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  • Anti-torture bill must be approved by this administration term, say CSOs

    Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) demand the House of Representatives to immediately approve the anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill after the Senate review.

    File photo

    On 9 August 2022, the Senate has approved the Draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act B.E….. This Act will then be submitted to the House of Representatives to decide whether they would agree with the Senate amendments or not.

    The Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), and human rights organisations joined their signature under this statement, come to an agreement that the bill, which passed its third reading from the Senate, has not been substantially amended from the House of Representatives' version.

    The Senate agreed to uphold the determination of the House of Representatives and human rights organisations that aims to pass the law and to improve Thailand's human rights standards to comply with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced disappearance (CED).

    Although some amendments were concerning: not extended statute of limitations, lack of definition of continuous crime in enforced disappearance case, all of the Committee for the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance will be appointed by the cabinet, and the exclusion of victims or their representatives in this Committee.

    The bill, amended by the Senate committee, still reaffirms the intent of several articles: the criminalisation of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, video and audio recordings during the arrest and detention which is an important safeguard to prevent torture and enforced disappearance, absolute prohibition of torture in war and emergency situations and ensuring accountability of the authorities, investigative bodies applied to many agencies including investigators, administrative departments, prosecutors and DSI officers, the statute of limitations beginning when the fate of the missing person is known, the jurisdiction of the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct and to cut off the powers of the military courts in the case of military officers committing offenses under this Act.

    For this reason, we urge the members of the House of Representatives to reconsider the Draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act B.E….., approved by the Senate which will be returned to the House of Representatives afterwards, in order to commence as law as soon as possible.

    In case of any disagreement, a joint committee will be established between the Senate and the House of Representatives. This will delay the consideration of passing the law into effect and it will not make it in time considering the remaining parliamentary sessions.

    This open letter wishes to confirm the intent of the draft law that will be highly beneficial to prevent and suppress torture and enforced disappearance, fulfilling Thailand’s obligation to comply with international laws, as well as to respect the will of the people. We remind the House of Representatives that passing the bill into effect as soon as possible will lead to the more effective protection of human rights in practice and the progress of Thailand's human rights situation to the global level.

    12 August 2022
    9962 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Cartoon by Stephff: Ex-president of Sri Lanka in Thailand

    12 August 2022
    9961 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Rajapaksa arrives in Thailand; critics question refugee policy.

    Giving Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa temporary permission to stay in Thailand could lead to pressures from civil society to prosecute him for war crimes and to questions about how the Thai government has treated refugees who are much more in need of help, such as Rohingyas, Uyghurs and ethnic minorities crossing the Myanmar border, according to a former National Human Rights Commissioner.

    Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife arrived in Bangkok at Don Muang airport at 20.00 local time on Thursday 11 August. They were seen leaving a VIP building and entering a car to leave the airport, according to The Reporters. On social media, Thai netizens criticized the government for having a soft spot for authoritarian leaders. 

    Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had said that Rajapaksa would arrive on 11 Aug after requesting a temporary stay while seeking long-term asylum in another country. Insisting that Rajapaksa would not seek permanent asylum in Thailand, he also bluntly asked Thailand not to become confused like Sri Lanka, claiming that there is now already enough confusion.

    Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, called the visit “normal” and describe it as “escaping the heat for the cool”. He said Rajapaksa was given permission for a 90-day stay and believed that he would not cause trouble to Thailand although his stay might dissatisfy Sri Lankans. 

    Implying that the Thai government would not provide accommodation for Rajapaksa, Don said he can stay anywhere that is available for rent including an apartment or a guest house. The current Sri Lankan government also had no objection to Rajapaksa’s entry. Don said he understood that the Sri Lankan government still remains under Rajapaksa’s influence. 

    Tanee Sangrat, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the current Sri Lankan government had requested Thailand to allow its former president a temporary stay and confirmed again that he would not seek political asylum here. Rajapaksa holds a diplomatic passport, meaning that he can stay for 90 days without a visa. 

    Rajapaksa fled to Singapore on 14 July before arriving in Thailand. It was reported that his Singapore visa was due to expire on Thursday 11 August. A close associate of Rajapaksa said that he “had applied for an extension, but it had not come through as of Wednesday morning.” His visit to Thailand makes it the second Southeast Asian nation to receive the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term. 

    Rajapaksa submitted a letter of resignation from Singapore after months-long mass protests over Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis in the 7 decades since independence in 1948. In July, thousands of protesters occupied the president’s official residence and office for days, confronting crowd control police as the country defaulted on its debts and its 21 million population suffered acute shortages of food, fuel, and medicine.  

    In July, Pheu Thai MP Tossaporn Srirak faced a criminal complaint of sedition from a pro-government activist after posting on Facebook “Do you want it like the UK or Sri Lanka?” warning that if Gen Prayut is not forced resign like the former, Thailand would fall into a political and economic crisis like the latter. Sonthiya Sawasdee, who filed the complaint, said that the post could be read as a call for unlawful insurrection. 

    Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya’s brother and the country’s former prime minister, announced his resignation in May and sought refuge at a naval base in the country’s southern town of Trincomalee. The protesters followed him there. Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, a politician from a party with a single seat in the Indian parliament, warned the Indian government against giving him asylum because of his record on war crimes. 

    During the final months of Sri Lanka civil war, during which Mahinda was President and Gotabaya was Secretary of Defence, more than 40,000 civilians were killed. While the Tamil Tigers contributed to that number, the Sri Lanka authorities were accused by the UN of committing “sexual and gender-based violence,” “enforced disappearances” and “torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” 

    Prepare for pressure

    Professor Chaiwat Kamchoo, an international relations scholar, said that had Rajapaksa remained President he would have enjoyed diplomatic immunity under international law. That may no longer be the case, but he has not been indicted by any government. So the Thai government could not do anything to prevent him from entering the country. 

