Updated: Taunting the regime and palace

1 01 2021

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Social media has been reporting it, but the mainstream media has avoided it. And, again, it has been left to Prachatai to report the the mock body bags that have been showing up around Bangkok.

The mock bags are meant to look like this one (left), found in the Mekong River.

Perhaps the first mock bag was discussed on 27 December in a Facebook post that went viral. It showed a bag at the Memorial Bridge with the name Surachai. Most have assumed that this refers to Surachai Danwattananusorn, an exile who was “disappeared” in 2018.

On 28 December, at the FreeArts Facebook page with a photo showing the bag “hanging at Asok intersection with the name tag ‘DJ Sunho’, the working name of Ittipon Sukpaen, a famous underground radio broadcaster who disappeared while in exile in 2016.”

Another body bag was “placed at the ‘Uncle Nuamthong [Praiwan] Pedestrian Bridge’, in front of the Thairath newspaper office on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, where he hanged himself on 31 December 2006, a day after he crashed his taxi into a tank.”

These acts are clearly taunting those considered responsible for enforced disappearances and murders of activists: the regime and the palace.

As Prachatai explains:

Since 2016, at least 9 Thai activists have disappeared while living in self-exile in Southeast Asia. They were critics of the monarchy and the military government which staged a coup in 2014. Some of them had been charged under the lèse majesté law, Section 112 of the Criminal Code.

Also taunting the regime is the volunteer protest guard group We Volunteer (WeVo). Sixteen of them – including minors – have been arrested for “organising a shrimp sale at Sanam Luang…” and nearby. They stated that the “shrimp were brought from Nakhon Pathom and that they are organizing the shrimp sale to support farmers who are unable to sell their shrimp due to the new outbreak of Covid-19.”

At Sanam Luang, the WeVo group was surrounded by “300 – 500 crowd control police officers in full riot gear…”.

They are “charged with colluding to organise a public assembly that imperils public health, defying disease containment orders and colluding to use powerful loud-speakers in public without permission.” The penalty for violating the emergency decree can be a prison term of up to two years, a fine of 40,000 baht or both.

As has become common, those “arrested at Sanam Luang were then brought to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani.” So far, they have been denied bail.

Update: Reported at The Nation:

In a statement issued via the Facebook page of United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, Ratsadon said:

“Police officers used excessive force during the arrest of Wevo members, which also included some adolescents, such as dragging and carrying them, as well as deploying tear gas.

“The authorities completely ignored the fact that the activity at Sanam Luang was in no way against the law.

“We condemn the actions of police officers and the dictatorial-feudal government which is behind the arrests. And we demand immediate release of the arrested members.

“Furthermore, we urge the government to do their job by rolling out measures to help seafood farmers and merchants who have been affected by the outbreak,” added the group.





Missing the missing

7 09 2020

A report on missing and unidentified persons is a wholly uncritical account of a “digital sketch exhibition … to raise public awareness about missing people through the display of artwork.”

The event is organized Pol Col Chaiwat Burana, a superintendent at the Criminal Records Division of the Royal Thai Police.Pol Col Chaiwat organised the exhibition.It is stated that “[t]he police hope the sketches might attract other witnesses in the incident, whose testimonies will add weight to the case and raise the chance of conviction against the suspects.”

While it might be useful to raise awareness of missing persons and the unidentified, as far as we can tell from the report, the exhibition includes none of those who have been lost to enforced disappearance.

Where is Wanchalearm? Where are the scores of others? The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances reports 82 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in Thailand since 1980.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

These include Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004, Karen land rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014 and political activists Siam Theerawut, Chucheep Chivasut and Kritsana Thapthai during 2018-19.

Where is Surachai?

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Where are Ittipon Sukpaen aka DJ Sunho, Wuthipong Kachathamakul aka Ko Tee, Chatchan Bubphawan aka Comrade Phuchana, and Kraidej Luelert aka Comrade Kasalong?

Remarkably, the exhibition does show “the face[s] of two suspects in the deadly explosion at the Erawan Shrine at Ratchaprasong intersection in 2014.” These two are “missing” in custody. Their trial has been delayed and delayed since, with the two held in custody. The exhibition seems to admit that the police have insufficient evidence to convict them yet detains them for almost six years.

Justice is difficult to come by.





Further updated: Where’s Wanchalearm?

26 06 2020

On 23 June, the family of missing activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit has filed a complaint with “the  Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Justice’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department, and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), calling for an investigation into his disappearance, while also preparing to file a complaint with the Cambodian police.”

When Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanun Satsaksit , submitted her complaint to the Office of the Attorney, she was “joined by Pranee Danwattanusorn … whose husband Sur[a]chai went missing while in exile in Laos, and Kanya Theerawut … mother of Siam Theerawut, another missing activist.

They are supported by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights: “A TLHR lawyer said that the family is filing a complaint … calling for the authorities to launch an investigation in order to find and prosecute the three people who abducted Wanchalearm.”

