BANGKOK — An asylum seeker who once campaigned against the Thai monarchy was extradited from Malaysia despite obtaining recognition from the UN, activists said Thursday.
Praphan Pipithnamporn, 58, was sent back to Thailand on Friday May 10, said Thai Lawyer for Human Rights chairwoman Yaowalak Anuphan. Praphan was recognized as a “person of concern” by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as she awaited refugee status, but that did not stop Malaysian authorities from arresting her.
Praphan is a supporter of the Organization for Thai Federation, a network that advocates for the overthrow of the monarchy. Her extradition came just days after three other republicans went missing in exile.
“There is a concern now that nowhere where members of this organization have fled is safe from Thailand’s long arm repression,” Human Rights Watch campaigner Sunai Phasuk said. He added that Malaysian police did not inform UNHRC about the arrest.
A media report quoted Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as saying that Praphan was extradited because Malaysia is a “good neighbor” of Thailand.
“If there is a request, then we will send back. [We are] good neighbors,” Mahathir said, according to The Strait Times.
Praphan was first arrested after wearing black to protest the monarchy on Dec. 5, 2018 – the birthday of the late King Bhumibol – and handing out leaflets attacking the royal family at a shopping mall in Bangkok.
Praphan was represented by Yaowalak’s lawyer group while she contested charges of sedition and belonging to a secret society. She faces up to seven years in prison though police never filed the more serious charge of lese majeste against her, Yaowalak said.
While released on a 200,000 baht bond, the former masseur fled to Malaysia in February to seek refugee status from the UNHCR. But Yaowalak said police contacted her lawyers on May 10 and informed them that Praphan was back in custody awaiting trial.
A Malaysian opposition party also issued a statement condemning the extradition and accusing the authorities of “behaving like an accomplice of the Thai military junta in suppressing dissents and limiting democratic space.”
“Praphan Pipithnamporn has applied for asylum … yet our government has arrested her and sent her back on the request of the repressive Thai government,” Parti Socialis Malaysia said. “Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad should realize that aiding an undemocratic regime in persecution of pro-democracy political activists is not something a ‘good neighbor’ should do.”
Although prosecution under the draconian royal defamation law appears to have dropped since King Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne in late 2016, a crackdown on anti-monarchy elements seems to be the rise.
Republican campaigners Siam Theerawut, Chucheep Chivasut and Kritsana Thapthai went missing while exiled in Vietnam last week. Their supporters blame the Thai government for their suspicious disappearance, though the authorities deny any involvement.
Five other anti-monarchists have also disappeared in exile. None of the missing activists have ever re-emerged alive.
Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra