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  • Thais express support for the pro-democracy movement at King Rama IX’s birthplace

    Thai people in Boston gathered at Bhumibol Square, a landmark honouring the birthplace of the late King Rama IX in the United States. They expressed support for the 3 demands for political and monarchy reform and also condemned the state use of violence against protesters.

    The group took a photo with a yellow rubber duck along with their placards.

    The event was held on 23 November at 10.00 EST. Around 15 Thais gathered to stage the symbolic action with banners and placards. They also exchanged views about past state violence against the people such as the 2010 crackdown and the 6 October 1976 massacre.

    They also questioned about the way monarchy is being exploited for gain while those who scrutinize the situation are suppressed.

    The group also brought along a yellow rubber duck, a pool toy that was used as a shield to protect the protesters against the police water cannon during the 17 November protest around Parliament, which later gained a mock honorific title by the protesters for its sacrifice.

    The activity participants prostrated to a person sitting on the rubber duck, mocking the Thai humble manner toward the monarchy.

    Messages displayed at the Boston protest also mentioned how participants were threatened in the past week by an official from the King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF), a non-profit corporation and public charity aiming “to preserve Thai history where King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family had lived in Massachusetts from 1916-1928”.

    A pro-monarchy person wearing a yellow shirt was seen trying to prevent the group from taking photos at the square. The group avoided the confrontation and took photos nevertheless. The person, however, observed the event until it ended at 12.30.

    According to the KTBF, the organization was incorporated in 1998 to preserve Thai history and culture. It also aims to improve the square to be worthy of His Majesty the late King. In 2003, the Foundation installed a King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Birthplace monument at the intersection of Eliot and Bennett streets at Harvard Square in Cambridge.

    The late King Rama IX was born on 5 December 1927, at Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    24 November 2020
    8932 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • DSI to investigate murders of Nong Bua Lumphu activists

    The Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation will visit the Dong Ma Fai Subdistrict in Nong Bua Lamphu to investigate the murders of local community rights defenders, but will not be able to meet with the activists' families as the visit was scheduled without consultation with the community. 

    On 1 October 2020, the National Human Rights Commissioners made a visit to meet with the rights defenders of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group in Dong Ma Fai Subdistrict, Suwan Kuha District, Nong Bua Lam Phu Province. They later coordinated with the various departments such as the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection and the Department of Special Investigation to serve as the protection mechanism for rights defenders in the event of death threats made against Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, advisor to the Conservation Group, along with the cases of four previously murdered community rights defenders, Mr. Boonrod Duangkota, Mr. Sanan Suwan, killed in 1995, Mr. Som Hompromma and Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam, killed in 1999.

    Last week, members of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group were informed by Police Lieutenant Colonel Banwat Traisuthiwong, Director of the Special Case Operation Center Area 4 that, on 25 November 2020 at 10:00 am, the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation and his team will visit Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group. He wishes to meet with the families of the murdered four human rights defenders and Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, human rights defender and advisor to the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group who has been facing life-threatening intimidations. The conservation group has made an official letter responding that it was inconvenient to meet due to rice harvesting and other engagement and asked to meet on 7-9 November 2020 instead. DSI has not yet been confirmed in the said proposal.

    Although we are pleased that after 26 years of struggles against the mine and to reclaim justice to those killed without any interests of the authorities, we finally received attention from government agencies such as the Department of Special Investigation. We hope it would be a mechanism to restore justice, which has not yet been achieved for the families of the killed human rights defenders and communities.

    However, we feel it is a pity that the visit by the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation was decided without the consultation with the community based rights defenders. Had the dates been mutually agreed upon, Director-General would be able to meet with the families of four killed defenders, the group members, along with Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, an advisor to the conservation group and EHRD who are facing death threats.

    As DSI will continue the same schedule to visit the area on 25 November 2020, the group hopes that in visiting the area, the DSI authorities would receive accurate, fair and useful information from relevant agencies which are the Special Case Operation Center 4 DSI, in conjunction with the Nong Bua Lam Phu Provincial Police Division and Suwan Khuha Police Station.

    Previously, Ms. Sorn Khamjam a women human rights defender and wife of Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam who was killed in a quarry conflict, along with members of Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group, submitted a letter to the Royal Thai Police on 12 October 2020 to follow up on the justice of the killing of human rights defenders of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group.

