Poet Murdered; Concern Mounts for Safety of Writers
Six weeks after the murder of prominent “Red Shirt” poet Mainueng K. Kunthee, who was shot dead on April 23, 2014, by unknown assailants, freedom of expression is severely suppressed and a climate of fear prevails. The motive for Mainueng K. Kunthee’s murder is not known, although it is thought that he may have been targeted for his political activism amidst the escalating political violence in the country at the time. PEN condemns his killing, and calls for a full and impartial investigation so that those responsible can be brought to justice. PEN is deeply concerned for the safety of writers, academics, and activists in Thailand, who are increasingly at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions, and reminds the authorities of their obligations to protect freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.
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A month before the military coup, on April 23, 2014, poet and political activist Kamol Duangphasuk, widely known by his pen-name Mainueng K. Kunthee, was shot several times by an unidentified gunman, who had approached his car at a restaurant parking lot in northern Bangkok. The gunman escaped on a motorcycle. Mainueng later died in the hospital.
Mainueng K. Kunthee, aged 45, has been widely known for his poetry since the late 1980s. His poems were published in a number of magazines including Matichon Weekly in the 1990s, and according to Wat Walayangoon, another well-known Red Shirt writer and poet, he was popular for his direct poetic style and for voicing strong political messages. His poems call for social justice, the rights of the rural poor, and for challenging the forces of oppression.
Mainueng strongly opposed the 2006 military coup and the subsequent crackdown on critics of the monarchy. He took part in many rallies of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts,” and became known as a “Red Shirts poet.” He was also very active in the campaign against Article 112 of the Penal Code, or lèse majesté law, which has been widely used to criminalize free expression and imprison writers, journalists, and publishers. His murder is one of a string of violent attacks on activists and academics known to be critical of the monarchy and the lèse majesté law. For more details see Human Rights Watch’s article.
After the violent crackdown on ‘red-shirts’ in 2010, Mainueng withdrew from political rallies because of credible safety concerns, although many of his poems composed during the anti-coup era continued to be read at Red Shirt gatherings. He became politically active again when the controversial amnesty draft bills were put before the Lower House in October 2013. Prior to his death he had been publicly campaigning for the granting of bail to lèse majesté detainees.
Mainueng made his living from a small restaurant, called the Duck Poet Society, specializing in duck dishes. He leaves behind a wife and two sons. Read Mainueng's 2010 poem "Molding the Violent Passion" here.
After nearly seven months of escalating political violence in Thailand, a military coup d’état led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha was declared on May 22, 2014. The coup has imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate—the only remaining national government body with elected members—and taken on wide-ranging executive and legislative powers. Political gatherings have been banned and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has imposed strict censorship of the internet and control of the media.
Several television and radio stations were shut down in the early days after the coup though most have since resumed broadcasting. Facebook was briefly blocked by the Information Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry at the request of the military on May 28, although the military denied this. However, on June 9, Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms company which runs Thai operator DTAC, acknowledged that it had implemented an official request to block the site on May 28. An interview with an anonymous journalist describing how journalists are self-censoring may be read here. On May 25, 2014 the NCPO issued Order No. 37 assigning jurisdiction to military courts for offenses against the royal family (articles 107-112 of the Penal Code) and most offenses against internal security (articles 113-118) as well as offenses stipulated by orders of the NCPO.
Since the coup, scores of protesters and critics of the coup, including prominent politicians and academics, have been summoned to report to the army and at least a hundred have been arrested. They include journalists Thanapol Ewsakul, editor of the hard-hitting political magazine Fa Diew Kan (Same Sky) and Pravit Rojanaphruk, senior reporter of The Nation, who were both detained on May 23 and 24 after being summoned by the military. Rojnaphruk was released after a week, and an interview with him after his release may be read here.
Thirty-five prominent academics were summoned on May 25, including the following scholars who advocate democracy and amendments to the lèse majesté law: Thammasat lecturers Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Worachet Pakeerut, and Sawatri Suksri (the latter two of the Nitirat or Enlightened Jurists group); Suda Rangupan, a former Chulalongkorn University lecturer, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Kyoto University. Mr Pavin, a frequent contributor to the Bangkok Post and other media, said by telephone from Japan that he would not turn himself in. It is thought the others have also chosen not to report to the authorities. Refusal to respond to a summons is a crime carrying a maximum prison term of two years and/or a 40,000 baht (USD1,300) fine.
Write A Letter
- Condemning the murder of prominent "Red Shirt" poet Mainueng K. Kunthee, and expressing fears that he could have been targeted for his political activism;
- Calling for a full and impartial investigation into his killing so that those responsible can be brought to justice, and reminding the authorities of their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.
- Expressing concern for the safety of writers, academics, and activists in Thailand, who are at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions.
Send Your Letter To
Leader of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Royal Thai Army Headquarters,
Rachadamnoen Nok Road,
Fax: (+66-2) 226 1838
Salutation: Dear General
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Thailand in your country if possible.
***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after July 10, 2014.