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  • PPRP MP appointed to anti-corruption committee despite land scandal

    Palang Pracharat (PPRP) MP Pareena Kraikupt has been formally appointed to the Standing Committee on Corruption and Misconduct despite being accused of encroaching on a national forest reserve area, prompting criticism from the Thai public.

    Pareena Kraikupt

    Yesterday (16 January), an announcement appeared on the Royal Gazette website stating that PPRP MPs Pareena Kraikupt and Sira Jenjakha have been appointed to the Parliament Standing Committee on Corruption and Misconduct in place of two other MPs who resigned from the committee.

    The decision to appoint the two MPs was made at a House of Representatives meeting on 6 November 2019 after two former members of the Committee, Thanasit Kowsurat and Payom Phrompetch, resigned.

    Pareena has been accused of encroaching on about 1700 rai of national park land in Ratchaburi, where she operates a poultry farm. The issue came to light in August 2019 when she declared net assets of 140 million baht, which included a total of 1706 rai of land and 110 million baht of her annual income which came from her Khao Son poultry farms.

    Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a former member of the now-dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party then petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate whether she had trespassed on forest reserve land. Subsequent surveys showed that 682 rai of her land had been declared reform land by the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) and 46 rai was forest reserve land. As for the remaining 1000 rai, her father claimed the family never had that much land, and she later asked the NACC for permission to change her asset declaration to exclude the 1000 rai, claiming there was a misunderstanding.

    In December 2019, Pareena returned the 682 rai of land to ALRO to be used for agricultural reform purposes. According to Capt Thammanat Prompow, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, who is at the centre of a scandal himself after an Australian news outlet reported that he once did jail time in Australia for drug trafficking, no criminal action will be taken against Pareena since her family owned the land before its ALRO designation and that she has already shown “good faith” by pledging to return it.

    The Royal Forest Department (RFD) has also filed a legal complaint against Pareena for encroaching on 46 rai of protected forest land. The penalties for encroaching on forest land is 4-20 years in prison for plots over 25 rai and 1-10 years for smaller ones.

    The Thai public has raised questions whether there were double standards in the authorities’ handling of the accusations against Pareena and whether legal action will be taken against the rich and the powerful. Her appointment to the Standing Committee prompted even more criticisms from the Thai public, many of whom took to the internet to express their opinion and asking how a “corrupt” MP is appointed to the Standing Committee on Corruption.

    17 January 2020
    8332 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • ‘Run Against Dictatorship’ organizer summoned on Public Assembly Act charge

    Tanawat Wongchai, one of the organisers of the “Run Against Dictatorship” in Bangkok, has been summoned by Bang Sue Police Station for organizing a public assembly without notifying the police according to the Public Assembly Act.

    Tanawat Wongchai

    Tanawat posted on his Facebook page yesterday (16 January 2020) that the summons required that he report to the police station at 13:00 on Monday (20 January 2020). He insisted that a race is exempted from the Public Assembly Act and that this is a case of harassment of the political opposition.

    The Public Assembly Act states that organizers of a political demonstration must notify the authorities no less than 24 hours before the event takes place. However, Article 3, Clause 3 of the Act states that it does not apply to an assembly held for sports or for entertainment. 

    However, Tanawat told Prachatai that the summons does not make him concerned about the next race, which is scheduled to take place on 2 February 2020, and that his team is not afraid, their only concern being that pressure from those in power will mean that they might not be able to find anywhere to organize the event.

    The “Run Against Dictatorship” was a 6km mini-marathon and demonstration against the current government under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, and took place on Sunday (12 January 2020). Spin-off events also took place simultaneously in at least 14 other provinces. There have since been many reports of the organizers of “Run Against Dictatorship” events facing intimidation from the authorities in many provinces both before, during, and after the event.

    17 January 2020
    8331 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Extraordinary Cat Diversity in Thailand and Myanmar Need Urgent Protection

    Extraordinary Cat Diversity in Myanmar and Thailand Landscape Underscores Need for Urgent Protection, WWF “Land of Cats” Report Says.

