Panic! at the Disco Turns Westboro Protest into an HRC Fundraiser

Panic At The Disco Perform At O2 Academy In Glasgow
Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco performs on stage at O2 Academy on May 7, 2014 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. Ross Gilmore—Redferns/Getty Images


This article originally appeared on Patheos

When the band Panic! At The Disco (below) — you might remember them from their 2006 hit song “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” — visited Kansas City, Missouri for a show on Sunday night, they had special guests waiting for them: Westboro Baptist Church members, complete with their “God Hates Fags” signs. (The band’s lead singer Brendon Urie said last year that he had experimented with homosexuality, though he’s married to a woman.)

The WBC even recorded a homophobic cover of the band’s hit song, called “You Love Sin What A Tragedy” in anticipation of the concert.

Rather than ignore them, the band responded in a wonderful way. They turned the protest into a mini-fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign:

That’s how you make lemonade out of lemons.

WBC, always declaring victory regardless of the situation, said they would just protest 20 times for every dollar raised. So that’s 20,000 more protests than usual.

Good luck with that. I suspect it’ll be tough to pull off when so many people in the church are either dying or escaping…

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

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TIME East Timor

A Harsh Media Law Threatens East Timor’s Budding Democracy

Second Round Of Presidential Elections Held In East Timor
Taur Matan Ruak speaks to the press during the second round of the Presidential elections on April 16, 2012 in Dili, East Timor. Pamela Martin—Getty Images

The law will be "the death" of Timorese media, says a press union boss

Journalists and human rights activists are urging the President of East Timor to scrap a bill deemed a serious threat to press freedom, warning that the nascent democracy could be heading toward renewed authoritarianism.

A former Portuguese colony, East Timor, or Timor-Leste, only won independence from neighboring Indonesia in 2002 following a bloody civil war. Since then, despite being desperately poor, it has enjoyed a remarkably open society.

This is poised to change, say activists, with the implementation of the Media Act, passed by parliament on May 6 but yet to be ratified by President Taur Matan Ruak. The 57-year-old liberation hero has asked for the Court of Appeal to review the legislation’s constitutionality, but critics claim it should be immediately expunged.

“The media played a crucial role in East Timor’s long struggle for independence,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “The President should tell parliament that a media law that stifles free expression won’t get his signature.”

The long struggle that secured East Timor’s independence claimed some 100,000 lives and left the newly liberated population of one million people in abject poverty. Most East Timorese rely on cash crops, mainly coffee, to buy imported rice. A four-month “hungry season” — the period between crops — is an annual ordeal and nearly half of local children are underweight.

However, East Timor boasts abundant oil reserves and petrodollars have begun flooding in. Unfortunately, this opens the door to graft, the exposing of which brings media into direct confrontation with venal officials.

“What we’ve seen in the last few years is more attention to scandals and corruption,” Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert with the Center of East Asia Democratic Studies, tell TIME.

Although the Media Act explicitly enshrines “freedom of the press” and prohibits censorship, several provisions would permit government interference with journalists. Rather than the self-regulation favored by media advocates, an official Press Council, staffed by state appointees, would have the power to “grant, renew, suspend and revoke” media credentials. “The law will be the death of [Timorese] journalists,” Timor-Leste Press Union President José Belo told UCA last month.

Around half the adult population of East Timor is illiterate and Internet access is minimal. Newspapers are mostly available only in the capital, Dili, with most rural people getting news and current affairs from radio and TV. If a government was able to influence broadcast content and put pressure on journalists, it would stand a good chance of disseminating its messages unchallenged. The Media Act already proposes to require journalists to “promote the national culture” and “encourage and support high quality economic policies and services.” Such provisions are open to interpretation and abuse, claim critics.

“Journalists, including freelancers, took great risks and made enormous sacrifices while reporting during the darkest days of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor,” said Kine. “The government should recognize that journalists are an indispensable front line against human rights violations, corruption, and abuses of power. Donors should urge the government not to undermine the media’s crucial role.”

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan’s New Antiterror Law Gives Security Forces Unprecedented Power

Pakistan army troops arrive at Karachi airport following an attack by unknown gunmen, disguised as police, who stormed a terminal used for VIPs and cargo, Sunday night, June 8, 2014. Fareed Khan—ASSOCIATED PRESS

The law permits the arrest of terror suspects without warrants and their detention for 60 days without trial. Officials will also be able to issue shoot-on-sight orders

In an effort to curb the increasing audacity of Islamist militant groups in the country, Pakistan’s parliament passed a comprehensive counterterrorism bill on Wednesday that gives unprecedented powers to domestic security forces.

