Updated: Things that seem normalized

25 08 2015

Reporting of the Bangkok bombs has taken up much of the media headlines in recent days. However, there have been a bunch of other reports that deserve some consideration. Here’s a selection:

Protecting exploitation: Migrant rights activist Andy Hall has been indicted on charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes that could lead to 7 years in jail. He has referred to “judicial harassment.”

The case is explained this way:

Natural Fruit, a pineapple processing company based in the Bangkok municipality of Thonburi and exporting to European markets, filed civil and criminal defamation complaints against Hall in February 2013. Hall had been contracted to conduct research for a report by European corporate watchdog Finnwatch that documented low wages, the employment of underage workers and other labor abuses against the company’s largely Burmese migrant workforce.

In response, Hall stated:

“I’m disappointed but I will respect the court’s decision…. I’m going to fight the case, and the case will expose many wrongdoings by many different people…I’m confident that in the end I’ll be served justice and be acquitted of all charges.”

Meanwhile, Finnwatch executive director Sonja Vartiala, said the prospects of a fair trial were “looking grim.”

No-one had yet been held accountable for the unlawful labor practices at Natural Fruit.

More slavery: In one of several reports of slavery in recent days, 13 Lao immigrants aged 15 to 18, who were reportedly treated as slaves, were rescued by officials who found them being kept in “animal cages” at a pig and chicken farm in Nakhon Pathom. Investigations focus on  the farm owner who is also a Krung Thai Bank manager. Usually such cases disappear as bribes are paid.

Enforced disappearance: The Asian Human Rights Commission shared an updated appeal from Protection International about the high-risk situation of Ms. Waewrin Buangern (Jo), coordinator of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group and a community-based Woman Human Rights Defender, who is under constant and surveillance by military authorities. Military personnel have threatened her with enforced disappearance.

As explained in the appeal:

Ms. Waewrin Buangern (Jo) coordinator of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group and community-based Woman HRD, who is under constant surveillance by military authorities, is facing a high-risk situation. As coordinator of the Conservation Group, Ms. Waewrin is under close monitoring by authorities and she is contacted on a regular basis by authorities for information on her whereabouts or on the Conservation Group’s plans. The threat of enforced disappearance against Ms. Waewrin was made during an ‘attitude adjustment session’, on 11th November 2014, when she was accompanied by another 10 villagers to the attitude adjustment session at Patoupah Special Military Training Facility. The attitude adjustment session was chaired by Deputy-Chief of Provincial Military Division, Colonel Chainarong Kaewkla, and there were heated exchanges between villagers and authorities during the course of the session. Ms. Waewrin has said that at one point in the session, she was told, “You know we can make anyone disappear.” During the same session, Ms. Waewrin was also the target of a gender-specific attack when she was told, “You will never be able to find a husband.”

Ms. Waewrin has been closely monitored ever since the Conservation Group joined the 1st Walk for Land Reform in Thailand on 9 November 2014 in Chiang Mai. Following such high-level intimidation and confrontation, Ms. Weawrin has been under surveillance and frequently contacted by local authorities. Everyday 2 plainclothes soldiers, on motorbike, patrol the Ban Haeng Village at around 7 p.m. Every day, there are different soldiers who patrol the village and they are always low-ranking soldiers. There is information that the soldiers are monitoring the movement of villagers, but also monitoring Ms. Waewrin specifically. She has never received any military personnel in her home and always requests that they meet her in the village Assembly Hall.

The clear and high-level threats from authorities that have been voiced against Ms. Weawrin are of grave concern, especially as authorities have adopted a clear oppositional stance against the activities of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group. One such threat of violence has arrived against Ms. Weawrin from a high-ranking and now promoted military officer. It indicates a clear and consistent risk for Ms. Waewrin as authorities continue to monitor her whereabouts and know how to gain access to her.

“Normal” military slaves: There’s been some commentary after a chained soldier walked into the military junta’s complaint center to ask for help. PPT can’t judge this particular story and its veracity, but it does highlight an issue that is quite common: the use of the lower ranks by their bosses as personal servants. Rear Adm. Benjaporn Bawornsuwan denies chaining Pvt. Anek Thongvichit to a tire, and unleashed on the soldier. Yet it is the details that are most revealing.

Benjaporn met with police and “speculated that several Navy commanders who harbor grudges against him may have encouraged Anek to file his complaints, telling reporters that other commanders abuse the system of ‘servant soldiers’.

Having soldiers stationed at their masters’ homes like this is normal. And it’s widespread. Especially the rich people’s kids who couldn’t dodge the draft in time, they asked for help that way,” he said at a Nakhon Pathom police station. “They asked to be posted in commanders’ homes, but they aren’t really there. And the commanders get the money, 9,000 baht per month.”

Today Gen. Udomdet Sitabutr, commander of Royal Thai Army, defended the practice of sending soldiers to serve as personal servants.

“Right now, we don’t call them ‘servant soldiers’ anymore. This word doesn’t exist anymore. Right now we call them ‘service soldiers’ who have a duty to assist their commanders.”

He said the work conditions of servant soldiers are enviable.

“People who sign up for this work do so voluntarily. They want to have a living that is different to the barracks and their friends,” he said. “Mostly, service soldiers will be well taken care of. Soldiers in some units even compete with each other to be service soldiers, because puuyai will take care of them. As for their duties, they are light, small things, not something that would frighten people.”

One of PPT’s writers has personal experience of “servant soldiers.” A few years ago, this person lived in a high-end condo where a Navy officer had five such servants or personal slaves. They spent their days at the beck and call of the officer, his wife and his children, washing cars, doing housework, acting as chauffeurs and even as enforcers when the Navy officer was in dispute with other residents over unsanctioned modifications he made to his condo. None of them were chained, but they wor So this is a “normal” as the Army commander claims, and it is reprehensible. It is part of the payoff for being a “puuyai,” and a part of the enforcement of hierarchy.

Update: Readers may be interested in the Bangkok Post’s Sanitsuda Ekachai’s Feudal system stunts shoots of democracy, which reflects on some of the issues above.