Prachatai English

Prachatai's reporter, 24, arrested while covering police crackdown

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-16 22:19
Submitted on Fri, 16 Oct 2020 - 10:19 PMPrachatai

Kitti Pantapak, Prachatai's multimedia reporter arrested in front of MBK center while covering Facebook live video of the crack down in Thailand capital's downtown on 16 October night.

During the arrest, he was wearing a press armband from the Thai Journalist Association, a symbol that separate the protesters and media.

Kitti was handcuffed on a detention truck.

Around 22.00, the team was able to find him sitting in the police's detention truck. He was brought to Pathum Wan police station nearby and would be brought to Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani.

A footage from Kitti showed that he was asking a police officer about where would he be able to stay and cover the news. A police then approached him and grabbed away his device.

Kitti said "I have been detained already" and the live video was cut.

This is an updating situation, we will keep updating the information.

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Categories: Prachatai English

Thousands join protest despite mass gathering ban

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-16 15:27
Submitted on Fri, 16 Oct 2020 - 03:27 PMPrachatai

Thousands of people joined a protest at the Ratchaprasong intersection on Thursday evening (15 October) following the crackdown on the protest at the Government House earlier in the day despite the declaration of a severe state of emergency, which bans mass gatherings. 

Protesters flashed the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute during the protest at Ratchaprasong Intersection. 

At 01.00 on 15 October, human rights lawyer and protest leader Anon Nampa announced an end to the protest at the Government House and called on the protesters to join another protest at 16.00 on 15 October at the Ratchaprasong junction. Around three hours later, police cracked down on the remaining protesters and arrested several protest leaders, including Anon and student activists Prasit Karutarote, Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, and Nutchanon Pairoj, all of whom have since been denied bail.

The government also declared a severe state of emergency, which imposed a ban on gatherings of more than five people, allows state officials to arrest people and detain them for 30 days without informing them of the charges against them, and banned the publication of information that “could create fear,” affect national security, or damage public morale.

Hundreds of protesters began gathering at the Ratchaprasong Intersection ahead of the scheduled protest at 16.00. 

Despite the protest leaders’ arrest and the severe state of emergency, at 16.15, several hundred protesters began gathering at the Ratchaprasong intersection and took over the area after pushing back a line of police officers blocking the street.

Protesters flashed the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute and shouted "free our friends" and "people die here." They took over the street from the intersection to the skywalk between Central World and Gaysorn Plaza.

The skywalk between Siam BTS station and Chit Lom BTS station was closed. 

The skywalk between Siam BTS Station and the Chit Lom Station was closed, while around 200 police officers were stationed in front of the nearby police headquarters. There were also officers stationed around the protest area and razor wire inside the wall of the police headquarters.

The protesters continued the demands of the 14 October protest, which called for prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation, the dissolution of parliament, a new constitution, and reform of the monarchy. They also demanded the release of the arrested activists.

Police officers stationed in front of the police headquarters

Following an announcement from the police that they would disperse the crowd at 18.00, Panupong Jadnok, one of the few protest leaders remaining free, said that they would not be calling off the protest.

He told the protesters to sit down if the police tried to use violence and asked the authorities to arrest only him. The protesters shouted back that they won't let him be arrested.

At 18.00, crowd control units from Chiang Rai and Lampang were seen lining up in Soi Mahatlek Luang and walking towards the Ratchaprasong Intersection. They also appeared to be carrying batons.

Protesters turned on their phone flashlight at the area got dark. 

As the area got darker at nightfall, protesters turn on the flashlights on their phones and sat on the street listening to speeches while more participants continue to arrive, occupying the area.

There were reports of nearby shopping malls, including Central World, Gaysorn Plaza, and Siam Paragon, closing early due to the protest, and that the street lights next to Central World and Gaysorn Plaza were turned off. 

A group of students gathering at Chulalongkorn University's football field

Meanwhile, at nearby Chulalongkorn University, the student group Nisit Chula Party and its partner organizations held a parallel demonstration at the Monument of King Chulalongkorn and King Vajiravudh, located next to the university football field.

Student representatives took turn giving speeches, alternating with performances by a band from the Faculty of Political Science and announcements updating those present on the situation at the Ratchaprasong protest. They also announced that they would provide a safe space for protesters, and that they would be staying on campus until they were sure that the protest at Ratchaprasong had ended safely. The students said that, if there is a crackdown, protesters from Ratchaprasong should come into the university.

There were parallel protests in other provinces, including Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Hat Yai, Khon Kaen, and Uttaradit.

Protesters occupying the Ratchaprasong Intersection between Central World and Gaysorn Plaza

At 22.00, the organisers announced that the protest at Ratchaprasong is ending, and told the crowd to leave for the night. They also announced that they will be back at the same location at 17.00 on Friday (16 October).

Many news reports stated that tens of thousands of people joined the protest at Ratchaprasong.

7 more protesters arrested

At 00.24, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported 6 people were arrested at the Ratchaprasong rally and Taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani.

TLHR said that all 6 people were employees of an audio equipment rental company who provided speakers for the rally and came to the protest site to retrieve the equipment. They were arrested shortly before leaving.

Another protester was also arrested earlier in the afternoon, after he flashed the three-finger salute and shouted “slaves of the dictatorship” at police officers. He was also taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters.

According to iLaw, at least 45 people who participated in the protests between 13 – 15 October are now facing charges. Of this number, only one person, a 17-year-old activist arrested on 13 October, has so far been granted bail.  

Gallery

A line of police officers around Ratchaprasong intersection

Protesters on Ratchaprasong Intersection. One is holding a sign saying "free our heroes."

Protesters turning on their phone flashlights and turning them towards the line of police officers on Rama 1 Road.

A crowd gathering on the skywalk above Ratchaprasong intersection.

White ribbons, now a symbol of the student movement, were left hanging from the Ratchaprasong intersection sign.

A protester holding a placard saying "I'm not dust under who (sic) feet".

A protester is carrying a sign attached to their backpack which say "I won't a slave to anyone but to cats."

 

 

NewsStudent protest 2020student movementYouth movement14 - 15 October 2020 protestRatchaprasong intersectionState of emergencyEmergency Decree
Categories: Prachatai English

Emergency Decree Pretext for Crackdown, says HRW

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-16 14:10
Submitted on Fri, 16 Oct 2020 - 02:10 PMHuman Rights Watch

The Thai government’s declaration of a state of emergency in Bangkok is a pretext for a crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said yesterday (15 October).

Soldiers set up razor wire barriers in front of the 1st Army Area headquarters.

Since the declaration of a state of emergency on October 15, 2020, the police have arrested at least 22 activists, including several protest leaders, in front of Bangkok’s Government House.

“The Emergency Decree provides the Thai government with unchecked powers to suppress fundamental freedoms and ensures zero accountability for officials,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities should not repress peaceful protests with draconian laws that violate freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

At 4 a.m. on October 15, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha declared a state of emergency in Bangkok. He asserted that the escalating protests by pro-democracy groups contravened the law and the constitution, caused disturbances, undermined measures to curtail Covid-19, and harmed national security and public safety. The government also accused protesters of disrupting the queen’s motorcade near Government House on October 14.

Shortly after Prayut’s announcement, thousands of riot police, armed with batons and shields, forcibly cleared protesters who had camped outside Government House. The police arrested at least 22 people, including the protest leaders Arnon Nampha, Parit Chiwarak, Prasiddhi Grudharochana, and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul.

The draconian Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation provides authorities with broad powers to arrest individuals without charge and detain them in informal places of detention. Officials carrying out the duties under the decree enjoy legal immunity. The decree does not require access to legal counsel or visits by family members.

Under Thailand’s emergency decree, authorities can impose broad censorship to curb freedom of expression and media freedom. International news reporting on Thailand, such as by the BBC World Service, has been blocked on the country’s main cable TV network, True Visions. Authorities have also pressed satellite service providers to block the broadcast of Voice TV, a station widely known for its criticism of the government. Discussions about political issues in the parliament have also been suspended. Any public gathering of five or more people has been banned in Bangkok.

Thailand’s government has maintained its opposition to the youth-led democracy protests, which started on July 18 and later spread across the country. The protesters have called for the resignation of the government, the drafting of a new constitution, and an end to authorities harassing people who exercise their freedom of expression. Some of the protests included demands for reforms to curb the king’s powers. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that at least 85 protesters faced illegal assembly charges for holding peaceful protests in Bangkok and other provinces. Some protest leaders have also been charged with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, for making demands regarding reforms of the monarchy institution.

“The Thai government has created its own human rights crisis,” Adams said. “Criminalizing peaceful protests and calls for political reform is a hallmark of authoritarian rule.”

International human rights law, as reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand ratified in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But Thai authorities routinely enforce censorship and gag public discussions about human rights, political reforms, and the role of the monarchy in society. Since the military coup in 2014, the Thai government has prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for peacefully expressing their views.

In addition, over the past five months, the authorities used emergency decree measures designed to help control the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to ban anti-government rallies and harass pro-democracy activists, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Thai government is threatening peaceful protesters with long prison terms simply for demanding reforms aimed at the creation of a rights-respecting democracy,” Adams said. “Concerned governments and the United Nations should publicly condemn this wave of political repression and urge the immediate and unconditional release of democracy activists.”

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Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Severe state of emergency

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-16 14:01
Submitted on Fri, 16 Oct 2020 - 02:01 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Severe state of emergency MultimediaStephffState of emergency14 - 15 October 2020 protest
Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Not again

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-16 13:58
Submitted on Fri, 16 Oct 2020 - 01:58 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Not again 

MultimediaStephff14 - 15 October 2020 protest
Categories: Prachatai English

Anti-government protesters reach Government House, criticize monarchy

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-16 12:51
Submitted on Fri, 16 Oct 2020 - 12:51 PMPrachatai

Tens of thousands of anti-dictatorship protesters gathered at the Democracy Monument on the morning of 14 October. Their gathering and their planned march risked confrontation with pro-monarchy groups and people stationed along their path.

The crowd at the protest after dark

The protesters arrived at Government House at 18.10, having forced their way past more than 6 police blockades starting at Phan Fa bridge, 500 metres from the Democracy Monument. The main stage was set up at around 21.00, with tents and water trucks stationed along 2 km-long protest site, preparing for an overnight protest.

At 20.50, police officers ordered the protesters to disperse by 22.00, claiming obstruction of traffic. The protesters shouted "Police get out" in response.

The military had tried setting up barbed wire barricades in front of the 1st Army Area headquarters and at Soi Wat Benchamabophit.

Protesters moved plants off of the Democracy Monument, passing them from one person to another until the garden is removed. 

Before the march at 13.30, protestors, led by Parit Chiwarak and others, occupied the Democracy Monument, removing plants that have been placed there since 2019 to prevent protesters from using the monument as a protest site.

Bangkok Metropolitan Administration workers putting back the plants

As they left the monument, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration workers put the plants back.

The protest was scheduled after the protest at Thammasat University on 19 September. 14 October marks the important day in 1973 when the people first succeeded in overthrowing a dictatorship. The problem for commemorative protests nowadays is that 13 October marks the anniversary of the death of King Rama IX in 2016.

