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  • Commenting on supporters of late King’s dog not illegal, says Court

    On 13 January, Samutprakan Provincial Court acquitted "Thanakorn" of lèse-majesté and computer crime charges after the authorities prosecuted him in 2015 for posting a statement relating to a sarcastic comment against supporters of Thong Daeng, the favourite dog of the late King Bhumibol.

    Court said that according to the plaintiff, Thanakorn (with surname withheld) took screenshots of two comments and posted them on his Facebook page with a caption saying that he “read the comments and felt so touched”.

    The first comment was a statement without any disdain or hatred. The other was sarcastic towards ordinary people who appreciated Thong Daeng. However, neither constituted lèse majesté speech. So the Court ruled that his publication of the information and his comment on those statements did not constitute a lèse majesté crime.

    He was also acquitted of the charge under the Computer Crime Act as his comment did not import or confirm any distorted information about the late King’s dog. His Facebook post only involved a question about whether people know Thong Daeng was the late King’s dog, a statement which is a well-known fact.

    Thanakorn was also faced charges for two other Facebook posts which the Court also dismissed. The authorities claimed that he posted a diagram which pointed to potential corrupt activities in the construction of Rajabhakti Park by the Thai Royal Army and “liked” a Facebook page which has a photoshopped picture of the late King Bhumibol on the cover.

    Maj Gen Burin Thongprapai, the legal representative of the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), claimed that posting the diagram was an act of sedition under Section 116 of the Criminal Code. However, the Court said that a call for transparency in the project was not an act of sedition. Some officers also admitted there was corruption in the project, including Gen Paiboon Khumchaya and Gen Udomdej Sitabutr. So the Court acquitted Thanakorn of the charge.

    With regard to liking the problematic Facebook page, an act which put him under lèse-majesté and computer crime charges, the Court said that there was no “following button” on Facebook at the time, so a user had to click “like” to follow a Facebook page.

    Clicking “like” to follow the news on a Facebook page in September 2015 was not the same as clicking “like” on an allegedly lèse majesté picture which was posted in December, so the Court acquitted him of the lèse majesté charge.

    And since the defendant only followed the page, and did not share it, he did not spread any false information from the page. Facebook may have promoted any public post or pages randomly on anyone’s newsfeed, but it was not Thanakorn’s doing. So the Court also acquitted him of the computer crime charge.

    Thanakorn’s court case was concluded after a trial of 5 years. Thanakorn was a factory worker. In 2015, he was arrested by plainclothes officers in Samut Prakan Province. He was not allowed to meet a lawyer or his relatives. Then he was kept in detention for one week in two military camps.

    During the last two days of detention at the 11th Military Circle, he said he was hit on the back of the head with a glass bottle while being interrogated about his Facebook post on Rajabhakti Park. He said the glass bottle did not break but he was hurt and feared for his family members.

    After his detention, he was transferred to Crime Suppression Division for further investigation by police. Even though the police record said that he “testified voluntarily”, he confirmed that he gave testimony out of fear that he may be detained in a military camp again.

    Ilaw’s database says that Thanakorn was detained at the Bangkok Military Court and later given temporary release on bail. Thanakorn confirmed that he was loyal to the monarchy. After he was released from the military court in 2016, he went into the monkhood as an act of devotion to the late King Bhumibol. 

    Thanakorn’s case was one of the cases tried in the military court under the NCPO’s Orders after its power seizure in 2014. Thanks to pressure from civil society calling for the putschists to hold an election, the NCPO loosened its grip in 2019 and Thanakorn’s case was transferred to a civilian court.

    16 January 2021
    9015 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Basic freedoms stifled in Thailand amid youth-led democracy uprising, says HRW

    Thailand’s government in 2020 escalated its repression of basic rights in the face of a growing, youth-led democracy movement demanding political and constitutional reforms, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday (13 January) in its World Report 2021.

    A protester flashing the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute as riot police continue to fire tear gas at the protesters during the 6-hour clash on Samsen Road on 17 November 2020

    Protests that started on July 18 soon spread across the country, calling for the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, an end to harassment by the authorities, and the drafting of a new constitution. Some protests included demands to curb the king’s powers. The government responded by cracking down on protest leaders, charging more than 100 of them with illegal assembly, violating Covid-19 related restrictions, and sedition.

