On 20 July 2018, the Bangkok Military Court called for witness testimony of the Article 112 case, the royal defamation case, against “Waen” Nattatida Meewangpla, a crucial witness in the 6-dead massacre at Pathum temple in 2010.
The testimony of two witnesses, Maj Gen Wicharn Jodtaeng and Police Major General Surasak Khunnarong, started at 8.30 am. When Waen was brought to the Bangkok Military Court, she was taken into the building immediately, and the Court ordered this case to be a closed trial.
At 2.00 pm after the trial, Winyat Chatmontree, the defendant’s lawyer, gave his opinion to the media. He said that the witness in today’s testimony didn’t have any clear evidence indicating that the defendant is guilty. The only evidence used to accuse the defendant is a photo taken of a screen of a smartphone showing Waen’s conversation on the messaging application LINE, just one picture and one message.
There was no evidence showing computer data that can be compared to those in the defendant’s smartphone to check its accuracy or find if there are any discrepancies in the document. Besides, there are still many doubts about the acquisition of the evidence and eyewitnesses.
Winyat views that the two witnesses had made an inquiry on Waen in a different case (the court-bombing case) all along, with a record of the investigation of that case as the evidence, but the witness gave conflicting testimonies to the truth. The defence lawyer sees that this eyewitness’s suspicious point makes the evidence weak.
“The defence lawyer tried to destroy the credibility of the accusation that Waen is someone who holds hostility towards the king or is part of an anti-monarchy group. The lawyer brought the original copy of an invitation sent from the Foundation of King Rama Nine, The Great in 2013 to show that Waen helped organised a pro-monarchy event, displaying her loyalty. However, the prosecutor objected to this document, claiming that it has no relations to this witness. The defence lawyer argued that the witness accusing the defendant of anti-royalism could be due to personal prejudice, despite how the defendant has continuously denied all charges and insisted on her innocence all along,” Winyat said.
Another point the lawyer views as a weakness of the accusation is that the message they claimed was posted by Waen wasn’t shown to the public. It was posted in a private group of members, but there was no evidence of messages sent from other members.
According to the charge, the problematic message was posted on 8 March 2015, but a point worth observing is that after that day, Nattatida was arrested and officers had taken her LINE account and password. Why is it that there is only one piece of paper as evidence for a crime that caused her to be held in prison like this?, Winyat questioned.
When asked how long he thinks this trial will take, Winyat explained that in this case, the prosecutor has nine witnesses and the defendant has 10 witnesses. It should take around two years since there aren’t enough judges. The witnesses for the prosecution tend to not come according to the summons, as well as the fact that the dates and times for the appointments don’t allow the case to be tried continuously.
As for bail, the defence lawyer put forward 900,000 baht to bail Nattatida, but the Bangkok Military Court denied, stating that there is no reason to change the court order to something else. The legal team plans to request bail again at the next questioning of the witness for the prosecution.
Concerning the donation money for bail, Kanphat Singthong, another lawyer of Waen who had opened up an account for donations, said that the most recent total amount was one million and 50,000 baht. If the bail is approved, the rest of the money will be given to Waen as treatment fees and start-up funds.
The court has made an appointment to question the witness for the prosecution on 4 September 2018, also making an appointment with Associate Professor Suthini Rattanawara, Faculty of Law, Ramkhamhaeng University, as an expert witness concerning the message the prosecution accused Waen.
Waen rescused a victim of the 2010 MassacreNewsNattatida Meewangplamilitary crackdown 2010Article 112Lèse-majesté
An Open Letter on the Child Marriage Case of the 11-Year-Old Girl to H.E. Prime Minister, H.E. Minister of Social Development and Human Security, H.E. Minister of Justice, H.E. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikhul Islam Office of Thailand, The Central Islamic Council of Thailand and Concerned Agencies
July 25, 2018
Child marriage below the age of 18 is a violation of basic human rights of children, especially regarding physical, intellectual, emotional, and mental development, which adversely affects their quality of life as well as society and economy in the long run. It also deprives girls and boys of the rights to live their lives as a child and destroys their educational opportunities. It put children at risk of danger to health, including becoming the victims of domestic violence and abuses. Marriage is a significant foundation of a family institution where the spouses must be capable of bearing responsibility for themselves, family, and society. Premature marriage obstructs the development of children in every aspect, causing the inability to create a perfect family institution.
Members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), such as Algeria, Oman, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, and Turkey, have set the minimum age of marriage at 18 years of age. Recently, Indonesia has agreed to sign a decree banning child marriage. In Malaysia, the minimum age of marriage is set in both civil and Islamic laws at the age of 18 for boys and at 16 for girls, without exceptions.
In Thailand, child marriage is permitted under the Civil and Commercial Code. With an exception under the Civil Procedure Code, a man who has sexually assaulted an underage girl regardless of her consent, which is a criminal offense under the section 277 of the Penal Code, can marry her with the permission of the court and by fulfilling the requirements of the law. The Islamic Law on Family and Legislation, BE 2484, and the Act on Application of Islamic Law in the Provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Satun, BE 2489, do not prescribe the minimum age of marriage but leave it upon the discretion of the court, which has created a legal loophole where child marriage is legitimized based on local norms and customary practices in several cases, all of which are the violation of the Child Protection Act, BE 2546.
In the case of a 41-year-old Malaysian man marrying an 11-year-old girl from Narathiwat, Thailand, claiming the marriage was performed in accordance with the Islamic principles, the governmental and non-governmental agencies, including religious bodies in Malaysia and Thailand, have not been negligent but hastened to coordinate efforts to protect the child by convening a meeting on July 11, 2018 in Pattani. The meeting with the Central Islamic Council of Pattani and Narathiwat were held respectively. The Central Islamic Council of Narathiwat has clarified the marriage was wrong as the marriage document was falsified and the Central Islamic Council of Narathiwat was falsely claimed as the authorizing body to endorse the marriage. Also, the Imam who performed the marriage has been put on probation; hence he is unauthorized to perform the marriage for anyone. Currently, the Imam has been punished by the Central Islamic Council of Narathiwat. The marriage is, therefore, invalid and nullified. Nonetheless, the incident above indicates a legal loophole that enables the sexual exploitation of children under 18.
Child marriage in the southern frontier provinces of Thailand continues to be misused as a tool to deal with premarital pregnancy and child abuses such as rape. Forced marriage has become the only way to avoid shame, especially from having an illegitimate child and to legalize the relationship. Marriage to escape poverty is another major reason for child marriage. Therefore, the efficient and sustainable elimination and prevention of child marriage require an attitude and behavioral change to create a new social norm. Religious and community organizations are required to take responsibility for the empowerment of the community through the Zakat Fund as a powerful tool to eliminate disparities and poverty in the community. This effort should be implemented alongside the amendment and enforcement of the laws by upholding the best interest of the child. To fulfill the obligations to The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the CEDAW committee has given the recommendation to Thailand to amend the Criminal Code, Section 277 by setting the nationwide minimum age of marriage at 18. The measures to eliminate child marriage and forced marriage must also be introduced (paragraph 49 (a) CEDAW / C / THA / CO6-7).
Today's children are the future of tomorrow. All children have the rights to thrive for their hopes and dreams. To achieve their fullest potentials, they should learn and have access to education, instead of getting married before the age of 18. Thus, to protect the 11-year-old girl and to prevent exploitation, sexual abuses, and for the long-term prevention of exploitation of children, child abuse and violation of the rights of the child from child marriage, the undersigned individuals and organizations of this open letter urge the concerned parties to take the following actions:
1. The provincial governor of Narathiwat province, as the chairman of the Provincial Child Protection Committee, with direct responsibility under the Child Protection Act, BE 2546, is urged resort to the legal mechanisms and lodge a police report as to activate the relevant authorities to investigate the evidence of sexual assault and exploitation against the child. The police report would lead to further steps of rescue and protection of the child which enable her access to basic rights, especially education. It is also imperative to file litigation against the offender to establish future norms and procedures for child protection.
2. The Central Islamic Council of Narathiwat is urged to make a public clarity on the marriage of 41-year-old Malaysian man and 11-year-old Thai girl to clarify unlawful conduct of nikah and forgery of the official documents, which have led to the exploitation and the violation of the rights of the child. These offenses have also damaged the reputation of the Central Islamic Council of Narathiwat province.
3. The Central Islamic Council of Thailand and the Provincial Central Islamic Councils are urged to take strict measures to protect the rights of children and women by conducting a clear and careful investigation of women’s willingness to marry, and ensure no women are forced in marriage. The measures must be urgently established to prevent the child marriage of women under the age of 18. An example can be taken from the Central Islamic Council of Pattani Province, under whom, the child marriage below 18 years of age is prohibited based on the strict observation of Child Protection Act, BE 2546. Men wishing to marry more than one wife must be scrutinized to assess their behavior, economic ability and capacity to ensure genuine justice in the family based on Islamic principle, which includes the emotional and mental justice for the prior wife/wives.
4. The government is urged to coordinate with all sectors to address the problem of child marriage. It is particularly important to work closely with Sheikhul Islam Office of Thailand and Central Islamic Council of Thailand to ensure the verdicts and laws pertaining to marriage and child protection are in compliance with Islamic principles, as well as the international instruments and conventions, to which the Thai government has given the commitment, and hence is obliged to fulfill. These conventions include the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), particularly in preventing child marriage and forced marriage. The Thai government must seek cooperation with the Malaysian government to improve the laws and ensure their compatibility with the aim to prevent the misuse of legal loopholes between the two countries for the exploitation of children including sexual abuse against children and women.
