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Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s Facebook post blocked in Thailand

Monday July 22, 2019

At least one Facebook post made by the Thai historian and monarchy reformist in exile Somsak Jeamteerasakul has been geo-blocked, making it unavailable in Thailand, while users in the UK and France say that they can still see the post.

A cartoon by political satirist ไข่แมว of Somsak's return

On 17 June 2019, Somsak posted pictures of a historical document on his Facebook profile, which he said were notes from 1979 by former Prime Minister (1973-75) and former President of the Privy Council (1975-98) Sanya Dharmasakti about Queen Sirikit. The post disappeared from his profile yesterday (21 July). However, Facebook users in the UK and France say they can still see the post, leading to the suspicion that it has been geo-blocked in Thailand.

Somsak often uses his Facebook account to post commentaries about Thai politics and the monarchy, along with photos of his neighbour’s cat here and there, but his activities stopped after he suffered a haemorrhagic stroke in August 2018, which paralyzed the right side of his body. He returned to Facebook on 9 June in the comment section of a Facebook Live seminar on “Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena: the People's Party and democratic military”.

Somsak is currently still in exile in France, where he fled after the 2014 military coup. One of his posts has been blocked before. On 4 May 2017, Somsak said that he received an email from Facebook saying that the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) sent them a court warrant requesting that they block one of his posts. MDES has also issued an announcement for people not to follow him. Nevertheless, he has at least 355,000 Facebook followers, who rely on his political commentary in times of political uncertainty, especially when the monarchy is involved. After the now-dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party nominated former princess Ubolratana Mahidol as their candidate for Prime Minister in February 2019, many netizens could be seen posting something along the lines of “I miss Somsak Jeam” and sharing his old posts.  

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Tom Dundee released after composing more than 3,000 songs in prison.

Saturday July 20, 2019

Tom Dundee, or Thanat Thanavacharanon, was released from Bangkok Remand Prison at dawn on 17 July 2019. The singer had served 5 years for lèse majesté.

Tom Dundee (middle) Source: facebook/Banrasdr Photo

After the military coup in May 2014, Tom Dundee was arrested on 9 July 2014 for not reporting to the NCPO. He was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in jail on two charges under Article 112 of the Criminal code, the lèse majesté law.

He received a royal pardon on the occasion of the coronation of King Vajiralongkorn, with his sentence reduced to 5 years.

4 cases had originally been filed against him under Article 112, but two cases were dismissed. The dismissal was unusual because he had confessed. The court reasoned that since he was not found guilty, his confession was invalid.

Two cases for which he was imprisoned were based on two speeches he gave on a red-shirt protest stage which were posted on YouTube between 2013-2014, but the cases went through different procedures. One was prosecuted in a civilian court, while the other went to a military court under an NCPO Order that crimes relating to national security which occurred after the coup must be heard by a military court. The difference was quite arbitrary as the dates of the crimes were based on when the authorities became aware of them.

The first case was based on a speech he gave on 6 November 2013, posted online the same day. The authorities claimed to have found the video clip on 22 June 2017, a month after the coup, so the case went before a military court. The second case was based on a speech given on 13 November 2013 and posted online the same day. This was discovered by the authorities on 26 April 2013, so the case went before a civilian court.

The NCPO Order on national security cases was cancelled once the cabinet was sworn in on 16 July 2019.

Born in a poor family, Tom Dundee made his way to study in France for 6 years and came back to Thailand as a popular artist. He joined the red-shirt movement in 2010 when many protesters were killed. The political violence drove him to give speeches in different provinces until he was imprisoned for violating the lèse majesté law.

In an interview last year, he said he had composed more than 3,000 songs in prison to kill time, sometimes composing 4-5 songs a day based on his experiences in prison and the stories which other prisoners told him. He wrote the songs in letters and sent them out, but they were intercepted by the prison’s screening process. So far, we have been unable to reach anyone to learn what happened to them.

After his release, Tom Dundee said he was thankful for the support and democracy needs everyone to fight for it.

“Thanks to the media, thanks to the prison, thanks to all the people involved and friends who came to encourage me and made the effort to get up early. Thanks to everything in the past, thanks to the obstacles, problems, and thanks to suffering, because I believe that happiness comes from suffering. If there is no suffering, you cannot find happiness. Thanks to everybody who has fought alongside me.”

“If a beach has only one grain of sand, it cannot be called a beach, because a beach must be full of grains of sand. Democracy must be created from the people, mustn’t it? Democracy cannot come from only one person. All the people in the country must be democrats. Just as beach must have many grains of sand, democracy, too, needs the people.”

“I am many years in prison. Oh my dear, my heart almost breaks. I miss my little baby I used to hug. I miss its mother so much,” sang Tom Dundee on his release until he cried so much he could not sing.

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Political reform ha bloody ha

Saturday July 20, 2019

The recent unexpected death of former Prime Minister Gen Prem Tinsulanonda – What?  Yes I know he was 98 but I would have put folding money on him reaching his century, wouldn’t you? As I was saying, the death of Gen Prem has had us reviewing the 1980s when he presided over a series of fractious coalitions in a system of semi-democracy or semi-dictatorship, take your pick.

