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  • Thingyan without padauk blossoms
    Thingyan without padauk blossoms

    When Songkran arrives, people flock to buy bus and train tickets to go back to their hometowns, to the places they come from. The holiday means different things to different people: water fights; ritual cleansing of Buddha statutes; bringing sand to temples; paying respect to elders. Regardless, people yearn for the holiday because it is a time when those who left loved ones for education or work can “go back home.”  It is sad if they cannot.

    Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit word sankranti. It means “transition of the stars.”  The holiday is not only observed in Northern Thailand but throughout mainland Southeast Asia. It marks the beginning of a new year in a region populated by Theravada Buddhists, including the Thai, Lao, Burmese, Mon, Shan, Khmer and many other ethnic groups.

    In Myanmar, the holiday is called Thingyan.  Local myth says the festivities, which span 5 days from 13-17 April every year, originated with an argument between the gods Indra and Athibrahma over a mathematical problem. They agreed that the winner would cut off the loser’s head. Unable to solve the problem on their own, they went to another god Kavalamine, who determined that Indra was correct and should cut off Athibrahma’s head. The head was so hot that if it fell into the sea, the sea would dry out and if it fell into the human realm, the world would go up in flames. To avoid both outcomes, seven goddesses took turns holding Athibrahma’s head on a tray.   

    During Thingyan festivities, people splash water on each other, pay respect to their elders, stage music festivals and meet with friends. In addition, they make and share mont lone yay paw, a snack made of glutinous rice, sugar and coconut. The arrival of the holiday was traditionally heralded by the blooming of Burmese Rosewood flowers, padauk in Burmese. These yellow flowers, a symbol of both love and the nation, used to bloom with the coming of rains in the hot season. However, climate change has taken its toll and in recent years padauk flowers have not bloomed unless people water the trees in the cool of the evening.   

    In the aftermath of the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, tens of thousands of young people from the country sought refuge in Thailand, primarily in major cities. This influx led to the opening of numerous Burmese restaurants across Thailand, particularly in major northern provinces like Chiang Mai, over the past two to three years. (Photo: Visarut Sankham)

    Last Thingyan festival, many people could not go back to their homes because of war and conflict. Some worried that it might not be safe. Some no longer have homes to go back to. A number have had to flee to Thailand because of conflicts between the Burmese army, ethnic armed forces, and anti-dictatorship groups. Conflicts erupted in 1948, when Myanmar, formerly known as the Union of Burma, gained independence from British rule. Earlier British administrative practices gave rise to tension among the country’s different ethnic groups.  The subsequent establishment of a centralised Burmese state created problems within an ethnically-diverse population.

    In the past, conflicts between the Burmese military government and ethnic armed forces in Karen, Karenni, and Shan states, led to the establishment of refugee camps along Thai-Myanmar border. In 1988, a coup and the formation of an oppressive military dictatorship produced a massive wave of refugees. The same thing happened in 2021 after a coup was staged by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Civil war spread in all regions of Myanmar and people have had to flee for their lives to the border areas Thailand. Their homes are no longer safe places.   

    Thingyan: homecoming, friends, local food and Paduak flowers

    “I have never missed going back home for Thingyan even once.” Thu (pseudonym) from Dawei, aged 34, was born and grew up in Dawei. After graduating from the university in 2012, he set out to work in Yangon, the capital. He later came back to work in his hometown. Despite the buses being full of passengers, he tries his best to go back home.

    “The best memory I have about Thingyan is the time I was very busy and delayed booking a ticket. The bus was full but I knew the driver so when I asked, he put a plastic chair in the aisle for me to sit on and ride home.”

    He recalls that Thingyan songs have been playing in town shops since March.  “The festival atmosphere is relaxed and fun.  Everywhere in town is crowded and joyfully chaotic with people making preparations.”

    Tents with food and snacks were everywhere. People also rode around in decorated pickup trucks looking for water fights, gathering with friends to eat tasty things and use water to ‘battle’ with other groups.

    For Thu, what mattered most was being together with friends and family; eating “home cooking” and being in a familiar place full of warmth.

    Photo from Hwan’s mobile phone showing a Thingyan activity he joined.  Last February, he had to seek refuge in Thailand.  (Photo: Hwan)

    As for Hwan, a 34-year-old Mon ethnic, he was born and grew up in Palaw Township in the Tanintharyi Region but in 2012, he went to work as an engineer in Yangon. His favourite Thingyan memory is the tradition of donating money to elderly people in the community. On the last day of the festival, members of the community take elders aged 70 and over to the temple and give them money in exchange for blessings.

    Although Hwan and Thu are from different towns, they share similar recollections of Thingyan celebrations: the food tents; the musical performances; people playing with water along all the streets; people going to temples to make merit and practice mindfulness. Hwan, who doesn’t really like crowded and noisy places, thinks that the important components of the holiday are the flowers and the chance to meet friends and family. The activity that he likes the most is the tradition of young people cooking together with friends to offer food at the temple in the morning.   

    Thingyan is more than a festive holiday

    Photo: Khun Lek’s Thai-language tattoo - “Freedom, Equality, Fraternity.” He explains that he got this tattoo to remind himself of the values he admires, the values that make humans different from animals. (Photo: Visarut Sankham) 

    Apart from water fights, cultural festivity and events, Thingyan is a time for Myanmar people to engage in political expression.  Plays called Thangyat are staged in which a lead singer and chorus use poetry to tell a story.  The content is usually political satire in which participants express dissatisfaction and call for a better society. “Thangyat is all about freedom of expression,” explains Khun Lek, a 54-year-old Burmese national from Yangon who join a mass uprising against the military dictatorship in 1988 and now lives in Thailand.      

