After the Bangkok Remand Prison attempted to separate red-shirt political prisoners by mixing them in several prison zones, which was followed by the death of a red-shirt inmate, allegedly beaten by yellow-shirt inmates, a group of human rights lawyers urged the prison to change its policy for the safety of political prisoners.

Thai Lawyers  for Human Rights (TLHR) on Thursday submitted a letter to Bangkok Remand Prison director asking the prison to review its assignment policy. The detainees charged with political liable, and have not yet been convicted by the supreme court, should be separated from other inmates convicted of various other charges.

Normally, inmates whose cases do not yet proceed to the court or are before the Court of First Instance will be assigned to Zone 1 or the Entry Zone.

Before the re-assignment of inmate in August, most of the political prisoners were in the Entry Zone. Living together help protecting them from other inmates and increase the prisoner’s well-being. This, however, changed after the new prison director was appointed.  

Since the coup d’état in May, the number of political prisoners, including lese majeste prisoners, were speedily increased.

These political detainees are usually abused and discriminated against by other inmates, who hold different political stances. Detainees charged with lese majeste are especially targeted since their charges are considered taboo and involved with the revered Thai monarchy.

In August, Surakrit Chaimongkol, 35, accused of killing Sutin Tharatin, a yellow shirt leader who join the anti-election People’s Democratic Reform Committee’s rallies, was believed to be beaten to death in prison by other inmates, according to the TLHR.

According to Surakrit’s mother, she was told by the prison officer that her son would die in prison for killing a yellow shirt leader. Shortly before his death, he said to this mother “If you don’t bail me out, i will definitely die in custody,” quoted by the Bangkok Post.  

The statement, submitted Thursday specifically stated that according to Thailand’s 1936 Prison Regulation Act and the United Nation’s recommendation on detention No. 8, detainees who have not been proven guilty must not be detained in the same facilities with those, whose cases were finished.

TLHR added that according to the 2007 Constitution of Thailand, human dignity, rights, and freedom should be protected according to Thai customs and other international obligations, especially obligations on civil and political rights, Thailand has ratified.  

 
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Pavin Chachavalpongpun

Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha will pay an official visit to Cambodia today for a two-day trip to strengthen bilateral ties. He is scheduled to meet with his counterpart, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, and to have an audience with King Sihamoni, who, on 14 October, celebrated his 10th anniversary of enthronement. Prayuth’s visit is highly significant in many ways, both for his own domestic purposes and for Thailand’s fragile relations with Cambodia.

Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the ASEM Summit in Milan.

There were signs of rapprochement in relations between Thailand and Cambodia. On May 31, just over a week after the Thai coup, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Tea Banh visited Bangkok and expressed his confidence in the leadership of the Thai military in bringing peace and order to Thailand. In July, Hun Manet, the premier’s son and possible successor of Hun Sen, visited Bangkok to cement ties with Thailand.

The visits to Thailand by top Cambodian delegates were politically meaningful. they could be used to repair the declining popularity of Hun Sen at home by appearing to push for an improvement in bilateral relations. This follows years of conflicts in the territorial dispute over the Preah Vihear Temple and the allegations of Hun Sen supporting former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and offering shelter to anti-coup Red Shirts.

Cambodia is the second ASEAN country selected by Prayuth for his introductory tour as the new prime minister of Thailand. Earlier this month, he visited Myanmar, hoping to exploit the latter’s political transformation to legitimise his own political reforms at home. Little did Prayuth know that Myanmar has recently been criticised by the international community for the stagnation of its political developments. Thus, to a certain extent, the visit to Myanmar was counterproductive for the Thai junta in the eyes of the world.

This time, in Phnom Penh, Prayuth continues to seek an acceptance of his regime by an ASEAN neighbor. In rolling a red carpet to welcome Prayuth, Cambodia is implying that the Thai junta is one it can live with. Officially, Prayuth’s meeting with Hun Sen will render a number of mutual benefits to both countries. The Phnom Penh Post reported that they will conclude memorandums of understanding signed on tourism, human trafficking and a railway connection linking Sa Kaew province in Thailand to Poipet and onto Phnom Penh.

