Asia in Review Archive 2021

Thailand

Date of AiR edition

News summary

20 July 2021

United States urge ASEAN members to act on Myanmar, rejects China maritime claims

(mt) Addressing a video conference with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 14 urged the group to take joint action to help end violence, restore a democratic transition and release those “unjustly detained” in Myanmar. [The Irrawaddy] [The Straits Times]

The virtual session marked the first such high-level meeting between the two sides under the administration of US President Joe Biden. Both sides were scheduled to hold their first foreign ministers’ encounter via videoconference on May 25, but Blinken, who was touring the Middle East at the time, cancelled over technical difficulties after keeping his counterparts waiting.

Laos, which coordinates the bloc’s “dialogue relations” with Washington, had wanted the session to be held back-to-back with the ASEAN Regional Forum on security next month, but Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia were persuasive in preponing it.

The meeting comes amid rising concerns that the Biden administration has done little to engage ASEAN since taking office in January, focusing instead on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a loose strategic coalition comprising of France, the United States, India and Australia, which is increasingly seen as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence and alleged assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

During the virtual meeting, Blinken urged his counterparts to take “immediate action” on the so-called “Five-Point Consensus” reached by the bloc’s leaders in earlier in April and appoint a special envoy to Myanmar. The ASEAN has been showing limits in firmly doing so both due to internal disagreements among group members, but also key foundational principles of the group of non-interference and consensus [see AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]. The US official also asked for the release of all those “unjustly detained” in the country, and the restoration of Myanmar’s democratic transition. [Voice of America]

Blinken also emphasized his country’s rejection of China’s “unlawful maritime claims” in the South China Sea at the meeting and said Washington “stands with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of (Chinese) coercion”. [The Diplomat]

The remarks assume added significance, coming as they did hot on the heels of the fifth anniversary of the international tribunal ruling on the South China Sea [see also AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2].   On July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal established in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) found that Beijing’s claim to “historic rights” or “maritime rights and interests” established in the “long course of historical practice” in the disputed waterway were inconsistent with UNCLOS and, to the extent of that inconsistency, invalid.

20 July 2021

Thailand to end emergency in the Deep South, activists and observers demand

(pr) Rights groups and observers urge the government to lift the Emergency Decree in the southernmost provinces of Thailand as it raises human rights concerns, and its effectiveness in controlling the pandemic and insurgency is questioned.

The Emergency Decree, martial law decrees, and the Internal Security Act has been applied for 16 years in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla. The majority of the people in the area are Muslims. These laws allow officers to take special measures in order to combat insurgency such as the detainment of suspects for 30 days.

In an event organized by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, along with the Cross Culture Foundation and the International Commission of Jurists, rights groups say these measures do not help solve the conflict but are deepening the divide, and are being misused in violations of people’s rights. The former National Human Rights Commissioner said the consolidation of governance through the Emergency Decree led to ineffective disease control compared to the more effective response during the first wave when power was decentralized in the hands of provincial governors. [Bangkok Post]

20 July 2021

Thailand: Man put under pre-trial detention for lèse-majesté charge denied bail for the third time

(pr) A man charged with royal defamation was denied bail for the third time. The charges relate to three online posts earlier this year. The court reasoned that there was a flight risk, the charge was serious and there was no other reason to deviate from the previous orders. Two previous bail requests were made earlier this month. According to the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 103 charges of royal defamation have been filed since November 2020. [Prachatai English

Royal defamation is a criminal offense in Thailand which carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

20 July 2021

Thailand: Second reading of charter amendment bill expected in August

(pr) Paiboon Nititawan, a lawmaker of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and also the chairman of the committee examining the constitutional amendment bill, said the second reading of the bill should be around August. Paiboon said the committee will finalize its work on August 7 and the second reading is expected to be held later that month. 15 days after the second reading as required by law, the bill will go through a final reading. Lawmakers also have the right to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on questions concerning the bill before it is presented for royal endorsement. [Bangkok Post]Last month, the joint sitting of Parliament approved the bill in the first reading. Sponsored by the ruling government coalition – save the PPRP – the bill proposes to amend Sections 83 and 91 of the 2017 Constitution to adjust the proportions of lawmakers from currently 350 constituency MPs and 150 party-list MPs to 400 and 100, respectively. It also seeks to return to the previous election system that involves voters casting to ballots – one for a candidate and one for a political party. [see, AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]

20 July 2021

Thailand: Anti-government protestors clash with police

(pr) Anti-government protestors rallying in Bangkok clashed with the police on Monday, which marked the anniversary of the first major rally since the 2014 coup. The police fired water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas at protestors when they attempted to bring down barricades in their march towards the Government House. Among those injured, three reporters on the scene were hit by rubber bullets despite having visible press identification. [Prachatai English]

The protestors demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha for the mismanagement of the pandemic, military and palace budget reductions, and the procurement of mRNA vaccines. They carried mock body bags to represent deaths from COVID-19. They later dispersed and vowed to return. [Bangkok Post 1] [Channel News Asia] [Reuters]

One of the leaders of the protest was the Free Youth Group. It led one of biggest rallies since the 2014 coup on the same day last year. [see, AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]  

The protestors gathered despite a ban on gatherings in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. More than 2,000 police officers were deployed to maintain order. [Bangkok Post 2] Violations of the ban are punishable with up to two years in prison. [Thai PBS World]

Further restrictions are underway to curb the spread of the virus, which has now created an economic and financial crisis. Stricter control measures further dampen any outlook on economic growth and destroy business confidence. Analysts say the revised lower growth rate of 1.8 percent set by the Bank of Thailand (BoT) is highly unlikely. Household debt rose to 90.5 percent of GDP in three months, the highest in 19 years from 89.3 percent at the end of 2020, urging BoT Governor to comment the current crisis was bigger one than the Financial Crisis of 1997. [Thai Examiner] Thailand was once praised as a model in containing the pandemic but is now facing an average of 10,000 infections per day and the total number has exceed 400,000 since it started last year. [Bangkok Post 3]

20 July 2021

Thailand: Three generals are candidates for position of secretary-general of the NSC

(pr) Three generals are rumored to be potential candidates for the position of secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC). General Supoj Malaniyom is the chief of staff at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters. General Chatchai Patranavik is the former commander of the Counter Terrorist Operation Center. General Nothapol Boonngam, is a specialist at the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defense. Sources say General Nothapol was groomed to take over the position two years ago and was an advisor in the NSC during the tenure of the previous NSC chief, General Somsak Rungsita. The incumbent NSC chief is General Nattaphol Nakpanich.

Military reshuffle lists are being prepared to be presented to the reshuffle committee next month. The committee will be attended by the commanders of the different armed forces and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who also holds the position of Defense Minister. He is in charge of picking the NSC chief. An NSC source says military background has become an unspoken qualification since the coup in 2014. The Permanent Secretary of Defense, and the commanders of the air force and navy will also be succeeded at the end of the fiscal year in September. [Bangkok Post]

20 July 2021

Thailand: Six local media organizations to join concerns over pandemic regulation on press freedom

(pr) Six local media organizations expressed concerns over the impact of the recent regulatory measures issued under 2005 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation on press freedom, which came into effect last week. The six organizations are the National Press Council of Thailand, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Society for Online News Providers and the National Union of Journalists. They said the clause bestows officials with too much discretionary power and cut out the requirement of a warning, suspension, and opportunity of redress to offenders before legal action can be taken, which was present in the previous regulation. They cautioned that the measures may affect the freedom of expression and media rights and urged the government to reconsider the measures. [Bangkok Post]

The civil society group Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) joined the criticism, arguing the prohibitions went beyond the presentation of fake news and false information about COVID-19 but also prohibits the sharing of news and information, which may be true, “that may cause panic among the public or has the intention to distort information that causes misunderstandings in emergency situations that affect the security of the state, peace and order, or decent public morals nationwide”. [see, AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]

20 July 2021

Thailand: Media Company content to affect national security, says NBTC

(pr) The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) ordered MVTV company to pay a fine for airing a news program allegedly affecting national security. The program reported on the situation of the protests in front of the Supreme Court, which called for the release of the then-detained activists and also interviewed protestors. A majority of the commissioners held that the content affected national security, peace, and public morals and ruled for MVTV to be fined. 

According to the minutes to the meeting, a dissenting commissioner said that the program was a news report of the situation, was done in good faith, and also asked whether the NBTC had compared the reported content to other channels so the NBTC’s self-initiated investigation was not discriminatory. He also cautioned for the NBTC to investigate whether the news program led to the initiation of contempt of court or court insult cases. If there was none, it would not be prudent for the NBTC to decide on the matter beforehand.

The NBTC also fined the company for over-time airing of advertisements, and advertisements featuring food and health products, which it ruled to be taking advantage of the audience. [Prachatai English]

20 July 2021

Thailand: Leaders of pro-democracy protestors indicted for protest held last year

(pr) Prosecutors have indicted 14 key pro-democracy protest leaders protesting against the government at the Victory Monument last year on the grounds of sedition and violating the Emergency Decree issued to curb the spread of the pandemic. A majority of them turn up to hear the charges. High profile activists, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, and lawyer Arnon Nampa were among the 14 indicted. [Bangkok Post] [Thai PBS World] They were previously put under pre-trial detention for various criminal charges such as sedition and royal defamation, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.  They were released from detention on conditions that include not protesting. However, on June 24, they joined pro-democracy demonstrations which re-emerged after a hiatus due to the worsening pandemic. [see, AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5

20 July 2021

Thailand: Leader of Sang Thai Party sued for defamation of government

(pr) Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, the leader of Sang Thai Party and former chief strategist of Pheu Thai Party was sued for defamation and instigating unrest over her party’s campaign to take legal action against the government for the mismanagement of the pandemic. They carry a maximum sentence of two respective seven years.According to Seksakol, the Sang Thai Party’s campaign to sue the “murderous government” and the accusation of mismanagement were defamatory, labeling them a political game and attempt to discredit the government. The Sang Thai Party had launched an online campaign to collect signatures against the government for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. [Bangkok Post]

20 July 2021

Thailand: Government mishandled the pandemic

(pr) In its assessment report, Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) said the government has mishandled the pandemic. It evaluated that the government handled the first wave of infections during the early months of 2020 well due to the work of medical personnel and public cooperation. The second wave during the end of the year was caused by lenient border controls, which led to the spread of the virus mainly from labor migrants. 

Despite warning signs from the first two waves, the government did not sufficiently prepare for the third wave in March 2021, which then originated from entertainment venues.  The disbursement of money was slow. Additionally, there were poor decisions such as allowing people to travel home during the national holiday in April instead of announcing a lockdown.  Administration in emergencies was chaotic and incoherent. 

Vaccine procurement and inoculation was slow. There was no risk diversification in procurement.   [TDRI, in Thai] Vaccine procurement and inoculation was slow and it made a mistake in not joining the COVAX, the global collaboration to produce and provide equitable access to vaccines. The government majorly relied on AstraZeneca locally produced by a company owned by the Thai king as its main vaccine. However, the production fell short of the 61 million doses target by the end of the year and may be delayed until May 2022. In addition to attempts to secure vaccines from other producers, it planned to restrict exports of the locally produced AstraZeneca to other countries in the region. [The Diplomat

According to a leaked letter from Astra Zeneca, approximately 35% of the vaccines locally produced will be provided to Thailand and the rest will be exported to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Restriction of exports or additional allocations might have economic repercussions. [Nikkei Asia

The TDRI report proposed the establishment of an independent committee to gather facts and study the mishandling of the pandemic to prevent similar mistakes in the future as well as holding the people responsible accountable. [Bangkok Post

 

20 July 2021

Thailand: Contempt of court cases increased in 2021

(pr) According to a report by legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), 2021 saw a sharp increase in contempt of court cases, mostly in connection with protesters calling to grant bail to detained activists. In 2021, 18 people in 14 cases have been prosecuted under contempt of court laws, as opposed to the years between 2014 and 2018, that had only 9 cases involving 20 people reported. Contempt of court offences include the refusal to comply with court orders, causing disorder in a trial, misleading the public about a trial or tempting people to give false evidence or testimony. The maximum jail sentence is 6 months. Insulting a judge or the court in a trial carries a jail sentence between one to seven years.

Rights groups criticized the government and  the former National Council for Peace and Order, to misuse the offense of contempt of court. Due to the number of detained activists and the claimed political setting of the court hearing, activists frequently gave speeches in front of the court, took photographs inside the courtroom during hearings, and organized protests in front of the court, actions which have been judged as a violation of these laws. [Prachatai English]

20 July 2021

Thailand: Prime Minister postpones the Navy’s purchase of two submarines 

(pr) The Defense Ministry announced the postponement of the Navy’s plan to purchase two submarines for $685 million from the Chinese government, naming the necessity to manage spending amid the pandemic. The proposal faced heavy opposition, from the public as well as from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party. [Bangkok Post 1

The Navy said it was duty-bound to make the proposal and it was “a matter of procedure”. The purchase is within the $6.1 billion defense budget under the national expenditure bill, which is current under parliamentary examination. [Bangkok Post 2

20 July 2021

Thailand: NGOs urge not to buy electricity produced by Laos dam

(pr) A group of domestic and international organizations urged the Thai government not to purchase electricity to be produced by the Luang Prabang Dam due to concerns that the dam’s operation will threaten a world heritage site. The project by a Thai-owned developer has already begun and is scheduled to finish in 2027. A heritage impact assessment was not yet completed. Concerns mentioned were the displacement of communities around the dam, environmental impacts from the dam’s construction and operation, and the threat it posed to Luang Prabang City.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed the ancient city of Luang Prabang as a world heritage site. It will be on the agenda of the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) taking place throughout this month. The WHC’s draft decision recommended the government to pause construction until the full assessment was carried out. [The Diplomat] According to Lao authorities, all environmental impact assessment reports have been completed but the world heritage impact assessment was rejected by the WHC and demanded to be renewed. The dam is part of a bigger project of 11 Mekong River dams by the Lao government as an economic strategy to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia” by selling its produced electricity to countries in the region. [Radio Free Asia]

20 July 2021

Thailand to proceed with world heritage nomination of forest complex despite indigenous rights issues

(pr) The Thai government is insisting on the nomination of Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex as a world heritage site despite rights issues with communities within the area. According to a cabinet resolution, the Thai delegation should convince the WHC and other related bodies of the situation of the communities in the forest area and amend any draft resolution which might affect future proceedings should the result of the session be unfavorable to Thailand. 

Against this backdrop, the National Human Rights Committee of Thailand proposed that the government postpone the nomination of the forest complex due to unresolved human, indigenous, and land rights violations against indigenous Karen communities in the area. The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) takes place between 16-31 July in China.

Last month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an advisory body to the WHC, also recommended the deferral of the nomination for similar reasons. Prior to this attempt, Thailand applied for the site to be recognized as a world heritage three times but was all deferred for the same reasons. [see, AiR No. 27, July/2021, 1

On a related matter, the cabinet resolution stated that the Thai delegation should convince the WHC and related bodies not to list Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex as an Endangered World Heritage Site.  [Prachatai English]

20 July 2021

ASEAN and the EU’s AI legislation

(nd) According to a recent analysis, the EU’s recent draft legislation to harmonize artificial intelligence (AI) rules is unlikely to have direct impact on similar legislation in Southeast Asia. Still, there might be some repercussive effects of it since the objectives of the legislation, risk mitigation for AI systems, is relevant for the region as well. As part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, competitively-priced technology has already been exported through Chinese companies, namely Huawei, Hikvision, Dahua and ZTE, notably in the area of face recognition, raising concerns about security risks and the danger of importing norms and values from the system providers.

Regionally, AI-based systems are not produced largely yet, with the exception of Singapore having launched a national AI strategy for AI-based solutions in the global market. One obstacle therefore for implementing EU rules directly is the lower degree of integration of markets and regulations in the regional bloc as opposed to the EU. Nevertheless, in its first Digital Ministers’ Meeting early this year, ASEAN adopted a Digital Masterplan 2025 with the aim of a regional policy for best practice guidance on AI governance and ethics. A key issue will be regulating cross-border data flows among member states which have localization requirements for personal data. 

The recently adopted Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership missed this chance and still enables parties to restrict cross-border data flows, with the sole requirement of non-discriminatory application. Of the signatories, only Singapore and Vietnam implemented the “gold standard” digital trade provisions supporting cross-border data flows. Since most ASEAN members have already formed a national AI strategy, it could be beneficial for the bloc to focus on a sector-based approach to subsequently build a common framework for AI policy consolidation. [East Asia Forum]

20 July 2021

Cambodia to chair ASEAN in 2022

(nd) For the upcoming Cambodian chairmanship of ASEAN, some core issues were identified in a recent analysis, which in part had been already identified for its last chairmanship in 2012. Back then, Cambodia was criticized for siding with China over conflicting territorial claims at the South China Sea. Cambodia is a non-claimant state to the disputed waters and repeatedly referred to its neutrality, yet ASEAN has to address the desperately needed Code of Conduct issue, which needs a central and united approach of the bloc. 

Similarly, the aftermath of the coup and the situation in Myanmar are yet to be solved, with the violence continuing amid a spike in Covid-19 and unlikeliness of a successful implementation of ASEAN’s five-point consensus reached during its special summit in April. Additionally, Cambodia itself is criticized for its poor human rights record and has a less strict attitude towards the coup than other bloc members. Another unsolved cross-border issue is the environmental situation in the Mekong Delta region caused by a multitude of big dam projects at the Upper Mekong River.

With all three issues, the growing US-China rivalry is putting even more pressure on the bloc’s members, driving division within and making a united stand harder to achieve. This applies especially given Cambodia’s high economic and military involvement with China. For months, tensions were simmering due to the alleged establishment of a Chinese military base in Cambodia opposed by the US. While Chinese vaccinations have come under criticism and some bloc members have stopped using Sinovac, Cambodia is exclusively using Chinese vaccinations, showing their high dependence on China. [East Asia Forum]

20 July 2021

Cambodia, Thailand to create joint business council

(nd) Cambodia and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in order to have the newly-established Cambodia Business Council (CBC) Bangkok and Thai Subcontracting Promotion Association (Thai Subcon) join forces to boost bilateral trade and investment. The cooperation furthers the implementation of Cambodia’s 2021-2023 Economic-Diplomacy Strategy. The collaboration of networks will cover a wide of areas, such as automotive parts, food processing machinery and electronics and generally increase potential in manufacturing, management, marketing and procurement. In 2020, the countries’ bilateral trade volume amounted to $7.236 billion, down by 23.17 % from 2019 due to the repercussions of the global pandemic. [The Star]

13 July 2021

United States, ASEAN to hold virtual meeting of foreign ministers on July 14

(lm) The United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will hold a foreign minister’s meeting virtually on July 14, marking the first such high-level meeting between the two sides under the administration of US President Joe Biden. [South China Morning Post]

Both sides were scheduled to hold their first foreign ministers’ encounter via videoconference on May 25. But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was touring the Middle East at the time, canceled over technical difficulties after keeping his counterparts waiting. Many ASEAN officials viewed the technical glitch as a political slight, a sign Washington had not invested sufficient effort in planning for the meeting and was once again putting off the pivot to Asia by prioritizing other regions in the world—in this case, the Middle East.

Against this backdrop, United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman last month embarked on an 11-day diplomatic tour that included stopovers in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand, aimed at signaling that Washington was finally turning its diplomatic focus to Southeast Asia to counter a rising Chinese clout in the region. [AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2]

The rescheduled meeting will be attended by Blinken and all foreign ministers from the 10-member ASEAN, including Myanmar’s junta-appointed top diplomat. Laos, which coordinates the bloc’s “dialogue relations” with the US, had wanted the virtual session to be held back-to-back with the ASEAN Regional Forum on security next month, but Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia were persuasive in preponing it.

ASEAN previously held a foreign ministers’ meeting with China in Chongqing on June 7 [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2] and, more recently, with Russia in Jakarta on July 6.

13 July 2021

Singapore says ASEAN to ‘expedite’ Myanmar plan, as grouping remains deadlocked in selection of envoy

(mt) The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is working to expedite the implementation of the so-called ‘five-point consensus’ plan reached by their leaders to deal with the crisis in Myanmar, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan reiterated on July 7. [The Diplomat]

Nearly three months after the military coup in Myanmar, the 10 ASEAN member states in April announced a Five-Point Consensus for resolving the country’s state of grinding emergency. Of the five points, three refer to outcomes desired by the grouping: the cessation of violence; the delivery of humanitarian aid through the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance; and the beginning of political dialogue to end the crisis. The other two are mechanisms to achieve these outcomes: the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy and the dispatch of a delegation to Myanmar to meet all relevant stakeholders. [AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4]

But ASEAN leaders failed to agree on a time frame for the implementation of the consensus, and progress has been slow, even on what would appear to be the most straightforward point of consensus: the appointment of a special envoy.

A recent report by Japan’s Kyodo News suggests that there are currently three nominees: Virasakdi Futrakul, a former Thai Deputy Foreign Minister and veteran diplomat; Hassan Wirajuda, a former Indonesian Foreign Minister, and Razali Ismail, a Malaysian who in the 2000s served as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Myanmar and played a pivotal role in releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in May 2002. [Kyodo News]

Citing ASEAN diplomatic sources, the news outlet claims that each of the three candidates is being pushed by their respective government, and that the choice “appears to have become intertwined with the domestic and strategic agendas of the nominating countries.”

A case in point, Indonesia believes that Hassan could establish momentum towards resolving the situation in Myanmar. But the country’s military seems to be leaning toward the Thai candidate, most notably because the military junta “is [said to be] no longer interested in the Indonesian model of democratic transition but prefers the Thai model where the military wields superior political leverage and policy influence.” 

Thailand, whose military is said to have close ties to neighboring Myanmar [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3], seems to be primarily concerned with ensuring its border security and commercial interests vis-a-vis Myanmar. Bangkok this week reiterated that it does not have the “luxury of distance”, and thus could not afford to be complacent about what is happening in neighboring Myanmar. [Bangkok Post]

13 July 2021

Thailand: People wrongly prosecuted, detained ‘entitled to compensation’

(pr) Thailand’s Ministry of Justice is currently inquiring into the whereabouts of more than 400 people who were wrongly prosecuted, tried and imprisoned in criminal cases – but later found not guilty and released – to inform them they are entitled to compensation under the law. [Bangkok Post]

Under the law on compensation in criminal cases, those wrongly detained and imprisoned may file a request with the authorities for compensation which include detention compensation, legal expenses, rehabilitation costs, medical expenses and lost income. 

The Ministry faces difficulty in locating the released people because they did not return to their domiciles recorded in the register.

13 July 2021

Thailand: Protesters urge coalition parties to withdraw support from government

(pr) Several groups of anti-government protestors returned to the streets of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, urging the withdrawal of the Democrat and Bhumjaithai Parties from the ruling government coalition. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2]

A first protest was held by the Prachachon Khon Thai (Thai people) group, which is led by well-known royalist Nititorn Lamlua. The group seeks to have an outsider or non-lawmaker nominated as a new prime minister as per Section 272 of the 2017 Constitution.

A second protest was organized by the Thai Mai Thon (Impatient Thais) group, led by Adul Khiaoboriboon, chairman of the Heroic Committee of May ’35. The group’s previous leader, Jatuporn Prompan, last week was ordered back to prison over an old offense. [see article in this edition]

A caravan led by Sombat Boonngam-anong, a former top leader of the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, visited the headquarters of both parties in the afternoon. The protesters also visited the headquarter of the ruling Palang Pracharath (PPRP), where they poured flour, which has come to symbolize PPRP Secretary-General Thamanat Prompow, who had been convicted of drug-related charges in Australia in the 1990s. 

Another pro-democracy group, Friend Zone, initiated an online campaign to also pressure some coalition parties to withdraw their support from the government coalition.

The PPRP-led government coalition currently controls 271 seats in the 500-member lower house of parliament. Opposition parties, in turn, are being represented by 212 lawmakers, including 124 from the Pheu Thai Party and 53 from the Move Forward Party.

If both the Democrat (48) and Bhumjaithai (61) Parties were to pull out, the ruling coalition would be left with 162 lawmakers – not enough to pass key legislations, such as the budget bill for the next fiscal year. But what is more, the combined votes of PPRP and the 250 Senators would not suffice to elect a new prime minister, for this would require at least 376 of the 750 votes in a joint sitting of both chambers of parliament.

13 July 2021

Thailand: CCSA announces further restrictions, as protestors demand more vaccine options

(pr) The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has announced stricter measures to further prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since July 12, the measures are being applied in Bangkok, its surrounding provinces, and the four southernmost provinces of Thailand. [Bangkok Post 1]

In contrast to last year where Thailand was able to keep daily infections within two digits, the situation is worsening, and it is facing hospital bed shortages which may led to the collapse of the health care system. The crisis has attracted government criticism, and led to anti-government protests during the past few weeks. [Nikkei Asia] [see AiR No. No. 27, July/2021, 1]

The measures include a curfew from 9:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.; prohibition of gatherings of more than five people; some businesses have shorter operating hours; and closure of infection-risk businesses, such as spas. Work from home is encouraged, while interprovincial movement is to be avoided.

The Public Health Ministry previously proposed stricter measures to the CCSA to encourage people to stay home, reduce interprovincial movement, and shorten the operating hours of businesses. [Bangkok Post 2]

13 July 2021

Thailand: Supreme Court confirms sentence of protest leader Jatuporn Prompan

(pr) Thailand’s Supreme Court on July 8 ordered longtime political activist Jatuporn Prompan to serve consecutive prison terms for almost another year for defaming former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, months after he resumed street protests and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. [The Straits Times]

Jatuporn is a former top leader of the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, also known as the “red shirt” movement, that opposed the 2006 Thai coup d’état.

He was found guilty of defamation in 2017 and sentenced to 12 months in prison without suspension. At the time, Jatuporn was already serving a one-year sentence in a separate defamation case against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. [Bangkok Post]

Jatuporn appealed against a consecutive sentence order, saying that the ruling deprived him of his rights. He was released in 2018 after completing his first prison term but the former prime minister later contested Jatuporn’s early release. [Thai PBS World]

In February, he emerged as the leader of the Thai Mai Thon (Impatient Thais) group, which seeks the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and has since launched a series of anti-government rallies. [AiR No. 27, July/2021, 1 AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]

 

13 July 2021

Thailand: Pheu Thai Party to seek new censure debate against government

(pr) The opposition Pheu Thai Party (PTP) has vowed to initiate another vote of no confidence to oust the Prime Minister Prayut-led government over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, the party plans to submit a motion by the end of the month to ensure that the floor test takes place before the end of the current parliamentary session, that is, September 18. [Bangkok Post]

Earlier in February, following a four-day censure debate, the prime minister and nine ministers comfortably survived a no-confidence motion brought by the opposition over the government’s mishandling of the vaccine roll-out and economic policies. [AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]

In May, then, representatives of some opposition parties, including the PTP, petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission, asking the body to investigate Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, in his capacity as director of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, for his failure to deal with the pandemic. [AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]

Commenting on the possibility of legal action against the government, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that a petition may be filed to the Administrative Court. Civil suits for compensation may also be filed. Howevercriminal action against officials may be barred for actions taken in an emergency situation.

13 July 2021

Thailand: Even publication of information that is true may violate new pandemic regulation, observers say

(pr) Observers in Thailand have express concerns over the latest set of regulations issued under the Emergency Decree, pointing at a provision they say is aimed at limiting free speech and the free flow of information. [Bangkok Post]

The 2005 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations, which allows the government to streamline disease-control plans without multiple approvals from various agencies, has been in place since March last year. Since then, several restrictions have been amended or relaxed, expect for those governing the dissemination of news and information.

Regulation No.27 issued under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree was published in the Royal Gazette on July 10 and came into effect two days thereafter. It introduced stricter measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. [Royal Gazette, in Thai]

According to civil society group Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), Clause 11 under the latest set of regulations introduces a major change to these restrictions by prohibiting the sharing of news and information “that may cause panic among the public or has the intention to distort information that causes misunderstandings in emergency situations that affect the security of the state, peace and order, or decent public morals nationwide”. [iLaw, in Thai]

Until recently, the regulations had only prohibited the presentation of fake news and false information about COVID-19.

13 July 2021

Thailand: Charter change committee elects chairman, as big parties push for change in electoral system

(pr) Ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) lawmaker Paiboon Nititawan has been elected to chair the parliamentary committee tasked with scrutinizing a constitutional amendment draft, after the bill early this month was passed by a joint session of Parliament. [Bangkok Post 1]

According to Paiboon, who secured 27 votes in the 45-member committee, the draft should be ready for the second and third readings in Parliament early next month.

Sponsored by the ruling government coalition – save the PPRP – the endorsed bill proposes to amend Sections 83 and 91 of the 2017 Constitution to adjust the proportions of lawmakers from currently 350 constituency MPs and 150 party-list MPs to 400 and 100, respectively. It also seeks to return to the previous election system that involves voters casting to ballots – one for a candidate and one for a political party. [AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]

The system is believed to benefit large and well-known parties capable of mounting energetic nation-wide election campaigns. Unsurprisingly, then, the country’s two biggest parties, the ruling PPRP and the opposition Pheu Thai Party are both pushing for a required minimum threshold of at least 1 percent of the total votes for political parties to be allocated party-list seats.

The PPRP also seeks to include a provision that requires political parties to field candidates in at least 100 constituencies to being allocated any party-list seats.

