Tag Archives: Racism

Repression, Nationalism, Racism & anti-women: Thailand’s Parliamentary Dictatorship

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It is difficult to spot the difference between one year ago under the rule of the military junta, and today under the rule of the military Parliamentary Dictatorship. In fact the only difference is that after the fixed elections earlier this year, the junta is using parliament as a fig-leaf for the continued dictatorship.

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Following the brilliant ant-junta protests a week ago, the police have filed charges against the organisers of the peaceful and legitimate protests in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. This is yet another example of the continued repression against the right to protest. It is hoped that any prosecutions will be met with an escalation of action on the streets.

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To prove who is really in charge, the Ministry of Defence has come out and condemned these pro-democracy protests. This again highlights the militarisation of Thai society and politics which has been going on since the 2014 coup.

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Added to this is the ridiculous accusations of lèse majesté by ultra-conservatives against people posting pictures of the protests with posters of the dead king in the background. These anti-democratic dinosaurs wish to make previous monarchs into holy relics. Yet, the individual most responsible for bringing the institution of the monarchy into disrepute, in the eyes of Thai citizens, is the present king Wachiralongkorn.

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This is due to his debauched life-style in Germany, his insulting behaviour towards women and his never-ending greed. This is why the Thai ruling class need to keep putting up posters of his dead father in their desperate attempt to prop up royalism.

The junta is trying to stir up racism and nationalism to deflect attention away from the lack of democracy and the deteriorating standard of living for most Thais. The Parliamentary Junta’s aristocratic Minister of Labour has been mouthing off about the need to arrest so-called illegal migrants who he accuses of “stealing jobs from Thais”. This is an age-old process of racist scape-goating. It is never true. Migrant workers fill low income and dirty-job niches vacated by locals. The Thai economy would be in a serious state without migrant workers.

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Rescuers carry body of civilian killed by military rangers

In Patani, the hated military rangers have murdered three innocent civilians in the province of Naratiwat. The rangers planted weapons and ammunition around the corpses and tried unsuccessfully to claim that those killed were insurgents. Eventually the military were forced to admit this and issued an “apology”. But that is not good enough. The rangers are hated and feared by local Malay Muslims for their trigger-happy and racist behaviour. The situation is made worse by having a military national government and by the deep racism and nationalism supported by the Thai ruling class. Peace can only be achieved if the military are forced to withdraw from Patani and national politics and citizens are able to exercise self-determination.

Thailand is one of the most unequal societies in the world. This is due to the monopoly of power by the conservative elites. Yet the present military government has defined women’s sanitary towels as “luxury” items for tax purposes. Women’s sanitary products are more expensive in relation to Thai incomes than in Western societies. This injustice has quite rightly caused a storm of indignation on social media. Sanitary products for women should be supplied free of charge as a necessary service to all women. They are not things that women can choose to buy or not to buy.

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As we turn the corner to 2020, it is to be hoped that the level of protests against the Parliamentary Junta will increase and the military will be forced out of politics. For that to happen it will take organisation.

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Patani activist suffers brain damage after being tortured

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Abdullah Isomuso, 32, was found unconscious a few days ago inside his holding cell in the notorious “Fort Ingkhayut” military base in Patani. He was arrested the day before, suspected of involvement in an anti-Thai government insurgent group.

Local Malay Muslims in Patani have been fighting a war of liberation against the brutal Thai imperialist state for decades. [See https://bit.ly/2bemah3 ].

Doctors found an accumulation of excess fluid inside his brain, suggesting he suffered from a prolonged shortage of oxygen. No sign of physical violence was found on his body. This is in keeping with the belief that Abdullah Isomuso had been tortured by security forces at Fort Ingkhayut. Instead of water-boarding, he may well have had some kind of bag put over his head to deprive him of oxygen. He is now in serious danger of becoming brain dead.

The legal rights group iLaw reported that a Bangkok detainee of the military was tortured by using a plastic bag over her face. [See https://bit.ly/2Yd9wGS ].

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His wife, Sumaiya Minka, said she was only informed of his condition when she went to Fort Ingkhayut to visit her husband, at which she was told instead to go to a hospital’s ICU ward. The military told her that her husband had “fallen down” in his cell.

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[In this photo, released by the ISOC, Abdullah Isomuso, center, is shown reading documents inside Fort Ingkhayut on July 20.  From khaosodenglish].

Relatives and friends of Abdullah Isomuso, who attempted to visit him in hospital, have been filmed and harassed by security forces.

It is no surprise that in parliament Generalissimo Prayut defended all the actions of these soldiers at Ingkhayut camp and attacked people who claimed that Abdullah Isomuso had been tortured, saying that they had “probably watched too many films”. He also complained about too much emphasis on “human rights”.

