Year-end articles I

30 12 2020

2020 has been quite a year. Already, several publications have produced year-end articles that attempt commentary on a remarkable year. Here are some that we found:

VICE, “2020: Thai Protesters Look Back on a Year That Changed Their Lives.” As the article says: “We asked those behind the unprecedented demonstrations what was achieved, and what’s next.” Well worth reading and considering.

The Los Angeles Times has a very good article on the disappearance of Wanchalerm Satsaksit and subsequent events. “A Thai dissident was kidnapped. When police had no answers, his sister began to investigate” is also about the determined quest by Sitanan Satsaksit to ensure her brother’s enforced disappearance is not forgotten.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

East Asia Forum has an editorial – “Thailand needs normal politics” – and two year-end articles. One is by James Ockey, “Government no match for Thai demonstrators online” and another by Kevin Hewison, “Thai youth protests undercut political establishment.





Justice for Thailand’s disappeared

20 11 2020

Al Jazeera’s 101 East has a program available on Thailand’s victims of enforced disappearance. Given the significance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s abduction in Cambodia for the genesis of the current protests, it is well worth viewing.





Updated: Vulture cops

2 11 2020

Compromise? No.

Thai PBS reports that the hospitalized prominent protesters, jailed for some time already, are set for more jail time. The cops, vulture-like, are waiting to re-arrest them as soon as the doctors discharge them.

Panasaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak will be dragged off to the courts “with the … police seeking to have them held on remand on more charges, which were filed against them while they were recuperating at Rama 9 Hospital.” They will end up in remand in several provinces.

The Bangkok Post reports that, in fact, two have already been “officially rearrested” while in hospital. This is reminiscent of actions taken in the lese majeste case against Thanet Anantawong who was dragged out of a hospital ward by junta thugs. Tghe Post reports:

Officers from Rayong showed up at Praram 9 Hospital to file a charge against Panupong “Mike” Jadnok over his protest against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha during the premier’s visit to the province in August ahead of the mobile cabinet meeting there.

Similar scenes occurred when Ubon Ratchathani police also showed up to detain Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak over his role in an Aug 22 demonstration in the northeastern province. He faces sedition charges under Section 116 of the Criminal Code which he refused to acknowledge.

On Saturday night, city police had filed charges against Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul over her involvement on June 5 and June 22 in protests at the Pathumwan Skywalk in Bangkok.

Rung is now “under a 24-hour watch and police will reportedly seek a Pathumwan District Court order today to put her back behind bars for the time being.”

Get the picture? No compromise. As Mike and Penguin are being taken out of Bangkok, there are fears for their safety.

Update: In some good news, the Pathumwan District Court “rejected a police request to detain protest leader Panusaya … for further questioning in two cases in which she is charged with violating the Public Assembly Act of 2015.” The two cases relate to “demonstrations on the skywalk over the Pathumwan intersection on June 5 and June 22 demanding justice for Wanchalerm Satsaksit, … abducted by a group of men from in front of a condominium in Phnom Penh.” The court found no reason for detention. The same court also “refused a police request to detain Panupong “Mike Ranong” Jadnok, who was charged over his role in protesting the Prime Minister on July 15 in Rayong province,” finding no reason for further detention.

That good news is made better when the Criminal Court “dismissed a police request to extend the detention period for protest leaders Somyod Pruksakasemsuk, Ekkachai Hongkangwan, Suranat Paenprasert and Arnon Nampa…”. Somyos and Arnon are “facing charges stemming from their participation in the rally at Thammasat University on September 19-20,” while Akechai and Suranat have been “charged with attempting to harm … the Queen’s liberty by allegedly obstructing the royal motorcade … on October 16.”





Updated: Still missing

5 10 2020

It is now four months since the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. He was snatched off the street in Phnom Penh in what was probably a black ops by the Thai military.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Prachatai reports that Piyanut Kotsan, director of Amnesty International Thailand says “there has been no progress in Cambodian authorities’ investigation of his abduction.” Nothing.

Both the Thai and Cambodian governments refuse to do or say anything, suggesting the two governments collaborated in ignoring international law and “disappearing” Wanchaleam.