Protesters on the Democracy Monument waved red flags and a navy blue flag bearing the logo of the student activist group Free Youth after they removed the garden around the monument. 

The close dates risk confrontations between those who come voluntarily to observe the royal processions of King Rama X and other members of the Royal Family to the Grand Palace on 13 and 14 October.

The protest was one of the biggest in the series of anti-dictatorship protests since 18 July 2020. The protesters and leading figures criticized the government and senators over their lack of legitimacy and incompetence in governing the country.

The monarchy was also one of the targets of public criticism for its massive budget partly funded from taxpayers’ money. The amount of time that King Rama X spends in Germany was also the subject of wide criticism and mockery.

Confrontation, love here and there

Men wearing yellow shirts sitting along Ratchadamneon Road

Pro-monarchy groups took up positions around the Democracy Monument since the morning, and the anti-dictatorship protesters found themselves being taunted; some clashes took place. 

At 09.25 protesters occupied parts of Ratchadamnoen Avenue while Anon Nampa gave a speech. Royalist groups were also scheduled to meet around there. 

At 10.00, Attapon Buapat, a famous speaker from Khon Kaen, said the protest would be peaceful.

"Regardless of what colour you are, we are Thais. No one is the scum of the land," said Attapon as buses carrying people wearing yellow shirts passed by.

"I love you even if you hate me. I will not chase you out of the country even if you chase me out. I will see you as human even if you see me as trash," said Attapon.

Another group of people in yellow shirt passed the Democracy Monument in a green truck.

In the late morning, a woman in a yellow shirt raised 3 fingers and smiled at the protesters. Many Bangkok officials on a passing truck could also be seen raising 3 fingers.

Meanwhile, people in yellow shirts, who might have been policemen, government officials or ordinary people, were waiting in many places around the Democracy Monument. iLaw estimated their number at about 8,000

At 10.30, protesters had occupied half of the Ratchadamnoen roundabout. Some confrontations took place but were resolved by protest guards and the police.

Police took positions at the Democracy Monument and some were seen with pistols.

Electricity Authority workers holding flags drove past the protest

At 11.05, a dozen motorcycles, ridden by people dressed as Electricity Authority workers holding royal flags, drove past the protest site, made a U-turn and honked at the protesters in a provocative manner. Many protesters rushed at them but were restrained by the guards.

A group of people in yellow shirt holding pictures of the royal family waited by Ratchadamneon Road

At 11.20, at the Phan Fa Lilat intersection, a crowd in yellow shirts were waiting for a royal procession along Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue.

Meanwhile, officers set up barriers and buses to block the road. The police said that it was to prevent the public from using the road and said nothing about a royal procession.

At 11.50, a Chulalongkorn University graduate criticised the lèse majesté law for being written vaguely, making it difficult to have a dialogue, and said that it is the ultra-royalists who try too hard to protect the monarchy who cause damage.

Protesters began their march towards Government House. Some were wearing white ribbons, now a symbol of the student movement. 

The pro-democracy protesters began marching at around 14.00. At 14.42, the protesters arrived at Phan Fa bridge to make a left turn to Government House. The police blocked their path. Protesters repeatedly chanted "open the path".

At 14.48, the police opened a path at the bridge, and the protesters marched on.

Protesters flashed the three-finger salute as they marched through Ratchadamneon Road.

Two protesters carried the LGBTQ pride flag as they marched through Ratchadamneon Road

By 15.30, protesters had passed the Thewakam intersection approaching Government House. Minor clashes with the police occurred.

At 17.30, protesters were blocked at the Nang Loeng intersection for about an hour and a half by police barriers and buses. 

At 17.57, protesters pushed through police barriers and crossed Chamai Maruchet Bridge, heading towards Government House, where a group of protesters were reported to be already waiting. 

Military and police make a move

Protesters arriving at the Nang Loeng Intersection.

The military earlier tried to set up razor wire barricades in front of the 1st Army Area headquarters and at Soi Wat Benchamabophit, but refrained when booed by protesters.

Soldiers setting up razor wire barriers in front of the 1st Army Area headquarters.

Men in yellow shirts going into the 1st Army Area headquarters

There were reports of groups of people wearing yellow shirts seen going into the 1st Army Area headquarters.

A battalion of the Royal Guard 904, a unit of the King’s Guard, wearing yellow shirts, were seen blocking protesters from accessing the King Rama V Equestrian Monument, next to the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.

Police spokesperson Pol Col Kritsana Pattanacharoen gave a late night press briefing saying that the protest is an attempt to undermine the system of governance, making it an unlawful public gathering. The police would enforce the relevant laws that the protesters had violated, especially those who had caused trouble to a royal procession.

At around 17.50, protesters were seen shouting at a royal motorcade making its way along Phitsanulok Road in front of the Nang Loeng intersection. Someone threw a bottle water at it.

Police on the scene rushed to prevent protesters from clashing with pro-monarchy protesters who take positions there to welcome the procession, and also to prevent further disruption to the procession. The pro-monarchy groups shouted “Long Live the King”.

Gallery

Protest leader Anon Nampa speaking on the small stage before the official start of the protest

Protesters gathering at the Democracy Monument ahead of the protest

Protesters walking up to the Democracy Monument after they have removed the garden.

One of the protesters held a placard saying "stop harassing people."

Protesters marching towards Government House

Rap Against Dictatorship set up a small performance at the protest in front of the Government House

 

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Categories: Prachatai English

Court denies bail for 20 activists

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-10-15 21:57
Submitted on Thu, 15 Oct 2020 - 09:57 PMPrachatai

20 activists who were arrested on Tuesday afternoon (13 October) after they tried to set up camp at the Democracy Monument have been denied bail, while 1 activist who is a minor has been granted bail by the Juvenile Court.

A placard seen at the protest in front of the police headquarters on Tuesday night (13 October), which demanded the activists' release. 

After spending the night at the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani, the activists were taken to court for a temporary detention request. Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa was taken to the Bangkok Criminal Court, while the 19 other adults were taken to Dusit Municipal Court.

One of the activists who is 17 years old was taken to the Central Juvenile and Family Court and was granted bail at 17.30 under the condition that he does not repeat the offense.

The activist said that he was choked and forced into a car, and that his wrists were tied. However, the court ruled that the arrest was lawful, as it was a flagrant offense.

At 18.00, the Bangkok Criminal Court ruled to temporarily detain Jatupat, and subsequently denied bail on the grounds that his actions were seditious and may cause unrest, and that he may repeat the same offense if released. The inquiry officers also objected to his bail request.

Dusit Municipal Court also ruled, after three hours of waiting, to detain the other 19 activists for six days, and at 21.20 denied their bail request, ruling that their actions while resisting arrest were violent and that they might cause unrest if released.

Jatupat and 16 other male activists have been taken to the Bangkok Remand Prison, while the 3 women activists have been taken to the Central Women Correctional Institution.

People gathering in front of the police headquarters on Tuesday night (13 October) in the rain to demand the activists' release.

The group was arrested on Tuesday afternoon (13 October) after they tried to set up camp at the Democracy Monument ahead of Wednesday’s mass protest, and were charged with causing traffic jams, committing public untidiness and harassing police authorities, among other charges. A protest took place following their arrest on the Pathumwan Skywalk next to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), before moving to the police headquarters to demand the activists’ release.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement following the activists’ arrest calling for the authorities to immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release them.

“The Democracy Monument arrests raise serious concerns that the government will impose even harsher repression of people’s fundamental freedoms in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Thailand’s international friends should call on the government to stop arresting peaceful protesters, listen to their views, and allow them to freely and safely express their visions for the future.”

HRW’s statement also noted that the police “kicked, punched, and threw some protesters to the ground” and prevented lawyers from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) from seeing the activists.

Protesters splashed paint onto the police headquarters sign at the protest on Tuesday night (13 October).

A team from TLHR went to visit the activists at the Bangkok Remand Prison and the Central Women Correctional Institution on Thursday afternoon (15 October). They reported that the group will be requesting bail again tomorrow (16 October). 

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Categories: Prachatai English

Over 20 protesters arrested following crackdown; protest leaders denied bail

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-10-15 21:42
Submitted on Thu, 15 Oct 2020 - 09:42 PMPrachatai

After police dispersed the protest at Government House earlier this morning (15 October), over 20 protesters, including several protest leaders, have been arrested. 

Police officers in riot gears during this morning's protest crackdown

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), at least 27 known protesters have now been arrested after police invaded the protest site outside Government House and a severe state of emergency was declared this morning.

This includes protest leaders Anon Nampa, Prasit Karutarote, Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, and Nutchanon Pairoj, along with 22 others.

As of 14.50, 4 people have already been released, including photographer Karnt Thassanaphak, who was taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters, and 3 civilians who were taken to Chanasongkhram Police Station.

Karnt was arrested alongside Parit at around 04.30 while he and Parit were in his car with two other students at the Nang Loeng Intersection. He said that a group of officers surrounded the car and, after presenting the arrest warrant, took Parit and the two students away in a van. The officers then searched Karnt and his car, and escorted him to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in his own car.

Anon Nampa speaking on the small stage before yesterday's mass protest. 

Anon and Prasit, who were arrested on charges relating to an earlier demonstration in Chiang Mai, were reportedly taken by police aircraft without their lawyer and were expected to be brought to Chiang Mai. TLHR said that onboard were 5 officers from Provincial Police Region 5, 2 pilots, 2 mechanics, and officers from the Crime Suppression Division.

At 15.00, they arrived at the Wing 41 air force base in Chiang Mai, but it is not clear where they will be taken next.

Parit, Panusaya, and Nutchanon were arrested on charges relating to a demonstration at Thammasat University and are still in custody.

Panusaya and Nutchanon were arrested at 08.45 at their accommodation in Khao San Road, after Panusaya read out the People’s Party statement on the crackdown at 07.00.

After being presented with an arrest warrant, Panusaya tore the warrant and she and Nutchanon sat down on the floor in an act of resistance. The officers then put them into wheelchairs and took them to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters.

18 other civilians are also still being detained at the same headquarters.  

There are reports that many protesters were arrested at the protest site at the Misakawan intersection they had left and were on their way to their accommodation near the area.

Contrary to reports from earlier in the day, student activist Panupong Jadnok has not been arrested.

Parit, Anon, Prasit, and Panusaya were charged with sedition, among other charges, while the other 18 people were charged with violating the Emergency Decree.

Lines of police officers at yesterday's protest

Under the severe state of emergency, gatherings of five or more people are banned and state officials may arrest people without first informing them of their charges. The order also bans the publication of information that “could create fear,” affect national security, or damage public morale.

The government claimed that the protesters “invited and incited illegal public assemblies in Bangkok” and that they intercepted a royal motorcade and committed actions that affect national security, and therefore “an urgent measure” is necessary to control the situation and “maintain peace and order.”

Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, a leading member of the student activist group Free Youth and one of the few protest leaders still free, said that the situation is almost no different from a coup and called for people to join the protest at 16.00 at the Ratchaprasong intersection.

Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, also issued a statement saying that the “vague, drastic order” will lead to more unfair arrests, detentions, and prosecutions, and that the scale of the morning’s arrests “seems completely unjustified” as yesterday’s protest was “overwhelmingly peaceful.”

