Post-Coup Overview on Exiles: ‘at least’ 6 disappeared, 2 dead, almost a hundred in flight

After the 2014 coup d’état, data in a 2018 report compiled by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Centre showed that at least 86 political refugees left the country for coup-related reasons.  This includes those on lists of people summoned to report to the military, those summoned to answer Article 112 charges, and those involved in legal proceedings since the time of the UDD rallies, which were part of the conflict that continued up to the coup.  It also included those who did not report but were detained for 7 days under martial law.  After their release from military detention, these people felt that their lives were no longer safe and opted to leave the country.  Most of them went in neighbouring countries.  Some with higher social status or with more adequate resources may have gone as far as Europe or the U.S.

It was also found that at least 8 of these refugees have disappeared for no known reason, even though they were living in other countries.  These are: Ittipon Sukpaen aka DJ Sunho; Wuthipong Kachathamakul aka Ko Tee; Surachai Danwattananusorn aka Surachai Sae Dan, revolutionary and underground radio programme presenter; Chatchan Bubphawan aka Comrade Phuchana; Kraidej Luelert aka Comrade Kasalong; Chucheep Chivasut (Uncle Sanam Luang); Siam Theerawut; and Kritsana Tupthai.

In July 2016, Ittipon Sukpaen, aka DJ Beer or DJ Sunho, a political activist and radio broadcaster who had taken refuge in Lao PDR, disappeared. An NCPO spokesperson denied any involvement and the 36th Military Circle, Phetchabun Province, did not have him in detention.

In July 2017, Wuthipong Kachathamakul aka Ko Tee or Comrade Ma Noi, a political activist and radio broadcaster, for whom an arrest warrant had been issued under Article 112 and who was exiled in Lao PDR, disappeared.  Jom Petchpradab, an independent media person, stated that he had received confirmation from close associates of Ko Tee that he was abducted by about 10 armed men in black wearing woollen balaclavas over their faces at 9:45 on 29 July 2017.  Ko Tee has not been seen since and no one has made any statement about his fate, but his name still appeared for some time in the Thai media in reports by the security agencies that he or his networks were involved in political activities or arms.

In December 2018, Surachai Danwattananusorn, revolutionary and underground radio broadcaster, disappeared together with two other exiles, Chatchan Bubphawan aka Comrade Phuchana and Kraidej Luelert aka Comrade Kasalong.  The bodies of Comrade Phuchana and Comrade Kasalong were later found in the Mekhong River at the beginning of last year, while Surachai remains disappeared and is assumed by his wife, Pranee Danwattananusorn aka Pa Noi, to be dead and his body destroyed.

Pranee Danwattananusorn (right), Surachai's wife, went to a temple to make merit for him on 3 February 2019. Surachai remains missing, and Pranee assumes he is dead.

 

Chatchan aka Comrade Phuchana graduated from Srinakharinwirote University, Bang Saen, with a bachelor’s degree in electronics.  Before becoming a political activist and exile and an underground radio broadcaster, he was a contractor installing satellite dishes for the Red Shirt TV channel.  This may have been the start of his political career in the early part of the Red Shirt movement in 2008.  Chatchan became a candidate in local elections and a campaigner for several members of parliament in the northeast region.  After the coup, his name appeared on the list of those summoned to report to the military, which prompted him to decide to take refuge in a neighbouring country.

According to his son, Kuekkong, Chatchan liked to read, but did not take much interest in politics.  He was usually gentle and did not favour violence.
 “My father separated from my mother when I was still young, but he visited me and my mother all the time.  We were not angry with each other.  He was still friends with my mother.  We became more distant in 2010 because he was “too red”, but still communicated regularly by telephone or Line until he passed away,” his son said.

Even though it was reported that Chatchan was prosecuted for being involved in violence, Kuekkong insisted that he did not believe that his father would be involved in violence acts.

“Since I was young, my father always taught me a sense of shame and fear of committing sin.  He was a gentle man.  He liked to feed and shelter stray dogs.  I heard when he was in Lao, he also looked after stray dogs at his home.  He was not the kind of person to harm anyone.  He even helped free a turtle that was going to be eaten by a monitor lizard.”

After he fled the country, Chatchan was in contact with his family until 12 December.  He told his son on Line that he was going to be away for 3 days.  But after there was no further contact 3 days later, Kuekkong called his father on 23 December 2018, which was Chatchan’s birthday, and became alarmed when there was no answer.  Just before the New Year, Kuekkong heard the news that 2 bodies had been found floating in the Mekhong River in Nakhon Phanom Province and was contacted by the police responsible for the case to have his DNA checked, which confirmed that it really was his father.

