the regime, with a new one which is meant for the benefit of the people.

They also announced that they will give the government 2 weeks to respond to their demands, or they will escalate their activities.

The student group Spring Movement also joined the protest, handing out yellow ‘missing person’ posters with the pictures and names of victims of enforced disappearance, such as Somchai Neelapaijit, Haji Sulong Tomina, Surachai Sae Dan, and Siam Theerawut. Protestors could be seen holding up the posters in front of the McDonald’s next to the Democracy Monument.

Protestors holding up the 'missing person' posters

The 'missing person' posters handed out by a group of members of Spring Movement.

A smaller gathering, led by Parit and the SUT, also formed at Kok Wua Intersection, about 500 metres away from the main protest, blocking off traffic coming towards the Democracy Monument.

The main protest took up about a quarter of the Democracy Monument roundabout, in front of McDonald’s and Satriwithaya School, and grew from around 500 protestors at the beginning to around 2000. The hastags #เยาวชนปลดแอก (#FreeYouth) and #respectdemocracyTH are also currently trending on Twitter, as they are being used to share information about the protest.

Around 21.30, two men were seen running through the crowd and tried to tear down the organisers’ tent, causing a disturbance among the protestors before security personnel were able to control the situation and take the two men out of the area.

At 23.15, protestors were still sitting on the road by the Democracy Monument, while the organisers screened the music video for “To Whom It May Concern,” rap artist Liberate P’s latest work.

The organisers previously announced that they would stay at the Democracy Monument until 8.00 on Sunday (19 July). However, at midnight, they decided to conclude the protest for safety reasons.

Representatives of Free Youth Movement and the SUT announced the end of the protest.

At around 00.40, as the crowd was dispersing, a man wearing a face mask was seen leading the organizing team into Satriwithaya School, telling them that he would take them home, but when the team saw police vans parked inside the school, they ran out. An unidentified person also reportedly tried to close the school gate as they left.

The man claimed that he volunteered to take the organisers home safely and insisted that he had no ill intention. He said that he contacted a friend who is a political activist and asked for him to organize some vans, but later found that these were police vans. He also said that he was unable to contact this friend afterwards.

The man in the mask (front, center) leading members of the organising team into the Satriwithaya School

The organizing team then left the protest area, accompanied by Move Forward Party MP and former activist Rangsiman Rome.

Round UpDemocracy MonumentFree Youth MovementStudent Union of Thailand (SUT)Spring Movementstudent movementprotestanti-governmentfreedom of assemblyfreedom of expressionpolice intimidation
Categories: Prachatai English

Cambodian authorities deny knowledge of Thai activist’s disappearance

Prachatai English - Sun, 2020-07-19 23:34
Submitted on Sun, 19 Jul 2020 - 11:34 PMPrachatai

The Cambodian authorities have denied any knowledge about the disappearance of Thai activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit, claiming that Wanchalearm did not make any further visa renewal request after his visa expired on 31 December 2017, and that no Cambodian agencies have any additional information about his disappearance other than what has appeared in news reports.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that Sitanun Satsaksit, Wanchalearm’s sister, received a letter on 15 July informing her of the progress of the request made by the Committee on Enforced Disappearances on 10 June for the Cambodian authorities to take immediate and urgent action regarding Wanchalearm’s disappearance.

The Cambodian authorities responded to the request by stating that they have investigated Wanchalearm’s disappearance and found that he travelled to Cambodia several times between 2014 and 2015. His last entry into Cambodia was on 19 October 2015, but he did not make any further visa renewal request after his visa expired on 31 December 2017. The Cambodian authorities also stated that no relevant Cambodian agencies have any knowledge or lead on Wanchalearm’s disappearance other than what has already been reported by the media and that they are in the process of conducting further investigations.

The petition was submitted in compliance with Article 30 of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which empowers the Committee to request the state party concerned to provide information regarding a disappeared person, if “a request that a disappeared person should be sought and found” has been “submitted to the Committee, as a matter of urgency, by relatives of the disappeared person or their legal representatives, their counsel or any person authorized by them, as well as by any other person having a legitimate interest.”