This arrangement contravenes the interests of smaller parties which may not meet the proposed minimum threshold and will not be allocated party-list seats. Pichet Sathirachawal, leader of the smaller Prachatham Thai Party, therefore proposed the threshold to be lowered 0.02 percent, or a minimum of 70,000 votes. [Bangkok Post 2]

Committee members from the opposition Move Forward Party, meanwhile, have criticized the charter amendment bill, saying it was flawed and did to warrant further scrutiny. Specifically, they argue that the bill does not seeking amendments to all charter provisions governing the voting system, such as those relating to the method of calculation of party-list lawmakers. [Bangkok Post 3]

13 July 2021

Indonesia seeks greater role for Italy in ASEAN

(sa) On 7 July 2021, Indonesian Ambassador to Italy Esti Andayani pushed for greater ASEAN-Italy cooperation in sustainable development at the ‘Italy-ASEAN Partnership for Development: A Look at Sustainable Development’. The Ambassador, who is also chief of the ASEAN Committee in Rome (ACR) noted the benefits of post-pandemic cooperation and highlighted the economic impact of Covid-19. [Antara News]

13 July 2021

Russia backs ASEAN five-point consensus on tackling crisis in Myanmar

(lm) Speaking during a visit to Indonesia, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week expressed his country’s support for the Five Point Consensus agreed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to end the political crisis in Myanmar. [The Straits Times]

The diplomat’s comments assume added significance, coming as they did amid deepening engagement between Russia and Myanmar’s military, even as major global powers sanction its businesses and top leaders and call for a global ban on arms sales to the Southeast Asian country.

Independent news outlet Myanmar Now on July 6 reported that a 20-member Russian delegation led by two high-ranking Navy officers secretly visited Myanmar between June 13 and 19, ahead of its junta leader’s trip to Russia last month, citing a document it said it had obtained. [Myanmar Now, in Burmese]

Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing arrived in Moscow on June 20 to attend the Moscow Conference for International Security, marking only his second known trip abroad since the army overthrew the civilian government in February [see AiR No. 25, June/2021, 4]. His visit followed on a trip to Moscow by a delegation led by the country’s Air Force Chief, General Maung Maung Kyaw [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4].

Both visits lend weight to arguments that claim Russia is seeking an avenue to advance its strategic interests in Southeast Asia. Moreover, Moscow – which has seen a steady decline of its weapons exports since 2010 – might consider Myanmar a “gateway” for this lucrative market. For the military junta, in turn, Moscow provides an opportunity to diversify supplies and to reduce its dependency on China, Myanmar’s main weapons supplier.

6 July 2021

Thailand: Former commerce minister faces graft probe over rice deal

(pr) Thailand’s anti-graft body, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, has announced it would form a sub-panel to investigate former Commerce Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong over allegations he failed to act alleged irregularity in the selection of a local supplier for rice exported to Indonesia in 2011. [Bangkok Post]

Kittiratt served as Deputy Prime Minister in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra between 2011 and 2014. Additionally, he led the Ministry of Commerce until January 2012 and then served as Finance Minister until May 2014. 

6 July 2021

Thailand: Royalists ‘dox’ hundreds of pro-democracy activists using Google Maps

(pr) Google has taken down two Google Maps documents that had listed the names and addresses of hundreds of Thai activists who were accused by royalists of opposing the monarchy. [South China Morning Post]

A royalist group led by activist Songklod “Pukem” Chuenchoopol had created the maps and planned to initiate legal proceedings on accusations of royal defamation, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The royalist activist said the content in them had come from public research. But human rights groups and critics of the establishment said the maps could put the people included in the documents at risk of violence.

 

6 July 2021

Thailand: Parliamentary session on hazardous substances law suspended, lawmakers to be probed

(pr) Speaker of the Thai House of Representatives Chuan Leekpai had to suspend a sitting of Parliament’s lower chamber on government-sponsored amendments to the hazardous substances law after several lawmakers decided not to insert their ID cards to declare their presence in Parliament resulting in a lack of quorum.

At least 242 lawmakers of the 483-member House are required to constitute a quorum, but only 206 were presentduring voting time. Mostly absent were coalition lawmakers: Only 9 out of 120 lawmakers from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, and 8 out of 61 from Bhumjaithai Party were present. Meanwhile, 62 lawmakers from Pheu Thai Party of the opposition were not present. [Thairath, in Thai]

Their no-show decision stemmed from conflicting opinions within the committee examining the bill over the importation of hazardous substances to be used in farms. Changes to the law would affect the interests of big companies. Even ministers in the coalition, Agriculture Minister Chalermchai Srion, of the Democrat Party, and Deputy Agricultural Minister Mananya Thaiset of the Bhumjaithai Party had conflicting opinions over the issue. [Thai PBS World]

Some observers view that the coalition did not want this bill to be rejected as its contents relate to fiscal spending such as remuneration and expenses of experts on hazardous substances. If bills of importance or financial bills fail to gain approval, it is customary for Parliament to be dissolved. Therefore, they avoided the vote by causing a lack of quorum. [Matichon, in Thai]

In addition, the lawmakers’ decision not to declare their presence in Parliament may constitute an ethical violation. Activist Srisuwan Janya of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution will file a petition to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate the 277 lawmakers’ conduct which resulted in suspension of the parliamentary session. If the NACC finds grounds for an ethical violation, it may forward the case to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders. [Bangkok Post] 

6 July 2021

Thailand: Constitutional Court denies ruling on disqualification of PM

(pr) Thailand’s Constitutional Court has dismissed a petition filed by 72 lawmakers that sought Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to be disqualified over intervening in acquiring concessions for the implementation of a train project through the issuance of an executive order.

The executive order was issued in April 2019 by Prime Minister Prayut as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) which ruled the country from 2014 to2019.

To support its dismissal, the Court reasoned that by the time the petition was filed, the status of the prime minister had ceased a new Cabinet was formed after the March 2019 election. Therefore, the petitioners had no right to file for disqualification. [Thai Constitutional Court Press Release, in Thai]

6 July 2021

Thailand: Police to take legal action against 70 people for participating in protests on weekend

(pr) Police in Thailand have announced they will initiate legal proceedings against at least 70 individuals who have been identified as participating in anti-government protests held between July 2 and 4 at various locations across the capital, Bangkok. [Bangkok Post 1]

Held on July 2, the first rally was organized by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration and the pro-democracy Ratsadon group. The protest was allegedly led by student leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who was granted conditional bail in May on a number of conditions, including not dishonor the monarchy or cause unrest [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2].

The following day, three groups of anti-government protesters took to the streets to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. [Bangkok Post 2]

A first protest was held near the Government House by the Prachachon Khon Thai group. The group is led by well-known royalist Nititorn Lamlua, a former co-leader of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee which played a leading role in the 2013–14 Thai political crisis, organizing large-scale protests within Bangkok. The group seeks to have an outsider or non-MP nominated as a new prime minister as per Section 272 of the Constitution.

The second protest, also held in the area, was organized by the Thai Mai Thon group led by Jatuporn Prompan, a core leader of the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) that opposed the 2006 Thai coup d’état. The group also seeks to unseat Prime Minister Prayut, but leaves it to a joint sitting of Parliament to choose his replacement. 

The third and final protest of the day saw UDD activist Sombat Boonngam-anong leading a “car mob” that involved 200 vehicles.

According to police, all these rallies and associated activities were in violation of the Emergency Decree issued to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections. Other laws potentially violated include the Hygiene and Cleanliness Act, and the Land Transport Act. [Bangkok Post 3] [Thai PBS World]

6 July 2021

Thailand: Activist group submits constitutional amendment bill to Parliament

(pr) Civil society group Re-solution has submitted a charter amendment bill aiming at dismantling the “Prayut regime” to Parliament President Chuan Leekpai, alongside with more than 150,000 signatures backing the proposal. [Bangkok Post 1]

The group is led by many political figures such as Parit Wacharasindhu, a former member of the Democrat Party; Yingcheep Atchanond, manager of the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw); and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, both leading members of the Progressive Movement.

The bill proposes to eliminate the Senate’s power in choosing a prime minister (Section 159) and to change the method of appointing judges to the Constitutional Court and members of other watchdog agencies. It also seeks to revoke the 20-year National Strategy Plan and to delete all provisions legalizing all the announcements and orders of the now-defunct executive body of the military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order.

In November of last year, a similar amendment bill was rejected by a joint sitting of Parliament after being considered too radical. The iLaw-sponsored draft introduced sweeping changes to the 2017 Constitution, including a possible change to Chapters 1 and 2, which outline the indivisibility of the country, the form of governance, and royal prerogatives. This time around, the supporters of the latest draft proposal hope to introduce gradual pragmatic changes instead of an immediate total charter rewrite. [Bangkok Post 2]

However, the bill is expected to be opposed by members of Parliament’s upper chamber, who rejected 12 constitutional amendment bills that also sought to reduce their power earlier this month [see AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]. As per Section 256 of the 2017 Constitution, constitutional amendment bills must secure a majority in both Houses, as well as getting the support of at least of one-third, or 84, of the 250 Senators.

The only draft approved by a joint sitting of Parliament on June 24 proposes to adjust the proportions of lawmakers from currently 350 constituency MPs and 150 party-list MPs to 400 and 100, respectively. It also seeks to revert from the current single ballot for constituency and party-list MPs to two separate ballots.

6 July 2021

Thailand’s nomination of forest complex as a World Heritage should be deferred, says IUCN

(pr) The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an advisory body to the World Heritage Committee, recommended that Thailand’s nomination of Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex as a world heritage be deferred due to concerns relating to violations of the rights of indigenous communities. The board also recommended that Thailand cooperate with local communities and United Nations agencies to resolve indigenous and human rights issues before proceeding with the nomination. [IUCN]

Communities in the area still face forest encroachment charges, racial discrimination, and denied civil rights due to lack of citizenship. In 2014, community rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen disappeared in the area and was found dead in 2019. The investigation into his disappearance and death had little signs of progress.

More recently, in March, members of the Bang Kloi Karen indigenous community were evicted and arrested for encroachment after they came back to their ancestral land in the forest complex due to community rights issues and the pandemic. They were forcibly moved out in 1996 and 2011.

Thailand, along with 143 other countries, is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a non-binding document which states the rights of indigenous peoples.            

Bangkok previously applied for the forest complex to be recognized as a world heritage three times in 2015, 2016, and 2019, but all nominations were deferred due to the same reasons. [Prachatai English]

6 July 2021

United States downgrades Thailand and Malaysia in human trafficking report

(pr/dql) Thailand has been downgraded by the United States in a global report on human trafficking, because the Southeast Asian nation’s government has decreased law enforcement and efforts to identify and protect victims, albeit maintaining trafficking prevention efforts. [2021 Trafficking in Persons Report]

In its 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) – which places Thailand on the watchlist for the first time in four years – Washington notes that despite having made some progress in eliminating human trafficking, Thai authorities last year “initiated significantly fewer trafficking investigations, prosecuted fewer suspects and convicted fewer traffickers than in 2019.” The report also highlights persistent allegations that migrant workers have been tricked or coerced into forced labor in many industries in Thailand, yet the government seemingly continues to downplay the extent of the problem. [US Department of State]

The downgrade came as a surprise to the Thai government, which had been lobbying to have its status upgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 1. Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has made efforts to address human trafficking problems that meets the minimum standards under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act. [Bangkok Post]

Bangkok therefore stated that it was disappointed, adding that the evaluation would not reflect the significant efforts and progress the country had made in combatting human trafficking. It also reaffirmed its resolve to prevent and suppress human trafficking, adding that Washington’s evaluation would not represent the international standard. [Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

Malaysia, meanwhile, dropped to the bottommost tier 3, with the report concluding that “the government continued to conflate human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes and did not adequately address or criminally pursue credible allegations from multiple sources alleging labour trafficking, including in the rubber manufacturing industry and palm oil sector, with the government owning 33% of the third largest palm oil company in the world.” 

For the past three years Malaysia had been placed on the Tier 2 Watch List. [Free Malaysia Today]

29 June 2021

Growing presence of private security companies in Mekong region

(dql) According to findings of the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), Chinese businesses with risky investments in economic development zones in the Mekong region are increasingly turning to China-based private security firms for protection. Among the 49 foreign private security firms operating in Cambodia and Myanmar, 29 are China-based ones.

Given the range of services these companies provide to Chinese businesses and tourists – including running safety trainings for companies, developing security apps for tourists, and providing armed guards for individuals or property as well as even conducting pandemic control activities – the report concludes: “Chinese private security companies are increasing China’s soft power in Mekong countries. They also, down the line, could serve as vectors of hard power.” [C4ADS] [The Diplomat]

29 June 2021

China holds Belt and Road conference

(dql) China held on June 23 a virtual conference on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Attending countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Fiji, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Unlike the two previous conferences in 2017 and 2019 when heads of state and heads of government took part, this year’s forum was held at ministerial level.   

Equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and ensuring climate-friendly growth in the post-pandemic era topped the conferenced agenda. Among the major outcomes of the conference were two initiatives: first, the Belt and Road Partnership on COVID-19 Vaccines Cooperation” which addresses especially developing countries in boosting international cooperation in vaccine research and development, production and distribution, and improving accessibility and affordability of vaccines globally; and second, the Initiative for Belt and Road Partnership on Green Development, which seeks to strengthen cooperation among BRI countries in several areas including as green infrastructure, green energy and green finance, and promote green, low-carbon and sustainable development.” [The Diplomat]

29 June 2021

Thailand: Military defends purchase of new transport plane

(pr/lm) Following public outcry, Thailand’s Defense Ministry has defended its decision to purchase an Airbus C295 airlifter at a time when the country is battling the worst wave of COVID-19 infections so far is struggling with the economic repercussions of the pandemic.

According to army officials, a total of C295 is supposed to replace four transport planes that were scheduled to be decommissioned in 2023 after 30 years of service. The army requested it for delivery of personnel, tactical movement of special warfare units, replacement of border forces, and medical and disaster zone evacuations. [Bangkok Post 1]

In related news, Deputy Defence Minister Chaichan Changmongkol and armed forces leaders have been summoned to defend their $6.34 billion budget allocation before the 72-member parliamentary committee tasked with examining the budget bill for the 2022 fiscal year [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2]. Out of the military divisions and organizations allocated budget, the Army is allocated the highest amount of $3.1 billion.

Besides weapon procurement, the military leaders are expected to be grilled about classified funds that make up 0.03 percent, or $29.8 million, of the total budget. A significant amount of these secret budget allocations is said to be earmarked for security operations in the deep south of Thailand, where conflict has been ongoing for 16 years [see AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3].

29 June 2021

Thailand: Ministry prepares to sue Facebook for not closing accounts of eight individuals

(pr) Thailand’s Ministry of Digital, Economy and Society (MDES) has announced it was seeking legal action against Facebook for refusing to close the accounts of individuals who allegedly posted false information and criticized the royal institution. [Bangkok Post]

A Thai court earlier this month instructed internet service providers to block or remove accounts of eight individuals alleged to have posted false information on websites and social media platforms. But Facebook has so far not complied with the order [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2].

In the last quarter of 2020, the MDES had obtained court orders to block 8,440 URLs – mostly on Facebook – but only 5,025 URLs had been blocked by January. [AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]

29 June 2021

Thailand: Domestic workers organizations urges government to ratify Convention on Domestic Workers

(pr) A network of domestic worker rights groups is urging the government to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s Convention on Domestic Workers to better protect the rights of domestic workers, as the Ministry of Labor prepares to amend its regulations to meet international standards.

The ILO’s 189th convention, the Convention on Domestic Workers sets the labor standards for domestic workers, including the right on entitlement to a minimum wage and the right to choose the place where they live and spend their leave. Ratifying states parties are also called upon to take protective measures against violence and should enforce a minimum age which is consistent with the minimum age at other types of employment. 

The Convention entered into force in 2013 and has so far been ratified by 32 countries, excluding Thailand. The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare said the Labor Ministry’s amendment includes 10 changes such as the setting of a minimum wage, limit of eight working hours per day and prohibition of job termination due to pregnancy [Bangkok Post]

29 June 2021

Thailand: Pro-democracy protesters return to the streets

(pr/lm) Several groups of protestors gathered at various locations in the Thai capital, Bangkok, on June 24, reviving a pro-democracy movement after a six-month lull, despite warnings of legal action by authorities and the risk of spreading COVID-19. The day marked the 89th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution, a bloodless coup that brought an end to Thailand’s absolute monarchy and ushered in constitutional rule. [Al Jazeera]

The street agitation began in earnest in July of last year, reaching its peak in October when hundreds of thousands demonstrators joined calls for the government’s resignation and for increased transparency and accountability from the monarchy. However, momentum slowed in 2021 because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

In the first major demonstrations since the hiatus, at least four groups joined gatherings in several locations across Bangkok. Many of the groups’ leaders had previously been put under pre-trial detention for various criminal charges such as sedition and royal defamation, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]. They were released from detention on conditions that include not protesting, but leaders including Anon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok were out on the streets again on June 24 – at the forefront of the rallies. [Bangkok Post 1]

The day after the protests, police announced they were preparing cases against those involved in the rallies, most notably for violating the Emergency Decree that prohibits all large gatherings, as well as activities that may lead to the spread of infections and unrest. [Bangkok Post 2]

But on June 26 hundreds returned to the streets to apply more pressure on the government. The rallies ended with no major incident, but longtime political activist and Chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, Jatuporn Prompan, called for more rallies with bigger numbers next week. [Bangkok Post 3] [Voice of America]

The following day, police said they would gather evidence to press five charges against organizers and participants of the anti-government rallies, including Nitithorn Lamlua and Jatuporn Prompan. [Bangkok Post 4]

29 June 2021

Thailand: PPRP-sponsored constitutional amendment proposal draws criticism from observers and Senate

(pr) A joint sitting of Parliament on June 24 rejected a bill that sought to amend 13 provisions of the 2017 Constitution, after it had drawn heavy criticism from both experts and Senators who said some of the proposed revisions would weaken mechanisms to tackle graft and malfeasance.

The ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP)-sponsored bill sought to revise Sections 144 and 185 of the Constitution, inter alia. Section 144 prohibits lawmakers from proposing changes to financial and budget bills for their benefit and supporters of such changes will be held liable for any damage caused by the change. Under Section 185, in turn, lawmakers and Senators are prohibited from using their status to interfere in budget spending or state project approvals except those in parliamentary affairs.

The PPRP argued that the amendments would be necessary to ensure additional flexibility in the budgetary system. 

Former Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, in turn, came out criticizing the proposals saying the bill would do away a number of mechanisms aimed at dissuading politicians from reallocating funds for their benefit. In the same vein, the Senate Committee on Poverty and Inequality Reduction expressed its opposition to the PPRP draft to amend Sections 144 and 185, arguing the proposed changes were drastic and would undermine anti-corruption efforts. [Bangkok Post 1]

Prime Minister Praut Chan-ocha had reportedly also expressed his opposition to the proposed changes. [Bangkok Post 2]

29 June 2021

Thailand: Referendum bill sails through joint Parliament session

(pr) A joint sitting of Parliament has passed a referendum bill, unlocking a process for an overhaul of the 2017 Constitution, one of the key demands by a youth-led protest movement that continues to sweep Thailand since last year. Lawmakers and Senators on June 22 voted 611 to 4 to endorse the legislation, with two abstentions. [The Straits Times]

Deliberation of the bill picked up from where a joint sitting had left it in April, when the exercise had to be suspended after too few lawmakers and Senators showed up to reach the minimum quorum [see AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2]. The bill will now be submitted to the King for royal endorsement within 90 days. 

Under the proposed bill, a plebiscite may be held under particular circumstances, including constitutional amendments, issues deemed necessary by a Cabinet resolution, issues specified by law that a referendum is required, issues that Parliament votes to be put to a referendum, and, in cases at least 50,000 voters propose to the Cabinet for approval.

In the case of constitutional amendments, the president of Parliament would ask the prime minister to announce a date agreed upon with the Election Commission within 90 to 120 days from being informed. On other issues decided by the Cabinet, the timeframe for a referendum is also 90 to 120 days from the date the Cabinet approves it.

According to Section 13 of the bill, a resolution is reached when more than half of eligible voters exercise their right to vote and, of that number, more than half vote either “yes” or “no” on the question.

Therefore, this section of the law marks progress towards the attempts by both the government and opposition to amend the Constitution [see AiR No. 25, June/2021, 4]. For the ballot followed a Constitutional Court decision in March that ruled that Parliament has authority to write a new constitution only on the condition that a public referendum be conducted prior to and following the amendment process [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3].

An opposition-sponsored constitutional amendment bill to establish a Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) was tabled for parliamentary consideration earlier this month, after the draft proposal had been rejected by Parliament’s legal advisory committee over fears it may violate the ruling by the Constitutional Court. [AiR No. 25, June/2021, 4]

Although the process for a referendum and overhaul of the charter has now been endorsed, it is unlikely that Thailand’s Parliament will pursue more significant changes any time soon, as it focuses for the next several months on making minor changes that would not require any public endorsement. Only the opposition Move Forward Party has already announced that it would push for a referendum to scrap the 2017 Constitution and set up an elected CDA to write a new one. [Bangkok Post 1] [see also article above]

The law also allows Thais living abroad to vote from countries where they reside; voting can be done electronically or by mail. Further, the Election Commission will act as a watchdog on the expression of opinions ahead of the vote. Campaigns by both sides are allowed.

The new piece of legislation also provides penalties, most notably a maximum jail term of five years for spreading false information of matters put toward to the referendum. During Tuesday’s debate, some lawmakers expressed concerns that the prescribed penalty might be used to suppress dissent. [Bangkok Post 2] [BBC Thai, in Thai]

29 June 2021

Thailand: One out of 13 constitutional amendment bills passed by joint sitting of Parliament

(pr/lm) A joint sitting of Parliament on June 24 approved only one out of 13 constitutional amendment drafts submitted by political parties in the first reading. An examination committee consisting of 30 lawmakers and 15 Senators will now scrutinize the bill within 15 days, starting on June 29, after which the proposed bill will need to go through another vote in its final reading.

Sponsored by the ruling government coalition – save the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) – the endorsed bill proposes to adjust the proportions of lawmakers from currently 350 constituency MPs and 150 party-list MPs to 400 and 100, respectively. It also sought to revert from the current single ballot for constituency and party-list MPs to two separate ballots – a system that is believed to benefit large and well-known parties capable of mounting energetic nation-wide election campaigns. [Bangkok Post 1]

In related news, lawmakers from two government coalition parties on June 28 threatened to petition Thailand’s Constitution Court to rule on the bill, claiming it might violate other charter provisions governing the voting system. [Bangkok Post 2]

Twelve other bills secured a comfortable majority in both Houses but failed to get the support of at least of one-third, or 84, of the 250 Senators, as required as per Section 256 of the Constitution. Notably, two bills that both sought to amend Section 159 of the 2017 Constitution (restriction of the choice of prime ministerial candidates to those nominated by parties or lawmakers) won as many as 441 and 440 votes, or more than half of Parliament [see AiR No. 25, June/2021, 4]. [Bangkok Post 3] [iLaw, in Thai]

A PPRP-sponsored bill that also sought to revert to the system in which a voter casts two ballots – one to vote for a candidate, and another for a party – was rejected by a majority of Senators, because it also targeted Sections 144 and 185 of the Constitution, both of which are considered as its core protection against corruption [see AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3 & article in this edition].

Other bills that were scratched sought to amend sections of the Constitution pertaining to decentralization, more corruption checks, further protection of civil and consumer rights, universal basic income, and improvement to the 20-year National Strategy Plan.

In related news, a constitutional amendment bill proposed by the Re-solution group has gathered 70,000 signatures – more than the minimum requirement of 50,000 – and will soon be submitted to Parliament. The group is led by many political figures such as Parit Wacharasindhu, a former member of the Democrat Party, Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul of the Progressive Movement. [AiR No. 25, June/2021, 4] [Thai PBS World]

29 June 2021

British foreign minister’s Asean trip highlights UK’s plan to shift trade and foreign policy focus

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last week concluded a three-leg tour of Southeast Asia, in what observers describe as an attempt of putting meat on the bones to the United Kingdom’s plan to reinvent itself in the region in the post-Brexit era. [South China Morning Post 1] [GOV.UK]

This was Raab’s fifth visit to Southeast Asia since becoming Foreign Secretary, demonstrating the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific, as set out in the UK’s “Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy” in response to China’s growing influence on the world stage [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].

Significantly, the trip coincided with Britain on June 22 formally launching negotiations to join the 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade deal, a key part of London’s attempt to pivot trade away from Europe after Brexit. [South China Morning Post 2] [The Guardian]

The UK applied to join the free trade agreement in January, a month after Prime Minister Johnson had invited three Indo-Pacific countries – Australia, India and South Korea – to attend the recently G7 summit as guests [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. The existing members of the trade alliance are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, Raab delivered opening remarks at the 5th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) on London’s ambitions for its Indo-Pacific tilt to an audience of representatives from more than 50 countries. He also met with Vietnamese leaders, including President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh and Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son to discuss the implementation of the UK-Vietnam Strategic Partnership Agreement, in addition to subjects such as global health security, climate change and combatting serious organized crime.

The Foreign Secretary then travelled to Cambodia to meet Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, marking the first Foreign Secretary visit to Cambodia since the British Embassy was reopened 30 years ago. During the meeting, Raab set out his country’s ambition to formally ascent as a new “dialogue partner” of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ahead of Phnom Penh taking up the ASEAN chair. The 10-nation bloc’s leaders in April said they backed the Foreign Secretary’s recommendation for such a move. This status would give London the closest form of relationship with ASEAN. [Associated Press]

Raab wrapped up his three-nation trip in Singapore, where he met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on June 24 to discuss geopolitical security and climate change, as well as the international response to COVID-19. The Singaporean Premier said after the meeting that the two countries had a “shared interest in upholding free trade, multilateralism and a rules-based international order”. [The Straits Times]

The visit also comes at a time of growing defense and security cooperation with the region, as the UK’s Carrier Strike Group 21 led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth, makes its maiden visit to the region. The 28-week deployment to Asia assumes added significance, considering that it marks the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave Britain in a generation. Last week, stealth jets carried out operational sorties for the first time from HMS Queen Elizabeth in support of the ongoing British and US military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. [Naval News]

22 June 2021

Thai separatist insurgent group calls on international community

(pr/lm) The Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), a separatist insurgent group in Thailand, has submitted an open letter to the United Nations, European Union, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation urging them to pressure Thailand to end the application of martial law and special laws in the Patani region. [Facebook]

The long-running separatist insurgency movement in southern Thailand, which, in its current phase, re-emerged under the premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001, has been a major issue for Thailand’s domestic security for the past two decades. The Thai government imposed martial law in three Muslim-majority provinces in four southernmost provinces – Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala – following deadly violence in 2004.

22 June 2021

Thailand and EU to advance relations, resume FTA negotiations

(pr) Chulamanee Chartsuwan, Director-General for European Affairs of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs discussed with Paola Pampaloni, the Deputy Managing Director for Asia and Pacific, European External Action Service of the European Union (EU) on the finalization of the Thai-EU Comprehensive Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). The PCA is the framework for cooperation between Thailand and EU towards a strategic partnership. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thailand

Thailand and the EU are also seeking to resume negotiations on the EU-Thailand Free Trade Agreement. Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand, Pirkka Tapiola, discussed on the possibility with Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister of Thailand Jurin Laksanawisit.

FTA negotiations began in 2013 but was suspended after political unrest in Thailand. The EU is Thailand’s 5th biggest trading partner after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan and the United States. In 2020, The trade value between the two economies totaled $33.1 billion which accounted for 7.56 percent of Thailand’s global trade. [Thailand Business News]

22 June 2021

8th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus

(pr/lm) China’s Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe last week reiterated that his country will not bend when it comes to Taiwan, the South China Sea and other “core interests.” Commenting on the growth of China’s military power, Wei suggested it should be considered “part of the growth of the world’s peace forces”.

Speaking at the 8th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), held online and hosted by Brunei, Wei acknowledged other countries’ “legitimate concerns” on unspecified matters but said China’s national interests must be fully respected and safeguarded. He listed not only Taiwan and the South China Sea – where China has overlapping claims with several Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members – but also Xinjiang and Hong Kong. [Nikkei Asia 1]

The meeting brought together defense ministers from the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their counterparts from the six so-called “plus countries” outside the group: the United States, South Korea, India, Russia, Australia and New Zealand. These gatherings have been held since 2010, but the latest session marked the first since US President Joe Biden took office.

The remarks assume added significance coming as they did a day after Taiwan reported the largest-ever air incursion by Chinese forces. The also came just a week after advanced economies, at the Group of Seven summit, had also urged Taiwan Strait stability and encouraged “the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues”.

Significantly, ADMM-Plus members also welcomed the expansion of the ASEAN Direct Communications Infrastructure (ADI) in the ADMM Process to the Plus Countries. The ADI aims to enable a dialogue to promote de-escalation of potential conflicts and to defuse misunderstandings and misinterpretations during crisis or emergency situations. In 2019, the ASEAN’s defense ministers adopted a concept paper to expand the ADI to the eight so-called “plus countries” outside the group. [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times 1]

The day before the ADMM-Plus meeting, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto told an ASEAN-only meeting that the bloc needs to solidify its own Indo-Pacific strategy to preserve its “unity and centrality.” During the virtual gathering, defense ministers from ASEAN also called for an early conclusion of a code of conduct for the South China Sea. [Nikkei Asia 2]

The ASEAN-only meeting also approved the establishment of a new Cybersecurity and Information Centre of Excellence in Singapore to better facilitate exchanges among ASEAN defense establishments and protect against the threats of cyber-attacks, disinformation, and misinformation. This center will complement the ASEAN Cyber Defence Network in promoting regional exchanges, interactions, and cooperation on cyber-security matters. [The Straits Times 2]

22 June 2021

Thailand: Opposition lawmakers and activists call for bill on enforced disappearances

(pr) Lawmakers from the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) and activists have called for the parliamentary consideration of four bills outlawing enforced disappearances to be expedited. [Bangkok Post]

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances recorded 86 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand since 1980, including that of prominent Thai dissident Wanchalerm Satsaksit last year [see AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2].

Thailand has signed but has yet to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which requires governments to investigate reports of disappearance and take measures to protect the relatives of a disappeared person from intimidation.

Four bills on enforced disappearance are still awaiting to be tabled for parliamentary consideration, including the government-sponsored “Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill” which was approved by Cabinet in June of last year. The bill criminalizes torture and enforced disappearances committed by state officials and offers compensation for injuries from the crime. The other three bills were submitted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Justice.

