Thai military officers arrested anti-junta activists on their way to file a criminal charge against the Thai junta leader for staging coup d’état against the 2007 constitution during the first 2014 coup anniversary.
According to Resistant Citizen, an anti-junta activist group, the police and military officers in uniform and plainclothes on Friday at around 3 pm, arrested Sirawit Serithiwat, a student activist from Thammasat University, Pansak Srithep, a pro-democracy activist and the father of a boy killed by the military during the 2010 political violence, and Wannakiet Chusuwan, a pro-democracy activist and taxi driver, key members of Resistant Citizen, at Lat Phrao Bangkok’s Metro Station.
Sirawit and Wannakiet at Lat Phrao Bangkok's Metro Station on 22 May 2015
The three were arrested while they were on their way to Bangkok’s Ratchada Criminal Court to file criminal charge under Article 113 of Thailand’s Criminal Code against Gen Prayuth Chan-o-chan, the junta leader and prime minister, and other associates, who were involved in staging the 2014 coup d’état.
At around 4 pm, however, the officers brought them to the court to let them submit the complaint against the coup-maker before bringing them to Phahonyothin Police Station.
On Thursday, Pansak and Wannakiet were briefly detained at Lumpini Police Station after they went to the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok to give an invitation letter to the embassy personnel, inviting the them to observe the planned activity at Ratchada Criminal Court.
Pansak arrested and loaded into a van by the police officers on 22 May 2015
The letter was received by Taishi Akimoto, the First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok.
Natchacha Kongudom, another prominent student activist from Thai Student Center for Democracy (TSCD), was also with the group at the metro station to participate in the planned activity.
Last month, the three, including, Anon Numpa, another member of the group who is a human rights lawyer who volunteers for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), were charged with defying the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No. 7/2014 for holding a political gathering of more than five people on 14 February. If found guilty the four could be jailed for one year and fined up to 20,000 baht.Read more...
Yesterday in Samui the two men accused of involvement in the April the 10th bombing in the underground car park of the Central Festival shopping mall denied all charges and said that they will fight in the court to clear their names. In the Koh Samui Provincial Court police applied for their first twelve day […]Read more...
A group in Koh Samui are knitting for a good cause and looking for your help. We are a group of “knitters” who are supporting the Sarnelli Orphanage in Northern Thailand by knitting garments for the children. The orphanage has 17 little ones from 6 months to 5 years old and their cold months are […]
The post Group in Samui knitting a better future for an orphanage appeared first on Samui Times.Read more...
JAKARTA, 22 May 2015 – In the year since the Thai military staged a coup to overthrow the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand has witnessed the entrenchment of authoritarianism and its new leaders have increasingly reneged on their international human rights obligations, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.
“This unelected military government has pursued policies that restrict fundamental freedoms and limit the space for political pluralism,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of parliament in Malaysia. “Such an approach will not promote reconciliation. It will only deepen political polarization and further undermine the rule of law.”
The collective of parliamentarians called on Thai authorities to repeal all laws that violate international human rights norms, reinstate all human rights provisions in the previous constitution, and quickly return Thailand to an elected civilian government. APHR also demanded an end to trials of civilians in military courts, the investigation of allegations of torture, and the investigation of military involvement in forced evictions.
Parliamentarians also expressed concern over the relative silence of other regional governments on Thailand’s regression. They called on the broader international community to take a stronger stand against rights abuses by the Thai junta and to push harder for a return to democracy.
“The free pass the Thai military has received from the international community runs the risk of emboldening other governments in the region to pursue similar anti-democratic and human rights restricting policies,” Santiago said. “Regional and international leaders must press the Thai government to answer for the wide range of allegations of human rights violations levied against it.”
In the past year, the military has demonstrated few signs that it intends to prioritize the protection of basic human rights or return the country to democracy anytime soon, APHR said. It has banned political activity, instituted severe media censorship, detained protesters voicing any opposition, and made moves to consolidate and make permanent the military’s control over politics.
Allegations of torture of detainees while in military custody have been particularly concerning, APHR argued, as has the lack of progress in investigations into killings and disappearances of human rights defenders, including Chai Bunthonglek and Pholachi Rakchongcharoen (a.k.a. Billy).
The decision, announced this week, to further delay planned elections until August 2016 represents yet another concerning sign of the junta’s lack of commitment to transitioning back to democracy, APHR said.
“When the military took power last May, we were promised a speedy return to an elected civilian government,” said Santiago. “One year later, we are still waiting on the junta to fulfill its promise. And in the meantime, we have seen a complete erosion of basic rights protections.”
While the government revoked martial law in early April, APHR argued that its replacement—Article 44 of the interim constitution—is even more problematic. Article 44 gives National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) leader Prayuth Chan-ocha unilateral authority to pursue any policy and to override the other branches of government. In its order lifting martial law, the NCPO used Article 44 to maintain its prohibition on public gatherings, extend the ability of military courts to try civilians, and provide military officers with sweeping powers to detain individuals without charges.