    “He is not a criminal, so nothing can be done,“ said Chaiwat. 

    However, letting him enter Thailand could anger a large section of Sri Lankan population. In a concern shared by Foreign Minister Don, Chaiwat said that the Thai government should be careful not to openly welcome Rajapaksa and should make it clear that Thailand does not have any connection with him.  

    “If he enters Thailand, he can do so as an ordinary tourist,“ said Chaiwat. 

    Thailand seems to be following the example of the Singaporean government which said earlier this month that it did not give Rajapaksa any privileges or immunity. An Aljazeera report also said that he had made no public appearances or comments since leaving Sri Lanka. However, Thailand could face the same pressure as the Singaporean government. 

    International Truth and Justice Project, a group documenting on human rights violations in Sri Lanka, filed a criminal complaint with Singapore’s Attorney-General over Rajapaksa’s war crimes, claiming the principle of universal jurisdiction. British MP and the leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey has also called in the House of Commons for an international arrest warrant against Rajapaksa. 

    Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former National Human Rights Commissioner, posted on Facebook that allowing Rajapaksa to stay in Thailand can lead to pressures from “both domestic and international civil society organizations” that want him prosecuted on numerous counts of human rights violations. 

    Angkhana highlighted “particularly the cases of enforced disappearance” among other human rights violations committed by Rajapaksa. Thai rights groups have been campaigning for years against enforced disappearances, including the case of Angkhana’s husband Somchai Neelapaijit, red shirt leader Surachai Danwattananusorn, and political activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. Despite these efforts, the Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill was recently watered down by the unelected Senate.

    Question of standards

    Angkhana also raised another concern: letting Rajapaksa stay in Thailand may lead to questions about the government’s treatment of refugees, some of whom are in much more need of support. Attached to her FB post were reports of Thailand deporting three Cambodian opposition politicians in one month in 2021 and in the same year forcing 600 refugees from Myanmar back to an uncertain fate as gun shots were still being heard across the border. 

    Not only did Thailand expel Rohingyas back to sea in 2009, but state officials were also involved in trafficking them to the Thai fishing industry and to neighbouring countries. Thailand was degraded to Tier 3 by the US government in 2014 and only returned to Tier 2 last year. After combatting human trafficking with some success, Pol Maj Paween Pongsirin had to flee Thailand for exposing high-ranking military officials involved. 

    According to a VOA report in June, “Thailand is believed to be holding more than 50 Uyghurs in immigration detention centres across the country, most of them since at least 2014.” In July 2015, “Thailand deported 173 of the Uyghurs, mostly women and children, to Turkey.” But “a week later it deported another 109, mostly men, back to China, setting off a wave of condemnation at home and abroad.”

    While Thailand accepted Rajapaksa, it was also allegedly involved in the handover to the Sri Lanka government in 2009 of a Tamil rebel leader and three other members after serving jail terms for arm smuggling. Selvarasa Pathmanathan participated in war crimes similar to those of the Rajapaksa brothers as the two sides fought a decades-long civil war resulting in tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

    Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence said that Pathmanathan was arrested in Bangkok, but the Thai police denied the claim. Government aide Panitan Wattanayagorn said he had been in and out of Thailand several times as he had a wife in the northern part of the country. But he was not arrested in Thailand. It was merely that the airplane carrying him had to pass through an airport in Bangkok before arriving in Sri Lanka. 

    12 August 2022
    9960 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Protest at Thammasat U. calls for change through election

    A protest took place at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on Wednesday (10 August), restating the 3 demands of the 2020 pro-democracy protests and calling on people to bring about change through the next general election.

    People gathering for the protest at Thammasat University's Rungsit campus on 10 August (Photo by Siriyada Limsuwat)

    Organized by the Thammasat University Student Council and the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), the protest took place on the 2nd anniversary of the 10 August 2020 protest, during which the UFTD first announced their 10-point demand for monarchy reform.

    While activists and students took turns giving speeches on the main stage, other groups set up protest signs around the area, including a group of students raising awareness about sexual harassment on campus. They conducted polls on whether people feel safe from sexual harassment within the pro-democracy movement, and whether people have been sexually harassed by someone in the university.

    A banner at the protest says "a male lecturer is a sexual exploiter" (Photo by Siriyada Limsuwat)

    The students also put up a sign saying that “a male lecturer is a sexual exploiter.” Bee (pseudonym) said that the sign is meant to call for justice for victims of sexual harassment, as a male lecturer in the university has been accused of sexual exploitation against both students and colleagues but is still teaching in the university and is not facing consequences. Bee said that students have spoken out against him, but were threatened with lawsuits.

    Meanwhile, the Committee Campaigning for a People’s Constitution set up a table where people can place sandalwood flowers in front of a picture of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to raise questions about whether his term should end on 24 August 2022, since the 2017 Constitution allows a Prime Minister to be in office only for 8 years. Gen Prayut was first appointed Prime Minister on 24 August 2014, before being elected by parliament to stay in his position following the 2019 general election.

    The Committee Campaigning for a People’s Constitution's activity (Photo by Siriyada Limsuwat)

    Several activists joined the protest, among them Chonticha Jaengrew, now slated to run in the next general election as an MP candidate for the Move Forward Party. Chonticha said that, even though the monarchy and the government did not listen to or act on the 10 demands for monarchy reform, she thinks that the past 2 years of protest were not for nothing as the Thai people have begun raising questions about the monarchy, such as the budget allocated to the royal family, and people are beginning to agree with the demands, such as the campaign for the repeal of the royal defamation law.