    According to Khun Lek, Thingyan is a festival for freedom of expression. It is a time when people are free to speak out, free to tease and jest with each other without getting angry. He believes this is especially true of Thangyat plays that are performed alongside other amusements. He notes that these have been performed ever since Burma was a monarchy, adding that the King would listen to Thangyat critics, never punishing performers. He says the same was true during the military dictatorship period.  For this reason, he feels Thangyat is central to Thingyan celebrations and that “without Thangyat, Thingyan is soulless."

    Thingyan without Padauk blossoms

    Thingyan festivities have been disrupted for four years.  With the Covid pandemic of 2020, people were not allowed to celebrate. In 2021, the festival returned but the coup led to military dictatorship and an on-going civil war.  People have been subjected to murder, torture, and detention.  The economy has all but collapsed. Inflation is high. Some areas are experiencing famine. Millions of people have been displaced. All of this has changed the feelings of people toward Thingyan.   

    “I cannot go back to my village because there are 4 battle areas to go through,” said Hwan. He fled into Thailand after the Burmese army announced conscription last February 10.

    The situation in Hwan’s hometown is concerning. Young people are gradually leaving the country. The inflation rate has trebled along with the price of basic commodities. Battles are coming ever closer to the village where his sisters and mother still live. Since the coup, the Thingyan festival has lost much of its appeal.

    Burma Padauk trees bloom in April after the first rains and is seen as one of Myanmar's national symbols. Thu explained that Padauk flowers typically bloom around the water festival, and if they haven't by that time, locals will playfully throw water on the trees, symbolically urging them to blossom and mark the start of the festivities. (Photo: Visarut Sankham)

    “No one wants to join celebrations organised by the military,” said Thu, who fled to Thailand in 2022. He feels the coup changed people’s feelings.  Most are full of insecurity and uncertainty. Most have to struggle all the time. “The feeling is not the same. There is no freedom. I feel like I am in a cage.”

    Although Thu can see his home country, he cannot cross back there. For the moment, he is safe.  He can talk about politics, can sleep well, but there is still something missing. He wants to go home. “We didn’t have plans to stay in other country for a long time. Not being able to go back home - its traumatising.”

    This story is produced with support from SEA Junction's Staying Resilient Amidst Multiple Crises in Southeast Asia initiative of SEA Junction in partnership with CMB Foundation.

     

    eng editor 1
    24 May 24 2024
    10949 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Cartoon by Stephff: Formula One in Thailand
    Cartoon by Stephff: Formula One in Thailand

    Cartoon by Stephff: Formula One in Thailand

    eng editor 1
    24 May 24 2024
    10948 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Human Rights Watch demand investigation into activist's death in detention
    Human Rights Watch demand investigation into activist's death in detention

    Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls on the Thai authorities to investigate the death of detained activist Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom, which has raised concerns about possible negligence by prison officials in referring her for life-saving medical treatment.

    Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom (Photo by Ginger Cat)

    Thai authorities should impartially and transparently investigate the death of a detained anti-monarchy activist, Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom, in Bangkok, Human Rights Watch said today (24 May). Prime Minister Srettha Tavisin promised an inquiry into her death in Bangkok, which has raised concerns about possible negligence by prison officials in referring her for life-saving medical treatment.

    “Thai Prime Minister Srettha should promptly fulfill his pledge to investigate Netiporn’s death in detention,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s critically important for any officials found to have contributed to her death to be held accountable and to ensure that detainees and prisoners have access to adequate medical care.”

    On May 14, 2024, at approximately 6:20 a.m., Netiporn, 28, suffered cardiac arrest at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in Bangkok. Medical personnel at the prison hospital reportedly tried to revive her, including by intubation, apparently without success.

    After a delay of three hours, she was then transferred to Thammasat University Hospital at 9:30 a.m. A coroner’s report seen by Human Rights Watch said that Netiporn had no vital signs when she arrived at the hospital and noted a “faulty intubation”. She was pronounced dead at 11:20 a.m.

    Netiporn had been one of about 270 activists charged with lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) after pro-democracy demonstrations broke out in Thailand in 2020. Her alleged crimes were related to a campaign to survey the inconvenience that royal motorcades caused for the Thai public.

    The authorities jailed Netiporn in January for contempt of court and her custody was extended after her bail was revoked in a lese majeste case. She began a hunger strike, and for 110 days only occasionally accepted water, demanding an end to the prosecution of dissidents charged with lese majeste and their right to bail.

    “Prime Minister Srettha should fulfill his promise to investigate the circumstances of Netiporn’s custodial death and hold officials accountable if their actions contributed to her death,” Pearson said. “The cycle of abuses and impunity in Thailand’s prisons should not be treated as the norm.”

    Kritsadang Nutcharus of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which represents Netiporn’s family, alleged that the Corrections Department, despite repeated requests, delayed handing over her medical records to him and her family.

    Thailand is obligated under international human rights law to provide for the medical care of everyone deprived of their liberty. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the independent expert body that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Thailand is a party, states in its General Comment on the right to the highest attainable standard of health that governments are obligated to respect the right to health by “refraining from denying or limiting equal access for all persons, including prisoners or detainees … to preventive, curative and palliative health services.”

    The UN Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners states: “Prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation.” The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the “Nelson Mandela Rules,” provides that “all prisons shall ensure prompt access to medical attention in urgent cases. Prisoners who require specialized treatment or surgery shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals.”

    Hundreds of people accused of criticizing the monarchy in Thailand are currently in pretrial detention without access to bail.