    “The Thai government has responded to peaceful demands from youth for sweeping political reforms by making Thailand’s human rights crisis go from bad to worse,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai authorities have prosecuted dissenters, violently dispersed peaceful protests, censored news and social media, and punished critical political speech.”

    In the 761-page World Report 2021, its 31st edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth argues that the incoming United States administration should embed respect for human rights in its domestic and foreign policy, in a way that is more likely to survive future US administrations that might be less committed to human rights. Roth emphasizes that even as the Trump administration mostly abandoned the protection of human rights, other governments stepped forward to champion rights. The Biden administration should seek to join, not supplant, this new collective effort.

    On October 15, riot police forcibly cleared protesters who had camped outside the Government House in Bangkok. In the ensuing days, police assaulted peaceful protesters using water cannons, mixed with dye and teargas chemicals, as well as teargas grenades. On November 17, at least 55 people were injured, most from inhaling teargas, and six pro-democracy protesters were wounded by gunfire during a clash with ultra-royalist groups after police withdrew. On November 18, the spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concerns about the Thai government’s use of force against peaceful protesters. 

    The government intimidated and punished children and youths who participated in the pro-democracy campaigns. The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported in August a total of 103 harassment incidents against students across the country. At least four high school students were charged with illegal assembly.

    The government routinely enforced censorship, including on social media platforms, blocking and punishing opinions the authorities deemed critical of the monarchy. In November, Prime Minister Prayuth brought back lèse-majesté prosecutions after a three-year hiatus. As of December, at least 35 people, including a 16-year-old boy, were charged under article 112 of the penal code (insulting the monarchy) for demanding reform of the monarchy, or saying or writing or doing anything the authorities considered offensive to the monarchy. Critics of the monarchy were also prosecuted under sedition, cybercrime, and other legal provisions.

    Thai dissidents who have fled Thailand to escape political persecution face grave threats to their lives. On June 4, an exiled democracy activist, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, was abducted in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and remains missing. Since 2016, at least nine Thai political activists have been forcibly disappeared in neighboring countries. Two of them were found killed.

    “Thailand’s foreign friends should stop ignoring the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country,” Adams said. “It’s not possible to return to business as usual without securing Thai government commitments to respect democratic principles and rights for all.”

    15 January 2021
    9014 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Indigenous peoples network to propose new bill to protect indigenous rights

    The Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (NIPT) is calling for voters to back their Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand bill, which proposes to set up a formal indigenous peoples’ council to give Thailand’s indigenous population the opportunity to resolve community rights issues in ways that are suitable to their way of life.

    Members of the Karen indigenous community in the Kaeng Krachan area lighting candles in a traditional ceremony before an event on community rights issues held on 16 December 2020

    The Indigenous Media Network (IMN) reported in late December 2020 that the NIPT has published the full draft of the bill and is calling for Thai citizens over 18 years old to help back the bill in order to propose it to parliament.

    According to IMN, Thailand’s indigenous peoples are facing many human rights issues, from land rights, access to basic welfare, and citizenship to the loss of their cultural identity, while the younger generation continues to leave their communities to find work elsewhere. These problems are a result of the way the government’s policies and legislation relating to indigenous communities do not take their traditional way of life into consideration, as well as going against the intentions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which Thailand is a signatory, along with 143 other countries.

    A number of indigenous rights are enshrined in the UNDRIP, including but not limited to:

    • the right to be free from discrimination based on their indigenous origin or identity;
    • the right to self-determination and the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs;
    • the right to a nationality, land, and other fundamental human rights;
    • the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons;
    • the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions; and
    • the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

    The UNDRIP also states that governments must provide effective preventative mechanisms and redress for any action which has the aim or effect of depriving indigenous peoples of their integrity as distinct peoples or of their cultural identities, dispossessing them of their lands, territories, or resources, forced population transfer, forced assimilation or integration, or any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

    The issues facing indigenous peoples in Thailand led to the drafting of the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand bill, in order to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly their rights to self-determination, according to Thailand’s international commitments, including those stated in the UNDRIP, and to create a mechanism for solving human rights issues in ways that take indigenous ways of life into consideration and in which indigenous communities themselves can participate.

    The bill proposes to found a formal indigenous peoples’ council whose members are made of representatives of each ethnic group, chosen by the communities themselves. The bill also states the council’s responsibilities, which include the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, the recovery and strengthening of indigenous cultures, the protection of spiritual grounds and the right to land, and collaborating with relevant agencies in organizing projects to strengthen indigenous communities.