The statement also noted that the order was “clearly designed to stamp out dissent and sow fear in anyone who sympathizes with the protesters’ views,” and called for the immediate and unconditional release of the arrested protesters and for those arrested to have access to legal counsel.

“These arrests and sudden emergency measures, announced in the middle of the night, are just the latest escalation in Thailand’s current onslaught on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said the statement.

“Instead of ruling by decree and mass arrests, the Thai authorities must reverse course. They must comply with their international obligations to respect the rights of anyone who simply wishes to peacefully speak their mind, on social media or in the streets.”

Charles Santiago, Malaysian MP and Chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarian for Human Rights (APHR), also said “This emergency decree issued by Thai authorities is nothing but an excuse to shut down the peaceful protests that have swept across the country in recent months. The thousands that have taken to the streets in Bangkok, and nationwide, have done so peacefully, and are fully entitled to raise concerns about the current state of democracy in Thailand.

“Instead of introducing measures to end the protests, and arresting its leaders, Thai authorities should listen to the concerns those demonstrating are raising. They might find that their suggestions could benefit the entire country, and not merely a select few, as Thailand’s politics has done for so long.”

Update: 

As of 19.10 on 15 October, the Chiang Mai Provincial Court has denied bail for Anon and Prasit. The court ruled their actions were seditious and may cause unrest, and that they may repeat the same actions if released. The inquiry officers also objected to them being granted bail. They have now been taken to the Chiang Mai Remand Prison in Mae Taeng District to be detained for 12 days.

Meanwhile, the Thanyaburi Provincial Court has also denied bail for Parit, Panusaya, and Nutchanok, ruling that the have repeated the same offenses which was deemed seditious many times. The inquiry officers also objected to them being granted bail.

NewsStudent protest 2020student movementYouth movement14 - 15 October 2020 protestjudicial harassmentstate violencecrackdownAnon NampaPrasit KarutaroteParit ChiwarakPanusaya SithijirawattanakulNutchanon Pairoj
Categories: Prachatai English

State of emergency declared, protest dispersed before sunrise

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-10-15 06:45
Submitted on Thu, 15 Oct 2020 - 06:45 AMPrachatai

Around 04.40, police in riot gear have retaken the protest ground at Government house. Anon Nampa, Prasit Karutarote, Parit Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok are arrested. Military trucks full of soldiers can be seen entering the government house.

Riot control police dispersing the protesters before sunrise.

As of 05.48 there are at least 7 people reportedly being arrested. On 15 October, Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha, PM declared another very critical state of emergency in Bangkok domain. The state of emergency would be enforced on 04.00

The emergency decree states that as many people have mobilized the unlawful public gathering in Bangkok, causing many methods to cause unrest that affect public order and royal procession. Thus, it is proved that the protest is an act affecting the state security, safety of public and private assets and lives and not the peaceful gathering provided by the Thai constitution.

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is designated in overseeing the state of emergency related affair.

06.22 Protesters can be seen assisting each other to find shelter to rest. Those who stay overnight are from other provinces.

06.02 Riot control polices still keep pushing the protesters out of the original protest ground.

16.00 is the time for appointment at Ratchaprasong. Many protesters invited each other to be there.

It is worth noting that the crackdown takes place before sunrise. This is deemed not meeting the universal standard as it increases the risk on both protesters and authorities' side.

05.38 Protesters are being forced to leave the protest ground. Many cars are honking and people are shouting at the police officers who are in riot gear.

01.00 Protest leader Anon Nampa announced that the protest at Government House will disperse in the morning in order to move to the Ratchaprasong Intersection at 16.00 due to security concerns, as the current location of the protest is surrounded by government agency offices. 

He told the protesters to stay in place and to not react if government forces decide to break up the protest, and to let the leaders be arrested to see if the government will dare to use force against peaceful protesters.

He also noted that by law, government officials can only break up a protest during the day, and they must have a warrant. 

00.30 A unit of shield-carrying border patrol police has been seen near Wang Daeng Intersection and seem to be moving towards Misakawan Intersection, close to the protest area by Government House.

NewsEmergency DecreeState of emergencycrackdownGen Prawit WongsuwanStudent protest 2020Thailand
Categories: Prachatai English

21 Activists arrested to pave way for royal procession

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-10-14 15:20
Submitted on Wed, 14 Oct 2020 - 03:20 PMPrachatai

Police arrested activists who tried to establish a camp close to the Democracy Monument on 13 October, a day prior to the appointed date for a big anti-dictatorship protest. 13 October is also the anniversary of the death of King Rama IX. Some were reportedly hurt by the police.

A scene during the clash on 13 October while 21 activists were being arrested.

As of 13.15 of 14 October, the activists are being taken to court for a temporary detention order. 19 are being taken to Dusit Court, Jatupat ‘Pai’ Boonpattraraksa, an activist from Khon Kaen, is being taken to the Criminal Court while another is being taken to the Juvenile Court.

Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, a leading singer of the pop band The Bottom Blues is among the arrested. 

The activists were first taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani. They were there all night to hear the charges filed by the police. They were charged among other things with causing traffic jams, committing public untidiness and harassing police authorities, and face 8 charges in total, all of which are misdemeanours.

The arrests took place when a number of protesters had gathered at the Democracy Monument in anticipation of the mass protest on 14 October.  The arrested were forcibly taken away by the police.

A minor clash between protesters and police officers occurred when protest leaders were seized in the middle of making speeches. The activist group Free Youth said on their Facebook page that officers said that this was in preparation for a royal procession.

Ammy later posted on his Facebook page that it is unclear where the group was being taken to, but that he would like everyone to come out to the protest tomorrow.

Thai PBS reported that the officers told the protesters to move up onto the footpath so that personnel from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration could clean the street, but refused to tell the remaining protest leaders where those arrested were taken to, except that they were being taken to a safe place.

At 17.30, human rights lawyer Anon Nampa announced on Twitter that there will be an urgent demonstration at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre (BACC) at 18.00 following the protesters' arrest.

Parit Chiwarak

Student activist Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak arrived at the skywalk next to BACC ahead of the demonstration at 18.00. Protesters gathered on the skywalk and then marched to the National Thai Police Headquarters to demand the release of those arrested.

The crowd continued to gather in front of the police headquarters and on the skywalk above until 20.45, shouting "Free our friends" and taking a moment of silence for victims of state violence.

Protesters raising 3 fingers above the National Thai Police Headquarters.

Protesters also splashed paint onto the sign of the police headquarters in a symbolic act of protest.

NewsJatupat BoonpattararaksaChaiamorn KaewwiboonpanThe Bottom Bluespolitics
Categories: Prachatai English

COVID-19, Health Borders, and the Purity of the Thai Nation

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-10-14 15:10
Submitted on Wed, 14 Oct 2020 - 03:10 PMJiraporn Laocharoenwong

Soon after the 2020 New Year celebration, a newly identified Corona virus in China started its global spread around the world, leading to the severest and deadliest pandemic since the Spanish Flu. Today, the situation on COVID-19 infections seems not to get better as there are second waves in many European countries, while India has around 6.6 million infection cases.

(Originally published in Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung)

Immigrants waiting to cross Thai-Myanmar Border.

Even though Thailand was the first country outside of China to record COVID-19 infections, the country has been successful in controlling the disease. Infections reached a peak of about 100-150 per day in March 2020, but dwindled to zero cases in May and has remained there since, with totals of around 3,500 infections and 59 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The EU consequently announced Thailand as no longer a dangerous zone. This makes one wonder how the Thai state is able to control/manage the pandemic.

This article examines the ad-hoc policy and regulation applied by the Thai government in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Based on document and fieldwork research, it reveals that in order to control spreading of the virus (both from outside and inside the country), the Thai government erected a ‘health border’ to control mobility of the people, as well as set up a governing body, the Center for Resolution for Emergency Resolution COVID-19 under the emergency decree. What is needed to pass this ‘health border’ is a Fit-to-Fly certificate, TM.08 form, health certificate indicating COVID-19 negative test, 14 days state-quarantine for people who return from abroad, while domestic regulation for the Thai people inside the country has involved lockdown and prohibition of interprovincial mobility, which also requires a health certificate and official permission to travel between provinces.  

Paradoxically, at the beginning of the crisis, almost all governments around the world recalled their citizens to return to their motherland, but the Thai government actually blocked their citizens to return home, which led many Thai overseas students to be stuck in transitory countries for several days. It was only later that the Thai government announced this ‘health border’, also requiring Thai citizens to complete a health check before returning (the one who is not fit cannot fly).

Instead of seeing and treating the Thai people as citizens that the state needs to protect, the Thai government categorizes people into two boxes: the infectious and the pure body. I draw my analysis upon a concept of Douglas on Purity and Danger (Douglas, 1966). The establishment of a health border and regulation does not only control the spreading of the virus, it suggests that the ultimate concern of the Thai government is reaching and maintaining zero cases and the purity of its nation. Moreover, the Thai overseas migrants returning from abroad and migrant workers are seen as ‘contaminated  bodies’, considered to be dangerous, and become a subject of control and purification. They have to be in a state or an alternative state quarantine without leaving the hotel room for 14 days before they are fully welcomed back home. This is like a rite de passage where a body has to pass through a purification process in order to be accepted back into the Thai society, similar to the idea of putting a criminal in prison in the hope that prison can convert bad people to be good. During this liminal period, the body is not treated fully as a citizen, but similar to a prisoner.

Health borders

The Thai government’s response to COVID-19 shares similarities with other countries around the world. State, border and health expertise play a strong role during this crisis involving the death and lives of the people, which scholars have analyzed as ‘state of exception’ (Agamben, 2005). During the COVID-19 emergency crisis, especially, there was nothing more important than ‘health’ or ‘bio-security’, which leads to withdrawal of rights and privacy of the citizen (Agamben, 2020).

Military officers checking the Thai-Malaysia border.

In such a state of exception, the sovereign (the state) has the power to decide which persons' lives are worth saving and which ones are not. However, what COVID-19 policies effectively did to Thai overseas migrants and migrants from neighboring countries is to blur the boundary of ‘citizen’ and ‘other’. Under the name of health and bio-security, everybody is treated as potentially dangerous, simply a body subject to the state of exception where everyone, citizen or non-citizen, needs to pass through a newly erected health border (in addition to the geographical and political border) in order to screen the health of the body before entering into the Kingdom.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, international travel required a valid passport and visa to cross the national border. Some countries ask you to fill in the form of declaration that you do not bring any prohibited goods or food to their lands, but during the pandemic, the Thai state requires you to declare your healthiness through fit-to fly, COVID-19 test 72 hour in advance, a TM 08 form, and then a mandatory quarantine. It is like crossing double borders, where the health border has even more stringent requirements than the political one.

Unlike common situations in the Southeast Asia region where (land) borders are often porous and permeable (van Schendel and de Maaker, 2014), COVID-19 caused the Thai government to shut all of the immigration/emigration points, and to seal the entire national border, which is around 5,656 km long. This phenomenon has never happened before. The sealed border was a necessary requirement to declare the state of emergency for health reasons, with the goal of reaching zero cases of infections.

