Archive for ‘Thailand’

November 23, 2014

When Life Imitates ‘The Hunger Games’ in Thailand

Movie-goers continue to face arrest for borrowing the three-fingered salute of resistance.
November 23, 2014

Thailand martial law to stay ‘indefinitely’

BBC News Asia

Thailand martial law to stay ‘indefinitely’

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Thai pro-democracy activist Nacha Kong-udom closes her mouth and flashes a three-finger salute in front of a poster of The Hunger Games movie at a cinema in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 November 2014
Activist Nacha Kong-udom was detained on Thursday for flashing a salute in protest against military rule

Thailand’s Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has said martial law will remain in place “indefinitely”, amid mounting protests of military rule.

His remarks to Reuters come a day after PM Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that martial law was “necessary” to stop “conflict and social disparity”.

The Thai military took over government on 22 May, and has been criticised for its repression of anti-coup protests.

Several protesters have been arrested in recent weeks.

A number of them have used a three-finger salute inspired by the Hollywood series The Hunger Games, which has been widely adopted as an anti-coup symbol.

A cinema chain in Thailand cancelled screenings of the latest film in the franchise this week, saying it wanted to avoid trouble.


The Hunger Games salute

A woman flashes a three-finger salute during a gathering outside the Australian embassy on 4 June 2014 in Bangkok.
  • In the films and books the gesture originally signals gratitude or admiration, but is later turned into a sign of silent dissent against an authoritarian regime.
  • It has become widely used in Thailand by those protesting against the 22 May military coup.
  • Some protesters have said it also stands for the French revolution ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.
  • In June, Thai authorities warned they would arrest anyone in a large group who gave the salute and refused to lower their arm when ordered.
  • Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup, has warned that anyone flashing it could “jeopardise their futures”.
  • Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence has expressed concern that Thai youths are being arrested for using the salute.

‘Army’s tool’In an interview with Reuters news agency on Friday, Gen Paiboon said martial law could not be lifted “because the government and junta need it as the army’s tool”.

“We are not saying that martial law will stay in place for 50 years, no, this is not it. We just ask that it remain in place for now, indefinitely.”

Gen Paiboon denied that the army was abusing the law, saying it “does not violate anyone’s rights”.

On Thursday, Gen Prayuth told local media Thailand still needed martial laws.

“Am I happy? No, I’m not. The longer [martial law] is in place, the more unhappy I become. Yet, it’s necessary,” he said.

“Today, priority must be given to the future of the country. Conflict and social disparity must be stopped.”

The military has argued that by overthrowing the elected government they brought peace and stability to Thailand after an intense and violent political deadlock. Their move was welcomed by many Thais.

It has promised to restore democracy and hold elections in late 2015. But international players have voiced concern that the military is consolidating power in the meantime.

A photo made available on 20 November 2014 shows Thai students (front, 2-L and 3-R) being arrested by police officers and security guards as they flash anti-coup sign in front of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha (back) while delivering a speech during his visit in Khon Kaen province, north eastern Thailand, 19 November 2014
The five students were released without charges on Thursday

Human rights groups say that repression and censorship has intensified under the military regime.

On Thursday, young activist Nacha Kong-udom was arrested outside a Bangkok shopping centre for flashing the three-finger salute in front of a poster for the latest Hunger Games film, Mockingjay.

Two students who reportedly helped to organise a free screening of the movie were also detained.

Five university students were arrested earlier this week for flashing the salute. Wearing T-shirts protesting against the coup, the students had flashed the salute at Gen Prayuth at an event in the northeast region of Khon Kaen.

They were held overnight at a military camp before they were released unconditionally without charge on Thursday, local media reported.

Gen Prayuth told reporters on Friday he was “unconcerned” about the popularity of the salute. Asked if it was banned, he warned: “I don’t know whether it is illegal or not but it could jeopardise their futures.”

Matilda Bogner, a spokeswoman from the UN Human Rights Office for South East Asia, told AFP news agency that the arrests illustrate “a worrying pattern of human rights violations, which has the effect of suppressing critical and independent voices”.

The director of Mockingjay, Francis Lawrence, has also expressed concern, telling Buzzfeed News: “My goal is not for kids to be out there doing things that are getting them arrested.”

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November 23, 2014

Thai Protesters Are Detained After Using ‘Hunger Games’ Salute

Thai Protesters Are Detained After Using ‘Hunger Games’ Salute

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An activist, Nacha Kong-udom, flashed the three-finger salute from the “The Hunger Games” as plainclothes police officers led her away from a cinema in Bangkok on Thursday. Credit Rungroj Yongrit/European Pressphoto Agency

BANGKOK — A Thai theater chain has withdrawn the latest “Hunger Games” movie after several student protesters were detained for using a gesture taken from the films, a three-finger salute of resistance to authoritarian government.

