First published on Facebook April 21, 2017
Last week Thailand’s Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, aka Pai Daodin, of the environmental, human rights, and pro-democracy organization Dao Din, won the 2017 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, awarded by the South Korean May 18th Memorial Foundation!
According to the call for nominations “The prize goes to one individual or an organization that has struggled for or contributed to the improvement and advancement of human rights, democracy, and peace in their community and country.”
The prize is a trip to South Korea to pick up the award and $50,000. This thing is legit! Previous winners are Nguyen Dan Que of Vietnam and the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections of Malaysia (2016); Latifah Anum Siregar (2015) of Indonesia; Adilur Rahman Khan of Bangladesh and the organization Mothers of Khavaran of Iran (2014).
The fact that Pai, an almost-graduated law student from Khon Kaen, has now won a prestigious human rights award, reminds us that he is not only a victim of human rights abuse (he faces 3 to 15 years in jail for SHARING A NEWS ARTICLE about King Vajiralongkorn on facebook). More importantly, Pai Daodin is himself a long-time environmental, human rights, and pro-democracy activist, who has been singled out for persecution because of his nonstop human rights activism.
Apparently, he has been doing human rights work for most of his still short adult life (he is only 25). In fact, this is not even Pai’s first important Human Rights award. In researching this article, I learned from the Bangkok Post that over two years ago, on December 12, 2014, he received an award from Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission in recognition of Dao Din’s work “in supporting the environmental and community rights, particularly in Loei.”
That article was profiling him and his organization Dao Din in 2014, after he shot to national attention by staging a very impressive 5-person Hunger Games salute before then newly installed Dictator Prayut Chanocha giving a speech before a huge crowd, with the whole thing splashed across a giant screen above the stage.
Here are some things I learned: Dao Din was founded by Khon Kaen law students, long before Pai became a Khon Kaen law student, and its focus was helping villagers press human rights issues relating to environmentally dangerous mining and petrochemical projects in their communities. Although its main focus still is environmental issues, just prior to the 2014 coup, the organization, with Pai in a leading role, expanded into more general pro-democracy activities, for instance defending the right to vote by filing a complaint against the Election Commission when it failed to successfully organize the election called by Prime Minister Yingluck.
Three months before famously becoming the first lese majesty victim under King Vajiralongkorn, Pai explained his activism to Amnesty International: “I decided to join Dao Din because I saw things that were not fair or just. I felt that I needed to do something. I knew that I couldn’t just look the other way.”
To those in Thailand criticizing the student activists as glory seekers, he replied “at least society now realises that a commoner can express themselves without having to wait for a hero or somebody to lead them.” (Bangkok Post)
Those who follow this blog, know that whether Pai is organizing a conference to discuss the junta’s proposed constitution, calling for the release of the political prisoners, or hunger striking to protest his own unjust incarceration, his every move is straight from the nonviolent-protest playbook. One assumes Pai has learned these methods from his parents, who are also activists and can be found on Facebook defending their son by singing famous protest songs, holding candle vigils, speaking at conferences, and, in the case of his mother, kneeling in the dirt to (successfully) block a moving truck.
The Thai Alliance for Human Rights congratulates Mr Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, or Pai Daodin, for this prestigious award and thanks him for his leadership and bravery in standing up for human rights in Thailand.
And we would like to thank the May 18th Memorial Foundation for drawing international attention to the persecution of yet another Thai human rights defender. Such persecution is not random, but systematic and state sponsored. From the article “Release Pai XII” at Political Prisoners: “We can be sure that the repeated refusal of bail [to Pai Daodin] is the junta’s decision and may well reflect the position of the palace. Both are seeking to send a message that political activism is out and that even pointing to something that is accurate but critical of the monarchy must be considered a political abomination.”
And yes, we mean YOU, King Vajiralongkorn. It is an open secret that the King has ordered the jailing of Pai Daodin.
If there is any good way out of the Orwellian mess in Thailand, it is Pai’s way, the way of nonviolent protest. Thai society needs to allow all segments of society have a say in their country. The junta has convinced many that there are only two choices: dictatorship or civil war. But the transition to a free and civilized society where human rights are respected could come through a peaceful civil rights revolution.
We ask the powers-that-be to make it possible for Pai to pick up his well-deserved award. It shouldn’t be that hard to think up a way to let an innocent man out of jail, especially when either Prayut or the King could simply declare it should be done.