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.





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.





Federationists sentenced

28 01 2020

A Prachatai report updates the fate of the “lese majeste” cases against four persons accused of involvement with the so-called Thai Federation, said to be a republican movement.

The four are not charged with lese majeste due to the king’s unwillingness to continue using the charge – despite his own previous aggressive use of the law. Rather, the four were charged with sedition and membership of a “secret society.”

The report states that the case was filed on 24 October 2019, but the case goes back to early September 2018.

While the four are not named, others named in the case and charged are several who are dead or disappeared. The public prosecutor filed charges against Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee, Kritsana Tupthai, Chucheep Chivasut or Uncle Sanam Luang, Siam Theerawut and Wat Wanlayangkoon, for their alleged involvement in the Thai Federation movement.

The Criminal Court found the four defendants guilty and sentenced them to between 2 and 3 years in prison on21 January.

Three of the four defendants were released on bail pending an appeal.





Assassinations of red shirts who fled

19 02 2019

The Thai Alliance for Human Rights has produced a compilation of articles on the assassinations and the plight of the Thai refugees in Laos. We thought it useful and worth getting to a wider audience, so reproduce it as it is at their website:

The first set were written by the Thai Alliance as a whole or by individual members of the Thai Alliance during a period of high alert for the dissidents in exile. We were in fear that the dissidents, especially Ma Noi (Ko Tee), were being hunted. These references are here to illustrate that we at the Thai Alliance believed that the dissidents were being hunted and were in grave danger about 4 months BEFORE the disappearance of Ma Noi.

“TAHR Statement on the 9 Suspects Held in Relation to Weapons that Exiled Broadcaster Ko Tee Says Were Planted at His House,” by Thai Alliance for Human Rights, March 21, 2017, http://tahr-global.org/?p=32252

“In Defense of Ma Noy and the Core Leaders of the Organization for Thai Federation,” [in Thai and English] by a member of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights, at Thai Alliance for Human Rights website, March 24, 2017. http://tahr-global.org/?p=32265

“Last Voice of Democracy,” by Red Eagle, posted at Thai Alliance for Human Rights, March 31, 2017, http://tahr-global.org/?m=201703

“Meet My Friends in Exile: เราคือเพื่อนกัน” by Ann Norman at Thai Alliance for Human Rights website, April, 2, 2017, http://tahr-global.org/?p=32293

Here is the one reference in English I can find about the disappearance of Ittipol Sukapan (DJ Zunho), whose disappearance/assassination did not get much coverage in English:

“Recollections of Itthipol Sukpan (DJ Zunho) Who Was Disappeared; Almost One Year Later Still no News” by Red Eagle, posted by admin on Thai Alliance Facebook group page, May 24, 2017: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thaiahr/permalink/1329416870506696/

Here are references in English on the disappearance/assassination of Ma Noi or Ko Tee (real name Wutthipong Kochathammakum)

“Further Updated: Ko Tee disappeared?” Political Prisoners in Thailand, July 31, 2017, https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/ko-tee-disappeared/

“Thai Monarchy Critic in Exile Reportedly ‘Disappeared,’ Junta Denies Knowledge,” by Pravit Rojanaphruk, KaoSod English, July 31, 2017. http://www.khaosodenglish.com/news/crimecourtscalamity/crime-crime/2017/07/31/thai-monarchy-critic-exile-reportedly-disappeared-junta-denies-knowledge/

“Statement on the Abduction and Possible Assassination of Ko Tee or Ma Noi,” Thai Alliance for Human Rights, August 1, 2017. http://tahr-global.org/?p=32547

“Laos/Thailand: Investigate Abduction of Exiled Red Shirt Activist: Armed Men Kidnap Wuthipong Kachamakul in Vientiane,” by Human Rights Watch, August 1, 2017. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/08/01/laos/thailand-investigate-abduction-exiled-red-shirt-activist

“More on Thai dissident Ma Noi or Ko Tee, who was disappeared on July 29, 2017,” by Ann Norman, at Thai Alliance for Human Rights website, August 2, 2017. http://tahr-global.org/?p=32557

“English Translation of Evidence in the Case of Ma Noi (Ko Tee): He Predicted His Death,” August 29, 2017. August 29, 2017. http://tahr-global.org/?p=32605

Kidnapping in Thailand of the wife and son of dissident in exile Sanam Luang (Sanam Luang at one time worked with Surachai). In retrospect, we realized this kidnapping overlapped in time with the disappearance of Surachai, Gasalong, and Puchana, and is thus relevant:

“ALERT: Wife and Son of International Dissident “Sanam Luang” Kidnapped in Thailand,” by the Thai Alliance for Human Rights published as a “Note” at the Facebook page, December 12, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/notes/thai-alliance-for-human-rights-tahr/alert-wife-and-son-of-international-dissident-sanam-luang-kidnapped-in-thailand/512446922569423/

References relating to the assassinations of Surachai, Gasalong, and Puchana, memorials to the five assassinated dissidents, and the plight of the remaining Thai refugees in Laos.