    Thailand has over 30 ethnic minority groups, none of whom are recognized as indigenous by the Thai state. While the current Constitution mentions the right of “ethnic groups” to live according to their cultural traditions peacefully and without interference, no legislation uses the term “indigenous people.”

    Apinan Thammasena, a researcher from the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (SAC), said that the Thai state does not recognize any ethnic group as indigenous because it is concerned about having to follow the international agreements it is party to, such as the UNDRIP. Apinan said that many international agreements use the term “indigenous,” because it refers to a specific group of people facing a specific set of issues.

    Apinan explained that the Thai state has argued that, because Thailand has never been colonized, it does not have an indigenous population. He also said that Thailand’s national security agencies are often concerned that, if the state recognizes that there is an indigenous population, it would have to give them the right to autonomy.

    Meanwhile, Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri, the current chairperson of the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, an indigenous rights NGO based in Chiang Mai, said that the indigenous communities do not refer to themselves as “ethnic groups,” but use the more specific term “indigenous people.” He also insists that, while the government argues that Thailand has no indigenous population, many ethnic groups have been in this territory for hundreds of years, but the Thai government refuses to recognize them as indigenous to avoid having to follow international agreements.

    There have, however, been previous attempts at creating a policy guideline to resolve issues facing indigenous communities in Thailand. In 2010, the cabinet at the time issued two cabinet resolutions, one on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life and one on the sea nomad communities.

    Both cabinet resolutions contain guidelines for short- and long-term measures for solving the issues faced by each community, such as the lack of citizenship, land rights, the lack of resources, and how to support their traditional ways of life. The cabinet resolution on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life also states that conservation zones which overlap with locations of Karen communities that have lived in that area before the area became a conservation zone should be revoked.

    However, there have been problems with putting both cabinet resolutions into practice. Kittisak said that local officials often do not acknowledge the cabinet resolutions and argue that the Forest Act is a higher-ranking law and therefore they do not have to follow the resolutions. Because of this, legislation to protect indigenous people’s rights has become necessary.

    Kittisak said that the Council of Indigenous Peoples bill will allow for the protection of indigenous rights in every aspect, from economic rights to cultural. He said that these rights are not new, but are what the indigenous communities once had and would like to have enshrined in law.

    “We would like there to be policies and exclusive plans that are suitable for addressing our issues, because from what we have seen from the lessons in the past, most policies issued by the government sector are very centrist and very grey, and when they are applied in practice, they don’t really solve people’s issues. Even for the Council of Indigenous Peoples itself, we would like an exclusive plan that actually fits with our needs, and we would like to live according to the traditional way that we want to live. It’s like being able to determine the fate of our own lives,” said Kittisak.

    In addition to the Council of Indigenous Peoples bill, Kittisak said that two other pieces of legislation are being drafted to protect the indigenous way of life. One is the Protection and Strengthening of Ethnic Way of Life bill, which the SAC is working on, and  similar legislation is being drafted by the Standing Committee on children, young people, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and ethnic groups.

    Kittisak said that, in addition to legislation, communicating with the public about the protection of indigenous culture is also important. He said that the public often has a bias against indigenous peoples, as in the past, the education system depicted indigenous communities in a negative light, with such claims as that the hill tribes destroy the forest or are drug traffickers. These biases still exist even though the curriculum has been changed, and that time and serious campaigning effort will be needed to undo them.

    “It’s like arranging flowers in a vase. If there are a hundred kinds of flowers, then it’s beautiful, but if there is only one kind, it would be a bit plain. If we are to make them see the dimension of beauty, the dimension of benefits, values, I think that the educational system is important. Campaigning is important,” said Kittisak.

    15 January 2021
    9013 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Doctor sacked for comments on late King

    Jomtien Hospital and Bangkok Hospital Rayong have announced the dismissal of Dr Saravin Thongrong for “inappropriate behaviour against the rules of the company” after his comments on the late King Bhumibol surfaced on the internet. Right-wing activists have called for his license to be revoked and for him to be prosecuted under the lèse-majesté law.  