Sitanun noted that the letter from the Cambodian government to the Committee contains the same information as the letter that the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent to Wanchalearm’s family on 16 June, which was made before the family made a formal complaint, and therefore this response cannot be considered progress in the effort to investigate Wanchalearm’s disappearance.

Sitanun told TLHR that she hopes that the Cambodian government will be using their judicial process in the investigation, as the family filed a complaint with the prosecution unit at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the Cambodian Ministry of Justice on 8 July. They also filed a complaint with the Cambodian Ministry of Interior on 3 July.

NewsWanchalearm Satsaksitenforced disappearanceabductionpolitical refugeeCambodiaSitanun SatsaksitThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)Committee on Enforced DisappearancesInternational Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED)
Categories: Prachatai English

Dissent and Madness in Thailand

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-17 22:16
Submitted on Fri, 17 Jul 2020 - 10:16 PM​​​​​​​Pravit Rojanaphruk 

It’s been barely one month since Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha told the press that His Majesty the King had instructed him not to use the lèse majesté law. Now we’re seeing a new protocol exercised by the administration and it’s even more disturbing.

Tiwagorn's T-shirt with the message “I lost faith in the monarchy”

Instead of using the controversial and anachronistic law, a man who insisted on wearing a controversial T-shirt was forcibly taken to a psychiatric hospital.

This was done against the will of Khon Kaen resident Tiwagorn Withiton. All he did was to insist on wearing a white T-shirt with this message: “I lost faith in the monarchy”.

He became news in the third week of last month, June.

On Monday, or three weeks later, after Tiwagorn had been visited by government officials and the police, Prachathai online news confirmed that he’s now in Khon Kaen Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital.

Facebook user behind viral ‘lost faith’ shirt committed to psychiatric hospital

This is what they did to him after attempts to convince him to do away with the T-shirt failed. The 10 officers, including police and members of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the counter insurgency organization, failed after two visits.

When the man talked about it on June 22, Tiwagorn refused to yield.

“I replied that it was impossible because I was just wearing a shirt that some people might disagree with, but it probably wouldn’t go as far as to cause chaos. Then they asked, ‘What if someone assaults you and claims that they are a government official to slander?’ I replied, ‘If that happens, I hope the government really investigates it.”

According to Prachatai online news, his mother said the man, a former redshirt, has been depressed. She then ‘agreed’ to officials' suggestions that her son should be taken to hospital where he will be kept for 30 days for psychological examination.

His computers and mobile phones have also been confiscated by the authorities.

Tell me if this is a better future for Thailand. Tell me if this is better than using the lèse majesté law, severe and anachronistic as it is, with a maximum imprisonment term of 15 years.

Yes, Prachatai managed to contact Tiwagorn. It reported on Monday that Tiwagorn said he is “well”. But for how long?

Putting a sane man inside an asylum institute is damaging.

I asked human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa on the phone on Wednesday and he said since Tiwagorn's mother gave consent to have her son admitted to the psychiatric hospital, the man has had no legal representation since July 9. "He is being treated as a patient and it will be up to the doctor whether to allow visits or not. This is beyond the realm of the law," Arnon told me. 

Tiwagorn said earlier that he had been spurred to post on Facebook about his T-shirt after the kidnapping of dissident and monarchy critic Wanchalearm Satsaksit in Phnom Penh in early June.

This is not a mad man, but a man who is deeply disturbed by current affairs and decided to cry out loud, whatever the cost. Tiwagorn articulated on Facebook in the middle of last month that, “losing faith isn’t the same as wanting to overthrow the monarchy. It’s a feeling inside your heart similar to falling out of love or losing one’s trust… There is no way to force people who ‘lost faith’ to regain their faith using violence.”

Tell me if this is a mad man.

Now I fear that Tiwagorn may emerge a mad man after a month inside the psychiatric institution due to ‘treatment’ and the sheer fact of being surrounded by people with psychiatric conditions.