    It is worth noting key points in which the DSI authorities should be informed:

    From a copy of the criminal investigation report No. 106/2552 of the murder cases of Mr. Som Hompromma and Mr. Thongmuan Kamjam, Mrs. Sorn Khamjam and the group have raised doubts in the investigation process as follows:

    1. The assassination of Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam, which is an unnatural death, legally requires an autopsy. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, Section 148, that "when it appears explicitly or there is reason to suspect that any person has died naturally or died during the custody of the official, there must be an autopsy except for the death by execution.” However, it was not clear if there is an autopsy report available.

    2. When Mr. Warit or On Wipe, the accused, surrendered himself to the police officers on 19 May 1999, the investigating officer informed the charge of murder and illegally owning firearms. However, on the same day the accused was given a temporary release despite the gravity of such charge. It is not clear whether the police has examined the weapons carried by Mr. On and match it with the one used to kill HRD Thongmuan.

    3. According to the copy of the Criminal Investigation Report No. 106/2552, it appears that the there is just one statement out of all 57 witnesses. We made the request to the Superintendent of the Police Station to Suwan Khuha to share the full copy of the interrogation of 57 witnesses, which we have now received.  

    4. The witness No. 46 - 52 was referred to the police by Mr. Uay Chaiwata, but why did the police officer in the case not summon Mr. Uay Chaiwata to interrogate him?

    We hope that the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation And relevant agencies will visit again as proposed by the group on 7-9 December 2020, to have the opportunity to meet with the families of the killed human rights defenders, Mr Lertsak Kunkongsak  and  other defenders at risk. We hope DSI can support us in restoring the justice to the four bodies of Dong Mafai and find measures to protect the rights defenders. The authorities must consult and listen to the will of human rights defenders, as this is the very first principle and practice of any work to protect human rights defenders.

    With Solidarity,

    Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group

    24 November 2020
    8931 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Both sides of 14 Oct protesters yearn for peace despite differing ideas

    Interviews with protesters from both sides before the serial crackdowns and declaration of a severe state of emergency show that despite clashes and different ideologies, the supporters of both monarchism and democracy both shows signs of a desire for peace.

    The Democracy Monument surrounded by protesters during the protest on 14 October, 2020.

    After the student-led protest announced a call for monarchy reform, several royalist groups gathered to support the monarchy. Simultaneous rallies of the 2 groups did not occur until 14 October.

    A royalist group had gathered on the morning of 16 August to observe the student-led protest that took place in the afternoon. As the number of pro-democracy protesters grew and grew, they dispersed in the afternoon as some in their protest seemed likely to stir up violence.

    The confrontation on 14 October marked the first time pro-democracy supporters met the royalists. However, the emergence of the royalist group this time seemed to be suspiciously semi-officially organized.

    As revealed by social media and photos, many of the people in yellow were government officials. Some seemed to be police officers recruited from other provinces countrywide. Also, official documents revealed that government offices in Chiang Mai, Phayao and the Department of Agriculture among others, gave out orders to recruit civilians to join nationalist activities. 

    Supattra was sitting with her group. She seemed that well prepared for the protest with a folding chair.

    Supattra Sittiracha, 82, a former doctor, joined the protest because she wanted to understand the thoughts of the younger generation and to support the movement. She had participated in protests before 2006 and this time, she admired the bravery and intelligence of the students.

    Supattra told Prachatai that she wanted to see Thailand as progressive as other developed countries. The social gap and injustice should be eradicated so people could access opportunities and could have better social welfare helping them to live happily.

    "Everyone can have ideas. It depends on what information they have received or sometimes they consume only one-sided media. And what has always been instilled in us and has always been repeated affects our decisions. We respect opinions. People who think differently can co-exist. But we don’t want to be blamed as ‘nation-haters,’ ‘scum of the earth,’ ‘drunk,’ or ‘ignorant’. I think that’s not right. Then, they insult the kids saying they don’t know anything. If they were open-minded and came into contact with them, they would see their intelligence and bravery are well beyond my generation. When I experience the atmosphere, it increases my energy and increases my courage”

    She said that political discourse was a significant factor that prevented the formation of peaceful and logical discussion and that caused fractures and hatred in society. She also believed that confrontation between the 2 groups would not be violent because the student-led rally was pure and she understood the opposition’s stance.

    High school students join the student-led protest.

    A group of high school students joined the rally after their classes. They did not follow the general strike as they still had to be responsible for their studies but they were committed to joining the rally.

