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  • Missing activist’s mother says authorities don’t want her talking to the UN

    Kanya Theerawut, mother of missing political refugee Siam Theerawut, said at the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (APF) on Thursday (12 September) that the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) told her not to take her son’s case to the UN, as it could ruin the country’s image.

    Kanya Theerawut (fifth from left) with a group of Siam's friends on the stage at the ASEAN Peoples' Forum

    Kanya and a group of Siam’s friends were at the APF event at the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University yesterday to speak about his disappearance. She told the Forum’s participants that after five months, the family’s search for Siam has yet to yield any trace of him.

    Kanya said that she went to the RLPD in August to ask for help in searching for Siam, and has given them information on the last time she contacted Siam. However, she said the RLPD told her not to bring Siam’s case to the UN because that will damage Thailand’s reputation. She also said that she was visited and questioned by Special Branch officers before her participation in the APF.

    Siam's story

    Siam went missing around May 2019 along with two other refugees: Chucheep “Uncle Sanam Luang” Chiwasut and Kritsana Tubthai. They were reportedly arrested in Vietnam and extradited to Bangkok. However, the Vietnamese authorities said they don’t have any information about the group’s entry into the country, their arrest, or extradition. Kanya has previously gone to the Crime Suppression Division, the Vietnamese Embassy, and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, but so far there is still no progress.

    Kanya said she is still sad that Thai laws cannot help her and that she doesn’t know whether her son is alive or dead. She asks anyone who has any information about Siam to contact the family, as they are very worried about him.

    14 September 2019
    8213 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Oath error: recapping case that shakes government

    The government will soon face a showdown in parliament over its oath error. Here is a recap of all that has happened. 

    It has been almost three months since Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and his Cabinet attended the constitutional oath-taking ceremony before King Vajiralongkorn on 16 July 2019. 9 days later, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul spotted a mistake in the oath and consulted with the Speaker of Parliament about what to do, as the words that were spoken deviated from the oath as stated in Section 161 of the 2017 Constitution.

    A sentence was omitted and a word was added: 

    ‘I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to His Majesty the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.  Forever.’

    Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and his Cabinet attended the constitutional oath-taking ceremony before King Vajiralongkorn on 16 July 2019.
     

    Piyabutr claimed that the Cabinet may technically have not yet taken office because of the oath error. On 31 July, Wissanu Krea-ngam said everything was in accordance with the procedure and complete. Surrounded by reporters, he said a day later he did not know why the mistake happened. ‘Someday you will know that you should not talk,’ he said.

    The now three-month-long controversy began. Many consider it trivial, but some see that constitutionality and the status of monarchy in a political system are at stake.

    The war of interpretation

    On 4 August, Anudit Nakornthap, Secretary-General of the Pheu Thai Party, demanded that the government explain the incomplete oath and correct the mistake. A day later Gen Prayut insisted the oath had been comprehensive and constitutional. The most important thing, he said, was that it was in accordance with the King’s first speech on the day of his coronation.  On the same day, Srisuwan Janya, nicknamed ‘Thailand’s complainer-in-chief’, petitioned the Ombudsman to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court and the Administrative Court about the constitutionality of the oath.

    On 6 August, Paisal Puechmongkol, an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, said that if the oath was incorrect, it meant that Prayut’s pre-election cabinet and the NCPO still remained in power with the absolute authority of Section 44. Next day, Suthin Khlangsaeng, opposition whip from Pheu Thai, requested a parliamentary session to question the Prime Minister about the matter.

    However, Gen Prayut did not appear in Parliament because he went to the south of Thailand. Gen Prayut said on 8 August “Soon it will be in order because I had no intention to do wrong.” Similar to statements by dictator Sarit Thanarat (Prime Minister 1957-63), he added he would take sole responsibility.

    On 10 August, Bhokin Bhalakula, chair of the Pheu Thai strategic committee for policy and planning, said that everything the government has done will be invalid if the oath was incomplete. Three days later, Prayut declined to answer when faced with reporters’ questions.