Earlier this month, a petition was submitted to Parliament President Chuan Leekpai to expedite the passage of all four bills. [AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2]

 

22 June 2021

Thailand: Pro-democracy groups plan to rally on June 24, authorities warn of legal action

(pr/lm) Protesters in Thailand plan to return to Bangkok’s streets on June 24, reviving a pro-democracy movement after a six-month hiatus during two waves of COVID-19 outbreaks. [The Straits Times

At least four groups of anti-government activists have called for separate gatherings to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and to commemorate the June 24, 1932 Siamese Revolution, which transformed the country’s absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. [Bangkok Post 1]

Authorities have warned rally organizers that they may face legal action if they hold a rally. While restrictions in Bangkok are loosening up, gatherings of more than 50 people are still prohibited under the Emergency Decree to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. [The Thaiger] [Thai PBS World]

Importantly, protest leaders plan to draw fresh support from people frustrated with the government’s handling of the virus outbreaks and vaccine roll-out to revive the movement. [Nikkei Asia 1] [Nikkei Asia 2]

A case in point, almost 40 percent of Thais don’t see any suitable choice to lead the country, according to the latest quarterly poll conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA). [Bangkok Post 2]

But what is more, when asked whom they would support to be prime minister in today’s political situation, less than 20 percent voiced their support for incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, former chief strategist of Pheu Thai Party and current leader of Thai Srang Thai Party, ranked third with 13.34 percent.

The poll also surveyed the most popular political party. Almost one third of the respondents said they would not support any party. Opposition Pheu Thai Party came in second with 19.48 percent, while the Move Forward Party came in third with 14.51 percent. The ruling Palang Pracharath Party came in fourth with 10.70 percent.

22 June 2021

Thailand: Prominent student activist hit with more royal defamation charges

(pr) Prominent student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak has been slapped with yet more charges of royal defamation over comments he made on Facebook last year, bringing the total of number lèse majesté charges filed against him to 20.

Royal defamation is a criminal offense in Thailand under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment per charge, which means that Parit could potentially face hundreds of years in prison if convicted on all counts.

The latest charge was filed after an online royalist group – whose members have filed numerous lèse majesté charges against many netizens – filed a complaint with the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) of the Thai police. Parit reported to the TCSD on 15 June and denied all charges. [Prachatai English]

The prominent activist was granted conditional bail last month on a number of conditions, including not dishonor the monarchy or cause unrest. He is facing several charges, including lèse majesté and sedition, along with three other protest leaders, for their activities during rallies in September of last year [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. Earlier this month, the Criminal Court summoned his caretakers to warn them that it may revoke Parit’s bail, after a complaint to review his bail was filed after he had made several online posts [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2].

 

22 June 2021

Thailand: Complaint filed demanding investigation into deputy minister’s conviction

the leader of the opposition Seri Ruam Thai (Thai Liberal Party), Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, on June 21 filed a complaint with the Narcotics Suppression Bureau demanding a criminal investigation against Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow’s conviction by an Australian court.

In May, the Constitutional Court dismissed a bid to disqualify the deputy minister, who was the subject of an international news exposé by an Australian newspaper in 2019 which identified him as a key player in an alleged drug-smuggling operation. The apex court ruled that only criminal acts and prison sentences handed down in Thailand could influence the status of a Thai politician under the applicable sections of the 2017 Constitution. [AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2].

According to Sereepisuth, authorities have two more years to initiate legal proceedings for alleged possession of narcotics with an intent to distribute. The opposition lawmaker said the investigation may trigger a review of Thamanat’s eligibility to hold political positions. [Bangkok Post 3]

Opposition parties earlier in May established a parliamentary sub-committee to investigate Thamanat for his involvement in drug smuggling and violation of ethical conduct for concealing his criminal background prior to becoming a minister. Further, the opposition Move Forward Party is preparing a bill to amend the Criminal Code to prevent judges, police officers, and prosecutors from interpreting laws in a way which may distort the spirit of the law. [AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]

22 June 2021

Thailand: Ruling PPRP revamps senior line-up during annual party convention

(pr) During its annual party conference last week, the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) has re-elected Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon as party leader, while Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow was elected as the new Secretary-General replacing incumbent Anucha Nakasai. [Bangkok Post 1]

Thamanat is a high-profile politician, who is known to be an effective parliamentarian and organizer within the PPRP. Importantly, as leader of a faction of party lawmakers in the northern provinces, he supported the movement to install Prawit as leader of the largest government party in 2020. Thamanat has also been instrumental in several crucial by-election wins for the Palang Pracharat Party in the south of the country, areas that were traditionally considered strongholds of the Democrat Party. [Bangkok Post 2]

Thamanat’s status was confirmed by the Constitutional Court, following a review sought by opposition lawmakers in parliament after the minister was the subject of an international news exposé by an Australian newspaper in 2019 which identified him as a key player in an alleged multi-million-dollar heroin smuggling operation. [AiR No.19, May/2021, 2]

The hitherto Secretary-General, Anucha Nakasai, withdrew from the contest, as he was widely seen as merely a temporary stand-in. The current minister of the Prime Minister’s Office is a key member of the Sam Mitr (Three Allies) faction, which was instrumental in forming the PPRP prior to the last general election [see AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1].

Observers say that a shuffle of ministerial posts may be called for Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat to become a minister to befit his position of secretary-general, the second-most powerful seat of the party. But party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon was quick to reject the rumors following the revamp of the PPRP’s executive board. [Bangkok Post 3]

22 June 2021

Thailand: Opposition-sponsored amendment bill to reform Constitution rejected by parliamentary committee

(pr/lm) An opposition-sponsored constitutional amendment bill to establish a Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) will not be tabled for parliamentary consideration this week, after the draft proposal has been rejected by Parliament’s legal advisory committee over fears it may violate a ruling by the Constitutional Court. [The Thaiger]

Submitted by the opposition Pheu Thai Party, the bill sought to amend Section 265 of the 2017 Thai Constitution, to pave the way for a CDA. As per the section, a charter amendment requires the support of a majority of members of the House and at least of one-third, or 84, of the 250 Senators.

The parliamentary committee said that the draft proposal would in effect result in the cancellation of the current Constitution, and thus may violate the March ruling of Thailand’s Constitutional Court. Back then, the Constitutional Court ruled that Parliament has authority to write a new constitution only on the condition that a public referendum be conducted prior to and following the amendment process [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3].

Shortly thereafter, a joint sitting of both chambers of Parliament voted down an opposition-sponsored bill that sought to amend Section 256 [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5].

Opposition Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties disagreed with the interpretation of the ruling. They take the view that Parliament has a mandate to consider the amendment bill, claiming that the apex court’s ruling did not prohibit deliberation of an amendment bill, and did not specify the specific stage in which a referendum must be held. [Bangkok Post 1]

In the same vein, Deputy Prime Minister and legal advisor of the government Wissanu Krea-ngam earlier last week said the bill does not contravene ruling as the referendum bill is expected to be passed by Parliament while the amendment bill is being deliberated. Subsequently, the bill can be put up to a referendum as required by the court ruling. [Bangkok Post 2]

22 June 2021

Thailand: Three coalition parties and opposition file 14 constitutional amendment drafts

(pr/lm) A fresh charter amendment bid that is seen as crucial to defusing political tensions was set in motion last week, as three coalition parties along with the opposition bloc on June 16 submitted 14 amendment drafts to Parliament President Chuan Leekpai.

A joint session of Parliament is scheduled to convene for three days starting June 22. On the first day, the legislative will deliberate a backlog of legislation, before considering the proposed amendments to the Constitution in an inaugural reading. The opposition, government and Senate will be allocated six hours each for the debate and a vote is expected to take place on the afternoon of June 24. Once accepted, Parliament will examine the drafts for up to 45 days before putting them up for a final third vote. [Thai PBS World 1]

In order to successfully pass, any bill seeking to amend the Constitution requires the support of a majority of members of the House and at least of one-third, or 84, of the 250 Senators, as per Section 256 of the Constitution. Importantly, an opposition-sponsored referendum bill that sought to amend Section 256 of the Constitution will not be tabled, after it was rejected by Parliament’s legal advisory committee over fears it may violate a ruling by the Constitutional Court. [see entry below]

While major differences between coalition Bhumjaithai, Democrat and Chartthaipattana parties on the one, and opposition Pheu Thai (PTP), Move Forward (MFP) and Seri Ruam Thai parties remain, they converge on one point: They all seek to amend Section 272 of the Constitution, which empowers the 250 appointed Senators to vote in the election of the prime minister. [Bangkok Post 1]

However, a vast majority of Senators is reportedly planning to reject all amendment proposal, expect the one bill introduced by the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP). Only Senator Wanchai Sornsiri has publicly expressed is support for the opposition-sponsored proposal that seeks to amend Section 272. [Bangkok Post 4] [Bangkok Post 5]

The PPRP’s constitutional amendment plan will focus on lower-hanging fruits that do not require a national referendum. Neither will the PPRP seek to reduce the role of Senators, for the party to maintain good working relations, and needs the Senator’s support to approve its modest constitutional amendment proposals. Specifically, the primary objective of the PPRP is to change the election system – something that does not concern the Senators – by reverting to the system in which a voter casts two ballots – one to vote for a candidate, and another for a party [see, AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3].

The two-ballot system tends to benefit large and well-known parties capable of mounting energetic nation-wide election campaigns, and thus, is also being supported by the opposition (PTP). The bid to restore the two-ballot method is therefore likely to sail through Parliament. [Bangkok Post 2]

Other sections of the Constitution to be amended under the proposed bills include Section 159 (restriction of the choice of prime ministerial candidates to those nominated by parties or lawmakers), improvement to the 20-year National Strategy Plan, further protection of civil and consumer rights, and the deletion of all provisions legalizing all the announcements and orders of the now-defunct executive body of the military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order. [Thai PBS World 2]

The opposition MFP, meanwhile, is the only political party claiming that constitutional reform must be a total rewrite or no change at all. Party Secretary-General Chaithawat Tulathon said all provisions in the constitution could be changed, including Chapters 1 and 2, which define the long-established identity of (hegemonic) Thai Constitutionalism and the central role of the monarchy.

In related developments, another constitutional amendment bill proposed by the Re-solution group is also gathering signatures. As of 19 June, it gained 20,000 out of the minimum 50,000 for submission to Parliament. The group is led by many political figures such as Parit Wacharasindhu, a former member of the Democrat Party, Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul of the Progressive Movement. [Bangkok Post 3]

15 June 2021

Myanmar junta defends response to crisis amid ASEAN criticism

(lm) Myanmar’s foreign minister has defended the junta’s plan for restoring democracy, after a meeting at which his Southeast Asian counterparts pressed the military to implement a five-point “consensus” concluded at the ASEAN Summit held back in April. [The Straits Times]

At the China-ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting on June 6, the bloc’s top diplomats expressed disappointment at the “very slow” progress made by Myanmar on its five-point roadmap for ending the turmoil that has continued since the army staged a coup an ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1. [AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2]

But on June 8, in the only reference to the ASEAN proposal, state media in Myanmar cited Foreign Minister Maung Lwin as telling his ASEAN counterparts that the junta had made progress on its own five-step roadmap for the country, which was unveiled by the governing body of the regime, the State Administration Council, after the coup. [see The Global New Light of Myanmar]

What is more, in the only reference to the ASEAN proposal, Lwin was cited as saying “discussions were made cordially” on it during recent discussion between two high-ranking ASEAN officials and the Myanmar military leadership.

15 June 2021

Indian and Thai navies conduct coordinated patrol exercises

(ad) The navies of India and Thailand on June 11 concluded the 31st edition of biannual Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) exercise in the Andaman Sea. [Defence Aviation Post]

To reinforce maritime links, the two navies have been carrying out CORPAT along their International Maritime Boundary Line since 2005, with the aim of ensuring safety and security of shipping and international trade in the region.

15 June 2021

Thailand: Opposition Move Forward Party proposes new bill to protect indigenous culture

(pr) Lawmakers from the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) have submitted a bill on the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights and culture to Speaker of Parliament’s lower house Chuan Leekpai. The “Strengthening and Protection of Ethnic Way of Life” bill proposes the indigenous people’s rights of preservation and utilization of natural resources and pursuance of their cultural heritage without facing discrimination. [Prachatai English]

Thailand is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a non-binding instrument which provides universal framework of minimum standards for the protection of indigenous peoples. Yet, the country does currently not have a comprehensive national legislation on the protection of indigenous peoples.

In addition to the bill proposed by MFP, several other bills on indigenous people rights have been proposed, including a draft by the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, which, if passed, would establish a mechanism for government agencies to resolve indigenous right issues. The draft is now completed and is currently in the process of gathering opinions from relevant stakeholders.

The Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, in turn, proposed a bill on the establishment of an indigenous people council to better protect their rights and strengthen the unity of indigenous peoples. The bill, backed by over 13,000 signatures, was submitted to parliament earlier in April.

15 June 2021

Thailand: Three individuals face royal defamation charge, one reported by private citizen

(pr) Prominent protest leader Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan and another activist are facing royal defamation charges for an incident dating back to a protest earlier in January this year. Both have already reported to police, and were granted bail on the condition that they not flee or tamper with the evidence.

Chaiamorn was previously granted conditional bail on May 11 from charges including lèse majesté for burning the King’s portrait and sedition for his actions during political rallies. His bail conditions require that he not dishonor the monarchy or cause unrest. [AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, this is the 17th royal defamation case in which the public prosecutor has ordered an indictment since the law began to be used against pro-democracy protesters in November 2020. Royal defamation is a criminal offense under Thai law and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

In related news, the president of the Blind Society Association of Thailand alleged to the police that another blind person has committed lèse majesté for sharing a comment critical of the Queen. [Prachatai English 2]

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: Myanmar journalists and crew members arrested in Thailand now ‘safe in third country’

(pr) Three Myanmar journalists and two activists who illegally crossed into Thailand to flee the military crackdown are now safe in a third country, after facing possible deportation, their news station said on June 7. [Prachatai English]

The group of five was arrested in the northern city of Chiang Mai in May and charged with illegal entry soon thereafter. A Thai court earlier this month convicted them of illegal entry with seven-months imprisonment but had their sentences suspended for one year and fined them $128 each. [AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2]

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: Official Information Act Amendment Bill withdrawn from Parliament

(pr) Following public outcry by civil society groups, the government has withdrawn a bill proposing to amend the Official Information Act, after it was already scheduled for parliamentary consideration. [Prachatai, in Thai]

The amendments proposed by the Prime Minister’s Office would allow state officials to prohibit the disclosure of any official information deemed potentially damaging to the monarchy, national defense and security, and intelligence, among others. It also increased the punishment for violations from a maximum of three years imprisonment to ten years. The bill was approved by the Cabinet in March.

Observers view that draft amendments to the Official Information Act would have further restricted access to public information which leads to corruption susceptibility, and reduction of the power of the media in reporting on government actions.

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: Ruling PPRP gears up for annual meeting, amid rumors of new party secretary general

The ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is preparing for its annual party assembly to be held on 18 June in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen. [Bangkok Post]

In the run-up to the party congress, reports had emerged claiming the meeting might consider a proposal to replace incumbent PPRP Secretary-General Anucha Nakasai with Thamanat Prompow. Observers took the view that PPRP leader and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon might push for changes in the party leadership in order to revamp party leadership to secure support bases for votes in the event of snap elections.

Anucha Nakasai, who currently also serves as Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, is a key member of the Sam Mitr (Three Allies) faction, which was instrumental in cobbling together the PPRP with veteran politicians from several parties, including Pheu Thai Party [see AiR No. 31, August/2020, 1].

More recently, however, the faction was said to have upset Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha in its attempt to secure the energy portfolio during the latest cabinet reshuffle. The faction is also believed to be on bad terms with Labor Minister Narumon Pinyosinwat, who is considered one of Prawit’s close confidants.

Thamanat, in turn, is the sitting Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister. He is a high-profile politician, another confidant of Prawit, and a power broker of the coalition. The Constitutional Court ruled in May that he was qualified to retain his position despite a conviction by an Australian court for drug-trafficking [see AiR No. No. 19, May/2021, 2].

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: Leaders of ruling PPRP dismiss possibility of snap election

(pr) Leading government officials, including Deputy Prime Ministers Wissanu Krea-ngam and Prawit Wongsuwan have dismissed growing speculations that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha might dissolve parliament’s lower house and call for early elections, one year before the four-year term expires. [Bangkok Post 1]

The rebuffs follow on comments by the prime minister, who earlier last week called on members of his Cabinet to expedite project proposals for next year as the government has one year left in office. In an ensuing press briefing Prime Minister Prayut also discussed other issues to be addressed, including economic revitalization and education reform. Observers have interpreted the remarks as an indication of a possible dissolution of the House of Representative. [Bangkok Post 2]

Reports of growing disunity and bickering between the ruling Phalang Pracharat Party, the leading party in the coalition, and its three major partners, the Bhumjaithai, Democrat, and Chat Thai Phatthana Parties, lent further weight to the speculations. Especially Public Health Minister and leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, Anutin Charnvirakul, was believed to be upset when Prime Minister Prayut transferred ministerial powers covering 31 laws under his direct control in an effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1].

Moreover, A PPRP source said the party leader instructed its members, lawmakers, and ministers to prepare for the election. Main coalition parties have also expressed readiness for a new election.

Observers believe that if the Prime Minister were to dissolve parliament’s lower house, he would do it early next year when the pandemic situation is expected to have improved and the economy has recovered.

Moreover, according to the law, the next general election utilizes a method of primary votes where party members vote for their electoral constituency and party-list candidates. To field candidates, political parties must have branches in constituencies. However, the PPRP does not have sufficient party branches yet. Therefore, if the party pushed for an amendment on the primary vote method, this may be considered a clear sign that a general election is looming. [Bangkok Post 3]

At this stage, however, academics and sources in the PPRP and Democrat Party believe that it is unlikely that Prime Minister Prayut would dissolve the House and call for snap elections. For a new election risks a shift in political power, especially if constituent parties of the ruling coalition gain more seats. As things stand, Prayut can use the dissolution of House as leverage to keep the ruling coalition intact.

As for the next election, the Prime Minister will call for an election only when the PPRP has a political advantage.

Importantly, there are several factors which determine whether the Prime Minister remains in power such as the popularity of the PPRP and the result of the constitution amendment process: Many observers believe that PPRP is still popular in the provinces due to financial relief schemes and cash handouts. The PPRP’s win in the by-elections demonstrate the growth of the party. The change in executive leadership of Thamanat Prompow as secretary-general of the PPRP is also necessary to secure support bases [see article in this edition]. [Bangkok Post 4]

15 June 2021

Thailand: Joint parliament session on charter proposals scheduled for June 22,23

(pr) Members of parliament’s lower and upper house have agreed to hold a joint parliamentary session on June 22 and 23 to discuss amendments to the 2017 Constitution, as attempts to amend the charter have stalled since parliamentarians failed to finish the second reading of a bill on a national referendum in April. [Bangkok Post 1]

Calls to amend the Constitution on a chapter-to-chapter basis had been growing since March, when an opposition-sponsored charter amendment bill failed to get the support of a majority of members of the House and at least of one-third, or 84, of the Senators, as required as per Section 256 of the Constitution [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5].

During an extraordinary session held in April, then, the joint parliament failed to finish the second reading of a government-sponsored referendum bill, which had past its first reading in December of last year. The exercise had to be suspended when too few lawmakers and Senators showed up to reach the minimum quorum, chiefly because of widespread concern among them about the third wave of COVID-19 infections. [AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2].

Amendments to the Constitution are now expected to be pursuit via three bills – two government-sponsored and one opposition-backed.

The ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) has already submitted an amendment bill to Parliament President Chuan Leekpai. The key element in the PPRP-sponsored bill deals with provisions associated with the voting system, seeking to revert from the current single ballot for constituency and party-list MPs to two separate ballots. Importantly, the draft does not propose any changes to Section 272, which empowers the 250 appointed Senators to vote in the election of the prime minister. [AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]

The current mixed-member proportional representation system uses only one ballot and makes it difficult for any one party to win a majority of seats to form a single-party government. Meanwhile, Section 272 has been criticized as a tool to keep the Prime Minister in power as the Senators were handpicked by those associated with the junta from the 2014 coup.

Another charter amendment bill expected to be tabled for Parliament’s consideration is sponsored by Democrat, Bhumjaithai and Chartthaipattana Parties, all constituent parties of the ruling government coalition.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party (PTP), in turn, has announced it will submit a charter amendment motion that targets five different sections of the 2007 Constitution – most notably Section 256 – to pave the way for a charter drafting assembly.

Other sections to be amended under the bill seek the inclusion of more rights and liberties, amendment of the voting system in favor of a two-ballots system, removal of the Senate’s power in choosing the Prime Minister as outlined in Section 272, and the deletion of all provisions legalizing all the announcements and orders of the now-defunct executive body of the military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order.

Importantly, the PTP is pressing for its referendum draft bill to be heard first, because it seeks to introduce sweeping changes to the 2007 Constitution and thus – as per a ruling by the Constitution Court this March – requires a public referendum be conducted prior to and following the amendment process [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]. [Bangkok Post 2]

The bill submitted by PPRP is expected to receive parliamentary approval with support of the Senate. However, observers are skeptical of the proposed changes by the PPRP as the single-ballot voting system is beneficial to it and prevents big parties like PTP from forming a single-party majority, as demonstrated in the last general election. They also warn that this may be a ruse to buy time, as PPRP and the Senate can reject the bill in the subsequent readings.

Other observers believe that the single-ballot system which helped PPRP in the last general election may come back and stab it in the back as PPRP is gaining popularity while PTP is losing its influence so it may have the opposite effect. New parties like Thai Srang Thai Party of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, former PTP chief strategist, and Kla Party led by former Democrat Korn Chatikavanij may form a coalition with PPRP if they can secure a good number of seats. [Bangkok Post 3]

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: House of Representatives and Senate approve executive loan decree, debt projection nears ceiling

(pr) Thailand’s upper house of parliament on June 14 voted 205 to zero, with two abstentions, to approve an executive decree which allows the government to borrow an $15.9 billion, at a time when Ministry of Finance has nearly exhausted a $32 billion stimulus package authorized by the Senate in June of last year. [Bangkok Post 1]

The Senate’s approval came after parliament’s lower house June 11 voted 270 to 196 in favor of the bill, after three days of debating.

On the first day of the debate, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that the country was in critical need of the loan because nobody knew how long it would take to bring the coronavirus crisis under control. Opposition parties, in turn, said they were not convinced the borrowing would enable the government to contain the pandemic while also casting doubt on how transparent the spending would be. [Bangkok Post 2] [Bangkok Post 3]

The decree was published in the Government Gazette earlier this month; a former finance minister days later petitioned the Supreme Administrative Court asking it to revoke cabinet’s approval of the decree. [AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4].

About $963 million of the amount is earmarked for the procurement of medical supplies, vaccines and research, $9.63 billion for funding relief schemes, and $5.45 billion for social and economic recovery. Borrowing must be completed by September 2022. 

In light of the expected additional borrowing, the Public Debt Management Office estimates Thailand’s public debt-to-GDP ratio to have reached 58.6 percent by the end of the fiscal year, which is near the fiscal sustainability framework ceiling of 60 percent.

What is more, the Federation of Thai Industries, the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Thai Bankers’ Association this week issued a joint statement with a GDP expansion estimate of between 0.5 percent and 2 percent. The prediction comes after the International Monetary Fund earlier this month said the kingdom’s economic recovery was expected to be sluggish, uneven, and subject to heightened uncertainty, with a projected GDP growth of 2.6 percent this year. [South China Morning Post]

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: Government offers some details on secret budget allocations

(pr) The government has provided some details regarding classified funds allocated under the proposed $99.7 billion fiscal budget bill for 2022, to disprove opposition criticism that it should be more transparent about its defense spending.

According to the Prime Minister Operations Centre (PMOC), classified funds make up 0.03 percent, or $29.8 million, of the total budget. The PMOC defines a secret budget or allocation as a government budget earmarked for funding confidential operations of government organizations in areas of defense, narcotics suppression, and intelligence. [Bangkok Post]

A significant amount of the budget allocation is said to be allocated for security operations in the deep south of Thailand, where conflict has been ongoing for 16 years.

Regarding the oversight of spending this budget, the PMOC said there are regulations enacted for scrutinization, which also specify conditions for use. However, observers say that scrutiny of the spending is difficult as these classified funds can be spent secretly due to their nature and the Cabinet can approve more without being subject to scrutiny.

The PMOC’s announcement came after the opposition Pheu Thai Party last week declared that its members in the budget-examination committee would investigate these classified funds allocated to ministries and agencies [see AiR No. No. 23, June/2021, 2]. According to a Party lawmaker, another $16 million have been put aside and earmarked as secret spending for the Defence Ministry, in addition to $17.9 million for the Prime Minister’s Office.

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: Commission backs Singchai Thaninson as next Attorney-General

(pr) The Public Prosecutor Commission has unanimously nominated current Deputy Attorney-General Singchai Thaninson to serve as the country’s 16th Attorney-General (AG), replacing Wongsakul Kittipromwong. [Bangkok Post]

Wongsakul will complete his term in September this year, upon turning 65 years during the current fiscal year. His successor, Singchai will commence his term in October and is expected to serve until September 2022. His nomination will be fist forwarded to the Senate, and later to the King for royal approval. 

Singchai received his Bachelor of Laws and Master of Political Science degrees from Thammasat University and is a barrister-at-law of the Thai Bar Association. He held many important positions in the Office of the Attorney General, such as Director-General of the Department of Attorney-General’s Litigation Affairs and Director-General of the Department of Criminal Litigation. He is also currently a Deputy Secretary-General, and a Committee Member of the Thai Bar Association under the Royal Patronage. [Thai PBS, in Thai]

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: Authorities to intensify efforts combatting ‘fake news’, new law under study

(pr) Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has instructed the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) and relevant security agencies to resolutely clamp down on the dissemination of false information on social media platforms, which is believed to compound the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also instructed the Council of State, the government’s legal advisory body, to prepare a legal comparison of laws and regulations – including those in foreign countries – addressing the spread of false information online. The findings will be presented to the Cabinet to inform further action, as the 2007 Computer Crime Act, the key legislation hitherto used by Thai authorities to limit the dissemination of false information, is considered insufficient. [Bangkok Post]

In related developments, the MDES is also working on a draft bill enabling authorities to collect log flies from internet providers and overseeing the registration of social media platforms to limit the dissemination of false information. The draft proposal is expected to be available later this month [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1].

 

15 June 2021

Thailand: Anti-corruption agency prepares corruption charges against PM’s brother, lawmakers

(pr) The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has found grounds to the allegation that General Preecha Chan-o-cha, a Senator and the younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, falsely declared his assets.

He allegedly did not include a house and his wife’s bank account in the asset declaration list when he served as a member of the now-defunct National Legislative Assembly, the country’s legislative body during the National Council for Peace and Order military junta between 2014 and 2019.

The NACC has summoned General Preecha to acknowledge the charges and is expecting the Senator to show by the end of the month. Thereafter, the accused will be given 15 days to come up with a rebuttal or to seek an extension. After that, NACC commissioners will decide whether to forward the case to prosecutors or not. [Bangkok Post 1]

The NACC also found grounds to allegations against three sitting and one former lawmaker who allegedly let fellow lawmakers use their voting cards in Parliament during a House deliberation last year. [Bangkok Post]

The irregularity was submitted to the Constitutional Court. It found that the votes for the second and third readings of the bill must be recast due to the proxy voting, but the bill’s overall legality was upheld. The Constitutional Court did not rule on the alleged violations of individual lawmakers [see, AiR, No. 6, February/2020, 2].

If found guilty, the six individuals involved could face up to 20 years in prison. Moreover, if the case is forwarded to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions, the Court may order the sitting lawmakers to be suspended from parliamentary duty and if convicted, they will lose their status.

8 June 2021

ASEAN envoys urge Myanmar junta to free prisoners, follow agreement

(pr/lm) Diplomatic efforts to engage with Myanmar’s junta intensified over the past week, as officials from the Association of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) completed a visit to Myanmar on June 5 after two days of discussions with military leaders about implementing a regional “consensus”.[South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times 1]

ASEAN’s Rotating Chair, Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Pehin Yusof, and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi arrived in Myanmar on June 3 for talks with junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. 

Their visit was preceded by a visit to Myanmar by the head of the International Red Cross, who met with Aung Hlaing on June 3 to share concerns on “the use of force during security operations” and to make the case for better humanitarian access to conflict areas and for the resumption of Red Cross prison visits. [Reuters]

On June 5, then, China’s ambassador met with the Myanmar general in Naypyitaw, a day before the special China-ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting to commemorate 30 years of relations between Beijing and the regional bloc. [The Irrawaddy] [see article in this edition]

The trip of the two ASEAN representatives came more than five weeks after the blocs’ leaders had concluded a “five-point consensus” in April to end violence; promote dialogue; deliver aid; appoint a special envoy; and send a delegation headed by the envoy to Myanmar to meet “with all parties concerned” [see AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4].

But the Min Aung Hlaing said later that Myanmar was not ready to adopt the plan. Further, the special envoy has yet to be appointed amid divisions within ASEAN over the best person or people for the job, the envoy’s mandate and the length of the envoy’s term.

Against this backdrop, one day before the officials embarked on their trip, Indonesia on June 2 called on the bloc to immediately name an envoy. But Jakarta, which initially favored a single envoy to lead a task force, is at loggerheads with Thailand, whose military is said to have close ties to neighboring Myanmar [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3] and has pushed for a “friends of the chair” body of multiple representatives. [The Straits Times 2]

In the latest indication of Bangkok’s approach towards Myanmar, Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said that it believed “that quiet and discreet diplomacy between neighbors would be more effective and in line with traditional Thai diplomacy”. [The Straits Times 3]

The compromise supported by most ASEAN states is for three envoys, likely made up of representatives from Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei. A “concept paper” released by Brunei to the bloc’s members last month proposed the envoys only hold the position for the rest of the year, when it would be reviewed by the next chair of ASEAN, due to be Cambodia.