The Undersigned Organizations and Individuals
Hearty Support Group (Duay Jai)
Women's Four-region Network (Southern Region)
The Network of Civic Women for Peace (Civic Women)
Southern Women’s Peace Network to Stop Violence
Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN)
Research and Campaign Network for Women
Songkhla Public Health Coverage Network (Public Benefit Organization)
Dr. Vacharuthia Boonthinan, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University
Asian Resource Foundation
Cross Cultural Foundation
Foundation for Women
Foundation for Women and Children Protection
Friends of Women Foundation
Foundation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Foundation for Peace and Culture
Asian Culture of Peace Foundation
Center of Excellence on Women and Social Security, Walailak University
Muslim Women Protection Center, Laem Pho District
Women and Family Learning Center, Talubok District, Muang, Pattani
International Institute of Peace and Development Studies
Children and Youth Association for Southern Border Peace (LukRiang Group)
Women's Association for Peace
FahSai Association for the Promotionof Youth Welfare in the South
The Coordination Center of Informal Labor Workers of Thailand
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nongyao Nawarat, Faculty of Social Sciences Chiang Mai University
Suchart Setthamaliness, Vice Chairman of Central Islamic Council of Chiang Mai
Rosenun Chesof, University of Malaya
Sitimuna Ibrahim Payordueramae
Pick to PostChild MarriageChild ProtectionThe Central Islamic Council of Thailand
We, representatives from communities affected by Thai investment abroad, network of river communities, NGOs, Thai foundations (concerning poor human rights practice of Thai investors abroad ), and civil society in ASEAN countries, concerned about the lack of responsibility to provide remedies and compensation. We demand the Thai investor- Ratchaburi Holding Enterprises Ltd to responsible for the damage they caused from operating XeNamNoy dam- including 6000 people who lost their lives, homes, properties, agricultural lands and encountering psychological damage due to the loss.
The recent Xe Nam Noy dam collapse in Attapeu province, Lao PDR has raised high alarm calling for greater responsibility of Thai investors in its outbound investments. The 410 MW Xenamnoy dam is located in Attapeu province; the dam involved Thai investor- Ratchaburi holding PCL (with 25% share), Korean and Singapore investors. The dam will export 90% of electricity to Thailand, said by Mr. Kiatkun Chatprasert, Thailand’s Ambassador to Lao PDR. The dam will start commercialized operation in 2019; Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand (EGAT) is the buyer and big four banks in Thailand provided funding for this project-Krung Thai Bank, Tanachart, Export-Import Bank of Thailand, and Bank of Ayudhaya (Krung- Sri).
The dam collapse on late Monday night, sending flash floods through 6 villages and 6000 people became homeless. Approximately 200 people are missing and 50 people have been reported dead. Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding sent out the notification that “the saddle dam was fractured, after continuous rainstorm. It caused the high volume of water to flow into the project’s reservoir”. The overflow of water from the dam destroys lives, property, agricultural lands of the communities and hundreds are still stranded on their roofs and trees waiting for the rescue operation.
The Saddle dam collapse raised the question of compliance to world best dam standards and dam safety, according to the World Commission on Dam Guidelines. The WCD framework recommend that mechanisms should be developed to provide reparations, or retroactive compensation, for those who are suffering from existing dams, and restore damaged.
We ask Thai investors abroad to draw the learnt from the case of XeNamNoy dam- raising the need to develop dam safety as the first priority in the case of planned dams. In addition, a comprehensive assessment of the existing dam is put in place before building a new one on the Mekong and its tributary rivers.
Several measures must be carried out as soonest to take responsibility according to the international best practice standards and human rights principle.
Recommendation to the Government:
· We urge the government of Laos to order an investigation- regarding what causes the collapse of the dam and coming up with measures to avoid the same incidence to happen. The assessment should be done by the independent expert or third party
Recommendations to the investors:
· We demand the company to responsible towards compensation and remedies to the communities due to the loss. The company must engage communities into discussion about compensation and appropriate remedies as soonest.
The statement is calling for a greater responsibility of Thai investors in their investments abroad which is based on the Guiding Principle of Business and Human Rights (UNGP). Thai investor must respect community’s rights to remedies- inclusive participation of the affected communities into compensation discussion, providing fair and just compensation and remedies to the affected communities.
The flood victims (Photo from Lao News Agency)
1. Thai People Network along 8 provinces of the Mekong
2. Rak Chiang Khong
3. Living Rivers Association
4. Mekong Butterfly
5. Extraterritorial Watch Coalition
6. Foundation of Environment and Natural Resources
7. Community Resources Centre Foundation
8. Mekong Communities Institute
9. EarthRights International
Pick to PostdamsLaocivil societyElectricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT)
After she resisted intimidation by the Thai military to stay silent, the life of Natthida “Waen” Meewangpa – a volunteer nurse who witnessed the shooting of civilians and unarmed supporters of protesting “Red Shirts” by soldiers during the 2010 political confrontations in Bangkok – has turned to hell.
Natthida’s nightmare began three years ago when the military appeared to get tired of her demanding justice for the 2010 bloodshed and arrested her on March 11, 2015. After six days of interrogation in secret incommunicado detention, during which she alleged being beaten and otherwise mistreated, Thailand’s ruling junta accused Natthida of criminal association and conspiring to commit terrorist acts related to a grenade attack at the Bangkok Criminal Court on March 7, 2015. If found guilty by a military tribunal, she faces up to 10 years in prison.
The junta made further efforts to keep Natthida behind bars by accusing her in 2017 of sharing a comment in the Line chat application that officials considered offensive to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thailand’s draconian lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) law carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
The junta has stonewalled questions from Natthida’s lawyers and human rights groups about this flimsy charge. It is unclear who actually posted the message in question, raising concerns that it may have been done to frame her. The message was allegedly shared on March 17, 2015, while Natthida was still in government custody and officials had confiscated her mobile phone. As in other lese majeste cases, Natthida’s bail requests have repeatedly been refused.
Trying civilians in military courts, which lack independence and do not comply with fair trial standards, violates international human rights law and has brought global criticism of the junta. Natthida’s case has become a glaring example of arbitrariness and injustice in Thailand’s justice system under military rule.
So long as Natthida remains locked up, there is little prospect of justice for the victims of one of Thailand’s bloodiest episodes. Worse still, soldiers and their commanders will have good reason to believe that next time around, they can again get away with murder.
Natthida “Waen” Meewangpa (Photo from Human Rights Watch)Pick to PostHuman Rights Watch (HRW)Nattatida MeewangplaArticle 112Lèse-majestéred shirts
Re: Incident of violence against women and girls by foreign anti-trafficking NGO Lift International (NVADER)
To: Lift International
According to media reports on the 13 July 2018 there was incidence of “entrapment” and raid at a Karaoke Bar in Chachoengsao Province where six women from Myanmar were found working in prostitution and also one teenage girl under the age of 18 was found to be working there. The anti-trafficking NGO Lift International said that they had conducted an undercover operation for more than a month before the raid. This is the latest in many such operations carried out by Lift International using the method of “entrapment” as part of the process in achieving their goal. These operations have repeatedly had a negative impact on women and girls both directly and indirectly.
The authorities raid into a massage parlor in Bangkok (Photo from PPTV)
“Entrapment” is the method to prove a criminal offense before a raid where investigators disguise themselves and go to Entertainment places to get close, gain manipulate trust in order to make arrests. Women who do sex work see entrapment as deceiving and coercing them into taking part in the commission of a crime.
The conducting of undercover entrapment operations against sex workers in Entertainment Places has been identified as a source of concern for human rights in Thailand since 2003. In 2017 the Committee of Experts on CEDAW raised concern that (sex workers in Thailand) faced violent police raids in Entertainment Places and targeted in entrapment operations. In the final recommendations the CEDAW Committee advised the Thai government must stop entrapment operations against sex workers immediately. The method used also contradicts the Code of Conduct for Foreign NGOs in Thailand 20181 and Convention on the Rights of the Child,
On the 1st June 2018 during the seminar “Has 10 Years of entrapment and raids solved trafficking yet?” hosted by Empower Foundation, National Human Rights Commissioner Ms Angkhana Neelapaijit said that “Entrapment of sex workers violates the right of the individual (Right to Privacy) It is not necessary to use the method of entrapment. There are other ways to collect evidence of human trafficking. Undercover entrapment is not necessary; according to the law other evidence and methods can be used to prove a criminal offence.”
However Lift International (NVADER) is still using entrapment without regard for the dignity of the women and girls, resulting negative impacts rather than in protection according to the law e.g. the practice of covering women’s and girl’s with towels during raids makes them feel as if they are criminals and cause emotional trauma2; keeping witnesses illegally in immigration detention; the slow court process, no proper compensation for victims or witnesses; sex workers arrested who are not involved in the trafficking case do not have legal representation; Empower has had to find more than 500,000 Baht to address the problems after Lift International (NVADER) has conducted entrapment operations and raids in cooperation with the Thai authorities.
The work of NGO’s should take into account human rights of their target groups and work to be a bridge between community and government. At the seminar on 1st June, National Human Rights Commissioner Ms Angkhana Neelapaijit and DSI’s Human Trafficking Division Deputy Director Pol Lt Col Krittat Uamson have both recommended that the problem of trafficking needs to be addressed at the root causes such as promoting access to education, providing employment, and increasing social benefits so women can care for their families. These issues are more appropriate for NGO’s to do rather than trying to fulfill the role of police, causing harm to their target group or being the tool of the government authorities as is the case now.
Empower Foundation and the signatories below call for Lift International (NVADER) to stop undercover entrapment operations, stop violating the dignity of women and girls and take responsibility to address the consequences of their “entrapment” operations to date.