AI states:

We urge Cambodia to set up an investigation team to carry out a prompt, effective, thorough and transparent investigation and to ensure justice is served for the victim and his family. Four months on, there is still no progress in the investigation.

Further, we urge Thai authorities to provide all necessary assistance to facilitate Ms. Sitanan Satsaksit, Mr. Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s older sister’s travel to Cambodia to give evidence to public prosecutors there.

The Nation has a story reporting on Wanchalearm’s former girlfriend. She spent time with him in exile in Cambodia.

Update: Khaosod interviews Wanchalearm’s sister, Sitanun. Sadly but predictably, “she’s given up any hope on government actions,” and has “decided not to rely on either Thai or Cambodian government because both of them have not given her any satisfactory answer” on her brother’s abduction. Sitanun explained a Cambodian cover-up: “Cambodian authorities told her in August that Saksit was not found in the accommodation list of the apartment.” For them, he did not exist: “They said there was no Wanchalearm there on that day. That the license plate of the van which abducted him wasn’t real…. They are now trying to clean up any traces.”

Tellingly, she adds, the “person ordering it is not ordinary…”. Like everyone else, Sitanun “believes the Thai authorities were behind the abduction…”.





Wanchalearm and the loyalist royalists

17 09 2020

We wonder if there isn’t a connection between the palace appointments of army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong and Corrections Department director-general Naras Savestanan and the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

Prachatai reports that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has:

submitted a second letter to the Cambodian government over lack of progress in the investigation since the Thai activist was kidnapped from the front of his residence in Phnom Penh on 4 June 2020.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Both the Thai and Cambodian governments have been silent on the abduction. To us, that indicates both regimes are complicit.

The UN Working Group states: “The right to truth is therefore an absolute right which cannot be restricted and there is an absolute obligation to take all the necessary steps to find the [missing] person…”. Sadly, the Group felt the need to add: “We further underline that his family should be protected from ill treatment or intimidation if required…”.

What does this have to do with the rewards to loyalist royalists? We can’t help thinking that Gen Apirat is being rewarded for taking a leading role in the abduction, disappearance, torture, and murder of several activists in third countries. Each of the operations has a strong whiff of special operations by the Thai military. Gen Apirat is likely being rewarded for illegal and murderous operations. We’d also guess that he’s also being rewarded for all the efforts he’s made to remove symbols of the 1932 revolution.

Clipped from Khaosod

And what of Corrections Department director-general Naras? Again, we’d guess that he’s rewarded for royal deeds associated with prisons, including the operations at the king’s Dhaveevatthana Palace prison and probably the imprisonment as punishment of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.

We can but wonder.





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.





Talking to a brick wall

12 08 2020

It may be like talking to a brick wall yet it remains important that Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s family and Amnesty International Thailand are keeping the pressure on Cambodia over his enforced disappearance on 4 June 2020.

Young Thais continue to campaign for information on his fate.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Prachatai reports that they have asked for “a meeting with … Ouk Sorphorn, Ambassador of Cambodia to Thailand, to discuss and acknowledge investigation progress…”. THe call came on what would have been Wanchalearm’s 38th birthday.

Amnesty International Thailand “states that it has been two months since Wanchalearm has disappeared and there is no progress on his whereabouts either from Thai or Cambodian authority.” Most observers would consider this lack of progress to be reflective of official involvement and cover-up by both regimes. AI also notes that Cambodia is a state party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and has a responsibility to respond on the case. Of course, this assumes that the regime takes such an obligation seriously, and the evidence is that it does not.

Clipped from Prachatai

Wanchalearm’s sister, Sitanun Satsaksit, states that her family still lives in hope that there will be “answers both from Thai and Cambodian authority on Wanchalearm’s fate and whereabouts.”

As the disappearance is probably related to the absent monarch in Thailand (well, Germany), the Thai regime is going to remain mum. The Cambodians are supporting the semi-dictatorship in Bangkok.





Ignoring the UN on enforced disappearance

30 07 2020

The United Nation’s Committee on Enforced Disappearances gave the Cambodian government a deadline for explaining the disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit. As expected, the deadline passed with not a word from the regime in Phnom Penh, at least that Wanchalearm’s family knows of.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

In addition, two months after the enforced disappearance, Wanchalearm’s family has heard nothing from the Thai or Cambodian governments. The family states: “There is no indication that they have done any investigation.”