    Human Rights Watch, along with the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN special rapporteurs on freedom of expression and opinion and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, have urged the Thai government to stop arbitrarily detaining critics of the government and imposing excessive restrictions on the legitimate exercise of freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.

    Thailand is seeking a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2025-2027 term but has taken no steps to reform the lese majeste law or adopt a moratorium on the prosecution or pretrial detention of critics of the monarchy, Human Rights Watch said.

    “The United Nations and concerned governments should press for a prompt and transparent investigation into Netiporn’s death,” Pearson said. “Prime Minister Srettha should end the prosecutions of people peacefully demanding reform and at a minimum ensure those arrested for insulting the monarchy are released on bail.”

    eng editor 1
    24 May 24 2024
    10947 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Bangkok protest demands UK, Germany, US end support for Israel
    Bangkok protest demands UK, Germany, US end support for Israel

    On Sunday (19 May), to commemorate Nakba, the Palestinian displacement that began in May 1948, protesters in Bangkok marched to the UK, German, and US embassies to demand that the three countries divest from and end arms deliveries to Israel.

    Pak, one of the protest organisers, said that they also wanted to raise awareness about the role of the UK and Germany in the Nakba displacement and its origins in Western colonialism. She explained that both governments have repressed pro-Palestine protests in their countries, and added that the UK has suspended its funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provide humanitarian aid for Gaza.

    According to Pak, this is the second time that protesters have marched to the German Embassy. The first time was on 19 April, when protesters demanded that the German government end its repression of pro-Palestinian protesters.

    “We visited them again today to let them know that activists have rights, must be protected, and should not be harassed by the state,” she said.

    Remarking upon the continued displacement of Palestinians in the post-1948 period, Pak said that they have the right to a normal life and should not be exposed to the indiscriminate attacks now occurring in Gaza. She pointed out that the remaining Thai hostages held by Hamas since 7 October of last year remain in danger due to Israeli military carpet bombing and repeated evacuation orders, and noted as well that recovering bodies of migrant workers from Thailand and other countries would also be very dangerous.

    “We want these governments to understand that commercial benefits are not everything.   People around the world are watching them, people who pay taxes to them, people who keep these governments from falling.  We want them to take notice and stop their support, to meet our demands and work together for the peace everyone deserves,” she said.

    eng editor 1
    24 May 24 2024
    10946 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Constitutional Court accepts petition seeking removal of PM over cabinet appointment
    Constitutional Court accepts petition seeking removal of PM over cabinet appointment

    The Thai Constitutional Court has accepted a petition filed by a group of caretaker senators, seeking to remove Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin for appointing a person with a prior criminal charge to a cabinet position.

    The Constitutional Court on Thursday (23 May) accepted the petition, filed by a group of 40 caretaker senators earlier this month, against the PM. However, the Court voted not to suspend Srettha from his duties during their deliberations. The petition claimed that the PM violated the Constitution by giving lawyer Pichit Chuenban a Cabinet post as Minister Attached to the PM’s Office. The Senators claimed that Pichit lacks integrity and violates the ethical standards required by the Constitution for those who hold ministerial positions. The petition sought the removal of both Srettha and Pichit from their respective roles.

    Pichit is a former lawyer with a close relationship with the Shinawatra family. He was entrusted with countering lawsuits against Thaksin. During the former PM Yingluck Shinawatra administration, he served as both an MP and leader of the legal team to represent her in the rice-pledging scheme scandal.

    Pichi was jailed for contempt of court in 2008 and had his law license suspended for 5 years after he allegedly attempted to bribe Supreme Court officials with 2 million baht hidden in a paper bag while he was representing former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his ex-wife Potjaman Na Pombejra in the Ratchadaphisek land case. Thaksin was sentenced to 2 years in prison in 2008. Pichit and two of his colleagues were given 6-month jail terms.

    Pichit announced his resignation from the ministerial position on Tuesday (21 May) to insulate Srettha from the case brought against him, saying that despite his confidence that he has the appropriate qualifications for the position, the petition referenced the PM as well. To prevent any adverse impact on the executive branch and allow the country to progress smoothly, he decided to step down. The Court accepted only the petition against the PM and ordered him to provide an explanation within 15 days. 

    eng editor 3
    24 May 24 2024
    10945 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • 12 uncommon cases mark overreaching enforcement under royal defamation law
    12 uncommon cases mark overreaching enforcement under royal defamation law

    Since pro-democracy protests emerged in 2020, Thailand's draconian royal defamation law has been wielded in several cases concerning political expression, often with disproportionate penalties and with verdicts that far exceed the boundaries of protecting freedom of expression. In many cases, law enforcement seems over the top.

    The law prescribes that whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punishable from 3 to 15 years. However, this short provision becomes contentious under the interpretations of the parties involved, especially the police, public prosecutors, and courts, since these interpretations follow no clear boundaries, making it impossible to predict which action falls within the scope of the  the law or whom the law is meant to protect.

    According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the number of royal defamation cases has skyrocketed to over 300, with at least 270 people being charged, most of whom have been sentenced over online political expression. Prachatai has collected data on the following 12 cases of royal defamation between July 2020 and14 May 2024 that seem egregious and anomalous.

    1. A programmer, Atirut (last name withheld), was charged with royal defamation for refusing to sit down and shouting “Going anywhere is a burden” as King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida’s royal motorcade passed a crowd gathered at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre (QSNCC) on 15 October 2022. The public prosecutor accused him of trying to make people think that the King and Queen’s visit caused problems and burdened the public, a claim that could lead to hatred of the King and Queen as well as damage their reputations. They also accused him of resisting arrest by kicking the arresting officers, causing two of them to sustain minor injuries on their arms and backs. Atirut was sentenced to 1 year and 8 months.