And it’s déjà vu all over again.

A retired head of the army takes the top job without wasting time and effort on getting elected and plays off self-serving factions of old-style ‘influential person’ politicians, by dangling in front of their venal noses cabinet posts ranked strictly according to the potential for rake-offs.

Prem was good at it. Never bothered with belonging to a party himself. He just kept shuffling the coalition around to keep them in something like decent order and when the squabbling got too much, he called an election on them. It cost him nothing because he never ran. And after the election, there was no way any of the party leaders would be trusted by the others to serve as PM, so a delegation went cap in hand to Si Sao Theves. ‘Pa Prem please come back’.

So has all that ‘Reform before Election’ rhetoric come to this? Has Thai politics not moved on since 1980?

In some respects, it has. Thaksin has to be credited with introducing the novel idea of campaigning on a set of policies attractive to the electorate and the even more unprecedented idea of actually implementing them once he was in power. 

So all parties in the last election felt obliged to produce a wish list, from the predictable ‘increase the minimum wage’ to the more innovative ‘Grab weed’, though it seems that now they’re in power, well, we have to accommodate other parties’ policies and the economic situation doesn’t leave us much room for manoeuvre and excuse after excuse.

But in other respects, no, Thai politics is still stuck in the 80’s.  Look at the current cabinet line-up and count the ex-Pheu Thai and ex-Thai Rak Thai people.  The coup was supposed to eradicate the ‘Thaksin system’, not re-brand it.  And then count the out-and-out criminals among them.  How did this happen?

It’s because every major political player since Prem, including Thaksin, has been working from the same playbook – if you want votes, plug into the patron-client system. 

Now this concept, found pretty much all over SE Asia (well, outside the globalized urban elites), seems not to be understood by outsiders, judging by the ill-informed comments you keep hearing.  ‘If someone offers to buy your vote, then why doesn’t the Thai voter just take the money and then vote for the candidate they like?’ 

Because buying votes isn’t a simple capitalist transaction like buying your groceries from Big C.  It is embedded in a much more elaborate network of obligations and favours.  It’s to do with who turns up at grandma’s funeral with a welcome envelope, and who makes sure dad’s gang gets the job of repainting the school next term break, and who gets the son and heir off with a warning when 3 up, underage, pissed, and on a motorbike with no lights, he runs over someone’s chicken. 

A payment at election time is not the price of a vote; it is a mutual exchange of benefits, resulting from and contributing to a richer, more comprehensive relationship.

Prayut (or more accurately the brains behind him) has been assiduously courting selected peak players in the patronage pyramids around the country.  These patrons in turn have their clients, who have their clients and down and down until you come to the last level of fixer, known as the hua khanaen.

Now here the gullible non-Thai might be forgiven for misunderstanding because the language becomes seriously misleading.  The local media call these people ‘canvassers’.  Cue images of selfless souls with leaflets and rehearsed lines of patter knocking on strangers’ doors. 

Nothing like it. The hua khanaen and the voters know each other.  The hua khanaen may have an official and otherwise benevolent status in the community, like teacher or monk, or maybe the other way - a moneylender, for example.  Patronage systems come in all shades of morality, hence the criminals in the cabinet.

Like them or not, every elected government for generations has been the work of hua khanaen.  So much so that many observers don’t see vote-buying as the real impediment to democracy in Thailand as much as the patronage system itself. 

But maybe not for long. There is reform, real reform, happening.  Maybe even a revolution.

Future Forward claim not to have used hua khanaen in the last election. Nor did they do that much by way of posters and leaflets. They invested heavily in social media and a theory of political change grounded in Gramsci.  And they won big. 

And when one constituency in Chiang Mai had to re-run the vote because the Election Commission threw a fit over the gift of a clock to a monk, they won even bigger, not just increasing their own vote many times, but actually taking away votes from parties like Prayut’s Palang Pracharat with their hua khanaen. And this was not an urban constituency with Facebook-addicted millennial new voters in every Starbucks.

Now when your policy platform includes trimming the military budget and scrapping conscription and challenging the impunity of the judiciary, you can expect the people who have been misgoverning this country for the past 5 years to get a bit sniffy.  But the Trump-sized onslaught of vitriol and harassment that has been directed against Future Forward has been way out of proportion.

Not so much because of their anti-privilege policies, perhaps, but because they have proved that electoral politics does not have to be dependent on the patron-client system. And when you’ve invested billions in precisely that system and your name is a general beginning with P, you’re going to have to do everything you can to stop them. 

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Vietnam denies having information on missing activists’ fate

Thursday July 18, 2019

Two months after the disappearance of three Thai political refugees in Vietnam, the Vietnamese authorities have denied having any information on what happened to the group.

