The Constitutional Drafting Committee are continuing to re-write the political rule book for a post-coup Thailand. But, like with all the military junta's government bodies, the claim to "reform" and bring "true democracy" is questionable, as the most recent proposals for an unelected sorry, "indirectly elected" Senate shows. Read more...
Military’s staff judge advocate accused human rights lawyer Anon Numpa of publicising anti-junta information on his Facebook. 
 
Anon Numpa, volunteer lawyer for the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), told Prachatai on Thursday that the police from Pathumwan Police Station had summoned him via telephone to hear accusation under Article 14 (2) of the Computer Crime Act (CCA). Anon will report in next week, he said. 
 
Article 14 (2) of the CCA stipulates that whoever importing false information which may damage the national security or cause public panic must face jail term up to five years.
 
The accusations came after Lt Col Burin Thongprapai of the military's Judge Advocate General's Office, filed the complaint to the police. 
 
On 14 February, the police accused Anon and three others of defying the coup maker’s order for organizing an assembly of more than five people after the group organizing an activity demanding for election in front of the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre (BACC) in the evening of the Valentine’s Day.
 
On 19 February, the police interrogated Anon for about four hours about his Facebook posts on his Facebook profile which is deemed instigating anti-junta movement by the police. 
 
“I don’t worry. The military may hope that the cases can deter my move,” said Anon. 
 
 
Anon (mid) speaks to reporters after he was released for defying coup maker's order on early morning of 15 February
Read more...

People forum on reform pointed out that the junta uses the martial law to silence people while plundering natural resources in the communities nationwide against the locals’ will.  

People’s National Reform Council (PNRC) urged the junta to stop using the martial law to suppress freedom and allow public participation in its governance at a public forum titled ‘Monitoring the expansion of the state authority; protecting people’s power; the new constitution must be better’ held on Wednesday at the  National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in Bangkok.

The forum discussed about current land and other natural resource conflicts between the state parties and the locals, such as oilfield concession in Kranuan District of the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, the plan to construct a coal-powered electricity generating plant in the southern Krabi province, and the eviction of villagers in Konsan District of the northeastern Chaiyaphum province.

The forum participants pointed out that the lesson from the current resource conflict between the junta and the locals is that the government tend to ignore the community rights over resources and the social and environmental impact on the locals while using the martial law as one of the mechanisms to monopolize the resource management.

Central to this problem is the outdated centralized state model which feeds on a prolong social and economic inequity in the country, the forum concluded.

The participants added that the junta’s resource policies violates the community’s rights. The group pointed out the recent incident in Khon Kaen, when the state authorities assisted the oil exploration company to transport drilling equipments into the petroleum field despite the villagers’ opposition and the eviction of villagers in Konsan District of Chaiyaphum in accordance to the junta’s forest protection policy (Order 64/2014 of the National Council for Peace and Order).

Moreover, the junta’s attempts to amend laws on the management of natural resource, such as the new Mining Bill, might expand the state’s monopoly over resources to give out state concession to private companies without having to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as well.

Read more...
On 23 February 2015 student activists Patiwat S., 23, and Pornthip M. (f), 26, were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating Thailand’s “lèse-majesté” law. The charge of “lèse-majesté” criminalises alleged insult of the monarchy under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and is commonly used to silence peaceful dissent. According to reports, there has been a considerable rise in arrests, trials and sentences relating to lèse majesté cases since the military coup of 22 May 2014. The case against Patiwat S. and Pornthip M.relates to their involvement in staging a play about a fictional monarch, the “Wolf Bride” (‘Jao Sao Ma Pa’) at Thammasat University in October 2013. The pair have been in detention since their arrest in mid-August 2014, after being repeatedly refused bail, and pleaded guilty in December 2014 in order to reduce their sentence. PEN International considers Patiwat S. and Pornthip M. to be imprisoned in violation of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
 
Take action: Please send appeals:
 
Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of students Patiwat S. and Pornthip M., as they are held for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.
Reiterating serious concern for the safety of writers, academics and activists in Thailand, who are at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions.
Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code, in particular the lèse-majesté law, to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.
Appeals to:
 
Leader of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Royal Thai Army Headquarters,
Rachadamnoen Nok Road,
Bangkok 10200,
Thailand
Fax: (+66-2) 226 1838
E-mail: prforeign@gmail.com
Salutation: Dear General
 
Please contact this office if sending appeals after 10 March 2015. Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and of any responses received.
 
Publicity
 
PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Patiwat S. and Pornthip ., and the situation of freedom of expression in Thailand. Their prison writings are available for publication:
 
The poem ‘Friend’ by Patiwat S. has been translated into English and published on Prachatai.
 
A fable that Pornthip M. is writing from prison now has four parts, and is available in English translation here
 

Background 

The following case information is provided by The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC):

Patiwat S., age 23, a fifth year student and an activist in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, was arrested on 14 August 2014 in Khon Kaen province and is being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Pornthip M., age 25, a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University and an activist, was arrested on 15 August 2014 at the Hat Yai Airport, and is being held in the Central Women’s Prison. They have been held without bail, despite numerous requests, since their arrests and since being formally charged on 25 October with one count of violation of Article 112.

Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The use of Article 112 is highly politicized and has frequently been used as a method of silencing dissenting voices, particularly in moments of regime crisis. Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the 19 September 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the 22 May 2014 coup.

The case against Patiwat.S. and Pornthip M. complaint is in relation to their participation in the performance of a play, ‘The Wolf Bride’ (Jao Sao Ma Pa) at Thammasat University in October 2013 on the fortieth anniversary of the 14 October 1973 people’s uprising. At the time of their arrests, the AHRC noted that their arrests for exercising their freedom of expression in a theatre performance was an indication of the ongoing criminalization of thought and expression in Thailand following the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) (AHRC-STM-157-2014; AHRC-STM-159-2014). Their continued detention is a daily reminder of the deepening human rights crisis put in motion by the coup (AHRC-STM-177-2014).  In this case, as well as other freedom of expression cases since the coup, the manner in which the two activists were charged more than a year after the alleged crime suggests that the past has become an open catalogue of acts and speech which can be criminalized in retrospect.

Military Coup

After nearly seven months of escalating political violence in Thailand, a military coup d’état led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha was declared on 22 May 2014. The coup has imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate – the only remaining national government body with elected members – and taken on wide-ranging executive and legislative powers. Political gatherings have been banned and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has imposed strict censorship of the internet and control of the media.

Several television and radio stations were shut down in the early days after the coup though most have since resumed broadcasting.  Facebook was briefly blocked by the Information Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry at the request of the military on 28 May, although the military denied this. However, on 9 June, Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms company which runs Thai operator DTAC acknowledged that it had implemented an official request to block the site on 28 May. An interview with an anonymous journalist describing how journalists are self-censoring may be read here. On 25 May 2014 the NCPO issued order no 37 assigning jurisdiction to military courts for offences against the royal family (articles 107-112 of the Penal Code) and most offences against internal security (articles 113-118) as well as offences stipulated by orders of the NCPO. According to iLaw (Internet Dialogue on Legal Reform), which monitors freedom of expression in Thailand, 669 people have been summoned and 376 have been arrested under Article 112 since the coup.

Since the coup, scores of protesters and critics of the coup, including prominent politicians and academics, have been summoned to report to the army and at least a hundred have been arrested. They include journalists Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of the hard-hitting political magazine Fa Diew Kan (Same Sky) and Pravit Rojanaphruk, senior reporter of The Nation, who were both detained on 23 and 24 May after being summoned by the military. Rojanaphruk was released after a week, and an interview with him after his release may be read here.

Thirty-five prominent academics were summoned on 25 May, including the following scholars who advocate democracy and amendments to the lèse majesté law: Thammasat lecturers Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Worachet Pakeerut and Sawatri Suksri (the latter two of the Nitirat or Enlightened Jurists group); Suda Rangupan, a former Chulalongkorn University lecturer, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Kyoto University. Mr Pavin, a frequent contributor to the Bangkok Post and other media, said by telephone from Japan that he would not turn himself in. It is thought the others have also chosen not to report to the authorities. Refusal to respond to a summons is a crime carrying a maximum prison term of two years and/or a 40,000 baht (USD1,300) fine.

UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws are incompatible with international standards on free expression.  In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

 

Read more...
In the last part of our Siam Voices series examining the new cyber laws, we chronicle the criticism against and the defense for the controversial bills - and what’s behind the military junta’s motivation to push these into law. In the past two weeks we analyzed the cyber law bills in its potential impact on policies, censorship and also business. More often than not we found that the flaws outweigh the benefits and, if signed into law without large-scale amendments - will have very serious implications of the civil liberties, free speech, personal privacy and even e-commerce of every Thai internet user - except for those in charge of the law. Read more...
Pen international

On 23 February 2015 student activists Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Pornthip Munkong (f), 26, were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating Thailand’s “lèse-majesté” law. The charge of “lèse-majesté” criminalises alleged insult of the monarchy under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and is commonly used to silence peaceful dissent. According to reports, there has been a considerable rise in arrests, trials and sentences relating to lèse majesté cases since the military coup of 22 May 2014. The case against Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong relates to their involvement in staging a play about a fictional monarch, the “Wolf Bride” (‘Jao Sao Ma Pa’) at Thammasat University in October 2013. The pair have been in detention since their arrest in mid-August 2014, after being repeatedly refused bail, and pleaded guilty in December 2014 in order to reduce their sentence. PEN International considers Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong to be imprisoned in violation of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

Take action: Please send appeals:

  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of students Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong, as they are held for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.
  • Reiterating serious concern for the safety of writers, academics and activists in Thailand, who are at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions.
  • Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code, in particular the lèse-majesté law, to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.

Appeals to:

Leader of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Royal Thai Army Headquarters,
Rachadamnoen Nok Road,
Bangkok 10200,
Thailand
Fax: (+66-2) 226 1838
E-mail: prforeign@gmail.com
Salutation: Dear General

Please contact this office if sending appeals after 10 March 2015. Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and of any responses received.

SOLIDARITY

Please send messages of support to Pornthip Munkhong and Patiwat Saraiyaem in prison:

Pornthip Munkhong
Central Women’s Prison
33/3 Ngamwongwan Road
Lad Yao, Chatuchak
Bangkok 10900
Thailand

Patiwat Saraiyaem
Bangkok Remand Prison
33 Ngamwongwan Road
Lad Yao, Chatuchak
Bangkok 10900
Thailand

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong, and the situation of freedom of expression in Thailand. Their prison writings are available for publication:

The poem ‘Friend’ by Patiwat Saraiyaem has been translated into English and published on Prachatai.

A fable that Pornthip Munkhong is writing from prison now has four parts, and is available in English translation here

Background  

The following case information is provided by The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC):

Patiwat Saraiyaem, age 23, a fifth year student and an activist in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, was arrested on 14 August 2014 in Khon Kaen province and is being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Pornthip Munkhong, age 25, a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University and an activist, was arrested on 15 August 2014 at the Hat Yai Airport, and is being held in the Central Women’s Prison. They have been held without bail, despite numerous requests, since their arrests and since being formally charged on 25 October with one count of violation of Article 112.

Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The use of Article 112 is highly politicized and has frequently been used as a method of silencing dissenting voices, particularly in moments of regime crisis. Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the 19 September 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the 22 May 2014 coup.

The case against Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong complaint is in relation to their participation in the performance of a play, ‘The Wolf Bride’ (Jao Sao Ma Pa) at Thammasat University in October 2013 on the fortieth anniversary of the 14 October 1973 people’s uprising. At the time of their arrests, the AHRC noted that their arrests for exercising their freedom of expression in a theatre performance was an indication of the ongoing criminalization of thought and expression in Thailand following the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) (AHRC-STM-157-2014AHRC-STM-159-2014). Their continued detention is a daily reminder of the deepening human rights crisis put in motion by the coup (AHRC-STM-177-2014).  In this case, as well as other freedom of expression cases since the coup, the manner in which the two activists were charged more than a year after the alleged crime suggests that the past has become an open catalogue of acts and speech which can be criminalized in retrospect.

Military Coup

After nearly seven months of escalating political violence in Thailand, a military coup d’état led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha was declared on 22 May 2014. The coup has imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate – the only remaining national government body with elected members – and taken on wide-ranging executive and legislative powers. Political gatherings have been banned and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has imposed strict censorship of the internet and control of the media.

Several television and radio stations were shut down in the early days after the coup though most have since resumed broadcasting.  Facebook was briefly blocked by the Information Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry at the request of the military on 28 May, although the military denied this. However, on 9 June, Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms company which runs Thai operator DTAC acknowledged that it had implemented an official request to block the site on 28 May. An interview with an anonymous journalist describing how journalists are self-censoring may be read here. On 25 May 2014 the NCPO issued order no 37 assigning jurisdiction to military courts for offences against the royal family (articles 107-112 of the Penal Code) and most offences against internal security (articles 113-118) as well as offences stipulated by orders of the NCPO. According to iLaw (Internet Dialogue on Legal Reform), which monitors freedom of expression in Thailand, 669 people have been summoned and 376 have been arrested under Article 112 since the coup.

