Political activist Tanapat Kapheng has taken a photo of himself with flour on his nose in a parody of Capt Thammanat Prompao’s drug conviction in Australia. Thammanat, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, was receiving a letter from Bang Kloi representatives to demand a halt to the prosecution of 28 indigenous Karen people of Bang Kloi.
“Yeah, his stuff is really good. I already see stars,” reads Tanapat’s caption on the 25 May Facebook photo which shows Thammanat looking at Tanapat while speaking into a microphone. Thanapat’s post had 26k reactions and 11k shares as of 27 May. In a separate post, he took a photo of his hand full of flour. This post also went viral on social media.
Caption: Activist performs fake heroin skit to mock Thammanat.
Source: Tanapat Kapheng
The political and indigenous rights activists had come to hand a letter to Thammanat after Kaeng Krachan Police Station pressed 2 more charges against 28 Bang Kloi residents on 24 May. The police claimed that they had violated the 1941 Forests Act and the 1964 National Reserved Forests Act. They had already been charged for encroachment under the 1961 National Park Act, making a total of 3 charges.
Thammanat had signed an agreement to halt the prosecution against the Karen. The original schedule stated that the 28 indigenous people would be brought before the prosecutors for prosecution on 28 May. It remains to be seen how long the agreement can delay the prosecution.
Caption: The political and indigenous rights activists hands a letter to Thammanat.
Source: Nuttaphol Suwanpakdee
The land of their hearts
The Karen people in Bang Kloi had officially been on “the land of the heart” with an approval document dated 1912, decades before the Thai government passed the laws under which they are being prosecuted.
In the 1990s, the Thai government began efforts to get Kaeng Krachan listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To do so, they forcibly expelled the Karen people from their homeland by force in 1996 and torched their homes in 2011.
Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen, an indigenous rights activist for the Karen people in Bang Kloi, fell victim to enforced disappearance in 2014 after being taken into state custody by National Park officials in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
The community's late spiritual leader Ko-i Meemi died in 2018 at the age of 107 without having the chance to return to his homeland.
In 2019, the UNESCO delayed the Thai government’s nomination due to concerns over human rights violations against the indigenous community, potential border disputes between Thailand and Myanmar, and the need for a report on relative values of biodiversity in the area.
In 2020, prosecutors dismissed serious charges against the officials involved in the enforced disappearance Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen.
Due to lack of agricultural land and resources to make a living, a group of Karen people returned to their homeland to contest for their rights in 2021. At the beginning of March, the authorities forced 85 off their land and prosecuted them. 28 of them now face three charges.
The state repression gave birth the hashtag #SaveBangKloi and a protest held by Karen in front of Government House in mid-March. In response, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha signed an agreement to establish a committee to help the Karren with Capt Thammanat as chairperson. Even so, the prosecutions continue until today.
Thammanat under scrutiny
Caption: Political activist Tanapat Kapheng's hand is full of flour as he mocks Thammanat for his drug crime in Australia.
Source: Tanapat Kapheng
While the contest for the indigenous rights continued, Thammanat was facing political challenges of his own as his scandals have been repeatedly exposed since he became deputy minister in July 2019.
Right after his appointment, it was revealed that Thammanat had been jailed in Australia for smuggling heroin. He distorted the story by claiming he was not convicted, but the Sydney Herald published a report confirming that Thammanat was jailed for 4 years for smuggling 3.2 kg of heroin.
As the pressure mounted, Thammanat said in July 2019 “I am the jugular vein, feeding the heart of this government. I keep the secrets, deals, and bargains. If you overthrow me, the government will be unstable.”
It was also revealed in 2019 on the website of the Office of The Secretariat of The House of Representatives that Thammanat graduated from Calamus International University in the United States. However, it was found that the university was not accredited by the United States. And now it is located in Vanuatu. Previously, it had been located in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Thammanat rejected the claim and said that he did not graduate from Calamus International University, but actually graduated from California University FCE. Thammanat said that “I was not physically in the US while studying. It works like Sukhothai Thammathirat or Ramkhamhaeng university here which do not require class attendance.”
Thammanat also claimed he co-published research in the European Journal of Scientific Research as a part of his graduation. However, it was found that the journal, whose office was located in Republic of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, was not qualified according to the standard of SCOPUS and Social Science Citation Index.
The European Journal of Scientific Research was on Beall’s List of Predatory Journals, journals whose quality is questionable who operate by a “pay-to-publish” procedure. According to the Office of Higher Education Commission, a journal on Beall’s list cannot be used as a part of a student’s qualifications.
In a motion of no confidence in February 2020, Thammanat rejected his drug crime saying that “it was flour!” Thammanat survived the motion with the lowest number approval votes in comparison with other cabinet members facing the motion.
In May 2020, Move Forward Party MPs filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to disqualify Thammanat from his government positions because of his criminal record.
The Constitutional Court ruled in May 2021 that Thammanat’s assumption of government positions was constitutional because a crime in a foreign country has nothing to do with Thailand as a sovereign state. So Thammanat remains a government MP and a cabinet member.
The opposition parties said that since the Constitutional Court did not deny that Thammanat was jailed in Australia for smuggling drugs, so the criminal record can be used against Thammanat through other channels.
Pol Gen Seripisut Temiyavet, leader of the Thai Liberal Party, and Chaitawat Tulathon, Secretary-General of the Move Forward Party said that they would file a petition with the National Anti-Corruption Commission against Thammanat for severe ethical violations.
The Commission said that they could accept the petition, but penalties may apply only when the wrongdoing occurs during his time as an MP or a cabinet member. Like the Constitutional Court, the National Anti-Corruption Commission was appointed by the junta before the election in 2019.