    Chonticha noted that the authorities are enforcing laws more strictly, especially the royal defamation law, which she said is being used strategically to limit freedom of expression and to stop the movement of civil society. Because of this, she said one needs to question the role of judges in society, as activists who are granted bail are being given conditions that restrict their role in the movement for monarchy reform. They are required to wear a monitoring device or are prohibited from participating in activities which could damage the monarchy or the court, which goes against the principle of presumption of innocence and violates freedom of expression.

    Chonticha Jaengrew

    Chonticha, who also has to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, said she is consulting with her lawyer to file a complaint with the Ministry of Justice on discrimination against political activists, since the Ministry has a policy that a person can agree to wear a monitoring device instead of cash bonds when granted bail, but she and other activists are being required to wear monitoring devices despite placing cash bonds, showing that monitoring devices are being enforced upon activists to cause difficulties in living normal lives.

    “The courts are not acting as custodians of the law, but have become actors in today’s conflicts in our politics and society,” she said.

    Chonticha also noted that the courts do not consider evidence during royal defamation trials, which limits the defendants’ ability to defend themselves and prove that their opinions are in good faith and for the good of the country in accordance with their constitutional rights.

    Students and activists flashing the three-finger salute after reading out their statement (Photo by Siriyada Limsuwat)

    Towards the end of the protest, student activists came on stage to read a statement saying that, throughout the past 2 years, many changes have happened, but there are things that have not changed. They therefore organized the protest to once again restate the 3 demands of the 2020 pro-democracy protest, which are that Gen Prayut and his allies must immediately resign, a new Constitution must be drafted, and the monarchy must be reformed to come under the Constitution and in accordance with democratic principles.

    “Change in a democratic society is not something that can happen overnight, and even though there are some things that the movement has not been able to achieve, today we ask you all to think back to this day 2 years ago, 10 August 2010. In only 2 years, Thai political society is not the same anymore,” said the statement.

    “Change today is something that has happened and can never be turned back. All powers in society have been questioned, from the powers closest to us to the powers that have never been spoken about before, or even the powers that have not previously been seen as a problem. Today, many people are joining the call and are dreaming of a better politics. We insist that the Thai society and politics today is not the same anymore.”

    A protester held a sign calling for the authorities to drop charges against activists (Photo by Siriyada Limsuwat)

    The students then called on people to participate in the upcoming general election and to see it as a gateway to political change. They invited people to see the election as a way of showing the number of pro-democracy people, and to use it as a way of changing Thai politics and paving the way towards reform.

    “This election is not the end of the fight, but it is the beginning. It is the first milestone that those of us who stand by democracy must win so that our expectation of creating a democratic society in which every person has rights, freedom, and equality can come true in this country,” said the students.

    12 August 2022
    9959 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Local Muslims say plan for goddess statue masks ‘Chinese takeover’

    News articles about Muslim opposition to a statue of Guan Yin goddess in the South have been making rounds on the internet, drawing mockery and allegations about Muslim intolerance, especially from netizens who didn’t read past the headlines.

    However, a report by Prachatai English finds that local activists and clerics are not protesting the plan out of religious hatred, but out of concerns that the statue would pave the way for a controversial industrial estate and open the door to Chinese investor influence in the region.

    Muslims gather in Songkhla on 4 August 2022 to protest a plan by TPI Polene Power to build a large Guan Yin statue in the province, citing concerns over irregularities.
    (Image: Sombat Madyama / เพจจะนะเมืองน่าอยู่)

    When news broke that more than 5,000 Muslims gathered in Songkhla province earlier this month to oppose a plan to build a massive statue of a Buddhist goddess, many on the internet took it as yet another indication of Islamic intolerance of other faiths. 

    “The only religion which has problems. Other religions always coexist with each other,” one of the top rated comments on Khaosod news agency’s Facebook page declared. Other comments, which received thousands of “Likes,” expressed a similar sentiment.

    “The most selfish cult in the world,” one person wrote. “Their tails are starting to show. Are mosques the only thing they can build?,” asked another. 

    But local community leaders say their cause has been mis-portrayed in the media and misunderstood by an even larger audience. Rather than objecting to the worship of Guan Yin, Muslim residents fear the project is a disguised attempt to renew development of the unpopular Chana industrial estate, which was earlier halted by the government. 

    According to one of the clerics who participated in an 4 August protest, the statue project is surrounded by multiple irregularities and unanswered questions that convinced local Muslims something was amiss.  Among other things, he noted rushed procedures to approve the construction and the project owner’s ties to overseas Chinese investors. 

    “We oppose it because we don’t know if there is a hidden agenda,” Abdusshakur Bin Shafi-e Dina, a cleric, or ustaz who has been coordinating the campaign, told Prachatai English. “We suspect [the project] isn’t really being driven by faith but is actually exploiting faith as a coverup to build legitimacy.” 

    He added that, “This isn’t only about the Chana industrial zone. It’s about transitional Chinese money which is trying  to take over the entire country. Many projects and businesses are being funded this way, both legal and illegal ones … many businesses in the southern region have already been bought by Chinese investors.”

    At the centre of the controversy is a proposal by TPI Polene Public Company Limited to erect a 136-meter statue of the  Chinese goddess Guan Yin on a seaside mountain in Thepa district, an area known for its large Muslim community. 

