Thailand: student supporters of anti-mine dispute in anti-coup protest

mark mark mark at
Sat Nov 22 08:44:07 GMT 2014

Student supporters of anti-mine protest detained after anti-coup protest against
Thai PM

Last wednesday (19th November), a group of students were temporarily detained by
police after disrupting a public address by interim Thai Prime Minister and
leader of the Post-coup military junta in charge of Thailand - Prayut Chan-o-cha
- with an anti-coup protest. Thailand's military enforced a military coup in May
this year.

The 5 students are members of Khon Kaen University's Dao Din student group who
have been supporting a long-standing protest by locals of Ba Na Nong Bong
village in Loei province, North East Thailand against a nearby gold mine
operated by Tungkum Ltd (subsidiary of Tongkah Harbour PCL). The students have
assisted the local villagers suffering from environmental impacts caused by the
mine, namely toxic pollution of the village's local groundwater. The Thai
Ministry of Health and Loei provincial hospitals warned villagers not to consume
water or aquatic animals from two public streams and their artesian wells in the
area after pollution tests found traces of heavy metals and chemical substances,
including cyanide. The company was fined for causing pollution. In October 2012,
villagers believe a waste disposal pool leaked into a natural creek which was
used as a source of water and food.

The case reflects a major dilemma between business and community interests. The
villagers, protesting against environmental damage, blocked public roads to
pressure the company. Meanwhile, the mining company recently sued 22 villagers
for over 270 million baht.

On the night of May 15, over a hundred armed, masked men raided the community,
holding villagers hostage and beating them before letting trucks move minerals
from the mine. The company publicly denied links with the attack. A former army
was identified by locals as directing the mob, and police turned up later after
the mob had fled. The attack occured 1week before the Thai army's military coup,
and the Bangkok Post speculated that the armed gang had prior knowledge of
Thailand's military impending coup. The Thai army took control of the site
shortly after the attack and re-opened the mine and the mine operation.

Dao Din members were also involved in an effort to fend off policemen as they
attempted to disperse a crowd of villagers trying to attend a public hearing in
Sept 2013 on Tungkum Co's expansion of it's gold mining operation in Wang
Saphung district, Loei.

The protest on wednesday of last week targeted the Thai leader of the
military-run government and former army chief Prayut Chan-o-chan on his first
official visit to the north-east region of Thailand (Issan) - the poorest region
of Thailand. Wearing anti-coup t-shirts with the slogan "we don't want the
coup", the students disrupted a public address by the Thai premier in front of
the provincial town-hall, disrupting the address with a 3-fingered salute  which
been a gesture used by anti-coup protestors which has been outlawed by the
present government.  The 3-fingered salute has been taken from the movie 'The
Hunger Games', a film about rebellion against a totalitarian elite. The
students, Wasan Seksit, Jetsathit Namkot, Jatupat Boonpatraksa, Phayu Boonsophon
and Wichakorn Anuchon, were immediately detained and later released after 7
hours. They were ordered to return to an army base with their parents to hear
charges of violating a 'National Council for Peace & Order' decree, which the
students attended but as of Friday 21st Nov, 3 of the 5 students had refused to
sign a document stating that they refrain from conducting any activities that go
against NCPO orders (the NCPO is a post-coup administrative structure that has
been formed by the junta to coordinate security and administrative governance in
Thailand). The military also asked the students to stop mobilising anti-mine
activities in Ban Na Nong Bong village, Wang Sapung district, Loei Province,
where the villagers face threats and intimidation for opposing the mine. The
students insisted that they will continue to support the villagers.

Since their release, the government have commented that the activists will be
called for meetings "to boost their understanding and have their attitudes
adjusted".  The government have come under fire from independent voices, civil
liberty groups, academics and scholars for curtailing freedom of speech, with
other recent incidents including the arrest of land reform advocates after they
held a press conference highlighting how the junta banned them from holding a
talk- show on land- reform and the removal of a Thai PBS journalist from her
role hosting a programme that discussed people's attitude to the coup.

Khon Kaen students released, but 2 remain defiant
Detentions spark new calls for end to martial law
Published: 20 Nov 2014
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Five Khon Kaen University students were released without charge Thursday after
being detained for their anti-coup protest the day before, but only two signed
pledges to end their political activities. 

The law students were released from the Sri Patcharin military camp in Muang
district, according to a Facebook page from the Dao Din political-activist group
of which they are members.

While the five have avoided criminal charges, they must now wait to see whether
the university will take action against them, the group noted.

Jarupan Boonpattararaksa, one of the detained students, told the Prachaithai
website that their parents were called to speak with police, the faculty dean
and provincial officials. Two students,  Namkhot and Payu Boonsophon, agreed to
sign an vow to end their political activities. Wasant Setsit and Witthckorn
Anuchon joined him in refusing to sign, Mr Jarupan said.

The students were taken away by police and soldiers for detention at the army
barracks after they protested against the coup in front of visiting Prime
Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in Khon Kaen province on Wednesday. They showed the
general an anti-coup message emblazoned on their t-shirts and made the
three-finger gesture from The Hunger Games movie series.

In the films, the gesture symbolises rebellion against totalitarian rule. It has
adopted by Thai anti-coup protestors worldwide as a sign of defiance.

Martial Law

The students' detention led to renewed calls for an end to martial law by 102
academics, writers, students and activists.

''Martial law must be immediately lifted to pave the way for the right and
freedom to address problems affecting people,'' they said in the statement. They
also said using martial law to prosecute students and the public was

Prominent figures signing the statement were economist Dejrat Sukkhamnerd of
Kasetsart University, Political scientist Prajak Kongkirati, of Thammasat
University, Prathapjit Neelapaijit of Mahidol University, political scientist
Puangthong Pawakaphan of Chulalongkorn University,  Jacquechai Chomthongd of
Oxfam Thailand and a Free-Trade Agreement Watch coordinator, and veteran writer
Suchat Sawadsri.

Calls government and National Council for Peace and Order action to end martial
law resumed last week after threats by the mass media and the cancellation of a
forum on land forum set for Nov 16. Another forum on land and tax issues with
former finance minister and Democrat Party member Korn Chatikavanij set for
Thursday also was ordered cancelled by soldiers, its organisers said hours
before the event was to begin.

Gen Prayut said at the National Defence College that he was not angry over the
Khon Kaen protest and vowed to continue pursuing reform to heal the country away
of political division.

"No one will visit Thailand if we continue to quarrel. I'm on the people's
side," the general said. "Other countries understand this, but we (at home)
don't. It's as if we are all not speaking the the same language. What I can do
is be patient."

Police spokesman Prawut Thawonsiri defended the action of authorities, saying
measures to control anti-coup activists were necessary so that they will not
disrupt the government. They will be temporarily detained and released after
reaching an "understanding" with authorities, Pol Lt Gen Prawut added.

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