    Bangkok, January 14, 2020 -- A remarkable one fifth of the world’s 36 cat species are found in a single landscape straddling Thailand and Myanmar, but they are under increasing threat of extinction, according to a new report from WWF that outlines an eight-point action plan to save them. 
    “Dawna Tenasserim: The Land of Cats” profiles the tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, Asiatic golden cats, marbled cats, jungle cats and leopard cats that roam the forests of this vast landscape. It also includes the elusive fishing cat, which may also live there. At 18 million hectares, the Dawna Tenasserim is the largest contiguous forested area in mainland Southeast Asia, with an incredible 82 percent still forested. Yet few people in Myanmar and Thailand are aware that they live next to one of the Planet’s great wilderness areas with so many amazing endangered cat species.
    The seven, possibly eight cat species are holding on despite intense pressure from poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss due to land clearing for agriculture, unsustainable infrastructure and retaliation for killing livestock. And they are following a depressing trend of decline in large cats across Asia, such as the recent conclusion that the tiger and the leopard are now extinct in neighbouring Laos. 
    “The cat diversity and the overall size and quality of the forest habitat in the Dawna Tenasserim are remarkable,” says Regan Pairojmahakij, Dawna Tenasserim Transboundary Landscape Manager. “But the cats’ days are numbered unless the countries, and the world in general, recognize the value of this cradle of biodiversity and quickly step up to address the threats to it.”
    Highlights from the report include:
    The Dawna Tenasserim has 180-220 tigers and a recent Myanmar survey of just eight percent of the country’s potential tiger habitat showed at least 22 tigers. Large parts of their potential range have no protection.
    In 2019 a tiger was recorded in Thailand’s Kui Buri National Park for the first time in 7 years.
    Leopards, most likely extinct in Laos, Viet Nam and nearly extinct in Cambodia, still exist in the Dawna Tenasserim but are declining. The Indochinese sub-species is now critically endangered.
    The stunning Asiatic golden cat thrives in the Dawna Tenasserim and has even been camera trapped in pairs there. However, they are one of the species living close to a proposed road in Myanmar which could threaten their existence.
    Given up as extinct in Thailand, the jungle cat re-emerged in the Dawna-Tenasserim on camera trap images in 2017. It is listed as critically endangered by Government of Thailand due to hunting pressure and habitat loss.
    In contrast to the jungle cat, the leopard cat is abundant throughout the Dawna Tenasserim and is the most commonly captured species on camera traps in Myanmar.
    Fishing cat have been recorded recently outside the landscape and claims of their presence inside it persist – only further surveys will tell!
    Camera trap surveys in 2018-2019 captured six of the seven species in Myanmar and Thailand.
    Threats to the cat species include infrastructure development, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade and expansion of agriculture and plantations. 
    “It’s so rare to have such a rich diversity of cat species – and other large wildlife like elephants, gaur, banteng and two species of bears – within a single landscape in Southeast Asia .at present.  The wildlife have already been exterminated in the vast plains and squeezed into these narrow mountains, and  it would be a double tragedy if we lost them further to poachers’ snares and developers’ bulldozers,” says Yoganand Kandasamy, WWF-Greater Mekong Wildlife Lead.
    The report highlights threats such as conversion of land for maize, rubber, cassava, oil palm, and betel nut. Land conversion and construction of roads accelerate the poaching threat by providing easier access to endangered species for poachers. Cheap, home-made snares can be set by the hundreds in these forests and they can kill or maim any creature that comes along. And the proposed Dawei-Htee Khee Road that will connect a deep sea port and Special Economic Zone in Dawei, Myanmar with Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia threatens to bisect elephant and tiger movement routes. Recent wildlife surveys highlight the fact that many wildlife exist along the proposed road. 
    “The very reason so many cat species persist in the Dawna Tenasserim is because of a combination of Thailand’s effective protected area management, the strong conservation ethic of local communities in both countries, and long-standing inaccessibility of areas in Southern Myanmar resulting in little incursion into forest areas,” says Nick Cox, Interim Country Director, WWF-Myanmar. “If this road is built, it should include world-class wildlife passages and other sustainable infrastructure elements.” 

