Quid pro quo?

7 09 2019

The International Federation for Human Rights has called on Thailand to “immediately investigate the disappearance of Od Sayavong, a Lao activist seeking asylum…”. It is stated:

“Od sought refuge in Thailand but the country has become increasingly unsafe for asylum seekers. Thai authorities must immediately determine Od’s fate or whereabouts and the government must adopt measures that guarantee the rights of asylum seekers in accordance with international standards,” said Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Vice-President.
Od Sayavong, a 34-year-old activist from Savannaket Province, Laos, was last seen by one of his co-workers at around 5:30pm on 26 August 2019 at the house the two of them shared with two other co-workers in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum District. Around that time, Od left the house and was expected to join the two other co-workers for dinner later that evening at a restaurant in Bueng Kum District, where Od worked as a cook. At 6:34pm, a Facebook message was sent from Od’s account to one of the two co-workers, who were both already at the restaurant, to ask him to “cook rice” and wait for him. This was the last time Od was believed to have been heard from. Od did not return to the house that night. The following day, at 5:03pm, one of Od’s co-workers attempted to call him but Od’s phone was out of service. A message sent by the same co-worker to Od through the messaging app LINE at 5:06pm went unanswered and was never marked as having been read. Od’s cell phone appears to have remained out of service since the evening of 27 August 2019.

Od had been awaiting resettlement to a third country since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok registered him as a person of concern in December 2017.

“Od may be the latest casualty of increased cooperation between the government of Thailand and its regional counterparts to crack down on their respective dissidents in exile. The international community should strongly condemn this seemingly coordinated form of repression that leads to further shrinking space for civil society in the region,” said Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR [Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) ] President….

In Thailand, Od Sayavong has been involved in political activism and other activities promoting respect for human rights and democratic principles in Laos since at least 2015. Od has been a member of “Free Lao”, an informal group of Lao migrant workers and activists based in Bangkok and neighboring provinces that advocates for human rights and democracy in Laos. The group focuses on organizing human rights workshops and meetings, and participating in occasional small peaceful protests outside the Lao embassy and the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok.

We wonder if this is a political quid pro quo for Lao assistance in getting rid of Thai anti-junta and anti-monarchy activists. If this is the case, it is not just deeply disturbing but very odd in that Od was a Lao royalist:

On the evening of 15 March 2019, Od posted on his Facebook page a photo of himself in front of the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of a three-headed white elephant standing on a five-level pedestal – the official flag of Laos from 1952 until the fall of the royal government in 1975. The Lao government has outlawed this flag and its display has frequently angered Vientiane.

In the past Thai royalists often aligned with Lao royalists, but it seems that such alliances are out the political window when dealing with dissidents.

Lese majeste and foreign policy

20 01 2015

Military dictators are generally not the brightest bulbs in the box. This is as true of Thailand as elsewhere. Its military leaders are groping about on policies when only a few items turn on their lights. Unfortunately, these are all ideological nonsense that includes crude ultra-nationalism driven by lese majeste and reactionary repression against all who are seen as anti-coup and anti-military. Both are met with blunt and usually ill-considered responses.

When foreign policy is in the hands of military men, they tend to be pretty hopeless and seldom have any of the diplomat’s skills. When lese majeste and diplomacy meet the mind of a dull military man, there’s not much opportunity for careful consideration.

As we have posted previously, angry royalists and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, directed to action by The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, have been in a frenzy over the UNHCR’s efforts to have the New Zealand government grant political asylum to Ekaphop Luera. Ekaphop has been charged under Thailand’s draconian lese majeste laws that have been ferociously implemented by the royalist military regime. New Zealand responses to lese majeste madness have been careful and considered.

According to a report at Khaosod, Prayuth has actually says something that makes a little bit of sense. Don’t turn off at this faint praise for The Dictator, however.

Prayuth must be feeling the domestic royalist heat for he told reporters that he can’t do much more: “They claim it’s an assistance based on humanitarian aspect, so what can I do?” He makes sense when he explains to the looney royalists attacking the UNHCR and withdrawing donations was a mistake, mixing up lese majeste and the agency’s international work.

He is back in the mode of pleasing domestic royalists when he claims to have “sent a letter of protest to the United Nations’ refugee agency for reportedly helping a lese majeste suspect flee Thailand.” Prayuth added that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent letters of protest” to some “7-8 countries” that the regime thinks are”harboring Thai lese majeste suspects.” Prayuth reveals that “none of those foreign governments have responded to the letters.”

His comment that follows is also not completely bonkers: “They haven’t given us any answer, so we can’t do anything about it…”. Where he does show his lack of knowledge and narrow military perspective is when he states that Thailand can’t do anything “because we are not strong enough to fight the entire world…. We should wait until we are the superpower first before we think of doing anything like that.”

That’s a reasonable statement. But it is in the context of Thailand’s ridiculous and feudal lese majeste laws that criminalize free speech and thought and which makes criminal rather normal political speech. It is also in the context of the most outrageous use of the law since it came into existence more than a century ago. Prayuth has responsibility for that.


Hysterical royalist nonsense

10 01 2015

All of our readers will already know that the lese majeste law is very special in Thailand. So special that the usual rules of evidence and even constitutional provisions are simply ignored when cases are brought. So special that it defines contemporary Thailand as a society that remains dominated by feudal institutions and ideas that leave horrendous scars on the body politic.

Yet ultra-royalists are not content with this special status that makes illegal what should be legal and a special status that makes a mockery of any claim that Thailand has rule of law.

