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Thailand is currently hosting the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week, taking place between 14 – 19 November at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre (QSNCC), with the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting on 18-19 November. Meanwhile, activist groups and civil society organizations are planning series of protests over the week against what they see as an attempt by the government to boost its legitimacy and greenwash the country’s major polluters.

Activists putting up a "Stop greenwashing" banner during the 16 November protest at Lan Khon Muang. 

At a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) last Thursday (10 November), activists and civil society organization representatives launched the “Ratsadon Stop APEC2022” campaign, calling out the government for its illegitimacy and its efforts to greenwash major corporations via the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy model, which has been accused of greenwashing and raises concerns that the working class will be severely affected.

The BCG model, which the Thai government is planning to propose during the meetings, is said to be an economic model for promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. According to a report from the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), the government is planning to include the BCG model in the national agenda and in January 2021 approved a strategic plan to run from 2021 to 2026.

The plan proposes to utilize biodiversity and cultural diversity “as a basis for developing the nation and improving people’s quality of life.”

The network said that Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has no legitimacy as chair of the 2022 APEC summit since he was the leader of the 2014 coup and remained in power through “distorted electoral rules and legal procedures.” His administration issued policies that affect marginalized and vulnerable groups while favouring major corporations. Meanwhile, dissenting voices are silenced and peaceful protests are forcibly dispersed, while laws are enacted which restrict civic liberties and destroy the rule of law.

“APEC2022 should not be a platform to rubber stamp illegitimate government and corporate profits.  General Prayut’s authoritarian administration has used raw power to control and suppress peasants, workers, and ordinary people. We do not acknowledge partnerships with authoritarian states that deny basic rights and freedoms to people,” said the group’s statement.

They demanded that that the Thai government withdraw the BCG model proposal, since the model is designed to “facilitate economic advantage” for corporations and may worsen the impact of climate injustice, and that Gen Prayut step down as summit chair and Prime Minister. Gen Prayut’s administration must also dissolve parliament and call a general election, and a new constitution must be drafted.

BCG model could worsen community right issues, says activist

Pachara Khamchamnan

There are also concerns that the BCG model will have a negative impact on community rights and the livelihood of indigenous peoples living in Thailand’s conservation areas. Activist Pachara Khamchamnan, secretary for the Northern Peasant Federation (NPF) and a member of the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move), noted that the government does not have a plan to reduce carbon emissions or regulate the industrial sector, but plans to increase forest areas to increase carbon absorption and for carbon credits, and that the plan is likely to worsen land rights and community rights that have been issued, further marginalizing communities living in forest areas.

In 2014, the NCPO government issued an order for the prosecution of people living in conservation areas, now known as the “Forest Reclamation Policy.” Pachara said that during the past 8 years, there have been over 30,000 cases in which people were prosecuted for encroachment, and he believes that if the BCG model is implemented, more people would have their lands taken from them.

One of the villagers prosecuted under the Forest Reclamation Policy is Saengduean Tinyot, now named Wannueng Yawichaipong, a 55-year-old villager from Mae Kwak Village, Ban On Subdistrict, Ngao District, Lampang. She was twice ordered by Tham Pha Thai National Park to cut down her rubber trees, in 2013 and 2015. After it was proven that the plot in question was not part of the land that was to be declared a national park area, Wannueng demanded compensation, but was then sued by Mae Pong National Forest Area officials in December 2018, despite evidence that the plot in question has been occupied since 1954.

In September 2022, the Supreme Court sentenced Wannueng to 1 year in prison, suspended for 2 years, and a fine of 400,000 baht. She was also evicted from her land.

Pachara said that Wannueng’s fine was calculated based on how much carbon could be absorbed by trees grown on her land. He noted that the Forest Reclamation Policy seems violent, and state officials would lose their legitimacy if community members can prove that they are not encroaching, but the government could claim climate change to legitimize their action.

“As soon as they bring up carbon credits, or bring up fixing the problem of climate change, and they are backed by groups with the money and power to do PR and CSR campaigns, it’s a great concern that the reaction in forest reclamation will become much stronger with the support of people in society, because they are claiming climate change as the reason,” Pachara said.

Pachara refers to the scheme as ‘greenwashing,’ noting that many of the corporations in the BCG model working group have a reputation of being polluters and of violating human rights and that a few are trying to build a reputation of being environmentally friendly. He also said he is concerned that indigenous communities who live in conservation forest will be made scapegoats for environmental issues.

