Prachatai English

Gen Prayut’s brother appointed to military-dominated Tourism Committee

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-04-17 21:02
Submitted on Fri, 17 Apr 2020 - 09:02 PM

Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, brother of PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, has been appointed to a Senate tourism committee despite being criticised for too many absences while working for his brother’s military government. The appointment is only the tip of the iceberg of the military role in Thai politics.

Top left: Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, among other military-background Tourism Committees

In April, the Royal Gazette published a notification from the Senate appointing Gen Preecha, a Senator, to the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism to fill a vacant seat.

The Committee’s mandate is to discuss, study and investigate tourism-related laws or issues. It currently consists of 21 members, 20 of whom are Senators and 13 are from the military.

Military members of the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism

Name

Work experience

ACM Adisak Klansnoh

Ex-NLA, Senator

Ad Choomnoom Ardwong

Ex-NLA, Senator

Gen. Podok Bunnag

Ex-NLA, Senator

Adm Itthikomn Bhamarasuta

Ex-Deputy Secretary-General to the PM for Political Affairs (2015), Senator

Gen Boontham Oris

Senator

Gen Pissanu Puttawong

Ex-NLA, Senator, ex-Head of the General Prem Tinsulanonda Statesman Foundation

Gen Pairoj Panichsamai

Ex-NLA, Senator

Gen Chayuth Suwanamas

Ex-NLA, Senator

Gen Navin Damrigan

Ex-National strategy on security drafting committee, Senator

Capt Prayut Souwakon

Ex-Civil Aviation Training Centre Board, Senator

Gen Preecha Jan-o-cha

Ex-NLA, Senator, former Permanent Secretary of Defence

Pol Lt Gen Wiboon Bangthamai

Ex-NLA, Senator

Gen Supharat Phatthanawisut

Ex-NLA

All of the military officers who sit on the Committee are members of the Senate and 9 are former members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), a legislative body hand-picked by the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order that overthrew the elected government in 2014.

Gen Preecha is well-known for his numerous absences during his term as an NLA member. In 2017, Preecha and other 6 NLA members were present for less than one-third of all votes in a 3-month period, a violation of NLA meeting rules for which they could be fired unless they had submitted leave of absence papers.

Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, the NLA President at that time, said that they had already turned in the paperwork. iLaw, a civil society organization, tried to access information on this but the office in charge responded that the information is secret.

Military officers became more influential in formal politics after the 2014 coup d’état. They have been appointed as members of the legislature and cabinet. They also sit on many committees under the military government.

Their roles in public office have persisted even after the 2019 general election. The BBC reported that 104 out of 250 senators are police or military officers. The chiefs of the Police, Army, Navy and Air Force, the Supreme Commander and the Permanent Secretary of the Defence Ministry are automatically given senate seats. Admiral Sittawach Wongsuwan, brother of Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, has also been appointed a Senator.

NewsPreecha Chan-o-chaTourism CommitteeMilitary interventionSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87236
Categories: Prachatai English

New Virtual Reality Lets You Experience ISIS’s Genocide of Yazidis as a Victim, and a Perpetrator

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-04-17 17:18
Submitted on Fri, 17 Apr 2020 - 05:18 PMTara Abhasakun

In this new virtual reality, you can experience genocide through the perspective of a Yazidi girl, her brother, or an ISIS militant.

Painting by Souhayla, a then 16-year old survivor of sexual enslavement by ISIS. The painting is of Souhayla’s mother, who also suffered in captivity.

In August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly known as ISIS, began its brutal campaign of sexual enslavement and genocide against the Yazidis, a religious minority group in Northern Iraq. 

Six years later, more than 3,000 Yazidis are still missing. Many Yazidi women and girls have been sexually trafficked and sold to people in other countries. 

A new project called “Nobody’s Listening,” founded by human rights advocate Ryan D’Souza, aims to educate people about these atrocities. The team of volunteers is comprised of a prominent human rights lawyer, a clinical psychologist who has previously worked in Iraq, and a number of creative consultants from the VR and arts world. 

“Nobody’s Listening,” includes an exhibition about the history of the Yazidis and their culture, and a virtual reality tour that uses Oculus Quest headsets. 

The project has so far been hosted in London, Prague, Johannesburg, and Queensland, and staff hope to expand it to as many places around the world as possible. A satellite exhibition was launched in Baghdad last year at a conference commemorating the 5th anniversary of the genocide. The full exhibition will premiere in Germany at the end of this year. Partnerships have been secured to take it to London, Prague, Johannesburg, Kigali and Queensland. 

Three Perspectives

In the virtual reality, the viewer can be either a Yazidi girl, her brother who survived a massacre, or an ISIS fighter who attacked the girl and her brother’s village. 

D’Souza said, “Too often people only focus on the horrific sexual enslavement of Yazidi women and girls, but we wanted to show that these gender-based attacks were a deliberate tactic of ISIS’s genocidal campaign to destroy the Yazidis. We included a Yazidi male perspective because their stories have often been overlooked. We were wary about including the ISIS fighter’s perspective, but we felt it was important to understand the mindset of a perpetrator. These are human beings who made their own decisions to commit these conscience-shocking crimes. And ultimately there has to be consequences for their actions. They must be brought to justice.”

Viewers’ Reactions

Some viewers have been Yazidis who survived the atrocities that the VR centers on. When survivors view the VR, the staff of Nobody’s Listening are always sure that a psychologist is present. The reactions of survivors, D’Souza said, are often quite intense, such as this Yazidi Man’s reaction. 

Yazidi survivor of ISIS genocide reacts to the "Nobody's Listening" virtual reality experience

Many notable people, including Adema Dieng, UN Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention, have also seen the virtual reality. 

UN Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention reacts to the "Nobody's Listening" virtual reality experience

Another viewer is an Iraqi Christian academic. D’Souza said that, even though Iraqi Christians are also a persecuted group who also suffered tremendously, many Iraqi Christians, as well as other religious communities, have limited knowledge about the true extent of what happened to the Yazidis. He also said that the exhibition aims to highlight the plight of all communities, noting that resentment and tensions can arise  between groups over which is perceived to get more international attention and donor support.

The Iraqi Christian academic reacts to the "Nobody's Listening" virtual reality experience

D’Souza said that he hopes Nobody’s Listening will bring more communities together in a shared fight against injustice. 

The Project’s Future

D’Souza plans to co-author a book with London historian Dr. Alexander Gross. The book will focus on the psychological impact on Yazidi children boys were forcibly recruited by ISIS. The team of Nobody’s Listening are also looking to give effective psychological help to these boys

D’Souza said that he hopes to build more awareness of Nobody’s Listening outside of the West, as he believes that some of the loudest voices calling for an end to global injustices are coming from the global south, particularly among youth as a group.

NewsISISIraqSyriaYazidigenocideVirtual realityArt exhibitionRyan D'Souzasexual violencehuman rights violations
Categories: Prachatai English

Six years after Billy disappeared, authorities must provide justice and protect his community’s rights

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-04-17 16:46
Submitted on Fri, 17 Apr 2020 - 04:46 PMAmnesty International

On the 6th anniversary of the disappearance of Karen community rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen, Amnesty International calls on the authorities to ensure that Billy's family learn the truth about what happened to him and that those responsible are brought to justice. 

Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen

The family of Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen, a Karen human rights defender, last saw him six years ago. A few days later on 17 April 2014, he disappeared o after being taken into state custody by National Park officials in Kaeng Krachan National Park.  

After a year that saw the Thai government make unprecedented progress in the investigation of his case - only then for prosecutors to dismiss serious charges against suspects in January 2020 - his family are still waiting for justice.

On the anniversary of his disappearance, Amnesty International again renews calls on authorities to ensure that Billy’s family learn the truth of what happened to him after he was last seen in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials on 17 April 2014. His death should not go unpunished.

Lack of justice for Billy’s disappearance strongly highlights his family’s struggle with a cycle of violations, from forced eviction and destruction of their property in 2010 and 2011; death threats for seeking redress for these violations; his disappearance in 2014;, and failure to provide his family with redress. Authorities need to do more to remove obstacles his family have faced seeking justice – whether for redress for violations against his community, or for his disappearance. There is anurgent need for authorities to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law.

In September 2019 the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) - a specialist investigative unit – found breakthrough evidence, in the form of charred bone fragments discovered in an oil drum underwater in the park where Billy disappeared. DNA matches to Billy’s mother appeared to confirm Billy’s death. Two months later the DSI raised charges of premeditated murder, illegal confinement, and concealing the victim’s body against four suspects – including the then-National Park chief who had taken him into custody and two other state officials.

Justice for Billy: CSOs call for investigation into activist’s disappearance

The Red Drum: from the killing of Thanom-era Communist suspects to Billy, and the culture of impunity

However, hopes for justice for Billy’s family’s loss were set back when in January 2020, the State Prosecutor dropped all but one charge – of official misconduct - citing lack of evidence that Billy had died.

At the time of his enforced disappearance, Billy, a Karen environmental and community rights defender, was working with fellow villagers and activists in Kaeng Krachan Park to challenge human rights violations against Karen people, including his family members, who had faced forced eviction and arson.   He had told his wife, Pinnapa “MueNor” Prueksapan at the time that “The people involved in this aren't happy with me. They say that if they find me they'll kill me. If I do disappear, don't come looking for me. Don't wonder where I've gone. They'll probably have killed me.”

Since his disappearance, the court ruled in 2018 on the case he had been gathering evidence for at the time of his disappearance. They confirmed that state park officials had acted unlawfully by burning villagers’ homes and property – including that of Billy’s grandfather. In 2019 the UNESCO Heritage Committee postponed any decision on awarding World Heritage status to Kaeng Krachan National Park, citing concerns about human rights violations. Billy’s community is among groups who have complained that new legislation on national parks will further limit their rights. The 2019 National Parks Act gives National Park officials increased powers to determine communities’ ability to access park lands. It gives official powers to search and destroy without court orders, which could lead to further forced evictions and destruction of their property – the very violations Billy was challenging when he disappeared.

Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalPorlajee Rackchongcharoenenforced disappearancecommunity rightshuman rights violationsKaeng Krachan National Park
Categories: Prachatai English

COVID-19 survivor tells story of recovery and social stigma

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-04-17 16:28
Submitted on Fri, 17 Apr 2020 - 04:28 PMNutcha Tantivitayapitak

Interview by Nutcha Tantivitayapitak
English translation by Anna Lawattanatrakul
First published on Prachatai

“Today, there are thousands of people who have been cured. No one dares to come out and give an interview and this is why. If you speak out, you drag your friends, your family and people close to you down with you. There are just people disgusted with you. They are against you,” said 39-year-old Wuttisak Muangmaitong, a boxing stadium receptionist and survivor of COVID-19.

Wuttisak Muangmaitong during his hospital stay

Wuttisak’s work requires him to take care of visitors, most of whom are foreigners who come to see boxing matches. Splitting his time between the Lumpinee and Rajadamnern Boxing stadiums, Wuttisak came into contact with foreign visitors every day.

By the end of January, Wuttisak started to become concerned about the spread of the “Wuhan virus,” which later came to be known as COVID-19, since he felt that he was among a high-risk group as he is constantly interacting with the stadiums’ international visitors. He was among the few employees who wore a face mask to work, something for which his co-workers teased him.