    They revealed their anger towards the government, especially the day before when 21 activists were arrested on 13 October without arrest warrants or being told the charges. They said that they were scared of being arrested but they could not just sit back; the rally needed a huge crowd to accelerate the change.

    “We are here to show our rights, to show our own voice that we are powerful enough to change our country,” said one of the students. “I want the government to take action and agree to listen to our demands so that our country can progress in the direction that people want. And for those who are still afraid about joining the rally, I want them to think how we can get what we want.”

    They were concerned about the violence that might occur if the 2 groups confronted each other but they were also confident that the student-led rally would not cause any violence.

    Kai surrounded by police in uniform and yellow shirts. Behind her was a small stage of red-shirt protesters.

    Kai, 60, and a group of red-shirt protesters set up a small stage that was surrounded by police in uniform and police look-alikes in yellow shirts. They were dancing and enjoying music while the crowd was walking to Government House.

    Kai said that she was not afraid of the police and soldiers as they were nice and they were on duty. She also told her experience of confronting yellow shirts who gathered nearby. She said that they called her ‘scum of the earth’ and they had a small argument. But it was not new for her; she had already experienced it in the past.

    Kai said that she was inspired by the student-led movement. She was discouraged that the red-shirt protesters might no longer be present. But after she had seen the students fighting for their future, she was roused and felt encouraged to join the protest.

    On the same day, at Makkhawan Rangsan bridge, yellow shirts gathered for a royal motorcade. As reported, many yellow shirts seemed to have been recruited by people supporting the government, such as Suthep Thaugsuban and Suwit Thongprasert, the former Phra Buddha Isara. And some were civilians from various government agencies.

    It was widely reported on social media that some yellow shirts were recruited under duress by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority. They also caught pictures of yellow shirts on a truck marked “Lak Si'”. Some of them raised 3 fingers, a sign of support for the student-led protest, when the truck passed by another group.

    Thairath reported that the Royal Guard 904 also gathered at the King Rama V statue and later tried to approach the student-led protesters at night. However, despite questions about recruitment, quite a number of people showed their devotion, love and respect for the monarchy and were willing to wait for the royal motorcade.

    A group of yellow shirts near Makkhawan Rangsan bridge.

    M, 17, a representative from Sammasigkha Pathom Asoke School, waited to greet the royal motorcade with his friends. He said that his school promoted this activity and 54 students agreed to join.

    “I feel good to join the activity greeting HM King Rama X. This is my first time to join,”  M revealed. “We are scheduled to go back to school at 7 p.m. but I don’t know yet what time he will come.”

    Prachatai asked him if his school had any safety measures to protect their students when there was another protest organized nearby. He said that he was not informed of any details but he was not worried because he could not see any potential threat or violence from the student-led protest.

    Chalor Bunyachoti, 61, enjoyed lunch with her friends. She told Prachatai that she had prepared since the day before. They woke up early to prepare food and drove from Kanchanaburi so that they could get a good spot to see His Majesty.

    “We are here to show our respect and our loyalty. I am excited. this is my first time to greet King Rama X.”, said Chalor. She also said that she was not concerned about another rally and she would do her part.

    Phanit and her friends at lunch while waiting to greet the King.

    Phanit Phakkaso, 72, from Pathum Thani, had prepared an umbrella and raincoat in case it rained during her wait. She said that she rejoiced in joining this event as she had seen the monarchy work hard since the late King. As Thai people, we should not disgrace the nation that all Thai Kings died for.

    Phanit said that she did not care about the student-led rally and she did not think that there would be any violence. Also, she thought that it was better for the 2 groups to avoid confrontation and she just wanted to show her gratefulness and respect to the nation and the monarchy.

    “I want us to love each other and to love the monarchy always. I am willing to die for the monarchy because these days, I don’t have anything to worry about. I have no child. I have no husband. These days, I am a Royal Thai Volunteer. I have studied. I know everything about history, but children these days have not learned. We have to bring it back. The political situation has become like this. If people had studied. They would know what is what.”

    Father [King Rama IX] is still up there, watching from above everything we do.  He is extraordinary. I am not kidding. It is as if he came down to look at the country, we would live happily. But there is an evil. But he cannot do anything. But Father created everything. We are now number one in Asia, in the world. Let’s say that. But we are a small country, we don’t talk about it. We have no debt, no debt and we’ve never been colonized. So I want us to love each other, love the nation as our ancestors made it. We must preserve this,” said Phanit.