Yours SincerelyPick to Postsex workersEmpower Foundationentrapment
The Thai authorities must recognise that the death penalty has no place in any criminal justice system and halt any plans to carry out further executions, said Amnesty International, a month after the state carried out its first execution in almost nine years.
In an open letter to Thailand’s Minister of Justice, the global human rights organization called on the government to abolish the death penalty after a 26-year-man was executed by lethal injection for aggravated murder on 18 June 2018. It was the first execution since August 2009.
“No matter what the crime, who the prisoner is or the method of execution, nothing can justify the use of the death penalty. It is a despicable punishment that has no place in any criminal justice system”, said Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International’s Thailand Campaigner.
“The Thai government must reaffirm its commitment to human rights by immediately establishing a moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty, as a first step towards its full abolition. The truth is, the death penalty does not have a unique deterrent effect on crime. It does not bring closure to family members of the alleged victim. It is never a solution.”
On 18 June 2018, Thailand executed a 26-year-old man for aggravated murder in the country’s first execution since August 2009, which followed a period of no executions since 2003. Figures provided by the Ministry of Justice in March 2018 state that 510 people, including 94 women, were on death row of whom 193 had exhausted all final appeals. Almost half of these 193 are believed to have been sentenced for drug-related offences.
While the imposition of the mandatory death penalty is prohibited under international law, the death penalty in Thailand remains mandatory for a number of offences, including aggravated murder. Many of the offences for which the death penalty may be applied do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law in countries where it has not yet been abolished.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally, for all cases and under any circumstances.
As of today, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 142 in total are abolitionist in law or practice.Pick to PostAmnesty International (AI)death penalty
“It is not only a humanitarian assistance but also a political implication
Thai and International news headlines have been covering with 12 Thai football juniors and their coach trapped in Tham Luang cave in the northern Thailand for weeks. The topic has been virally mentioned across both online and offline platform around the world, so it is not only prays and encouragement, but also amount of international helps, British professional divers, Australian medical experts, Japanese irrigation experts, a team of US troops and high-technology and useful equipment from China and so on, which have arrived to Thailand in order to cooperate with Thai officials to get these victims out of the cave.
According to the US official statement to public, Thai government sent their request for help to the US government, but what Thai mass media have presented to public is only one-side truth. Thais, so far, have been acknowledged that every country, which has sent their teams joining in rescue operation, voluntarily offers to join in.
Nonetheless, for politics, implication does matter. As this rescue operation had globally been watched and interested, one of the significant tools, which I automatically think about, is “soft power”. It is a political mechanism in promoting and influencing people’s values, ideas and beliefs.
Russia, the current host of 2018 FIFA World cup, can be a great example to show how soft power plays its role. As a huge wave of people floods into Russia to watch football games, definitely, most of them may spend time travelling around Russia where people can learn about Russian food, society and culture more.
Essentially, Russia has also received a number of compliments in hosting the FIFA World cup, so the Russia’s reputation is more or less improved on the ground level.
As public opinions matter in international relations, it can either strengthen or weaken relationship between countries. For instance, during the Cold War, Thailand and the US had a tight relationship because the US supported many Thailand’s development projects namely infrastructure, etc. As a deep bound connection has been thriving, the US influence in culture, food, movie and education, so-called “American soft power” gradually embedded into Thai society. Although, as time has passed by, Thai-US relations has been worsen by domestic or international occurrence namely US interference into Thai politics, US strong words in condemning Thai internal affair, etc. from time to time, the American soft power remains its influence in Thai society.
For the Tham Laung incident, the US sends its officers to help Thailand in the rescue operation and President Trump does also tweet and give compliment to both the US and Thai officers. Significantly, for public opinion, we have seen posts expressing gratitude and paying tribute to American team, British divers, Australian doctors and every country joining in the operation on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It is obvious that Thais is more optimistic towards these countries.
Therefore, as I mentioned earlier about soft power, I observe that these international assistance are also linked to political relations between countries supporting this rescue operation and Thailand. Thus, in my view, these countries may engage themselves in this operation for not only humanitarian assistance but also political implication.
First, for England, they are currently suffering from the aftermath of Brexit, so they are in need of negotiating new bilateral trade deal with many countries including Thailand. As Thai Prime Minister, General Prayuth, officially visited England on June 2018, this issue was also raised up during the talk. According to the trade tariff which the US and China have put on each other products recently, two countries clearly shown a sign of antagonism in expanding their influence over Asian countries. The US has revealed a gradual interest in returning its influence to Asia according to the recent remark from the US secretary of defence at the 2018 Shangri-La dialogue and Trump’s statement for a possible re-joining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). On the one hand, China is currently Thailand’s top trading partners. Therefore, having a close relationship with Thailand would benefit and meet both the US and China intention.
For Australia, according to the ASEAN-Australian special summit on March 2018, Australia reportedly announced that they would like to engage in and cooperate with ASEAN more and it is undeniable that Thailand has taken a leading role in ASEAN. Hence, providing assistance to this operation could partially benefit a long term relationship between two countries more or less. Finally, for Japan, the Japanese government has cooperated with Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) Thailand Office to support this operation with irrigation experts. In politics, being a huge industrial investor for many decades, Japan has economically influenced Thailand. Significantly, the US, one of the Japan’s closest allies and China, one of the Japan’s rivals, both joins in the operation. Japan seem to be obligated to participate as well.
The 12 footballers and their coach trapped in Tham Luang cave (Photo from Thai Navy Seal)
About the author: Thareerat Laohabut has graduated a Bachelor Degree of Political Science, Thammasat University, Thailand with Erasmus+ scholarship, one year exchange program at the Geschwister Scholl Institute of Political Science, University of Munich (LMU), Germany.
Somyot stated that today he came with a police car leading him. He considered it was a great honour for the police officers show respect to him by asking him for details and asking about certain matters that are inappropriate to be speaking about. The issue they asked him to not talk about was the disappearance of the Khana Ratsadon plaque. He himself was afraid of offending and scared. He personally didn’t know about this matter because when the plaque disappeared he was in the Bangkok Remand Prison so he probably wouldn’t be able to talk as much as the other speakers. Somyot continued saying that the 1932 revolution brought about a new era of civilisation to Thai society with, for example, compulsory education and Thammasat University which later on became an institution that produced politicians. It is a shame that these politicians did not inherit the intentions of 1932, so there are politicians who betrayed the democratic system. The people also have freedom where they could open their eyes and mouths at times even if freedom was decaying. The lèse majesté law was changed from 7 years’ imprisonment to 15 years. The sentence was increased when people were slaughtered on 6 Oct 1976. Nevertheless, the 1932 revolution gave the people freedom and the people are still fighting for freedom to this day. Somyot said that there were some mistakes in the 1932 revolution. One of the mistakes was that Khana Ratsadon was able to create change at the level of power mechanisms by transferring power from the absolute monarchy to Khana Ratsadon, but they did not have a new ideology to replace the absolute monarchy and did not fully exterminate the entire system, so conservatism still persists today. The weeds of dictatorship are still present and have been developed to blossom today. At the same time, the branches of Khana Ratsadon were pruned until there were none left when Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat took power, and in that period the Thai National Day was changed from the original 24 June to 5 December. The former editor of Voice of Taksin stated that at present there are still descendants of Khana Ratsadon. When news of the missing plaque came out, there was also news that the descendants of Khana Ratsadon went to ask about it. It’s clear that blood relations have disappeared since many descendants did not inherit Khana Ratsadon’s intentions but history isn’t discontinued or erased so easily. The 1932 revolution did not happen in isolation, but was the result of previous efforts to revolutionise Thailand, or what was called the rebellion of 130 Rattanakosin Era during King Rama VI’s reign when a group of military soldiers were ready to overthrow the government into a republican system but it wasn’t successful as their secret was leaked. King Rama VI suppressed the rebels; some instigators were sentenced to death, some were imprisoned, but in the end those people were released when the 1932 revolution occurred. Somyot said that the disappearance of the plaque is nothing new because there have always been attempts to destroy the symbols of the 1932 revolution all the time, including the misrepresentation of the history of 1932 as premature where the revolution went ahead even though King Rama VII was getting ready to bestow democracy. The historical perception of the 1932 revolution has been limited. The date of the national day has been changed and Khana Ratsadon architecture. such as the Supreme Court building, has been destroyed. The Khana Ratsadon plaque is only one of the memories of the 1932 revolution but the phenomenon we see in the present is that the more that is destroyed, the more appears – people who want an election appear. “I really feel sorry for Thailand because we shouldn’t be talking about an outsider Prime Minister for a long time already, because of Black May when people fought each other and were injured and died protesting against an outsider Primer Minister. What hurts is that they still want a Prime Minister with a … brain like Prayuth, I don’t understand what in history they are confused about. We lost lives on 14 Oct, in Black May, and we still need people who want an election like Bow, Rome, Niw, to speak of one right one vote, equality, elections. We shouldn’t be talking about this anymore, we should have gone further than this, but it can be considered as some colour for politics that doesn’t allow our country to be governed only by someone like Prayuth,” Somyot said. Somyot also added that the next 10 years should be a period of excitement since he found that there are components that will cause a great political change, because the economy is very bad. The situation is that poverty and debt are rampant, and milking taxes by the Prayuth government, which does not really know how to work, is not able to develop the economy but instead uses money lavishly. Not long ago, the 24 June group made three requests to Government House. One, to oppose the use of oil excise tax which is one of the factors that makes oil more expensive than in all our neighbouring countries. Two, to oppose the increase in VAT which could become 9%. And three, to cancel the extravagant use of money on weapons, munitions and increased salaries for their cronies. As for the missing plaque, Somyot said that its disappearance today is alright. When one day we have democracy, and a government, we can install a new one. At least it can be an ideological symbol of democracy and Khana Ratsadon. 1932 revolution through past and present lenses