“Back then, we hadn’t closed the country. People came from all over the world. Americans, Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, they all came. I watched the news and thought we are definitely getting it, because the country was so wide open. The protocols at first weren’t very secure. They were only measuring people’s temperatures at airports. Some people who didn’t have a fever but may have had the virus could come in. We were only targeting returning Thai people who have to go into quarantine, but we let the tourists go without putting them in quarantine,” he said.

Wuttisak started showing symptoms around 11 March. His muscles ached, and he had a fever that went away once he took some paracetamol. He took the next day off. On 14 March, despite feeling better, Wuttisak decided to go to the nearby Siriraj Hospital to get tested for the virus.

When he first went to the hospital’s Piyamaharajkarun building, he found that the cost for COVID-19 testing was around 10,000 baht, so he opted for testing at the hospital’s COVID-19 department under the Gold Card universal health insurance scheme. Because he showed symptoms, and the doctor decided that he qualified as being at risk, his test was free of charge.

After waiting for 8 hours, and despite barely showing any symptoms at the time, his test came back positive.

“I felt lost,” Wuttisak said, “but I thought there was a chance that I contracted it, and I’d done some research. I knew it’s not scary. I didn’t have any pre-existing condition, so I should be alright, but I was a little bit worried. At that time, there were less than a hundred patients. At first, when I had to stay in a single room, it was very difficult. I was thinking a lot of things and worrying about everything, even though I was okay, but it could be a side effect of the antiviral drug. It gives you diarrhoea, anxiety, nausea, and breathing difficulty. When I was alone, there was a moment too when I wondered if I was going to die. When I moved to a shared room, we started sharing our experiences. Everyone has been through that point. Maybe it’s because we were the first cases, so it’s like they are testing the drug. It could be a strong drug, and then they keep adjusting it after.”

Wuttisak observes that COVID-19 is a disease without clear indicative symptoms. Some patients present with a fever and muscle pain, some with coughing and a sore throat, some with headaches, while others show almost no symptoms. From his conversations with other patients, he found that everyone experienced a loss of taste and smell. For some people, this lasted for a week, while for others, the symptom persisted even after they’ve recovered from the disease. He also said that 90% of the patients who were being treated at the same time as him were not severely ill, unless they had pre-existing conditions or were elderly.

Wuttisak was admitted to Siriraj Hospital for 10 days. He was then sent to Golden Jubilee Medical Centre at Mahidol University after testing found a reduced amount of the virus in his sample. He stayed there for 28 days, until he longer tested positive for the virus and was no longer contagious.

Throughout that 28-day period, Wuttisak said he only paid 240 baht to Siriraj Hospital. Everything else was free of charge.

Wuttisak said that one of his friends who lives in the US told him that people have to wait several days before they can get tested, and afterwards, they have to wait 5 days for the result. If they test positive, the hospital will tell them to stay at home, and only severe cases will be admitted to hospital.

According to an announcement from the Thai Ministry of Public Health, all hospitals must accept COVID-19 patients for treatment until they recover to the best of the hospital’s abilities, and if the patient is to be referred to another hospital, the referral must be done appropriately and without charging the patient for their treatment or referral.

Wuttisak posted on his personal Facebook profile that he has contracted COVID-19 and asked people who came into contact with him to monitor themselves for symptoms and, if possible, to go into self-quarantine. As a result, he and those around him were subjected to social prejudice against those who contracted the disease during the current pandemic.

“I have to go and apologize to everyone,” Wuttisak said. “It happened to my father, my partner, my friends. My father lives in another province, and we haven’t seen each other for several weeks. I haven’t seen him since before I got sick, and there is definitely no chance that he could contract the virus from me, but what is unbelievable is that the District Officer went to see my father. In the end, he was quarantined in his house and was not allowed to go anywhere for three days, and he has to get tested. He has to get a throat and nose swab, which is painful. My partner was ordered by people at work to get tested as a confirmation. One of the friends I play football with was evicted from his condo. There’s a restaurant near my house that I went to a long time ago and posted about on Facebook. Some people dug up the post and said that I’ve just went there, so people didn’t want to go there anymore and they have had to close down.

“Is this how we are going to live in Thai society? No one dares to speak out because this is what happens to them. Today, there are thousands of people who have been cured. No one dares to come out and give an interview and this is why. If you speak out, you drag your friends, your family and people close to you down with you. There are just people disgusted with you. They are against you, but I want to give people the correct information. Prevention is important, but it shouldn’t be like this. Don’t forget that a disease like this will be with us forever. Like other flus, everyone has the chance of getting it, and it’s not as bad as SARS or MERS. With MERS, you have a 30%-40% chance of dying. With SARS, you have 10%, but for COVID-19, it’s above 1%, which is very low, lower than cancer or heart disease.”

Wuttisak also said that there are people who have been treated for COVID-19 and were cured, and before they leave the hospital and go home, public health officials will go to their house to check the condition of their residence and inform people in the community. Wuttisak said that he knows of two cases of someone who was being treated at the same time as himself who were blocked from returning to their apartment by people who live in the same building and had to go and stay with their family.

“It’s not like they refused to quarantine. Those cases deserved to be criticized. But here the doctors said they can go home, and they even have a medical certificate. They should be able to go home. Some people live alone and don’t interact with people, so the hospitals try to send them home to make space in the hospital for the new cases that come in, but the society doesn’t listen. If you don’t believe the doctors, if you don’t believe the officials, how are we going to live?

“None of the people who got sick want to spread the virus because we know it’s a waste of time. The symptoms might not be bad, but it’s a long time before your body can rebuild its immune system. It takes at least 14 days, and you have to stay in quarantine for another 28 days to be sure.”

At the same time, there is the scientific theory of “herd immunity” which is a theory that when more people are cured of the disease, people in society who are not immune will automatically be protected, and that future outbreaks will be less likely. According to this theory, at least 60% of the population has to have contracted the disease to create herd immunity. 

The media is also part of the problem. Wuttisak said that an unnamed mainstream media outlet took his Facebook post and used it in their report without asking for his permission.

“They didn’t censor my name or my face, didn’t ask for permission, and most importantly, what they said didn’t match what I wrote. I wrote about prevention, but they reported it as a case from the boxing stadiums, and they said that everyone who contracted the virus from the boxing stadiums were severe cases, even though my symptoms weren’t bad. As a result, people were calling me, asking why I said I was fine when the news said that I had a bad case of the disease. It’s made me lose faith in this channel. How much media ethics is there? How ethical are they with their sources?”

Wuttisak said that the media like to report that the boxing stadiums are the main virus spreading grounds, so the so-called boxing gurus who were at the stadiums were stigmatized by the society, even though many cases also came from nightlife establishments. Wuttisak said that the group of patients who came in at the same time as him got the virus from the boxing stadiums, but after that, it was people who work in pubs and bars, of which they were also many.

Meanwhile, some theorized that the virus found at the boxing stadiums came from Italy, and that one of the ‘gurus’ caught the virus from a family member who recently returned from Italy, but Wuttisak disagreed. He thinks that the virus might not have come from one person, as it was very widespread, and he also caught the virus even though he is a receptionist and stayed only on the ground floor, and did not go into the stadium itself, so he thinks that the virus may have been spread by many people, and may have come from foreign tourists who did not go through any screening measure other than having their temperature taken.

Yong Poovorawan, Head of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, posted on his Facebook page on 12 April:

“The new coronavirus, which started spreading in Thailand in January, is the strain that came from China. It is the Wuhan strain, the L (leucine) type. Later, many outbreaks took place in March in boxing stadiums and places of entertainment in Thonglo, and these were found that to be the same strain, the S (serine) type, which is not different. Saying that the boxing stadium strain is worse than the Thonglo strain is therefore not true. The boxing stadium strain and the Thonglo strain did not come from Italy. The Italy strain is also found in Thailand, in people who came back from Italy. It is the L (leucine) type. The outbreak in Bangkok in March up to today is more the S (serine) type than the L (leucine) type. The virus which was found spreading in Bangkok has similar characteristics, so we can’t conclude that the boxing stadium strain is worse than the strain found in places of entertainment. The severity probably depends on the patient. The boxing stadium group may have been more at risk, older, and with more underlying condtions than the Thonglo group…”

Wuttisak said “these day, some people like to just consume dramatic news, like how many people died today and how many people are in critical condition, but they might not be open to other information, such as that people who are cured of the disease cannot spread the virus, or that the symptoms may be mild and there is a high chance of recovery. But they are afraid until they become hateful towards other people, even though if we use proper protection, keep a distance, wear a mask, wash our hands often, this will help to greatly reduce the risk.”

InterviewNutcha TantivitayapitakCOVID-19coronavirusSocial stigmatisationPandemicWuttisak Muangmaitong
Categories: Prachatai English

Media have different views on being locked-down under curfew

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-04-16 18:43
Submitted on Thu, 16 Apr 2020 - 06:43 PM

As journalists are not exempt from the 10pm - 4am nationwide curfew, some face a difficult time trying to do their job and are upset by the stance taken by the Thai Journalists Association. There are calls for a more friendly policy toward the media during the outbreak.

Cameramen and journalists at the parliament, Bangkok (file photo)

On the night of 3 April, Hathairat Phaholtap, the Thai editor of The Isaan Record, an independent media outlet based in northeastern Thailand and a former senior journalist at Thai PBS, was out making a live Facebook video of the first night under curfew in Khon Kaen Province.

Shortly after 10pm, she was asked by a police officer at an inter-provincial checkpoint to stop her live video.

“The police then came to tell me ‘Ma’am, it’s past the time for reporting. It’s a curfew. You should respect the curfew’”, Hathairat quoted the scripted response from the police.

The role of journalists during the COVID-19 curfew has been restricted since day 1. As of now (15 April) only workers in certain occupations are allowed out. Those who want to cover the news have to get permission on a case by case basis.

Under such conditions, journalists are uncertain whether they can report during the curfew in a timely manner. The curfew also gives the authorities 6 extra hours to act without immediate scrutiny.

However, the media response in Thailand has differed.

Curfew poses ‘no problem’

Mongkol Bangprapa, a Bangkok Post reporter and President of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), said that a meeting of the TJA and Thai media organizations mostly agreed that the curfew poses no problem for covering the news.

“Although there is now a 6-hour curfew, in reality it has not been a clear obstacle in practice for the Thai media to do its duty. It can be seen that workers on late shifts are still able to return home. In case of covering ongoing stories, the Thai media, especially the mainstream media, can cooperate with the relevant authorities.

“In fact, I think that everybody in an incident has a mobile phone that can record the situation. Afterwards, the media can be notified and can follow up the story in the remaining time, because it does not mean that if the media is on patrol during the curfew, they would accidentally be exactly on the scene.” Mongkol said.

The TJA chair said that COVID-19 is a health crisis, not political. The Thai media would not hesitate to cooperate with the state over the 6-hour curfew . Moreover, it would set an example that everybody should abide under one law.

Curfew poses ‘more’ problems

Hathairat, who got through that night without being prosecuted by showing her press credentials, said that she was upset with the lack of opposition from the TJA and media in Bangkok to the infringement against media freedom. Preventing the media from covering stories may endanger people who risk abuse of power by the authorities.

