Thai critic Pavin cries harassment after chemical attack in Japan

The suspect broke into political commentator’s home in Kyoto last month and sprayed unknown chemicals on the victim.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun
Thai dissident teaches at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University [Pavin Chachavalpongpun/Facebook page]

Japanese police are investigating an incident involving a Thai dissident and political commentator, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who believes he was a victim of a politically-motivated attack at his residence in Kyoto last month.

The incident is the latest attack on government critics living abroad, including Thai dissidents who were killed and disappeared in Laos.

Pavin, who had left Japan in recent days, told Al Jazeera that an assailant broke into his home and assaulted him with a chemical spray.

“On the eighth of July at 4:45am, someone broke into my home in Kyoto. This person wore all black with a mask. I was in bed with my partner. [The attacker] pulled the blanket down, so to expose us and then he attacked us with a chemical spray,” Pavin recounted.

Pavin said he felt “a burning sensation” on his chest and face that lasted for 48 hours. The suspect was not apprehended.

Pavin initially kept quiet about the attack saying police told him not to publicise the incident while the investigation was in its early stage. He teaches at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of Kyoto University.

Pavin blamed the Thai royal palace for the attack. He had previously faced charges of violating Thailand‘s strict lese majeste law, which prohibits offences against the country’s royal family.

“I might as well come out and set the record straight,” he said, adding that he has full confidence the Japanese police are taking the matter seriously.

He said the police “understand the context” of his case, and claimed an international terrorism unit was also investigating. Pavin also wrote on social media that a Japanese diplomat had confirmed the attack.

‘Strange phone calls’

Kyoto police confirmed to Al Jazeera that an investigation is under way, but declined to comment in detail, citing the “confidential” nature of the case. They previously told the Financial Times it is not being treated as a “terrorist incident”.

Pavin and his partner were moved to a safe house following the attack, although Pavin has left Japan on a trip that was planned prior to the incident.

Before the attack, Pavin said he started receiving strange calls on his mobile phone and office phone, including one 24 hours before the incident.

“There has been an ongoing trend in Thailand of harassment of dissidents,” Pavin said, pointing to the deaths of two asylum seekers in Laos and other attacks in Bangkok.

However, James Buchanan, a PhD candidate at the City University of Hong Kong and researcher on Thai history and politics, said this incident did not quite fit with the pattern of previous attacks abroad.

“The attacks on activists in Laos were carried out by a team of men. They were extremely brutal, decisive and resulted in the death or disappearance of the victims,” Buchanan said in an email.

Brutal attacks

Buchanan said other attacks within Thailand, while not deadly, have also been much more brutal.

Al Jazeera previously spoke to pro-democracy advocates who were attacked in Thailand.

Thailand Celebrates The Coronation of King Rama X
Thailand’s strict lese majeste law prohibits offences against the country’s royal family [File: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images]

Sirawith “Janew” Seritawat was attacked in June by five men who beat him in the head with wooden sticks. Seritawat said he believed they intended to kill him.

Anurak “Ford” Jeantawanicha was similarly beaten with metal pipes in May.

Pavin said the attack against him serves the same objective – to intimidate him into silence.

“If we want to kill you we can, we are already in your bedroom,” Pavin said.

Buchanan of City University of Hong Kong added: “If this attack does turn out to be politically motivated, then it is a significant escalation, and the willingness of Thai agents to operate in a safe, democratic country like Japan, shows remarkable disregard for diplomacy.”

The strangeness of the case has led some to question whether it was politically motivated, and some are even accusing Pavin of fabricating the incident.

Journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall, also wanted in Thailand for lese majeste violations, said Pavin’s story has “inconsistencies”.

“If the Thai regime sent a ninja to attack him, it was the most incompetent assassin ever,” Marshall wrote in a Facebook post.

Pavin dismissed Marshall’s criticisms, claiming the journalist was just angry with him for not warning him after the incident.

‘Safe in France’

Meanwhile, all five members of the anti-monarchy Thai band, Faiyen, safely arrived in France after living in Laos since 2014.

Activists became increasingly concerned for the safety of the group, against the backdrop of the recent deaths and disappearances.

Band member Worravut Thueakchaiyaphum confirmed to Al Jazeera that he began the process of submitting documents for asylum on Monday.

“We feel very relieved now,” said Worravut, also known as Tito. “For the past five years in [Laos] we have been pressured by the Thai junta government. They threatened and harassed our family. They sent a letter to request our extradition.”

Worravut said the band members received death threats and watched with horror as eight other dissidents disappeared. He claimed finding refuge in France is the “best thing that ever happened to us” and pledged to continue campaigning for justice for the missing and murdered dissidents.

Worravut said the attack on Pavin is also “probably” related to the Thai government.

“Expanding attacks to other countries I think will happen for sure,” he said. “They will not stop coming after us until they get us all.”

Despite this, Worravut said he is calm.

“We managed to get rid of our fear long ago, after we lost so many of our comrades to attacks and abductions over the last five years. We have transformed our fear into the drive to stand up and fight for the future.”

Source: Al Jazeera