“The invocation of Article 44 makes the decision to lift martial law essentially meaningless, ” said Walden Bello, a former congressman from the Philippines and current APHR board member. “It gives Prayuth ultimate power and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, which goes against the rule of law and international norms of good governance.”
Since it took power one year ago, the NCPO has also displayed increasing contempt for dissenting voices, APHR warned. Statements by junta leaders have exhibited a lack of faith in the ability of public discussion and consultation to produce positive outcomes. The military has also worked actively to silence opposition voices through arbitrary arrests and detentions and the forced closure of select media outlets.
“What military leaders fail to realize is that dissenting voices strengthen the ability of government to safeguard human rights and act in the interest of the public,” Bello said. “To prioritize silencing those voices over preserving fundamental freedoms is not only shameful, it is counterproductive.”
Parliamentarians noted that the NCPO’s actions have gone against its international obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the ASEAN Charter, Article 1 of which states that among the 15 key purposes of the regional grouping is to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“Thailand once served as a model for the region,” Santiago added. “It is sad to see how far it has fallen from this mantle. Within the span of one year, Thailand has moved rapidly toward a disturbingly permanent form of dictatorship that ignores the rights of the majority of its citizens.”
Aum Neko, Sirawit Serithiwat (left) and Kittisan Utsahapradit (right) are leading members of the Dome Front Agora student activist group from Thammasat University. After the coup, Aum fled Thailand, while Sirawit faced charges for protesting against the coup makers.
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(New York, May 22, 2015) – One year after seizing power, Thailand’s military junta has used dictatorial power to systematically repress human rights throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has prosecuted critics of military rule, banned political activity, censored the media, and tried dissidents in unfair military courts.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the date for a new election continues to be pushed back. Earlier this week the Thai government said that it would not keep its commitment to an election in early 2016, saying it would not take place at least until August or September 2016.
“One year since the military coup, Thailand is a political dictatorship with all power in the hands of one man,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The date for elections continues to slide, with no certainty when they will happen. Backsliding on respect for basic rights and democratic reform seems to have no end in sight.”
Sweeping and Unaccountable Military Powers
Unable to find other ways to sideline the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – the sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup – on May 22, 2014, the Thai military deposed her, and formed the NCPO under Prayuth. On July 22, the NCPO promulgated an interim constitution that grants the military authorities broad and unchecked powers, including immunity from prosecution for committing rights violations. The interim constitution provides that NCPO members and anyone carrying out actions on behalf of the NCPO “shall be absolutely exempted from any wrongdoing, responsibility and liabilities.”
Key constitutional bodies set up by the NCPO – such as the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, and the Constitution Drafting Committee – are all dominated by military personnel and other junta loyalists, meaning that there are no effective checks and balances on military rule.
On March 31, 2015, nationwide enforcement of the Martial Law Act of 1914 was replaced with section 44 of the interim constitution, which allows Prayuth as the NCPO chairman to issue orders without administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability. As a result, the lifting of martial law brought no improvement in respect for human rights in Thailand. Section 44 states that “where the head of the NCPO is of opinion that it is necessary for the benefit of reforms in any field, or to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act that undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of State affairs,” the head of the NCPO is empowered to “issue orders, suspend or act as deemed necessary… Such actions are completely legal and constitutional.”
No oversight mechanism exists to review the use of section 44 powers by Prayuth, Human Rights Watch said. He only needs to report his decisions and actions to the National Legislative Assembly and to the prime minister, a position he also holds.
“By replacing the 100-year-old Martial Law Act with legal provisions that are even more repressive, the military junta has effectively tightened its dictatorial rule,” Adams said.
Arbitrary, Secret Detention and Military Courts
The NCPO has summoned at least 751 people to report to the junta in the year since the coup. Most of these were affiliated with former Prime Minister Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts.” Others were politicians, activists, and journalists accused by the military of involvement in anti-coup activities or insulting the monarchy (lese majeste). Under the provisions of martial law, and later section 44 of the interim constitution, the military can secretly detain people without charge or trial. Military personnel have also been empowered to interrogate detainees in military facilities without providing access to their lawyers or ensuring other safeguards against mistreatment. The military prosecuted at least 22 people – six of them for lese majeste – after first summoning and interrogating them.
The NCPO continues to refuse to provide information about people in secret detention, Human Rights Watch said. The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in military custody. The use of military courts, which lack independence and fail to comply with international fair trial standards, to try civilians has also increased, Human Rights Watch said. Three days after seizing power, the NCPO issued its 37th order, which replaced civilian courts with military tribunals for lese majeste offenses, crimes against national security, and sedition. Military courts have tried hundreds of people, mostly political dissidents and those violating NCPO orders, since the coup.