Although Section 6 of the Constitution requires Thais to hold the monarchy in reverence, it’s clear that some Thais can no longer keep on pretending. Some fled abroad, and a few of these end up mysteriously disappearing while in exile. And if you are still inside Thailand, they may put you inside a mad house as occurred to Tiwagorn.

Tiwagorn was right, we cannot force people to hold on to faith when it’s no longer there.

Instead of accepting the fact and finding ways to restore faith, the Thai authorities have chosen to lock the man up inside a psychiatric hospital.

This cannot restore faith. If anything, it will likely have the opposite effect, not just on Tiwagorn but on any fair-minded person hearing about his fate.

Now, tell me whether the Thai authorities have chosen a mad and cruel way of addressing the case?

Which is more lunatic? A man putting on a T-shirt with a controversial political message or the authorities keeping dissent in check by putting critics of the monarchy like that man inside a madhouse?

Losing faith in the institution of the monarchy is not a mental illness. A society which puts someone who loses faith inside a psychiatric hospital is mad. 

Only a mad society would accuse someone who refuses to toe the line of being insane and keep him inside a madhouse.

OpinionTiwagorn WithitonPravit Rojanaphruklèse majesté lawfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

TLHR, student groups call for release of Facebook user behind viral shirt

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-17 15:09
Submitted on Fri, 17 Jul 2020 - 03:09 PMPrachatai

Both Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and the Student Union of Thailand (SUT) have issued statements calling for the release of Tiwagorn Withiton, a Facebook user whose post of him wearing a shirt printed with “I lost faith in the monarchy” previously went viral and who was taken by the police and forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital last week.

Tiwagorn Withiton

TLHR’s statement said that the police do not have the authority to press charges against Tiwagorn, as the sentence “I lost faith in the monarchy” does not count as defamation, an insult, or a threat under Section 112 of the Criminal Code. It also does not count as sedition under Section 116, or as any kind of computer data listed under Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act.

 

TLHR also state that Tiwagorn appears to be of sound mind and can still communicate normally. He is also not in a state where he might cause harm to others or requires urgent treatment, and therefore officials do not have the authority to force him to receive treatment. Moreover, as Tiwagorn had to be carried out of his house by 6 officers, it is evident that he did not consent to being admitted. The fact that the police took around 10 vehicles to Tiwagorn’s house without a request from his family could also mean that his family is not able to tell the authorities what they really want. Officers from Mueang Khon Kaen Provincial Police Station have also been maintaining a presence at the hospital in shifts at all times, which TLHR said does not suggest that Tiwagorn’s admission was consensual.

 

TLHR also said there is no reason why the police had to confiscate Tiwagorn’s computer and mobile phone, because they have nothing to do with medical treatment. TLHR believes that searching and confiscating objects without a warrant and without pressing charges is not lawful.

 

“To prevent the continuing improper use of medical procedures in order to arbitrarily detain a person, which is an unlawful action with a negative effect on both the public health sector and the judicial process, and to protect the right to freedom of expression as stated in Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Thai Lawyers for Human Rights call on the Royal Thai Police to investigate whether the actions of officers from the Mueang Khon Kaen Provincial Police Station and the Chiangkhan Police Station are lawful or not, and call on the officers to immediately stop actions for which they do not have legal authority which could constitute intimidation of the people, and to immediately end the detention of Tiwagorn,” said TLHR.

 

The Student Union of Thailand (SUT) also issued a statement, co-signed by 18 other student groups, demanding that Tiwagorn be released immediately, calling Tiwagorn’s forced admission into the hospital “the use of a medical certificate to abduct a political dissident.” The SUT also demanded that members of parliament and human rights organizations closely follow the situation.

 

“Tiwagorn’s case is considered an attempt by the state to control people’s thinking and to prevent people from expressing their opinions freely, which opposes the change that is currently happening in the world. We call for the state to accept different opinions and respect the people’s freedom of expression so that Thailand can have a completely democratic system of government, not just half as it is today,” said SUT.

