TIME Thailand

And Then There Was the College Lecturer Who Gave Out Grades in Return for 7-Eleven Coupons

Inside A 7-Eleven Store Ahead Of CP All Pcl Full-Year Results
A customer exits a 7-Eleven convenience store, operated by CP All Pcl, in Bangkok, Thailand, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Dario Pignatelli—Bloomberg/Getty Images

“She might have thought it was ordinary practice,” said her boss

A university lecturer in Thailand has been caught offering top grades in exchange for 7-Eleven coupons, or stamps, redeemable at the convenience store chain for small gifts or discounts.

When a class at Kalasin Rajabhat University, in northeast Thailand, complained to the lecturer about the selling of test scores, she rebuked them, and someone in class filmed her doing so.

From the conversation, it appears that 25 coupons earned a one-grade bump, with one student shelling out 400 coupons for an A+, reports the Bangkok Post.

“Khanittha got 17 points in psychology class. She gave me stamps,” the teacher says on the video. “Then, I gave her A+. Do you think you got that grade by your own brain?”

Thailand boasts some 7,000 7-Elevens nationwide — the third-largest presence for the chain after Japan and the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Council of Rajabhat University Presidents of Thailand — known by its unfortunate acronym CRUPT — ordered an investigation.

“Teachers should never exploit their students for any purpose,” said CRUPT president Niwat Klin-Ngam.

Despite suspending the lecturer, who worked for the university’s pre-school education department, acting Kalasin Rajabhat University rector Nopporn Kosirayothin said there may be extenuating circumstances.

“She might have thought it was ordinary practice,” he said. “Judging from what I heard, some lecturers at other places also exchange grades for some beer.”

[Bangkok Post]

TIME Thailand

Thailand’s Prisoners Fight Foreigners in Attempt to Win Freedom

A competition called "Prison Fight" backed by Thailand's Department of Corrections allows inmates to fight foreign opponents in organized matches. Victory brings them money, glory and, perhaps, a chance at freedom — though fighting skills are taken into account, so are factors like good behavior and time served

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Revokes a Famed Academic’s Passport in Its Crackdown on Dissidents

THAILAND-POLITICS-PROTEST
Thai policemen stand guard during a demonstration by an anticoup protester at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 22, 2014. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

Little wonder the BBC's World Service has launched a new Thai-language “pop-up” Internet service to counter the military's tightening grip on media and opinion

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the prominent Thai political scholar and outspoken opponent of the country’s coup, has had his passport revoked as part of the Thai junta’s ongoing campaign against dissenters.

“I am now a stateless person,” Pavin, who is based at Japan’s Kyoto University, tells TIME. “The junta not only claims the right to take control of politics, but the right to define who should be, or should not be, Thai citizens.”

Pavin has not been charged with any crime and is now expected to seek asylum in Japan.

Since the May 22 putsch, the junta has stifled all forms of opposition. Politicians on both sides of the political divide have been detained, strict censorship introduced and peaceful protesters hauled off the street by soldiers in civilian clothing for the merest flickers of dissent. These include making the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games, reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, and serving or eating sandwiches — an anticoup symbol — in an “antagonistic” manner.

Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of the Red Shirt–leaning Fah Diew Khan magazine, was detained over the weekend for simply posting on Facebook that military authorities had instructed him to refrain from making critical remarks about the junta. He is expected to remain in custody for seven days.

Until now, only Thai nationals outside the country have felt able to voice opposition to the coup — the Southeast Asian nation’s 12th since 1932. However, this may change now that Pavin has been made an example of. Considerable pressure is also being put on dissenting Thais living abroad, through both diplomatic channels and threats to family members still at home.

Pavin was a particularly vocal critic of the military and repeatedly refused to return to his homeland and report to the authorities as instructed. When first summoned, he famously offered to send his pet Chihuahua instead, and has continued to pen disparaging op-eds and to condemn the junta to foreign media.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the BBC’s World Service launched a new Thai-language “pop-up” Internet service to counter the propaganda being peddled by the military regime.