“Translated letter from wife of Kidnapped dissident Surachai Saedan” December 25, Letter by Ba Noi translated by Ann Norman, at Thai Alliance for Human rights website, December 25, 2018. http://tahr-global.org/?p=32809

“Surachai and Refugee Friends Disappear from Home, wife begs those with power to spare their lives” Prachatai, December 27, 2018. https://prachatai.com/english/node/7854

“Opinion: Fear and Foreboding in Laos” by Pravit Rojanaphruk of KaoSod English, December 29, 2018, http://www.khaosodenglish.com/opinion/2018/12/29/opinion-fear-and-foreboding-in-laos/

“DNA confirms one of the Mekhong bodies as disappeared activist,” Prachatai, January 21, 2019. https://prachatai.com/english/node/7885

“Thai police says bodies from river were missing activists,” Associated Press, January 22, 2019. http://www.startribune.com/thai-police-says-bodies-from-river-were-missing-activists/504688152/

“Photos Suggest Third Mekong Corpse Was Found, Then Lost,” Pravit Rojanaphruk, KaoSod English, January 22, 2019. http://www.khaosodenglish.com/news/crimecourtscalamity/calamity/2019/01/22/photos-suggest-third-mekong-corpse-was-found-then-lost/?

“Laos: Investigate Disappearance of 3 Thai Dissidents: Battered Corpses in Mekong River Identified as Missing Activitsts,” Human Rights Watch, January 22, 2019 https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/22/laos-investigate-disappearance-3-thai-dissidents

Video clip posted on Facebook by Jom Petchpradab in which Surachai’s wife explains why she has given up hope. Janurary 25, 2019, It is entirely in Thai, but could be translated: https://www.facebook.com/jom.petchpradab/videos/pcb.10156866118368965/10156866114138965/?type=3&theater

Picture of the body believed to be Surachai Saedan, posted on Facebook (but not taken by) Jom Petchpradab, January 25: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10156866113548965&set=pcb.10156866118368965&type=3&theater

“What do Thailand and Saudi Arabia have in common: Answer: the brutal killing of dissidents in exile,” by Ann Norman, Washington Post, January 30, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/01/30/what-do-thailand-saudi-arabia-have-common/

“It’s time we listened to the plight of Thai dissidents abroad: The gruesome deaths of two anti-royalist Thai activists should be a wake up call for the international community,” by Claudio Sopranzetti, Al Jazeera, January 31, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/time-listened-plight-thai-dissidents-190130124839715.html

Video clip of one group of activists lead by Siriwit Seritiwat (Ja New) singing “Duan Pen” in Thailand at a memorial for the 5 assassinated dissidents, Facebook Live on the page of Anon Nampa, February 2 [in Thai, could easily be translated]: https://www.facebook.com/100000942179021/videos/2493720380669343/

“Demonstration at Ratchaprasong in memory of the disappeared dissidents,” Prachatai, February 3, 2019. https://prachatai.com/english/category/surachai-saedan

“แถลงการณ์ หยุดทำร้ายนักกิจกรรม Statement: Stop Harming the Activists!” statement in Thai by Anurak Jeantawanich (signing as Ford Sentangseedaeng) with English translation (by Ann Norman), at Thai Alliance for Human Rights website, February 3, 2019. http://tahr-global.org/?p=32820

“Why we can NOT go to a third country,” by Thanthawut Taweewarodomkul, Prachatai, February 5, 2019. https://prachatai.com/english/node/7914

“Thaïlande : le crime de lèse-majesté pourchassé jusqu’au Laos,” by Pierre Touré, in Liberation, [In FRENCH]. February 14, 2019 https://www.liberation.fr/planete/2019/02/14/thailande-le-crime-de-lese-majeste-pourchasse-jusqu-au-laos_1709434?fbclid=IwAR01yaAZ29zQ0d1kjYWsBYjUJPw3rPQVkogOou_kXvVopT14nUjWDkLAlKM
English translation of Liberation article available at: https://www.facebook.com/zenjournalist/posts/10156629021066154?__tn__=K-R

For more information contact Ann Norman of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights at ann.norman@tahr-global.org





Murderous monarchists VII

1 02 2019

Two recent op-eds on the grisly discoveries of the bodies of tortured, disemboweled and murdered activists deserve wide attention.