 

Tiwagorn was forcibly taken from his home on 9 July by police officers and admitted to Khon Kaen Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital. His family said that officers from Mueang Khon Kaen Provincial Police Station stay with him around the clock while he is in hospital, and that they check the ID of every visitor and keep watch at all times when Tiwagorn’s family visit him. He has yet to be discharged from hospital.

NewsTiwagorn WithitonThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)Student Union of Thailand (SUT)student movementfreedom of expressionKhon Kaen Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital
Categories: Prachatai English

Graffiti artist continues to face police harassment

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-17 15:04
Submitted on Fri, 17 Jul 2020 - 03:04 PMPrachatai

The anonymous graffiti artist Headache Stencil continues to face harassment from police officers after he posted images of the missing activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit on his Facebook profile page.

The picture of Pridi Banomyong (left) and the picture of the revolutionaries announcing the regime change in 1932 (right) projected onto the wall of Wat Ratchanadda by Headache Stencil during the early morning on 24 June.

On 12 July, the artist posted on his Facebook page that, after he had previously posted information about the group of four police officers who claimed to be from Phra Khanong Police Station and came to his condominium on the night of 24 June and included artwork of Wanchalearm in the post, he saw police officers taking pictures of his condominium from a nearby overpass.

Activist Nuttaa Mahattana went to Phra Khanong Police Station on Monday (13 July) to file a complaint about the harassment both on 24 June and on 12 July on behalf of the artist.

“I would like to thank Bow Nuttaa for filing the complaint on my behalf,” the artist wrote. “I hope that an ordinary person like myself will soon be informed about progress in the case, because the name of the police officer who came that day has already been supplied. We should find out what reasons the person who came that day is going to give, and whether the three people who came with him are police officers, because if it is proven that they are not officers, or if there is one in that night’s group who is not an officer, then it’s not the methods of government officials and they should be fired and prosecuted as an example. I hope that we’ll get to see that justice still functions in our country.”

“Don’t wait to report about my corpse. I’m not likely to be so lucky as to get away very often,” he added.

The hashtag #SaveHeadacheStencil trended on Twitter for two days after the artist posted about the intimidation he is facing.

“The important thing about Headache Stencil is that this is intimidation towards a dissenter,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia senior researcher Sunai Phasuk told Thai Enquirer. “He is quite well known in society as being a graffiti artist who criticizes the government and authority.

“The police were not transparent in the way that they approached him, they did not state what they were doing and would not identify themselves which is concerning.”

Headache Stencil is known for his political satire and said that he was previously stalked by four men who claimed to be police officers who visited his condominium during the night of 24 June, after he projected an image of Pridi Banomyong onto the wall of Wat Ratchanadda royal temple in the early morning of 24 June to commemorate the 88th anniversary of the 1932 Siamese Revolution. He has also faced similar intimidation after he spray-painted the image of a clock with the face of Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan onto an overpass in the Sukhumvit area and ended up paying a fine of 3000 baht on a vandalism charge.

NewsHeadache StencilgraffitiStreet artPolice harassmentfreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

#HoldTheLine campaign launched in support of Maria Ressa and independent media in the Philippines

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-17 14:50
Submitted on Fri, 17 Jul 2020 - 02:50 PMCommittee to Protect Journalists

On 9 July, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced the launch of the #HoldTheLine campaign in support of journalist Maria Ressa and independent media under attack in the Philippines.

Maria Ressa on stage as keynote speaker of the 2019 Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Hamburg, Germany (Photo by Nick Jaussi)

Acting in coordination with Ressa and her legal team, representatives from the three groups form the steering committee, working alongside dozens of partners on the global campaign and reporting initiatives. The campaign takes its name from Ressa’s commitment to ‘hold the line’ in response to sustained state harassment and prolific online violence.