    Atirut (Photo by iLaw)

    2. A protester, Jatuporn Sae-Ung, was sentenced to 3 years in prison for royal defamation over wearing Thai traditional dress at a mock fashion show, Ratsadorn Catwalk, during a protest on Silom Road on 29 October 2020. The indictment stated that Jatuporn was accused of imitating the Queen’s demeanour since as she walked on the red carpet, a woman bowed down to her feet. Jatuporn stopped walking and extended her hands for the protesters to grab. Meanwhile, an unidentified person called “the Queen” and played the royal anthem. The protesters also shouted “Long Live the Queen,” which potentially led the general public and the protesters to understand that Jatuporn is the current Queen. The Court of Appeal later granted her bail with 300,000 baht as security.

    Jatuporn Sae-Ung

    3. A Facebook user, Warunee, was charged with royal defamation for posting a picture of King Vajiralongkorn changing the seasonal decoration of the Emerald Buddha, edited so that the Buddha is wearing a purple ball gown with a Yorkshire terrier sitting next to the base of the Buddha, along with the message “Emerald Buddha x Sirivannavari Bangkok”. The indictment stated that the image may lead to a misunderstanding that the King was putting a dress onto the Emerald Buddha, which is false information and damages national security. The image also made fun of and insulted the King, and is disrespectful to the Emerald Buddha, an object of worship for Thai Buddhists, making the image an insult towards the religion. The public prosecutor also noted that the dress was from a collection designed by Princess Sirivannavari, the King’s younger daughter, for her clothing label Sirivannavari Couture. Warunee was sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison. The Appeals Court denied her bail and she is now detained at the Central Women Correctional Institution.

    A poster calling for Warunee's release. (Photo from ไข่แมวชีส)

    4. Atthasit, a 29-year-old satirist, was found guilty under a royal defamation charge for posting messages and drawings on his Facebook page. The indictment stated that his posts targeted King Vajiralongkorn and the late King Bhumibol. The first contained the message, “Creating the world’s best hitman … even John Wick has to pay him respect.” The second was a drawing of a man eating a map of Thailand along with the caption “A way out for Thailand?” The public prosecutor said the intention was to defame and insult both monarchs. Atthasit was sentenced to 6 years in prison, reduced to 2 years and 12 months without parole.

    5. Lalita Meesuk was charged under the royal defamation law for posting a short video clip on TikTok in 2021 in which she criticised the government’s COVID-19 management and responded to those who commented with one clip mentioning the monarchy. She posted that the budget allocated for the King’s public relations was obtained from the taxes of people who owed nothing to the government or the monarchy. The public prosecutor alleged that the video clip might lead people to understand that the King took the people’s tax money to promote himself. The clip also implied that the King oppressed people to make them poor and then distributed money to them in order to create a sense of gratitude. Lalita’s post was viewed as an attempt to undermine the King’s reputation. She was sentenced to 3 years in prison, later reduced to 1 year and 6 months with a 2-year parole.

    Lalita Meesuk

    6. Arm, A 22-year-old man, was found guilty of royal defamation charge over a short video clip on TikTok, joking with a stray cat. The complainant, whom Arm had never personally known, said he came across Arm’s 13 October 2021 clip joking with a stray cat and he felt that the words were intended to be sarcastic toward King Vajiralongkorn and King Bhumibol. Arm was initially sentenced to 3 years in prison but due to his guilty plea, this was reduced to 1 year and 6 months, suspended as he had never been imprisoned before. However, the public prosecutor subsequently appealed against the sentence, citing that Arm’s action was deemed serious and he deserved a severe penalty. The court’s decision to reduce the length of the sentence was already lenient, so the prosecutor asked for the sentence not to be suspended. The Appeal Court overturned the initial sentence and decided to sentence Arm to 3 years in prison without suspension, saying that this is to ensure that others will not imitate his action. Arm was granted bail to appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court.

    7. Tonmai (pseudonym), A 26-year-old, was sentenced to 2 years in prison on a royal defamation charge for selling a rubber duck calendar. The yellow inflatable rubber duck emerged as a symbol of the pro-democracy movement following a protest on 17 November 2020, during which rubber ducks were used as a symbol of the protesters after they were used as shields against water cannons. Tonmai testified that the duck is a character named Krommaluang Kiakkai Ratsadonborirak (Prince/Princess Kiakkai, the People’s Protector), which is a name given to the duck by some netizens, and he did not intend to mock the King or other members of the royal family. However, the court believed the duck in the calendar represented the King and was intended as mockery. It sentenced him to 3 years in prison but reduced his sentence to 2 years due to his useful testimony. He was later granted bail to appeal the case.

    A rubber duck calendar

    8. Yukti Mukdawijitra, a lecturer at Thammasat University was indicted under the royal defamation law after he allegedly responded to a May 2021 post by academic-in-exile Somsak Jeamteerasakul about a rumour that King Vajiralongkorn was seriously ill and had been admitted to hospital. Yukti’s post stated "If a rumour isn't true, then it becomes a curse.” The indictment stated that the post showed the intention to curse the King and wish that he would get sick or would die. The prosecutors also stated that the lecturer’s post could potentially tarnish the dignity and the reputation of the King. Yukti was granted bail with 200,000 baht as security with the condition that he was not allowed to travel abroad without the court’s permission.

