08/27/2019, 17.25
FRANCE – THAILAND
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Exiled Thai dissidents stage rally in Paris to remember eight missing comrades in Laos

After the 2014 coup d'état, Thailand’s neighbour became a safe haven for regime opponents. Since 2016, activist groups have reported eight people missing, all associated with Thailand’s Red Shirt movement.

Paris (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Thai folk music band, an anti-monarchist historian and a transgender activist gathered yesterday in Place de la République, Paris, to honour eight militants murdered or missing in Laos. All had fled to Thailand’s neighbour after the 2014 military coup.

After the military seized power in Bangkok, neighbouring Laos became a safe haven for some of the more vocal opponents of Thailand’s military regime, as well as critics of the country’s monarchy.

They include the four members of Faiyen, a folk music band and the last group of dissidents to reach Europe thanks to the French government.

At the Paris rally, the musicians played some satirical songs full of political nuances about King Rama X, who succeeded his father in 2016. Other songs targeted Thai generals, who took power five years ago with the blessing of the Royal Palace and have kept it even after disputed elections last March.

Faiyen arrived in France from Laos on 3 August. In the small Southeast Asian country, they feared being kidnapped or killed.

Since December 2018, six exiles holding anti-monarchist opinion disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Families assume they are dead and blame Thai special forces for their death.

The mutilated bodies of two of them were found on the banks of the Mekong River. A veteran far-left activist who was in the jungle with the Communist Party of Thailand also went missing. Human rights groups say that in 2016 and 2017 two other exiles went missing in Laos.

All were associated with Thailand’s Red Shirt movement whose militants are largely supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006, which sparked a long and sometimes violent struggle for power between supporters of the populist billionaire and the army-backed monarchist establishment.

The tense political atmosphere led some Red Shirt supporters to openly question the role of the monarchy, a sacred institution for many, in Thai society and politics.

Current Thai law imposes prison terms of 3 to 15 years for insults to the monarchy and the courts interpreted the notion of insult very broadly.

Although no evidence has been presented of the junta's involvement in the Laos disappearances – even exiles do not directly blame the government – activists and rights groups claim that someone is carrying out extrajudicial retribution.

The latest to disappear are three activists who tried to escape from Laos via Vietnam last January. According to rumors they were arrested and secretly extradited to Thailand.

Vietnamese and Thai authorities have denied any knowledge in the matter.

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