Police block activists from petitioning APEC ministers

Community rights and indigenous rights activists in Chiang Mai were blocked by crowd control police today (24 August) during their march to submit a petition to an APEC leaders meeting at the Le Meridien Hotel.

NPF activists holding protest banners when they went to the Le Meridien Hotel on 23 August. The banner in front says "Land reform by the community."

Activists from the Northern Peasant Federation (NPF) yesterday (23 August) went to the Le Meridien Hotel in Chiang Mai, where the 5th APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Forestry is taking place, to submit a petition to Varawut Silpa-archa, the Thai Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), calling for the protection of community rights and indigenous rights, the repeal of current conservation laws, the acceptance of indigenous communities in Thailand, and for land-related charges to be dropped against community members resulting from government policy. They also called for the demands to be discussed during the meeting.

NPF representative Thaworn Laklaem said that the NPF and other community rights and indigenous rights organizations wished to raise concerns about the meeting, since information given during the meeting would come only from the Thai authorities, and the people who are affected by development projects and policies are not able to participate, while they still face human rights violations despite repeated demands for the authorities to solve these issues.

The petition was received by Jatuporn Buruspat, MNRE Permanent Secretary, who said that he could not promise that the demands would be discussed during the meeting.

Activists and protesters blocked by police on their way to the Le Meridien Hotel (Photo by Anucha Tadee)

Activists returned to the Le Meridien Hotel today (24 August) after receiving no response to their demands, marching from Tha Pae Gate, a tourist landmark in Chiang Mai city. Along the way, they faced police blockades, and the hotel entrance was blocked by crowd control police carrying shields and batons. The local online news outlet Lanner reported that following a clash with the police, officers tried to arrest 4 protesters, but released them after protest leaders demanded they do so. One person was also injured during the attempted arrest.

Activist Pachara Khamchamnan also said ahead of this morning’s march that the authorities tried to negotiate with the activists to stop them from protesting, telling them that the foreign ministers will not understand what they are saying. The network therefore provided an interpreter for the speeches given during today’s protest and released an English translation of their statement.

Pachara also said after the protest that NPF members were threatened with legal prosecution by the police, and that they were also told not to protest and not to use sound amplifiers as it will affect Thailand’s tourism. During the protest, officers were also heard ordering other officers to photograph the protesters and saying that they will be pressing charges against everyone. Several other people were injured during the clash with crowd control police, as officers tried to drag protesters behind police lines, tearing off their clothes.

Crowd control police pushing back at protesters
(Photo by Anucha Tadee)

After negotiations with an MNRE Deputy Permanent Secretary did not result in the blockade being removed, the activists stayed in front of the police lines and began giving speeches. Around half an hour later, the activists learned that Varawut was leaving the hotel, so they tried to move closer to the hotel to see him, but the police continued to block them. Members of the Karen indigenous community joining the protest then performed a ritual according to their spiritual beliefs, using a picture of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, saying that they are not cursing him but that the bad things one does will have consequences and that they called on the sacred spirits they believe in to help spread the stories of their hardship throughout the world.

NPF representatives then read out a statement in English calling on the APEC forestry ministers to pay attention to the human rights violations perpetrated against Thailand’s indigenous communities, including prosecution under the NCPO’s Forest Reclamation Policy, forced evictions, and the Thai state’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of indigenous peoples in Thailand.

Activists holding banners saying "APEC must not participate in Thai state's human rights violations" and "Success come from fighting for what is right, not given or earned from begging."
(Photo by Anucha Tadee)

“We demand our rightful decision-making power to manage our land and natural resources. We ask you the global leaders to urge the Thai government to guarantee and respect our rights, to engage in forest policy reform that will decentralize power on forest/land management to local communities and local governments, to recognize legal rights of communities to manage community forests, and to stop all development projects that are actually destroying the forest. This is the only way to address climate change at the same time ensure the return of our human dignity,” said the statement.

“We want you to know that we are of flesh and blood, as much human as you are. We would like to appeal to your consciousness and conscience, that the Thai government is not an environmental hero as it may have proclaimed. It is in fact us the people who are left to help each other to protect our resources. Because, to neglect our grievances and blindly accepting fictitious claims of the Thai government is seemingly being an accomplice to the murder of our brothers and to the abuse of our human rights.”

The activists then headed to the Chiang Mai City Hall in the afternoon to submit their petition to Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan via the Chiang Mai provincial governor.

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