Abdullah Isomuso from Saiburi District, Pattani Province, detained under Martial Law for suspected involvement in insurgency on July 20, was found unconscious in the interrogation centre inside Ingkhayutthaborihan Fort. On the morning of 21 July, when Abdullah’s family visited him in the Fort, they were informed that he had been rushed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Pattani Hospital. As his condition deteriorated, he was sent to the hospital of Prince of Songkhla University in Hat Yai, where he lay unconscious until he finally passed away on 25 August. Abdullah was the only son of his handicapped and widowed mother, and his wife was left with small children of 7 and 2 years old.
The unnaturally drastic deterioration in Abdullah’s health happened inside Ingkhayutthaborihan Fort, described as a ‘notorious’ detention centre ‘where suspects are taken for interrogation and held under emergency laws and where rights groups have documented torture.’ What actually happened to Abdullah there is difficult to know. The CCTV footage was conveniently not available, as the cameras installed inside the centre were not functioning at the time the incident happened. Answering a question about the involvement of security officers in torture of the suspect, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha dismissed such suspicions as something caused by ‘watching too many movies’.
In fact, there is no need to watch even a single movie to connect cases of unnatural death or unnaturally drastic deterioration in health with torture. It is just enough to follow what has happened to suspects detained under the special laws enforced in the conflict area of the southern border provinces. Abdullah is not the first case. Several similar cases happened before him, and allegations of torture have never gone away. The National Human Rights Commission stated that during the period between December 2016 and May 2018 there were 100 petitions concerning bodily harm or torture from detainees under the special laws.An unbridgeable gap of ‘facts’
What Prayut said reflects an almost unbridgeable gap of opinions about this case. The government has persistently denied any allegations of torture or responsibility of security officers in Abdullah’s sudden deterioration in health and his death. On the other hand, many local Malay Muslims in the southern border provinces, human right activists and those who are aware of this issue find the explanations provided by the government highly lacking in credibility. ‘This case can be explained by the facts,’ said Col Pramot Phrom-in, the spokesperson of ISOC Region 4. However, the ‘facts’ convenient for the security forces are not credible to the public, because the very ‘fact’ that caused Abdullah’s state of unconsciousness has never been explained.
The security personnel at every level followed the same line. When asked about Abdullah’s case, Prime Minister (and Minister of Defence) Prayut Chan-o-cha said “the government has said all along it does not have a policy to use violence on suspected individuals or suspects.” The spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence, Lt Gen Khongcheep Tantrawanit, also told the media the same thing, stating that any action outside the country’s law or human right violations by officers would be severely punished. A statement in the same tone had already been issued by the spokesperson of ISOC Region 4 after Abdullah was found unconscious. The absence of a policy, however, does not guarantee that there is no misuse of power, no human right violations or no torture in practice.
Although the readiness of the government to punish any officer involved in misbehaviour, misuse of power or human right violations has been repeated again and again whenever a similar suspicion arises, it lacks the very basis to convince the public because no officer has ever been punished to this day. According to Zachary Abuza, “a handful (of soldiers) have been (prosecuted for alleged torture or death of inmates in its custody), but all have been freed on appeals.” He continued, “In most cases, after government pledges to investigate, charges are dropped after public pressure dissipates.” It seems that this time the government is following exactly the same script.
In Abdullah’s case, even the investigation process is questioned. ISOC Region 4 set up a fact-finding committee to investigate, including local religious leaders and NGO activists including human right activists. However, a fact-finding committee on a case that happened inside a military facility by the military itself is not sufficiently convincing or credible. Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, a freelance researcher focusing on the conflict, questioned the method of investigation. The committee had to face a diminution of its already thin credibility after the resignation from the committee of Anchana Hemmina, a local human rights activist, due to the restrictions in accessing information. She told the BBC that the purpose of the investigation is justice for the deceased and his family, not the protection of anyone or any government agency. Therefore, the important thing is to investigate what rendered him unconscious, not the (medical) reason of his death. Dr Chalita Bundhuwong, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Kasetsart University, stated in her Facebook post on 28 August that involvement of local civil society organisations (CSOs) and religious leaders in the committee was to provide justification for the army.
The government is trying to convince the public that officers were not responsible for Abdullah’s condition, but questions about how Abdullah became unconscious while in military detention remain unanswered. The renovation of the interrogation centre into a place resembling a ‘home or a resort’ hardly helps anything. The gap of opinion between the government and the public seems bigger and bigger. As can be observed from Prayut’s statement, the government apparently fails to grasp the seriousness of the impact caused by Abdullah’s death.Abdullah as a public figure of the conflict area
Before he was detained, not many people knew Abdullah. Now he is known among most of the local people, and his death was reported by the mainstream media. The impact of the tragedy that has befallen Abdullah and his family can be seen from two prayer ceremonies held for them.
On 24 July, more than a month after Abdullah was rushed to the ICU, the local community of his village organised a prayer ceremony to pray for his health and recovery and the strength of his family.  By that time local Malay Muslims understood that Abdullah’s brain had been severely damaged, and he was kept alive only by the assistance of various medical devices. The only possibility of his recovery was miraculous help from God. The ceremony was attended by several hundreds of people. The prayer was led by Waedueramae Maminchi, President of the Islamic Council of Pattani Province, joined by local politicians (including former and incumbent MPs) and religious leaders. Abdullah passed away the next day, 25 August. The funeral prayer in a mosque near his house was attended by more than a thousand people. The funeral of an ordinary villager is usually attended by a few hundred. The number of mourners who attended Abdullah’s funeral prayer indicates that he has become a public figure for the Malay Muslim community in the conflict area.The tale of Abdullah and its position in the local discourse
The tale of Abdullah and his family’s suffering has become a part of the history of the Patani Malay Muslims’ long-suffered grievances, and like so many similar tales before him, it will be related again and again. Although his body was washed before the burial (unlike the body of a martyr, which is buried without being washed), in the perception of nationalistic Malay Muslims in the south, he is almost like a martyr.
On 22 July, after reports of serious damage to Abdullah’s brain caused by a lack of oxygen for a long period of time, a local activist posted a picture of two Muslim men shaking hands with each other, standing on a cloud. In the background, there is a signboard to ‘Syahid City (City of Martyrs)’. In the captions written in the Jawi script of Malay, a man from the city welcomes a newcomer and says, “Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you). I’m from Tak Bai”. The newcomer says, “Waalaikumussalamm (And upon you peace). I’m from Telaga Bakong”. Telaga Bakong is the Malay name for Bo Thong, the name of the subdistrict (tambon) where Fort Ingkhayutthaborihan is located. The significance of this picture lies in the fact that although Abdullah had nothing to do with the brutal crackdown on the demonstrators in Tak Bai on 25 October 2004, in the perception of local Malay Muslims, these incidents can be so readily connected with each other.
Picture posted by Solar Garia on his Facebook page, 22 July 2019
In the Tak Bai case, the Songkhla Provincial Court only stated that the officers transported the hundreds of the demonstrators who were “stacked like cordwood in the back of army trucks” to Ingkhayutthaborihan Fort ‘out of the necessity of the circumstances’ and they died due to the lack of oxygen: the same reason that rendered Abdullah unconscious. So far not a single officer has ever been punished for the death of 78 demonstrators. Even when Abdullah was still alive, given his grave condition, some people believed that he should be granted God’s mercy in heaven like the demonstrators in Tak Bai who are generally regarded as martyrs.
After Abdullah passed away, the president of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), Kasturi Mahkota, posted a condolence message on his Facebook page. The last sentence reads, “We pray that Abdullah will be placed in the company of the prophets, the martyrs and the righteous.”
For the insurgents, one of the most challenging aspects in their struggle is recruitment. The process of finding, inviting, indoctrinating and training new members has never been easy. A BRN political leader from Narathiwat Province explained to the author that it had been difficult to convince young Malay Muslims of the cruelty of the ‘Siamese colonisers’ before 2004. They had to tell the stories of Patani Malays’ grievances from the past, but faced difficulties in finding more recent examples of alleged cruelties. The tide changed after the crackdown on the Tak Bai Demonstrators. They no longer had to explain the cruelty of the Thai government and relate the stories of the past, but only had to say, ‘Look at what happened in Tak Bai.” Any incident that is perceived as an example of the cruelty of the state is immediately added to the discourse of Patani Malays’ historical grievances. There is no reason for the insurgents to refrain from citing Abudllah’s case as the latest example.The impact of Abdullah’s death on the conflict
The conflict in the southern border provinces will never be solved unless this discourse of Patani Malays’ history of grief is properly addressed. Under the current circumstances, it is highly unlikely that any credible and acceptable explanation of how Abdullah became unconscious in the military interrogation centre will be provided. Accordingly, as in previous cases, it is almost unimaginable that any officer will be punished. As was explained above, any incident that indicates injustice or an atrocity committed by the state, such as extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention, torture, or the mysteriously sudden deterioration in the health of a detainee, is integrated into this discourse, and Abdullah’s case fits perfectly into this context. Romadon Panjor, the editor of Deep South Watch, pointed out that the security forces recently designated pondoks and private Islamic schools as breeding grounds of insurgents, but failed to see that the interrogation centres of the security forces also have become breeding grounds by producing the narrative of injustice that is needed by the insurgents.
The Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) has promised to pay THB 500,000 as so-called ‘assistance money’ - compensation paid to victims of the conflict without acknowledging any responsibility of the state - to Abdullah’s family and financially support the education of his children. This kind of remedy provided by the state is better than nothing, but paying money to a victim’s family is still very far from justice.
In addition, if a detainee’s health can deteriorate in such an unexplained way and no justice is guaranteed, those who are marked by the security forces also might choose to escape. The escape route either can be to Malaysia, or in more radicalised cases, to the forest to join the insurgent armed forces.
A ‘half-baked amnesty’ scheme called the ‘Bring People Home Project’ was launched by ISOC Region 4 in September 2012 to encourage insurgents to surrender. Insurgents might surrender to the government only when they can trust that justice will be delivered by the government. What happened to Abdullah goes against this scheme, as it severely reduces the local population’s trust in the state justice system.
Zachary Abuza noted that “the death of suspects in custody always begets retaliatory violence, especially against Buddhist civilians”, because “If the insurgents don’t respond – i.e., come to the defense of one of their own, or at least one of the constituents they claim to represent – they look weak.” 
Abdullah’s case cannot be dealt with just by setting up an unreliable fact-finding committee under military supervision, asserting the absence of a policy to torture suspects detained under martial law, and to provide medical conditions that caused death. It has become a part of the conflict, and we have to realise how far we still are from peace.
 BBC Thai, 26 August 2019, “ซ้อมทรมาน : จากควบคุมตัว หมดสติ ถึงเสียชีวิต เกิดอะไรขึ้นกับ อับดุลเลาะ อีซอมูซอ”. https://www.bbc.com/thai/thailand-49470456?fbclid=IwAR11aBUNWLnknlnU10NzKyZnirQagF3W02Hmz9stwsu60f3B3bPSYps9618
 New Straits Times, 26 August 2019, “Muslim man dies after Thai army interrogation”. https://www.nst.com.my/world/2019/08/515898/muslim-man-dies-after-thai-army-interrogation?fbclid=IwAR25owmPhwC-vrp8UVx70OuIjEZRpe8S4mNmE71b5AFJwM9wS_RNYKIGsO4
 Thai PBS, 26 August 2019, “ฮิวแมนไรต์วอตช์ จี้ตั้งกรรมการอิสระสอบปมเสียชีวิต "อับดุลเลาะ"”. https://news.thaipbs.or.th/content/283364?fbclid=IwAR0qUkpMEAk5ovk6IO2-OMOqmnRjwPxL4UUTLwcAc_1pTMH4hq_V-b0tkbI
 BBC Thai, 26 August 2019, Ibid.
 Manager Online, 25 August 2019, “กอ.รมน. ภาค 4 สน. ดึงสติฝ่ายค้าน ปัดฆ่า “อับดุลเลาะห์ อีซอมูซอ” ผลชันสูตรปอดติดเชื้อ” https://mgronline.com/politics/detail/9620000081374?fbclid=IwAR2dwta5WnfVrV_d0ixbdGOGsRth1pNXIXX8QG0W29II9kwiLP49LVLY2eg
 Benar News, 27 August 2019, “Thai PM Rejects Torture Allegations in Rebel Suspect’s Death”. https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/thai/Rebel-suspect-death-08272019162314.html
 Manager Online, 26 August 2019, ibid.
 Benar News, 22 July 2019, “Thai Deep South Suspected Rebel in Coma after Arrest, Interrogation”. https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/thai/suspect-hospitalized-07222019170223.html?fbclid=IwAR2k50n95gnncEyTF-YBklAxRApmb27MZsVEW3SxqerUA_M2ZmxaF8LCIuw
 For further discussion, see Hara, 2019. Ibid.
 Zachary Abuza, 27 August 2019, “Suspect’s Death in Army Custody Likely to Incite Deep South Insurgency Commentary”. https://www.benarnews.org/english/commentaries/asean-security-watch/Zachary-Abuza-08272019163728.html
 Talk News Online, 29 August 2019, “นักวิชาการยะลา มองปัญหาอับดุลเลาะ คณะกรรมการตรวจสอบต้องมาจากรัฐสภามากกว่า คณะกรรมการที่ได้มีการแต่งตั้งในพื้นที่”. https://www.talknewsonline.com/151170/?fbclid=IwAR09Il-TdXRAMIjSkms2-pxD6TTMCWETWoiDC_PkKyu7h1unLaL5s0xRdB8
 Thai PBS, 28 August 2019, “"อัญชนา" ลาออก กรรมการคุ้มครองสิทธิมนุษยชนจังหวัดชายแดนภาคใต้”. https://news.thaipbs.or.th/content/283467?fbclid=IwAR1ZKIaAI03Tv6s0Ymcb-nrd1Rkk4FoARxRp67ZAHBGlHmZwdUKNPj0toJY
 BBC Thai, 28 August 2019, Ibid.
 Manager Online, 28 August 2019, “ไปเที่ยวกันไหม! ปรับ “หน่วยซักถาม” ค่ายอิงคยุทธบริหารเป็นแหล่งท่องเที่ยว ไม่มีทรมาน ติดกล้องพร้อมใช้งาน” https://mgronline.com/south/detail/9620000082590?fbclid=IwAR37pKVEC-8fory5YkpKVqjzxTILFifmtXFeR9jFM7foPTqngdGoEic9xTU
 The prayer is called ‘salat al-hajah’, or Prayer of Need, addressed to God through intermediaries. See Oxford Islamic Studies Online. http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e2079
 Khaosod, 25 August 2019, “นับพันแห่ร่วมละหมาดศพอับดุลเลาะ หมดสติในค่ายทหาร ญาติเศร้าขาดเสาหลัก” https://www.khaosod.co.th/around-thailand/news_2834354
 A traditional Malay script adopted from that of Arabic with some additional letters.
 Bangkok Post, 16 October 2017, “Dress the Tak Bai wound”. https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1343067/dress-the-tak-bai-wound
 For further discussion on the concept of martyr in Patani, see Hara, Shintaro, 2019, “The interpretation of Shahid in Patani”. Asian International Studies Review. Vol. 20. Special Issue (June 2019): 137-157.
 See the full text (in Malay and English) at https://web.facebook.com/kasturi.mahkota/posts/2422983384447030
 Personal interview, ex-political leader of BRN, Terengganu, Malaysia, March 2017.
 A pondok is a traditional boarding school for Islamic education where religious subjects are delivered in Malay based on textbooks written in Jawi script.
 Voice TV, 26 August 2019, “อับดุลเลาะ อีซอมูซอ: การตายที่ต้องมี 'คนรับผิดชอบ'”
 Matichon Weekly. 7 September 2019. “ศอ.บต.เยียวยาครอบครัว “อับดุลเลาะ” พร้อมดูแลทุนการศึกษาบุตร 2 คน”. https://www.matichonweekly.com/hot-news/article_226762
 The Reporters (Facebook page), 28 August 2019, https://web.facebook.com/TheReportersTH/posts/2391938087723244
 Don Pathan, 29 March 2018, “Southern Thai Peace Talks Hit Snag Over Rebel Group’s Demand”. https://www.benarnews.org/english/commentaries/far-south-view/Don-Pathan-03292018112213.html
 Abuza, 2019, Ibid.OpinionOutsider InsideHara ShintaroDeep SouthAbdullah Isomusodeath in detentionill-treatment
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement of school-children have been honoured with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2019, the human rights organization announced today.
From left: Iris Zhan, Kallan Benson, Greta Thunberg, Kumi Naidoo, Jerome Foster II, Zayne Cowie, Sophia Mathur, and Khadija Khokhar
The awards ceremony took place in Washington D.C., USA, while further events were held in cities around the world, honouring Fridays for Future activists who represent the movement.
Upon receiving the award, Greta Thunberg said:
“This award is for all of those millions of people, young people, around the world who together make up the movement called Fridays for Future. All these fearless youth, fighting for their future. A future they should be able to take for granted. But as it looks now, they cannot.