    The firm, one of largest sellers of construction material in Thailand, has supplied and won bids from around the country for dozens of large scale projects, including motorways, elevated rail links, and the high speed railway connecting Suvarnabhumi Airport with U-Tapao Airport in Chonburi. It also runs power operations through its subsidiary TPI Polene Power, or TPIPP. 

    The proposed statue will be built next to a resort on Sakom Beach. Satellite images provided by Google show that a large area on the hill has already been cleared of trees, presumably in preparation for the construction.

    TPIPP said that the statue of Guan Yin, who is widely revered as a goddess of mercy by Thai-Chinese Buddhists, would bring in streams of tourists and worshipers from many countries including China, bringing enormous financial benefit to the local communities. 

    “The construction of Goddess Guan Yin will create a landmark boosting tourism in the southern region. It will attract tourists from all over the world and bring development to the southern border provinces,” TPIPP executive Pakkapol Leopairut told MGR Online

    “We’re killing two birds with one stone.” 

    He added that Guan Yin is worshipped in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and many other places, and that the statue would not only attract tourists from around the world but  serve to display the region’s multicultural identity.

    The MGR article, which featured TPIPP-supplied concept images of the gigantic statue, openly questioned the motives of protesters who demonstrated against the project on 4 August.

    “Some argue that even though Muslims comprise 65 percent of the population in Sakom subdistrict … many Buddhists, the remaining 35%, live there too … and opposing  a private sector project to construct the Guan Yin statue may potentially infringe on their rights to follow a different religion,” the article said.

    An object of worship without worshippers? 

    At the 4 August protest in front of Darul Abideen Mosque, activists and imams took turns speaking out against the project. 

    One of them, an official from the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, voiced his suspicion that the plan to build the statue was being pushed ahead even though the worship of Guan Yin isn’t widespread in the local communities – where most residents follow the Islamic faith. 

    “When Muslims build a mosque, there should be a Muslim community there first, because a mosque is like the heart of the community. If a mosque is built without a community to support it, it would be like a heart without a body,” Wisut bin Lateh said. “Under the same principle, if our brethren from another religion want to build their object of faith, a community that worships that object should already exist.

    “Building it in an area where people don’t worship it and oppose it instead shows that the builders aren’t truly paying respect to the goddess and might have some hidden agenda,” he continued. 

    Abdusshakur, the cleric who spearheaded the effort to oppose the project, said that alarm was first raised in June when the sub-district administration approved TPIPP plans to raise the skyscraper statue without first consulting the local community. 

    That same month, Abdusshakur said, local authorities attempted to amend height restrictions in area zoning laws  so that the  statue could be built. Local residents who contacted the city planning department for an explanation earlier this month were surprised to learn that the project was approved before a zoning amendment had been made..

    “How could the sub-district administration approve construction when the law does not support it?” the ustaz asked. 

    Local residents also contacted the Sheikh-ul-Islam Office, a national body that oversees Islamic affairs, for help in mediation. The Sheikh-ul-Islam Office responded with advice from a renowned Muslim academic, who expressed concern that the TPIPP project would risk fomenting religious tension in the region. 

    “It's a plan to build an object of worship that's disproportionately large when considering the size of the actual population [that follows the faith],” Chaiwat Satha-Anand wrote in a commentary seen by Prachatai English. 

    “Doing so may lead to prolonged conflict between the majority of residents, who do not worship the statue, and the minority, who do.”

    He added, “And since the site is designed as a tourist destination, it will only intensify this division … most of tourists will be Buddhists from other areas, both domestic and overseas, which will impact the current religious balance in the local community, potentially planting seeds for mutual discontent.”

    Chaiwat proposed several solutions. Instead of copying large-scale Guan Yin statues that exist in other places, the academic suggested that  TPIPP consider building a museum dedicated to Guan Yin, or a hospital, or a health centre, or some other philanthropic venue to honor the goddess. Abdusshakur proposed that  the statue be scaled down in size. 

    So far, TPIPP has yet to agree to any of these suggestions.

    Fearing a Trojan Horse

    A banner at the 4 August protest reads “In front: the goddess. In back: industrial estate?”
    (Image: Sombat Madyama / เพจจะนะเมืองน่าอยู่)

    What alarmed activists and locals the most appears to be TPIPP’s links to a number of controversial projects in the region. 

    The company is responsible for plans to develop a coal-fired power plant and a large-scale port in Thepa district. Both ran into opposition. The power plant was suspended by the central government in 2017 due to environmental concerns, while the port was opposed by local residents who believe it served as a front to transport coal for the firm’s energy operations. 

    Thepa district, where the goddess statue is slated to be built, also borders the area where TPI Polene is looking to construct the Chana Industrial Estate. The proposal proved to be deeply unpopular among environmental activists and some residents. After a series of protests in Bangkok, the government suspended the plan in 2021, pending further studies about its ecological impacts.

    Some local residents suspect that TPI’s latest bid to construct the Guan Yin statue is part of a broader effort to push ahead with the Chana industrial complex. 

    “In front: the goddess. In back: industrial estate?” read one banner hung at the 4 August protest, summarising the sentiment. 

    “Some people suspect that TPI probably wants to restore the confidence of their Chinese investors,” Abdusshakur said. “Their Chana project is right next to Thepa. They have to wait for the assessment studies, which could take up to 2 years … so TPI probably wants to find some way to assure the investors in the meanwhile that the project will still happen.” 

    There are also concerns that the statue project will open a sluice gate for a flood of new Chinese businesses into Thepa district. The TPI Group is known for its close ties to Chinese entrepreneurs; the company touted the Chana industrial estate as a new magnet for investment from China, while pushing for the construction of a deep sea port that would boost cargo exports to China.   