One is by Ann Norman at the Washington Post. The author is a member and former director of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights.

She refers to the “disappearance of … three Thai political refugees in Laos” in December, bringing the total disappearances “to five in three years.” These three were among the “40 to 50 active dissidents (and some 200 altogether) living in Laos.”

She notes that the “disappeared” Surachai Danwattananusorn “was one of many regime critics in exile producing YouTube shows skewering the military dictatorship of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha …[and] the corrupt and oppressive Thai monarchy.”

The op-ed reveals that Surachai and his two comrades disappeared around the time Gen Prayuth made a visit to Laos, when “Lao officials told all the exiles to hide before the arrival of Prayuth…. Rumors flew that Prayuth might be bringing a death squad targeting ‘lèse majesté suspects’…”. In Surachai’s case, he “had told his wife there was a $300,000 price on his head.”

Norman compares Surachai’s case to that of Wuthipong Kachathamakul:

[He] … was kidnapped and presumably assassinated in Laos on July 29, 2017, just one day after the birthday of the new Thai king. The rumor among the Thai dissidents was that Wuthipong’s murder was King Vajiralongkorn’s present to himself. Wuthipong was tied up and tasered, and the last words heard from him were “I can’t breathe” – eerily reminiscent of Jamal Khashoggi, whose recent assassination by a Saudi hit squad shocked the world. Wuthipong had complained on his YouTube show that he was being “hunted by the king’s servants.”

She mentions another case that has not received wide media coverage:

One year earlier, on June 22, 2016, yet another anti-monarchist in Laos, Itthipol Sukpan, a 28-year-old pro-democracy broadcaster known as DJ Zunho, was snatched from his motorcycle by unknown assailants and pulled into the woods, leaving behind just one shoe. He was never seen again. Everyone, including his family, believes he is dead.

Her conclusion is as bleak as it is frightening: “It is no longer plausible that these are random killings.”

In the second op-ed, academic Claudio Sopranzetti writes for Al Jazeera.Aon the same grisly topic, also referring to a “pattern of disappearances.” He suggests that “a Thai death squad [is] operating abroad…”.

The similarities in the disappearances of so many with anti-royal profiles is no set of accidents:

All five disappeared activists were adamant anti-monarchists, wanted in their homeland on charges of lese majesty. All five of them were refused refugee status in Europe, Japan, and Australia, despite continuous attempts. And all five refused to remain silent and used social media to amplify and disseminate their dissent from outside Thailand.

Sopranzetti observes that there are “[m]any other activists with similar profiles … still in Laos and Cambodia, [and] abandoned by an international community that refuses to see them as persons at risk…”.

Exiled Thai political activists believe that “these extrajudicial killings are replacing the use of lese majesty in this new royal regime.” He cites one of them who argues that:

Lese-majesty cases have been attracting too much attention, both internally and internationally…. Instead of arresting us, killing us may be a better way to stop us from talking about regime change, republic, and freedom of speech.

Sopranzetti asks: “How many more of them[bodies of exiles] will need to pile up before we start paying attention?”





Fears for Surachai II

3 01 2019

A couple of days ago we posted on a report about bodies being found on the banks of the Mekong River and fears that these may be anti-monarchy activists who went missing in Laos.

We have now located additional information, thanks to readers pointing this out for us.

The Bangkok Post did report the discovery of two bodies, adding to the gory details.

We note that a reader tells us of an unconfirmed report of three bodies having been found.

Police stated that they “suspected the victims were political activists.” The report added that the:

bodies were found in That Phanom and Muang districts handcuffed and with their ankles tied together. Their bellies had been ripped open and chunks of concrete stuffed inside them. The bodies had then been placed in sacks and dumped into the river.

Will police release details or will these discoveries be quietly forgotten like Ko Tee’s disappearance?

What of other, less dramatic disappearances like a plaque and a memorial? Are all these disappearances politically related?





Another red shirt “disappeared”?

25 12 2018

Back in July 2017, Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul disappeared in Laos. A red shirt and critic of the monarchy, Ko Tee didn’t just disappear. He was disappeared. That is, he was forcibly taken and has not been heard from since.

In a Human Rights Watch alert, his enforced disappearance was described:

On July 29, at approximately 9:45 p.m., a group of 10 armed men dressed in black and wearing black balaclavas assaulted Wuthipong, his wife, and a friend as they were about to enter Wuthipong’s house in Vientiane according to multiple witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch. The assailants hit them, shocked them with stun guns, tied their hands with plastic handcuffs, covered their eyes, and gagged their mouths. Wuthipong was then put in a car and driven away to an unknown location while his wife and his friend were left at the scene. According to Wuthipong’s wife and his friend, the assailants were speaking among themselves in Thai.