“The question is, what will the Thai people get from implementing a policy like this, because to be honest, capitalists are being given a license to continue devastating the planet, while the villagers become more marginalized. More land will be seized. More people will be prosecuted,” he said.

Crowd control police pushing back at protesters in front of the Le Meridien Hotel, Chiang Mai (Photo by Anucha Tadee)

On 24 August 2022, while the 5th APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Forestry was taking place at the Le Meridien Hotel in Chiang Mai, NPF activists attempted to submit a petition to Varawut Silpa-archa, the Thai Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, calling for the protection of community rights and indigenous rights, the repeal of current conservation laws, the acceptance of indigenous communities in Thailand, and for land-related charges resulting from government policy to be dropped against community members.

However, while marching from Tha Pae Gate, a tourist landmark in Chiang Mai, they were blocked by crowd control police and prevented from entering the hotel. The police attempted to arrest 4 protesters, but released them after protest leaders demanded they do so. One person was injured during the attempted arrest, and it was later reported that NPF members were threatened with legal prosecution and told not to protest as it would affect tourism.

Pachara said that the police violence toward the Chiang Mai protest prompted the NPF to announce that they would bring their protest to Bangkok during the APEC Leaders’ Meeting. He noted that the “Ratsadon Stop APEC 2022” campaign brings together a network of civil society organizations and young pro-democracy activists, all of whom are now directing their demands at Gen Prayut and his administration.

“The government that talks about a multicultural society is the same government that said that Thailand has no indigenous people, even though we signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It has never respected fundamental human rights. People who protested were even suppressed, arrested, and prosecuted. Many have been imprisoned. Even though this is a principle of international human rights, the government did this to us,” Pachara said.

“The question is, are you really going to cooperate with the Thai government to whitewash the government and greenwash the capitalist groups that violate people’s rights in Thailand?”

Activists harassed ahead of protest

In the week preceding the summit, activists reported being monitored and harassed by police officers. Pachara said that police officers called him and went looking for him at the Northern Development Foundation office in Chiang Mai while he was in Bangkok. He said that the police have information on past flights he had taken and was questioning him on why he travelled so often, even though it was normal for him to travel for work and one of the trips was to attend a meeting on forest fire control with the Pollution Control Department. This led him to question how the police were able to obtain his travel information.

Pachara said that officers also tried to ask him whether he would be doing anything during the APEC summit, which he believes was because he moderated the press conference at the FCCT and because he was part of the group protesting during the meeting in Chiang Mai in August.

Meanwhile, NFP leaders in Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Nan, Mae Hong Son, and Tak were visited by police and national security officers. Pachara said an activist in Lamphun was visited by at least 20 officers.

Members of anti-mining groups in Sakhon Nakhon, Nong Bua Lamphu, and Lampang have also been visited by national security officials. Members of an anti-mining group in Wanon Niwat District, Sakhon Nakhon, were summoned to their village chief’s house, where Special Branch Police questioned them on the movement of various activist groups in the province, claiming they were following orders from Bangkok. Meanwhile, members of the Rak Ban Haeng group in Lampang received calls from the police, and were threatened with arrest if they joined anti-APEC protests.

The Assembly of the Poor also said that community leaders have been visited by police officers since early November and questioned on whether they would be joining the protests in Bangkok. Between 13 – 15 November, activists in several provinces were visited by officers who questioned them repeatedly on what action they planned to take and how they would be traveling, which the group said was a waste of time for working people. Officers from Sam Rae Police Station also came to the Assembly’s Bangkok office, threatening them and acting rudely to those working there.

The banner Jirapat said was confiscated. 

Jirapat Korum, a member of the Thalugaz group, also said that on 14 November, police officers confiscated a banner saying “Anti Chinazi,” claiming that the banner would affect international relations. Jirapat said officers were stationed in front of his house for several hours, blocking the alleyway. When he came out of the house to see what they were doing, they told him he is not allowed to go out and took the banner, threatening to check CCTV camera footage to check whether he joined protests. They also took him to a nearby police station to make a record of the search before letting him go.

Ratsadon Kong-Chi-Mun, an activist group based in Khon Kaen, said that, while traveling to Bangkok on Wednesday (16 November) to join the protest, they were stopped along the way at 5 police checkpoints. Officers claimed to be searching for drugs and checked their ID cards. At a checkpoint in Phon District, Khon Kaen, officers told them that they were searching for drugs and weapons because it was during the APEC summit. At another checkpoint in Nakhon Ratchasima, the police stopped them and search their belongings, claiming to be searching for anything illegal. Officers also checked the messages on the banners the group brought with them.