    On 6 January, Jomtien Hospital released an announcement on Facebook dismissing Dr Saravin, effective from the day of the announcement. Bangkok Hospital Rayong also announced his dismissal on the same day. Both hospitals used the same wording, saying that he had committed “inappropriate behaviour” which was “against the rules of the company” and the hospitals “apologized for the occurrence.”

    Dr Saravin had worked at Jomtien Hospital as a full-time employee and at Bangkok Hospital Rayong part-time. His dismissal was announced after Dr Saravin’s comments on Facebook went viral.

    The Facebook page of Bangkok Hospital Rayong advertised its readiness to respond to the spread of the Covid-19. The post led to a debate between Dr Saravin and other Facebook users about the role of Siam Bioscience Co Ltd, which was founded on the initiative of the late King Bhumibol, whom Dr Saravin referred to using rude language.

    Screenshots of Dr Saravin’s comments were found on the Facebook pages of conservative supporters and outlets. However, the Facebook page of Bangkok Hospital Rayong where the original comments were posted is no longer available at the time of this report.

    With the Crown Property Bureau as the sole shareholder of the company, Bangkok Biz News reports that Siam Bioscience will produce the anti-Covid vaccine to be available for Thais in May at a cost price of 5 US dollars per dose. Under the current law, the Crown Property Bureau is the personal possession of King Vajiralongkorn.  

    Dr Saravin was also found commenting about the late King Bhumibol as a member of the Royalist Marketplace (Talad Luang), a Facebook group which now has 2.2 million members and is critical of the monarchy. A 6 January report says that the Royalist Marketplace was the 15th largest Facebook group in the world in 2021.

    As Dr Saravin was fired, right-wing activists pledged to take further action. Despite the announcement from the two hospitals, Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna, the founder of the ultraroyalist Rubbish Collection Organisation, posted on Facebook that he would wage social measures against Jomtien Hospital and Bangkok Hospital Rayong unless they sack Dr Saravin. Rienthong also claimed that Dr Saravin graduated from Khon Kaen University, calling Khon Kaen Hospital to check whether they hired him as an employee.

    On 8 January, Srisuwan Janya, an activist known as “the complainer in chief”, also requested the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to prosecute Dr Saravin, and a Facebook user named “Watcharin” who posted similar comments, under Section 112 of the Criminal Code and the Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act. Srisuwan also said he will request the Medical Council of Thailand to revoke the medical license of Dr Saravin. 

    The lèse-majesté law (Section 112) says that “whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” It is not clear if former monarchs, like the late King Bhumibol, are protected under this law.

    For 2 years the law was in abeyance, and the Prime Minister claimed that King Vajiralongkorn had prohibited the authorities from using it out of mercy. But in the last few weeks as many as 40 lèse majesté cases have been filed against Thai activists in the wake of pro-democracy protests last year which called for monarchy reform.

    Before the return of the lèse majesté law late last year, Section 14 of Computer Crime Act had been used together with Section 116 of the Criminal Code, the law on sedition, as a substitute. Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act says that whoever imports into a computer system data which is deemed as a likely threat to national security shall be punished by up to five years in jail and/or a fine of not more than 100,000 baht.


    15 January 2021
    9012 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Anon Nampa awarded the 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

    The South korean-based prize given to activists globally, this year, goes to Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer from his legal contribution, anti-dictatorship activisms and his call for monarchy reform.

    Anon, in a duck outfit, giving a speech at the 25 November protest.

    On 14 January, the May 18 Memorial Foundation, the South Korean-based foundation established to remember the spirit of democratic struggle and solidarity of the May 18 1980 officially announced Anon Nampa as the winner of its annual prize given to the human rights-related activists around the world.

    The Jury has also selected the Watchdoc Documentary Maker of Indonesia as the Special Prize winner of the 2021 Gwangju Prize for
    Human Rights from their contribution to human rights promotion via their film works.

    Beside Anon, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa or 'Pai Daodin', human rights, political and environmental activist and Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former member of the Thai Human Rights Commission was awarded the prize in 2017 and 2006 respectively.

    Below is the announcement letter:

    2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

    Winner Announced The 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights (GPHR) Jury has announced this year’s winners. The winner of the 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights is Mr. Anon Nampa, an activist and a human rights lawyer in Thailand (Thai Lawyers for Human Rights/TLHR).

    Since 2008, when he started his legal profession, he has offered free legal assistance to human rights and democracy activists. After the 2014 military coup d’etat , he has especially defended people who were indicted under Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code, which has been abused in order to oppress freedom of speech, punish human right activists and political critics, and also defended those who have been indicted by the military court for their struggles for freedom of assembly, association, and speech.