The salute, which in the movies is a daring act of silent rebellion, began to appear here in the weeks after the May 22 coup. The authorities warned that anyone raising it in public could be subject to arrest.

The military government in Thailand has clamped down on all forms of protest, censored the country’s news media, limited the right to public assembly and arrested critics and opponents. Hundreds of academics, journalists and activists have been detained for up to a month, according to Human Rights Watch.

The arrests came on Wednesday, before the premiere in Thailand of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.” Five students in T-shirts bearing the slogan “We don’t want the coup” flashed the sign during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup and later became head of the military government.

The students were quickly detained by the police, who handed them over to military authorities.

Army officials later confirmed that the students were held for several hours for “attitude adjustment” and then released. They were told to report back the next day with their parents and still could be charged with violating martial law.

The prime minister was making his first visit to northeastern Thailand, the heartland of the red shirt political movement that supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006. Armed soldiers are highly visible in the northeast, manifesting the military’s control, while there is little sign of them in Bangkok’s streets.

The prime minister appeared to take the students’ protest in stride, according to local news reports. He was quoted as saying: “Well, that’s it. But it’s O.K. Go easy on them. We will take care of the problems. Any more protests? Make it quick.”

Three more students were detained in Bangkok on Thursday outside a theater where the film was being shown.

The students were members of a protest group that said it had bought hundreds of tickets to a showing of the film and planned to hand them out free, according to The Bangkok Post.

The theater chain, Apex, quickly canceled showings of the film. A spokesman for Apex told the newspaper that the company acted because “we feel our theaters are being used for political movements.”

In “The Hunger Games” novels by Suzanne Collins and in the films based on them, the salute begins as a gesture of gratitude and farewell and evolves into a symbol of defiance. One of the detained students, Natchacha Kongudom, told reporters, “The three-finger sign is a sign to show that I am calling for my basic right to live my life.”

Francis Lawrence, the director of several films in the series, said he was both excited and concerned that the salute was being used in Thailand.

“We were shooting when this started happening,” he said in remarks reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. “Part of it is sort of thrilling, that something that happens in the movie can become a symbol for people, for freedom or protest.”

But he added: “When kids start getting arrested for it, it takes the thrill out of it, and it becomes much more dangerous, and it makes the feeling much more complex. When people are getting arrested for doing something from your movie, it’s troubling.”

One student who was detained performed another banned act of protest, silently reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” in public.

The military government in Bangkok says its crackdown on dissent is necessary to restore calm to a nation that was torn by months of street protests leading to the coup. It has said it plans to hold a general election eventually, and then hand power to a civilian government, but that a number of conditions must first be met.

A new constitution is being drafted, including a proposal by the military to make the current restrictions on the news media permanent; news groups are challenging the proposal.

November 8, 2014

Thailand profile: Monarchy, the military and Buddhism in the ‘land of smiles’

CNN Worl

Thailand profile: Monarchy, the military and Buddhism in the ‘land of smiles’

By Peter Shadbolt and Dean Irvine, for CNN
updated 1:14 AM EST, Fri November 7, 2014

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  • Known as “land of smiles” to visitors, “land of freedom” to many Thais
  • The only country in the region not to have been colonized by European powers
  • Second largest economy in Southeast Asia
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej has reigned since 1946

(CNN) — Thailand’s people are justifiably proud of their country, which, sandwiched as it is between historically powerful neighbors, has managed skillfully to play off its rivals and retain its independence.

Known as the “land of smiles” to tourists but the “land of freedom” to those born in the country once known as Siam, its astute line of Chakri dynasty monarchs in the 18th and 19th century managed to juggle competing French and British colonial interests in the region.

Thailand, as a result, is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by a European power.

In the 20th century, Thailand’s independence has brought with it challenges that are still being resolved despite its rise to the forefront of the region’s emerging economies.

According to the World Bank, it is now second-largest economy in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

The 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been at the center of Thailand’s often-turbulent political history for more than six decades, acting as a force for continuity and tradition even when the country has lurched between political crises and military coups.

From 1946, when he acceded to the throne, to the present, Bhumibol has reigned through more than 20 prime ministers, 17 military coups and 17 constitutions and steered the country through the destabilizing effects of the nearby Vietnam War during the 1960s and ’70s.

Over the years, the king has intervened periodically in political crises, using his influence to try to defuse situations that threatened to destabilize the country.

Over 90% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist. Courtesy: AFP/Getty

For much of the first few decades of Bhumibol’s reign, the running of the country was dominated by the Thai military and a bureaucratic elite, according to the U.S. State Department.

Governments replaced one another through “a long series of mostly bloodless coups,” it said.

The painful and slow transition towards a more democratic government began in the 1970s. That process is still continuing today.

Coups and continuation

From 1992 until this year Thailand is generally considered to have functioned as a democracy, according to the U.S. State Department.

