Lets Go Everywhere


Good luck Thailand!
December 23, 2007, 5:51 am
Filed under: army, bangkok, coup, expat, free press, politics, thailand, Uncategorized

Last year I moved to Bangkok and took up a job at a news magazine two weeks before the government was overthrown in a coup d’etat.

Needless to say, despite the inconvenience of having troops surround my office building, the declaration of martial law and a few deadly explosions in the city centre, the military takeover was kind of a kick.

Now the people are getting ready to elect the ousted PM’s replacement, possibly to result in mass demonstrations in Bangkok and more political fuckery. Add the fact that the country’s beloved king is ailing and his successor is widely detested and you’ve got a tough situation on the horizon.

People of Thailand, I wish you the best. Khaaw hai chohk dee gap thook sing thee ja thahm khaang naa!

Thailand holds first post-coup election

BANGKOK — Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed, exiled and allegedly corrupt, was poised for a comeback-by-proxy as his loyalists looked likely to win Thailand’s national election Sunday.

Mr. Thaksin, ousted from power by a bloodless military coup 15 months ago, may also come back in person early next year, sparking fears of political turbulence and sharp polarization which has already plagued Thailand for two years.

The election, which is supposed to restore democracy after the coup, comes after almost two years of intense political instability that began with popular demonstrations demanding that Mr. Thaksin step down because of alleged corruption and abuse of power. The protest culminated in the coup.

The Election Commission has been barraged by more than 700 complaints of election fraud, mostly related to vote-buying. The night before elections is popularly called the “night of the howling dogs,” as canvassers knock on doors to distribute last-minute cash for votes in rural areas.

Thai election

Latest news can be found at The Nation

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Democracy activist freed; others remain under arrest

Thanks go out to Hieu for letting me know one of the recently detained democracy activists was released Tuesday.

According to the AFP story:

HANOI (AFP) — Communist Vietnam deported a Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activist Tuesday, state media said, after his arrest last month with a group of other dissidents triggered protests from the United States.
Leon Truong, a member of the banned California-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform) party, left on a Taipei-bound China Airlines flight from Ho Chi Minh City’s international airport, Vietnam Television reported.
Truong was arrested on November 17 with five other pro-democracy activists, including one other US citizen, a Frenchwoman, one Thai and two Vietnamese nationals, accused in state media of plotting terrorism against Vietnam.
The arrests triggered a rally outside the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, a protest letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung from a group of Congress members, and a call to explain the charges from the US ambassador to Hanoi.
The state television report said Truong, a Hawaii restaurateur, had been released from custody at 3pm local time, having shown a “cooperative attitude with the authorities,” and had been ordered to leave Vietnam within 14 hours.
The television report did not mention the other detained activists.

I’m glad Truong is heading home to be with his family and I’m still waiting to hear news of the release of the remaining activists.

In the article, I found this part particularly interesting:

US Ambassador Michael Michalak hours earlier said he had seen no evidence to support claims in Vietnam’s state media that Truong or three other US citizens in custody in the communist country were guilty of terrorism.
“If they’re being detained because of peaceful expression of political views, we protest that most vigorously and call for their immediate release,” he said, saying Vietnam had not yet informed the US of any charges.
The others arrested were Nguyen Quoc Quan, a mathematician from California whom Vietnam accuses of having used a fake Cambodian passport, Frenchwoman Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, Thai citizen Somsak Khunmi and two Vietnamese nationals.
Two more Vietnamese-Americans, reportedly carrying a handgun and bullets, were arrested at the city’s airport on November 23, Vietnam state media said in reports that collectively labelled all the detainees “terrorists.”

I challenge apologists of the current Hanoi regime to explain to me how an American citizen could possibly fly to Vietnam with bullets and a handgun in their luggage. US customs among the most strictly supervised in the world and I can’t seriously see anyone successfully flying with a a lighter in their pocket, let alone firearms in their bags.

It just seems all too convenient.

Here’s how the local English-language media reported the situation:

VietNamNet Bridge – Eight members of Viet Tan, an anti-Vietnam terrorist organisation have been arrested by Vietnamese police. Nearly 7,000 leaflets and some weapons were seized.
On November 16 and 17 police arrested six persons on charges of terrorism. On November 23, customs officers at the HCM City-based Tan Son Nhat Airport detected two Vietnamese Americans, Le Van Phan, 55 and Nguyen Thi Thinh, 54, entering Vietnam with a gun and 13 bullets. They were arrested for illegally transporting and using weapons.
According to security agencies, these people are members of Viet Tan, a terrorist organisation. Vietnamese police will cooperate with these men’s national embassies to identify and judge them under Vietnamese law.
 