Left: Siam Theerawut
Right: Surachai Danwattananusorn

The sister (name withheld) of Siam Theerawut, who went missing along with two other refugees, Chucheep “Uncle Sanam Luang” Chiwasut and Kritsana Tupthai, said that the Thai Embassy in Hanoi has informed them through the Director of the Protection of Thai Nationals Abroad Division that the Embassy has requested information about Siam from the relevant Vietnamese agencies. The Vietnamese authorities said that they have no information on Siam and the other two refugees’ entry into Vietnam or what happened to them.

Siam, Chucheep, and Kritsana went missing in early May 2019. They were reportedly arrested and extradited to Bangkok. Siam’s family subsequently began a search for information on his fate. Within the first two weeks after the three refugees’ alleged arrest and extradition, Siam’s mother, Kanya Theerawut, filed appeals for information with the Crime Suppression Division and the Vietnamese Embassy. She also filed a request with the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the disappearance. Her search has so far proved fruitless.

Siam’s sister also said that an official from the Ministry of Justice came to see her last Friday (12 July) to ask whether there was any additional information other than YouTube videos that could prove that Siam was in Vietnam. She informed the officer that there are conversations with her brother on the chat application Line, but she has deleted the conversations. The officer then proposed to ask his superior whether it will be possible to recover the data. Other than that, Siam’s sister said that there is no progress.

No progress has been made either in the case of Surachai Danwattananusorn, or Surachai Sae Dan, who went missing along with two of his companions, Chatchan “Phuchana” Bubphawan and Kraidet “Kasalong” Luelerd, in December 2018.

Pranee Danwattananusorn, Surachai’s wife, said that there has been no progress in the investigation into her husband’s disappearance. Pol Lt Col Suksawat Bua-in, Deputy Superintendent of Tha Uthen District Police Station, said that they are now in the process of finalizing the case to be forwarded to the Nakhon Phanom Provincial Police and to report to the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, Ministry of Justice. Pol Lt Col Suksawat said that this is not considered a criminal case but a disappearance. They have to investigate whether Surachai was the body found in Tha Uthen, or whether the Tha Uthen body is the same body found in Nakhon Phanom city.

As for Phuchana, whose mutilated body was found along with that of Kasalong in the Mekhong River in January 2019, the investigation has been suspended until new evidence can be found that can lead to the identity of the perpetrator. The investigators previously forwarded the case to the Attorney-General, but the Attorney-General sent the case back to the investigators, since there is no solid evidence that the murder took place overseas, placing it within Thai jurisdiction. The police also got no response from the Lao authorities, so there is nothing they can do but to collect evidence and witness testimony available on Thai soil.

Following the 2014 military coup, many anti-junta activists fled overseas. Prior to the disappearance of Surachai, Phuchana, and Kasalong, two other refugees also went missing: Ittipon “DJ Sunho” Sukpaen, who disappeared in 2016, and Wuttipong “Ko-Tee” Kotthammakhun, who disappeared in 2017.

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Police officers keep up surveillance of activists despite junta’s dissolution

Thursday July 18, 2019

Even though the NCPO was formally dissolved once the new cabinet took the oath of office before King Vajiralongkorn on Tuesday (16 July), several activists have reported being visited at home by police officers.

Sa-nguan Khumrungroj's Facebook post with photos of the officers who visited him

Most of the activists visited by the police were part of the People Calling for Election group, who staged several demonstrations during the first half of this year after the general election was postponed from the previously scheduled date in February, or were among the guests at the cremation ceremony of Thong Jamsri, the last Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Thailand, on 14 July.

The activists were visited by both plainclothes and uniformed officers, who came in groups of two to ten people. The reported reasons for the visits range from safety concerns to confirming whether the visited person’s current address still matches police records. Some were also questioned about their attendance at Thong Jamsri’s funeral.

Senior reporter Sa-nguan Khumrongroj told UDD News that yesterday (15 July), plainclothes officers visited the home of his elderly parents, causing concerns for his mother, who does not know a lot about politics. An officer also visited his home later, claiming to be from Nakhon Pathom, but when he asked to see the officer’s police ID, it showed that he is from Metropolitan Police Division 8.

“The officer claimed that his superior had ordered him to come, so I asked him if his superior ordered him to die, would he go? I asked him if he has ever read my Facebook page. He said he has never read it. I wonder if these people read books at all. I feel very angry. He came to my house, and then he photographed my neighbours, so I shouted for the people to come and catch the policeman. ‘Catch this policeman quickly’. Then, he rushed away. He said, goodbye Nguan, I have to run now, because I have to visit many other people in Thonburi,” Sa-nguan said.

Sa-nguan speculated that the police visited him and other activists because they went to Thong Jamsri’s cremation ceremony, which was attended by many activists, including Sirawith “Ja New” Serithiwat, who read a eulogy for Thong and a poem.

Baramee Chairat, an advisor to the Assembly of the Poor, was also visited by an officer from Metropolitan Police Division 8. Baramee also attended Thong’s funeral.