Wanchalearm’s family has called on the Thai government to find whether:

  • Wanchalearm has been arrested in Cambodia and why, and if this is the case,
  • he is in custody in Cambodia and where;
  • the Thai authorities were notified of Wanchalearm’s arrest by the Cambodian authorities;
  • the Thai authorities requested the Cambodian authorities to send Wanchalearm back to Thailand to be prosecuted, and
  • the Cambodian authorities returned Wanchalearm to Thailand.

The family also asked that Thai authorities “investigate Wanchalearm’s possible torture and enforced disappearance” and demanded to know “if the authorities have information on Wanchalearm’s fate or whereabouts…”.

It must suit the military-backed regime in Bangkok that Sitanun and her family cannot travel to Cambodia because of the so-called virus crisis. She revealed that “the Cambodian police said they cannot investigate the case because Wanchalearm’s relatives has not filed a complaint about his disappearance.” Getting legal representation in Cambodia ha proven a challenge, not just because of cost, but “because some lawyers have withdrawn from the case as they did not want to take the risk.” That suggests collusion between the two authoritarian regimes.

In an interview at Thisrupt, Sitanun stated that she and her mother “hope that he is still alive.” She added that “if he is dead, at least give us confirmation, because not knowing whether he is dead or alive is very difficult.”

In the more than three weeks since Wanchalearm’s disappearance the junta’s regime has done nothing. Again, that provides reasonable grounds for suspicion that the regime is deeply involved with the crime.

There is a social media campaign using the hashtag #savewanchalearm going “until he is found. To not also let the topic disappear.” At the same time, “people have been putting up posters and tying white ribbons around Bangkok, demanding justice for Wanchalearm.”

Of course, the regime’s minions have been busy taking them down, another piece of circumstantial evidence of its complicity in the enforced disappearance.

There have also been several rallies in support of Wanchalearm and demanding the authorities reveal his whereabouts.

Update 1: The New York Times has a detailed report on Wanchalearm, enforced disappearances, and the political context, stating:

At least nine prominent critics of the Thai government have vanished over the past two years, according to human rights groups. It is a pattern of disappearances that the Thai public is having a hard time ignoring….

It also has details of the abduction of Wanchalearm and the official cover-ups in Cambodia and Thailand.

Meanwhile, VOA Khmer has more on the Cambodian police response. Not only is it insipid, but it reeks of covering up for powerful interests. Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Koy Kuong is quoted as saying that the Cambodian side “had sent a note to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh on June 11 … but that the Foreign Ministry had not heard back from their Thai counterparts.” Koy added the obvious: “They have not requested anything else for us to do…. [W]e told them that the police will continue to investigate.” In this, “investigate” means throwing as much dust in the air as possible.

Update 2: Members of the European Parliament have issued a statement of concern about Wanchalearm’s disappearance.





With 3 updates: Campaigning for Wanchalearm

9 06 2020

Update 1: Apologies to readers. Some of our earlier version of this post was left unedited. We have fixed that now.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s enforced disappearance has been taken up by Thai activists and some of the international media.

In a story with worldwide impact, Thomson Reuters reports that the exile’s kidnapping has sparked protests. These aren’t just about Wanchalearm but all of the now “missing” or deceased exiles. As the report explains, the agitation has expanded “reignit[ing] protests against Thailand’s military-royalist elite, with some online questioning a law banning criticism of the monarchy.”

There were protesters at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok: “Dozens of protesters outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok demanded an investigation into the disappearance and accused the Thai state of orchestrating his kidnapping, which Thailand’s police and government have denied.” According to Khaosod, the “protesters submitted a petition to the mission’s secretary and placed posters calling for justice on the embassy’s wall.”

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and other protesters at the Cambodian Embassy

Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan deflected criticism, saying the matter is one for Cambodia. Previous disappearances have seen no action at all from the Thai authorities, convincing many that the perpetrator/s are protected.

Posters “labelled ‘Missing’ appeared around Bangkok featuring photos of Wanchalearm and other [disappeared] critics of military governments…” appeared around Bangkok. Claimed to be “the work of the Spring Movement, a small group of students at Bangkok’s elite Chulalongkorn University…”, officials working hard to remove them.

One group member told Reuters: “We do not know who directly ordered the abduction, but we can see the ruling elite of this country does not care about this issue.”

Suddenly, there seemed a general “feeling” about “who directly ordered the abduction,” with the hashtag “#abolish112” trending on “Twitter, used or retweeted more than 450,000 times by midday on Monday.” The reporters involved sought a response from the palace! An official said: “The palace has no comment on this issue…”.

Oddly, according to Khaosod, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees also responded saying “the organization cannot give any opinion or information about the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit.” We assume this reflects the royalist domestication of UN agencies in Bangkok.

Some celebrities – presumably of some significance in Thailand – have taken up Wanchalearm’s case, with Maria Poonlertlarp, a “former Miss Universe Thailand … add[ing] her voice to the growing campaign for the Thai and Cambodian governments to explain the disappearance of Wanchalerm…”. On Instagram she used the #SaveWanchalerm hashtag “calling for  answers from authorities about his disappearance.”

