Woman arrested with equipment for forging visas

Thai immigration police arrested a woman and seized several items of equipment used for making counterfeit visas today (Monday), in a raid on a condo in Bangkok’s Khannayao district.

The arrest of the woman, identified only as “Angsana”, and the seizure of fake passports and forging equipment, which included ink, pens and seals, is a follow-up operation by immigration police after a number of foreigners were found with fake visas as they were leaving Thailand.

Angsana was charged with conspiring with other people to falsify visas. An investigation found that the fake visas were probably from the same source, a company in the Bueng Kum area, which provides a service applying for visas for foreigners.

Armed with a warrant, the immigration police searched the company’s premises and found 700 passports, several of them hidden above the ceiling of the first-floor office. 124 fake passports were found to contain fake visas.

An employee at the company was also held for questioning.

Immigration police said that foreigners who have overstayed in Thailand sought help from brokers, who then contacted the company specialising in falsifying visas.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Media organizations oppose media ethics bill

Thai media professional organizations have raised objection to a bill seeking to set up a council to regulate media ethics due to be taken up for deliberation by the House on Tuesday.

They expressed fears that the bill will pave the way for those in power to intervene to restrict media freedom.

At the heart of the bill, which was adopted by the Cabinet early last year, is a professional council for media practitioners of all platforms. It will be administered by a 10-member board which will comprise representatives of the media, human rights, consumer protection groups, and academics to be chosen through a selection process.

The council will receive annual funding of at least 25 million baht from the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund for Public Interest (BTFP).

The bill requires all media organizations to be registered with the council and comply with the ethical standards. Though the council would have no legal power to penalize media professionals or organizations that breach the code of ethics, it can issue reprimand and impose other forms of social sanctions.

At least three major media professional organizations have issued statements to strongly oppose the bill in the past few days. They include the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Thai Journalists Association.

They raised questions about the motive behind the bill which they said is out of sync with today’s media landscape and which was initiated without enough input from people in the media industry.

“It may turn out to be a tool to curtail media freedom in the future,” said the statement from the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association.

The Thai Journalists Association called on the House to postpone its deliberation of the bill scheduled for Tuesday and seek wider public opinions on it.

The drafting of the bill was initiated in the aftermath of the military coup in 2014. The National Council for Peace and Order, the official name of the military junta, treated the bill as one of the items on its so-called “urgent agenda”.

While the bill also extends protection to the independence of state-run media outlets, it requires them to

One highlight of the bill, proposed by the Public Relations Department and drafted by the Council of State, is that members of state-run media have the right to defy the orders of their superiors if such orders are deemed to violate media ethics, but the exercise of that right must take into account the objectives or missions of state media.

The media profession’s council will be run by a 10-member board, to be selected from people who have experience or are specialised in professional media, in human rights or in consumer protection laws.

The council will receive annual funding of at least 25 million baht from the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund for Public Interest (BTFP).

The Media Profession Council will be assisted by a permanent office, which will take charge of general and accounting affairs and facilitate the operations of the council and the Ethics Committee.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Japan PM Kishida rebukes aide over same-sex couple outburst

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday rebuked one of his secretaries, who said he wouldn’t want to live next to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender couples and warned that people would flee Japan if same-sex marriage was permitted.

In remarks reported by local media on Friday, Masayoshi Arai, a government bureaucrat who has worked for Kishida since October, added he did not even want to look at same-sex couples.

“His comments are outrageous and completely incompatible with the administration’s policies,” Kishida said in remarks aired by public broadcaster NHK.

Kisihida said he may dismiss Arai, who later apologized for “misleading” comments made after Kishida had said in parliament that same-sex marriage needed careful consideration because of its potential impact on the family structure.

Arai’s comments are an embarrassment for Kishida as he prepares to host other leaders from Group of Seven nations in May. Unlike Japan, which has been ruled by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for most of the past seven decades, the rest of the G7 allow marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples.

It could also further erode his public support, which, according to recent opinion polls has halved to around 30% since last year following a series of resignations by senior officials.

Those resignations included Mio Sugita, an internal affairs and communications vice minister, who quit in December over comments about LGBT people, and about Japan’s indigenous Ainu community.

