Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Tuesday said the government was not involved in an assault on exiled critic of the monarchy who claimed a masked man entered his home in Japan last month and sprayed him and his partner with a chemical substance.
Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, 48, an associate professor at Kyoto University, said that he and his partner were jolted from sleep on July 8 when an intruder dressed in black entered the bedroom of their apartment, pulled down their blanket and sprayed a chemical that gave them a burning sensation on their skin.
He said Japanese police understood “the context” of his status as a refugee in Japan and suggested the attack “could have been linked to politics in Thailand.” Pavin earlier told reporters he had no evidence to prove the Thai government’s involvement.
“In the case of Mr. Pavin, I feel sorry for him. However, he was attacked in Japan and he accused the Thai government of being behind such action. Who would dare to do such thing?” Prayuth said at a news conference. “I probably don’t do that … not probably … I didn’t or won’t do it.”
After Prayuth spoke, Pavin posted on his Facebook page that Japanese authorities were trying to track down the suspect in the attack, which he said was clearly aimed at intimidating him.
“Of course, no government would admit of sending a team of assassin to get rid of dissidents in foreign countries,” Pavin said, in reaction to Prayuth’s comments.
Attacks on dissidents
Pavin, a former contributor to the Bangkok Post, frequently writes opinion pieces for The Washington Post. He has almost 180,000 followers on Facebook, making him one of the most prominent critics of Prayuth’s leadership.
After the chemical attack, Pavin said, the Japanese police asked him not to discuss the case, but he decided to break his silence after news leaked out.
On July 23, Pavin recounted the attack during a seminar hosted by the East-West Center in Washington and said the international terrorism unit of the Japanese police was investigating.
“They seemed to understand the context, my context. They seem to suggest that this could have been linked to politics in Thailand,” he said as he revealed he was no longer living in the same apartment in Kyoto, following advice from investigators.
In an editorial on Tuesday, the independent daily Japan Times said the attack on Pavin followed reports in recent weeks that several Thai dissidents who fled to Laos were killed or had disappeared after demanding respect for democracy and human rights in Thailand.
“Japan, the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Thailand, must speak out in defense of those rights and condemn all efforts to silence those voices,” the newspaper said.
After Prayuth took power following a military coup in 2014, dozens of Thai dissidents fled to neighboring Laos and Cambodia, as they feared arrest and prison terms under the nation’s strict law against insulting the monarchy, which provides prison terms of up to 15 years.
Members of the Thai folk band Faiyen were celebrating this week after being admitted to France as refugees after traveling there from Laos. They told reporters in Paris that their fears had increased after three Thai activists left Laos for Vietnam in January and then disappeared.
Prior to that, three other Thai dissidents had disappeared in Laos. New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the Lao government to investigate after Thai authorities confirmed that DNA from two bodies found in the Mekong River matched two of the missing activists, Phu Chana and Kasalong.
Prominent Thai anti-monarchist Surachai Danwattananusorn, 78, and two close aides, known as Phu Chana, 56, and Kasalong, 46, were last seen in Vientiane on Dec. 11, 2018. Their colleagues promptly reported the disappearances to Lao authorities, the statement said.
“The two bodies’ hands and feet were bound and their faces smashed beyond recognition. They also both had been disemboweled and stuffed with concrete,” HRW said, as it expressed concern for Surachai’s fate.
The bodies of the two anti-government activists were found on Dec. 27 and 29, 2018, along the river which divides the two nations, Thai police said.
At least six exiled Thai activists who lived in Laos have disappeared since December, rights groups said.
Pavin moved from Singapore to Japan in 2012 to take up a job at the Kyoto University.
After the junta issued a warrant for his arrest following the 2014 coup and authorities revoked his passport, Pavin applied for and received asylum in Japan.