This September marks the first anniversary of the reports on the crackdown of individuals allegedly involved with the “Organization For a Thai Federation.” Arrests of those wearing black T-shirts with red and white stripes initially had people wondering about the cryptic meaning of the symbol. Members of the public and even avid political followers had little clue as to the purpose of this organization. They had no idea why the military authorities were detaining people with the shirts or symbol.
Organization For a Thai Federation, from the national security perspective
According to the national security authorities and their information in 2018, which has since been used to incriminate many individuals, members of the so called “Organization For a Thai Federation” are people who are opposed to the NCPO and have since taken refuge in Laos. There are five core leaders among them including Wuthipong Kachathamakul, aka “Ko Tee”, Mr. Wat Wallayangku, Mr. Chucheep Chivasut, aka “Uncle Sanam Luang”, Mr. Siam Theerawut, aka “Comrade Khao Neaw Ma Muang”, and Mr. Kritsana Tupthai, aka “Comrade Young Blood.”
It is claimed the group wants to topple the government, the NCPO and the monarchy, and to turn Thailand from a constitutional monarchy into a republic with a President as Head of State, as well as to divide Thailand into multiple independent states.
According to security authorities, the group has used online media to spread their ideology, in particular running YouTube-based radio stations or so called “pirate radio.” The three latter core members, Chucheep, Siam and Kritsana are cohosts of a radio program called “The Three Musketeers.” The group promulgated the symbolic white flag with red and white stripes and produced and distributed the black T-shirts and stickers to members as a form of activism. They are also alleged to have distributed fliers in public places.
It was rumored among core members that Wuthipong, or “Ko Tee”, had been missing since July 2017, which time he was living in self-imposed exile in a neighboring country. The rumor was verified by Jom Petchpradab, a freelance journalist, who quoted a close aide to Ko Tee as saying that he had been abducted from his residence on 29 July 2017 by a group of ten fully-armed men clad in black and wearing ski masks. His fate since then remains unknown. Ko Tee’s involvement in the movement of the Organization For a Thai Federation in 2018 cannot be clearly established.
In December 2018, a potential enforced disappearance of three more political exiles was reported, namely Surachai Danwattananusorn, Kraidet Luelert and Chatchawan Bubphawan, hosts of a political radio program who had criticized the Thai monarchy whilst living in Laos. A few weeks later, towards the end of the month, the dead bodies of Kraidet and Chatchawan were found after they had visibly suffered horrific murders and had their bodies thrown into the Mekong.
This preceded the gradual disappearance of “The Three Musketeers’” online presence. In May 2019, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights (TAHR) published information that “The Three Musketeers”, Chucheep, Siam and Kritsana, had been deported by Vietnam to Thailand as of 8 May 2019. The three were allegedly arrested whilst attempting to enter Vietnam illegally from Laos in late January. The Thai authorities, however, denied all knowledge of the alleged deportations. Until now, their whereabouts remains unknown.
Wat Wallayangkul, a freelance writer and political exile has also been accused by the security authorities of involving with the movement of the Organization For a Thai Federation. In July 2019 BBC Thai reported that Wat had been granted a political asylum in France.
An overview of domestic legal actions against the Organization For a Thai Federation
In addition to reports of the heinous violence against and enforced disappearances of political exiles, in Thailand too there have been constant reports of individuals involved with the Organization For a Thai Federation being arrested and charged, a full year since the government began such crackdowns. Many have been charged for alleged offences that took place in 2018 and several cases have been prosecuted.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), from September 2018 until September 2019, at least 20 individuals have been charged for alleged involvement with the Organization For a Thai Federation in a total of at least eleven cases.
The main charges used by military officials filing complaints are for violation of Sections 116 (sedition) and 209 (being a member of a secret society) of the Penal Code.
Given their being felony charges, each alleged offender was required to post bail with at least 200,000 Baht or more. In some cases, they are slapped with a bail bond worth up to 600,000 Baht. Some of them cannot afford the amounts. Until now, at least two suspects are still remanded in custody while those who have been granted bail are required to wear Electronic Monitoring (EM) devices.
- September 2018: the crackdown on those selling T-shirts and distributing fliers
It was first reported in September 2018 that the military and police were cracking down on people who owned or sold black T-shirts with the small red and white striped logo on the chest. There is no other statement on the shirts.