In a survey published by NHK in July 2021, two months before Kishida became prime minister, 57% of 1,508 respondents said they supported the legal recognition of same-sex unions.

Because they are not allowed to marry, same-sex couples can’t inherit each other’s assets and are denied parental rights to each other’s children.

In November, a Tokyo court upheld a ban on same-sex marriage, but also said a lack of legal protection for same-sex families violated their human rights.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Anti-establishment activist wants EM tag removed, like actress “Pinky”

An anti-establishment political activist sought permission from the Criminal Court to have the electronic monitoring (EM) tag removed from his ankle today (Wednesday), after the court granted permission yesterday for a similar device to be removed from actress Savika Chaiyadej, aka “Pinky”.


Panupong Jadnok said that, since the court decided to remove Savika’s device, he should be granted the same privilege, although both of them were indicted on different charges.


Savika, who is currently released on bail on fraud charges related to the Forex 3-D Ponzi scheme, sought permission from the Criminal Court for the removal of EM tag, claiming that it poses an impediment to her show business career and her travel.


The court granted permission on a temporary basis, on condition that she will seek permission again the next time she is scheduled to report to the court, as required under the bail conditions.


Another political activist, who was also ordered to wear an EM device after she was granted bail by the Criminal Court, Chonthicha Jaengrew, described the EM device as a symbol of a distorted justice system.


She said that she has not yet been found guilty of the charges against her, but the court ordered her to wear the EM device.


Chonthicha plans to contest the next election in Pathum Thani Province, under the banner of the Move Forward Party.


Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Region Humanitarian Situation Report No. 4 (1 October – 31 December 2022)

In 2022, UNICEF provided access to primary health care for 4,161,790 children and women and vaccinated 27,041,501 children against measles.


A total of 958,035 children and caregivers were also supported in accessing mental health and psychosocial support and 98,338 women, girls and boys in accessing gender-based violence risk mitigation, prevention or response interventions.


UNICEF supported 327,041 schools to implement safe school protocols and 8,737,376 children with access to formal or non-formal education.


UNICEF also provided 1,230,497 children with safe and appropriate WASH facilities and hygiene services in learning facilities and safe spaces.


Regional Funding Overview


In 2022, UNICEF appealed for US$ 118.8 million to meet the humanitarian needs of children, adolescents and women affected by emergencies, including chronic, protracted humanitarian situations as well as UNICEF’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the East Asia and Pacific (EAP) region. As of 31 December 2022, a total of US$ 73.45 million was received against the 2022 HAC (including US$ 49.13 million carried over from 2021 and US$ 24.32 million received in 20221) from both public and private donors. UNICEF acknowledges and is thankful for the generous contribution of donors supporting this joint effort to respond and mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies in the EAP region. Please refer to Annex B and Annex C for more detailed information on funding per functional area and country.


Regional Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs


While the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continued to be reported in EAP, the majority of reported cases had been of mild to moderate levels, thanks to increasing vaccination rates throughout the region. Nevertheless, new variants of the virus continued to surge, causing new waves of COVID cases. At the same time, the resumption of disrupted access to essential health, nutrition, and social services remained slow and declines in household incomes continued during the reporting period.


Due to the pandemic, several countries had postponed routine vaccination campaigns, increasing the risk of outbreaks of life-threatening diseases such as measles, diphtheria and polio. An estimated 1.7 million children in EAP continue to be affected by severe wasting. Furthermore, access to life-saving WASH services was disrupted for millions of people as service providers struggled with staff health and safety concerns and financial difficulties. Education needs are even more urgent due to the extended school closures combined with insufficient distance learning. UNESCO estimates that 4 per cent of students in the region are at risk of dropping out as a result of the prolonged school closures. A combined approach of supporting vaccine roll-out while continuing to focus on efforts to respond to the social-economic impacts of the pandemic remains critical to save lives and alleviate suffering, especially for children.


