Archive for January 2009
By Olivia Rondonuwu
Sobbing in an Indonesian hospital, a Rohingya migrant from Myanmar said Thursday he faced certain death if forced home, piling more pressure on countries in the region to treat the Muslim minority as refugees.
“We have heard we’d be sent back to Myanmar,” Noor Mohammad, one of a group of Rohingya who washed up off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province three weeks ago, told Al Jazeera English Television.
“In that case, we will ask the Indonesians to kill us. Better we die in the hands of Muslims,” he added. “If we go back, we’ll definitely be killed.”
His testimony shines a harsh light on the plight of the former Burma’s estimated 800,000 Rohingya, and the Thai military’s handling of the hundreds who flee in rickety wooden boats every year in search of better lives.
The Thai army has admitted to towing hundreds far out to sea before cutting them adrift, but has insisted they had adequate food and water and denied persistent reports the boats’ engines were sabotaged.
Of 1,000 Rohingya given such treatment since early December, 550 are feared to have drowned.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has made much of his respect for human rights in his six weeks in office, has also tried to paint the Rohingya as illegal economic migrants rather than genuine asylum seekers.
In its preliminary look at the 193 who washed up on Aceh, Jakarta came to a similar conclusion.
Neither Thailand nor Indonesia are signatories to the widely accepted 1951 Refugee Convention which defines who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligation of states.
TRANSPARENT INVESTIGATION PROMISED
The view of Indonesia and Thailand that they are economic migrants is at odds with Mohammad’s testimony, as well as that of a group 78 Rohingya now in Thai police custody with wounds on their bodies they say were inflicted by Myanmar naval officials.
Mohammad said his group were intercepted by the Myanmar navy as they chugged south towards Thailand and Malaysia, and were beaten but then released.
“We were told by the navy not to come this way again and to tell others to also not come this way,” he said, adding they were then given some fuel, a compass and directions to Thailand. “When we got to Thailand we were tortured and detained.”
Thailand promised a transparent investigation into the allegations of army abuse, but said the probe would be led by the shadowy military unit at the heart of the scandal.
More than two weeks after the reports first emerged, it remains unclear why the army’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), set up in the Cold War to oversee anti-communist death squads, is now in charge of stopping Rohingya migrants.
“It’s our internal arrangement and if the military investigation is not satisfactory, we can set up another group to do it,” Foreign Minister Kasit Piromyas told reporters after meeting U.N. refugee officials in Bangkok.
Shortly after the meeting, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials were allowed access to 12 minors among the 78 in police custody in the Thai province of Ranong. The group are due to be deported after five days detention.
UNHCR spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey said the children, aged between 14 and 17, were in good condition, wearing clean clothes and able to talk freely. She said she could not reveal details of what they said before approval from the Thai government.
“They expressed their extreme gratitude to the Thai navy for saving their lives,” she said.
According to the UNHCR, 230,000 Rohingya now live in Bangladesh, having fled their ancestral homes in northwest Myanmar after decades of abuse and harassment at the hands of its Buddhist military rulers.
The junta does not recognise them as one of the country’s 130-odd ethnic minorities, and those in the northwest are restricted from travel inside the country. Besides Bangladesh, there are large numbers of Rohingya in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Jeremy Laurence)
Ranong,Thailand: A Thai court on Wednesday convicted 66 men detained at sea of illegally entering the country, raising the prospect they could be deported despite fears they may face persecution or death if sent back to Myanmar.
A Ranong provincial court judge fined each defendant 1,000 baht, or about $30 – a sum that none of them could produce. So he sentenced them to five days in prison. Four others were brought in from the hospital to face sentencing, one carried by two men because his legs were broken.
The Thai Navy detained the Rohingya migrants on Monday after their rickety boat was found adrift in the Andaman Sea off the southwestern coast of Thailand. The Thai government contends that the migrants do not qualify for refugee status, and a police official said that they would be turned over to immigration police after they served their sentence and could be expelled. “Have pity on us,” one migrant, Mamoud Hussain, said before the ruling. “They’ll kill me and my family if I go back.” Hussain, 50, was among 78 migrants on the boat. Twelve minors were being held separately by the immigration police because they were too young to be tried in the court, said Colonel Weerasilp Kwanseng of the Ranong police.