“The Thai junta has done nothing to assure families that those taken into military custody won’t be tortured or mistreated,” said Adams. “Instead the government issues harsh denials and lashes out angrily at journalists and activists who raise questions about torture cases.”
Censorship and Restrictions on Free Expression
Immediately after the coup, the NCPO forced satellite TV channels and community radio stations from all political factions off the air. Some were later allowed to resume broadcasting provided they excluded programs on political issues. The NCPO also ordered print media not to publicize commentaries critical of the military. TV and radio programs were instructed not to invite guests who might give negative comments about the situation in Thailand. In April 2015, Thai authorities suspended the broadcasting of Peace TV and TV 24, two satellite TV stations affiliated with the UDD after accusing them of violating the NCPO’s two announcements that prohibit criticism of the military authorities.
More than 200 websites, including Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page, have been blocked by the junta as threats to national security. The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits anti-coup activities. Protesters who have expressed disagreement with the junta – such as by showing a three-finger “Hunger Games” movie salute as an act of defiance, putting duct tape over their mouths, reading George Orwell’s novel 1984, or playing the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” in public – have been arrested and sent to be prosecuted in military courts, where they face up to two-year prison terms. On May 19, Bangkok’s Lumpini district police arrested a Red Shirts activist, Anurak Jentawanit, and detained him for 10 hours after they saw him at a restaurant wearing a T-shirt with the quote “ I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul” from William Earnest Hensley’s novel Invictus. Police later searched Anurak’s house and confiscated similar T-shirts that were produced to raise funds for political prisoners.
The junta has also prevented and disrupted perceived political discussions and differences in political opinions that it considered a threat to stability and national security. During the past year, military units in Bangkok and other provinces have cancelled at least 30 political events and academic panels. The military has also banned at least 12 seminars and public forums on issues related to land and community rights. At least 22 other public gatherings were blocked by the military.
The NCPO’s announcement no. 7/2014 bans political gatherings of more than five people, subject to a year in prison and a 20,000 baht (approximately US$600) fine. At least 63 individuals have been arrested since the coup for organizing or taking part in public gatherings.
Criticizing the monarchy is a serious criminal offense in Thailand. Persons charged with lese majeste are routinely denied bail and held in prison for many months awaiting trial. In most cases, convictions result in harsh sentences. Prayuth gave a policy statement setting out that a top NCPO priority is to prosecute critics of the monarchy. Since the coup, at least 14 new cases have been brought against suspects in the military courts and criminal courts around Thailand.
Military courts have generally imposed harsher sentences in lese majeste cases than had the civilian courts. Penal Code article 112 provides for imprisonment of 3 to 15 years forlese majeste crimes. Previously, civilian courts often sentenced a guilty person to 5 years per count. But since the coup, military courts have often delivered harsher sentences. In the case against a Red Shirts blogger, Thiansutham Suttijitseranee (known as “Yai Daengduad”), the Bangkok Military Court sentenced him to 10 years per count. For his five allegedlese majeste Facebook postings, Thiansutham received 50 years in prison, later reduced to 25 years when he pleaded guilty. Human Rights Watch is unaware of any longer sentence under article 112.
“Governments around the world need to press the military junta to end repression and restore fundamental rights, which are essential for a genuine return to democratic civilian rule,” Adams said.
On 22 May 2014, the military clique in the name of “National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)” seized power from the Yingluck Shinawatra government citing as its pretext the incessant violence which has led to massive casualties among people and damage to properties, hence the seizure of the power to stem the destructive causes.
After the coup, at least 751 individuals were summoned by the NCPO. At least 424 were deprived of liberty. Some have been forced to undergo “attitude adjustment” to reeducate them about the necessity for the military to seize the power and then let go. Meanwhile, at least 163 individuals have been pressed with political charges. The NCPO has imposed Martial Law and then issued the NCPO Order no.3/2015 to ban political gatherings, restricting freedom of the press, and forcing civilians to be tried by Military Court. At least, 71 public activities were intervened or cancelled by the use of military force.
Please note that some refference links may avilable only in Thai
The summoning of individuals
During the one year after the coup, from 22 May 2014 to 22 May 2015, at least 751 individuals have been summoned by NCPO. The summonses were made through different ways including broadcasting the names on radio and TV and other informal means. Some have received a phone call asking them to have some food or coffee (with military officials). Some saw military officials visited them their residence simply to invite them for a meeting [Read more about the evolution of summoning and visitation under Martial Law].