Nutta Mahattana, one of the leaders of the People Calling for Election group, said that almost every member of the group has been visited by the police. She proposed that the police chief should invite all the activists at once to save the country’s resources, and so that the police will have time to find and detain the people who are attacking activists.

Previously, on 8 July, several academics and activists were visited by police officers, who claimed that the police wanted to check whether their current address still matches police records. However, one of those visited asked the security guards in front of the housing development why they had let the police in. The guards said that the men did not say they were from the police, but said that they were visiting relatives.

Among those visited by the police on 8 July were Anusorn Unno, Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology at Thammasat University and anti-coup activist Prajin Thanangkorn.

Anusorn said that 5 plainclothes officers visited his home, claiming that they had been ordered to check whether Anusorn still lives at the address and whether the information matches police records, before leaving abruptly after gaining information.

Meanwhile, Prajin said that 5 plainclothes officers came to his house on 8 July, but he was not home at the time. His relative was at home and photographed the officers, but was threatened by the officers for taking the picture. Prajin said that his relative was not sure whether the officers were joking, but called him in alarm. The officers asked Prajin what he does for a living and where he lives. Prajin informed them that he is 65 years old and is not working, and that he lives at the address the police visited. He gave the officers his phone number and told them to call him before visiting next time so he can wait for them.

As the new cabinet took the oath of office before King Vajiralongkorn on Tuesday evening (15 July), the NCPO ceased to exist according to a transitory provision in Section 265 of the Constitution. This means that it is no longer possible to issue new orders under Section 44. However, according to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the power to detain people without warrants will continue to rest with the counter-insurgency agency operating under the Prime Minister’s Office.

Wissanu claimed that this power won’t be invoked, but he said that the practice of “attitude adjustment” will continue. 

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Former CPT leader Thong Jamsri dies aged 98

Wednesday July 17, 2019

The funeral ceremony for Thong Jamsri, the 4th Secretary-General of the Communist Party, was held on 14 July 2019 at Phra Pratone Chedi Temple, Nakhon Pathom Province. Following Buddhist tradition, the ceremony started with a lunch offering to monks and a requiem ceremony. In the afternoon, the ceremony continued with a commemoration, wreath laying, singing, poetry reading and music performances before funeral robes were offered. The funeral pyre was lit at 4 pm.

Thong Jamsri's Funeral
Source: Kotcharak Kaewsurach

A donation box was placed at the funeral with a registration table to order a 300-page autobiography of Thong Jamsri. Former members and supporters of the Communist Party of Thailand from all over the country attended the funeral. Sirawith ‘Ja New’ Serithiwat, the political activist who was recently assaulted, also attended the funeral to read a poem with his eye still covered in bandages.

Wreaths were sent from Persatuan Rakyat Malaysia Sarawak, Jaran Ditapichai, the political activist in exile, Sopol Chingchit (Comrade Pithan), Secretary-General of the National Human Rights Commission, Thida Thavornseth, Weng Tojirakarn and others. A representative of the Communist Party of Malaya also brought a wreath from Abdullah CD to express their condolences.

Thong Jamsri's Funeral
Source: Kotcharak Kaewsurach

Born in Phichit Province on 17 December, Thong was the son of overseas Vietnamese. His father was Sao Jamsri (Võ Tùng in Vietnamese) and his mother was Yor Jamsri (Đặng Quỳnh Ạnh in Vietnamese). Thong’s mother was a granddaughter of Đặng Thúc Hứa, a Vietnamese who came to the northeastern part of Thailand in 1910 to mobilize the Vietnamese to liberate their country from France.   

Đặng Thúc Hứa started organizing the Vietnamese in northeast Thailand in 1923 during the reign of King Rama VI. Villages were established to link with the revolutionary movement in Vietnam. Đặng Thúc Hứa and Võ Tùng, Thong’s father, established a Vietnamese community and a school in Nong Bua Village, Udon Thani Province in 1924 to spread Marxism to young people. Thong grew up there and soon became a revolutionary.

Thong Jamsri's Funeral
Source: Kotcharak Kaewsurach

According to research by Nitirat Supsomboon, Thong Jamsri also studied at Sakonrajwitayanukul School, Sakon Nakhon Province, and Udonpittayanukoon School, Udon Thani Province, and then went to Bangkok to study Chinese at Hua Chiew School - a school also established by communist comrades. He was arrested for being a communist in 1936 and became a member of the Communist Party of Siam in 1938.

Thong became the editor of the first underground newspaper ‘Mahachon’ (the public) in March 1942. He was soon elected to the First Central Committee at a meeting of representatives of the Communist Party of Thailand in December. He started helping workers in the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly in 1944 and pioneered work with northeastern farmers before he went to fight as a guerrilla in Lao between 1949-1951.   

At the 2nd party assembly in 1952, he was elected as member of the politburo and studied at the Marxist-Leninist Institute in Beijing between 1952-1957. At the 3rd assembly, he was elected as a member of the Central Committee and politburo. He pioneered working in Dong Prachao, Sakhon Nakhon Province, and was arrested in 1967. Elected as a permanent politburo member at the 3rd party assembly in 1972, he remained in jail until 1973.