Chaiyan said that 4 years after the 2014 coup d’état there is one advantage. In the past, the side that obstructs democracy will talk in their homes or inside the military but this time they came out into the streets. This is the first phenomenon in Thai society that shows us which side doesn’t want democracy. Many people criticise the 1932 revolution. Chaiyan doesn’t agree with the idea of failure, giving the analogy with football, where there is no one who wins and always continues to win. The other side needs to carry on the fight. The political game is something that continues on forever. Khana Ratsadon scored a goal in 1932 but has been counterattacked continuously. The important thing isn’t that the other side can counterattack and it does not mean they will win all the time either. Chaiyan also indicated that understanding the 1932 revolution must stem from understanding both the past and present. One must suppose that the 1932 revolution is placed in the centre and go back and forward for 86 years before giving a meaning to the 1932 revolution. For example, if someone who dislikes politicians looks at the 1932 revolution, they would say it was the starting point of bad politicians, and view Khana Ratsadon as those who interrupted living conditions that they think were once good. When King Rama VII abdicated the throne, His Majesty wrote “I am willing to surrender the powers I formerly exercised to the people as a whole, but I am not willing to turn them all over to any individual or any group, especially to use them in an autocratic manner and without heeding the real voice of the people” (Source: nationtv). Think about it. If we rewind from the 1932 revolution for 80 years, i.e. 1852-1932, which starts in the reign of King Rama IV, and asked if there were any governing system that truly listens to the voice of the people, there would be none. This means King Rama VII speaking like this is to make something that has never existed into a new normal (an abnormal normal). The words new normal are something important if one were to speak about 1932 since it is a great change in thinking. It places the topic of democracy on the table, establishes democracy in our heads. When we see it we cannot return to not seeing it again. Even a dictator or someone who doesn’t want to have an election still speaks of democracy. Having the law, a state of law and the rule of law is considered as marking a new point for people’s thinking. The issue that Khana Ratsadon brought up is that they wanted to change the people running the state, change the paradigm and importantly, the direction. This was the question and great effort to change. Some historians and some activists after 14 Oct still attack 1932, attack Khana Ratsadon, which they can criticise, and we should criticise Khana Ratsadon, but the point is whether we have continued what Khana Ratsadon started or not. Soon after 14 Oct, Pridi was invited to speak at Thai student associations in various countries. There is one book in which Pridi wrote ‘protect democracy’. At that time Chaiyan didn’t understand the words ‘protect democracy’, but later on understood them when 6 Oct occurred. That is, when you win, also keep it safe. The panel speakers (from left to right): Chaiyan Rajchagool, Rawee Siri-issaranant (Wad Rawee), Pichit Likitkijsomboon, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and Phiengkham Pradabkhwam
Increased migrant worker vulnerability likely to follow
(Washington, DC) – The U.S. State Department upgraded Thailand to Tier 2, the middle of three possible rankings, in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report yesterday. It was one of several country rankings that have raised alarm among international anti-trafficking advocates, including U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who called the move "simply unjustifiable and troubling given the facts on the ground." The upgrade comes at a time when Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is conducting mass arrests of migrant workers, spreading fear amongst this vulnerable community, and making them more susceptible to human trafficking.
Thailand has been on the Tier 2 Watchlist, one level below this year’s ranking, in the U.S. Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report since 2016. Media reports of ongoing problems with human trafficking in Thailand, particularly in the seafood sector, and international pressure from governments and civil society have resulted in numerous legal reforms in Thailand since 2014. Some of the regulatory reforms in this period are significant, but effective implementation has largely been lacking, meaning that actual impact has been far less than claimed by the Royal Thai Government.
"We acknowledge Thailand has made some progress, but this upgrade comes too soon, potentially releasing the pressure on the Thai government at a time when we are still waiting for them to take concrete actions to protect migrant workers," said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum. "The Royal Thai Government has said they will make the legal reforms necessary, but currently the migrant workers who power Thai export production do not have the legal right to organize and bargain collectively for better working conditions, which makes them afraid to speak out. It’s impossible to stop human trafficking in such a context.”
The Thai government continues to fail to protect human trafficking victims when they report and speak publicly about the crimes committed against them. Instead of being treated as the victims they are, trafficking survivors who report problems risk punishment for not having proper documentation. According to a recent report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Thailand Institute of Justice, these workers may even be detained until the conclusion of their legal proceedings in Thailand’s detention centers. In February, hearings began for 14 Burmese workers in Thailand who escaped from a Thammakaset poultry chicken farm in Lopburi Province where they had worked twenty hours a day for nearly five years. Rather than receiving compensation after their escape from forced labor, the workers face criminal defamation charges from the owners, and could be fined or imprisoned for speaking about their experiences. Their case has earned an oral statement from the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Until discriminatory legislation that denies migrant workers the right to organize and join unions in Thailand is repealed, there can be no significant change in migrant workers’ vulnerability to human trafficking, making Thailand’s upgrade both premature and unwarranted.
The report announcing the upgrade cited increased prosecutions and convictions of traffickers as justification, in reference to the country’s largest ever human trafficking trial that took place last year. More than 60 people were convicted of human trafficking of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, after the discovery of mass graves on the Malaysia-Thailand border. This case was followed by an announcement from the Thai Labor Minister in February promising future reforms, such as “legislation on collective rights and collective bargaining including the extension of the recognition of labour rights to be in line with the ILO Convention No. 98.”
Despite these hopeful signs, widespread abuses remain and Gearhart maintains that the TIP rankings should reflect structural reforms rather than promises of change to come. “The high-profile conviction last year of senior-level government officials in a trafficking case shows what Thailand's justice system is capable of when there is political will to act. Unfortunately, despite this bright spot, there were many more cases last year that showed corruption continues to undermine the rule of law for victims of trafficking, and it is easier for employers to bring cases against migrant workers for speaking out than it is for the workers to secure justice when their rights are violated by employers.
Rohingyas are usually the victim of human trafficking in Thailand
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The Good Samaritan may soon be extinct in Thailand if the police response to a recent road traffic accident becomes the norm.
It all started with a run of the mill hit-and-run. A tinted-window Mercedes (is there any other kind?) side-swiped a bicycle that was dutifully trundling along in the gutter, bringing down both rider and machine. Nothing life-threatening and the bike was damaged but repairable.
Not that the Merc driver knew. He was long gone.
The accident occurred within sight of a police traffic post/library (for those not familiar with the street furniture of Bangkok, these are air-conditioned boxes where police officers press buttons to control traffic lights and read newspapers). So a message was sent out on the traffic police radio network.
Having done his duty to his own satisfaction, i.e. without even leaving his seat, the traffic cop settled down to further perusal of Thai Rath’s analysis as to why he’d lost money on the latest Latin American football failure.
The radio message was picked up by a high-ranking police officer who happened to be traveling in the vicinity on his way to negotiate a loan at a money-lender-cum-massage parlour on Ratchadaphisek. The police general ordered his driver and entourage to divert immediately to the scene of the accident.
By this time, passers-by had come to the aid of the injured cyclist. One with first aid training suspected that the cyclist had suffered a dislocated shoulder and had fashioned a makeshift sling by ripping up a cloth banner advertising instant loans.
Another quick-thinking civic-minded individual had started taking photos of the fast disappearing Merc and other things that might be useful to a police investigation. Other less civic-minded individuals were also taking videos and photos, but with the simpler intention of improving their Facebook profile.
The arrival of the police general immediately changed things. The traffic policeman hurriedly stubbed out his cigarette, brushed off the remains of his khao bai krapao and rushed to snap off a crisp salute.
With his decades of valuable experience, the high-ranking officer fired off a series of instant assumptions. The cyclist, pedalling one foot from the curb, had obviously been far too close to the passing traffic and should be booked for dangerous driving.
The traffic policeman came in for criticism on two counts. First, he had failed to properly secure the scene of the accident with cones and Do Not Cross tapes. Second, he had failed to remove the damaged bicycle and injured cyclist from the roadway to ensure the free circulation of traffic was now blocked by the general’s minor cavalcade.
The general questioned the cyclist. Did he have a license? The cyclist, unaware that there was such a thing as a bicycle license, replied that is driving license was in the pocket that his dislocated shoulder prevented him from reaching. The general instructed his retinue to arrest the cyclist either for riding without a non-existent license or failing to show the licence he did have.
The general turned his attention to the passer-by treating the injured cyclist, asking for his medical license number. When told that, apart from the first aid certificate from the Thai Red Cross, he had no medical qualifications, the general ordered him arrested for practicing medicine without a license.
He then asked where the budget for the sling that come from. The volunteer medic explained that no budget was involved and pointed to the source. The general added to the charge sheet theft, wilful destruction of private property, and illegal restraint of free trade (usurious loans).
The general now spotted the passer-by who was recording the incident, including the generals’ own actions. He was informed that taking pictures of a police officer could be construed as obstructing the police in the execution of their duty. So delete everything or face prosecution.
And just as he was about to leave, the general spotted that the bicycle bell had been dislodged in the accident and was now lying in the middle of the road. He ordered that the cyclist be slapped with the additional charge of littering.
A farang in the crowd, disgusted at this capricious enforcement of law and order, stepped into the road to retrieve the bell. So the general had him charged with working (as a road sweeper) without a work permit.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).