    Some yellow shirts did not give interviews because they “did not have information about the issue” although Prachatai told them that the interview would be opinion-based.

    Thidatep Piboon is an intern from Mahidol University International College (MUIC)

    24 November 2020
    8930 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • ‘Bad Students’ protest against educational and political failure

    Bad Students organized a #ByeByeDinosaur event under Siam BTS station to criticize educational failures and the inefficiency of the government. They also compared the Education Minister to a dinosaur after he voted to reject all 7 draft constitutional amendments. 

    The Bad Students protest under the BTS platform. (Source: Citizen Journalist)

    On 21 November 2020, Thai PBS reported on the demonstration “#ByeByeDinosaur” organized by Bad Students and the pro-democracy network. The students compared themselves to meteorites that would crush the dinosaurs, ignorant MPs trying to resist change. 

    The demonstration started 1 hour later than scheduled and moved from Ratchaprasong to under Siam BTS to avoid the rain.

    At 13.55 pm, more people continued to join the protest while protest guards fenced the area up to Chaloem Phao intersection and protest leaders confirmed they would not march anywhere.

    At 15.05 pm, the protest leaders started their speeches and at the same time, they passed the ‘meteorites’ (painted beach balls) to the protesters to deliver the message that meteorites would crush the government to make a social change. They also sang satirical songs against the government.

    A third-year college student put on a school uniform, taped her mouth and held up a banner with the message that she had been sexually harassed in school and that school is not a safe place. She said that the incident occurred when she was in 11th grade and there was no help and no change although she notified the school about the incident.

    She also said that she joined the protest because she wanted to raise the problem of sexual harassment in schools, which has never been taken seriously. 

    Amnesty International volunteers distributed colour-coded wristbands to those under 15 and 18 years of age so they would be prioritized for protection in the event of violence or if police started to make arrests. 

    Two 8th-grade students revealed that they had joined more than 10 pro-democracy protests and this was the first time they received a pink wristband for immediate protection. “It makes us feel safer that we would be taken care of by adults because the situation is getting more violent.”

    Nataphol called a dinosaur after he voted against all 7 draft constitutional amendment. 

    According to Post Today, speakers criticized the failure of the government and the Education Ministry , especially Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, a party-list MP of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), who rejected all 7 draft constitutional amendments in the first reading, using as a justification the down-turn in the economy which would be negatively affected by the huge budget needed to amend the constitution. Nataphol and senators were compared to dinosaurs faced with extinction. 

    The protesters also wrote messages on sticky notes to expose educational problems and make suggestions to the Minister, emphasizing the call to abolish school uniforms. There was also an appeal for funds for Bad Student to organize further activities. 

    24 November 2020
    8929 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Equal Justice Under Law

    Equal Justice Under Law

    (Phrase engraved over the entrance to the US Supreme Court.  No Thai equivalent has been identified.)

    “It is necessary for the government and security agencies to intensify their actions by using all laws and all articles to take action against demonstrators who break the law and show no respect for the rights of other people.”

    Uncompromising statement by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of the land of compromise, 19 September 2020.

    A police station, somewhere in Bangkok.  An investigating officer, fresh from his weekly haircut, reports for duty only 2 hours late.

    Right, what have we got this mo-, oh my giddy aunt, what’s all this?

    List of cases for us to investigate.

    What?  But there’s hundreds and hundreds of them.  It’s not the New Year jay-walking campaign already is it?

    Orders from the top.  Charge everyone in the demos with everything.  This is just for us.  There’s so many they had to share them out among stations.

    Well, can’t we just say it wasn’t on our patch like we always do?

    Like I said, orders from the top.  The Very Top.  No holds barred.  Not just Section 116 any more.  We can charge them with 112, 110, 108, …

    Wait a minute.  There’s a Section 108?  I never knew that.  What’s it say?

    Er, hang on a minute, I’ll have to look it up.  Anyone got a copy of the Criminal Code? 

    I saw one lying around a month or two back.  Maybe it’s in the cells.

    It’s alright, I can look it up on the computer.  Here we go, ‘Whoever commits an act of violence against the King or His Liberty shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.’

    Whew.  Well, His Maj wasn’t at the demos, they can’t use that charge.