“One of the fundamental principles of the World Service is to bring impartial and accurate news and to countries when they lack it,” Liliane Landor, controller of language services for the World Service, told the Telegraph. “We think the time is right to trial a new Thai and English digital stream to bring trusted news and information to people inside Thailand.”

TIME Thailand

Thailand’s Junta Arrests an Editor Over a Facebook Comment

Thailand's Military Coup Continues As General Prayuth Receives Royal Endorsement
A man shows his mobile phone while riding the Bangkok sky train on May 28, 2014. A widespread Facebook outage occurred in Thailand one afternoon while the ruling military junta who staged a coup denied causing it. Paula Bronstein—Getty Images

The military continues to silence critics of the May 22 coup

Thailand’s ruling junta set another disturbing precedent over the weekend after arresting a magazine editor in retaliation for comments he published on his Facebook page on July 4.

In his message, Thanapol Eawsakul, the editor of Fah Diew Khan magazine, said that military authorities had instructed him to refrain from making critical remarks about the junta. He was taken into custody the following day by soldiers clothed in civilian attire.

This is the second time Thanapol has been taken into custody since the army seized power from the country’s caretaker government in late May. He is expected to be held in “administrative detention” for at least seven days.

“Arresting an editor for a Facebook criticism of military rule shows just how far the junta will go to silence critics,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The military can neither arrest all critics nor wish them out of existence.”

Fah Diew Khan is largely associated with the country’s Red Shirt movement, which supports the popularly elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra that was removed from power during the coup.

In a barely disguised display of media favoritism, the junta appointed the chairman of Post Publishing, which owns several periodicals that reportedly have strong ties to Thailand’s ruling class, to the 10-member advisory board it set up days after the coup.

Since seizing the reins of power, the military has relied on the interment of protest leaders, politicians, analysts and journalists critical of their policies to smother dissent.

On May 28, the junta briefly suspended access to Facebook before quickly reinstating the connection. While the military later denied blocking Facebook, a spokesperson from Norwegian telecommunications firm Telenor, which operates the second largest network in Thailand, admitted that the firm did so for one hour after being instructed by Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.

TIME southeast asia

Elephants Are Tortured and Trafficked to Entertain Tourists in Thailand

An elephant lifts a tourist during a show in Pattaya, Thailand on March 1, 2013.
An elephant lifts a tourist during a show in Pattaya, Thailand on March 1, 2013. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

That obligatory elephant ride and selfie relies on a bloody trade in tormented animals

Wild elephants are being captured in Burma and mentally broken through savage beatings as traffickers seek to profit from a lucrative trade to Thai tourist parks, claims a new report.

According to wildlife-advocacy group TRAFFIC, poachers in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, corral elephants into jungle pits, after which older animals are slaughtered and the more valuable young ones tortured into submission before being trafficked over the porous border to entertain tourists vacationing in the self-styled Land of Smiles. (Formerly, elephants in Burma might have been put to work in the logging industry, but recent curbs have put this trade under threat.)

Sangduen Chailert, popularly known as Lek, has worked in elephant conservation in her native northern Thailand for 20 years. “When they catch a wild baby elephant, some [poachers] told me that in the jungle it’s like a killing field,” she tells TIME. “To take one baby they must kill the mother and the aunties, and it is very risky for the baby as it’s difficult for them to survive without their mothers.”

Thailand vowed to clamp down on the trade in February 2012, yet as elephants can be registered and microchipped anytime up to the age of 4, there is ample opportunity for young trafficked animals to be passed off as locally reared.

“There are gaping holes in the current legislation, which do little to deter unscrupulous operators passing off wild-caught young animals as being of captive origin and falsifying birth and ownership documentation,” said Joanna Cary-Elwes, campaigns manager for Elephant Family.

Healthy young elephants typically fetch more than $30,000 in Thailand, according to TRAFFIC. Venal officials often facilitate their illicit movement across Southeast Asia, even shipping them as far as China or South Korea after giving the animals new identities in Laos.