“We, who together are the movement Fridays for Future, we are fighting for our lives. But not only that, we are also fighting for our future children and grandchildren, for future generations, for every single living being on earth, whose biosphere we share, whose biosphere we are stealing, whose biosphere we are ruining. We are fighting for everyone.”
“Activism works. So, what I’m telling you to do now, is to act. Because no one is too small to make a difference. I’m urging all of you to take part in the global climate strikes on September 20th and September 27th.”Pick to PostAmnesty InternationalGreta ThunbergFridays for FutureAmbassador of Conscience
In light of the serious allegations made in the media both here and in Australia about the reported conviction and incarceration of Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Thamanat Prompow in 1993-1997 in Australia, on a charge of illegally importing a commercial quantity of an illegal substance (heroin), the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) has passed a resolution to suspend Deputy Minister Thamanat from his position with immediate effect while an investigation is made into the veracity of the allegations.
The Council of Ministers has also issued a letter to the Electoral Commission of Thailand informing them of the Council’s decision to suspend the Deputy Minister and requesting them to consider the propriety of also suspending Mr Thamanat from his position as Member of Parliament for the Palang Pracharat Party representing Phayao Province, in line with the precedent of its earlier decision in the case of Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
‘You’ve got to be joking. Do they know who they’re trying to sack? Do they not realise what he’s got on them?’
Furthermore, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has instructed diplomatic staff at the Royal Thai Embassy in Canberra and the Royal Thai Consulate in Sydney to request that the competent judicial authorities in New South Wales provide authenticated court documents in this case, copies of which have already appeared in the Australian press. The Royal Thai Police have similarly been instructed to liaise with their counterparts in the Australian Federal Police to secure further authenticated evidence relevant to this case.
‘Oh my giddy aunt, they haven’t, have they? We can’t control what foreign government agencies might let slip. Remember he grassed on half the heroin mafia in the armed forces.’
When and if the allegations receive prima facie confirmation, in whole or in part, a hearing will be conducted by the Criminal Division of Holders of Political Positions of the Supreme Court at which Mr Thamanat will have every opportunity to present his case. In the meantime, and cognizant of Mr Thamanat’s constitutional rights, the Council of Ministers has made a strong recommendation to Mr Thamanat that he refrain from any legal action or threat of legal action against any party involved in this case, especially members of the media in Thailand and in other countries, where that action may be construed as a deliberate attempt to stifle or obstruct public debate on the matter. This would include lawsuits for criminal defamation under Article 326 of the Criminal Code of Thailand, or for civil defamation under Article 423 of the Civil and Commercial Code of Thailand, or under Article 16 of the 2017 Computer-Related Crime Act (No. 2).
‘But, but this is preposterous. How else can a pol put the frighteners on the papers to stop them revealing what he’s been up to?’
The Council of Ministers has in the meantime inaugurated a thorough-going review of its vetting procedures for prospective ministers. An independent committee of respected persons, with no connections to Mr Thamanat, his family and associates, to any agency of the state including the armed forces and the judiciary, or to any independent constitutional organization, will be empanelled for this purpose. The committee will conduct its hearings in public and its final report, with a record of past failings and recommendations for amending the vetting procedures, will be made available to the public in its entirety.
‘My lord, just when we’d managed to get the senate appointed in complete secrecy, without anyone even knowing who was doing the choosing. That was going to become the model for all government appointments. They’ll never be able to appoint the town dogcatcher if this goes through.’
The Council of Ministers wishes to emphasize that the constitutional qualifications for appointment to the Council of Ministers include ‘be[ing] of apparent honesty’; ‘not possess[ing] behaviour seriously violating or failing to comply with the ethical standard’; and ‘not be[ing] under any of the prohibitions in Section 98’. Section 98 (10) prohibits any person from being a candidate for Member of Parliament who has ‘been convicted by a final judgment of a court for committing … an offence of being producer, importer or exporter or trader under the narcotics law’. It is therefore imperative for preserving the reputation and standing of the government that, rather than refer to the affair as a minor matter, a personal issue, or something that previous administrations have done, the current leaders of the government ensure an investigation not only into the allegations of a conviction for narcotics offences, but also into Mr Thamanat’s educational qualifications, which have also been questioned in the media.
‘They can’t go opening that can of worms. Every last self-important ego in the government has bought themselves a fancy-looking diploma. Remember when Banharn’s thesis had all those references to articles in French when the bugger could barely read Thai?’
The Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation has therefore been instructed to investigate the accreditation and quality standards of Calamus International University and California University (Foreign Credential Evaluation), which are the names on the cover of Mr Thamanat’s PhD Dissertation, with a view to establishing the trustworthiness of Mr Thamanat’s statements regarding his educational qualifications.
‘And good luck trying to find them.’
Also, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has instructed the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand to commission suitably expert persons to conduct a study of the ethics of primate nutrition as applied to lower ranking cohorts in a political coalition.
‘They’re going to study what?’
‘Feeding bananas to monkeys. Did you not realize that this is a complete spoof?’Alien ThoughtsAlien thoughtsHarrison GeorgeThammanat Prompow
Kanya Theerawut, mother of missing political refugee Siam Theerawut, said at the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (APF) on Thursday (12 September) that the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) told her not to take her son’s case to the UN, as it could ruin the country’s image.
Kanya Theerawut (fifth from left) with a group of Siam's friends on the stage at the ASEAN Peoples' Forum
Kanya and a group of Siam’s friends were at the APF event at the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University yesterday to speak about his disappearance. She told the Forum’s participants that after five months, the family’s search for Siam has yet to yield any trace of him.
Kanya said that she went to the RLPD in August to ask for help in searching for Siam, and has given them information on the last time she contacted Siam. However, she said the RLPD told her not to bring Siam’s case to the UN because that will damage Thailand’s reputation. She also said that she was visited and questioned by Special Branch officers before her participation in the APF.
Siam went missing around May 2019 along with two other refugees: Chucheep “Uncle Sanam Luang” Chiwasut and Kritsana Tubthai. They were reportedly arrested in Vietnam and extradited to Bangkok. However, the Vietnamese authorities said they don’t have any information about the group’s entry into the country, their arrest, or extradition. Kanya has previously gone to the Crime Suppression Division, the Vietnamese Embassy, and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, but so far there is still no progress.
Kanya said she is still sad that Thai laws cannot help her and that she doesn’t know whether her son is alive or dead. She asks anyone who has any information about Siam to contact the family, as they are very worried about him.NewsKanya TheerawutSiam Theerawutpolitical refugeeASEAN Peoples' Forum
The government will soon face a showdown in parliament over its oath error. Here is a recap of all that has happened.
It has been almost three months since Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and his Cabinet attended the constitutional oath-taking ceremony before King Vajiralongkorn on 16 July 2019. 9 days later, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul spotted a mistake in the oath and consulted with the Speaker of Parliament about what to do, as the words that were spoken deviated from the oath as stated in Section 161 of the 2017 Constitution.
A sentence was omitted and a word was added:
‘I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to His Majesty the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect. Forever.’Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and his Cabinet attended the constitutional oath-taking ceremony before King Vajiralongkorn on 16 July 2019.
Piyabutr claimed that the Cabinet may technically have not yet taken office because of the oath error. On 31 July, Wissanu Krea-ngam said everything was in accordance with the procedure and complete. Surrounded by reporters, he said a day later he did not know why the mistake happened. ‘Someday you will know that you should not talk,’ he said.
The now three-month-long controversy began. Many consider it trivial, but some see that constitutionality and the status of monarchy in a political system are at stake.The war of interpretation
On 4 August, Anudit Nakornthap, Secretary-General of the Pheu Thai Party, demanded that the government explain the incomplete oath and correct the mistake. A day later Gen Prayut insisted the oath had been comprehensive and constitutional. The most important thing, he said, was that it was in accordance with the King’s first speech on the day of his coronation. On the same day, Srisuwan Janya, nicknamed ‘Thailand’s complainer-in-chief’, petitioned the Ombudsman to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court and the Administrative Court about the constitutionality of the oath.
On 6 August, Paisal Puechmongkol, an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, said that if the oath was incorrect, it meant that Prayut’s pre-election cabinet and the NCPO still remained in power with the absolute authority of Section 44. Next day, Suthin Khlangsaeng, opposition whip from Pheu Thai, requested a parliamentary session to question the Prime Minister about the matter.
However, Gen Prayut did not appear in Parliament because he went to the south of Thailand. Gen Prayut said on 8 August “Soon it will be in order because I had no intention to do wrong.” Similar to statements by dictator Sarit Thanarat (Prime Minister 1957-63), he added he would take sole responsibility.