    In 2014, he co-founded a prodemocracy activist group, Resistant Citizen, to empower people to challenge the undemocratic, authoritarian regime and to raise public awareness about human rights. He was also one of leading figures of the movement We Want an Election in 2018.

    Also, he has struggled to promote people’s awareness about human rights violations caused by martial law and military rule. His speech on demanding restructuring the Thai monarchy system and establishing a greater democracy that was delivered at a massive pro-democracy rally of  Thai youth added fuel to the ongoing democratization movement.

    As a result of his unrelenting activism, he has been arrested and indicted many times on charges of criminal offences, such as sedition, but he was released on bail. In spite of facing risks of being reincarcerated if he does not stop his activities, he continues his fight for justice and human rights.

    The Jury has also selected the Watchdoc Documentary Maker of Indonesia as the Special Prize winner of the 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. It is a documentary film making group that was established by Indonesian journalists Andhy Panca Kurniawan and Dandhy Dwi Laksono. Since then it has produced over 200 documentary series and more than 700 TV series on the themes of human rights, democracy, rule of law, environment, women, minority groups, and history. Its productions are viewed freely by public and have been used for campaigns and education by many human rights organizations and schools, making a great contribution to human rights promotion.

    Assuming the trailblazer’s role in promoting human rights through culture and arts, works of the Watchdoc Documentary Maker were awarded by many international film festivals, such as CinemAsia Film Festival in Amsterdam and International Anti-Corruption East Asia Documentary Film Festival in Brazil.

    The 2021 GPHR Selection Committee believed that the May 18 Spirit is realized through the actions of Mr. Anon Nampa and the Watchdoc Documentary Maker. It highly appreciates the actions of Mr. Anon Nampa who has relentlessly fought against dictatorial governments regardless of physical threats and the activities of the Watchdoc Documentary Maker that has inspired world citizens with their film making.

    The May 18 Memorial Foundation believes that today’s decisions will serve as a momentum to secure the solidarity between world citizens towards the development of democracy and the expansion of human rights.

    January 14, 2021

    2020 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Jury Members (In alphabetical order)

    Chief: Moon, Kyoo-hyun (Chair / People for Peace and Reunification)

    Members: Kang, Seong-gu (Vice Chairman / Korea Democracy Foundation)

    Kim, Jeong-ho (Lawyer / IUS Law Firm)

    Song, Soh-yon (Secretary-General / NHRC of Korea)

    Oh, Heung Sook (Representative / Busan Lifeline)

    Youn, Yeong-duk (Lawmaker / The Democratic Party)

    Lee, Cheol-woo (Chairman / The May 18 Memorial Foundation)

    14 January 2021
    9011 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Loei anti-mine villagers, activists threatened by gunfire

    After repeated threats and assaults, villagers and activists protesting the impact of a gold mine have been shot at by a local government employee as they were trying to prevent ore from being smuggled out of the mine.

    Middle: Thanakrit Anthara held after a confrontation with students at the mine.  He later fired his pistol.

    The gunshot incident took place on 12 January, the day after the Khon Rak Ban Koed group (KRBK - ‘People Who Love Their Home’) submitted a petition to the the Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police via the Wang Saphung District Police Superintendent, demanding safety measures to protect human rights defenders from potential threats.

    KRBK members are from 6 villages in Wang Saphung District whose livelihoods have been affected by chemical contamination since the gold mine started operations in 2006.

    After the petition was submitted, Wang Saphung District Police set up a complaint box at the mine entrance in Na Nong Bong village and dispatched additional officers to the area. Around 17.15, Thanakrit Anthara, a temporary employee of the district security division drove his car to the mine entrance where he quarrelled with the villagers and students who were keeping watch.

    Footage of the shooting and interview after Thanakrit left.

    According to video footage and witnesses, Thanakrit, who seemed drunk, was wearing a jacket with the district logo and a side-arm. After a village guard successfully moved him away, he shot his pistol as he drove his car away from the scene, terrifying the people around.

    The moment when Thanakrit confronted the villagers as a guard tried to take him away.

    At 20.12, Thanakrit turned himself in at the District Police Station. District Chief Prayoon Arunroot stated that Thanakrit is a temporary employee on a monthly contract. He was not assigned to the site and his action will result in him being fired. Further prosecution will be the task of the police.

