Monday’s leaked top-secret Watchlist of 183 enemies of the Thai state is a reminder that the regime is more dictatorial and paranoid than one might think.
The military junta which came to power through the coup in May 2014 was supposedly disbanded two years ago after the 2019 general elections by the current regime, led by the same ex-junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. Prayut has proven to be equally insecure and paranoid about his hold on powers, so the state apparently needs to keep a list of citizens they need to survey.
It’s a list of who’s who among dissidents and names of famous opposition politicians, dissidents, and activists are there. Some who came out to acknowledge that they are on the list includes leader of opposition Move Forward Party’s Pita Limjaroenrat, former Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Move Forward’s Rangsiman Rome, key monarchy-reform protest leaders (some now back in prison thus making the surveillance much easier), exiled dissidents wanted for lese-majeste, head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Group Yaowalak Anuphan – even I myself, as probably the only journalist. This list is updated as of June 1. (I am at Number 143, arranged mostly in alphabetical order, if you must know.)
What’s surprising is that a good number of the 183 people include young activists, some little known to the wider public. Two girls are 15. There’s a teenager in a boy scout uniform and even an exiled Buddhist monk. The list comes with ID photos of everyone in the document, including our ID and passport numbers, and our “criminal” record and status if there’s any. Also, details as to whether those on the list are currently in Thailand or abroad is also included. For those who have left, it includes their flight numbers and destination.
Only the state has access to such information and so there’s little or not doubt that the list is genuine, despite a spokesman of the Immigration Police saying the list wasn’t produced by them.
Yaowalak told me earlier this week that some of those on the list will soon challenge the Immigration Police about the list to have it removed and if nothing satisfactory emerges out of it, we will petition the Administrative Court. I will be joining these actions.
Is such a ‘dangerous dissidents’ or ‘enemies of the state’ list constitutional? Is this the work of a deep state, and a deeply paranoid state, since many on the lists are critical of the monarchy institution? Is Thailand under its Siamese smile veneer more like a Stalinist stare?
I spoke to a few others on the list and some were not surprised. Some contacted me to ask if I saw them on the list. Some were relieved not to be on the list, others slightly disappointed to not have made it since there’s a cachet to it. Others do not want to speak about it for fear of witch hunting against them and their families.
Given the track record of the regime back to the time when Prayut was the junta leader engaging in detention of opponents without charges, one should not be surprised. The 2019 general elections which propelled Prayut as PM only gave him a veneer of legitimacy. Dictatorial habits die hard.
The fact that many on the list are young means the state is now fighting not just against the youth but the future. Over a third, or 68, of those on the list are below 25 and seven of these under 18. One of the young on the list is Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothong, a former Mahidol University student leader. Just over twenty, he told me he wasn’t surprised to learn that he’s on the list.
“I expected it, since I was accused by the authorities of having an alleged intent to harm the Queen’s liberty [last October]. I am not surprised,” he said, “But that doesn’t mean I am okay with such invasive surveillance.”
That the state is not losing the hearts and minds of many youngsters was also confirmed by a related event earlier this week. Police will now consider taking legal action against parents who fail to keep their teenaged kids from joining monarchy-reform and anti-government protests, which have been turning ugly over the past weeks. They will use the Child Protection Act to try to make sure the parents of these teenage protesters keep them at home.
Good luck fighting with the future. And thank you for the list. We know now the state is more paranoid and insecure beneath the forced smiles of Gen Prayut.