On 10 August, Bhokin Bhalakula, chair of the Pheu Thai strategic committee for policy and planning, said that everything the government has done will be invalid if the oath was incomplete. Three days later, Prayut declined to answer when faced with reporters’ questions.
On 14 August, Piyabutr requested to question the PM in Parliament. Gen Prayut, again, did not attend the session. House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said the Prime Minister must explain why he did not attend the session. Wirat Warotsirin, deputy leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, asked the Speaker whether the mistaken oath constituted royal defamation and whether a royal pardon should be requested.
But on that day Prayut went to take part in a tug-of-war, a football match, and handing out meals to blind students at the Foundation for the Blind in Thailand in the morning and did not attend the afternoon session of Parliament. A day later he said he had no reason to attend because the case had been filed against him with the Ombudsman.
On 16 August, the 7 opposition parties requested Parliament to open a general debate about the oath ceremony. Suphachai Phosu, Deputy House Speaker, said the debate may start after August because of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly in the last week of August. On 21 August, Piyabutr asked to question the Prime Minister in Parliament, but Gen Prayut avoided it again.The King’s letter
The Ombudsman announced that it would rule on 27 August whether a case should be filed with the Constitutional Court. But something unexpected happened. One day before, the government announced it was holding a ceremony before King Vajiralongkorn’s portrait to receive a royal letter. On 28 August the content of the King’s letter was revealed to be the same as the speech given at the oath-taking ceremony. The request for the letter was made by the government to the palace.
“I want to take this occasion to wish you encouragement, confidence, and determination to do your duty in line with your oath for the benefit, happiness, and security of the country and the people. Any work must have obstacles, must have problems. Therefore, it is normal to have to solve the problems and get to work, so that the administration of the country runs smoothly according to the situation through solutions direct to the point and with strength and forbearance.
I wish the cabinet and government the encouragement and force to do your duty with righteousness.”
“It is held to be immeasurable royal kindness with regard to the oath-taking” said Gen Prayut after the ceremony. He also said “I could not say if this can end the other issue or not,” as he explained that the letter will be kept in Government House.
Gen Prayut showing the King's letter before the press
According to Matichon Weekly, this was not the first time the government had requested a letter of encouragement from the King. Banharn Silpa-archa did it in the mid 1990s, but this was the first time that the Cabinet held a ceremony to receive the letter. Wissanu Krea-ngam insisted that the ceremony was not a second ceremony to correct the earlier oath-taking mistake.
Regardless of the Cabinet’s motive, legal experts insisted that under the principle of the constitutional monarchy, the King’s letter has nothing to do with the issue. Sriamporn Saligupta, a senior judge of the Court of Appeals, said in an interview with Matichon that it is the royal prerogative of His Majesty to give advice to the government, but since the King cannot meddle in politics under the Constitution, it is inappropriate to confuse His Majesty’s encouragement with the dispute which will be decided by the Constitutional Court.
Poonthep Sirinupong, of the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, and a member of the Nitirat Group (Law for the People)
Poonthep Sirinupong, of the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, and a member of the Nitirat Group (Law for the People), shared the same concern. In his opinion, the Cabinet has officially been appointed in the Royal Gazette - with or without the oath. And the Cabinet has been sworn in with the acceptance of the King, so it can start functioning according to the Constitution. It was just that the oath was not correct, so the Cabinet should hold the ceremony again to conform to the Constitution.
“Even if there was no intention to violate the Constitution, the lack of intention does not erase the incompleteness of the oath. It is still a Cabinet which has not completed the oath according to the Constitution. It must hold the oath-taking ceremony again because it is their duty to take the oath by saying the whole statement completely so that the problem can end.”
Not to do so may cause a constitutional problem since the King’s advice cannot correct the incorrect oath of the Cabinet, added Poonthep. However, at times the King’s advice takes the form of law in Thailand as the royal announcement against the nomination of Princess Ubolratana as the prime minister candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party - which was against the principle of the constitutional monarchy.
“Royal advice does not have the force to make unconstitutional practice constitutional, but royal advice also does not have to take responsibility for the unconstitutional oath. Here, a clear distinction must be made. This explanation is to preserve the status of monarchy in a democracy.
If the King allows or approves, despite the incomplete oath, it means you tie this issue to the King’s power of judgment, giving the King the power to decide this issue and the discretion to accept or not accept any cabinet. It means in the future the principle becomes that the King can reject any cabinet, doesn’t it? Do you really want to live in a regime which constructs an explanation which leads to that point?”The Constitutional Court’s decision
The Ombudsman has decided to file the case with the Constitutional Court, but not on the grounds of the complaint submitted by Srisuwan Janya. Raksagecha Chaechai, Secretary-General of the Office of the Ombudsman, declared that Srisuwan’s complaint, based on Article 23 of the Organic Law on the Ombudsman, was invalid because that Section applies to laws enacted by the legislative or executive branches. The oath does not count as a law.
9 judges of the Constitutional Court
Source: Constitutional Court
Instead, they accepted a complaint submitted by Phanupong Churak, a student from Ramkhamhaeng University, who reasoned that the government must swear the oath as written in Section 161 of the Constitution. The fact that the cabinet members did not say they would respect the constitution, probably causing the later actions of the government to be invalid, means they violated the rights and freedom of the complainant, based on Section 213 of the Organic Law on Constitutional Court Procedures.
Ruangkrai Leekitwattana also filed a complaint directly with the Constitutional Court. Based on Section 161 and 162, Ruangkrai argued that the cabinet’s oath error and its policy announcement which lacks elaboration on budget source was the use of rights or freedom to overthrow the regime of democracy with a monarch as a head of state.
On 11 September, the Constitutional Court dismissed both complaints. Phanupong’s case had to be dismissed because the procedural law does not allow them to prosecute the cabinet in such cases:
“…the 2018 Organic Law on Constitutional Court Procedures, Section 47, staes that ‘the use of the right to file a complaint based on Section 46 must be about the actions which violate rights or freedoms committed by government agencies, government officials, or agencies which exercise governmental power, and must not fall into one of the following: (1.) an act of the government…’ … The oath-taking before the King, a political issue of the cabinet which is an executive organ according to the constitution in relation particularly to the monarch, fits the definition of an act of government. … which means the Constitutional Court cannot take up the case for consideration.”
Ruangkrai’s case was also dismissed simply on the ground that the cabinet’s oath error and policy announcement had nothing to do with overthrowing the government. Even though the Constitutional Court was in many cases widely criticized for its partiality and prosecutions of prominent critics, this time maybe it did not do anything wrong.
Poonthep Sirinupong, in an interview before the Court’s decision, said that the oath error might not be able to make it to the Constitutional Court on the grounds of both complainants:
“In the case of oath-taking, it is quite difficult to say that it affected rights or liberty of the people. Alright, you may say that in the future the cabinet will do such and such, but the purpose or objectives of filing a constitutional complaint was for the Court to investigate an action which directly affect the rights and liberty of the people, not for when the cabinet did not complete the oath and then such actions lead to this or that action which in turn affected them. This was pretty far-fetched. …
Another was that Ruangkrai Leekitwattana proposed, claiming the use of rights and liberty to overthrow the regime. I still and always insisted since the 2007 and 2017 Constitution that these cases were that the constitution restricts the use of rights and liberty of the people guaranteed by the constitution so that they do not destroy the government or go against the government. It was not a legal basis for checking the state’s exercise of power, obligation, act of duties or of following the constitution. Under this principle, it should not be a basis for the Court to take the case.”The Parliamentary Showdown
Something can still be done even if it’s not much. “Apart from the legal criterion, the cabinet must be under the scrutiny of the Parliament,” said Poonthep. “Therefore, anyhow, Members of Parliament have the right to check, discuss, question, and find the truth out of the cabinet anytime about this matter, and people also have the right to question and know the truth”
So far, Gen Prayut has avoided three parliamentary sessions on 7 August, 14 August, and 21 August, but he cannot avoid it forever. The oath controversy will be fought out in Parliament for 14 hours on 18 September, one day before the 13th anniversary of the military coup led by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin. Because this is a general debate, Gen Prayut was bound by the law to attend.
House Speaker Chuan said the item will be added to the parliamentary agenda as an urgent matter. Sonthirat Sontijirawong, Minister of Energy, said Gen Prayut will attend the debate. The Prime Minister will face 20 MPs who are scheduled to speak in the debate.
Wisanu Krue-ngam, the deputy prime minister, said along the same line as Sonthirat on the other occasion that there may be a possibility of requesting the debate to be confidential, depending on the questions from the opposition. So far, it is allowed by the Constitution if a cabinet or one-fourth of MPs request it.