    Yukti Mukdawijit

    9. A 25-year-old protester was indicted for royal defamation after burning the King’s portrait in a 2021 protest. He allegedly shot a slingshot at a banner portrait of the King before tearing it down, stepping on it, and setting it on fire. The public prosecutor stated that a royal portrait represents the King and stands for the highest institution of the country, the monarchy, with the result that respecting a picture is the same as respecting the King. Burning his Majesty’s portrait is the same as burning the King himself and it shows an intention to remove the monarchy and change the democratic regime with the King as head of state to a regime without the monarchy. The court indicted Joi as charged while he denied the charges and was released after posting a 100,000 baht security.

    10. A 54-year-old musician, Chokdee Rompruk, was found guilty under the royal defamation law and the Computer Crime Act after he livestreamed himself singing a song about the late King Bhumibol during a protest on 23 August 2022. He was sentenced to 3 years for royal defamation and 1 year under the Computer Crime Act. Due to his guilty plea, his sentences were reduced to 1 year and 6 months. Chokdee was also found guilty of royal defamation for singing songs during another protest on the same day. In that case, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison, reduced to 4 years due to a guilty plea and suspended for 2 years.

    Chokdee Rompruk (Photo by Ginger Cat)

    11. Narin (last name withheld) was sentenced to 3 years in prison on a royal defamation charge for putting a sticker on a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn during a protest on 19 September 2020. The sticker said “Ku Kult”, which is the logo for a political satire page and a parody of the logo for a popular brand of yogurt . A Technology Crime Suppression officer testified to the court saying that Ku Kult is an ‘anti-monarchy’ Facebook page. The court then ruled that his action was intended to insult even though it was not done directly to the King himself. Narin was later granted bail with 100,000 baht as security. The Court of Appeal later dismissed the charge against him.

    Narin (wearing a Guy Fawkes mask) with his supporters on the day of the hearing (Photo by Ginger Cat)

    12. Jai, a 23-year-old student, was found guilty of royal defamation after she tweeted a picture of the late King Bhumibol and the message “You do not have to remember who I am. Just remember what I did”. The public prosecutor ruled that although the royal defamation law does not explicitly state that it covers only the current king, defaming King Bhumibol is still an offence under the law as it affects King Vajiralongkorn, saying that her tweet meant that King Bhumibol was a murderer and that monarchs are a waste or should not exist in Thai society. She was sentenced to 3 years in prison. However, the court ruled that, since Jai was only 19 years old in 2020 when the tweet was made, it reduced her sentence to 2 years. She was later granted bail to appeal her case using a security of 100,000 baht.

     

    eng editor 3
    23 May 23 2024
    10944 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • 10 years after the military coup, Rule of Law remains to be fully restored
    10 years after the military coup, Rule of Law remains to be fully restored

    On the 10th anniversary of the 22 May 2014 military coup, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) calls for a review by the executive government and parliament of Thailand of all remaining NCPO orders, including those already enacted into law, with a view to repealing or revising those non-compliant with the rule of law and Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law.

    Anti-coup protest on the skywalk above Pathumwan Intersection on 23 May 2014. (File photo)

    Ten years ago today, the Thai military, operating under the name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), staged a coup d’état, dismantling institutional arrangements critical to the operation of the rule of law and the protection of human rights. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) calls for a review by the executive government and parliament of Thailand of all remaining NCPO orders, including those already enacted into law, with a view to repealing or revising those non-compliant with the rule of law and Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law.

    Between the coup d’état on 22 May 2014 and the dissolution of the NCPO in July 2019, the NCPO and the Head of the NCPO ruled in part by executive fiat, issuing more than five hundred orders and similar announcements. These orders were deemed legal, constitutional, and final under the interim constitution in force at that time, although they bypassed the role of a democratically elected legislature and were clearly inconsistent with core rule of law principles.

    “Ten years have passed and countless orders undermining the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms persist, negatively impacting individuals as well as entire communities in relation to a range of issues, from political expression and individual liberty to concerns about health and environmental rights, without legal remedy and judicial oversight,” said Melissa Upreti, ICJ’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director.

    “We call on the Royal Thai Government and Parliament to immediately institute a transparent review process of all these orders through broad-based consultations and the meaningful participation of all stakeholders, guided by the principles of the rule of law and respect for human rights. Such a process must involve recognition of the detrimental impact of these orders, including those subsequently enacted into law, and lead to prompt access to effective judicial and other remedies, as well as the establishment of institutional safeguards against similar infringements of rights in the future.”

    Orders currently in force that are non-compliant with international human rights law include those that grant the military expanded powers over civilian authorities, including broad investigatory, arrest, and detention authority without judicial oversight, in violation of the right to liberty and security of the person, among other rights. There are also orders that adversely affect entire communities and the environment by altering land or environmental protection frameworks, bypassing the usual protections that exist in domestic law, thereby violating a wide range of social, economic, and cultural rights, as well as the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

    Background 

    Following the coup d'état, the NCPO embarked on a much-contested process to draft and adopt a new constitution, culminating in the 2017 Constitution presently in force. The lawfulness of the NCPO orders continues to be recognized by the 2017 Constitution, which, under Article 279, stipulates that all orders, announcements, and acts of the NCPO and its Head must be considered constitutional and lawful and shall remain in force unless repealed or amended by the passage of an Act, or through an order of the Prime Minister or a resolution of the Council of Ministers, if such orders are the exercise of executive power.

    In 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that Article 279 of the 2017 Constitution would continue to provide immunity to the NCPO for its acts, announcements, and orders. The Committee recommended that Thailand ensure all measures adopted are consistent with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a party, including the obligation to provide effective remedies to victims of human rights violations. However, so far, none of those affected by the NCPO orders have been provided with effective remedies.

