Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) is going through yet another round of visiting political detainees. While Thailand is under the third wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, the country has already seen five waves of detaining protestors in cases related to political assemblies since the first demonstration held by the Free Youth Group.
The first wave was marked by the arrest of Anon Nampa and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok on 7 August 2020, and the second one by the revocation of both activists’ bail in early September 2020.
The third wave saw sweeping arrests of activists between 13 and 15 October 2020. Then the fourth wave followed the pre-trial detention in the #19SeptemberReturnPowerToThePeople rally in early February 2021. Gradually, during May and June 2021, each detained activist was granted bail and released from custody.
This wave marks the fifth round of arrests as ten activists were arrested and detained within a single day. Nine out of ten activists have been held in official custody due to their alleged involvement in the rally in front of the Border Patrol Police (BPP) Region 1 Office at Pathumthani Province on 2 August 2021.
Panadda Sirimassakul, or “Tong Taluhfah,” was the only female activist held in prison.
On 10 August 2021, TLHR tried to visit Tong at the Women’s Correctional Institution for Drug Addicts on Canal Road No. 5. Initially, the correctional authorities apologized that they must refuse to allow visitation because Tong was undergoing a mandatory quarantine. The Department of Corrections has a measure requiring new detainees to undergo a 21-day quarantine before mingling with other detainees. However, we insisted that she should be entitled to her right to access legal counsel. Hence, the authorities eventually permitted us to conduct the visitation via video conference and asked that we wait for them to set up the system.
A few moments later, we entered a meeting room equipped with proper devices, including a brilliant-quality speaker. Three officials stayed in the room as if they were waiting to have a meeting with the lawyers themselves.
We did not believe that the authorities needed to sit in the room and listen to an attorney-client conversation, so we requested to speak with the client privately. The authorities accepted the request, left the room, and stood in front of the door instead. Then our conversation with Tong began.
“I felt obligated to take some action.“
Tong or Panadda, 22, is a fourth-year student at Rajamangala University of Technology, majoring in Tourism in the Faculty of Liberal Arts.
She said that she used to be just a regular university student and did not have much interest in politics before the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in early 2020. “After the party’s dissolution, I felt obligated to take some action, so I organized a flash-mob rally at my university in early 2020. Then following the COVID-19 outbreak, I switched to online activism with student groups from other universities instead. Later, we established the Popular Student Network for Democracy (PSND).”
“After setting up the Network, I got to know more activists. I was introduced to Chuwet Dedittharak and the groups ‘We Fair’ and ‘iCare.’ In the middle of last year, I started organizing rallies outside the university for the first time at the Rangsit Expressway. In some protests, I served as an MC. Meanwhile, I also gave speeches at many other demonstrations. I admire Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa a lot because he was my inspiration. Back in October 2020, Pai was arrested. That incident made me decide to become a full-time activist, which eventually led me to get to know Pai personally.”
“In early 2021, I went on a field mission to learn about issues stemming from the construction of a mine in Loei Province and Chaiyaphum Province. I felt that this team (Taluhfah Group) is very diverse. I also took part in a camp and joined the ‘Taluhfah’ march, a campaign in which the protestors walked for 247.5 kilometers from Nakhon Ratchasima to the Democracy Monument in Bangkok. We think the march was a symbolic act to give moral support for our activist friends held in detention.”
“After Pai was put in jail, we set up a ‘Taluhfah’ village near the Government House. I stayed there for approximately two weeks. There were musical performances, academic seminars, and speeches. Later, the Riot Control police officers used force to disperse us in one early morning.” Tong was one of the protestors arrested that morning.
Once Pai got out of jail, he returned to his home in Khon Kaen and continued to organize “Standing Taluhfah” activities near the Mittrapab Road Intersection in front of the Khon Kaen University for 30 days.
At present, Tong faces five cases due to her involvement in political activities. Such activities include the #27Nov rally for preparing for resisting a military coup at Ha Yaek Lat Phrao station, the rally in front of the Phu Khiao police station for demanding police officers to apologize for harassing students in Chaiyaphum Province, the establishment of the ‘Taluhfah’ Village in front of the Government House, the #PeopleInsistOnPushingTheCeiling rally on 24 June 2021, and the most recent case for the rally in front of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 Office which serves as the basis for her current detention.
“Tong” was one of the protestors charged for being involved in the demonstration in front of the Phu Khiao police station.
Peaceful means are not always orderly, but they neither kill nor injure anyone.
Tong shared that she had a chance to ponder the use of peaceful means for driving changes during a discussion at the camp she organized.
“I organized a camp on activism through peaceful means and invited college students, vocational school students, and secondary school students to attend it. We opened up a space for discussing what peaceful means are. I believe that if our actions cause disturbance for people in power but do not harm anyone, we could call them “peaceful means.” We might do something illegal, but our actions would not affect anyone’s life. We organized three camps and recruited more activists every time. One participant asked me whether they should simply stand still when the police officers use force. I told them that it is not easy to practice peaceful means. We must develop self-restraint. Still, it is better than responding with violence.”
