Archive for ‘Thailand’

September 20, 2014

Thai junta boss apologizes for remarks on tourist bikini safety

Thai junta boss apologizes for remarks on tourist bikini safety

September 18, 2014
Thai junta leaderPrayuthChan-ocha apologized Thursday for comments he made about the safety of foreign tourists wearing bikinis following the killings of two British backpackers on the resort island Koh Tao.
Family members of Hannah Witheridge, one of two slain British tourists, cry at the Royal Thai Police Headquarters before meeting with Thai police in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Police in Thailand said Wednesday that DNA samples from the bodies of two British tourists found bludgeoned on a resort island did not match any collected from 12 people who were among those in the area. (Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press)

“They think our country is so beautiful and safe they can wear a bikini everywhere,” Prayuth said in a speech to government officials Wednesday that touched on tourist safety. “Will it be safe wearing a bikini, unless you are not beautiful? But all of you in this room are beautiful.”

The comments by Prayuth, who seized power in a May 22 coup and has since taken the post of prime minister, received widespread attention in the international press.

“I apologize for causing misunderstanding,” Prayuth told reporters Thursday in Bangkok. “I feel sorry for them and about the incident. I don’t want to see further losses.”

The deaths of the two tourists and the handling of the case — including the publication in local media of photos of the victims’ bodies and their passport information — has threatened further damage to a tourism industry already reeling from political unrest, the military takeover and martial law. The number of tourists arriving in Thailand in the first half of the year declined 9.9 percent from the year before to 11.8 million, the Tourism Council of Thailand said in July. Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of the Thai economy.

Prayuth is known for unscripted comments and sarcastic remarks. In a speech this week, he said rubber farmers being hurt by low prices because of oversupply and continued expansion might have to sell their products to Mars.

“I assure you that Thailand is safe,” Prayuth told the reporters Thursday. “Still, there are bad people everywhere, so we have to be careful. Safety standards here and in their countries may not be the same, and I’m worried about that.”

Police say 23-year-old Hannah Witheridge died of head wounds, while 24-year-old David Miller suffered severe blows to the head and drowned in the surf. Maj. Gen. Pornchai Suteerakune, the country’s forensics police chief, on Wednesday said Miller also had wounds on his hand, indicating that a struggle had taken place.

The two Britons were found Monday morning in a rocky alcove along the shore close to the hotel where they both were staying on Koh Tao. A bloodied hoe was found near the bodies.

Authorities are hoping to match DNA samples from the crime scene. However, Gen. Jarumporn Suramanee, the assistant national police chief, on Wednesday said two sets of DNA that were found both on Witheridge’s body and a cigarette butt nearby did not match samples taken from three foreigners and nine migrant workers in the area.

Jarumporn said investigators believe that there was more than one attacker and more than one murder weapon.

— Bloomberg News

September 16, 2014

Loved and Hated, Former Premier of Thailand Is Erased From Textbook

Loved and Hated, Former Premier of Thailand Is Erased From Textbook

Piles of new books stored in Suksapan Panit, a government stationery and bookstore, in Bangkok.  Credit Giorgio Taraschi for The New York Times

Schoolchildren will be trained to act as ambassadors of patriotic spirit, Mr. Winai said. He gave the hypothetical example of students reprimanding adults who fail to stand at attention during the national anthem, which is played on radio stations and on public broadcast systems at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.

“The students might go and ask, ‘Why aren’t you standing straight when the national anthem is played?’ ” he said.

The junta has issued a list of 12 values for the country, including gratitude toward parents, discipline, morality and the maintaining of “physical and mental strength against greed.” Large banners bearing the list are being posted at schools nationwide.

The Education Ministry has also introduced a “merit passport,” in which students must keep a record of their behavior and attitudes.

Before the coup, schools were allowed to choose from a variety of history textbooks.

The one that is now the standard had been commissioned by the previous military junta, which seized power from Mr. Thaksin in 2006. The previous edition mentioned Mr. Thaksin at least seven times.

The new text covers the political history of Thailand’s past two decades in five pages, citing the names of many previous prime ministers and other protagonists, including Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the general who overthrew Mr. Thaksin in 2006.

Although it does not name Mr. Thaksin or his political party, it describes “a government” that used “many policies designed to gain popularity from people through huge budgets.”

Mr. Thaksin was in power from 2001 to 2006, and his political movement has won every election in the past decade and a half, including a number of landslides. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was prime minister from 2011 until she was removed from office in May.

Without mentioning either sibling, the textbook does touch on the opposition to Mr. Thaksin’s rule. A subheading describes the protests that preceded his ouster as “the people’s movement against dictatorial power, corruption and embezzlement.”

Mr. Thanom, the textbook author, said that many people might dislike Mr. Thaksin but that he should not be deleted from history.

“History is fact,” he said. “Mistakes or lesson learned — we have to tell our young people. They must know about it. We shouldn’t just delete it.”

