FUGITIVE red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) Jaran Ditapichai, who has been residing in exile in France since late last year, claims he has been given political asylum since November.
“I feel particularly grateful to France. I feel safe and can live without the fear of being deported,” Jaran said in an interview with The Nation through Facebook from France.
The French Embassy acknowledged that Jaran is in France but refused to deny or confirm his legal status. Spokesman of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Colonel Winthai Suvari, meanwhile said the Foreign Ministry is still checking on Jaran’s status.
The 68-year-old Jaran spent his time in France contacting officials at various European Foreign Ministries, European parliamentarians, lobbying the United Nation’s Human Rights Council and trying to convince the European Union on his version of Thailand.
The anti-coup dissident fled after the coup and is now wanted for both refusing to report to the military junta and allegedly violating the lese majeste law.
Winthai insisted that Jaran is among those Thais abroad who distorts things and attacks Thailand.
“There’s a chance that distortions are being made. The Foreign Ministry explains the situation every now and then to foreign states and they have a better understanding of the situation,” said Winthai.
Jaran said the work he is doing now faces huge odds.
“Things are difficult,” said Jaran, adding that awareness and concerns about the Thai situation are low and European states are more interested about what is happening in Greece, Ukraine and Syria. They are unlikely to increase pressure on the military government of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha,” he said.
However, the former communist rebel of the 1970s, as well as former National Human Rights Commissioner, is pessimistic about the future of Thailand.
“I can’t detect any positive trend. Things are just getting worse and the NCPO is likely to try to hang on to power longer,” said Jaran, adding however that the anti-junta groups will persist.
Asked if he hopes to ever return to Thailand, Jaran said France is likely to be his permanent base due to the lese majeste charge against him and the fact that he is already 68.
Winthai defended the military junta saying many leaders of the previous administration are still living in Thailand and have not been prosecuted while those who fled were merely escaping criminal prosecution such as those fleeing the lese majeste charge.
The junta spokesperson said it’s unclear if the Foreign Ministry has tried to explain its side of the story to France, which reportedly offered at least temporary safe haven to a few other dissidents.
“I can’t say if this is affecting our relations [with France] but so far it hasn’t,” Winthai remarked.
Jaran said the lese majeste charge against him came after the coup and was simply due to the fact that he had chaired an event, which included a theatrical performance that was later deemed offensive to the monarchy.
He’s currently living off his savings but said he will eventually have to look for a job.
Anti-coup Thai restaurants in Paris, which numbered about 10, occasionally host him and Jaran is active on Facebook.
“This is probably going to be my final battle,” said Jaran, referring to the struggle and his residency in France.