Often timid on such matters, the Puea Thai Party “also called on the government to use diplomatic channels to find his whereabouts.” Sudarat Keyuraphan stated: “He is a Thai citizen that the government is duty bound to protect…”.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee is asking questions. Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome, who serves as the committee on law and human rights spokesman, “said the government must be held accountable for the incident.” He stated that the committee “will summon the national police commissioner [Gen Chakthip Chaijinda] to testify about … [Wanchalearm’s] fate…”. He also said others like Special Branch Police commissioner Maj Gen ‎Sarawut Karnpanit and consular affairs department chief Chatri Atjananan would be called to meet the committee. Rangsman observed: “It is the obligation of the government to protect its citizens. On top of that, Wanchalearm has contributed to many youth welfare and other charitable organizations.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the Active Thai Citizen group, led by Kan Wattanasupang, also a member of the Move Forward Party, submitted a petition to the House of Representatives. Kan said “the government must seek to protect all Thai citizens regardless of differences in political ideology.” He added: “We cannot let such gross human rights violations happen to those with political different ideas. In the past, political dissidents have been victims of intimidation, assault or even enforced disappearance,” raising the “mysterious disappearances of other political dissidents including Wuthipong … Kochathamakun and Surachai Danwattananusorn.”

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Remarkably, there’s also a report about the decrepit, regime-controlled National Human Rights Commission, claiming some role:

Thailand’s state-sanctioned human rights agency on Monday denies turning a blind eye to the spate of abduction targeting Thai dissidents living overseas.

In a phone interview today, What Tingsamitr, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said his organization has acknowledged the latest case of disappearance, that of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. However, What said no formal investigation opens yet because no one has filed a complaint with them.

“We are keeping our eyes on the issue,” What said. “We can’t take action right away since it happened outside the country. We admit that we don’t have power beyond our boundary, but we can coordinate with the foreign ministry and forward the case to Cambodian authorities.”

The case is certainly a “grave violation” of human rights if it has been proven to be an enforced disappearance, he added.

To date we have seen nothing at all of significance from the supine NHRC on any of the disappearances and murder.

What said:

“We have already published reports on many abductees in the past,” What said. “But it’s up to the government and legislators to take the issue seriously. Thailand has signed the UN convention against enforced disappearance since 2012, but it never became a law.”

But its done nothing else. Writing a report does not imply investigation.

Fellow exile Ji Ungpakorn has commented, pointedly observing: “No one should be under the illusion that Thailand has returned to democracy, despite recent elections. The military is still very much in charge and the repression continues.” So has Yammy Faiyen, who recently fled Laos for asylum in France, although her comments will probably be blocked.

At the Bangkok Post, columnist Atiya Achakulwisut bravely speaks some truths. We reproduce in full:

It might be because “it could happen to you”.

It could also be an accumulation of bitterness and frustration, built up over decades of hearing about this or that person suddenly dying or disappearing without a trace or explanation.

It could even be a paradigm shift at long last when the new generation is no longer tied to old norms or affected by traditional fear and dares to express in public what was once considered taboo.

It could be a bit of everything but the day has come when a forced disappearance which would generate only quiet whispers in the past is now causing a genuine public uproar.

The disappearance of anti-government activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was allegedly abducted outside his apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last Thursday, has been covered by mainstream media.

Chulalongkorn as well as Thammasat University student organisations issued statements condemning the alleged forced disappearance and urged the Thai government to take a stance.

The incident has been widely discussed on social media, especially Twitter where the hashtag #save has drawn hundreds of thousands of tweets.

The outrage and demand for the Thai government to take action are welcoming for the human rights cause although they can be considered surprising considering Wanchalearm was not that well-known.

The Ubon Ratchathani native was against the coup and military rule. He was also wanted by authorities for defying a National Council for Peace and Order summons to report after the 2014 putsch.

In 2018, Wanchalearm was subject to another arrest warrant for violating the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page critical of the government.

The activist has been living in self-imposed exile for more than six years, claiming his political stance led to harassment and other threats to his life.

Now that he has gone missing, a seemingly small player unlikely to affect a sea change in the grand scheme of things, his plight has struck a chord with many people.

Alongside news of his disappearance, photos of Wanchalearm, almost all of them showing the bespectacled 37-year-old grinning, have also surfaced everywhere. A little-known name has become a real person. Wanchalearm has become not just an anti-whatever activist but a son, a brother, a friend.

Indeed, he could be any one of us.

Wanchalearm may harbour anti-coup thoughts. He may have voiced disapproval of military rule or other forms of suppression. But do these thoughts constitute a crime?

Do people deserve to “disappear” because they are critical of something powerful?

Wanchalearm had left the country, yet he could be made to disappear in broad daylight in Phnom Penh, taken by a group of armed men according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) citing witnesses and CCTV images. Cambodian police said they knew nothing about it.

Who could be capable of executing such an operation?

As Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanan begged the Thai government and international agencies to help find her brother, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry suggested the HRW report could be “fake news” while the Thai government has made no response.

Today marks the sixth day since Wanchalearm “disappeared”.

Since the 2014 coup, about a hundred political activists exiled themselves to other countries. Of these, at least six have gone missing while two were found dead, according to BBC Thai.