September 16, 2014

Thailand Scrubs Ex-PM From Textbooks

Thailand Scrubs Ex-PM From Textbooks

Thaksin’s name disappears from new curriculum

Newser Staff

Posted Sep 16, 2014 12:09 AM CDT

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(Newser) – In the Thai calendar, this is the year 2557—but you could be forgiven for thinking it was 1984. The generals who have been running the country since May’s military coup have not only banned elections and sought to purge the government of people loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, they are now removing the ex-leader’s name from history books, reports the New York Times. The author of a history textbook that the Ministry of Education has ordered schools to use says the ministry “just deleted” the name of Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001 until he was ousted in a 2006 coup. Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was ousted in this year’s coup.

The textbook, revised as part of a hyperpatriotic new curriculum, still mentions anti-Thaksin protests as a “movement against dictatorial power, corruption, and embezzlement,” and its author says the leader’s name should have stayed in. “History is fact,” he says. “Mistakes or lesson learned—we have to tell our young people. They must know about it. We shouldn’t just delete it.” Anti-coup protesters in the country had taken to giving the Hunger Games salute and reading dystopian novels like 1984 in public before even those ways of showing dissent were cracked down on.

September 11, 2014

Cambodians oppose Lao dam

Cambodians oppose Lao dam

  • Published: 11 Sep 2014 at 20.03
  • Writer: Kyodo News Service

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PHNOM PENH – Cambodians staged a protest Thursday to share the concerns of more than a quarter of a million people who are calling on Laos to suspend construction of the Don Sahong hydropower project on the Mekong River.

Cambodian activists hold placards and banners on a boat during the handover of petition signatures against the Don Sahong dam, in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (AFP photo)

At the protest Chhith Sam Ath, country director of the World Wide Fund for Nature, said Don Sahong Dam, a 260-megawatt hydropower project, could bring about the demise of important fisheries and critically endangered Mekong dolphins.

Chhith Sam Ath said around 85 dolphins are now restricted to a 190 kilometre stretch of the river between southern Laos and northeast Cambodia, with the dam project in southern Laos just 1 kilometre upstream of the dolphins’ core habitat.

In June, Laos announced its decision to have the Don Sahong project undergo a Mekong River Commission consultation process.

The process requires Laos to hold intergovernmental consultations before proceeding with the dam and conduct and share studies on the project’s environmental and social impact.

The process will take at least six months to complete.

The WWF said since May this year, 12,404 concerned Cambodians have added their names to a WWF public petition opposing the dam.

The local action, supported by members of the River Coalition in Cambodia under facilitation of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, was bolstered by a global online petition signed by 255,596 people representing more than 200 countries.

Chhith Sam Ath said, “more than a quarter of a million people around the world are sending a strong and clear message to Mega First. Stop Don Sahong Dam or risk the dubious ‘honor’ of precipitating the extinction of a species. Don Sahong Dam is a dangerous experiment and Mega First is gambling with the livelihoods of millions.”

Mega First is a Malaysian utility conglomerate.

The Stop Don Sahong event, organised by the WWF, included 25 community members from the Mekong and Tonle Sap, 50 youths from Phnom Penh, NGO representatives and Buddhist monks working on conservation awareness along the river.

As part of the event, boats travelled along the Mekong displaying banners calling on Mega First to respond to the huge public opposition to their project.

WWF said the dam builders intend to excavate millions of tonnes of rock using explosives, creating strong sound waves that could potentially kill dolphins who have highly sensitive hearing structures.

Increased boat traffic, changes in water quality and habitat degradation represent other risks.

It added that the dam will block the only channel available for dry-season fish migration, putting at risk the world’s most productive inland fisheries and the livelihoods of 60 million people living in the Lower Mekong Basin.

An Hou, chief of Community Fishery Network in the Sambor district of Kratie province in Cambodia, said, “Without fish and dolphins, our livelihoods will be destroyed.”

“We are helpless and we do not know what to do if the dam goes ahead. We ask Mega First’s executive chairman, Mr Goh (Nan Kioh), to stop the dam construction and rethink this project, and consider carefully the lives of millions of people who depend on the Mekong River,” he added.

The WWF called for an immediate halt to any further development of the Don Sahong project until the developers have addressed significant gaps identified in the project documents, such as the feasibility studies and the Environmental Impact Assessment.

Additionally, an independent and sound assessment of the Don Sahong project against more sustainable alternatives must be conducted.


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September 4, 2014

British Researcher Andy Hall Faces Thai Jail For Reporting Alleged Migrant Worker Abuse

The Huffington Post - United Kingdom

British Researcher Andy Hall Faces Thai Jail For Reporting Alleged Migrant Worker Abuse

Posted: 01/09/2014 17:26 BST Updated: 02/09/2014 10:59 BST

A British human rights campaigner is facing seven years in prison and a $10 million fine for uncovering appalling “modern slavery” conditions in a Thai pineapple factory.

Andy Hall goes on trial Tuesday despite over 100 organizations and over 300,000 people signing petitions calling for his charges to be dropped. Human Rights Watch and Britain’s Trade Union Congress are among the groups demanding that the “bogus” charges be dropped.

