Thailand

Burma: thousands displaced as junta bombs villages

More than 3,000 villagers from Burma's Karen state have fled their homes following a series of air-strikes by the military on territory controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU). Many fled to the Ei Tu Hta camp, which already holds some 2,400 internally displaced persons. Others fled across the Salween River, which separates Burma and Thailand. The air-strikes centered on Kho Kay village in Karen state's Mutraw (Hpapun) district. The strikes came after fighters from the KNU’s Brigade 5 overran the military's Thee Mu Hta base on March 27, capturing at least eight soldiers. (Myanmar Now)

Thai authorities arrest pro-democracy activists

Thai authorities on Aug. 19  arrested six activists who took part in ths month's pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok. Among the six activists arrested is lawyer Anon Nampa, who called for reform of the monarchy, marking the second time he has been arrested this month. Previously charged with sedition, Anon joined the student rallies demanding constitutional reform, the dissolution of parliament, and an end to the intimidation of activists. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that the "Harry Potter-themed" rally on Aug. 3 went "too far" and urged protesters "not to create chaos." Speaking against the monarchy carries the risk of a 15-year prison term in Thailand. Demonstrators have been asserting that democracy is "impossible" without limiting the monarchy's constitutional role.

Hong Kong activist barred by Thai military regime

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was barred from entering Thailand and deported Oct. 5. The 19-year-old was detained on arrival at Suvarnabhumi airport, held by police for 12 hours and then flown back to Hong Kong. Wong had been invited by Thai student activist Netiwit Chotipatpaisal to speak at events marking the 40th anniversary of a student massacre in 1976. The deputy commander of Suvarnabhumi airport's immigration office said at a press conference that Wong was blacklisted after China asked the Thai government to deny him entry, according to a report in Thai media. Thailand's military rulers, in power since a 2014 coup, denied any role in the detention. But junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters after the deportation: "He already went back to China. Officials there have requested to take him back. It's Chinese officials' business. Don't get involved too much. They are all Chinese people no matter Hong Kong or mainland China."

Thailand: 'culture of torture' under military regime

Amnesty International on Sept. 28 released a report detailing the prevalence of torture employed by Thai authorities, and asserting that the military government has instated a "culture of torture." The report, "Make Him Speak by Tomorrow," named after an apparently common order given to soldiers, is the product of a two-year investigation and details 74 cases of torture or other forms of ill-treatment implemented by Thai authorities. Although Thailand is a party to the UN Convention against Torture, Amnesty charges that many elements of the legal system allow or incentivize the use of torture. Thailand is currently working on legislation that would criminalize torture, but AI's report also provides suggestions for how the government can resolve the major issues.

Thai rights defenders charged over torture report

Military officials in Thailand on July 26 charged three human rights defenders with criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act because of a report they published detailing acts of torture. The defenders, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemmina and Somchai Homlaor, face up to five years in prison if convicted. The report, "Torture and ill treatment in the Deep South Documented in 2014-2015", details 54 incidents of torture and rights abuses in South Thailand, and the activists hoped that it would encourage victims to share their experiences. Several rights groups have protested the arrests in a joint report (PDF), calling them a "reprisal against civil society groups seeking to bring to the authorities' attention the continued abuse of power and ill-treatment of detainees in Thailand." The report urges the government to drop all charges against the rights defenders and ensure that retaliation is not allowed, as well as making general human rights recommendations.

Thai constitution would grant military immunity

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Nov. 24 that a proposed provision in Thailand's constitution would permit the nation's military to commit human rights abuses without fear of punishment, in violation of international treaties. A new constitutional provision before Thailand's legislative body, known as the the junta, or the National Council for Peace and Order, would exculpate the use of force by military personnel if the conduct is "carried out with honest intention" in the interest of national security. HRW referred to the constitutional amendment as a "license to kill." HRW acknowledged that Thailand's military forces have acted with impunity for decades, but stated: "International human rights treaties ratified by Thailand make clear that status as a government official does not permit immunity for serious rights violations. In addition, Thailand has international legal obligations to ensure the right to an effective remedy for victims of serious violations, including unlawful killings."

Uighur militants named in Bangkok blast

Thailand's national police authorities on Sept. 15 indicated that last month's deadly Erawan Shrine attack was carried out by Uighur militants. A Chinese national arrested by Thai police, Yusufu Meraili, is said to be from Xinjiang region, indicating he is likely an ethnic Uighur. Also arrested is Abdul Tawab, a Pakistani national who apparently ran a human trafficking ring that catered to Uighurs attempting to reach Turkey. Abudusataer Abudureheman AKA "Ishan," named as mastermind of the attack, is also said to be from Xinjiang, and is believed to have fled to Turkey. Thai authorities say several other suspects are Turks, who have ethnic and cultural links to the Uighurs. Many Turkish nationalists have vocally embraced the Uighur cause. Warrants have been issued for a Thai woman and her Turkish husband, both believed to be in Turkey, and two other Turkish men. Malaysia has made three arrests in the case—two Malaysians and a Pakistani man. Most of the 20 killed in the attack were ethnic Chinese tourists. Suspicion fell on Uighur militants as the bombing came just weeks after Thailand deported 109 Uighurs back to China, their heads covered in hoods. The move was widely criticized by rights groups, who said the Uighurs were could face persecution in China. If the claims are correct, this would be the first known Uighur terrorist attack outside China. No one has yet claimed responsibility. (Bangkok Post, Sept. 17; NYT, Sept. 15; BBC News, Sept. 14)

Bangkok blast as southern insurgency simmers

A bomb blast at the tourist-packed Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok killed at least 20 and injured some 80 more Aug. 17. The following day, with the city still on edge, a small explosive device was thrown from a bridge towards a crowded river pier, sending a plume of water into the air but causing no casualties. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Thai authorities have been circumspect in assigning blame. Police say they have not ruled out any group, including elements opposed to the military government, which took power in a coup last year. But officials said the attack did not match the tactics of Muslim insurgents in the south. (Al Jazeera, Reuters, Aug. 18) Despite peace talks with the southern separatists, the insurgency continues at a low level. On July 20, a shoot-out with security forces left two presumed militants wounded in Nong Chik district of Pattani province. (Bangkok Post, July 20) Graffiti rejecting the peace talks was earlier this month spray-painted on roads in Khok Pho and Nong Chik districts of Pattani. The message written in Thai read, "What do we get from negotiating with the army?" Talks between the government and separatists, facilitated by Malaysia, are set to resume by the end of the year. (Bangkok Post, Aug. 2)

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