    Thanakrit will be held at the police station for up to 48 hours. Villagers opposed bail in fear of their safety. It was found that Thanakrit carries 2 guns. A police investigation into the firearms is underway.

    As of 13 January, Thanakrit was allowed bail with a 20,000 baht insurance policy as surety. He gave an interview claiming that he was ordered by his chief "Chantip" to observe the "mobs" around the mine. He denied that he fired his gun in order to threaten the people.

    Pranom Somwong, a representative from the international rights organization Protection International (PI) which has been monitoring the Loei mine case, was surprised by the court's decision.

    Pranom said that the investigation officer had refused bail before passing the case to the court. The villagers are also concerned that the court let Thanakrit walk free as his action shows intent to threaten them.

    The PI representative urged the relevant authorities to provide safety measures for the villagers around the mine, stating that it is a dangerous place as the remaining minerals in the mine have attracted attention from those who want them, even after the remaining ore was sold via auction in December 2020.

    The gold mine became controversial when the villagers in surrounding areas felt they were affected by chemical contamination in streams, disturbance caused by from mine explosions and ore transportation, air pollution and internal conflicts that erupted within the villages. Villagers formed KRBK in 2007 to raise awareness over the mine's negative impact.

    In 2012, the court declared Thung Kham Co Ltd bankrupt, leading to a halt in operations in mid-2013. Attempts by the company to retrieve leftover ore and renew its mining concession emerged from time to time. Villagers set up a team to watch that the remaining ore was not smuggled away.

    Villagers fight thugs on the night of 15 May 2014  Only two men were charged and have been released on bail. Photo courtesy of Loei Ore Mine's Facebook

    The villagers have faced threats because of their campaigns. Tension reached a peak in September 2013 when the villagers barricaded the mine entrance, blocking trucks, each of which normally carries 15 tons of cyanide waste, from passing through their villages. They then had to live in fear of judicial harassment, thugs, gunmen and death threats.

    On the night of 15 May 2014, about 200 armed men dressed in black stormed a villagers’ checkpoint leading to the gold mine in an attempt to transport mineral ore from the mine. The unidentified men assaulted the villagers, used guns to intimidate them and held some of them hostage.

    According to Post Today, at least 50 million baht is demanded in the overall litigation brought by the company and the local authorities against the villagers, mainstream media and citizen journalists.

    The threats remain until now. On the morning of 12 January when the petition was submitted, a man with a uniform devoid of identification took close-up photos of each villager.  It was later found out that he was an undercover police officer after students surrounded him and pressured him to confess.

    In December 2020, unidentified men with a military appearance claiming to be company officials, appeared in 6 villages around the mine, causing fear among villagers.

    In December 2020, the remaining 190 sacks of ore were finally sold at auction with a 8,240,000 baht winning bid. The departure of the ore marks a good time for the villagers to start restoring the natural environment.

    14 January 2021
    9010 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Student arrested in the middle of the night on a Section 112 charge

    Sirichai (last name withheld), a 1st year student at the Puey Ungphakorn School of Development Studies, Thammasat University, and a member of the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, was arrested during Wednesday night (13 January) on a royal defamation charge under Section 112.

    Sirichai (left) being held on a police car

    UPDATE: Police made an another arrest again after release

    At 13.56 on 14 January, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) tweeted that Sirichai was re-arrested by police officers from Pratunam Chulalongkorn Police Station in Pathum Thani after he had been released by Thanyaburi Provincial Court.

    As the arrest was made in the area under the jurisdiction of Thanyaburi Police Station, Sirichai was taken there.

    It was first announced that Sirichai would be charged under Section 112 of the Criminal Code. However, Pratunam Chulalongkorn police later said Sirichai would only be investigated as a witness.

    Then a police officer from the Technology Crime Suppression Division arrived at the station to charge Sirichai under Section 27 of the Computer Crimes Act for not earlier complying with a court order for him to hand over his computer password.

    Sirichai argued that the accusation against him under Section 112 was not computer-related and that he had a lawful right not to hand over evidence.

    Sirichai was finally released at 16.30.

    Bail allowed, possession of e-cigaratte charged additionally

    On 14 January, 12.23, Thanyaburi Provincial Court allowed Sirichai bail using 150,000 baht and a Thammasat University lecturer’s position as security. 

