In this episode, Bonnibel Rambatan and Darika Bamrungchok will be talking about what’s happening in Thailand after the Elections and the importance of digital security support during protests.
Welcome to New Naratif’s Southeast Asia Dispatches. I’m your host, Bonnibel Rambatan, Editorial Manager for New Naratif. New Naratif is a movement to democratise democracy in Southeast Asia, and this podcast is one of the ways we attempt to do just that.
Imagine a situation where there was an election, all good and valid, and we have some winners of that election. But then the winners, even after counting all the votes and there had been no fraud or rigging in any way, were not able to secure a clear position as a ruling government. I think we’d all agree that it’s hardly a democracy at that point.
Unfortunately, that is what is currently happening in Thailand. It’s been months since the May 14th elections this year, and at the time of the recording – August 11th – Thailand still has no new government.
Thailand’s political situation has been rather tumultuous for a while. What began as pro-democracy marches by students in February 2020 expanded into endless protests against the pro-military administration, and has become the first time in modern Thai history that the monarchy has been discussed openly in a critical manner, despite the fact that doing so is a punishable violation.
The movement is calling for three major reforms in Thailand’s existing administration:
- Dissolve the Parliament.
- Rewrite the military-backed constitution.
- Stop intimidating and arbitrarily arresting critics.
At the height of the situation, the movement also founded protection mechanisms for human rights defenders and activists which aim to provide digital security support and assistance to activists in need through helpline service.
My name is Darika Bamrungchok. For now, I’m working with two organisations. One is what we call Thai Netizen Network that is based in Thailand. We focus on the internet freedoms in the country. Also, I’m working on digital security and protection with the Security Matters based in Malaysia that we focus on the security and protection in Southeast Asia.
That is Darika Bamrungchok, digital security trainer and digital rights advocate at Thai Netizen Network and Security Matters. She’s the leader of digital rights and digital safety programs in Thailand. She’s also an experienced campaigner and focuses on the use of technology in human rights defence under authoritarian regimes.
In this episode, we’ll be talking about what’s happening in Thailand after the Elections and the importance of Digital Security Support during protests.
Thai Protests & 5M
Okay, sure. I would say that this is the most critical moment and also it’s quite an interesting time to talk about what happened in Thailand, especially after the last election in May this year. So I think as we are recording the podcast today is like the second week of August.
And it has been three months since the election in May, but Thailand still doesn’t have a new government yet. The progressive Move Forward Party was a winner in the election, but they have been excluded from the coalition to hope to form the new government in Thailand.
So I think this could be seen as highlighting the problematic nature of Thai politics since the country had the military coup in 2014. And then if I have to summarise what is happening in Thailand and how it’s influenced. From my observation, I would like to mention five factors that are shaping the current political landscape in Thailand. And is it interesting that all these five factors that start with a letter M.
So for the first M in Thailand would be Monarchy. As some of you might know, talking about the king and the Royal Family was a taboo for the public discussion in Thailand. The topic was considered an untouchable topic because we have Article 112 or the Lèse-majesté law that makes it illegal to criticise the Royal Family in Thailand.
And Article 112 has been politicised and used as a tool during the political crisis. One of the Article 112 cases involved a woman who was sentenced 43 years in prison because of her social media posts that criticised the monarchy. This is one example.
But then if we look at the number, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights between November 2020 until the first week of August this year at least 255 people have been charged under Article 112. And many of them are the young activists who took part in the protest that you mentioned that started in 2020.
And then when we discussed the protests in Thailand, I would like to go back to the protests in 2020 that were led by young activists and the student who took the street protest after the dissolution of the Future Forward Party. This political action triggered significant protests across the country.
So the second M is Military. So Thailand has experienced more military coups than any other country in the world. So if we are to capture the current political crisis, we need to start with the military coup in 2014, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha. And later in 2017 the Junta proposed a new constitution that is decided to ensure a military control of Thai politics, even though under the civilian government.
So that’s why I mentioned that in the current constitution, the Prime Minister needs to be selected by a combined vote of the two houses of the parliament, which is like an unelected senator of the 250 members. This is like handpicked by the Junta. And then to combine with the House of Representatives of 500 elected members.