“With pictures of the atmosphere in the country, journalists are the ones who record history. These pictures are very valuable to the history of Thai society. The fact that you obstruct us like this is the same as blocking people from finding out things, which is the basic right of the people to receive information.”

“Under the emergency decree, if you cover up information, like China, the more you cover up, the more the disease spreads. Let the professional media that have this duty, report the news, rather than have people receive false information from shares.  Wouldn’t that be more correct?” said Hathairat .

When the COVID-19 first began to spread in Wuhan, the Chinese authorities were serious about covering up the story of the outbreak. As a result, the situation became worse and people lost trust in information from the authorities.

Hathairat, The Isaan Record and some journalists in northeastern region are establishing the Isaan Journalists Association. She said that it would represent journalists in the region as the central media and media associations have left them feeling defenceless in this outbreak.

“What are the central media doing? The TJA that was once an organization that journalists could rely upon, what are you doing? Don’t you know that we are being deprived of the rights and freedoms to do our job?”

“We call on the central media to come out and do something. Local media in the provinces are finding it hard to access information especially after the curfew. We are sure to be arrested when we go out” the editor of The Isaan Record said.

Gwen Robinson, Chief Editor of the Nikkei Asian Review and President of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT), said that she is disappointed that some big Thai media and the TJA do not see curfew restraints as an issue. The media may not be able to live up to government expectations in reporting accurate information under these conditions.

“I think it’s very disappointing, because I don't think they’re thinking about what could come next if you accept this without even asking them to ‘please reconsider’.

“We don't want fake news obviously, but they can't expect us to get accurate information when we haven’t had permission to go out.”

Media-friendly policies are needed

Robinson said that the media had to secure special permission from the police chief or the Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Pornpipat Benyasri. However, past experience shows that asking permission from a high-ranking officer may take a long time.

“If someone says to you, there’s a new checkpoint in Bangkok on Sukhumvit Road, if you want to go and see it, yo might have to write the letter now and maybe they will give the answer within 5 days.”

On 7 April, the FCCT, the Matichon group and several independent media like The Isaan Record, Thai Enquirer and Thisrupt, issued an open letter calling for a curfew exemption for journalists without having to ask for permission. There has still been no significant change in policy.

“We think that Thai government [has] issued an official press accreditation and a lot of our members are officially accredited, why can't journalists who are officially accredited use their press ID card? It makes sense if we can prove that we are doing a story, then you can show the card.” Gwen suggested.

Hathairat suggests that the government should exempt the media, official or unofficial, from the curfew like public health workers. A letter of accreditation from the editorial team or a press ID card should be enough to identify themselves.

Mana Treelayapewat, Vice-President of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) and a mass communications academic, suggests that the state should facilitate the media in exercising the freedoms and rights of the media to access information, for example, providing health safety kits or having officers assist them at checkpoints.

“I think that during the curfew nobody goes outside. Journalists themselves are a group who also have a risk of being infected. But if they decided to go reporting, with the approval of their editors, that should be their right. For example, going outside to cover homeless people, how they live during the curfew should be their right which should be possible under precautions against infection.” Mana said.

Featurefreedom of the pressmedia freedomHathairat PhaholtapGwen RobinsonForeign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT)Source: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87150
Categories: Prachatai English

CAAT extends ban on all international flights to Thailand from 18-30 April

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-04-16 16:37
Submitted on Thu, 16 Apr 2020 - 04:37 PM

The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has announced an extension of the temporary ban on almost all incoming international flights from 18-30 April. Those arriving in special flights are subject to disease control measures.

Suvarnabhumi airport (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

On 15 April, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) website issued a notification extending a temporary ban on all international flights to Thailand from 18 April 2020 at 17.00 UTC to 30 April 2020 at 17.00 UTC.  All flight permits granted for this period are canceled.

The notification was issued for the prevention and control of COVID-19. The first notification banned incoming flights from 3-6 April and extended to 18 April.

The ban does not apply to state or military aircraft, emergency landings, technical landings without disembarkation, humanitarian, medical or relief flights, repatriation flights and cargo flights.

Passengers on exempt flights will be subject to 14-day state quarantine, and regulations under the Emergency Decree.

Since 22 March, CAAT has required Thai nationals to have Fit to Fly certificates issued no more than 72 hours before traveling and a certifying letter from their local Thai Embassy before being allowed to board a flight home.

On 25 March, Arthit Suriyawongkul, a Thai PhD student in Ireland, filed a complaint with the Administrative Court calling for the repeal of the CAAT travel restrictions. He claimed that they violate the right to freedom of movement guaranteed in the Thai constitution.

On 3 April, the Court dismissed the complaint. The Court stated that it does not have the power to rule on the implementation of the Emergency Decree. However, as the rights and freedoms of the complainant were affected, the complainant can file a complaint at the court of justice.

NewsCivil Aviation Authorities of Thailand (CAAT)COVID-19Freedom of movementTravel ban
Categories: Prachatai English

Mentally ill man prosecuted for posts about King Rama IX commits suicide

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-04-15 21:32
Submitted on Wed, 15 Apr 2020 - 09:32 PM

Nathee (family name withheld), who was on bail pending an appeal against a conviction for expressing opinions about King Rama IX on Facebook, was found dead in a canal on 13 April after succeeding in his third suicide attempt. Doctors and his father testified that he was mentally ill, but this was still not enough to escape conviction.

Original photo source: Wikipedia

The suicide took place on 12 April, and the body was found in the next afternoon. Nathee had tried to committed suicide twice before but had been rescued.

Nathee, 28 years old at that time, was arrested in September 2018, over 2 Facebook posts in 2016. The first expressed his own opinion of wanting to teach King Rama IX about being enthusiastic about a ‘glass half-full’. The second made a joke out of the license plate number of the late King’s car.

He was charged by the police under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, and the Computer Crime Act. Later, the charges were changed to violations of the Computer Crime Act and Article 116 of the Criminal Code on sedition.

In December, 2019, Nathee was found guilty under the Computer Crime Act and sentenced to 3 years in prison, reduced to 2 years because the court found his testimony useful. However, the court ruled that Nathee had not proved his defence that he was incapable of controlling himself and unaware that he was violating the law when committing the offence.

He was on bail pending an appeal when he committed suicide. His reasons for committing suicide are as yet unknown.

The case would originally be heard in a military court as the lèse majesté law is regarded as related to national security and all such cases were sent to the military courts after the 2014 coup d’état until September 2019.

However, as the lèse majesté charge was not filed, Nathee's case was heard in the criminal court.

Mental illness, not enough to dismiss the case

Nathee said that he had bipolar disorder. He claimed that he would be in a normal state of mind until he surfed the net. He would then become angry and uncontrollable, feeling that his nervous system was connected to the internet signal.

In that state, he would post many messages, which he would later delete when his anger subsided.

The court verdict shows that doctors had diagnosed Nathee with a mental disorder and that treatment would take a long time. His father also testified that Nathee had been under treatment with Decha Hospital since before he committed the offence.

During testimony, Nathee pleaded that he made the 2 posts while he was unable to control himself and unaware that was violating the law.

He also testified that he thought of himself as a Buddha and that his body was dominated by an extra-terrestrial being.

The court dropped the sedition charge as Nathee’s act did not cause any unrest. However, he was guilty of uploading data which is an offence related to national security. The posts that were made public were likely to cause damage to the institution of the monarchy which is highly respected by the people, and amounted an offence against national security.

Nathee said that his parents separated when he was 13 years old. He lived with his father until he was 26. He left home when he learned about an arrest warrant against him from a relative who works in the military. He rented a house until he was arrested.

NewsLèse-majestéArticle 112Natheefreedom of expression
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: COVID-19 and democracy

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-04-15 15:40
Submitted on Wed, 15 Apr 2020 - 03:40 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: COVID-19 and democracy MultimediaStephffCOVID-19coronavirus
Categories: Prachatai English

Right groups call for Thai authorities to ensure the health and safety of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-04-15 15:05
Submitted on Wed, 15 Apr 2020 - 03:05 PMHuman Rights Watch

11 human rights organizations issued a joint open letter to the Department of Corrections Director-General Pol Col Naras Savestanan calling for the Thai authorities to take immediate steps to release prisoners and ensure the health and safety of all those in detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The letter, released yesterday (14 April), states that

"We, the 11 undersigned national and international human rights organizations, express our gravest concern over the potentially disastrous impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the prison population and prison staff in Thailand.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to immediately begin addressing the long-standing issue of overcrowding in places of detention in Thailand. These include prisons as well as immigration detention centers.

With Thailand’s total prison occupancy at over 300% capacity, the implementation of social distancing and other protective measures aimed at ensuring the health and safety of all persons is currently impossible for the 379,190 prisoners (331,405 men and 47,785 women).

We recall that on 27 March 2020, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged governments to “work quickly” to reduce the number of people in detention and to take “urgent action” to protect the health and safety of people deprived of their liberty.[1]

Several Asian countries - namely Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Iran, and Sri Lanka - have already released prisoners from overcrowded places of detention to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

We therefore urge you to take all the necessary steps to immediately release significant numbers of prisoners in order to reduce prison congestion and mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities. The release of the following categories of individuals, currently detained for non-serious and/or non-violent offenses, should be prioritized:

  • Prisoners over the age of 60.
  • Sick prisoners, particularly those with underlying medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer).
  • Prisoners awaiting trial.
  • Prisoners sentenced to terms of up to two years.
  • Prisoners with one year or less left to serve.
  • Prisoners detained for immigration offenses.
  • Pregnant women.
  • All others detained without sufficient legal basis.

Those released from detention facilities should undergo adequate medical screening to ensure they receive, if necessary, proper care and follow-up. They may also be subjected to appropriate non-custodial measures, in line with the principles outlined by the Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the “Tokyo Rules”).

We welcome measures recently introduced by the Department of Corrections to create isolation wards within certain prisons to screen newly admitted prisoners. However, much more needs to be done to ensure that prisoners are not excluded from the enjoyment of the right to health - which includes the prevention, treatment, and control of epidemic diseases. This right is guaranteed “without discrimination of any kind” by Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Thailand is a state party.

For those who remain in detention, the Department of Corrections must ensure that conditions conform to international standards, such as the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Nelson Mandela Rules”) and the Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the “Bangkok Rules”). In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, particular emphasis must be placed on the implementation of measures related to accommodation, personal hygiene, and healthcare, including gender-specific healthcare.

Symptomatic prisoners and prison staff should receive COVID-19 testing and, if found positive, receive adequate treatment in hospitals equipped for COVID-19 patients. Protective equipment, such as face masks, clean water, soap, and all other items necessary to maintain personal health, hygiene, and cleanliness, should be made available to all prisoners.

Lastly, following the decision by the Department of Corrections to temporarily suspend all prison visits, we urge the relevant authorities to ensure that prisoners are able to maintain regular communication with the outside world. As a matter of priority, the Department of Corrections should put in place alternative measures to physical visitation, through regular electronic and telecommunications between prisoners and family members such as video calls, phone calls, and e-mails.

We call upon you to seriously consider the above-mentioned recommendations and urgently act upon them.

Thank you for your attention to this very important matter.