He went on to operate a secret base in the jungle of Nan Province in 1974 and was elected as Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) in 1982. He left the jungle in 1993, 13 years after Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda issued Order 66/2523 which offered amnesty to the communist rebels. Despite the defeat of the CPT, he remained committed to Marxism until the very end. "In the age of globalization, there is only change in technology; the class conflict remains high," said Thong in an interview after the Cold War. He died at the age of 98 at Nakhon Pathom Hospital, due to a respiratory infection.

Thong Jamsri's Funeral
Source: Kotcharak Kaewsurach

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Students denied right to dress according to gender identity; petition National Human Rights Commission

Wednesday July 17, 2019

Two students from the Faculty of Pharmacy, Payap University, have filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) after the Faculty denied them the right to dress according to their gender identity.

The two students were represented at the NHRC Office by LGBT activist Sirisak Chaited, and their petition was submitted on Monday (15 July), at the same meeting in which Sirisak submitted a petition on access to hormone therapy for transgender inmates. Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit accepted their petition.

The two students are Pattarawadee (last name withheld), a transman, Sitthichai (last name withheld), a transwoman, and are both in their first year at the Faculty of Pharmacy, Payap University. Sirisak, who has been assisting the two students with their case, said that both Pattarawadee and Sitthichai have been aware of their gender identity since a young age, and that their families, lecturers, and classmates are all aware that they are transgender and that Pattarawadee and Sitthichai always present themselves as a man and a woman, respectively. According to Sirisak, Pattarawadee took leave of absence in 2016 to start his transition, before coming back to the university earlier this year.

When Pattarawadee and Sitthichai started studying at the university, they both filed a request with the university to dress according to their gender identity, and were told by a lecturer to wear what they want while waiting for the formal permission. However, on 21 June 2019, the Faculty informed the two students after a deans’ meeting that they are not allowed to dress according to their identity and must dress according to the sex they were assigned at birth, claiming that presenting as transgender is not appropriate in their discipline.

According to Sirisak, the Faculty of Pharmacy is the only faculty at the Payap University to deny transgender students their right to dress according to their gender identity, often citing professional ethics as their reason for such prohibition.

Sirisak said that the two students have made another request to the university, but whenever they ask about the progress of the request, the university keeps saying that they are still considering it. Sirisak hopes that, by submitting a complaint with the NHRC, the university will be pressured into speeding up the process of considering the students’ request. The students followed the faculty’s orders, and they have stopped presenting according to their gender identity while at university, but Sirisak said that they are both unhappy.

The students will also be submitting a complaint with the Committee on Consideration of Unfair Gender Discrimination, but Sirisak said that since the Committee often takes a long time to process a case, they are hoping that representatives from the NHRC will visit the University and discuss the matter with the administration to convince them to grant the two students permission while they work on pushing for permanent changes to university policy. Sirisak said that several years ago, a student at Chiang Mai University petitioned the NHRC in a similar case. Representatives from the NHRC visited the University and discussed the case with the administration, who subsequently granted the student permission to dress according to their gender identity.

The representatives of LGBT activists and civil society organizations at the petition submission, with Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit
From left: Puncharat Taloet, Noppanai Rittiwong, Sirisak Chaited, Angkhana Neelapaijit, and Supaporn Ittiponsiri

At most universities across Thailand, transgender students often face obstacles presenting as the gender they identify as. In most cases, the university does not have a written rule on transgender students’ uniforms, often specifying only the requirements for “male” and “female” uniforms. In certain disciplines, such as education or medical sciences, transgender students are often completely barred from expressing their identity, while the authorities cite professional ethics as the reason for denying their rights. In January this year, a student from the Faculty of Education of Chulalongkorn University submitted a complaint with the Committee on Consideration of Unfair Gender Discrimination, after the Faculty Board of Administrators overturned her request to wear the university uniform for female students, ordering her to dress as a male or face extreme penalties. She also filed a complaint against a special instructor who is known among students for being openly transphobic, whose negative comments she has had to endure. Her case is now being considered by the Committee.

At other, more permissive, institutions, students may be allowed to dress according to their identity on a day-to-day basis, but must make a formal request to do so on their graduation day, a lengthy process requiring a large amount of paperwork. At the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, for example, the Faculty has no issue with what a transgender student wears on a day-to-day basis, but requires the submission of a formal request accompanied by a medical certificate which says that the student has a “gender identity disorder” if a he or she wishes to dress according to their identity on their graduation day. This is despite the fact that being transgender is no longer classified as a disorder in the World Health Organization’s 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD11).

Outside schools and universities, Thailand’s LGBT community still faces daily cases of discrimination. In April 2019, Worawalun Taweekarn, a graduate of the Faculty of Education, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, revealed that she had been denied teaching positions for two years because she is transgender. Last Thursday (11 July), a group of LGBT activists filed a petition with the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission over several media outlets’ use of the offensive term “sexually deviant” in news headlines, a term which they said reinforces stereotypes and increases hatred against the LGBT community.

