Media awards

27 01 2018

Amnesty International Thailand recently held an event, reported by Prachatai, that was “organised out of respect for the role of the media in observing human rights principles and creating human rights awareness in our society.” AI made awards “to outstanding reports relating to human rights and humanity in general.”

In an interesting and important set of reports, two caught PPT’s attention.

For the print media, First Prize was awarded to Paritta Wangkiat who was writing for the Bangkok Post for its article “Too Little, Too Late for Lahu Traumatized by Youth’s Killing.” This report highlighted the still unresolved extrajudicial slaying of Chaiyapoom Pasae by soldiers. As far as we are aware, the military continues to conceal evidence and cover-up on this tragic case. Paritta’s report is online and can be read here.

In the category of online media, joint First Prizes were awarded to for “Anwar, Pattani and the River full of Crocodiles” and Prachatai for “Sex and Love in Thailand’s Male Prisons.” The latter story was reported by Taweesak Kerdpoka.

On 29 January, Taweesak is due to appear before the Ratchaburi Provincial Court when it will announce its verdict in the case of Taweesak and four activists “accused of allegedly violating the Referendum Act by giving moral support to villagers in Ban Pong District, Ratchaburi Province in the case of the activists, and by reporting on the incident by the Prachatai journalist.” By taking this “legal” action, the junta effectively made reporting opposition to its draft constitution illegal.

The media in Thailand has a rather checkered history on human rights, but these two young journalists have done outstanding work. The junta prefers obedience.

Justice warped

26 12 2017

It has been a considerable time since PPT has seen any reporting on the court case on the killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae. We think the last report we posted on was back in September.

Then the Bangkok Post was pointing to the case being in the courts but that the events of the killing had been muddied by the authorities, with junta cabinet ministers defending the soldier who gunned down Chaiyapoom. The “evidence” the junta’s officials and the military claimed to have was hidden, unavailable or concocted and the long-promised and much discussed CCTV footage of the shooting had not been released to the courts.

Junta “investigations” were stagnant cover ups and the case risked disappearing into thin air, the state’s usual way of maintaining impunity for its illegal acts.

In a brief update, seven months into the court case, Prachatai confirms the ongoing cover-up.

Sumitchai Hattasan, the lawyer for Chaiyapoom’s family, said that the “evidence submitted by the Army … is unusable…”. This claim relates to the continuing failure to provide the CCTV footage. The Army mumbled something about having provided it to the police but that the latter being unable to open the file.

The lawyer is now required to get the “court to order the Army to resend the footage early next year.”

What will be the next excuse? This case is one more that displays the warping the justice system.

Sorting out corruption, deaths, theft

17 09 2017

PPT was pleased to note a Bangkok Post editorial on the case of the young Lahu activist Chaiyapoom Pasae who was killed by soldiers about six months ago. The Post refers to this as an “extra-judicial killing in broad daylight…”.

The events of the killing have been muddied by the authorities, with “some cabinet ministers [having] made an attempt to defend the soldier who gunned down Chaiyapoom.” The “evidence” the junta’s officials and the military claimed is hidden, unavailable or concocted. The “footage from CCTV that captured the moment when the shooting took place” has not been released.

Junta boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered “a probe.” Like many such “investigations” under the junta, “to date [it] has seen no progress with the case seeming to disappear into thin air.” The handling of the case has been secretive, even furtive. The state has also sought to implicate Chaiyapoom’s relatives and have threatened locals in order to further muddy the waters.

The case is now in the courts. They are so opaque, politicized and in the pocket of the junta that there is little chance that the state’s “obligation to bring justice to Chaiyapoom and his family” will be fulfilled.

On corruption, Suphawatchara Malanond who is Dean of the Law Faculty at the Prince of Songkla University, has an opinion piece at the Bangkok Post that raises many issues regarding state enterprises.

Among these, corruption scandals is worthy of consideration, not just for the traditional state enterprises but for corporations where the state maintains investments.