And then after the constitution took effect, the military Junta announced the election back then in 2019, so that the military power could hand over their power to a civilian government. But then again, that is led by the same person as the Prime Minister, like I mentioned, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was a coup maker in 2014.
Following this, the most progressive political party during the election in 2019, Future Forward Party, I mean, they have been popular among young voters and then they were disbanded by the constitutional court. This is a main reason why the young people took part in the series of state protests that you mentioned from 2020 until 2021.
So then I want to highlight that the last election on the 14th of May this year was still conducted under the constitution, which has remained a legacy of the military coup makers.
So let’s move to another M, which is Monopoly in Thailand. So the Thai economy is dominated by monopolies and the country is facing a painful economic inequality. We can look at some of the big industries in Thailand such as the three businesses, whiskey, alcohol, and beer business. As an example of the monopolistic establishment that dominates the business and the market in the country in an unfair way.
These are the long standing issues that are quite a critical topic shaping the country’s political landscape.
Now that I would like to draw the attention to my hopeful Ms, which is like Movement and Mobilisation in Thailand. And as Bonni mentioned introduction that the youth will lead protests in 2020 , that marked a new wave of student protests in Thailand.
As someone working in the human rights and activism,
To capture my last five years of working, I focus on the digital security training for human rights defenders, especially during the protests. Then when we talk about the protests in our context in Thailand or even though in Southeast Asia. As you know, like building a pro-democracy movement, protesting under authoritarian regimes, meaning that our journey is rocky, it is not an easy journey, with many challenges.
After the big protests in 2020 and crackdown, some of the Thai people, activists, might think that the street protests cannot change the political system as we still discuss the crisis in the parliaments, in the political landscape. It seems that we are not working under the authoritative regime when we talk about doing, even though the big protests are happening in Thailand.
But I think for me to see the protests and public mobilisation significantly contribute and change the Thailand political landscape and then the public discourse. I see the protests as one of the platforms and the space for political socialisation and the put forward with the public discussion on the critical topic, critical problem in the country. And then they did as we see Thailand as an example.
That’s why when we talk about protest, mobilisation, we look at the collective experience both online and offline where people can express their concern, their anger, their feelings, and what is happening in the country.
Let’s go back to Thailand after the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in 2020 has become the significant factor to spark pro-democracy protests and mobilised 10,000 people of Thai people, particularly for the young people to demand a new constitution, to have a new election back then and reform of the monarchy.
And then we had the election this year on the 14th of May, in which the Move Forward Party became the winner and then they had the legitimacy to form the new government. But then again, what is happening for now, the new coalition is moving on without the Move Forward Party, which is the winning party. And then the winning party might become the opposition party. This raised a lot of concern for the Thai people and the voter.
And then one of the hashtag after the election is like the hashtag #WhyWeHaveAnElection. So that’s why when we have the election and that the winning party could not form the government and that’s why it raises a lot of concern and a lot of questions about what will happen after the election.
And now we talk about Twitter and hashtags. I would like to move to my last M factor, which is Media. This includes social media platforms. We have a significant influence on the current political landscape.
If we discussed the protest during 2020, I would say that Twitter could be one of the factors linked to the public mobilisation and the state protest, especially by young people. But then if you look at the political change during the election this year, we have to mention Tik Tok as a key platform that helped and supported political campaigns during the election to make a new and young political party like a Move Forward Party to become the winner and then get the vote from the Thai citizen across the country, especially not just only young voter as before, but they can get the support from the people across diverse generations across the country.
That’s why we can see from the last election, how one of the social media platforms could have an impact on the political landscape in the country as well. So it’s not just only Thailand when we talk about the mobilisation and then social media as a factor for the democratisation. We can see other countries in the world as well.
But I have to say that social media is one of the factors that have an impact on the movement and mobilisation, although we have other factors that contribute to the development of the youth movement. And as we know that living under the authoritarian regime, repressive regime, movement and media is always becoming the target of crackdown harassment by the authorities.