The legislation, called the Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014, has drawn the ire of human-rights groups for its rigor and breadth. Under the new law, the national government can not only arrest suspected terrorists without warrants but also detain them for 60 days without any discussion of trial.

More controversially, it permits police and other security officials to issue shoot-on-sight orders.

“This is perhaps the strongest of the laws that Pakistan has come up with to deal with militancy and terrorism,” Irfan Shahzad, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad, tells TIME. “I would not say that outright it is a violation [of human rights], but it certainly raises questions over what rights we Pakistanis have as citizens of this country.”

Thousands have died since the Pakistan Taliban began its present insurgency in 2007, and Islamabad has frequently struggled to contain the bloodshed. It is currently taking the fight to the insurgents in the mountainous region of North Waziristan, but the offensive has sparked a humanitarian crisis, displacing nearly half a million people.

Shahzad says the new legislation has been born out of increasing frustration. “If a government fails to deliver,” he says, “they resort to certain actions that they believe will increase their command over certain groups.”

Among the provisions of the new law are the granting to security forces the power to search premises without warrants, the allowing of tapped phone calls as court evidence and a steep increase in prison sentences for terrorist offenses. While the bill has vocal critics, Shahzad believes that it will be accepted by a population exhausted by years of conflict.

“We’re talking about a country where the literacy rate is just over 50%,” he says. “Even among those who are literate and who read the news, they are very much hard-pressed by the matter of their own survival. [This law] may not necessarily be a major issue to them.”

TIME southeast asia

A Young Girl Kept as a Slave for 5 Years in Thailand Wins Landmark Damages

Illegal Myanmar Immigrants Make Living In Rubbish Field in Thailand
An illegal-immigrant boy from Burma works at mountains of rubbish in Mae Sot, Thailand, on July 18, 2013 The Asahi Shimbun—Getty Images

Sold as a 7-year-old, she keeps the spotlight on the dangers faced by the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand

A 13-year-old Burmese girl who was tortured for five years by a Thai couple who treated her as a slave has finally been awarded $143,000 in compensation by a local court, ending one nightmare but throwing the spotlight on the plight of countless other vulnerable migrants who suffer similar abuse.

The victim, who was just 7 years old when she was sold into slavery, must live with horrendous scars over half her body after she was regularly drenched with pots of boiling water for perceived disobedience. (The extent of her disfigurement can be seen on this Thai news report, but be warned — the images are distressing.)

The girl, an ethnic Karen known as Air, says she was kidnapped while her illegal-migrant parents were working in sugarcane fields in northwest Thailand. She was then sold to a Thai couple who made her work as a maid and sleep in a dog kennel. Air says she escaped once and summoned the police, only to be returned to her abusers, who allegedly cut off the tip of her ear as punishment. The girl eventually escaped successfully on Jan. 31 last year.

“The couple is still at large, but lawyers will investigate all of the employers’ properties to compensate her,” Preeda Tongchumnum, the assistant to the secretary general of the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, told the Irrawaddy. “She cannot make a 100% recovery, but the doctor will help her to move her body like any other person.”

Although Monday’s award must be deemed a victory of sorts, the uncomfortable truth remains that the girl’s plight mirrors that of many of the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand, who toil with virtually no legal safeguards and are often exploited by venal officials.

Compounding matters, the couple accused of torturing Air — identified as Nathee Taengorn, 36, and Rattanakorn Piyavoratharm, 34 — skipped town after they were inexplicably released on police bail despite facing seven serious charges. Local media reports alleged the pair had “influential” connections. The police have yet to offer an explanation for Air’s claim that they returned her to her captors after her first escape bid.

Such official indifference to the plight of migrant labor has contributed to the U.S. State Department’s decision last month to relegate Thailand to the lowest rank of its Trafficking in Persons report — putting the self-styled “Land of Smiles” on par with North Korea for its inability or unwillingness to protect workers from abuse.

“There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to mark the report’s release. “Whether it is a young girl trapped in a brothel or a woman enslaved as a domestic worker or a boy forced to sell himself on the street or a man abused on a fishing boat, the victims of these crimes all have names, all had families.”

