Virus doublespeak

20 12 2020

We at PPT are not medically trained or epidemiologists but as laypersons interested in human rights, we were stunned by a report at Thai Enquirer.

The outbreak in Samut Sakhon is among workers employed in the fisheries industry who live in crowded and unsanitary dormitories. It is reported:

The government said that they would isolate the dormitories where the migrant workers were …[living] but would provide healthcare and other necessities. The government said Thais living in the dormitories would be evacuated and moved to local hospitals.

Photos show razor wire being put up around the dormitories and the seafood market.

Government Spokesman Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin said this was not about “blaming” migrants – it is – and that human rights were being maintained – they aren’t.

Taweesin said Singapore had shown:

how to isolate and quarantine a foreign work force. Singapore saw a mass break out in foreign workers dormitory with workers living in close proximity to one another. The city-state managed to isolate and quarantine the work force but faced some criticisms from rights groups.

And how did things go for migrant workers in Singapore? A Reuters report explains that:

Nearly half of Singapore’s migrant workers residing in dormitories have had COVID-19, according to the government, indicating the virus spread much more widely among those living in these accommodations than the official case tally shows.

The rate in the dormitories for migrant workers was 47%. The rate for those outside the dormitories was just 0.25%.

If that’s the model, human rights count for nothing. Singapore should be condemned, and so should Thailand if it takes this discriminatory route.





End Harassment of Suchanee Cloitre

29 10 2020

PPT had earlier posted on the legal harassment of journalist Suchanee Cloitre. This is just one more example of how the rich and powerful benefit from Thailand’s warped judicial system. We reproduce the joint letter by human rights groups:

Thailand: End Harassment of Suchanee Cloitre
Baseless criminal defamation cases undercut labor rights protections

Suchanee (clipped from LePetitJournal.com)

Joint Letter

26 October 2020

We, the undersigned twelve human rights organizations, call on Thailand’s government to immediately end the harassment through the judicial system of journalist Suchanee Cloitre and to take concrete steps to protect journalists and human rights defenders from frivolous criminal proceedings. On 27 October, the Lopburi Court of Appeal will deliver the verdict in an appeal by Suchanee, who was convicted last year in a case initiated by Thammakaset Company Limited. The case underscores the need to repeal criminal defamation provisions in Thailand’s Criminal Code, which have frequently been used by businesses and powerful individuals to silence their critics.

The charges against Suchanee stem from a tweet concerning alleged labor rights violations at a chicken farm operated by Thammakaset in Lopburi Province. According to a complaint filed by workers with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, the company failed to pay minimum wage or overtime, did not provide adequate rest time and holidays, and confiscated identity documents, among other abuses. In 2016, the Lopburi Department of Labor Protection and Welfare ordered Thammakaset to pay THB 1.7 million in compensation to the workers, a penalty that was later upheld by Thailand’s Supreme Court.

At the time of her tweet in 2017, Suchanee was a journalist for Voice TV and reported on the allegations. In March 2019, Thammakaset filed a criminal complaint against Suchanee under sections 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code, concerning defamation and libel, respectively. In December 2019, the Lopburi Provincial Court convicted Suchanee under both provisions and sentenced her to non-probational two years’ imprisonment.

Suchanee is only one of many individuals targeted by Thammakaset. Since 2016, Thammakaset has initiated civil and criminal cases against 22 individuals and Voice TV for speaking out about the company’s alleged labor right violations. Among the accused are former Thammakaset employees, labor rights activists, an academic, women human rights defenders, and a former commissioner from the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.

In March 2020, four United Nations Special Rapporteurs and the chairs of two UN Working Groups wrote to the Thai government to express concern about the “continued judicial harassment by Thammakaset Co. Ltd (Thammakaset), of human rights defenders, migrant workers, journalists and academics for denouncing exploitative working conditions of migrant workers”.

The Thai government’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, adopted in 2019, set combatting “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPP) and preventing prosecution of human rights defenders as major priorities for the government. However, the government has failed to act decisively to achieve this objective. Earlier this month, the Thai government further undermined its commitment to ensuring a rights-respecting business environment by awarding a human rights prize to Mitr Phol Co. Ltd, a sugar company facing a class action lawsuit over alleged human rights abuses in Cambodia.

