BANGKOK — One was a 65-year-old activist opposed to the military’s eviction of his fishing community; two others were his colleagues. Another led a campaign against a power plant the military government wants to build north of the capital.
To the military government, the four activists are the type of “influential figures” to be detained without charge as part of its much-publicized campaign originally thought to target underworld influences.
All four were released from detention on Wednesday, the same day soldiers nationwide were granted sweeping search and seizure powers as a means of carrying out the junta’s campaign. But instead of going after the type of criminal figures blamed for entrenched corruption, they have moved against activists opposed to projects supported by the junta.
“I was confused. The influential figures are supposed to be very rich, to have millions of baht,” said Lamom Boonyong, the 65-year-old community leader from Rayong province. “But now, just by working on an issue concerning the troubles of locals, I have now became the mafia.”
Lamom was among three community leaders leading a fight against the military eviction in Rayong province. The fourth was a prominent environmental activist in Pathum Thani province campaigning against a waste-fired power plant. All of them were summoned under the junta crackdown on influential figures.
After vowing to crack down on underworld crime and business, the junta Tuesday night issued an order authorizing soldiers to conduct warrantless searches of homes, seize assets and detain civilians without charge if they are suspected to be involved in any kind of criminal enterprise.
Lamom was summoned to the 14th Army Circle in Chonburi province at 5am on Tuesday along with community leaders Rangsan Dokchan, 48, and Anan Thongmanee, 57. About 36 hours later, they were released late Wednesday afternoon.
“They treated us well. I believe it was a misunderstanding,” Rangsan said. “But some of my relatives were shocked and cried when the military officers came to take me from my house.”
The three men are leaders in a fishing village in Rayong which recently complained to the Human Rights Commission that the military and local municipality were trying to forcibly evict their community from the beach.
“Someone told them that I was going to form a mob to expel the district chief officer,” Lamom said. “That’s why I was recognized as an ‘influential figure.’”
The other activist summoned Wednesday was 47-year-old Thaweesak Inkvang, who is leading a campaign against a junta-backed plan to build a trash-fired power plant.
After receiving a letter of summons Saturday, Thaweesak said he reported himself in to Pathum Thani’s Sam Khok district office at 1:30pm on Wednesday and was released about an hour later.
“The military officers said it did not involve the power plant case, but because I was an influential person dealing in an illegal business,” he said.
Before being released, Thaweesak said he was asked not to discuss the matter and delete a photo of the summons posted online that evening. He obeyed the latter request.
Thaweesak is known for his role in the ongoing campaign against a junta order that allowed the construction of an incinerator power plant without regard of city planning laws. The order was represented as needed to solve Thailand’s critical energy shortage. He said the decision process authorizing each plant was also completed without public participation.
Thaweesak weeks ago also criticized the abuse of power of the Article 44 in a public discussion at Thammasat University.
“I think the point [of summoning] is to use me as an example for others,” he said.
In response to these two cases, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights on Thursday said they are concerned the junta’s new order has created an arbitrary means to expand its unchecked powers of detention to matters other than national security.
“We are concerned that it will be used with some other groups rather than mafia [figures],” said Sorawut Wongsaranon, a staff member of the group.
Were the order actually applied as the military suggested it would be, by going after actual underworld criminal suspects, Sorawut said it still denies them rights and legal protections they would be afforded under the law. Sorawut pointed to the fact the order keeps those detained out of the justice system by ordering they be held in places other than police stations, detention facilities, correctional institutions or prisons.
“But then they will not disclose the detention location,” said Sorawut. “And even if we know the location, they will say a lawyer cannot visit as those who are summoned are not criminal suspects. Hence no one will know about what happens during the detention. And the words [detainees] say to authorities, without the advice of a lawyer, can later be used against them.”