Sadly, all four of the examples citied by Kerry are commonplace in Thailand, which has long been a hub for migrant laborers fleeing war, poverty or political persecution in less affluent neighboring countries. The Thai fishing industry has come into particular scrutiny recently.

This already dire situation has been further complicated by Thailand’s military coup on May 22. Fears of a crackdown prompted an exodus of more than 250,000 mainly Cambodian workers, although the junta insists that by requiring all companies to “submit comprehensive name lists of their employees” it is now working to prevent “illegal activity, drugs, crime, unfair employment and bodily harm.”

Such assurances have not convinced human-rights activists, though. “Migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand’s economy, but their daily life is unsafe and uncertain, and they face abuses from many quarters,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, calling for the junta to “reverse this [exodus] disaster by quickly putting into place genuine reforms that would protect migrant workers’ rights, not threaten them.”

TIME China

China Bans Ramadan Fasting for Officials, Students in Restive Northwest

Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar
Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, on Aug. 3, 2011. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur Muslims have been subject to an "anti-terrorism" crackdown after a spate of deadly attacks

Several government departments in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have banned students and civil servants from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted on school and government websites said the sure-to-be-unpopular policy was aimed at protecting students and stopping government offices from being used to promote religion, reports the Associated Press.

This is not the first instance of Chinese officials trying to curtail religious freedom among Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, but it comes at a particularly delicate time. A series of brutal attacks by what China says are religious extremists has spurred a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in Xinjiang, including mass arrests and trials, cash awards for information and random searches.

Critics counter that the chief concern is not links to global terrorism, but widespread dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. A Muslim people that take their cultural and linguistic cues from Central Asia, Xinjiang’s Uighurs say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from the Han heartland to the east. They also complain of discrimination in the job market, limits on free expression and restriction on their right to pray, dress — and now, fast — as they so choose.



New UN Rights Probe Intensifies Pressure on Sri Lanka

WASHINGTON — A new U.N. investigation into allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka will intensify international pressure on its government and could probe the purported responsibility of senior Sri Lankan officials with U.S. ties.

As many as 40,000 civilians may have died amid government shelling in the final five months of the conflict in 2009, according to a previous U.N. report. Government forces have also been accused of executing ethnic Tamil rebel leaders who tried to surrender.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay announced Wednesday a heavyweight panel including a Nobel laureate and a former judge on a U.N.-backed tribunal trying former Cambodian leaders for genocide and war crimes, to advise a 10-month investigation by her office. Its goal, laid out in a U.S.-backed resolution, is to establish the facts about alleged abuses by both sides in the conflict, “with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability.”

The government denies its forces targeted civilians or committed serious abuses in defeating the Tamil Tigers’ 26-year rebellion for an ethnic homeland.

“We have taken the view that this investigation is utterly uncalled for,” said Palitha Kohona, who was Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary at the end of the war and now serves as ambassador to the U.N. “It’s like this poor third-world country is being punished in an unforgiving manner for having defeated a terrorist group.”

But the allegations could prove worrying to the ruling circle of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, notwithstanding his tightened grip on power at home in the five years since the fighting ended.

In particular, one of his brothers, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is a U.S. citizen, has been dogged by allegations that he ordered rebel leaders killed. A recent report by a South African human rights lawyer also examines what Kohona knew of a purported surrender deal and the role of a senior military officer, who now serves as Kohona’s deputy at the U.N.

Foreign diplomats say that in the final two days of the war in May 2009, the Tigers’ top two political chiefs, Balasingham Nadesan and S. Pulidevan, had expressed a desire to surrender — a message diplomats conveyed to Sri Lankan leaders — but ended up dead. Six months later, victorious army chief Sarath Fonseka told a Sri Lankan newspaper that the defense secretary had ordered the commander of the army’s 58th Division, which pressed the final offensive, to kill rebel leaders attempting to surrender. Fonseka, who emerged as an opposition leader after the war, said he was misquoted, but was still sentenced to three years in prison for his comments under harsh emergency laws in a 2011 trial. He was freed in 2012.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is a decorated Sri Lankan army officer who migrated to the U.S. in the 1990s and worked in information technology before returning to his homeland in 2005 to support his brother’s election as president. Although residing in Sri Lanka, as a U.S. citizen he could potentially face prosecution under a U.S. war crimes statute.