Wanchalearm is definitely not the first suspected of being “carried away”. The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances reports 82 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in Thailand since 1980.

These include Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004, Karen land rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014 and political activists Siam Theerawut, Chucheep Chivasut and Kritsana Thapthai during 2018-19.

It is possible that the #save trend and collective anger against the alleged forced disappearance could end up like other save someone or something hashtags before it — making no difference to the oppressive, unaccountable power culture in Thailand and becoming just another footnote in the country’s decades-long political struggle.

But one thing is clear — his plight has roused the public like never before. His story has been openly discussed, and not just in a quiet whisper. The fear usually associated with such a “disappearance” is gone.

Will this awakening turn out to be a real force for change? For once, it may be the turn of the other side to be fearful.

There may be whispering about the case and even some high-profile expression in Thailand. But that which can only be written about outside Thailand is speculation that “the operation to seize activist Wanchalearm Satstaksit was ordered by King Vajiralongkorn.”

Update 2: AP reports that “Cambodian authorities say they are willing to investigate the reported abduction of an exiled Thai dissident in Cambodia’s capital, though they claim to have been unaware of his presence for several years.” We won’t be holding our breath on that one. Meanwhile, in Bangkok, the regime repressed those raising awareness of the case, with police arresting four students … tying white ribbons at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument in protest against the apparent forced disappearances of Wanchalearm and other victims. They were accused of violating littering and traffic laws.”

Update 3: Khaosod reports that officials are busy in Bangkok erasing murals and tearing up posters that were raising awareness of Wanchalearm’s disappearance. Such actions will be seen by many as admissions of the regime’s complicit role in the enforced disappearance.





Remembering the dead and disappeared

17 05 2020

Prachatai memorializes the first anniversary of the day “Siam Theerawut went missing after being extradited from Vietnam along with other 2 self-exiled activists,” Chucheep Chiwasut (Uncle Sanam Luang) and Kritsana Tubthai.

There has been no news of the three since they were disappeared, reportedly after being handed over to Thailand. According to Prachatai, Siam’s family have contacted “the Thai Crime Suppression Division, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the Vietnamese Embassy” but have received no useful information. An official brickwall is suggestive of the involvement of high-level persons. In Thailand, this pattern inevitably means military, monarchy and regime.

Why? “Siam fled the country at the age of 29 at some point after the 2014 military coup when all Article 112-related cases [lese majeste] were revived. In 2018, the authorities alleged that he was involved with the Thai Federation group, an anti-monarchy group.”

Prachatai includes a timeline, which we reproduce in full:

  • 5 December 2018 The Thai Federation group invite their followers to wear black shirts with the group’s symbol in Bangkok and other provinces. Many were later prosecuted.
  • 7 December 2018 Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan welcomes the Lao Minister of Defence, General Chansamone Chanyalath and discusses the issue of Thai political exiles in Lao. Chansamone admitted that there was a movement on the Lao side but it had few people. The Thai Federation group operated through radio programmes. The Ministry of National Defence would deal with it, but the movement was nothing to worry about since they could do nothing.
  • 12 December 2018 In Lao, Surachai Danwattananusorn (Sae Dan), another famous self-exiled political activist, goes missing along with other 2 activists; Kraidet Leulerd, or Kasalong, and Chatchan Bupphawan, or Phuchana. The Thai exiles acknowledged that they would have to lay low whenever the Thai and Lao authorities talk about cooperation. But Surachai did not.
  • 13 December 2018 Thai PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha visits the Lao President in Vientiane.
  • 26-29 December 2018 2 bodies are washed ashore alongside the Maekhong River. DNA tests identify them as Kraidet and Chatchan. The internal organs had been removed and replaced with cement and the faces were mutilated. Surachai’s whereabouts remain unknown until now.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

  • 8 May 2019 The Thai Alliance for Human Rights (TAHR) based in the United States reports that Siam, Chucheep and Kritsana were arrested some time earlier and deported from Vietnam .
  • 9 May 2019 Siam’s relatives file a missing person report. The Crime Suppression Division do not accept the report as there is no arrest report.
  • 10 May 2019 Siam’s relatives file a request with the Crime Suppression Division Commander to be informed about Siam’s arrest. Human Right Watch and Amnesty International issue statements calling on the Thai authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Siam, Chucheep and Kritsana.
  • 13 May 2019 Siam’s family and friends go to the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand to call on the Vietnamese authorities to address the disappearance. They also file petitions with the National Human Rights Commission and the European Union.
  • 14 May 2019 Siam’s family and friends go to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Bangkok to give information regarding Siam. They also urge the OHCHR to help finding him.
  • 16 July 2019 Siam’s sister says that the Thai Embassy in Hanoi has asked the Vietnamese authorities about the entry of Siam and his colleagues into Vietnam. However, the authorities did not have any information.
  • 8 August 2019 Thai political activists in Europe gather at the Thai Embassy in Paris holding photos of 10 Thai activists who had either gone missing or been killed since 2016.
  • 12 September 2019 Siam’s mother says at the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (APF) that the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) told her not to take her son’s case to the UN as it could damage the country’s image.
  • 10 October 2019 Pranee Danwattananusorn, Surachai’s wife, files a petition with the Royal Thai Police Commander to investigate the disappearance of Surachai and other activists.
  • 12 March 2020 Siam’s portrait is exhibited in the “For Those Who Died Trying” exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, along with other cases of disappearance.