Comparatively, those who are affiliated with the Phue Thai Party or the Red Shirts have been summoned proportionately more than other groups, or at least 278 of them while, at least 41 individuals who were affiliated with the Democrat Party or the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and the Network of Students and People for Thailand Reform (NSPTR) were summoned. In addition, at least 176 academics, activists, students, writers and journalists have also been summoned by the NCPO. Most of them have to sign a release form which basically prevents them from participating in any political activity and/or requires that they have to ask for permission from NCPO prior to making any travel abroad.
At least 22 of them were pressed with charges after they reported themselves to the NCPO. Six were prosecuted with lèse majesté charge or violation of the Penal Code’s Article 112. Apparently, apart from being a venue to bring in individuals for “attitude adjustment” program or to prevent individuals from participating in political activity, the summoning has been used as a shortcut to bring in people against whom the authorities want to press charges. [See the list of individuals charged with cases related to politics after the 2014 coup]
An emerging trend of lèse majesté cases after the coup
The lèse majesté prosecution against prominent persons alleged to have claimed their connection with the royalties
As far as it could be documented, prior to the coup, only two individuals faced lèse majesté charge as a result of their bragging about connection with the royal family and committing fraud including the Assawin and Prachuab cases. But after the coup, at least 30 individuals were pressed with cases regarding the violation of Article 112 simply because they were accused of claiming their royal connection for personal gain.
It started with the arrest of Mr. Chairin, Secretary General of the “Glory of the King Office” in November 2014 followed by the arrest of high ranking police officials including Pol Lt Gen Pongpat Chayapan and Pol Maj Gen Kowit Wongrungroj in the same month. Several other prominent figures were purged the same charge including close relatives of the former Princess Consort Srirassami.
[See a special report on the use of Article 112 against persons accused of claiming their royal connection to commit fraud and the list of individuals facing the charge against Article 112 as far as we can collect.]
The rising number of lèse majesté convicts and the arrest and raids against internet radio
During the one year after the coup, at least 46 individuals have been charged for violation of Article 112 to stifle their freedom of expression. This is comparatively high considering that prior to the coup, there were only five remaining convicts on lèse majesté charge and five cases pending in the Court.
The massive raid or the eradication of “Banpot Network” accused of producing and distributing audio clips containing political criticisms has led to the arrest and charging of at least 16 individuals. It started with Chaleaw who was summoned to report himself to the NCPO and faced legal action for his alleged uploading of Banpot audio clips into file sharing sites. He was sentenced to three years with suspension by the Criminal Court. Then, "Kawee" was arrested, but was then released for unknown reasons.
Early 2015, Hassadin, who was accused of being the voice of “Banpot” and others, altogether 14 of them, were nabbed on 24 April 2015. 12 of them were indicted by the Judge Advocate in the same case, while Tara and “Chaba” were indicted in two separate cases. They are awaiting hearing schedule to be fixed by the Military Court. There are well over 400 Banpot audio clips distributed online since 2010, but the arrest just happened now.
At least five individuals were charged for violating Article 112 after they had reported themselves as summoned to the authorities including Thanat, Khatawut, "Jakkrawut", Siraphop and Pol.Sgt.Maj.Prasit. The arrest of a number of lèse majesté suspects was carried out by military officials, and they were held in custody and interviewed invoking Martial Law including Pongsak, Chayo, Anon, Tiansutham, Opas, Patiwat, etc.
The Military Court doubled lèse majesté sentence
The Penal Code’s Article 112 provides for imprisonment of 3-15 years. Previously, the Court of Justice often sentenced a guilty person to five years per count.
But after the coup, an announcement has been made effectively to authorize the Military Court to try certain cases against civilians including lèse majesté cases. In the one year after the coup, the Military Court delivered at least four verdicts on lèse majesté cases relating to freedom of expression including the cases against Kathawuth, "Somsak Pakdeedej", Thiansutham, and Opas. In the cases against Kathawuth and Thiansutham, the Military Court sentenced them each to ten years per count whereas in the case against "Somsak Pakdeedej", the Court sentenced him to nine years per count, and the case against Opas, three years per count.
Apparently, the Military Court has doubled the penalty rate in lèse majesté case. In the case against Thiansutham who was accused of making five facebook postings, he was sentenced to altogether fifty years, prior to be reduced to 25 years given his pleading guilty. It was the most severe punishment in Article 112 case that iLaw has ever documented.
The arrest and prosecution against mentally ill persons
At least three suspects in Article 112 cases were arrested after the coup and have been sent for mental examination while continued to be held in custody. The three of them are "Tanet", Samak and Prachakchai. As for the cases against "Tanet" and Prachakchai, it was reported that prior to the coup, the police had approached them and after talking to them, they had decided to drop charges against the two persons finding they were mentally unfit. Still, after the coup, they were arrested and pressed with charges.
As for .Tanet., according to mental examination, he was found to suffer paranoid. Even, the cash of 300,000 baht was placed as deposit, the Court denied him bail.