The Department of Justice declined to comment whether it has investigated the possible involvement of U.S. citizens in war crimes in the South Asia nation. The statute, passed in 1996, has yet to be used.

But the Sri Lankan government has in the past complained to Washington about U.S. authorities probing Rajapaksa. A November 2009 diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks reproduces a diplomatic note Sri Lanka sent to the State Department after Fonseka, at the time a U.S. green card holder, was called for interview by the Department of Homeland Security in Oklahoma City during a visit to the U.S. The cable says that Fonseka was told “the intention behind the request for the interview is to use him ‘as a source against human rights violations done by Secretary/Defence’.”

Fonseka left the country before the scheduled interview, but the U.S. Embassy in Colombo noted in the cable, “the prospect of U.S. officials questioning Fonseka regarding Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s actions during the conflict clearly is of great concern in Colombo and puts the leadership in a tight spot.”

It’s unclear whether the 10-month U.N. investigation will examine Rajapaksa’s actions or those of other individual Sri Lankan leaders. But rights activists are pushing for just that. Abuses by the Tigers, who were internationally proscribed as a terrorist group and reportedly used civilians as human shields, will also be scrutinized, but since the rebel leadership is missing or dead, they have little to lose.

The government is refusing to cooperate with the 12-member investigative team, which will be advised by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, a former U.N. special envoy to Kosovo who won the Nobel peace prize in 2008; Dame Silvia Cartwright, who served as a judge on a U.N.-backed tribunal of former leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s; and Asma Jahangir, former chief of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The investigation is unlikely to lead to judicial proceedings any time soon. It was opposed by Russia and China, whose assent would be needed for any referral to the International Criminal Court. But its conclusions could crimp the international space for any Sri Lankans implicated in abuses. Several U.S. lawmakers have urged restrictions on the entry into the United States of any Sri Lankan responsible for war crimes.

A recent report by South African lawyer Yasmin Sooka examines alleged killings and disappearances of more than 100 Tamils in so-called “white flag” incidents at the end of the war. Sooka previously served on an U.N. panel of experts on Sri Lanka.

In particular, Sooka’s Johannesburg-based Foundation for Human Rights probes the communications between Nadesan and Pulidevan, foreign and Sri Lankan intermediaries, and government officials in the final 48 hours as the rebel leaders sought to surrender. It concludes that available evidence indicates “an organized government plan at the highest level” to execute rebel leaders in violation of international humanitarian law.

The report cites four unnamed eyewitnesses as saying Nadesan and Pulidevan gave themselves up to Sri Lankan forces among a group of 12 people holding white flags after dawn on May 18, 2009. One witness said the group was received by Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the commander of the army’s 58th Division.

An hour later, the same witness saw the leaders’ corpses at a roadside, surrounded by soldiers taking photos. Pictures of the lifeless bodies, with burn marks on their torsos, later appeared online.

The U.S. State Department reported to Congress in October 2009 that an unnamed Tamil witness who later escaped the area said the Sri Lankan army started firing machine guns at the surrendering group, reportedly killing all of them.

The Sri Lankan government has said the leaders were killed in combat, but has given contradictory accounts of how that happened. Rajapaksa has said they may have been shot in the confusion of battle by Sri Lankan forces; Kohona has previously said they were shot in the back by rebel fighters.

Silva, who now serves as Kohona’s deputy at Sri Lanka’s mission at the U.N., did not respond to a request for an interview with AP.

Kohona distanced himself from earlier comments, now saying he doesn’t personally know what happened.

He confirmed that he sent text messages to a European intermediary with advice for the rebels on how to surrender, but he said he was not aware of a surrender deal. He said he does not believe a kill order was issued by Rajapaksa and executed by Silva.

“It is very easy to make allegations. It’s very easy to find witnesses among those who have an ax to grind. But as to whether these carry any credibility is a different matter,” said Kohona, a former attorney in Sri Lanka’s supreme court.


Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.



Yasmin Sooka’s report: http://white-flags.org/

TIME Congress

Senators Call on Men to Speak Up to End Violence Against Women

Senators sat down Tuesday to talk about how to reduce violence and discrimination against women around the world and whether to make those solutions a U.S. diplomatic priority.

