Since I wrote last week’s Bangkok Shakedown article a lot has happened. The Sydney Morning Herald picked up the story, which led to a police probe into whether extortion really was taking place, and a threat from Pol Lt Gen Prawut that they he would pursue the issue with the Australian embassy if no evidence was found. Read more...

None of the anti-coup student activists participated in the junta’s national reform forum organized to collect students’ opinions on reforms, saying that they do not want to take parts in the apparatus of the military government.  

None of the student activists engaged in anti-junta activities participated in the ‘Uniting the Force of Students for National Reform’, held from 19-21 December. This forum, which was organized by the junta’s Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) and the National Reform Council (NRC), was designed specifically for students, Matichon Online reported on Sunday.

According to the invitation letter sent to universities, the forum is meant to allow students to voice opinions on the direction of the national reform policies of the junta.

Despite junta’s opening gesture, anti-coup student activists, however, criticised the forum as merely the superficial attempt of the junta’s to improve its public image while still maintains the martial law to silence political dissents.

“Even though we were invited to join the forum, I think the forum is only the junta’s attempt to improve its own image. If the junta really want to listen to opinions from students on the national reform policies why don’t they lift the martial law and why are student activists are still being intimidated regularly,” said Nattanan Warintarawet, Secretary-General of the Education for Liberation of Siam (ELS), a student association comprised mostly of high school students who oppose the junta’s education reform based on morality stipulated by the so called 12 Thai values.

“Apart from this we also don’t want to be a part of the junta’s political apparatus. We don’t want to legitimize the regime, which is far from being legitimate,” added Nattanan, who is still in 11 grade.

In late October, Nattanan revealed that the military had phoned the director of Triam Udom Suksa school in central Bangkok, where she is studying, to ask about her and ELS activists in a bid to intimidate her.

Another student activist from Thai Student Center for Democracy, Natchacha Kongudom, who in late November made headlines after she was arrested for raising the three-finger salute at the ‘Hunger Games 3’ premiere, said, “The junta is only inviting those who are believed to be in line with their regime, me and other students who have voiced criticisms against the junta before were of course not invited to participate in the forum, so I think the forum is somewhat useless”.

In early December, Natchacha was threatened with rape by what are thought to be plainclothes military officers assigned to follow and watch her at an event organized by National Human Rights Commission.

Similar to what Nattanan and Natchacha experienced, up in the northeastern region, the Dao Din student activist group from Khon Kaen University, five members of which were arrested for giving the junta leader the anti-coup three-fingered salute last month, reported regular intimidations and harassments by the local security forces.

Despite this obvious hypocrisy of the junta, however, Tawinwadee Bureekul, one of the CDC’s committee members, stated that the CDC committee will organize similar forums in all major regions countrywide to allow people to voice opinions on the national reform.  

Ten years on, Australians living in Phuket, Thailand, speak about the impact the disaster had on tourism and the community. Australian expat Jason Beaven saw bodies floating up out of a submerged shopping mall and resort director director Anthony Lark remembers the heartbreak of seeing livelihoods disappear overnight. But they also remember the resilience of the population – Phuket radio host Tim Shaw said many people's lives were changed for the better because they realised the strength of the community around them Continue reading... Read more...
Thailand's football team made a triumphant return from Malaysia after ending a 12-year wait for the coveted Asean Championship title in the most dramatic fashion, with ten thousands of fans lining streets in Bangkok to cheer the team's open-top bus par... Read more...
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Alexandrea Lee and Catherine Darin

Six months after Thailand’s martial law is imposed discontent stirs across diverse factions.

BURIRAM -- Sitting cross-legged in a bamboo hut, concealed by tall corn stalks, the 62-year-old man seems at ease, enjoying passion fruit and a cigarette. Yet, the laughter leaves his eyes as he casts furtive glances towards the sound of every vehicle that rumbles past.  

“I am afraid that once you leave,” Lun Soisot nervously admits, “the military will come and ask what we were doing.”

Lun was a rice farmer before the military arrived in his village and evicted everyone from their homes and farmland.

Lun knows too well what happens when the military takes special interest in a person. The military arrested  Lun and other community leaders in Kao Bat Village, who protested the junta’s decision to evict villagers from Dong Yai Wildlife Sanctuary in July. Paitoon, his son and a local activist, has also faced arrest and is now on the run.  

Lun and his son are just two of the estimated hundreds of grassroots leaders that have been arrested, threatened, and harassed by the junta that seized power in the May 22 coup.  

The reach of martial law

Martial law, instituted two days before the coup, has maintained a tight grip over Thailand - outlawing political meetings of five or more people, prohibiting criticism of the junta, and charging civilians in military courts.  

The crackdown on opposition, through a series of arrests and detentions, has discouraged any attempts to speak out against the military regime. These tactics have kept Thailand remarkably quiet for the last six months.

The post-coup calm has been particularly unusual in the Northeast, which is a stronghold for the Red Shirts, a pro-democracy movement allied to deposed former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. The Red Shirt’s lack of organized resistance suggests that martial law has been effective in silencing dissent.

As of November 30, the organization iLaw documented 626 cases of persons apprehended under martial law, 340 of which led to arrest.  

The vast majority of those apprehended were pro-democracy politicians, academics, activists, and journalists in Bangkok publicly summoned by the military soon after the coup.  

The military has focused much energy on suppressing opposition here in the Northeast as it is the heartland of the Red Shirts. While there’s ample anecdotal evidence, exact statistics on those affected by martial law in the Northeast are hard to come by. As many as 130 people in the region have been affected by martial law, according to iLaw, and upwards of 50 who have been formally arrested. But there are dozens if not hundreds of students, community activists, and university professors who have been unofficially “invited” in by the military for a chat, harassed at work, monitored, and threatened.

‘We fear for our lives’

Martial law and the fear of the junta’s formal and informal intimidation tactics may explain why a unified resistance movement has not formed.

Alongkorn Akkasaeng, Assistant Dean at Mahasarakham University’s College of Politics and Governance, felt his work impacted by martial law when he was called in to speak at a military base. “The experience has caused me to be more careful in what I say and write,” he explains. Many of his colleagues have been called in and continue to be called in, and so “everyone is quite aware that they are being monitored by the military.”

Last month, five students from the activist group “Dao Din,” borrowing from the movie “The Hunger Games,” raised three fingers directly in front of Prime Minister and junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha when he was visiting the Northeast for the first time.

The students were immediately arrested. As their protest and detention attracted national and international attention, the military decided to release them without charge. But even after their release, the students have been persistently harassed and monitored by the military, driving some students to move out of their homes. “We fear for our lives,” stated one of the students in an interview with the Bangkok Post.

But more than anti-coup groups have been affected by martial law. The junta’s decrees, such as Order No. 64 that authorizes the military to evict communities from their land for the sake of national forests, has embroiled rural communities. Faced with the loss of homes and livelihoods, grassroots-level activists are the latest victims of martial in Thailand’s Northeast. The widespread repression of rights to freedom of assembly and expression has severely limited their ability to advocate for community rights.

It was reported in Prachatai on December 16 that almost 1,800 warrants have been issued against farmers on charges of trespassing into forest areas. Activists claim that if the junta continues its eviction polices, as many as 30,000 Isaan people may be affected.

‘Leave my family alone’

Kridsakorn Silark, an activist working with dam-affected communities in Ubon Ratchathani province, has similarly been summoned and harassed for speaking out against the military’s human rights violations.

On November 18, the military asked Kridsakorn to deactivate his professional Facebook page, on which he had publicly asked the junta to cooperate with dam-affected villagers, as well as his personal account that he used to express his pro-democracy opinions.

Kridsakorn proudly shows off his controversial Facebook page, on which he posted a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi: “You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.”

Claiming that he had forgotten the account password, Kridsakorn kept the page up and dodged the military’s calls.

After three days of evasion, however, Kridsakorn received a call from his mother; military officers had begun to harass her, calling every ten minutes and eventually showing up at her house. Kridsakorn realized he had no choice but to meet with the military.

“I was very angry. They can do anything they want to me, but leave my family alone,” he snapped.

At the meeting, officers forbade Kridsakorn from writing anti-coup declarations and from posting anything on his Facebook critical of the junta.

These intimidation tactics employed by the military are used particularly harshly against those affiliated with the Red Shirt movement.

On the day of the coup, “Daeng” (a false name used for fear of reprisals), a Red Shirt media activist in the Northeast, threw a hard drive of his life’s work into water, knowing what it held could incriminate him under the newly imposed martial law.

The fear that drove him to such extremes remains at the forefront of his thoughts. While being interviewed, Daeng insisted on moving locations several times, convinced that a government spy was eavesdropping nearby.

Daeng spent a month covertly collecting stories on the impact of martial law in the region, especially stories that the junta has attempted to cover up. Daeng has unique insight into the mood of the Northeast.

“People only talk with people they trust.  Everyone wants to talk, though,” says Daeng. “They’re stressed, they’re not satisfied, and they’re angry.”

He tells the story of an unnamed red-shirt DJ in the Northeast. On the day of the coup, 50 soldiers swarmed her workplace, only to find that she was not there.  When they were also unable to locate her at her home, the military held her 10-year-old son hostage. Panicked at the thought of being separated from her son and subjecting him to trauma, she had no choice but to turn herself in.

In addition to threatening family members, the junta has employed other methods to intimidate and blackmail dissidents, such as freezing financial accounts, planting evidence, and extortion through the use of explicit photos.

Of the dozens of people Daeng spoke to, the majority signed an “agreement” with the military, pledging to refrain, under threat of arrest for violating martial law, from attending meetings, expressing political opinions, speaking to the media, or leaving the country.

‘We push forward because we know it is the right thing to do’

Most have adhered strictly to the “agreement” out of fear. However, some who have signed, such as Kridsakorn, insist that signing does not indicate surrender.