An astounding report at Khaosod explains that some of Thailand’s ridiculous royalists “have called for boycotting a UN agency [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR] that reportedly helped a lese majeste suspect [Ekaphop Luera] escape the country.” Of course, this is a nonsensical report for Ekaphop had already left the land of mad monarchists before he was assisted by the UNHCR to gain acceptance by the New Zealand government.

But nonsense is the stock in trade of balmy royalists who want to remake Thailand a nineteenth century absolute monarchy. Fundamentalism is not the preserve of religious zealots for thailand’s royalists are equally irrational.

Royalist social media, “aided by a translation to Thai that appeared on the right-wing Thai newspaper Naew Na” has lit up demanding a “boycott” of the UNHCR for helping the “anti-monarchy” escape the non-justice of Thailand under the military dictatorship. As far as PPT can tell, these royalists are deranged. Indeed, reading the report in the New Zealand Herald does not indicate anything about the UNHCR doing other than its normal job.

Khaosod claims the rancid royalist campaign” appears to be coordinated by several Facebook pages…”. The tenor of the make-believe world of royalists is explained:

“The UNHCR has received so much help from His Majesty. They were allowed to work fully on Thai soil, which led to their Nobel Peace Prize in 1982,” a blogger on OK Nation wrote. “But in 2014, the UNHCR betrays His Majesty and grants a refugee status to a suspect who violated Section 112.”

This is nothing short of ludicrous. These people are so deranged by their royalist fundamentalism that the bloody events of 6 October 1976 become easier to understand as part of a hysterical fundamentalism that is pathological.

More on forcible repatriation

29 12 2010

Reuters photo of an earlier 2010 entry of Burmese to Thailand, fleeing fighting there.

A few days ago, PPT posted on the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s continued forcible repatriation of border crossers, including those fleeing fighting in Burma. In that post we linked to a report in The Irrawaddy. The government’s abysmal reputation in this area gets worse and worse.

This is reinforced in a report sourced to AFP that states that the UNHCR, the UN refugees agency, has “raised concerns over Thailand’s move to forcibly return a group of displaced Myanmar nationals on Christmas day, saying that conditions were not met for safe returns.” In a statement, it said it was “concerned over the circumstances of the return of some 166 Myanmar nationals seeking temporary protection from Thailand on 25 December…”. The group expelled included 50 women and over 70 children.

The UNHCR appealed “to the Royal Thai Government that returns should take place on a strictly voluntary basis, and only when conditions are in place to return in safety and dignity…. These conditions were not met on December 25…. In the past few weeks, UNHCR had already expressed its concern to the Royal Thai Government over the hasty manner in which some returns took place, where some persons returned home only to have to flee again when fighting resumed shortly afterwards…”.

Hmong forced repatriation and human rights

31 12 2009
PPT has posted on the forced repatriation of Hmong and there is now plenty of international condemnation of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government on this. PPT wants to make just two additional comments based on recent reporting.

First, in The Irrawaddy (28 December 2009), Marwaan Macan-Markar comments on the forced deportation in a report well worth reading. He comments on this as “a move that places greater weight on growing regional solidarity over historical ties with a western superpower,” meaning the United States.

While Eric Schwartz, the US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration has complained that the deportation “is a deeply disappointing decision by the government of Thailand,” the Abhisit government appears not to care. Building relations regionally (except with Cambodia) seems to be safer for a government that is little interested in “Western” human rights issues. The government’s acting spokesman, Panitan Wattanayagorn, says the “time for negotiations is over…”.

This position was made especially clear by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (Bangkok Post, 29 December 2009). Kasit rejected human rights groups’ claims the deportation would do them more harm than good.Kasit was critical of rights groups: “Why not have trust in Laos? He added: “Western countries do not trust in the cooperation between Thailand and Laos and between the peoples of the two countries…. Don’t look down on us.

Kasit has been a failed foreign minister, and each crisis – Rohinga, lese majeste, Cambodia and now this forced repatriation – has had to be handled by others, most usually Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Taugsuban, because Kasit is unable to comprehend the complexity of the issues involved and to articulate an appropriate and diplomatic response to international events and crises.

Second, Marwaan reports that the government’s acting spokesman as stating that the Abhisit government gave “instructions to the military officers that this move has to be conducted ensuring the safety of the Hmong and with no violations of their rights…”. As we previously reported, Prime Minister Abhisit made similar “rights” and “international practice” noises.

However, according to Human Rights Watch, Thai authorities have violated international refugee laws by using ‘intimidation’ to silence the Hmong. The coercive tactics included ‘light deprivation,’ separating parents from children and cutting off ‘access to clean water and proper sanitation.” Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ spokeswoman, Ariane Rummery is reported (Bangkok Post (30 December 2009): “We would express our dismay that they have gone ahead with the group of 158 people in Nong Khai who had been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR…. The forcible return of refugees to their country of origin is a violation of international customary law. It’s a departure from Thailand‘s longstanding humanitarian practice as a major country of asylum in the region and that’s a very grave example internationally.” Thailand acknowledges that these 158 had “obtained legal protection as people of concern” from the UNHCR.

According to The Nation (29 December 2009), the UNHCR pleaded with Prime Minister Abhisit to halt the repatriation but the premier rejected this and stated that “the deportation went smooth as planned and there was no resistance from the Hmong.Abhisit specifically rejected “concerns for their [the Hmong] wellbeing raised by the international community.” He said that all the returnees were “safe.”

This is just one more example of Abhisit’s human rights and rule of law rhetoric. In fact, Abhisit’s actions repeatedly demonstrate a disdain for these values. Thaksin Shinawatra once contemptuously said that democracy was a tool, not an end. Abhisit shows the same contempt. He uses high sounding terms as it suits him but has no respect for them as values.

It is high time the international media and rights groups recognized that Abhisit and his government now have an established track record as rights abusers.

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