We have the impression that the regime and palace figured that enforced disappearances and murders would fill anti-monarchists with fear and resolve the “problem.” Apparently not.





The missing and the exiled

19 02 2020

Prachatai has had some excellent reports in recent days. This post draws attention to its “Post-Coup Overview on Exiles.”

Clipped from Prachatai

The article details the missing:

at least 8 of these refugees have disappeared for no known reason, even though they were living in other countries. These are: Ittipon Sukpaen aka DJ Sunho; Wuthipong Kachathamakul aka Ko Tee; Surachai Danwattananusorn aka Surachai Sae Dan, revolutionary and underground radio programme presenter; Chatchan Bubphawan aka Comrade Phuchana; Kraidej Luelert aka Comrade Kasalong; Chucheep Chivasut (Uncle Sanam Luang); Siam Theerawut; and Kritsana Tupthai.





Kooky king, lese majeste and opponents

30 08 2019

Back in 2016, the New York Post described Vajiralongkorn as a “kooky king.” The same newspaper had another eye-catching headline: “Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy.” Of course, such descriptions downplay the fear associated with an erratic, neo-feudal, nasty and grasping king (see here, here, here, here and here, for examples).

The recent exposure of the king’s ardent promotion of his senior concubine has created another round of stories on the king’s eccentricities. One summary is at the Insider is of an “eccentric king.” A similar “playboy king” story is at MEAWW . In a story on the consort photos at Rolling Stone, one academic notes the similarities in the approach to royal publicity used elsewhere in the world, a point PPT made a couple of days ago.

At the same time, however, there are recent stories that show the nastier nature of the monarch. One story comes from exiled anti-royalist dissidents who have staged a rally in Paris to remember the plight of eight missing comrades, believed “disappeared” by the royalist Thai state. The participants included the Faiyen band.

Clipped from AsiaNews

The report states:

At the Paris rally, the musicians played some satirical songs full of political nuances about King Rama X, who succeeded his father in 2016. Other songs targeted Thai generals, who took power five years ago with the blessing of the Royal Palace and have kept it even after disputed elections last March.

It reminds readers that:

Since December 2018, six exiles holding anti-monarchist opinion disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Families assume they are dead and blame Thai special forces for their death.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

And, it adds that two mutilated bodies of exiles have been found while Surachai Danwattananusorn is still missing, believed murdered.

In Thailand, officials have not investigated the murders or the missing. This is usually a sign of some kind of royal involvement in the grisly events.

In another important report, Prachatai summarizes a Thai Lawyers for Human Rights analysis of lese majeste prisoners who remain in jail. The report states that in August 2019:

there are at least 25 people still imprisoned throughout the country on charges under Article 112 in cases related to freedom of expression. This number does not include those charged under Article 112 in cases related to fraud or personal interest.

It must be emphasized that those charged with lese majeste for “fraud” or “personal interest” probably include several who were previously related to the palace and the king’s third wife, Srirasmi, who has been under house arrest since late 2014. The real number of lese majeste prisoners remains unknown. That affirmed, Prachatai’s graphic is worth reproducing:





Where are they? I

14 05 2019

Regime and monarchy critics Chucheep Chivasut (known as Uncle Sanam Luang), Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Tupthai have been forcibly disappeared.

Prachatai reports that “both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed their concerns over the activists’ safety and called on the Thai government to disclose information about their whereabouts.”

In Bangkok, parents of Siam Theerawut “visited government offices and diplomatic missions in Bangkok on Monday to seek information about his fate.”

Like the other two, Siam seems to have been detained in Vietnam and deported to Thailand. However, “neither Thai nor Vietnamese authorities acknowledge holding them.”

Police have reportedly stated that they have no knowledge of the men and their whereabouts. Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has denied the three are in state custody.

A Bangkok Post editorial, written in careful language, observes that “Thailand’s already battered human rights record has fallen another notch following reports of the mysterious disappearance of three activists accused of lese majeste while in exile in Vietnam.”

The editorial admits that these cases follow the gruesome murders of two other exiles in Laos and the disappearance and presumed murder of Surachai Danwattananusorn, all critics of the regime and the monarchy.

These cases have also been scrupulously avoided by the military regime. Why is this? Why will no one take up the cases? Why will they not say anything? The answer is most likely lurking in the nature of the monarchy and the new reign. If not murdered already, these victims might be held at Dhaveevatthana prison. In the kingdom of fear, would anyone dare ask and/or say?





Enforced disappearance and extrajudicial execution

13 05 2019

On 6 March, writing together four Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations wrote to Thailand’s government on the disappearance and murder of exiled political activists. The details are important, so we reproduce this letter in full. A report is also available at Prachatai:

Mandates of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

REFERENCE:
UA THA 3/2019

6 March 2019

We have the honour to address you in our capacity as Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 36/6, 35/15, 34/18 and 34/19.