The plight of the Rohingyas – a stateless, Muslim ethnic group who fled persecution in Myanmar, also known as Burma – was highlighted earlier this month following accusations that some of them had been abused by the Thai authorities. Human rights groups say the Thai Navy has twice intercepted boats filled with hundreds of Rohingyas from Bangladesh and abandoned them at sea, where hundreds later died.
But the Washington group Refugees International has warned that any Rohingya repatriated to Myanmar “is subject to arrest and abuse.
” Hussain said that his group fled Myanmar about a month ago to escape poverty and persecution and that the Myanmar Navy intercepted their vessel as it sailed south toward Thailand. He said soldiers from four boats boarded their vessel with wooden and metal rods and beat them.
“They told us there are no Muslims in Burma, and they continued to beat us,” he said. The migrants were detained for 10 days and then let go. “They told us not to come back again, or they’ll shoot us all.”
Tens of thousands of Rohingyas live in camps in Bangladesh, where many have been granted refugee status. Many more brave the seas in search of a better life. One of the most popular migration routes has been by boat from Bangladesh or Myanmar to Thailand then overland to Malaysia.
Colonel Manat Kongpan of the Thai Army said a navy patrol found the migrants near Surin Island in Ranong, 460 kilometers, or 285 miles, southwest of Bangkok. They were handed over to police custody. The Thai police fed the emaciated, haggard migrants and treated their injuries.
The Thai authorities’ care for the migrants was covered on state television in an apparent attempt to mitigate some of the damage done to Thailand’s image earlier this month when a refugee advocacy group based in Bangkok accused the navy of forcing as many as 1,000 mostly Rohingya migrants out to sea in boats with no engines and little food or water. The Arakan Project said as many as 300 later drowned.
The Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has said the authorities would investigate the allegations.
Chin reportedly persecuted
Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that the ruling military junta in Myanmar was subjecting the ethnic Chin people to torture, arbitrary arrest, forced labor, extrajudicial killings and religious persecution, Mark McDonald reported from Hong Kong.
The oppression has forced tens of thousands of Chin to flee from western Myanmar to India, the group said.
The rights group, which is based in New York, issued a report on the plight of the Chin at a news conference Wednesday in Bangkok. Compiled from nearly four years of interviews and investigations, it calls on the Indian federal government and Mizoram State officials to extend protections to the Chin, a predominantly Baptist minority.
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
January 24, 2009
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will seek royal pardons for two religious teachers who were jailed for life in Cambodia on terrorist charges.
Muhammad Yalaluding and Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, both from Yala province, received life sentences in December 2003 on charges of helping the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) plot a terrorist attack in Cambodia.
Kasit will meet the two teachers with their families during a visit to Phnom Penh tomorrow and Monday, said Foreign Ministry deputy directorgeneral for East Asian Affairs Pisanu Suvanajata.
The Thai embassy in Phnom Penh has already requested a pardon from Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni, but it will take time, he said.
They were arrested in May 2003 with Egyptian Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali, who was acquitted of the same charge due to lack of evidence.
Cambodian law allows a pardon when prisoners have served more than onethird of their jail terms.
The five years they have served is long enough for this, Pisanu said. Thailand cannot request prisoner transfer since Bangkok has no agreement on this with Cambodia, he said.
The men were arrested after Singaporean JI operative Arifin bin Ali, who was arrested in Bangkok in May 2003, alleged that they were members of the terror group and had helped plan an attack. The same allegation by Arifin led to the arrest of four Thai Muslims in Thailand, including wellknown physician Waemahadi Waedao. The four were later acquitted of plotting attacks on Bangkok embassies.
Thaksin told the Japanese journalist that he is looking for a new source of income almost every day in order to cover the expenses. He explained that he had to sell Man City Football club for the same reason.
Thaksin expected that Pheu Thai Party would keep on supporting him but he said it was not possible for him to give any financial support to the party under current atmosphere.
The interview was published in Asahi Newspaper on January 17, 2009 in its international news section.
In this interview, Thaksin repeated several times that his financial position is in difficult condition so that he is not able to give any financial support to his supporters or Pheu Thai Party at this moment.
Excerpts of the interview, which represented Thaksin’s first contact to Japanese media since he left Bangkok in August last year, are as follows:
S: What is the main reason forcing you to face this difficult situation? Was it because you sold your (Shin Corp) shares without paying any tax?
T : That was not main reason, I believe. In fact, it was not possible for me to pay tax according to the law at that time. It is true that this matter gave some impact to activate anti-Thaksin camp at that time. But there were some underground work to put label of “lese majeste” on me by some group of people since the time I was in peak of my status as PM of Thailand. Actually, I respect Thai Monarch much more than any other people but it seems there were some misunderstandings among group of advisors to our king.