    On 14 August, Piyabutr requested to question the PM in Parliament. Gen Prayut, again, did not attend the session. House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said the Prime Minister must explain why he did not attend the session. Wirat Warotsirin, deputy leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, asked the Speaker whether the mistaken oath constituted royal defamation and whether a royal pardon should be requested.

    But on that day Prayut went to take part in a tug-of-war, a football match, and handing out meals to blind students at the Foundation for the Blind in Thailand in the morning and did not attend the afternoon session of Parliament. A day later he said he had no reason to attend because the case had been filed against him with the Ombudsman.

    On 16 August, the 7 opposition parties requested Parliament to open a general debate about the oath ceremony. Suphachai Phosu, Deputy House Speaker, said the debate may start after August because of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly in the last week of August. On 21 August, Piyabutr asked to question the Prime Minister in Parliament, but Gen Prayut avoided it again.

    The King’s letter

    The Ombudsman announced that it would rule on 27 August whether a case should be filed with the Constitutional Court. But something unexpected happened. One day before, the government announced it was holding a ceremony before King Vajiralongkorn’s portrait to receive a royal letter. On 28 August the content of the King’s letter was revealed to be the same as the speech given at the oath-taking ceremony. The request for the letter was made by the government to the palace.

    “I want to take this occasion to wish you encouragement, confidence, and determination to do your duty in line with your oath for the benefit, happiness, and security of the country and the people. Any work must have obstacles, must have problems. Therefore, it is normal to have to solve the problems and get to work, so that the administration of the country runs smoothly according to the situation through solutions direct to the point and with strength and forbearance.

    I wish the cabinet and government the encouragement and force to do your duty with righteousness.”

    “It is held to be immeasurable royal kindness with regard to the oath-taking” said Gen Prayut after the ceremony.  He also said “I could not say if this can end the other issue or not,” as he explained that the letter will be kept in Government House.

    Gen Prayut showing the King's letter before the press 

    According to Matichon Weekly, this was not the first time the government had requested a letter of encouragement from the King. Banharn Silpa-archa did it in the mid 1990s, but this was the first time that the Cabinet held a ceremony to receive the letter. Wissanu Krea-ngam insisted that the ceremony was not a second ceremony to correct the earlier oath-taking mistake.

    Regardless of the Cabinet’s motive, legal experts insisted that under the principle of the constitutional monarchy, the King’s letter has nothing to do with the issue. Sriamporn Saligupta, a senior judge of the Court of Appeals, said in an interview with Matichon that it is the royal prerogative of His Majesty to give advice to the government, but since the King cannot meddle in politics under the Constitution, it is inappropriate to confuse His Majesty’s encouragement with the dispute which will be decided by the Constitutional Court. 

    Poonthep Sirinupong, of the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, and a member of the Nitirat Group (Law for the People)

    Poonthep Sirinupong, of the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, and a member of the Nitirat Group (Law for the People), shared the same concern. In his opinion, the Cabinet has officially been appointed in the Royal Gazette - with or without the oath. And the Cabinet has been sworn in with the acceptance of the King, so it can start functioning according to the Constitution. It was just that the oath was not correct, so the Cabinet should hold the ceremony again to conform to the Constitution.

    “Even if there was no intention to violate the Constitution, the lack of intention does not erase the incompleteness of the oath. It is still a Cabinet which has not completed the oath according to the Constitution. It must hold the oath-taking ceremony again because it is their duty to take the oath by saying the whole statement completely so that the problem can end.”

    Not to do so may cause a constitutional problem since the King’s advice cannot correct the incorrect oath of the Cabinet, added Poonthep. However, at times the King’s advice takes the form of law in Thailand as the royal announcement against the nomination of Princess Ubolratana as the prime minister candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party - which was against the principle of the constitutional monarchy. 

    “Royal advice does not have the force to make unconstitutional practice constitutional, but royal advice also does not have to take responsibility for the unconstitutional oath. Here, a clear distinction must be made. This explanation is to preserve the status of monarchy in a democracy.