So that’s why it’s a high risk of speaking up to uphold the freedom of expression in the countries. This is like what is happening in Thailand, if I have to capture briefly up until today.
Where are We Now?
Thank you, Darika. That was a very comprehensive overview of what’s going on in Thailand. I believe the listeners would really appreciate that. I really like personally your point of view about people commenting that “Why protest?”
Even in elections, the result is very questionable since the winning party can’t even form the government and street protests can’t change political systems. So why actually have them? And your response was actually to… It pushes forward. It nonetheless pushes forward the public discussions and critical problems in the country. They’re being discussed a lot more openly right now.
I think that’s a really important perspective to have when faced with these kinds of challenges. But when we look at the initial demands of the protests back in 2020 versus what’s going on today, in terms of progress, where are we now?
Well, when you ask me, where are we now? I think it’s a hard question. I wish I could know what is going to be after this in Thailand because the situation is changing every day since the election on the 14th of May.
And you know what? Every day when I wake up in the morning, I am so scared of what bad news that I will hear again. And then I think this situation is quite stressful and people feel upset, angry to see the Prime Minister candidate from the winning party, his name is Pita Limjaroenrat, not be able to become the Prime Minister, even though he’s a legitimate leader from the election result.
As I mentioned before, how authorities have been using a number of tactics and the way to maintain their power day by day, we have seen the new political tactics, with the old tactic that we are familiar with in the past. And then they used it like before, they used it in a military coup in 2014. Then because of a see like judicial coup with the constitutional court that was highly politicised to disband the opposition party.
And now we are seeing a deadlock in the parliament under the current constitution in Thailand, which is drafted by the Junta to block the pro-democracy party from taking the lead position in the new government.
However, I would say that the election result with the move forward party as the winner is a turning point in Thai politics. We could see and hear what Thai people want and then what the Thai people vote for the most progressive political party that aims to tackle the problem of the big M factors that I mentioned before like monopoly, military, and monarchy reforms. And then this political party became the winner in the election.
So what we know from the surprising outcome of the election, this is like the Thai people are hoping for change. And then when we talk about change in these situations, it means that it is a structural change. It’s not just only the economic incentives or the populist campaign during the election that has worked before, but it didn’t work for now. But the people want to see a reform of the political structure in the country that is happening after the election result.
But then the conservative power wants to block the winning political party and then deny the people hope for change. So that’s why I mentioned the deadlock in the parliament under the current constitution. So I would say that this is a critical juncture or the transition of Thai politics.
I mean, if I were the international audience observing the political situation in Thailand, I would say that this is a very interesting moment with the implication that democracy is not just in Thailand but in our Southeast Asia regions.
I want to emphasise that when it comes to the transition or the critical times. That’s why we need the attention to support democracy movements and advocacy across Southeast Asian countries. We look at the election in Cambodia, the situation in Myanmar after the coup, the ruling party in the Philippines. And then we still keep an eye on the upcoming election in Indonesia.
And at some point we saw some of the same and common tactics that the governments are using. So it seemed like they learned from each other how to maintain their power. But then if you ask me, as I’m a Thai citizen living in the country, I think I would say that I’m very emotional with mixed feelings, I mean, see the situation, especially after the election. Of course, the mixed feeling I mentioned is like, I mean, feeling very stressed. I’m angry, I guess, disappointed and sometimes even sad for at least three months after the elections.
But I think, however, I still have some hope for radical change that will come. And I believe that if you ask me where we are now, I think I believe that for those people who want to stop time or denying the nature of the change in the society. It looks like mission impossible. This is not a Tom Cruise movie, but it’s like reality, especially Thailand as an example.
It’s been almost 10 years since the military coup in 2014 and the willingness of the people to see change in the country, the feeling to see change that is going up and stronger day by day. But then again, if we ask for the civil society in Southeast Asia, or in Thailand and that’s why we need to have the collective effort. That’s why it’s a very important time for solidarity, advocacy for the international community at this moment.
Yeah, so let’s talk about that. It’s a very important point, right? When you bring up that authorities like governments in Southeast Asia, they just learn from one another about how they could get a better stronghold, get a better gross of the people and just control the movement, just really repress society in a lot of different ways.
