The atmosphere of the general election today in the Northeast was bustling. Even in areas where it rained, voters still showed up to exercise their rights.
The organisation, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), received an Albies award in New York on September 28. Yasothon native Sirikan Charoensiri, representing TLHR, delivered an impassioned speech at the awards ceremony, declaring, “We still have a long way to go toward true democracy.”
Pawanee Chumsri and Sirikan Charoensiri, leaders of TLHR, attended the Albies award ceremony in New York City on September 28, 2023. The Albies, sponsored by the Clooney Foundation for Justice, is awarded to individuals or groups doing exemplary work in human rights and social and political justice.
In her speech, Sirikarn spoke about the situation in Thailand. There are still thousands of people being harassed and prosecuted for demonstrating and expressing political opinions. She told the story of the outspoken lawyer Anon Nampa and nearly 300 young people being prosecuted, including a 12-year-old child.
Here is the full speech:
First of all, thank you so much Amal, George, the Clooney Foundation For Justice, and to you all who are here tonight for shedding a spotlight on our work and the situation in Thailand. In times of darkness, people like you are a ray of sunshine to us, making our difficult days brighter and not so lonely.
Many of you must have been to Thailand, the Land of Smiles, beautiful beaches, and delicious food.
Everyday we live with a beautiful smile, yet with our eyes seeking for justice. We laugh a lot just to feel powerful, when those in power want us to feel powerless.
Did you know that in Thailand, speaking out about the privileged Thai royals or demanding democratic reforms *might* land you in prison? These implausible scenarios are all too real for us.
I’d like to start with the story of my dear friend and fellow attorney at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Mr. Arnon Nampa, who is currently in prison because he was prosecuted for his political speeches and peaceful activists.
In fact, on Tuesday he was just sent to jail for insulting the Thai monarch, a crime with apunishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Mr. Arnon is a father of a 10-month-old son and a young daughter.
One time, Mr. Arnon temporarily came out of pretrial detention to go to court barefoot while in a brown prison uniform. He then asked us, “where’s my attorney gown?“, then he wore it over his prison uniform, and continued doing his job defending the rights of young movement leaders who were being prosecuted for speaking truth to power.
When law is the state’s weapon of choice, lawyers must stand their ground, face this act of aggression, and safeguard the rule of law and democracy.
Pawanee Chumsri (dressed in black) and Sirikan Charoensiri (orange dress) were posing for a photo with the Clooney family. Photo credit : TLHR
Despite decades long of democracy in decline, the wind of change has finally arrived.
We have seen a new generation of pro-democracy movements, using the three-finger salute as a symbol of resistance. We’ve seen thousands of youth in the movement, some of whom have paid a huge price for their fight for democracy.
Since 2020, almost 300 children have been charged under various repressive laws for their fight to secure a better future. Our youngest client was just twelve years old who was arrested at a protest, merely because he cycled from his home to observe it.
We say children are our future generation. Yet, Thailand has robbed this generation of children of their future.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights would not exist today had Thai people not stood up against an authoritarian regime that was hiding in plain sight, in legal institutions, in legal codes, in the military-drafted constitution.
We still have a long way to go toward true democracy.
The fight for justice is never easy, but as the dawn always comes change for a better future is now in our hands.
We’ll persist until it’s no longer a matter of fight, but a matter of fact.
We’ll need your love, your continued support.Please do not forget us and what has really happened in Thailand.
Sirikarn or June was one of the co-founders of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights which was established after the 2014 coup. She is a native of Yasothon Province and graduated in law from the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University.
In 2018, Sirikarn received the “International Women of Courage Award” from the U.S. Department of State.