    Before the NCPO was dissolved in 2019, the Head of the NCPO issued Orders Nos. 22/2561 and 9/2562, which repealed, in whole and/or in part, at least 87 NCPO orders and announcements (9 orders under Order No. 22/2561 and at least 78 orders under Order No. 9/2562). However, a number of other orders and announcements that are clearly inconsistent with Thailand’s international human rights obligations remain in force. 

    NCPO Orders Nos. 3/2558 and 13/2559 grant the military broad investigatory, arrest, and detention authority for up to seven days without judicial oversight. It is not clear whether these powers have been exercised in recent years.

    Head of NCPO Order No. 14/2559 permits the NCPO to establish its own advisory committee, disrupt the function of the Advisory Council of the Southern Border Administration and Development under the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC), and direct the civilian-run SBPAC to seek and implement advice from the military-led International Security Operation Command (ISOC). This has served to hamper the effectiveness of the SBPAC and has contributed to the lack of public participation in the SBPAC’s decision-making process. 

    Head of NCPO Orders Nos. 17/2558, 3/2559, 74/2559, and 31/2560 allow for land conversions that previously served as protected forest areas or lands reserved for the benefit of landless farmers for purposes other than those originally designated, including the facilitation of the development of border special economic zones (SEZs), bypassing the usual protections that exist in domestic law.

    Head of the NCPO Orders Nos. 2/2560, 28/2560, and 47/2560, which modified crucial processes around town planning and facilitated the fast-tracking of environmental impact assessments within the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), were repealed, but their impacts 3 remain since the orders were incorporated into the Eastern Special Development Zone Act B.E. 2561, passed by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in 2018. 

    Head of NCPO Order No. 9/2559, which allowed for the bidding of certain projects before the completion of the assessment of environmental impacts, was repealed, yet the problematic provision was integrated into a section of the Promotion and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act (No. 2) B.E. 2561, also passed by the junta-appointed NLA in 2018.

    The Forest Reclamation Policy under NCPO Order Nos. 64/2557 and 66/2557, which authorized the arrest of those allegedly encroaching on or damaging the forest, was repealed. However, prosecutions and actions against forest-dependent communities initiated under these repealed orders continue. Individuals in these communities remain at risk of being subject to prison sentences under the National Reserved Forest Act and the National Park Act. Evictions are still ongoing with no option of return. 

    The Thai government, including the current administration, has taken steps to repeal some of these orders, and there have been a number of bills proposed in the House of Representatives. Yet, progress has remained elusive.

    eng editor 1
    22 May 22 2024
    10943 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Rights groups demand investigation into activist's death
    Rights groups demand investigation into activist's death

    Following the death in detention of activist Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom while she was on a hunger strike to call for judicial system reform and the release of political dissidents, five human rights organizations issued a joint statement calling for the Thai authorities to conduct an independent and credible investigation into her death, release political prisoners held in pre-trial detention, and support the proposed amnesty bill for those facing political prosecution.

    Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom (Photo by Ginger Cat)

    The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS), Focus on the Global South, Front Line Defenders, and Asia Democracy Network are profoundly saddened and outraged by the tragic death of Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom, a young activist who peacefully and courageously fought for justice and monarchy reform in Thailand.

    Bung was a member of the protest group Thalu Wang, which advocates for the amendment of Thailand’s royal defamation (lèse-majesté) law, which has been frequently used to punish anyone who is perceived to defame, insult, or threaten the Thai monarchy.

    On 14 May 2024, Bung suffered from cardiac arrest and died while under the care of the Correctional Department, raising criticisms on the quality of treatments she received during such a critical time before being transferred from prison to the Thammasat University Hospital in Pathum Thani province.

    Bung’s detention stemmed from her conviction for contempt of court on 26 January 2024, where she was sentenced to one month in prison. However, on the same day, the Court revoked her bail in another lèse-majesté case filed in relation to a 2022 protest where she held up a banner at a shopping mall in Bangkok, questioning whether or not the royal motorcades caused inconvenience to the public.

    This revocation highlights the severe and oppressive actions taken against individuals who exercise their freedom of expression and right to protest.

    Using the lèse-majesté law against human rights defenders and critics

    On 27 January 2024, following her conviction, Bung initiated a partial hunger strike to demand justice system reforms. Bung hoped for the Thai Government to stop imprisoning dissenting voices.

    This is not the first time that a lèse-majesté defendant passed away while in detention. On 8 May 2012, Amphon Tangnoppakhun passed away a few months into his 20-year sentence. Despite weak evidence, he was found guilty of sending disrespectful text messages about Queen Sirikit.

    Bung’s death serves as a reminder of the tragic and inhumane consequences of the lèse-majesté law as well as the government’s disregard for political detainees’ right to bail, including those who have not been found guilty by a final judgment but dare to challenge systems.

    The Thai Government must listen to the increasing demands from its own people as well as the international community to repeal the lèse-majesté law.

    The lèse-majesté  law has been used as a political tool to silence human rights defenders and critics of the Thai Government. In 2020, massive protests demanding monarchy reforms erupted in Thailand. Between November 2020 and May 2024, at least 272 people have been charged under the lèse-majesté law, according to the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

    Even prior to Bung's death, the lèse-majesté law continued to threaten the Thai people’s right to express political opinions. On 14 March 2024, a social media user was sentenced to 50 years in prison for posting their sentiments regarding the monarchy online. Out of the 18 social media posts in question, 14 led to charges under the lèse-majesté law, while four were charged under the Computer Crime Act, which enables authorities to block or remove illegal or inappropriate websites and content, exerting significant control over people’s right to free speech and internet freedom. Its application has led to widespread self-censorship and a decrease in online discussions of ‘sensitive’ issues. The accused had been under pre-trial detention for 144 days before receiving their first court of instance's sentence. The sentence was reduced to 25 years after a guilty plea.