But at the same time, a lot of it is the same, right? And it’s very valid when you mention that, of course, you’d be very emotional, you’d be stressed, angry, and disappointed because that’s how these kinds of politics affect us and just making it really visible out there and having the awareness that this is a regional problem. It’s a very deep rooted national problem, but it’s also a regional problem.
But that’s precisely why we need to build these solidarities. We need to build these kinds of advocacy efforts because we can’t deny change. People will move. You just can’t kill off everyone because people need change. And as you mentioned, the willingness of people to see change has been growing. But to get more concrete, though, what are the ongoing advocacy efforts that are currently happening?
Yeah, I mean, for the ongoing efforts and advocacy both by civil society and the activists, especially after the election in Thailand, and then they are campaigning for #RespectMyVote. So the hashtag, even though you put on the t-shirts, put on the profile picture on the social media is like, #RespectMyVote. So that is what people try to mention, Hey, this is the election result, and then respect for the voter in the country as well.
And then for the international media, coverage is focusing on the challenges and the struggle of the new Thai governments after the election. Even now we still have no idea who will be the Prime Minister. But however, if we ask for international support or advocacy, I mean, from my observation, we haven’t received much international support or pressure at the moment.
And then for my part, I mean, for my focus that working on the security support, and protection, I mean, basically that we use three strategies. For the first one, we still aim to build the local capacity, for example, to train the new digital security trainers who can support the local community.
And the second step strategy is to prepare for the instant response or the rapid response, as we call help desk service. So especially what we have learned from the big protest three years ago and now we have to be prepared and then have to do a lot of preparation if the rapid response or the big protest will happen, what is the security working group that we have to be aware of ?
Then the last strategy is just like I think international advocacy. I mean, for my focus is about internet freedoms, digital security, and digital rights in Thailand. Then how we can connect with the local and the network in the country to the regional collaboration, especially in Southeast Asia. When we talk about digital rights and digital security, although we know it’s in high demand, these kinds of working areas are still new, especially in Southeast Asia. That’s why I think that we still want to build the Southeast Asia network when it comes to digital rights and security support.
Digital Security Support
I see. So you reach out, you work with these local networks, you work with these grassroots organisations. How do you do it? Just in terms of training the digital security trainers, do they reach out to you or is there already this network in Thailand?
Because as you mentioned, things are changing every day and the movements are very volatile in a sense. So how do you keep things maintained and stable and how do you train people regularly and get the reach out to the right people? Maybe can you share a little bit about that?
Yeah, sure. And then also, I think I would like to start to explain a little bit about my team, especially for the team based in Malaysia that we call Security Matter because our team is still new and like a small team of people. The project started in Malaysia and then expanded to Thailand.
When we set up the team, our objective is to address the gap between the digital and physical security, especially when it comes to capacity building and then how we can build a security system for the human rights defenders.
I think the ultimate challenge at the beginning when we try to set up our project is to fill a gap and the challenges between the local and then international support to provide just in terms of security support in some of the Asia countries.
One of the key focuses is to localise the material, the resources and also what is the need when it comes to the material development in the local need. And then we prioritise the country in Southeast Asia that still needs some need to build the local capacity. That’s why I take Thailand as an example.
And while we want to build the regional collaboration, for that, we need to build a strong local capacity and network of the people in the country who can connect to the regional and international work.
This is what we believe in. At the beginning of the first step, our focus is to understand the local context and the need as much as we can. That’s why we start to do mapping threat analysis and country research.
In my case that I conducted the country research in Thailand and my colleague did the research in Malaysia to get the comprehensive understanding what are the challenges, what are the threats, what are the the gap and the need from the society in the country. Our main effort to find a way of building the local capacity and then a network of the in the countries.
And that’s why after that, we aim to set up the local help desk. After we finish the country, are the country research and the mappings. That’s why it helped to identify who are the key local partners, who are the target group that it needs to build the security support and who will be the potential for their sponsor that we can build for the long term for their communities.