Lek, who was named one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, says educating tourists is vital to combat the trade at the source. Some 6,500 elephants currently live in Thailand, around 2,500 of which are wild-caught.

“Tourists want to see the elephants painting and doing lots of things, especially riding,” she says, but “tourism work is actually the most disturbing to the elephant” as “when logging they only work for part of the year.”

The TRAFFIC study says up to 81 live elephants were illegally captured for sale to the Thai tourist industry between 2011 and 2013. Lax implementation of current antitrafficking provisions means the current plod across the mountainous Thai-Burmese frontier may soon become a stampede once again.

“Unless urgent changes are made to outdated legislation and better systems are introduced to document the origin of elephants in tourist camps and other locations across Thailand, things could quickly revert to their previous unacceptable state,” says Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s regional director for Southeast Asia.

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 Thailand

If There’s Going to Be a Thai Civil War, Isaan Will Be Its Front Line

THAILAND-POLITICS-PROTEST
Red Shirt supporters practice self-defense as they attend a Democracy Protection Volunteers Group camp in Udon Thani province, in Isaan region of Thailand, on April 3, 2014 Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

Resentment toward Thailand’s latest military coup is palpable in the Isaan region of northeastern Thailand, reinforcing a long-standing sense of ethnic separateness among its Lao-speaking people

The folk music of Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region is known as morlum and it follows a familiar theme. Typically, a young, wet-behind-the-ears girl or boy leaves the emerald rice paddies to move to the big city. Once there, facing exploitation, social estrangement, and heartbreak, the protagonist yearns for the pastoral wholesomeness of their birthplace.

It’s a tale many in Thailand’s largest region can relate to. “When you live in upcountry Thailand, everywhere you go — your neighbor’s house, restaurants, the market, taxis — that’s the music that they play,” says singer Christy Gibson, who grew up listening to morlum and its close relative luk thung after moving to Isaan with her parents at the age of 6, and is one of the few foreign musicians to have made it in the Thai mainstream.

But despite making up a third of the population, the people of Isaan — who share a culture and language closer to neighboring Laos — have for centuries been second-class citizens to the inhabitants of Bangkok and central provinces, who often are descended from Chinese stock. And although it is the rice-bowl of a country that, until recently, was the world’s largest exporter of the grain, the region has historically suffered from chronic underdevelopment.

As a result, local people traditionally headed south to Bangkok or the country’s tourist zones to work as taxi drivers or construction workers, often returning home to help at harvest time. Many women, weary of toiling under the hot sun for a pittance, ended up working in the sex industry.

In recent times, though, Isaan has experienced a comparative upturn in fortunes, with new investment transforming the area into a manufacturing hub. In the villages, rickety wooden houses are being rebuilt in concrete, with shiny pickup trucks parked outside. In the cities, glitzy shopping malls, boasting ice-skating rinks and global coffee chains, are the hangouts of spiky-haired teens in fashionable streetwear.

The upshot? “Isaan people have become cosmopolitan villagers who have sophisticated understandings of themselves as Thai and as participants in a global labor force,” says Charles Keyes, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and author of a recent book on Thailand’s northeast.

But not is all well. The successive ousting of Isaan-backed governments by the Bangkok-based political establishment is reinforcing the sense of ethnic difference and consolidating a political identity for Isaan alongside its cultural and linguistic ones. And following Thailand’s latest military coup on May 22, many Isaan people are calling for greater autonomy — even independence.

“There’s a generalized anger at the military government,” says David Streckfuss, an American scholar based in the Isaan city of Khon Kaen, who has studied Thai culture for over 25 years. “Civil war is never a plan, it’s an outcome of bad choices,” he adds. But “it’s not unimaginable, as there is so much pent-up anger.”

Isaan identity, just like morlum, has long been distinct. “Isaan migrants tend to live together, to speak Lao with each other, to listen to Isaan popular music, and, most of all, send money to relatives at home,” says Keyes. “Identification as khon isaan, northeastern people, is a primary identity even for those who have lived outside the region for years.”