The health border for the Thai citizen specifically comprised:

  • Fit to Fly/Fit to Travel  certificate, issued by a doctor
  • Health certificate indicating COVID-19 negative test
  • TM.08 form, application for re-entry permit to return into the Thai Kingdom
  • Declaration form for 14 days state quarantine

In order to return to Thailand, the Thai overseas returnees need to contact the Thai embassies at the countries where they stay. They need to follow all the procedures and complete all documents. Everything needed to be organized through the Thai embassies locally including arranging for your (repatriation) flight; it is not possible to book your own flight. Upon return, you will be transported to the allocated hotel that you will stay for another 14 days. However, the Thai overseas migrants are not homogenous. They are students, civil servants, tourists, foreign partners, (undocumented) migrant workers. Not all of them are able to get these documents due to difficult procedures, lacking a legal document, or having other difficulties.

Thai migrant workers from Malaysia express that it was difficult to get the Fit-to-Travel certification (they travel by land), especially for those who cannot speak Malay and English. Some of them indicate that in order to get all these documents, they need to travel from their workplaces, which are close to the Thai border, to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. It costs them a lot of money and time. Many of them decide to illegally cross the border back to Thailand. Moreover, the border has been sealed and the Thai government only allows for 100 returnees per day. Some of them have to wait for more than a week to go back to Thailand.

In the health border, citizenship almost carries no weight, it is all about bio-security and zero cases infection. Fassin emphasizes that it is “the tenets of bio-power to make live becomes a matter of choice over who shall live and what sort of life and how long”. Additionaly, life under bio-power is inequality (Fassin, 2009:53). The case of Thai migrant workers from Malaysia clearly show that under this health border, their return is deferred by the Thai state. Their lives might not be important while their bodies are subject of control with demanding to sacrifice for maintain and controlling the virus.

Purity of the Thai (national) body

During the first (and still only) wave of COVID-19, the Thai government’s ultimate goal was to do anything to get to ‘zero cases’. The spokesperson of the Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation - COVID-19 announced early May that Thailand had zero new cases of COVID-19 infection.

Taweesin Visanuyothin, giving brief summaries of COVID-19 situation at Center of COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), Government House of Thailand on April 2, 2020 licence infos

“Since May 3, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily had been in single figures, except for 18 found among quarantined migrants in Songkhla province on May 4”, said Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin[1].

The quote clearly shows that Thailand is for the first time free from COVID-19[2] and the body of the Thai nation was cleansed, or purified. The exception in the quote was telling: the migrants who returned from Malaysia and stayed in state quarantine were not considered part of the Thai 'national body', nor did they count as Thai since they were migrants, whose bodies are suspect, having a potential to be infectious. This will contaminate the purity of the Thai national body.

Dr. Taweesilp spoke further:

 "We can relax, but cannot be reckless... Please keep to the new-normal practices. Finally, we may be among the first countries able to end the hardship brought by this disease".

This quote reveals that what the Thai state wants is to claim the credit and recognition from the international community that Thailand is able to deal with this disease and being among the first COVID-19-free countries. However, in order to keep the country free from COVID-19 (which is actually almost impossible to do so) it requires many sacrifices.

Apart from the sacrifice of hard-working medical staff, the imposition of lock down measurements obliges people to stay at home. This leads to jobs losses in sectors that depend on people going out, people not able to feed their families, and despair because savings are low and there are debts to pay. The Mental Health Department reports that there are 2551 Thai people committed suicide in early this year. The rate increased by 22 percent compared to last year. The research study from Thai scholar team discloses that among 38 cases that they interviewed attempted to commit suicide were due to lock down, business closure, job losses, and furloughs. Among those 38 cases, there are 28 resulted in death[3].   

The idea of ‘purity body’ of the nation also explicitly resulted in xenophobia and racism for the case of Thai migrants returning from South Korea. The Thai migrant workers, informally called ‘Phee Noi ’ or little ghost since they illegally and discretely stay and work in South Korea, were the first group of Thai migrants who returned. It raised a hot debate in Thai society when social media showed that a female migrant did not do the self-quarantine when she arrived in her hometown in Chiangrai, visiting a restaurant and went shopping. From her case, the Thai society started to pinpoint and blame the return migrants as lacking responsibility to Thai society (as they were also irresponsible for their illegal stay in South Korea which affected other Thai tourists) and that they would be a super spreader, all in spite of the fact that they were treated quite badly by the Thai government. It later turned out that the big spreader of the virus in Thailand is not from them, but the group of upper middle class and Thai celebrities visited the boxing stadium.  

Moreover, the idea of purity penetrates into the provincial level and into individuals' minds. Trang is one of a few provinces that is COVID-19 free according to the report from the Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation. My friend, a Thai overseas student who returned from the United Kingdom just before the Thai government announced the closing of the border had done his self-quarantine for 14 days in his house in Trang province. During the waiting time, he told me that he worried that he might get an infection and spread disease to his parents, but what made him more anxious is that he would then be the first infection case in Trang province. His name would be announced and put a shame on him. One does not want to be the dangerous body to bring impurity to the land. It similarly reflects what the Thai government thinks of when dealing with COVID-19 being about ‘purity of the Thai national body’.

Migrants, returnees, body politics and liminality

During the unstable time of COVID-19, both the bodies of Thai overseas and other migrants were considered to be dangerous. Regardless of their nationality, whether they are Thai or non-Thai, they must be in quarantine before getting back to live in society. However, migrant workers from neighboring countries are already seen as ‘other’ and not being included in the Thai society. Although they are physically in Thailand, they are generally excluded with no access to full rights as a Thai citizen. COVID-19 affects the body of Thai and other migrants in different and similar ways as  I show in the following:

i. Suspect body and rite de passage

Migrant workers heading back to hometown on 22 Marh 2020.

As I illustrated above Thai overseas migrants were required to submit so many documents before returning to Thailand. After arrival, everybody needs to be in a state quarantine for 14 days. Their body is considered to be dangerous as they might carry the virus, therefore they need to be in an isolated place. This is like a rite de passage where they are in liminal stage and they can only be accepted back into society after their bodies are confirmed to be free from the virus. Moreover, the regulation blurs a boundary between being citizen and being migrant (other) by reducing it to be a suspect body. In other words, COVID-19 has temporarily removed rights of the citizen to become bare life (Agamben, 2005). By labelling all bodies coming from abroad as dangerous bodies, the bare body, irrespective of being a Thai citizen or a migrant, becomes a threat to national health security of the whole society. It is this way how the state of exception is operated.

However, the body of Burmese migrant workers, which is considered dangerous, at the same time contains some power. According to Douglas (1966), the body that is in a liminal stage, such as an unborn child in a woman's womb, is powerful since a child which does not yet become a human is a liminal subject whereby the child may inflict the death of the bearer. In the case of the migrant body, they might or might not carry the virus, so their status is unclear. Therefore, their body is dangerous to Thailand in general as they can spread the virus to the Thai citizen. In Singapore, migrant workers community were forgotten by the government and this led to a wide spread of the virus. This worries the Thai government since they want to keep Thailand out of a second wave.

So, while migrant workers were spotted on and became subject of control, they also received the same medical treatment as the Thai people for a short time, because of the danger (and thereby power) that they wielded. At the same time, Thai overseas migrants experienced the feeling of their citizenship being partially removed when they crossed the health border. COVID-19 and the Thai government made them go through a short-time liminality period, for a moment sharing the same experience as migrant workers from neighboring countries. 

ii. Double liminality  

In mid-March, the Thai government announced a lock-down and sealing off of the border. It was the same time that the number of infection cases skyrocketed. For many migrant workers from Burma, it also happened to be their time to renew/extend their working permit, and this process cannot be done in Bangkok. Each of them needs to return to Myanmar. So they usually combine this renewal working permit with Songkran holidays, so they can spend some time at their hometown. However, due to the lockdown, many of them lost their jobs. Even the groups who were not (yet) unemployed had a real fear of an uncertain future and that one day soon they might be laid off as well. This led them to doubt whether they should return home to Myanmar, wait for the situation to improve and renew their visa, or that they should continue to stay in Thailand.

Of the group which decided to return, many got stuck at the Thailand-Myanmar border, because the borders were closed. It took several days before the Thai and Burmese government had an agreement to temporarily open the border for these groups of migrant workers to return. At that time, the Burmese government discouraged their own citizens to return home as well. The groups of returnees needed to self-quarantine for 16 days, as mandated by the Burmese government. A while later, some returnees wanted to return to the Thai side when they heard from their networks that the Thai factories were re-opened after a 3-month close. But the border was still closed for humans to cross, only open for commodity trading. Many of them decided to return by illegally crossing the border, upon which some were taken by the Thai border police and sent back to the Myanmar side.

There was also a time when the local government was flexible to open the border for migrants to cross back, however, they were required to have all obligatory documents as I mentioned above to pass the health border. At the border on the Thai side, the office checked migrants’ body temperature. There was a case that the Shan migrant passed the immigration control from Myanmar side then cross to Thai side, but his body’s temperature exceed 37.5 degrees Celsius. The Thai office sent him back, but the Burmese government did not want to take him back either. 

Another case was reported by the local activist in Mae Sot about Muslim female migrants returned during the early time of the closed border. She was able to go back to Myanmar, but the Burmese state put them in a quarantine for 16 days at the border. When she arrived at her house, villagers were unhappy and afraid that she may spread the virus to them and their family members. She was required to stay inside her house for an additional 14 days. Later on, when she came back to Thai side, the migrant community in Mae Sot also required her to quarantine for 14 days and she relied on the food from her sister who visit her two times a day. This clearly show that during COVID-19 outbreak and relaxing phase, migrant workers who are already in a liminal position fall into another liminality with uncertainty when it will it end. Their lives are like being in double/layered liminality, one is from their status in the Thai society, and other is affected by COVID-19 which creates another layer of liminality to them.

iii. More difficulties

There is another group of migrant workers who decided not to return since they did not lose their job or their employer did not allow them to return.  This group may not face a double/layered of liminality, but they have to cope with difficulties on everyday life level while staying during this time.

Tee Tee works as a housekeeper in a suburb of Bangkok. She said that although COVID-19 did not make her lose her job, during lock-down she had to work longer hours and harder than before since her employer’s family members stayed at home. Apart from routine work, they demanded more services, so she had quite less time to relax. She said it was okay and better than losing her job. Similar to the case of Htoo Moo that works as a shop assistant in a center of Bangkok, she could not return to Myanmar since the employer did not want to take risk as she might not be able to return to Thailand again. She shared with me that she missed her family, especially her 2-year old son who she brought back to Myanmar last year and asked her parents to take care of him. She looked forward to seeing and hugging him again during the Thingyan, the Burmese New Year Festival. But it was impossible because of COVID-19. For her, Thingyan is not only just holidays, but a valuable time being at home in her house, relaxing, meeting friends and relatives, participating in religion ceremony, as well as taking care of official business, such as renewing her working permit.  