And then when we look at the context in Thailand, before we started our local help desk and then we had a series of protests across the country that we mentioned before.
And we have to say that during that time, we didn’t have a proper system to provide security support. And then when the protest happened almost every day or even every weekend across the country and the high demand for the security support, the security training, we didn’t have the well population for the system that we can support, the amount of the people who can reach out to us.
And then when we talk about the security involved in the trust building. Normally, the people will reach out to the people that they trust. And that’s what is the main challenge. And then we have to be aware when we have to do the security support.
And then when we mentioned the training, this is one of the key activities that we try to do. And then if we look at the protests that happen almost every week, sometimes every day across the country.
And then the challenge to ask the activists to join the training for three days, two days is too long. It’s too long for them. They don’t have time to just join the training and the digital security training for even two days.
And that’s why we have learned that we have to adjust the training session that is properly made to maximum only half a day or even sometimes maximum for two hours just before the actual protest to include what is a risk assessment, what is mitigation planning.
What we found out when we talk about digital security separately from their activism, I think it’s very difficult for them to integrate the security planning to their activism and mobilisation. But then if we want to introduce the security planning, we should integrate with their activism or even their mobilisation and then to build what is a parallel thinking when they have to do the activities and at the same time for the security, that part of the activity planning.
I think that is the methodology that we try to build security support. And also what we try to do is identify the target activist network who can be the potential of the first responders, which means that they already have the community that they work with. And then when the incident happens, the vocal point could coordinate with our team. That is why that methodology that we start doing at the beginning.
Basic Digital Security
Okay, wow. Yeah, that’s really comprehensive. But also I like how you iterate the various training based on the needs of the other protesters and two hours. I wouldn’t have thought of that, like two hours and then just right before the protest is going on and stuff like that.
But yeah, just moving back a little bit. I’m sure the listeners would also appreciate a bit of a more one-no one here in terms of digital security. Because when we talk about physical security and protests, I’m sure a lot of people can just think about tear gas and responding to the officers there that might be assaulting you and stuff like that. But digital security isn’t super obvious from the get-go.
So maybe just tell us a little bit about what it is about, really? What are cyber threats? What are the basic self-defence, basic digital security steps that we need to take?
Yeah. As we know , digital technology has been developed very fast. But at the same time for the cyber threat, digital threats, it is also evolving very fast at the same time. I think if you look at Thailand as an example, and sometimes I identify four types of what we call digital authoritarianism to identify what is the key focus when we talk about the digital landscape, especially targeting the human-right defenders.
As far as we know , the first tactic that authority is also using is judicial harassment. So to target the activists to arrest the people or the online user. I think that is quite a common tactic that’s happening in many Southeast Asian countries. This is not a technical tactic when we talk about the cyber threat. But when we talk about working with the activists, I think that legal harassment has become a common tactic that they are facing by the authorities.
And then the second tactic or the area is like the internet shutdown and the online censorship. I think Thailand, when it comes to the internet shutdown, it’s not obvious, it’s not a critical situation compared to Myanmar as far as we know for the internet shutdown or even censorship in Vietnam.
I think for Thailand, that’s not the case as far as we can compare to countries like other Southeast Asian countries when it comes to the internet shutdown or censorship. But because of censorship, traditional blocking websites are still happening.
But I think from my observations, especially after the military coup in Thailand, the way that the authorities also develop their strategy as well before they want to block the website, just to block the website or the content itself.
And then they realise that it’s not effective doing this, the internet landscape. Rather than to block or delete the content that they don’t want to put on the internet. They move to the tactic that I would like to mention, which is like information operation or as we know about the social manipulation, this information campaign, especially for target, the activists or the protesters during the protesting.
I think in this case of the tactic, I found out it’s really challenging when it comes to digital security. When it comes to state information operations are happening in many Southeast Asia countries, in the Philippines, in Thailand, in Myanmar, in Vietnam.
It’s not just about technical support, but then if it’s like online harassment targeting, for example, the women human right defenders and obviously led to the sexual harassment is online. It’s not just only technical support that we have to do that, but we have to do integrate with the holistic security support, which means the mental and the psychosocial support that it could be part when we have to talk with about the online harassment, especially for the women and the diverse gender group in the countries.