    Oh no?  Remember that pushy farang reporter?  Shoved his mike under the royal nose and started an interview without a by your leave?

    But he didn’t hit him with it, did he? 

    No, but he did hold everything up and there were all those people waiting for a royal tete-a-tete like the mad ex-monk and so on.  Violence against His Liberty, that is.  At least that’s what the courts will call it.

    Ah well, I suppose we’d better make a start.  Oh, this first one’s handy, multiple defendants.  I like those.  One investigation, dozens of convictions.  Hang on, half of these names are foreign. 

    Oh yeah, that’s illegal possession of weapons.  These are all the reporters who were covering the protests.

    They had guns?  Surely not.

    No of course not, but the most of them wore flak jackets and such.  According to the law they’re classified as weapons because we can have them but they can’t. 

    Well that case will do the national image a power of good.  So who’s next?

    This lot are being done for illegally impersonating a public utility. 

    Illegally what?

    Remember they made those fake post boxes out of litter bins?  Painted them red with a proper logo and then everyone posted their comments in them?

    Oh yeah.  And Chanasongkram have had to spend hours figuring out if Donald J Trump and Voldemort can be prosecuted.  Enough to turn anyone republican.

    Well it seems pretending that something’s a post box when it’s not, is an offence.  So they’re done.

    OK, so that case is a dead letter.  Geddit, geddit?

    Now this one’s more tricky.  Caught him graffiti-ing the road outside Police HQ.  He’s been charged with slandering the Ministry of Education.


    Well, they wanted to bring a charge of violating the rules of English grammar, but they discovered that’s not a crime …

    If it was, the jails would be full of English teachers.

    … so this is their best shot.

    But what’s English grammar got to do with it?

    Well he wrote ‘I here too’ in English, you see, and they want to get him for not adding an ‘am’ in the middle.

    But that’s not what he meant.  See, if you say it in Thai, it means …

    Yes, yes, we all know that.  But The Great Compromiser doesn’t want that kind of thing read out in court, so this is a sort of round-the-corner, backdoor charge.

    And good luck with that.  So who’s Y R Duck in this next one?  Resisting police brutality.  Is that a crime now?

    Yeah, they’re really scraping the barrel on this one.  Not is it not really a crime, but guess who Y R Duck is.

    I give in.

    Yellow Rubber Duck.  His nibs is not happy at all with the publicity this stunt got.  The pictures in the international news didn’t look good.  We got shown firing water cannon and tear gas against cute, cheery little rubber ducks.  So he wants it stop.  The ducks that is, not the water cannon and tear gas.  And he thinks if he makes an example of one duck, it’ll be a deterrent. 

    And we’ve put Y R Duck in the cells? 

    No problem.  One of the radical monks we picked up is using it to sit on and do his meditation.

    Ah, now, this one is more like it.  Taking up arms against the duly elected government, refusing to give the oath of office, appointing a convicted drug dealer as a minister and then giving his mia noi a government job, the list goes on.  And he’s been illegally living rent-free in government housing.  Sonny Jim here has been a very naughty boy.  He’s going down for a long, long, - .  Oh it’s not him, is it?

    23 November 2020
    8928 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Thai New Yorkers rally in support of the democratic movement at home

    On 19 November, Thai people in New York gathered at the United Nations Headquarters to support the pro-democracy movement in Thailand and submit an open letter condemning the illegitimate use of force against peaceful protesters at the 17th November protest at Parliament.

    Participants at the event in New York. One can be seen raising the 3-finger salute, the anti-dictatorship gesture of protesters in Thailand.

    The group called themselves ‘Thai New Yorkers For Democracy’, and Thai-Americans and New Yorkers set up placards, banners and Thai flags. They also went to the Peace Monument, a public landmark across from the UN HQ, to communicate to the people about what is happening in Thailand.

    Flur, 27, a New Yorker activist in the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ movements said that there is no reason not to have the ability to exercise rights, and claim democracy and the right to choose their leaders.

    Jay Jay, 37, a Thai-American citizen and the group’s Facebook page administrator who has been in the US for 13 years, said he rallied to send his support to the movement in Thailand and oppose the state use of force against the protesters on 17 November.

    “...We love and care for everyone in Thailand and want to see everybody have a better life, so we have come.

    “For the government action against the protesters, I think it’s too violent and should never have happened because the protests were orderly and peaceful, unlike the regular protests that we used to see that involved violence and ran the risk of causing injury and death”, said Jay.”