Natural hazards, civil unrest, displacement and protracted conflicts also continue to impact the lives of children across East Asia and the Pacific (EAP). In several countries, recurring natural disasters, including those induced by climate crises, constrain the socio-economic recovery from the pandemic. Typhoon Rai, which swept through the Philippines on 16 December 2021, heightened the vulnerability of children and their families who had already been struggling to cope with the devastating consequences of COVID-19. The refugee sea crossings to Southeast Asia, mostly of Rohingya people, increased substantially in 2022 compared to 2020 and 2021, with hundreds reported deceased, including women and children due to starvation and dehydration. The aggravated situation has resulted in a serious humanitarian crisis. In Myanmar, the continuing armed conflict and targeted violence, coupled with the presence of COVID-19, continues to push a growing number of children into a situation of humanitarian needs. Further details on the situation in the Philippines and Myanmar can be found in separate situation reports dedicated to their respective UNICEF HAC appeals.


Source: UN Children’s Fund

Suu Kyi Portraits, Flags and Chants as Bangkok Hosts Myanmar Anti-Coup Protest

BANGKOK — Several hundred Myanmar pro-democracy protesters gathered outside their country’s embassy in Bangkok Wednesday, two years after a coup by a junta that has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes and military massacres, and now wants to hold elections across a broken nation.


Shouting slogans, waving flags of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government and holding portraits of their jailed democracy heroine, Aung San Suu Kyi, the demonstrators made a loud but peaceful statement of their anger at a junta which seized power on February 1, 2021, throwing the country into violent chaos.


“We are together, we are united, and I think the people will win in the end,” said Aung Sen, a 25-year-old from Myanmar’s Sagaing region, who left the country after the coup.

Thailand hosts around 2 million migrant workers from Myanmar, according to the Labor Ministry, with their ranks boosted by people fleeing the coup for work and safety in the neighboring country.


Like many, Aung Sen vowed to boycott any elections held under junta rules, which critics say fall well below the standards of genuine democracy.


“We will not vote in the junta elections or participate in anything with them until they free Daw Suu Kyi — our leader — and our friends,” he added, using a title of respect for Suu Kyi.

Led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the junta seized power claiming that voter fraud drove the landslide November 2020 election win of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party at the expense of military-aligned parties. The allegations have never been substantiated.


The military leader wants to end a nationwide rebellion and hold elections. But the election laws published last week say no parties or personalities linked to “terrorist” forces can take part — the government has labeled the pro-democracy resistance as terrorists, while Suu Kyi is behind bars.


Min Aung Hlaing has failed to convince the country of the army’s right to rule and faces a stubborn, wide-ranging rebellion by an alliance of often young pro-democracy activists and well-armed ethnic rebel groups.


Suu Kyi, 77, has been jailed while rights groups say around 2,600 pro-democracy protesters have been killed by the junta since the coup, with thousands more detained including teachers, medical workers and minors.

Over 1 million people have been internally displaced since the coup, the United Nations says, with hundreds of thousands more fleeing for safety or work into neighboring countries.


Many of them are young men and women running from the threat of arrest or seeking to find an income for their families as Myanmar’s economy falls apart.


“I’m sad, life’s been hard since the coup,” said Ko Ko, a 30-year-old who also fled to Thailand after the coup. “Min Aung Hlaing is an awful man.”


The coup wiped out a decade of small but incremental economic and democratic gains in a Southeast Asian nation that the military has controlled for the majority of the seven decades since independence from British colonizers.


Rights groups have urged the outside world, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to increase pressure on the military leadership.

Several Western nations introduced new sanctions — including on the provision of fuel for Myanmar’s air force — in a message timed with the coup anniversary.


A joint statement also released by the U.S. State Department on behalf of foreign ministers from the EU, U.K. and New Zealand, among many others condemned the junta’s crackdown and demanded a return to genuine democracy.

“There are mounting reports that air strikes, bombardments and the mass burning of villages and places of worship have targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. Reports of torture and sexual violence by the security forces are widespread,” the statement, published on the eve of the coup anniversary, said.


“We reiterate our call for the return of Myanmar to a democratic path. The military regime must end violence and create space for meaningful and inclusive dialogue to allow for any democratic process to resume.”


But in a sign of the complexity of forging a united diplomatic front on Myanmar, China has refused to condemn its ally at the U.N., Russia has increased arms sales to the junta, and companies from Singapore to the EU remain engaged with the junta-run economy.

“While the junta’s reign of terror continues, the people of Myanmar’s resistance never stops.” advocacy group Fortify Rights tweeted. “U.N. member states should support the people and deny the junta access to: Finance, Weapons, Political Legitimacy.”