At that time, TLHR was informed of the arrest of six individuals including Ms. Surangkhanang (pseudonym), a beautician from Bangkok’s Prawase, Ms. Wannapha (last name withheld), a 30 year-old motorcycle taxi driver from Samrong, Mr. Kritsana, a 32 year-old grocery delivery driver, Mr. Therdsak, a 32 year-old part-time worker, Ms. Praphan, a 58 year-old owner of a massage parlor, and Ms. Jinda, a 55 year-old small vendor from Chonburi.
All of them were held in custody in military barracks. Later, only Surangkhanang was released without charge while the other five persons remained in custody at the military barracks. Six or seven days later, they were brought to the Crime Suppression Division to answer to the charges and then remanded in custody. They were later granted bail, with some of them required to wear EM devices and barred from going abroad.
The five individuals were indicted in the same case at the Criminal Court on 25 October 2018. They were accused of inciting members of the Organization For a Thai Federation and the general public by distributing fliers and selling T-shirts with the symbol of their group, acts which are culpable per Sections 116 and 209 of the Thai Penal Code.
Later one defendant escaped whilst on bail, while the other defendants pled not guilty. The Criminal Court has fixed 19-22 and 26-27 November 2019 for witness examinations.
- 5 December 2018: at least 34 individuals detained and prosecutions in at least nine cases
The crackdown in September made the “Organization For a Thai Federation” a household name online. Toward the end of year, “Uncle Sanam Luang” asked his fans to collectively engage in a symbolic action by wearing black T-shirts and appearing in public places, particularly in department stores, on 5 December 2018. This prompted the authorities to monitor several public places closely on that day.
9 December 2018, His Majesty King Rama X was to participate in the “Oon Ai Rak 2018 Bike Event” around the Ratanakosin Island. The military authorities were thus on alert to look for “many targets.” As a preemptive measure, several individuals were detained in military barracks before the event took place.
According to TLHR’s information, at least 34 individuals were detained in Bangkok and the provinces at the time, of whom at least 23 were held in military barracks by military authorities and least eleven taken to police stations for questioning and profiling. Among the detainees were the wife and son of “Uncle Sanam Luang,” who were not involved with the movement. Regardless, they were detained at military barracks for seven days before being let go.
The individuals detained in Bangkok, including at the 11th Military Circle prison, said that whilst in detention, they saw a few other people brought in for custody but did not know who they were, as they were prevented from talking to each other. It is therefore possible that the actual number of people detained could be much higher.
Some detainees face legal cases as a result. Some were brought to answer to the charges immediately upon release from military barracks while others were re-arrested months later. Even as recently as September 2019, some individuals have reportedly been arrested on similar charges.
Until now and as far as we know, those arrested for their actions on 5 December 2018 have been charged in at least nine cases, mainly for sedition and being a member of a secret society. Some face charges concerning violation of the Public Assembly Act for their peaceful assembly in a public place. In cases where photos of the event were posted online, the individuals are also charged with alleged violation of the Computer Crimes Act. The following details some cases known to us.
- The case at the Mall Department Store, Bangkapi, two alleged offenders
The persons implicated in this case, Mr. Therdsak and Ms. Praphan, were also charged in relation to an incidence in September 2018. Both were charged again for wearing black T-shirts with red and white stripes on the top left of the shirt with the word “Federation.” This is the emblem of the Organization For a Thai Federation. They were spotted walking through the Mall Department Store, Bangkapi, on 5 December 2018.
Mr. Therdsak was arrested by police at his office in Phuket on 2 April 2019 and was brought to the Crime Suppression Division to answer to his charges. He bailed out himself placing 200,000 baht as bail bond.
Meanwhile, Ms. Praphan, after wearing the shirt in public, had since gone to Malaysia to seek refuge there. She applied for refugee status with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But on 24 April 2019, she was arrested by Malaysian police at the request of the Thai government. Ms. Praphan was then deported to answer to her charges at the Crime Suppression Division, similar to Mr. Therdsak, on 10 May 2019. She has not been bailed out as she could not afford the bail bond and there was an insufficient number of Electronic Monitoring (EM) devices.