Lt. Gen. Pornsak Poonsawat, the 4th Army Region commander, has promised to set up a committee to investigate the incident. But we should not expect any truth to come out of this military investigation. When reporters asked about the CCTV inside the Ingkhayut camp, they were informed that “they were all out of action”.

CCTV cameras at various sites where extrajudicial killings by police and the military take place are usually “out of action”. This not only occurs in Patani, but also in the north, where members of minority ethnic groups are regularly gunned down. In 2017 Chaiyapoom Pasae, a 17 year old Lahu activist, was killed in cold blood and apparently there was a fault with the CCTV cameras. [See https://bit.ly/2o4Wq99 ].

Last week Ja-jur Ja-Or, a 50 year old Lahu/Mussur man, was gunned down and killed by police in Wiang Hang, Chiang Mai province. Eye witnesses that saw him lying dead stated that he was unarmed. But later police moved his body and placed a gun by his side. When his mother attempted to approach his body, police pushed and kicked her away and she fell. Angry villagers then confronted the police.

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Local community groups have protested this extra-judicial killing and demanded that the police killers be immediately moved out of the area so that an impartial investigation can take place. They insist that Ja-jur Ja-Or had nothing to do with the drug trade, as claimed by police and pro-government media.

Racism in Thai society plays a big part in shaping prejudices against Malay Muslims in Patani and ethnic minority groups in the north. This weakens attempts to hold the authorities to account. [See https://bit.ly/1JaeTJY ].

Until we overthrow the present parliamentary military dictatorship there can be no justice or peace.

 

Military Party MP makes racist remark in parliament and gets away with it.

Krung Srivilai, former B-movie actor, and now MP for the Military Party, made a racist comment in parliament about Rangsiman Rome, Future Forward Party MP.

Krung Srivilai referred to Rangsiman Rome’ mixed heritage in a derogatory manner.

No one objected and the Speaker did not demand an apology or ask the racist to leave the meeting. Yet another opposition MP was expelled from the parliament for merely saying that Prayut had fixed the election, which is true.

This is just another symptom of how deeply ingrained racism is in Thai society.

Thailand’s appalling record on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While all those who believe in basic human rights are appalled by the racist anti-refugee policies of Donald Trump in the USA and similar policies in the European Union, where over 9 thousand people have drowned in the Mediterranean since 2016, it is worth also looking at Thailand’s appalling record on this subject.

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Amnesty International issued a report in September 2018 which outlined abuses committed by the Thailand’s military government [see https://bit.ly/2BBLc4O ]. These included the arrest in August 2018 of nearly 200 asylum seekers and refugees, which included persecuted minorities from Cambodia and Vietnam. There were 63 children and two pregnant women included in this number and many had UNHCR recognised refugee status. Children were separated from their parents. Some were transferred to the notoriously over-crowded Suan Plu Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok, where there is a lack of medical assistance and poor sanitary conditions. Many others were taken to court and ended up in jail.

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Thailand’s governments have refused to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. This means that asylum seekers and refugees are treated as illegal migrants and face deportation back to countries where there is a grave danger of them being subjected to violence and persecution. Dissidents from Turkey, Cambodia and China have been sent back to face imprisonment and worse.

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Rath Rott Mony

In February 2018, Sam Sokha, a Cambodian political dissident was forcibly sent back to Cambodia and then imprisoned despite being recognised as a refugee by UNHCR. This week the Thai junta arrested construction union activist Rath Rott Mony while he was trying to claim asylum at a Dutch visa office. His so-called “crime” was to be involved in making a documentary exposing sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Chinese activists Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping were deported to China in November 2015 as they awaited resettlement as refugees. In China they were sentenced to six and a half years and three and a half years in jail, respectively.

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In 2015 more than 100 Muslim Uighurs, who are persecuted in China, were sent back, sparking an outcry from human rights groups. Understandably, Uighurs living in Turkey responded angrily by smashing windows at the Thai consulate in Istanbul.

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Hakeem al-Araibi

One of the latest outrages concerns Hakeem al-Araibi, a political refugee from Bahrain who has refugee status in Australia. He was arrested by Thai police as he traveled to spend a holiday in Thailand. The junta are threatening to send him back to Bahrain, where he faces torture. The Australian government are complicit in his arrest in Thailand. The New York Times wrote that his case is a window into how vulnerable foreigners are treated in Thailand, a country with a history of deporting asylum seekers. [See https://nyti.ms/2RN0JnK ].

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Nearly 130,000 refugees have crossed the border from Burma, seeking to flee violence and persecution. Those refugees who are allowed to stay in Thailand do not have access to healthcare, employment, education or any government support. They are confined to refugee camps without the right to leave the camps. Those desperate enough to seek employment are easy prey to abuse by employers because they are deemed to be “illegal”. The military and the Internal Security Operations Command have a record of pushing back desperate Rohingya refugees who arrive by boat.

Migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are vulnerable to physical abuses, indefinite detention, and extortion by Thai authorities. Recently 14 Burmese migrant workers were brought to court on criminal defamation charges after they filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand alleging that their employer had violated their rights. [Further reading https://bit.ly/2vNcwry ].

Unfortunately, due to rampant racism and ultra-nationalism in Thai society, such abuses are not confined to Thai military governments, but have taken place under elected civilian governments. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ].

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With various political parties jockeying for votes in the so-called general election, expected early in 2018, it is shameful that none of the progressive pro-democracy parties have any serious alternative policies towards asylum seekers and refugees. The Future Forward Party has raised the issue of helping Rohingya refugees by not pushing them back and holding talks with the Burmese government, but there is no policy to ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol and no promise to change the way that refugees inside the country are treated by the government. The party’s policy towards migrant labour is to promise them the minimal rights under the law which Thai workers have, which is a step forward, but does not deal with thousands of migrant workers who are deemed to be illegal.

The Thai State cares little about ordinary people

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Now that we have heard the good news about the successful recue of the young football team from the cave, we are in a position to draw some serious lessons from this event and also from the tragedy of the sinking of a tourist boat off the southern island of Puket, where a number of people drowned. We should also not forget the death of a Thai diver during the cave rescue operation.

There are three important lessons which I wish to discuss.

Firstly, safety standards for ordinary citizens and visitors to Thailand are extremely poor. We must not blame the football coach or the parents of the football team who got stuck in the cave. They have suffered enough and are clearly in a position to learn lessons. It is about collective responsibility in society for safety standards, not about the actions of an individual. The political situation in Thailand means that the Thai State has never given priority to the safety of citizens. There are few regulations and enforcement is lax. In the West adults who take children on outdoor activities have to be fully trained and have to follow strict guidelines. Access to places like caves which are liable to dangerous flooding would be strictly controlled.

Transport safety standards in Thailand are extremely bad. The tourist boat that sank off Puket put out to sea in storm conditions. There seems to have been little coordination between the harbour authorities and the meteorological office. There were no strict enforcement of safety standards for different sized boats and the greedy tour operators were allowed to get away with murder, literally. This is similar to the total lack of safety standards for road transport, where unacceptably high accident rates occur during public holidays due to a lack of good public transport and long working hours with few days off for many working people. Instead of the police trying to ensure safe travelling all the year round, many motorists experience being stopped by corrupt police in order to collect illegal payments.

The Thai State cares little about the safety of ordinary citizens, children, tourists, or workers in construction and manufacturing industry. It is a state which is blatantly run by and on behalf of the upper classes. It is only through pressure from trade unions and social movements that this situation can change.

Secondly, the Thai State has neglected the creation of rescue organisations and other types of infrastructure to protect citizens. Thailand needs a properly organised emergency service throughout the country, including rescue teams. The use of soldiers, who are not properly trained for such duties, is just not good enough. These teams need to be locally based, properly funded and they need to be civilian organisations run by experienced permanent crew. Instead, we still see emergency ambulances, where they exist, stuck in traffic with no one clearing the way for them. In contrast, we see much police activity to clear the way for various royals and big-shots when they want to travel.

The neglect by the Thai State of the rights of citizens to enjoy high standards of safety and decent government services is due to decades of military rule and/or rule by the elites, with little political input from below. The Left and the trade unions are still too weak. This is why Thailand still does not have a welfare state funded by progressive taxation of the rich and large corporations.

Many have rightly praised the role of the governor of Chiang Rai. But the elite and hierarchical nature of society meant that he had to start his press statement by praising the king and the fact that the royals had somehow shown great concern for the safety of the football team. The genuine concern shown by millions of people in Thailand and other countries was just ignored. It should be emphasised repeatedly that the efforts of hundreds of ordinary volunteers was crucial. Needless to say, the king did not fly in and roll up his sleeves to help with the rescue work!

Thirdly, there is the role of Nationalism in Thai society, fostered by the elites. The “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” ideology is constantly used to exclude people and to enforce obedience towards the upper classes. This has resulted in many racist comments in social media about the drowned Chinese tourists and the Chinese tour operator. Ordinary Thai citizens may count for nothing as far as the Thai State is concerned, but foreigners count for even less as far as the racists are concerned. [See https://bit.ly/1JaeTJY  ]. In addition to this, there are thought to be a million or more stateless people living in Thailand. The Thai government has refused to grant them citizenship. Some of these stateless people were among the members of football team stuck in the cave. One of them was the one with the best language skills who was able to communicate with the British divers. We need to demand that all stateless people be granted citizenship.