ASEAN’s divisions also underpinned its rejection of a draft UN resolution to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar last week. Several ASEAN nations were comfortable with a weapons freeze being included in the non-binding resolution, they said, but resistance led by Thailand and Singapore ensured ASEAN requested the clause be removed. [AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1]

8 June 2021

US Deputy of State visits Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, amidst Chinese push

(pr/ad/lm) United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman last week concluded an 11-day diplomatic tour that included stopovers in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand, signaling that Washington is finally turning its diplomatic focus to Southeast Asia to counter a rising Chinese clout in the region. [Nikkei Asia] [The Diplomat] [U.S. Department of State]

Sherman was the first senior State Department official in the administration of US President Biden to visit member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Both sides were scheduled to hold their first foreign ministers’ encounter via videoconference on May 25. But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was touring the Middle East at the time, canceled over technical difficulties after keeping his counterparts waiting. Many ASEAN officials viewed the technical glitch as a political slight, a sign Washington had not invested sufficient effort in planning for the meeting and was once again putting off the pivot to Asia by prioritizing other regions in the world—in this case, the Middle East. [Foreign Policy]

Against this backdrop, commencing her three-nation tour, Sherman visited Indonesia on May 31 for talks with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. While in Jakarta, the US top diplomat also met with officials from the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Committee of Permanent Representatives to discuss expanding and deepening the US-ASEAN strategic partnership. 

On June 1, then, Sherman travelled to Cambodia where she promised Prime Minister Hun Sen $11 million in COVID-19 aid. There were also discussions on future opportunities in the oil and gas sector for bilateral cooperation and investment in water and green energy. Another key topic was Cambodia’s debt settlement to the US. Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed a gradual repayment scheme as well as converting 70 percent of the debt into aid towards education and mine removal throughout Cambodia. [Agence Kampuchea Presse]

Importantly, Sherman’s visit – the first by a US official of her rank or above in years – came against the larger backdrop of concerns by Washington about rapid construction of two buildings at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, just north of where United States-funded facilities were demolished by Phnom Penh last year. [see article in this edition]

On June 2, then, Sherman met with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha in Bangkok, where she announced $30 million in coronavirus assistance to Thailand. The two also exchanged opinions on the situation in neighboring Myanmar, with Sherman saying she believed Bangkok and the ASEAN are taking constructive approaches to achieve peaceful solutions. [Thai News Agency]

8 June 2021

China hosts ASEAN foreign ministers 

(dql) As part of the 30th anniversary of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, China hosted this week a special China-ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Chongqing.

High on the agenda was the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, with Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia expressing disappointment over Myanmar failure to keep the “five-point consensus” agreed by ASEAN leaders at a special summit in April with de-facto leader Min Aung Hlaing.

Other issues discussed during the meeting included the reopening of borders, even as several South-east Asian nations deal with a surge in Covid-19 infections, and the tensions in the South China Sea. [Straits Times]

With reference to the South China Sea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged to “reach the COC at an early date,” and reassured that China stands ready “to work with directly concerned parties of the South China Sea to increase dialogue and consultation, properly manage differences, and continuously enhance mutual trust.” According to the readout of the meeting released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Foreign ministers of ASEAN countries attributed peace in the region to “important and fruitful relations,” between China and ASEAN, and suggested to “maintain the momentum of COC consultations, and jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]

8 June 2021

Thailand: Parliamentary committee approves fishery management plan

(pr) The national committee on fisheries policy has approved the 2020-2022 fisheries management plan, as well as the second National Plan of Action, both of which seek to ensure the development of a more sustainable fisheries sector and to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The relevant agencies also informed the committee of the progress and measures taken to combat IUU fishing including the registration of fishing boats, granting of funds to affected fishermen, and extension of work permits for migrant workers in the sector.

In 2015, the European Union issued a warning to Thailand that it was not sufficiently tackling IUU fishing. Since then, Thailand has updated its mechanisms to regulate fishing activities by improving fishing laws, introducing vessel monitoring and traceability systems, and strictly enforcing laws, which led the EU to delist Thailand from the group of “warned countries” in 2019. [AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]

 

8 June 2021

Thailand: Court hands jail sentences to Myanmar journalists fleeing junta

(lm) Three Myanmar journalists who illegally crossed into Thailand to flee a military crackdown have been fined and could face deportation, a member of their legal team said last week, warning the trio’s lives will be in danger if they are sent home. [The Irrawaddy]

The journalists were arrested along with two Myanmar activists in the northern city of Chiang Mai in May and charged with illegal entry [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]. Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention and its asylum law refers to “illegal foreigners” who can be arrested and deported at any time.

A court on June 1 sentenced them to a one-year probation period and fined them $128 each. The court also said they will face seven months in prison if they were to commit the same offense again. By law, they can be deported within 72 hours after sentencing, but the legal team submitted an appeal letter later the same day, which stops immigration authorities from deporting them immediately. [France24]

8 June 2021

Thailand: Supreme Court president appoints panel to investigate bribe claim

(pr) Supreme Court President Methinee Chalothorn has appointed a four-member panel to look into allegations that several judges may have taken bribes linked to a tax dispute involving a Thai subsidiary of Japanese automaker Toyota [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1]. [Bangkok Post]

The panel comprises of judges from the Supreme Court and the Appeal Court. It is the second panel tasked with investigating the matter, after the Thai Court of Justice last week also established a 10-member panel.

8 June 2021

Thailand: Veteran opposition politician joints ruling party, committee vetting budget bill

(pr) Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a member of the opposition Pheu Thai Party, has changed fronts and is now serving as member of the parliamentary committee scrutinizing the 2022 fiscal bill under the quota of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP). [see article in this edition]

The move came as a surprise, for Ruangkrai – a former Senator under the 2007 Constitution – is known as a critic of the ruling government. He also served as a member of the committee vetting the previous budget bill. [Bangkok Post]

 

8 June 2021

Thailand: Court orders internet service providers to remove accounts of eight individuals

(pr) A court has instructed internet service providers to block or remove accounts of eight individuals alleged to have posted false information on websites and social media platforms. [Bangkok Post]

Among the eight individuals included in the list to be banned is Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an outspoken professor at Kyoto University, living in exile in Japan. He’s been critical of the government and monarchy, and created The Royalist Marketplace, a Facebook page that was blocked after amassing over 1 million members [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. The replacement Facebook page Pavin created to freely discuss the Thai government and monarchy is also on the list. [The Thaiger]

The move has been criticized by human rights observers, who call the court directive a “censorship order” that illustrates the government’s disregard for international human rights standards.

 

8 June 2021

Thailand: Criminal Court summons caretakers of bailed protestor

(pr) The Criminal Court has summoned the caretakers of prominent anti-government protestor Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak to warn them that it may revoke Parit’s bail if he is found to be violating his bail terms. [Thai PBS World]

The summons of the caretakers comes after a complaint was filed against the protest leader for allegedly violating his bail terms in a social media post. Parit, along with fellow anti-government protester Chai-amorn Kaewwiboonpan, was granted bail on May 11 on a number of conditions, including not dishonor the monarchy or cause unrest [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3].

The caretakers stated that Parit was merely exercising his right of freedom of expression and did not violate the bail terms, but also promised to ensure that he will continue to comply with the court’s requirements.

8 June 2021

Thailand: A year on, Thai dissident still missing in Cambodia

(pr/lm) One year after prominent Thai dissident Wanchalerm Satsaksit went missing in Phnom Penh, international human rights watchdogs have called on Thailand and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to conduct an independent inquiry into the case. [Al Jazeera]

Wanchalerm is believed to have been abducted in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in June of last year [see AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]. Human rights groups believe his kidnapping was part of a pattern of politically motivated disappearances since 2016 of at least eight Thai pro-democracy activists living beyond its borders in neighboring countries.

A criminal investigation into the disappearance of Wanchalearm has been formally under way in Cambodia since September 2020 but there has been little progress on the case, with authorities to the present telling his family, foreign diplomats, and United Nations agencies that nothing has been found. [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

Importantly, Cambodia has ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which requires governments to investigate reports of disappearance and take measures to protect the relatives of a disappeared person from intimidation. [Human Rights Watch]

Thai authorities, in turn, have not energetically investigated the case, despite repeated promises to resolve Wanchalearm’s enforced disappearance. When relatives of Wanchalerm approached the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) for a progress report on the investigations last week, they said that the status is “work in progress”. They also claimed that Thai authorities had to wait for the result of a Cambodian court investigation that has dragged on interminably. [Prachatai]

In related news, a petition has been submitted to Parliament, calling on Parliament President Chuan Leekpai to expedite the passage of four bills outlawing torture and forced disappearances, proposed by opposition and government parties. [Bangkok Post]

8 June 2021

Thailand: Chief Government whip of coalition indicted on corruption charge

(pr) The Office of the Attorney-General will indict Wirach Ratanasate, a key lawmaker for the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), in the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions for alleged graft.

Wirach – the current chief government whip for the ruling government coalition in parliament’s lower house – is being accused of having siphoned money from an Education Ministry budget for school repairs to fund a futsal field project in his constituency, the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. If the apex court accepts the case, he will be suspended from his duties as a lawmaker.

The case dates back to 2012, when Wirach was a lawmaker of the then ruling Pheu Thai Party. Two years later, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) found irregularities in the project and launched an investigation. In 2019, then, the NACC indicted the lawmaker and others, who it suspected of interfering with budgetary matters, diverting funds meant for school repairs for the construction project, and meddling with the contract procurement process. 

This comes at a bad time for the government, considering that the vote on the budget bill for the next fiscal year is expected around August. If Wirach is suspended, not only does the coalition loses a vote, but the coordination between coalition parties might also be mired with problems.

8 June 2021

Thailand: Parliament passes budget bill at inaugural reading; bill examination committee begins vetting

(pr/lm) Thailand’s Parliament on May 2 passed the first reading of a $ 99.7 billion budget bill for the 2022 fiscal year starting October 1, aimed at reviving an economy battered by a third wave of COVID-19 infections.

After a three-day debate, the bill was passed with 269 votes in favor, 201 against and two abstentions. The bill has to pass second and third readings expected in August before being submitted to the Senate and the King for approval. [Reuters]

The next hurdle the government faces is to pass the executive decree in parliament authorizing the Finance Ministry to borrow an additional $15.9 billion until September [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]. Parliament is expected to vote on the decree on June 9 or 10. [Bangkok Post 1]

The three-day debate commenced on May 31, one day after an opinion poll conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) showed that more than 50 percent of Thais were either dissatisfied or totally dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the crisis so far.

The government appeared vulnerable after suffering a blow during the debate when it was revealed that the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) had recently taken delivery of three Chinese made amphibious tanks which had cost the country almost $13 million. The RTN later said the three tanks had been ordered as part of the budget for 2020 so the kingdom was committed to completing the procurement. [Bangkok Post 2]

What is more, tension within the government coalition came to the fore when a lawmaker from the Bhumjaithai Party – the second largest party in the ruling coalition government – called on parliamentary party leader and current Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to walk away from the government after what appeared to be a $123 million cut in funding for his ministry. [Thai Examiner]

After the bill sailed through its first reading, Finance Minister Arkom Termpittayapaisith was appointed chairman of a 72-member committee tasked with examining the budget bill for the 2022 fiscal year. The committee comprises of 18 cabinet members, 30 coalition party members, and 24 opposition members. It is expected to completes its work before August 5.

An interesting incident was the selection of the 2nd vice-chairman, a post that is normally reserved for largest opposition party in parliament’s lower house – in this case Pheu Thai Party (PTP). But the ruling coalition nominated one of their lawmakers instead, causing discontent among committee members. Eventually, Deputy Labour Minister Narumon Pinyosinwat – a former government spokesperson and close confidant to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon – got the job and PTP’s secretary-general, Prasert Chanthararuangthong, was named 6th vice-chairman. [Bangkok Post 3]

The PTP, meanwhile, announced that its committee members would look specifically into so-called classified funds allocated to ministries, large chunks of which are held by the Defence Ministry. According to Deputy Party Leader Yutthapong Charassathien, military-related agencies were allocated $15 million of classified funds. Other agencies and ministries such as Ministry of Education and Labor were also allocated $17.8 million of classified funds. [Bangkok Post 4]

8 June 2021

Cambodia and Switzerland cooperate on Mekong Region Cooperation Programme

(ad) Last week, the Cambodian-Swiss Governmental Consultation was organized to oversee the Swiss Mekong Region Cooperation Programme 2022-2025, where representatives from Cambodia and Switzerland met to discuss progress on preserving the Mekong River.

The discussion was predominantly focused on governance and economic development. They also exchanged inputs on climate change impacts and better natural resource management. The Swiss government is set to grant $13 million per year between 2022 and 2025. Since 2002, Swiss government has given grants worth $142 million to Cambodia for its development. [Agence Kampuchea Presse]

1 June 2021

ASEAN member states want to drop proposed UN call for Myanmar arms embargo

(lf) All ASEAN member states, excluding Myanmar, have proposed watering down a UN General Assembly draft resolution on Myanmar, including removing a call for an arms embargo on the country, in a bid to win the unanimous support, “especially from all countries directly affected in the region”. Observers believe that ASEAN member states are afraid sanctions would restrict the influence the bloc could have on Myanmar’s military leadership. [The Straits Times]

The resolution was drafted at the request of Liechtenstein, with the support of 48 countries, including the United Kingdom, European Union and United States. A previous vote on the non-binding resolution scheduled for May 18 was postponed indefinitely, because of a lack of support from Asian countries in the region [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3].

While many western nations have put targeted sanctions on junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and a combined 38 senior figures and also black-listed military conglomerates, ASEAN nations have so far largely avoided measures that would hit the junta’s finances. 

The Myanmar junta in late April rebuffed a plan by ASEAN leaders to help end violence in the country, saying any “suggestions” would need to fit with its stated road map and come after “stability” is restored. Leaders of the nine countries, together with coup chief Min Aung Hlaing, had earlier appeared to reach a five-point “consensus” during a special summit that included an immediate cessation of violence and the appointment of a special emissary to mediate talks between all parties in Myanmar [see AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4].

 

1 June 2021

Thailand: Media figure charged for defamation of Prime Minister Prayut

(pr) A prominent TV show host last week reported to police after being summoned on charges filed by the Prime Minister’s Office, which accuse the man of defaming Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in two social media posts last year. [Bangkok Post]

 

1 June 2021

Thailand: Law Proposal by Public Act enters into force

(pr) Eligible voters are from now on able to petition the House of Representatives to propose new laws amendments to existing legislation and the constitution with regard to their rights and freedoms, and state duties. To propose a bill or law amendment under the new regulations, at least 10,000 signatures are required, while a constitutional amendment proposal requires at least 50,000 signatures. [The Nation Thailand] [Matichon, in Thai]

1 June 2021

Thailand: Authorities consider linking social media accounts with ID cards to combat illicit content

(lm) Security agencies and the Ministry for Digital Economy and Society (MDES) in the early stages of preparing a draft regulation that would link users’ registration on online platforms with their ID cards. The move is meant to limit the dissemination of false information and illicit content, while also support e-commerce activities on social media platforms. The new regulation would be likely be added to the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, the key legislation used by Thai authorities to limit the dissemination of false information. [Bangkok Post]

At present, registration for social media platforms in Thailand requires an e-mail address and a telephone number, with all mobile phone numbers – both prepaid and postpaid systems – registered with ID cards or passports.

1 June 2021

Thailand: Emergency loan decree likely to be tabled in Parliament next week

(pr) An executive decree allowing the Finance Ministry to borrow an additional $15.9 billion until September next year is likely to be tabled in Parliament next week, following on the debate on the fiscal budget bill. The decree was published in the Government Gazette last week, at a time when the finance ministry has almost completely exhausted a 1-trillion baht stimulus package authorized by the Senate in June of last year [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4].

A former finance minister petitioned the Supreme Administrative Court last week asking it to revoke the cabinet’s approval for the decree. In response, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has defended the decree, saying that the Administrative Court had no jurisdiction over the petition, for the decree already became effective. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2]

Echoing concerns by the former finance minister, opposition Pheu Thai Party also called on the government to divide the loan into one executive decree authorized by the cabinet and multiple loan bills to be scrutinized by parliament for the sake of transparency.

 

1 June 2021

Thailand: Prime Minister Prayut defends defense spending during first reading of fiscal bill

(lm) Parliament started debate on May 31 on a budget bill that projects a bigger $22.41 billion deficit for the 2022 fiscal year starting October 1, as a third wave of COVID-19 infections has clouded the outlook for the tourism-dependent country. The 2022 budget bill will have several readings in Parliament before being submitted to the Senate for approval. 

Parliament’s lower house kicked off its new session this week after a decree authorizing the Finance Ministry to the Finance Ministry to borrow an additional $15.9 billion until September next year was published in the Royal Gazette May 25 [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]. [see article below]

The budget projects spending of $99.23 billion, down about 5.7 percent as compared to the previous fiscal year. The gap comes from lower tax revenue, expected at about $77 billion. In the initial reading of the 2022 budget bill, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha – who is also the country’s defence minister – defended the Defence Ministry’s share of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, after opposition lawmakers slammed the figure as unusually high when compared to allocations for health care. [Bangkok Post 1]

In the run-up to the session, opposition Pheu Thai Party announced it would vote against the bill and urged constituent parties of the government coalition to follow suit in a bid to sink the government. Observers believe the remarks were a tangential reference to the Bhumjaithai Party, the biggest party in the coalition government, whose chairman, Minister of Public, Health Anutin Charnvirakul, was left out of the government committee tasked with COVID-19 vaccine procurement. [Bangkok Post 2] [Bangkok Post 3]

1 June 2021

Thailand: Court of Justice investigates Toyota judicial bribery claims

(pr/lm) Thailand’s Court of Justice has set up a 10-member panel to investigate claims that the local subsidiary of car manufacturer Toyota may have bribed sitting judges on the country’s Supreme Court. [Bangkok Post 1]

Earlier last week, legal news service Laws360 reported that federal prosecutors in the United States had impaneled a grand jury in the Northern District of Texas as part of ongoing investigations by US agencies, following a report that detailed the carmaker’s internal corruption probe and an ongoing investigation by US law enforcement. [Law360 1]

The probe followed a public filing in earlier in March in which Toyota revealed that it had reported “possible anti-bribery violations” related to its Thai subsidiary, Toyota Motor Thailand (TMT) to the US Department of Justice and US Securities and Exchange Commission in April of last year. The two agencies enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law that prohibits companies from paying bribes to foreign public officials.

Before informing US authorities, Toyota had launched an internal investigation, which later suggested that consultants hired TMT may have funneled bribes through a private Thai law firm to Supreme Court judges in an effort to overturn a still-pending $350 million tax dispute. The report included the names of two former presidents of Thailand’s apex court who remain sitting senior judges, a former president of the Court of Appeal and three former top attorneys at TMT. [Law360 2]

All three senior judges mentioned in the news report said they would file a complaint with police to take legal action against those who mentioned them by name or shared the article on social media. [Bangkok Post 2]

1 June 2021

Thailand: Court approves bail request for three key protest leaders

(lm) Thailand’s Criminal Court on June 1 approved bail requests for temporary release of two prominent pro-democracy activists on condition that they refrain from activities deemed to defame the monarchy. Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and activist Panupong “Mike” Jadnok were released after posting a $6,500 bail bond each. Both must also wear electronic tracking tags and are banned from leaving the country. [The Straits Times]

They have been held in pre-trial detention under Thailand’s lèse majesté law which protects the monarchy from criticism. During their detention, both contracted COVID-19 and were sent to the prison hospital for treatment [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. Several previous applications for bail by the activists were denied [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3].

A third protester held on lèse majesté charges, Chukiat “Justin” Saengwong, was also granted bail on June 1 but will remain in detention because he is facing similar charges in two other courts.

In related news, a pro-democracy protestor, who already faced a royal defamation charge [see AiR: No. 19, May/2021, 2], has reported to police for another lèse-majesté charge. [Bangkok Post]

1 June 2021

Thailand: Rights NGO calls on government to drop politically motivated charges against children

(pr) International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Thai authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop politically motivated charges – including lèse majesté – against children. The statement came against the backdrop of an indictment of a 17-year-old for royal defamation charges related to a speech at a pro-democracy rally in December of last year.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered authorities to resume lèse majesté prosecutions last November, after pro-democracy protesters had begun openly criticizing the royal institution – once a taboo subject in Thailand. Since then, at least 82 people have been charged with royal defamation in relation to various activities at pro-democracy rallies or comments on social media. Six of them are children, aged 18 or younger.

Further, at least 41 children have been charged with violating the Emergency Decree, among others, after they had participated in public rallies or otherwise taking part in activities to demand democratic reforms. [Human Rights Watch]

25 May 2021

Thailand: Anniversary of coup draws stinging criticism from opposition

(pr) May 22 marked seven years since the Royal Thai Armed Forces, led by then Commander of the Royal Thai Army, General Prayut Chan-o-Cha launched a coup d’état against the caretaker government of then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Over the weekend, academics and leading opposition politicians, including former Pheu Thai strategist, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, used the occasion to castigate the current government, calling the past seven years a lost opportunity to reform the country and pursue reconciliation. [Thai Examiner]

The government, currently engaged in a battle against a third wave of COVID-19 infections, was also the subject of a broadside of former Prime Minister Yingluck. Taking to social media, she referred to the time since the coup as “years when the people’s voice means nothing, […] when people are hopelessly waiting for a new constitution”. [Bangkok Post 1]

Looking into the future, some observers expect Prime Minister Prayut to remain in power for another four years after the next parliamentary election scheduled in 2023 due to the constitutional design of the 2017 Charter drafted under the watchful eye of the military. [Bangkok Post 2] Besides the disqualifications of oppositional figures and the dissolution of opposition parties since the 2019 elections, the election system and the role of 250 unelected Senators in electing the Prime Minister together with 500 elected Representatives make a change of power hardly conceivable. 

The mixed-member proportional representation election system makes a single-party majority in the lower house hardly possible. As such, senators handpicked by Prime Minister Prayut will have a key role in in choosing the next prime minister. Trillions of baht in money handouts, and political support bases established by influential politicians also helped secure his support base. 

 

25 May 2021

Thailand: Three protestors summoned for allegedly violating Emergency Decree

(pr) Three people, including the mother of prominent political activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, have received a police summons on charges of violating the Emergency Decree. [Prachatai English]

All three are accused of having participated in a series of protests held since March at various locations across Bangkok to demand the release of activists detained in pretrial detention. The Decree prohibits gatherings of more than 20 people, but the activists say that they complied with all requirements.

Interestingly, no other participants in the “Stand Against Detention” protest have so far been charged with violating the Emergency Decree, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). [Twitter, in Thai]

25 May 2021

Thailand: More charges against critics of government’s handling of pandemic and vaccine policy

(pr) Two more people are facing legal charges under the country’s lèse majesté law and the Computer Crime Act for criticizing the government’s handling of allegedly sharing false information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the Office of the Prime Minister, filed a report with the police against a popular singer and economic analyst who he alleged of having defamed the royal institution and sharing false information on the coronavirus pandemic on social media. [Prachatai English 1]

Separately, a social media user reported to police after the Office of the Prime Minister had filed a complaint as she had posted a short video clip criticizing the Thai government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The woman denied all charges and is required to report back on July 13 to the public prosecutor. [Prachatai 2]

These two were not the only people who were vocal of the government’s vaccine policy that has been prosecuted. Other notable figures include opposition politican Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and leader of the student protests Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak [see e.g. AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]

25 May 2021

Thailand: Activist groups call for Prime Minister Prayut to resign

(pr) Amidst a worsening COVID-19 crisis, politics in Thailand have taken a surprising twist, as supporters of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha have joined calls for the leader to resign and pave the way for a prime minister not nominated by a political party.

The Prachachon Khonthai group (The Peoples of Thailand) lodged a petition with the government’s complaint center, claiming that in his seven years in office, Prime Minister Prayut had failed to carry out national reforms, eradicate corruption, resolve the COVID-19 crisis, and allowed insults of the monarchy. [Bangkok Post 1]

To many observers, the move came as a surprise, for the leadership of the group includes key members of the now-defunct royalist political pressure groups People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). Both umbrella groups had played a leading role in the protests against former Prime Ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra and in support of the military government that ousted them, which includes incumbent Prime Minister Prayut.

The group was established in September 2020 and had rallied in support of the royal institution back in October last year by submitting a letter to the German Embassy in Bangkok, as a countermove to the anti-government protestors submission of a letter relating to the King’s presence in Germany [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]. The group also protested at the United States’ embassy in Bangkok against alleged US interference in Thailand’s internal affairs earlier in April [see AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4].

Therefore, the group’s motive is still unclear. Some observers believe that they acted in discontent as the prime minister distanced himself from his political allies increasingly relying on the senior bureaucracy. However, the group still has few powerful allies.

Interestingly, a progressive anti-government group called Samakkhi Prachachon (Thai people) also submitted a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office to demand Prime Minister Prayut to resign. Members of the group include anti-government activist Adul Khiewboriboon and Jatuporn Prompan, the chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). [Bangkok Post 2] [MGR Online, in Thai] [Thai PBS World]

25 May 2021

Thailand: New law granting more power to combat fake news ready is coming

(pr) A draft bill enabling authorities to collect log flies from internet providers and overseeing the registration of social media platforms is planned to be completed next month. The Ministry of Digital, Economy and Society (MDES) is working on amending the key legislation used by Thai authorities to limit the dissemination of false information. [Bangkok Post]

Under the 2007 Computer Crime Act content-related offenses such as dissemination of false information or defamation, as opposed to computer system offenses, are punishable up to five years of imprisonment. 

On a related note, the MDES’s Anti-Fake News Center, a task force set up last month to combat so-called “false information” surrounding COVID-19 [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1], has so far examined almost 350 news stories, 121 of which were deemed fake, 24 were considered distorted, and 15 were found to be accurate.

 

25 May 2021

Thailand: Anti-Corruption body publishes assets of former ministers, lawmaker

(pr) The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has published the declared assets and liabilities of three former ministers following their exit from the cabinet earlier in February after being sentenced to imprisonment. The former cabinet members – two ministers and a deputy-minister – were among a group of 14 political leaders handed jail terms ranging from five years to seven years and four months in February for their involvement in the 2013-2014 protests [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. [Bangkok Post]

Under the Constitution, ministers must not have been sentenced to imprisonment regardless of whether the ruling was final or whether the jail term was suspended except if the offense was a minor offense. Further, under the Organic Act on Counter Corruption, holders of political positions must declare their assets and liabilities to the NACC prior to and after holding office.

The NACC also published the assets of former Democrat lawmaker Thepthai Senpong, who was convicted of vote-buying in a 2014 local election. The Appeals Court last week upheld the two-year prison sentence against Thepthai and his younger brother. Both are seeking to appeal to the Supreme Court [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3].

 

25 May 2021

Thailand: Government considers releasing inmates, as COVID-19 infections in prisons worsens

(pr) Thailand is considering cutting its prison population by as much as 16 percent to counter the rapid spread of infections of infections among inmates and workers in overcrowded facilities. The Corrections Department (CD) last week reported a total of 11,670 COVID-19 infections in prisons nationwide. [Bloomberg] [CNN]

Thailand’s prison clusters came to light when several pro-democracy protest leaders, accused of insulting the monarchy and held in pre-trial detention, announced they had tested positive for COVID-19 after being released on bail. Following the news, Thai authorities began mass testing the country’s prison population [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]. 

At about 311,000 inmates, prisons in Thailand are exceeding their capacity by 5 percent. More than 80 percent of those incarcerated face charges for narcotics violations. Thus, the Justice Ministry is looking at a special early-release program for about 50,000 inmates, that could include the use of electronic-monitoring systems and adjustment of criteria. [Prachatai English]

In addition, the current priority is to administer vaccines to inmates and officers. In the long term, drug laws shall be amended for shorter sentences and to become more rehabilitation-focused. [Bangkok Post]

25 May 2021

Thailand: Government to borrow additional $15.9 billion, closes in on nation’s debt ceiling

(pr/lm) A new emergency decree allows the Ministry of Finance to borrow an additional $15.9 billion to restore Thailand’s battered economy and combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. [The Nation Thailand 1]

The fresh borrowing comes as a third wave of COVID-19 infections has clouded the outlook for the tourism-dependent country, with the finance ministry having almost completely exhausted a 1-trillion baht stimulus package authorized by the Senate in June of last year [see AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2].

The government proposes to spend approx. $5.4 billion of the new borrowing to help various sections of Thai society affected by the latest outbreak, while around $9.5 billion will be used to finance stimulus measure for the economy. The remaining $950 million have been earmarked for the purchase of medical supplies and vaccines shots to contain the latest outbreak. [Bloomberg] [The Nation Thailand]

Before the announcement, a meeting of the cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha approved a draft executive decree allowing the finance ministry to borrow an additional $ 22.3 billion. [Bangkok Post 1]

A former finance minister days later petitioned the Supreme Administrative Court asking it to revoke the cabinet’s approval, while the main opposition Pheu Thai Party (PTP) called on the government to cut back on the defense spending, instead. [Bangkok Post 2][Bangkok Post 3]

According to the Public Debt Management Office, the reduction of the loan by almost 25 percent was necessitated by the suitability and necessity requirements. However, it is worth noting that, with the additional borrowing, Thailand’s public debt-to-gross domestic product ratio may rise to 58.6 percent by September, which is close to the fiscal sustainability framework ceiling of 60 percent. Thereafter, the government will need to issue an emergency law that needs to be endorsed by the King before the public debt management office can begin raising fresh debt. [Thansettakij, in Thai]

 

25 May 2021

Seventh United States-Thailand Strategic Dialogue reaffirms defense alliance

(pr) On 21 May, delegations from the United States and Thailand held the seventh round of their joint strategic dialogue. Both sides discussed issues relating to regional security, economic prosperity, health cooperation, and reaffirmed the US-Thai defense alliance. They also emphasized the importance of cooperation in other regional forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Mekong-U.S. Partnership.