It was widely assumed that Ko Tee was disappeared by Thai forces under the orders of the military dictatorship and probably by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. Of course, nothing can be proved because the disappearance has never been investigated.

Khaosod reports a second disappearance. Surachai Danwattananusorn or Surachai Sae Dan, a radical red shirt and a vehement critic of the monarchy has reportedly gone missing in mysterious circumstances.

A former student activist who joined that Communist Party of Thailand in the 1970s, he was imprisoned in the 1980s. In the recent color-coded clashes, Surachai led the Red Siam faction of the red shirts. He was charged and eventually convicted on several lese majeste charges after being arrested by the Abhisit Vejjiva regime in 2011. Eventually, he was sentenced to 25 years on three convictions.

Ill and elderly – he would now be about 76 – Surachai was pardoned on 3 October 2013. We understand he moved to Laos around the time of the 2014 military coup. Not long after, ultra-royalists were making further lese majeste accusations against him.

Now he has “disappeared.”

Khaosod reports that his “friends and wife … said they fear he might have been disappeared after they lost contact with him for two weeks.” The report continues:

Romchalee Yammy Sinseubpol, a political exile in Laos said she and … friends went to check Surachai Danwattananusorn’s residen[ce] Monday morning – more than two weeks after they lost contact with him – and found no one. She said all doors had been left open and that some documents appeared to be missing.

She posted on Facebook saying the place appeared to have been searched. She and her friends fear that he may have been “forced to disappear.”

… In a related development, Surachai’s wife, Pranee Dawattanasunorn pleaded that her husband and two male aides be safely released.

“I could only plead those involved to let them go,” said Pranee, who lives in Nakhon Si Thammarat province and lost contact with Surachai since Dec. 10.

Deputy Dictator Prawit Wongsuwan reportedly stated:

“I don’t know where he is and why he has disappeared now after four years,” adding that he had contacted the Laotian authorities, who had told him they were unaware of Surachai’s whereabouts.

That was almost word-for-word what they said when Ko Tee was disappeared.

Elderly and suffering several ailments, Surachai is in serious danger.





Republicanism and those shirts I

10 09 2018

As one of the women arrested on unspecified charges for possession of black t-shirts was permitted to see her two children, more details of the arrests became available.

Another woman, identified only as Surangkanang, who allegedly purchased a shirt was released. However, the woman still in custody, identified as Wannapa and aged 30, is accused of “distributing T-shirts the authorities deemed ‘politically offensive’…”. She was apparently detained at the 11th Military Circle military camp several days ago. Wannapa is reportedly a motorcycle-taxi rider and lived in Samut Prakan.

A later report suggests that she may not have been “distributing,” but this begs the question of why she remains in custody.

Her “crime” relates to the possession and (perhaps) distribution of black shirts “bearing a small red-and-white emblem on the upper left front, a ‘flag’ alleged to be the symbol of a group calling itself the ‘Federation of Thai States’.”

The military now states that she will be held for 7 days and then charged.

A Defense spokesman says it is conducting “an investigation into an underground group seeking to install a federal republic in Thailand…”. He disclosed that the authorities have been “monitoring the group which has urged its supporters to wear black T-shirts with a red and white logo.”

Social media suggests that the “network” is associated with missing red shirt activist Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul. Ko Tee disappeared or was disappeared while in Laos or, some say, Cambodia. That isn’t yet clear.

Maj Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich said: “We have to find out where they got the T-shirts from, and who made the T-shirts … We are investigating the matter.” Dangerous shirts, dangerous message.

Social media reports are that 3-4 others have been rounded up.

Khaosod reports that “republican activists confirmed the shirts as their own and denounced the arrests as an attempt to intimidate the public.” It claims “growing support for its cause.”

The newspaper reports a senior army officer confirming the witch hunt. He worried that social media was misrepresenting the arrests – not the media we have seen, but this is the Thai military speaking – saying the women “might have links to Organization for a Thai Federation. This is a big issue…”, adding that his boys have “evidence” of yet another deep plot.

Khaosod has it that the “Organization for Thai Federation is reportedly run by a group of Redshirt activists living in exile in Laos. It’s difficult to gauge how much or little support it has, though its online videos typically rack up tens of thousands of views.” It is said that the “group issues prolific dispatches, having published numerous videos on YouTube – most of them several hours long – in which they discuss their republican ideas between bouts of dizzying conspiracy theories.”