In December 2018, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly amended the Criminal Procedure Code to include two provisions, sections 161/1 and 165/2, that could be used to dismiss criminal cases against those acting in the public interest. This reform was cited in the National Action Plan as evidence of the government’s attempt to prevent SLAPP lawsuits. However, to date, judges have refused to consistently apply these provisions in spurious criminal cases filed by Thammakaset and other private actors against journalists and human rights defenders.

While the proactive application by judges of sections 161/1 and 165/2 to dismiss abusive cases against human rights defenders and others acting in the public interest would be a positive step, more far-reaching reforms are necessary.

We call on the Thai government to decriminalize defamation, including by repealing or amending sections 326-333 of the Criminal Code and section 14 of the Computer Crimes Act. There is growing international consensus in favor of decriminalizing defamation, as recognized in the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 34, which emphasized that custodial sentences are never an appropriate penalty for defamation.

We also call on the government to take immediate steps to end frivolous criminal proceedings against journalists, human rights defenders, and whistleblowers, including those accused by Thammakaset.

Signed:

Amnesty International
ARTICLE 19
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and development (FORUM-ASIA)
Community Resource Center (CRC)
Civil Rights Defenders
Fortify Rights
Human Rights Lawyers Association
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)





Wanchalerm’s enforced disappearance

3 07 2020

Wanchalearm

Keeping the spotlight on the unexplained “disappearance” of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, the BBC has a long feature article detailing the events and background to the likely state abduction of the political activist, then living in exile in Cambodia.

As the report observes, he is “the ninth exiled critic of Thailand’s military and monarchy to become a victim of enforced disappearance in recent years.”

We feel it is worth reading in full. There’s not a lot that is new for those who have been following the case, but it is useful to have it brought together.

The report emphasizes that those who abducted Wanchalearm were armed and threatening to those who tried to intervene. The abductors used a black SUV, often a sign of state involvement.

His satirical political commentary “made fun continuously of the military junta. He made fun of Gen Prayuth [Chan-ocha] … he made fun of other generals.”According to human rights observer Sunai Phasuk, Wanchalearm’s social media interventions were to “show that a commoner can make fun of those in power. That seemed to be the way of getting even with the oppressors.”

It seems the oppressors came to hate him and to fear his wit and popularity in Thailand, especially in the northeast. They had been after him since the 2014 military coup and issued an “arrest warrant for Wanchalearm based on allegations he violated the Computer-Related Crime Act” in June 2018, with the authorities vowing to bring him back to Thailand. Now he’s gone.

Jakrapob

Jakrapob Penkair, also a political exile, says the junta/post-junta message is clear:

Let’s kill these folks. These are outsiders, these are people who are different from us and they should be killed in order to bring Thailand back to normalcy….

The reaction in Thailand to Wanchalearm’s disappearance has varied by political position, with regime supporters, royalists and yellow shirts cheering.

However, it has also “sparked protests in Bangkok, with demonstrators accusing the Thai government of involvement, while demanding the Cambodian government investigate the case fully.”

The enforced disappearance also caused the “hashtag ‘#abolish112’ was also written or retweeted more than 450,000 times.” The undertone is that the king is involved in these disappearances:

Many activists believe this abduction is linked to the palace, but the strict laws against any negative comment on the monarchy make this a dangerous link to explore or investigate.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, described as “a prominent activist who served seven years in jail on charges of lese majeste” explains that:

The objective of kidnapping is to kill him and to create the atmosphere of fear in Thailand and other countries where [Thai] people are active in criticising the monarchy….

Somyot is reported to be “in little doubt as to who was behind the disappearance”:

The government knows very well about this kidnap and disappearance. I can insist that the government are the ones behind this violation….

The regime says it knows nothing. No one believes it.





Stop the state’s anti-opposition campaigns

4 03 2020

If readers haven’t seen it, a few days ago, 33 organizations and 23 individuals issued a joint statement that began:

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, urge the Thai government to investigate, and immediately halt, the alleged state-supported online attacks against human rights defenders, political activists, social critics, and opposition politicians.

They are responding to revelations made in the no-confidence debate in parliament.

