Visits, telephone calls threaten retribution at home and workplace
As political tensions have risen in Thailand over what many think is the approaching end of the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the military has begun attempting to intimidate exiled opponents of the regime by threatening their families.
One of the most outspoken is Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former member of Thailand’s foreign service. He was teaching at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan when the junta led by Prayuth Chan-ocha led the coup that brought down democratic government in 2014. In addition to his position in Japan, he is currently a Beaufort Visiting Scholar at St John’s College, University of Cambridge.
The author of two books, Pavin is also the editor of the upcoming book Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand’s Political developments Since Thaksin’s Downfall. In late 2011, Pavin led a nationwide campaign to free a political prisoner named Akong, who was accused of lese-majeste and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Akong later died of cancer while still in prison.
As the government has sought to reach overseas to get at critics, they have demanded that Japan and other nations extradite him and his fellow critics back to Thailand.
In late 2014, Prawit Wongsuwan, the deputy prime minister and interior minister, told a press conference the junta is warning foreign governments they should “think twice about their long-term relations with Thailand,” and that they should hunt down lèse majesté suspects in exile
“We must express to other countries how these [lèse majesté suspects] have committed crimes according to Thai law,” Prawit said. On the same day, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that although western countries respect democracy and human rights, they should think of their long-term relations with Thailand.
Most countries have ignored the threats. There are large contingents of exiles in the United States and the UK. However, Cambodia and Laos have confirmed that they would not allow Thai political exiles to stage political movements.
So far, no government has agreed to send any of the exiles home.
On Feb. 24, a few hours before he was to deliver a lecture to an Oxford University audience, Pavin received a call from his sister, asking him to contact her urgently. When he did, she said four members of the military had shown up at the family home in Bangkok. It isn’t the first time the military has sought to intimidate his family. Army officers visited his home twice in 2015, seeking to persuade his family to get him to shut up.
Now the military has demanded that his entire family in Bangkok to report to an army camp and that if they don’t do so, the military will again revisit their home.
“My sister felt that the threat this time was real,” Pavin said. “There are fears that my family members could be hurt, or their jobs affected. Undoubtedly, the military will be most likely responsible for such actions. It is no exaggeration to mention that there were cases of enemies of the monarchy being punished and even killed – the case of the famed fortune-teller Moh Yong testified this possibility.”