I think that the information campaign targeting the activists and this information is critical and then getting challenged and difficult for the security landscape in the country.
And the last section that I would like to mention is about surveillance. This is one of the most difficult topics because when we talk about the surveillance, which means how we can detect the surveillance tactics because it’s always like underground and then the secret.
And then there’s no one to take up that, okay, who did the digital surveillance? I think that the surveillance tactics by using a lot of the technologies, even though it’s not only high tech technology, they can do like CCTV, they can use GPS tracking devices until we found out they used the advanced, the spyware, Pegasus, is what we found out in Thailand.
So this is the civil and technique that we found out targeting, especially for the activists in the countries. But then you ask how, especially for the activists or the human rights defenders, we can protect ourselves.
And then when we talk about security, which means that we don’t have the perfect solution. I mean, the challenge when we talk about, especially for digital security, we cannot provide only a checklist or an absolute answer and then just give to the activists and say, Hey, if you follow this, you will be completely safe. So I think it’s not working that way.
And at the same time when we talk about digital security it is not about the tools or application or technical platform that they are using. What I want to prioritise is like when we talk about the security, which means that how much of our understanding the threat, how much the risk assessments or how much the local analysis that we can identify what are the threat, what are the risk, and what the strategy that we have to mitigate it. I think the concept of security, I would like to prioritise the risk assessment.
Some of the efforts for the security trainer, we know about the threat modelling. We try to understand what is the threat model that we should be aware of in the sense that we can come up with a mitigation, with a strategy to mitigate those kinds of risks.
I think I might give some of the simple questions to the audience when we try to do risk assessment and then we can start with the simple questions to understand the level of the risk that you are at.
I think maybe for the first question, we can start to ask ourselves who you are and what you are doing. When I mentioned who you are, for example, if you are a journalist, what are you doing? For example, I’m a journalist, I’m working on an article about corruption. That’s why the next question is what information is involved? For the first question, start with who you are, for example, like if I’m a journalist, you are the human rights defenders who work in your community. What kind of activity are you doing? And then what kinds of information might be involved? This is the first question.
Then we can move to the second question. What can go wrong? What kind of scenario is it if you are doing this kind of activity, what kind of personal information in a way that it can export. Or it could be a lot of personal information. It could be your personal information or it could be the information of the people that you are working with.
And then who is the target, is my target for your information or your group of the people that you go with. The second question is like, what is the scenario that could go wrong? If a bad scenario happens, what scenario should it be?
When we have this scenario, we can move to the next question: what are you going to do about that? If this is not all that happened, what is the mitigation? What are the changes? What are the behaviour changes, technology support? What kinds of mitigation that you can do about that, if that scenario, bad scenario that happens? That’s why when we’re thinking about the scenario, this question is trying to help you identify what are the changes that you have to deal with in the security scenario.
The last question is like after we have the scenario, we have the mitigation and then we have to like maybe we can ask ourselves like, Did you do a good job? This part is like an evaluation of the security planning that we are discussing.
Because as we know for security, it’s evolving every time. The question that we asked probably last year, maybe for this time, we have to start to ask ourselves again whether we have to have a new strategy to do it. I think that’s why I think the last thing, if I would like to mention, is for the first thing that we accept, the risk already exists. We know that, okay, we identified the risk, this already exists.
Then we try to understand the risk and the situation that we are facing. After that, we know that if a lot of the security concerns come up, it might, infinity risk or even a long concern. But we have limited resources.
We have only two people in your group. You have only a small budget or a small team that you can’t support, which means that we have to prioritise, which risk that you have to deal with, which means that prioritisation under your limited resources is very important.
And the last thing is that we have to think about the scenario according to the landscape that we are working on. That’s why the situation analysis for your contact is very important to understand as much as we can to identify good security planning. I think that is the concept.
I cannot provide only the technical solution because of what I perceive about digital security, our first impression might be about the technical or IT or encryption, which is a part of that. But as far as we know, what the challenges are is about our behaviour.