Other cases: 

 
 
Lawyers on trial, Vietnam
Photo: Le Thi Cong Nhan (R), 28, speaks as Nguyen Van Dai (L), 39, sits in a court in Hanoi May 11, 2007 in this photo of a television screen showing court proceedings. REUTERS/Kham 
 
Full BBC story: 
 
Two human rights lawyers have been jailed in Vietnam, in the latest court case against political activists.
Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan were sentenced to five years and four years respectively by the Hanoi People’s Court.
They were found guilty of spreading propaganda intended to undermine Vietnam’s Communist government.
A court in Ho Chi Minh City convicted three other activists on similar charges on Thursday.
Le Nguyen Sang was sentenced to five years in jail, Nguyen Bac Truyen to four years, and Huynh Nguyen Dao to three years.
 
Lawyers on trial, Vietnam (2)


Dissidents arrested yet again in Vietnam

 

 

Vietnam arrests foreign activists

Map

Vietnamese police have arrested six political activists, including four foreign citizens, in Ho Chi Minh City.

(BBC)

The activists – two Vietnamese, two American, one French and one Thai – were reportedly arrested after attending pro-democracy discussions.

Three of the six are members of a US-based anti-communist group.

The Vietnamese government exerts strong control over media and political activity. It has not yet commented on the arrests.

The US-based organisation Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform) said the activists were arrested on Saturday after they “participated in discussions with other democracy activists on promoting peaceful democratic change”.

It said their members were using examples of non-violent struggles around the world to “help empower the Vietnamese people.”

Vietnam says Viet Tan, which was established by a former south Vietnamese general in 1982, is a terrorist organisation and has staged a media campaign against it in recent months.

Seeking information

Among those arrested was Frenchwoman Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, a well-known campaigner and contributor to overseas Vietnamese-language media.

A press officer from the US embassy in Hanoi told the BBC the US was seeking information from the Vietnamese government regarding two US nationals.

There is no word on the charges they face.

The Paris-based campaign group Reporters Without Borders has condemned the arrests.

“We call for their immediate release since they were only engaged in peacefully promoting freedom of expression,” it said.

Vietnam has recently increased its efforts to silence political dissent and has jailed many activists who oppose the one party state system.

Watch yourself expats! The wrong word around your official minder and you’re outta here. I don’t think there’s a bribe big enough to get you out of ‘terrorism’ charges.

The government must be pretty scared if they are willing to go as far as arresting foreigners (Viet kieu, I hear) for attending a meeting, even if it was about democracy. Or maybe the country’s leaders are just used to dealing with black eyes and will do just about anything to preserve the one-party system so popular among the ruling class.

Still no word on the situation in the local English-language media… Though no big surprise there.

I tried to access the Viet Tan website but obviously it’s blocked within Vietnam. If anyone wants to send me a mirror or saved version I’d appreciate it!



I survived cholera epidemic 2007

I feel on top of the world these days, and it’s not just because I’m leaving Vietnam in less than a month. No, it’s the fact that I managed to avoid contracting cholera despite the widespread epidemic that plagued Hanoi.

Yes, cholera. The medieval explosive diarrhea disease. Only a few news agencies were brave enough to tackle the issue, and lord knows the state media took its sweet time in even admitting there was a problem.

Reuters Article vs state media

Either way, I’m glad I avoided it (so far). I took great pains to stay as far away from dog meat, rancid shrimp paste, pork log and market veggies as I could.

I am, however, deeply saddened to have to routinely bypass my favourite ‘mien ngan’ stand on Han Thuyen Street because the woman refuses to wear plastic gloves. I mean really, they’re free!

Cholera bacterium 2



I’m Back
August 21, 2007, 7:39 am
Filed under: expat, free press, freelancing, Hanoi, News and politics, vietnam

It’s been an interesting, uh, eight months. I left Bangkok for a production editor job back in Hanoi. I quit the new job after a month (*WORST MAGAZINE EVER) and am now freelancing for North American publications and editing at Hanoi’s local investment review weekly. I’ll be updating this space with news of all kinds from Vietnam and Southeast Asia, particularly if it’s funny or bizarre. I’m also about to apply for the Canadian foreign service, so prepare for rants and ravings on that topic as well.

I am currently finishing up a profile of Joe Ruelle, a Canadian blogger in Vietnam, for the Globe & Mail. I’ll link the article when it prints, but for info on Joe check out his blog at Yahoo 360. Hope your Vietnamese-language reading skills are up to par.

West Lake fisherman, Hanoi

Dinnertime

Me & Oprah




There’s Nothing Nice About Martial Law

Thai leaders to relax martial law

BBC

Thailand’s military chiefs have recommended that martial law imposed after the 19 September coup be lifted in parts of the country.

The decision would affect about 40 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, coup leader and army commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said.

Martial law has been in place since the bloodless coup, which ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The decision will now be submitted to the cabinet for approval.

“Everybody wants to see peace and order in our country and the lifting of martial law will have a positive political and psychological impact,” Gen Sonthi said.

But he said the measures will remain in place in the troubled southern provinces, and in areas of the north and northeast, where support for Mr Thaksin is strongest.

Gen Sonthi said Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont could decided what to do about Bangkok.

“If we lift martial law and something happens, the prime minister will be held primarily responsible,” the French news agency AFP quoted him as saying.