It also reported that a long-awaited agreement on a joint development area in the Gulf of Thailand, which would allow mutual exploration of possible oil and gas deposits, could be in the offing. But the deal remains complicated by decades-old overlapping claims. It is uncertain if Prayuth will raise an issue of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand. In the aftermath of the coup, rumours proliferated that Thailand was planning to expel them, causing an exodus of Cambodian workers back to their country across the Thai border.

Indeed, a few bilateral issues have been left untouched, depending on the state of relations between the two countries. Since 2008, the conflict over the Hindu Temple of Preah Vihear had been used as a political weapon to undermine political opponents in Thailand. The politicisation of the Preah Vihear conflict in Thailand had led to several armed clashed with Cambodia. In 2011, Thailand and Cambodia engaged in one of the most brutal clashes in their recent history, posing a threat to regional stability and humiliating ASEAN of which both are members. Prayuth will likely be leaving such contentious issue behind.

But a more important question will be asked: whether Prayuth will seek assistance from Hun Sen in regards to the Thai dissidents living in Cambodia? In the heyday of Thaksin as prime minister from 2001-2006, he personally constructed intimate relations with Hun Sen. When Yingluck became prime minister in 2011, this personal relationship continued to the point that Cambodia was willing to accommodate Red Shirts and their activities inside its own territory.

Undoubtedly, there are a number of Thai refugees seeking shelter inside Cambodia today. So far, Thailand sent some signals from top elites to influence Cambodia not to embrace Thai dissidents with arms wide open. General Thanasak Patimaprakorn, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, met with Hun Sen on 1 September and urged the Cambodian premier to ensure peace and stability between the two countries.

From the Cambodian perspective, it is obvious that Cambodia is playing with rhetoric of a good neighbourhood. Phnom Penh has never admitted that it provides shelter for Thai fugitives and meanwhile promised that it would not allow that to happen. But the reality is different. It makes sense for Cambodia to implement pragmatic policy toward Thailand: one which cherishes good ties with the Thai junta, and the other which seeks to elevate its leverage by treating Thai dissidents as a bargaining chip.

At the end, Hun Sen has perceived the Shinawatras as his country’s long-term interests. Hun Sen himself has recognized the power of electoral politics simply as a platform to maintain his political legitimacy. Thaksin and Yingluck are using the same strategy, thus having won every election since 2001. From this view, although not a model of democracy himself, Hun Sen understands that popular mandate is key to the success of the Shinawatras. Sooner or later, they will return to Thai political domain.

Thaksin’s tactic is also intriguing. He appears to have kept his distance from Hun Sen, to allow Cambodia to rebuild its ties with the Thai junta to avoid any awkward diplomacy. Prayuth’s coming to Cambodia today may lighten up his military regime, but it is a part of Cambodia’s pragmatic policy. There are no other periods in the Cambodian history which witnesses Cambodia, as a smaller nation than Thailand, actively intervening in Thai politics than today.

 

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.   

 

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Takato Mitsunaga
With no people’s representatives in parliament, the junta has attempted to pass several quick bills without people’s participation. Among them are three controversial gender-related bills, opposed by women and LGBT rights groups. Following bills on Civil Partnerships and Gender Equality (see Prachatai’s reports on these), the junta is aiming to pass another bill.  
 
But this again could violate the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and even opposite-sex couple who do not have their marriage registered, by banning them from having children by surrogacy technology. The bill is the Protection of Children Born from Medically Assisted Reproduction Technology Bill.
 
If the surrogacy bill is passed, same-sex couples will be excluded from using the technology
 
If the bill is passed, it will outlaw commercial surrogacy in Thailand and also outlaw surrogacy involving same-sex couples and unregistered opposite-sex couples. The bill also bans the advertisement of surrogacy services and prohibits middlemen from taking fees for providing surrogate mothers. 
 