    If the King allows or approves, despite the incomplete oath, it means you tie this issue to the King’s power of judgment, giving the King the power to decide this issue and the discretion to accept or not accept any cabinet. It means in the future the principle becomes that the King can reject any cabinet, doesn’t it? Do you really want to live in a regime which constructs an explanation which leads to that point?”

    The Constitutional Court’s decision

    The Ombudsman has decided to file the case with the Constitutional Court, but not on the grounds of the complaint submitted by Srisuwan Janya. Raksagecha Chaechai, Secretary-General of the Office of the Ombudsman, declared that Srisuwan’s complaint, based on Article 23 of the Organic Law on the Ombudsman, was invalid because that Section applies to laws enacted by the legislative or executive branches. The oath does not count as a law.

    9 judges of the Constitutional Court
    Source: Constitutional Court

    Instead, they accepted a complaint submitted by Phanupong Churak, a student from Ramkhamhaeng University, who reasoned that the government must swear the oath as written in Section 161 of the Constitution. The fact that the cabinet members did not say they would respect the constitution, probably causing the later actions of the government to be invalid, means they violated the rights and freedom of the complainant, based on Section 213 of the Organic Law on Constitutional Court Procedures.

    Ruangkrai Leekitwattana also filed a complaint directly with the Constitutional Court. Based on Section 161 and 162, Ruangkrai argued that the cabinet’s oath error and its policy announcement which lacks elaboration on budget source was the use of rights or freedom to overthrow the regime of democracy with a monarch as a head of state.

    On 11 September, the Constitutional Court dismissed both complaints. Phanupong’s case had to be dismissed because the procedural law does not allow them to prosecute the cabinet in such cases:

    “…the 2018 Organic Law on Constitutional Court Procedures, Section 47, staes that ‘the use of the right to file a complaint based on Section 46 must be about the actions which violate rights or freedoms committed by government agencies, government officials, or agencies which exercise governmental power, and must not fall into one of the following: (1.) an act of the government…’ … The oath-taking before the King, a political issue of the cabinet which is an executive organ according to the constitution in relation particularly to the monarch, fits the definition of an act of government. … which means the Constitutional Court cannot take up the case for consideration.”

    Ruangkrai’s case was also dismissed simply on the ground that the cabinet’s oath error and policy announcement had nothing to do with overthrowing the government. Even though the Constitutional Court was in many cases widely criticized for its partiality and prosecutions of prominent critics, this time maybe it did not do anything wrong. 

    Poonthep Sirinupong, in an interview before the Court’s decision, said that the oath error might not be able to make it to the Constitutional Court on the grounds of both complainants:

    “In the case of oath-taking, it is quite difficult to say that it affected rights or liberty of the people. Alright, you may say that in the future the cabinet will do such and such, but the purpose or objectives of filing a constitutional complaint was for the Court to investigate an action which directly affect the rights and liberty of the people, not for when the cabinet did not complete the oath and then such actions lead to this or that action which in turn affected them. This was pretty far-fetched. …

    Another was that Ruangkrai Leekitwattana proposed, claiming the use of rights and liberty to overthrow the regime. I still and always insisted since the 2007 and 2017 Constitution that these cases were that the constitution restricts the use of rights and liberty of the people guaranteed by the constitution so that they do not destroy the government or go against the government. It was not a legal basis for checking the state’s exercise of power, obligation, act of duties or of following the constitution. Under this principle, it should not be a basis for the Court to take the case.”

    The Parliamentary Showdown

    Something can still be done even if it’s not much. “Apart from the legal criterion, the cabinet must be under the scrutiny of the Parliament,” said Poonthep. “Therefore, anyhow, Members of Parliament have the right to check, discuss, question, and find the truth out of the cabinet anytime about this matter, and people also have the right to question and know the truth” 

    So far, Gen Prayut has avoided three parliamentary sessions on 7 August, 14 August, and 21 August, but he cannot avoid it forever. The oath controversy will be fought out in Parliament for 14 hours on 18 September, one day before the 13th anniversary of the military coup led by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin. Because this is a general debate, Gen Prayut was bound by the law to attend. 

