UNHCR attacked for choosing pro-junta actress as presenter

Last Saturday (1 June), UNHCR Thailand’s Facebook page published a video clip from the programme The Face Thailand 5 for UNHCR, on which many celebrities spoke to invite the audience to donate to UNHCR. Among the presenters was Sinjai Plengpanich, whose past pro-junta attitude prompted critical comments from Thai netizens.

Left: Sinjai posed for a selfie with Gen Prayut
Right: an image from the video clip of Sinjai's speech

In her speech, Sinjai said “we all want to live in a place with love, happiness, and safety, but sometimes, war, conflict, and violence cause tens of millions of people to flee their homes and become refugees. The world has to come together to protect and help these people to get on with their lives.”

This prompted a storm of critical comments from the online audience, who claimed that Sinjai’s own political attitudes cause conflict, and that she is not accepting of differing opinions, making it inappropriate for her to speak about refugees. Some threatened to stop their monthly donations to UNHCR, and some called the organization’s PR department out for their choice of presenter, saying that UNHCR needs to reconsider their decision.

In 2013-2014, Sinjai openly campaigned with the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), joining in their protests and expressing opinions in their favour. The PDRC is on the side of the political spectrum which does not support democratic development, and their protests led to the 2014 military coup.

Since the coup, Sinjai has been supportive of the NCPO and its leader, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, now a candidate for Prime Minister. The NCPO’s rise to power caused many political activists to become refugees, and it has been criticized for violating human rights.  Under the NCPO regime, many refugees have been detained indefinitely and without charge and some have been forced back to their own countries.

UNHCR has yet to react to any of the comments, and Sinjai told Matichon yesterday (3 June) that she is not affiliated with UNHCR, but was a judge on The Face Thailand and gave the speech in that capacity.

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