While the country promotes itself as a gay paradise, it offers no protection for its LGBT population. Discussions of sex and sexuality are still taboo and there is limited sex education in school. LGBT people live under strong pressure not to bring shame on their family. And other than the Gender Equality Act of 2015, there is little legal support for the LGBT community. Thailand also has no gender recognition law, which would allow a transgender person to legally change their title on identity papers, and the proposed draft Civil Partnership Act has already fallen through. Nevertheless, the community hopes that the presence of newly-elected LGBT MPs, such as Nateepat Kulsetthasith, Kawinnath Takey, Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, and Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, and the fact that they were allowed to dress according to their gender identity at the opening of parliament, could be a good sign for LGBT rights in Thailand.

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‘New’ cabinet announced, junta faces challenges from all sides

Tuesday July 16, 2019

In the presence of King Vajiralongkorn, the new cabinet is to be sworn in today (16 July 2019) at 6 pm. Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister of Thailand, is facing challenges from all sides, including the general public, internal problems, civil society and the opposition parties.

Prayut Chan-o-cha
Source: The government's website

Challenges from the general public 

After Thai people have had to wait 108 days since the general election, King Vajiralongkorn announced the new cabinet in the Royal Gazette on 10 July 2019. Important figures of the last government remain in this cabinet as expected, including Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Wissanu Krea-ngam, Gen Anupong Paochinda, Somkid Jatusripitak, Don Pramudwinai, and Gen Chaicharn Changmongkol. Meanwhile, 13 ministers come from the Phalang Pracharat Party, 7 from the Democrats, 7 from Bhumjaithai, 2 from Chart Thai Pattana, and 1 each from Action Coalition for Thailand and Chart Pattana.

The new cabinet is facing challenges from all sides. Following the mass protests of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) to overthrow the corrupt ‘Thaksin Regime’, two PDRC leaders have become ministers, Buddhipongse Punnakanta and Nataphol Teepsuwan. But at least 5 ministers have served in a Thaksin cabinet, including Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Somkid Jatusripitak, Anutin Charnvirakul, Suriya Juangroongruangkit, and Somsak Thepsuthin. To the general public, the new cabinet is not so new and not good-looking.

What is unexpected is that one minister has been named as a former drug dealer. Capt Thammanat Prompao, one of the Deputy Ministers of Agriculture and Cooperatives, has been jailed in Australia for drug trafficking in Hong Kong, but he said he was innocent and asked people to give him a chance. Graduating in the 25th class of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School and the 36th class of Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, he changed his name many times and was acquitted by the Court in 1998 of involvement in the murder of Dr. Poonsawas Jiraporn.

To allay concern that his criminal profile might disqualify him as an MP under Section 98 of the Constitution, Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krea-ngam said he was not sentenced under Thai jurisdiction. “In the past, there was once an MP who was sentenced abroad for drug trafficking in Hong Kong. That has no effect as far as Thailand is concerned, but it might affect his reputation, honour, and many other things. It might constitute a ban in other ways, but this accusation cannot be applied directly. Even though the accusation is consistent [with the clause], a Thai Court did not judge him.”

The internal challenges

The new cabinet also faces internal problems. Since the constitution does not require a minister to be an MP, Kalaya Sophonpanich, Deputy Minister of Education, and Juti Krairiksh, Minister of Social Development and Human Security, said they will resign as party-list MPs of the Democrat Party so that next ones on the party list (Pisit Leeahtam and Issara Sereewatthanawut) can become MPs. While there is still a conflict within the party as to whether Issara Sereewatthanawut can be both an MP and Secretary to the Speaker of Parliament as invited by Chuan Leekpai, it is settled that Jurin Laksanawisit will serve as Deputy Minister, Minister of Commerce, and also an MP, because he is the party leader.

The same dynamic is also strongly at work in the Phalang Pracharat Party. A discussion started in the middle of June with a committee being set up to study whether their ministers should resign as party-list MPs. Last Tuesday (9 July 2019), Phalang Pracharat was reportedly holding an internal meeting, but the conclusion has yet to be announced. Because of their very thin majority, there is a concern that a busy minister who misses a parliamentary meeting to vote as an MP could have a decisive effect on legislation. But unlike the Democrat Party, Phalang Pracharat consists of many factions which do not yet trust each other. Before the announcement of the cabinet line-up, Suriya Juangroongruangkit of the Three Allies Faction criticized Phalang Pracharat leaders as untrustworthy and pressured Sonthirat Sonthijirawong to resign as party Secretary-General due to a rumour that Suriya might be pushed out of a seat in the cabinet by Sonthirat. If the leaders of a faction resign as party-list MPs but remain as ministers, a cabinet reshuffle would deal them a major blow and risk factional warfare inside the government.  