Few protests

The new government has struggled to gain international recognition, not least because of its refusal to end the martial law, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

But in practice few Thais have felt the restrictions, which have been applied sparingly.

Soldiers are still posted outside television stations in Bangkok, around 300 radio stations in rural areas have been forced to stop broadcasting, and political parties have been banned from holding large-scale meetings.

There have been relatively few protests against martial law – in fact the more widely-heard complaint against the new government is over its failure to come up with a convincing case against the former prime minister for corruption or abuses of power.

Still, the fact that martial law will remain in place in pro-Thaksin areas suggests the military is still nervous about a possible come-back by the former prime minister, who has been touring a number of nearby countries recently in a blaze of media publicity, our correspondent adds.

Monks & Tanks

It’s about time! The bad news is that Bangkok is not included.
That means it’s still illegal to gather in groups of 5 or more for a political purpose, hold rallies or broadcast news independently. However, it is legal to detain people without a warrant and without having to press charges. Hmmm.

The atmosphere is so friendly and the people so warm-hearted it’s easy to forget that the Thai government has been capable of some nasty things. Thaksin’s war against drug dealers (how many thousands dead at the hands of trigger happy police?), the southern insurgency and response (dozens suffocating in a truck for the crime of attending a rally while Muslim), historic brutal military suppression, and of course, at least one secret CIA prison — possibly for extracting information via torture.

Of course, no government is perfect. They all have blood on their hands and policies that shame their citizens, except perhaps Switzerland. I love the jai dee of the Thai people so much, and for this reason hope that martial law is entirely lifted and some form of representative democracy is restored as soon as possible.

Since I mentioned jai dee, a translation of which you can find further down somewhere, I’d like to add I noticed a picture on the Thai newswire of a demostration held in Bangkok not long ago. The demostration was against the death penalty (a brutal and frequently used punishment here) and there were six or seven young people dressed in black holding signs that called for an end to the practice. I was so impressed to see it… not only because these people were defying martial law and protesting a political policy… they were also opening eyes about an issue that gets very little play in Asia. The death penalty is not often discussed or thought about, so it’s great to see people questioning its value and usefulness. I’ll track down the photo tomorrow and post it here.

Good work protest kids, keep it up!!

***UPDATE Two Thai men who murdered tourist Katherine Horton have had their death sentences commuted to life in jail.



The Chatuchak story
November 13, 2006, 10:01 am
Filed under: bangkok, bomb, chatuchak, coup, expat, free press, media, News and politics, protests, thailand

Thugs demolish Chatuchak stalls

Police forced to intervene as leaseholder tries to evict unwanted tenants

The Nation

More than 100 armed men stormed into the Sunday Market at Chatuchak early yesterday to destroy stalls as the owners pelted them with debris in a futile effort to stop them.

In scenes reminiscent of the  destruction of Sukhumvit Square ordered by Chat Thai deputy leader Chuwit Kamolvisit several years ago, thugs tore through the area using strong-arm tactics to keep the stall owners at bay.

The Sunday Market has been leased by Thanasarnsombat Pattana Company from the State Railway of Thailand (SRT). It is located next to the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market.

Vendors who have operated at the market for about 10 years insisted they were protected by a court order until negotiations, scheduled for February 7, were conducted.

When police officers arrived at the market at around 5am, stalls were being torn apart despite protests from the vendors, some of whom hurled bottles and stones.

A vendor was reportedly hospitalised after a demolition worker punched him with a brass knuckle-duster. Some of the men carried axes, clubs and crowbars.

The police urged both sides to negotiate.

A woman, calling herself Apinya, said she was a legal adviser for Thanasarnsombat Pattana.

She said an April court order meant all tenants with contracts with the bankrupt Sunday Holdings Company should have left the area by November 2.

“We displayed copies of the court order and SRT statement that declares our company’s rights here,” Apinya said.

Sunday Holdings used to lease the area from SRT until it went bankrupt in 1998. SRT later took charge of the area and sold the lease to Thanasarnsombat Pattana.

However, trader Thanaporn Sapien said she and other vendors had run their stalls there more than 10 years. After Sunday Holdings went bankrupt, they continued to pay their Bt300 a day rent to SRT until a few months ago when electricity and water were cut off.

“We jointly lodged a complaint with the Civil Court on October 27, which issued an injunction barring any forced removal and the cutting off of the electricity and water,” she said.

Police Division 2 deputy Maj-General Amnuay Nimmano yesterday asked Thanasarnsombat Pattana to refrain from further action until the parties had met.

Amnuay said representatives from the Legal Execution Department and SRT would settle the dispute.

SRT acting governor Thawil Samnakhon yesterday said Thana-sarnsombat Pattana bought the 12-year lease in March. Under the contract, the company must construct a building for tenants to trade in within two years or face a fine.

“Now, eight months have passed since the contract was granted,” Thawil said, adding that SRT and Thanasarnsombat Pattana had tried to find alternative sites for the vendors but received no cooperation.

Veera Udom, chair of the Sunday Market Cooperative, vowed to submit a petition to Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda at his house today.