Natural Fruit, Thailand’s biggest producer of canned pineapples, has brought six criminal and civil charges against Hall, after he co-authored a report that claimed workers in one of its factories had their passports seized, were forced work in sweltering conditions that made workers faint, suffered violence as well as other abuses. Hall’s report also alleged cases of child labour, illegal low pay and workers not receiving sick days.


Andy Hall: faces prison in Thailand

Hall’s investigation into Natural Fruits was part of a report called “Cheap has a high price” for Finnish NGO Finnwatch, which was published in January 2013.

He and his fellow researchers gathered 12 worker testimonies from the factory in Prachuap Khiri Khan in southern Thailand, which produced pineapple concentrate for Finnish supermarkets.

Hall has two PhDs and is regarded as a migration expert. He has worked for over a decade researching and promoting the rights of migrant workers.

At the Natural Fruit factory Hall investigated, the majority of the 800 workers were migrants from Myanmar, also known as Burma, who had come to the country with the help of smugglers. The workers, according to the report, were then “completely dependent on the factory and its illegal collaboration with the local police.”

The factory confiscated passports and work permits, it alleged, and refused to return them unless a substantial deposit was paid when workers travelled away from the factory.

All of the interviewed workers were paid less than the local minimum wage. They had no written contracts and no right to annual leave, the report said.

natural fruit factory

A satellite view of the factory

Workers claimed that they worked between five and ten hours of ‘compulsory’ overtime every day, adding it wasn’t unusual for overtired workers to cry, faint or fall asleep in the middle of their work. Ill workers were unable to leave during overtime hours without a signed note from their boss, or they faced losing an entire day’s pay, the researchers found.


Thailand is the world’s largest producer of pineapples

Migrant workers were hit by guards and their superiors, the interviewed workers said, and were fined if they spent more than 10 minutes in the toilet. Even though the temperature in the factory was very high, staff said there was no air conditioning, only two water fountains for around 800 workers and not enough cold water for everyone to drink.

One worker died from an electric shock and their family was given less than a tenth of the legal compensation owed to them, the report said. Another lost a finger and was given no compensation.

Natural Fruit is accusing Hall of trying to damage the reputation of the pineapple industry in Thailand, which is one of the world’s largest producers of the fruit.

Virat Piyapornpaiboon, the owner of Natural Fruit, rejected the allegations outside the court on Tuesday, saying to AFP: “The report caused damage to me and my company. Any accusations were not true… If true, why are there so many workers who want to work at my factory?”

He told The Associated Press before the trial began that he was saddened by the allegations, which he has denied several times.

In 2011, Thailand exported half a million tons of canned pineapple which was worth more than $600 million (£400 million), according to food producer ASA Bangkok. The EU, including British supermarkets, were a major market for Natural Fruit.

Hall says he simply wanted to protect the rights of the country’s migrant workers.

The charges against him are three criminal defamation charges, one civil defamation action and two criminal charges under the Computer Crimes Act, according to Human Rights Watch.

More than 170,000 people have signed a petition calling for another global fruit giant, Dole, to use its influence in the Thai Pineapple Industry Association (TPIA) to push for the “bogus” charges to be dropped. But so far, Dole has remained silent.


Protesters are calling on another fruit producer, Dole, to use its influence to help Hall

Another 160,000 have signed a petition from WalkFree, calling for the charges to be dropped.

Britain’s Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) which represents retailers including Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, has voiced its support, as have nearly 100 human rights and labour organisations around the world.

Human Rights Watch which has called on the the Thai Pineapple Industry Association (TPIA) to urge Natural Fruit to drop the charges against Hall. Natural Fruit is a member of the association and its chief executive Wirat Piyapornpaiboon is its president.

Human Rights Watch said Natural Fruit’s “apparent effort to silence human rights defenders tarnishes the reputation of the TPIA and the entire Thai pineapple export industry.”

The UK’s Trade Union Congress, which represents 54 unions in this country, wrote to the TPIA voicing its “deep concern” about the charges, and imploring the association to pressure Natural Fruit drop the legal action.


Organizations which support Hall, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

But in response, the TPIA said that the case was a private matter for Natural Fruit, and threatened further action against Hall, saying it agreed that he was maliciously motivated to damage the Thai pineapple industry.

In response, Hall wrote in an open letter last week: “I am simply an individual who is a migrant rights defender with a positive intention to defend those workers who have been treated unjustly… For over a decade, I have worked hard to promote and defend the rights of migrant workers.

“Despite having received a first class honours degree in law and studied a PhD in Australia and the UK, I worked without significant remuneration or support and with personal dedication to build up a respected and successful migrant rights programme in Thailand. I work with the intention only of promoting rights of migrants.”

He also claims that “a number of unlawful situations were found to exist inside Natural Fruit Company premises, supporting Finnwatch’s report findings’ and that many other journalists have also documented rights violations at Natural Fruit.

The Finnish ambassador to Thailand and a representative from the UK embassy in the country will attend Hall’s trial on Tuesday.

Hall’s report concluded the findings were “alarming and must be addressed without delay”. His supporters claim that rather than doing this, Natural Fruit filed charges against him.

Hall’s passport has been confiscated, according to his supporters, and he was not allowed to leave the country while he awaited trial.


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