Remarks by Ann Norman, Executive Director of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights, at the Laotian-Thai Human Rights Conference at the Rayburn Building, Washington, DC.
Conference organized by Lao Human Rights and Red USA – Thai Voice International; sponsored by US Congressman Markwayne Mullin)
[สวัสดีค่ะ พี่น้องทุกๆ ท่านที่รักความเป็นธรรม รู้สึกเป็นเกียรติ อย่างยิ่งที่ได้มาพูดตรงนี่ค่ะ P’ Chao asked me to talk about three human rights cases. This won’t be boring because it is horrifying.]
A 27-year old women, a leader of the Red Shirts, was one of thousands taken away for arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location right after the May 2014 coup conducted by General Prayuth Chanocha. Kritsuda’s family was frantic because unlike most of the others she wasn’t returned within the 7 days that the junta gave themselves to “legally” detain someone. But on the 28th day of her detention she appeared on TV and gave a chilling interview: wearing an anxious smile, she insisted she had been well treated by the military, that everything was great and she had spent her time watching TV and playing on the Internet; and that in fact at one point, the soldiers had let her go, but she was having such a good time she asked to stay longer! Then they led her go. What did the junta hope to gain by airing this totally implausible story? It was impossible to know whether they stupidly expected people to believe this story, or whether they wanted to terrify people with their amazing powers to extract compliance.
Kritsuda escaped the country and from safety told a completely different story: she had been blindfolded the whole time she was in custody, her hands tied––even when she went to the bathroom, a female soldier had to pull her pants down for her! The soldiers even bathed her, which see said she considered sexual harassment. And she could hear a man’s voice in the background while they bathed her. They slapped her, and at certain points they put a plastic bag over her head and suffocated her into unconsciousness. She awoke to the words “Is she dead yet?”
The junta threatened her to stop giving interviews saying they would charge her with further crimes if she kept talking. But opposing the junta is not a crime outside Thailand, so the junta accused her of supplying guns to a group of five who had just confessed to being the so-called “Men in Black” shooters from 2010. (This strategy repeats itself in the recent Ma Noi case.) But the men accused of being the Men in Black soon rescinded their confessions saying they had been tortured––threatened with execution, blindfolded, beaten, suffocated, buried up to their necks, and given electric shocks while in military custody.
Chaiyaphoom Pasae was a stateless hilltribe boy, of Lahu ethnicity, born in Thailand but not actually a Thai citizen, as is the case with many of the hilltribe people. Chaiyaphoom was shot dead by a soldier last month at a military checkpoint. The military claimed that they had found drugs hidden in the car in which he was a passenger, that Chaiyaphoom had run from them and when they pursued, he had pulled out a hand grenade to throw at them.
Chaiyaphoom’s many friends immediately began to shout that this was impossible. It turns out was not just any hilltribe boy, he was a famous community activist, singer, and short film maker. People knew his positive songs, which advised even if you are stateless, there is still much you can do for society. “Even if you are stateless, you still have breath, life, and dreams! Be proud of who you are.” His short films had been seen on Thai PBS. Even the most conservative Thai newspapers were scandalized. The story announcing Chaiyaphoom’s death in The Nation used a picture of him wearing a T-shirt with a dove on it that said “Peace.”
Voice TV then aired an investigative report interviewing witnesses to who stated they had seen Chaiyaphoom being severely beaten by the soldiers, and that he ran from them to escape the beating, and that’s when he was shot.
In response to these new reports, the junta, banned Voice TV channel from the air for one week for biased reporting. Multiple surveillance cameras had caught footage of the incident but the government said it would not release the footage. They had to “check it first.”
Pai Daodin (real name Jatupat Boonpattaraksa) is the first lese majesty victim under the reign of King Vajiralongkorn. First of all, congratulations to Pai Daodin, who just won the 2017 Gwanju Prize for Human Rights from a South Korean foundation. And this is not even his first human rights award. The Bangkok Post says he already picked up an award in 2014 for his organization Dao Din’s environmental work. Twenty-five-year-old Pai, a law student and human rights and prodemocracy activist with the group Dao Din, was arrested for sharing a BBC Thai news article about Thailand’s new king on Facebook. For this he was charged with lese majesty (insulting royalty), which carries a 3 to 15 year sentence. Pai has been in jail since right before Christmas when his bail was revoked for making a sarcastic comment about the junta.
The Thai government has no right to lock up people who read and share the news. To the world, Pai Doadin looks like American civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, who was taken off to jail when she refused to give up her seat on the bus for white people. Both Rosa Parks and Pai Daodin broke a rule that should never have been a rule. Laws should apply to all people equally. There should not be a law that favors white people over black people. Similarly, there should not be a law (lese majesty) that causes hundreds to go to jail and thousands to be exiled, [including many in this room] to protect a few members of the royal family. According to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression is an international human right that cannot be taken away, not even by an anti-blasphemy law such as Thailand’s Article 112.
The BBC article that Pai shared about the King is unflattering, but completely true. As the article states, many of Vajiralongkorn’s close associates in recent years have died under mysterious circumstances. But more shocking information has just made it into the public domain: the king has a secret prison at his palace, where Jumpol Manmai and others have been held. His third wife, the ex-Princess Srirasmi is missing and we have heard she is dead. Others say she is alive but being abused. It would take North Korea-style oppression to suppress all the open secrets Vajiralongkorn has to hide. Instead of protecting the King from Pai Daodin, Thailand should be protecting Pai Daodin and all other Thais from a king who attacks his enemies with the ruthlessness and frequency of a Vladimir Putin. The similarity between Vajiralongkorn and Vladimir Putin is not so surprising: complete impunity turns people into monsters. [This is about institutions! Good governance is not about finding “good people” to govern. Good people turn bad. Good governance is about institutions.] Thailand needs equality under the law. If there is any way out of this Orwellian nightmare, it is the way of Pai and the way of Rosa Parks––a peaceful civil rights revolution through nonviolent protest for democracy and human rights. [Fifty years ago, the United States had a Civil Rights Revolution when the country noticed we were throwing our best people in jail: the human rights activists, and the peace activists, and the pro-democracy activists––people who just wanted to VOTE and to be treated equally. We hope that Thailand can realize the same thing and that Pai Daodin will be Thailand’s Rosa Parks.]