Pol Gen Wanchai said that the 2017 Constitution determines criminal penalties only for serious crimes, but also states that justice agencies may change penalties or determine different penalties. Offences carrying light penalties are those that do not meet the criterion for imprisonment since they are not a serious crimes. Imprisonment is the second most severe criminal punishment in Thailand, after the death penalty. The facts at present have 350,000 prisoners, 180,000 of them first-time offenders, 60,000 second-time offenders and 15,000 third-time offenders. Solutions in the past have been to enlarge the prisons, which is not correct since there are limits to managing prisons according to international standards, resulting in negative consequences for prisoners and society outside prison. Therefore, what the state must do is to determine strategies using administrative measures instead of criminal punishment. In particular, the over 800 criminal laws should be linked to a central law. Administrative penalties should be applied in petty crimes and not criminal penalties, For example, driving without a helmet or petty crimes may be punished with a fine and state officials may consider the penalty themselves without needing to enter into the judicial process. The court has secret “sentencing guidelines” for every article Dol said that the there are many punishment alternatives to imprisonment. Many countries specify middle-level penalty measures, between imprisonment and a fine followed by release, such as intermittent imprisonment, imprisonment on holidays, house arrest, bans on entering certain places, curfews after 6 o’clock, bans on being close to a victim’s house, and daily reporting, which can be done at the police level, and is called cautionary sentencing. However, in practice only traffic offences can be given cautions. Defamation or cases of bodily assault cannot be given cautions. In other countries, exposure is also a type of penalty. For example, as a punishment for stealing letters, the court orders the display of a sign; in a case of running a red light, the court sentences the offender to carry a sign and stand at the intersection for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening, which is not a violation of human rights but a method of punishment to prevent further offences. Dol also stated that Article 56 of the Criminal Code hides middle-level punishments, such as having the defendant make a payment to a foundation, aid the victim, and many other measures. It is just that the court doesn’t know that Article 56 contains middle-level punishments because the court has a punishment table or secret “sentencing guidelines”. There are sentencing guidelines for every article. For example, the penalty for theft is not more than 3 years’ imprisonment; if theft by no more than 2 accomplices, 2 years. For felling timber of so many cubic metres, the punishment can be suspended. For the sale of 1 methamphetamine tablet the penalty is no more than 4 years, a sentence which can be suspended. He himself has suspended sentences. His friends looked him in the face because they don’t do it, and it risks instigating an inquiry. If you don’t want to risk it, then you must sentence according to the sentencing guidelines. Dol said further that the courts are part of the reason for prison overcrowding. Cases of felling Siamese rosewood attract severe punishment. Most prisoners are scapegoats because capitalists do not cut down trees themselves. They should be punished by fines and orders to plant 5 Siamese rosewood trees, and be monitored to take care of the trees for 5 years and not let them die. The court has to accept new approaches to punishment, but they only have Article 56 to use to suspend sentences. But the conditions have to be strict. Germany, France and Netherlands closed down many prisons. Imprisonment is only for a few years while Thai laws have penalties that are greater than necessary. In foreign countries prisons are used to confine people that are dangerous to society, where if they leave jail they’ll commit an offence and cause society great damage, whereas Thai laws severely punish people that don’t deserve to be severely punished. ‘Will measures that differ from imprisonment succeed? Preparations have to be made for them to be put into actual practice and there must be a common understanding that measures replacing imprisonment are punishments that can prevent further crimes and heal victims, and society must be satisfied at a certain level. The important thing is we must have measures to check that alternatives to imprisonment are not abused. We don’t want to see the rich or influential escape because of the alternative punishments, so there must be investigations as to whether it is appropriate to use alternative penalties to imprisonment,’ Dol said. Examples of alternatives in foreign countries Namtaee said that the real problem causing people to be charged is the economic and political situation. They must all be corrected. If only the Department of Corrections or the judicial process are fixed, the results will not succeed. Consideration of detention during a case must return to the initial procedure of whether they should be arrested or confined or not, because if they are imprisoned, the right to contest their case becomes very bad. If in the end the court dismisses the case, detention will have been unjustified, or if they were actually found guilty of a minor offence that does not warrant imprisonment. When the level of punishment is considered, one in three are confined during the case, which is a great loss of humanity. In America, imprisonment is considered as the last choice and only if really necessary. In other countries the procedures to bring a case have to be quick and transparent. Public prosecutors and related people have to be at the scene of the crime immediately at the same time, allowing everyone to see the evidence from the start. Evidence cannot be destroyed or tampered with and prosecutors can bring charges even if there’s only 10 days or 3 hours left. While detention has to be considered from the likelihood of flight or tampering with evidence, the person must be sent to the prosecutor along with all arresting evidence. In the case of former Buddha Isara, police requested an arrest warrant and opposed bail by claiming that there were 30 other witnesses they have yet to interrogate, which raises the suspicion of why they didn’t interrogate them before requesting the arrest warrant. Namtaee also stated that in America for the arrest of suspects, prosecutors must make charges within 72 hours and the issue of an arrest warrant must have a request from the prosecutor stating whether there is sufficient evidence or not. After the arrest warrant is issued, the prosecutor will have 30 days to file charges. That is considered to be enough time to consider filing the case, while Japan sets a detention limit of 10 days for the prosecutor to draft charges. All countries use a shorter period of time for the judicial process than Thailand. In Europe there are also alternative measures to imprisonment. What is interesting are limits to movement or meeting a certain person because of the danger just to that person. ‘While Thailand will solve the issue in a Thai way, that is, immediate confession and not listening if there is no other evidence. When justice is not served, send a complaint to the media. This causes the prosecution procedure of our land to disappear. When the reform was done, I heard that Thai law is suitable for Thai society. The law must be according to international principles. There must be separation of the criminal code and the code of criminal procedure, not Thai-style law,’ Namtaee said. 200,000 drugs prisoners should be treated, not confined in prison Narong said that what worries the Department of Corrections is the management of limited personnel in limited places. The 200,000 prisoners in drug cases should undergo treatment not imprisonment. For the other 60,000 prisoners detained during investigation or trial, if we use measures of temporary release or EM bracelets, it may reduce the numbers, or we may consider amending laws to delay charges instead of just sending the case to court, so prosecutors can use behaviour monitoring measures instead of filing charges in, for example, drug cases. It may help to filter cases. To use measures to wait in determining punishments, the subsequent mechanisms need a strong community that will help look after offenders so that they don’t become a danger to the community, by having to participate in monitoring their behaviour with the community. Nevertheless, he personally thinks that imprisonment is still necessary because certain people show signs of escaping or tampering with evidence. If they are left outside prison it will become a problem. Narong also said that he agrees with the suggestion of Pol Gen Wanchai. Penalties for non-violent criminal offences should be replaced with administrative penalties. We have to analyse the new constitution carefully to see what serious crimes require imprisonment and what is the penalty, something which no one can yet answer. For the penalties we currently have, the only options are imprisonment and fines. For cases of selling CDs, the minimum fine is 200,000 baht. If no fine, then you wait in jail. This law will need to be reviewed to see if measures to determine punishments can be used or not. In addition, mechanisms in law, especially in court, are limited by the penalty tariff or sentencing guidelines. If discretion is used to punish not in accordance with sentencing guidelines, there may be a risk that a committee will be set up to investigate whether the court knew the defendant personally and therefore set a light sentence. Concerning the arrest and defrocking of monks Near the end of the conference, ML Panadda Diskul, former Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office with oversight over the Ministry of Justice, raised a question concerning the case of the arrests of senior monks, asking if the arrests were lawful. Namtaee said that, most recently, there was evidence that the monks knew nothing and it was a question of the budget allocation of the National Office of Buddhism. Money really was transferred into the account for religious purposes, so the truth is that it is not money returned to the temple. So for this case we’ll have to wait and see that when the facts reach the prosecutor, how clear the evidence is. If the prosecutor does not file charges, the serious damage caused to the monkhood will result in having to reform the arrest and investigation procedures. Dol said that monks who ordained when they were children are different from those who ordained because of bereavement. When they have to leave monkhood they may feel indifferent, but if we become monks disrobing is destroying our lives. Monks who do not make a declaration to disrobe have not, according to the teachings, disrobed. Dhamma problems are spiritual problems, but to pursue legal proceedings, monks’ robes must be removed before they enter the prison. Personally he thinks that cases concerning monks or search procedures should be clearly specified. The court should have many standards because if there is only one standard then a computer can make decisions, with no need for the court. The reason why there need to be many standards is because people are different. The equal enforcement of law is not wrong, but not right. Discretion should be used appropriately. In a case where the police have an arrest warrant, when the police arrive and the suspect willingly allows the arrest, then maybe the warrant does not have to be used. 80 percent of Thai inmates are convicted for drugs offences (Photo from Posttoday)
Several prisons certified as ‘model prisons’ by the Thai Institute of Justice (TIJ) fall short of international standards, as found by Prachatai English in a visit to several prisons, and according to a group activists and researchers, including former lèse majesté prisoner Pornthip Mankhong. The prisons have persistent problems of overcrowding, insufficient staffing, and poor medical care, as witnessed by Prachatai English.
The TIJ has certified ten prisons in Thailand as ‘model prisons’ for their compliance with the Bangkok Rules, formally known as the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, standards concerning the specific needs of female prisoners. The International Federation for Human Rights conducted the research through its member organization, the Union for Civil Liberties, whose team evaluated prison compliance with the Bangkok Rules.
The team included Pornthip Mankhong, a former lèse majesté prisoner who spent two years in prison after being arrested in 2014 for directing a satirical play at Thammasat University. She is now one of the founders of Fairly Tell, an activist group that supports former women prisoners.
Other members were Pornpit Pakmai, who works on job placement for former prisoners, and reporter on infectious disease issues Raviwan Rakthinkamnerd.