The organizations are:

  1. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
  2. Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)
  3. Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC)
  4. Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA)
  5. Center for Protection and Revival of Local Community Rights (CPCR)
  6. Duayjai Group, Pattani Province
  7. Patani Human Rights Organization Network (HAP)
  8. JASAD Group – Network of Affected Populations under of Special Laws, the Southern most provinces Thailand
  9. ENLAWTHAI Foundation (EnLAW)
  10. Union Civil for Liberty (UCL)
  11. Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLAW)
  12. Southern Human Rights Lawyers Network (SHRLN)
  13. Freedom Mobile Journalist (Freedom MoJo, FMJ)
  14. People Network of Satun Provincial Development Plan Watch
  15. Green South Foundation
  16. Human Rights and Environment Association
  17. Learning Center on Natural Way for Community
  18. Songkhla Consumer Association
  19. Khao-Khu-Haa Community Rights Protection Association
  20. Spirit of Thepa Stop Coal-Fired Power Plant Network
  21. Permatamas – Persekutuan rakyat mempertahankan hak masyarakat dan sumber daya alam untuk kedamaian
  22. Centre for ​Ecological Awareness Building
  23. NGO Coordinating Committee on Development of North (NGO-COD North)
  24. NGO Coordinating Committee on Development of Lower North (NGO-COD Lower North)
  25. NGO Coordinating Committee on Development of Northeast (NGO-COD Northeast)
  26. NGO Coordinating Committee on Development of South (NGO-COD South)
  27. NGO Coordinating Committee on Development of Thailand (NGO-COD Thailand)
  28. Land Watch Thai
  29. The Eastern Economic Corridor Watch Group (EEC Watch Group)
  30. Student Group for Human Rights of Khonkaen University (Daodin Group)
  31. Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources (PPM)
  32. Ecology and Culture Study Group
  33. People Network of Mineral Ownership




AI on human rights abuses

30 01 2020

A few days ago we criticized The Economist Intelligence Unit and its 2019 Democracy Index. We thought it ridiculously positive in its assessment of Thailand as a “flawed democracy.”

Writing of a Thailand that is nothing like The EIU’s Thailand, Amnesty International has issued its Human Rights in Asia-Pacific: Review of 2019 and begins its Thailand section:

Activists, academics, opposition politicians, and human rights defenders were arrested, detained and prosecuted for peacefully expressing their views on the government and monarchy. The government maintained systematic and arbitrary restrictions on human rights, including by passing a new cybersecurity law. Refugees and asylum-seekers were vulnerable to arrest, detention, deportation, and rendition.

That sounds far more realistic approach to Thailand than that by the EIU. And, in reading the AI report, the matter-of-fact expression of political repression and abuse of human rights makes the EIU ranking seem entirely nonsensical.

AI’s Thailand report is just three pages, so worth reading in full.





Rap Against Dictatorship celebrated

28 05 2019

It is fantastic to read that the anti-dictatorship rapper group Rap Against Dictatorship win the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, awarded by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation. The prize recognizes those who “engage in creative dissent, exhibiting courage and creativity to challenge injustice and live in truth.”

According to one report, “[t]wo members of RAD – Liberate P and Jacoboi – are flying to Norway to attend the awards ceremony, which will be held at the Oslo Freedom Forum.”





With 3 updates: Human rights violations and the military junta

7 01 2019

There’s very wide media coverage of a young woman from Saudi Arabia “being held at a Bangkok airport fears she will be killed if she is repatriated by Thai immigration officials…”. Thai officials “have confirmed the 18-year-old has been denied entry to the country.” An interesting aspect of the story is that:

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun said she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport and her travel document was forcibly taken from her, a claim backed by Human Rights Watch.

Again, it is the Deputy Dictator’s man, Big Joke Surachate Hakparn who is “managing” more human rights abuse and who confirms that she will be forcefully repatriate. He has also played an important and negative role in the detention of Bahrain refugee.

Under the military junta, there have been several reports of foreign police and/or military officials actively “working” in Thailand. Most reports have involved Chinese police or provincial “authorities.” Dissidents have disappeared in Thailand and reappeared in China and those seeking refugee status have been forcibly deported.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post reports that Rahaf barricaded herself in her room and avoided the first effort to deport her. No doubt the huge international media attention and the interest of several governments has also caused the blunt dolts associated with the junta and Immigration to think a bit more, if “think is the correct term for what they do:

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch was quoted by media as saying Rahaf had refused to leave her hotel room at the Miracle Transit Hotel, which was surrounded by police who were refusing to let anyone inside.