Sincerely yours,

  1. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  2. Fairly Tell
  3. FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights
  4. Fortify Rights
  5. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  6. Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
  7. Manushya Foundation
  8. Protection International
  9. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
  10. Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
  11. Working Group for Political Prisoners (Thailand)"

As of 15 April Thailand has 2,643 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 1,497 of which have already been discharged from hospital, and a death toll of 43. 

Pick to PostHuman Rights WatchCOVID-19coronavirusprisoncriminal justice
Categories: Prachatai English

Curfew arrests soar as Thai government tried to control outbreak

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-04-14 15:14
Submitted on Tue, 14 Apr 2020 - 03:14 PM

As of 10 April, a week after the kingdom-wide 10 pm - 4 am curfew was declared, more than 5 thousand violators had been arrested. By contrast, the accumulated number of COVID-19 patients is around 2,400.

A closed dessert shop in a shopping mall.

From 3-9 April, there were 495 new COVID-19 patients, but 5,408 people (5,197 Thais and 307 non-Thais) were arrested for violating the curfew involving 3 deaths. 1,416 more were given a warning by the authorities.

According to the Office of the Judiciary, 5,071 out of the arrested have been brought to court and 4,830 cases were adjudicated.

The curfew, declared by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who also heads the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), is one among many attempts to control the COVID-19 outbreak under the Emergency Decree declared on 26 March.

Bangkok saw the highest number of violators with 334; there were 303 in Nonthaburi and 255 in Phuket.

By law, the authorities can arrest people who venture outside during the curfew. Those who violate the curfew can face up to 2 years in jail, a 40,000 baht fine or both.

Violators cases varies, death included

On 7 April, the daughter of the Phitsanulok Provincial Governor was arrested for breaking the curfew in Mukdahan Province as she was travelling back from eating out.

Although some media reports say that she was drunk and threatened the police, her friends told Thai PBS that this was not true. The Mukdahan court handed down a sentence of 6 months in jail and a 10,000 baht fine. The sentence was reduced by half as she confessed and the prison sentence was suspended for 1 year.

On 3 April, a total 10 youngsters were arrested in Si Sa Ket Province for breaking the curfew. The court gave them 6 months in jail and 25,000 baht fine, halved because they confessed. However, 2 were unable to pay the fine so have to spend 25 days in jail instead. (Source: Naewna)

On 8 April, a man was arrested at 10.30 pm in a roadside hut in Chainat Province. He claimed that he was travelling from another district with his wife, but they had a quarrel and the wife abandoned him midway.

However, the wife did not come back to pick him up. The Chainat court handed down a sentence of 15 days in jail. (Source: Siamrath)

On 7 April, a Subdistrict Chief in Surat Thani province reported that a man and a monk were arrested while foraging for wild honey after the curfew. While he was on the way to investigate, they were shot dead by Manop Kopin, the Village Head who arrested them. Manop claimed that they pulled out weapons (gun and knife) on him so he had to defend himself.

However, Khaosod Online later reported that the alleged gun was 10 metres away from the bodies and was not loaded. The police are investigating.

On 7 April, a middle-aged taxi driver was arrested at Si Sa Ket Province at 00.05 am. He was held in the police station jail where in the morning the police found him with respiratory problems.

He was admitted to the district hospital at 07.10 am and reportedly passed away at 08.00 am. The post mortem concluded that death was caused by a lung inflammation and no coronavirus was found.

However, his relatives doubted the cause of death because the driver had been healthy. They requested further investigation of the CCTV footage in the station. (Source: One 31)

NewsCOVID-19curfewSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/04/87151
Categories: Prachatai English

Songs, tales, tears: State violence in the periphery from past to present

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-04-13 19:00
Submitted on Mon, 13 Apr 2020 - 07:00 PMSarayut Tangprasert1
The Deep South: The Numbness of Repeated Loss

 

Saya berita nok beri tahu
I have news to tell you

Dalae bongo berito hok Baru-baru
Breaking news from Ba ngo Subdistrict

Demo bedey ore dok tebae kayu
They shot people cutting wood

Buleh mikey kito anok Melayu
(Wondering) Perhaps because they were Malay

Sudoh bedey tinga bedey disitu
They shot them and left the guns there.

Manokoh une-une
Where is the law

Di dalae negeri siyae
in this Siamese State?

This is an excerpt from the song, Menangis jadi darah, composed by Irfan Wo-je, a young Malay boy, which was shared widely on social media last January. It tells about the killing of three young men who had gone to cut wood up on Ta-we mountain in Bo ngo Subdistrict, Ra-ngae District, Narathiwat Province, at the end of 2019.

The state gave out information that it was a clash between paramilitary Rangers and RKK armed forces. Later, the Human Rights Protection Committee, appointed by the Fourth Army Area Commander, concluded the soldiers mistook the dead men for terrorists and they were killed as they were running away. However, the families of the deceased insisted that all the young men possessed nothing but tools for cutting wood and chainsaws.

Images of the deceased were circulated on social media, showing that all of them were shot in the head; two of them sitting crossed-leg on the ground, leaning forward.

The end of public interest in this case was probably the order transferring the Commander of the 45th Ranger Forces Regiment out of the area, and the Commander of the Fourth Army Area issued an apology, along with a compensation payment of 500,000 baht for each death.

If one counts the theft of guns from Pi Leng army camp on January 4, 2004 as the starting point of 15 years (January 2004 – June 2020), the area of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and four districts of Songkhla have witnessed at least 20,323 violent incidents, which resulted in at least 6,997 deaths and 13,143 casualties, 61% of which were civilians or “soft targets”.

This is just one incident in the violence that keeps repeating in an area that is culturally different, remote and peripheral. This created among the general public a feeling of numbness and otherness. It did not lead to a sense of community. What remains are the memories and pain of the families and friends of the same place and ethnicity.

2 The Red Barrels: Memories of the Wounds that Nobody Takes Responsibility for

 

Going north from the Tawe mountain range, across Songkhla province, to Phatthalung Province and turning the clock back to around 1970’s, the fight between the Thai state and the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) was intensifying. This area had the highest losses caused by political violence, both in terms of quantity and form. The song, Red Barrels is one reflection of the loss.

They say (life in) Patthalung is easy
I think it’s truly dangerous
No matter which way we go, it’s scary
If they get angry with us, even a little, we die

They catch you and put you in a barrel 
Pour petrol on you and light it 
Charges of communism they think up 
They catch our brothers and put them into an oven and burn them

They paint them red

Red Barrels is the title of a song composed by folk singer Saeng Thammada (Saengthammada Kitisatieanporn), a member of the Chon Yut band, and a former revolutionary artist in the Banthat mountain range. He used the melody of Khang Khuen Duean Ngai by the Suntharaphon band which was popular at the time and incorporated new lyrics reflecting the state of brutality in the south of the country. Today, Red Barrels is still available on YouTube and other social media channels.

In the book, On the Way to Banthat Mountain: the Chronicle of the Struggle with the Armed Forces of the People (2001), some of the details of the red barrel cases are recorded in the first part of the book.  A former female comrade from Phatthalung said,

“I recall that in 1965 I had just turned 7 years old. I grew up in a rather progressive family in Na Kok village. The people who were active in the village were comrades. Back then, there was no army to avoid. The military and police were spreading propaganda that the communists were cruel and barbaric. They showed movies demonizing the communists to the villagers.

“One day, I was at my aunt’s. I had just found out that someone who was a comrade had fled the soldiers and come to our place. He was someone the villagers liked. I did not know what communists were but the person the soldiers wanted was “Mr. Khiao”. The soldiers came in many GMC vehicles. Each of them camouflaged themselves with tree branches. It didn’t matter whose house it was, they searched them all. Mr. Ket (Mr. Khiao) was sitting in my aunt’s elevated house when the soldiers found him. The soldiers called on him to give himself up and admit that he was a communist, but he did not. They spent over two hours trying to convince him and said that they would shoot into the house. Mr. Ket was afraid that the house owner would be in danger, so decided to jump down from the house. As soon as he touched the ground, he had no chance to run, as hundreds of the soldiers’ guns fired into him until his body was torn to pieces.

“The soldiers talked among themselves that they had shot dead the communist. I have never believed the government since then. The villagers no longer believed that the communists were cruel.”

The Starting Point of the Red Barrels Incident

 

It was 1971. A company of soldiers was stationed in the garden of my house. They called it Ko Lum Camp. They fired artillery, brought people in to kill them, took people up in planes and kicked them out, and caught people to burn them in the red barrels. There were arrests of villagers from Lam Nai, Khuan Khanun, Pa Phayom and Bang Kaeo villages who were brought to Ko Lum Camp, men, women, children, and the elderly. The first was called Mr. Win who was taken to be killed. He was the first corpse in the village. His relatives were anxiously searching for him. They later found 2-3 corpses at a Muslim village called Put. The Muslims had buried them. Once they were exhumed, it was impossible to identify who was who and whether they had been tortured or shot. The men, if they did not escape to the jungle, were brought in and killed.

This record concluded that there were as many as 3,008 deaths from cases of being kicked off planes and burned in barrels, citing as the source a military officer with lieutenant colonel rank in the 4th Army Area, whose hometown was in Phatthalung Province; however, a political military officer from the 4th Army Area denied this figure, while explaining that 3,008 people referred to the total number of deaths from Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani provinces combined, and not red barrel cases alone. 

Thairath newspaper on 5 February 1975 published news about the Red Barrels Incident.

On 4 February 1975, Colonel Hanphong Sitthi-anon, Assistant Director of the Administration and Coordination Section of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), admitted cases where there were true reports that the officials under the Communist Suppression Operations Command, currently named ISOC, had committed a massacre of approximately 300 villagers in several districts in Phatthalung Province by pouring gasoline over them and setting fire to them, known in the news as burning in the red barrels.

After the CPT in the south had managed to recruit more members and allies and expand their movement into an armed group, the government, in response, adopted a harsh suppression policy, and dispatched security units to be stationed in the southern region.

Amidst these security activities, a large number of villagers were detained and taken for interrogation to operations areas of the security forces . In 1972, a significant number of villagers who had been taken to several military camps for interrogation went missing. When asked about the disappearances, the authorities explained that they had already released them to go home. Afterwards, there began to be rumours about the “red barrels” spreading all over Phatthalung and surrounding provinces.

On the 13 February 1975, the National Student Center of Thailand (NSCT) and the Anti-Dictatorship National Joint Front organized a public debate at Sanam Luang and issued a statement about the Red Barrels case calling on the government to immediately dissolve ISOC to stop officials from indiscriminately killing people and to provide compensation to the families of the victims.

On the 15 February 1975, villagers from Phatthalung Province, together with Mr. Phinij Jarusombat, the Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs of the SCT, met with General Kris Sivara, the Commander in Chief of the Army. General Kris admitted that the red barrels cases had really taken place and announced his resignation from the position of Director of ISOC on the following day. 
It seems as though the case of the red barrels had reached a preliminary conclusion at this point.

Screenshots from A documentary titled Yon-Roi, Ton Thang Daeng (Tracing Back, the Red Barrels Episode) which was broadcast on the ITV channel.

Apart from the book, we have discovered a documentary titled Yon-Roi, Ton Thang Daeng (Tracing Back, the Red Barrels Episode), which was broadcast on the ITV channel by Thepchai Yong (the date and time of broadcast are unclear). The film conducted interviews with people present at the scene as well as discharged military officers who were also present at the scene.