    House Speaker Chuan said the item will be added to the parliamentary agenda as an urgent matter. Sonthirat Sontijirawong, Minister of Energy, said Gen Prayut will attend the debate. The Prime Minister will face 20 MPs who are scheduled to speak in the debate. 

    Wisanu Krue-ngam, the deputy prime minister, said along the same line as Sonthirat on the other occasion that there may be a possibility of requesting the debate to be confidential, depending on the questions from the opposition. So far, it is allowed by the Constitution if a cabinet or one-fourth of MPs request it.

    Suthin Khlangsaeng, the leader of the opposition whip, said that the government must explain the reason why it has to be confidential. The opposition has no problem with it, but the government must be responsible to the public who want to know about this issue.

    13 September 2019
    8212 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Court postpones academic’s hearing after editor’s no-show

    The Supreme Court has postponed the hearing in the case of Sarinee Achavanuntakul, an academic accused of contempt of court for the publication of an article in the Krungthep Turakit newspaper, after the co-accused news editor did not appear at the hearing on 9 September 2019.

    According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), representing Sarinee, she submitted her statement to the court, denying the accusation of contempt of court. She accepted that she was the author of the article criticizing the court’s jurisdiction. However, she said she wrote the article in good faith and with good intentions, in order to improve the Thai justice system.

    In submitting the statement, she wanted to apologize if some words may be deemed harsh or may cause damage to the court's reputation. However, she insisted that her written article was not a violation of contempt of court under Section 32(2) of the Thai Civil Code, which states that contempt of court charges against such potentially-influential publications are warranted only “during the  trial of a case up to final judgement” and where the said influence “appears likely to prejudice the fairness of such case.”

    She also called for an opportunity to prove her innocence by summoning other witnesses to testify in court and to guarantee her right to a fair trial according to Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), before the court adjudicates the final decision which cannot be appealed.

    Sarinee was accused of contempt of court for the publication of her article “The danger of excessive rule by law (again): the case of MP candidates’ media shares” ("อันตรายภาวะนิติศาสตร์ล้นเกิน (อีกที) กรณีหุ้นสื่อของผู้สมัครส.ส.") in Krungthep Turakit on 14 May 2019, which has since been taken down from the paper’s website.

    The civil case was filed by Supradit Jeensawake, Secretary of the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division, who said that the article criticized the Supreme Court, saying that the Court was careless in its interpretation of the law preventing individuals with shares in media companies from running as MP candidates and that this interpretation is dangerous.

    Supradit also said that the article accused the Election Cases Division of the Supreme Court of using the law incessantly and interpreting it without considering the facts and the spirit of the law. Supradit thinks that Sarinee did not criticize the Court’s ruling with pure intentions, but is attacking the Court.

    The editor of Krungthep Turakit, who was accused along with Sarinee, allegedly did not receive the summons and did not appear at the hearing. The Court therefore ordered the summons to be re-issued and delivered to the paper’s office.

    The news editor is to appear in court to submit a statement on 26 September, when there will also be an examination of the accusers. Another examination of Sarinee and witnesses will be held on 1 October and the court will rule on the case on 11 October.

    12 September 2019
    8211 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Activists receive threats ahead of ASEAN Peoples’ Forum

    Sirisak Chaited, an LGBT rights activist, said she has received a threatening email ahead of the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (APF) on 10 – 12 September, while Siyeed Alam, chair of the Rohingya Association in Thailand, said he has been contacted by Special Branch officers.

    On Saturday (7 September), Sirisak posted on her Facebook page that she had received an email from an anonymous sender requesting “co-operation in peaceful communication” and asking her to discuss human rights in the APF meeting “without affecting the image of the country and other ASEAN members.”

    The email also said that “we understand the current situation. Speaking the truth directly is something that should happen, but in certain situations, we need to think of the collective interest both at the national and the ASEAN level too, especially when criticizing issues that may affect the image of our country or may cause conflicts between nations."

    "We hearby request your cooperation. This is also because we are concerned for your safety and that of the people in this country and in other ASEAN member states."