The bill is seen as an attempt to regulate surrogacy after the notorious Gammy Case. An Australian same-sex couple paid for surrogacy in Thailand but later abandoned one of two babies born, after he was found to have Down’s syndrome. The surrogate mother has been left with the burden of raising the baby.
 
According to a BBC report, commercial surrogacy is legal in a few countries including some US states, India, Russia and Ukraine. However, countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria do not allow any form of surrogacy. 
 
Thailand has been one of the famous destinations for foreigners seeking surrogacy services because the country has no regulations governing commercial surrogacy. However, because of this, the authorities cannot protect mothers and children, such as Gammy and his surrogate mother, from being victimized in commercial surrogacy cases.
 
What Thailand currently has is Article 1546 of the Civil and Commercial Code which stipulates that a woman who gives birth to a child is the legitimate mother. Therefore, according to a report from iLaw, the intended parents of children born from assisted reproduction technology cannot be the legal parents. In fact, the woman who carries the child to term must be the child’s legal mother.
 
The new bill, proposed by the military junta, protects surrogate mothers and their babies from this. Article 27 of the bill states that the intended parents of a child born from assisted reproduction technology, including surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF), can also be the child’s legal parents. Article 23 also prohibits the use of assisted reproduction technology for commercial reasons.
 
The bill seems to recognize a need for surrogacy and IVF only for heterosexual couples. Articles 19 and 21 (1) state that those intended to be the parents of a child born by this technology must be in a legal relationship as “lawful husband and wife”. The bill rules out the right of singles and LGBT couples to have children by this technology, since it applies only to heterosexual couples with legally registered marriages. 
 
Moreover, Article 21 (3) stipulates that a woman who wishes to be a surrogate mother must have already given birth, and if she has a husband, her husband must give prior consent. 
 
According to Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice (FOR SOGI), a LGBT organization in Thailand, this clause excludes lesbian couples who wish to have a child by sperm donation. 
 
Sukrittaya Jukping of the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Thammasat University, thinks that many LGBT couples should enjoy the same right to have children as heterosexual couples, because she does not believe that a family must necessarily comprise one male father and one female mother. However she thinks that Thai society is still not ready to accept new types of family because of the conventional idea that children raised by same-sex couples will be negatively affected. 
 
“For example, some people still say that the children of gay couples will be sexually abused [by the couple]. However, this has been proved untrue by foreign research,” said Sukrittaya.
 
Because of this misconception, Sukrittaya explained, Thai society is still not able to accept same-sex couples having children. “This is an absolute violation of human rights,” she said.
 
She also conducted her own research on LGBT parenting in Thailand in 2012. In her research, she found that the legalization or regulation of LGBT people having children will have more impact on Thai society than same-sex marriage itself, because the process will affect the conventional family structure of Thai society. 
 
Same-sex couples who have children but do not have any problems, normally assign to each of them the roles of mother and father, so that the “conventional family structure” is not destroyed. These families normally do not have two mothers or two fathers in Thailand.
 
Prachatai conducted an exclusive interview with a lesbian-tomboy couple who actually experienced this “medical technology” to have their own baby. This will be considered illegal if the bill is passed.
 
 
++++
 
 
Wongkot Tangchitwatthanakul and Ouanpa Pankun used IVF technology to have a baby, Wongprachun Tangchitwatthanakul, eight months ago. They now live in Tak Fa District in Nakhon Sawan. Photo by Takato Mitsunaga
 
 
Living with a partner can bring you happiness. Having children can give you even more happiness. If you have a big family, you’ll get the greatest happiness.
 
Nakhon Sawan — Driving the family car, a sort of microbus, along small lanes between green fields, Ouanpa Pankun, 32, talked about why she drives this extremely big car.
 
“I have a very big family now,” said Ouanpa who has been with her tomboy partner, Wongkot Tangchitwatthanakul, also 32, for over two years, and now has an eight-month-old baby.
 