For those forced to flee, it has been two years of pain and loss watching their country burn and worrying about families left behind.


“All dreams and plans are broken already,” said one 29-year-old Myanmar self-exile in Thailand, requesting anonymity over emigration status concerns.


“I feel guilty that I left the country but I’m supporting the people from where I am [in] the safest way. I won’t stop until the revolution wins.”


Source: Voice of America

Increasing Arrivals of Rohingya Boats; IOM Scales up Support

Bangkok – The number of Rohingya refugees arriving in South-East Asia via sea and land routes has increased exponentially in recent months. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) recorded almost 3,300 arrivals in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in 2022, marking roughly a 290 per cent increase compared to around 850 arrivals in 2021.


As the increase in arrivals continues in 2023 – with nearly 300 as of 23 January, alone– IOM is scaling up its operations in the region to provide vital humanitarian assistance.


In Indonesia, where most of the arrivals have been recorded, IOM is working closely with the government, NGO partners and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to facilitate access to basic services. IOM has provided protection, health services – including mental health-, in addition to refurbishing temporary shelters and ensuring water supply, access to food, sanitation and waste management.


Additionally, our teams are conducting information sessions in Rohingya language to support the refugees in identifying the risks linked to human smuggling and trafficking, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse.


In Thailand, IOM is providing health services to Rohingya, as well as promoting alternatives to detention for migrant children and mothers and an increase in education services for those in shelters.


Meanwhile, IOM in Malaysia is expanding its cash-based rental assistance programme, following vulnerability assessments, in response to the constant threat of eviction Rohingya refugees face.


“Since the beginning of the Rohingya refugee crisis, IOM has been steadfast in providing the necessary humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya,” said Sarah Lou Ysmael Arriola, IOM Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “Along with our UN and other humanitarian partners, we reaffirm our support to States across the region to provide immediate assistance to Rohingya refugees and other vulnerable migrants, and to strengthen the broader response capacity to irregular movements.”


Since 2020, over 3,000 Rohingyas in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand received direct assistance from IOM. In a recent statement, IOM urged States in the region to work collectively to avoid a repeat of the 2015 crisis, when thousands of men, women and children faced tremendous challenges in accessing life-saving care and support, resulting in loss of life at sea. IOM continues to advocate for the protection of Rohingya before, during and after their journeys, including combatting smuggling and trafficking.


Over five years ago, the first of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled violence and persecution in Myanmar and sought refuge in what is now the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.


Nearly 1 million refugees remain in congested camps, with many others embarking on dangerous journeys to neighbouring countries. IOM’s humanitarian assistance to Rohingya in the region is funded by the European Union and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).


Source: International Organization for Migration

Thailand’s amended law on constituency and party-list MPs promulgated

The amended Election Act for constituency and party-list MPs came into force today (Sunday) following its publication in the Royal Gazette yesterday.


Under the amended law, there will be 400 constituency and 100 party-list MPs, instead of 350 and 150 as previously stipulated.


The population per constituency seat is determined by the total population of the country, according to the latest census, divided by 400. The number of constituency MPs for each province is based on the population of each province, divided by the number of people eligible for a constituency MP.


Each province will have at least one constituency MP, even if its population is fewer than the people eligible for a constituency seat.


Under these calculations, if the total number of constituency MPs is still short of the 400 total, provinces with higher populations will be eligible for another constituency MP, until the full 400 seats are filled.


There will be 100 party-list seats and the number of votes for each seat is determined by combining the votes received by all parties contesting the election divided by 100. The result will be used to divide the votes received by each party, to determine the number of party-list seats each party will receive.


Each party is eligible to submit one list of party-list candidates, not exceeding 100 names. The list of the candidates must not include names which are on the constituency candidate lists of its own or other parties and inclusion on the list must be with the approval of the candidate.


Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Alleged drug addict charged after knife attack on schoolboy in Suphan Buri

An alleged drug addict, who attacked a schoolboy with a large knife at a school in Suphan Buri on Friday, has been charged with attempted murder and for carrying an offensive weapon in public.


The incident occurred at a school in Nong Ya Sai district, when a man, who had apparently been sniffing glue, climbed over the school’s fence and attacked a 9-year boy with a large knife.