A small refugee camp lies in the Democratic Republic of Congo next to a national park. Each day, the women of the community must venture into the forest to gather firewood to cook and to heat their homes. On an average day, ten of the women who go into the forest are raped. The women are faced with a bleak choice: their own safety or a resource necessary for survival.

This story, shared by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan was amongst the dozens of tales told at Tuesday’s Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues hearing on combating violence and discrimination against women. The hearing came as a push to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, which would make the reduction of violence against women a diplomatic priority for the U.S.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California underlined the importance of spreading the ethos that violence against women was not the behavior of a “real man.” She suggested using famous athletes and other popular role models as the faces of an effort to get more men to speak up. “Women can’t do this alone,” Boxer said. “This is a partnership.”

The bill has been introduced four times since 2007, but, despite bipartisan support, it has not had enough Republican support to pass. Although the legislation has yet to be discussed outside of the subcommittee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said that he plans to bring the issue to the attention of the full committee. “I struggle to understand why the United States has failed to pass the convention, but I understand politics,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. “We need to acknowledge our responsibility and our leadership on issues.”

Panelist Gary Barker, International Director of Promundo, an international group that works to engage men to promote gender equality, discussed the importance of men who witnessed violence against women speaking up, as one of the many potential solutions. He cited a study that revealed that men who use violence likely saw their father being violent toward their mother or experienced violence themselves. The perpetrators believed that two-thirds of the men around them thought that this violence was acceptable. “Something is really engrained in silence of other men and how systems don’t react to it,” Barker said.

Because there is not enough prison space to imprison every man who has committed an act of violence, Barker said, it is necessary to think about prevention.

TIME Religion

Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Death for Apostasy Freed

Meriam Ibrahim sits in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a women's prison in Omdurman on May 28, 2014.
Meriam Ibrahim sits in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a women's prison in Omdurman on May 28, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

After giving birth in jail, Meriam Ibrahim finally reunites with her husband.

A Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy after she refused to reject her Christian faith has been freed and reunited with her husband and family, reports CNN.

Meriam Ibrahim was convicted of renouncing her faith by a Sudanese court in May. Eight months pregnant, the 27-year-old was sentenced to be hanged, as well as receive 100 lashings for alleged adultery. She eventually gave birth in jail, the Telegraph revealed—with her legs reportedly still shackled.

The controversy stemmed from Ibrahim’s upbringing, CNN said. Her father was Sudanese Muslim and her mother a Christian. However, her father left her at the age of 6, and Ibrahim’s mother raised her as a Christian. Ibrahim married her husband Daniel Wani, also a Christian, but because of her father’s faith, the marriage was considered invalid. Her own brother filed a report against her, CNN reported.

The case gathered international attention from human rights groups and politicians, including release requests from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron, reported the Telegraph.

Ibrahim’s initial conviction was found faulty in an appeals case, said her lawyer.


TIME Thailand

A Young Thai Activist Has Vanished, and the Junta Isn’t Saying Anything

Police officers stand guard at a shopping mall in Bangkok
Police officers stand guard at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 8, 2014 Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters

Prominent Red Shirt activist Kritsuda Khunasen has not been heard from since her arrest on May 28

Fears are growing for a 27-year-old female Thai political activist detained by soldiers late last month.

Kritsuda Khunasen was seized on May 28 in Chonburi province, and her arrest was documented on TV. However, nothing has been heard of her since.

Instead of disclosing her whereabouts, or providing evidence of her release, the junta on Tuesday included her name on a list of people ordered to report to them by June 18 — creating the impression that she had not already been detained.

“Summoning someone already in custody raises concerns that the authorities may be preparing to cover up a disappearance and that something may have happened to Kritsuda,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement released by the New York City–based advocacy group.

Since her arrest, neither Kritsuda’s family nor Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission have been able to locate her, the group says.

“The Thai military should put to rest fears that Kritsuda has been forcibly disappeared by immediately disclosing her location and allowing access to a doctor and a lawyer,” stated Adams. “Concerned governments should demand that Thailand’s military authorities immediately explain what has happened to her and ensure her safety.”

Kritsuda was a prominent member of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) activist group, colloquially known as the Red Shirts, which backed the government of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and vehemently opposed military intervention in the nation’s protracted political crisis.

“I still do not have any information,” says Dr. Weng Tojirakarn, a UDD leader who was recently released by the military, subject to stringent constraints. “I’m very concerned that she is missing as everybody would like to see basic human rights maintained.”

