On May 24th, 2010, labor and political rights activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Associate Professor Suthachai Yimprasert were taken into custody when they presented themselves to authorities after a warrant for their arrest was issued. Their detention comes after a period of strong, and sometimes violent, political protests against the current Thai Prime Minister, Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva. To understand the parameters of the situation surrounding their arrest, one has to look at Thailand’s political unrest within the past two months. According to the New York Times, “The violence during a two-month demonstration by an antigovernment movement known as the ‘Red Shirts’ ended when the military moved on the protesters’ encampment on May 19th, 2010. A total of 88 people were killed and more than 1,800 were wounded during the protests and crackdown. The government has in turn brought terrorism charges against Mr. Thaksin, the former Thai Prime Minister, accusing him of being behind the violence. The government claims to have never ordered the killing of protesters, and the finance minister suggested in an interview that the killings had been staged by the protesters as provocations.”
Somyot Pruksakasemsuk has worked for many years as a defender of the working class and poor people’s rights. Somyot is the founder of the Centre from Labour Information Services and Training (CLIST) in Bangkok, Thailand, which promotes workers rights, education and training. He encourages freedom and fairness for all workers, campaigning for better conditions and well-being of employees in many industries, and hoping to have them treated as equal human beings. In a letter he released before he turned himself over to the Thai authorities, Somyot details his hopes and wishes for social equality and the need to improve the quality of life for the working class in Thailand.
Suthachai and Somyot were detained for interrogation purposes pertaining to the political protests associated with the Red Shirts. The Red Shirt group is the main opposition to the government in Thailand. Somyot and Suthachai have no recent activity as part of the core leadership of the Red Shirts. Their participation in the demonstrations was strictly on a journalistic and academic level. After their initial arrest, they were brought to Adisorn Army Base in Saraburi, which is approximately 115 km north of Bangkok, and placed in solitary confinement. On Friday May 28th, the Criminal Court in conjunction with the Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) had extended the detention of Somyot and Suthachai until June 6th- seven days beyond the originally set date.Associate Professor Suthachai Yimprasert, a history professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, was on a hunger strike during his confinement in protest to the treatment of himself and the other detainees. According to the Associated Press, “Suthachai was freed without any official notice Monday night and taken to Bangkok. Suthachai, a critic of the government, said the army apparently suspected him of being part of the next generation of Red Shirt leaders.” Though it is a victory that Suthachai was released, we still need to advocate for the secure discharge of Somyot. Currently, there are no charges filed against Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and no formal questioning session has yet to be arranged. There is a deep concern for his health and safety under the current circumstances.
Somyot is trying to assist in protecting current workers rights and freedom in Thailand, even as they are being threatened. In doing so, he, along with the Red Shirts, have become a victim. To learn more about particular violations of workers rights abroad and what you can do to help, please visit our Freedom at Work campaign and the Freedom at Work toolkit. Continuous labor and human rights violations in Thailand cannot be tolerated anymore, especially in light of the detention of one of its forefront activists in the region.To take action, you can write to the Prime Minister of Thailand or the current Thai Ambassador to the US, Ambassador Don Pramudwinai, using the template here to urge for the immediate and safe release of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.