The documentary shows that in 1970 four joint army companies from the Senanarong Camp set up the first base in Ban Tha Chiat, Ton District, Phatthalung Province. The reporter interviewed one former enlisted soldier, who was stationed there. He gave details that the camp had a command unit called a Small Unit, which patrolled the areas of Phatthalung, Satun, Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Songkhla in order to track down and eliminate communists on a blacklist. One unit was directly responsible for killing. They shot people and returned immediately, then soldiers like him went in to clear the scene. They later established camps in Ban Phut and Ban Saphan Muai, making 3 in Phatthalung.

Chaelam Wasuthep was one of the small group of people who managed to escape from the camp at Ban Phut. He testified that he was believed to be a member of the Communist Party. He was convinced that if he was arrested, he would be killed for certain. He just did not know by what method. So, Chaelam decided to escape. He said that he did not do it to save his life, but so that he would die quickly. He did not want to be tortured. He succeeded in escaping but he got caught again. Luckily, his relative who was a police officer bailed him out and saved him from death. However, his misfortune continued because when Chaelam had managed to escape for the second time, the authorities went to look for him at his house and detained his wife at the Ban Phut camp. He never heard from his wife again.

Jedot Khamnurak, a former military officer who used to be involved in the communist crackdown, recounted what had happened. He said that in the investigation process the suspect was made to sit on a chair, and the executioner sat behind. The colonel was in front asking questions. He asked, the other answered, sometimes to the point, sometimes not. If he just raised his eyebrow once (the signal), the executioner would beat him and take him to be hanged to death. Then the body was stuffed into a red barrel, gasoline was poured on it, and it was set alight.

3 Na Sai – Na Hin Kong: The Forgotten Truth

 

 

Na Sai and Na Hin Gong are the names of villages in the northeast. They suffered losses from the burning of houses and forced evacuation during the war against the communists. They were familiar names to the ears of the comrades and the villagers in the Phu Phan Mountain area, and are being forgotten with time.

Chaiwat Suravichai was a student leader during the 14 October 1973 incident and a journalist in the mass media, who later joined fight with the CPT. He created a pocket book containing images and a chronology titled Het Koet Thi Ban Na Sai (What Happened at Ban Na Sai) (1974). This recounted the burning of the village in January 1974.

The image from the book titled "Het Koet Thi Ban Na Sai" (What Happened at Ban Na Sai) published in 1974

Regarding the number of houses burned down, the state claimed there were only 20, but in fact the number was 106. The villagers’ belongings were looted and there were executions of many villagers, including women and children (Mr. San (50 years old), Mrs. Sai (40 years old), and Aem Mattharat (6 years old) were killed and their bodies burned along with their homes).

For Ban Na Hin Kong, far less data is available. At present, it is located in Kok Tum Subdistrict, Dong Luang District, Mukdahan Province (at the time of the incident it was in Na Kae District, Nakhon Phanom Province). According to the testimony of the villagers, the burning actually happened at the end of 1973. The report Ban Na … Jak Sai Pen Hin Kong (Ban Na … from Sand to Piles of Stones) by Thawan Wongsuphap in Prachachat magazine on 23 May 1974, states that on the 14 October 1973 the CPT announced Ban Na Hin Kong was in its area of influence. They were able to hold it for only 18 days before the Thai army attacked and successfully reclaimed the area. The authorities set fire to up to 57 houses and rice barns from a total of 71.

Win Raekchuen

Win Raekchuen, a 55-year-old Ban Na Hin Kong villager, recounted that he was 8 years old when his house was burned. But there was no help whatsoever. They had to move to Khao Wong District. On the day they had to move, there were confrontations from 5 a.m. Luckily, several houses in that area had underground shelters between them because clashes were common and there were planes dropping bombs. Ban Na Hin Kong villagers were evacuated to a temporary camp in Khao Wong District, which was located near a fresh market. Where they lived had a cement floor, corrugated metal roof, and no walls. Each family must sort out their own space. There wasn’t even food. They had to go to beg food from local villagers, who were Phu Thai. Later, they moved to a Nikhom Sang Ton Eng (self-built settlement). 

Win spoke of the atmosphere at the time and the reason why their houses had to be burned down: 
“There were no prisons at the time. Anyone could kill anyone. Soldiers killed villagers. Comrades killed suspected spies. No one ever accepted responsibility for any killings. They blamed others. At the time very many people were killed. Many died without knowing who killed them. Some of the bodies were never found. 

“The soldiers didn’t want the communists to come and eat with the villagers, didn’t want the villagers to have any relations with the communists, didn’t want the villagers to miss their homes and come back to them. That’s why they burned our houses.
“But if there weren’t any communists, the soldiers would have treated us even worse. Before, when the soldiers came to our village, when they called out our names and we didn’t answer, they would beat or kick us. If they didn’t like your face, they slapped you. Later there were communists, there wasn’t so much of this stuff.” 

Wat Kunbunma (left) and Win Raekchuen (right)

Wat Kunbunma, aka Comrade Chaloem, a former revolutionary of Ban Na Hin Kong village, aged 72, told us “When the houses were burned down, I had already left for the jungle. I left for the jungle when I was 25. That was in 1972 but they burned our village in 1973.” 

Wat explained that the reason why they had to go into the jungle (he uses the phrase ‘left for the jungle’) with the communists, was because at the time there were activists from the CPT mobilizing in the area where Wat had lived since 1968. When the CPT became more active, the Thai state began to set up Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) camps in nearby villages. The behaviour of the VDC towards the villagers was to look down on and be insulting to them and not be friendly.  Most villagers in Ban Na Hin Kong were Bru. They tended to be looked down upon by the VDC as racially inferior, dirty, stupid, uneducated and uncivilized.

Although Wat couldn’t say who or which agency were the ones who burned down Ban Na Hin Kong as he had already gone into the jungle, he could  still remember that before Ban Na Hin Kong was burned down, Ban Pak Chong, another Bru community about three kilometres north of Ban Na Hin Kong village, was also burned down. This case was not recorded in any form of media so there are only the stories from the memories passed down among community. 

Apart from the burning, Wat also talked about the violence that happened  Ban Pak Chong. Soldiers brutally executed young men in the village by cutting off their heads.  

Mongkhon Chaokhao

We then went to Ban Pak Chong and talked to Mongkhon Chaokhao, aged 59. He is Deputy President of Kok Tum Municipal Council, Dong Luang District, Mukdahan Province. He told us that his family lost one house, one cow, one rice barn, and one brother. 

“They did all sorts of things so that we could not stay. We were threatened, kicked and whipped. More than 40 houses were burned down, some completely, some partially. Our cow was killed by a shell fired from the other side of the ditch; so was our neighbour’s buffalo.”

Mongkhon’s older brother, Matcha Chaokhao, aged 18 at the time, was one of the villagers who were arrested by the soldiers. 

“That day I was sitting with my brother when the soldiers came with a list of names. My brother went with them voluntarily. The soldiers had been setting up camp in the area for several days. When the soldiers left we waited to go and look for my brother. When we found the body, it was already decayed.”

Mongkhon said that after the death of his brother, 90% of the teenagers in the villages went into the jungle to join the CPT. He himself and his family were driven out of the area to Kham Soi settlement, Mukdahan Province, about 100 kilometres away from Ban Pak Chong. They lived there for almost eight years before Mongkhon moved back to the old village in 1982.  

Thanat Chaokhao, aged 48, is the son of Mr. Kap Chaokhao, the former Head of Ban Pak Chong in 1973 when the village was burned down.  Thanat was only two years old so he could not remember. But, his father or villagers who were there at the time later told him about it when he grew up. 
“At that time there were no local elections for village head like today. Instead it was like they were appointed by the boss (the District Chief or Deputy District Chief). They would pick someone who could read and write as village head. The old village head began to see the signs of violence, so he resigned. So they chose Kap as the head instead.

“At that time my father couldn’t eat or sleep for two to three months. When the bosses (referring to soldiers) came up from Khao Wong District, my father had to be there to greet them. There was a dress code for my father; he had to wear an olive green jacket like those of the soldiers.

When asked about the death of Matcha, Mongkhon’s older brother, and his friends in the village, Thanat said that Matcha was the same as the code name of a CPT member in another community. When the soldiers encircled the village and called out the names on the list, Matcha was arrested and eventually killed. Thanat also said that the body that was found left in the jungle had the head, hands and feet cut off but his family could tell that it was Matcha because of the clothes he wore. 

4
Ban Song Village: The killings with no songs to remember them

 

The violence of the 1960s covered a very wide area, so it is impossible to have a record of every single incident. But in many places, even though there is no official record, there are still the oral histories of people in the communities.

There is a story that a group of six teenage boys in Ban Song, Kut Pla Khao Subdistrict, Khao Wong District, Kalasin Province, were shot dead in the paddy field. Villagers there say they went out to collect toddy palm and were shot.

In Ban Song, we met Chaidi Setrit, aka Comrade Surop, a brother of one of the dead in this group, and Chop Setrit, aka Comrade Prachon, his relative. The two elderly men helped each other to sort out the incident as well as the names of those who died. 

They both insisted that the killings of the young men did take place in the village, with an ambush that shot the 6 youths when they were leaving the village through the paddy fields. Chaidi is the elder brother of Thonsan Setrit, one of those killed, and listed the names of the 4 who died: Somphon Setrit, Thonsan Setrit, Roem Phothisom and Men Thipsing. The other two, Phueak Mithamma (now dead) and Chan Kutrasaeng, were injured but managed to flee.

The shooting took place under a palm tree in the paddy field of Suanphan Thipsing’s family, which is situated near the Phu Phan mountain range. Suanphan himself is the younger brother of Men Thipsing, one of those killed. 

 Suanphan Thipsing (left) said the shooting took place under a palm tree in his family's paddy field which is situated near the Phu Phan mountain range. 

No one could recall the year in which the incident took place. But Chop Setrit linked it to the time that he received the news of the deaths of the young men while he was studying in China in 1967-8, so he deduced that it probably happened at that time. 
What we also learnt is that out of the six boys that went out the get toddy palm, only two had any connection with setting up the Communist Party (of Thailand) and that the forces that ambushed and executed the group were Volunteer Defense Corps, who were villagers who came from the same neighbourhood. 

The deaths of the four boys from such a remote area never made the news. No complaints were filed. There has been no accountability nor compensation from the state. There have not been even any police reports. There were only simple religious funeral ceremonies. And that is considered to be the end.

5 Remembering Kuan Ka Long: Forced Relocations from the Northeast to the South 

 

Kuan Ka Long Ramluek (Remembering Kuan-Ga-Long) is a song composed and sung by Nuphan Kotwong aka Phloeng Nalak, the son of villagers with no university education and a member of the CPT, who wrote the song the express his own feelings of bitterness and pain at being threatened by the state.

…I sing this lament
I want to recall pictures of the past
That have not faded from memory
Close to dawn on December 2nd 1966
The pictures that we remember are still fresh
The shimmering comet in the east
Was the symbol of being sent far away…

“…On a train
Heading to Kuan Ka Long
Passing through forests and wooded hills,
Reaching the coast of the indigo sea
The  gibbons howl
Dizzy with grief all the time
The loud roars of a leopard
Grieving to break my heart

Nuphan Kotwong aka Phloeng Nalak who composed the song titled Kuan Ka Long Ramluek (Remembering Kuan-Ga-Long).

