Authorities must protect activists from vicious thugs

opinion June 04, 2019 01:00

By The Nation

Junta under the microscope over failure to act against spate of violent political intimidation 



Authorities must investigate the ongoing spate of attacks on activists, which threaten basic civil rights in Thailand and also undermine claims of reform under five years of military rule.

The junta has supposedly spent the last five years cleansing the country of corruption and the violence it fuels. So why was pro-democracy activist Sirawith Serithiwat, better known as “Ja New”, viciously attacked on Sunday?

Ja New was admitted to hospital in Bangkok with injuries to his shoulder, head and face after at least five attackers beat him with wooden sticks on Ratchada Soi 7. The attack took place as he was collecting signatures for a petition to urge the 250-strong unelected Senate not to vote back into power General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who staged the coup that toppled an elected civilian government five years ago.

Parliament is set to choose a new premier tomorrow and Prayut is among candidates proposed by elected parties. Laws that were designed by his junta allow the unelected senators to vote in the PM selection process.

Ja New and other democracy supporters complain that the process is both unfair and undemocratic. We might add that it is nothing less than ridiculous for General Prayut to choose 250 people in order for them to vote for him to become prime minister.

Prayut promised five years ago after seizing power that he would reform the country to bring reconciliation and democracy. Instead, he has merely suppressed the basic rights of the people. Harassment of activists and anyone who voices political ideas different from those of the junta has been normalised under his regime. 

Ja New was targeted from day one by the junta, as he has championed democracy and civil rights since he was a student activist at Thammasat University. During the past five years he has been charged several times over his protests against the military-backed government.

Sunday marked the first time he had been physically attacked, though. Other activists who speak out on democracy and freedom of expression are more familiar with such brutality. Anurak “Ford” Jeantawanich has been viciously assaulted twice by thugs and Ekkachai Hongkangwan seven times, with two arson attacks on his car.

Ekkachai was last attacked on May 13, when four unidentified assailants beat him outside the Bangkok Criminal Court, breaking his hand and ribs.

Last week, six unidentified men on motorcycles assaulted Anurak near his house in Samut Prakan. The assailants knocked him off his motorcycle before running him down and beating him with metal bars, leaving wounds to his head, face, arms and legs.

As in Ja New’s case, the attack came amid political activism. A day before the assault, Anurak announced on Facebook that he would lead a rally to protest the selection of the House of Representatives’ speaker, which he claimed was part of a conspiracy to help Prayut retain power.

Last week, both Ekkachai and student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak also reported receiving threats of violence. Ekkachai said he received a Facebook message saying someone has ordered him dead, and Parit posted a recording of a Facebook user verbally abusing him and threatening physical harm. 

No suspects have been arrested for the overwhelming majority of these attacks, raising concern about possible government involvement in the violence. If authorities continue turning a blind eye to violence against activists and those with different political opinions, we can reasonably assume that the junta’s reform has failed and the regime is simply using all means available to retain power. Meanwhile it is ignoring the need to protect citizens from political thugs who are waging a campaign of violence and intimidation.