Thai Government Strips Overseas Dissidents of Their Passports

Having failed to persuade foreign governments to repatriate dissidents, Thailand’s junta is now revoking the passports of its overseas critics.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University in Japan who has become one of the junta’s most prominent critics, said earlier this week that he had been notified that he is now stateless. Pavin is a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel. In all, at least 10 people have lost their passports although he said he had not yet been officially notified by the Thai consulate in Kyoto. There was talk that he might be given an international political refugee passport, but nothing official has surfaced.

Besides Pavin, Those known to have lost their travel documents include Somsak Jeamthirasakul, a history professor at Thammasat University, and like Pavin an academic critic of the regime; Jarupong Ruengsuwan, former Pheu Thai Party chief ; former Pheu Thai spokesman Jakrapob Penkair; former Pheu Thai MP Sunai Chulapongsathorn; former actor Attachai Anantamek; and Chatwadee Rose Amornpat, the firebrand hairdresser now in London who on facebook and her website has been massively critical of the regime.

There may be more. There are said to be about 15 academics who have been targeted. Thongchai Winichakul from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a former president of the Association for Asian Studies, who signed a letter denouncing the coup, is believed to be among them. Immediately after the coup, a sizeable number of Red Shirts and academics ran for the Cambodian border. On June 24, Jarupong Ruangsuwan announced via social media that he and others had formed the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy somewhere outside the country. He told the Voice of America news service he couldn’t say where because he said it would put his life in danger. Some sources believe the exile group is headquartered in Cambodia, where the government of Hun Sen in the past has expressed support for exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

The Thai foreign ministry in June ordered ambassadors and consuls in 22 countries to demand of their host countries to repatriate critics of the junta. The expatriates who chose to refuse to come back face a jail term of two and a half years if they do come back. Now they are being stripped of their passports, circumscribing their movement overseas.

Pavin said he had been assured by the Japanese government and the university in Kyoto that he would not be returned to Thailand. However, Pavin previously had traveled widely across the world, often being extremely critical of the government. In a May 25 article in Asia Sentinel, Pavin said he denied the legitimacy of the coup and would refuse to return to Thailand, which, he said, is now being transformed into a military state. The coup, he said, has once again wrecked democratic institutions.

The reach of the Thai government overseas is indicative of the extraordinary thoroughness of the latest coup, of which Thailand has seen 19 since 1932 – 13 of them successful. No other junta has sought to reach overseas to rein in its dissidents.