The U.S. side highlighted the importance of human rights and freedoms and expressed concern over the crisis in Myanmar. [U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Thailand 1]

The Strategic Dialogue is an important part of the U.S.- Thai relationship. It covers political, economic, and security cooperation. The previous Strategic Dialogue was held back in 2017. Recently, Washington has already provided nearly $30 million as health-related assistance to Thailand. [U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Thailand 2]

 

25 May 2021

Thailand to share experience in combating IUU fishing

(pr) Thailand is one of six countries invited to share their experiences on combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing during the third meeting of the parties to the Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA). The meeting is jointly organized by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Commission and will be held between May 31 and June 5. [Bangkok Post] [FAO]

The PSMA is the first binding international agreement that specifically targets IUU fishing and requires international ports to carry out regular inspections on fishing vessels and to deny port services to offending vessels. In 2015, the European Union (EU) issued the so-called “yellow card” for Thailand, a warning from the EU that the country at the time was not sufficiently tackling IUU fishing. Since then, Thailand has updated its mechanisms to regulate fishing activities by improving fishing laws, introducing vessel monitoring and traceability systems, and strictly enforcing laws, which led the EU to  delists Thailand from the group of “warned countries” in 2019.

 

25 May 2021

Thailand ready to increase multilateral cooperation for post-pandemic world, says Prime Minister Prayut

(pr) Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha has expressed his country’s readiness join efforts to boost regional and global economic cooperation in a post-COVID-19 world. The prime minister was attending “The Future of Asia” conference, an annual gathering that brings together political, economic and academic leaders from the Asia-Pacific, through video channel. [Future of Asia]

Specifically, the Thai leader emphasized the strong partnership between Thailand and Japan. He said Thailand is ready to improve the business environment for foreign investors and act on recommendations of Japanese businesses in Thailand. He said Thailand will also expand trade and investment ties with Japan, in addition to relations under the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement and the ASEAN-Japan Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Partnership. [Bangkok Post]

When touching on a potential Thai membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Prayut said that his government was ready to consider making the move. Earlier this month, the cabinet gave itself time until June 24 to consider a potential membership of the country in the CPTPP, the second extension after a three-months deadline announced earlier in February expired [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2].

In addition, he said Thailand will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting next year and will initiate talks on the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific plan.

25 May 2021

Thailand military warns Myanmar counterparts over mortar shots

(pr) The Thai Army has announced it would submit a letter to demand its Myanmar counterparts not to extend their operations into Thai territory, after three mortar shots landed on Thai soil. [Bangkok Post]

The northern Thai province of Mae Hong Son borders with Myanmar in the east. Large sections of the territory across the border are being controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), one of Myanmar’s two dozen ethnic armed groups that have been fighting for decades to gain more autonomy from Myanmar’s central government.

Earlier in March and April, the group took control of three military outposts near the Thai-Myanmar border, killing nearly 200 soldiers and wounding another 220. The Myanmar army then launched multiple airstrikes on Karen villages in retaliation for the attacks on military outposts, displacing more than 30,000 people in the area. [AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5]

 

18 May 2021

Thailand and EU enter into a new trade agreement replacing a previous one

(pr) Thailand and the European Union (EU) have signed a new tariff rate quota agreement after the previous deal was renegotiated following the Brexit. Under the new agreement, Thailand will maintain to be able to export specific products, such as rice, poultry, and fishery with the same privileges prior to the United Kingdom leaving the EU. The agreement will come into effect in June. [Bangkok Post]

18 May 2021

Thailand backs APEC joint statement ahead of summit

(pr) During a meeting with his counterpart from New Zealand, Thailand’s commerce minister expressed his country’s support for a joint statement to be issued at a meeting of the trade ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) later this year. During the meeting, the two ministers also discussed about deepening bilateral trade. [Bangkok Post]

Slated for June 5, this year’s summit will bring together representatives of 21 economies in the Pacific Rim and will be chaired by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. The joint statement calls for the endorsement of multilateral trade as a tool to solve the COVID-19 crisis, the removal of restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines exports by its members except for certain restrictions such as internal use within the country, and the promotion of logistics cooperation between members to facilitate trade of medical equipment. [The Nation Thailand]

 

18 May 2021

Thailand wraps up internal ratification process to join RCEP

(pr/lm) Thailand is accelerating its internal processes relating to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), as it plans to submit regulations on customs tariffs, certificates of origin and importation of auto parts to the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by October of this year.[Bangkok Post]

In November of last year, Thailand signed up to the RCEP agreement alongside with 14 other countries, including the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus the bloc`s five major trading partners Japan, China, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3].

The RCEP will come into effect 60 days after at least six ASEAN member states and three non-ASEAN signatories have deposited their ratification instruments. The Thai Parliament ratified the agreement back in February, followed by Singapore [see AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2], China, and Japan [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1]. Once in effect, the RCEP will be the largest free trade agreement with a combined GDP of $262 billion, covering 2.2 billion people or roughly 30 percent of the world’s population. [NNT]

India, an original negotiating participant of the RCEP, was expected to be a signatory nation. But at the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in November 2019, Indian Prime Minister Modi announced that New Delhi had decided to withdraw from the RCEP over fears the elimination of tariffs would make it difficult to protect domestic industries from China, whose low-priced exports are highly competitive in Indian markets [see AiR No. 45, November/2019, 1AiR No. 46, November/2019, 2].

18 May 2021

Myanmar reporters, activists face possible deportation after being arrested in Thailand

(lf) Three journalists and two activists from Myanmar have been arrested in Thailand for illegal entry and face possible deportation. The five were arrested on May 9 in the northern city of Chiang Mai and appealed to Thai authorities not to deport them to Myanmar, saying their life would be in serious danger if they were to return. Thai authorities, however, have stated that the five will be deported in accordance with Thai law. For Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention, and its asylum law refers to “illegal foreigners” who can be arrested and deported at any time. [Reuters 1]

Separately, a journalist working for an independent media company was jailed for three years last week for incitement, after he had reported on anti-junta demonstrations. At present, at least 40 journalists are imprisoned in Myanmar, according to preliminary investigations by independent watchdogs, the majority detained during newsroom raids or while covering anti-coup street protests. [Reuters 2]

Meanwhile, a Japanese journalist arrested while covering the aftermath of the Myanmar coup is to be deported, Tokyo said on May 14, after charges against him were dropped as a diplomatic gesture. The journalist was arrested in mid-April under a criminal provision that penalizes the dissemination of information that could agitate or cause security forces or state officials to mutiny [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. [The Straits Times]

18 May 2021

UN special envoy discusses situation in Myanmar with Thai Prime Minister

(pr/lm) On 14 May, the United Nations Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, met with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to discuss the situation in Myanmar after the Thai prime minister had skipped the recent summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders in Jakarta. During the meeting, the Schraner Burgener and Prime Minister Prayut discussed the exchange of information and provision of humanitarian assistance for the people affected by the situation including refugees that have fled to Thailand. [Associated Press]

The Thai premier also promised that his country would not force back people fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar. Last month, at least 10,000 residents from territory in the country’s southeast controlled by the Karen ethnic minority fled to a safe zone near the Thai border following two days of airstrikes by the military junta. At the time, Thai authorities denied allegations by activist groups that more than 2,000 refugees, who had tried to enter Thailand had been forced back across the river, despite ongoing aerial bombardment [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5]

The UN envoy plans to stay in the region and remain in close contact with ASEAN member states to support “the timely and comprehensive implementation” of the five-point consensus, an agreement concluded at the ASEAN Summit held back in April [see, AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4]. An organization that has always prioritized non-interference and respect for sovereignty, ASEAN, has so far refrained from involving itself in Myanmar, despite spillover effects impacting Thailand and close ASEAN partners India and China. It does not come as a surprise, then, that there is still no sign of an ASEAN envoy, three weeks after the bloc’s members agreed to appoint a special emissary to go to Myanmar to talk to all parties involved in the turmoil.

The Thai Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES), meanwhile, has denied a new report that suggested a secret communication channel between Prime Minister Prayut and Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing. Citing sources from the prime minister inner circle, the report claimed that Prayut was using direct links between member of the Thai military and counterparts in the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, to shape Bangkok’s security policy towards neighboring Myanmar. [Nikkei Asia]

According to the MDES, an initial investigation had found that the source cited in the article was a former official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a standpoint opposing the prime minister’s. [The Nation Thailand] [Thairath, in Thai]

 

18 May 2021

Thailand: Budget bill for fiscal year 2022 set for first reading

(pr) The budget bill for the 2022 fiscal year is tentatively scheduled for its first reading in parliaments’ lower house between May 31 and June 2 after it was approved by the Cabinet last week. The budget has been allocated under six guiding principles – stability, competitiveness, human resources, social inequality, environment and administrative balance – with the Education Ministry topping the budget allocation for 2022. [The Nation] [Bangkok Post]

 

18 May 2021

Thailand: Court upholds jail term of former Democrat Party lawmaker over vote-buying

(lm) The Appeal Court on May 11 upheld a two-year prison sentence against a former Democrat Party lawmaker and his younger brother over fraud in a 2014 local election. Both are planning to appeal their sentences at the Supreme Court. [Bangkok Post]

Provincial election officials in 2014 filed a lawsuit against the two brothers, accusing them of vote-buying after they had thrown a party for voters ahead of a local election. A provincial court originally jailed the pair for three years – later reduced to two years – and also handed down a 10-year election ban against both men. 

18 May 2021

Thailand: MDES takes action against dissemination of alleged COVID-19 fake news

(pr) The Ministry of Digital, Economy and Society (MDES) has filed police complaints against three people for allegedly spreading fake news on social media relating to the side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. [Bangkok Post]

The matter was brought to the MDES’s attention by the Anti-Fake News Centre, a unit established under the Department of Special Investigation earlier this month to investigate the dissemination on false information on the coronavirus pandemic [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1].

 

18 May 2021

Thailand: Opposition launches fresh attempt to oust minister, proposes amendment to criminal code

(pr) Opposition parties have established a parliamentary sub-committee in a fresh attempt to seek legal action against Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow who they consider to be unqualified to hold a Cabinet post and other political positions over his past conviction for drug trafficking in Australia. The move comes after the Constitutional Court earlier this month dismissed a bid to disqualify the deputy minister after observing that the verdict was not imposed by a Thai court [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2].

Established under the Committee on Suppression and Prevention of Corruption and Misconduct, the new sub-committee seeks to investigate Thamanat Prompow for his involvement in drug smuggling and violation of ethical conduct for concealing his criminal background prior to becoming a minister. The sub-committee will summon all relevant state agencies for more information. [Bangkok Post]

Further, the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) is preparing a bill to amend the Criminal Code to prevent judges, police officers, and prosecutors from interpreting laws in a way which may distort the spirit of the law. To maintain check and balance of the justice process, the bill, modelled after German law, will define “distortion of law” and provide penalties. [Thai PBS World]

 

18 May 2021

Thailand: Opposition lawmaker seeks no-confidence motion against government over COVID-19 response

(pr) A lawmaker from the opposition Pheu Thai Party (PTP) is reportedly seeking a second censure debate over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and said he would ask other opposition parties to table a no-confidence motion when the new parliamentary session begins on May 22. Earlier in February, following a four-day censure debate, the prime minister and nine ministers comfortably survived a no-confidence motion brought by the opposition over the government’s mishandling of the vaccine roll-out and economic policies. [AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]

Moreover, representatives of some opposition parties, including the PTP, on May 13 petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission, asking the body to investigate Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, in his capacity as director of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, for his failure to deal with the pandemic. The petitioners allege that Prime Minister Prayut, in the wake of three waves of infections, failed to enforce related laws, prevent the entry of migrants, and take action against politicians who contracted the virus from visiting nightclubs. [Bangkok Post 1]

The family of a young man who died of COVID-19, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit at the Administrative Court, naming Prime Minister Prayut and the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration among others, and calling for financial compensation of nearly $150,000. [Bangkok Post 2]

 

18 May 2021

Thailand: Social media post of released protest leader spurs bail complaint

(pr) A member of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) on May 14 filed a petition with the Criminal Court to seek a revision of the bail granted earlier last week to Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, accusing him of having violated his bail conditions in a social media post. [Bangkok Post]

Parit, along with fellow protest leader Chai-amorn Kaewwiboonpan, was granted bail on May 11 on a number of conditions, including not dishonor the monarchy or cause unrest, after an earlier bail hearing was postponed [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. Both are facing several charges, including lèse majesté and sedition, along with three other protest leaders, for their activities during rallies in September of last year. [Thai PBS World]

Meanwhile, two university students have reported to the police after being summoned for a royal defamation charge and a violation of the Flag Act for an art installation piece they exhibited during protests in March of last year [see, AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. The police released them afterwards and they are required to report back on May 31. The Art and Cultural Activist Network for Democracy (ACAND), a group of artists, activists, and academics issued a statement in support of the two students. [Prachatai English]

 

18 May 2021

Thailand: Rights groups, activists see veiled mechanism of control in draft NGO law

(pr) Human rights groups and rights advocates are warning that a proposed legislation by the Thai government poses an “existential threat” to their work in the country, saying the bill is a veiled mechanism to intimidate and control their activities. [Voice of America]

If passed, the new law would require all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to register with the Interior Ministry, declare the source of their annual operational fund and how they spend it, and turn in annual audits and tax returns. The Draft Act would also allow Thai authorities to enter an NGO’s offices at any time and gather its electronic communications without a court order. It says, too, that groups could spend any foreign funding only on work “permitted by the Ministry” without elaborating, making the bill “open to interpretation and subject to arbitrary application by the authorities”. [International Commission of Jurists]

Violators of the Draft Act would risk having their registration revoked. The law also imposes liability of criminal punishment on those who operate without registration with imprisonment not exceeding five years or fined not exceeding approx. $3,200, or both.

At present, 86 international NGOs operating in Thailand are officially registered, a number Thai authorities say does not match with reality. The government therefore justifies the move as an attempt to “promote transparency and accountability” in the face of a perceived threat by shadowy groups that would use foreign funds to destabilize the country.

Observers believe state security to be the main reason for the law. For political unrest in the past few years, and the roles played by NGOs may have prompted the government to regulate more intensely the activities of nongovernmental organizations. [Bangkok Post]

In the past, it has been a policy of the government to promote Thailand as a hub for international organizations and position Thailand as “Geneva of Asia”. The Act on Privileges and Immunities for International Organizations and International Conferences in Thailand was promulgated in 2018. The Act provides a framework for granting of privileges and immunities to entities prescribed such as international organizations and inter-governmental organizations and the establishment of its offices in Thailand. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thailand]

18 May 2021

Thailand: COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons causes calls from human rights organizations

(pr/lm) International rights watchdogs have called on Thai authorities to swiftly reduce overcrowding in the country’s prisons and detention facilities, while the Departments of Corrections (DoC) on May 17 annunced that nearly 10,000 across 12 prisons had tested positive for COVID-19 within the past five days. [ABC News] [Thaipost, in Thai]

Amnesty International Thailand (AIT) on May 11 published an open letter to the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court calling for efforts to “minimize unnecessary custody” and employ measures to ensure the “protection of the rights and freedoms of inmates and prisoners during the pandemic”. Two days thereafter, Human Rights Watch (HRW) also urged the Thai government to ensure that the detainees have sufficient protection and health care and reduce overcrowding of prisons through supervised releases of people detained for politically-motivated charges, for minor offense, or people with health conditions. [Amnesty International Thailand] [Human Rights Watch]

Both organizations also say that under international human rights law, the Thai government has an obligation to ensure accessible health care for people in custody that is at least equivalent to that available to the general population. 

In the same vein, 20 lawmakers from the opposition Pheu Thai Party (PTP) have sent an open letter to the DoC asking it to allow detained members of pro-democracy movements infected with COVID-19 to seek treatment at a medical facility of their choice. The legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said nine activists who were detained have tested positive, including one protest leaders who tested positive on May 13. [Bangkok Post 1]

Against this backdrop, Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin held a press conference on the same day, in which he explained the newly discovered cases with previous low testing, adding that the government had stepped up testing of inmates over the past three days. The minister also said prison authorities were planning to vaccinate all of the country’s 380,000 inmate, as hundreds of people detained in provincial prisons such as in Chiang Mai and Narathiwat have also reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. [The Diplomat]

The announcement assumes added significance, coming as it does a day after prominent political activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul announced on May 12 she had tested positive for COVID-19 after eight weeks of pretrial detention at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution (CWCI). The DoC, however, denied the activist’s claim, saying that “100% active screening” was done during and after her detention. [Bangkok Post 2] [Thai PBS World]

 

18 May 2021

Mekong River Commission receives French grant to improve river monitoring network

(ad) The French government has donated $1.82 million to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to improve and expand its monitoring program along the mainstream and key tributaries of the Mekong river. The funding, made available through the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), will span four years from 2021 to 2025. [Mekong River Commission]

The MRC is a regional/intergovernmental organization, consisting of member states Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Since 2007, MRC has established 60 hydro-meteorological stations along the river to improve recording and forecasting the river dynamics.

The new funding is a follow-up to two other grants of EUR 4 million France had donated for the first two phases from 2007 to 2022. Since 2006, France has granted the MRC over 10 million euros to support river monitoring, flood and drought management, climate change, and environmental management. [Agence Kampuchea Presse]

18 May 2021

Vietnam, Thailand agree to foster enhanced strategic partnership

(lm) Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh held phone talks with his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-ocha on May 12, during which the two leaders agreed to coordinate closely in further developing the enhanced strategic partnership between the two countries. [VietnamPlus]

 

11 May 2021

EU and India to boost trade, Indo-Pacific partnership

(lm) The European Union and India have agreed to resume long-stalled talks on a free trade deal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on May 8. Brussel and New Delhi will also launch negotiations on reciprocal investments and on the protection of so-called geographical indications. [South China Morning Post]

Earlier on May 8, the first EU-Indian Leaders’ Meeting brought together all 27 heads of the EU member states and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Considering that previous EU-India summits have involved only the Indian prime minister and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, the recent summit signals the bloc’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region. [Reuters]

Last month, the EU Council asked the European Commission and high representatives to draw up the bloc’s Indo-Pacific strategy by September this year. In doing so, the Council unveiled the strategy’s main thrust, which included exploring closer economic ties with India and pledging to foster a rules-based order with “free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law”, without naming China.

Earlier last week, the EU also said that efforts to ratify the proposed EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China had been suspended after Beijing imposed sanctions on several high-profile members of the European Parliament, three members of national parliaments, two EU committees, and several China-focused European academics.

For a comprehensive examination of the decision, please consider Chris Devonshire-Ellis’ comment for [China Briefing].

11 May 2021

Thailand: Cabinet postpones decision on regional trade agreement

(pr) The Cabinet has given itself time until June 24 to consider a potential membership of the country in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the second extension after a three-months deadline announced earlier in February expired. [Thai Enquirer] [Thansettakij, in Thai] [The Nation Thailand]

The CPTPP is a successor trade bloc of 11 members to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2017. It covers a wide range of issues including intellectual property, labor standards, trade in services, agriculture, and healthcare. The agreement is now in force in most member states: Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. Brunei, Chile, Malaysia and Peru are set to join after they complete their ratification processes.

Thailand has been considering joining the CTPPP since 2019. In June of last year, the government agreed to set up a panel to study the benefits of a CPTPP membership, but decided not to apply for membership at the annual meeting of CPTPP members in the face of pressure from opposing politicians and civil society groups concerned about the agreement’s impact on the agricultural sector [see AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1].

A further extension after the June deadline is unlikely, for Thailand would have to file an application during the next Commissioning Meeting of the 11 CPTPP signatories in August.

 

11 May 2021

Thailand: Cabinet postpones full enforcement of Personal Data Protection Act to June 2022

(pr) The Cabinet on 8 May approved a draft royal decree postponing the enforcement of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) for another year, making the PDPA fully enforceable from 1 June 2022 onwards. The postponement was initiated by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES), which cited the ongoing third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and unfinished subsidiary processes under the Act. [Bangkok Post 1]

Under the PDPA data controllers and processors are required to need consent from data owners to use their personal data, that is, data which identifies a person such as names, health and criminal records, addresses, IDs, and phone numbers. Although the PDPA came into effect in May 2019, some of its operative chapters were originally due to take effect one year later to provide sufficient time for entities and government authorities to comply with the new law’s provision. However, the Cabinet issued a royal decree in May of last year to postpone the enforcement of the PDPA’s operative chapters to May of this year [see AiR No. 21, May/2020, 4]. [Bangkok Post 2]

 

11 May 2021

Thailand: Constitutional Court allows minister to keep post despite alleged drug conviction

(pr) The Constitutional Court (CC) ruled on 5 May that Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow was qualified to retain his cabinet post, dismissing a bid to disqualify him over a past conviction for drug trafficking in Australia. [Bangkok Post 1] [BBC News] [CNN]

According to evidence provided by the Australian courts, Thamanat Prompow served four years in a Sidney jail after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import more than three kilograms of heroin into Australia in 1993. Lawmakers of the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) in May of last year had petitioned the House of Representatives Speaker Chuan Leekpai to seek a ruling from the CC over Thamanat’s qualification as a political office-holder [see AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4].

In its decision, the CC said Thammanat did not violate the constitution because he had not been convicted by a Thai court. The apex court also said it had requested from parliament and the foreign ministry evidence of the conviction, including Australian court rulings made in 1994 and 1995, which were not forthcoming. [Constitutional Court Press Release, in Thai]

Shortly after the CC’s ruling, the Digital Economy and Society Ministry prepared to file a defamation and possibly a computer crime lawsuit against the MFP for its online criticism of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha following the court’s decision. [Bangkok Post 2]

11 May 2021

Thailand: Office of the Judiciary calls for legal action against protestors

(pr) The Office of the Judiciary has called for legal action against members of a pro-democracy group who had protested in front of the Criminal Court in Bangkok to demand the release of leading activists detained royal defamation charges [see article above].

Held on May 2, the protest followed the denial of a bail hearing for protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak. Protesters sprayed paint on the signage outside the court and threw objects into the premises before ending the protest. [Bangkok Post 1] [Thairath, in Thai]

On 10 May, then, the Appeals Court granted conditional bail on appeal to Hathairat Kaewseekram, one of two arrested leaders in the protest. The other protest figure, Roseekeen Niyomdecha, was not granted bail because the lower court denial order was not appealed. [Bangkok Post 2]

11 May 2021

Thailand: Bail granted to some protest leaders

(pr) Several protesters have been released from pre-trial detention within recent days, including prominent protest leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, while another six leaders remain in jail. [Bangkok Post 1] [Prachatai English 1]

Panusaya is one of a trio of prominent activists charged under Thailand’s strict royal defamation laws over a rally in downtown Bangkok in September. She was arrested earlier this March and has been on hunger strike with another jailed protest leader, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who was hospitalized earlier this month. Bail conditions require her and other released activists to stay in Thailand, attend court sessions when summoned and refrain from offending the monarchy – a crime in Thailand that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for each violation. [France 24] [Reuters]

Activists Jatupat Boonpattaraksa and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who were granted bail on 23 April, were also released, while Siraphop Phumphuengphut, another student activist, has been denied bail and detained pending trial. [Prachatai English 2]

A scheduled bail hearing for Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and the third prominent protest leader, Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, was postponed after authorities informed the court that both defendants had not completed a 14-day quarantine period. Earlier on May 4, authorities confirmed that another activist accused of royal insult, human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, had been infected with the coronavirus in custody. [Bangkok Post 2] [Bangkok Post 3]

Meanwhile, two university students last week received police summons on charges under the lèse-majesté law for an art installation piece they exhibited during protests in March of last year. [Prachatai English 3]

4 May 2021

Thailand: Center of DSI to investigate “fake news” on Covid-19 

(nd) A center of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) will be investigating “fake news” in conjunction with the government’s efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, ranging from the promotion of herbs to recommendations by “senior doctors”. They will be focusing on online platforms. No figures were available on how much of such posts are circulated online. [Bangkok Post]

4 May 2021

Thailand: More powers to PM

(nd) In a decree published in the Royal Gazette last week, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha transferred ministerial powers covering 31 laws under his direct control, including immigration, health and procurement, and also several areas of defense and cybersecurity, in an effort to control a recent spike in Covid-19 cases. There was no expiration date given for this measure. Analysts and the opposition have criticized the move in fears of Thailand sliding deeper into authoritarian rule, calling it “Prayut’s enhanced Covid coup.”

Prayut seized power in a coup in 2014, with a controversial election in 2019 consolidating his rule. Due to the stagnating vaccine campaign, rising case numbers and drastic economic repercussions, Prayut has become deeply unpopular among the public.

Amid the recent surge in case numbers, ongoing pro-democracy protests have moved online, making the possibility for Prayuth to directly control the Cyber Security Act and Computer Crimes Act a mayor weapon against the movement.

Just recently, the publication of the Freedom of Press Index highlighted how many Asian states, including China, the Philippines, and Cambodia have used the pandemic as a pretext to broaden executive power and crackdown on critics and media. [See also AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4] [Voice of America] [Benar News

4 May 2021

Thailand: Amnesty International demands release of activists

(nd) Following reports on their declining health, Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of student activists Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul. Parit has been on hunger strike for 45 consecutive days. Both are among those charged under Section 112 and denied bail. Early this week saw protests against the refusal of bail, followed by Parit’s admittance to the hospital where he is being force-fed. [Benar News]

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), as of March 2021, at least 581 individuals have been charged for participating in political protests, at least 88 of which have been charged with Section 112, carrying up to 15 years of imprisonment. Bail requests have been denied numerous times. Thailand has recently not made use of Section 112 but resumed it in November 2020 to contain protesters calling for a reform of the monarchy. [Prachtai]

 

4 May 2021

Thailand: Judgment against Federalist group members upheld

(nd) The Court of Appeal upheld a 3-year prison sentence ruling against four protesters charged with forming a secret society under Section 209 of the Criminal Code for distributing leaflets, and wearing and selling Federationist shirts. The defendants had argued that their statements given at the military camp were made without any lawyers or relatives present, lacked their signature and attest of an officer, making the testimony unlawful. The charges were originally filed on 24 October 2019. 21 people have been prosecuted in 10 cases regarding the republican Thai Federation movement, a group that promotes a change of the system of government to a federation. Out of five movement leaders, four disappeared in self-exile. [Prachatai]

 

4 May 2021

Thailand: Opposition joint statement for Prayut’s removal

(nd) In a joint statement, six opposition parties, including main opposition Pheu Thai Party, and Move Forward Party, demanded Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign over his alleged failure to manage Covid-19 outbreaks. Additionally, they will submit a petition with the same content to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. They added that the Constitution also has to be rewritten and cited public support for Prayut’s removal. [Bangkok Post]

27 April 2021

Press Freedom in Southeast Asia

(nd) Watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently released the World Press Freedom Index, revealing an increased repression and attacks on free press worldwide. The Covid-19 pandemic has globally been used as a pretext to impose repressive legislation and narrow the range of permitted speech for the sake of public health. According to the index, which evaluates 180 countries, journalism is seriously impeded in 73 nations and constrained in 59 other, making up 73 percent of the countries evaluated. 

Vietnam, 175th place, only above Djibouti, China, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea, has intensified its crackdown on dissent leading up to the five-yearly congress in January 2021, arresting and sentencing bloggers and journalists. Malaysia fell 18 places to the 119th, prompted by the passage of an “anti-fake-news” ordinance to contain criticism on the government’s reaction to the pandemic and the state of emergency, as well as an investigation against media outlet Al Jazeera for a documentary on the situation of migrant workers during the pandemic, and proceedings against online news portal Malaysiakini, which was found guilty of contempt of court. [See also AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]

A similar “anti-fake-news” decree designed for the pandemic was issued by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last March, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen continued his crackdown on civil society and the press with similar new powers to hinder reporting. The Philippines continued its “war on drugs”, which is also directed against media, suspending the license of the country’s largest TV broadcaster, ABS-CBN, for its critical reporting, and targeting its editor, Maria Ressa, with judicial campaigns. Myanmar, 140th place this year, but likely to drop to the bottom due to the February 1 coup and the deadly crackdown on civilians, was commented to be set back 10 years by these events. 

Contrarily, Timor-Leste made it to the 71st place, with RSF noting that “no journalist has ever been jailed in connection with their work in Timor-Leste since this country of just 1.2 million inhabitants won independence in 2002.” [RSF] [The Diplomat]

27 April 2021

Brunei’s ASEAN diplomacy faces challenges

(nd) Brunei had made the Covid-19 pandemic priority of its ASEAN chairmanship, following its domestic success against it, also because a code of conduct for the South China Sea was deemed unlikely to be concluded from the beginning.

Following the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, though, this prioritization was forced to change, and ASEAN proved divided over how to respond. Maritime states around Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, denounced the coup, while mainland neighbors Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were more hesitant and invoked the principle of non-interference, two positions to be united by Brunei.

The budget for its diplomatic corps was increased by 7 % for 2021. Since the coup, Brunei has been rather active, releasing a statement within 24 hours, emphasizing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the ‘will and interests’ of Myanmar’s people.

Brunei has met with the junta representatives, which received criticism and is further complicated by the emerge of the parallel government, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). A second statement by Brunei was watered down, showing the remaining divide, but also indicating that even the neutral chair denounces the violence on protesters and that ASEAN wants a solution for the sake of stability. Following the looming of a “federal army”, Indonesia called for a special ASEAN meeting, which will be in person. To invite and prioritize General Min Aung Hlaing over the newly formed National Unity Government (NUG) of the CRPH indicates that Brunei considers the General part of the solution.

At the upcoming meeting, the members have to release a joint statement, for which it will be difficult for Brunei to broker unity, with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte absent. [East Asia Forum 1]

Thailand has been rather silent, despite increasing airstrikes in neighboring Kayin state and 23,000 displaced people, at least 3,000 of which made it into Thailand. While the government did set up temporary shelter anticipating a surge in numbers, at the same time pushed away incoming refugees, excluding NGOs and UN representatives access to the people. This reaction is unsurprising, given the approach to Rohingya refugees, who were pushed back, and other refugee groups from the 1980s still considered to be “temporarily displaced”. 

The influx indicates the high implications growing violence in Myanmar will have on Thailand. Parallelly, Thailand is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, so there is no legal protection for refugees. A prime ministerial regulation from 2019 provided a distinction between economic migrants and asylum seekers, but was criticized for deterring refugees and violating the principle of not sending back who might be subject to harm. Practice is based on “voluntary return” and “resettlement” to third countries. [East Asia Forum 2]

In any case, a special summit exclusively to deal with Myanmar is unusual and shows a departure from an indirect and informal diplomatic style, which was characteristic of ASEAN, and something that did not occur after the coup in Thailand in 2014. Analysts suggest, the successful role Indonesia assumed during the democratization in Myanmar in the 2010s under then-president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), and his Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, is a legacy that Indonesian President Joko Widodo does not want to see crumbling down during his term. [Channel News Asia]

 

27 April 2021

UK to deepen its position in Southeast Asia

(nd) UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab visited Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam to enhance trade and security ties with the two countries and discuss future cooperation. He also met with ASEAN Secretary General to discuss the UK’s commitment as a new dialogue partner to the ASEAN bloc. This visit is part of the UK’s “Global Britain” agenda, focusing on Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific after its exit from EU. As a former colonial power, particularly in Malaysia, Singapore, and Myanmar, and other places, the UK aims to reinvigorate its historic position of influence and leverage in the region.

Already, the UK is a core member of the Five Power Defense Agreement (FPDA), a security arrangement involving Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. As part of freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) meant to deter Chinese activities, the UK has sent warships to the South China Sea since 2018. As part of a multinational naval force, the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier strike group will be dispatched next month. It also discusses with Japan over a UK military base. In Brunei, the UK has the only remaining permanent military presence with a contingent of 1,000 personnel, and has control over the British Indian Overseas Territory, including Diego Garcia, a joint U.S.-U.K. military facility located between Tanzania and Indonesia. 

Following its exit from the EU, the UK will have to maneuver its way into becoming an official dialogue partner to ASEAN now. In November 2019, the UK appointed an ambassador especially for the bloc, and concluded bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with Singapore and Vietnam by the end of 2020. Its trade priority is the inclusion into the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a constellation of 11 Pacific rim countries. Given the tensions between US and China, the UK will have to carefully avoid to be pulled into the conflict, recently seen by the imposition of sanctions due to rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims, which was countered by retaliatory sanctions by China, as well as the UK’s support of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

Additionally, the UK has provided over $385 million in development aid annually to Southeast Asia in recent years, and revitalized its Newton Fund by investing up to $132.5 million to support science and innovations collaboration in the region, using more soft power instruments. [The Diplomat]

 

27 April 2021

Agreement during ASEAN summit to prompt anti-coup activist call for continuation of protests

(lf) The long-awaited summit between the ASEAN member states on the crisis in Myanmar has been concluded with an agreement on five points: to end the violence, hold a constructive dialogue between all parties, send an ASEAN envoy, accept aid of and enable entry for the ASEAN envoy. Furthermore, the states agreed on a constructive dialogue with all parties involved in the conflict, as well as a strong ASEAN role in the further development of the crisis. However, Myanmar General Min Aung Hlaing, did neither set a timeline for the end of violence, nor did he specifically agree to end the killing of civilians immediately or to release political prisoners. The meeting was the first international cooperation on the crisis in Myanmar. The United Nations, the US and China view ASEAN as the adequate body to best deal with the situation. [Reuters 1]

Myanmar’s anti-coup protestors were disappointed by the outcome. Activist groups stated that the agreement did not reflect the realities of the ground in Myanmar, and did not make up for the around 750 people killed by the military since the coup began. While the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported on Min Aung Hlaing’s visit, commenting he discussed the country’s “political changes”, they made no mention of the consensus on an end to violence. [Voice of America] Activists were in particular disappointed over the weakened stance on the release of political prisoners, as a draft paper prior to the summit featured the release of political prisoners as one of the consensus points. Since the coup over 3,000 people have been detained. Therefore, activist have called for a continuation and deepening of the Civil Disobedience Movement and protests. Activists urge civilians to boycott schools and to stop paying their electricity bills and agricultural loans.  [Reuters 2] [Reuters 3]

Already before the summit, the ASEAN bloc received widespread criticism for only inviting the military and in particular the military leader Min Aung Hlaing to the table for a discussion on the situation, and not a representative of the National Unity Government. State leaders of Thailand and the Philippines, Prayut Chan-o-Cha and Rodrigo Duterte did not attend the summit. [South China Moring Post]

Shortly after the meeting, the junta announced to “positively consider” the agreement. On Monday already, one man was shot dead in Mandalay. [Reuters 4]

27 April 2021

Thailand: Lese majeste charges online, criticism for misuse of pandemic laws

(nd) Two people were filed a complaint against by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society for sharing a Facebook post critical of the monarchy and posting a critical comment in a Facebook group called the “Royalist Marketplace” respectively. The posts were argued to be in violation of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law. As of April 20, at least 87 people have been charged. [Prachatai]

Meanwhile, a Bangkok court granted bail to two pro-democracy activists charged under Section 112, saying there was not “sufficient reason” to reject their bail request. Both were arrested for joining a protest at Sanam Luang in September. They vowed to continue their fight for the remaining jailed protesters, whose bail requests were denied earlier. In recent weeks, friends and relatives of the detained activists have held a series of protests outside jails in Bangkok and other Thai cities, calling attention to the bail less detention of activists under Section 112.

Co-protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, has been on a hunger strike for 35 days and appeared in court in a wheelchair last Monday. With him on hunger strike is Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul. [Benar News]

Meanwhile, the governments of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam were criticized by Switzerland-based human rights law group International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) for using the Covid-19 pandemic to enact new laws to control the media and the spread of information. They submitted a report to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), arguing the vague language of the laws makes them easy to be abused, and they foresee harsh criminal penalties, incompatible with the principle of necessity and proportionality. While their objective of containing false information is worthwhile, the laws are frequently used to further limit civil space and target journalists. [Radio Free Asia]

27 April 2021

Thailand: Group to protest US influence

(nd) A group called Prachachon Khon Thai (Thai people) protested in front of the US embassy in Bangkok demanding that the US stop interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs and fueling conflicts among different political groups. A co-leader of the group implied the US has interfered in internal affairs of several countries over the past two decades by influencing public opinion and exerting economic pressure.

Such efforts were directed at undermining national security and toppling the monarchy, referencing recently terminated university scholar David Streckfuss. The US embassy spokesperson reiterated the US government was not funding or providing support for any protest groups in Thailand. [Bangkok Post]

27 April 2021

Thailand: Mekong River Commission meeting

(nd) Later this year, the 28th meeting of the Mekong River Commission will be held by Thailand in an effort to mitigate impact of dams on member countries. April to May shows the transition from dry season to rainy season, which will make volatile water levels peak. The Office of the National Water Resources (ONWR) and the Foreign Affairs Ministry were assigned to work together with China on the joint management of water, as well as draft a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation for water management between Thailand and Laos with respect to hydro-power supply. [Bangkok Post]

27 April 2021

Thailand: Prayut to reject offer by Thaksin

(nd) Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha rejected an offer from former PM Thaksin Shinawatra to help Thailand secure more Covid-19 vaccines from Russia, a remark he made on the social networking app Clubhouse. Thaksin commented the rollout was proceeding too slowly and that suppliers should be diversified further. [Bangkok Post]

27 April 2021

Myanmar: Tatmadaw firing shots at Thai border boat

(lf) Along the Northern Thai Myanmar border, Burmese security forces have shot at a Thai boat carrying border patrol officers. Thailand has been keeping the borders closed to thousands of ethnic Karen, who are fleeing from airstrikes carried out by the Tatmadaw. According to humanitarian aid groups, this is not the first time fire has been opened on boats on the border river, stating that the military has fired shots at boats carrying aid across the river. The Tatmadaw has been trying to keep aid from reaching internally displaced people [Bangkok Post]

27 April 2021

Report warns of shrinking civic spaces in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand

(lm) In a submission to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Switzerland-based organization International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has warned that journalists and media workers in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam face an increasingly repressive legal landscape. 

In the report, the group expresses its concern about the fragility of press freedom in the three countries, highlighting the enactment of new laws and the emergence of practices that are incompatible with human rights law and standards aimed at restricting information and expression on the coronavirus pandemic. The ICJ also underscores the continued abuse of existing laws equally incompatible with human rights law to arbitrarily restrict information and expression during the pandemic, by explicitly targeting journalists and social media users. [ICJ]

20 April 2021

ASEAN leader to meet on April 24

(lf) The leaders of the members of ASEAN have finally agreed to meet in Jakarta on April 24 on the situation in Myanmar. The ongoing violent conflict between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed group causes the neighbor country to worry about a civil war. Coup leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is expected to attend. [Thai PBS world]

ASEAN has long struggled for a cohesive response to the situation. It is rooted in ASEAN’s core principle of non-interference, which was invoked frequently by members, and it therefore lacks a mechanism for regional action. While the international community has condemned the coup with some imposing sanctions, the responses have not been successful yet. [East Asia Forum]

Ahead of the meeting, Southeast Asian states were discussing the possibility of sending a humanitarian aid mission, in order to foster dialogue between the military and the protestors. [Reuters]

20 April 2021

Thailand: Pheu Thai to prepare amendment drafts

(nd) The opposition Pheu Thai Party is preparing two charter amendment drafts, one of which aims to revise Section 256 to have a charter drafting assembly (CDA), as well as Section 272, which gives the military-appointed Senate the power to nominate and elect a prime minister. Since the senators are not elected, but appointed by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), this section is considered undemocratic. Additionally, the draft aims to reimpose the electoral system of the 2007 constitution in order to have two ballots. A charter amendment motion requires the support of at least 100 MPs, over which Pheu Thai Party allegedly commands. They also urged other parties to pressure for the stalled referendum bill, which was determined necessary by the Constitutional Court for amending Section 256, because it would replace the current charter. Its first reading was in December, the second in April, with the debate adjourned due to a low number of lawmakers attending, citing Covid-19 case surges. A re-examination is not expected before June. [Bangkok Post]

20 April 2021

Thailand: Silent protests and divide between the groups

(nd) A small group of the anti-government movement Ratsadon staged a quiet protest on Sunday in front of Khon Kaen University, demanding the release on bail of detained protest leaders. They complied with all health safety rules while they were closely watched by uniformed and plain-clothed police. Additionally, they reiterated their demands of the resignation of the government, constitutional amendments and the reform of the monarchy.

The group also called on the university to review the termination of the visa of David Streckfuss, the American founder of The Isaan Record, and director of the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), which are based at the university. Mr Streckfuss is a political activist who has been vocal about lese majeste laws. He has lived in Thailand for 35 years, and his recent termination will end his visa. The university denied having been pressured by the police. [Bangkok Post 1] [Coconuts Bangkok] [Bangkok Post 2]

Meanwhile, the term “Prayutocracy” made its ways into the discussion, pushed by the Samakkhi Prachachon group. The suffix was popularized by critics of the Thaksin Shinawatra government, using the term “Thaksinocracy” to refer to governmental excess such as cronyism, conflicts of interest, irregularities and large-scale solidifying of political power. The Progressive Movement has also started a nationwide activity to gather support against Prayutocracy. To this point, the public has yet to see proof of such gross misconduct, and the movement is still fractured. They organized rallies parallel to Ratsadon, which also demands Prayut’s resignation but focused more on monarchic reforms. With respect to the support of either protest group, there has also been a rift within the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). [Bangkok Post]

13 April 2021

Thailand: Further arrests after Sunday rally

(nd) Following Sunday’s protests, police summoned two leaders and 26 other people, on charges including lese majeste. Among them is red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, whose speech from Sunday is being scrutinized for a violation of Section 112. The complaint against Jatuporn was filed by an adviser to the House Committee on Law on Tuesday.

The protesters were demanding Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation; with all public gatherings considered unlawful under the emergency decree. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2] 

 

13 April 2021

Thailand: Protester granted bail on Section 112 charges

(nd) Patiwat Saraiyaem, one of a number of key protesters held in prison inter alia on charges of lese majeste, was granted bail, along with two other detainees. The folk singer pledged to not breach Section 112 in the Criminal Code and stay away from political rallies. Other protest figures who were refused bail signed an intention to withdraw their lawyer from their Section 112 trial, arguing a lack of due fairness in this case made the lawyer’s role redundant. [Bangkok Post]

13 April 2021

Thailand: Suggestions for a partial charter change

(nd) Following a number of MPs taking the stand an amendment of the entire constitution was unconstitutional, parties submitted their ideas for a partial charter change.

Opposition party Pheu Thai urged the public to pressure the government and the Senate to push through the stalled referendum bill, for it does not dispose of a majority. An extraordinary parliament session to deliberate the bill, which also proposed changes to Section 256 of the Constitution in order to set up a charter drafting assembly, has been postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak, which Pheu Thai members viewed as a move to hold on to power. The meeting was scheduled for April 7-8. [Bangkok Post 1] The bill sponsored by the government passed the first reading in December, the second reading was adjourned in March. A recent Constitutional Court ruling said replacing the charter requires a referendum before and after the charter is rewritten. [Bangkok Post 2]

In their planned amendment bid, the Progressive Movement wants to abolish the Senate, get rid of the Constitutional Court and independent agencies, cancel the 20-year national strategy, and abolish laws and regulations that absolved the 2014 military coup. 50,000 names are needed to mount an amendment bid, still the movement aims to collect a million in order to have leverage against the Senate.

In its bid, the Democrat Party plans to remove the Senate’s power to select a prime minister, let parliament, not political parties, nominate prime ministerial candidates, decentralize power to local authorities, limit the ability of House panels to summon people to testify, and sort out the electoral system. [Bangkok Post 3]

MPs of Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) MPs submitted a draft amendment to the charter signed by 110 MPs, dealing with five points and 13 sections of the constitution. The proposal wants to expand the rights and freedom of citizens, change the election system to have two ballots in a general election, to replace Section 144 of the 2017 charter with parts of Section 168 of the 2004 charter, to revise Section 185 to allow MPs and senators to contact government agencies to assist people, and to revise Section 270 in order to enable MPs and senators to follow up on, make suggestions about, and expedite national reform plans. [Bangkok Post 4]

 

13 April 2021

Thailand: Investigations after clashes at protests

(nd) Following rallies on Saturday, police are investigating red shirt and Ratsadon protesters due to alleged violation of health safety measures and breach of the emergency decree. Organized by different groups for various reasons, five groups of protesters in total held rallies on Saturday.

Parallelly, a report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the human rights situation with relation to the mass protests found that both sides exercised restraint, while the use of high-pressure water jets mixed with chemicals against the youth-led protesters was described as an overreaction. Overall, the report found, the police did not interfere with freedom of protesters, complying with legal procedure and not requiring prior permission for protests. Concerns were raised about an increase in court orders by the Digital Economy and Society Ministry to suspend or erase information online. [Bangkok Post]

 

13 April 2021

Cambodia, China unlikely to gain from Naval Base

(nd) Despite much attention on the establishment of a Chinese naval base in Cambodia, referring to China’s expanding military presence in the region, China is not likely to gain much strategically due to Cambodia’s geographic position. In comparison to Thailand, where the average water depth is 50m, the waters off Cambodia’s coasts are only 5 to 10 meters deep, which does not permit major naval action, with practically no possibility to use submarines. Additionally, the specific location is relatively unimportant in relation to international sea lanes of communication.

Even if argued, the Ream Naval Base could be a stopover point for China to protect and control its shipping lanes in the Malacca Strait, this function is already assumed by Chinese facilities at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. Additionally, China stands to lose more diplomatically from it, provoking a security escalation with Thailand. Despite seemingly orbiting closer to China, Thailand has secured a $400 million arms sale with the US in 2019. Amid the rising tension in the South China Sea, Vietnam has also engaged more closely with the US on security issues and purchased US defense equipment after the lift of an arms embargo by the Obama administration in 2016. Two years later, Vietnam joined the Rim of the Pacific, the world’s largest maritime exercise.

Lastly, the advantage of a Chinese facility in Cambodia is dependent on a long-pursued infrastructure project to connect the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand and providing an alternative to the Malacca Strait, the so-called Kra Canal in southern Thailand. Due to its cost intensity, there are talks of a bridge instead of the canal, which is of no use to Chinese navy. [The Diplomat]

6 April 2021

Thailand: Rising household debt

(nd) Amid the ongoing pandemic, Thai household debt has risen to 14 trillion baht, or 89.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of December 2020, a rise from 78.1% in 2017, making it the highest since the central bank began keeping records in 2003. The amount of debt does not only affect financial stability but also consumer spending, which accounts for half of Thailand’s GDP. The latest spikes in Covid-19 cases have fueled fears that the economic rebound will be lengthier than expected. Household debt has been high for a long time, but the pandemic has left millions of people out of work and unable to pay their debts. [Reuters]

6 April 2021

Thailand: Fresh lese majeste charges

(nd) After accusing the government of primarily working with a royal-owned company for the production of vaccines, opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was charged with defaming the monarchy, Thailand’s lese majeste law. Inter alia, Thanathorn said in a Facebook livestream that the government mishandled the reaction to the pandemic and granted an unfair advantage to Siam Bioscience, owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Siam Bioscience will produce 61 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, making it the main supplier.

At the same time, leaders of pro-democracy protests remain in jail, awaiting their trial after having been denied bail multiple times. Five more activists were charged with lese majeste for confronting the royal motorcade, which was carrying Queen Suthida in October. The activists denied their intention to involv violence against their regent.

The youth-led movement emerged last year and voiced unprecedented criticism against the monarchy, and called for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s resignation as well as a constitutional reform. [Nikkei Asia] [Channel News Asia]

 

6 April 2021

Thailand to give humanitarian support to refugees from Karen State

(nd) Thailand announced to provide humanitarian assistance to 1,200 people who fled the military strikes in Myanmar’s Karen State. Most are children, women, elderly, and patients. This followed an unusual statement of Thailand, expressing grave concern about the violence in Myanmar.

Immediately after the air strikes, about 3,000 people fled to Thailand, but many of them returned, and according to Thai authorities did so voluntarily. Recently, the military announced to attack border positions in Shan State, bordering with Thailand, letting fear rise among the thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) housed in camps. [Radio Free Asia]

30 March 2021

Myanmar: Fears of civil war grow after series of airstrikes causes thousands to flee to Thai border

(lm) While the death toll among protesters in Myanmar rose dramatically over the weekend [see article in this edition], about 10,000 residents from territory in the country’s southeast controlled by the Karen ethnic minority fled to a safe zone near the Thai border following two days of airstrikes by the army. What is more, Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups are increasingly putting aside their differences, indicating the possible formation of a federal army. [Associated Press] [The Straits Times 1

Over the course of two days, military jets bombed territory controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), one of Myanmar’s two dozen ethnic armed groups that have been fighting for decades to gain more autonomy from Myanmar’s central government. The air assaults were the most significant attack for years in the region and came in retaliation for an attack by the KNU on an army post near the border. [Bangkok Post] [The Irrawaddy]

Since December, fights between the military and the KNU have flared again, after the group in 2015 had signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the central government, along with several other insurgent groups [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]. Since the coup in Myanmar on February 1, the hilly border region between Myanmar and Thailand has once again become a refuge for other opponents of the military regime.

On March 28, then, fighting erupted between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), another armed ethnic group, in the jade-mining area of Hpakant in the northernmost state of Myanmar. While there had been several major clashes between the KIA and the military in the past, both sides were in the process of negotiating a ceasefire agreement in the leadup to the military coup on February 1. The military’s governing body, the State Administrative Council, has announced to continue the peace process with ethnic armed organizations, but the KIA said it would support the protesters and refused to recognize the military regime [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]. [CNN]

The tension at the frontier comes as the leaders of the resistance to last month’s coup are calling on Myanmar’s armed ethnic minority groups to band together and join them as allies. So far, these groups – which make up about one-third of the country’s population – have only committed to providing protection to protesters in the areas they control. But with the bursting of the militias’ defense belt bursts looming, an increasing number of the ethnic armed groups aligns itself with the protesters. [South China Morning Post 1]

Lending further weight to the distinct possibility of mass demonstrations cascading into civil war, three insurgent groups in a joint letter on March 30 called on the military to stop killing peaceful protesters, adding that they would be willing to “cooperate with all nationalities who are joining Myanmar’s spring revolution in terms of self-defence.” [South China Morning Post 2]

Speaking against this backdrop, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on March 29 the government was prepared to accept refugees and rebuffed claims that Thailand was supporting the Myanmar junta, telling reporters “there is probably no one to support the use of violence against the people”. The prime minister also defended his military’s decision to send representatives to attend the “Armed Forces Day celebrations” [see article in this edition], saying Bangkok had to maintain a good rapport with the military junta. [Deutsche Welle] [Khaosod English] [Nikkei Asia]

Earlier the same day, Thai authorities denied allegations by activist groups that more than 2,000 refugees, who had tried to enter Thailand had been forced back across the river, despite ongoing aerial bombardment. Moreover, authorities also said it was government policy – nota bene: Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention, and its asylum law refers to “illegal foreigners” who can be arrested and deported at any time – for the army to block refugees at the border and deny reporters and aids groups access to the area. [The Straits Times 2]

30 March 2021

Thailand: Coronavirus sends online sex abuse soaring

(lm) Cases of online sex abuse in Thailand have significantly proliferated under COVID-19, as many families struggle to make ends meet while minors are at home and online, putting themselves at risk of being sex-trafficked. Campaigners say police had received almost 170,000 domestic tipoffs about online child sexual abuse last year, a rise of more than 40 percent as compared to 2019. [South China Morning Post]

Last June, the police-led Internet Crimes Against Children (TICAC) taskforce had warned that child cybersex abuse cases were approaching a record high. To enhance authorities’ ability to tackle the trend, child rights experts have repeatedly urged the government to establish the necessary legal framework for the criminalization of child sexual abuse online and the effective prosecution of offenders. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

 

30 March 2021

Thailand: 19 lawmakers currently investigated for serious misconduct over alleged public land encroachment

(lm) A total of 19 lawmakers from various political parties are currently being investigated for serious misconduct over alleged public land encroachment, according to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). Firebrand activist and Secretary-General of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, Srisuwan Janya, had asked the NACC to investigate the MP. [Bangkok Post 1]

The fate of Pareena Kraikupt, a lawmaker from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is said to have put the other MPs being investigated on edge. The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders on March 25 stripped Pareena of her duties over a pending reserved forest encroachment case. If found guilty, Pareena could see her political rights revoked for up to 10 years; but she will be barred from contesting elections and assuming political positions for life under Section 235 of the Constitution. [The Bangkok Post 2]

30 March 2021

Thailand: Appointments of four new minister confirmed by King Rama X

(lm) Appointments of four new cabinet ministers – two ministers and two deputy ministers – were confirmed in the Royal Gazette published on March 23 after being endorsed by King Rama X. The Gazette also announced the departures of three minister that had to leave office after being convicted by the Central Criminal Court for their role in the extended 2013 street protests that eventually culminated in the 2014 coup by then army commander Prayuth, ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. [Bangkok Post 1]

Prime Minister Prayit Chan-o-cha the following day defended the appointments of the new cabinet ministers, notably Education Minister Trinuch Thienthong, who has been criticized for her lack of experience in running educational affairs. Trinuch is the niece of senior Pheu Thai Party lawmaker Sanoh Thienthong, who played a supporting role in the rise to premiership of Banharn Silpa-archa, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, Thaksin Shinawatra and Surayud Chulanont. [Bangkok Post 2]

30 March 2021

Thailand: Constitutional reform moves stall, leaving Prime Minister Chan-o-cha with stronger position

(lm) While the protest movement against the government is increasingly losing momentum [see article above], Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signaled this week that he was easy about the course of events in Parliament where moves have floundered to amend the 2017 Constitution, despite what appeared to be a parliamentary victory for the opposition. [Thai Examiner]

Amendments to the Constitution had been pursuit in Parliament via two bills – a government-sponsored referendum bill and an opposition-backed constitutional amendment bill – that were supposed to have been merged into one in the process of legislative scrutiny. But Thailand’s Constitutional Court (CC) through a ruling on March 11 sent a clear signal that the bill was unconstitutional, ruling that Parliament has authority to write a new constitution only on the condition that a public referendum be conducted prior to and following the amendment process [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3].

As a direct result of the ruling, the opposition-sponsored charter amendment bill on March 17 failed to get the support of a majority of members of the House and at least of one-third, or 84, of the Senators, as required as per Section 256 of the Constitution. Prior to the vote, Parliament’s legal team had suggested to suspend the third and final reading of the bill pending a referendum, but the opposition Pheu Thai Party insisted on proceeding with the vote, arguing that the bill did not pertain to aspects stipulated in the CC’s ruling.

What is more, Senators have already voiced concerns about Section 9 of the government-sponsored referendum bill, which authorizes both Parliament and the public to initiate a signature campaign calling for a referendum to be held on a given issue with approval from the Cabinet. Lending further credence to the argument the prime minister and his government appear to end up in a stronger position, an extraordinary parliamentary session scheduled for April 7 and 8 will be postponed, as the Office of Council of State – the government’s legal advisory body – is yet to consider the final wording of Section 9. [Bangkok Post 1] [The Bangkok Post 2]

Against this backdrop and with just two years left before the next general election, time appears to be running out for any bid to seek wholesale charter changes. Calls are therefore growing to amend the Constitution on a chapter-to-chapter basis without touching issues that require a referendum, but this may prove quite difficult as the government appears be in control of the process. The focus has now shifted to the Democrat and Bhumjaithai Parties, both of which campaigned on a platform of altering the Constitution during the 2019 election. [Bangkok Post 3]

What is more, firebrand activist Srisuwan Janya lodged a petition with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) early last week demanding a probe into the 206 MPs and two Senators who had voted to pass the amendment bill on March 17. Srisuwan, who is the Secretary-General of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, has also sought action against eight political parties whose MPs voted for the bill on grounds of alleged ethical misconduct. [Bangkok Post 4]

 

30 March 2021

Thailand: Police file fresh round of charges after anti-government protesters hold peaceful rally

(lm) Hundreds of protesters gathered on March 29 to defiantly repeat their calls for reform of the royal institution and the release of suspects arrested and detained on lèse-majesté charges, a day after police had cleared a protest camp near the Government House in Bangkok and detained nearly 100 protesters for breaching public health measures against the coronavirus. [The Bangkok Post 1]

Moreover, thousands of anti-government protesters returned to the streets in Bangkok on March 24, days after one of the most violent demonstrations since they began last year [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. The rally was called by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a faction of a broader protest movement that started last year and has three core demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government, for the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the monarchy to be reformed to make it more accountable. [Associated Press] [The Straits Times] [The Thaiger]

While the rally ended peacefully, police are preparing to take legal action against 21 protesters, possibly including for violating the lèse-majesté law, which makes criticizing, insulting or defaming the king or other key royals punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Since last November, at least 76 activists involved with the protests have been charged with similar violations. [Bangkok Post 2]

The rally was held a day before prosecutors were to decide whether to accept sedition and lèse-majesté charges against 13 other protesters in cases relating to a rally held outside the German embassy in the capital in October last year [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]. Eight other protesters, who are already being held in pretrial detention in lèse-majesté cases, have been denied bail to prevent them from playing any active role in the ongoing protest movement. [Bangkok Post 3] [Bangkok Post 4]

Separately, a group of human rights advocates led by a former member of the National Human Rights Commission on March 26 petitioned the Central Administrative Court over police’s handling of a demonstration near the parliament complex on November 17, when security forces deployed tear gas and water cannons. At least 18 people were injured, marking the most violent confrontation since a youth-led protest movement had emerged in July [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3].

23 March 2021

Thailand: Further clashes between protesters and police

(nd) On another pro-democracy rally on Sunday, police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse protesters, injuring dozens, arresting at least 20 for insulting the monarchy and breaching public gathering laws. [Voice of America] Meanwhile, 16 core members of the Khon Kaen, a faction of the anti-government Ratsadon group, answered charges in connection with anti-government rallies. Protests started last year and have raised unprecedented calls to reform the Thai monarchy. [Bangkok Post] In a statement issued after the protest during which journalists were shot with rubber bullets, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) urged the authorities not to use force on working journalists. [Prachatai 1] Parallelly, Amnesty International called on Thai authorities to drop all charges against children and to investigate authorities’ excessive use of force against protesters. Since the protest started in 2020, at least 24 children have been charged, even with Article 112 (Lese Majeste Law), Article 116 (Sedition), carrying lengthy prison sentences, for peacefully expressing their opinion and assemble, violating the rights to fair trial and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). [Prachatai 2]

23 March 2021

Thailand: Thai woman charged by US court

(nd) Thai national and former executive of defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia has plead not guilty in US court proceeding charging her with participating in a conspiracy to submit fraudulent price quotes. The defendant alongside two others who were already sentenced in 2017, is accused of submitting false claims of more than $5 million to the US Navy. She was extradited from Thailand to the US. [Chiangrai Times]

23 March 2021

Thailand: Court to review CCTV material upon activist complaint

(nd) Following complaints by activist Arnon Nampa that jail officials tried to remove him and other political detainees from their jail cell late at night, a Thai criminal court announced to review CCTV footage. Correction officials said they were trying to isolate individuals who had been in court on Monday for Covid-19 tests, which they refused due to the unusual time.