    WWF’s 8-point action plan to save the Land of the Cats includes:
    1) Greater investment in critical areas for feline populations; 2) increased feline biodiversity surveys and research on prey abundance and habitat needs; 3) identification and protection of wildlife corridors within and between countries; 4) strengthening of wildlife protection units on both sides of the border, increased law enforcement and community protection of wildlife and habitats; 5) increased engagement with local and indigenous communities; 6) high level recognition and protection of vital wildlife habitat in the Dawna Tenasserim; 7) a transboundary approach for monitoring and protection of larger, wide ranging species such as tigers; and 8) anticipating, tracking and working with national and regional infrastructure planning agencies to mitigate the negative impacts of major projects such as roads.

    “The dedicated national park teams work day and night to protect these cats and recently got video footage of a healthy tiger in Thailand with a massive kill – a gaur – proving that with the right protection and habitat management, we can ensure the Dawna Tenasserim can provide healthy habitat for not only tigers but all endangered species,” says Arnold Sitompul, WWF Thailand Conservation Director. 

    Source: 
    Network
    16 January 2020
    8330 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Cartoon by Stephff: PM 2.5 smog season is coming

    16 January 2020
    8328 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Violation of labour rights impacts the US GSP suspension: Thai unions give warning

    Thai state enterprise trade unions and the international labour movement have discussed solutions to the violations of workers’ rights which led to the US suspending GSP for Thailand. The unions also warned that the Thai government’s lack of understanding will affect trade opportunities with other countries.

    Last Wednesday (8 Jan 2020), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC), labour unions representing workers in Thai state enterprises, organised a forum to voice their concern that the violations of workers’ rights which led to the US GSP suspension will affect trade opportunities with other countries.

    The forum was held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok. The discussants included Cathy Feingold, ITUC Deputy President and Director of the International Department of the American Federation of Labor-Council of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO), Sawit Kaewvarn, SERC General Secretary, and Chalee Loysoong, Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) Vice President, with Sakdina Chatrakul Na Ayudhya, an academic specializing in labour history, as moderator.

    The forum provided the opportunity for Thai and international labour leaders to discuss, exchange, and suggest solutions to the problems of workers’ rights violations and anti-union practices which led to the USTR’s announcement to suspend Thai GSP on 25th October 2019, and to provide a channel for the press and concerned participants to ask questions and share opinions. 

    Cathy Feingold, union leader and activist from the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO and 200 million-member ITUC, said that the American labour movement had advocated since the 1980’s enforced compliance with ILO core labour standards as a condition for GSP recipient countries, in order to prevent any country building a comparative advantage and reducing production costs by violating or restricting workers’ rights, which include the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

    Feingold also explained that the GSP suspension is not about the US government pressuring Thailand to give more rights to migrant workers, as the majority of the cases in the GSP petition dealt with violations against Thai workers, such as the cases of the State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT), Thai Airways International Labour Union (TG Union), and Mitsubishi Electric Labour Union.

    The filing of the GSP petition aimed to encourage respect for internationally recognized labour standards regardless of race or nationality. In the 2019 ITUC Global Rights Index, Thailand was given a rating of 5, or a country with no guaranteed rights. The suspension did not happen just because of one case but due to systemic violations of rights and the government’s failure to enforce labour standards. A union density of one percent is too low and affects workers’ bargaining power; accordingly, the international labour movement will continue to struggle for workers in Thailand to have their rights respected, and to have access to the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining in order to improve their lives. 

    Feingold also commented Thai Government might not truly understand the real impact of the GSP suspension, judging from its comments that only a few Thai exports would be affected. The suspension in April would be one-third of the total benefits. The view of Minister of Labour that the problems could be resolved by relying on the advice of technical advisors, not trade union leaders who understand the issues, is also very concerning. All exchanges with the Thai government will be passed on to the US government. The EU and Swiss governments, who are looking to negotiate FTA deals with Thailand, will also have to hear about workers’ rights violations in Thailand, as compliance with internationally recognized labour standards is also a condition of their FTAs. 