Suthin Khlangsaeng, the leader of the opposition whip, said that the government must explain the reason why it has to be confidential. The opposition has no problem with it, but the government must be responsible to the public who want to know about this issue.Round UpConstitutional courtoath error
The Supreme Court has postponed the hearing in the case of Sarinee Achavanuntakul, an academic accused of contempt of court for the publication of an article in the Krungthep Turakit newspaper, after the co-accused news editor did not appear at the hearing on 9 September 2019.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), representing Sarinee, she submitted her statement to the court, denying the accusation of contempt of court. She accepted that she was the author of the article criticizing the court’s jurisdiction. However, she said she wrote the article in good faith and with good intentions, in order to improve the Thai justice system.
In submitting the statement, she wanted to apologize if some words may be deemed harsh or may cause damage to the court's reputation. However, she insisted that her written article was not a violation of contempt of court under Section 32(2) of the Thai Civil Code, which states that contempt of court charges against such potentially-influential publications are warranted only “during the trial of a case up to final judgement” and where the said influence “appears likely to prejudice the fairness of such case.”
She also called for an opportunity to prove her innocence by summoning other witnesses to testify in court and to guarantee her right to a fair trial according to Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), before the court adjudicates the final decision which cannot be appealed.
Sarinee was accused of contempt of court for the publication of her article “The danger of excessive rule by law (again): the case of MP candidates’ media shares” ("อันตรายภาวะนิติศาสตร์ล้นเกิน (อีกที) กรณีหุ้นสื่อของผู้สมัครส.ส.") in Krungthep Turakit on 14 May 2019, which has since been taken down from the paper’s website.
The civil case was filed by Supradit Jeensawake, Secretary of the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division, who said that the article criticized the Supreme Court, saying that the Court was careless in its interpretation of the law preventing individuals with shares in media companies from running as MP candidates and that this interpretation is dangerous.
Supradit also said that the article accused the Election Cases Division of the Supreme Court of using the law incessantly and interpreting it without considering the facts and the spirit of the law. Supradit thinks that Sarinee did not criticize the Court’s ruling with pure intentions, but is attacking the Court.
The editor of Krungthep Turakit, who was accused along with Sarinee, allegedly did not receive the summons and did not appear at the hearing. The Court therefore ordered the summons to be re-issued and delivered to the paper’s office.
The news editor is to appear in court to submit a statement on 26 September, when there will also be an examination of the accusers. Another examination of Sarinee and witnesses will be held on 1 October and the court will rule on the case on 11 October.NewsSarinee AchavanuntakulKrungthep Turakit Newspaperjudicial harassmentcontempt of courtSupreme CourtElection Cases Division
Sirisak Chaited, an LGBT rights activist, said she has received a threatening email ahead of the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (APF) on 10 – 12 September, while Siyeed Alam, chair of the Rohingya Association in Thailand, said he has been contacted by Special Branch officers.
On Saturday (7 September), Sirisak posted on her Facebook page that she had received an email from an anonymous sender requesting “co-operation in peaceful communication” and asking her to discuss human rights in the APF meeting “without affecting the image of the country and other ASEAN members.”
The email also said that “we understand the current situation. Speaking the truth directly is something that should happen, but in certain situations, we need to think of the collective interest both at the national and the ASEAN level too, especially when criticizing issues that may affect the image of our country or may cause conflicts between nations."
"We hearby request your cooperation. This is also because we are concerned for your safety and that of the people in this country and in other ASEAN member states."
Siyeed Alam, chair of the Rohingya Association in Thailand, also said that Special Branch officers had contacted him to get information on members of the Rohingya community who are attending the APF. Officials have called him asking to schedule a meeting and to photograph his “0 Card” or the identity card for persons without registration status.
Meanwhile, the Forum was moved from the Berkeley Hotel Pratunam to the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University after the organizing committee refused funding of around 10 million baht from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, citing as their reason interference from security officials in, for example, requesting for a list of overseas participants. However, the Director of the Foreign Affairs Division of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security said that the Ministry is unable to issue funding since the organizers did not provide them with a list of participants. The Ministry is also organizing a parallel ASEAN Peoples’ Forum at the Berkeley Hotel Pratunam on 9 – 12 September.NewsASEAN Peoples' ForumSirisak ChaitedSiyeed Alamthreat against activiststate interferencestate surveillance
Political cartoon by Stephff in response to Thammanat Prompao, the Minister of Agriculture, whose past has been exposed by an Austrialian report as a drug dealer sentenced in jail for 4 years.MultimediaStephffCapt Thammanat Prompao
On 3 September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a press conference to announce that bones found in Kaeng Krachan Dam have been confirmed to be those of Karen environmental activist and community rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who went missing in 2014. Several human rights organizations have since called for the Thai authorities to conduct an investigation into his abduction and murder.
Billy (right) with his wife Pinnapa (Source: Human Rights Lawyers Association)
Amnesty International (AI) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a joint statement on 4 September 2019, calling for a “renewed focus on identifying the perpetrator(s)…and bringing them to justice.” Federick Raawski, the ICJ’s Asia Regional Director, said that if “it is found that Billy was the victim of enforced disappearance, then the perpetrators, including those with command responsibility, should be charged with the appropriate, serious offences in accordance with Thailand’s obligations under international law.”
Meanwhile, Nicholas Bequelin, the AI interim Regional Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, pointed out that Billy’s case “highlights the serious risks activists and human rights defenders face in Thailand” and “underscores the long-overdue need for the Thai government to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also issued a statement calling for the Thai government to immediately conduct a credible investigation into Billy’s case.
“The discovery of Billy’s remains should prompt Thai authorities to urgently step up their investigation and pursue justice wherever it leads them,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “There should be no more cover-ups or delays, but fair prosecutions of all those responsible for Billy’s death.”
Under several international treaties, Thailand is obligated to investigate and appropriately prosecute enforced disappearance, torture, custodial death, and other alleged serious violations of human rights. However, it has yet to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law. An anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill was dropped by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) prior to the 2019 general election. This lack of legislation, HRW said, hindered DSI’s investigation.
“A credible investigation is urgently needed for the sake of Billy’s family, to seek justice for this prominent defender of the ethnic Karen community, and to start to bring an end to enforced disappearances in Thailand,” Adams said. “Billy’s case will continue to hang over the Thai government until his fate is fully explained and those responsible are punished.”
The event at BACC. The sign says "Our hearts are for Bily. Punish his murderer."
Meanwhile, on 7 September, a network of artists led by Vasan Sitthikhet organized a performance at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre calling for the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. The event consisted of live music performances, a live drawing of Billy’s portrait, and a reading of the group’s statement saying that Billy’s murder is a serious violation of human rights and that the government must urgently investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators.NewsPorlajee Rackchongcharoenenforced disappearanceHuman Rights WatchAmnesty International (AI)International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)state violenceanti-torture bill
Thai authorities should urgently investigate the apparent enforced disappearance of Od Sayavong, a refugee from Laos and prominent critic of the Lao government, Human Rights Watch said today (7 September). Od, 34, was last seen at his house in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum district on August 26, 2019.
“The Thai government should immediately provide information on the whereabouts of outspoken Lao activist Od Sayavong,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Bangkok’s streets should be safe from abductions and wrongful arrests.”
Od’s colleagues filed a report with the Thai police on September 2. No progress in the investigation has been reported. On September 6, the Defense Ministry spokesman, Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich, denied knowledge of Od’s whereabouts.
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about Od’s safety. He is affiliated with the “Free Lao” group, a loose network of Lao migrant workers and activists in exile based in Bangkok and neighboring provinces who peacefully advocate for human rights and democracy in Laos. Od and other group members have occasionally held peaceful protests outside the Lao embassy and the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok. They have also organized human rights workshops for Lao migrant workers in Thailand.
The Lao government has arbitrarily arrested and detained activists and those deemed critical of the government. The penal code effectively gives the authorities sweeping powers to prosecute dissidents. Harsh prison sentences range from up to 5 years for anti-government propaganda to 15 years for journalists who fail to file “constructive reports” or who seek to “obstruct” the work of the government.
In recent weeks, members of “Free Lao” told Human Rights Watch that they have been put under surveillance and intimidated by Thai and Lao authorities. They believe this is to stop them from protesting or otherwise criticizing the Lao government during the ASEAN People’s Forum, being held in Bangkok on September 10-12.