A pre-trial hearing on Monday ruled 22 pro-democracy activists will be tried together on Lese-Majeste and sedition charges. [Benar News]

23 March 2021

Thailand: Activist granted political asylum

(nd) An anti-government activist was granted political asylum in the United States. She fled Thailand in 2017 after she was charged with royal defamation. Her status effectively means she is unable to return to her home country. She was one of another eight Facebook users abducted from their homes in 2016 by security officers for organizing satirical pages targeting PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. [Khaosod]

23 March 2021

Myanmar: Rising death toll and more international efforts to pressure the military

(nd) Lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) have urged the largest foreign-owned oil and gas companies to suspend business ties with the military regime, saying the money earned will be used to reinforce human rights violations. Per month, Myanmar receives earnings of about US$75 million to US$90 million from oil and gas sales, paid through state-owned company Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). In an effort to cut the junta off these supplies, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the Burmese government in exile representing the NLD, sent a notice to France’s Total SE, Malaysia’s Petronas, Thailand’s PTT and South Korea’s POSCO, criticizing them for their failure to condemn the coup, and urging them to suspend their tax payments. [Irrawaddy 1]

Also, CRPH is negotiating with Karen National Union (KNU), Restoration Council of Shan State and Kachin Independent Army (KIA) to form a federal army to protect the protesters. They have cleared all ethnic armed groups from the terror list. In light of the growing violence, so far peaceful protesters started to use self-constructed weapons, such as molotov cocktails, and built barricades from tires, bricks or bamboo. [FAZ in German]

Meanwhile, the efforts of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) spreads virally, with a “social punishment” campaign against the families of senior members of the regime. On social media, protesters identified names, addresses and other personal information on relatives of the military generals, and urged people to shun and shame the individuals, and to boycott their businesses. [Frontier Myanmar 1

Four employees of a private bank were detained for allegedly inciting people to join the civil disobedience movement (CDM). [Irrawaddy 2] Due to the ongoing strikes, companies struggle to pay salaries amid closed banks. [Nikkei Asia 1] With an ongoing strike, the military has fired officials from the Foreign Ministry and has pressured banks to reopen in an effort to avoid an economic collapse. [Frontier Myanmar 2]

With the junta using more excessive force, the death toll rose to over 250 and reports of at least 5 cases of torture in detention have surfaced. Internet shutdowns let information spread slowly. Protesters erected barricades in the streets, which were set on fire making Yangon look like a battle zone. [Asia Times 1] In an effort to intimidate citizens, security forces randomly opened fire in residential areas and at individual residences. Shortages of food and drinking water continued, hinting at a looming humanitarian crisis. Adding to internet blackouts, phone services were cut off in some areas. Protesters reported they refrain from forming groups, which are randomly attacked and shot at by the police.

The military continued to target journalists and closed down the last independent newspaper, The Standard Time Daily, following 7Day News, The Voice, Eleven Myanmar, and the Myanmar Times. Private media outlets have been operating in the country since 2013, after the lifting of the ban on independent media since 1962.  [Radio Free Asia 1] Police also continued to raid homes in search of protesters; over 2,000 people have been arrested. [Radio Free Asia 2] To mark the one-month anniversary of the protests, activists organized a car convoy, others lit candles, joined by Buddhist monks. Reportedly, members of the security forces were attacked and died, as well as two policemen during protests. After security forces have occupied more than 60 schools and university campuses in 13 states and regions, Unicef, Unesco, and private humanitarian group Save the Children, issued a statement condemning the occupation of education facilities as a serious violation of children’s rights. [South China Morning Post 1]

Following the attack on Chinese businesses on Sunday, an unsigned editorial, published on the website of state-run CGTN network, suggested that China might be “forced into taking more drastic action” in Myanmar if its interests are not more firmly safeguarded. The editorial added, “China won’t allow its interests to be exposed to further aggression. If the authorities cannot deliver and the chaos continues to spread, China might be forced into taking more drastic action to protect its interests.” China is deeply involved in Myanmar’s economy and shares a 2,200-kilometer border, which is of interest for Chinese infrastructure projects giving it a corridor to the Indian Ocean. [The Diplomat 1] Inter alia, China is extracting minerals in Myanmar, whose shipments have delayed significantly, making a global price rise likely. China controls 80% of the world’s rare earth mineral supplies. [Asia Times 2]

According to experts, the systematic crackdown on the Rohingyas executed by the military since 2017 is just postponed and likely to restart, possibly turning protests into a “prolonged crisis”. Recently hired Canadian-Israeli lobbyist for the junta, Ari Ben-Menashe, said the military want to repatriate Rohingyas. [Voice of America]

Sam Rainsy, exiled Cambodian opposition leader, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Indonesian lawmaker Fadli Zon, Philippine Senator Kiko Pangilinan, former Singapore Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, and former Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya signed a statement urging all ASEAN nations to unite in sanctions against Myanmar and to end impunity. The politicians criticized the “impotence” of ASEAN amid the human rights abuses, and suggested to suspend Myanmar’s membership in the regional bloc. [Benar News]

In some of the strongest comments yet, Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged the violence to stop immediately and to press current chairman of ASEAN, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, to call an urgent meeting. [Reuters] Following Indonesia and Malaysia’s joint push for an urgent high-level meeting of ASEAN, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will visit Brunei, before going to Malaysia and Indonesia. [Channel News Asia]

The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on 11 individuals linked to the coup in Myanmar. The EU already had an arms embargo on Myanmar, and has targeted some senior military officials since 2018. Stronger measures are expected in a move to target the businesses run by the military, mainly through two conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings and Myanmar Economic Corp. [Nikkei Asia 2]

According to Thai media, the Royal Thai Army had supplied 700 sacks of rice to Myanmar army units on Myanmar’s eastern border allegedly on the orders of the Thai government. The commander of the task force denied it and said it was regular trade. Residents told a Reuters reporter the crossing was not a normal trade route. The allegedly supplied army units were cut off by forces of the Karen National Union (KNU), who have pledged allegiance to the protest movement. [Bangkok Post]

Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with violating an anti-corruption law, with a possible prison sentence of 15 years, adding to four previous charges with other offences. [South China Morning Post 2]

The influential, Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Mahana), a government-appointed body of Buddhist abbots, urged the military to end violence against protesters. It was submitted to the Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture. The statement mentioned the CDM, which would greatly benefit from support by Mahana. As a rather conservative organization, the clear cut with the military is significant, according to analysts. It might unleash monastic opposition, which has historic precedents. [The Diplomat 2]

Ousted lawmakers of NLD are exploring if the International Criminal Court (ICC) can investigate crimes against humanity committed by the military since the coup. Following the toughening crackdown, hundred have fled Myanmar to bordering Thailand, which has prepared for a big influx of refugees, as well as to India. [South China Morning Post 3]

16 March 2021

Thailand: Constitutional Court rules on referendum on constitutional amendment 

(nd) According to a Constitutional Court ruling, proposals for constitutional amendments have to be brought for a vote before the people through a two-tiered referendum by parliament. Until now, an amendment draft already passed two parliamentary readings and was supposed to be voted on next week. During one of the readings, a majority voted for seeking a Constitutional Court’s ruling on the issue. MPs were unsure whether the ruling forced them to drop the current draft or have a parliamentary vote on it and then present it for a referendum.

Opposition parties as well as the youth-led pro-democracy movement have been calling for the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to reform the 2017 charter, which favors the military and helped Prayuth to stay in power following the 2019 general elections. Parliament has been working on changing Article 256 in order to enable a constitutional amendment. The draft stipulates 200 Constitution drafting members be elected from constituencies nationwide, sparing sections dealing with the monarchy. [Benar News]

16 March 2021

Thailand: Economic repercussions of pro-democracy protests

(nd) Both demonstrations by pro-democracy activists as well as though police actions against them continued over the past weeks. The co-leader of the protests remain in custody over lese majeste charges, carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years. Still, unprecedented calls for monarchy reform resume, resulting in the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to intensify its crackdown on protesters.

With respect to economic repercussions, especially Thailand’s status as a foreign direct investment destination, the initial negative effect of the conflict seems to have worn off, with investors returning. Still, the protest movement exposes Thailand’s systemic political instability, which could deter foreign investors in the future.

Thailand’s tourist-dependent economy was severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. But according to analysts, the biggest downturn since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis is likewise connected to the political tension and insecurity, both with respect to foreign and domestic sources. 

For the return of investor confidence in the last quarter of 2020 and first of 2021, analysts cited the rollout of the vaccination program, government incentive packages, and the creation of special economic zones like the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). Additionally, foreign investors were offered a host of tax and duties exemptions particularly in high-tech sectors like robotics and biofuels. While politicians have tried to downplay the significance of the protests and align it with the normalcy of a certain amount of political unrest in the country, the youth-led movement still poses an unprecedented challenge to the monarchy, with a possible greater impact than previous political unrests.

Another factor is the competition from neighboring Southeast Asian countries — particularly Vietnam and Indonesia — who offer political stability and attractive investment incentives, such as lower wages. [The Diplomat]

16 March 2021

Regional meeting to discuss situation of migrants in the pandemic

(nd) According to a recent statement by a senior UN official, stigmatized and stranded migrants should be vaccinated promptly and valued for the region’s economic recovery. The Asia-Pacific’s migrant workforce comprises 40 % of the world’s migrants. Due to the pandemic, many lost their livelihoods, strander due to closed borders, facing discrimination and xenophobia, or were forcibly returned to their home countries. Due to their dense living situation the nature of job primarily in the service industry, migrants are specifically vulnerable to a Covid-19 infection. Thailand’s foreign minister Don Pramudwinai admitted that misinformation and insensitive messaging resulted in a widespread believe that migrants were a threat to public health, cutting them off access to health services. In December, a rise in Covid-19 cases at the country’s largest sea food market in Samut Sakhon, home to a large number of migrants from Myanmar, was blamed on foreign workers entering illegally.

The meeting, which was held in Bangkok, aims to identify challenges in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, a non-legally binding intergovernmental agreement struck in 2018, a first ever UN global approach to international migration.

In the wake of the coup in Myanmar, both India and Thailand have so far closed their borders for Myanmar refugees, potentially in violation of international law, which states to return no one to a country where they are likely to face persecution, torture, or other serious harm. [Benarnews]

16 March 2021

Thailand: Plans to expand prison space amid protests

(nd) To counter challenges to correctional facilities amid the rise in political prisoners due to the ongoing pro-democracy protest, Thailand considers an expansion of prison space. Many prisons are congested with protesters. Protesters raised yet unprecedented demands, like a monarchy and constitutional reform as well as the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 382 people, including 13 minors and 58 charged under the lese majeste laws, are currently facing charges in conjunction with peacefully protesting. Charges under lese majeste include online postings brought by the newly introduced Cyber Crime Unit. UN criticized the surge in charges for lese majeste and a decline in freedom of expression. [The Diplomat]

Meanwhile, co-leader of the protests, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, announced he would go into hunger strike until he and the other co-leaders are granted bail. Six other activists are charged under Article 112 and were refused bail multiple times. [Benar News]

 

16 March 2021

SIPRI international arms transfers report 2020

(dql) According to the 2020 international arms transfers report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), released last week, the US remains the world’s largest arms supplier in 2016-2020 accounting for 37% of the global arms exports, followed by Russia (20%), France (8.2), Germany (5.5%) and China (5.2%). Together, these five countries accounted for 76% of all exports of major arms. Besides China, Asian countries listed among the top 25 countries which accounted for 99% of global arms exports include South Korea (2.7%, ranking at 7), the United Arab Emirates (0.5%, 18), and India (0.2%, 24)

Against the backdrop of the US-China rivalry, the US allies Australia (accounting for 9.4% of US arms exports), South Korea (6.7%) and Japan (5.7%) were among the five largest importers of US arms.

23 Asian countries were among the 40 largest importers including Saudi-Arabia, India, China, South Korea, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iraq, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Oman, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, the Philippines, Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Malaysia. [Reliefweb]

9 March 2021

Thailand: More activists charges as protests continue

(nd) On Monday, 18 more activists were indicted by the prosecutor for participating in anti-government rallies last year. The youth-led pro-democracy movement has tabled once tabooed subjects such as a monarchy reform, prompting charges under the country’s strict lese majeste laws. Three were charged with sedition and lese majeste, the other 15 protesters with sedition and breaching a ban on public assembly. [Reuters] [Bangkok Post] On Saturday already, hundreds of protesters defied a gathering ban to protest the bail-less detention of the co-leaders of the movement. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters, injuring 10 protesters and 26 policemen. [South China Morning Post]

9 March 2021

Thailand: Facebook to remove Army-linked accounts and pages

(nd) Following Facebook’s removal of 185 accounts and groups linked to the Royal Thai Army, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced an investigation by the Army into the matter. According to the social media platform, the removed pages violated its policy against government interference, by engaging in information-influencing operation on behalf of a government entity. They originated in Thailand and targeted domestic audiences in the South, where the army faces an insurgency movement. The issue of army information operations has preoccupied activists, who filed a suit against the Army, as well as parliamentarians. Lawmakers from oppositioning Move Forward Party accused the army of misusing funds to discredit critics of the government. [Channel News Asia]

9 March 2021

Thailand: Popstar and activist burns King’s portrait

(nd) Thai popstar and pro-democracy activist Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan was arrested for allegedly burning a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn during a protest rally demanding the release of four protest leaders. Ammy admitted to the allegations. If charged under the lese majeste laws, he could face imprisonment of up to 15 years. If charged for arson of government property, the maximum penalty is death. Ammy’s move happened during a pro-democracy demonstration on Sunday by the group “Restart Democracy,” or REDEM, who later clashed with the police. [See also AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1] Thailand was downgraded in U.S.-based Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World 2021” report for its fierce crackdown on protesters. [Benar News]

9 March 2021

Thailand: Death penalty for Pattani bombers

(nd) Six men were given the death penalty by the Supreme Court for a string of bombings and attempted bombings in central Pattani in 2016. Four others were given life imprisonment and 36 in jail respectively. The explosion killed one person and injured 20. The men were also charged with illegal assembly to commit a crime and colluding to amass firearms for the purpose of acts of terrorism. [Bangkok Post]

2 March 2021

Laos: Thai court to reject appeal concerning Pak Beng dam

(py) A Thai court denied to hear an appeal on a case concerning Laos’s Pak Beng dam project. In 2017, two Mekong resident groups filed a petition to retract an environmental assessment performed by Thai agencies. Meanwhile, Laos’ government issued a decree, which requires all hydropower operators to inform authorities whenever dam reservoirs reach maximum storage or when river levels downstream fall to a critical level. [Voice of America] [Benar News

The Pak Beng Dam project, developed by Chinese Datang Overseas Investment Co., Ltd, is one of several Chinese-related developments and business projects in Laos that has triggered a Chinese language education boom. In 2018, Chinese investments accounted for 79 percent of all Foreign Direct Investment in Laos. [Radio Free Asia]

 

2 March 2021

Thailand: Excessive use of force of police criticized

(nd) On Sunday, a protest rally headed for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s residence inside the 1st Infantry Regiment base clashed with the police. The police used rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas against the protesters. 33 were hurt, 22 arrested and one police man died of a heart attack. The police were criticized for again using violent force against protesters. [Bangkok Post] Prayuth defended the police, stating the measures were in compliance with international standards. [Chiangrai Times]

2 March 2021

Thailand: Further charges and more refused bail for protest leaders

(nd) The Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) is likely to open investigations into Facebook posts made by two already detained anti-government protest leaders, Parit Chiwarak and Arnon Nampa. Along with other co-leaders of the ongoing street protests, the two are facing inter alia charges under the strict lese majesté laws.

Reportedly, comments deemed a violation of the Computer Crime Act still occurred on their Facebook accounts, however, even after they were detained. According to the NGO Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) the Criminal Court again denied bail for the two and two other other co-leaders of the protests. They have been detained for the past 14 days and will remain indefinitely until the trial is over, or bail granted. [Bangkok Post] [Prachatai]

2 March 2021

Thailand: Unidentified men at protests not clarified

(nd) Weeks after about 40 unidentified men next to security forces cracked down on protesters, both police and the defense ministry state they have no knowledge about their identity but would be investigating. The men were next to riot police and not driven out by the police during the operation. Reportedly, many demonstrators and observers saw similar unidentified men working closely with security officers in previous rallies, having been nicknamed “Minions”. Activists reinforced that deploying unidentified men in plain clothes is not in line with international standards of handling crowds. [Khaosod]

 

2 March 2021

Thailand: Three cabinet members convicted by Criminal Court

(nd) On Thursday, three ministers in Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s cabinet were convicted by the Central Criminal Court in Bangkok for their involvement in the extended street protests that eventually culminated in the 2014 coup by then army commander Prayuth, ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The cabinet members – two ministers and a deputy-minister – all received prison sentences, the maximum was seven years. They had to leave office, for the constitution foresees them being barred from office if convicted for a criminal offense. Besides the three, 26 other members of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), often referred to as Yellow Shirts, were convicted. The group was led by former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, a prominent Democrat party member and royalist, who was sentenced to five years. The defendants were found guilty of sedition, trespassing, and instigating strikes. [Nikkei Asia]

23 February 2021

Laos: Chinese company sets to begin studies for iron mining 

(py) A Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Laotian province Xaysomboun and China’s Tai Xan Meng Sion-Lao Minerals Corporation earlier this month allows the Chinese company now to begin feasibility studies in the area, while local residents and environmentalists worry about polluted rivers and fields.

Though on paper, residents are often ensured safety from pollution and side-effects of the construction, infrastructure projects in Laos have been notorious for not keeping their promise with Laotians displaced and unheard.

The backlashes of mega-projects, especially dam constructions, also go beyond the border. Lately, a Thai NGO, Fair Finance Thailand, has called on several Thai financial institutions to withhold loans for the Luang Prabang dam project until a risk-mitigation study is done. Laos’s recent economic growth has been mainly due to concessions to China, Thailand and Vietnam for natural resources. Not long ago, Laos had asked China to restructure its debt and rejected the IMF’s loan, China could pressure Laos to make more concessions of its natural resources. [Radio Free Asia] [South China Morning Post 1[South China Morning Post 2]

23 February 2021

ASEAN member states tighten grip on cyberspace

(nd) The Thai government issued a warning not to break the law using the audio social media app Clubhouse. The Digital Minister said authorities were watching Clubhouse users and political groups if information was distorted and laws potentially violated. The app quickly developed into a discussion platform about the monarchy, despite the topic raised by student protesters still a fierce taboo, and whose criticism is punished harshly. Many Thai users registered following Japan-based critic of the Thai palace, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and joined the app. He gained more than 70,000 followers in his first five days on the app. His Facebook group, Royalist Marketplace, was shutdown in August 2020, only to reopen and attract 300,000 followers the next day. The government’s crackdown on protesters has regularly included charges under cybercrime laws, mostly on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

The app gathered popularity quickly and was blocked earlier this month in China after thousands of mainland users joined discussions often censored in China, including about Xinjiang detention camps and Hong Kong’s national security law.

Last Wednesday, Indonesian authorities announced the app had to register as an Electronic System Operator (PSE) to seek permission to operate, and could be banned if it fails to comply with local laws. Indonesia has previously banned Reddit, Vimeo, and many pornography sites. [South China Morning Post] [Reuters]

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last week signed a sub-decree to enable the creation of the country’s long-planned National Internet Gateway (NIG), a Chinese-style firewall, which possibly gives authorities even more powers to crackdown on online free-speech. All internet traffic will be routed through a single portal managed by a government-appointed regulator. All internet traffic metadata shall be stored for 12 months and can be assessed by the authorities.

A telecommunications law from 2015 already gave significant powers to request user traffic data from internet service providers to the authorities, and the criminal code and the “fake news” legislation were used to crack down on government critics. All these efforts, however were reactive and put in after a post, despite blockages of websites, that could be circumvented via VPNs. The NIG enables a preventive action, mounting up to censorship.

Since Cambodia is unlikely to provide a national alternative to the popular social media platform Facebook, the authorities will have to force the platforms to abide by its rules. By having a single gateway for all traffic, Cambodia might have significant leverage over the social media website, being able to threat to shut them off. Such a tactic worked well for Vietnam.

Indeed, the timing is suspect. The NIG is expected to be launched next year, which in mid-2022 will see local elections, and general elections in 2023. The ruling party dissolved its only opponent, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in 2017. Leaders are in exile and mostly hindered from returning to the country, not even to face charges in ongoing court proceedings. [Asia Times]

In Thailand, analysts commented that the Thai cyberspace has become highly politicized after the coup, with the addition of legal tools to enable a broad and deep surveillance.

The Computer Crimes Act was enacted in 2007. Already in 2015, a “cyber warfare” unit was founded with the military, and the Technology Crime Suppression Division with the Royal Thai Police. The Ministry of the Digital Economy and Society was established in 2016. According a WikiLeaks documents, the military unit was setup with the help of an online surveillance firm and installed broad tools to collect data. The military was accused in 2016 of buying decryption technology to monitor private communication on social media. A 2017 report claimed hackers worked for the government between 2016 and 2017 to block media sites, WikiLeaks and websites that provide tools for censorship circumvention. A new cybersecurity agency and hacker training center were setup in 2018, further enabling control of online content. In 2019, a “anti-fake news center” was opened in Bangkok, employing 40 full-time staff to monitor and forward discussion in possible violation of the Computer Crimes Act to the Technology Crime Suppression Division. Officers working for the Digital Economy and Society Ministry can request computer data from service providers without a warrant. According to a Comparitech survey on privacy protection published by the end of 2019, Thailand was ranked among the lowest in the world.

In the Malay-Muslim-majority southern provinces the state’s system of surveillance is even more sophisticated, collecting DNA-samples for a DNA databank to fight insurgencies. In 2020, phone numbers were registered using a facial recognition system, and failure to register cut the individual off service. Phones have been used to set off bombs. Later, it was announced that the 8,200 security cameras in the southern provinces could be fitted with a facial recognition system and be run with artificial intelligence (AI) in the future, similar to the system in China. The UN criticized this development in 2020. [The Diplomat]

23 February 2021

Thailand: PM survives no-confidence motion

(nd) Following a second non-successful no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and nine ministers, hundreds of protesters gathered outside parliament. The first such motion was in February 2020. The lawmakers took the expected vote after a four-day censure debate. Prayuth’s coalition holds a majority in the lower house. The opposition brought the motion over the government’s mishandling of the vaccine roll-out and economic policies. Over 1.000 protesters, led by United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a student group under the umbrella of the broader Ratsadon or People’s Movement, gathered in the evening in front of the parliament, while earlier in the afternoon a group calling itself the “Progressive Red” gathered near the Democracy Monument. [Reuters] [Bangkok Post 1]

In Khon Kaen, about 300 anti-government protesters gathered to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet, a new constitution, an overhaul of the royal institution as well as the release on bail of four leaders of the People’s Movement now being detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison. Among the protesters were members of the Kong-Chi-Mun and Dao Din groups as well as students from various educational institutes, joined by red-shirts from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). [Bangkok Post 2]

16 February 2021

Thailand: Pro-democracy protests resumed

(nd) On Saturday, pro-democracy protest resumed to the streets, covering the Bangkok democracy monument in red cloth and calling for the lese majeste laws to be abolished. Due to a spike in Covid-19 numbers before Christmas, the protest’s momentum slowed down. The bail-less detention of four co-leaders refueled the movement. In the evening, they marched to the Royal Palace, awaited by barricades, barb wires and riot police, who then clashed with protesters. Tear gas cans were found although police denied its usage. Eight were detained, on multiple charges, including defiance of the emergency decree, and 20 wounded. Additionally, the police got under attack for the alleged attacking and beating of a volunteer medic, a video of which trended on Twitter under the hashtag #policebeatingmedic. The protest will be resumed next Saturday.

The pro-democracy movement began in July 2020, with protesters calling for a constitutional and monarchy reform and the resignation of prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Once a fierce taboo, protesters are also demanding abolition of the royal defamation law. [Voice of America] [Bangkok Post]

 

16 February 2021

Thailand: Activists denied bail

(nd) Four pro-democracy activists, Parit Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Patiwat Saraiyaem, were denied bail on charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code. The infamous laws have not been used for two consecutive years but were reinvoked last year in a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The movement demands reforms to the monarchy, the resignation of prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, and a constitutional reform. Section 112 criminalizes insults to monarchy and carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 55 activists have been charged under the lese majeste laws, with the four activists being the first to actually be tried. Additionally, it is the first time for a defendant to be held on these charges for such a long time without being granted bail. The trials are expected to start next month. [Voice of America] In support of the protest leaders, protesters took to the streets and banged pots and pans, a move taken from protesters in Myanmar, who in turn used the three finger salute. [Benar News] According to protesters, police used tear gas against protesters. [Khaosod English] The detained activists received support from four academic from Thammasat University and  Chulalongkorn University, claiming to represent 255 lecturers at 31 education establishments, calling for their release. [Bangkok Post]

In a potentially groundbreaking move, 44 lawmakers of political opposition Move Forward Party submitted a proposal to amend the lese majeste law. The petitioners argue that “honest criticism of the monarchy” shall be allowed in order to ensure freedom of expression, and the laws shall not be used as a political weapon. Also, only the Royal Household Bureau, and not private citizens, shall be allowed to file lese majeste complaints. The amendment needs a majority vote in the military-appointed Senate and the elected lower house, which also features a majority for the army-backed coalition after the disputed 2019 elections. A rival proposal to stop such amendments was submitted by royalist party Thai Pakdee, signed by more than 100,000 people. More than 58 activists are currently being charged under lese majeste laws. [Chiangrai Times]

 

16 February 2021

Cambodia: Illegal workers unable to register, facing deportation

(nd) Cambodian labor rights groups have urged the government to support Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand. Thailand harbors more than 400,000 illegal immigrant workers. In an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, Thailand has introduced a registration system for workers to obtain a pink card, which so far 120,000 have applied for. The deadline ran out on February 14, now many face deportation or imprisonment. The registration process is rather complicated and costly (around 10,000 baht, U.S. $300), and scammers made it worse for the workers. The rights groups have therefore called for an extension of the deadline. [Benar News]

16 February 2021

Mekong river level remains low

(nd) Reportedly, the water level of the Mekong River dropped to a worrying low, which could at least partly be attributed to outflow restrictions from Chinese hydropower dams upstream, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC). Low rainfall and dams on the Lower Mekong also contributed to the low level. Level fluctuation affect fish migration, agriculture and transportation, on which nearly 70 million people rely for their livelihoods.

Last year, China agreed to share dam data with the MRC, and the member countries Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. China notified that following construction the flow will be normalized by January 25. Following a brief rise, the level dropped again in February. [Bangkok Post]

16 February 2021

ASEAN-EU strategic partnership

(nd) The new ASEAN–EU Strategic Partnership, announced in December 2020, not only eradicated the donor–recipient dynamic, but the EU might need ASEAN more than ASEAN needs the EU. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has declared it “no longer a luxury but a necessity”.

Issues of cooperation include the economy, ASEAN integration, COVID-19 responses, sustainable development, maritime cooperation and cybersecurity. But on terms of strategy, they still differ. While both agree on principles like a rule-based international order, multilateralism and free trade, a commitment to human rights and democracy is not a prerequisite for ASEAN.

The EU arguably has pushed more for a strategic partnership than ASEAN did. Still, the EU is a major development partner and ASEAN’s largest donor. For that, the EU might have to focus more on influencing ASEAN norms and values, to shape the partnership according to EU’s terms. It remains unclear whether the EU can reach its goal, to enhance EU security and its defense profile in the Asia Pacific, be granted membership in the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus.

The EU has to first ensure coherence in the bloc’s responses towards ASEAN, and avoid the implication of some members’ unilateral Asia Pacific or Indo-Pacific strategies. Also, coherence is needed in relations to the member states of ASEAN. In specific issues, the EU has adopted different stances on member states, such as Cambodia on trade privileges, to Indonesia and Malaysia over palm oil, and stalled FTA talks with Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. The situation in Myanmar, which both have so far only commented on, can have implications on the future of the strategic partnership. In 2009, FTA negotiations with ASEAN were stalled due to insecurity of how to deal with Myanmar’s human rights record.

Going forward, ASEAN and the European Union will need to find coherence between their values, interregional and regional positions, and divergent interests among their member states. They will have to agree on how to deal with bilateral and regional issues, and how to carve out a space for the new strategic partnership in regional, multilateral and plurilateral arenas. [East Asia Forum]

16 February 2021

ASEAN to have less trust in China

(nd) China’s so-called vaccine diplomacy appears to be unsuccessful, according to a survey by the ASEAN Studies Centre at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. In a poll conducted from mid-November to January with 1,032 people across ASEAN, 44.2% said China provided the majority of help to the region during the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, and despite proactive efforts to secure vaccine deals in the region, 61.5% of respondents said they would choose the US over China in the ongoing US-China rivalry, a rise of 7.9% in support for the US compared to last year. While new possibilities were associated with the incoming Biden administration, many grow increasingly wary of Chinese influence in the region. China was named as most influential economic power in the region by 76.3% of respondents, 72.3% of which voiced concerns thereof. Of 49.1% who named China as the most influential political and strategic power in the region, 88.6% indicated being worried about this influence.

China was also low in terms of trust among global powers: Additionally, some 63% responded to have “little confidence” or “no confidence” that China will “do the right thing” for the global community, rising more than 10% in comparison to last year. Analysts commented, this trust deficit is upward trending. Its economic and military power combined is viewed as a possible threat to sovereign interests. [Nikkei Asia]

16 February 2021

Thailand, China’s Great Wall Motors announces regional production

(nd) Great Wall Motors, a Chinese automobile manufacturer, has announced to build a regional production center for electric vehicles in Thailand. A government spokesman welcomed it as a great honor and commented it correlated the government’s BCG (Bio-Circular-Green Economy) policy, which aims to reduce fossil fuels. The company also donated 500,000 facemasks. [Bangkok Post]

9 February 2021

Water levels on Mekong River along Thai-Lao Border fails to bounce back

(py) End of December last year, Chinese authorities have announced to significantly reduce water levels due to equipment testing at China’s upriver Jinghong Dam. Although the equipment testing was supposed to have ended on 24th January, the water level has not been restored yet. Analysts commented the extreme low might be temporary, with China’s dry season releases usually to begin around this time of year. China has been criticized for creating water shortage for downstream countries, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, through its 11 mega-dams on the Mekong river. China agreed to share its data with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in October 2020. [Radio Free Asia] [Reuters]

9 February 2021

ASEAN, Indonesia to intervene in Myanmar

(nd) Following a bilateral meeting, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced to talk to current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Brunei, to convene a special meeting on the coup in Myanmar.

 While ASEAN disposes of a Human Rights Declaration and the Charter calls for the strengthening of democracy, good governance and rule of law, at its core understanding lie the overarching principles of non-interference and sovereignty. Since democracy as such is no prerequisite for the membership in the bloc, its backsliding does not warrant for a response. Such is mimicked in the statement by ASEAN chair Brunei, “noting” the commitment to democracy and the rule of law but calling for a dialogue and the return to normalcy. The Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia referred to the principle of non-intervention and labelled the coup an internal matter. Vietnam called for a stabilization and Malaysia for a discussion to ‘avoid adverse consequences’ of the coup. Indonesia voiced the strongest opposition, referring to uphold the ASEAN charter and use legal mechanisms to resolve the issue. Given the intentionally non-enforceable commitments to democracy in the charter, forging a common stance seems difficult.