Since the coup, scores of protesters and critics of the coup, including prominent politicians and academics, have been summoned to report to the army and at least a hundred have been arrested. They include journalists Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of the hard-hitting political magazine Fa Diew Kan (Same Sky) and Pravit Rojanaphruk, senior reporter of The Nation, who were both detained on 23 and 24 May after being summoned by the military. Rojanaphruk was released after a week, and an interview with him after his release may be read here.

Thirty-five prominent academics were summoned on 25 May, including the following scholars who advocate democracy and amendments to the lèse majesté law: Thammasat lecturers Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Worachet Pakeerut and Sawatri Suksri (the latter two of the Nitirat or Enlightened Jurists group); Suda Rangupan, a former Chulalongkorn University lecturer, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Kyoto University. Mr Pavin, a frequent contributor to the Bangkok Post and other media, said by telephone from Japan that he would not turn himself in. It is thought the others have also chosen not to report to the authorities. Refusal to respond to a summons is a crime carrying a maximum prison term of two years and/or a 40,000 baht (USD1,300) fine.

UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws are incompatible with international standards on free expression.  In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

- See more at: http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/thailand-student-activists-se...

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International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

On the morning of Monday, February 23, the live broadcast of the 87th Academy Awards from Los Angeles will be broadcast in Thailand. Almost simultaneously, at 1:00 pm, an entirely different type of show will be staged at the Criminal Court in Bangkok.

Two members of the now-defunct Prakai Fai (‘Sparking Fire’) theatre group, Pornthip Munkong aka Golf and Patiwat Saraiyaem aka Bank, will be sentenced to jail terms under the draconian Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code. Article 112 imposes jail terms for those who defame, insult, or threaten the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent. Those who are found guilty of violating Article 112 face prison terms of three to 15 years.

What was the crime that Golf and Bank committed? They performed in a political play called Jao Sao Maa Paa (‘Wolf’s bride’). The play was staged at Bangkok’s Thammasat University on 13 October 2013 and was part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the 14 October 1973 student uprising against the military dictatorship of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. The play, which centered on a fictional monarchy, was deemed to have insulted Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. No further explanation of the details of Golf and Bank’s alleged offense can be made. This is because the inflexible application of Article 112 makes a recounting of lèse-majesté allegations a violation of Article 112 as well.

Golf and Bank have already pled guilty to the lèse-majesté charges. This should not to be construed as an acknowledgment of criminal responsibility. Unfortunately, the guilty plea is a strategic decision that, in most cases, earns lèse-majesté violators a significant reduction in their jail sentence.

Golf, a 26-year-old social activist, and Bank, a 23-year-old university student, were arrested in mid-August 2014. Since then, they have been detained at the Women’s Central Prison and the Bangkok Remand Prison respectively. As it is customary for lèse-majesté detainees, the court rejected their numerous requests for release on bail pending trial. Their incarceration meant that Golf could not pursue her plans to work overseas and Bank was forced to suspend his studies at Khon Kaen University. Prison authorities have imposed severe restrictions on their cultural activities. Their books have been confiscated and their communications with visitors are closely monitored.

In the meantime, authorities are zealously pursuing more individuals involved in the Jao Sao Maa Paa performance. Some of them have already fled the country for fear of being arrested under Article 112. They joined scores of students, activists, academics, and artists who left Thailand after the 22 May 2014 military coup.

Since the ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), seized power, it has made it one of its top priorities to hunt down and prosecute lèse-majesté suspects. Since the coup, at least 40 people have been arrested under Article 112. Seven of them have already been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 15 years.

Most of these cases present elements related to the right to freedom of expression and the right to take part in cultural life. These rights are guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) respectively. Thailand ratified both treaties and, as a result, has an obligation to comply with their provisions. Legislators must ensure that provisions of the ICCPR and the ICESCR are incorporated into Thai laws and judges should invoke clauses of the ICCPR and the ICESCR in their rulings. Even under Article 4 of the interim constitution unilaterally adopted by NCPO, Thailand must abide by international treaties to which it is a state party, such as the ICCPR and the ICESCR.