Thai authorities have frequently collaborated with foreign governments to harass, arbitrarily arrest, and forcibly return exiled dissidents in violation of international law. This has included people formally registered as persons of concern by the UN refugee agency. Some countries, including Laos, have allegedly reciprocated by turning a blind eye to the enforced disappearance and murder of Thai dissidents seeking asylum in their territory.
Enforced disappearances are defined under international laws the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Thailand is obligated to investigate and appropriately prosecute enforced disappearance.
Thailand is also prohibited under international law from forcibly sending someone to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution, torture, or other serious human rights violations.
“The Thai government’s deference to abusive neighbors has once again appeared to have taken priority over its legal obligations,” Adams said. “Thailand needs to reestablish itself as a place where refugees are safe and stop assisting abusive countries by returning their dissidents.”Pick to PostHuman Rights WatchOd Sayavongpolitical refugee
Thai authorities must immediately investigate the disappearance of Od Sayavong, a Lao activist seeking asylum, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urged today.
“Od sought refuge in Thailand but the country has become increasingly unsafe for asylum seekers. Thai authorities must immediately determine Od’s fate or whereabouts and the government must adopt measures that guarantee the rights of asylum seekers in accordance with international standards,” said Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Vice-President.
Od Sayavong, a 34-year-old activist from Savannaket Province, Laos, was last seen by one of his co-workers at around 5:30pm on 26 August 2019 at the house the two of them shared with two other co-workers in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum District. Around that time, Od left the house and was expected to join the two other co-workers for dinner later that evening at a restaurant in Bueng Kum District, where Od worked as a cook. At 6:34pm, a Facebook message was sent from Od’s account to one of the two co-workers, who were both already at the restaurant, to ask him to “cook rice” and wait for him. This was the last time Od was believed to have been heard from. Od did not return to the house that night. The following day, at 5:03pm, one of Od’s co-workers attempted to call him but Od’s phone was out of service. A message sent by the same co-worker to Od through the messaging app LINE at 5:06pm went unanswered and was never marked as having been read. Od’s cell phone appears to have remained out of service since the evening of 27 August 2019.
Od had been awaiting resettlement to a third country since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok registered him as a person of concern in December 2017.
“Od may be the latest casualty of increased cooperation between the government of Thailand and its regional counterparts to crack down on their respective dissidents in exile. The international community should strongly condemn this seemingly coordinated form of repression that leads to further shrinking space for civil society in the region," said Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President.
Earlier this year, Truong Duy Nhat, a Vietnamese political activist who had sought refuge in Thailand, was abducted. The blogger went missing on 26 January in Bangkok, where he had fled to from Vietnam to seek political asylum. It is suspected that Nhat was abducted by unknown individuals in Bangkok before being taken back to Vietnam against his will. In March 2019, he was revealed to be detained in a jail in Hanoi.
- Former Political Prisoner, Truong Duy Nhat, Disappeared In Thailand After Seeking Refugee Status With UN
- Vietnamese and Thai authorities must come clean about journalist’s disappearance
In Thailand, Od Sayavong has been involved in political activism and other activities promoting respect for human rights and democratic principles in Laos since at least 2015. Od has been a member of “Free Lao”, an informal group of Lao migrant workers and activists based in Bangkok and neighboring provinces that advocates for human rights and democracy in Laos. The group focuses on organizing human rights workshops and meetings, and participating in occasional small peaceful protests outside the Lao embassy and the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok.
On the evening of 15 March 2019, Od posted on his Facebook page a photo of himself in front of the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of a three-headed white elephant standing on a five-level pedestal – the official flag of Laos from 1952 until the fall of the royal government in 1975. The Lao government has outlawed this flag and its display has frequently angered Vientiane.
On 12 July 2018, during the review of the Laos’ initial report by the United Nations Human Rights Committee during its 123rd session, the Lao government delegation justified the sentencing of three Lao citizens in March 2017 to prison terms ranging from 12 to 20 years for having raised the three-headed white elephant flag during a peaceful demonstration in front of the Lao embassy in Bangkok on 2 December 2015 (Laos’ National Day). The three had previously posted numerous messages on Facebook that criticized the Lao government in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations. FIDH is aware that the Lao authorities regularly monitor the social media accounts of Lao activists and organizations abroad.Pick to PostOd SayavongLaosInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)activistpolitical violencedisappearance
The Red Drum: from the killing of Thanom-era Communist suspects to Billy, and the culture of impunity
On 3 September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a press conference on the progress in the investigation into the disappearance of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, an environmental activist and community rights defender from the Pong Luk Bang Kloy Karen community, who disappeared mysteriously on 17 April 2014.
Left: a diagram showing how the victims of the Red Drum were burned.
Right: A DSI official showing a picture of the oil drum found in Kaeng Krachan Dam
Among the evidence found were a 200-litre oil drum, 2 steel rods, 4 pieces of charcoal, and fragments of the old drum lid, along with 2 pieces of bone, which were found underwater when special investigating officers using an underwater vehicle and a team of drivers searched the area under the suspension bridge over the Kaeng Krachan Dam on 22 – 24 May 2019.
The bone fragments were tested by the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS), which found that they were pieces from a human skull, which was burned, cracked, and shrunk due to exposure to heat of 200-300 degrees Celsius. Genetic testing found that the mitochondrial DNA matched that of Billy’s mother. The special investigating officers therefore concluded that the bones were Billy’s, and that his body was burned to conceal the crime.
The oil drum used in Billy's case being brought up from Kaeng Krachan Dam (Source: Banrasdr Photo)
Prajak Kongkirati, a lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, observed on his Twitter account that during the era of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn (1963-73), burning bodies in an oil drum was a method used by government officials to get rid of people suspected of being involved with Communism. Suspects were placed in an oil drum with about 20 litres of oil and burned. Some were tortured and some were already dead before being burned, while some were burned alive.
Meanwhile, former human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit pointed out that during the search for her husband, the human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who went missing in 2004, 4 200-litre oil drums along with 2 steel rods were also found. Angkhana speculated that the steel rods were for keeping the lid closed while the body is being burned.
In the article “Crime of the State: Enforced disappearance, killings and impunity,” Thaweeporn Kummetha wrote about the “culture of impunity” which enables enforced disappearances, giving the example of the mass enforced disappearance, torture, and killing of communist suspects in Phattalung during the Cold War, nicknamed the “Red Drum” killings, which took place under the anti-communist dictatorship of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.
A proposed design for a memorial for the victims of the Red Drum. The picture on the top right shows how the victims are burned.
The name derives from the method of killing communist suspects. Thousands of communist suspects are believed to have been killed by being burned alive in 200-litre oil drums. While the bodies were burning, truck engines were revved to mask the screams of those who were being murdered. According to Tyrell Haberkorn’s article “Getting Away with Murder in Thailand: State Violence and Impunity in Phatthalung,” it is estimated that about 3000 people were killed in this manner in 1972.
Even though the atrocities were committed under a military dictatorship, the exposure of such crimes was made possible by student activists during a brief period of democracy in 1975, two years after the 14 October 1973 uprising.
Haberkorn wrote that the exposure stirred heated debate in Thai society. The media widely reported the Red Drum cases and the public called for the civilian government to prosecute the perpetrators. The Ministry of Interior set up a committee to investigate the case in mid-1975. About a month later, the Minister of Interior concluded that innocent citizens had been killed, but only seventy or eighty people were involved, rather than thousands. Regardless of the number, no one was punished, and the state agency held responsible for the killings continued working as usual.
“[Impunity and enforced disappearance] are directly related. I am routinely astounded because there have been so many cases of disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killings, a massacre, but it's extremely rare that anyone was held to account,” Haberkorn said.
The Red Drum memorial at Phattalung
Thaweeporn’s report emphasized that, since no one was held accountable, the repeated practice of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings has become normalized and even flourishes in a culture of impunity.
And since the DSI has already come this far, let’s hope that Billy’s case will become a precedent which sets a new standard.NewsPorlajee Rackchongcharoenenforced disappearancestate violenceRed Drums killingculture of impunity
The announcement that the remains of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a Karen rights activist, have been located, bringing a sad end to years of uncertainty for his family. This development should lead to a renewed focus on identifying the perpetrator(s) of his apparent enforced disappearance and bringing them to justice, said the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Amnesty International today (4 September).
On 3 September 2019, the Thai Ministry of Justice’s Department of Special Investigations (DSI) announced it had located bone fragments, which they had identified as likely belonging to Billy inside an oil tank submerged in water near a suspension bridge inside Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province.
“The DSI should redouble its efforts to identify the perpetrator(s) of Billy’s killing and bring them to justice,” said Frederick Rawski, Asia Regional Director of the ICJ. “If, based on an assessment of the evidence, it is found that Billy was the victim of enforced disappearance, then the perpetrators, including those with command responsibility, should be charged with the appropriate, serious offences in accordance with Thailand’s obligations under international law - not only with lesser crimes that do not reflect the gravity of the offense.”
