Giles Ji Ungpakorn
On the 17th March soldiers in Chiang Mai shot down Chaiyapoom Pasae, a 17 year old Lahu activist. The killing was committed in cold blood. A villager who witnessed the event, which took place at a military check point, told Thai PBS news channel that soldiers dragged Chaiyapoom out of his car and beat him up, stamping on his face. They fired two warning shots and then deliberately let him go. While he was running away they shot him dead. [See news report here https://prachatai.com/english/node/7013 ].
Chaiyapoom was a well-known Lahu activist who was engaged in cultural youth work among the Lahu people in order to help them avoid taking drugs. He wrote songs and received a prize for a short film that he directed.
Another young man who was the driver of the car was arrested and charged with narcotics offences. This young man has been detained in prison because his family cannot come up with the 2 million baht bail set by the courts.
The soldier who murdered Chaiyapoom was briefly questioned by police and given bail until his court hearing.
Military sources claimed that Chaiyapoom attacked them with a knife and was shot “while trying to escape”. The military also claimed that he tried to throw a bomb at them. Conveniently after the event, drugs were found in his car. Thai police and military are famous for planting drugs and weapons on people after they shoot them or after they raid their homes. Villagers who witnessed Chaiyapoom’s murder said security forces planted drugs in his car after the shooting.
There are contradictory reports about whether the military check point had any CCTV. It is usual for check points to have CCTV to take pictures of cars passing through the check points. No CCTV video clips have been released, despite damands for this. Some military sources say there was no CCTV while others claim they have CCTV evidence.
Military and police sources also claim Chaiyapoom had “too much money” in his bank account and that he telephoned people and spoke to them in his Lahu language!
General Wijuk Siribanpot, commander of the 3rd Region Army gave a televised interview saying that if he had been at the scene he would have switched his gun to automatic mode and riddled Chaiyapoom with bullets.
Members of the Lahu community report that there was long-standing ill feeling between locals in Chaiyapoom’s village and members of the security forces. Police and soldiers have attacked and injured villagers in the past and they threatened people who exposed this on social media. Chaiyapoom’s elder brother has been threatened by someone who place a bullet on his door step.
Recently another local was shot dead in cold blood at a check point in the same area. This case has not been properly investigated.
A local academic commented that it would be very stupid for anyone to try and transport drugs through the permanent check point where Chaiyapoom was murdered. Drug smugglers used other routes to avoid check points.
It is normal for members of the Thai security forces to be able to commit crimes with impunity. No police or soldiers were ever charged with murder following ex-Prime Minister Taksin’s bloody war on drugs where 3000 people were killed without trial. Many of those killed or disappeared in Taksin’s war were from minority ethnic groups.
No members of the security forces has ever been charged with the cold-blooded killing of unarmed red shirt protesters who were demanding democratic elections. General Prayut, the present Thai dictator was in charge of the military at the time.
The Thai State is run by nationalists who are wedded to the extremist ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy”. The military, who are in charge of the country, have always subscribed to this ideology in an aggressive manner. From Privy Council Head, General Prem, down to various local commanders, the notion that the country is peopled by citizens of various non-Thai ethnicities is deemed to be blasphemy. All Thai schools enforce the Thai language and students who speak to each other in local dialects or languages are often punished. Manic flag waving is encouraged and every citizen is supposed to stand to attention twice a day when the Thai State’s national anthem is played in public places. The lèse-majesté law is designed to support this nationalist ideology and also to protect the elites, especially the military, because the military claim to be the guardians of the monarchy. The religion in this racist ideology is of course Buddhism, thus excluding Islam and other faiths including animism.
This racist nationalist ideology results in the oppression of Muslim Malays in Patani and people who live in remote mountainous areas of the north and west.
People from ethnic minority groups in the north and west of the country, like the Lahu, who have lived either side of the various nation state borders for centuries, are not regarded as “true citizens”. Many are denied Thai citizenship despite being born within Thailand. They hold special identity cards which prevent them travelling outside their local areas without permission from the military and local authorities. Many are forced to register themselves with Thai-language names rather than using their real ethnic names.
In Thai society in general, it is still acceptable for people to refer to various ethnic groups using racist names rather than showing them any respect. Because people from ethnic groups were so poor that they often had to rely on growing opium or being involved in the drug trade, everyone is seen as being involved with drugs. Yet the drug trade is controlled by top military and police officials and gangster politicians from Bangkok.