    Siyeed Alam, chair of the Rohingya Association in Thailand, also said that Special Branch officers had contacted him to get information on members of the Rohingya community who are attending the APF. Officials have called him asking to schedule a meeting and to photograph his “0 Card” or the identity card for persons without registration status.

    Meanwhile, the Forum was moved from the Berkeley Hotel Pratunam to the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University after the organizing committee refused funding of around 10 million baht from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, citing as their reason interference from security officials in, for example, requesting for a list of overseas participants. However, the Director of the Foreign Affairs Division of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security said that the Ministry is unable to issue funding since the organizers did not provide them with a list of participants. The Ministry is also organizing a parallel ASEAN Peoples’ Forum at the Berkeley Hotel Pratunam on 9 – 12 September.

    12 September 2019
    8210 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Cartoon by Stephff: let's not jump to conclusions

    Political cartoon by Stephff in response to Thammanat Prompao, the Minister of Agriculture, whose past has been exposed by an Austrialian report as a drug dealer sentenced in jail for 4 years.  

    11 September 2019
    8209 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Justice for Billy: CSOs call for investigation into activist’s disappearance

    On 3 September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a press conference to announce that bones found in Kaeng Krachan Dam have been confirmed to be those of Karen environmental activist and community rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who went missing in 2014. Several human rights organizations have since called for the Thai authorities to conduct an investigation into his abduction and murder.

    Billy (right) with his wife Pinnapa (Source: Human Rights Lawyers Association)

    Amnesty International (AI) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a joint statement on 4 September 2019, calling for a “renewed focus on identifying the perpetrator(s)…and bringing them to justice.” Federick Raawski, the ICJ’s Asia Regional Director, said that if “it is found that Billy was the victim of enforced disappearance, then the perpetrators, including those with command responsibility, should be charged with the appropriate, serious offences in accordance with Thailand’s obligations under international law.”

    Meanwhile, Nicholas Bequelin, the AI interim Regional Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, pointed out that Billy’s case “highlights the serious risks activists and human rights defenders face in Thailand” and “underscores the long-overdue need for the Thai government to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law.”

    Human Rights Watch (HRW) also issued a statement calling for the Thai government to immediately conduct a credible investigation into Billy’s case.

    “The discovery of Billy’s remains should prompt Thai authorities to urgently step up their investigation and pursue justice wherever it leads them,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “There should be no more cover-ups or delays, but fair prosecutions of all those responsible for Billy’s death.”

    Under several international treaties, Thailand is obligated to investigate and appropriately prosecute enforced disappearance, torture, custodial death, and other alleged serious violations of human rights. However, it has yet to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law. An anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill was dropped by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) prior to the 2019 general election. This lack of legislation, HRW said, hindered DSI’s investigation.

    “A credible investigation is urgently needed for the sake of Billy’s family, to seek justice for this prominent defender of the ethnic Karen community, and to start to bring an end to enforced disappearances in Thailand,” Adams said. “Billy’s case will continue to hang over the Thai government until his fate is fully explained and those responsible are punished.”

    The event at BACC. The sign says "Our hearts are for Bily. Punish his murderer."

    Meanwhile, on 7 September, a network of artists led by Vasan Sitthikhet organized a performance at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre calling for the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. The event consisted of live music performances, a live drawing of Billy’s portrait, and a reading of the group’s statement saying that Billy’s murder is a serious violation of human rights and that the government must urgently investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators.

    10 September 2019
    8208 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • HRW calls for Thai authorities to investigate Lao activist's disappearance

    Thai authorities should urgently investigate the apparent enforced disappearance of Od Sayavong, a refugee from Laos and prominent critic of the Lao government, Human Rights Watch said today (7 September). Od, 34, was last seen at his house in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum district on August 26, 2019.

    “The Thai government should immediately provide information on the whereabouts of outspoken Lao activist Od Sayavong,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Bangkok’s streets should be safe from abductions and wrongful arrests.”

    Od’s colleagues filed a report with the Thai police on September 2. No progress in the investigation has been reported. On September 6, the Defense Ministry spokesman, Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich, denied knowledge of Od’s whereabouts.

    Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about Od’s safety. He is affiliated with the “Free Lao” group, a loose network of Lao migrant workers and activists in exile based in Bangkok and neighboring provinces who peacefully advocate for human rights and democracy in Laos. Od and other group members have occasionally held peaceful protests outside the Lao embassy and the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok. They have also organized human rights workshops for Lao migrant workers in Thailand.

    The Lao government has arbitrarily arrested and detained activists and those deemed critical of the government. The penal code effectively gives the authorities sweeping powers to prosecute dissidents. Harsh prison sentences range from up to 5 years for anti-government propaganda to 15 years for journalists who fail to file “constructive reports” or who seek to “obstruct” the work of the government.

    In recent weeks, members of “Free Lao” told Human Rights Watch that they have been put under surveillance and intimidated by Thai and Lao authorities. They believe this is to stop them from protesting or otherwise criticizing the Lao government during the ASEAN People’s Forum, being held in Bangkok on September 10-12.

    Thai authorities have frequently collaborated with foreign governments to harass, arbitrarily arrest, and forcibly return exiled dissidents in violation of international law. This has included people formally registered as persons of concern by the UN refugee agency. Some countries, including Laos, have allegedly reciprocated by turning a blind eye to the enforced disappearance and murder of Thai dissidents seeking asylum in their territory.

    Enforced disappearances are defined under international laws the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Thailand is obligated to investigate and appropriately prosecute enforced disappearance.

    Thailand is also prohibited under international law from forcibly sending someone to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution, torture, or other serious human rights violations.

    “The Thai government’s deference to abusive neighbors has once again appeared to have taken priority over its legal obligations,” Adams said. “Thailand needs to reestablish itself as a place where refugees are safe and stop assisting abusive countries by returning their dissidents.”

    9 September 2019
    8207 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • FIDH calls for Thai authorities to investigate the disappearance of Laos activist

    Thai authorities must immediately investigate the disappearance of Od Sayavong, a Lao activist seeking asylum, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urged today.

    “Od sought refuge in Thailand but the country has become increasingly unsafe for asylum seekers. Thai authorities must immediately determine Od’s fate or whereabouts and the government must adopt measures that guarantee the rights of asylum seekers in accordance with international standards,” said Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Vice-President. 

    Od Sayavong, a 34-year-old activist from Savannaket Province, Laos, was last seen by one of his co-workers at around 5:30pm on 26 August 2019 at the house the two of them shared with two other co-workers in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum District. Around that time, Od left the house and was expected to join the two other co-workers for dinner later that evening at a restaurant in Bueng Kum District, where Od worked as a cook. At 6:34pm, a Facebook message was sent from Od’s account to one of the two co-workers, who were both already at the restaurant, to ask him to “cook rice” and wait for him. This was the last time Od was believed to have been heard from. Od did not return to the house that night. The following day, at 5:03pm, one of Od’s co-workers attempted to call him but Od’s phone was out of service. A message sent by the same co-worker to Od through the messaging app LINE at 5:06pm went unanswered and was never marked as having been read. Od’s cell phone appears to have remained out of service since the evening of 27 August 2019.

    Od had been awaiting resettlement to a third country since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok registered him as a person of concern in December 2017.

    “Od may be the latest casualty of increased cooperation between the government of Thailand and its regional counterparts to crack down on their respective dissidents in exile. The international community should strongly condemn this seemingly coordinated form of repression that leads to further shrinking space for civil society in the region," said Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President.

    Earlier this year, Truong Duy Nhat, a Vietnamese political activist who had sought refuge in Thailand, was abducted. The blogger went missing on 26 January in Bangkok, where he had fled to from Vietnam to seek political asylum. It is suspected that Nhat was abducted by unknown individuals in Bangkok before being taken back to Vietnam against his will. In March 2019, he was revealed to be detained in a jail in Hanoi.

    Related: 

     

    Background

    In Thailand, Od Sayavong has been involved in political activism and other activities promoting respect for human rights and democratic principles in Laos since at least 2015. Od has been a member of “Free Lao”, an informal group of Lao migrant workers and activists based in Bangkok and neighboring provinces that advocates for human rights and democracy in Laos. The group focuses on organizing human rights workshops and meetings, and participating in occasional small peaceful protests outside the Lao embassy and the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok.