We met Phloeng Nalak at his home in Pathum Thani Province. He is a small man in his 70s but looks younger than his age. He speaks frankly, tells you everything, and drinks heavily. He and his wife earn their living selling cheap clothes at local flea markets.

Phloeng told us that he first joined the revolutionary movement when he was 11 years old. This was perhaps because he grew up in a family which was the first group where the core CPT came to work in the area. Prachuap Rueangrat, also called Lung Siam, of the Political Affairs Unit and former Party Secretary-General, came to contact villagers in Ban Na Rai Yai, Senangkhanikhom District, Amnat Charoen Province, and married Phloeng’s aunt.

Phloeng’s father was in the first leadership cadre. So he had had the opportunity to study the theoretical ideas of the Communist Party since he was a child. Also the state of relationships between the villagers and the state officials after 1961 was not good. Police officers and the Assistant District Officers acted like the bosses over the people.

“I saw oppression and exploitation. I saw people taken advantage of by subdistrict and village heads who had been appointed by the state. The police were another good example. They were the hands and feet of the state. The police in the Sarit era were barbaric. They arrested people and kicked them off the cliffs so that nobody could see the bodies. They shot people indiscriminately. A villager couldn’t even cough. Crazy people were shot. You only had to be a suspect. They set themselves up as a kangaroo court.”

The ideological work and establishment of the Party at that time were somewhat blunt and transparent. Lung Siam had a radio which could receive news from foreign countries, which was a tool is his work with the masses to have news that would interest the villagers. Before the relocation of the villagers from Ban Na Rai Yai, there was one official from the authorities who disguised himself as a school teacher in the village.  One day this spy from the authorities was killed. Soon after that the soldiers came and took control of the village and forced some of the villagers of Ban Na Rai Yai and Ban Phon Thong – altogether about 57 households or roughly 200 people -- to move to Kuan Ka Long settlement, Satun Province.

“They tricked us into believing that if we moved, the land was good and they would arrange for the lives of the villagers to be better. But their intention was to force us to move away from our families so that we could no longer deliver food and water to our comrades. Troops were brought to encircle the whole village so that we could no longer contact those in the jungle.”

Phloeng said that at that time the area of Kuan Ka Long was still not settled.  It was forest. The authorities used tractors to level the land so that we could live there, build temporary houses from wood and corrugated sheets. Later, the authorities allocated an average of 2-3 rai of land to each family to make a living.

The situation of living in Satun was that initially, food was distributed. But later it wasn’t. The  villagers who had been relocated earned an income for their families by cutting firewood from the forest to supply the railway because at that time the railway still used steam locomotives with firewood as the energy source. As the situation quietened, the people who been relocated one by one started to move back to where they originally came from, splitting up and sneaking away from the village to get on a train at the station. It took almost two years for almost all of the villagers to move back to Ban Phon Thong and Ban Na Rai Yai. Almost all of them in the end went into jungle. Only 2-3 families still remain today in the settlement they built themselves at Kuan Ka Long.

6
Society with No Lessons Learned

 

The war against the communists ended long ago over but the facts about the violence of the time are still not clear.

We do not know the exact number of lives lost, particularly of villagers living in remote areas. Even the losses that happened in the middle of the city such as the events of Oct 14, Oct 6, May 1992, and May 2010, still remain obscure and the facts have not been proven.

There has been no punishment for those responsible for these events, so it is hard for Thai society to learn lessons in order to prevent violence in the future.

FeatureIn-DepthRed BarrelRed Drums killingCommunist Party of ThailandmassacreCold Warstate violenceDeep SouthKuan Ka LongNorth EastNational Student Center of Thailand (NSCT)
Categories: Prachatai English

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

Prachatai English - Sat, 2020-04-11 14:33
Submitted on Sat, 11 Apr 2020 - 02:33 PM

10 April, 2020 marks 10 years since the military crackdown on the Red Shirt protest around the Ratchadamnoen area. This was a prelude to even more terrifying state-led violence in the following month. None of the perpetrators have ever been brought to justice.

Red Shirts people and the soldiers confronting each other around Makawan Bridge, Ratchadamnoen Nok Road on 10 April 2010

On 10 April 2010 the military sent in armed troops against the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or the Red Shirts, who had organized mass protests against the government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The first of a series of crackdowns took place at Phan Fa Bridge and Ratchadamnoen Avenue during the day, and at the Khok Wua intersection, Tanao Road, the Democracy Monument, Satriwitthaya School and Dinso Road in the evening. 

The Thai military carried out the crackdown under the codename ‘Kho Khuen Phuen Thi’ (request to reclaim the area). The crackdown resulted in 26 deaths (21 civilians, 1 journalist (Hirayuki Muramoto, a Japanese Reuters photographer) and 5 soldiers.

The first to be shot was Kriangkrai Khamnoi, a 23-year-old tuk-tuk driver. He was shot at Makkhawan Bridge and died later. The court later ruled in the inquest that the fatal bullet was shot from the soldiers’ side.

After the crackdown, the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), a group of top government officials dealing with the UDD protests, insisted that government forces did not shoot protestors. The UDD denies having shot an M79 at the soldiers and say they do not know who did.

The Pheu Thai Party later showed a photograph indicating that Thai military violated the principles on the use of force.

Besides the protest in Bangkok, there were also several around the country. The UDD in Khon Kaen, Roi Et, Maha Sarakham, Phayao and Lamphun staged protests in front of the provincial halls. The UDD in Nakhon Ratchasima also staged a protest at the Ya Mo monument, a provincial landmark.

In judicial hearings between 2012 and 2015, the courts heard evidence in the inquests on 33 protesters. It ruled that 18 protesters were shot from the soldiers’ side, and in 15 cases the shooters could not be identified. There were no more inquests after the 2017 coup d’état despite a backlog of more than 50 cases.

In 2012, Tharit Pengdit, then Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), declared that investigators had decided to file a complaint against Abhisit and Suthep Thaugsuban, his Deputy Prime Minister, on charges of murder and attempted murder for their roles in command of the CRES.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 2017 upheld the previous courts by dropping the case. It ruled that Abhisit and Suthep had the legal authority to act as they did. Therefore, the case must be first brought to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). On 29 December 2013, the NACC dismissed the complaint against Abhisit, Suthep and Anupong Paochinda, the then army commander.

On 3 May 2019, a military court dismissed the case against 8 soldiers brought by Phayao Akkahad, mother of Kamonkade, a volunteer nurse who was killed at Wat Pathum Wanaram, in the final crackdown on 19 May 2010. It ruled that there was no evidence or witnesses to prove that the 8 soldiers were involved in killing civilians.

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

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

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Categories: Prachatai English

Karens condemn Myanmar army cement plant for water pollution

Prachatai English - Sat, 2020-04-11 01:26
Submitted on Sat, 11 Apr 2020 - 01:26 AM

A civil society organisation in Karen State has released a report on water contamination linked to a Myanmar military-run cement factory and requested the withdrawal of all charges against environmental activist Saw Tha Phoe who has advocated for the social and environmental rights of local Karen communities. 

Public prayer ceremony on January 17, 2020 to protest the water pollution. (Source: Karen River Watch)

Fish trap in a seasonally flooded pond near Ye Dwin Kon township in Karen State where the water turned completely black and the fish died in October 2019. (Source: KIC/Karen River Watch)

Environmental and human rights activist Saw Tha Phoe. (Source: Karen River Watch)

Last Tuesday (31 March 2020), Karen River Watch (KRW), an environmental civil society organisation in Karen State of Myanmar also known as Burma, released a report on water contamination linked to a cement factory run by the Myanmar military and the unjustified charges against environmental activist Saw Tha Phoe.

Karen River Watch reported that since October 2019, villages near the Myaing Kalay cement factory, which is run by the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), have been affected by contaminated water and mass fish die-offs in local lakes and streams.

As a consequence of the contamination and changes to the local ecosystem, local villagers face difficulties in accessing drinking water, and have experienced health issues and other social and economic impacts. 

The villagers believe that the cause is the MEC-owned 4,000-ton cement factory, which recently transitioned from using natural gas as a power source to coal. However, the authorities connected to the cement plant deny any connection between the water pollution and the cement factory, but without conducting any independent studies or providing scientific assessments of the water contamination. The authorities connected to the cement factory provided the villages with unsustainable short-term solutions such as artesian wells and ponds.

To seek remediation for this crisis, the affected villagers came together to organise a traditional public prayer ceremony led by village monks on January 17, 2020, at Nant Kone Village. Many community-based organisations, Karen artists, and activists joined the ceremony. Throughout the water contamination crisis these community-based organisations and activists have provided safe drinking water and other forms of support for the villagers. They have also sought ways to solve the water pollution problem, with no expectation of any personal or political benefits in return.

On March 6, 2020, the police entered and searched the family home of Karen activist Saw Tha Phoe, who participated in the prayer ceremony and provided support for the local villagers. The police accused Saw Tha Phoe of offenses against the state as outlined in Section 505(b) of the Myanmar Penal Code.

Karen River Watch released a briefing paper “Dark Waters & Forbidden Prayers”. In order to  quickly resolve the issues of water contamination and the charges against Saw Tha Phoe, Karen River Watch released a briefing with the following recommendations:

“1. The government must allow any water donor to donate water directly to the villagers without restriction. This includes villagers facing water shortages due to the water contamination crisis and the decrease of water levels in local streams and wells during hot season. If necessary, the government must cooperate with and assist the donors.

“2. A joint multi-stakeholder mechanism must be established, consisting of representatives from the government, MEC, Karen National Union (KNU), independent experts, affected community members, civil society, and media for the development of a long term solution. This mechanism must be officially mandated to facilitate a transparent and accountable process to monitor and test water samples, gather relevant information related to the water contamination, as well as to provide science-based recommendations to the government. There must be no pressure on or threats against anyone involved in this mechanism.

“3. Saw Tha Phoe is a community-based human and environmental rights activist working closely with local communities in Southeast Myanmar on environmental and social protections. Saw Tha Phoe is doing his work as a citizen, advocating for social and environmental rights of these communities. The government’s response to this case by charging him under penal code 505(b), is an act of restricting citizens’ rights from the practicing rule of law. These charges set a precedent that communities cannot respond even in an organised and peaceful manner- to environmental challenges and threats to their natural resources.

“4. Statements released about this case by local organisations in Myanmar and international civil society organisations clearly demonstrate that the people of Karen State, community based organisations and civil society organisation across Myanmar, and international civil society organisations disapprove of the Myanmar government’s actions against Saw Tha Phoe.

“5. Statements released by several groups from within the country and internationally demonstrate unified and strong condemnation for the charges against Saw Tha Phoe. Several of these statements have called into question the basis of the charges and call for the charges to be dropped immediately. The charges against Saw Tha Phoe under Penal Code 505(b) for defamation of the state by the Karen State government are an act which violates human rights and weakens the rule of law in Myanmar by harming the dignity and wellbeing of Saw Tha Phoe and his family.”