Ouanpa moved to Nakhon Sawan to stay with Wongkot and her family after they held a wedding ceremony on February, 2013. She gave birth to a baby in February 2014, named Wongprachun Tangchitwatthanakul (Lawa), using sperm donated by Wongkot’s younger brother.
 
Wongkot Tangchitwatthanakul and Ouanpa Pankun’s wedding on February 28, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Ouanpa Pankun
 
It’s no wonder the big car is useful when the entire family goes on a trip.
 
Ouanpa parked the car right next to a chicken farm where “her family” runs a business. Ouanpa helps the chicken farm business using her skills as a veterinarian.
 
She graduated from veterinary school and was working for a pharmaceutical company. After a while, in 2012, she first met Wongkot. Since Wongkot was working for the farm owned by the family, Ouanpa felt a sort of sympathy. This made their relationship even stronger.
 
“It was very fast,” said Ouanpa, laughed. “It didn’t take long to fall in love with Wongkot.”
 
Sitting in their dining room, Ouanpa welcomed her partner who came through a glass door out of a room where Lawa was sleeping peacefully. Wongkot carefully took the eight-month baby in her arms so as not to wake her up. Once Ouanpa tried to hold Lawa, she started sobbing. 
 
Ouanpa said that Wongkot mainly takes care of the baby. Lawa herself is calmer when she’s in Wongkot’s arms. 
 
The couple started thinking about having a baby since the very beginning of their relationship. After they had begun their new life in Nakhon Sawan in late 2012, Wongkot’s mother suggested that the couple should have a baby. “My mother also wanted a grandchild. She said that she wouldn’t even know how to spend her money without one,” Wongkot said.
 
Since Wongkot was not biologically able to create sperm for her partner, they used sperm offered by Wongkot’s younger brother along with Ouanpa’s egg. “At least my child would have a blood relationship with me and Ouanpa, even though I’m not the sperm donor,” Wongkot said. 
 
However, the pregnancy didn’t go easily. A gynaecologist at first refused their request to have a baby without using sperm from Ouanpa’s legal husband—which Ouanpa had never had. The doctor was concerned about the baby’s future without a so-called “father”. 
 
“First, the doctor told us that it’s ethically wrong,” said Ouanpa. “However, looking through the information in my medical records, including my occupation as a veterinarian, and talking to my family, he finally decided to do it for us,” Ouanpa said.  
 
Ouanpa finally became pregnant at the very beginning of 2013 with the warm support of her partner and family.
 
Everything was going fine, and they even scheduled their wedding for February 28. But things went wrong. Ouanpa miscarried on the very day of their wedding. They were shocked, but they didn’t call off the wedding.
 
Even so, the couple didn’t give up their dream to have their own child. 
 
The second chance came three months after the wedding when Ouanpa became pregnant again in May, 2013. 10 months later, Lawa was born on Feb 22, 2014. Lawa’s birth certificate registers Ouanpa as the mother and Wongkot’s brother as the father.
 
“I was very happy that I really did it,” said Ouanpa, recalling her precious day. “It was like, I really, really made it!” 
 
Meanwhile, Wongkot wasn’t able to be with her partner at the hospital. She rushed there but the delivery was all over, and Lawa was already in this world. When Wongkot went to see her daughter, all the nurses were very curious about who Lawa’s father was. 
 
“At first, the nurses thought that Ouanpa had had an affair with another man [and become pregnant],” said Wongkot. “They told me I was a very kind and patient person for not dumping her. We explained how we did it.” She laughed.
 
Ouanpa says that this is not the end. She wants more children. Having children definitely can bring her happiness. “I would highly recommend many people to have their own children. Having children costs a lot, but it is surely worth more than buying a car.”
 
However, the new bill currently drafted by the military junta will destroy the dream of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples of having children. The bill is called the Protection of Children Born by Medically Assisted Reproduction Technology Bill, and it imposes strict curbs on the use of assisted reproduction technology to have children.
 
The Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice (FOR SOGI), a leading LGBT organization in Thailand, thinks that the bill discriminates against LGBT people who wish to have children using assisted reproduction technology, including surrogacy.
 
The organization held a seminar on October 2 called “Protection of Children Born by Medically Assisted Reproduction Technology Bill: Unfair Discrimination against Gender Diverse People” to increase public awareness of the bill. According to the seminar, LGBT couples will immediately be excluded from this technology, since their relationships are not legal.
 
This bill will make what Ouanpa and Wongkot have done illegal, since Ouanpa was never married to a man. Also, LGBT couples wishing to have children in the future won’t be able to do so. The couple attended the seminar as guest speakers with the actual experience of having a child using “medical technology”.
 
Ouanpa and Wongkot think that this bill strongly discriminates against gender and sexual minority people. If the bill is for the “protection of children”, why doesn’t it consider LGBT couples as capable of raising children like heterosexual couples? Is it just because the children will suffer from a situation of not having a mother or father as the gynaecologist said to the couple? 
 
Other people also think that it is wrong for LGBT couples to raise children. After having their own child and attending the seminar, Ouanpa and Wongkot became famous in the media. Several reports were published describing the couple and Lawa. However, comments on these reports sometimes saddened and disappointed them. Some people said Lawa was miserable.
 
Looking at a happy, smiling Lawa, Ouanpa rejects these people’s concerns. “See? Lawa doesn’t even feel weird that she’s with two female parents,” Ouanpa said. The couple got really mad when they read the comments, and didn’t even look at them after that. 
 
“I guess it’s because Lawa has not yet been in the outside world,” Wongkot replied. “Once Lawa goes to school, she’ll learn more. We have to tell Lawa the truth before that.”
 
“It’s society that sees Lawa as miserable, not us,” the tomboy said. “If I want to have a child, and if I, a tomboy, got married to a man, I could have a baby, but I might feel miserable myself. But society thinks that’s the right thing.”
 
“These people will never change their opinions,” she said in loud voice.
 
The couple also feels the eyes of people on them when they go to a department store. They said they probably think too much, but it is also true that “a tomboy holding a child and walking along with her girlfriend” could be seen as weird in other people’s eyes. It might be because the people don’t know the background.
 
“Our family and friends have never said anything against us, because they understand who we are,” said Wongkot. “I gave up making these other people truly understand us.” 
 
Although the couple has never been discouraged by society’s norms from living their own life, they still worry about Lawa. However, Lawa’s innocent smile and eyes full of curiosity have the parents realize their duty. 
 
“The important thing is we are all family,” said Wongkot, and Ouanpa nodded. 
 
++++
 
Krissana Tungchitwatthanakul, Wongkot’s father, drives his car very fast on a small road. Changing gears smoothly, he has overtaken many cars already.
 
“My family normally drives cars very well, and we drive very fast. It usually takes only 90 minutes to get to Bangkok,” said Krissana. “I’m really happy to welcome Ouanpa to our family.”
 
He stopped the car for a while to explain how beautiful the land is in Nakhon Sawan. In the morning, all the green fields are covered in a white mist, and as time goes by, the view turns to a vivid green again during the day.
 
“Even though my daughter is tomboy, I don’t much care as long as she’s happy,” said the father, and now Lawa’s grandpa. 
 
“No matter whether people are lesbian, gay or straight, whatever, you’re very lucky to find the one who you can spend your life with. I even feel jealous of my child for having too much happiness sometimes,” he said.
 
“If they have children and families, it’s more than enough. They must be very happy.”
 

 

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The "reform" plans by Thailand's military government continue to take shape. After the establishment of the so-called National Reform Council, a Constitutional Drafting Committee will be created soon. But developments in both groups suggest again that any attempts to revamp the political system will be a very exclusive, one-sided affair. Read more...
Harrison George

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has drafted a Gender Equality Bill, to be sent for consideration by the blatantly gender-unequal Cabinet and then for enactment by the similarly gender-biased National Legislative Assembly.