    “The way we see it, this is not about religion,” cleric and activist Husni bin Haji Konoh said at the 4 August protest. “This is about security, whether it's food security, economic security, or livelihood security that is being encroached upon by the capitalists.”

    Husni said many businesses in the south are already being operated and controlled by Chinese investors through their Thai proxies, raising the risk that the region will be turned into their “colony.” 

    “We are not rejecting capitalism,” he told a reporter. “But if we face an economic invasion or colonisation, then the people in our community will have to rise up and defend themselves, because  their livelihoods are at stake.” 

    Abdusshakur maintains that Thai Muslims and Buddhists of Chinese descent have always coexisted peacefully in Thepa district, but he also rejects the assertion that the statue and promised tourist boom would be a good thing for the local communities, citing fear of illicit Chinese influence. 

    “They like to claim that the people will benefit, but let me ask you, do you remember the zero dollars tours?” the cleric asked. “Did Thai people ever benefit from those?” 

    Feeding Islamophobia  

    The concept art for the Guan Yin statue (Image: TPIPP)

    Major news agencies covering the 4 August protest noted the insistence by local clerics and advocates that their grievances were about financial irregularities, not religion. 

    But many readers still failed to read past the headlines, which described the incident as a Muslim protest against the Guan Yin statue.

    The backlash was swift. Social media was awash with posts ridiculing Muslims in the Thepa district for their supposed intolerance, sometimes using screenshots that did not include the full text of news reports. 

    Articles about the protest also circulated on Facebook groups set up by hardline Buddhist organisations dedicated to opposing the construction of new mosques in some regions of Thailand. 

    “This is Thailand. Muslims are just a minority of the people living here, yet they have  grown arrogant and make demands that infringe on the rights of Thais,” said one comment on a Facebook homepage belonging to the  “North and Northeast Against Mosques” group.

    If Muslims can oppose a Buddhist statue in Songkhla, others reasoned, Buddhists also have the right to block plans for mosques in other places.  

    Abdusshakur said he and the protest organisers saw the blowback coming but were powerless to stop it. 

    “We know that it [the protest] would be twisted as an excuse to attack us whenever we want to build a new mosque. It ended up feeding Islamophobia,” the cleric said. “In truth, we are not opposing anyone’s beliefs. But we have no way to communicate this  to people who read the news.”  

    He concluded, “The capitalists behind the project … must be laughing and applauding each other, because they’ve already succeeded in using religion to sow division between our peoples.”

    12 August 2022
    9958 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • As spyware abuse emerges in Thailand, the pressure for accountability mounts across the world

    Pegasus spyware is being abused to target people in Thailand. The instigators? All indications point to the Thai authorities. But people in Thailand are not the only ones likely being spied on by those in power. Across the globe, revelations are emerging of governments using invasive technology to track, target, and silence critics.

    It is time to put an end to the weaponising of surveillance technology — both globally and in Thailand. Thai authorities must immediately initiate an independent investigation to hold the perpetrators to account, and support calls for a global moratorium on spyware technology.

    Source: Pixabay

    Last month, a report by Thai civil society groups, Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) and Digital Reach, and Toronto-based cyber research group, The Citizen Lab, revealed that the devices of at least 30 people in Thailand had been infected with Pegasus — a notorious hacking tool developed by Israeli company NSO Group, which has been implicated in privacy and civil rights violations across the world. These attacks mostly targeted activists, and often occurred before and during their participation in pro-democracy protests between 2020 and 2021. Barely five days after the report was released, five members of Thailand’s political opposition revealed their devices had also been compromised, coinciding with strong public statements in Parliament criticizing the Prayut administration.

    Even as investigations by the groups were not able to conclusively identify the perpetrators of the attacks, the fact that, according to the State of Israel and NSO Group, Pegasus is only sold to governments and that there was disproportionate targeting of government critics incriminate one suspect — the Thai government.

    This was supplemented by the statement of Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society, confirming that spyware has indeed been used by Thai authorities, “just not under his authority”. Even as Chaiwut tried to back-track on his comments, Chaicharn Changmonkol, Deputy Minister for Defence, conspicuously failed to deny that the Thai authorities have Pegasus in their possession, insisting only that the government “does not have a policy to use spyware that would affect the public.” These vague statements only heighten suspicions of state involvement in the hackings. Incredulously, representatives of the current administration seem to be pulling the finger pointing towards them even closer.

    Perhaps this is a symptom of impunity — since authorities in Thailand have made critical dissent incredibly difficult. Civil society, youth activists, journalists, academics, lawyers, and members of the political opposition have long suffered from state abuse of laws on defamation, sedition, contempt of court, and computer crimes, and increasing regulatory measures that control and censor online content.

    In fact, Citizen Lab reported that they had first found evidence of Pegasus operations in Thailand in May 2014 — the same month of the military coup led by General Prayut Chan-o-Cha. Recent reports now seem to confirm that spyware has become yet another instrument at the disposal of the Prayut administration to stifle dissent and curtail civic space.

    If the Thai government is indeed using Pegasus to spy on its critics, it joins a list of at least 44 other states who have also abused this technology. Since the Citizen Lab first revealed Pegasus abuses in 2016, and Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories released the Pegasus Project in July 2021, cases of spyware targeting from across the globe are continually thrust into the spotlight, invading and upending the lives of hundreds of people – from activists, journalists, members of the judiciary, women human rights defenders, and public health advocates, to heads of state. And as the scope of revelations widens, calls for accountability by victims, NGOs, lawmakers, and other stakeholders have intensified.

