On December 2, 2020, a man was seen loitering in front of my Kyoto apartment. Alarmed by his suspicious behavior, my neighbors called the police. During questioning, the Japanese man, in his mid-30s, confessed to have been hired to stalk me. A week later, photos of me taken covertly were widely released on social media in Thailand.
On these pictures, I am seen entering my apartment, travelling on a subway in Osaka, walking my dog in a nearby park. The Twitter user, who leaked these photos, also published my personal address.
Earlier, in November, a mysterious individual disguising as a deliveryman turned up at my office at Kyoto University, but left immediately after being told I wasn’t there. Around the same time, I received numerous anonymous phone calls from a Japanese man claiming to call from the post office asking for my address. My suspicions were confirmed when the post office told me that they would never call customers with a withheld caller ID nor ask for their address.
In July 2019, a man in black broke into my apartment. He attacked me with a chemical spray before running off. The Japanese police has been investigating the incident since, but the culprit is still at large.
As a critic of the Thai monarchy, I know these intimidation tactics all too well. And yet, I count myself as one of the lucky ones. Other Thai dissidents have met a more sinister fate. Last June, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a pro-democracy activist, was abducted in broad daylight in Cambodia, never to be seen again. At least nine critics of Thailand’s monarchy have been killed or forcedly disappeared over a period of four years.
Ittipon Sukpaen, also known as DJ Sunho, went missing in June 2016. In July 2017, Wuthipong Kochathammakun, alias Kotee, was kidnapped by 10 men in black from his Vientiane home. The deductees rose to fame after releasing YouTube videos ferociously attacking the Thai royal family. They have still not been found.
In December 2018, three more dissidents in Laos disappeared. A prominent ex-communist and anti-monarchist, Surachai Danwattananuson went missing with two of his assistants, Kraidej Leulert and Chatchan Bubpawan. In early 2012, Surachai was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for lèse-majesté and received royal pardon in 2013. He fled Thailand after the 2014 coup. After their disappearance, two bodies, later identified as Kraidej and Chaichan, were found in the Mekong River, cut open and stuffed with concrete. To date, Surachai has never been found.
A short animation depicting the ongoing trend of state violence against critics of the current Thai regime.
In May 2019, three dissidents were reportedly arrested by the Vietnamese police and secretly extradited to Thailand. They are Chucheep Cheevasuth, widely known as Uncle Sanam Luang, Siam Thiravut and Krisana Thapthai. As the most wanted by the authorities, and charged with lèse-majesté, Chucheep regularly broadcast underground Internet shows against the monarchy from Laos, until, fearing assassination, he tried to move to Vietnam. The fate of the three men has remained unknown
In Thailand, criticizing the monarchy is lèse-majesté, a crime punishable up to 15 years in prison. Yet, student-led protests have been going on for months in Thailand, breaking the taboo despite the risks, and demanding immediate monarchical reform. Among their ten-point demands is the call for a thorough investigation into the abductions and killings of Thai dissidents overseas.
While the royal regime of King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand acts like the guardian of a sacred and treasured institution, it uses the same tactics as other ruthless dictators around the world. What is happening to dissidents in Thailand is no different than what you can see in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
In China, several activists and citizen journalists have been forcibly disappeared for independently reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. During protests in Hong Kong, pro-democracy protester Alexandra Wong – also known as ‘Grandma Wong’ – vanished. She reappeared after 14 months of detention without trial in mainland China.
Russia has regularly made headlines throughout the years for its assassinations and poisoning attempts, but the latest, that of opposition leader Alexei Navalny late last year, follows months of intense protests in the country’s far east following the arrest on trumped up charges of then-governor Sergei Furgal. Another Kremlin critic, Vladimir Kara-Murza survived no less than two poisoning attempts, both during trips in Moscow.
In 2018, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi was assassinated inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, apparently by agents of the Saudi government. He fled his home country in 2017 following his sharp criticism against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Central Intelligence Agency concluded that the Crown Prince ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. In a similar situation, a prominent Saudi dissident residing in Canada, Omar Abdulaziz, admitted that he was recently warned by Canadian authorities that he was a potential target of Saudi Arabia and that he needed to take precautions to protect himself.
As these examples in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia show, authoritarian rules are the most brutal with their opponents when they sense that their population is yearning for change. It is not a coincidence if the Thai regime’s intimidation and repression have recently intensified, after months of protests unlike Thailand has ever seen before.
The façade of pomp and magnanimity of King Vajiralongkorn can no longer obscure the fact that the Thai royal family has depended much upon fear and terror to control the narrative about the monarchy, even when this means eliminating its enemies in the most brutal way.
What is happening to dissidents in Thailand must be exposed and discussed within the context of ruthless tactics adopted by other despotic regimes, from China, Russia to Saudi Arabia. It is about time that the West sees the true nature of the Thai monarchy: a despotic regime that harasses, threatens, and kills whoever dares to criticize it.