In violation of its international human rights obligations, the NCPO’s ongoing witch hunt for lèse-majesté suspects has completely failed to respect, protect, and fulfill these fundamental rights. The junta blocked websites and banned books that made reference to the Thai royal family. The military harassed member of the B-Floor Theatre Group because their show Bang-la-merd(‘District of violations’) contained references to Article 112. One lèse-majesté detainee, Siraphop Komarut, remains behind bars for writing a poem that alluded to the Thai monarch. In many cases, lèse-majesté charges hit individuals who shared opinions and content related to the monarchy through Facebook.

On Monday, while Hollywood celebrates creative achievements, Thailand will once again distinguish itself for punishing freedom of expression and artistic freedom. If Thailand does not want to hold this unenviable award for too long, it is time for the junta to end the misuse and abuse of Article 112. The UN has repeatedly expressed its concern over Thailand’s prosecution and harsh sentencing of individuals on lèse-majesté charges. The NCPO, in its quest for reconciliation, must acknowledge and comply with the international treaties to which Thailand is a state party. In addition, the junta must recognize the talent of Thai youth to creatively address social issues in a manner that is not menacing or threatening. In doing so, the NCPO should accept the UN’s recommendations and begin a constructive process of reform of the enforcement of Article 112 in order to bring it in line with its international human rights obligations.

Read more...
Customs officials in Bangkok have seized more than 1,000 illegal items, including elephant tusks, inhalants, pornographic materials and sexual enhancement drugs, between Oct 2014 and Feb 2015. The items, worth more than 500,000 baht in total, were smuggled via postal service. — Pattarapong Chatpattarasill Read more...
Posted in Okategoriserade.
John Draper
Without an official language policy, Thailand’s many ethnolinguistic minorities cannot experience equality.
 
This past Saturday marked International Mother Language Day, and while it is not particularly celebrated in Thailand, there were a couple of academic seminars in Chiang Mai and at Mahidol University in Bangkok. It is a difficult day to celebrate in Thailand, at the best of times, due to the fact there is no official national language policy, nor much affirmative action for approximately 70 ethnic minorities in Thailand.
 
Around 14 ethnolinguistic minorities live in Isaan, which has a population of approximately 19 million. Most of these are from the Tai-Kadai language family, with around 15 million being Thai-Lao, or Western Lao—there are three sub-families, the Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Champasak—and another 156,000 who are Phu Thai. An estimated two million are Thai Chinese, mainly intermarried with the Thai Lao, and over a million are from the Mon-Khmer language family— mainly the Northern Khmer.
 
In particular, the Lao have a history of warfare against their southern neighbors that dates back to the period of the Kingdom of the Million Elephants under the White Parasol (1354-1707), which jockeyed for control of populations and tributes with the fellow Tai Kingdom of Sukhothai (1238-1583), and gave way to the Tai Kingdom of Ayutthaya (1351-1767). A major Lao “rebellion” in 1826-1829 against the pre-modern Kingdom of Siam saw the Kingdom of Vientiane obliterated and its people dispersed through forced marches southwards into the annexed Khorat Plateau and beyond.
 
In Thailand, the current interim military government may be praised for not interfering with these potentially political seminars on language. There is no doubt that language, especially when combined with ethnic rights, can be political. The self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is well known for his attempts to sing Thai-Lao folk songs during his video phone-ins on stages in 2008-2014 and thus “playing the ethnic card.”
 
Consequently, Thailand faintly experienced the possibility of ethnopolitical civil war, and rumors of separatism, in both the Northeast and in the North this past year. The North is the former Kingdom of Lanna, which fell to King Taksin of Thonburi in 1775, but nearly survived into the 20th century in the form of the Siamese vassal state of the Kingdom of Chiang Mai (1802-1884). In response to the recent separatist rumors, the Ministry of the Interior’s Internal Security Operations Command has conducted national reconciliation forums in Isaan and stressed how the Tai peoples once controlled a swathe of territory from Southwest China (the Sipsong Panna) down to Malaysia, east into Cambodia and west as far as India, and how disunity has caused the loss of Tai control over these territories.
 