    Sawit Kaewvarn, SERC General Secretary, reported on the meeting between Feingold and Minister of Labour Chatumongkol Sonakul to discuss the window of opportunity to resolve the issues before GSP is suspended in April 2020. The current crisis is nothing new as Thailand has previously been under several boycott threats due to non-compliance with international human and workers’ rights.  It was previously listed as a Tier 3 country in a US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report and yellow-carded by the EU regarding Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU). Those crises eventually led to cooperation between the government, employers and trade unions which helped improve the situation. However, the first step to resolve the problems is to admit and to speak the truth, not deny that there is any violation. Sawit gave his case as an example, as he is one of the SRUT leaders who were dismissed and are currently being prosecuted in the Criminal Court. His wages are being garnished and he only has 300 baht left each month, in retaliation for the union’s campaign to demand train safety after a train derailment caused 7 fatalities.

    Sawit further stressed that nowadays the conduct of business and compliance with human rights are inseparable. The Thai government has signed many human rights agreements such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), but rarely does it honour their provisions. Thailand has also been a long-time recipient of US GSP benefits but has also failed to comply with the condition that internationally recognized labour standards must be promoted and protected. In the future, there is a greater chance that countries failing to meet these standards will have their exports boycotted. Recently on 28 November 2019, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), with members all over Europe, co-signed a letter with the ITUC calling on the Thai government to resolve all labour rights violations as detailed in the GSP petition. The ETUC, which also works with the EU Parliament, will also ensure that all EU members and other European countries understand the issues in Thailand before proceeding with any trade negotiations, including FTAs, as prior compliance with ILO core standards is required in such trade deals.

    Sawit also recounted how the TLSC and SERC have assisted migrant workers in Thailand so that now they enjoy some rights of association and the right to bargain with an employers’ association that has over 20 member companies. Despite the continuation of violations and the inability to register their own unions, migrant workers have come a long way from the past when they were completely denied all rights. Sawit said that he is now more concerned with Thai workers, as many sectors, including civil servants and public employees, do not have the right to organize and to join unions. Public employees nowadays fall under many types of employment, and most lack protection under the social security and labour protection acts, and receive less than the minimum wage paid to Thai and migrant workers in the private sector. Sawit also revealed that he and other union leaders have been called “traitors” for reporting violations in Thailand to the international community, where he insists that cooperation among labour movement must transcend borders. The American labour movement has disagreed with and opposed many of the US government’s policies, and so has the Thai labour movement. Workers’ organizations such as the ITUC or AFL-CIO are brothers and sisters to Thai workers and workers all over the world, as they aim to ensure that economic development happens concurrently in compliance with human rights, including workers’ rights, not just the numeric growth of GDP that leaves workers who make up the majority in the country to be exploited and violated. 

    Chalee Loysoong, the TLSC Vice President, insisted that the violations detailed in the GSP petition mostly occurred against Thai workers. Thai labour laws have long failed to meet international standards as Thailand has not ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98, which are the core standards that promote the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining that would lead to other rights and protections. The Thai government almost ratified the two conventions during the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, but the process was delayed due to complicated parliamentary and legal requirements. Ratification then was pushed back after Abhisit dissolved parliament.

    He recounted that he started working with the international labour movement about a decade ago as there were so many workers’ rights violations and anti-union practices. He collected over 10 cases in the first complaints sent in 2013, which included violations at Yum Restaurant, Electrolux, and the SRT. Chalee insisted that US government and the USTR had repeatedly sent their representatives for discussions and investigations with representatives of the Thai government and trade unions. The announcement of the GSP suspension has gone through a thorough process and not just happened overnight. 

    Chalee added that many violations have occurred since the first report in 2013. One of the most serious examples was the case of Mitsubishi Electric, where discrimination and retaliation included the company’s ban on union leaders and some members from returning to work after the end of the dispute, forcing the workers to participate in de-programming activities including military-style training to make the workers feel guilty about invoking their bargaining rights, and making it a condition of reinstatement that workers must no longer engage with the union. 

    Chalee also pointed out that he was fighting for subcontracted workers who received lower wages and benefits than permanent workers despite having the same job description. While the workers won a decision of the Supreme Court in 2012 that there must not be any discrimination in wages and benefits, the Ministry of Labour has refused to formulate ministerial regulations. This shows the failure of the Thai government to enforce labour protection in the country, as subcontracted workers suffering discrimination have to file their own complaints to the Labour Court, instead of having a ministerial regulation to automatically enforce equal wages and benefits. 