In this connection, we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning the alleged enforced disappearance and extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions in late 2018 of Mr. Surachai Danwattananusorn, Mr Chatchan Bubphawan, and Mr Kraidej Luelert. These three men are political activists affiliated with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), a political movement affiliated with the Pheu Thai Party. We also wish to bring to your attention information on a fourth man, Mr. Itthipol Sukpan, also affiliated with the UDD, who reportedly disappeared in 2016.

Furthermore, we would like to bring to your attention information received concerning recent amendments to the draft Bill on Suppression and Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance that appears to fall short of international standards.

Mr. Surachai Danwattananusorn (also known as Surachai Sae-dang), age 75, is a prominent political activist. He was a member of the now defunct Communist Party of Thailand. In 2009, he set up a political group called the “Power of Democracy of Dang Siam Network” while the other two political activists, Mr. Chatchawan Bubphawan (also known as Comrade Phu Chanah), age 54, and Mr. Kraidej Luelert (also known as Comrade Kasalong), age 47, were his followers and close friends.

Mr. Surachai Danwattananusorn was charged under the law of lèse majesté
(article 112 of the Criminal Code) along with several other individuals. They were the subject of communication ref. no THA 13/2012 sent by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in 2012. We thank you for your reply received on 26 December 2012 but remain concerned regarding the continued existence and use of lèse majesté legislation which curtails the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, in contravention with international human rights norms.

According to the information received:

Mr. Bubphawan, Mr. Luelert and Mr. Danwattananusorn

From 2009 to 2010, the three activists participated in protests organized by the UDD in Bangkok and Pattaya city. In April and May 2010, mass scale demonstrations were organized by the UDD in central Bangkok, calling for the then Government led by the Democrat Party to dissolve the parliament and hold a general election. Mr. Bubphawan served as the security guard of the UDD during the protest. In May 2010, there were clashes during the protests and the Royal Thai Army used excessive force against some protestors – more than 90 people were killed including eight soldiers. Many UDD activists were arrested and prosecuted in relation to their involvement in the demonstration.

In 2011, Mr. Danwattananusorn was imprisoned under article 112 of the Criminal Code (lese-majeste law) but was released by the Royal Pardon in 2013. Later, in 2014, Mr. Danwattananusorn and Mr. Bubphawan were charged by the Royal Thai Police under the 1947 Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks and Imitation of Firearms Act of possession of illegal weapons and involvement in the UDD demonstrations in 2009 and 2010. Mr. Danwattananusorn faced an additional charge under Article 116 (sedition) and Article 209 (Participating in secret association) under the Criminal Code for playing a leading role in the protest in 2009 in Pattaya and in 2010 in Bangkok.

The three activists fled to Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) in May 2014 after the military assumed power and the establishment of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) military council. On 13 June 2014, Mr. Danwattananusorn was summoned under NCPO Order No. 57/2014 and Mr. Bubphawan was summoned under the NCPO Order No. 61/2014. The orders required them to report to the NCPO but both did not present themselves. As a result, in June 2014, the Bangkok Military Court approved arrest warrants against both activists for violating the Orders. These warrants remain active.

From August 2014 to 2018, the three activists ran an underground podcast programme called “Patiroob Prated Thai” (Thailand’s Reformation) criticising the military and the monarchy. The majority of the audience were reportedly Thai nationals who were sympathetic to the UDD. The podcast program was published twice per month on YouTube.

The three activists were last in contact with persons associated with them on the 12 December 2018 after they recorded a podcast for this programme. They decided to leave their home in Vientiane Province’s Tha Ngon area in the Lao PDR out of fear for their safety in connection with a visit to the Lao PDR on 13 December 2018 by the Prime Minister of Thailand and the Head of the NCPO.

Persons associated with the three men have lost contact with them since 12 December 2018. On 22 December 2018, a contact for the three men visited their home. He found the door unlocked and nobody in the house. The van that Mr. Danwattananusorn regularly used was parked on the premises and his belongings were untouched, including his manual sphygmomanometer (blood pressure monitor) which he always carried with him during his travels.

On 27 and 29 December 2018, the bodies of two unidentified men were found on the banks of the Mekong River bordering Thailand and Lao PDR in Nakorn Pranom Province in Northeast Thailand. The men appeared to have been killed in the same manner – handcuffed and strangled with a rope. Their bodies were then reportedly disemboweled, stuffed with concrete, wrapped in a net and sacking and dumped into the Mekong River.

On 22 January 2019, the official report of a DNA test from the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Bangkok’s Police Hospital indicated that the DNA samples collected from the family members of Mr. Bubphawan and Mr. Luelert matched the bodies that had been discovered.

On 24 January 2019, the Deputy Police Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police announced that the Royal Thai Police will conduct an investigation and will submit the two cases to the Provincial Criminal Court for post-mortem inquests. He denied allegation of enforced disappearances and killing of the three activists.