Historically though, Indonesia assumed the position of a role model for Myanmar, which according to analysts warrants for a heightened responsibility now. Indonesia itself successfully transitioned from dictatorship to democracy. A significant role within Myanmar’s transition to democracy was assumed by former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), Indonesia’s first directly elected president. Besides assisting Myanmar with minority conflicts, drafting of laws and education on democratic institution, the presence of himself and former military allies who turned into democratic reformers were the most obvious message sent. In contrast to current president Widodo, whose agenda is focused on domestic issues, SBY was looking for an international statesman position with a democracy-infused diplomatic agenda. Therefore, some suggested SBY to function as Indonesia’s envoy to Myanmar to advocate credibly for military reforms. 

Any intervention in Myanmar is shadowed by a fear of Myanmar gravitating further to China if pressured too much. As well as the muted bloc’s response carries the fear of further coups and authoritarian takeovers in the region. [Reuters] [Benarnews] [East Asia Forum]

9 February 2021

Japan-ADB cooperation agreement on ASEAN energy projects 

(dql) In a move to strengthen its footprint in Southeast Asia against China, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has reached an agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under which both sides will cooperate on clean energy projects in the frame of the Cleaner Energy Future Initiative for ASEAN (CEFIA), covering areas of renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency, and other technologies for low carbon energy transition.

Established in 2019, the CEFIA seeks to accelerate the deployment of sustainable energy and low carbon technologies in Southeast Asia. [Modern Diplomacy]

9 February 2021

Thailand: Peace talks with BRN

(nd) After a facilitation by Malaysia, Thailand held online talks with representatives of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (National Liberation Front, BRN), the main insurgent group in the Deep South, bordering with Malaysia. There was no high-level talk within a year, with the latest one evolving around technical issues of peace talks during the ongoing pandemic. The first direct meeting between Thailand and BRN after years happened early 2020 but was interrupted by the outbreak of the coronavirus. Three days prior to the meeting, a roadside bomb exploded in far-southern, injuring five. The latest lethal attack was on December 7. The insurgency reignited in January 2004, with more than 7,000 people having been killed linked to it. [Benarnews]

 

9 February 2021

Thailand: Criminal Court revokes decision against Thanathorn

(nd) The Criminal Court revoked its decision with regard to the founder of the Progressive Movement, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Subject was a video containing criticism of the government’s vaccination program, which according to the court’s latest ruling does not violate Section 112 of the Criminal Code. Thanathorn earlier challenged a petition handed in by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES) to authorize the removal of the video. The DES is likely to appeal the latest decision. Siam Bioscience received the right to produce AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine in Thailand. The firm was founded by King Rama IX more than a decade ago. [See also AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]

Meanwhile, United Nations human rights experts condemned the rise in charges under Section 112, highlighting last week’s record sentence of 43 years in prison for a former state employee. Still, dozens of protesters’ charges under Section 112 remain pending. Already late last year, the UN human rights office urged Thailand to amend the law, which was not used for two years but reinvoked in a reaction to protesters criticism of the monarchy. [Bangkok Post 1] [Bangkok Post 2]

2 February 2021

Thailand to deport Burmese migrant workers

(nd) In an effort to contain the recent Covid-19 spike, Thailand deported 158 undocumented migrant workers from Myanmar, with more expected to follow. Despite the central meaning Burmese migrant workers have for the Thai economy, Thailand announced travel restrictions last March forcing thousands of foreign workers to leave the country, with 624 arrest on the Southern border. Following this move, illegal border entries have risen, resulting in arrests of Thai smugglers. The estimated number of illegal migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos is 500,000. End of 2020, the cabinet enacted a program to temporarily legalize such undocumented workers, with nearly 2 million having applied for the two-year extension. [Benarnews]

2 February 2021

Australian-Thailand bilateral relations

(nd) As a joint declaration to enhance cooperation in defense and security, cyber affairs, anti-money laundering and transnational crime, the Australia–Thailand Strategic Partnership was signed late last year. The countries established diplomatic relations in 1952 and were founding members of the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954. They fought alongside each other in the Vietnam War and managed to establish good relations with Vietnam, mostly through ASEAN, to which Australia became the first partner. During the East Timor crisis of 1999, Thailand was the first Southeast Asian country to support Australia and provide military help. Academic and cultural exchanges remain frequent, with the King of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn, who studied at the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

Australia is also involved in regional initiatives, such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+), the ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit, as well as a partner to regional counterterrorism initiatives, highlighting their shared geography, as well as similar security threats.

The countries’ interests also overlap with respect to trade and education. Both are founding members of APEC, signed the Thailand–Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in 2005, the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) in 2010, and just recently, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In the current situation, Australia has an interest in political reform in Thailand, according to a recent collaborative Centre of Gravity paper between the ANU and Thammassat University, but moderately so, since Australia overall wants to remain on good terms with Thailand. [East Asia Forum]

2 February 2021

Thailand: Planned summon of Thanathorn’s mother in bribery case 

(nd) The mother of opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Somporn Juangroongruangkit, will be summoned by the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) with regards to alleged bribes given to an official at the Crown Property Bureau (CPB).

Somporn was an executive member of the Real Asset Development Company, which manages the disputed Chit Lom land lease. Her other son and brother to Thanathorn, Sakulthorn Juangroongruangkit, is the company’s CEO. He is being investigated in with respect to a separate case. A CPB official and an accomplice were sentenced to three years in prison for taking 20 million baht in bribes and forging documents to enable the company to rent the land without a bidding process. Former Democrat MP Watchara Phetthong complained about the prosecutor’s decision not to indict Thanathorn’s brother in the land lease case. [Bangkok Post]

Thanathorn himself was meanwhile ordered by a court to remove his allegations on social media with regard to the unfair tender process of the production of Covid-19 vaccines, favoring a company which belongs to King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Thanathorn and his Progressive Movement denied the content was illegal and asked YouTube and Facebook to preserve freedom of expression. [See also AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4] [Reuters]

 

26 January 2021

ASEAN human rights hit by pandemic

(nd) According to deputy Asia director at the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, human rights took a hit amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which highlighted inequalities and vulnerability. Malaysia for instance excluded their 3,5 million migrants and refugees from government aid programs. For a lack of governmental support in Myanmar, some of the overlooked people relied on armed rebel groups for aid instead. In Singapore and partly in Thailand, the virus transmission was blamed on migrants, creating an anti-immigrant sentiment.

Apart from economic differences and hardships, the pandemic allowed to “reinforce” existing policies to target dissidents under the umbrella of health protection, as seen with protesters in Thailand. According to US-based rights advocacy group Amnesty International, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte told soldiers and neighborhood leaders to shoot “troublemakers” protesting during community quarantine, furthering the “climate of impunity”, which was set off by his infamous drug on war, resulting in increased killings of activists. In this militaristic atmosphere, police officers were found to have committed abused enforcing stay-at-home orders. [Voice of America]

26 January 2021

Thailand to reject Laos’ report on Sanakham dam

(nd) Thailand’s Office of National Water Resources has rejected Laos’ latest technical report on the Sanakham dam project due to insufficient information on environmental effects and possible compensations for residents. The dam is one of nine large-scale Mekong River mainstream dams forming part of Laos’ economic strategy to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia.” Meanwhile, Laos plans to conduct safety inspections of 79 existing dams on the Mekong. In July 2018, the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoi dam collapsed in, killing 71 people in a flood disaster. The dam projects are controversial, not only with regards to displacement of villagers and environmental effects, but also due to questionable financial and power demand arrangements. [Radio Free Asia]

26 January 2021

German research service of parliament to challenge foreign ministry’s stance on Thailand

(nd) The research service of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, accused the foreign ministry of creating a “lex regis thailandia”, meaning a law specially accommodating for the Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Earlier, the foreign ministry stated the King was not breaching German law and could return any time without a visa. A visa-free entry can be granted, however, to head of states upon invitation, not for private trips. Until he returned to Thailand in October, the King was residing for extended periods in Bavaria. The latest comment of the German federal parliament’s research service might to trigger a new parliamentary inquiry into the matter. [Nikkei Asia] [South China Morning Post]

26 January 2021

Thailand: FBI and Royal Thai Police to enhance cooperation

(nd) In an effort to further enhance criminal prosecution, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Royal Thai Police (RTP) announced to cooperate more on various crimes, including transnational human trafficking and cybercrimes. Past cooperation included the implementation of training facilities, and the creation of the Advanced Law Enforcement Training (ALET) program. The program aimed at enhancing four special, counter-terrorism operation units – Arintaraj, Naresuan, Hanuman and the Special Service Division (SSD) – to deal with special situations. [Bangkok Post]

26 January 2021

Thailand: Opposition to file motion of no-confidence

(nd) A coalition of opposition parties led by Pheu Thai Party filed a motion of no-confidence against 10 cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, which was supported by 208 MPs. Parliamentary officials will take seven days to check the conditions for a constitutional motion, which then will be placed on the House agenda as an urgent matter. [Bangkok Post]

26 January 2021

Thailand: Lese majeste charge against Thanathorn

(nd) High-profile opposition figure and former leader of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was charged under Section 112 for defaming the monarchy. Thanathorn criticized the government for mishandling its vaccination campaign, for the government strategy is almost purely relying on Siam Bioscience company which is wholly owned by the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the king’s personal investment and assets.

The government has ordered 61 million doses AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is manufactured by Siam Bioscience, and 2 million doses of a vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech. Thanathorn argued the deal was non-transparent and Siam Bioscience – as a company with no prior experience in making vaccines – was given an unfair advantage over other companies, instead of negotiating multiple deals to ensure a quick rollout. AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience declined to comment, while a government spokeswoman denied the prosecution was politically motivated. The comments were made at an event by the Progressive Movement titled “Royal Vaccine: Who Benefits and Who Doesn’t?” that was broadcast on Facebook Live, with the group saying section “112 is being used again as a political tool.” [Bangkok Post] [Khaosod English 1]

After the government had sought to indict Thanatorn for lese majeste, the popular opposition politician defended his criticism with no sign of backing down. The minister of heath who also serves as Deputy Prime Minister responded then in for the current government which is used to react rather harsh on criticism to its performance. [Khaosod English 2]

Meanwhile, bail was refused in a historic 43-years-jail sentence for defamation of the monarchy. Between late 2014 and early 2015, the 64-year-old woman shared audio files featuring critical remarks about King Rama IX and then-Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn on the internet. She was facing multiple counts for each share and the lese majeste laws have a minimum penalty of 3 years per count. Her initial sentence of 87 years was lowered to 43 years due to pleading guilty. The activist producer of the content was convicted in 2015 for one count, creating the material, to two and a half years in prison. [Khaosod English 3] See also AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3] [Khaosod English 4]

26 January 2021

Thailand: Early-stage abortion legalized

(nd) Following deliberations in December, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Criminal Code to legalize early-stage abortions until the 12th week when performed by a qualified medical practitioner and in line with the criteria set by the Medical Council of Thailand (MCT).

The MCT states that an abortion can be sought if it threats the mother’s physical and/or emotional health; if the fetus is known to have abnormalities; and/or if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault.

A violation of the law is punishable with a jail term of up to six months, a maximum fine of 10,000 baht or both. A more liberal draft by the oppositional Move Forward Party (MFP) was not admitted by the House. [Bangkok Post]

While abortion is a considerable problem from the perspective of more conservative Buddhism, the Thai society faces a high number of underage single mothers who often struggle hard with their situation. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in Thailand which normally keeps a rather low public profile condemned the bill as “an immoral law.” [Khaosod English]

26 January 2021

Thailand: New royalist party formed

(nd) After last year’s anti-establishment protests came with unprecedented calls to fully reform the country’s monarchy, a hitherto rather insignificant royalist civil society group has decided to transform into a political party under its former name “Thai Pakdee” (Loyal Thai) “to defend the royal institution”. The leader of the previously informal citizen group, Warong Dechgitvigrom, who will serve as the new party’s leader, has announced that his party considers as its antagonists the oppositional Move Forward Party, and its associated Progressive Movement Group, as well as the anti-establishment protesters, who, he claimed, were out to topple Thailand’s monarchy.

Whereas, most representatives of the anti-establishment protesters would deny this goal in public, their stated reform demands would, however, amount to a complete reform of the monarchy that would turn Thailand from a country with the monarchy as the single most powerful institution into a ceremonial parliamentary monarchy.

The royalist group’s decision to form a political party was criticized by former Thammasat University law lecturer and politician Piyabutr Saengkanokkul from the Progressive Movement group, their declared political antagonist, to inevitably lead to associating the monarchy with domestic politics. [Bangkok Post]

While the argument refers to the constitutional principle that the monarchy shall remain above politics, the oppositional group Piyabutr is belonging to itself seems to struggle for exactly the right to address the monarchy in political discourse. Moreover, to protect the King and the existing monarchical form of government is a constitutionally prescribed civic duty (section 50), which makes it rather unlikely that the argument will prevent the new party from operating. After another oppositional party, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, has been disbanded for fielding a sister of the King as its prime ministerial candidate with the argument this would draw the monarchy unlawfully into politics in 2019, Piyabutr’s argument might, however, not be meant as a valid legal one but as a hint to what the opposition perceives as double standards in the handling of the “above politics” principle.

The foundation of a new royalist party which envisions the active defense of the royal institution against a current challenge as its main goal, might however, provide a double-edged litmus test for the cause it has adopted if the anti-establishment movement gains momentum and traction again in 2021. Until now, active and visibly displayed public support for the goal to counter anti-establishment protests remained rather thin.   

19 January 2021

Myanmar ends concession to Thai-led construction consortium

(nd) A consortium which was led by Thai construction company Italian-Thai Development Public Co. Ltd. (ITD) and was to build the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Southern Myanmar to transform the region into Southeast Asia’s largest industrial complex was notified by the Burmese government of the termination of their involvement due to its failure to comply with the concession agreement and substantial delays. The project site is adjacent to the Andaman Sea and near the Gulf of Thailand, connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans and linking the broader regions with each other, and includes a deep seaport to avoid the crowded Malacca strait for the transportation of goods. It is backed by the Thai government and a priority for the National League for Democracy-led government. 

The initial agreement with the Italian-Thai Development Public Co. Ltd. (ITD) dates back to 2008 and was scheduled to be completed in 2015, with Japan being involved at a later stage. Following renegotiations between 2016 and 2018, it was agreed upon that ITD received a concession to develop the initial phase, with Japan becoming a third stakeholder. [Irrawaddy] [Asia Times

19 January 2021

China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” 

(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043. 

The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership. 

Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”

As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]

For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017. 

19 January 2021

Thailand: Volunteer guard allegedly abducted

(nd) A 25-year-old volunteer guard for the protest movement claimed to have been abducted and held for 12 hours for questioning inside a van, inter alia about an antimonarchy sign that was erected during weekend. The police said the it was not an action by police forced and was investigating the incident. Protesters accused the authorities of intimidation tactics. [South China Morning Post]

19 January 2021

Thailand: Anti-government protests resumed

(nd) Last weekend, Thailand’s student-led protests have resumed again after some weeks of break and despite the imposition of yet another emergency law to curb the recent (still moderate) spike in Covid-19 cases. Among other issues, protesters criticized the government’s use of the harsh lese majeste laws after at least 42 of their peers have just been charged under the law. Meanwhile, the police chief announced toughening police action against the protesters while two unknown suspects on a motorcycle threw a so-called ping-pong bomb on a group of anti-government demonstrators, injuring four. [Bangkok Post] [Voice of America]

Moreover, a 25-year-old volunteer guard of the protest movement claimed to have been abducted and held for 12 hours for questioning inside a van, inter alia about an antimonarchy sign that was erected during weekend. The police said the it was not an action by police forces and that it was investigating the incident. Protesters accused the authorities of intimidation tactics. [South China Morning Post]

19 January 2021

Thailand: Reconciliation committee to meet for the first time

(nd) This week the government-sponsored reconciliation committee which is tasked with resolving political conflicts as they are reflected most visibly by Thailand’s resuming street protests has met for the first time without any representatives from opposition parties and protest groups, which both reject the committee for whose mission they see no sincere basis. [Bangkok Post]

19 January 2021

Thailand: Lese majeste laws increasingly fielded against protesters, critics

(nd) Prime Minister General (ret.) Prayut Chan-o-cha has urged various state agencies – the Ministry for Digital Economy and Society Ministry (MDES), the Department of Special Investigation, the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), and the Foreign Affairs Ministry – to intensify and speed up investigations against online violations of the country’s lese majeste laws. Last week, 41 people were charged under the law for insulting the monarchy. A MDES division meanwhile submitted court-approved orders against Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other websites, requesting to suspend public access to 9,192 posts. [Chiangrai Times]

Moreover, a blogger was sentenced to four years and six months for insulting the late King Bhumibol online. Since he had been in prison awaiting trial for an even longer time alraedy, he will, however, not have to serve the sentence any more. The man announced, however, to appeal the verdict. [Khaosod English]

In another recent case, a former civil servant was sentenced to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for the same charges. After the 2014 military coup led by now Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha, she shared an audio critical of the monarchy on the internet. Until this recent verdict, a prison sentence of 35 years given in 2017 to a man for a social media posts hold the record of the longest lèse majesté sentence issued in Thailand. [Channel News Asia]

19 January 2021

Thailand arrests Thai police officers accused of smuggling Burmese migrant workers

(nd) Thailand’s deputy national police chief confirmed that at least 33 Thai police officer were involved in human trafficking on the Thai-Myanmar border. They are now facing criminal prosecution.

He added that another eight civilians who are part of the smuggling gang, which transported the migrants to work in a seafood center in Samut Sakhon, the epicenter of  a recent outbreak of Covid-19 outbreak. Samut Sakhon hosts many factories employing migrant workers, especially from Myanmar. [Irrawaddy]

19 January 2021

China’s vaccine diplomacy in Southeast Asia 

(nd) After Chinese company Sinovac announced a 78% efficacy rate during its trials of CoronaVac, Brazilian scientists reported a significantly lower rate of 50,4 %, casting doubt on China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy” in Southeast Asia. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) threshold for advised use is 50%. Indonesia’s own trials found an efficacy of 63,3%, with Indonesia’s food and drug agency to be the first in the world to approve use of the Sinovac vaccinations. Despite the high numbers and the prominent vaccination of President Joko Widodo, the Indonesian population is rather reluctant to receive a shot due to concerns over safety and efficacy. [Asia Times]

Thailand and the Philippines have also already purchased doses of CoronaVac, with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte criticizing Western vaccination makers for their unscrupulous prices. Vaccinations produced by Moderna and Pfizer-Biontech have shown efficacy rates of about 95%, but are more expensive and have to be transported and stored in costly freezers. Besides the price and its availability, buying Chinese vaccinations will potentially bring more general benefits, with China having already announced it will look kindly on purchasers of its products. [Asia Times]

Despite China being the country’s closest ally and economic patron, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced last year to only purchase WHO-approved vaccines, which to date doesn’t include any of the at least four vaccinations produced by China, which prompted observers to state that it will take the country until at least mid-2022 to be able to vaccinate more than 60% of its population. The Chinese government and state media downplayed the efficacy results, but they still raised already existing public doubt over the reliability of Chinese vaccinations, and the more general notion of unsafe and hasty production of vaccinations against Covid-19 generally. Yet, early this week Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen accepted a donation of one million Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, contradicting previous pledges. Hun Sen argued amid a Thai Covid-19 case surge, he cannot afford to wait, and referred to the rollout of the vaccine in China, Indonesia, Egypt and Brazil. [Nikkei Asia]

During his visit to the Philippines, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised half a million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, US$1.34 billion in loan pledges for infrastructure projects and US$77 million (500 million yuan) in grants. Philippine Foreign Minister Locsin, however, also made reference to the South China Sea dispute. According to observers, in light of the incoming Biden administration, the donation and investment in infrastructure was an effort to present itself as a partner to revive heavy-hit economies in the regions. [South China Morning Post]

 

12 January 2021

Thailand: Anti-migrant sentiment amid second Covid-19 wave

(nd) Following the latest spike in Covid-19 cases in a shrimp market southwest of Bangkok, the high number of migrant workers were blamed for the cause of a second wave in infections. The virus was able to spread quickly in tiny, congested quarters, comparable to ghetto-like living situations among migrant workers elsewhere in the region. The anti-Myanmar migrant sentiment was further pushed by social media postings, amounting to threats and calls not to treat them. Other, however, remind that the workers have been there before the virus outbreak and supported the already struggling Thai economy.

Another factor are Thai human smuggling gangs collaborating with authorities and facilitating illegal entrance. On December 9, the Thai police arrested three Thai human smugglers and nine illegal Chinese migrants in Chiang Rai province. Those gangs are also active in Myanmar and smuggle humans into illicit industries, like gambling, or under slavery-like conditions.

The exact number of Burmese migrant workers is unknown due to the lack of paper documentation, but estimated to about 3-4 million, with additional 1-2 million from Laos and Cambodia, many of whom lost their job and are now stranded in Thailand since their countries will not let them come back due to their possible Covid-19 danger. Official figures in Cambodia and Laos are low, with only Myanmar showing an upwards rising trend with 130,604 confirmed cases and 2,946 deaths as of January 11, with actual figures presumed to be much higher due to testing and treatment mostly happening in major urban centers like Yangon and Mandalay only. With more superior medical facilities than its neighbors, this also poses a risk to Thailand, and gives further fuel to discriminate against migrants and their ongoing victimization. [Asia Times]

 

 

12 January 2021

Thailand, China to notify of river flow hold back

(nd) The Mekong River Commission (MRC) and Thailand reported that China notified its downstream neighbors about its holding back of the Mekong River flow at a hydropower dam on the waterway’s upper reaches for 20 days. The water restriction started on December 31 and the newly introduced US-backed monitoring system already asserted that China had failed to notify downstream countries. The cited reason for the holding back was “maintenance of transmission lines” in its electricity grid, with the flow being gradually restored by January 25. Last October, China agreed to share such water data with the MRC. [Bangkok Post]

 

12 January 2021

Thailand: Red-shirt leader to file charges against online harassment

(nd) Following social media attacks, Jatuporn Promphan, chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), asked the specialized Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to charge those who posted or shared false information about him, which amounted to more than 200 cases.

During the Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO) election in Chiang Mai, Jatuporn openly supported Boonlert Buranupakorn, who was defeated by Pichai Lertpongadisorn, who was backed by the Pheu Thai Party and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr Jatuporn said throughout his campaigning he was attacked with malicious comments and false information about him shared online. He was criticized for abandoning the red-shirt movement and siding with the military, as well as accused of switching sides in an attempt to serve the interest of the military . He insisted the UDD’s mission to fight elitism had been passed on to the youth, referencing the student-led protests, and vowed to bring more charges if the online attacks would not stop. [Bangkok Post]

12 January 2021

Thailand: Enforcement of lese majeste law continues

(nd) In conjunction with the march to the German Embassy Bangkok on October 26 to inquire in King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s legal status in Germany, a group of activists answered their summons over complains filed under the “Lese Majeste” law, which are now increasingly used against pro-democracy protesters. The law foresees a prison sentence of up to 15 years and was not used since 2018.

Once a taboo, the pro-democracy protesters have expanded their demands for a constitutional reform to seeking the resignation of the military-backed government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and curbing of King’s powers. A total of 41 people have now been charged under Article 112. The government stated protesters had “stirred up hatred” with divisive proposals containing inaccurate information, which was multiplied by the use of social media. [Reuters]

Additionally, officials started charging protesters for posting and providers for hosting content online, which might violate Article 112, according to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES). Under the MDES, the specialized Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) is tasked with identifying violators, which has in the last quarter of 2020 found 638 URLs violating the Computer Crime Act 2007, with 26 accounts responsible for the majority of them, and nine individuals as account holders. Likewise, the ministry pursued legal actions against social media platform providers such as Facebook and Twitter, with a total of 8,443 URLs considered hosting illegal content, with which the platforms only complied partially. The attorney-general already commented he will pursue the case against Facebook after the investigations conclude. [Bangkok Post]

The protests were put on hold over the holiday season, which is likely to remain due to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases. Political analysts commented that the 41 cases are the biggest use of Article 112 since 2017, when 64 were charged under the previous king’s reign, calling it “an unprecedented escalation of legal persecution” in a very short time. [Asia Times]

12 January 2021

Thailand: No-confidence vote initiation planned

(nd) On January 27 Thailand’s largest opposition party, Pheu Thai, plans to initiate the process for a no-confidence debate against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha and his government due to the “the government’s mismanagement” of its Covid-19 response, causing “damage to the country”.  As a result of the recent Covid-19 outbreak, the Thai economy could lose 300 billion baht ($10 billion) in the first quarter, with the consumer confidence index dropping for the first time in three months to 50.1 in December. A record low of 39.2 was reached last April during the first wave of the pandemic.

Depending on either a hard or soft lockdown as response, the economy might contract by 11.3% respectively 4%. Prayuth and five other ministers survived a no-confidence vote last year after weeks of debates. [Chiangrai Times]

12 January 2021

Thailand: Tracking app highly recommended

(nd) In an effort to curb the recent hike in Covid-19 cases, five provinces must use the MorChana position-tracking app, stipulated under regulation number 17 of the executive decree for public administration in emergency situations. Consequently, the intentional concealing of information by not using the app could then be seen as obstructing this effort, which foresees a maximum penalty of two years in prison and/or fine of 40,000 baht. The threat, however, was abandoned shortly after the announcement, which prompted an outcry from civil rights and privacy activists. The app requires the user to allow access to GPS locations, camera, microphone, photo gallery, and WIFI usage data, demonstrating, according to activists, how broad the powers of the Emergency Decree can be interpreted. [Bangkok Post] [Khaosod]

5 January 2021

Thailand: Mother of Thanathorn charged 

(nd) The mother of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit – leader of the Future Forward Party until its dissolution in February – was charged by the Royal Forest Department for unlawfully owning at least 77 plots of forest land in Ratchaburi including 450 rai in reserved forests.

The case was brought by a Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) MP for Ratchaburi and local people who had applied for community forest land rights documents. Following receipts of payments between 2010 and 2013, the department has evidence to prove the 90-rai plot of land that is in a reserved forest. [Bangkok Post]

5 January 2021

Thailand: Further arrests under section 112

(nd) On January 1, the 38th pro-democracy activist was arrested under the country’s lèse majesté law, charged with selling a calendar using the protest movement’s satirical rubber duck symbol to allegedly mock the monarchy. The arrested was a Facebook administrator of a protest group and was bailed out a day later.  

The arrest is widely seen as part of a growing crackdown on protesters by the authorities in an effort to contain the unprecedented protests. [Voice of America]

 

5 January 2021

Thailand: Music video “Reform” blocked

(nd) A music video, which featured pro-democracy movement band Rap against Dictatorship and their song “Reform” was blocked on YouTube following a legal complaint from the government.

All band members are active participants of the ongoing student-led protests, which are depicted in the video. The video, dealing with current problems in Thailand, including politics, social inequality and the right of protesters to seek justice, was first released in November and has about 9 million views.

In 2019 the band was among the three winners of Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. [The Thaiger]

5 January 2021

Thailand: Pheu Thai members to resign 

(nd) In an effort to avoid any fallouts of the Election Commission’s (EC) probe into the role of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the local elections in December last year, at least four Pheu Thai Party executives announced their resignation from the party’s board.

Thaksin had sent messages and letter in support of Pheu Thai Party members running in the local elections in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Local election rules require the candidate to submit a list of all campaign staff members to poll officials prior to election day. A person who writes a letter vouching for a candidate is considered as part of the campaign team. Thaksin was reportedly not listed as campaign staff of at least the candidate for Chiang Rai. [Bangkok Post]

5 January 2021

Thailand: Special unit stepping up Legal Action Against Social Media Providers

(nd) In light of the once-tabooed voicing of criticism of the monarchy, Thailand’s Digital Economy and Society Minister has promised to speed up legal action against social media providers in case they do not remove deemed illegal posts timely.  The Digital Economy and Society (DES) Ministry obtained court orders to block 8,440 URLs featuring said content in the last quarter of 2020, mostly on Facebook, with some on YouTube, Twitter and other pages, with 5,025 URLs blocked so far.

Meanwhile, the Cybercrime Investigation Bureau (CCIB) was formed as new part of the Royal Thai Police to specifically deal with cybercrimes [Chiangrai Times]

5 January 2021

ASEAN countries, US to seek last minute deals

(nd) Only weeks before the official end of the Trump administration, countries across Southeast Asia seem to pursue last minute security and economic agreements with the US in light of president Donald Trump’s transactional approach to diplomacy. During the Trump presidency, trade with the US increased despite of his relative lack of interest in the region, while the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden is widely associated with a stricter emphasis on human rights and democratic values. In early December, the Philippines received $29 million in military equipment during a visit, with an announcement of additional $18 million worth of military equipment and training.

For Indonesia’s planned sovereign wealth fund, the US International Development Finance Corp. signed a letter of interest for a $2 billion as one of the first countries to sign up, with an aimed estimated total of about $15 billion from around the world. The US also extend tariff exemptions for Indonesia, possibly with an eye on cooperation against Chinese maritime actions in the South China Sea. Due to its geographic position, the region will play a pivotal role in geopolitics in the coming years, to stand strong against Chinese aggression and growing influence, but still, in the region, democratic governance is deteriorating, and left unaddressed.

Economically, the region has benefitted from the Trump administration, with ASEAN having received about $24.5 billion in direct investment from the US in 2019, with exports from Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia on the rise since 2017. Additionally, US-based power company AES announced to join a development project for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Vietnam, which also agreed to import up to $500 million in American pork over the next three years. This was seen as a reaction to mitigate the trade imbalance, still US accused Vietnam of currency manipulation after. [Nikkei Asia]