The 11 “key corporatised state enterprises” are: “PTT Plc, TOT, CAT Telecom, MCOT Plc, Thai Airways International Plc, Airports of Thailand Plc, the Transport Co, Dhanarak Asset Development Co (a state enterprise under the Treasury Department), Thailand Post Co, the Syndicate of Thai Hotels & Tourists Enterprises Ltd and Bangkok Dock Co.”

That reminds us: What happened to all those “investigations” into Rolls Royce engines at Thai Airways and PTT’s commissions?

The failure of “investigations” under the junta is definitional of the regime.

That’s probably why the Bangkok Post reports that Interior Minister General Anupong “welcomes” an “investigation” into the deflated blimp.

At the same time, the general and “the army have defended the worthiness and performance of the army’s controversial 340-million-baht aerial patrol project, including an airship, which has been decommissioned only after eight years in service.”

As the general explains, “its performance was effective or not must be assessed by the army,” suggesting that any “investigation” is likely to be fudged. After all, loyalty is usually valued in the military.

General Anupong set the tone by undervaluing the airship by seeking to value the blimp as a balloon rather than as an equipped machine.That’s the start of the fudge.

But, again, Anupong feels under some pressure. It remains to be seen how far The Dictator is prepared to go in protecting his former boss. Loyalty?

Updated: Soldiers, deaths and unlikely coincidences

5 09 2017

After quite a period of media silence, The Nation reports that the case of murdered activist Chaiyapoom Pasae is finally seeing some legal movement.

It is reported that the Chiang Mai Provincial Court will be handling Chaiyapoom’s case and another involving the death of Abe Sae Moo. Both cases involve soldiers are accused of using excessive force. Both were “killed at the Ban Rin Luang military checkpoint in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district earlier this year.”

Public prosecutors have finally “asked the court to look into the deaths.”

The first hearing on Chaiyapoom’s case took place on Monday. Sumitchai Hattasarn, who is a lawyer from the Centre for Protection and Revival of Local Community Rights and representing the dead boy’s parents, said he had “prepared 10 witnesses for this case in a bid to get to the truth…”.

On the other side, “public prosecutors had prepared 45 witnesses for the soldiers.” The defense claims will be to self defense on the part of soldiers.

After Abe was shot on 15 February, the military claimed soldiers had shot him “in self defence because Abe was about to throw a grenade as he fled in a drug case.”

No soldier blushed with shame when following the shooting of Chaiyapoom on 17 March, this was also claimed to be an act of self defense because Chaiyapoom ” pulled out a grenade at the checkpoint after the discovery of drugs in his car.”

Remarkable coincidences indeed. Some have suggested it was the same grenade and probably belongs to the soldiers involved.

We remain in the dark over the CCTV footage that the police and military claim was available. What has happened with that?

Update: Prachatai has a report that comments on what it calls “withheld evidence.” It states:

The lawyer [for Chaiyapoom’s family] said that he is concerned about the CCTV footage of the crime scene which is a prime evidence on the case because he does not know whether the military has given the footage to prosecutor as yet or not.

That’s almost six months after Chaiyapoom was killed and over five months since the military stated it had handed the CCTV footage to police investigators.

Everyone smells a rat, and it is probably a fat one in a camouflage uniform.

Contextualizing official murder

29 05 2017

Many readers will recall the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae and the failure of any serious investigation. There has been no serious investigation because there’s a cover-up.

In this context of an official cover-up and the efforts to ensure impunity for the soldiers and their officers who were involved, a recent report in the Bangkok Post deserves attention. It is sad and revealing. Most of all, it is a story of how the people are repressed and exploited.

Bits and pieces from the report can be quoted here, but do read it and weep for these people and for Thailand:

‘They pointed a gun at me,” Lana whispers into my ear.

She means military, police and officials and she’s talking both of an events in the past and a pattern of intimidation and exploitation.

In 2005, the gun was pointed at her by “them” to prevent her and other Lahu accessing their farmland in Ban Kong Phak Ping village in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district, just a few kilometres from the Thai-Myanmar border. The altercation followed their discovery of young plants placed on the land as part of the authorities’ forestation project, which the Lahu were unaware of.

Violence is imprinted in her memory. Some local Lahu were reportedly beaten up by officials as suspected drug dealers.