Mr. Danwattananusorn’s whereabouts, remain unknown. The Deputy Police Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police informed the public on 24 January 2019 that according to intelligence sources Mr. Danwattananusorn is still alive. It is unclear where the investigation into his disappearance currently stands. Unofficial information has been received indicating another body was found near Tha Champa village cluster in the Lao PDR. On 25 February 2019, persons associated with him filed a complaint to Tha Uthane District Police Station in Nakhon Phanom Province to investigate his disappearance.

Given the active arrests warrants and their involvement with the UDD, it is believed Thai officials may be responsible for the killing of Mr. Bubphawan and Mr. Luelert and the disappearance and possible killing of Mr. Danwattananusorn[.]

Mr. Itthipol Sukpan

In 2016, Mr. Itthipol Sukpan, a political activists also affiliated with UDD who also lived in exile in the Lao PDR, went missing there and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Mr. Ittipon Sukpan was a leader of the Chiang Mai 51, a Red Shirt group based in Chiang Mai Province and a radio host on FM. 92.50, a community radio station belonging to the group. On 27 May 2014, Mr. Sukpan received an order 25/2014 by the NCPO to report to the military in Bangkok. Mr. Sukpan had criticised the monarchy through comments made on Facebook. He did not report to the NCPO as summoned and instead fled to Lao PDR.

In 2014 and 2015 Mr. Sukpan criticized the military through YouTube videos and Facebook posts. During this period, persons associated with him were visited by Thai military officers and were informed that the authorities were investigating allegations of lèse majesté against Mr. Sukpan.

Mr. Sukpan last made contact with persons associated with him on 19 June 2016. He was last seen on 22 June 2016 while eating in a restaurant and then left on his motorcycle to return to his house at around midnight. Late that evening a man was heard crying out in that area. His motorcycle and one of his sports shoes were found the next day one kilometer from the restaurant.

Persons associated with Mr. Sukpan received information that Mr. Sukpan had been arrested by the Thai authorities and taken to the 36th Infantry Military Circle in Petchchaboon Province in Thailand but when they enquired about him at the Circle the military denied that he had been arrested. On 20 July 2016, a Spokesperson of the NCPO told the public that the NCPO had monitored Mr. Sukpan’s activities and acknowledged that he was in exile in a neighboring country, however, the NCPO’s Spokesperson denied acknowledgement of arrest and detention of Mr. Sukpan by Thai authorities. The NCPO Spokesperson said that the Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police together with the NCPO would investigate the case and he said that he suspected that Mr. Sukpan’s disappearance was a fake news which was made by the opponent of the NCPO to discredit the NCPO during the Constitution Referendum. The fate and whereabouts of Mr. Itthipol Sukpan remain unknown.

Another activist, affiliated with UDD, who had also been living in the Lao PDR reportedly disappeared in 2017.

Legislation criminalising enforced disappearances and torture

The crimes of enforced disappearance and torture are not currently codified within Thai law. A draft law on this topic has been pending since 2010. In May 2016, the Government of Thailand decided to enact the legislation rendering enforced or involuntary disappearance and torture criminal offences, but the legislation was put on hold in February 2017. A draft Bill on Suppression and Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance was re-submitted to the National Legislative Assembly for consideration and promulgation in December 2018. It is scheduled to be adopted on 7 March, ahead of elections which will be held on 24 March 2019.

It appears the bill may not be fully compliant with international standards: two key safeguard provisions were removed from the draft (Articles 11 and 12); the draft no longer contains an explicit and absolute prohibition of acts of torture and enforced disappearances in any circumstances, including during a State of Emergency; and there is no provision prohibiting the refoulement of individuals to countries where they would face a real risk of torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or enforced disappearance. These shortcomings are deeply concerning and seriously weaken the legal protection against torture and disappearances.

We express our most serious concern regarding the alleged abduction and killing of Mr. Bubphawan and Mr. Luelert, the alleged enforced disappearance and possible killing of Mr. Danwattananusorn and the alleged disappearance of Mr. Itthipol Sukpan and that these events may be directly linked to their political opinions and activities. Should these allegations be confirmed, they would be in violation of international human rights law articles 6, 7 and 19, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand on 29 October 1996. The ICCPR guarantees the rights to life, to personal security, to freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and freedom of expression, association and assembly.

In its General Comment 36, the United Nations Human Rights Committee underscored that State parties are expected to take all necessary measures to prevent arbitrary deprivations of life by their law enforcement officials and to protect life from all reasonably foreseeable threats, including from threats emanating from private persons and entities. Furthermore, we highlight that thorough, prompt and impartial investigations must be undertaken for all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions. Failing to take appropriate measures or to exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate and bring perpetrators to justice could give rise to a breach of the Covenant (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 and CCPR/C/GC/36).

In relation to the allegations that the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Danwattananusorn and Mr. Itthipol Sukpan remain unknown, the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance sets out necessary protection by the State. In particular, it states that no State shall practice, permit or tolerate enforced disappearances (article 2) and that each State shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent and terminate acts of enforced disappearance in any territory under its jurisdiction (article 3). The declaration underscores that investigations should be conducted for as long as the fate of the victims of enforced disappearance remains unclarified (article 13), and that states should take any lawful and appropriate action to bring to justice persons presumed to be responsible for acts of enforced disappearance (article 14).

