Meet My Friends in Exile: เราคือเพื่อนกัน

By Ann Norman

Full disclosure: Some of my best friends (and plenty more casual friends) are Thai broadcasters in exile who want a Federal state in Thailand, or at least, they want to discuss it as an option and to report the news. Plenty of my friends are the so-called “lese majesty suspects,” ordinary people, liberal and sensible, who stand accused of saying something negative about someone with “royal blood.” They have been accused of stepping over an invisible, pretend line that has no conceivable moral justification in a civilized society. Why do I bring this up? Because the junta very conveniently has just found a weapons stash said to be left behind at the house of an exiled Thai broadcaster who advocates for a Thai Federalist state. Koh Tee, or Ma Noi, had to flee Thailand three years ago after being accused of lese majesty (which, as I just mentioned, is not really a “thing” except in the minds of royalty-supremacists). Koh Tee says the weapons were planted at his house and have nothing to do with him. But having linked the weapons to Koh Tee, at least in people’s minds, these royalty-supremacists are eager to link a now-tainted Koh Tee to all the other exiled opposition leaders they wish to neutralize.

And yes, they are all connected. In fact, everyone who hates this dictatorship is connected in the following ways: We get on the Internet and chat with each other. We meet at conventions and protests. We listen to each other’s broadcasts and read each other’s articles. We criticize the human rights abuses and call out the lies from a junta that is increasingly giving up on even the pretense of democracy.

I feel lucky and blessed to have met so many of these exiles, particularly the talented, dedicated Thai pro-democracy broadcasters. I understand that, at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves, they have spoken out about something crucially important. Because of their principled stand, they had to flee Thailand, and it is possible they will never be able to return. They may be living in poverty as refugees, moving often to evade the state-sponsored vigilantes who hunt them. They are separated from family and their homeland—the only place where their native language is generally spoken. They miss out on the weddings and funerals of their loved ones. There is always an undercurrent of danger. I was shocked to learn that the romantic partner of one broadcaster was shot dead by a vigilante several years ago. Last year, a broadcaster whom I didn’t know, living in Laos, was abducted by a group of men in camouflage, leaving behind only a motorcycle and one shoe.

These are the people around world constantly aware of what time it is in Thailand. They may sleep in the day and get up at night in order to broadcast live when people are awake in Thailand. They may get up at 5:00 in the morning, to read the news, prepare, record and edit a show, BEFORE heading to their day job. They do this even though they aren’t sure they will live to see the results. Nevertheless, they want to lay the groundwork for the future democracy—educating people about democratic principles, human rights, and covering news that is censored in Thailand. These are the people, who are being witch-hunted and chased across the globe by ultra-royalists. People in AMERICA are taking precautions against this vigilante threat. They are Thai, and they are devoted to Thailand, but it is insane to imply they owe any loyalty to specific dictators and royalists who are making their lives miserable.

Last year, after a protest somewhere in America, I missed a flight and was stuck in an airport overnight. I awoke to what sounded like Thai being spoken. In my confused waking state, I hid under a blanket afraid for the first time in my life of a racial group. I thought I might be killed by Thai ultra-royalists. It was just a semiconscious moment of paranoia. But it gave me a tiny taste of what some of my friends must experience on an everyday basis.

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