    Jay also said the only way out of the situation is for the state to accept the protesters’ demands. The monarchy must also be under the constitution as it is a universal principle. If the monarchy wants to co-exist in society, it must live under the same rules.

    Participants making a poster.

    Many bystanders also paid attention and asked about the situation in Thailand. A female police officer who had visited Thailand as a tourist also sent her support for Thais to achieve democracy.

    Due to limitations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the group coordinator was unable to have UN officials come out to receive the letter. They then submitted the letter via email and dispersed at 16.00 NYC time.

    Condemnation of Illegitimate Use of Force Against Peaceful Protesters

    On the 17th of November 2020, Thai authorities used excessive force to disperse protesters rallying towards the parliament building. This consisted of repeated use of tear-gas, high-pressure water cannons mixed with irritable chemicals and rubber bullets.

    Additionally, pro-monarchy counter protesters assaulted the protesters with rocks, wooden boards, flag poles, and firearms. Both incidents ultimately resulted in several injured, including children, students, adults, Buddhist monks, elderly people, and medical staff. The pro-monarchy counter protesters were not charged by the Thai authorities nor were they imprisoned or held accountable for their crimes of battery, assault, and deadly use of firearms.

    Thailand is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and has made a commitment to uphold the principles of free human beings with civil and political freedoms and the obligation to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights including the right to peaceful assembly under Article 21, the right to hold opinions without interference under Article 19, and the right to freedom of association under Article 22. The Thai government has not upheld these international obligations.

    Members of Thai New Yorkers for Democracy therefore condemn the illegitimate and excessive use of force against these peaceful protesters and urge the Thai government and parliament to:

    1. Cease all forms of violent action to disperse peaceful demonstrations

    2. Listen to the people without discrimination regarding political perspectives

    3. Administer the law impartially and humanely treat citizens without discrimination and bias based on their political perspectives 

    4. Re-consider adopting the constitutional draft and establish a constituent assembly immediately in order to accomplish a resolution of political conflicts in Thailand.

    Thai New Yorkers for Democracy

    Note: As of 23 November, it has been impossible to confirm the police use of rubber bullets.

    23 November 2020
    8927 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • FCCT calls for safety for journalists

    The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) issued a statement following the crackdown on the protest at the parliament compound on 17 November urging journalists to take precautions when covering protests and for the authorities to legalise the use of body armour for journalists and paramedics working in conflict areas. 

    Protesters and reporters during the 6-hour clash on Samsen Road on 17 November

    The statement reads: 

    The professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand notes the alarming escalation of violence which left at least 55 injured in protests outside parliament on Tuesday, 17 November, including the use of tear gas and water cannon laced with chemicals.

    Of more serious concern were reports citing the Erawan Medical Centre that some pro-reform protestors were treated for gunshot wounds after clashes between royalist and student-led groups.

    We urge all journalists to take precautions when covering future protests, including use of protective head, face and body equipment. We reiterate our call on the Thai authorities to legalise the use of body armour for journalists and paramedics, who need to work in conflict areas where there is a risk of gunshot injuries.

    As the law stands it is illegal to own or use body armour, and journalists have been prosecuted for doing so.

    We also call on the government and security forces to exercise restraint in dealing with unarmed protestors, and to recognize that media members including TV crews, reporters, photographers and interpreters on the scene are doing their jobs under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions.

    20 November 2020
    8926 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Voices at Ratchaprasong call for a better Thailand

    Thousands gathered at Ratchaprasong on 18 November to protest the authorities’ use of force against protestors the day before and the parliamentary vote to reject in its first reading the constitutional amendment draft proposed by iLaw and backed by over 90,000 voters.

    Only 2 out of 7 draft amendments passed the first reading: the one by the government coalition and one of those by the opposition, both to amend Section 256 allowing the establishment of a Constitution Drafting Assembly.

    Prachatai spoke to some of the protesters at Ratchaprasong, most of whom said they would like to see the country changing for the better.

    Nugul Ratiyapinun

    Nugul Ratiyapinun was at the 17 November protest near the parliament compound, during which he was tear-gassed, but still came to the protest at Ratchaprasong the next day.

    “I want to see the people accept change in the country. Most of the people must live with the reality that the world has changed now in terms of economics and communications. Thailand should adapt too. The constitution should truly grant the rights and freedoms of the people, [as a full-fledged democracy, not a half-fledged one as it currently is,” Nugul said.