    Chalee said that the situation still has not improved after the announcement of the GSP suspension as many cases of labour rights violations and anti-union practices have happened since. 

    For example, Mizuno Precision in Ayutthaya dismissed the founders of the union one day after the first union congress; Pongpara Codan in Samut Sakhon shut down their plant with 1000 workers (700 of them union members) but re-opened at the same location under a new name and registration, asking the laid-off workers to re-apply with the wages and benefits reset; and Seishin in Chonburi shut down their plant without paying wages or severance pay. While the government believes that the GSP suspension would have a minimal effect on total exports, Chalee questions the reputation of the country, and if Thailand wants to be perceived as a country that develops by “suppressing the workers”. Chalee called for the government to have a clear direction and road map, with a timeframe to tackle the problems, to involve union leaders who understand the issues in the taskforce, and to improve cooperation among ministries such as the ministries of Labour, Commerce, and Foreign Affairs, in formulating a concrete plan to resolve all issues and raise international labour standards in the country.

    After the forum, Sawit Kaewvarn, SERC General Secretary, read the joint statement of the ITUC and SERC demanding that the Thai government resolve labour issues by complying with international labour standards and principles that will be beneficial to both Thai and migrant workers in Thailand in promoting decent working conditions, which will result in having the US government review and possibly revoke the GSP suspension. 

    SERC also recommend that the Thai government work intensively with legitimate Thai trade unions to promote decent working conditions as a guideline to solving labour problems sustainably. The union also stated that it always has a strong commitment to fully cooperating with the Thai government in resolving labour issues.

    Source: 
    Network
    16 January 2020
    8327 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Cartoon by Stephff: National Children's day in Thailand

    11 January 2020
    8329 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • You Can “Run Against Dictatorship”: Basic Legal Recommendations before Staging a “Run Against Dictatorship” Event

    On 12 January 2020, people in several Thai provinces and abroad will unite to “Run Against Dictatorship”. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has found that event organizers in Bangkok and other provinces have faced difficulty in obtaining permission to use some locations for the event, being threatened by officials when requesting permission to stage the event. The authorities claim that Run Against Dictatorship is considered as a public assembly and a political activity. To clarify and debunk such consideration, TLHR has the following legal recommendations.

    1. Run Against Dictatorship is not a public assembly

    According to the Public Assembly Act 2015, to be considered as a public assembly, such an event must bear all of the following three characteristics:

    1) It must be a gathering of people in a public space;

    2) It must be a gathering solicited to demand, support, oppose or express an opinion on any matter utilizing a public display;

    3) Other people must be able to join the assembly.

    Provided that a Run Against Dictatorship event is organized following these characteristics, for example: by holding the event in a private space; by holding the event without making any demands, or without expressing support for, opposition to, or opinion on a particular subject; by organizing an activity for a specific group of people and which anyone who has not previously registered cannot attend – these are not considered as characteristics of public assembly as defined by law.

    Thus, there is a clear application registration process for the Run Against Dictatorship, so the general public cannot simply join in, just as with most running events. This means it should not come under the purview of the Public Assembly Act and there is no need to comply with this law.

    2. Run Against Dictatorship is a sporting event and thus does not fall under the purview of the Public Assembly Act

    Run Against Dictatorship is a sporting event just like any other race or fun run with a social message, such as runs with environmental campaigns, anti-drug campaigns, campaigns against domestic violence, or other running events. None of these are subjected to the Public Assembly Act, since Article 3(3) stipulates that the Act shall not be enforced on sports gatherings. Thus, the Run Against Dictatorship itself in this sense is a sporting activity that holds the social campaign as the subject of concern, just as with other running events. Per the wording of the Act, the event, therefore, shall not be subjected under the purview of the Public Assembly Act, and authorities cannot use such allegation as a claim to force organizers of the event to give prior notification, set event conditions, or prohibit activities entirely.