Various members of the group visited women’s correctional institutions in Thanyaburi, Pathum Thani and Chiang Mai, prisons with large female sections at Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Provincial Prison, Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution and Chiang Rai Central Prison, as well as prisons with small female sections including Fang District Prison. Prachatai English was present for the visits to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Fang.
FIDH attempted to evaluate the prisons last year but were denied access by the Department of Corrections. After the TIJ announced the ten ‘model prison’ awards this year, they successfully visited six of them.
But the prisons varied in the freedom of access to the inmates allowed to the researchers. The group was often followed closely by guards who prevented them from speaking privately with the prisoners. Sometimes prison officials pre-selected inmates to speak to the researchers with prepared answers, or only in the presence of an officer who intercepted and answered for them.
Given these restrictions, Pornthip said that her status as a former prisoner helped her quickly gain the trust of the inmates, who she knows from personal experience are often coached to speak to outside organizations. She was even able to speak to many inmates who she knew from her time in prison.
“We have to say ‘Everything is so nice, everything is okay, we are happy to be inside’. That is not true. The visitors will not know the truth inside prison,” she said, “except when we have someone who we trust and they trust us. And I think my friends trust me and they can tell me the truth.”
She said she can get a sense from small details— like whether the prison makes prisoners sit on their knees for visitors — if they respect human rights.
“We are friends, they know me. They know what I’ve done in prison, they know I made problems in prison. So they know they can tell me. And they trust me, that I will protect them. That I can protect them.”
The most common problem in nearly every prison was overcrowding. Inmates told Prachatai English that the cramped, overheated quarters made it difficult to sleep, and that the heat during the day could be unbearable.
For example, at Samut Sakhon Central Prison 500 prisoners are confined to an area of about 0.3 acres. Each person has about 0.68 square meters to sleep in.
Further compounding the issue of overcrowding were shortages of supplies and staff like prison officials, doctors and nurses.
The group heard cases of urgent medical conditions and the failure to get inmates to hospital in time. One woman in Chiang Rai allegedly died in prison of a kidney condition, while another woman in Ayutthaya reportedly had to give birth in prison.
Many prisoners complained of rashes, which the according to researchers, is due to the prison providing ground water for bathing instead of tap water to save money.
The 28th of the Bangkok Rules states that: “Visits involving children shall take place in an environment that is conducive to a positive visiting experience, including with regard to staff attitudes, and shall allow open contact between mother and child. Visits involving extended contact with children should be encouraged, where possible”.
However, most prisons they visited did not allow inmates to have visits with their children other than behind a glass partition. Only Fang District Prison allowed mothers with children younger than 15 to have visits more often than once a year where mothers can touch and hug their children.
Pornthip added that she was pleasantly surprised by the conditions at Fang.
“It’s small but the officers really respect them, respect the human rights of the prisoners. It’s like they’re just a friend. Officers have their duties, but the prisoners just live inside like a big family.”
Among other concerns that Pornthip raised is an apparent policy that prisoners returning from a court date must be subjected to solitary confinement for up to 5 days afterwards to ensure that they haven’t consumed any drugs.
“They said they have to check for methamphetamine when they pee. It’s so stupid because we have the technology to check,” said Pornthip. “When they come back to the guards the prisoners can pee and they can check it immediately. Why do they have to wait 5 days?”
There were also disparities in how much inmates were paid for labour. Some stitched clothes and made only 5 baht per item of clothing. Others received 80 baht per month for doing paperwork. Some who do cleaning work aren’t paid at all. Pay can get as high as 2,000 baht a month, but the type of job a prisoner gets can be arbitrarily decided by the wardens.
Overall members of the group felt that the awards handed out by the Thailand Institute of Justice were good motivators for prisons to follow the Bangkok Rules, but that the institutions were limited by congestion and funding shortages.
For examples, some prisons don’t have an enough budget to purchase televisions. And some officials expressed dissatisfaction with the policy that dictates solitary confinement for several days upon returning from court, but were nevertheless obligated to enforce it.
Group members concluded that the larger correctional institutions have better occupational training than smaller prisons, but described a stricter and more hierarchical atmosphere. Inmates at smaller prisons reported a closer relationship with officers and compared life in prison to “school” or “family”, but said rehabilitation programs and vocational training were close to none.
Pornthip said she was grateful to be able to reconnect with her friends, and felt proud of returning to prison, this time no longer as a prisoner.
“I’m very proud of myself,” she said. “No one wants to go back there. But I want to go back and I want to see my friends, in a different situation with a different status. That makes me so proud of myself.”
*Original version of this report was first published on Monday 2 July, 2018.
** The updated version republished on Monday 16 July, 2018
- Thailand is at high risk of having to face more problems if imports of electronic waste and hazardous waste increase. The free trade agreements that Thailand has made with several countries create the obligation to exempt from import duty many goods including chemical waste and electronic waste. In the past, the control systems of Customs used risk management methods of random inspection only in cases of suspicion about a company’s background. Therefore there was no physical inspection of most imported goods. The current target for inspection is less than 5% of imported goods and inspections will be reduced in line with the policy to promote trade liberalization.
Weak law enforcement is a problem. The agency that gives permits for factory operations and the import of hazardous waste is the DIW. Provincial industry offices have the authority to monitor factory operations. When people file complaints against smells, polluted water and other forms of pollution caused by factory operations, the procedure under the Factory Act B.E. 2535 (1992) is to issue an order for the violator to correct factory operations, or if it is a case that causes serious impacts, an order might be issued to temporarily halt operations in whole or in part. After corrections are made within the given time, operations usually return to normal.
So it often appears that the trouble to the people has not been fixed and some factories even repeatedly violate the law. This observation conforms to a study by the Thai National Health Foundation and the Thailand Research Fund on the problems of industrial waste management. Therefore it is definitely appropriate to reform the laws regarding toxic industrial waste management by specifying that environmental agencies such as the Pollution Control Department (PCD) should have a direct role in monitoring factory operations rather than merely reporting the problems and sending letters to the Ministry of Industry to enforce the law, as is the case now.
The Factory Act B.E. 2535 (1992) sets very low penalties. There is no set minimum penalty. In addition, the Act defines a violation as an offense that can be subject to a spot fine. So when pollution is released or industrial waste is dumped without being treated as set by law, although the maximum penalty is set at no more than 200,000 baht, in practice many cases end in a spot fine of some tens of thousands only. When it is like this, factory operators are not afraid of the law and see breaking the law as economically worthwhile. If the law is to be honoured, penalties must be increased with a set minimum and repeal of the provision that allows spot fines.
The fact that DIW identified that there is lobbying for importing hazardous waste under the Basel Convention, and there may be corruption and kickbacks among officials, politicians and businesspeople, shows that there may well be lobbying especially when there is a lack of good governance among decision makers.
- Thailand does not yet have a law regarding a recovery system for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) from inside the country. This is still not managed properly. Most is dismantled in junk shops, with the valuable parts sold and the rest thrown back into the environment with no processing of the hazardous materials in it. The PCD has tried to push for a bill on electronic waste management for over a decade. It is now time that the government gave priority to this legislation based on the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): the producers and importers of electrical and electronic equipment are responsible for recovery so that WEEE will be properly processed.