On YouTube there are several versions of video – actually more like radio programs – under the banner of Organization for Thai Federation and Sanamluang20082008. Some have hundreds of views and others more than 10,000. Clicking the links opens sites probably banned in Thailand.

One of these videos that seems to have agitated the military: “In mid-August, the group leader, known as Uncle Sanam Luang, called upon his supporters in Thailand to don black T-shirts with their red and white flag emblem to raise awareness of the group.” With the group declaring that the new generation no longer wants the monarchy, Uncle Sanam Luang is reported to say: “We have to make it a reality. Who would do it? The people. The people are owners of the country, not anyone else…. Therefore, we have to wake up. We have to do everything we can.”

It is not yet known if the charges likely to be laid are lese majeste, sedition or some other combination.





Updated: Dumber than a bag of hammers I

6 06 2018

Thailand’s police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, a junta man, has “returned to Bangkok from Frankfurt on Wednesday — without the fugitive former monk from Wat Samphanthawong he hoped to escort back to Thai soil from Germany.”

He trotted off to Frankfurt, presumably in a first class seat, on Sunday. Not just him. The Bangkok Post says three other senior police are in Germany for a few more days. Social media says a total of 13 or 14 of “Thailand’s finest” flitted over to arrest the monk.

They expected to be able to grab Phra Phrom Methee and escort him back to Thailand “to face charges connected with the temple fund embezzlement scandal.”

Perhaps they thought they could talk him into coming back. Maybe they thought they could abduct him. It might have been that they thought German police would hand him over.

Whatever they thought, they were dumber than a bag of hammers. The monk sought asylum on arrival in Germany. There’s no chance he’s heading back to Thailand until due process has been exhausted.

Of course, Thailand’s senior police know nothing of due process. They operate on the basis of who has power, money, influence and connections. They are willing to turn over alleged criminals or political opponents of other regimes at the drop of a hat and hang the notion of a justice system.

They have provided Chinese authorities with persons approved for political asylum and resettlement in third countries. They have allowed Chinese police and security agencies to operate on Thai soil and arrest and take “prisoners” back to China. Legal process? Not even a thought about that.

They expect other governments to behave in the same corrupt and illegal ways they do. So we see a Cambodian transported to Bangkok for apparently having something to do with embarrassing The Dictator. We guess Thai hit squads have operated in neighboring countries, eliminating Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee, a political opponent.

Fortunately, Germany’s police do act according to the law, This must astound Thailand’s police chief who now looks like a complete moron after his expensive, taxpayer-funded excursion. But, if he sticks with the required haircut maybe no one will officially notice his profound idiocy.

Update: Having caused himself to lose face, the police chiefs response is not unexpected. He’s going after others. The Nation reports that: “Investigators in the border province of Nakhon Phanom have requested a court to issue arrest warrants for the five suspects – three of them Thais and two Laos nationals…”. It is reported that they too have fled Thailand into Laos. The police will be hoping that the Lao authorities will send them back. That may ease a big red face.





Dictatorship and royalty

23 04 2018

The military dictatorship has proven itself to have the right attitudes and ideology for dealing with other authoritarian regimes, especially the party dictatorships of China and Laos and the Hun Sen regime in Cambodia. Most especially, Thailand’s military regime has felt most comfortable in dealing with military leaders in those countries.

It has had some issues with Laos, where red shirt and republican dissidents reside having fled the royalist military dictatorship following the 2014 coup. The military dictatorship has kept the pressure on, and we can assume some collusion in the enforced disappearance of Ko Tee from his residence in Laos. He’s presumed dead.

Thailand has a long history of political interference in its smaller neighbor’s politics, and there have been many ups and downs. So it is to be expected that all Lao regimes develop the relationship with some caution.

The current Thai dictatorship has been especially agitated about republican dissidents in Laos and has been seeking a deal to get them jailed in Thailand or, if that fails, to have them silenced.

Speaking in Vientiane, Lt Gen Souvone Leuangbounmy, chief-of-staff of the Lao People’s Armed Forces has “played down Thai authorities’ concerns about political fugitives and those wanted under Section 112 of the Criminal Code…” in Laos.

He says that “Thai political fugitives in Laos will be kept under strict surveillance to prevent them from engaging in lese majeste activities…”. He added that “Laos would be vigilant in trying to stop any acts which could affect Thai people” and soothed the military junta: “Please rest assured. You can count on us…”.

He made these comments as Thai military leaders visited Laos. We assume that he was saying this because the Thai military visitors had raised the issue (again).

Perhaps Lt Gen Souvone’s position is a compromise by his regime, under pressure from the “big brothers.” Will they accept this?