Crowd control police stationed at the Asoke Montri Intersection ahead of the 17 November protest march (Photo by Chana La)

An announcement made by the Office of the Prime Minister was published in the Royal Gazette on 11 November prohibiting public protests around the QSNCC and several hotels in central Bangkok where country representatives are staying. Meanwhile, police chief Pol Col Damrongsak Kittiprapas said that national security officers would make sure that protests do not affect national security or public peace, order, and good morals. He said that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted, and that the country should not be damaged, noting that anyone who wishes to file petitions can do so at the Department of Consular Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Chaengwattana Road.

Over 35,000 police and security officers from across the country have reportedly been brought into Bangkok as part of the security force guarding the leaders attending the summit. Pol Gen Damrongsak also said that officers are monitoring people who are likely to protest.

Traffic on Ratchadaphisek Road will also be blocked between the Asoke Montri Intersection and the Rama IV Intersection between 16 – 19 November. MRT underground trains will also not stop at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre Station during these dates, which have been declared a holiday in Bangkok and nearby provinces by the government.

Protests across the country against greenwashing, pro-corporation policy

Activists in Nakhon Ratchasima holding banners saying “Stop APEC” and “Betraying the Country Expo." (Photo from Korat Movement)

Before the protests in Bangkok, activists in other provinces staged their own protests. In Nakhon Ratchasima, on 13 November, activists put up banners saying “Stop APEC” and “Betraying the Country Expo” at several locations in the city. The activist group Korat Movement then issued a statement saying that they took action to call on APEC leaders to conduct their economic policies by putting the people first and to stop the BCG model which favours large corporations working with a dictatorship.

On the same day in Khon Kaen, activists put up banners saying “Monopoly economy, toxic industry, greenwashed pollution” near the office of the sugar manufacturer Mitr Phol Group. A banner with the same message was also put up on an overpass in Udon Thani city.

In Chiang Mai, on 15 November, activists wearing Guy Fawkes masks were seen at several locations in Chiang Mai city holding banners saying “Fuck APEC 2022” and “Ratsadon stop APEC 2022.”

Activists standing in front of the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai holding banners protesting the APEC meeting. 

Meanwhile, in Bangkok, the activist group Thalufah walked around the Siam shopping district dressed as the Na’vi from the movie Avatar and handed out leaflets calling for people to protest against the APEC summit. The group said that they are joining the protests because the BCG model favours monopolizing corporations and will affect the rest of the country who will not gain anything from the summit.

On 15 November, the group led a tuktuk parade starting from the Democracy Monument and ending at the Victory Monument. Each tuktuk carried a photo of Gen Prayut and the APEC 2022 logo attached to the side and back with messages such as “Prayut get out, stop monopoly” and “Stop greenwashing.”

Masked activists holding a sign called on APEC members not to participate in the Thai government's human right violations while boarding a train to Bangkok. 

On Wednesday (16 November), activists boarded a train to Bangkok from the Den Chai railway station in Phrae while wearing Guy Fawkes masks and holding signs protesting the APEC summit. Signs were seen calling on APEC members to not "participate in the Thai state's human rights violations" and protesting the carbon credit model, which they see as the Thai government's attempt at greenwashing the country's major polluters.

Arriving at Uttaradit railway station, the activists held up signs saying ““We want Climate Justice, not BCG-Carbon Credits,” ““Stop using APEC to whitewash Prayut,” and ““We’re living death at the hands of Prayut and the Thai Government.” Three police officers were seen observing the protest and taking photos of the activists.

Activists gathering at the Asoke Montri Intersection read out a statement after being prevented from going ahead with their march.

A protest is taking place today (17 November) at Lan Khon Muang, in front of the Bangkok City Hall, in a continuation from yesterday's protest. Tomorrow (18 November), the protesters will be marching to the QSNCC. 

Another protest also took place this afternoon, called by a network of over 10 activist groups. The activists originally planned to march from the Asoke Montri Intersection to the QSNCC to submit a petition to APEC leaders on human right violations in Thailand, but were prevented from marching by crowd control police in full riot gear blocking the Asoke Montri Intersection. They then decided to read out a statement before ending the protest. 

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