Billy was last seen on 17 April 2014 in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials.
“This case highlights the serious risks activists and human rights defenders face in Thailand, including assaults, enforced disappearance and killings,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s interim Regional Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “It underscores the long-overdue need for the Thai government to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law. A failure to do so results in the lack of an independent, impartial and effective mechanism to investigate the cases, exacerbating the current climate of impunity.”
The DSI stated that the recovered bones contain DNA inherited from Billy’s mother, which suggests they belong to a person who was related to her. However, the DSI declined to disclose the name of any suspect(s) and requested more time to investigate the case and examine the remains.Background
Thailand is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Freedom from enforced disappearance is protected under both these treaties, as enforced disappearance will always constitute violations of some or more of the following rights: the right to life; freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to liberty; and the right to recognition as a person under the law. These are in addition to violations of the rights of members of the disappeared person’s family through suffering deliberately inflicted on them through the imposition on them of uncertainty about their love one’s fate and whereabouts.
Thailand has also signed, but not yet ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). The ICPPED affirms the absolute right not to be subject to enforced disappearance and places an obligation on states to investigate acts of enforced disappearance, to make it a criminal offence punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account its “extreme seriousness” and to take necessary measures to bring those responsible to justice.
The Government has stated it will not ratify the Convention until its provisions are incorporated in domestic law. However, efforts to pass the Draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act (draft Act) stalled after it was dropped by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) prior to the 2019 national election. The draft Act is currently pending the consideration of the President of the National Assembly. Under international law of treaties, as signatory to the ICPPED, still is bound to desist from any acts which would defeat its object and purpose.
Thailand has a binding obligation under international law to conduct prompt, effective and thorough, independent and impartial, and transparent investigations into all suspected cases of unlawful death and enforced disappearance.
According to the ICPPED and the revised Minnesota Protocol (2016), which contains the international standards on the conduct of investigations into unlawful death and enforced disappearance – and which Thailand launched in May 2017 – records that investigations “must seek to identify not only direct perpetrators but also all others who were responsible for the death, including, for example, officials in the chain of command who were complicit in the death.” (para 26)Pick to PostPorlajee Rackchongcharoenenforced disappearanceAmnesty InternationalInternational Commission of Jurists
The Thai government must urgently pass a draft law to address the heinous crimes of torture and enforced disappearances, after amending it to comply with Thailand’s international law obligations, Amnesty International said today (30 August), the International Day of the Disappeared.
“By its inaction, Thailand has allowed a shocking blind spot to prevail in its legislation. The result is that Thai citizens may be tortured, or subject to enforced disappearance, while authorities are not fully equipped to pursue those responsible,” said Piyanut Kotsan, Director of Amnesty International Thailand
“Each year, this symbolic day marks families’ daily wait for the truth of the fate of their disappeared relatives. The Thai authorities must bring them hope for justice, stop their delaying tactics and fulfil their promise to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law.”
The Thai authorities signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in January 2012. However, progress on ratifying the Convention and passing domestic legislation have been repeatedly stalled.
In 2017, lawmakers from the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) returned a draft of the law to cabinet for more consultations, and the government told the UN Human Rights Committee that year that it was delaying passing the bill to review it and hold public consultations. The Cabinet returned a new draft to parliament on 18 July 2019.
The unresolved enforced disappearances of several high-profile activists underscore the need for action. Somchai Neelapaiijit, a lawyer acting for victims of torture, was abducted in Bangkok in 2004, and has not been seen since.
Another activist, Pholachi ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen, was last seen on 17 April 2014 in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials in Thailand’s Phetchaburi province. At the time Billy had been working with ethnic Karen villagers and activists on legal complaints against the National Park officials for purportedly burning and destroying their houses, farms, and other properties.
The cases of 86 people – including trade unionists and other human rights defenders, protesters and security suspects believed to have been subjected to unresolved enforced disappearances in Thailand – have been reported to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. The real number is believed to be higher. Security laws and recently introduced decrees allowing for authorities to hold people without charge or trial in unofficial places of detention, often without contact to the outside world in practice, clearly increase the risk of people disappearing after being detained.
Official investigations have not dispelled suspicions of state involvement in the disappearance, abduction and death of some eight Thai activists who went into exile in Laos, during the last year and in 2016 and 2017.
“Not only these tragic disappearances, but also the government’s continuing failure to establish the truth and bring justice to their families, are growing stains on Thailand’s reputation. Scores of disappearance cases such as this remain unresolved, and cast doubt on the leadership’s commitment to keeping its own citizens safe,” said Piyanut Kotsan.
Thailand is bound by international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT) – both of which it has acceded to – to investigate, prosecute, punish and provide remedies and reparation for the crimes of torture, other acts of ill-treatment and enforced disappearance.Pick to PostAmnesty Internationalenforced disappearanceInternational Day of the DisappearedInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Convention Against Torture (CAT)anti-torture bill
At 13.00 today, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a press conference to reveal that DNA tests have confirmed that bones found in Kaeng Krachan Dam are those of the missing Karen environmental activist and community rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who disappeared in 2014.
A search of the area under the Kaeng Krachan Dam suspension bridge conducted by special investigating officers using an underwater vehicle and divers on 22–24 May 2019 found two pieces of human bone, a 200-litre oil drum, 2 steel rods, 4 pieces of charcoal, and fragments of the oil drum lid.
The bones were sent to the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) for testing, and were found to be burnt pieces of a human skull. DNA testing later found that the mitochondrial DNA from the bones matched that of Billy’s mother. The investigating officers therefore concluded that the bones were Billy’s, and speculated that his body was burnt to destroy evidence. However, the cause of death is unknown.
Billy was last seen on 17 April 2014. He was arrested by then Kaeng Krachan National Park superintendent Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn and four other officers for allegedly collecting wild honey illegally. Chaiwat later claimed that Billy was released on the same day as his arrest, but there are no official records of his arrest or detention. Billy’s wife Pinnapa “Minor” Pruksapan filed an emergency trial request to the Appeal Court on 16 September 2014 after the Court of First Instance ruled that there was insufficient evidence of his unlawful detention. On 27 February 2015, the Appeal Court dismissed the request, citing lack of evidence.
Last Tuesday (27 August), Pinnapa, along with a lawyer from the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) and the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), filed a request with the Phetchaburi Provincial Court to have Billy declared legally dead. The Court has set the hearing for 28 October at 9.00.
The DSI said that this case can be categorized as murder by torture and enforced disappearance, which are serious violations of human rights according to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), and the DSI will be conducting an investigation in order to bring those involved to justice.
According to the 2018 report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Thailand has 86 individual cases concerning enforced or involuntary disappearances outstanding. Among these cases, several victims have already been found dead. Most recently, in January 2019, two mutilated bodies were found in the Mekhong River near Nakhon Phanom. They were later proved to be those of Kraidej Luelert and Chatchan Bupphawan, two political refugees who went missing along with political activist in exile Surachai Danwattananusorn in December 2018. Surachai has yet to be found.NewsPorlajee Rackchongcharoenenforced disappearanceKaeng Krachan National Parkhuman rights defenderscommunity rights defendersviolence against activist
Stephff's political cartoon of the infinity war on corruption and the infinity gauntlet someone borrowed from his friend.MultimediaStephffGen Prawit Wongsuwan
Professor Rafał Pankowski, PhD
(Institute of Sociology of Collegium Civitas in Warsaw)
Saturday 14 – Sunday 15 September 2019
Room 514, 5th floor, Chaloem Rajakumari 60 (Chamchuri 10) Building, Chulalongkorn University
(Parking available at Chamchuri 9 Building)
About the Workshop: The MA & PhD in European Studies Programmes, Chulalongkorn University, are pleased and honoured to hold a two-day academic workshop which aims to examine the roles and impact of individuals and civil society networks in challenging extremism and the populist radical right in Europe, and beyond. The workshop will be led by Professor Rafał Pankowski, PhD, whose research specialisation and political experiences serve as fine example of how academic work and activism can converge and complement each other to overcome the stereotypical “chasm” dividing theory from practice. Participants will be given a list of reading materials prior to the workshop. After the lectures and group discussion, they will be invited to share their views and analyses. All participants will be presented with certificates issued by Chulalongkorn University as guarantee of their participation and fluency in the subject.
Saturday 14 September 2019
Session 1 -- Lecture
Session 2 – Lecture (cont.), Discussion & Group Work
Sunday 15 September 2019
Session 3 -- Discussion & Group Work (cont.)