S : What is your opinion of the new government?
T : Democrats got their power of majority by receiving support from the courts, the army and the Privy Council. They keep on asking me to stay away from Thai politics simply because they are not confident to win their power if I am still involved in politics. I believe it is the Army and the Privy Council who must stay away from politics.
S : Are you still willing to fight?
T : I will be 60 years old in July this year. I would rather prefer to have a peaceful life and wishing to see reconciliation of Thai people. However, there has been no approach from the government or the anti-Thaksin camps asking for any talks with me. I cannot die without proving my justice. I trust my supporters will keep on fighting against them even after my life ends here.
S : Tell me something about the main figures of anti-Thaksin camp.
T : Sondhi (Limthongkul), one of the PAD leaders is a puppet of anti-Thaksin force. He used to be one of my major supporters when I was PM in the early days. He told me that he would like to own a TV station but I told him it would be difficult because of the law. This was the reason why he suddenly turned himself to the enemy’s side. It was really big mistake that I offered top position of Army to Gen Sonthi (Boonyaratglin), who lead the coup in 2006. I should not have chosen him as the top commander. It was my big mistake in my life. Gen Anupong (Paochinda, the current armuy chief) is also one of the puppets like Gen Sonthi.
S : Do you regret your decision to become politician?
T : Yes, certainly I do. Maybe I am being punished for something I did in my former life…You see, I lost my money and assets. Politic is a job which must be handled by “Doraemon” not by “Nobita”…
By Kok Sap 21/01/2009
Comment: Indeed,it’s 30 or so year late for Bangkok Post to mention how justice was ignored. All these times, I remebered then Thailand had first hand evidences and accounts from fleeing victims between 1976-1979. But for unknown reasons,why Thailand undisclosed such crimes to UNHCR investigatives.
To my recollection, Bangkok Post editorial failed to account hatred and genocidal crimes that took toll on Kambuja refugees under Thailand jurisdiction.
Also I am unconvinced that the paper did not know about 1977 Thai undeclared war and excursions under General Vajiralongkorn (Mahidol Prince) supervision along Chantha Buri , Surin,Sirisakesh and Prachin Buri borderlines with Kambuja . Consequently this war had triggered Thai hatred and vengeance to get even with Kambuja on the fleeing and destitute refugees from 1976 onward.
The end results, thousands of fleeing Kambujian were massacred, robbed, raped, and dumped to be killed in hot battle zones between invaders, Yuon, and Democratic Kambuja. Some were imprisoned on charges of illegal entering Thailand without proper documents. The prisoners were asked to pay in US dollar or gold to the detaining officials in exchange for release or admittance to transit camps for third country resettlement.
Other thousands,against their will,Thai armed forces turned them over to Democratic Kambuja controlled zones. Then under General Kriangsak government,Thailand turned other cheek and refused refugees rights to safety. The editorial seemed to remind me how prejudice and selective Thailand was from then and now.
Let the victims of KR decide
Published: 21/01/2009 at 12:00 AM
The wheels of justice have turned ever so slowly in the 30 years since invading Vietnamese troops brought to a close the terrible reign of the Khmer Rouge (KR) in Cambodia, and the world got a first glimpse of the magnitude of the carnage they left behind. Revisiting those horrors is sure to be painful, but it is a necessary part of closing that sad chapter in Cambodia’s long and proud history.
It was announced this week that a UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia has set Feb 17 as the starting date for the trial of Kaing Guek Eav – Comrade Duch – for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
After years of haggling between Cambodian and international prosecutors over procedural details, Duch will be the first Khmer Rouge leader to face justice for the horrors the regime unleashed on the Cambodian people, unless one counts the impromptu trial of Comrade No. 1, Pol Pot, in 1997 carried out by his former comrades, which did nothing to further the healing process. Pol Pot was sentenced to house arrest and died unrepentant a year later.
Duch probably has the highest profile of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, partly because of the popularity with tourists of the gruesome prison, now a museum, that he ran in the centre of Phnom Penh. At his instructions, detailed notes were kept on the torture of prisoners.
Besides Duch, Nuon Chea known as Brother No.2; Ieng Sary, former Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister and foreign minister; his wife Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan, former chairman of the Khmer Rouge state presidium, are currently detained and awaiting trial.