“On 1 August, we joined a car mob. During the activity, our car equipped with an amplifier was confiscated. We thought it was wrong. Therefore, on the next day (2 August), the Taluhfah Group went to the Wipawadee Club to search for the car. Later, we joined a group of Thammasat University students to gather in front of the Border Patrol Police office and demand the authorities to release Pai and stop blocking venues to allow public use. A group of protestors splashed paint at the police officers. From my perspective, that was a peaceful means.”
“Peaceful means are not always orderly, but they neither kill nor injure anyone. When a large group of Riot Control Police officers arrived at the venue, we ended the demonstration. Then later, I received my warrant.”
The further I stepped away from the Court, the more I felt that my rights and liberties were being restricted.
On 9 August, Tong reported to the police per the instruction provided in the warrant. She was not arrested, but the authorities requested the Thanyaburi Provincial Court to authorize holding her and eight other activists in remand. “After the Court denied our bail, we engaged in civil disobedience by refusing to get on a prison van for detainees. We all stood together and locked arms. Still, the authorities gradually pulled each of us and took us into the van. At last, only Penguin, Nut, and I were the last three persons. The authorities used force with us, and my activist friends struggled to resist. I think they got injured quite badly.”
“On that day, three prison vans came to the Court to take us for detention. I was the only one in the third van because the authorities had to take me to the hospital. During the incident mentioned above, I was short of breath and felt suffocated. I did not have the strength to stand up, so I fell on the floor. At first, I refused to go to the hospital, but the authorities brought me into the van. They did not turn on the van’s air conditioner, so I could not breathe. I am also claustrophobic, which made the situation worse. The authorities took me to the hospital, and the doctor said that I was probably suffering from excessive stress. Still, I was not prescribed any medicine. The hospital let me lay down for a while. Then the authorities took me back to the prison where they gave me two sleeping pills.”
“Now I have some bruises from the struggles before the authorities took me into the van. My health has gotten better. Still, yesterday, I got out of the Court, I felt that the further I stepped away from the Court, the more I felt that my rights and liberties were being restricted.”
“I am the only person staying on my floor. I have three blankets on my bed. No one else stays here with me. I could barely eat because I do not normally eat the vegetable.”
“Getting arrested makes me want to fight even harder.”
Tong continues to pursue her studies alongside her involvement in political activism. Due to COVID-19, all her classes are conducted online. Nonetheless, in the previous semester, she decided to put off her studies temporarily because she could not secure an internship due to the pandemic’s impacts on the tourism sector, which is directly relevant for her area of studies.
“On Thursday, I have examinations for two of my courses, but I already told my friends to help inform the professors. Still, if I get detained for a long time, it would also impact my midterm tests. I am not sure whether my professors would allow me to take the tests at a later date.”
When asked whether she has any other concerns apart from educational matters, Tong responded no. She said she would like to continue fighting even at the cost of her freedom.
“They arrested us because they wanted to frighten us and force us to stop mobilizing. Still, getting arrested makes me want to fight even harder because I do not want anyone to experience the same thing – to be detained in prison and called a criminal even though we did not do anything wrong or kill anyone. The feeling of being in prison is horrible. When leaving the Court, I asked myself why I should be arrested and why anyone should have to go through this injustice.”
When asked if she would like to communicate anything to the public, Tong said, “Please do not worry about me. Please carry on the fight for democracy. I will also continue to fight and meet you at the end of the tunnel.”
The right to access a lawyer
When we got out of the prison, we met an activist from the Taluhfah Group who bought some stuff and money for Tong’s use while she is in prison. Relatives and friends could not visit the detainees during the quarantine period; they could only leave things or money for them. After the quarantine period is over, a limited number of visitors would be allowed to meet the detainees virtually via the chatting application ‘Line’ for a limited number of times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting the detainees for several months; however, it seems that the Department of Corrections still has not considered how they could ensure the detainee’s rights to access a lawyer more effectively.
Three correctional facilities, including the Rangsit Temporary Prison, Women’s Correctional Institution for Drug Addicts, and Central Correctional Institution for Drug Addicts, have denied lawyers the right to visit their activist clients during the detention. The lawyers must negotiate and insisted on this right until they were granted permission in two facilities, except for the Central Correctional Institution for Drug Addicts, where the authorities persistently barred the lawyers from visiting “Pai” or Jatupat during the quarantine period.
Many officials on the ground have accommodated the lawyers during the visitations well. However, the current policy on visiting the detainees during the quarantine period, characterized by the lack of consideration regarding the detainee’s right to access a lawyer, leads to difficult challenges. Furthermore, such a policy could potentially deprive detainees in non-political cases of their right to access a lawyer and curtail their fundamental rights and freedoms as well.
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