TAHR letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights concerning the arrest of Ekachai Hongkangwan on June 24

To whom it may concern at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,

Today, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights, is immediately concerned for Thai citizen Ekachai Hongkangwan, arrested today, June 24, 2017, in Bangkok, while conducting an act of civil disobedience against the junta government of Prayuth Chan-ocha. But more generally, we want the United Nations and the world to recognize that something very sinister is going on in Thailand, menacing a wide range of human rights.

Some crucial background for understanding the arrest of Ekachai Hongkangwan: The day June 24, used to be celebrated as National Day in Thailand: on this day in 1932, Thai revolutionaries, in an almost bloodless revolution, ended absolute monarchy in Thailand. This day used to be widely and officially celebrated for many years, but over time, with royalist sentiments gaining ground, pro-democracy activists have taken over responsibility for publicly remembering this day. This year, which is the 85th anniversary of the revolution, the junta warned that the traditional National Day ceremonies could not be held.

Indeed it would be impossible for traditional National Day ceremonies to be held this year because the traditional ceremonies center around cleaning a bronze plaque, the size of a dinner plate, marking the spot on which revolutionaries announced the end of absolute monarchy 85 years ago; and in April, this plaque was stolen from the middle of a busy street where it was embedded, at a time when all the many security cameras in the area were conveniently off; and it was replaced with a plaque that doesn’t even mention the end of absolute monarchy and instead contains a royalist message about Thais with shining faces being faithful to the monarchy. All those asking for the theft to be investigated are, at least temporarily, arrested, and the junta has begged everyone to forget about the plaque and look to the future.

According to Pravit Rojanaphruk, of Khaosod English news, today “Ekachai Hongkangwan, a 42-year-old activist working with political prisoners and lese majeste detainees, contacted a reporter at 8:48am to say he had been taken away by half a dozen police inside a nondescript van and was about to enter the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok, where opponents of the military regime are held in a special prison on the army base.”

Ekachai Hongkangwan had been walking to the spot of the old memorial with a replica of the old plaque which he was going to cement over the new plaque. He expected to be arrested.

It is assumed by many that King Vajiralongkorn himself ordered the theft of the plaque. Who else would have both a motive and ability to move so brazenly to try to erase the history of the Thai people, and then to continuously guard the new plaque against the many people who loved the old plaque? If this assumption is true, then the arrest of Ekachai Hongkangwan is an especially toxic situation, as the King has a reputation as a cruel and cold-blooded killer. People are afraid they will be disappeared or murdered if they say or do anything to oppose him. Indeed over the past several years, 3 of his former close associates have died in military custody under suspicious circumstances that many fear to be extrajudicial killings; Vajiralongkorn’s former closest aide, Jumpol Manmai, has been charged and punished under very irregular proceedings that included a long enforced disappearance; and Vajiralongkorn’s ex-wife, the ex-Princess Srirasmi, has disappeared since their divorce, and, aside from our organization, no one dares mention either her disappearance or even the fact that she used to exist.

Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary, detention, or exile.” Knowing the pattern, we feel this case, involving an unmarked van and the “special” prison on an army base, is almost certainly an arbitrary detention. As such, Ekachai Hongkangwan is at risk of torture, prohibited in article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

More generally, this case is about Articles 19, 20, and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: freedom of expression (including the right to publicly acknowledge and discuss history); freedom of assembly (in this case, the freedom to peacefully assemble around the historical site on June 24, as on every previous Thai National Day); and the right to take part in government, directly or through freely chosen representatives (the pro-democracy activists see the theft of the plaque as part of a systematical pattern to consolidate the power of the military and the monarchy and discredit and reverse the progress of Thai democracy.) Indeed, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has for over three years been postponing the quick return to democracy that he promised when he overthrew the elected government in May 2014.

Please, demand the immediate release of Ekachai Hongkangwan. He is a former lese majesty prisoner, who already spent nearly 3 years in jail as for lese majesty (for selling CDs with an Australian Broadcasting Corporation news program critical of the monarchy), that is, he was political prisoner for exercising his right to free speech. It seems as if he has given up fear and is again peacefully throwing himself at the regime in the manner of a civil rights activist. Please demand to know the reasons for his arrest and his current location and condition.

In a strange twist of fate, the daughter of King Vajiralongkorn, Princess Bajrakitiyabha, is actually UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Rule of Law in Southeast Asia, with a special interest in the treatment of prisoners. She is especially well placed to help us with this case. Please have her help us, if she is able.

Thank you,
Ann Norman (แอน นอร์มาน), Executive Director
Thai Alliance for Human Rights
ภาคีไทยเพื่อสิทธิมนุษยชน

[email protected]
Thai Alliance for Human Rights
P.O. 42401
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

Bibliography:

Activist Arrested Trying to Mark Anniversary of Democratic Revolt, by Pravit Rojanaphruk. Khaosod English, June 24, 2017 http://www.khaosodenglish.com/politics/2017/06/24/activist-arrested-trying-reinstate-replica-revolution-plaque/

On the missing plaque:

“Thailand censors debate about missing democracy plaque in Bankgok,” by Linday Murdoch, Sydney Morning Herald, May 2, 2017. http://www.smh.com.au/world/thailan…

On the cruelty of King Vajiralongkorn, and a “special prison” for his enemies:

“Dhaveevatthana prison: hell on Earth in Thailand,” by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Japan Times, June, 2, 2017. http://www.smh.com.au/world/thailand-censors-debate-about-missing-democracy-plaque-in-bankgok-20170504-gvynfv.html

On the previous imprisonment of Ekachai Hongkangwan for lese majesty:
“Freed Lese Majeste Offender Loses Faith in UDD, Pins Hope on ‘Ordinary Folks’” by Pravit Rojanaphruk, November 23, 2015. http://www.khaosodenglish.com/politics/2015/11/23/1448261122/

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