Challenges from Civil Society and Opposition Parties

Once the cabinet oath-taking ceremony is completed, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha will no longer be the head of National Council for Peace and Order or able to use Section 44. He gave a farewell speech on TV as head of the NCPO yesterday (15 July 2019) and earlier cancelled 66 NCPO orders and announcements using Section 44. However, 144 remain in place, according to Human Rights Watch and iLaw. Civil society has demanded that the NCPO cancel 20 more of these, including one which allows military authorities to detain civilians arbitrarily and one which exempts certain projects from town planning laws, leading to severe violations of community rights and environmental damage.

“We still cannot be glad,” said Sunai Phasuk, Advisor of Human Rights Watch to BBC Thai, “because there are many orders and announcements that are still enforced and those in opposition to the government may be persecuted by using the authority of these orders. Calling people in to report may still happen and people who violate the NCPO’s orders which are still enforced will be prosecuted.” Answering why these orders are still in place, Sunai said “The second Prayut cabinet is afraid there will be resistance.”

Surachai Trong-gnam, Secretary-General of the Enlawthai Foundation also raised concerns with BBC Thai that the NCPO’s problems are more than their orders and announcements and that the revocations have not reversed the problematic policies the junta carried out in the past.

“It may be good that some orders are cancelled, such as not bringing people before the military courts,” said Surachai. “But if we talk about orders and announcements which relate to the environment and community rights, I think whether they are cancelled or not has almost no impact on the communities, because the order has created the impact already. Large numbers of villagers have recently been prosecuted and sentenced to prison, and the problems that come from implementing the forest management policies set by the NCPO will still continue.”

“The problems are not only about the orders and announcements of the NCPO, but there are still problems with the many policies and laws passed under the NCPO government and even the Constitution. For example, Section 51 of the Constitution makes the procedure for filing a complaint with regard to the environment into a complicated procedure and it has to pass through many departments before it can go to court. So we quite agree with the proposal to amend the constitution and eliminate the legacy of the NCPO by establishing a committee to review all policies and laws which have come about during the NCPO government.”    

Meanwhile, Prayut has announced a draft proposal of government policies and parliament will debate it for 3 days between 25-27 July. Asked if he is willing to amend the Constitution, he said there is still nothing in the proposal but we will know the answer soon. He himself is willing to change any problematic laws but it has to be according to procedure. One can interpret his message as meaning that constitutional amendments will be difficult because they require votes from the unelected Senate.

Prayut also said the government has no conflict with anybody because today this is the government of the country. However, the 7 opposition parties are quite well prepared to fight. Last weekend, the Pheu Thai Party changed its executive committee with Sompong Amornwiwat as the party leader and Sudarat Keyuraphan as the chair of the Party's strategy committee to work as opposition. Chaowalit Wichayasut, the deputy leader of Pheu Thai Party and opposition whip, said a 3-day debate is appropriate timeframe.

The debate will be based on the question of whether the policies are consistent with what was promised during the election campaign and may also pave the way for a motion of no-confidence later on. However, Gen Prayut said the debate should not be treated like a no-confidence motion and that the opposition should take this fact into consideration before criticizing him. It is true that the junta government can still continue and function minimally despite a successful no-confidence motion because of the technicalities in the Constitution, but we still have to wait and see how the government will respond to all these challenges.

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LGBT activists petition National Human Rights Commission over transgender inmates’ access to hormones

Tuesday July 16, 2019

Yesterday (15 July), representatives of LGBT activists and civil society organizations submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) over the lack of access to hormonal medications for transgender inmates in Thai prisons.

From left: Puncharat Taloet, Noppanai Rittiwong, Sirisak Chaited, Angkhana Neelapaijit, and Supaporn Ittiponsiri

Sirisak Chaited, an independent LGBT activist, along with representatives from civil society organizations, went to the NHRC Office this morning to submit their petition, which was accepted by Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit.

Sirisak said that transgender inmates are unable to access certain basic medical services, such as hormone replacement therapy, while serving prison sentences. Since a transgender person will always require hormone supplements, the lack of access to treatment while in prison has a significant effect on their health. Moreover, since prison regulations place higher importance on the sex one is assigned at birth, hormone and birth control medications are seen as unnecessary for inmates who were assigned male at birth and so were not allowed.  

According to UNDP, there were approximately 4000 transgender inmates in Thai prisons in 2018. Noppanai Rittiwong from the Service Workers in Group Foundation (SWING), who was among the representatives submitting the petition, said that at the Pattaya Remand Prison, where SWING has been working with transgender inmates, transwomen who have already been through gender affirmation surgery will be held in the women’s prison, while transwomen who have not had surgery are still held in the men’s prison, despite some having already undergone top surgery. However, they are segregated in a different area within the men’s prison, a condition which Noppanai referred to as “double imprisonment.” The arrangement is similar at Chiang Mai Prison, where, according to Sirisak, transwomen are still held in the men’s prison but in a segregated area, and are assigned different bathing times from other inmates so that they don’t have to shower together with men. 

