Anti-junta rap group to be awarded prize for creative dissent

The anti-military rap group Rap Against Dictatorship has been declared one of the three winners of the 2019 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, which will be presented on 29 May at the Oslo Freedom Forum. 

RAD at the airport before two of their members leave for Oslo (Source: Rap Against Dictatorship)

In November 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship (RAD) released a music video of their song “Prathet Ku Mi” (“Which is My Country”). The song quickly went viral, its YouTube views skyrocketing past 600,000 within 2 days. The song talks frankly of the political and social problems plaguing Thailand, and the music video re-enacts one of the most memorable images of the 6 October 1976 massacre: the photograph of a man hitting a hanged corpse with a chair, taken by Neal Ulevich, which went on to win the Pulitzer Award in 1977. As a result, the junta threatened RAD with legal prosecution. The group is now being honoured on the world stage as one of the three laureates of the 2019 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.

Named after the Czech dissident writer and politician Václav Havel, who also served as President of Czechoslovakia following the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent was established by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) in 2012 with the support of Dagmar Havlová, Havel’s widow. The Havel Prize “celebrates those who bravely unmask the lies of dictatorships by living in truth” and is awarded to political activists and dissident artists who employ creative means to fight against dictatorship.

Among former laureates of the Havel Prize are Chinese political artist Ai Wei Wei, Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot, Bahraini poet and activist Aayat Al-Qurmezi, and Belarus Free Theatre, a theatre company founded in 2005 in response to the severe censorship and repression of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

“They sent us an email that this event is happening and that we are one of the recipients of this award,” said Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, or “Hockhacker”, another member of RAD. “We were excited that an international organization contacted us. It’s the first time.”

“We were a little bit surprised that they really pay attention to what we do. We already kind of knew, because when we did [the MV], a lot of foreign media wrote about us, but when it’s an award ceremony and when it’s given by a human rights organization, it’s a good thing, because at least they see what we do and would like our names to be on the historical record.”

“I think other countries have always been following the situation in Thailand, especially in the age of the internet and online media. There are a lot of foreign journalists in Thailand and whenever something happens, people in other countries probably already know, but honouring us with this award is a record of what we have done for this world.”

Rap Against Dictatorship’s Facebook page said that two of their members, Nattapong Srimuang (Liberate P) and Pratchayaa Surakamchonrot (Jacoboi), are representing the group at the Oslo Freedom Forum. As for their plans for the future, Dechathorn said that the group is always working on new projects, and that they are now collaborating with other artists, making music and releasing mini-interviews on their YouTube Channel. Among their latest releases is another rap song “250 Sor-plor” (“250 Bootlickers”). Released in March 2019, the song criticizes the 250 appointed senates and the Election Commission of Thailand for siding with the junta.

The award ceremony for the 2019 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent is being held today (29 May) in Oslo. The two other laureates for the 2019 Havel Prize are Egyptian musician Ramy Essam and Venezuelan political cartoonist Rayma Suprani.