Session 4 -- Presentation by Participants
Presentation of Workshop Certificates to Participants
About the Lecturer: Professor Rafał Pankowski, PhD, having studied at the University of Oxford as an undergraduate, received his MA in Political Science from the University of Warsaw and his PhD and Habilitation in Sociology of Culture from the Institute of Applied Social Sciences, University of Warsaw. He is Professor at the Institute of Sociology of Collegium Civitas in Warsaw. Professor Pankowski has published widely on racism, nationalism, populism, xenophobia and other issues including Neo-Fascism in Western Europe: A study in ideology (Polish Academy of Sciences, 1998), Racism and Popular Culture (Trio, 2006), and The Populist Radical Right in Poland: The Patriots (Routledge, 2010). He has served as deputy editor of Nigdy Wiecej (Never Again) magazine since 1996 and is a co-founder of the “Never Again” Association. He is also a member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
Workshop Fee (lunch & refreshments included): 1,000 THB.
Please click here: https://forms.gle/E1LqAkZjum6mGyrY8 or scan the QR Code to register online, receive bank transfer information and download the reading materials by Friday 13 September 2019.
For further information, please contact Assistant Professor Verita Sriratana, PhD, at email@example.comVisit the event page here. NewsEventworkshopRafal PankowskiChulalongkorn UniversityInstitute of Sociology of Collegium Civitas in Warsawsocial actioncivil societyEuropeCentral Europeright-wing extremism
The bride was radiant in white; the groom was in black.
The courtship had been respectful and circumspect, yet passionate and enchanting. The families had carefully estimated the socioeconomic standing of the prospective in-laws and declared themselves satisfied. A pre-nuptial agreement had been successfully negotiated and the list of wedding gifts had been well subscribed.
The wedding ceremony was proceeding beautifully. The responses had been given, the rings exchanged and the officiating priest had got to the point of saying ‘I now pronounce you …’
And started again with ‘You may now kiss the bride’.
No one was the least bit bothered except awkward Aunt Edna who started agitating as per normal, saying that without the magic words ‘husband and wife’, the ceremony was incomplete and the happy couple were still, in the eyes of God and the congregation, single.
The priest’s assistant claimed the opposite. The priest had in fact said ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife’. No problem, move along now, nothing to see here.
But Aunt Edna had it all on video and other witnesses confirmed that the pronouncement had indeed been truncated.
Were the couple legally married? Or living in sin? Would any children be born illegitimate? These, many claimed, were serious questions that needed answers.
It was suggested that a second ceremony could be held, not in full regalia perhaps, just to make the sure the required words were in fact spoken, but the priest was never at home when people came to ask.
The couple themselves did not seem upset by what happened and a few weeks after the honeymoon told everyone that the problem would be settled the next day. Everyone turned up and was given a smartly printed copy of the homily that the priest had given at the ceremony.
No one thought that this solved anything, but the couple said that they were happy to receive the ‘moral support’.
* * * * * * * *
The reading of the verdict, running to many tens of pages, had been long and arduous. The judge’s voice had become a dreary monotone and the court – officials, lawyers and defendant all – had lapsed into semi-somnolence.
The denouement caught just about everyone napping. The droning narrative stopped and the chief judge announced: ‘You are found guilty as charged and are hereby sentenced. Take him down.’
The court officers swiftly removed the accused, the clerk shouted ‘All rise’, and the judges disappeared into their chambers. The defence lawyers quickly huddled together. Sentenced to what? Had anyone heard?
One lawyer rushed to the court offices. What was the sentence? Sorry, we can’t reveal that information until we receive the judges’ report. Come back in a month or so.
Quickly over to the Office of the Judiciary. A defendant has been found guilty but the judge forgot to say what the sentence was, said the defence lawyer.
‘Forgot? Impossible. Any implications along those lines and we’ll have you for contempt of court.’
The defendant, now a convict, was sent to prison to serve – how long? The family raised a hue and cry in the media.
Meanwhile the defence team urged a speedy publication of the trial report. The court assured everyone that there was no need to repeat the reading of the verdict and all questions would be settled in a few days.
The trial report came out and read: ‘The defendant was found guilty as charged and was hereby sentenced.’ The judiciary declared that they felt totally vindicated by the document.
* * * * * * * *
The Cabinet in their white uniforms formed rows …
Long-suffering Prachatai English Editor: Oh come on. Messing up a wedding ceremony and a court sentencing are already pretty far-fetched, but messing up a constitutional oath? No way. Could never happen.Alien ThoughtsAlien thoughtsHarrison Georgeoath of office
Sarinee Achavanuntakul, writer, translator, and independent researcher, has been summonsed by the Election Cases Division of the Supreme Court after she was accused of contempt of court for the publication of an article in the Krungthep Turakit newspaper, says TLHR.
Sarinee said she received the summons on Sunday (25 August). The summons said that she has been accused of contempt of court for the publication of her article “The danger of excessive rule by law (again): the case of MP candidates’ media shares” ("อันตรายภาวะนิติศาสตร์ล้นเกิน (อีกที) กรณีหุ้นสื่อของผู้สมัครส.ส.") in Krungthep Turakit on 14 May 2019.
A copy of a memorandum attached to the summons states that the civil case was filed by Supradit Jeensawake, Secretary of the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division. Supradit said that the article criticized the Supreme Court, saying that the Court was careless in its interpretation of the law preventing individuals with shares in media companies from running as MP candidates and that this interpretation is dangerous. Supradit also said that the article accused the Election Cases Division of the Supreme Court of using the law incessantly and interpreting it without considering the facts and the spirit of the law. Supradit thinks that Sarinee did not criticize the Court’s ruling with pure intentions, but is attacking the Court.
Sarinee and two others are required to report to the Supreme Court on the morning of 9 September to testify in the case against them. Her article in Krungthep Turakit has since been taken down from the paper’s website.
Earlier this week, Associate Professor Dr Kovit Wongsurawat, a lecturer in political sciences at Kasetsart University was also summoned to meet the Secretary-General of the Office of the Constitutional Court for an “inappropriate” tweet in which he called the Constitutional Court “shameless” for not suspending 32 MPs who also hold shares in media companies.NewsSarinee AchavanuntakulSupreme CourtElection Cases Divisioncontempt of courtjudicial harassment
Palinee “Pauline” Ngarm-pring, the Mahachon Party candidate for Prime Minister and head of strategy, joined the Future Forward Party (FFP) on Wednesday (28 August), reported MCOT.
Palinee “Pauline” Ngarm-pring
Pauline said that she has been following and supporting the FFP for a long time, especially the party leader’s determination and the work of its transgender MPs that must be admired. She said that it was her own decision to join the party; she was not approached by anyone. She is ready to support and happy to contribute to the party’s work in the areas she is skilled in, such as sports or the economy, or whatever the party sees fit.
“I believe that the Future Forward Party responds to the younger generation in the future. As for the legal prosecutions against the party, I think it’s nothing to worry about, because obstacles are something ordinary whenever we do something. I want to look at it as a challenge that must be faced, not a problem that will cause discouragement,” Pauline said.
During the 2019 general election, Pauline was the Mahachon Party candidate for Prime Minister and head of strategy. She was also the first transgender person in the history of Thai politics to run as candidate for Prime Minister. However, Pauline said that she left the Mahachon Party on good terms and that there is no conflict, because this came from her own self-evaluation after she was unsuccessful during the last general election as head of strategy.
Pauline was greeted by Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat and Natthawut Buapratum, FFP party-list MPs. Tunyawaj said that the FFP stance on LGBT rights and human dignity has been clear from the start, so she doesn’t think that Pauline joined the party as a result of the effort during the last few weeks to push for the formation of a Standing Committee on LGBT rights, but rather because Pauline sees something in the party. Tunyawaj insisted that the FFP does not have a strategy of approaching politicians from other parties and inviting them to join, but if any politician would like to work with the FFP, that is considered a good thing and the party welcomes them.
“Pauline joining the FFP is considered a good thing, because she has knowledge and ability in the areas of sports, the economy, and LGBT issues. Lately, a lot more people have come to work with the party. The FFP welcomes them and allows every party member to play a part in the party’s work. The FFP has working groups on many issues, but to work together, we must have a shared agreement, a shared ideology,” Tunyawaj said.
When asked whether it is possible that Pauline will join a working group on sports or on LGBT issues, Tunyawaj said that it is all possible and it depends on which area Pauline is interested in. However, every party member may propose ideas to the party. This is not limited to famous people.NewsPauline NgarmpringMahachon PartyFuture Forward Party