    On the evening of 15 March 2019, Od posted on his Facebook page a photo of himself in front of the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of a three-headed white elephant standing on a five-level pedestal – the official flag of Laos from 1952 until the fall of the royal government in 1975. The Lao government has outlawed this flag and its display has frequently angered Vientiane.

    On 12 July 2018, during the review of the Laos’ initial report by the United Nations Human Rights Committee during its 123rd session, the Lao government delegation justified the sentencing of three Lao citizens in March 2017 to prison terms ranging from 12 to 20 years for having raised the three-headed white elephant flag during a peaceful demonstration in front of the Lao embassy in Bangkok on 2 December 2015 (Laos’ National Day). The three had previously posted numerous messages on Facebook that criticized the Lao government in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations. FIDH is aware that the Lao authorities regularly monitor the social media accounts of Lao activists and organizations abroad.

    6 September 2019
    8206 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • The Red Drum: from the killing of Thanom-era Communist suspects to Billy, and the culture of impunity

    On 3 September 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a press conference on the progress in the investigation into the disappearance of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, an environmental activist and community rights defender from the Pong Luk Bang Kloy Karen community, who disappeared mysteriously on 17 April 2014.

    Left: a diagram showing how the victims of the Red Drum were burned. 
    Right: A DSI official showing a picture of the oil drum found in Kaeng Krachan Dam

    Among the evidence found were a 200-litre oil drum, 2 steel rods, 4 pieces of charcoal, and fragments of the old drum lid, along with 2 pieces of bone, which were found underwater when special investigating officers using an underwater vehicle and a team of drivers searched the area under the suspension bridge over the Kaeng Krachan Dam on 22 – 24 May 2019.

    The bone fragments were tested by the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS), which found that they were pieces from a human skull, which was burned, cracked, and shrunk due to exposure to heat of 200-300 degrees Celsius. Genetic testing found that the mitochondrial DNA matched that of Billy’s mother. The special investigating officers therefore concluded that the bones were Billy’s, and that his body was burned to conceal the crime.

    The oil drum used in Billy's case being brought up from Kaeng Krachan Dam (Source: Banrasdr Photo)

    Prajak Kongkirati, a lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, observed on his Twitter account that during the era of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn (1963-73), burning bodies in an oil drum was a method used by government officials to get rid of people suspected of being involved with Communism. Suspects were placed in an oil drum with about 20 litres of oil and burned. Some were tortured and some were already dead before being burned, while some were burned alive.

    Meanwhile, former human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit pointed out that during the search for her husband, the human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who went missing in 2004, 4 200-litre oil drums along with 2 steel rods were also found. Angkhana speculated that the steel rods were for keeping the lid closed while the body is being burned. 

    In the article “Crime of the State: Enforced disappearance, killings and impunity,” Thaweeporn Kummetha wrote about the “culture of impunity” which enables enforced disappearances, giving the example of the mass enforced disappearance, torture, and killing of communist suspects in Phattalung during the Cold War, nicknamed the “Red Drum” killings, which took place under the anti-communist dictatorship of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.

    A proposed design for a memorial for the victims of the Red Drum. The picture on the top right shows how the victims are burned. 

    The name derives from the method of killing communist suspects. Thousands of communist suspects are believed to have been killed by being burned alive in 200-litre oil drums. While the bodies were burning, truck engines were revved to mask the screams of those who were being murdered. According to Tyrell Haberkorn’s article “Getting Away with Murder in Thailand: State Violence and Impunity in Phatthalung,” it is estimated that about 3000 people were killed in this manner in 1972. 

    Even though the atrocities were committed under a military dictatorship, the exposure of such crimes was made possible by student activists during a brief period of democracy in 1975, two years after the 14 October 1973 uprising.