Win, a Lahu-Burmese man, works in an orchid farm in Nakorn Pathom. He shared with me that before COVID-19, he and his colleagues had to work every day. But during the lockdown, the orders from abroad stopped. His employer stopped cultivating orchids and laid off half the number of workers. He himself was not unemployed since he had been working with this employer for almost 8 years. But, he did not get paid his salary. The employer allowed him to stay in a worker house. He stopped sending remittances home for more than three months. His wife called and asked him when he could send her some money, his children have to eat every day. He wanted to find a part-time job in order to get some income, but it was impossible during this time. This made him stressed and he felt despair.

Tachileik, Myanmar / Mae Sai, Thailand: The time zone watches in the customs office ot the Myanmar-Thai Border. © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas licence infos

Conclusion

As we can see, COVID-19 outbreak affects migrant bodies in different and similar ways as Thai citizens. For the Burmese migrant workers, their body is necessary for the Thai economy as a body of labor, but not for something else. In a sense, it is a body that is disposable: if they go back, another migrant can take his/her place. In this sense, they are the quintessential 'other' to the Thai state (and many of its citizens who employ these migrants).

While COVID-19 exacerbated this focus on 'the body' by establishing a state of exception and erecting a strict health border in addition to the regular (political/geographical) border, returning Thai citizens suddenly found themselves subjected to a similar objectification, because their bodies as potential carriers of the virus were subject to the same health regime, which required anyone, citizen or non-citizen, to undergo several checks and enter into a liminal phase before being accepted back into Thai society.

I showed in this article that the ultimate goal for Thai society hereby was purification of society, cleansing it of all virus elements, even getting international recognition for its successful response, yet irrespective of its own citizens left stranded abroad, a tanking economy, people losing their jobs, and increasing suicides nationally. Even after months of zero new cases, polls show widespread support in the population to keep the state of emergency going and maintain zero cases at all costs, which shows that the discourse of the purity of the Thai nation runs deep and is widespread (not only in the government). Even though Thai health authorities seem well-equipped to deal with a few cases if regulations would relax, it is still unclear when the state of emergency will be lifted.

Footnotes

[1] Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin is the spokesperson of Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation-COVID-19. The quote is from Bangkok Post. (13th May 2020). No new Covid-cases for the first time retrieved from https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1917380/no-new-covid-cases-...(last access on 1 October 2020)

[2] In Thailand everyone diagnosed with COVID-19 gets transported to the hospital and is put in quarantine.

[3] อรรถจักร์ สัตยานุรักษ์ และคณะ (2020) โครงการวิจัย คนจนเมืองทmี่เปลี่ยนไปในสังคมเมืองที่กำลังเปลี่ยนแปลง สนับสนุนโดย สำนักงานคณะกรรมการส่งเสริมวิทยาศาสตร์ วิจัยและนวัตกรรม (สกสว.)

References

Agamben, G. (2005). State of Exception. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Agamben, G. (2020, March 14). Retrieved from the Book Haven: https://bookhaven.stanford.edu/2020/03/giorgio-agamben-on-coronavirus-t…

Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and Dange: An Analysis of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge Classics.

Fassin, D. (2009). Another Politics of Life is. Theory, Culture & Society, 44-60.

van Schendel, W., & De Maaker, E. (2014). Asian Borderlands: Introducing their Permeability, Strategic Uses and Meanings. Journal of Borderlands Studies, 29(1), 3-9. doi: 10.1080/08865655.2014.892689

Pick to PostMigrationmigrant workersBordersThailandMyanmarMalaysiaCOVID-19Source: https://th.boell.org/en/2020/10/08/covid-19-health-borders-and-purity-thai-nation?fbclid=IwAR3vh0fXZR8rw_QHcKVyIRPCLN7XvPF07vZ4EMkGTFd7xopdLDRNb1kvbYM
Categories: Prachatai English

Official Information Commission orders release of information on Red Shirt crackdown case

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-10-13 14:59
Submitted on Tue, 13 Oct 2020 - 02:59 PMPrachatai

Following a request from Prachatai for the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to disclose information concerning the investigation into the cases of the victims of the Red Shirt protest crackdowns, the Official Information Commission has ordered the DSI to disclose the information.

In June 2020, Prachatai submitted a request to the Deputy Director-General of the DSI, now the Acting Director-General, for information about the case of the victims of the 2010 Red Shirt crackdowns, especially concerning any progress in those cases and the number of cases that have been submitted to the public prosecutor or other agencies, such as the military courts. Prachatai also asked the DSI whether it is responsible for the cases of both civilians and national security officials.

On 13 July 2020, the DSI informed Prachatai that all cases concerning those killed during the 2010 crackdowns are being handled by DSI, but refused to disclose information about the progress of the cases, claiming that the request does not meet the criteria under which information can be disclosed.

According to the DSI, information can be disclosed for reasons of public interest; for the benefit of the life and health of a person; for the purposes of research when the court of first instance has already ruled on the case and without disclosing personal information or information that could obstruct law enforcement or cause harm to the life and safety of a person; or if the information is disclosed to a court, a government official, government agency, or other person legally authorized to request the information, unless the case is in progress or where disclosing the information could cause damage to national security, international relations or national financial security, obstruct law enforcement, or cause harm to the life and safety of a person.

Prachatai then filed an appeal with the Official Information Commission in accordance with the 1997 Official Information Act, as the request only asked for the disclosure of information concerning the progress of cases, not other information that could affect the investigation.

The Commission on 7 October ruled on the appeal and ordered the DSI to disclose the requested information on the ground that the DSI cannot use its internal criteria as grounds to deny the request, and that since the DSI already has the authority to compile the information and Prachatai is not requesting specific information about the case, disclosing the information would show DSI’s transparency.

NewsFreedom of informationOfficial Information CommissionOfficial Information Actred shirtstate violence2010 military crackdown
Categories: Prachatai English

Royal Thai Army linked to 926 Information Operation accounts, says Twitter

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-10-12 22:34
Submitted on Mon, 12 Oct 2020 - 10:34 PMPrachatai

Twitter has taken down 926 Thai Twitter accounts which are deemed to be part of a state-linked information operation. The analysis shows that they target opposition parties and pro-democracy movements and try to counter criticism of the military and the government.

On 8 October 2020, Twitter revealed 1,594 accounts linked to state-run information operations (IO) in 5 countries: 104 from Iran, 33 from Saudi Arabia, 526 from Cuba, 5 from fake Russian news agencies and 926 from Thailand.

Twitter cooperated with the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) in the investigation and analysis which revealed that 926 accounts with 21, 385 tweets linked to the Thai Royal Army supported the government and the Army and targeted opposition parties and their allies, especially the Future Forward Party (FFP) and the Move Forward Party (MFP).

The paper stated that most accounts were created between December 2019 and January 2020 and were most active in February 2020 during the Korat mass shooting perpetrated by an Army officer and the dissolution of the FFP. Most network accounts had low engagement on Twitter and no followers, left their bio sections empty and used stolen profile pictures.

The SIO’s country report “Cheerleading Without Fans: A Low-Impact Domestic Information Operation by the Royal Thai Army” categorized the RTA IO behaviour under 4 headings: RTA Cheerleading, neutralizing criticism during the Korat mass shooting, criticizing the FFP and MFP, and posting content related to Covid-19 including retweeting the PM’s tweets.

These accounts replied to and commented on RTA-adjacent twitter accounts en masse to boost their presence, dogpiled onto tweets from their ideological opponents and pushed hashtags in line with these intentions.

Lt Gen Santipong Thammapiya, Royal Thai Army spokesperson, denied that there is an IO network and claimed to have already confirmed to Twitter that they did not use the accounts for such things. The Army would investigate the accounts that were removed.

Santipong insisted that the official Twitter accounts of the Army were used only for promoting the Army’s activities. “I wish to confirm that [Army Twitter accounts] are used for the Army’s public relations, especially helping people in various situations because at this time Thailand currently faces repeated crises such as disasters caused by storms.  So we need to use social media to report and to monitor the situation, including ordering military units in the area to perform their duty on the ground as soon as possible,”[1]  said Santipong.

Deputy Army Spokesperson Col Sirichan Ngathong said that it was unfair to accuse the Army over unidentified accounts. She also said that it was a misunderstanding to claim the accounts belonged to a state-linked IO and it was not the Army’s mission to operate on social media.

The disclosure only served to confirm society's suspicions about the existence of IO. During the no-confidence motion on 25 February 2020, Viroj Lakkana-adisorn, MP of the since dissolved FFP, alleged that IO and cyber attacks were systematically supported and funded from state budgets by the Thai military.

Viroj showed a document from the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) granting a budget to operate a website that repeated content promoting the state’s agenda in the deep south Thailand, a region where the military have been deployed to suppress an insurgency.

The website often attacks people or Civil Society Organizations who promote human rights, and expose impunity and brutal treatment of civilians by the state. Networks of Facebook accounts work in coordination with the website.

NewstwitterRoyal Thai ArmyStanford Internet Observatory (SIO)Future Forward PartyMove Forward partyKorat shooting
Categories: Prachatai English

Setting standards for animal use amidst concern over rights

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-10-12 11:44
Submitted on Mon, 12 Oct 2020 - 11:44 AMBamaejuri Sokhlet

The long use of animals for labour and entertainment in Thailand finds itself at the crossroads as concerns over animal rights and welfare have become better known.

Left to right: A monkey that is trained to gather coconuts and ducks flock for rice fields pest control.

Whether training monkeys to gather coconuts, ploughing with buffalos or letting loose hundreds of thousands of ducks into paddy fields for pest control, Thais have developed a sophisticated dependence on animals to facilitate human activities. These agrarian-intensive relationships are even more pronounced by the commodification of animals for tourism.

Yet reactions from the public and rights groups seem to be widely different, depending on many factors, based on principles and sentiments. This causes confusion and disagreement among people and can also demonize the human-animal relationship, destroying the livelihoods of people who still need animals to earn a living.

Distinguishing rights and welfare

Dr Ramesh Boonratana, an Associate Professor at Mahidol University, said that there are no known laws regarding animal rights. It is still simply an idea or a concept that “espouses that animals should not be exploited for human purposes”. What animal rights activists believe is that animals should be given the same rights as humans.

“Animal welfare is about the humane treatment of animals – whether captive wild animals in zoos, farm animals, pets, or those free-ranging no-ownership cats and dogs,” he said. “Hence, depending on the countries – some may have animal welfare laws, most do not.”,

In Thailand, the Animal Welfare Act was enacted by the National Legislative Assembly in 2014. This Act ensures the protection and rescue of animals from abuse and mistreatment from their owner. 

Anyone who does not provide a standard quality of living for an animal will face penalties under Sections 31-35 of prison for up to 2 years or a fine of 40,000 baht or both. This Act also brings more awareness and sets standards for how animals should be treated in the country.

Nancy Gibson, the Chief Executive at Love Wildlife Foundation, further expounded on this difference by saying that animal rights are what we think animals should have, whether they are held in captivity or not.

“Animal welfare is more about when animals are already being kept and how you are treating them in captivity. So animal rights does not necessarily have to be an animal in captivity itself,” said Gibson. 

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) standards are internationally recognized and are regularly updated with evolving scientific knowledge. These standards are set up to improve animal health and provide a safe international trade of both animals and animal products. The measures put in place also help to detect, report and control pathogens that could be transferred across borders. 