    NSO Group has been taken to task for its sale of Pegasus. Even before the Pegasus Project, Apple and Meta’s Whatsapp had sued the NSO group for undermining the security of people who use their platforms. In November 2021, the US government blocklisted NSO Group and another spyware operator, Candiru, for violations of national security; and in April 2022, the European Parliament began an inquiry into the abuse of Pegasus and other spyware technologies in the region. Following reports that NSO Group had attempted to escape accountability for its abuses by getting acquired by a U.S. defense contractor L3Harris, civil society and the White House pushed back against the deal, resulting in the contractor ending the talks.

    Demands for accountability have also targeted the wider spyware industry — which continues to facilitate human rights violations in secrecy, brazenly operating without regard for international law or commitment to human rights safeguards. Access Now and global civil society coalitions are campaigning for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology, and urging member states of the UN Human Rights Council to support independent investigations into human rights violations facilitated by the sale and abuse of surveillance tools. In April 2022, Costa Rica became the first country to publicly call for an immediate moratorium on spyware use until the implementation of a regulatory framework to protect human rights.

    Thailand, and the people who live here, will only suffer if it chooses to ignore reports of spyware abuse. What is happening in Thailand both feeds into and draws from a global movement against the abuse of surveillance technology. If Thai authorities fail to acknowledge the seriousness of the allegations placed at their feet, global attention will very likely push Pegasus back to their doorstep and strengthen local demands for accountability. Like France, Poland, India and Spain, the Thai government must launch an independent and effective investigation into Pegasus abuse, and take necessary steps to ensure such an investigation is not hampered by political interests, as is currently the case in Hungary.

    The Thai government should also scrutinize and stop national procurement of surveillance tools, and join global calls for a moratorium limiting the sale, transfer and use of these tools. It should do so not only because it remains accountable to the people from whom they draw a mandate to govern, but because if the government stays silent, Thai people — and the rest of the world — will not.

    Access Now is an international organisation that works to defend and extend the digital rights of users at risk around the world. Access Now provides thought leadership and policy recommendations to the public and private sectors to ensure the continued openness of the internet and the protection of fundamental rights. By combining direct technical support, comprehensive policy engagement, global advocacy, grassroots grantmaking, legal interventions and convenings such as RightsCon, we fight for human rights in the digital age.

    11 August 2022
    9957 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Activists, artists commemorate 8888 uprising

    Thai and Myanmar activists and artists gathered in Chiang Mai on Monday (8 August) to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the 8888 Uprising and protest the Myanmar junta’s violence against the people, while a performance artist staged a solo performance in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok on the same occasion.

    A banner seen at Tha Pae gate

    The 8888 Uprising was a series of protest marches in Myanmar in 1988, beginning with protests organized by university students against the government under General Ne Win, culminating in a general strike and mass demonstrations on 8 August 1988, in which participants included students, Buddhist monks, and citizens. Protesters were fired upon by the authorities, after General Ne Win ordered that “guns were not to shoot upwards,” resulting in a large number of casualties.

    On Monday (8 August), Thai activists and the Myanmar community in Chiang Mai gathered at Tha Pae gate, a famous tourist landmark, to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the protests, as well as to protest the violence committed against the people by the current military junta under General Min Aung Hlaing and pay tribute to the 4 pro-democracy activists recently executed by the junta.

    The candlelit vigil at Tha Pae gate

    During the event, Thai and Myanmar activists read poems and gave speeches. Artists also staged a performance to reflect the ASEAN community’s silence about the current situation in Myanmar. Before the conclusion of the event, participants held a candlelit vigil to remember the 8 August 1988 uprising and those who died because of state violence committed by the current junta.

    Earlier on Monday morning (8 August), performance artist Nontawat Machai from the performance art group Lanyim Theatre staged a solo performance in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok to commemorate the 8888 Uprising and call for democracy in both Thailand and Myanmar.

    Nontawat Machai during his performance at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok

    Nontawat said he disagreed with the idea that Thailand should not interfere with what goes on in its neighbouring countries, and that because everyone is human, one cannot stand aside and let people be killed, even if it’s happening on the opposite side of the world.

    “They claim our silence to kill others, so I’m just not going to let them use my silence as an excuse to kill other people,” he said.

    “I don’t care what people will say, or why you should meddle in other people’s affairs. Actually, this is not about national borders. I see them as living human beings like us.” 

    Nontawat said he wanted to call on people to speak out, rather than do nothing, because if we do nothing, we will not be able to escape the cycle of dictatorship. He also said he believes that it is still possible for the people to bring about change, and that one must keep going.

    “This is a lesson that if there is not yet a force, or if the force is still small, we’ll keep going. I think that’s more our focus. Being disappointed that we have no power and losing hope, for me, I haven’t felt like that. There is still hope,” he said.

    11 August 2022
    9956 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Amnesty International petitions Ministry of Justice for release of detained activists

    Amnesty International Thailand and other activists submitted today (10 August) a petition, signed by 4,701 people, to the Ministry of Justice to call for the authorities to drop charges against pro-democracy activists and to release and return the right to bail to political prisoners. 

