#BlackLivesMatter sparks reflection on injustices in Thailand

A Facebook user has questioned whether those who believe in #BlackLivesMatter will ignore the catalogue of violence and discrimination in Thailand.

Following the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes after he was detained in Minneapolis, Minnesota, nationwide protests broke out over the US to speak out against police brutality and discrimination against African Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement is now global, with protests in the UK, Japan, France, New Zealand, Canada, and Poland, among other countries, and a virtual protest scheduled in Bangkok for Sunday (7 June).

The movement was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a white man who shot and killed African American teen Trayvon Martin.

In Thailand, netizens have joined in using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to show their support, and for many, the movement has sparked discussions of the injustices taking place in this country.

Facebook user Warich Noochouy posted on 3 June 2020, calling attention to the violence which has taken place in Thailand.

“If you truly believe in Black Lives Matter,

  • You will not ignore the crackdown on the 94 Red Shirt protestors in 2010
  • You will not ignore the kidnap and murder of political refugees
  • You will not ignore the case of Chaiyaphum Pasae
  • You will not ignore the case of Den Kamlae
  • You will not ignore the case of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen
  • You will not ignore the case of Somchai Neelapaijit
  • You will not ignore the case of Abdullah Isomuso
  • and you will not ignore the violation of rights by state authorities, soldiers, police, and many others.

“Ask yourself, when we talk about these cases, how much attention do you give to them?” Warich writes, “because if you believe in #BlackLivesMatter, if you believe in the idea that “everyone is equal”, are we ignoring the injustices that are happening in front of us today?"

“And if you see violence repeatedly inflicted by state authorities and perpetrated against innocent citizens, you will not criticize Blacks in America for rioting, you will not criticize the Hong Kong protestors for moving toward violence, or even the Red Shirts. I’m not saying that looting or injuring others is justified, but it is a bit strange if we only see violence from the oppressed but are blind to what the oppressors have done for over a century, and just spit out cool captions on social media even though you don’t even believe in the idea that “everyone is equal”.

Warich also expressed disappointment that instead of taking the opportunity to explore ourselves and truly learn what long-term oppression leads to, we do not try to understand the root of the problems.

Many Thai celebrities also posted about #BlackLivesMatter on their social media accounts and faced a backlash from netizens who view their use of the hashtag as hypocrisy. For example, Daraneenuch Photipiti, a Thai actress with the Instagram username “@topdaraneenute”, posted a picture of African American-Thai celebrity James Rusameekae Fagerlund or “@rusameekae” with the caption “you see love more than difference in skin colour” to show support for racial diversity and equality. She was criticized for advocating for the use of weapons against anti-government protestors when she was participating in the 2014 People’s Democratic Reform Committee protests.

Many Twitter users expressed their concerns regarding the still less-heard voice of victims of injustice in Thailand. Many Thai activists or dissidents who tried speaking out or asserting the rights which legally belong to them have faced kidnapping, violence, and even death. Twitter user @Topthailaw said “Now that BLM has become a trend, people in our society are showing their empathy towards the oppressed (African Americans). In similar cases close to us like #saveวันเฉลิม (Wanchalearm) #saveหมู่อาร์ม (Sgt Arm), will anyone even bother to care?” The Twitter account @tadao_undo also tweeted “Thai actors posted black pictures on Instagram calling for justice for black people in America but this past May, no one cared about the 94 people who died during the protest crackdown in downtown Bangkok. Shocked.”

For Thai netizens, George Floyd’s death and the #BlackLivesMatter protests became a reminder of the violence and threats committed by the Thai state. The #saveหมู่อาร์ม (“Save Sgt Arm”) case of Sergeant Narongchai Intharakawi emerged after his life was threatened by his commanding officer because he disclosed evidence of alleged graft in his army unit.

#saveวันเฉลิม (“save Wanchalearm”) profiles Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a political refugee accused of lèse majesté who has been kidnapped by an armed man in Phnom Penh. A source who was speaking on the phone with him before the call was cut claimed Wanchalearm’s last words were “argh, I can’t breathe.”