One way in, no way out: a month of travel bans against critical voices

November has seen a crackdown on freedom of movement as the Thai authorities have reportedly requested the Department of Consular Affairs to revoke the passports of 13 Thai activists and hastily expelled a foreigner who made fun of the government and monarchy.

Suvarnabhumi Airport

Yan Marchal, a French expat well known for his political parodies, had to take a return flight to France after receiving an expulsion order upon arrival at Phuket Airport on 27 November, with immigration saying that he was a threat to society. An immigration official also said to him that he was on a blacklist but without elaborating on what such a list might be.

From the time the Kingdom announced him persona non grata to the time he took off, he received no assistance from the Thai authorities at all.

“I was parked in a waiting room of a boarding gate for the whole day, along with another deportee. We were by ourselves, we met nobody but the Thai Airways staff who brought us there and picked us up from there,” said Marchal.

Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, a.k.a. HOCKHACKER, a rapper who has voiced criticism of the government with the band Rap Against Dictatorship, found on 25 November that he could not get a new passport because his name is on a ‘watchlist’, according to BBC Thai.

On 18 November, BBC Thai interviewed Pol Col Tossaphol Ampaipipatkul, Superintendent of Samranrat Police Station, who said that he was the one who requested revocation of the passports, in line with legal procedures for those facing charges related to national security.

The Department of Consular Affairs had asked the police to produce further evidence to support the claim that the 6 persons named were likely to flee the country.

Watchlist against pro-democracy idea

According to the Thai Enquirer, Samranrat Police Station submitted a request to the Department of Consular Affairs to revoke the passports of 13 people who had been charged with sedition over their involvement in pro-democracy rallies, 6 of whom were specified by name: Jutatip Sirikhan, Korakot Saengyenpan, Suwanna Tanlek, Baramee Chaiyarat and Panumas Singprom.

Apart from Panumas and Marchal, the other five were also listed in a leaked confidential watchlist compiled by the Immigration Bureau in August 2021. The list contained personal and legal information on activists, human rights lawyers, academics and the members of the Move Forward Party and its predecessor, the dissolved Future Forward Party.

Now that one on the list has been unable to register for a passport, the question is whether the other 182 people in the list face a similar ban without knowing it.

Travel bans and watchlists of people thought to be anti-government have existed since the 2014 coup. In 2019, Asst Prof Andrew Johnson, an academic from Princeton University, was temporarily detained and interrogated by the immigration officers on leaving Thailand.

An official told Johnson that the names of 30 academics were on a list who officials would like to question. It was later established that the names were those who had signed a petition opposing the prosecution of academics who had criticized the military for trying to spy on the 2017 International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai Province.

Rosenun Chesof, a Thai academic teaching at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, also signed the same petition and said she had been detained a total of 10 times entering and leaving Thailand, acts that she considered as harassment of academics.

Travel ban for a reason?

In Marchal’s case, he was informed by an immigration officer that he was on a ‘blacklist’ and could not enter the country. The officer did not provide any details but suggested that he book a flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport after taking a transit flight to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

 

 

Nadthasiri Bergman, Marchal’s lawyer, raised questions about Immigration’s handling of Marchal’s case. She said the expulsion was made under Sections 19, 22 and 54 of the 1979 Immigration Act which allows an appeal to the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister within 48 hours of receiving the expulsion order.

However, Yan received no information other than the ticket price of a flight to Paris and the need to leave Phuket for Bangkok. He received no information or documentation from officers in Bangkok either. Nadthasiri had to assist him in finding the appeal form and sending it to the relevant ministers via email on Saturday. 

According to the Act, the ministers have 7 days until 4 December to respond to the appeal. If there is no response, the appeal is considered as denied. As of Wednesday (1 December), Marchal still received no response.  Khaosod English reported that Marchal was about to board a flight to Paris on 27 November for fear that staying in Thailand would expose him to a lèse majesté charge.

Another question raised by his lawyer is that after Marchal filed an appeal, airport officials offered no advice or assistance at all regarding accommodation while waiting for a response as he was not allowed pass immigration and leave the airport.

Nadthasiri said she would look for further details about Marchal’s presence on a blacklist after that date. Dechathorn was also going to consult lawyers to ask the Department of Consular Affairs for an official explanation over the passport ban.

The reasons behind the forced deportation and travel restrictions seem to be secret. Marchal was informed of nothing other than the ban on him entering the country, which he had experienced before in November 2020. In Dechathorn’s case, he and his lawyers had not been informed at all of the passport revocation.

Possible reasons for these restrictions appear to be related to past political actions which in Dechatorn’s case, led to a national-security related charge of sedition, and in Marchal’s case, expulsion on the grounds of posing a ‘possible danger to the public’.

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