Its proponents are touting its progressive characteristics.  For the first time, it mentions a gender other than male and female.

Whoopee.

However, it has failed to muster much support among the organizations that deal with gender discrimination on a day-to-day basis.  And I fear it amounts to little more than a bit of window-dressing.  Whatever authoritarian regime awaits us in the future will just wave it at any accusations that human rights in Thailand are fast becoming a joke.

The Bill allows exceptions, you see.  There are, it says, some areas of life where gender discrimination will be legal.  This has been a recurrent theme in the struggle between those who support the idea of everyone having an equal chance and those who, being overwhelmingly male, rich and powerful, thinks things are just fine as they are and equality for everyone, all the time, is, well, a bit extreme. 

Equality must be limited.  To certain occasions.  And certain people.

When Thailand first signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it entered a number of ‘reservations’, making something of a mockery of the word ‘All’ in the title.  A reservation means that the government can effectively cross out the bits of the Convention that they don’t like.

As far as the Thai government of the day was concerned (and the day was in 1985 when the Prime Minister was a General, fancy that), Thai women didn’t fully deserve the equality that was granted by Article 7 on political and public life, Article 9 on nationality, Article 10 on education, Article 11 on employment, Article 15 on legal contracts and Article 16 on marriage and the family.  Makes you wonder why they bothered signing.

But having signed, the sniping started.  Successive governments were shamed into progressively abandoning these reservations.  The reservations on Articles 11 and 15 were withdrawn in 1991; Article 9 in 1992; Articles 7 and 10 in 1996; and Article 16 just 2 years ago.  So as far as the UN is concerned, Thailand is now fully compliant, at least on paper.

But not as far as Thailand is concerned.  Despite Section 4 of the current constitution, which says ‘human dignity, rights, freedoms and equality of all Thais … under existing international obligations of Thailand, shall remain protected’, the Gender Equality Bill unconstitutionally ignores Thailand’s obligations under CEDAW and harks back to ‘reservations’.

The Bill says that equality will not apply to education, religion and ‘the public interest’.  This will produce sighs of resignation among all those who have fought against the Neanderthals for real equality over the past 30 years, as loins are girded up and battle joined all over again.

Until you see the reported reasons.  Then incandescent rage takes over.

Religion was always going to be touchy with the Thai sangkha’s face resolutely set against the ordination of women and similar chauvinism among Muslims and Catholics now given the government seal of approval.  And I am not at all sure what iniquities ‘the public interest’ covers, except that it could be everything and the kitchen sink (for the chaining of women to).

But the Bill’s lead drafter, one Kantapong Rangsesawang, Senior Professional Level Legal Officer in the Office of Women’s Affairs and Family Development, claims that discrimination must be allowed to ‘protect Thai culture and conventions’.  Especially when these are neo-feudal, misogynistic and inexcusable. 

Years ago, there was a stink raised about the Akha practice of twin infanticide with the wrong-headed wromantics arguing that the right to a pure culture trumped the right to life.  That lunacy cut absolutely no ice with the Thai state. 

But suddenly such ancient Thai traditions as university rules about what you must wear at a graduation ceremony become so sacrosanct that a gaping hole has to be left in the Gender Equity Bill that allows in all manner of discrimination.  

We only need those Victorian Aunties in the Ministry of Culture to invent a few more traditions of dutiful female obedience and Thai women can look forward to the rights of being owned, impregnated and worked to death but without the right to say or do anything about it.

But never mind.  Thailand is a developing democracy, so say the whizzes in charge who couldn’t beat Qatar of the migrant workers slave trade to get Thailand onto the UN Human Rights Council.  All you have to do is make your contrary opinion known by shouting at your MP to get the stupid thing amended in parliament.

Except you won’t have an MP to shout at until after this travesty has become law.