Colonialism has fed this dynamic. Once the French gained control of Lao in 1893, they quickly noted that those living across the Mekong also spoke the same language as their new subjects, and attempted to unite all Lao under Gallic rule. Siam, as Thailand was then known, took umbrage and in 1904 reclassified all ethnic Lao within its borders as Thai — “just an inferior sort of Thai,” explains Streckfuss.

Nearly a century later, the differences were still great enough for telecoms mogul Thaksin Shinawatra to make a political career out of them. Though he was not born in Isaan and was in fact of Chinese descent (his mother came from a Hakka family and his great-grandfather was a migrant from China’s Guangdong province), Thaksin shrewdly decided to champion the region’s rural poor. He was elected Prime Minister in 2001 largely on their votes, in return for which he initiated populist policies such as microfinance loans, fuel subsidies and universal health care.

But Thailand’s entrenched elite soon tired of this parvenu, accusing him of buying votes from gullible bumpkins and even of angling to replace the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej as the object of popular adoration. Despite an unprecedented re-election in 2005, Thaksin was ousted in a military putsch the following year. He was convicted of corruption in absentia — charges he insists are politically motivated — and remains in exile.

“He’s a businessman, sometimes insensitive to social plights, but that’s the extent [of wrongdoing] that I’ve seen,” Thaksin’s former spokesman, Jakrapob Penkair, told a recent luncheon meeting at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club. “If he has committed any crime, it is the crime of being naive — of believing that Thailand was already a democracy.”

Thaksin’s popularity in the northeast has endured despite his ousting, and parties he backs have won every election this millennium, only to be removed twice by the military and three times by the courts. A popular movement, colloquially known as the Red Shirts, developed to demand his return — and a reciprocal royalist Yellow Shirt movement emerged to resist it.

The color-coded rivalry between them has convulsed Thailand for nigh on a decade now, with sporadic bloodletting claiming scores of lives and leaving thousands injured. This, in turn, has intensified the antipathy between the capital and Isaan. This became especially bitter during the six-month-long Shutdown Bangkok demonstrations that began last November, when Yellow Shirt protesters demanded the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, on the pretext that the northeasterners who elected her were too stupid to be trusted with the vote.

“In February, I was hearing 20-minute rants about the history of the Laos and how they were repressed — how [the Thais] came up on horses and put chains around our necks and dragged us away,’” says Streckfuss. This newfound pride wasn’t about identifying with fellow Lao people across the Mekong, he adds, “it was anti-Bangkok.”

That the Red and Yellow Shirt factions are ethnically, linguistically and geographically distinct has heightened fears of armed conflict. In February, before the coup, Red Shirt leader Suporn Attawong announced plans to recruit 600,000 young men across the 20 northern provinces to join a new progovernment Democracy Protection Volunteers Group. Since the putsch of May 22, caches of weapons have been unearthed alongside stores of Red Shirt propaganda materials. Last week, despite the obvious risk of detention, Red Shirt activist Ittipon Sukpaen threatened civil war on his Facebook page. Weapons are freely available in Thailand: according to one 2011 study, the country has an estimated 10 million firearms in civilian hands.

Even morlum mirrors this changing dynamic, though not in the bellicose way one might expect. “Many of the artists I’ve spoke to try to use their music as a vehicle for positive reconciliation,” says Gibson, “to say ‘we are all Thais.’” And that is, of course, true. It’s just that today — just as it was in the past — some Thais believe they are more Thai than others.

TIME Thailand

The U.S. Is Freezing the Thai Junta Out of Military Exercises

THAILAND-US-MILITARY-DRILL
A Thai Marine shows how to catch a cobra as U.S. Marines look on during a jungle-survival program at a navy base in Chanthaburi province, Thailand, on Feb. 15, 2014 Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

Washington gets tough with its longtime ally as junta rides roughshod over human rights

Thailand has been uninvited from the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) in Hawaii — the world’s largest international maritime-warfare exercise — this week, in response to spiraling human-rights abuses in the wake of last month’s military coup.