In the statement, the group also demands amendment of Myanmar’s Penal Code 505 (b), which criminalises freedom of speech and restricts freedom of movement and the social, environmental and human rights of activists or citizens, and calls on the local government to drop all charges against Saw Tha Phoe.

“Thus, we strongly condemn the legal proceedings being taken against Saw Tha Phoe and call for the Karen State government to immediately drop all charges against him.” Karen River Watch says in the statement.

NewsKarenKaren River WatchEnvironmental activismKaren StateBurmaenvironmentTatmadaw
Categories: Prachatai English

FIDH calls for immediate release of jailed human rights defenders amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-04-10 15:54
Submitted on Fri, 10 Apr 2020 - 03:54 PMInternational Federation for Human Rights

In light of the serious threat posed to prisoners by the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, FIDH and its undersigned member organisations recall governments' obligation to ensure the safety and health of detained individuals that are under their responsibility, and launch a campaign, #ForFreedom, to call for the release of all jailed human rights defenders (HRDs).

As the spread of COVID-19 poses an unprecedented threat, the need to release HRDs is more urgent than ever. Our rights and those who defend them must not become a casualty of this pandemic. FIDH and its undersigned member organisations are launching today a new global campaign #ForFreedom for the release of all HRDs detained worldwide. They should be freed and allowed to conduct their legitimate activities to defend the rights of individuals against injustice, discrimination, violence, and other forms of human rights violations.

"Hundreds of people all over the world are imprisoned not because they committed a crime, but because of their work to defend human rights. As legitimate actors of change, they should never have been detained in the first place," declared Alice Mogwe, FIDH President. "As COVID-19 continues its rapid spread across the globe, it is time for governments to put an end to this injustice and release those who fight to uphold human rights," she added.

As stated by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, "Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views." This concerns minors, migrants, refugees, political opponents, journalists, and HRDs.

The campaign website profiles imprisoned HRDs, including Loujain Al-Hathloul (Saudi Arabia); Azimjan Askarov (Kyrgyzstan); Sevda Özbingöl Çelik and Hasan Ceylan (Turkey); Yuri Dmitriev (Russia); Leila de Lima (Philippines); Pablo Lopez Alavez (Mexico); Khalil Maatouk (Syria); Narges Mohammadi (Iran); Miyan Abdul Qayoom (India); Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain); Germain Rukuki (Burundi); Patrick Zaki (Egypt). The website will be regularly updated with additional arbitrarily detained HRDs.

The urgency of the current health crisis presents authorities with an opportunity to redress the unjust deprivation of liberty of all these individuals, many of whom are incarcerated in deplorable sanitary conditions and are denied adequate health care.

In such a context, FIDH and its undersigned member organisations more generally call on governments to relieve congestion in prisons by releasing vast numbers of prisoners on a temporary, permanent or conditional basis for public health reasons. Along with human rights defenders, priority should be given to the elderly, children, those with health conditions, prisoners of conscience, prisoners detained for expressing their opinions, administrative detainees, prisoners detained for minor or non-violent offences, untried detainees, and individuals held in immigration detention centres.

In times of crisis, governments have an obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable. Prison populations, confined to detention facilities that can easily become virus hotspots, are among those most vulnerable to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a particular risk in countries where minimum standards for detention conditions are not met, overcrowding is the norm, and social distancing is impossible to achieve. The spread of the virus in places of detention will be inevitable unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate this risk. Otherwise, incarceration could be equivalent to a death sentence for many detainees who contract, or are at risk of contracting, the COVID-19 virus.

Such measures would be consistent with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (revised and adopted as the "Nelson Mandela Rules"), which detail measures aimed at ensuring adequate personal hygiene, health, and safety of prisoners, as well as the specific advice issued by the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture.

We welcome the move by a number of countries, including Turkey, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Senegal and Bahrain, to begin releasing prisoners in an effort to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of the virus. We urge these and other countries to include HRDs among those who should be released immediately. Many countries have excluded prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offences from the release, thus penalising HRDs unjustly criminalised on trumped-up terrorism charges. HRDs should be exempt from such blanket disqualifications as their human rights work must not be conflated with terrorism.

The joint statement is signed by FIDH and 86 other organizations from around the world, including, from Thailand, iLaw, the Manushya Foundation, and the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL). 

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Categories: Prachatai English

UN urges states to halt persecution on migrants amid COVID-19 outbreak

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-04-09 19:51
Submitted on Thu, 9 Apr 2020 - 07:51 PMOffice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN Rights Office urges Asia-Pacific States to release detained migrants, suspend forced returns amid COVID-19 crisis and allow them to access the public health service.

Refugees who were arrested at Nontaburi on 28 August, 2018 (Source: Twitter/Jonathan Head)

BANGKOK (9 April 2020) – Governments across the Asia-Pacific region must do everything they can to protect the health of migrants in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, including releasing the most vulnerable from overcrowded and unsanitary immigration detention centers and suspending forced returns as the global pandemic intensifies, the UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia said.

Disturbing reports have emerged across the region of extreme hardships faced by migrants who are unable to access adequate virus prevention and care, either because they are excluded from national response strategies or because they lack the means to pay.

The crisis has put millions of migrants out of work in recent weeks, and many of those trying to return home have been stranded with little means to support themselves as international and internal borders close. Some have faced hostility, stigma and even violence as governments introduce emergency powers and stepped up migration controls such as the suspension of visa processing, enhanced surveillance, selective entry bans and mandatory quarantines.

“Migrants are an integral part of our communities, and only by including them fully will we be successful in overcoming COVID-19,” said Cynthia Veliko, Regional Representative of the UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia.

Migrant communities in the Asia-Pacific region often live and work in inadequate and unsafe conditions, without access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. Many are homeless or live in crowded settlements that put them at greater risk of being exposed to the pandemic’s rapid spread.

The UN Human Rights Office commends the positive measures introduced in some countries in the region such as Thailand, Malaysia, Maldives, Bangladesh, Republic of Korea and New Zealand.

Those measures have included establishing dedicated clinics for migrants, suspending the arrest and detention of those who come forward to be tested, removing requirements for health officials to report immigration status, safely repatriating those who are stranded, and implementing short-term amnesties.

“But much more needs to be done,” Veliko said.

States should immediately release vulnerable migrants currently confined in immigration detention centers, notably children and their families. If the health and safety of detainees cannot be guaranteed, non-custodial and human rights-based alternatives to detention should be implemented as a matter of priority.

Governments should also halt the forcible return of undocumented migrants for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in countries or areas lacking adequate prevention and care.

“Firewalls” between healthcare providers and immigration enforcement should be established so that all migrants are able to effectively access COVID-19 testing, diagnosis and health care services without fear of penalties.

States should also extend residence and work permits in a timely manner in light of border closures and travel restrictions and put in place rules-based pathways to regularize the situation of migrants who would otherwise face immigration penalties.

Finally, governments in the region should speak publicly about the important role of migrants in their communities, including where they are working at the frontline of response to the crisis, to confront xenophobia and related intolerance.

“This is a time to come together as a human community and work together within and across borders to recognize and prioritize those most vulnerable to the virus and those most at risk of being left behind in the response,” Veliko said.

Pick to PostRefugeeUnited NationsmigrantCOVID-19Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai Immigration announces automatic visa extension for foreigners

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-04-09 18:09
Submitted on Thu, 9 Apr 2020 - 06:09 PMPrachatai

The Immigration Bureau announced on Tuesday (7 April) that all foreigners’ visas will be automatically extended as an effort to prevent long queues at immigration centres and control the spread of COVID-19.

Suvarnabhumi airport (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

Foreign nationals who entered the country before Thailand closed its borders and whose visas expired as of 26 March 2020 will automatically have their visas extended until 30 April 2020, and will not be fined 500 baht per day.

Those who are due to make their 90-day report between 26 March and 30 April will be exempted from reporting until further notice, while Border Pass holders will be allowed to stay in Thailand while the borders remain closed, but will have to leave within 7 days of the borders opening.

Last week, the government also announced that migrant workers with expiring work permits will be allowed to stay in the country without having to apply for extensions until Thailand reopens its borders.

Thailand declared a State of Emergency on 26 March, which will remain in effect until 30 April. The first set of measures implemented under the Emergency Decree closed Thai national borders and prohibit travel into the country through its land, sea, or air border checkpoint, with the exception of goods, transportation crews, members of diplomatic missions or other international organizations exempted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foreigners with work permits, Thai nationals with medical certificates and embassy certificates, and any other person exempted by the Prime Minister.

On 2 April, the government also announced a nationwide curfew starting from 3 April, which prohibited the public from leaving their residences between 22.00 – 04.00. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has also announced a temporary ban on all international flights to Thailand from 6 – 18 April, with the exception of state or military aircraft, emergency landings, technical landings without disembarkation, humanitarian aid, medical and relief flights, repatriation flights and cargo flights. Passengers arriving on flights which departed before the ban come into effect have been subjected to a 14-day quarantine.  

As of 9 April, Thailand has a total of 2,432 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 940 of which have already been discharged from hospital, and a death toll of 32.

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Keeping our eyes on the ball: Human rights in the time of COVID-19

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-04-09 13:58
Submitted on Thu, 9 Apr 2020 - 01:58 PMAnnie Game

A bus passenger with a face mask on. 

For many of us, the reality of COVID-19 went from being a distant tremble on the horizon to a full-on earthquake, in very little time.

As a global human rights network, our first thought here at IFEX was to reach out to member organisations – over 100, in over 60 different countries. We asked: How are you? How is this affecting you? What are your priorities now, in the face of all this?

Their advice: Don’t take your eyes off the ball.

They know what they’re talking about. Time and again, they have seen supposedly time-limited emergency measures that bypass human rights become entrenched as the very laws they need to fight, years after an emergency has passed.

This makes them understandably wary and watchful that hard-won gains for press freedom, access to information, and freedom of expression will be suspended and even lost, with little or no oversight, due to the crisis.

Their warning is even more compelling in conjunction with the other single most resonant message we heard from them: It isn’t just that we need to defend these rights despite the health crisis; these rights are essential to people’s efforts to tackle it, and survive it.

So they are even more concerned to see the spread of COVID-19 accompanied by a surge in misinformation, disinformation, and, in some countries, government censorship, at a time when access to factual and timely information has never been so important.

Despite efforts to provide timely fact-checking and some form of responsible content moderation, it is much easier to spread misinformation than to counter it. The lie goes viral; the correction generally does not.

The problem is exacerbated by some world leaders who are exploiting this crisis and the elevated platform it gives them to ramp up their rhetoric vilifying the media – sowing confusion and distrust among people already reeling from the pandemic and hungry for answers.

And this at a time when the physical safety of journalists reporting on the pandemic is further being endangered by exposure to the virus without the necessary precautions.

In addition, members tell us that hard-won privacy rights are being tossed aside, as pre-existing constraints on the use of surveillance technology are relaxed to track the spread of the disease and enforce quarantine laws. There is an uptick in legislation being used to silence activists and government critics on social media. And in ways that touch us all, the pandemic is endangering the health of civil society at a time when a social safety net is more vital than ever.

We know that extraordinary measures are a necessary companion to these extraordinary times. Protecting people’s health and safety are paramount. But that doesn’t take away our responsibility to ensure that, down the road, such exceptional measures do not become the new rule of law.