    Among many other prominent pro-democracy defenders, Anon Nampa has been sentenced to four years in prison without parole, in September 2023 for violating the lèse-majesté law for a remark about monarchy during a pro-democracy rally in 2020. In January 2024, he was sentenced to four years in prison for royal defamation in connection with a social media post made in 2021. In April 2024, he received an additional two-year sentence for royal insult, bringing his total prison time to ten years. Meanwhile, former civil servant Anchan was convicted for 29 counts under the said law, resulting in an 87-year imprisonment which was later reduced by half  following her guilty plea.

    A coalition of civil society groups and activists in Thailand has put forward the 'Amnesty for People Bill,' which seeks to cease politically-motivated prosecutions and resolve pending legal cases related to political expression.

    The bill advocates for comprehensive amnesty for individuals facing charges stemming from Thailand's political turmoil which has witnessed several protests and calls for reform since September 2006 when the country's military coup ousted the former civilian government. Public hearing on the bill is underway.

    Call to action

    We urge the Government of Thailand to carry out a thorough, independent, and credible investigation to determine the cause and circumstances of Bung’s death while under the custody of the Department of Corrections. Autopsy findings should be promptly published.

    Political detainees who have not been convicted by a final judgment should be granted the right to bail.

    We are calling on Thai authorities to support the proposed People’s Amnesty Bill as it is crucial for the government to provide amnesty to individuals facing political persecution for simply exercising their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.

    We are also encouraging the international community to monitor the trial of Thai human rights defenders and activists involved in lèse-majesté cases, helping ensure that their fundamental rights are upheld.

    eng editor 1
    22 May 22 2024
    10942 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • ICJ: Ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearance an important step for justice and accountability
    ICJ: Ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearance an important step for justice and accountability

    Following Thailand's ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which will become effective in the country on 13 June, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) calls on Thailand to remove the reservation preventing a referral to the International Court of Justice in case of a dispute with another state party. It also calls on Thailand to allow the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearance to receive both individual complaints and those from other states alleging cases of enforced disappearance.

    Protesters at the 18 July 2020 protest at the Democracy Monument holding missing person posters with images of victims of enforced disappearance.

    The ICJ welcomes Thailand’s ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance.

    Thailand submitted its depository notification of ratification to the UN Secretary-General, effective on 14 May 2024.

    “The Convention is an essential instrument which obligates states to take important measures to prevent the heinous crime of enforced disappearance, hold perpetrators accountable and provide redress to victims and their families,” said Melissa Upreti, ICJ’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director.

    The ICJ calls on Thailand to make a declaration under article 31 and 32 of the Convention to allow for the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearance, the supervisory authority of the Convention, to receive both individual communications (complaints) and those from other States alleging violations of the Convention.

    “The right to an effective remedy before both domestic and international bodies is critical to ensuring access to justice and redress for victims, survivors and their families,” said Upreti.

    “Considering Thailand’s weak track record in providing redress and accountability, recognition of the competence of the Committee to hear individual complaints is essential.”

    In accordance with article 31 of the Convention, any individual claiming to be a victim of a violation of enforced disappearance can submit a complaint to the CED after exhausting all available domestic remedies. If the complaint is admissible, the CED will then issue a decision on the merits, indicating whether or not the State is responsible for violating the Convention. Such a decision can assist Thailand in addressing systemic gaps at the domestic level that obstruct the cause of justice in such cases and help improve the future implementation of its own law.

    Thailand’s ratification was made with a reservation to article 42(1) of the Convention, which provides that when there is a dispute between Thailand and another State Party to the Convention concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention, a referral to the International Court of Justice will occur if the parties are unable to agree on the organization of the arbitration within six months. The ICJ calls for the removal of this reservation, which is inconsistent with the object and purpose of the Convention.

    Background

    Between 1980 and August 2023, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances recorded and transmitted 93 cases of alleged enforced disappearance to Thailand. Currently, 77 of these cases remain unresolved. These cases are believed to be only the tip of the iceberg.

    Thailand signed the Convention on 9 January 2012. On 10 March 2017, the then National Legislative Assembly voted in favor of ratifying the Convention. However, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the ICJ that ratification would be delayed until domestic legislation was enacted to give effect to the treaty.

    More than half a decade later, Thailand’s Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance became effective in February 2023. It criminalizes the acts of torture, ill-treatment, and enforced disappearance, targeting not only those who commit, conspire, or participate, but also their supervisors.

    eng editor 1
    21 May 21 2024
    10941 at http://prachataienglish.com
  • Esophageal intubation contributed to activist’s death, says lawyer
    Esophageal intubation contributed to activist’s death, says lawyer

    Medical records from Thammasat University Hospital state that pro-democracy activist Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom had no vital signs upon arrival and that an endotracheal tube was found in her esophagus instead of her windpipe, says Krisadang Nutcharus, Netiporn’s lawyer.

    Krisadang Nutcharus (center, white shirt) speaking to reporters at Netiporn's funeral on 18 May. (Photo by ไข่แมวชีส)

    Krisadang said during a press conference on Saturday (18 May) that, according to a death certificate issued by Thammasat University Hospital, Netiporn died from heart failure and asphyxiation. She had no vital signs upon arriving at Thammasat University Hospital at 9.30 am on 14 May. According to medical records that Thammasat University provided the family, doctors found that an endotracheal tube had been placed in her esophagus instead of her windpipe. As a result, oxygen was pumped into her stomach and intestines instead of her lungs. Krisadang said that, when he observed Netiporn’s autopsy, her stomach was swollen and full of air.