The ban only affects the two or three Thai military observers slated to attend the exercise, nonetheless, in diplomatic terms the snub — to America’s oldest treaty partner in Asia — is a very pointed one.

“We take very seriously the whole human-rights aspect to this coup in Thailand,” U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney tells TIME. “One of the things our government has done is look at our military engagements.”

Washington has already blocked $4.7 million in security-related aid to Thailand, accounting for roughly half its total annual assistance. But more significantly, the U.S. has made it clear that significant progress toward elections must be seen if next year’s high-profile Cobra Gold exercises are to go ahead.

Beginning as a bilateral U.S.-Thai exercise in 1982, Cobra Gold has become the largest military exercise in the Asia-Pacific region. It is held in Thailand annually and involved almost 30 regional players last year. However, 2015’s Cobra Gold is “under review,” says Kenney, and “will be a tough call at very senior levels in Washington.”

The cancellation of Cobra Gold would be hugely embarrassing for Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who on May 22 launched the Southeast Asian nation’s 12th military coup since the end of absolute monarchical rule in 1932. Martial law has been imposed, the constitution suspended, with academics, politicians and activists arbitrarily detained.

“One of our great concerns right now is that these detentions continue — the restrictions on freedom of expression, the martial-law restrictions on freedom of assembly.” says Kenney. “So it is really troubling, [as is] the fact that there’s not clear accountability for who is detained and who is released.”

General Prayuth has insisted that the military will remain in charge for at least a year while urgent “reforms” are enacted. A budget and a list of urgent infrastructure projects are being drawn up, while a draconian “clean up” of everything from petty crime to aggressive illegal taxi operators that target tourists (the so-called taxi mafia) appears to be on the cards.

Washington, however, wants a civilian government in power as soon as possible. “Our focus at this point is encouraging the current governing council of Thailand to move power into civilian hands and stop the restrictive measures,” Kenney says. “We want to see Thailand back in a leadership position as a democracy in Asia.”

The crackdown on civil liberties has led to calls for greater international support from those aligned with the ousted government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her divisive brother Thaksin.

Jakrapob Penkair, a founding member of the pro-Shinawatra Red Shirt movement and a former government minister now living in exile, has helped launch the anticoup Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy, which he says is in discussions with five Western governments about how best to return democracy in Thailand.

“[The West] is more aware [than Asian nations] of the tricks and games that are being played in Thailand now,” he told a meeting at Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong on Thursday. “We have to work from outside in, because no one in Thailand can move as they are being so repressed.”

On Thursday, the BBC published an interview with junta council member Lieut. General Chatchalerm Chalermsukh, who rejected Yellow Shirt leader Suthep Thaugsuban’s claims that military intervention had been planned since 2010.

He also said Thaksin was welcome to return to his homeland and fight a tax-evasion conviction linked to the sale of his telecom company during his tenure as Prime Minister.

Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian lawyer who represents the Red Shirts and formerly also Thaksin, said he would “relish” defending his erstwhile client “if it was in a rule-of-law court before an independent tribunal.”

Speaking alongside Jakrapob in Hong Kong, he said “The judges [during Thaksin’s 2007 in absentia conviction] were specifically appointed from a small group of people whose qualifications were based upon their antipathy to Thaksin,” adding that Thaksin “never had any independent review of the allegations.”

TIME Thailand

The Thai Junta Is Offering $15 Rewards for Photos of Anticoup Activity

Activists, with their mouths taped up as a form of protest against the ongoing military rule in Thailand, hold placards during a picket in front of the Thai embassy in Manila
Activists, with their mouths taped up as a form of protest against the ongoing military rule in Thailand, hold placards during a picket in front of the Thai embassy in Manila on June 5, 2014 Romeo Ranoco— Reuters

Just call it the Land of Snitches

Thailand’s ruling junta is offering 500 baht ($15) to anyone submitting a photo of anticoup activities — either taken firsthand or downloaded from social media.