Those who support the junta and its plan for Guided Democracy have said that the spirit of cooperation shown in the rescue of the football team proves that Thais can unite across political differences and no doubt forget the destruction of democracy. But for me, the spirit of cooperation shown during the cave rescue shows the potential to build a new and inclusive society in Thailand based upon democracy, equality and socialism.

Thai Junta represses migrant workers

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Migrant workers in Thailand, like migrant workers in many other countries, face repression, poor working conditions, injustice and extortion.

In addition to the day light robbery committed by Thai employers and the corrupt and nasty police, government policies have always made life very difficult.

The Thai junta’s new regulation to crack-down on migrant workers means that they are now forced to jump through extra official hoops and pay even more money to the government for the “privilege” of working in shit jobs. Access to Thai health care is also dependent on this registration process.

The result of the new regulations was that thousands of migrant workers left the country in fear, causing temporary but severe shortages for the cold-hearted bosses of the fishing industry. Other dirty and low paid industries were also temporarily affected.

Some migrant workers posted photos on social media protesting about the excessive documentation and IDs they are required to obtain.

Thai governments have deliberately used the law to either criminalise much needed migrant workers or to “regularise” or “legalise” a minority of them by forcing them to pay high fees and to have the correct documents which are often beyond the reach of most migrants.

This is all designed to keep migrants in a permanent insecure state in order to exploit them. It is also designed to whip up racism and nationalism against migrants. The government knows very well that the economy depends on migrants and that many of them will inevitably be “illegal workers”. Such a policy of criminalising migrants and offering them costly so-called legal alternatives, allows employers to pay low wages and also allows the police, the military and other government officials to extract illegal payments from workers who cannot afford the legal route to employment.

Legal migrant workers are only allowed to work in the areas where they have specifically applied to work. They aren’t even allowed to travel freely throughout the country. Their lives are not dissimilar to the serfs of Europe who were tied to the landlord and not allowed to change their place of work or abode.

Previous Thai governments have put up posters claiming that illegal migrants are the cause of crimes and bring infectious diseases into the country. That such posters caused no controversy in Thai society shows the level of racism encouraged by the ruling class.

Migrant workers are also not allowed to belong to trade unions even when working alongside Thai workers in the same factories. This is an important issue upon which more trade unions should be focussing.

As Karl Marx once wrote: “This antagonism (towards the Irish) is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of it.”

It could have been written about the relationship between Burmese workers and Thai workers.

Human trafficking case only deals with the tip of the iceberg

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The huge human trafficking court case in July where 62 people were given sentences was only the tip of the iceberg in the country’s murky record on human rights.

[See http://bit.ly/2uJ8Hqh ]

Although Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the convictions are a “major step” in combat human trafficking, the trial was criticised by Fortify Rights. Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights stated that “Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured, and killed by human traffickers during the last several years.” The rights organisation criticised the fact that the government did not prevent witnesses and interpreters from being threatened with violence. Most vulnerable were the Rohingya witnesses who are the victims of these gross crimes of trafficking. Despite the fact that the Thai government issued a Cabinet Resolution providing automatic protection to witnesses involved in human trafficking trials, the implementation of this Cabinet Resolution failed to extend to Rohingya witnesses confined to closed-door government-run shelters. [See http://bit.ly/2uA4QeI ]

What is more, the most senior military figure who was on trial, Lt.-Gen. Manas Kongpan, was allowed to give evidence and be cross-examined in secret “in order to protect state security”. At the time of the crimes he was deputy of the special military unit of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4. ISOC was in charge of the disgusting government policy of pushing Rohingya refugees back out to sea. In contrast to government policies, local villagers offered the Rohingya humanitarian help.

In December 2015 the chief police investigator in the case fled the country to seek political asylum in Australia because he was facing intimidation.

This trial raises a number of serious issues.

Firstly, given that a senior member of ISOC was involved in human trafficking, and that his evidence was heard in secret, who else among the top military generals were involved but have so far not been charged?

Secondly, human trafficking of refugees on this scale is only possible because Thailand does not accept the resettlement of refugees within the country. According to Human Rights Watch, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or functioning asylum procedures. Therefore refugees are either forced to live in appalling prison camps indefinitely without the right to work or earn a living, or to become illegal migrants without any protection from exploitation, arrest and deportation. [See http://bit.ly/2uJuZs5 ]

So when will Thailand ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and bring in a humanitarian refugee and asylum law? Given the poor state of human rights for refugees throughout the world and especially in the West, and given the track record of the junta in abusing the rights of Thai citizens, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Within Thailand itself, the rabid nationalism and racism throughout society, which is continuously promoted by the ruling class, means that there is virtually no social movement which calls for the humane settlement of refugees. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ]

Thirdly, we should long ago have stopped idolising the Burmese Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. It is her government in alliance with the Burmese military and extremist Buddhists who have been oppressing the Rohingya and forcing them to escape the country into the arms of the human traffickers.