    Haberkorn wrote that the exposure stirred heated debate in Thai society. The media widely reported the Red Drum cases and the public called for the civilian government to prosecute the perpetrators. The Ministry of Interior set up a committee to investigate the case in mid-1975. About a month later, the Minister of Interior concluded that innocent citizens had been killed, but only seventy or eighty people were involved, rather than thousands. Regardless of the number, no one was punished, and the state agency held responsible for the killings continued working as usual.

    “[Impunity and enforced disappearance] are directly related. I am routinely astounded because there have been so many cases of disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killings, a massacre, but it's extremely rare that anyone was held to account,” Haberkorn said.

    The Red Drum memorial at Phattalung

    Thaweeporn’s report emphasized that, since no one was held accountable, the repeated practice of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings has become normalized and even flourishes in a culture of impunity.

    And since the DSI has already come this far, let’s hope that Billy’s case will become a precedent which sets a new standard.

    6 September 2019
    8205 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Thailand: Discovery of “Billy’s” remains should reinvigorate efforts to identify perpetrator(s)

    The announcement that the remains of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a Karen rights activist, have been located, bringing a sad end to years of uncertainty for his family. This development should lead to a renewed focus on identifying the perpetrator(s) of his apparent enforced disappearance and bringing them to justice, said the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Amnesty International today (4 September).

    On 3 September 2019, the Thai Ministry of Justice’s Department of Special Investigations (DSI) announced it had located bone fragments, which they had identified as likely belonging to Billy inside an oil tank submerged in water near a suspension bridge inside Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province.

    “The DSI should redouble its efforts to identify the perpetrator(s) of Billy’s killing and bring them to justice,” said Frederick Rawski, Asia Regional Director of the ICJ. “If, based on an assessment of the evidence, it is found that Billy was the victim of enforced disappearance, then the perpetrators, including those with command responsibility, should be charged with the appropriate, serious offences in accordance with Thailand’s obligations under international law - not only with lesser crimes that do not reflect the gravity of the offense.” 

    Billy was last seen on 17 April 2014 in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials.

    “This case highlights the serious risks activists and human rights defenders face in Thailand, including assaults, enforced disappearance and killings,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s interim Regional Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “It underscores the long-overdue need for the Thai government to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law. A failure to do so results in the lack of an independent, impartial and effective mechanism to investigate the cases, exacerbating the current climate of impunity.”

    The DSI stated that the recovered bones contain DNA inherited from Billy’s mother, which suggests they belong to a person who was related to her.  However, the DSI declined to disclose the name of any suspect(s) and requested more time to investigate the case and examine the remains.

    Background

    Thailand is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Freedom from enforced disappearance is protected under both these treaties, as enforced disappearance will always constitute violations of some or more of the following rights:  the right to life; freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to liberty; and the right to recognition as a person under the law. These are in addition to violations of the rights of members of the disappeared person’s family through suffering deliberately inflicted on them through the imposition on them of uncertainty about their love one’s fate and whereabouts.

    Thailand has also signed, but not yet ratified, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).  The ICPPED affirms the absolute right not to be subject to enforced disappearance and places an obligation on states to investigate acts of enforced disappearance, to make it a criminal offence punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account its “extreme seriousness” and to take necessary measures to bring those responsible to justice.

    The Government has stated it will not ratify the Convention until its provisions are incorporated in domestic law. However, efforts to pass the Draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act (draft Act) stalled after it was dropped by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) prior to the 2019 national election.  The draft Act is currently pending the consideration of the President of the National Assembly. Under international law of treaties, as signatory to the ICPPED, still is bound to desist from any acts which would defeat its object and purpose.  

    Thailand has a binding obligation under international law to conduct prompt, effective and thorough, independent and impartial, and transparent investigations into all suspected cases of unlawful death and enforced disappearance. 

    According to the ICPPED and the revised Minnesota Protocol (2016), which contains the international standards on the conduct of investigations into unlawful death and enforced disappearance – and which Thailand launched in May 2017 – records that investigations “must seek to identify not only direct perpetrators but also all others who were responsible for the death, including, for example, officials in the chain of command who were complicit in the death.” (para 26)  

    4 September 2019
    8204 at https://prachatai.com/english