    Krisadang said he consulted with doctors, who told him that this was a major cause of Netiporn’s death, although there could be other reasons. Other substances were also found in Netiporn’s blood and some lab results were abnormal.

    Krisadang also said that the question remains of why Netiporn went into cardiac arrest to begin with. He insisted that Netiporn was starting to eat again and had been receiving medicine and potassium supplements. Lawyers from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) visited her every day while she was at the Corrections Hospital and had never been told that she refused to take medications.

    “I’m not letting this go, because this time, [Netiporn] died under the care of the Corrections Hospital and because of the Corrections Hospital. Who is going to be held responsible, I don’t know,” said Krisadang.

    He stressed that the placement of the tube was noted when Netiporn arrived at the emergency room at Thammasat University Hospital, and that doctors asked the family to find out when the tube was placed. A doctor at Thammasat University Hospital recommended that the family request Netiporn’s medical records from the Corrections Hospital, along with CCTV footage from her room.

    “Just like us, the doctor also wants to know how they could have done this, because even medical students don’t do this,” said Krisadang.

    Krisadang also questioned how it was so easy for Netiporn to be transferred to Thammasat University Hospital when it has always been difficult to have detained activists transferred. He has also not seen records of the transfer request, which raises many questions. Nevertheless, he said that it is not only the Department of Corrections or its personnel that are at fault. The police who arrest activists and oppose the granting of bail and the public prosecutors who indict them are also at fault, he said, asking why Netiporn was not granted bail.

    “If the court had granted her bail, Bung would not be dead. A lot of people have to be held responsible,” he said.

    Krisadang is also concerned about activist Tantawan Tuatulanon, who has also been on a hunger strike and is now detained at Thammasat University Hospital. Tantawan was previously held at the Corrections Hospital with Netiporn and was reportedly a witness when Netiporn suffered cardiac arrest. Krisadang said he has told Tantawan’s family and friends to keep her safe and to visit her even during the weekend. He has also asked Corrections officials not to make her sign any document as an eyewitness. She is also in a state of shock, and although she has told Krisadang what she saw, he asked that she not be questioned.

    The Department of Corrections issued a statement on Sunday (19 May) responding to Krisadang’s press conference. It claimed that the Corrections Hospital followed normal procedure when attempting to resuscitate Netiporn and that doctors were with her while she was being transferred. It also claimed that the Corrections Hospital meets the standard of care set by the Ministry of Public Health, that it has the necessary equipment and personnel, and follows professional standards.

    Krisadang held another press conference on Sunday evening (19 May), during which he read a statement saying that Netiporn’s autopsy concluded that her cause of death was acute heart failure, electrolyte imbalance, and cardiomegaly (enlarged heart).

    He said that according to the medical records obtained from Thammasat University Hospital, Netiporn had no vital signs when she arrived. An electrocardiogram found that she was in asystolic cardiac arrest, while doctors could not hear any air in her lungs. An examination with a video laryngoscope found an endotracheal tube in her esophagus and her end-tidal carbon dioxide (ETCO2) level was zero. Emergency room doctors re-intubated Netiporn, after which her ETCO2 level rose to 10 mmHg and air could be heard in her lungs.

    He noted that although esophageal intubation can happen, there is a standard procedure to ensure that the tube is placed correctly. While placing the tube in the wrong position and allowing it to go undetected might not cause death, it is a serious mistake that reduced her chances of survival to zero.

    “I have asked permission from the family, because this is private information about the deceased. I only report it after getting permission. These are the facts we obtained from Thammasat [University Hospital]. We are not accusing anyone, but we have to say it because a phone call was made to Thammasat University Hospital asking for an explanation,” Krisadang said. “There is a very thin line between an inquiry and a threat.”

    Krisadang noted that he was told by Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong that doctors were with Netiporn in the ambulance, as well as the Director of the Corrections Hospital. He said that questions have been raised about the Corrections Hospital’s standard of care so that such an incident will not happen to other patients.

    The Department of Corrections has been refusing to hand over Netiporn’s medical records and the CCTV footage. The Department claimed that Netiporn’s sister could not grant the power of attorney to her lawyer to obtain the record and that only her parents can do so.

    Lawyers and other activists were made to wait for several hours on Monday (20 May) in front of the Corrections Hospital. TLHR said that the Corrections Hospital closed its gate. Officials refused to inform TLHR’s lawyers whether they could hand over the records and asked for Netiporn’s family members, although the lawyers told them that the family have granted power of attorney to the lawyers to obtain the records since they are still busy with Netiporn's funeral.

    At around 13.00, TLHR said that the Corrections Hospital had handed over Netiporn’s medical records to her lawyers. However, the hospital has not given them the CCTV footage during her resuscitation as it wants to blur the faces of people not involved in the incident. TLHR said that the process is likely to take at least 4 days.

    Netiporn was pronounced dead at 11.22 on 14 May after suffering a cardiac arrest while she was on a hunger strike to call for judicial system reform and the release of political dissidents.

    The 28-year-old activist had been held in pre-trial detention on a royal defamation charge since her bail was revoked on 26 January and had been on a hunger strike since 27 January.

    TLHR said that an autopsy was performed on Netiporn’s body on the morning of 15 May. It will likely take at least a month for an autopsy report to be completed, after which a court inquest will be conducted.

    eng editor 1
    21 May 21 2024
    10940 at http://prachataienglish.com