UN officials were present, he reportedly said. However, ABC reporter Sophie McNeill tweeted that representatives of the United Nations Human Rights Committee were being refused access.

Update 2: A reader sent us a link to an interesting Australian media report on these events, saying that if Rahaf’s account is accurate, “Thai authorities have questions to answer” about how they are doing backroom deals with Saudi and Bahraini officials and with regimes with terrible human rights records.

Update 3: Intense international media attention seems to have caused the Thai authorities to do that “rethinking.” The Bangkok Post reports that Rahaf has been “temporarily admitted to Thailand for evaluation by the UN refugee agency…. Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn told reporters Monday night that 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun would be granted entry under the protection of the office of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR).” Immigration police allowed the UNHCR to meet Rahaf and accompany her from the airport.





Abuse of power over many decades

15 12 2018

A couple of days ago, The Nation reported that the  National Human Rights Commission Chair What Tingsamitr, recalling that Thailand had been one of the first nations to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, continues to have a serious human rights  problem.

While What mentioned several groups “responsible” for for human rights abuses, this was a remarkable effort to deflect attention from the main perpetrators. In fact, What had to admit that “state officials commit 90 per cent of human rights violations…”.

What appeared to want to whitewash this basic fact, babbling about “misunderstandings” and “different definitions” of human rights.

However, “Cross Cultural Foundation director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet argued that the root of the problem did not lie in misunderstandings, but came from the abuse of power and an absence of the rule of law.”

Pornpen got to the point that What preferred to avoid:

It is clear that most of the rights violations in Thailand occur in the same pattern – officials violating the rights of people. We have witnessed that again and again. When someone opposes the government and their policies, state officials turn on these people….

She cited several examples of oppression under the current military junta, noting that “rights violations against those who oppose the authorities are far more severe in cases related to the stability of the state and the monarchy.”

Pornpen observed that “key problems include a lack of proper investigation, court litigation and punishment against officers who commit these crimes.” That is, impunity, adding that violations and impunity are abetted by “a partisan culture within the justice system, which allows so many offending officers to walk free and even keep their job in official agencies.”

This situation has existed for decades. However, under the junta, Pornpen concluded, “the problem of human rights violation by the state … is worse than ever…”.





Ensure that the vote is free and fair?

10 10 2018

We are getting bored with the media outlets and others who operate under the illusion that the junta’s election might be free and fair. We suppose that one might hypothesize that a party that is not pro-junta might win the most seats. But that doesn’t say much about the election, fairness or freedom.

After all, as should be clear to everyone, this is to be an “election” designed by a military junta, under lopsided rules established by a military junta, following a constitution put in place by anti-democrat puppets working for a military junta, establishing a senate populated by unelected junta swill, with the junta controlling a panel of agencies that are meant to impede a government that is not of the military junta and a junta plan that every government must follow for 20 years.

It disappoints us that ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has a press release calling for “Thailand’s military junta should make good on promises to hold genuinely free and fair elections as soon as possible and lift all restrictions on political parties’ ability to campaign…”.

We do not recall that the junta has ever stated that it aims to have free and fair elections. Its aim is to hamstring real electoral democracy and keep government in the hands of anti-democrats. The Parliamentarians certainly know all of this, so the call for free and fair elections is a bit daft. But if they are not to be free or fair, then there are things that should be demanded, and on this they have some valid things to say.

For example, they are undoubtedly right to observe that:

The past four years of military rule have been a human rights disaster for Thailand. Authorities have muzzled free speech and cowed civil society as the junta has wielded power with complete impunity. A return to democracy is urgently needed to end this crisis….

They are also right to call for the “reforming or repealing [of] repressive laws, releasing all those detained for criticizing military rule, and allowing political parties to campaign and voice opinions without restrictions.”

And we applaud them for saying:

It will be impossible to hold a genuinely free and fair vote in Thailand under the current conditions. How can Thai people make an informed choice about their future if they are not allowed to hear what political parties have to say?

Regional and international governments should push the Thai military junta to remove all restrictions on political parties well in advance of polling day.