Since the May 22 coup, an estimated 500 politicians, activists, journalists and academics have been arbitrarily detained, although no exhaustive figures have been released. HRW alleges that a significant number of secret military detentions have also taken place.

Those critical of the coup — the 12th successful putsch since the end of absolute monarchical rule in 1932 — have been harassed at home and work, threatened with imprisonment or detained. Thais working abroad have been pressured to rein in their disapproval.

The junta evidently feels confident enough to order the nationwide curfew to be lifted on Friday. Coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has since promised “a government will be set up by August, or at the very latest September,” with elections some time in the next 15 months.

Nevertheless, critics and activists feel cowed and extremely wary. One grassroots Red Shirt activist in northern Thailand, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of arrest, tells TIME that three of her cohorts were ordered to report to military authorities in the capital on Wednesday, despite halting all political work.

“One of them has been detained by soldiers in Chiang Mai two times [since the coup], and the other two have been detained once before,” she says, “but now they all have to go to Bangkok.”

Meanwhile, rumors of a crackdown on migrant labor — considered the backbone of Southeast Asia’s second largest economy — have prompted some 188,000 Cambodians to flee back home amid fears of arrest, deportation and being shot if they attempt to evade the authorities.

Eight people have so far been killed in traffic accidents related to the exodus. “I think that the current leaders of [the] Thai junta must be held accountable for what has happened,” said Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Wants To Force Critics Living Abroad To Return Home

A girl holds a candle during a protest against military rule in central Bangkok
A girl holds a candle during a protest against military rule in central Bangkok, a day after Thai army chief seized power in a coup May 23, 2014. Damir Sagolj—Reuters

With all dissent effectively quashed at home, Thailand's military regime is seeking ways to stamp out criticism emanating from nationals based overseas

Some 23 Thai ambassadors and consuls-general from 21 nations reported to Bangkok Wednesday, summoned by a ruling junta that wants to enlist them in forcing outspoken critics of the May 22 coup d’état living abroad to return home.

Since seizing power, Thailand’s military has quashed all forms of dissent. TV channels and radio stations were taken off air — although many heavily censored versions have now returned — several hundred academics and activists were detained, and stringent censorship is imposed on print publications.

The resultant hush has been stunning, with only those based overseas still willing to make strong criticism of the military regime. But now the heat is being turned on this vocal émigré group.

Jakrapob Penkair, a founding member of the grassroots Red Shirt movement and former government minister, tells TIME from exile that his 77-year-old mother in Thailand has been phoned up and threatened, while his younger sister has been bullied at work.

“It’s almost natural [to be threatened] in Thailand now, unfortunately,” he says. “But I don’t see this as a big problem as I could never have gone this far without my family’s consent.”

Thailand’s 12th military coup since the end of absolute monarchical rule in 1932 was staged ostensibly to maintain order after six months of street protests that claimed more than 28 lives and threatened to escalate further. Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha says that reforms will be carried out for over a year before elections — and he demands total support.

“Political groups and parties and leaders of the different sides of the political divide need to be careful when they say they don’t trust or have confidence in the [junta’s] work,” Prayuth told reporters Monday, reports the Bangkok Post.

And so, while the official reason for Wednesday’s powwow is to urge Thai diplomats to assure their host countries that elections will eventually be held, “there is a hidden agenda to put pressure on critics of the coup, especially to seek cooperation from the host country to send us back home,” says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Japan’s Kyoto University, and one of the dissidents wanted by the regime.

“My family has not yet been threatened but I have already told them to be prepared,” he says. “I am anticipating this as other people have told me that when they ran away [military officials] came to their houses to annoy and humiliate [their families].”

Other than intimidation, diplomatic pressure may be employed. Pavin has been assured of support from his university, and does not believe Japan would kowtow to any repatriation request, but fears the next step may be to revoke his Thai passport, forcing him to seek asylum.

“Before [revoking my passport] they would have to issue an arrest warrant, but I have not done anything wrong — just my job as an academic,” he says. Even so, “I know an arrest warrant may still arrive.”

Jakrapob reveals that plans to set up a government in exile have been shelved, but an organization of “peaceful resistance” will be announced in coming days. “Points of mission will be set out so that people know what we are doing to resist the dictatorship in Thailand, which has become more and more vicious by the minute,” he says.

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