Restriction of freedom of assembly and public activity after the coup
After the coup, the NCPO issued the Announcement no. 7/2014 banning political gathering and imposing punishment including imprisonment for not more than one year or a fine of not exceeding 20,000 baht or both. During May to June 2014, a series of anti-coup activities were organized, and at least 63 individuals were arrested, of which 24 were pressed with charges concerning the violation of the political gathering ban. All were convicted and sentenced to suspended terms. None of them has been put in jail so far. After June, the anti-coup activism has been in recess, until the “Citizen Resistant” organized an activity in February 2015, as a result of which the four organizers and participants were arrested and pressed with charges concerning the violation of the political gathering ban.
Event cancellation, asking to speak at the event: Intervention of public activity by the military
Public events which are outright not anti-coup activities including public discussion, theatrical performance or movie screening, though have not been banned completely, but have to face intervention or censorship.
From our documentation, in the past one year after the coup, at least 71 public gatherings and events have faced invention or censorship by the military including 22 public gatherings and 49 other events including public discussion. In terms of issues being censored, events concerning history and politics were censored or intervened the most (33 times) followed by issues concerning land and community rights (12 times).
The intervention or censorship is dependent on issues to be raised at the events. For example, if the events are concerned with politics or military, they were often totally banned such as the public discussion on "the demise of dictatorships aboard" organized by the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD), which had to be called off in the middle, or the public discussion on “Justice Under Construction” organized by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), which had to be postponed.
Other activities which have faced intervention included the public discussion on “Rights and Freedom of People under the Draft Cyber Security Act” organized by the Santi Prachatham Library which was attended by military officials in uniform and was recorded with still picture and audio throughout the event. One of the military officials even asked to speak as a resource person. The public discussion on "Na Moon EIA: Injustices of Land Petroleum Exploration in the Northeast” at the Mahasasakham University was allowed to proceed given that the organizers had to refrain from criticizing the performance of the NCPO junta regime, showing any resistance sign and military and police officials have to be invited to participate in the event.
Sanitation Act: The freedom which can be exercised at the expense of fine
Under the military regime, laws to crack down misdemeanors including the 1992 Sanitation Act have been invoked to impede the exercise of freedom of expression. The laws do not intend to impose hefty penalty, but has incurred unnecessary burden for those who want to exercise their right to freedom.
From our observation, there are at least four cases in which the persons who have simply exercised their right to freedom of expression were fine invoking the Sanitation Act including the case of relatives of those who were killed during the 2010 demonstration who distributed leaflets in a public place and were fined 5,000 baht as the maximum rate, the case of students hanging black banner to commemorate the 19 September coup on a flyover in front of the office of Thai Rath newspaper or the case of students hanging a banner criticizing the 19 September coup on a flyover on Pyathai Road, both of whom were fined 1,000 baht each, or the case of Polwat who distributed leaflets in Rayong opposing the coup, who was fined 500 baht.
The use of Computer Crime Act to criminalize villagers opposing the military
From our documentation, there are at least three cases in which the authorities have filed charges against villagers who posted pictures or videos during the contentious dispute between them and the villagers.
On 4 January 2015, Maitree, an ethnic Lahu, was pressed with charges concerning the violation of the Computer Crime Act after he uploaded a video clip showing the situation when negotiation between the villagers and the military was taking place. In the video, it was narrated that the military official was accused of slapping one villager in his face. The event stemmed from the incidence that a man clad in military like uniform has gone into Ban Kong Pak Ping in Chiang Mai and slapped in the face of a villager while he was sitting near a fire. The villagers demanded the perpetrator be brought to justice. A meeting was called, and the video of the incidence was uploaded, which has led to a report against the villager.
On 23 March 2015, an Assistant Subdistrict Headman in Tambon Doonsad, Kranuan District, Khon Kaen, has reported a case to the police against two villagers as the admin of Ban Na Moon-Doonsad Conservation Group facebook page which has been campaigning against the petroleum exploration project by the Apico (Korat) Co Ltd on libel and violation of the CCA. The case stems from the posting of the pictures of the Assistant Subdistrict Headman in the facebook page, and a number of comments in the post could be considered slanderous to him.
After the coup in January 2015, more military personnel have been deployed in Ban Na Moon-Doonsad to provide security to the petroleum operation including the transportation of equipment into the area.
On 24 March 2015, the Internal Security Operations Command Region (ISOC) in Chaiyaphum Province summoned Adisak, an employee of fire control unit. He was inquired about the pictures of military officials who raided the farmland of villagers in Ban Kham Noi, Chaiyaphum, which were posted in the Assembly of the Poor’s facebook page. In the post, it was accused that the military forced the villagers to sign in a paper to concede the land to the authorities. Adisak admitted to taking the phone, but not posting them. Later, he was summoned by the Chaiyaphum City Police Station as he was pressed with a charge concerning the violation of CCA.