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

Read related article: Thai junta expected to pass Gender Equality bill, strongly opposed by women rights groups

 

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BANGKOK, 29 October 2014: Thailand earned a record THB1,393.14 million from on-location film shoots, January to September, according to a Ministry of Tourism and Sports’ Thailand Film Office Department update released Tuesday. During the first nine months of the year, 441 documentaries, advertising slots, TV series, and music videos were filmed on location in Thailand […] Read more...
BANGKOK, 29 October 2014: Ministry of Transport plans to build more bicycle lanes at tourist sites in the provinces to encourage bike lovers to pedal rather than tour sites by bus. The ministry’s permanent secretary, Soithip Trisuddhi, said the programme would promote tourism in the provinces and encourage more people to ride bicycles. But before […] Read more...
Thailand's Prakanong Court dismissed a defamation charge against British human rights activist Andy Hall due to unlawful interrogation practice. Hall has been embroiled in a long legal fight with the Natural Fruit Company, which sued him after he publicized migrant worker abuses occurring at the Natural Fruit factory. This specific charge related to an interview Hall gave to Al Jazeera, in which he discussed Natural Fruit's alleged abuses. Read more...
Forum-Asia
(Bangkok, 28 October 2014) Defamation charges against community based human rights defenders who exposed alleged human rights abuses by Tungkum Company Limited (TKL) should be dropped immediately, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) said today. The Order Announcement of Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat will be held on 29 October at 13.30 pm in the Phuket Provincial Court to rule whether or not to proceed with the case. Meanwhile Ms. Porntip Hongchai is due to stand trial on 3 November 2014 in the same court. If convicted, they could face imprisonment for up to two years and a fine of 200,000 baht (approximately 6,150 USD).
 
Mr. Rujichaiwat and Ms. Hongchai of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd (KRBK) group had alleged that TKL was behind an incident of 15 May 2014 where unidentified armed men assaulted villagers, burned tents and huts in mining areas, and passed the blame on to the villagers. Sources of potable waters are now contaminated, they added. On 15 August 2014, TKL sued them for defamation claiming that their statements during the interviews had damaged the image of TKL. 
 
“The cases of Mr. Rujichaiwat and Ms. Hongchai are emblematic examples of judicial harassment against human rights defenders who reveal and promote accountability for business-related human rights abuses,” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. “This tactic, using exorbitant defamation claims, aims to silence the critical voices of human rights defenders and has a chilling effect on their legitimate work.”
 
As human rights defenders Mr. Rujichaiwat and Ms. Hongchai have the right to speak out publicly about the actual and potential adverse impacts of the gold mining operation by the TKL and about their concern from it. Thailand is a party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and has the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights protected under both treaties, in particular the right to freedom of expression. 
 
Furthermore, the regional human rights group asserted that the Court should review these cases in conformity with relevant international human rights standards including the United Nations Declaration on human rights defenders which provides for the support and protection of human rights defenders in the context of their work. 
 
“The authorities of Thailand must guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders are able to carry out their human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment,” said Balais-Serrano. “While we recognize the primary responsibility of Thai government to provide  a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, we would like to also remind the TKL of its responsibility to respect human rights and exercising due diligence to avoid complicity in abusing human rights in Thailand,” Balais-Serrano added. 
 
 
Background:
 
The Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group was established in 2008 by a group of villagers of Nanhongbong and 5 other villages in Loei province, northeastern Thailand, with the aim of monitoring and inspecting the impact of the nearby Phuthapfa gold mining site on the community’s environment, health and livelihood. The group opposes the adverse impact of the mining operation and the expansion of the mine’s operational area.
 
On 15 May 2014, around 10 pm, a group of approximately 300 unidentified men, armed with metal sticks, knives and guns, entered Nanhongbong village. The armed men attacked and beat villagers at the road blockade checkpoint. Around 40 villagers including two key community leaders were held captive for about 6.5 hours and released at 4.30 am. They were reportedly assaulted and threatened with guns. Over 40 villagers were allegedly injured in the assault and were only transported to hospital after the perpetrators had left the scene. 
 