Both have been indicted in the Criminal Court in the same case again and the Court fixed 16-17 and 24 January 2020 for witness examinations.
- The case on the Sky Walk in front of Mah Boon Krong. (MBK) Center, six alleged offenders
On 5 December 2018, a group of individuals held up signs with the symbol of red and white stripe flag and the term, “Thai Federation” on the Sky Walk in front of Mah Boon Krong (MBK) Center. It was reported that on that day, at least five people were apprehended by the police, and at least two were held in custody at the 11th Military Circle prison for five days under the Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558.
The five of them were later pressed with charges and one more was later similarly arrested and pressed with charges at Pathumwan police station. They were accused of violating Section 116 (sedition), being a member of a secret society, staging an unauthorized public assembly, and conducting a public assembly within a radius of 150 meters from the Sa Pathum Palace, a breach per the Public Assembly Act. The six alleged offenders were also charged with alleged violation of the Computer Crimes Act as a result of posting photos of their activity on Facebook.
All the alleged offenders were temporarily released pending the trial. The Court fixed 14-17 July and 21-22 July 2020 for witness examinations.
- The case at Central Department Store, Ramintra, one alleged offender
Ms. Ranee (last name withheld), 56, a government official, was accused of wearing a black T-shirt of the Organization For a Thai Federation in the Central Department Store, Ramintra. In fact, on that day she appeared in the Department Store wearing a plain black T-shirt with no emblem. She was stopped and questioned by some plainclothes officials but was not immediately put under arrest.
Four months later, on 11 April 2019, Ranee was approached by police officials from the Crime Suppression Division and Pak Kred Police Station and was arrested per an warrant issued on 14 January 2019. She was then brought to the Crime Suppression Division to answer to the charges and held in custody there for two nights before being released on bail worth 200,000 Baht. She was indicted at the Criminal Court on 31 May 2019 and pled not guilty to all charges. The Court fixed 18-20 February 2020 for witness examinations.
- The case at Central Plaza, Ubon Ratchathani, one alleged offender
Ms. Kanchana (pseudonym), 68, a pensioner from Ubon Ratchathani was accused of sporting a flag emblem with red and white stripes at Central Plaza in Ubon Ratchathani. She had her photos taken and later uploaded them to her Facebook page. On 8 December 2018, Kanchana was taken to the Muang Ubon Ratchathani Police Station for an inquiry and was then held in custody at the 22nd Military Circle for four days. She was later transferred to and held in custody at the 11th Military Circle prison in Bangkok for a further three days before being released.
Then on 25 December 2018, Kanchana was summoned by the Muang Ubon Ratchathani Police Station to answer to her charges and she went there on 16 January 2019. In addition to breaching Section 116 and being a member of a secret society, she was accused of violating Section 14(3) of the Computer Crimes Act, concerning the inputting into a computer system information which may affect national security. Her case was then transferred to the Crime Suppression Division and she was required to answer to the same charges and to give her information again. Ms Kanchana denied all charges.
The case was prosecuted on 23 September 2019, and the defendant was required to post an extortionate 600,000 Baht to bail herself out. The bail bond amount in this case is staggeringly higher than other similar cases.
- The case at Central Plaza, Chiang Rai, two alleged offenders
The two defendants in this case are two self-employed women in Chiang Rai, aged 66 and 51. Both were accused of wearing black T-shirts bearing the red and white stripe emblem of the Organization For a Thai Federation. They were spotted inside Central Plaza in Chiang Rai on 5 December 2018 and were apprehended and held in custody at Meng Rai Maharat Military Camp the same day. They were then taken to answer to the two charges at Muang Chiang Rai Police Station and each was required to post 100,000 Baht bail.
On 14 January 2019, their cases were transferred and both women were brought to the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok for a new inquiry; they were then remanded in custody by order of the Court. There, the Criminal Court increased the bail bond to 200,000 Baht each and both received legal assistance from Court’s appointed lawyer.
During the court hearing, both defendants pled guilty to violating Section 116 and being members of a secret society and were both sentenced to six months for each charge. The sentencing was reduced by half, to three months per charge. Altogether, each was to be imprisoned for six months with no suspension. The case is pending in the Appeal Court while both defendants have been released on bail. As far as we know, this is the only case concerning the Organization For a Thai Federation that has reached a verdict, given the guilty plea, although the final verdict is yet to come.