While we welcome efforts to ensure that enforced disappearances and torture are codified as crimes within Thai law, we underline the importance of ensuring that any legislation in this regard is fully compliant with international human rights standards As matter of urgency we strongly recommend legislators enact a robust law that fully complies with the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which Thailand is a party to; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which Thailand signed in 2012, and which it has pledged to ratify including in several recommendations which it accepted during its universal periodic review in 2014; as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Several of the obligations laid out in these instruments are non-derogable, notably protection from torture and ill treatment and enforced disappearance even in a State of Emergency and the right of non-refoulement where a person may be at risk of torture or enforced disappearance. It is essential that these legal principles are fully articulated and incorporated into the domestic legislation and that the definition of all crimes be in line with international standards.

The full texts of the human rights instruments and standards recalled above are available on http://www.ohchr.org or can be provided upon request.

In view of the gravity of these matters, we would appreciate a response on the steps taken by your Excellency’s Government to safeguard the rights of the above-mentioned persons in compliance with international instruments.

As it is our responsibility, under the mandates provided to us by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention, we would be grateful for your observations on the following matters:

1. Please provide any additional information and any comment you may have on the above-mentioned allegations.

2. Please provide the full details of any investigations which may have been undertaken into the killing of Mr. Bubphawan and Mr. Luelert. Have any perpetrators been identified and if so have any criminal prosecution been undertaken? If no investigations have taken place, or if they have been inconclusive, please explain why, and how this is consistent with Thailand’s human rights obligations under the treaties it has ratified.

3. Please provide information on the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Danwattananusorn and Mr. Itthipol Sukpan. If their fate and whereabouts are still unknown, please provide the details on any investigation or other queries which may have been carried out. If no investigations have taken place, or if they have been inconclusive, please explain why.

4. Given that the crime of enforced disappearance is not yet codified within Thai law, please elaborate on the legal framework which is being applied to investigate these cases and the disappearance of other Thai activists in Thailand or in neighbouring Laos.

5. Please provide an update on the status of the draft law criminalising enforced disappearance and torture and the measures being taken to ensure that it is fully compliant with international standards.

While awaiting a reply, we urge that all necessary measures be taken to protect the human rights to life, personal security, integrity and freedom of expression in Thailand and to prevent the violation of these rights, and in the event that investigations establish that the allegations described in this letter are correct, to ensure the criminal accountability of any person responsible for them.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, we may publicly express our concerns in the near future as, in our view, the information in our possession appears to be sufficiently reliable to indicate a matter warranting immediate attention. We also believe that the Government authorities at all levels and the wider public should be alerted to the adverse implications for the enjoyment and exercise of human rights of these allegations. Any public statement on our part would indicate that we have sought your Excellency’s Government’s information to clarify the issue in question.

This communication and any response received from your Excellency’s Government will be made public via the communications reporting website within 60 days. They will also subsequently be made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.

A communication on this case is also being sent to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.

Bernard Duhaime
Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Agnes Callamard
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

David Kaye
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Nils Melzer
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment





Lese majeste vs. enforced disappearance and murder

10 05 2019

A pattern of enforced disappearance and murder has emerged for anti-monarchists who have fled Thailand to near neighbor states.

Following bodies of anti-monarchists found floating in the Mekong River, another three activists have been “disappeared,” perhaps murdered or maybe  jailed in some secret prison.

There’s now a trail of disappearances and murders of anti-monarchist activists. It is clear that Thailand’s military junta is illegally hunting them down.

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement demanding that the military dictatorship “immediately disclose the whereabouts of three activists who were reportedly extradited from Hanoi to Bangkok…”.

HRW has “grave concerns that they have become victims of enforced disappearance.”

Chucheep Chivasut is “feared to have been forcibly disappeared along with two colleagues after they were extradited from Vietnam to Thailand in May 2019.”

Vietnamese authorities reportedly arrested Chucheep – known as Uncle Sanam Luang – in early 2019, along with “Siam Theerawut (known as Comrade Khaoneaw Mamuang), and Kritsana Thapthai (known as Comrade Young Blood) for illegal entry and using fake travel documents” as they fled an unsafe Laos via Vietnam.”

The military dictatorship has accused all three of anti-monarchy activism and lese majeste. Chucheep has been associated with the Organization for Thai Federation.

HRW states the military regime “should immediately disclose the whereabouts of Chucheep and his two colleagues, and permit their family members and lawyers to see them…”.

HRW reports that:

Chucheep and his two colleagues moved from Laos to Vietnam after the brutal murder of the prominent anti-monarchy activists Surachai Danwattananusorn, Kraidej Luelert, and Chatchan Buphawan, who had been abducted by unknown people in Laos in December. Previously, two other anti-monarchists – Itthipol Sukpaen and Wuthipong Kachathamakul – had been abducted in Laos, in June 2016 and July 2017, respectively. None of these cases have been successfully resolved.

There’s a fear they are being tortured or are dead.

Lese majeste cases have virtually disappeared since King Vajiralongkorn took the throne. Instead, murders and disappearances have been used, seemingly in an effort to silence critics who have fled Thailand.