A teacher in a nearby classroom heard someone shouting about a boy being attacked by an intruder.  He rushed to the rescue of the boy and took him to hospital.


Doctors say that the boy suffered a skull fracture, requiring emergency surgery.


The attacker, who fled from the school and hid in a nearby house, was eventually captured by the police. He allegedly told the officers that he had been hallucinating after sniffing glue and climbed over the school fence to attack the boy.


Residents in the school’s neighbourhood told police that the suspect had a history of damaging property whenever he appeared to be high after sniffing glue, adding that he had been sent for rehabilitation several times, but could not break the drug habit.


The school administrator, meanwhile, insisted that the school always locks all its gates once classes have started.


Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service

Rights Group Names Countries, Companies Propping up Myanmar Junta

Myanmar’s ruling junta is getting support from more than 60 foreign governments and international organizations including United Nations entities, according to a study by the group Justice for Myanmar, which monitors human rights violations in the Southeast Asian country.


Justice for Myanmar published a new report Wednesday, Developing a Dictatorship, that lists the governments and international organizations that it says have provided political, technical and financial assistance to the junta.


On Feb. 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military took power in a coup, which led to the ouster of the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and was strongly rejected by the people of Myanmar with widespread protests around the country.


Justice for Myanmar said in its report that “22 foreign governments; 26 intergovernmental organizations (including 14 UN entities); 8 foreign financial institutions; and 8 other international organizations” have provided the junta with political and financial support. It said the support came “in the form of diplomatic relations, development initiatives, technical cooperation, and property relations, among others.”


The report says the governments of Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand are among those legitimizing the junta by officially recognizing them as the government of Myanmar.


The report also says that “multiple United Nations entities including UNICEF, UNOCHA, the IOM, the WHO, and the FAO have presented their credentials to, or signed agreements with, the military junta.”


U.N. officials in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the organization’s humanitarian bodies frequently work in countries controlled by oppressive regimes in order to carry on life-saving work.


Regarding technical cooperation with the junta, the report names organizations such as the National Defense Academy of Japan and the Japan Self-Defense Forces; the German Government Federal Foreign Office; and the Colombo Plan Staff College in Manila, along with many others.


There was no immediate response from the Myanmar junta to the Justice for Myanmar report.

Yadanar Maung, Justice for Myanmar’s spokesperson, said in a statement to VOA, “The many and varied forms of international support to the junta that we have documented help sustain its ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and prolong the military dictatorship.”


According to a recent report by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, Japan’s Yokogawa Bridge Corp. apparently sent more than $1 million in 2022 to Myanmar Economic Corporation, an organization owned by Myanmar’s military, for a “Japanese government development aid project.”


A Japanese Foreign Ministry official told HRW the Japanese government is “not in a position to explain” the payments to MEC as they are transactions “between private companies.”


Furthermore, a recent report on Myanmar by a panel of former U.N. officials identified companies in the United States and at least 12 other countries in Europe and Asia that have been helping the Myanmar military to manufacture weapons used in human rights abuses.


Referring to Justice for Myanmar’s 185-page report, Maung told VOA that it is “largely based on open-source research, utilizing government documents, organization websites, social media and junta propaganda, as well as some leaked documents. The research took place through the last half of 2022.”


When asked by VOA about any response from the governments or organizations mentioned in the report, Maung said, “where an organization has responded we have added a note at the bottom of each case study.”


The report includes 18 detailed case studies and provides clear recommendations for what Justice for Myanmar believes must be done to prevent the junta from gaining more funds, resources and power.


In a press briefing by Justice for Myanmar on Wednesday, Maung said, “It has been two years since the Myanmar military’s attempted coup. Over 2,700 people have been killed and more than 13,600 people are still detained.


“The junta is waging a scorched-earth campaign against the people of Myanmar, carrying out indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling, and has caused a humanitarian catastrophe with more than 1.1 million displaced.”


In her statement to VOA, Maung said, “We want to see an end to governments and organizations providing support to the illegal Myanmar junta, whether by legitimizing them through invites to meetings and trainings, or financial support through business.”


“It’s time for the international community to step up and stand with the people of Myanmar by cutting support to the junta and by recognizing the NUG as the legitimate government of Myanmar.”


Source: Voice of America