The sinister measure is the latest tool used by Thailand’s military to consolidate power since the May 22 coup — the nation’s 12th successful putsch since 1932. Activists, politicians and academics have been rounded up, censorship imposed and journalists threatened.

“The activities of splinter groups with different views threaten to cause unrest within society,” police general Somyos Phumphunmuang told reporters on Monday. “Army and police officers will only pursue harsh measures against those who are guilty of breaking the law.”

Publicly reading “subversive” literature like George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984, flashing the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games or even the proffering of sandwiches — adopted as the latest anticoup protest prop — now invoke the junta’s wrath. Police officers are posing as journalists to infiltrate protest crowds, and even “liking” critical Facebook posts can result in arbitrary detention.

Saksith Saiyasombut, a respected Thai political blogger and commentator based in Germany, tells TIME that the latest measure could spur “crowdfunded witch hunts.”

“It really shows that the junta is not above using their own people against their own people,” he says, “and also not above giving financial incentives to that end.”

In another disturbing development, missing activist Kritsuda Khunasen — who rose to prominence aiding Red Shirt protesters injured during the 2010 military-led crackdown in central Bangkok — appeared on army TV on Monday evening claiming to be “happier than words can say.”

The 27-year-old vanished after she was seized by soldiers on May 28, but now says she “requested” to remain in military custody two weeks longer than the seven-day maximum martial-law detention period for “safety” and to “feel calm by spending more time” by herself.

She was speaking “under duress,” Saksith says. “Some people have compared it to a hostage video … It really shows that she is not at liberty to say what she really thinks.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday former Thai Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan launched the Organisation of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy to oppose the junta. “The military regime and its conspirators have no legitimate power whatsoever to govern the country’s economy and society,” he said in a statement.

The E.U. has suspended both official visits to Thailand and its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the country.

TIME Thailand

A Yellow Shirt Leader Says the Thai Coup Was Planned in 2010

THAILAND-POLITICS-PROTEST
Thai policemen arrest a student for reading George Orwell's 1984 at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 22, 2014 Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images

Suthep Thaugsuban says coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha told him it was the army's "duty" to take over the task of opposing Yingluck Shinawatra's government

Planning for Thailand’s latest military coup began four years ago, according to the leader of antigovernment demonstrations that paralyzed Bangkok for six months and contributed to the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Suthep Thaugsuban, the firebrand chief of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) — the main Yellow Shirt protest group — revealed to a fundraising dinner over the weekend that he and Thai Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha had been discussing how to purge Thailand of the influence of powerful Shinawatra ever since deadly political violence erupted in 2010.

The Bangkok Post quoted Suthep as saying, “Before martial law was declared [on May 20], General Prayuth told me ‘Khun Suthep and your masses of PDRC supporters are too exhausted. It’s now the duty of the army to take over the task.’”

Suthep is a former Deputy Prime Minister for the Establishment-backed Democrat Party. The 64-year-old has murder charges pending relating to a crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters he ordered in 2010 that claimed at least 90 lives and left more than 2,000 injured, and he is seen as being closely aligned with elite institutions such as the military, judiciary and royal court. However, he now claims that he will retire from politics and that the PDRC “will function like a nongovernmental organization that will carry out research.”

The crackdown on opposition to the May 22 coup continues. On Sunday, eight people were arrested outside the capital’s Siam Paragon mall — one for reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, copies of which have become symbols of the protest movement. Others were arrested for holding sandwiches, which have also become a tongue-in-cheek pro-democracy prop.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has not responded to requests for clarification from TIME regarding whether foreign visitors should refrain from bringing 1984 into the country.

Meanwhile, eminent American linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky has expressed support for dissident Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Like other prominent Thai critics of the coup living overseas, Pavin is wanted by the regime and has been threatened with two years in prison if he does not surrender.

“I am deeply disturbed to learn about the threats against Professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun,” said Chomksy. “I hope that they will be quickly withdrawn, as they should be, and that he will be free to visit his family and resume his life without government repression.”

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