    He also said that the appointment of 250 senators by a junta-appointed commission, plus the regulation that a third of them must approve the first reading of the amendments showed that the minority has more power than the majority, which made him feel that Thai democracy is not democratic.

    The highland youngsters for democracy group

    A group of three men who called themselves “highland youngsters for democracy” was also at the protest. They said that they came from a Pga K’nyau ethnic community (also known as Karen) in Tak Province and said they would like to see more change, as the conditions around their community are severely underdeveloped.

    “We came to protest. We would like a new prime minister, because Prayut didn’t come into office legitimately. He recruited the 250 senators himself, he chose them himself, and then the senators elected him as prime minister,” one of the group said.

    Another member of the group said that he is studying at Ramkhamhaeng University and was following the parliamentary discussion on the draft constitutional amendments. He said he was angry that parliament did not approve of the draft that was backed by the people, and because of the use of violence against protesters on 18 November, so he decided to join the Ratchaprasong protest.

    “[The 2017 constitution] truly did not come from the people. It’s some unknown power. If it stays this way, it’s not going to end,” said one member of the group.

    The trio said that they would like to see the protesters’ three demands become reality so that there can be improvements to the country, such as a better universal healthcare programme, and that if the three demands come true, the country will definitely be changed for the better.

    In front of the police headquarters, P., 15, was standing with the group of protesters shouting at the police officers. She said that she was angry with the authorities for their use of force against the protesters on 17 November, even though she was not there.

    “I was very angry that they did this. We are the owners of the country. This country is not their country as they say, but what they are doing is a great insult to us. We are out here to demand our rights in proposing constitutional amendments,” P. said.

    “But look at what they did to us. Water cannon. Loudspeaker trucks. Batons. Shields. Personally, I think it’s not fair. If you want to be democratic, but you have no justice, then you shouldn’t call yourself democratic, but we’re a dictatorship right now.

    “Right now I’m in Mathayom 4 (Year 10). In 6 years, I will finish 4th year (of university). I have to find a job. If he stays for another 2 - 3 years, that has to have an effect until when I’m working. I will not accept a life without getting what I should get. The tax I pay is not what I deserve. I feel that I have to come out to demand my rights. My friends, my younger siblings, or my children in the future should have a better life than this.”

    As she is not yet 18, P. is too young to sign her support for the constitutional amendments proposed by iLaw, but she said that the current constitution is not fair to the people and written in favour of those in power instead of for the people. She said she feels that the iLaw constitutional amendment draft would work better, as it is written by the people.

    P. is a student in a private school and said that she has never gone to a public school, but she said that she has a cousin in a public school and realised that she and her cousin are studying very different things. She said she wondered why they don’t get to study the same things, even though they are in the same country.

    She said that even the Education Minister is sending his children overseas, and asked how she could believe in the system when even the Minister himself doesn’t believe in it.

    P. asked us not to show her face, as she is worried that her mother will scold her for joining the protest. She said that her mother feels that the protests are dangerous, and that her grandfather supports the Prime Minister.

    She said that she cannot tell her family members, except for her father, that she is joining the protest, even though she thinks that anyone joining the protest should let someone know because it would be safer.

    When asked if she agrees more with her father when it comes to politics, P. said yes. She said that her father once joined the PDRC protest and felt that he is part of the reason why young people have to protest now, and that his daughter is doing the right thing in joining the protest.

    “My father said that, in the end, the person who has to make a life is me, not him, so it is my right to come out or not to come out to call for my rights,” she said.

    P. told us that she tried to explain to her mother, who is worried about her safety, that she is going to benefit from the constitutional amendments, that she is going to have a better life. She said that her mother tries to understand, and that her mother supports the pro-democracy movement but does not see good things about coming to the protests.

    “Yesterday, she saw violence, so I tried to explain to her that we weren’t violent. The other side was violent. She said that in any event it’s violent and that if I go, it’s still dangerous. She’s okay with me supporting this side, but she’s just not okay with going to protests,” P. said. 

    Ruangthap Kaeokaemchan

    Meanwhile, children’s rights and welfare advocates were seen stationed in front of Central World, where they formed a group called “children in the mob” to spread information about children’s rights, statistics about children and young people affected by protest crackdowns, and how to take care of children in protests.