    3. There is no law against political activities

    Since the repeal of NCPO Order No. 3/2015 Article 12, which prohibited political gatherings, there is currently no law prohibiting people from gathering or engaging in political activities. Even if, as the authorities argue, Run Against Dictatorship events amount to political activities, people still enjoy the right to organize such activities per the Constitution.

    4. The law requires the organizer to “notify of the assembly”, not to “request permission” to assemble.

    Run Against Dictatorship is a legitimate expression approved by the Constitution. If the organizers of the event do want to arrange it in the form of rally or public assembly, they must notify the police. The police, however, have no power to prohibit the activity.

    Section 44 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 2017 stipulates that “a person shall enjoy the liberty to assemble peacefully and without arms” and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized”. Consequently, if the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship event choose to hold it in the form of a public assembly, they can do so per the laws guaranteeing their rights and freedoms. Public officials do not have the power to prohibit such activity. They have no power to grant or disallow; the only legal requirement is that the officials be notified in advance of any public assembly.

    Article 10 of the Public Assembly Act stipulates that the police must receive notification not less than 24 hours before the assembly is due to start. The police are then obliged to respond to the notifier within 24 hours of receiving notification and to send a summary of essential information concerning public assemblies. This has nothing to do with a request for permission; it is merely a “notification”. Officials have no legal authority to grant or disallow an assembly. Furthermore, should officials prohibit an assembly or similar activity, they will be in breach of the Constitution, the highest source of law in the country.

    5. If there is no prior notification of an assembly, assembly participants are not guilty

    If the Run Against Dictatorship event is staged as a public assembly without the legally required notification, only the event organizers may be found guilty. Section 28 of the Public Assembly Act imposes a fine of not more than 10,000 Baht. There is no jail sentence, however, for the cases in which TLHR has assisted, the court has ordered fines of 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 Baht, depending on the case.

    Assembly participants (not organizers) who participate in the assembly, despite the lack of notification, will not be prosecuted as per Sections 4, 10 and 28 of the Public Assembly Act 2015.

    6. There is no prison sentence for running on a road and obstructing traffic

    Should the course of Run Against Dictatorship be on a public road and that the activities need to use such space, the organizers must obtain permission to use the road surface from traffic officers per the Road Traffic Act 1979.

    The regulations on requesting the use of a road surface issued by the Traffic Police Division require that a request be submitted no less than 15 days before the intended march or procession (see the regulations here).

    However, should the police traffic officers deny permission, participants in a march or procession which obstructs traffic may receive a fine not exceeding 500 Baht, with no imprisonment per Section 148.

    7. No imprisonment for unauthorized use of an amplifier

    In municipal areas, the mayor is the competent official.

    Outside the municipality, the District Chief or Deputy District Chief is the competent official.
    In Bangkok, this means the competent authority lies with the District Office for the area in which the amplifier will be used.

    The use of an amplifier without permission imposes a fine of not more than 200 Baht, without imprisonment, per Article 9 of the Advertising Control Act.

    8. If you have any issues related to this event, please call Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

    If you are the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship event or members of the general public who face any issues related to the freedom of expression or freedom of assembly, you can contact TLHR for further information or request legal advice.

    Phone: 096 7893173, 092 2713172
    Email: tlhr@tlhr2014.com
    Facebook:
    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (English) and “ศูนย์ทนายความเพื่อสิทธิมนุษยชน” (Thai)
    Twitter: @tlhr2014

    Source: 
    Network (TLHR)
    10 January 2020
    8326 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Bangkok hit with another spell of PM2.5 smog

    PM2.5 levels in Bangkok and surrounding provinces have reached a hazardous level for the third consecutive day on Friday (10 January), with the air quality measuring between 156 – 163 AQI (Air Quality Index), while the government has yet to issue any concrete long-term plan to tackle the issue.

    AirVisual recorded 163 AQI on Friday afternoon, while the World Air Quality Index Project Team recorded 169 AQI, both unhealthy levels.

    The Pollution Control Department’s website reported 204 AQI as of Friday (10 January), which is a potential health hazard. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)’s statistics, meanwhile, report lower PM2.5 levels than other monitoring units, ranging from 53 to 115 microgram per square metres.

    Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a tweet on Friday morning that cars which release black smoke will be put on a watchlist and would be subject to tougher inspection when they renew their license. He also recommended that the public wear face masks and avoid outdoor activities.

    From Saturday to next Thursday, government health officials will also send out mobile health clinics to Bangkok’s Phasi Charoen District, one of the districts with the worst air quality according to BMA statistics, with its PM2.5 level at 127 microgram per square metres.

    However, the government does not seem to have any rational long-term plan to tackle the smog crisis, which appears to have worsened since the beginning of 2019. Government solutions typically involve spraying water into the air in affected areas and near air quality monitor stations, a solution already criticized for being ineffective against PM2.5 smog, and pledging tougher punishments for vehicles or buildings that contribute to pollution.

    10 January 2020
    8325 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Run Against Dictatorship blocked in three provinces

    Authorities have been attempting to block spin-off Run Against Dictatorship events in at least three provinces, while the main Bangkok event has been forced to move from Thammasat University to Wachirabenchathat (Rot Fai) Park.

    Yesterday (7 January), Khaosod reported that Acting Sub-Lt. Prasert Nguansuwan, President of the Phrae Democracy Lovers Network, and other organizers of the event met with the Superintendent of the Muang Phrae Police Station on Monday morning (6 January) to request permission to organize the Phrae Run Against Dictatorship event. The Superintendent said that he would check the documents before granting permission, but has yet to inform the organizers of his decision.

    Meanwhile, iLaw said that the organizers of the Phrae Run Against Dictatorship have faced intimidation from the authorities. Prasert told iLaw he has been visited by plainclothes police officers on Saturday (4 January), and that they tried to convince him to cancel the event, claiming that it might violate the Public Assembly Act.

    On Sunday (5 January), Prasert said that the police asked to see him again, so he went to meet three officers at a coffee shop. The officers, who told Prasert they are from the Phrae public security police, asked Prasert to cancel the event, claiming that it could affect national security. They also told Prasert that the authorities will not grant him permission to organize the event if he were to file a request, telling him that the event could be violating the Public Assembly Act and other legislation. However, Prasert insisted that he will not cancel the event.

    Prasert also claimed that he has been followed by plainclothes officers while traveling around, and told iLaw that he was later told by a neighbour after he went to the Muang Phrae Police Station on Monday (6 January) that a police officer came to photograph his house. In addition, he said that plainclothes officers visited the Future Forward Party’s Phrae headquarters to meet the other organizers yesterday afternoon (7 January) to convince them to cancel the event and were asking whether the party is involved with the event.

    Meanwhile, on Monday (6 January), Thai Lawyers For Human Rights (TLHR) reported that three students from the University of Phayao who were organizing a Run Against Dictatorship event in Phayao were summoned by the police to provide more information about the event, after the three students were questioned for over 5 hours on Sunday (5 January).

    The superintendent of the Muang Phayao Police Station then sent the students a letter refusing them permission to organize the event on the grounds that the Muang Phayao Municipality Office has not granted them permission to use the space and that they have not been permitted by the traffic officer to use the road.

    The letter also stated that if they continue to organize the event without filing a request for permission to hold a public assembly, they may be violating the Public Assembly Act.

    TLHR also reported that police officers have been calling the students repeatedly over a period of three days to summon them in for questioning, even visiting their parents’ homes at night.

    One of the students said that police officers went to his family’s home in Chiang Rai, and after learning that his mother has gone to the temple, they followed her there in order to question her whether her son is involved with the Run Against Dictatorship event in Phayao and whether she allowed him to get involved. They also questioned her about his personality and whether he has previously been involved in political activities. 

    The three students said they will still be organizing an event, but possibly in a different format.

    In Ubon Ratchathani, Matichon reported that the Acting Superintendent of the Muang Ubon Ratchanani Police Station withdrew his permission for a Run Against Dictatorship event, after a request to hold a public assembly was filed on 6 January.

    The Superintendent claimed that the permission was previously granted because he thought it was a running event involving collecting trash along the street, but after the authorities reviewed the request, they withdrew the permission because the event has a political intention and may involve an anti-government demonstration.

    Khaosod also reported that the police told the organizers that the event violates other people’s rights and so is not allowed.