    Sirichai gave an interview to the media when he was released. He said he was charged with Section 112 and vandalism.

    After the police searched Sirichai's residence, he was also charged with possessing an e-cigarette which is outlawed in Thailand.

    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) questioned 7 aspects of this arrest, including why the arrest and search was conducted in the middle of the night, questions about the issuance of the arrest warrant, the police denial of access to a lawyer and police refusal to reveal where Sirichai was detained.

    Nighttime arrest led to further chaos

    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported at 23.00 on Wednesday (13 January) that Sirichai was arrested by police officers from the Khlong Luang Police Station on a royal defamation charge under Section 112.

    The police later claimed that Sirichai had been taken to the Border Patrol Police (BPP) Region 1 headquarters. However, at around midnight, student activists Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, along with a group of other students, went to the BPP Region 1 headquarters, but were prevented from entering the premises. Officers stationed in front of the headquarters claimed that Sirichai had yet to arrive.

    Around 15 minutes later, the students went inside the headquarters to look for Sirichai, after which Pol Maj Gen Pongpich Wongsawat, Commander of the BPP Region 1, came to tell them that Sirichai was not being held there and asked the students to send in one representative while others waited outside as the headquarters is off-limits to members of the public.

    At 00.50, the students went to the detention room inside the headquarters, but did not find Sirichai. Parit and Panusaya then tried to contact Pathum Thani police chief Pol Maj Gen Chayut Marayat via phone and were eventually told that Sirichai was being held at Khlong Luang Police Station.

    Parit also said that Pol Maj Gen Chayut led the team of officers that arrested Sirichai, and that he told Parit when the students first went to Khlong Luang Police Station that Sirichai had been taken to the BPP Region 1 headquarters.

    However, a TLHR lawyer went to the Khlong Luang Police Station at around 1.20 and was told that Sirichai was not at the station.

      At 1.36, The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration went live on Facebook after Sirichai was found at his student hall. He was being held in a police car after the police took him to the hall for them to search his room. The students surrounded the police car and demanded that they wait for a lawyer to arrive before they removed Sirichai elsewhere. They also demanded that the officers present an arrest warrant and a search warrant, but the officers did not comply.

      A TLHR lawyer arrived about 10 minutes later and was told by Sirichai that he was arrested under a Section 112 charge. The officers also presented an arrest warrant, as well as a search warrant issued by the Thanyaburi Provincial Court

      At 2.20, Sirichai was taken back to Khlong Luang Police Station, where he was informed of the charges. A group of students and members of the public also gathered in front of the police station to show their support, while police officers blocked the front doors to the station building. His friends were also prevented from accompanying him inside the station.

      According to Move Forward Party MP Bencha Saengchantra, who also went to Khlong Luang Police Station, Sirichai faces charges under Section 112 for spraying paint on a portrait of the King.

      Bencha also tweeted a picture of a note Sirichai wrote asking his friends not to worry about him and to keep fighting until there is equality.

      Sirichai's note

      Sirichai was taken to the Thanyaburi Provincial Court on Thursday morning (14 January) for a temporary detention request. The court then ruled to allow him to be temporarily detained for 12 days. His lawyer is now requesting bail using a Thammasat University lecturer’s position as security.

      TLHR said that Sirichai’s case is the first time since Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s announcement on 19 November 2020 that every law will be used against the pro-democracy protesters that a court issue an arrest warrant for a Section 112 charge.

      Around 40 people involved with the pro-democracy movement are now facing charges under Section 112, at least 2 of whom are minors. Several protest leaders are also facing several counts of the charge. 

      14 January 2021
      9009 at https://prachatai.com/english
    • Foreign correspondents’ circle concern over Vietnam’s jailing of 3 journalists

      The foreign correspondents' clubs and associations of Thailand, Japan, Jakarta, the Philippines, South Asia and Taiwan are deeply concerned by the convictions and harsh prison sentences handed down by a Vietnamese court on January 5 to three Vietnamese journalists, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, for “spreading anti-state propaganda,” and call for their immediate release.

      (Standing) Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan. (Source: Facebook/ Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand - FCCT)

      The three, all members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), were convicted of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the state” at a one-day trial in the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court.

      The court's verdict, cited by state-run media, said the three "had regularly been in contact with regime opponents." Government officials were quoted by Western media saying the journalists had intended to "distort and defame the people's administration, and infringe the interests of the Communist Party of Vietnam and state."