Meanwhile the history of Comrade Kasalong has never been revealed as his family and friends remain so fearful and moved by the incident that no one has given an interview to the media.Surachai had a long history of political activism.  He started off as a TV repairman who somehow got involved in making speeches at a rally demanding that the Governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat Province give assistance to people affected by the serious floods in 1975.  When the Governor’s residence was set on fire while he was speaking, he was accused of giving an order for arson, so he fled into the jungle to join the Communist Party of Thailand in 1976.  He came out of the jungle as a CPT ‘peace envoy’ to negotiate with the government, and was arrested and imprisoned for 16 years before being released in 1996.  He was imprisoned for a second time from 22 February 2011 to 4 October 2013 on a charge of lèse majesté for speaking at a rally.

In May 2019, Chucheep Chivasut, a broadcaster on underground radio known as Uncle Sanam Luang, disappeared with two other exiles, Siam Theerawut and Kritsana Tupthai.  News reports said that Chucheep, Siam and Kritsana were arrested in Vietnam and were being deported to Thailand, but the Vietnamese authorities denied any record of this.  Until today, the efforts of Siam’s family to find all three have been fruitless.

Chucheep had a long history of political struggle.  He was known among ‘former comrades’ and among the anti-coup activists in 2006 as an enemy (in an ideological sense) of the Thai security forces.  In August 2008, the Criminal Court issued a warrant for Chucheep’s arrest on a charge of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code while making a speech.  It is believed he left the country at that time.  Chucheep announced the discontinuation of his radio programme in January 2019 after the disappearance of Surachai and the two other exiles.

Siam was an activist and underground radio broadcaster.  He graduated from Ramkhamhaeng University.  As a student he was active in the Prakai Fai group.  It was the play ‘The Wolf’s Bride’ staged by the group that led Siam and others involved in the play, like Pornthip Munkong and Patiwat Saraiyaem, to be investigated by the police for violations of Article 112.  When the Article 112 cases were revived after the 2014 coup, Siam left the country.

Kritsana’s story is still a riddle as reporters have not been able to contact his family or anyone who knew him.

Apart from these cases, there have been a number of disappearances that cannot yet be confirmed, such as Sangiam Samranrat, one of the core leaders of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD).  Another core leader, Jakrapob Penkair, was thought to have disappeared until he posted a message on Facebook on 8 October last year, commemorating 6 October 1976.

No body, no justice

Siam Theerawut at a 1932 revolution memorial day event at the memorial plaque, 24 June 2012

Siam's mother, Kanya Theerawut at the Embassy of Vietnam in Bangkok, where she went to file a letter requesting information on her son's alleged arrest and extradition, 12 May 2019

 

After the disappearance of Surachai, his 62-year-old wife, Auntie Noi, travelled to file a report with Pol Lt Col Suksawat Bua-in, Deputy Superintendent for Investigations of Tha Uthen District Police Station, because she believed that it was Surachai’s body which appeared at Tha Champa Village, Tha Champa Subdistrict, Tha Uthen District, Nakhon Phanom Province on 26 December 2018 and which was later said to have floated off and disappeared.  She asked the police on 26 February 2019 to investigate the facts, but there has been no progress until today.

Auntie Noi later petitioned the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the case of enforced disappearance and appealed to the police to investigate the abduction and killing of Surachai and his aides.  On 20 September 2019, Auntie Noi went to submit a petition to the Director-General of the Department of Rights and Liberty Protection as Member and Secretary of the Complaints Management Committee to monitor the cases of torture and enforced disappearance.  

Auntie Noi had another subsequent problem. Surachai had an on-going court case pending at the Pattaya Court in which he was a defendant in a criminal case over the forced abandonment of the 2009 ASEAN Summit.  As there was no empirical evidence of Surachai’s death, the Court imposed a fine of 500,000 baht on the bail guarantor for Surachai’s absence in court on the appointed date.  The 50,000 baht deposit has been seized and the defendant still has to pay 450,000 baht.  Auntie Noi and the bail guarantor, who is Surachai’s nephew, have submitted a request for the fine to be paid in instalments of 3,000 baht per month as of February 2018.  The latest decision by the Court (27 December 2019) was to reject the petition to reduce the fine due to the lack of evidence of Surachai’s death.

Aunti Noi described the enormous burden that she and the bail guarantor have endured in finding the money.  She has been struggling to sell Surachai’s books, campaign caps and shirts in order to pay the monthly instalments that will continue for another 10 years.

At the same time, Siam’s mother submitted a request to the Crime Suppression Commissioner for information on Siam’s arrest.  The official receiving the request insisted that there has been no arrest or detention of Siam and the others.  She also contacted the Embassy of Viet Nam and the National Human Rights Commission to request investigations but there has been no progress.

“I miss him.  I haven’t met him for five years.  Earlier we were able to chat on Line and see each other’s face but we haven’t done that for many months already.  I don’t know what to do, but I haven’t given up.  He is my son.  How can I give up?  Whatever happens, I still want to see him to know where he is.  If he is dead, I would like to have his remains for a merit-making ceremony.”  (Interview with Prachatai, 12 June 2019.)

On 16 July 2019, Siam’s sister gave an interview to Prachatai, saying that the Thai Embassy in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, informed them through the Director of the Protection of Thai Nationals Abroad Division that internal enquiries with the relevant Vietnamese agencies concerning the entry of Siam and his friends into Vietnam had resulted in their being informed that there was no such record.