    Today (10 August 2022) Amnesty International Thailand and activists brought 4,701 names of Thai citizens who signed the petition through Amnesty International's urgent action. The list was delivered to Mr. Somsak Thepsuthin, the Minister of Justice, by Mr. Wallop Nakbua, the Deputy Permanent Secretary for Justice, who also served as the Minister of Justice's representative to call for the release, dismissed the allegations and restored bail rights to activists who are being held in custody pending trial. As well as, to demand that Thailand's government uphold its commitments to international human rights standards, including the right to bail, freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

    Piyanut Kotsan, Director of Amnesty International Thailand said that according to the Amnesty International Secretariat in London, United Kingdom has launched an urgent operation inviting members, activists, and supporters to send a letter to Mr. Somsak Thepsuthin, the Minister of Justice, demanded the release of the activists and the withdrawal of all accusations. Additionally, they urged Thai authorities to adhere to their commitments under international human rights law, which mandate that they should protect citizens' rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly and minimize detention pending review. This campaign was in effect until August 9th.

    Since 2 June 2022, two women have been on hunger strike calling for their right to bail. They have been detained since 3 May 2022. Authorities have started criminal proceedings against them and one other, who is on bail under house arrest, for conducting street polls. The Thai government is required by international human rights commitments to effectively protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and to minimize pretrial detention. All allegations against the three must be dismissed, and they must be released right away.

    Thai authorities have carried out a wide-ranging crackdown on peaceful protest and online discussion since overwhelmingly peaceful pro-democracy reform protests started in July 2020. Officials are using vaguely worded provisions of laws - on security, the monarchy and computer crimes - as instruments of repression and are interpreting the peaceful exercise of rights as a threat to security or public order, or offence to the monarchy, and subsequently file criminal proceedings against activists which may result in up to life imprisonment.

    The Director of Amnesty International Thailand also announced that over the course of more than a month through Amnesty International has campaigned to compile names under urgent action that are campaigning around the world. Calling for the release of two protest activists who have been on hunger strike including Bung, Netiporn Sanesangkhom and Bai Por, Nutthanit Duangmusit who demand their rights to bail. Both were detained on May 3, 2022 and released on August 4, 2022. Despite being given bail, authorities have launched criminal prosecutions against the two. However, as a result of the 64-day hunger strike has resulted in health ramifications for the body, which now requires hospitalization to recover. While Tawan, Thantawan Tuatulanon, who had previously been granted bail, is being sentenced to home detention for 24 hours after conducting street polls. 

    Since May 3, 2022, Netiporn and Nutthanit have been detained, with their requests for bail repeatedly denied. They have been on hunger strike since 2 June 2022 in protest of their detention. After going on a 36-day hunger strike in detention after authorities revoked her initial/earlier bail on 20 April 2022, Tantawan is currently on bail under house arrest

    Prominent protesters have also faced months of arbitrary pre-trial detention, often compromising their rights to education and access to a livelihood. They are currently subject to increasingly restrictive bail conditions which stringently limit their human rights to freedom of movement, expression and peaceful assembly, including requirements to stay within their places of residence for up to 24 hours daily, unless for medical treatment, and wear electronic monitoring bracelets 24 hours a day.

    During 2022, Thai authorities have filed criminal proceedings against protesters in connection with their public peaceful activism. Officials continue to increase their judicial harassment of people engaging in acts of perceived public dissent, including children, and are escalating measures to stifle public expressions of opinion and peaceful protest and are imposing excessive restrictions on people’s right to peaceful protest and expression.

    Amnesty International has the following requests for the Thai government in this regard: 

    1. Immediately release and/or withdraw charges and excessive bail conditions against people targeted for peaceful exercise of their rights and drop all criminal proceedings against them;
    2. Pending the release of people targeted for peaceful exercise of their rights, ensure they have adequate access to medical treatment;
    3. Instruct officials to uphold Thailand’s international human rights obligations, including on the right to bail, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
    10 August 2022
    9955 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Another bail denial brings number of detained activists to 29

    29 people are now detained pending trial or pending appeal on charges relating to political expression, after activist Sinburi Saenkla was denied bail on Monday (8 August).

    Sinburi Saenkla (Photo from TLHR/iLaw)

    Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Sinburi, a member of the activist group Thalufah, reported to Nang Loeng Police Station after learning that there was an arrest warrant out for him on charges of arson, destruction of property, and violation of the Emergency Decree in relation to the protest at the Nang Loeng Intersection on 19 September 2021, the 15th anniversary of the 2006 military coup. He was accused of burning a royal ceremonial arch in front of Ratchawinit School and a traffic control box at the Nang Loeng Intersection.

    Sinburi denied all charges. However, the Criminal Court ordered to have him temporarily detained and denied him bail on the grounds that the charges carry severe penalties and the offenses were committed in public against state property, and that it is likely that he would repeat the offenses if released. The order was signed by judge Attakarn Foocharoen, Deputy Chief Justice of the Criminal Court.

    Three other activists have previously been charged with the same charges over the same incident. A 22-year-old university student, also a Thalufah member, was summoned to the police to hear the charges on 8 October 2021, and was later released on bail. Meanwhile, Pornchai Yuanyee was arrested on 7 July 2022. He was subsequently denied bail and is currently detained at Bangkok Remand Prison. Pornchai and the student were also charged with royal defamation for burning the arch.

    TLHR also reported that the police have requested an arrest warrant on the same charges for Thalufah activist Chitrin Phalakantrong, who is currently detained pending trial on charges relating to a protest at the Democrat Party headquarters on 30 July 2021. The police will likely be visiting him at Bangkok Remand Prison to inform him of the charges.