Amid the intense drug suppression [Thaksin’s time], Lana was charged with resisting an operation to arrest two Lahu drug suspects in her village. Their house was raided but no drugs were discovered. The officials refused to back down despite the lack of evidence. They demanded Lana, who was widely respected in the local community, assist in the arrest.

After she refused to collaborate, she was arrested then imprisoned for nine months.

“We’ve fought for our rights for so long until we’re bored to fight and let it be.”

This conversation took place at a “gathering” on the spot where Lahu rights advocate Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, was killed on the morning of March 17….

Many locals do not believe the Lahu youth [Chaiyapoom] was linked to drugs. But people in his village are watching the case from distance. It’s also not an issue that they speak about openly in their community despite the loss.

Chaiyaphum’s death heightens the fear the Lahu community have lived with after long years of discrimination….

Checkpoints [for drugs] became a common encounter during my daily drive with another journalist tracing the shadow of Chaiyaphum in Chiang Mai’s border towns. We passed the checkpoints easily.

But when it’s Saroj’s [a local’s] turn, he usually has to undergo a urine test despite this being a routine commute for him.

His 17-year-old nephew says he has been slapped in the face by a soldier. On another occasion, he was beaten and stamped on by military personnel although no drugs were found on him.

Four other Lahu I interviewed told me similar stories. They have all experienced violence themselves or have friends or family who have faced official violence.

“Life is already difficult for ethnic people who don’t have status here. They have no choice but to submit to fate. Would they [the military] do the same to suspects if they are not ethnic?” Saroj asks.

Remarkably, the authorities have poured mony into the area since Chaiyapoom was murdered. It might be hush money, it might be compensation, it might be an admission of guilt.

Aid has flooded into Chaiyaphum’s village. The state and military have dispatched resources to remedy the community’s loss. A new toilet was installed in mother’s house.

Trucks were seen delivering construction materials to the village to build facilities. Soon they will get water tanks and electricity lines. New social development projects will be slated for the village soon.

Local authorities visit the community to survey their problems and requirements. The chief of Chiang Dao district recently visited the village — some locals say he is the first chief to visit their community in a decade.

“This village has been neglected for so long. When the incident [Chaiyaphum’s killing] took place, we allocated a budget to assist the villagers because we don’t want them to be left behind,” says Chiang Dao district chief Sarawut Worapong.

…[T]he overwhelming military presence in the community has made some Lahu feel insecure, especially those close to Chaiyaphum or those who have experienced violence.

They claimed to have been photographed by military officials. Officials also took pictures of houses, claiming it was part of a survey to allocate aid.

A diagram of the drug network was shown to some community members which contained the names of their friends, in order to sow discord among the community.

Villagers are still seeking the truth behind Chaiyaphum’s death.

Atthachak Sattayanurak, an academic at Chiang Mai University, says the violence is a part of the authoritarianism that puts marginalised people vulnerable to abuse of power.

Especially when Thailand’s political environment is not conducive to democracy, vulnerable people like ethnic minorities are at the mercy of the state.

As she [Lana] keeps a faint smile when telling me her life story, I ask why she maintains such an expression.

“It’s just the way I am dealing with the problem. Actually, I’m scared.”

ASEAN MPs on Chaiyapoom’s case

29 04 2017

PPT reproduces in full a statement by the ASEAN members and former members of parliament on the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae:

ASEAN MPs concerned about safety of minority rights defenders more than a month after killing of activist in Thailand

JAKARTA, 28 April 2017 – Regional parliamentarians expressed concerns today over the lack of adequate investigation to date into the shooting death last month of indigenous Lahu activist Chaiyaphum Pasae in northern Thailand, as well as reported threats against other activists and local community members in the area.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called on the Thai military to fully comply with the investigation and release key evidence related to the incident, and urged authorities to fully investigate all reported threats in order to ensure that human rights and the rule of law are respected. The collective of regional lawmakers said the case highlighted the dangers faced by minority rights activists in Thailand, which are characteristic of similar threats around the region.