The main problem is that this approach to reconciliation only stresses the similarities and does not show the main differences separating the Central-Thais from the Thai-Lao and from other major ethnolinguistic groups in the Northeast. In fact, Thailand has started accommodating ethnic minorities over the last decade. No language is banned, most can be heard on community radios and sometimes on television, and ethnic identities are promoted for their tourism potential. However, without a national language policy establishing equality, with Thai as a de jure national language, this is not enough to prevent ethnopolitical differences being exploited in the future.
 
Just ask the Welsh how they feel about Welsh. It is not that all Welsh people are avidly learning the language—only around 15% are literate. The point is that they voted in a referendum in 1997 to be in charge of managing their own local government, resulting in the 1998 Government of Wales Act and the subsequent Government of Wales Act 2006, and then in 2012 the Welsh passed the National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Act. This act makes Welsh one of Wales’ two official languages, and is designed to bring equality to Welsh in Wales, meaning any Welsh person should be able to live all their life in Wales only speaking Welsh in their education and in all contacts with officialdom. It is an excellent example of language policy by a devolved government under a reasonably enlightened parliamentary democracy—the United Kingdom (UK).
 
Which brings us to the People’s Republic of China, often criticised for not being a reasonably enlightened parliamentary model. It is unusual for the West and China to agree on human rights issues and any writer is taking a risk if holding up China to be a bastion of human rights. But, remarkably, China has 56 recognised ethnicities. Its treatment of its over 1 million Tai (Dai) minority is about as good as it gets in China—Xishuangbanna (based on the historical Sipsong Panna)—is an autonomous state of the kind the Dalai Lama is calling for in Tibet.
 
Chinese attitude toward its minorities is mainly pragmatic –equality between Han and Dai had been promoted as early as the 1910’s in order to bring stability to the south-western frontier in Yunnan, and China reached out to the area with medical assistance from 1949. In 1953, Xishuangbanna first became an autonomous region, and the Dais, together with a dozen other minorities, were permitted their own alphabet and printed educational matter under a bilingual Dai/Mandarin program—a bold step for a regime which has otherwise linked its success, as has the Thai state, to standardising a single writing system and the accompanying monolithic bureaucracy.
 
Xishuangbanna became an autonomous prefecture in 1955 and in 1987 passed the Law of the Xishuangbanna Dai Nationality Autonomous Prefecture for Self-Government to bring it into line with Chinese national law on regional national autonomy, and for most of its history it has been led by an ethnic Dai. Another similar Dai province, also in Yunnan, is Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture. Under Chinese affirmative action measures, like other recognised minorities, the Dai taxes raised in these states are all spent in the state. There are also quotas for university entrance positions, and the central government promotes infrastructure development and reserves high-level positions for Dais.
 
The pragmatism exercised by China in its affirmative action also has a geopolitical background: its policies are based on the Marxist-Leninist theoretical underpinnings of equality of national minorities, together with equality of languages and cultures, and territorial autonomy, as in the Soviet states model. While all this did not work out particularly well for the USSR, Chinese academics, who studied the fall of the USSR, concluded that the theory was not at fault, but that a lack of equality together with power imbalances in practice was the root of the problem.
 
These are precisely the same conclusions that led the UK’s Labour government into passing the Government of Wales Act and the present UK Conservative/Liberal coalition into granting more rights to Scotland, preventing its independence. These are also the conclusions that may inexorably lead the Kingdom of Thailand, under a constitutional monarchy, to grant regional and provincial autonomy to its ethnic minorities via a decentralization program and an accompanying national language policy.
 
For a country that effectively stopped mentioning it had any Thai-Lao citizens since the 1910s, such a decision may be more symbolic than world-changing. Cynically, decentralizing and granting language rights is an exercise in granting just enough rights and liberties to prevent real power being devolved, while benefiting from the political stability it would bring and profiting from the side effects, such as more ethnic tourism. Optimistically, it is a means of initiating decentralized government to be more responsive to local needs and a way to reduce graft by weakening the chains of corruption. Linguistically and culturally, it would bring equality to all Northeastern Thai children, including the Thai-Lao, Thailand’s Northern Khmer, and the Phu Thai.
 
Internationally, the move would comply with numerous UN treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and would make International Mother Language Day a day to celebrate throughout the “land of freedom.”
 
John Draper is a sociolinguist with a first degree from Oxford University in Modern History and an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Southern Queensland. He is currently a lecturer at the College of Local Administration at Khon Kaen University and is assigned to the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalization Programme.
 
First published on The Isaan Record
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