[1] On 16 May 2014, There was alledgely that Mr. Rujichaiwat gave an interview to a TNN24 Channel reporter, as the mine’s workers burned huts and tents in the mine, to put the blame on the villagers. The statement was aired on 17 May 2014 in Chuamong Khao programme (“News Hour” programme) on TNN24 Channel. Ms. Hongchai gave an interview to a Nation TV reporter, as the mine was the reason for contaminated water sources in the village and human toxicity. The statement was aired on 16 May 2014 in Keb Tok Jak Nationprogramme (“Leftovers from Nation”programme) on Nation TV. The TKL said that because it is under Tungkah Habor company which has branch in Phuket, so that it can file the case in Phuket where is far from Loei, village’s location for over 1,300 km that is different region.
 
[2] Particularly Article 6 (b and c) of the Declaration stipulates that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”, and to Article 12 (1 and 2): “(1) Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
 
 
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The Thai criminal court has dismissed criminal defamation charges against Andy Hall, a British human rights defender and migration researcher. This is one of the four libel cases filed by a processed fruit company after Hall publicised poor human rights records and abusive labour conditions in the company’s factories.

Phra Khanong Provincial Court, Bangkok, on Wednesday morning dismissed the first criminal libel case against Andy Hall, a freelance human rights and migration researcher, due incorrect investigation procedures.  

In this case, Hall was accused of defaming the Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., a canned fruit company, by stating in an interview with Al Jazeera that Myanmar migrant workers in the company’s factories were abused and poorly treated.

Since the interview was conducted in Myanmar, a member of the public prosecution service needed to join the investigation process from the beginning. Because the investigation was conducted solely by the police, the court ruled at around 10.30 am on Tuesday that the prosecutor did not have the authority to file the case due to the incorrect procedure.  

Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., based in southern Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of Thailand, instituted a series of civil and criminal prosecutions against Hall in February 2013. The charges relate to his role in conducting interviews with migrants from Myanmar working in the pineapple and tuna export industry to be used in a Finnwatch report, Cheap Has a High Price. This 2013 report outlined particularly poor labour conditions in Natural Fruit's factories, which sell pineapple concentrate to Finnish supermarkets.

According to the report, Hall stated that the migrant workers had their passports confiscated by Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. They were paid below the minimum wage and not paid for working overtime. In addition, the company also hired children below 15 years old to work in the factory.

 

Hall's friends and Myanmar migrant workers show support for him in front of Phra Khanong Provincial Court on 29 October 2014

The company has filed the following four charges against Hall:

Criminal defamation for accusing the company of abusing its migrant workers’ rights and using child labour in an interview with Al Jazeera. The case was filed at Bangkok’s Phra Khanong Provincial Court. (Dismissed)

Criminal defamation breaching Article 14 (1) of the 2007 Computer Crime Act by propagating false information against the company.  The case was filed at Southern Bangkok Criminal Court. (trial: 30 October)

Civil defamation for causing financial damage to the company. The case was filed at Nakhon Pathom Civil Court. The company has claimed 300 million baht (about 10 million USD) in damages from Hall. (trial: 17 November)

Criminal defamation filed at Bang Na Police Station.  (trial has not been scheduled)

 

The Attorney General and then Phra Khanong Provincial Court accepted the first criminal defamation case that Natural Fruit filed against Hall on 19 June. He pleaded not guilty and was briefly detained in a cell below the Phra Khanong courthouse.

Approximately 20 observers from human rights organizations attended the verdict reading on Wednesday morning while about 50 migrant workers came to support Hall outside the courtroom.  

The legal action against Hall has raised international criticism. Finnwatch, numerous NGOs, and global union federations have condemned the harassment. UN Special Rapporteurs have sought clarifications amid concerns that Hall is being targeted for his work to promote migrant rights.

 
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