Noppanai explained that hormone medications are viewed as being about appearance and beauty, so they are not allowed inside prisons. However, that is not the case. Hormone therapy is crucial for a transgender person’s well-being. Even those who have not undergone gender affirmation surgery still require hormones to adjust their physical condition.

Moreover, prison personnel lack an understanding of LGBT issues, which has a negative effect on transgender inmates in many ways, such as in terms of safety, living conditions, personal development, and health. Sirisak also said that some officials take advantage of transgender inmates’ need to access hormone therapy, by offering to buy them the medications at a significantly higher price than the medication’s real cost.

Sirisak Chaited (right) speaking to Angkhana Neelapaijit (left) at the petition submission

The petition to the NHRC calls for transgender inmates to be given access to hormone therapy and reproductive health services, and for inmates to be allowed to take part in the process of finding solutions to the issues of violence and health in prison. The petition also asks that prison personnel receive training in order to create an understanding of human rights and LGBT issues, and for every inmate to be treated according to the principles of human rights.

Sirisak said that the lack of a gender recognition law in Thailand is part of the problem. The focus on sex as assigned at birth means that there is an attachment to the male-female binarity, causing issues such as prison inmates not being allowed to access hormone therapy because it is seen as unnecessary for a person who was assigned male at birth. Sirisak said that if they can push for change on such an issue, then questions could be raised about gender recognition and why Thailand needs a gender recognition law.

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LGBT activists petition National Broadcasting Commission over media’s offensive language

Saturday July 13, 2019

A representative of the Foundation of Transgender Alliance for Human Rights (Thai TGA), along with other independent LGBT activists, has submitted an open letter to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) in response to the recent use by several media outlets of the term “sexually deviant” in news headlines.

From left: Sirisak Chaited, Jetsada Taesombat, Ramida Jarintippitak, along with two other Thai TGA representatives and an NBTC official

After it was reported on 30 June that a male teacher had been accused of sexually assaulting a male student, the Loei Provincial Education Committee issued a letter instructing 475 schools in the province to “closely inspect teachers with sexually deviant behaviour.” The story was subsequently reported by several media outlets, such as in News1 and PPTV, using the term “sexually deviant” in the headline and content. On Thursday (11 July), a group of LGBT activists, led by a representative of the Thai TGA, submitted an open letter to the NBTC, saying that such reporting violates basic ethical principles and organization guidelines for the accuracy and standardization of broadcasting and telecommunication professionals, since it violates the principles of human rights and of hate-free communication.

The letter then calls for the NBTC to carry out an investigation and establish guidelines for collaboration between media regulatory organizations, media agencies, and media consumers, in order to find a lasting solution.

Jetsada Taesombat giving an interview to ThaiPBS

Jetsada Taesombat, Executive Director of the Thai TGA, who represented the Foundation in submitting the letter, said that their intention is not to have anyone punished, but to create a space in which everyone can learn together. Alongside the open letter and a statement from the Thai TGA and 54 other civil society organizations, the group also submitted the draft of a media handbook for reporting on LGBT issues, which is being developed by the signatories and is funded by the Thai Media Fund.

The media handbook for reporting on LGBT issues

The handbook contains a glossary of appropriate terms to use when reporting on LGBT issues, along with terms which are considered offensive. According to this handbook, the term “sexual deviation” (“เบี่ยงเบนทางเพศ”) is considered offensive, since it presents being LGBT as abnormal. The civil society organizations’ statement also says that the use of this term also goes against international principles, as homosexuality and transgender are both no longer classified as disorders in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD11). Such usage can also be considered discriminatory under the 2015 Gender Equality Act, reinforcing stereotypes and contributing to hatred towards the LGBT community.

The group then went to the National Press Council of Thailand to hand a similar open letter with regard to Banmuang newspaper’s use of the same term, which violates the Press Council guidelines on reporting about the LGBT community. The guidelines prohibit the use of generalizing or dehumanizing terms, or the use of stigmatizing language or language which reproduces stereotypes that may lead to discrimination. Jetsada said that they will also be handing a letter directly to the media agencies involved, and to the Ministry of Education.

Sirisak Chaited (left) and Jetsada speaking to Ramida Jarintippitak at the NBTC Office

This is not the first time that such a complaint has been made against a Thai media agency. Sirisak Chaited, an LGBT activist who was also at the meeting at the NBTC, said that he had previously filed a complaint with the Committee on Consideration of Unfair Gender Discrimination against the online news site Tnews. A report on a physical assault at a hospital in Ubon Ratchathani had the headline “Kratoei invades hospital room, kicks patient left in pool of blood” (“กระเทยบุกห้องผู้ป่วยกระทืบจมกองเลือด”). However, the transwoman who was present at the scene was only filming a video clip and not directly involved in the assault. Sirisak’s complaint claims that the headline not only deviates from the facts but also contributes to stereotyping and to the perception of transgender people as violent. After Sirisak’s complaint, TNews publicly apologized and removed the article from their website and issued guidelines for their reporters on how to appropriately report on LGBT issues.

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