After the declaration of the Tad Tone National Park overlapping farmland and residential area of the villagers in Ban Khom Noi, the head of the Tad Tone National Park and the villagers have met and agreed on marking the land the villagers are allowed to use temporarily. But after the NCPO Orders no. 64/2014 and 66/2014 were issued to suppress deforestation, the military and forestry officials have been implementing strictly the forest conservation policy leading to the incessant eviction of villagers from their traditional land.Read more...
The Thai authorities revealed a plan to reclaim more than half a million Rai of rubber plantations allegedly grown in protected areas to serve the Thai junta’s forest protection policy.
According to Thairath News, Nipon Chotiban, the director-general of Thailand’s Department of National Parks (DNP), told the media in early May that the DNP plans to reclaim over 715,066 Rai of rubber farms (1,144 sq.km), which were allegedly planted in protected areas nationwide.
Most areas which will be reclaimed are rubber plantation areas which are allegedly encroached into 215 protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries most of which are located along the Banthat Mountain Range in the southern part of Thailand.
The DNP’s policy to cut down rubber trees in protected areas is a part of the Thai junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s Order No. 64/2014, a master plan to replant forests nationwide, which lays out strict legal measures against land encroachers and poachers of forest goods.
At the same time, on 17 May, Network of People’s Organisation for Banthat Mountain Range and Community Organisations Development Institute of Trang, Stul, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Pattalung, and Songkhla, the five southern provinces which will be most affected by the DNP’s policies, held a meeting to come up with plans to negotiate with the DNP.
At the meeting, which was attended by about 60 representatives of communities in affected areas, the representatives called on the DNP to halt the reclamation plan and to stop the legal prosecutions against alleged land encroachers.
The group will hold another meeting on 23 May to present updated information about rubber plantation areas which overlap with protected areas and the proposal of a community-based forest protection plan to the DNP.
According to the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD) of the Northeast, since last year, 103 small-scale farmers have already been accused of encroaching on protected areas and almost 1,800 in the Northeast have now been prohibited from using their farmland and are about to receive court summons for alleged encroachment.
NGO-COD added that if this trend is allowed to continue, approximately 1.2 million people who are living on land that overlaps protected areas could be affected.Read more...
Eight months after the implementation of the Thai government’s Master Plan to reforest the country, villagers in Isaan bear the burden of a flawed policy at the cost of their livelihood and health.
KALASIN – Three thousand rubber trees lie fallen on top of each other as if nothing more than a row of toppled dominoes. A slender man with calloused hands and laugh lines around his eyes gazes at the field that was once his life savings, primary source of income, and home. It is now covered in weeds, destroyed in the name of environmental conservation and reforestation.
Paiwan Taebamrung, 46-years-old, recounts the circumstances under which it all happened. A district officer came fully armed to his house at night demanding Paiwan leave his property. The smell of whiskey was in the air. Three days later, the officer returned with the village headman. Paiwan watched as dozens of officers cut down 30 out of 36 rai of his rubber trees.
The Master Plan, rolled out by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) shortly after the coup last year, purports to target commercial investors who own and exploit thousands of rai to grow rubber, cassava, and other cash crops.
Villagers claim they are not at all investors – only poor families trying to make a living on land they have worked their whole lives.
“Many impoverished villagers who have lived in the forest for decades have been identified as investors,” explains Dr. Nattakant Akarapongpisak, a lecturer in the Faculty of Politics and Government at Maha Sarakham University.
This was the case with Paiwan. “They labeled me an investor and told me I had to move out. My family has been working on this land for 47 years.” Paiwan’s house was deemed an illegal structure, and he and his wife have had to move in with his elder sister.
Now, eight months after his eviction, the repercussions of the Master Plan are as strong as ever. Paiwan and his wife have had to find work as day laborers making the minimum wage of 300 baht per day.
“It is hard to make ends meet,” he says, “and I feel frustrated I am not working my own land. I worked in the South for 20 years to save up enough money to buy the rubber trees.”
According to the Internal Security Operations Command, farmers in 68 provinces are facing similar charges and evictions. What began as an admirable goal of achieving forest cover in Thailand within 10 years has now turned into a laundry list of human rights violations.
The International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) clearly outlines the right to work, and protects people from deprivation of their means of subsistence. Barring access to land directly contradicts the principles the Thai state has sworn to uphold.
“Right now I work as a laborer, tapping the rubber for someone else in this village because they seized my farmland. I cannot work there anymore.”
With his land seized, Pongsamai Silawan, a resident of Kalasin province, lost his primary means of income. He soon discovered that his meager salary as a day laborer was not enough to support his family.
