Thai Junta Threatens Exiled Critic Pavin’s Family

As political tensions have risen in Thailand over what many think is the approaching end of the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the military has begun attempting to intimidate exiled opponents of the regime by threatening their families.

One of the most outspoken is Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former member of Thailand’s foreign service. He was teaching at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan when the junta led by Prayuth Chan-ocha led the coup that brought down democratic government in 2014. In addition to his position in Japan, he is currently a Beaufort Visiting Scholar at St John’s College, University of Cambridge.

The author of two books, Pavin is also the editor of the 2014 book "Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand's Political Developments Since Thaksin's Downfall. In late 2011, Pavin led a nationwide campaign to free a political prisoner named Akong, who was accused of lese-majeste and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Akong later died of cancer while still in prison.

As the government has sought to reach overseas to get at critics, they have demanded that Japan and other nations extradite Pavin and his fellow critics back to Thailand.

In late 2014, Prawit Wongsuwan, the deputy prime minister and interior minister, told a press conference the junta is warning foreign governments they should “think twice about their long-term relations with Thailand,” and that they should hunt down lèse majesté suspects in exile

“We must express to other countries how these [lèse majesté suspects] have committed crimes according to Thai law,” Prawit said. On the same day, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that although western countries respect democracy and human rights, they should think of their long-term relations with Thailand.

Most countries have ignored the threats. There are large contingents of exiles in the United States and the UK. However, Cambodia and Laos have confirmed that they would not allow Thai political exiles to stage political movements.

So far, no government has agreed to send any of the exiles home.

On Feb. 24, a few hours before he was to deliver a lecture to an Oxford University audience, Pavin received a call from his sister, asking him to contact her urgently. When he did, she said four members of the military had shown up at the family home in Bangkok. It isn’t the first time the military has sought to intimidate his family. Army officers visited his home twice in 2015, seeking to persuade his family to get him to shut up.

Now the military has demanded that his entire family in Bangkok report to an army camp and that if they don’t do so, the military will revisit their home.

“My sister felt that the threat this time was real,” Pavin said. “There are fears that my family members could be hurt, or their jobs affected. Undoubtedly, the military will be most likely responsible for such actions. It is no exaggeration to mention that there were cases of enemies of the monarchy being punished and even killed – the case of the famed fortune-teller Moh Yong testified this possibility.”

In the aftermath of the coup of 2014, Pavin was one of hundreds of people ranging from members of the deposed Pheu Thai government to editors and reporters to academics who were ordered summoned by the junta for what was called an “attitude adjustment.”

Pavin, still in Japan, rejected the summons because, he wrote in Asia Sentinel, he did not accept the legitimacy of the coup. Shortly afterwards, the junta issued a warrant his arrest and revoked his passport. That forced him to apply for refugee status, where the junta has continued to reach out to Japanese authorities to hamper his activities. The university and the government have both refused to do so.

His lectures overseas have frequently been invaded by hyper-royalists who have attempted to impede his remarks. For instance, at Yale University on Dec. 1, three screamed curses at him, calling him a “son of a bitch,” describing him as “full of shit” and accusing him of being paid by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to defame the monarchy.

The continuing harassment of his family has included contacting his sister at her workplace. She was ordered to inform him that if he didn’t stop discussing the monarchy, his family would bear serious consequences and that some family members would have to “pay the price” for his activities outside Thailand despite the fact that his family, he says, has had nothing to do with his academic work or his personal views of Thai politics and the monarchy.

“The army told my sister that she and other members would have to be responsible for my actions since we are in the same family,” he said. “The military also stressed that unless I leave the Thai monarchy alone, the military would not stop harassing my family. In other words, the military has held my family hostage.”

Pavin said he is now in the process of contacting key international human rights organizations, including those within the United Nations, as well as foreign ambassadors and diplomats in Bangkok, and the international media. He has also contacted local lawyers to represent family members should they need legal assistance.

“For a long while, I have been working on the issue of the future of the Thai monarchy as part of my academic research,” he said. “My position vis-à-vis the Thai monarchy is somewhat perceived as a threat to the position of the royal institution. It will not be surprising if the junta would charge me with lese-majeste for what I have been studying and lecturing about the monarchy."

As the era of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is approaching its end, a sense of anxiety among the old elites has risen. Anyone viewed as a menace to the royal institution has been dealt with harshly. Now that Thailand is in the custody of the military, a key partner of the monarchy, the situation against critics of the monarchy has turned even more precarious. What has happened to Pavin and his family could happen to anyone and indeed is.

Unless the international community realizes the seriousness of the human rights violations in Thailand, Pavin said, “small people like me will continue to fall prey to the brutal regime that has exploited the monarchy for its own end.”