Siam’s sister also said that an official from the Ministry of Justice came to see her on 12 July to ask whether she had any evidence for her claim that Siam was really in Viet Nam.  She told the official that Siam chatted with her on Line and told her he was in Viet Nam, but she had deleted the conversation before his disappearance.  The official then said they would check with the boss to see if the conversation could be retrieved.  By 13 December 2019, there was still no contact from the official and no progress whatsoever.

Fai Yen escaping death to France; Pavin attacked at home; ‘Somsak Jeam’ returns

Amidst the concern for the safety of Thai political exiles in neighbouring countries after the deaths of Surachai’s close friends and the disappearance of Surachai, Chucheep and two others, there was a report on 12 July 2019 that members of the Fai Yen band had received death threats.  The sender of the message, who claimed to be a Special Forces officer, warned  the Fai Yen members to surrender or else they would be taken dead immediately as their address was known and they could easily be accessed by intelligence units on daily surveillance missions, and if they thought of fleeing, they would be killed immediately because they posed a danger to national security.  The reports however could not confirm who the sender was.

During the year, Fai Yen members had received 10 threats, not including other vitriolic abuse.  Most of those making threats claim to be government officials or related to the government.  Before these threats were received, the family of one Fai Yen member was contacted by a politician who asked for their help to bring the Fai Yen members to surrender to the Thai authorities.

BBC Thai reported that it had seen a document marked ‘secret’ which Fai Yen claimed to be a request sent by the Thai authorities to the Lao authorities for the deportation of the exiles.  It contained the names of the Fai Yen members, together with those who had disappeared including Surachai Danwattananusorn, Chucheep Chivasut and Siam Theerawut.

On other pages appeared the names of the Fai Yen members and copies of their ID cards and arrest warrants, including the location of their houses on satellite images complete with latitude and longitude coordinates.

BBC Thai has also listened to a sound recording of Romchalee Sombulrattanakul, a singer in the band, talking to an unknown fluent Thai speaker who called her a few days after the news broke of the disappearance of Surachai and his friends.  The man insisted that Surachai was dead even though there was as yet no news of the bodies being found, and he was also able to specify correctly their addresses.  This was one of the reasons why they had to move house no fewer than seven times in the previous few years.  BBC Thai could not authenticate either the document or the sound recording.

On 19 May 2019, the hashtags #SaveFaiyen and #อย่าฆ่าไฟเย็น [Don’tkillFaiyen] trended in social media.  Action for Democracy in Thailand (ACT4DEM) started a campaign on change.org to petition the UNHCR and the Lao and French governments.

The campaign claimed that the Fai Yen band, who had been in exile in Lao since the 2014 coup, had received information from a high-level source of their imminent enforced disappearance within the week.  The Fai Yen members and other exiles at risk of enforced disappearance themselves had, over the previous five months, been seeking assistance from the UNHCR at all levels and from the European Union, including the French government, for protection and their removal from an area of risk.

On 2 August 2019, members of Fai Yen were taken from Lao to begin new lives in France under the sponsorship of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) which arranged flights and air tickets.  Many people both in Thailand and other countries around the world mobilized funding and moral support for the group, who are now in the process of seeking asylum and studying the French language

Another incident occurred to Pavin

Chachavalpongpun, an academic at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, who has been in exile since the NCPO coup.  A black-clad masked man broke into his rooms in Kyoto.  Pavin said the man opened the door and approached the bedroom he shared with a friend.  He pulled off the blanket, sprayed both of them with chemicals and ran away despite their efforts to catch him.  

The Japanese police arrived later at the scene with forensic officers.  They seem to understand Pavin’s background and hypothesised that the incident may be related to Thai politics so the case was referred to the Transnational Anti-terrorism Unit.  The police also suggested that he should not return to his rooms and placed him instead in a safe house.

Meanwhile in June 2019, the Facebook page of Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a former history lecturer at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University, was reactivated with comments on the live-streaming of a seminar on “Col Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena: a democratic soldier in the People’s Party (Khama Ratsadon)” on the Textbooks Foundation page.

The 'Somsak Jeamteerasakul' Facebook page, had been inactive since 23 August 2018 due to Somsak’s illness and convalescence, but for several months in early 2019, his account had attended several online seminar streams.

On 22 November 2019, there was a report that at 14:30 Thai time, a live stream on the Somsak Jeamteerasakul account was viewed 110,000 times and shared 2,500 times.

Somsak said it was a trial broadcast on the occasion of the account’s fifth anniversary that gave him an opportunity to greet friends again.  He insisted that all the letters on the Facebook page were his own, after someone had made the observation that they may not have been.  He also said that he could not write fully because he was still slow and it took a long time, but everything that was written was what he intended to write as he can communicate better by writing than by other methods.  From now on, he would try to practice writing and transmitting ideas, which would take longer in comparison with before his illness.  But his thinking methods and systems have not been lost.