“These latest allegations, and the lack of satisfactory investigations, have done nothing to address growing concerns over the human rights situation in Thailand,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“This isn’t the first time Thai authorities have been accused of committing extrajudicial killings and certainly not the first time that they’ve failed to provide adequate answers as to what really happened. This raises serious concerns about the safety of activists who are putting their lives on the line to defend the rights of their communities.”

Ethnic Lahu activist, 17-year-old Chaiyaphum Pasae, was killed by security forces during an alleged anti-drug operation in Chiang Mai province on 17 March. Chaiyaphum was a strong advocate for the rights of his community and other ethnic minorities in northern Thailand, and had been actively involved in campaigns against drug use.

Authorities have claimed that some 2,800 methamphetamine tablets were found in Chaiyaphum’s car and that he was shot in “self-defense” after attempting to run away from soldiers. However, witnesses present at the scene told reporters that he was unarmed and that he was beaten by soldiers before being shot. One witness has already fled the country due to fears for his safety, APHR has learned.

Although the police opened an investigation shortly after Chaiyaphum’s death, there are indications that the military is refusing to cooperate, including by refusing to make public CCTV footage of the incident. Photographic evidence seen by APHR raises further questions regarding the official military account of events – questions which could be answered by the release of the CCTV footage and of the autopsy results.

APHR called on military authorities to release the CCTV footage to the public, and also urged the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) to exercise its mandate and demand that, at a minimum, the footage be released to the NHRCT to aid in its own investigation.

“We can’t be sure if the police are failing to fully investigate the incident or if other authorities, namely the military, are blocking the investigation or not fully complying with requests. Either way, this is beginning to feel like so many other cases in the region where investigations have stalled due to inaction and no one is ever really held accountable and justice never served,” Santiago said.

“In addition to conducting their own independent investigation into the case, the NHRCT should ensure that no one in Thailand is above the law and that the incident itself, as well as threats and intimidation against witnesses and other activists, are fully investigated by the competent authorities. The military’s cooperation in this investigation shouldn’t be up for debate.”

Parliamentarians also raised concerns about the safety of other community members following reported death threats received by Maitree Chamroensuksakul, another Lahu activist who worked closely with Chaiyaphum. Maitree, who has also been outspoken about the abuses faced by his community, was recently told by local authorities to cease speaking out and recently found a bullet left on the doorstep of his house – a clear threat on his life. The threats against him follow a pattern of similar intimidation of other activists and community members in the area.

“It is imperative that the Thai authorities put in place the necessary measures to ensure the safety of Mr. Maitree and all witnesses in this case, in addition to fully investigating all reported threats against them,” said APHR Board Member Walden Bello, a former Philippine Congressman.

The cases highlight a dangerous trend in Thailand, where human rights defenders are increasingly at risk, APHR said. Parliamentarians called on the diplomatic community and the National Human Rights Commission to use all available means to ensure that the Thai authorities investigate these cases, punish the perpetrators, and protect – not threaten – activists and local communities.

“Mr. Chaiyaphum’s killing has come at a time when fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression, are under severe threat in Thailand. Fully investigating his death would send a clear message that the Thai authorities are finally willing to abide by their international human rights obligations, and that his case will not become just one more entry into a long list of cases of impunity for extrajudicial killings,” Bello said.

When the military is on top II

26 04 2017

While some of the media seems prepared to join with the junta in allowing the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae be eased off the front pages, Prachatai continues to report on events related to the military’s efforts to bury the case in delays and silence. (Consider the same manufactured silence on the political vandalism of the 1932 plaque.)

A network of academics and several ethnic minority groups recently met in Chiang Mai and “issued a joint statement over the summary killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae, a young Lahu ethnic activist who was shot dead by a soldier on 17 March.”

This group pointed to the “intimidation of relatives of the slain activist and witnesses of the killing” and noted the failure of the (lying) “military must submit the CCTV footage of the crime scene to the police for further investigation process.”

The statement said:

After the incident, soldiers have visited Kong Pakping Community where Chaiyapoom lived almost every day. His relatives or even the head of the community were summoned [by the authorities]. Bullets were found placed in front of houses of Chaiyapoom relatives….

Such intimidation is standard operating procedure for the state’s thugs. It is also the modus operandi of the junta itself when dealing with critics.