      One of the convicted journalists, Pham Chi Dung, 54, previously worked for the government’s Department of Internal Affairs and Security but had quit his position in 2013, saying the "Communist Party no longer serves and represents the interests of the majority of the people."

      Dung, who received a 15-year jail sentence, founded the IJAVN in 2014 to advocate for press freedom but the state has since declared it a criminal organization. Fellow IJAVN members, Thuy, 69, and younger member Tuan, were each given 11-year prison terms. All three were ordered to serve an additional three years under house arrest after their release.

      The convictions reflect a widening crackdown on dissent and independent media ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s five-yearly congress which starts on January 25. They also highlight the growing contradiction between Vietnam’s efforts to portray itself as a modern state and friend of the West, and the reality of censorship and repression under one-party rule.

      The US Department of State described the sentences as “harsh” and “the latest in a worrisome trend.” Amnesty International said they underscored Hanoi’s contempt for a free press.

      In its annual World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 175 of 180 states. In 2020, Vietnam imprisoned 28 journalists, making it the fourth worst country for jailing journalists behind China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt respectively.

      At least 15 Vietnamese journalists were in prison as of December 1 2020, including Dung, Thuy and Tuan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

      Signed by:

      Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand

      Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan

      Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines

      Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club

      South Asia Foreign Correspondents’ Club

      Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club

      13 January 2021
      9008 at https://prachatai.com/english
    • Senators, generals, academics dominate political reconciliation committee lineup

      Proposed by the parliament speaker, Chuan Leekpai, the reconciliation committee, aimed to find a way out of political turmoil, is packed with senators, academics, military officers and government coalition MPs. No opposition MPs or pro-democracy protesters are included.

      Chuan Leekpai

      According to Matichon, the committee consists of 11 members whose names list were published on 11 January:

      1. Gen Chaicharn Changmongkol, Deputy Minister of Defence
      2. Assoc Prof Viroj Limkaisang, President of Rajamangala University of Technology Isan
      3. Assoc Prof Nirut Thuengnak, President of Rajabhat Mahasarakham University
      4. Dr Somsak Rungroong, President of Southeast Bangkok College
      5. Prof Md Wanchai Wattanasap, former President of Khon Kaen University
      6. Prof Surichai Wun'gaeo, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University
      7. Dr Chaweerat Kasetsoontorn, Senator, former Deputy Minister of Culture
      8. Wallop Tangkananurak, Senator
      9. Sora-at Klinpratoom, Bhumjaithai party list MP
      10. Nirote Sunthornleka, Palang Pracharat MP for Nakhon Sawan
      11. Thoedpong Chaiyanan, Democrat party list MP

      Kunnavuti Tuntrakul, Deputy Secretary General of Parliament, as secretary to the committee, stated that the first meeting will be held on 18 January at 13.30. The committee will address recruiting 4 more experts in reconciliation to join the committee. The media will be allowed to observe the meeting.

      No opposition coalition MP is on the list.

      The composition of the reconciliation committee was proposed by Chuan in order to have all sides engage in dialogue to find a solution to the political tension in 2020 when pro-democracy protesters’ repeated demands for political and monarchy reform were met with a forceful and violence response from the security forces and anti-protester groups.

      According to the Bangkok Post, the pro-democracy protesters declared in November 2020 that they will not accept or join the committee formed by the government, stating that the government led by Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha is a major obstacle in resolving the country’s political, economic and social problems.

      Originally, 21 members were to consist of 2 government representatives, 2 government coalition MPs, 2 opposition MPs, 2 senators, 2 representatives of protesters who agree with the government, 2 representatives of protesters who disagree with the government, and 9 experts (3 from the Council of University Presidents of Thailand, 1 from the Council of Rajabhat Universities, 1 from the Council of Rajamangala Universities of Technology and 4 with expertise in reconciliation).

      The protesters and some opposition MPs view that the committee structure is not designed to address the demands of the protesters as the number on the government side is overwhelming.

      Previously, former prime ministers Anand Panyarachun, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh hinted they may be willing to join the committee. They have not yet done so.

      13 January 2021
      9007 at https://prachatai.com/english
    • Cartoon by Stephff: Thai national children's day

      11 January 2021
      9006 at https://prachatai.com/english