However, the current government is one run by the military and two military takeovers have occurred in the country since 2006.

The first, a coup in September 2006, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and installed an unelected government for more than a year.

Since then, pro-Thaksin forces — whose “red shirt” supporters are largely drawn from the rural north of the country but also enjoy support from urban intellectuals — have periodically engaged in violent clashes with police and “yellow shirt” opposition supporters in a series of large-scale protests.

A series of anti-government protests and sporadic violent clashes on the streets of the capital Bangkok began in November 2013. In May this year, after months of civil unrest, Yingluck Shinawatra –Thaksin’s sister — was removed as prime minister after a Constitutional Court ruled that she had illegally transferred a government official.

Later that month the Thai army enacted a coup and declared martial law. The general who led the coup, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is the current prime minister of an interim government. He was the sole candidate for the post and was selected by the country’s National Legislative Assembly. Members of the assembly were chosen by Prayuth; more than half are also in the military.

Economic growth

At the core of Thailand’s current political fault line is the country’s changing economic dynamic.

Of the many changes that Thailand has undergone since Bhumibol came to the throne, the growth in the nation’s economy is considered to be the most spectacular. Largely agrarian when he came to power, Thailand has since become an industrial and services sector giant in the region.

Capital city Bangkok is home to over 8 million people. Courtesy: AFP/Getty

It remains one of the world’s top rice producers, is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and is a regional manufacturing hub for the auto industry and for hi-tech electronics.

However, with the largely rural and once-impoverished northeast of the country now at the center of a boom, its growing middle class in the rural region have been calling for greater political representation.

Economic growth in the northeast Isaan region hit 40% between 2007 and 2011, compared with 23% for the rest of Thailand over that period and just 17% for greater Bangkok, according to government figures.

Isaan, which once exported people to Bangkok and the rest of the world as cheap migrant labor, is seeing its workers return.

While the World Bank predicts that Thailand is on track to meet most of its Millennium Development Goals — including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and improving maternal health — income inequality and a lack of equal opportunities persist, especially between Bangkok and the rest of the country.

With an official unemployment figure of less than 1% of the population, Thailand could be seen as a model for other Southeast Asian countries.

Yet the plight of the country’s estimated two to three million migrant workers — most of whom are from neighboring Myanmar and fill many low-paid, manual labor jobs — has gained international attention.

Most migrate willingly, but in June this year the U.S. downgraded Thailand to tier 3, the lowest level, in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. The downgrade means that Thailand has not met minimum standards in combating illegal migration and human trafficking and not made significant efforts to do so.

Another ongoing challenge for the country is the Muslim separatist movement in the south of the country.

Over 90% of Thailand’s population is classified as Buddhist, yet in the southern regions of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla there is a Muslim majority — Thailand government statistics put Thai Buddhists at just 6% of the region’s population.

Muslims there have complained this Buddhist minority dominates the region, and many Muslim hardliners view the education system as a tool of Thai colonialism. As such separatist groups have operated in the region for over 10 years, according to NGO Deep South Watch, that monitors the conflict.

These politically motivated groups often target security officials and Thai government operations. According to the U.S. State Department, in March 2014, at least 50 violent incidents killed more than 30 people in these provinces; Deep South Watch put the cumulative deaths from related conflicts at around 5,500.

READ: Follow CNN’s On the Road Thailand coverage


November 1, 2014

OPINION: Thailand’s lese majesty law stifles legitimate dissent


Thailand’s lese majesty law stifles legitimate dissent

Thai democracy requires open debate about everything, including the monarchy

October 29, 2014 12:15PM ET
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Thailand lese majesty law

Debate and dissent are forbidden under Thailand’s new military dictatorship. After seizing power in May, the junta swiftly issued multiple decrees banning criticism of its actions and detained outspoken journalists and academics.

Even asking questions is frowned on. For instance, two reporters were rebuked for their supposedly aggressive efforts to seek answers from coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha at a press conference. “Do not ask in such a manner again. And please understand Gen. Prayuth’s good intentions,” Army Secretary Maj. Gen. Ponpat Wannapak told them. “The press should cheer him on.”

This crackdown on free speech should not surprise. But what ails Thai democracy goes beyond the obvious and repeated repression by the Thai military. They are rooted, rather, in the throne of ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the oligarchs who sit behind it.

Crushing dissent

The Thai military has a long and baleful record of crushing Thai democracy and dishonestly denying doing so. In 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010, troops were involved in the massacre of unarmed protesters in Bangkok. Official investigations whitewashed the army’s crimes. A crackdown on anti-junta demonstrators, called red shirts, in April and May 2010 sparked violent clashes in Bangkok, with more than 90 people killed and 1,800 wounded. Afterward, the military made the extraordinary claim that it was not responsible for a single death or even any injuries, despite official statistics showing soldiers used 117,923 bullets, including 2,500 sniper rounds.

