16 land rights activists in Thailand are facing prosecution for holding a prolonged sit-in protest in Bangkok. The details were released in statements issued on January 14 and 15 by the People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move), a coalition of Indigenous and land rights movements from different parts of Thailand.
The Nang Loeng police station in Bangkok issued summons to each of the activists on February 8 asking them to report to the police on February 22. The activists received the summons between February 12 and February 15.
The activists are charged with violating the State of Emergency decree which was passed by prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government in March 2020 as a counter-pandemic measure to limit public gatherings. But the government decree has been used in several instances to prosecute political activists and protesters.
According to P-Move, the activists include four Slum Network members, two members of the pro-democracy Thalufa group, two members of the Community Network for Social and Political Reform, two from the Northern Peasant Federation, two from the Save Bang Kloi coalition, one member of the Indigenous Bang Kloi community, and two members of the P-Move Secretariat.
Of the 16 people, Pachara Kamchamnan, a member of the Save Bang Kloi Coalition, was the first to report receiving the summons. The prosecuted persons also include a 17-year-old girl, also part of the Save Bang Kloi movement. According to Pachara, the prosecution is related to a two-week-long demonstration that began outside the United Nations’ office in Bangkok on January 20. It was organized by P-Move and saw participation of members of the Bang Kloi community.
The demonstration began with a gathering outside the UN office and was followed by a march to the Government House which houses the prime minister’s office and other major government offices. Activists had occupied the Nang Loeng Intersection close to the Government House until 3 February. The protest ended after the government responded to the demands raised by Indigenous activists, especially the Bang Kloi villagers.
Condemning the prosecutions as extremely unjust, P-Move accused the government of displaying its “deceit” to the protesters. P-Move’s statement also added that the government should not use judicial measures against activists in the name of COVID-19, and that activists were only exercising their constitutional right to demand for their rights.
According to Prachatai, the group also demanded that the government end the prosecution against the activists and repeal the emergency decree. The group also stated that it will coordinate efforts across Thailand to work for its repeal.
The movement for Bang Kloi
The Bang Kloi community, a group of displaced Indigenous Karens on the Thai-Myanmar borders, have been protesting for the return of their ancestral lands near the Bang Kloi river. They faced conservation-induced displacement in 1997 after the government closed off the lands as part of the Kaeng Krachan National Park that is now a major tourist destination.
The January protest was in response to alleged intimidation by government forces and for the release of 40 Indigenous activists and community leaders who were arrested after forcible eviction and crackdown on a major occupation site at Chai Phaen Din within the Kaeng Krachan National Park in March 2021.
Nearly 90 people were arrested, of whom at least 36 were minors. The government’s crackdown came despite an MoU (memorandum of understanding) with the Bang Kloi community allowing for limited return to Chai Phaen Din and protection from unnecessary intimidation.
Shortly after, in July 2021, the national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site despite widespread concerns and a divided World Heritage Committee that voted 12-9 in favor. Experts of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), who reviewed the Bang Kloi’s human rights situation, had warned the World Heritage Committee that approving the forest as a World Heritage Site will only reinforce the Bang Kloi’s displacement.
“There has not been good faith consultations with the community allowing them to participate in the UNESCO nomination process,” the experts had stated. “Should the nomination as heritage status be approved it would perpetuate the denial of the Karen’s right to remain on their traditional lands and carry out their traditional livelihood activities based on rotational farming. It would also undermine their important role in safeguarding biodiversity in the forest.”