I think that is another thing when we talk about digital security, maybe back to basics is about how we can change our behaviour in the sense that it can increase our safety, especially for the digital habit. I would stop here.
Yeah, thank you. I keep using this word, but it is very comprehensive. I love that approach. Because obviously, a lot of people, when they talk about digital security, the first impression would be, okay, what are the technicalities? But approaching it in that manner makes a lot of sense and I think is very important.
My next question, I guess, is are people aware of that in Thailand, in the context of the digital security support in the Thai protest themselves and in the movements and all of that. Are people already mostly aware? Do you feel about these issues? Do they still need a lot of training? And basically, I guess, what can we improve in this situation?
Yeah, I think at least for if we start at the protest in 2020 up until now, I think I have seen the development in terms of the digital support for their movement, for their network, especially for the activists on the ground. I think that’s why when we talk about digital security and mitigation, we try to mention that this is a part of the movement building and activism.
That’s why if we want to build a social movement, if we want to build the activist movement, security should be one of the important factors behind the scene of the movement building. That’s why I have to provide security training, especially for the front liners, for the activists who are really high profile.
I would like to mention that when we talk about security or the security findings, I came here to talk to you. It doesn’t mean that I will stop your activism because it’s too risky. Because sometimes when we talk about the security, Hey, you should not do one, two, three because that you will be safe. This is too risky. It doesn’t make sense in that way.
The objective of the security planning that it’s not to stop your activism, but we want to prioritise how we can mitigate the risk and then reduce the threat that you are facing to protect the community, the network.
That’s why if the activists want to do very high risk activities, which means the security planning, it should be paralleled with the activism planning at the same time. I think that’s why what I have seen, at least for three years after the protest, I have seen that a lot of the security awareness, especially for the young activists, has been increasing.
But then along the way, as we know, there are a lot of challenges to provide security, especially during critical times in the country. And some of the people might perceive security support as the band-aid solution for the emergency situation like ad-hoc support.
You got the incident response, that’s why you need the band-aid for the rapid response, which is true. I mean, when we talk about the security incident, but then the importance of the security support and how we can build the security system in the longer term, it’s not just only the ad hoc or the band-aid.
Band-aid is just on the surface. But behind the scenes, how we can build a long-term capacity building with their movement and then how we can sustain the security network inside the country. I think this is one of the objectives that we try to do for security support, especially when we have to move with the activist movement.
And then when we have very high demand for the security training or for the digital support. And then when we are facing under-staffed, under-funded for the people who have to do the security, especially in the countries.
That’s why I think in terms of the need, we still need a lot of support for fundings to build in the same way that we can build a low-capacity group in the long term and sustain it. I don’t want to see only the ad hoc support just for high risk situations, it happens in the country because we want to sustain the security system that it should make sure that it will be in the long term. This is for the local support.
And after that, how we can build regional collaboration in the regions, especially in Southeast Asia. I think when we talk about digital security in Southeast Asia, of course, it’s not the same when we talk in the US or European countries because the context is super light.
I think that there is still a gap in Southeast Asia. And I think that is the step that I try to see how digital security is. And then I believe that it should start in the local context and then we can connect if we have the activist groups or the security people or the trainers, and then we can link to Southeast Asia as we get more support on that.
What can Southeast Asians do?
Yeah, because at the end of the day, it’s about resilience, isn’t it? It’s about making the democracy movement, making the protest a lot more resilient via the digital security, but also via the awareness of how to approach digital security and also about, again, as you mentioned, funding and building solidarity networks and all of these things. I guess that leads to my last question.
What do we do concretely as Southeast Asians to advocate for the situation in Thailand, but also to strengthen these solidarity networks, these movements? Or if you have suggestions on how we can start building and raising awareness of the importance of digital security and digital resilience, feel free to tell us about that.
Yeah, I mentioned the word when you mentioned resilience. We’ve seen that as we talk about democratisation, especially in Southeast Asia, it is a long journey, right? It’s like a marathon. It’s not like running a sprint.