An internationally celebrated Filipino-American journalist, Ressa is best known for two decades covering South East Asia for CNN and founding the multi-award winning Philippines news website Rappler. On 15 June 2020, she was convicted of “cyber-libel,” alongside former Rappler colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr — a criminal charge for which they face up to six years in prison. The conviction relates to a story about corruption from 2012 – before the law was even enacted – and hung on the correction of a typo.

Ressa and Santos both posted bail, but could be imprisoned if the case is not overturned on appeal. Ressa is facing at least six other cases and charges. Guilty verdicts in all of them could result in her spending nearly a century in jail. Rappler is also implicated in most of these cases, with several involving criminal charges related to libel, foreign ownership, and taxes. The convictions are the latest offense in the Duterte government’s wider campaign to stifle independent reporting, including the recent shutdown of the main national broadcaster ABS-CBN.

“I am moved by the incredible outpouring of support we’ve received from around the globe for our campaign to #HoldTheLine against tyranny – even as President Duterte continues his public attacks on me, the legal harassment escalates, and the state-licenced and Facebook-fuelled online violence rages on. We can’t stay silent because silence is consent,” Ressa said. “We need to be outraged, to fight back with journalism. If we don’t use our rights, we will lose them. Please stand with us!”

Those interested in showing support and helping to #HoldTheLine can take two immediate steps in the run-up to Ressa’s next hearing scheduled on 22 July:

  1. Join the #HoldTheLine coalition by getting in touch via the contacts below.
  2. Sign and share this petition calling for the Philippine government to drop all charges and cases against Ressa, Santos and Rappler, and end pressure on independent media in the Philippines.

The 60 founding members of the #HoldTheLine Coalition are:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which form the steering committee; African Media Initiative; Association for International Broadcasting (AIB); Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom; Amnesty International; ARTICLE 19; Association of Caribbean Media Workers; Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma; Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM); Centre for Law and Democracy; CineDiaz; The Coalition For Women In Journalism; Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE); DART Asia Pacific; Dart Center; Doc Society; English PEN; European Journalism Centre; First Look Media; Free Press Unlimited; Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG); Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD); Global Voices;  Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University; Index on Censorship; Institute for Regional Media and Information (IRMI); International Media Support (IMS); International Association of Women in Radio  and Television (IAWRT); International News Safety Institute (INSI); International Press Institute (IPI); International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF); James W. Foley Legacy Foundation; Judith Neilson Institute; Justice for Journalists Foundation; Media Association for Peace (MAP); Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF); Namibia Media Trust (NMT); National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP); Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation; Pakistan Press Foundation; Panos Institute Southern Africa; PEN America; Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); Press Freedom Defense Fund; Project Syndicate; Public Media Alliance; Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting; Rappler; Rory Peck Trust; Rural Media Network Pakistan; South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF); Storyhunter; The Signals Network; Tanzania Media Practitioners Association; Union of Journalists in Finland; World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA); and World Editors Forum.

Pick to PostMaria Ressapress freedomThe PhilippinesCommittee to Protect Journalistsjudicial harassment
Categories: Prachatai English

UN Human Rights Office urges Thailand to promptly enact the torture and disappearance law fully incorporating international standards

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-17 14:36
Submitted on Fri, 17 Jul 2020 - 02:36 PMOHCHR

After more than a decade of deliberation, it is critical that the proposed law criminalising torture and enforced disappearance in Thailand meet international human rights standards to ensure both prevention and justice for these heinous crimes, the UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia said today (17 July). 

The approval of the draft legislation by the Thai Cabinet is an important step, but the approved draft lacks essential international principles including the absolute prohibition of torture and non-refoulement – both non-derogable rights in international law. The definitions of the crimes in the proposed law are also not in line with international standards.

“A domestic law can provide effective judicial recourse to the victims and families if it is compliant with the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED),” said Cynthia Veliko, South-East Asia Regional Representative for the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok.

Thailand has taken important steps to prevent torture through the ratification of CAT in 2007 and on disappearances by signing ICPPED in 2012. The draft domestic law is the long-awaited, necessary element to ensure that Thailand is in a position to fulfil its obligations as a State Party to CAT and provide the required enabling context for ratification and effective implementation of ICPPED.