According to OIE, animal welfare means the physical and mental state of an animal in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies. Animal health is greatly emphasized in the OIE Terrestrial Code, reiterating that the relationship between animal welfare and animal health is critical.

A comparison of the international definition of animal welfare and the Thai Animal Welfare Act does not reveal much difference. They define animal welfare as taking care of an animal, keeping it in proper condition and in good health, and providing an adequate home, food and water. However, even though Thailand now has this Act, many have criticized it for being too broad and not being specific enough. This leaves room for people to interpret it differently.

Shifting forward sighted

When asked about Thailand’s progress in animal protection, Gibson said that it is all about perception, “because the perception of what is right and what you should or should not do with animals is very different.” But she adds that the laws are changing and that people are slowly understanding what should and should not be done to animals.

Ramesh said that many cultures have ‘long-standing’ traditions. But this does not mean that the traditions that are detrimental to the well-being of humans, animals and ecosystems should be continued.

Gibson further adds that Thai culture in itself does not prohibit international standards from being applied in the country, but certain individuals do not want to accept these international standards because they are too “far ahead”.

She gives the example of the UK and the US, who have also committed animal exploitation, “but their journey is kind of farther ahead, farther along than in Southeast Asia. I guess for this region, they’re slowly getting into that transition. So it's not about the culture actually, so if anybody says it's the culture, I don’t think it's really valid.”

In regard to the Thai tourist industry, Ramesh said that all the animals that are used for shows and rides are wildlife and that they should be banned. He also said that there should be a clear understanding of what constitutes “abuse and use” and it should be addressed on a per-case basis because it will be different for wild animals compared to farm animals.

Bamaejuri is a Prachatai English intern from Mahidol University International College (MUIC)

Featureanimal rightsanimal welfareNancy GibsonRamesh Boonratana
Categories: Prachatai English

German MP questions Foreign Minister about Thai King’s status in Bavaria

Prachatai English - Sat, 2020-10-10 20:33
Submitted on Sat, 10 Oct 2020 - 08:33 PMPrachatai

An MP from Germany’s Green Party has questioned the German Foreign Ministry about its position towards the protests in Thailand and Thai King’s status in Bavaria. The Foreign Minister insists that Thai politics must not be conducted from German territory.

Left to right: Dr. Frithjof Schmidt and Heiko Maas

On 7 October 2020, Germany, Dr Frithjof Schmidt, an MP from Green Party, asked Foreign Minister Heiko Maas about possible EU economic sanctions against the military government that has interrupted the Thai democratization process.

Mass said that economic sanctions to freeze free trade negotiations were possible if the Thai government still persisted in their actions but discussions with Thailand should be held first.

The coup in 2014 led the EU to freeze contacts until Thailand returned to democracy. After the 2019 general election, free trade talks were resumed even though Thailand was still under military rule and human rights violations continued.

Schmidt also raised concerns about the Thai King’s status in Bavaria, claiming that the King had directed politics and had issued political orders from German territory, which he believed was illegal.

Mass insisted “We have made it clear that policy affecting the country of Thailand does not have to be taken from German soil. … But it is not in line with the view of the German Federal Government that … guests in our country carry out their state business from here; we would always like to counteract this clearly.”

As repeatedly reported in the media, the Thai King has been living in a villa and a hotel in Bavaria, Germany, with occasional day-long visits to Thailand for important royal events. However, he is now facing protests organized by Thai residents in front of his villa along with the protests in Thailand.

The King’s extended stay in Germany has stirred up public opinion even though the lèse majesté law criminalizes criticism of the King, Queen, Heir Apparent and Regent. The student-led democratic movement has stepped up with 10 demands for monarchy reform, claiming to put the monarchy in line with democratic values.

Below is a translation from German of the question and response between Dr Frithjof Schmidt and Heiko Maas:

Dr Frithjof Schmidt

Minister, in Thailand tens of thousands of people are currently demonstrating for more democracy and against the military junta.  The military junta had simply banned the main opposition party after the elections.  The European Union some time ago suspended negotiations on a free trade agreement with Thailand because of the junta's behaviour.  Following the announcement of elections, negotiations were resumed in order to promote this process of return to democracy.

Are you prepared to work now in this situation in the European Council to freeze these negotiations again as long as the junta continues to block the path to democracy in Thailand?

Heiko Maas: foreign minister

I do indeed think that this is an option that we are keeping open within the European Union.  I think it is right to have a dialogue on this once again with the Thai side.  We also have the opportunity because, as I believe, there is a great Thai interest in an agreement to this end, which is used as a means of exerting pressure. However, I would not like to rule out the possibility that, because of the behaviour that we have to take note of there at the moment, we can take such a step.

Dr Frithjof Schmidt

I have one more inquiry. The Thai king stays often and for a long time in Germany; he owns a villa here.  That is in order.  But he also conducts direct politics from Germany.  Among other things, he has publicly banned his sister from running as the leading candidate for the main opposition party.

Why has the Federal Government tolerated for months this extremely unusual and, in my opinion, illegal behaviour by a foreign head of state to conduct politics from German soil?

Heiko Maas

We have made it clear that policy affecting the country of Thailand does not have to be taken from German soil.  Also, I believe that there are many bizarre reports on what is taking place.  But it is not in line with the view of the German Federal Government that – and this is different from what we had with Mr Navalny – guests in our country carry out their state business from here; we would always like to counteract this clearly.

NewsFrithjof SchmidtHeiko MaasKing VajiralongkornRama XGermanyBundestagpoliticsSource: prachatai.com/journal/2020/10/89880
Categories: Prachatai English

YouTube locally blocks speech about monarchy reform at Thai government’s request

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-09 19:51
Submitted on Fri, 9 Oct 2020 - 07:51 PMPrachatai

A video of human rights lawyer Anon Nampa in which he addresses monarchy reform is inaccessible from Prachatai’s YouTube channel. A YouTube spokesperson has stated via email that it is operating in line with a Thai government request.

The screen states: Video unavailable
This content is not available on this country domain due to a legal complaint from the government.

“We need to oblige in line with the law of every country that we operate our business. In this case, we acted according to the court order and limit the access to the video. We are considering our legal alternatives to find every possible way to support the user’s expression,” states the email.

The video records Anon’s speech at the protest at Thammasat University on 10 August where he emphasizes the need to reform the monarchy by limiting royal prerogatives in line with democratic principles.

According to the Google Transparency Report that is published every 6 months, during 2009-2019 the Thai government submitted 964 requests to delete content. The criticism toward the government are the most requested to be deleted with the number of 26,891 or 99% of the requests.

Of the requests, only 62 were endorsed by the Thai courts. The rest were made by government authorities. In the second half of 2019, the Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha government submitted requests to delete 1,238 URLs, all of which contain criticism of the government.

The report also states that in the past 3 years (since the latter half of 2018), Google has complied in blocking content at the high rate of 70-96% of the government requests.

Since 2013, Google has not distinguished between requests to block criticism of the government and those to block criticism of the monarchy.

In August 2020, Puttipong Punnakanta, Minister of the Digital Economy and Society, tweeted that in 2020, Facebook blocked only 1,316 out of 4,767 URLs named in court orders while YouTube blocked 1,507 out of 1,616.

NewsYouTubeAnon NampaPuttipong Punnakantainternet freedomMonarchy reformSource: prachatai.com/journal/2020/10/89876
Categories: Prachatai English

Indonesia: End police violence, respect fundamental freedoms at the Omnibus Law protests

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-09 17:17
Submitted on Fri, 9 Oct 2020 - 05:17 PMFORUM-ASIA

The Government of Indonesia should ensure the protection of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and halt law enforcement from using excessive force at protests against the recently passed Omnibus Law, said the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development and eight of its member organisations in Indonesia.

FORUM-ASIA’s members in Indonesia are: The Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia (AJI), the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial), the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI), the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), and Sekretariat Anak Merdeka (SAMIN).

Massive protests have erupted across Indonesia since 6 October 2020. The number is expected to increase today as more people are coming out to call for the immediate repeal of the recently passed Omnibus Law, which would significantly weaken various aspects including labour protections and environmental safeguards.

‘The Government should ensure a safe environment for the public to share their dissent against the Omnibus law. Indonesia has the obligation to protect and respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of expression, and to ensure the government’s actions are compliant with international human rights standards. Any form of police violence is inexcusable,’ said the groups.

On 7 October, the police violently dispersed protests in cities across the country, using water cannons and tear gas, and arresting hundreds. Protest organisers have also shared allegations of at least one individual beaten by the police while another six protesters have allegedly been critically injured in clashes.

It is also believed that an internal police directive detailed its plans to conduct cyber-patrols on social media, supposedly to ‘counter narratives’ and discourage individuals from participating in the protests.

Under international standards, the State has the obligation to respect fundamental freedoms in both online and offline spaces. State forces are prohibited from conducting unwarranted interference in any peaceful assembly.

‘These efforts by the police to discredit the legitimate concerns of the Indonesian people, civil society organisations and human rights organisations reaffirm protesters’ distrust against the Government, when the law was passed despite overwhelming criticism. The government and the police continue to deprive the people the right to express dissent. As we head towards these massive protests, the police and the government should know that their actions will come under the scrutiny of Indonesians, human rights organisations and the international community.’

The police have argued that the protests will cause the massive risk of transmitting COVID-19 and have used this reasoning to prohibit individuals from attending protests. Protesters have however argued that the threats posed by the Omnibus Law would have further and greater repercussions to their rights.

Arguing that it would improve the economy and investments, the Parliament passed the Omnibus Law on 4 October 2020 despite public outrage. The law revises 79 existing laws to the detriment of workers, indigenous communities and the environment, whose protection would be further side-lined. 

‘The passage of the Omnibus Law has demonstrated how the State prioritises business over the protection of its people’s rights and welfare as well as the environment. These protests should be a reminder that the people are angry and want to claim back what the government has taken. Therefore, we reiterate our call for the Government to repeal the law immediately,’ said the groups.

Pick to PostAsian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)IndonesiaOmnibus lawlabour rights
Categories: Prachatai English

The unjust massacre that is fuelling the democratic movement

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-09 13:58
Submitted on Fri, 9 Oct 2020 - 01:58 PMYiamyut Sutthichaya

The annual commemoration of the 6 October 1976 massacre, one of the most brutal crackdowns in Thai history, has this year been the biggest and most widely acknowledged due to the rise of the mass democratic movement. Transitional justice and deep-rooted problems were brought up, national security and the monarchy included.

Commemoration participants laid down white roses to pay condolences to those who fell in 6 Octobers 1976 at Chulalongkorn University.

6 October 1976 was commemorated in Bangkok at Chulalongkorn University (CU), where anti-Thanom protests began and were later suppressed, and Thammasat University (TU), where protestors were killed and dragged into Sanam Luang. None of the perpetrators were ever brought to justice.

Deaths honoured

Wichitchai ‘Piak’ Amornkul, a 2nd year political science student from CU, was killed, and his corpse was mutilated, hanged and beaten in the middle of a cheering crowd. The dead have been quietly remembered for 4 decades, until more light was brought into the commemoration at CU this year.

The Political Science Student Committee has named meeting rooms after Wichitchai and Dr Boonsanong Punyodyana, a CU alumnus and Secretary General of the Socialist Party of Thailand who was assassinated in February 1976, to honour their sacrifice.