That’s why the awareness and then the strategy of being resilient for the movement, I think, is very important. But then again, when we unpack what kinds of resilience or skill or the need to build a resilient movement, it could be many things. It could be that security support is one of those. Advocacy could be one of those. Network building could be one of the factors of that.
And then look at the strategic campaigning advocacy in the longer term, it could be one of the elements when we talk about resilience. Then I would like to go back a little bit in terms of the situation in Thailand.
As I mentioned, this is a critical moment for Thai politics during the transition. When we talk about transition, we still don’t know where we are going. This type of direction, it’s going to be better or even worse. That’s why when I mentioned about the governments in Southeast Asia, they always find a way to maintain their power and control democratisation process in the countries that are taking Thailand as an example and the case studies and how the authoritarian power tries to keep the international community out of their countries.
So that’s why they allow us to have the protest and then they crack down on the protesters by arresting the activists. But in Thailand with the minimum physical violation, but still limiting the freedom of expression in the countries.
And why does the authority allow us to have the election? But then they didn’t allow the winning party to be the Prime Minister.
I think that in the case of Thailand, it seems to be that they are pretending to be democratic on the surface. But at the same time, the authorities, the government still care for the international community and then the economic developments. They don’t want to be perceived as a totally authoritarian regime. They don’t want to be in that situation or status because it’s very difficult for them to talk to the international communities or even for economic developments.
That’s why I’m saying that the international pressure, international solidarity, and international support is one of the critical factors and that it could play an important role in terms of democratisation in the country at the moment.
That’s why I want to highlight in terms of, I think the first thing, look at Southeast Asia. I mentioned that if the government in Southeast Asia, they can share their common strategy, they can use their common tactic, maybe they can learn from each other. But the question is like how the civil society in Southeast Asia do at the same time?
I mean, sharing resources, sharing what is a strategic campaign that we can do together. This is not just for Thailand, but look at Thailand as a case study. And then when we took like Philippines about the media freedom, we took a case study in Myanmar or even in Vietnam.
I think that we can map out the local challenges in the countries. And then, but at the same time, when it comes to the advocacy strategy as a regional effort, I think that we need to do that.
And then also, if you ask me the concrete example, I think because as a local CSO in the country, we know that for the people in their countries they already struggle for their challenges, for their situation.
But at the same time, it’s a lot of effort that is too high risk to do inside the countries. So that’s why I mentioned a lot in terms of the regional collaboration, in terms of the international solidarity, I think this part could be the critical factor that I would like to highlight here, especially if we look at the development of democracy in Thailand this time, that it could have the implication for other Southeast Asia countries because authoritarian power want us to move far away from the democracy. That’s why I think this is a transition and also the critical that we have to build international and regional solidarity together.
Yeah. Thank you so much, Darika. I do feel like building bridges and building connections, building this solidarity network among Southeast Asian countries, but also working at the same time to raise international pressures and international awareness in the various ways that activists on the ground in these various countries can will be very important. As you mentioned, it is a very critical juncture for Thailand, but also a lot of other things are happening in Southeast Asia. So yeah, I guess it’s been very valuable. It’s been a very valuable conversation. So thank you very much for the conversation.
Thank you for having me here.
And that wraps up our discussion with Darika Bamrungchok. Building regional solidarity is crucial, but movements can only go so far without the awareness of digital security to ensure their resilience.
Find out more about Security Matters on their website, securitymatters.asia. If your movement is in need of security support, or if you’d like to build regional collaboration, you can reach out to them via their Contact page.
If issues of digital security concerns you and you’d like to start a digital security helpline in your country, Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP) and CiviCert has established a guideline called “Tech Care: A step-by-step guide to providing digital support for civil society”, which you can access at tech dash care dot cc – that’s tech-care.cc.
To follow the news on what’s happening in Thailand, visit PrachataiEnglish.com, or the website for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights at TLHR 2014 dot com, available in both Thai and English. That’s TLHR2014.com.
My name is Bonnibel Rambatan, and this has been Southeast Asia Dispatches. Brought to you by New Naratif, and produced by Dania Joedo. I’ll see you around.
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