“I have to sneak onto my land to tap for rubber,” the 52-year-old Pongsamai says. He recounts the events of a day following his secret tapping. As he was cooking rice, he heard the dogs barking. “I dropped everything. The officers were coming,” he says. “When the dogs bark, I am ready to run.”
If caught, Pongsamai could face up to four years in prison.
Pongsamai faces a dilemma. “Between being afraid and having no food, which would you choose?” he asks. He has had to cut back on many expenses. “I can’t afford food from the market. I must scavenge for it in the forest. I don’t have money for my motorcycle, and I am even in debt to the gas station.”
In the nearby village of Jatrabiab, in Sakon Nakhon Province, the government has taken a more direct approach. Labeled as “investors,” 34 villagers have been charged with trespassing and encroachment.
Charges have piled up in some families. The Srikham family had three members charged for encroachment. Khamlamun Srikham was called in to the Royal Forestry Department (RFD) under the pretext of registering her land in order to receive land titles.
She had wanted to divide the land she farmed into three parts – one for herself, and two parts for her daughters who could have land titles in their own names as an inheritance.
Yet soon after, Khamlamun and her two daughters were all charged for trespassing. The key piece of evidence behind the charges was the very information Khamlamun had provided to the RFD.
“We trusted [the RFD representative] as a government employee, that he would allocate the land to us,” Chai Thongdeenok explains. “But the RFD truly tricked us villagers. Now we have no rights and cannot use the land.”
Khamlamun’s eldest daughter was charged even though she’s been working in Bangkok for over 20 years. She now has to cover transportation costs to and from Bangkok to attend court hearings.
For Amorn, Khamlamun’s younger daughter, what hurts the most is the effect the charges have had on her father. “He used to talk and laugh. But since the court case he is quiet and doesn’t say much,” she says. “I believe everyone who’s been charged is suffering from depression.”
As her husband looks on, Khamlamun Srikham passes the time weaving, no longer able to engage in farming.
Charges have been often exaggerated, say many of those arrested, adding even more pressure on these fragile families. When Khamphai Todkaew was brought to court, she found that she had been charged with farming 36 rai of land, when she only owned four rai.
These discrepancies in charges are not anomalies – of the 34 people charged, 25 reported being charged with incorrect property amounts.
Khamphai’s husband, Prasert, offered to be charged in her place, and thought he had reached an agreement with the police to such effect. Yet when the case was brought before the judge, the court charged both husband and wife.
They were presented with two choices: either fight but risk four years in prison if found guilty, or give up and suffer a reduced penalty of two years. In the absence of adequate legal advice, they opted not to fight the charge and instead plead guilty.
The arrests of both the mother and father have shaken the entire family. The eldest son, Lerdsak, 23 years old, has fallen apart emotionally. After 10 days in a psychiatric ward, he has returned home but is still at risk. “Every day now my brother has to take psychiatric medicines to manage his condition,” says his brother, Jakkrit. “He cannot work and we must spend a lot of time taking care of him.”
At least three families have had a family member see a doctor or have been admitted to the hospital for psychiatric illnesses. This not only puts an added strain on state mental health facilities, but burdens families with medical payments and extra care of loved ones.
Jakkrit, 21, Lerdsak, 23, and Tannika Todkaew, 26. “It is like we have lost the main pillars of our family, leaving just us three.”
Despite negotiations with representatives of the RFD, farmers in Jatrabiab were denied access to their land during the legal proceedings. A survey of families shows that 75% of those charged are barring access to their primary source of income, resulting in an average loss of monthly income of 50-80 percent per capita.
The absence of a steady primary income source, court fees, and agricultural loans have resulted in insurmountable debt. Collectively, the charged villagers owe around 4.2 million baht, or 180,000 baht per person on average.
Even under the best circumstances, it would take a farmer almost a decade to pay off this debt even without interest. When external factors such as available workdays, health and family expenses, and unexpected expenditures are taken into account, it is unlikely that families can ever repay it.
Land evictions of this type in Thailand have rarely met positive outcomes. The prospects of compensation from the state are low, says Nattakant, drawing comparisons with the Khor Jor Korprogram in 1992. According to Dr. Nattakant, under the 1992 program, government officials stated that there would be just and appropriate compensation measures. However, the funding never came and the land the government allocated was already occupied.
Today, military rule exacerbates the situation, argues Nattakant. “Officials have blocked villagers any access to help from their allies, including media, NGOs, activists, and academics. Some of the villagers have been received death threats if they tell the media about their plight.”
The military makes it nearly impossible for villagers to share their concerns with larger society. “The use of martial law or Section 44 of the interim constitution and the repeated summoning processes,” says Nattakant, “clearly violate the rights of local people to resist, or even question the implementation of the plan.”
Despite international condemnation and statements issued by the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), the NCPO has failed to protect the rights of the poor. As of last November, over 500 forest encroachers had been prosecuted and 300,000 rai of land had been seized.