“I think I have to be more cautious because I was summoned. But on the other hand, if I do and say nothing, they will feel as if they can do anything. I have to move forward to ensure they do not feel this way,” says Kridsakorn.

Kridsakorn’s cautious defiance is not an isolated instance. Academics, villagers, activists, and Red Shirts across the Northeast have also voiced their resolve to keep fighting, despite the threat of repercussions for speaking out under martial law.

The five Dao Din students continue to be monitored closely by the military. One female student was requested, on December 9th, to come speak to military officers about her group’s activities, over a month after their protest.

She refused to go, reflecting the defiance of the group. They have also displayed their unwavering opposition to the military regime in interviews. Capitalizing on newfound notoriety, the Dao Din students called Thai citizens to action: “We want you to fight,” they said last month in a Prachatai interview. People across Thailand have publicly raised three fingers in support of the students.  

Even Lun, a villager whose name remains unknown to the nation, refuses to give in: “The military tries to stop our movement, but we push forward because we know it is the right thing to do.”

Common ground

Although community activists, like  Lun and Kridsakorn, on the one hand, and Red Shirts on the other, have typically operated separately, the collective oppression under martial law has created an unexpected common cause between the two groups.

Dr. Alongkorn suggests that although community activists and Red Shirts have different ideologies – the former focused on rights connected to their livelihoods and the latter on issues of democracy – they both share a commitment to rights and the value of equality. “In this ongoing struggle,” he says, “[color-coded politics] are secondary.”

“I believe the junta would have something to worry about if these two movements were to find common ground and enjoin their struggles, but I don’t think the junta has quite seen the bigger picture,” he adds.

An academic and former red shirt leader in Khon Kaen also acknowledges the difference in objectives between the two groups. But, Phanwadee Tantisirin adds, “It is democracy and rights that will allow both groups to be able to fight for their cause. We will have to wait to see if these two groups can come together to fight the military government.”

Looking ahead

On December 10, at the Isaan Human Rights Festival in Khon Kaen, villagers, NGOs, students and academics came together to openly express their frustration with how martial law has suppressed their ability to advocate for community rights. The event was one of the first where these different groups were brought together to articulate their common struggle.

Although the military had disallowed organizers of the Human Rights Festival from mentioning politics or martial law, participants were not fazed. One villager asked the crowd, “if we can’t talk about martial law, the NCPO, or politics, what can we talk about?

Whether or not these factions will unify in opposition remains unclear. Yet, the sentiment of individuals from each group does indicate a resolve to continue fighting for human rights and democracy. As the stories of military harassment circulate throughout the Northeast, dissent appears to becoming more and more common.

“The things that have happened within our village and other villages have been spread to everyone, and it has caused fear,” explains  Lun. “The military is making a lot of enemies without even knowing it.”

As  Lun sits on the bamboo floor of the small hut, he asserts his defiance to the coup and commitment to work towards a better Thailand.

“In every movement there has to be someone stubborn enough to get other people to join.  We choose to be fireflies in the forest. We are willing to be small sources of light – even though they’re small, it’s better than total darkness.”

About the authors: Alexandrea Lee studies international studies at Johns Hopkins University and Catherine Darin studies economics at the University of Pennsylvania. They are student journalists who have been studying in Khon Kaen for the past four months.

The problematic Facebook post which led to the Army in northern Thailand filing a lèse majesté complaint is about the King’s favourite dog Tongdaeng.
The Chiang Rai Army’s Peace and Order Maintenance Command earlier this week sent a representative to file the complaint at Chiang Rai Police Station on Tuesday, according to ASTV-Manager Online. 
It accused Praphat D., the owner of a travel company based in the province, of defaming the King on a Facebook profile under his name. 
Tongdaeng sits at the feet of the King on the King's 2012 New Year card
The alleged Facebook post, published on December 7, expressed dissatisfaction about the King’s praise of the dog and the King’s comparison between the dog and others, according to a source. 
In the post, Praphat shared the headline of a news story which read "[The King] praises 'Tongdaeng' for not getting above itself. Unlike others [humans] (คนอื่น) who are inclined to get above themselves"
Praphat added a comment which expressed his anger, questioning the comparison followed by curses. 
Born as a stray dog, Tongdaeng was adopted by King Bhumibol in 1998. The King later bestowed surname “Suwannachat” to Tongdaeng’s offspring. 
The content in the headline seems to be taken from the book The Story of Tongdaeng, authored by the King, which describes the good manners and behaviour of “Khun Tongdaeng,” as it is called by the Thai media. In the book, the King says Tongdaeng is grateful of her dog wetnurse, is always loyal to the King, and keeps itself low when sitting near the King. The King praised Tongdaeng's humble manner despite being the King’s favourite pet, unlike “others” who become arrogant after achieving importance.
The story of Tongdaeng was promoted around 2002. 
The alleged lèse majesté Facebook post by Praphat