Updated: “The whim of this corrupt, mafia system”

12 11 2016

That quote is from British human rights activist Andy Hall who has recently fled Thailand. He did so, he says, because “he feared for his safety amid legal problems and harassment…”.

In a regime of repression under the military regime, Hall’s travails might be seen as just more of the same. However, this particular bit of harassment is not by the usual suspects. Rather, it is elements of the business elite that is responsible for harassment termed “irrational, vindictive and aggressive.”

Hall refers to the Natural Fruit Company, a pineapple producer. He says “it’s rare to have a company that is so irrational and so vindictive.” With due respect to Hall and his troubles over a long period, we think he’s wrong.

Many of Thailand’s business people regularly engage in actions that are vindictive and aggressive. They behave like gangsters when they are not hiring them. Often the gangsters are hired from the military and police. They act with impunity and use their wealth to ensure that justice is not for them. They invented double standards.

Rural landowners know that they are in danger when a tycoon takes a liking to their land. Union organizers have been harassed for decades. Many have been murdered.

Primitive accumulation in Thailand is still practiced and is barbarous, vicious accumulation.

Military, monarchy and local and national tycoons work together to maintain their ownership and control of Thailand. Their system is indeed corrupt and they act as a mafia.

Update: Readers will find the excellent Bangkok Post special report by Nanchanok Wongsamuth.It tells of new action against Hall by “Thammakaset Farm, a former Betagro poultry supplier, [that] had launched further legal action against him for criminal defamation and computer crimes.” The impression created is of a conspiracy among business tycoons to harass Hall.

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.

Defamation regime

10 04 2013

Okay, we filched the title from David Streckfuss, but a story at The Conversation, reporting on the Andy Hall case, makes links between the general nature of defamation and lese majeste as protecting entrenched elites:

What is the role of the criminal law? In parts of modern day Asia, the criminal law has had another, more troubling, purpose in addition to convicting murders and rapists: protecting those in authority against criticism. Andy Hall, a UK human rights activist, currently finds himself facing two years…

In parts of modern day Asia, the criminal law has had another, more troubling, purpose in addition to convicting murders and rapists: protecting those in authority against criticism.

Andy Hall, a UK human rights activist, currently finds himself facing two years jail and a possible A$100 million fine. He is charged with criminal defamation in Thailand over a report he wrote (and stands by) that was critical of the conditions faced by Burmese migrant workers, and will reappear in Bangkok South Criminal Court today.

In Asia, journalists and human rights activists often find themselves on the wrong end of a criminal prosecution. For example, Thai activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has recently been sentenced to 11 years in prison and in another case with a closer link to Australia, there has been the jailing of another Thai man, Ekachai Hongkangwan, for selling an ABC Foreign Correspondent documentary. Both were charged under lèse-majesté laws….

Updated: Still turning a profit

25 10 2011

The Irrawaddy has a rather disturbing story regarding migrant workers and floods. It is stated that:

Burmese migrant workers escaping Thailand’s worst floods in decades have been seized by the Thai authorities due to problems with their working address or legal status.

Some Burmese migrant workers do not have any legal documents while others work legally but are not allowed to leave their province of employment. Many such people have been seized and deported to the Burmese town of Myawaddy on the opposite side of Mae Sot, Thailand.

The migrant workers appear to be caught by a double- even triple-whammy as they flee floods, Thai and Burmese officials and brokers:

Myint Wai, the assistance director of Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB), said that brokers are trying to exploit the situation of those who have fled back to Burma—especially Burmese migrants from Mahachai Province.

If migrant workers do not have legal status, they have to pay 3,000-4,000 baht (US$ 97-130) to the brokers to get back over the border.

“Brokers are cooperating with some officials who send migrants back to Burma under the guise of ‘arrest and deport,’” Myint Wai told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Andy Hall, the director of the Migrant Justice Program for Human Rights and Development Foundation, makes the all too obvious point that “it is a serious violation of human rights to exploit people who are fleeing from a natural disaster.”

Update: The Irrawaddy has a new, related report worth considering.

Getting rid of Burmese workers

20 02 2010

As PPT has posted previously, the Abhisit Vejjajiva coalition government has developed an odious track record on refugees and other peoples of concern who cross borders seeking sanctuary.