Under the NCPO’s approach, many more will suffer like Pongsamai and the Todkaew children, as they are pushed off their land and further into the margins of Thai society.
The eviction notice placed by the NCPO in Sakon Nakhon village.
About the author: Sarah Sanbar studies International Relations at Claremont McKenna College. She is a student-journalist on the CIEE Khon Kaen study abroad program.
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(New York, May 19, 2015) – Five years on, the Thai government has not prosecuted those responsible for the 2010 political violence in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite overwhelming evidence that soldiers used excessive and unnecessary lethal force against protesters and others, not a single soldier has been held accountable for deaths or injuries during the crackdown on street protests.
From March to May 2010, political confrontations between the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts,” and the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, escalated into violence in Bangkok and several provinces. According to the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation, at least 98 people lost their lives and more than 2,000 were injured.
“The failure of successive Thai governments to prosecute anyone from the military for the 2010 political violence sends a stark message of impunity,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Fully five years on, commanders who gave the orders to soldiers and those who pulled the triggers all remain untouchable.”
Human Rights Watch’s May 2011 report, “Descent into Chaos: Thailand’s 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown,” documented that excessive and unnecessary force by the military caused many deaths and injuries during the 2010 political confrontations. The high number of casualties – including unarmed demonstrators, volunteer medics and first responders, reporters, photographers, and bystanders – resulted in part from the enforcement of “live fire zones” around the UDD protest sites in Bangkok, where sharpshooters and snipers were deployed by the military. Similar findings were presented in September 2012 by the independent Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), which recommended the authorities “address legal violations by all parties through the justice system, which must be fair and impartial.”
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by the ongoing politicization of efforts to pursue justice. The then-Abhisit government summarily charged UDD leaders and supporters with serious criminal offenses but ignored abuses by soldiers. The government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra took a similarly one-sided approach, focusing criminal investigations primarily on Abhisit, former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, and soldiers, while dismissing evidence of violence by armed “black shirt” militants who operated in tandem with the UDD.
The prospects for justice for victims of the 2010 violence appear even bleaker under the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, Human Rights Watch said. The junta leader, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has publicly said on repeated occasions that soldiers should not be condemned for the 2010 killings. Investigations by the police, the Department of Special Investigations, and the National Anti-Corruption Commission all came to conclusions that military officers should not be held responsible for unlawful deaths and injuries during the 2010 crackdown because they were acting under orders from the Abhisit government.
In September 2014, police arrested Pansak Srithep, whose 17-year-old son was killed by a military sniper during the 2010 military crackdown, for distributing leaflets demanding justice. Also arrested that day were Payao Akhart and her son Nattapat while they were waiting to stage a street protest nearby. Soldiers shot dead Payao’s daughter, Kamonkate “Nurse Kate” Akhart, while she was working as a volunteer medic inside Wat Patumwanaram temple in Bangkok on May 19, 2010.
“Despite clear photographic and other evidence that details the abuses committed by soldiers, the families of the victims are being pressured into silence,” Adams said.
The Department of Special Investigation issued a finding in September 2012 that indicated the military was culpable for 36 deaths. However, insufficient efforts have been made to identify the soldiers and commanding officers responsible for the shootings. Under pressure from the military, the department ultimately decided to charge only Abhisit and Suthep for the killings, using “command responsibility” as the basis because the two men had approved the use of live ammunition to contain and disperse the protests. In August 2014, the criminal court ruled that it had no jurisdiction to try Abhisit and Suthep because they held political office at the time.
International human rights treaties ratified by Thailand make clear that status as a government official does not justify immunity from legal responsibility for committing serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. Moreover, by referring the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the criminal court essentially transformed and diminished a criminal investigation examining serious crimes into an inquiry regarding abuse of official positions. The ruling is contrary to Thailand’s international legal obligations to ensure the right to an effective remedy for victims of serious human rights violations, including unlawful killings. A victim’s right to an effective remedy requires that the government take the necessary investigative, judicial, and corrective steps to redress the violation and address the victim’s rights to knowledge, justice, and reparations.
After seizing power in May 2014, the NCPO junta halted payment of financial reparations, initiated by the Yingluck government as part of political reconciliation measures, to all those harmed by the 2010 political violence. Before the disbursements were ended, the money was given to individuals who were disabled or injured by the violence, as well as the relatives of those who died in the unrest. Overall, a total of 524 individuals were to be compensated under the scheme, and were scheduled to receive 577 million baht (approximately US$17 million) of compensation from the state.
“If Thailand is serious about realizing reconciliation for the 2010 violence, it should demonstrate that no one – whether soldier or militant – is above the law,” Adams said. “No Thai government, including the ruling junta, should be able to escape its obligations to prosecute all those responsible for the 2010 political violence.”
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