    At least 29 people are currently detained pending trial or pending appeal on charges relating to political expression, 4 of whom are detained on royal defamation charges:

    1. Private Methin (pseudonym), 22, a soldier detained at the 11th Military Circle Prison since 19 March 2022 after he was accused of mentioning King Vajiralongkorn while arguing with another person who hit his motorcycle with their car. TLHR  reported that Methin was held at the 11th Military Circle for 30 days while facing disciplinary action, before being arrested by officers from Bangbuatong Police Station and detained at the military prison.
    2. Sombat Thongyoi, a former Red Shirt protest guard sentenced to 6 years in prison on charges of royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act over 3 Facebook posts he made in 2020. Sombat has been detained pending appeal at Bangkok Remand Prison since 28 April 2022.
    3. Pornchai Yuanyee, a Thalufah activist, who was accused of burning a royal ceremonial arch in front of Ratchawinit School during a protest on 19 September 2019. He has been detained pending trial at Bangkok Remand Prison since 7 July 2022.
    4. Shinawat Chankrajang, an activist who was arrested on 30 July 2022 and charged with royal defamation, violation of the Computer Crimes Act, and using a sound amplifier without permission for giving a speech during the protest in front of the South Bangkok Criminal Court on 28 July 2022. The South Bangkok Criminal Court ordered him detained for 12 days while the police conduct an investigation, and on 6 August 2022, denied him bail because he issued a statement rejecting the authority of the court with “severe wording” and because he committed his offense on King’s birthday, which the Court said was an important day for the entire nation.
    10 August 2022
    9954 at https://prachatai.com/english
  • Supreme Court dismisses defamation lawsuit against reporter

    The Supreme Court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against former Voice TV reporter Suchanee Cloitre filed by the Thammakaset Company on the grounds that her report was criticism made in good faith.

     

    Suchanee Cloitre

    The company, a supplier of poultry to the agribusiness company Betagro, launched the defamation lawsuit against Suchanee after she posted a tweet about the defamation case that the company filed against migrant workers who had filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC), claiming mistreatment by the company.

    The workers’ complaint said that they had been forced to work up to 20 hours per day without a day off for 40 or more consecutive days, that they had been paid less than the minimum wage, were not paid for overtime, and that they had their freedom of movement restricted, and their identity documents confiscated.

    In 2016, Thammakaset sued them for defamation, claiming that their complaint damaged the company’s interests.

    In September 2017, Suchanee retweeted a message from former Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN) advisor Andy Hall, adding a comment which said that the court ordered the Lop Buri chicken farm owner to pay compensation to the 14 migrant workers “for using slave labour.”

    In November 2017, a company representative filed a complaint with local police in Lopburi, but the public prosecutor dismissed the case on the ground that Suchanee was reporting on the court ruling as a journalist and did not intend to cause damage to the company. In March 2019, the company filed charges against Suchanee directly with the Lopburi Provincial Court.

    On 24 December 2019, the Lopburi Provincial Court sentenced Suchanee to two years in prison, ruling that her tweet is defamatory because the phrase “slave labour” did not appear in Hall’s post or the court ruling he attached to his post and is therefore damaging to the company. Because the court believed that Suchanee posted her tweet without considering the damage it could cause to the company, and that she had not checked whether her message was accurate, the court considered that Suchanee’s action was not in good faith.

    Suchanee and her lawyer filed an appeal. On 23 October 2020, the Appeal Court dismissed the case on the grounds that, as a journalist, Suchanee has received information from directly interviewing the workers, and even though her phrasing was not the same as the Court ruling, it attracted readers and is also used by foreign media. It therefore ruled that her tweet was criticism made in the interest of the public and in good faith, which is not considered defamation under Thai law.

    The case then went before the Supreme Court, which dismissed it today (9 August) on the grounds that Suchanee was expressing her opinion in good faith. The Court said that a Voice TV report Suchanee wrote, which mentions an investigation made into Thammakaset by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), reflects that her tweet was based on the information she had. The Court also said that it has no reason to believe that she was biased in her reporting, or was doing so to gain advantage over the company or to gain benefit for herself or her employer.

    The Supreme Court also said that it agreed with the Appeal Court’s ruling that Suchanee has the right to criticize or express opinions about the company in good faith and in the interest of the public as a citizen and as a journalist whose job is to report about labour rights. Her tweet is therefore not considered defamation.

    Suchanee told Voice TV that she is happy for the case to be over and thanked the court for giving her justice. She said that it is necessary for journalists to report about human rights, which concern marginalized groups often ignored by the rest of society, such as migrant workers, and insisted that the media must report about things that are in the public interest.

    Suchanee’s case is one of at least 39 criminal and civil defamation lawsuits that Thammakaset has filed against journalists and human rights advocates who spoke out against its labour rights violations, including former Thailand human rights specialist with Fortify Rights Sutharee Wannasiri, former Fortify Rights Communications Associate Thanaporn Saleephol, Mahidol University lecturer Ngamsuk Rattanasatien, and former National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit.

    According to the report ‘Truth Be Told: Criminal defamation in Thai law and the case for reform’ published in March 2021 by ARTICLE 19, criminal defamation lawsuits are on the rise in Thailand, as data obtained from the Office of the Attorney General shows that between 2015 and 2019, the number of cases submitted to the Court of First Instance increased from 1386 to 2023. The report also says that there were 10,141 defamation lawsuits between January 2015and September 2020, 8,397 of which resulted in a conviction.

    ARTICLE 19 noted that the criminal defamation law has been used against individuals raising concerns about human rights and labour rights violations, corruption, or government or corporate failures, causing these people to endured lengthy legal proceedings before being acquited. Such lawsuits and the accompanying threat of imprisonment create a climate of fear and self-censorship, which the organization said is “severely inhibiting journalism and weakening civil society.”

    10 August 2022
    9953 at https://prachatai.com/english