“Significant time and resources have been expended over the years to finalize this bill and the deficiencies in the previous and current versions of the draft law have been routinely highlighted by civil society and International Human Rights Mechanisms,” Veliko said. “Thailand’s willingness to enact a bill into law that fully incorporates the principles enshrined in international human rights law would show its commitment to zero tolerance of torture and enforced disappearance as well as justice for victims of these crimes.”

Pick to PostOffice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)enforced disappearanceTorturanti-torture bill
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: VIP ball

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-17 13:54
Submitted on Fri, 17 Jul 2020 - 01:54 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: VIP ball

 

MultimediaStephffCOVID-19coronavirus
Categories: Prachatai English

Economic czar and ministers resign, new cabinet line-up expected

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-07-17 12:33
Submitted on Fri, 17 Jul 2020 - 12:33 PMPrachatai

A long speculated cabinet reshuffle may soon come to pass as 3 ministers, a deputy PM and a deputy secretary-general submitted their resignations on 16 July. Many touted replacements for the government economic team are from business or technocratic backgrounds. 

Left to right: Suvit Maesincee, Sontirat Sontijirawong, Uttama Savanayana, Kobsak Pootrakool. (Source: Thai News Agency)

Somkid Jatusripitak, the Deputy PM for economic affairs, who served under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha since the 2014 coup d’état, Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Suvit Maesincee and Kobsak Pootrakool, Deputy Secretary-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, all submitted their resignations.

After resigning, Uttama said the decisions to resign by the four, known as the 4 Kuman (4 children) were made at the right time. They intended to keep the country progressing forward by removing uncertainty and hoped that their decisions will reduce the political pressure on the PM.

The outgoing Finance Minister said that they were not pressured to resign. They consulted each other on the decision and Somkid also agreed with them. They also mentioned their health and said that resignation would give them time to rest.

The 4 Kuman move came after they resigned last week as PPRP executives .

The reshuffle has been expected as the political pressure on them has increased as a result of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the harsh measures to control it.

Government parties signal cabinet reshuffle

Pressure also came from coalition partners of the Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) who have repeatedly demanded ministerial seats. The 4 Kuman are unelected technocrats without popular support and so became a soft target of criticism for their poor handling of the economic impact of Covid-19.

The signal for their resignation was the resignation of 18 PPRP executive members on 1 June, which according to the Party’s rules forced Uttama to step down as Party chairperson . He was replaced by Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who is senior to Gen Prayut.

Technocrats replacement speculated

Matichon reported that the new economic team may come from the business and financial sector. Predee Daochai, Chair of the Thai Bankers' Association, is in the running as he has been giving the government advice on many issues, including the 1.3 trillion baht stimulus package which was announced in the Royal Gazette on 19 April.  He also led a group of bankers to donate 50 million to the PM on 14 April.

Pailin Chuchottaworn, thought to become Energy Minister and Deputy PM, was Deputy Transport Minister under Prayut from November 2017 to December 2019 and is the former Chief Executive Officer of PTT Plc, the Thai state-owned petroleum enterprise.

Supattanapong Punmeechaow, former President and Chief Executive Officer at PTTGC, a PTT subsidiary, Kan Trakulhoon, former Siam Cement Group (SCG) board member, and Boontuck Wungcharoen, Thai Airways board member, have been mentioned as candidates for economics-related ministerial posts.

Although these technocrats are expected to be nominated on the basis of their contribution during the Covid-19 pandemic, Thairath reports that many have rejected the invitations as the impact of the outbreak is challenging. The most likely choice for Finance Minister is currently Pailin.

Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai is reportedly being ousted from the cabinet.

It is also reported that Deputy PM Gen Prawit and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda, will swap positions to reposition the party for a future election and keep the allocation of cabinet seats in line.

NewsSomkid JatusripitakUttama SavanayanaSontirat SontijirawongSuvit MaesinceeKobsak PootrakoolThailandCabinet Reshuffle
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