That is why the work of defending human rights must never flag as this crisis develops. While our programming is naturally affected by necessary constraints on travel and physical meetings, human rights work is never done in isolation. It is rooted in personal connections based on mutual understanding, respect, and trust. We will continue to find ways to nurture the connections and solidarity this work requires.

Finding engaging ways to collaborate on projects and campaigns, to participate in critical national, regional and international advocacy efforts, or to exchange knowledge and skills – it’s always been a challenge, but already we are all discovering new approaches to keep our relationships strong, and active.

It takes much longer to build something than to knock it down; this is true of our human rights, as well.

We will keep our eyes on the ball. Freedom of expression and access to information are so important. We will remain vigilant in the defence of civil society and its essential work promoting and defending these rights. After all – our actions now do not just shape the world we are in, they shape the world we will all be living in once this crisis passes.

Annie Game is the Executive Director of IFEX, the global network of organisations promoting and defending freedom of expression.

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Categories: Prachatai English

CAAT bans all international flights to Thailand from 6-18 April.

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-04-09 12:52
Submitted on Thu, 9 Apr 2020 - 12:52 PM

The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has announced a temporary ban on all international flights to Thailand from 6-18 April as a measure to control the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who departed before the ban came into force were subject to 14 days quarantine.

Suvarnabhumi airport (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

On 6 April, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) website issued a notification of a temporary ban on all international flights to Thailand from 17.00 UTC, 6 April 2020 to 17.00 UTC, 18 April.

The notification cancelled all flight permits in the period. The ban does not apply to state or military aircraft, emergency landings, technical landings without disembarkation, humanitarian aid, medical and relief flights, repatriation flights and cargo flights.

Passengers on board aircraft which departed before the ban came into force were subject to 14 day quarantine under the Communicable Diseases Act and the Emergency Decree.

The notification was issued for the prevention and control of the COVID-19 outbreak. The first notification banned incoming flights  from 3-6 April; a second version extended this to 18 April.

On 3 April, 158 Thai passengers arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport objected to the 14 day quarantine in state-designated facilities and after hours of negotiation were allowed to leave the airport. 134 later reported to the authorities after threats of heavy punishments for breaking the law.

According to a passenger video posted on social media, the military officer at the scene is seen saying “The Phu Yai (superior) allows you to go home”. (Source: the bangkok insight , Matichon)

The Thai media reported on 8 April that 42 out of 76 Thai passengers arriving at Hat Yai Airport on 6 April via a charter flight from Jakarta, where they had attended a Muslim religious ceremony, had positive test results.

The aircraft was originally supposed to carry 100 passengers but 24 were prevented from boarding on suspicion of being infected. 35 crew members did not show any suspicious symptoms (Source: Khaosod)

Since 22 March, CAAT has required Thai nationals to have Fit to Fly certificates issued no more than 72 hours before traveling and a certifying letter from their local Thai Embassy before being allowed to board a flight home.

On 25 March, Arthit Suriyawongkul, a Thai PhD student in Ireland, filed a complaint with the Administrative Court calling for the repeal of the CAAT travel restrictions. He claimed that they violate the right to freedom of movement guaranteed in the Thai constitution.

On 3 April, the Court dismissed the complaint. The Court stated that it does not have the power to rule on the implementation of the Emergency Decree. However, as the rights and freedoms of the complainant were affected, the complainant can file a complaint at the court of justice.

NewsCivil Aviation Authorities of Thailand (CAAT)COVID-19Freedom of movementTravel ban
Categories: Prachatai English

Voice of a woman human rights defender in the time of COVID-19

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-04-08 19:08
Submitted on Wed, 8 Apr 2020 - 07:08 PM

Yupin Saja, an indigenous woman human rights defender from the Rak Lahu (Love Lahu) group (Source: Protection International)

The COVID-19 crisis continues to impact everyday life across Thailand, Southeast Asia and around the world.

Thailand reported 111 new corona virus cases and three more deaths on April 8, 2020.

Thirteen of the new cases were medical personnel who attended infected patients or were in contact with them and more than half of the new cases were in Bangkok.

Thailand has confirmed 2,369 cases and 30 fatalities since the outbreak emerged in the country in January.

Protection International interviewed Yupin Saja, an indigenous woman human rights defender from the Rak Lahu (Love Lahu) group, on her life under COVID-19.

“Here food is starting to become scarce. The stores that sell fresh goods and food will close quickly. We live far away. Sometimes we leave home to buy necessities but we are beaten to it by our friends or we go out and the shops have already closed. Now the villagers are scared no differently from in Bangkok. The children do not go out and play with each other. We all keep our houses closed. We know that the COVID virus goes everywhere. And it doesn’t choose nationalities, it doesn’t choose borders, it doesn’t choose towns or rural areas.” These are the words of Yupin Saja, a woman human rights defender from Kong Phak Ping village, Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai Province.

Yupin and her family have consistently been fighting for and demanding justice for Chaiyaphum Pasae, a close friend of the family and a young indigenous HRD member of the Rak Lahu group. Chaiyaphum was shot dead by the military at a checkpoint on 17 March 2017. Her views regarding the pandemic that intersects with injustice are interesting.

“When we fought for Chaiyaphum, we had the clear goal of calling for justice for him. But the justice that we were calling for has clearly not yet appeared.  We still continue to fight. No matter how bad the pandemic is or how much the virus spreads, we have to fight. Fighting the pandemic or the virus, we are just taking care of ourselves and our families. We have to take good care of each other. We still have the opportunity to talk to each other and to spend time together. We have seen each other growing up. But with Chaiyaphum, injustice has taken him from us. We cannot be with him nor see him grow up,” said Yupin.

When asked about the declaration of the Emergency Decree aimed to suppress the spread of COVID-19, Yupin said that she was quite concerned.

“If the government has declared it, we have to follow. Everyone has to follow the law completely, but it will make our lives more difficult. As far as living our lives, that is OK, we understand it is a crisis situation. But we also still have the case where we are calling for justice for Nawa Chaoue, a relative of Chaiyaphum and our relative, who has joined in standing up and calling for justice over the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyaphum. She was arrested on drug charges.”

On 24th April 2018, Chiang Mai Provincial Court acquitted Nawa Chaoue, guardian of Chaiyaphum Pasae, indigenous peoples human rights defender and co-founder of the Save Lahu Movement. This positive outcome closes a series of false accusations and 331 days of incarceration for seeking justice for the killing of Chaiyaphum and for defending human rights.

“After Nawa was released, we went to submit a request to the Ministry of Justice to demand that the Ministry pay compensation under the Damages for Injured Persons and Compensation and Expenses for the Accused in Criminal Cases Act, B.E. 2544 (2001), for loss of earnings during pre-trial detention. However, the Justice Fund refused the request. We are in the process of submitting an appeal to the Ministry of Justice within 30 days, and the Emergency Decree declaration will also affect us in this matter,” said Yupin.

Pick to PostCOVID-19LahuHuman Rights Defender
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MPs warn against authoritarian turn of COVID-19 responses

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-04-08 13:51
Submitted on Wed, 8 Apr 2020 - 01:51 PMASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

As Cambodia considers joining other Southeast Asian countries in declaring a state of emergency in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, regional MPs today warned governments against using the crisis to crack down on critics, assert their power and threaten democratic institutions.

A disease control checkpoint in Chiang Rai, Thailand

In recent weeks, the Philippines and Thailand declared states of emergency amid the spreading of COVID-19, while Cambodia is expected to soon adopt a new law on state of emergency. All of the laws contain provisions that, to varying degrees, excessively restrict people’s human rights, or place unchecked and unlimited powers in the hands of the executive, said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR.)

“Using a global pandemic, and times of grief and worry, to grab more power or satisfy thirst for unlimited powers is appalling,” said Charles Santiago, Malaysian MP and Chair of APHR. “While these are extraordinary times that may require extraordinary measures, we must guard against the authoritarian turn of some governments' responses to COVID-19, or the next casualty could be our rights and democracies.”

To ensure that emergency measures are not used to crackdown on human rights, or to permanently usurp democratic institutions, they should be necessary and proportionate in addressing the threats they are meant to mitigate, in this instance health. They should only be temporary, reviewed regularly and be subject to meaningful legislative and judicial oversight, APHR said. 

Unfortunately, the emergency provisions recently adopted excessively restrict the right to freedom of expression. 

For instance, in the Philippines, Section 6(6) of the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act,” opens the possibility for individuals to be jailed for spreading false information about COVID-19. In Thailand, sections 9.2 and 9.3 of the 2005 Emergency Decree, and Section 6 of the new emergency regulation, allow the Prime Minister to censor publications on a broad range of vague reasons. In Cambodia, the draft law goes even further, granting authorities powers to monitor, observe and collect information from all telecommunications and ban information that could “scare” the public.

"No-one should trick themselves into believing that the intention behind these provisions is to ensure the free flow of accurate information about the pandemic. All of these governments already have a pretty appalling record when it comes to tolerance for critics,” said Teddy Baguilat, a former Philippines Member of Parliament (MP) and Board Member of APHR. “Recent arrests in Cambodia and Thailand for comments on the governments’ response to the crisis are a clear indication of what’s to come.These provisions are there to grant them the powers to further crackdown on already shrinking civil space, and crush dissent,” Baguilat said.

Also of serious concern are the excessively broad and unnecessary powers in the emergency laws that do nothing to address the pandemic, but place broad power in the hands of notorious human rights abusers, said APHR.

In Thailand, officials now have additional powers to arrest people without charge, and to hold them in unofficial places of detention if they are suspected of having a role in causing an emergency. In Cambodia, the draft law specifically states that the government could “adopt any measures” it deems appropriate. 

"Prime Ministers Prayut Chan-o-cha and Hun Sen have both shown in the past already creative ways to hang onto power. We need to make sure that the COVID-19 pandemic does not become their new tool to further legitimise and secure their authoritarian leadership,” Baguilat said. 

Further, these broad emergency powers are particularly worrying given they are not subject to parliamentary checks or meaningful judicial scrutiny, APHR added. 

In Thailand, the 2005 Emergency Decree places the Prime Minister totally outside the purview of the parliament or the judiciary. The Decree makes no mention of parliament, and extensions of the declaration of emergency only require approval from the Council of Ministers. Further, the decree grants immunity to officials acting under the emergency powers. In Cambodia the draft law only requires the government to inform the National Assembly and the Senate, but grants them no oversight role. 

In addition, emergency legislation should only be enacted temporarily to ensure the new powers granted to the executive do not become the new norm. Worryingly, Cambodia’s draft law stipulates that the state of emergency “may or may not have a time limit.”

"What clearer trigger warning is there than one of the longest serving leaders of the world attempting to pass a law that could grant him emergency powers indefinitely?,” said Teddy Baguilat.  

"It is clear that COVID-19 is not only putting our health in danger. We must mobilise our efforts to ensure our human rights are not imperiled by this crisis. It is crucial that the institutions that are so vital to the health of a functioning democracy and the human rights of citizens are not the next victims of the pandemic,” said Charles Santiago. “Otherwise, when the COVID-19 virus is long gone, we may yet still be enduring the abuses of autocrats reluctant to hand back their newly-grabbed powers.”

Pick to PostASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)COVID-19coronavirusEmergency DecreeState of emergency
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