6-7. The case at Central Festival in Chiang Mai, two alleged offenders
The case in Chiang Mai concerns Ms. Amphon (pseudonym), 50, a sewing worker, who was accused of wearing a plain black T-shirt with no emblem, although officials managed to find a sticker of a red and white striped flag, the symbol of the Organization For a Thai Federation, in her possession while she was at Central Festival in Chiang Mai.
Prior to this accusation, Ms. Amphon had been held in custody at military barracks in Chiang Mai for five days from 7-11 December 2018, under Section 44. Both military and police forces have also raided and searched her home without a search warrant. Half a year later, on 27 June 2019, Crime Suppression Division officials with a warrant issued on 16 January 2019 came to arrest her at her home and took her to the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok to answer to her charges. She had to bail herself out using paid services from bail bond brokers. She was indicted at the Criminal Court on 15 August 2019.
It has a report on another legal case. TLHR has limited information about it because the offender has not requested legal assistance from us. TLHR merely knows the accused faces a legal action related to his appearance at Central Festival in Chiang Mai likely Ms. Amphon.
- Another alleged offender
TLHR is not clearly aware of this case as we have not been directly approached for help by the alleged offender/defendant. We aware that the person is facing a legal case, and the person has not been released on bail and is remanded in prison.
- The case at the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, one alleged offender
One more person was recently arrested and charged in Chiang Mai. Look Kaew (pseudonym), 59, was accused of wearing a black T-shirt bearing the emblem of the Organization For a Thai Federation while sitting at the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai on 5 December 2018.
Previously, on 13 December 2018, Look Kaew’s home in Chiang Mai was raided and searched by military and police officials. She was not aware that an arrest warrant against her was later issued. Nine months later, on 24 September 2019, Look Kaew was arrested at the Immigration Checkpoint inside Chiang Mai International Airport. It was then discovered that an arrest warrant had been issued by the Criminal Court on 16 January 2019. She was then brought to the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok to answer to charges related to the breach of Section 116 and being a member of a secret society.
Look Kaew was bailed out at an extremely high bail bond, 600,000 Baht. It should be noted that the two legal actions against those involved with the Organization For a Thai Federation in September 2019 have led to the Court imposing a bail bond on the suspects at a much higher rate than previous cases.
The arrest related to a sticker of the Organization For a Thai Federation, one another alleged offender
In early September 2019, TLHR received reports of another arrest related to the Organization For a Thai Federation. Mr. Chuwit (last name withheld), 57, was charged by the Crime Suppression Division for violating Section 116 and being a member of a secret society for allegedly putting a sticker of the Organization For a Thai Federation at the Chang Pheuk Gate, Chiang Mai on 12 February 2018.
It should be noted that most individuals charged in all these cases are relatively older people ranging from 50-70 years and are self-employed, i.e., being motorcycle taxi drivers, sewing workers, or small venders. Some are pensioners.
According to several of these suspects, they are just fans of the radio program by “Uncle Sanam Luang” and had no personal connection to those who ran this radio program from abroad. They just casually listened to the program which discussed economic issues and issues about their livelihood while offering political analysis. Listening to the announcement about the activity on 5 December 2018, some had decided to join it peacefully. Some only came along as observers and had no idea they would be implicated. Nevertheless, they had to face surveillance from the authorities, being held in custody at military barracks, and legal action as a consequence.
The charge sheet and the plaints prepared by the police and the public prosecutors in all cases follow the same line; the suspects were in close collaboration with the five core members who have fled abroad and are yet to face justice in Thailand. They are accused of secret collusion with those core members and being mobilizers of the Organization For a Thai Federation which is a breach of law. They are further accused of attempting to galvanize and incite people via social media and the distribution of fliers, and encouraging the public to flout laws and stir up a public turmoil or defiance, which may have led to unrest in the Kingdom.
Individuals who simply want to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression are being persecuted with astonishingly harsh legal action, even though it is far from clear if they are part of a larger, more formidable movement as alleged. We need to stay watchful of the fate of these individuals and how the situation unfolds as the trials evolve.