The implication of this inaction is to confirm that both regimes are complicit in the enforced disappearance and his likely murder.





Birthday games II

29 07 2020

While protesters rallied in Germany, calling for an end to the monarchy, King Vajiralongkorn’s apparent abhorrence for Thailand is making the mainstream media again.

Deutsche Welle has a long and critical article about the king who prefers to live and play in Germany.

The article claims that Vajiralongkorn’s “passivity during the COVID-19 pandemic has made him the target of unprecedented criticism at home and abroad.” While it is true that as Thailand’s economy grinds down and unemployment spikes the king is “gallivanting miles away in Germany” and that “the monarch and his entourage have sought refuge in a luxurious hotel in the Bavarian Alps,” we think a focus on the virus is too narrow.

Criticism of the king has been rising for a while and has to do with his perceived alliance with an illegitimate regime, his absence from the country, his massive wealth, and his alleged involvement with the disappearances and murders of activists.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

The recent enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit in Cambodia has caused fear and loathing against the king and regime to expand.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

While “[c]overage of the king’s lavish life abroad circulating in foreign media outlets cannot be reported in Thailand due to its strict lese majeste law,” it is clear that young, social media-savvy Thais know what’s going on. This is why the recent rallies have seen “demonstrators brandishing placards and banners with messages critical of the king. The slogans, however, were disguised with slang and sarcasm” to avoid the excesses of regime repression.

The protests against the king in Germany are detailed:

Some 8,500 kilometers (5,300 miles) to the northwest, members of the German non-profit PixelHELPER Foundation and Thai nationals living abroad gathered to stage a protest on the king’s birthday.

Led by exiled activist Junya Yimprasert, protesters gathered in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and held signs which read: “Thai king to International Criminal Court (ICC).” They also erected a makeshift guillotine with a caricature of Rama X behind bars.

“Our goal is to abolish the monarchy,” said Yimprasert. The 54-year-old has been using an unconventional approach to catch the king’s attention. For weeks, she and fellow protesters have used a light projector to display anti-monarchy messages on the front walls of the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the king currently resides.

To garner more attention, the group has also projected comical illustrations featuring Rama X onto the walls of the German parliament and the home of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Vowing to step up protests in Germany, PixelHELPER founder Oliver Bienkowski stated: “We want to end the fun of his private life and convey to him that it’s not so nice that he stays in Germany…”. He added that the group plans to “expand their efforts to other European countries, including Switzerland, where Queen Suthida is believed to be staying.”





Updated: Birthday games I

29 07 2020

While youth protesters keep poking at the regime and monarchy, the regime spent time “honoring” the absent king.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Meanwhile, in Europe, the king’s 68th birthday was marked by protest and critical and quizzical media reports (see here and here).

In Thailand, the regime ordered displays of loyalty (as it usually does on the birthdays of kings) and most of the response was state-led, with companies spending budget on “adverts” that “honor” the king.  The media all come up with boring headers for the king. All levels of government are required to organize events and dragooning the public to “participate.”

The Dictator took a particularly high profile. The Guardian produced a photo that says rather too much about “loyalty” and absence.

“Sanam Luang, Thailand The Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, (centre) and officials have their photo taken in front of a large portrait of the Thai King … Vajiralongkorn … during celebrations for the monarch’s 68th birthday in Bangkok (Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA).” Clipped from The Guardian.

Meanwhile, New Mandala has an anonymous post that summarizes much of what is known about the king. It is unclear why the author undervalues the Crown Property Bureau’s wealth or what causes the author to think that the king distrusts the military and that this distrust is cause for him to remain in Germany.

The author’s claim that “there are small grounds to hope that, if the king is confident that he has achieved his security and royal asset reclamation goals, he could return to Thailand and reign as a constitutional monarch” seems about as misplaced as earlier claims that Vajiralongkorn would “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.

Vajiralongkorn is erratic, prone to fits of anger, vindictive and narcissistic. He is widely disliked and feared.

Update: On the king being an absentee landlord and monarch, see Ji Ungpakorn’s post on the issue.