There is no point in holding an election unless the will of the people prevails. The junta’s moves to tighten its grip on politics for years to come raises the prospect of Thailand looking frighteningly like military-controlled Myanmar – this must not happen….

Little progress can be expected under the junta and we don’t expect the junta thinks it can be defeated. We doubt it would have its rigged election if it didn’t believe it would “win.” The best prospect a rigged election offers progressives is some hope that the junta’s people and supporters to be defeated.





When the military is on top XXVII

2 09 2018

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed and a story that deserve attention.

In the stroy, Pravit points out that the “head of a private anti-corruption organization has been silent on its decision to award full marks to junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in its annual assessment.” He refers to a press conference where Chairman Pramon Sutivong celebrated the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand’s 7th anniversary by declaring that his “organisation has helped save 25.1 billion baht of state funds that could have been lost to corruption over the past seven years.”

As it turns out, they don’t mean over seven years but since 2015, when ACT partnered with the military junta.

Pramon claimed lots of “outcomes” that can’t be verified, but correctly touted ACT’s “involvement in the development of their 2017 constitution which the organisation implemented as an ‘anti-corruption constitution’.”

At the media circus, Pramon stated: “I give Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister, full marks. But I admit that there are still a number of people around him that have been questioned by the public…”. He means Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, where ACT has made a comments, but didn’t get into nepotism and military procurement.

When Pramon was asked to “explain how its score was calculated to award the highest possible ranking to a regime that has been marred by corruption scandals, …[he] did not respond to multiple inquiries.”

One activist pointed out that Pramon and ACT gave The Dictator “full marks” when international rankings had Thailand wobbling and had a lower ranking now than in 2015.

A reporter’s questions were said to have included one on whether Pramon considered “staging a coup and monopolizing state funding through the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly as a form of corruption or not.” No response.

Pravit points out that a source at ACT “defended the announcement by saying Pramon, who was appointed by the junta leader to his National Reform Council following the coup, only gave full marks to Prayuth for his ‘sincerity’ to tackle corruption.” That ACT employee flattened out, saying: “He [Pramon] must have heard something that made him feels that His Excellency [The Dictator] Prayuth was sincere…. He may have had some experience from meeting [Prayuth].”

Of course, nothing much can be expected of ACT. It was a royalist response to the election of Yingluck Shinawatra and was populated by royalist “advisers” including Anand Punyarachun and Vasit Dejkunjorn, both activists in opposing elected governments. (By the way, ACT’s website still has Vasit listed as Chairman despite his death in June.)

Pravit’s op-ed is on China in Thailand. Chinese and Chinese money are everywhere, he says. Tourists, property buyers, investors are seen in everything from high durian prices to military authoritarianism.

It is the latter that Pravit concentrates on, citing academics who “publicly warn how the rise of China bodes ill for human rights and democracy in Thailand and Southeast Asia.” PPT commented on this seminar previously. One thing we said was that the emphasis on China, blaming it for the resilience of the military junta seemed a little overdone for us.

But Pravit is not so sure. He notes that China is unlikely to promote democracy, but that hardly needs saying. He does note that Japan and South Korea have “failed to put any pressure on the [2014] Thai coup-makers as well. To them, it’s business as usual.” As it is for China.

Pravit seems to be pointing to the West that was, for a time, critical of the 2014 coup. But, then, some in that  same West were pretty celebratory of the 2006 coup – think of US Ambassador Ralph Boyce and his commentary in Wikileaks.

But Pravit says that “the difference is that China has become much more influential in Thailand compared to Japan or South Korea.” Really? We have previously pointed out that it doesn’t take much work to look up some data to find out which country is the biggest investor in Thailand. But here’s a problem. Pravit cites a deeply flawed book, riddled with errors, that makes more than a few unfounded claims.

We might agree that “[d]emocracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are at risk if we ape the Chinese model of politics and administration…”. But think, just for a few seconds about this statement. Thailand’s democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are not at risk from Chinese supporters but from Thailand’s military. Under the junta, they have been mangled.

Thailand’s generals don’t need Chinese tutors on how to undermine democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech. They have done it for decades. It comes naturally, whether “relying” on the support of the US as many military leaders did or with China’s support.