    Organizers of similar events were also visited by police officers. Pongsathon Tancharoen, a student at Mahasarakham University, told iLaw that police officers from the Muang Maha Sarakham Police Station visited him at his home in Kalasin during the New Year holiday to question him about the event.

    Not only that, Pongsathon also received a phone call from one of the lecturers at Maha Sarakham University, telling him that national security authorities had contacted the University, and that the University’s administrators felt it was not appropriate for the event to be held on campus.

    After it became clear that the University would not allow them to organize the event on campus, the organizers announced that they will be moving the venue inside the city. Pongsathon then received a phone call from one of the officers who visited him, claiming that his “boss” wants to know what Pongsathon’s parents do for a living, which he felt was an attempt at intimidation.

    Walailak University also issued a statement on Tuesday (7 January) that it is not affiliated with the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship event in Nakhon Si Thammarat, and that it does not permit the event to use campus space. Its statement said that while it supports academic freedom of thought, it does not support political activism, and does not allow such activity to be held on campus.

    Currently there are Run Against Dictatorship and similar events organized in at least 14 provinces and at least 6 places overseas, all of which are scheduled to take place on 12 January. The organizing committee of the main Run Against Dictatorship in Bangkok, which has been forced yet again to move to Wachirabenchatat Park after Thammasat University did not allow them to use their grounds, said that they are not involved with the events organized in other places, but organizers of other events may contact them for shirts and medals.

    9 January 2020
    8324 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Constitutional Court rejects marriage law petition

    On 31 December 2019, the Constitutional Court of Thailand decided not to accept a petition made by two LGBT couples and the Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice (For-SOGI) on 22 November 2019, requesting the Court to rule whether the current Thai marriage law violates the 2017 Constitution.

    The two couples with representatives from LGBT rights organizations in front of the Constitutional Court

    The Court ruling stated that the submission of the petition was not in accordance with Articles 46, 47, and 48 of the 2018 Organic Law on the Rules and Procedures of the Constitutional Court.

    The Organic Law states that an individual whose rights have been violated may petition the Court to rule on a case within 90 days after filing a petition with and receiving a ruling from the Ombudsman. However, Article 47 states that said violation of rights must not be an instance for which other legislation has specified the procedure, which has not been completed. The Court stated that the refusal of the Registrar at the Phasi Charoen District Office to register the marriage of the couples is an administrative act for which the Constitution has specified other procedures.

    The Court also stated, as one of the reasons for its rejection, that the Rights and Liberties Protection Department of the Ministry of Justice is already in the process of proposing a Civil Partnership Bill. However, this bill has long faced criticism from NGOs and LGBT rights activists for not giving same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, and is seen as relegating the LGBT community to the position of second-class citizens.

    The lack of marriage equality has meant that same-sex couples in Thailand face issues such as not having the power of attorney to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners. They are unable to adopt a child together or to have access to assisted reproductive technology. In cases where one partner dies, the other is not able to inherit or make legal decisions about their partner’s assets, and in cases where one partner is not a Thai national, they are not entitled to a marriage visa in order to take residence in Thailand with their partner.

    Earlier this year, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, Thailand’s plan for a Civil Partnership Bill does not appear to be making any progress, but a group of LGBT rights organizations is now pursuing an amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code to have the definition of marriage changed from being between a man and a woman to between two persons.

    Meanwhile, yesterday, the Supreme Court of the Philippines also rejected a petition to legalize same-sex marriage. The petition was filed by radio show host and lawyer Jesus Falcis, who sought to challenge the definition of marriage as a “permanent union between a man and a woman” in the country’s Family Code and clauses declaring homosexuality as grounds for separation, and was once lauded as historic in the predominantly Catholic country. It was first rejected in September 2019 on the grounds that Falcis did not have a partner and was not seeking marriage, and therefore cannot claim to be a victim of existing laws. A motion for reconsideration was denied yesterday (6 January) “with finality,” on the grounds that no substantial argument was presented “to warrant the reversal of the questioned decision,” preventing further motions from being submitted in the case.

    8 January 2020
    8323 at https://prachatai.com/english