Supinya stated that the solutions imposed by the Order under Section 44 and based on the justification that the operators face difficulties in conducting their business lead to questions of fairness and equity in the arena of digital television and telecommunications. Tying the operators’ eligibility for assistance to the content they broadcast reinforces the direct effects of post-coup politics that squeezes out other shades of news, leaving only one. Imposing such a condition is like bringing the mass communications business back to the concession system under state-imposed conditions. ‘With regard to my own position during the time I worked as NBTC commissioner, I would never agree with the use of Section 44. It would be like handing over the power of the NBTC to the authority above it in making decisions. Then there would be no accountability, no check or balance by others who disagree. Also there may be other solutions if the NBTC is allowed to solve the problems itself, such as amending the notification itself, because utilizing section 44 is like negating its own notification. ‘If we were to resolve the problems ourselves, we could do it via public consultations. But my understanding is that if an amendment to the notification or payment by instalment is used, they may be sued in the future, whereas section 44 is not actionable. However, it is in conflict with the rule of law because it is the exercise of unaccountable power. In terms of general principles, it should not have got to that stage from the outset. I can understand the situation in which digital television issues had been outstanding for a long time without the NBTC daring to make decisions. ‘If you ask what my actual position is, I disagree that payments should be deferred because digital television faces problems in doing business. If assistance is to be provided, particularly by involving the power of the NCPO, it should be based on the fundamental principle of whether the policy of the state or the NBTC has affected rights and freedoms and what difficulties it has caused for digital television. This principle should be used to determine the cause and result because if we do not use this principle there will be loopholes for people to ask questions. Stations whose bids did not win in the auction in the first place will think that if they had known this, it would have been better to win. There would be never-ending arguments. And telecommunications companies like True and AIS may say that if it’s like this, we have to get some help so that we can carry on. The basic principle behind this solution will not be strong enough if it is about helping businesses because the rules are too strict. That should not be a good reason because it will affect other cases as well. ‘If digital television is to be assisted it should be for the clear reason that the mass media, particularly television, has clearly been affected by politics. After the auction, politics changed. There was the coup. Initially all television stations were closed down. The NCPO issued announcements greatly limiting freedom of expression and news reporting. In particular, the 7 news channels that had won the auction were almost unable to provide the colourful, rainbow-like competitive diversity of shades that we had intended as part of a marketplace of ideas and political and social news. But after the coup there was only one shade because of legal restrictions. So it became difficult for news channels to survive because there was general news on other channels. So of the 24 channels whose bids won, the ones experiencing the most difficulty were the news channels like The Nation, Spring News, Khun Tim, Voice TV and others, because they have not been able to find a selling point that differentiates them from other variety channels because the news is the same and their airtime has been taken over by programmes like Returning Happiness, Mai Het Prathet Thai or various live broadcasts. ‘If the explanation is that the NCPO appropriated airtime, affecting the private operators’ business, and there must be compensation, this is an acceptable reason. But they did not use this reason. What is more, when it came out, there was a condition attached which prompted concerns about control of content. People asked if this was a way of the NCPO saying ‘If I help you, you must not criticize me’. Or does the attached condition mean that the channels that have been very critical of those in authority and have violated NBTC rules and have been blocked or received repeated warnings may not receive (assistance)? If so, it is even worse because it would be an exercise of power that lacks the rule of law and takes us back to the pre-NBTC system or concession system of the past that gave the government or the authorities of the time the power to decide who should be given concession rights to conduct media, telecommunications or satellite businesses in exchange for certain conditions that restrict freedom. 'That was the original system that we tried to avoid by establishing the NBTC to liberate the media so that they have more freedom without being tied up in in the sense that after they have acquired concessions from the state, they cannot use their freedom because someone did something for you so you must give them something back. This was the old system that we have been trying to reform for 20 years and the reason why we needed the NBTC. But if the NBTC creates conditions like this, it is equal to destroying the dignity of an independent organization, because the NBTC system does not make the NBTC the owner of power, but has it manage the frequency spectrum, issue licenses, and set conditions and rules in advance. Any one breaching these can be punished, but the injured parties can also file complaints against NBTC in court. There exist checks and balances. But when it is linked to government power, especially an abnormal government equipped with Section 44 as now, checks and balances do not exist, and the system regresses to a semi monopoly, i.e. the patronage system takes precedence over the rule of law. ‘If it is a remedy, because all channels are affected in the same way, they must receive the same treatment. This is a different matter from content regulation, which is the normal power exercised by the NBTC. Any channel that commits many offences can be fined by the NBTC, or warned, or have its license withdrawn; there is no need to link this measure to assistance. ‘I saw in the news that the Secretary-General of the NBTC is inviting all channels to a consultation on a moratorium on license fees on 7 June. It seems like they are sending a signal and we have to see what the signal is about, and what compliance with the rules entails. If it does mean regulation on content, it may be difficult because society is criticizing the current norms of content control by the NBTC, such as the case of expletives in dramas and political programmes. People have been making comparisons and asking why some channels, such as Voice TV, receive severe penalties, while others are not criticized. 'The NBTC measures to regulate content are problematic and have already been heavily criticized. If they are to be used to identify which channels get more punishment than others, unfairness can result. It can create suspicions as to whether the punishments were really fair, especially when in the past four years, no legal action could be taken against political punishments. For example, when Voice TV went against an NCPO Order, the NCPO issued an Order to protect the exercise of power by the NBTC which stated that penalties given to channels that violate NCPO orders are not liable to criminal or civil lawsuits.‘If this is the case, it makes the number of channels facing complaints very large because they cannot fight in court, as is the number that may not have received compensation or remedy. This is not fair for those channels that have been judged in this way. ‘In conclusion, the normal duties that the NBTC are carrying out with mechanisms to give penalties according to the rule of law should not be linked as a condition to the current assistance package because that is the equivalent of going back to the patronage system and using the power of patronage to control the media’ Supinya said. Elections on condition that the media behave themselves: the NBTC under the patronage system Supinya is of the opinion that the right to receive assistance has been linked to content because it will have a ripple effect from the media to the election arena and make the NBTC take on the duty of regulating content will have an effect on competition among the media which may result in an electoral advantage for those in power. ‘Now is an atmosphere of patience. Everyone is waiting. If there is political competition, that will bring a better atmosphere as everyone can compete in ideas and the people have the right to choose. But at that time, the media itself should be impartial. This doesn’t mean that they have to be neutral and not take any side, but they must have certain standards in carrying out their duty. Television media in particular, which are thought to reach the public and occupy frequencies, should perform their duty in a more accurate manner than online or other media, which may have more freedom. 'Television media are governed in the use of public frequencies by rules and regulations and protocols, so it is up to the NBTC as referee to decide how it wants to control the game. If there is no control, there will be winners and losers and those who are in power may gain more advantage in the election if they support someone in the election. This puts those who are not in power at a disadvantage. This is something that should not be allowed to happen. So the NBTC and the Election Commission should work together. This does not mean they should help each other to swing toward any party that has power, but they should support the rules of fair competition among political parties, and not let those who have power at the moment use that power to interfere more than necessary and create bias in the election,’ Supinya said. ‘Everyone is currently concerned that things are moving in that direction, because the NBTC itself has already been under the patronage system since 6 October last year. The present NBTC was reappointed under Section 44 when the six-year legal term of the first NBTC expired on that date. But the NCPO issued an announcement allowing them to stay on, since a new NBTC could not yet be selected. This is in fact an acting NBTC. They probably feel that they are here because of the powers that be. 'This makes it even more difficult for society to have hope, because if even the NBTC itself is under the patronage system, it will lead to a system of privilege. Both patronage power and privilege capitalism are things that should not happen in this era. This is a situation where some groups of capital, some groups of channels receive the privilege of not being regulated due to their patron’s power. In this case, it will be difficult to have regulation based on the rule of law, because everyone is under the condition of having to be considerate and fearful of causing offence to their patron. ‘I can remember that at the beginning when the NCPO came in, the NBTC was scrutinized and society itself cheered when the NLA raised objections about its use of budget and when the Budget Disbursement Monitoring and Auditing Committee came into existence, society also urged it to dissolve or audit the NBTC. But now it’s turned around. The NCPO is propping up the NBTC, and the NBTC returns the favour of this patronage by fully supporting NCPO policies. This does not look good and destabilizes the whole system of regulation. It also has an effect on the industry, because a number of channels are beginning to wonder if they can survive if they do not engage in the patronage system. The state-military benefit from allowing state television to advertise – subsidizing MUX rents; NBTC must have a clear plan for digital television Supinya made the observation that allowing the television and radio broadcasting operations of the Department of Public Relations to earn income from advertising is a serious breach of the principle of media reform because it raises the issue of double budgeting, and the question of patron-client relationships between the government, state enterprises and other private businesses involved in advertising. Competition in the digital television business will also be disrupted by a player who does not have to bid for frequencies like the other 24 channels at a high cost. But the state still uses prime time at 6:00 pm every Friday for free to make announcements. ‘It really shouldn’t be like this, but it is tiring to oppose it because it is a serious breach of the principles of media reform. Channel 11 and Channel 5 did not participate in the auction, but instead automatically received frequencies and their operations were already semi-commercial. Channel 5 in particular also carries advertising but still calls itself public television for security. This is not right. The case of Channel 11 is even worse. It already receives government budget like Thai PBS, but still asks to sell advertising space. What would people say if Thai PBS requested the same thing? ‘So it turns out that they are using state money and still need to compete for advertising with private businesses who are at a disadvantage because of having to bid for frequencies, which they don’t have to do. It is also open to criticism about whether the state is going to ask certain businesses or state enterprises to advertise, whether it is about shifting money from one pocket to another or an indirect way to get private sector support by buying advertising time even though there are not many viewers. This is already wrong according to the principles of media reform because public media should not be involved in business like this as they do not compete in an equal and fair manner with the private sector. From a political point of view, apart from being a propaganda tool, it could also provide business opportunities. We don’t know for sure who is benefiting from it in the end. ‘If it were 10-20 years ago, there would have been a lot of opposition from the media, academics and NGOs, myself included. But right now everyone seems exhausted and fed up, so not many have come out against it. I was somewhat perplexed by it (the order) because it seemed there was something hidden in it as there was no rhyme or reason for resorting to Section 44. The people began to look for the real purpose that brought this matter up and the digital television issue was added to it. But it was an awkward attempt with so many conditions attached to it. I sympathize with the digital television operators who have been competing in the new system. They have made full payments to the state and have to give away free air time to the state. ‘On this matter I have to say that it is really unfair. No country in the world uses as much free television air time on private channels every Friday at 6 o’clock. It has been like this for over four years now. If you add up the cost of air time I don’t know how many tens of billions it would be, very high indeed, and no channel dares to complain or dares to sue. If it were any other business, for example the government requesting the use of hotel space every Friday evening, they would one day have to pay on the invoice submitted. There is no way they could use the space for free. Using air time for free is like demanding a free service when the operator has had to bid and pay for it. Under the old concession system, the government may have been able to ask for a service at any time. ‘But as soon as it is a new system, the government asks to use air time at any time and no one says anything, not even the NBTC itself. I have said this before, but if the channels do not raise their voice, it is difficult. They probably have to put up with it for fear that any resistance could lead to them being dropped from receiving assistance. ‘Regarding the networks, the first thing that should have been done is that the NBTC should have ensured fair pricing of network fees from the beginning, because the fees that were calculated in the past were excessively expensive: 9-10 million per month for HD and 3-4 million for SD. Half of the 50% subsidy probably constitutes their profits. The NBTC has the right to regulate prices according to conditions. I have said from the beginning that prices needed regulation, and the channels themselves know this. But I lost in the vote count, so nothing was done until now. Charging high fees affects the survival of the channels. 