There is much debate over how extensively the tribunal should now seek out the guilty. With the blood of an estimated two million people on their hands, from 1975 to 1979, the list of potential Khmer Rouge defendants is a very long one.
For the time being at least the tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia and overseen jointly by the Cambodian government and the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (Unakart), is only going after those who were at the very top.
According to a report in the Phnom Penh Post, Robert Petit, the international prosecutor at the tribunal, filed a “statement of disagreement” last month after he failed to enlist support from Chea Leang, the Cambodian prosecutor, for his proposal to submit more suspects for investigation.
Ms. Leang says she is opposed to expanding the list of defendants beyond the five currently detained because she feels it could be counter-productive to national reconciliation, as well as prohibitively expensive.
Fittingly, there is an effort under way to allow surviving victims a say in the decision on whether to expand the prosecutions list. A survey commissioned by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) will ask ordinary Cambodians to answer the question: Should additional suspects be brought to trial?
Survey respondents will also weigh in on whether the cost of the trials should be an important factor; if they expect additional prosecutions would lead to “public disorder or violence”; and whether the trials of the current detainees should be completed before issuing fresh indictments. Time is running out and the age and health of those facing trial rule out lengthy delays.
There is a lot of wisdom in this approach. DC-Cam director Youk Chhang has promised the survey would be conducted professionally and promptly. As Mr. Chhang said, “Victims are not only witnesses of history; they are also judges.”
Historic moment of the nation of immigrants,homeless, and braves from seashores of political persecution.
By Seth Mydans and Mark McDonald
Published: January 19, 2009
Bangkok: An Australian writer was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for insulting the Thai monarchy in a self-published novel.
Harry Nicolaides, 41, originally received a six-year sentence, which the court said it reduced because he had pleaded guilty. The book, “Verisimilitude,” was published in 2005 and reportedly sold fewer than a dozen copies.
The case was brought under the country’s strict lèse-majesté laws, which call for a jail term of up to 15 years for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent.”
The presiding judge said Monday that parts of the book “suggested that there was abuse of royal power.”
The boundaries of the law are unclear, and cases can be brought by any citizen, involving a variety of alleged offenses. Dozens of cases are now pending. In addition, the government has closed down more than 2,000 Web sites that it says include material insulting to the monarchy.
Nicolaides, who had been an English teacher in Thailand, was detained Aug. 31 as he was about to board a plane home, apparently unaware that an arrest warrant had been issued against him.
“At nighttime he’s in a cell with at least 50 other people,” Nicolaides’s attorney, Mark Dean, said in an interview last month with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “The sanitary conditions, to put it mildly, are basic. People suffer from TB and HIV. There is violence within the cell.”
A news release about the novel, posted on a blog called Costa del Gangster, called the book “an uncompromising assault on the patrician values of the monarchy.” It said the book was “savage, ruthless and unforgiving” in revealing a society “obsessed with Western affluence and materialism.”
Nicolaides reportedly printed only 50 copies of the book – a paperback, with a bright blue butterfly on the cover – and sold just 10. Long out of print, it is not listed on Amazon.com or other booksellers’ Web sites.
“I think it’s reasonable to say that just writing a simple paragraph in a novel, to expect that would land you in such serious legal trouble, must have come as a surprise for Harry,” Andrew Walker, a fellow in the Asia-Pacific Program at Australian National University, said on ABC.
“I think Thailand is trying to send a message to international media, to writers, to bloggers, to people who are putting material on the Internet that the royal family is out of bounds.”
The lèse-majesté cases come at a time of growing concern about the eventual succession of the highly revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is 81. He has no official political role but is a unifying force and peacemaker in a nation that has become increasingly factionalized and acrimonious.
Last week the new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said that the monarchy must be protected because it offers “immense benefits to the country as a stabilizing force.” But he said he would try to ensure that the law was not abused. Most cases involve Thai citizens, although foreigners are sometimes also accused.
In 2006 a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for spray-painting over images of the king. He was pardoned by the king and released after serving about a month. A reporter for the BBC, Jonathan Head, was accused of lèse-majesté late last year in a complaint that cited reports he and others had written for the company. The company denies the allegations and says it is cooperating with the authorities.
One of the most prominent current cases involves a leading Thai academic and writer, Ji Ungpakorn, who has been called to a hearing Tuesday. He said the charge involves a book he wrote about the military coup in September 2006 that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
At a news conference last week, he said the law “restricts freedom of speech and expression and does not allow for public accountability and transparency of the institution of the monarchy.”