This threat of coercive violence is corrosive to Thai democracy. Shutting down discussion of how Thailand should be governed and hiding the truth about the political struggles that have shaped the kingdom’s modern history can only worsen the conflict that has convulsed the country since 2005. The escalating crisis in Thailand is a struggle to find consensus on answers to profound questions. How should democracy work in Thailand? Do all of Thailand’s people deserve equal rights? What does it mean to be Thai? These are issues that cannot be avoided as Thai society evolves and becomes increasingly aware and sophisticated. The country’s people need to seek answers that will heal their bitter divisions and allow Thailand to move forward. There is only one sensible way to find answers to such important questions: Thailand’s people need to talk.

But for decades, a suffocating silence has been imposed on Thailand because of draconian enforcement of the archaic lese majesty law, which punishes perceived criticism of the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison. From early childhood, Thais are taught that throughout history, the nation has been uniquely blessed by the leadership of heroic kings who care for their people as a father cares for his children. Bhumibol, 86 years old and reportedly in poor health, is portrayed as a godlike genius with a heart of gold who has single-handedly brought progress and development to the nation through more than six decades of tireless effort while scrupulously staying out of politics. Any attempt to challenge this absurdly hagiographic narrative is demonized as an attack on Thailand’s ancient traditions and sacred monarchy and criminalized. For decades, journalists and academics have mostly avoided detailed discussion of the monarchy, unwilling to risk being jailed or losing access to the country.

By failing to mention the royal dimension of Thailand’s turmoil, the international media are not only doing a disservice to their audience, but they are also badly letting down the people of Thailand.

But it is quite simply impossible to explain Thailand’s contemporary conflict adequately without addressing this unspoken problem, because the Thai crisis is fundamentally about the monarchy and its role in society. Moreover, a central element of the conflict is an unacknowledged royal succession struggle among competing elite factions over who will be the next monarch after Bhumibol dies. The reason Thailand’s unfolding tragedy tends to appear so incomprehensible to outsiders is that a crucial part of the story is routinely left out. No credible analysis of Thailand can ignore the taboo subjects of royal succession and palace intervention in politics. As a result, anyone writing about contemporary Thailand faces the extraordinary predicament that telling the truth about the country’s recent history or politics can be done only by breaking Thai law.

A disservice to Thais

Thailand’s elite — made up of aristocratic families with ties to the palace, top generals and tycoons — exploit the lese majesty and defamation laws to avoid scrutiny of their machinations and accountability for their actions. As Chulalongkorn University professor Pasuk Phongpaichit observed, “Despite economic growth, massive social changes and political innovations like parliament and decentralization, real power still lies in the hands of small groups of people who run things in the dim background.” The understandable reticence of journalists and scholars to risk breaking the law has allowed Thailand’s oligarchy to remain in the shadows and prevented open debate about the country’s political future.

But with Thailand being ruled by an oppressive military junta determined to silence discussion and facing the looming trauma of a profoundly destabilizing royal succession, there is no longer any excuse for the international media to avoid telling the full truth about Thailand. The political and social conflicts that have engulfed the country will not go away just by being ignored, and if they are not resolved through discussion, they will be settled in blood.

By failing to mention the royal dimension of Thailand’s turmoil, the international media are not only doing a disservice to their audience, but they are also badly letting down the people of Thailand. If they were to collectively resolve to accurately report the full story, the lese majesty law would be unsustainable. Thailand’s authorities would face a stark choice between launching a catastrophic legal campaign against the massed ranks of the foreign media and taking a more sensible approach toward freedom of speech.

A growing number of scholars and reporters are breaking the taboo on open discussion of Thai truths. In 2006 journalist Paul Handley published a brilliant biography of Bhumibol, “The King Never Smiles,” revealing Thailand’s secret history of palace scheming and royal shenanigans. In 2011 I resigned from Reuters after 17 years as an international correspondent because the company refused to publish my analysis of U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks that revealed that the royal family and Thai elite were riven by conflict over who will succeed Bhumibol. Several leading Thai academics, like Giles Ungpakorn and Pavin Chachavolpongpun, have chosen to live in exile so they can speak openly. In July anthropologist Christine Gray announced she too had decided to stop allowing the lese majesty law to silence her. “It’s time for everyone to step over the line,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “It’s neither honorable nor justifiable for us to remain selectively silent.”

For as long as fundamental truths about Thailand are denied by the elite and unreported by the media, the military and its allies can continue to eviscerate Thai democracy with impunity. To help Thailand’s people at this perilous moment, the best thing we can do is simply tell the full truth, fairly and fearlessly.

Andrew MacGregor Marshall is a journalist and the author of “A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the 21st Century.”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.



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