‘They want to exterminate regime changers.’ Thai refugee speaks of assault case

Nithiwat Wannasiri, known as Jom Faiyen, a Thai activist, musician and political refugee in France, was attacked in 2020 by 2 Czech men along with Aum Neko, another Thai political refugee. Now the judicial process ended in late 2021, he has revealed what the case entails, underlining the claim that the incident stemmed from politics rather than racial hatred.

On 17 November 2019, Nithiwat and Aum spent the night hanging out with Sinchai Chaojaroenrat, a newly-arrived Thai refugee and four other friends at Le Zinc, a restaurant in Paris, after introducing Sinchai to other long-time Thai refugees most of whom had escaped persecution in the kingdom for expressing their minds about the monarchy.

“Around 23.15, we took a group photo. Dr Sinchai wanted to be the photographer. We posted that photo on Facebook,” said Nithiwat.

A group photo taken by Sinchai on 17 November 2019.

They were about to disperse when Aum, who had already walked outside with Romchalee ‘Yammy Faiyen’ Sombulrattanakul, was attacked by two men. Nithiwat, who went to help Aum, said the two specifically targeted Aum.

“We had just followed them out of the restaurant when we saw two large men rush at Aum and punch her to the ground, and they didn’t let up. At first we thought they were thieves who came to take Aum’s phone. I jumped at the nearest man who was throwing punches but the other man hit me hard once on the left temple. I blacked out for a moment and would have fallen to the ground but the guitar on my back was holding me up. The two men were running away from Aum and escaped.”

Aum’s friend who was following them managed to contact the police and filmed the attackers. Luckily, a Parisian police patrol drove by. With the help of Damian and Hussein, two friends that had been with them through the night, the police were able to arrest the perpetrators. Romchalee also told the police that she saw the two men concealing their identities under hoods as they stood smoking outside the restaurant ever since she and Aum left Le Zinc.

After a medical check, Nithiwat was allowed 3-day sick leave while Aum was allowed a month, showing how severe her injuries were.

Intentional, targeted attack

Nithiwat said the two men arrested were Daniel Vokál and Jakub Hošek, Czech mixed martial artists, who had entered France on 13 November 2019. Alcohol was found in their blood.

Nithiwat's Facebook post describing the attack and showing his injuries.

After a thorough investigation, the police found an application on their mobile phones used to contact an ‘unidentified person’. The police also found a photo of Nithiwat with Jaran Ditapichai, an anti-establishment red-shirt leader who has also taken refuge in France. The photo was sent through an application under the specific code-name “Action Paris”. The police were therefore confident that the attack was premeditated.

Nithiwat said the evidence of CCTV footage in a restaurant opposite Le Zinc had caught another person treating the attackers to drinks. That person was also found in the footage of the attack before fleeing from the scene.

The police investigation later found that this person was Petr Donatek, a Czech who lodged at the same hotel as Vokál and Hošek. Donatek managed to leave France before the police could arrest him.

According to Nithiwat, the police investigation also found that Donatek had a close relationship with Tomio Okamura, the leader of a radical right-wing Czech political party with mixed Czech, Japanese and Korean ancestry. Donatek also owns a Japanese traditional arts school, an MMA school and security service business for VVIP people in Prague. The two attackers were also in Donatek’s school and one of them is an Olympic athlete. 

From this information, Nithiwat relates the attack in France to one on Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a well-known Thai academic who addresses the monarchy issue living in self exile in Japan, that had taken place 3-4 months prior to the attack on Nithiwat and Aum. 

Attack against Pavin confirmed, alerting other political exiles

Nithiwat claimed that Pavin’s case was also related to a radical right-wing Czech political party network. A wide picture of Thai refugee harassment still needs to be looked into further.

Donatek was arrested after France had issued an arrest warrant via INTERPOL to the Czech Republic. Since he had no criminal record and had a stable job and home, he was allowed bail, unlike the two attackers in France who were found to be involved in physical assault and drunk driving cases.

2 years on trial

At the trial, Vokál and Hošek confessed that someone had bought them flight tickets and arranged tourist visas to France. They communicated via Telegram and knew that they had a mission but not in detail. All they knew was that they would receive 2,000 euros in payment.

 

The two also said that they feared being killed or attacked during detention in order to shut them up.

Nithiwat and Aum testified that they never previously had any conflict with Czech people. Nithiwat raised the point that he had fled to France only 3 months earlier, so he had no conflicts with either anyone French or the attackers. They therefore believed that there was a mastermind behind the three defendants.

Nithiwat added that Vokál and Hošek changed their testimony regarding who had hired them. They said they attacked Nithiwat and Aum because of the effect of a drug they were taking to treat their psychological state which induced violence when consumed with alcohol and that the attack was not planned ahead. The results of psychological tests were shown by social worker officers to prove their mental illness. They also apologized to the victims before the court.

The verdict was finally given on 23 November 2021. Donatek could not make it to court because he had caught Covid-19. The defence attorneys for Vokál and Hošek, who had been detained for 2 years pending trial, asked the court to proceed without him. Donatek was still presented by his attorney.

The judges took a brief break in order to consult. After the break, the judges decided to have Donatek’s attorney removed to a seat in the public gallery. After a failed attempt to appeal the order, the attorney walked out of the courtroom.

The final verdict was given after a trial of 9 hours. The claims by Vokál and Hošek of their intention to attack Aum and Nithiwat were belied by the evidence of communication with Donatek. The two were sentenced to 26 months in jail while Petr received 30 months The three also had to pay Aum and Nithiwat compensation of 3,400 and 665 euro respectively and were banned from entering France for 5 years.

The time that Vokál and Hošek spent in detention pending trial was deducted from their 26 month jail term.

It’s not a hatred toward Asians

“The result in court was not satisfactory for us because we could not bring the person who hired them to testify in court because he fled back to his country and gave the excuse to the court that he was infected with Covid-19 twice within 2 months. But at least it was good that the court believed in the gravity of the case, that it really was premeditated,” said Nithiwat.

He said the French judicial system treated him as if he was a regular French citizen. The medical check-up for the court was free of charge. Interpreters were also hired by the court.

He insists that it may not be possible that the attack was due to a hatred of Asians by the ultra right-wing because the two testified against those claims.

“Defendants 1 and 2 testified that they committed the offence due to the effect of the drugs that are legal in their country, which trigger violence when mixed with alcohol. The two defendants affirmed that they did not hate Asians nor LGBTQ+ people.

“Personally, I think it was not a matter of prejudice against Asians because the person who hired them (Donatek) opened a Japanese sword school in the Czech Republic and they picked out their victim even though on that day there were 5-6 Asians there,” said Nithiwat.

Increasing threats toward Thai refugees

In addition to the attacks on Pavin and Aum and Nithiwat, 9 Thai activists since the coup in 2014 have been either murdered or abducted while living in self-exile in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and the culprits had never been brought to justice, much less identified.

A selfie photo of Nithiwat.

On this matter, Nithiwat, who fled from Laos to France after death threats against Faiyen band members, sees these cases as an attempt by the elite to stop the wind of change toward democracy and the possibility of discussion about other forms of regime beside the kingdom.

“They want to wipe all who move for ‘regime change’ in order to suppress people inside [Thailand] that are thinking about changing the regime. And it’s sad that they are succeeding,” said Nithiwat, who also believes that, as popular support for democratisation has increased, it is up to the vision of the decision makers at the political level to respond to it.

Source: 
prachatai.com/journal/2022/01/96856

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