Left to right: Prof Surachart Bamroongsuk and the 28th batch alumnus representative participated in the Wichitchai's meeting room opening ceremony.

The 28th alumnus cohort were invited to witness the opening of the room named after their friend. They left white roses and solemnly touched Wichitchai’s portrait hanging over the wall.

One of them, E, who requested not to give their real name, said Piak was a sportsperson and knew many people due to his open personality. He went to TU to help friends as a security guard, a very dangerous duty when the movement was demonized as communist and socialist with the aim of overthrowing the nation, religion and monarchy.

E said that according to friends, Piak and his friends were scattered when the anti-protesters and security forces succeeded in storming TU. They found out about his death later, a very cruel and brutal death that none of his friends or related circle want to even talk about.

“Those who had to die on 6 October 1976 are an important lesson for Thai society that hatred can make people hurt each other in ways that should not happen. The lesson from Piak Wichitchai or others that lost their lives on 6 October must be appreciated with pride,” said E.

Lesson toward democratic struggle

Prof Surachart Bamrungsuk, a professor from CU and a leading figure in the Student Centre of Thailand which organized the protests that suffered the crackdown on 6 October, said in a speech that the state violence that day reflected the state’s perception of the students as their political enemy which had to be dealt with military force.

Prof Surachart Bamrungsuk

He said the progressive student movements stemmed from the 14 October 1973 revolution that ousted the dictatorial regime. Students started to engage with farmers, workers, and others that faced injustice in the hope of a better society, but those in power saw these activities a threat to the status quo.

“It was the first time that we had seen high-powered weapons. We saw the power of the recoilless rifles, the destructive power of the M79 grenade launchers which were normally used against enemy tanks. But the students were not enemies, and there were no tanks in Thammasat University,” said Surachart.

“It was the first time we saw the outright use of M16 rifles. That day, we heard the sound of M16 bullets regularly hitting the walls of Thammasat University buildings all the time. All this was not the filming of a war movie, but shooting with the lives of students as targets.”

“On that day, people in society were made to hate students. Consuming this kind of narrative made the consumers ready to transform themselves into predators with the lives of students as prey. And Piak was one of the hunted.”

‘The performance was not wrong’ victim whose image spurred 6 Oct massacre insists

The 6 October crackdown was followed by a coup in the evening of the same day. The government led by Thanin Kraivichien later imposed extreme restrictions on socialist and communist thinking in Thai society, pushing many students into the jungle to join the armed forces of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) that were scattered around the country.

The radical right-wing security policy brought Thailand to the edge of an even more violent nationwide civil war. This tension ended when the Thai government decided to fight the CPT politically, draining it of manpower and legitimacy, resulting in the end of the conflict in 1983. Surachart said this was a reflection of the importance of war on the political front, then and now.

He said the democratic struggle today is more complex than in the past. Today’s dictatorship had turned itself into a semi-dictatorship, legitimizing itself through an election. The struggle to de-legitimize it must use 3 tactics: expose, protest and avoid clashes. Security sector reform is very important for stabilizing democratic regimes.

“Do not expect that the fight against authoritarian regimes will succeed by organizing just one protest. There is no such thing as ‘one battle winning the war’ because political war has never ended on one battlefield. The success of transition will be an important path toward military reform. A successful transition will reform the military. But if the transition is not successful, military reform cannot happen.”

“The creation of new politics without military reform will only be fragile, waiting for the coming of the next coup d’état. We may have to think about reform of security of the whole country in the future.” said Surachart.

How 6 October is important to the new generation, and the new wave of struggle

Assoc Prof Kanokrat Lertchoosakul, a lecturer from CU Political Science Faculty who has researched the recent rise of the democratic movement among the young generation, said they relate to the 6 October incident more than 14 October 1973 even though the latter was a victory where the people ousted a dictatorship.

Kanokrat explained tat the 6 October incident is the embodiment of this generation who are also engaged in the unfinished fight against dictatorship. 14 October, despite its initial success, still failed to establish a democratic regime, a failure which led to the massacre 3 years later.

The public panel at the commemoration joined by Kanokrat Lertchoosakul, Prajak Kongkirati and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit

Asst Prof Prajak Kongkirati from TU Political Science Faculty said many speeches in recent countrywide protests referred to the 1932 democratic revolution, 6 October 1976 and the crackdown on the red shirts in 2010. Despite these being seen historically as defeats, this young generation emphasizes that they are unfinished missions and point to the impunity that allows the perpetrators to walk free.

“They are saying that these 3 incidents, which look like defeats in terms of history, are asking us to clearly understand Thai society. These incidents expose the hideousness of the Thai state and Thainess and how it could kill people,” said Prajak.

Prajak said impunity must be addressed and solved during a political transition. He proposed 4 steps toward transitional justice:

  1. Making society no longer accept violence of this kind anymore, the ‘never again’ mindset.
  2. Finding the facts
  3. Bringing justice to those involved
  4. Compensating those who have suffered in either monetary or psychological terms.
  5. Reforming the security forces that are involved in human rights violations. Both commanders and subordinates that take part in abuse must be brought to justice.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the Progressive Movement leader, said that impunity and excessive propaganda for the traditional institutions still linger in society. As of now, society mainly has a few missions to complete together:

  1. Amend the 2017 constitution by the people
  2. Military reform
  3. Judicial reform
  4. Bureaucratic reform toward decentralization
  5. Economic system reform to end monopolization by a small group of capitalists
  6. Monarchy reform

On the question of the fear of addressing monarchy reform, Thanathorn said it is very important to address the issue. Those who speak for others must not be left out there alone and suffering harassment. Society will be able to find the solution to Thailand's political crisis only when they accept that the monarchy is one of the problems making Thailand undemocratic.

“If you do not speak, you will lose friends. There will be no one who dares to speak in your place. There will be no one who dares to speak the truth in your place. This is the very first reason that you will come to stand with them. This is the time in society for us to come out to stand alongside each other because the forces that we are fighting are enormous. You have nothing but numbers.

“When we speak about the monarchy, we have not spoken with hostility or hatred, but with reason, with the maturity of addressing what problems there are that make Thailand undemocratic.

“We speak with goodwill before it is too late. We speak with goodwill before Thailand has another 6 October. We speak with goodwill that, if every side comes together to find the solution and talk about this issue openly, the monarchy, democracy and Thailand can co-exist.”

Protesters and guards protecting Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, a leading figure of United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration in submitting the monarchy reform demands to the police on 20 Sep 2020

“If you do not accept the truth that the monarchy, the role of the monarchy and some powers of the monarchy should be reformed in line with democratic values, if you do not accept the truth, this problem cannot be solved.”, said Thanatorn

The interest of people in the 6 October incident relates to the increasing public debate about it which criticizes the impunity and deep-rooted political problems in Thailand, be they authoritarianism or the nexus between the monarchy and the military. On the other hand, those who provide sources of information for those who are interested contribute a lot to the public discussion.

Assoc Prof Puangthong Pawakapan, an academic from CU Faculty of Political Science, one of the founders of doct6.com, the most informative online archive on 6 October as of now, said it is very surprising that people are paying attention to the incident.

She said the political situation, especially under the Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha junta government, has given the younger generation an interest in the 6 October incident. It can be counted as a success of the project, but there is more to go.

“6 October became the incident that was used to refer to violence which the state inflicted on the people, the incident that is quoted to show us that those in power, when they have done wrong to the people, have never been held to account. It is referred to as a society that is clearly divided into sides. The media became a tool to create hatred, became a tool for incitement, support and legitimacy for the state to use violence against the people.

“The interest that the new generation has in 6 October is also the result of the actions of the government itself. Our work in creating the website is perhaps timely, making it an information base and source of knowledge for society to study about the past and at the same time to criticize what is happening now,” said Puangthong. 

  Feature6 October 1976Surachart BamrungsukKanokrat LertchoosakulPrajak KongkiratiThanathorn JuangroongruangkitWichitchai AmornkulBoonsanong Punyodyana
Categories: Prachatai English

Drugs were normal as eating rice: understanding the experiences and needs of sex workers in Pattaya

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-10-09 11:53
Submitted on Fri, 9 Oct 2020 - 11:53 AMPattamon Wattanawanitchakorn (International Drug Policy Consortium), Thissadee Sawangying (Health Opportunity Network)

The life of a transgender sex worker in Pattaya is not easy. On the one hand, “Pattaya is a paradise for transgender people, a place where many transgender sex workers feel they can openly express their identities,” says Thissadee of the Health Opportunity Network (HON). On the other hand, transgender sex workers face widespread discrimination, violence, and oppression, especially from law enforcement.

Source: Central Cultural Information Centre

I am attending HON’s workshop on harm reduction for transgender sex workers who use drugs – the first such event organised for this group in Pattaya by HON with support from Ozone Foundation. HON was established in 2010 to provide peer-based health and support services for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people and sex workers living with HIV in Pattaya, Thailand, while Ozone is a non-government organisation that provides community-based harm reduction services for people who use and inject drugs in Thailand. Responding to a gap in existing services, HON has begun to focus on better understanding the experiences and needs of transgender sex workers who use drugs.

The workshop is supported by VOICE as part of the year-long “Strengthening and empowering women who use drugs in Southeast Asia” (SPIRIT) project, which works in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia toward empowering women, including transgender women, who use drugs, to establish and strengthen community-led networks and advocate for gender equality, legal rights, and drug policy reform. Under the SPIRIT project, HON works in collaboration with the women cluster of the Thai Network of People Who Use Drugs to empower women, including transgender women, who use drugs, to advocate for their legal rights and build their capacity to integrate a harm reduction approach in their work.

The 20 transgender sex workers in the room are initially hesitant to share, but they are quick to empathize with one another as their stories take a similar turn. “I thought I was the only odd one,” a participant reflected. “But meeting everyone else here today, I could see that we all have similar experiences and that I’m not the only one who is different.” They share experiences of being stopped at checkpoints and forced to undergo urine tests on the spot, and of facing extortion by the police of up to 300,000 Thai Baht (USD $ 10,000) per month to avoid imprisonment and further harassment.

“A hard job”

The women describe precarious work circumstances. Getting through a regular work day often requires drinking alcohol or taking other substances to increase stamina. The daily wages earned by the sex workers are frequently the only source of income supporting their families. For a higher wage, sex workers may be asked to sell drugs, usually crystal methamphetamine (commonly known as ‘crystal meth,’ or ‘ice’ in Thailand), as well as to use drugs together with clients as a part of their services. Using crystal meth before or during sex can intensify and prolong sexual experiences, but in the absence of prevention measures such as use of condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), there is a high risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C. Some sex workers also use crystal meth for weight loss.

Although sex workers may prefer not to use crystal meth in sexual settings, it is challenging to refuse an offer of 10 times the amount of a regular fee, especially in times of economic hardship. One participant calls the nature of the work a ‘hard job’ and a ‘burden in life’ which increases sex workers’ risk of being targeted by law enforcement.