In November, a prominent social critic and Buddhist intellectual, Sulak Sivaraksa, was charged with lèse-majesté for questioning the need for lavish celebrations of the king’s reign.
Last April, an activist named Chotisak Onsoong, was summoned by the police after refusing to stand up during the playing of the royal anthem before a movie. And a former government minister under Thaksin, Jakrapob Penkair, has been charged in connection with remarks he made at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
The police are obliged to investigate any charge of lèse-majesté, and Jakrapob said an accusation could be used as a political weapon. Accusations of disrespect for the monarchy were stated as one reason for the coup that removed Thaksin.
Mark McDonald reported from Hong Kong.
Australian convicted of lese majeste
By: AFP 19/1/2009
- The Criminal Court on Monday sentenced an Australian writer to three years in jail after finding him guilty of insulting Thailand’s revered royal family in a novel, a judge said. Harry Nicolaides, 41, pled guilty to the charge earlier on Monday. He has been in custody for nearly five months.
The charge relates to a passage in a novel titled Verisimilitude self-published by Nicolaides in 2005. The passage is considered offensive to the monarchy.
“He was found guilty under criminal law article 112 and the court has sentenced him to six years, but due to his confession, which is beneficial to the case, the sentence is reduced to three years,” a judge told the court.
“He has written a book that libelled the King, the Crown Prince and Thailand and the monarchy,” the judge added. Article 112 refers to the lese majeste laws protecting the monarchy from insult. They carry a maximum sentence of 15 years.
Nicolaides, who had previously worked as a university lecturer in northern Thailand, was detained at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport departure lounge last 31 on an arrest warrant issued two-and-a-half years earlier.
Jan 15th 2009 | SINGAPORE
The Economist print edition
New limits on the freedom of speech
LIKE their counterparts in China, Vietnam’s ruling Communists seem even more than usually sensitive to criticism. This month two leading reformist newspaper editors, Nguyen Cong Khe, of Thanh Nien (Young People), and Le Hoang, of Tuoi Tre (Youth Daily), were both told that their contracts would not be renewed, apparently because they were too good at their jobs. Their papers have assiduously uncovered official corruption, most notably with a joint exposé in 2006 about a crooked transport-ministry road-building unit. The journalists behind that story were punished by a Hanoi court last October for “abusing democratic freedoms”. Now it looks as if their editors, too, have been culled. A spate of other arrests last year suggests a wider clampdown.
Ever since the start of doi moi (renewal) reforms in 1986, economic liberalisation has been accompanied by a gradual political loosening. There are around 700 newspapers in circulation. All are government controlled, but some are relatively outspoken. Meanwhile, a young, tech-savvy population has taken to reading opinion on the internet, in blogs penned by pseudonymous authors. These commentators are questioning government policy with increasing zeal. A day after the two journalists were arrested last year, their newspapers openly attacked the government’s actions, hitting a few raw nerves. The government now also wants to curb the pesky bloggers, announcing rules in December restricting politically sensitive content on the internet.
One consequence may be a loss of steam in the drive against official corruption. Despite some highly publicised successes, critics contend that only low-ranking officials have so far been charged under a 2005 anti-corruption law. So it looks as if the government has moved to neuter the press before a big fish is caught. But David Koh, of Singapore’s Institute of South-East Asian Studies, says that Vietnamese journalists are not always blameless. Some newspapers, facing intense competition for readers, have resorted to making up the “news”. Tran Le Thuy, a former journalist at Tuoi Tre, argues that in the absence of a proper libel or privacy law, the state has no tools for correcting alleged untruths other than politically-laden charges such as “abusing democratic freedoms”.
All this comes at an inopportune time, as cracks have started to appear in Vietnam’s economy. Fears of a currency crisis shook investor confidence last April. Now, demand for Vietnam’s manufactured exports has plummeted, and foreign investment is likely to be constrained by the global credit shortage. The country faces the prospect of the sharpest economic decline in a generation. The Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company to The Economist, forecasts that growth will slow from 6.1% in 2008 to just 3.2% in 2009.
With thousands of Vietnamese likely to lose their jobs this year, the risk of social unrest in the country will surely rise. The government might be tempted to reassert its authority by quashing all criticism. However, sacking and jailing journalists and bloggers rather than corrupt officials is unlikely to win it many friends.