50% is probably the real cost, maybe even including a little bit of profit. But the 50% reduction is not at all a reduction because the government is subsidizing it. The fact is that they can recover the actual cost even without the subsidy. 'Try calculating how many billions Army Television Channel 5 receives per year if each private channel pays 10 million monthly (for network rental) and there are 10 of them. And the rental term is as long as 15 years, so you may not recover the costs in the first two years but one day soon enough, as 15 times one billion is already over 10 billion. Channel 5 in particular has a lot of customers. Others, such as MCOT, may face more difficulty filling the slots and several wised-up customers refused to pay because the price is not proportionate to the quality and they have complained to the NBTC to settle the dispute. 'The standing resolution is that cutting off the signal is prohibited no matter how long payment is delayed because of the impact on consumers. Some channels have used this resolution to delay payments until they get a fair price. As I understand it, several channels have got together to withhold payments in full or in part. This is one of the reasons why the order was issued. But in the end, it is only to provide a state subsidy and not to reduce the price. ‘Multiplexing services are not for generating profits, but constitute domestic infrastructure for a public utility, like electricity and water, so user fees should be based on actual costs. If there are many users, they can surely make some profit, being semi-monopolistic organizations where customers have only a limited number of providers to choose from. And the contracts are for as long as 15 years. Thai PBS has done the calculations and confirmed that they are making profits even with fewer customers than Channel 5. ‘The painful conclusion is that we made a mistake in giving 2 MUX network licences to Army Television Channel 5. That’s the reason why they have more customers than other networks. At that time, we proposed this deal in exchange for their early exit from the analogue system. They agreed to drop the system from Channel 7 earlier than Channel 3. But since then they already made a lot of profit. While other channels are struggling, the ones that operate at full profit in the whole digital television supply chain are the MUX networks, and among them, Army Television Channel 5 is the least troubled of all, as it continues to earn rental income. 'But it will be in trouble if their customers go out of business one by one, which will mean no rent income 10 years from now if no one makes any offers in the auction. So it is understandable that even if you don’t want to, you need to come out and support them to remain in business. Bluntly speaking, it is a conflict of interest as they are the Army’s customers. But if the assistance is only piecemeal like this, the benefits will end up with the same players, i.e. the state agencies that control the game and provide the networks. 'What is sad is that the NBTC, which regulates everyone in the system and is in fact placed above them all as the licensor of the networks, and which can see the whole picture, should ensure that there is fair competition. Right now it is unfair. The rules that came out look like they help but in fact those with the best advantage continue to benefit, i.e. state agencies that have the right to provide network multiplexing services. I admit that we made a mistake in conducting the negotiations that gave Army Television Channel 5 more networks than others in return for an early exit from the analogue system. I don’t know if it was worth it. ‘But one small good thing is that it creates ties between the channels and the networks so that the digital television channels cannot be left out in the cold no matter what, because they are bound together. Even though Channel 5 is affected as a channel, they probably won’t mind much because as a network, they earn more money and it goes to Channel 5 just the same. This is why they have to provide support for the future of digital television. If the support fails, they will have no income in the long run. The networks they have installed would be empty shells. When that happens, the NBTC may have proof of its mistake, unless it has a vision and moves to solve the problem in time by expediting the creation of a roadmap for appropriating frequencies, or a spectrum roadmap, and announcing that we will bid to retrieve the frequencies for use in telecommunications. 'Society may say that there will be fewer channels, but if we just wait for them to die out, and finally they really cannot survive, we will be left with empty network towers without a plan as to what the frequencies can be used for next. By that time, the NBTC will be facing accusations of not solving the problem. In order to alleviate the situation, the NBTC should conduct a study now, I don’t know if it’s been done, to deal with calls for a spectrum roadmap or a plan for frequency allocation, in order to assess in advance the situation over the next 3-5 years, whether it will be bearable. If all the frequencies are returned, what will they be used for? Further auctions to earn revenue for the state, or a proactive model as in the US? 'This is where the state takes back the bids, not by paying cash to the private sector, but by waiving the remaining payables fees, and in return the state earns more revenue from auctioning off the retrieved frequencies. With this model, it is possible to explain to society, but the NBTC needs to plan in advance. It is understandable that the current NBTC has not done that yet because they probably assume there is no knowing how long they will stay on. As it is a time of transition, there may be a high level of playing safe. It is unfortunate that this interim NBTC is lasting so long. It is a lost opportunity because any interim commission would avoid getting engaged in large matters because there is no way of knowing what obligations these may entail.’ Supinya stated that what the NBTC should do, as an independent organization enjoying a great deal of welfare and privileges, is to start preparing a clear backup plan in case the operators can no longer continue in business. ‘The NBTC must conduct an assessment and have the courage to make decisions in case the situation is really untenable. Will they take the frequency bids back, or must they amend the rules so that they can really sell them. The pros and cons need to be assessed and a study report published. If amendments are needed, a proper procedure must be carried out, including public hearings. If there are complaints, that is the end. If there are no complaints, the amendments can be made. The steps can be taken, but I don’t know if the current Commission will do it because, as I said, it is just biding time. 'The channels are also wondering what to do. Should they keep the frequencies for resale or what? If they split, another channel may complain and ask again for an amendment. That won’t look good. It will be like the complaints will never end. If there is a problem we make an amendment. Shouldn’t the NBTC, as the referee, propose a solution once and for all, clearly laying down options one, two, three, which it thinks the industry wants to see? By not exercising power itself and instead relying on Section 44, the Commission has opened the way for Section 44, as a patronage system, a big brother system, to destroy the freedom and dignity of being private media and a channel. It’s a pity. ‘Society will question the need for an NBTC even more because after a difficult birth they have a relatively high level of benefits and privileges, high salaries, good welfare coverage, full authority, and numerous employees. The intention was for it to be a truly independent organization, enjoying autonomy in its work without having to rely on the government, as its revenue comes from the fees directly collected from the licensees. Society may not know this, but the NBTC is a truly independent organization, unlike the Election Commission (EC) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which cannot themselves generate income and must request their budget from parliament. 'The NBTC is a special case because the law stipulates that it shall collect license fees and retain a portion of them. The revenue from frequency auctions must be handed to the treasury, but every year the NBTC collects fees directly from the likes of AIS, True, DTAC and the different channels and uses the money to pay salaries. This is guaranteed by law, similar to the case of Thai PBS which operates by tax money, but it is clearly stipulated how much it gets each year, so it is difficult for the state to interfere in its operations as it was designed with a high level of independence with its own board which is not directly under a ministry. 'The NBTC also has its own board with full authority and the legal means to earn its own income. The intention was for the NBTC to be a professional organization that was truly independent from any political interference since the politics of the past was causing chaos, as was seen in the concessions for satellites and mobile telephones which were subject to complaints, including ITV. There was no free competition; it was the patronage system. But there was no freedom either; the analogue media of that time did not dare to criticize the state because if they did, they might be deprived of their concession.’ Section 42 of the Act on Organization to Assign Radio Frequencies and to Regulate the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Services stipulates that the NBTC revenue comes from the annual business license fees to be prescribed by the NBTC at the rate of not more than 2% of the licensees’ income before deduction of expenses, including the fees for SIM cards that we all use at the rate of 10 baht per number. With only this small proportion of the frequency treasure trove, the NBTC’s revenue is already tremendous. ‘The law says that no more than 2% of the business operators’ annual income can be collected, but in fact 2% in the telecommunications business amounts to a lot of money because their gross revenue is in tens of billions. Even though the actual fees are not really at 2% due to a number of discounts, it is still a large amount. The NBTC’s revenue includes fees from the use of telephone numbers as well; when we pay for 40-50 baht for a SIM card, the company has to pay 10 baht to the NBTC. Imagine how many SIM cards have been issued. The annual revenue of the NBTC is 8 to 9 billion baht per year, more than it can spend, which is about 4-5 billion per year, more than Thai PBS, the 24 hour television station that also employs news reporters to work in the field. 'Thai PBS spends just over two billion, compared to the NBTC, the regulator, whose main duty involves meetings and some monitoring, but no production and no 24 hour work. Its main cost is the remuneration of staff and the board at 2-3 billion; the rest covers meetings and seminars which are prolific. TDRI and others have commented critically several times already about expenditures such as foreign travel, hospitality and other problematic items. The advantage and strength of the NBTC lies in its independence from interference according to the design of the law that governs it. But this strength will turn into a weakness and disadvantage. If they are paid more than government officials but function just like then in carrying out the policies of the government, why have it at all?’ said Supinya. ‘There are many issues that the NBTC has accomplished with benefit to the country, such as organizing frequency auctions to gain money for the treasury. In the last two years, the country would probably have suffered without this revenue. To its credit, the NBTC did help the nation. But that is not enough. Its regulatory work is still poor. Many people may view that it is not worth the high expense. Even though frequencies were allocated and money received by the state, that is their duty. Apart from the money that goes to the treasury, the NBTC has revenue directly from fees. 'To change this may require changing the NBTC law to reduce the percentage from two to more than one or one, or to set a minimum ceiling as in the case of Thai PBS of no more than three or four billion according to the calculations. This is because it just keeps going up as more people use mobile phones. The mobile phone networks get richer and so have to pay more in fees to the NBTC. When the law was being drafted, no one thought there would be this loophole. Those who drafted the law had good ideas and high expectations of the NBTC. I myself (Supinya) had a part in pushing this law with high expectations that the NBTC needed to be independent and able to function like in other countries. During the Yingluck administration, there was also some deference to the government, but not as much as now, because this government has stayed on for four years and its power under Section 44, its power under the coup, is greater. So the NBTC is leaning more towards those in power. In the Yingluck era, there was some deference, as shown in the censorship of the drama Nuea Mek 2, which criticized the government. People started to detect deference towards the government, but it became much more obvious during this government. 'Instead of acting as a buffer between the media and the government, it has become an arm of the government, functioning like the Office of the Prime Minister, which we already have. We already have the Department of Public Relations too. Should the NBTC be functioning like the Office of the Prime Minister or the Department of Public Relations? Is this the right thing to do? People should raise these questions,’ the former NBTC commissioner suggested. Related stories:
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