Covid-19 restrictions and economic hardship

The perilous work environment in which transgender sex workers operate has become more insecure with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In response to Covid-19, the Thai government declared a nationwide state of emergency, while the Pattaya area had already been affected by an abrupt decline in tourists since early 2020. Many entertainment venues suspended their business operations or closed entirely, which in return affected employees, many of whom were forced out of employment without compensation.

Because entertainment businesses were closed and tourism – including sex tourism – has come to a standstill, many sex workers are struggling to get by. Transgender sex workers faced compounded challenges: in addition to now being unable to work, many were denied access to basic support from the government since they do not have identity documents. Throughout the lockdown, HON conducted house visits to provide food and hygiene supplies to over 200 transgender people in the Pattaya area, as well as conduct interviews to better understand their situation and how to best respond to it.

Drugs, stigma, and discrimination

It is difficult for transgender people to talk about their drug use freely, even with their families or close friends, for fear of being judged and discriminated against, jeopardising their existing relationships. “Once they know [that I use drugs], my friends look at me differently, they treat me differently even though I’ve always been using drugs the entire time. I haven’t changed. They have,” one participant shared.

In the two-day workshop, HON fostered a safe space that allowed transgender people who use drugs to discuss their unique challenges. Harm reduction training approaches such as Ozone’s Drug User Environment (DUE) tool were followed to improve understanding about the harms of various types of drugs and ways to safely manage their use. The participants were encouraged to be more conscious of the type of drug they are using and their effects, as well as their surrounding environment. Monitoring these factors will help them to assess the associated risks and reduce the potential harms, which range from forgetting to eat and sleep to negative mental health impacts.   

Participants discuss the type of drugs that they have used and the physical and mental effects of those drugs. (Photo credit: Pattamon “Tae” Wattanawanitchakorn)

“I was thin and beautiful when I used drugs. I won pageants and worked at an entertainment show on the border of China and Myanmar for around 10 years. Because it was so easily accessible there, everyone used it. But then one night, I hallucinated and found myself lying in the middle of the road. Not long after that, I decided to come back to Thailand. I stopped taking drugs and I gained so much weight.”

Oot showed two pictures of herself side by side and it was hard to believe that they were of the same person. Across Asia, especially in the entertainment business, significant societal pressure is placed on women to maintain a certain type of appearance. Dominant values that associate beauty with thinness also promote self-stigma and shame around weight gain.

Oot, one of the participants from the workshop, shares photos taken from her phone. She is in the middle wearing a tiara in the left photo, and on the right in the right photo. (Photo credit: Oot)

For Gift, her experience has a darker, harrowing beginning. “I grew up around drugs. My brother, I was very close to him … and he was, let’s just say, he was one of the biggest dealers in the East area. Drugs were as normal to me as eating rice, so when I was 12 I tried it. I didn’t feel anything. It was just something the people around me did and I just wanted to fit in.” Gift’s brother died tragically while she was still young, leaving her on her own.

The oldest person in the room, Jim, holds the honorary title ‘mother’, a name given to her by the community as a sign of respect. She sits at a lunch table across from Boong, who appears more reserved. Asked about her experience with drugs, Jim says, “I went to prison for five years for using and selling drugs. She was the one who told on me” – she gestures to Boong – “but I don’t blame her. You have to do what you have to do.” She clarifies that getting caught by the police leaves one with two main choices: either surrendering to arrest, detention and sentencing (most likely a term of years of imprisonment), or acting as an informant for the police in exchange for a lighter sentence; it appears to be accepted that each person must put their own survival first. Sitting across the table from one another, there is no apparent trace of animosity between the two.

However, not every incident resolves itself this way. There are others who describe similar experiences which leave relationships among friends, families, and community members harmed beyond repair. Hostile interactions with the police, encouraged by the ongoing criminalisation of drug use and the over-reliance on harsh and insensitive police modus operandi, have bred distrust and resentment towards law enforcement within the community.

Jim, a participant from the workshop went to prison for five years for possession and consumption. “I wish they gave us opportunities to find a job when I came out of prison,” she says. (Photo credit: Pattamon “Tae” Wattanawanitchakorn)

Death was also a common topic. Gift admits that awareness of harm reduction could have saved her friend’s life. “We were taking drugs together. And our friend next to us who was sleeping took a gasp in her sleep. We continued to play cards until morning. We didn’t know but that was the last breath that she took. We even moved her body upstairs, not knowing that she was already dead.” If they had access to harm reduction education and services, they likely could have helped their friend and prevented the loss of life.

“I compare myself to a messy room. HON is like a key that opened my door and gave me perspective to open the windows. I can breathe.” Gift is one of the participants from the workshop. (Photo credit: Pattamon “Tae” Wattanawanitchakorn)

Empowering transgender sex workers

For HON, empowerment means ‘strengthening power from the inside’ and ‘building value, pride, and self-respect’ through activities that help reduce internalised stigma for transgender people who use drugs. Transgender people who use drugs have limited ‘bargaining power’ and often experience rights violations, including violence from law enforcement.

HON continues to work closely with the transgender community to empower transgender sex workers through trainings on reducing stigma, building a network of transgender people who use drugs, creating a safe space to exchange experiences, developing understanding of relevant laws and mechanisms for protection, and building alliances with international organisations to advocate for more humane and less punitive policies at the national level.

Although the topics shared as part of this gathering were heavy, by the end of the second day, the atmosphere grew more relaxed. “I compare myself to a messy room. HON is like a key that opened my door and gave me perspective to open the windows. I can breathe,” Gift tells the group.

Participants from the workshop show solidarity with the Support. Don’t Punish movement. (Photo credit: Pattamon “Tae” Wattanawanitchakorn)

Pick to PostPattayaSex workerInternational Drug Policy ConsortiumHealth Opportunity Networkdrug using
Categories: Prachatai English

Thammasat University massacre remembered

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-10-08 00:45
Submitted on Thu, 8 Oct 2020 - 12:45 AMPrachatai

On the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the 6 October 1976 Thammasat University massacre, a three-day event was held at Thammasat University, including a series of panel discussions, concerts, and a pop-up museum.

The Red Gate seen through the augmented reality application at the pop-up museum. 

Organised by the October 6 Museum project and titled “Hanged” (“แขวน”), the ‘on-site museum’ is currently housed in Thammasat University’s main auditorium at the Tha Pra Chan campus and uses augmented reality technology to present the story of what happened on the morning of 6 October 1976 through the use of superimposed photographs and sound clips.

Situated at the door to the auditorium and the starting point of the exhibition is the ‘Red Gate,’ a rusty metal gate upon which Chumporn Thummai and Vichai Kaetsripongsa were found hanged on 24 September 1976, after they had been putting up posters protesting the return of Thanom Kittikachorn to Thailand.

Flowers left at the Red Gate, which mark the starting point of the exhibition. 

The gate was retrieved from its original location in Nakhon Pathom by a group of academics and activists from the Documentation of Oct 6 Project in July 2019 and has been kept in a warehouse for the purpose of becoming part of an exhibition on state violence and the 6 October massacre.

“The meaning of a museum has changed from the past. The first year after we got the gate, we just did a simple exhibition, but this year we have improved. A museum as we understand it is story telling. Whether we have a place or not is not the point. We start from telling one story and then slowly link it to many other stories on a scale we can manage. Actually, from the hanging, we can link it to many other things. The simple question is who did it, what happened, and so on,” said architect Benjamas Winitchakul, a member of the team behind the exhibition.

“The gate in itself, its meaning is a perfect fit. It is the opening, the start of the story. The story of the electricians being hanged came first, and then other events followed.”

The team behind the exhibition, from left: Thanapol Eiwsakul, Pattaraporn Phuthong, Benjamas Winitchakul, and Priyakorn Pusawiro. 

Using a tablet provided at the exhibition, visitors can see a photograph of the bodies of Chumporn and Vichai hanging from the gate. Inside the auditorium foyer, visitors can also use tablets to see photographs of the massacre superimposed onto a large banner of Sanam Luang, as well as a view of the university football field and Sanam Luang outside of the auditorium windows, while hearing a sound clip of a radio broadcast from the day saying that those killed were Vietnamese, a message which was used to demonize the students and justify their murder. They can also scan a number of QR codes printed next to the names of a number of known victims to read about them. 

Priyakorn Pusawiro from the Computer Engineering Department at the King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi led a team from Digital Picnic in creating the augmented reality images for the exhibition. She explained that this is a site with a history of violence, and that they wanted society to see that this is a fact that happened at the time, so they use real photographs and the actual location combined with augmented reality technology. She also mentioned that they might turn the exhibition into an application in the future.

A crowd gathering at around 18.00 on Tuesday (6 October) to listen to researcher Wattanachai Winichakul give a guided tour of the exhibition. Wattanachai's older brother, historian Thongchai Winichakul, was one of the leaders of the student protest in 1976.

“You can never erase images of the past and images of the truth. We just used technology to augment it for the younger generation to see the history of 6 October which was never included in textbooks, but it is here, and it will inspire them to find out more,” said Priyakorn.

“Museum is translation, an exhibition of knowledge. It doesn’t tell anyone what to believe, but museums play a role in presenting the truth and letting the audience interpret it according to their beliefs as well, not forcing knowledge on them. We focus on the fact which is access through seeing. It’s a fact without any emotion. It’s an experience-based lesson by bringing back the past, and hoping that it will be an inspiration for young people to find out more.”

A loudspeaker used by the students, riddled with bullet holes after the events of the morning of 6 October 1976.

The museum also includes an exhibition of some belongings of victims of the massacre, such as school uniforms belonging to Jarupong Thongsin, a pair of jeans belonging to Danaisak Eiam-khong and a page from his father’s diary detailing the day the family was informed of Danaisak’s death, as well as a loudspeaker the students were using on the day, which is riddled with bullet holes. Meanwhile, the names of those killed during the massacre are read out from a speaker near these objects.

A copy of the Daily News from 7 October 1976, containing pictures of the massacre, is on display at the exhibition. 

Between 4 – 6 October 2020, there was a series of panel discussions about political issues in Thailand, film screenings, stage plays, as well as concerts by Rap Against Dictatorship and the Commoner Band. During the evening, a candlelit vigil was held at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture next to the auditorium building, where visitors to the event are invited to light candles and place flowers in memory of the victims of the massacre.

The exhibition will be at the main auditorium until 11 October and is open between 10.00 – 20.00 each day.

Visitors lighting candles at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture.

Meanwhile, at Chulalongkorn University, the Faculty of Political Science Student Committee also organized a memorial event, including an opening ceremony for the Wichitchai Amornkul and Dr Boonsanong Boonyothayan Meeting Room, named after two alumni of the Faculty who were killed during the events leading up to and on 6 October 1976. 

Gallery

Flowers placed at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture in memory of the victims of the massacre

Wreaths placed at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture from various student groups and political parties

The diary of Danaisak Eiam-khong's father, opened at a page containing the detail about the day the family was informed of Danaisak's death.

The Commoner Band performed at the Sri Burapha Auditorium.

A panel discussion on Thai politics in the view of the younger generation. 

Student protest leader Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul lighting the first candle during the candlelight vigil for the victims of the massacre. 

Flowers and candles were placed at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture during the candlelight vigil which marked the conclusion of the three-day memorial event. 

NewsThammasat University massacre6 October 1976October 6 Museum project
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