    Ruangthap Kaeokaemchan, a member of the group, said they held this activity to inform the protesters about safe spots for children for first aid in the protest as well as the way to take care of them if a crackdown took place.

    She said the right to political expression is a child’s right. Children should be protected from the time they arrive at the protest until the time that they return home. Unlike in other countries, protests in Thailand have never been safe enough for children to join. The authorities should not respond to a peaceful movement by violence.

    “We are not saying that we invite the children to protests. But we are saying what you should have in mind when you come to a protest. And safety is an important thing to be aware of. Parents or the leading figures must also be aware. But the venues of protests in Thailand have never been made safe at all.” said Ruangthap.

    20 November 2020
    8925 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Cartoon by Stephff: A new hope

    Cartoon by Stephff: A new hope

    20 November 2020
    8924 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Thai police's use of water cannons and tear gas a violation of international human rights standards, says HRW

    Thai police unnecessarily used water cannons and teargas against peaceful democracy demonstrators outside the parliament in Bangkok on November 17, 2020, in violation of international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said yesterday (19 November).

    Protesters using sitting mats as makeshift shields against water cannon blasts

    At about 2:25 p.m., police attempted to prevent a demonstration organized by the People’s Movement from reaching the parliament, where a debate on constitutional amendments, including possible reforms to the monarchy, was underway. Human Rights Watch observed crowd control units using water cannon laced with purple dye and an apparent teargas chemical, as well as teargas grenades and pepper spray grenades to disperse thousands of demonstrators, including many students. The dispersal operation continued until the demonstration ended at about 9 p.m. Protests on November 18 proceeded without violence.

    On November 18, the spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres “expressed concern about the [human rights] situation in Thailand … it’s disturbing to see the repeated use of less lethal weapons against peaceful protesters, including water cannons … it’s very important that the government of Thailand refrain from the use of force and ensures the full protection of all people in Thailand who are exercising a fundamental peaceful right to protest.”

    “The Thai authorities should heed the advice of the UN Secretary-General and stop using excessive or unnecessary force against demonstrators, while preventing violence by any group so the situation doesn’t escalate out of control,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai authorities should promptly and impartially investigate the violence, including the alleged use of firearms by pro-government demonstrators, and prosecute all those responsible for abuses regardless of their political affiliation or rank.”

    At least 55 people were injured, most from inhaling teargas, according to the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service. The injured included six democracy demonstrators who suffered gunshot wounds during a clash with pro-government ultra-royalist groups near the protests. 

    The Thai government should transparently and impartially investigate all aspects of the November 17 violence, Human Rights Watch said. This should include an inquiry into the circumstances and decision-making process for the extensive use of water cannons and teargas by the police against peaceful demonstrators. The Thai government should be clear that its rules on the use of force by law enforcement comply with international human rights standards and are strictly followed at all times.

    Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and other international human rights standards, law enforcement may only use force when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. The 2020 United Nations guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement states that “Water cannon should only be used in situations of serious public disorder where there is a significant likelihood of loss of life, serious injury, or the widespread destruction of property.” In addition, water cannon should “not target a jet of water at an individual or group of persons at short-range owing to the risk of causing permanent blindness or secondary injuries if persons are propelled energetically by the water jet.” In line with international standards, teargas should only be employed when necessary to prevent further physical harm and should not be used to disperse nonviolent demonstrations.

    The Thai government has shown increased hostility toward democracy demonstrations, which started on July 18 and later spread across the country. Demonstrators have called for the resignation of the government, the drafting of a new constitution, and an end to harassment for exercising freedom of expression. Some of the protests included demands to curb the king’s powers.

    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that at least 90 protesters currently face illegal assembly charges for holding peaceful protests in Bangkok and other provinces since July. Some protest leaders have also been charged with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, for making demands regarding reforms of the monarchy.

    International human rights law, as expressed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But Thai authorities have routinely enforced censorship and stifled public discussions about human rights, political reforms, and the monarchy’s role in society.

    Over the past decade, authorities have prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. In addition, over the past six months, the authorities have used emergency measures to help control the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to ban anti-government rallies and harass pro-democracy activists.

    “The Thai government should end the police crackdown on peaceful demonstrations or risk further unnecessary violence,” Adams said. “Concerned governments and the United Nations should publicly urge the Thai government to end its political repression and instead engage in dialogue on democratic reforms.”

    20 November 2020
    8923 at https://prachatai.com/english