PPT had thought that the millions of workers who do all the hard and dangerous work in Thailand, exploited by often horrendous conditions, poor pay and sometimes slavery-like circumstances, would have been in a different category for the government. After all, Thai employers, happy to exploit these migrants, regularly make calls for more foreign workers and cheap migrant labor keeps Thai and foreign enterprises profitable in industrial sectors that would have died a “natural” death years ago.

Not so it seems. Various reports indicate that the Democrat Party-led government is going to expel more than 1 million migrant workers, most of them to Burma.

The Irrawaddy (18 February 2010) reports that “Thai authorities say that despite protests by human rights groups they are proceeding with plans to deport up to 1.4 million migrants who fail to complete national verification procedures by the end of February.”

It is reported that Deputy Prime Minister Major-General Sanan Kajornprasart, in his capacity as chairman of the alien workers management committee, had appointed officials to arrest and deport migrant workers who failed to complete national verification formalities by the end of February.” This is a direct outcome of a cabinet resolution that allowed extension of work permits only if migrants “completed the national verification formalities, which involve processing by their home countries.

As a footnote, it is Sanan who has been heading up the repatriation of hundreds of allegedly Cambodian beggars, many of them severely disabled, back across the border, apparently in breach of Thailand’s own laws.

That’s not as easy as it might initially sound, especially for those from Burma. It is, however, in line with two things. First, the Abhisit alleged attention to “rule of law, and second, the military’s long-held suspicion of migrant workers as a security threat. The government claims it wants workers “above ground.” As PPT has previously said, Abhisit’s rule of law is, in fact, using the law for government and political advantage.

The UN expert on the human rights of migrants, Jorge A Bustamante, said: “This scheme does not offer options for protecting the human rights of migrants who have not availed themselves, or will not avail themselves, of this process.” The UN official said he was disappointed that the Thai government had not responded to his appeals for ‘restraint.” He warned that “the threats of mass expulsion will result in unprecedented human suffering and will definitely breach fundamental human rights obligations.”

Andy Hall, the director of the Migrant Justice Program, claimed that deportation was “not realistic the economy needs the workers.” (He also has an article on this topic in the same issue of The Irrawaddy).

The economy needs them. The problem – if the government ever recognizes it – is that it risks a huge rise in illegal and unregistered underground workers, strengthening the hand of the police, military and traffickers (of course, in Thailand, these are not mutually exclusive categories. The government’s “rule of law” will actually create more crime and less attention to law as corruption increases even further in cross-border smuggling of workers.

Migration, Deportation, Censorship

12 01 2010

As readers know, PPT began almost a year ago (our one-year anniversary is approaching) as a blog focused expressly on tracking and publicizing information about lesè majesté cases in Thailand.  We were concerned that these cases did not receive enough coverage in the mainstream media.  As the Abhisit government came into increasing conflict with various dissident groups in Thailand, our coverage has broadened to wide-ranging censorship, human rights, and red-yellow conflicts, to name a few topics.  While part of our logic for doing so has been to publicize stories not receiving enough attention, we have also done so in order to highlight the growing repression — across the board — in Thailand.

A few weeks ago, we posted on the forced repatriation of the Lao Hmong asylum seekers in northeastern Thailand. Today, we have learned of another series of possible deportations, this time of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. The Asian Human Rights Commission has forwarded an article by Andy Hall, director of Migrant Justice Programme (MJP) at the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF). Hall explains the National Verification (NV) of the Thai government, which is the “ policy to formalise the status of some of the approximately 2 million migrants from Burma, Cambodian and Laos currently working in Thailand. These workers contribute an estimated 5-6% of Thailand’s GDP and make up around 5% of the nation’s workforce. For these workers who work in Thailand’s most dangerous, dirty and demeaning jobs, NV is apparently required because they left their countries without permission and entered Thailand “illegally”. They are currently nationality-less labourers.”

Hall writes the entire NV process, which is expensive, time-consuming, and laborious. Noting that the Thai government has threatened to deport workers who do not register, he asks: “Mass deportation is surely not possible, right? But if mass deportation did go ahead, would the government ensure it was “real” deportation and not the usual arrest and costly release processes we have all seen for years? Would migrants return to Thailand on the same day as they were deported to Burma and things go on as normal?”

Hall does not answer these questions, but recent events certainly make them apt. PPT urges readers to read the whole article: “Managing Migration in 2010: Effective Registration or Effective Deportation?”

Further, we urge you to make the connections between the various links of oppression being created in Thailand. Break the chains!